Now, I've not really had a lot of respect for the First Things blog qua entity for a long time. They have a huge stable of writers who say all kinds of things and are all over the map--the good, the bad, and the ugly. They've become rather enamored lately of what is known as the "new homophile" movement, which would have been enough to lose my respect all by itself. Blogger Joshua Gonnerman is an example. The idea of that movement, speaking broadly, is that homosexual identity is somehow a good thing, a kind of gift, really, bestowing special insights and stuff on those who have it, as long as you are chaste and don't lust. And that people who so identify shouldn't be asked to give up their identity or think of it as "identifying themselves with their temptations to sin." Even though the "new homophiles" are mostly (all?) Roman Catholic, they get pretty uneasy when one uses the Catholic Church's designation of "intrinsically disordered" for their desires.
In that context, one might regard this piece by Hannon as a kind of counterweight. Hannon is explicit in rejecting homosexuality as an identity, and one of his reasons is that very reason--namely, that we shouldn't identify ourselves with our inclinations to sin. Hannon is also concerned about the fact that young people agonize (as they shouldn't have to) over what their sexual identity is, whether they might "be gay." He is bothered by the fact that homosexual identity is treated as innate and immutable and that young people are now nervous about developing close friendships with members of the same sex lest this mean that they "are gay." With all of these concerns I agree, and that's probably the last good thing you'll see me say here about Hannon's piece, because that's all that is good about it.
The concerns about exposing young people to the idea that they "might be gay" and the harm that this does to them, including to their friendships, have been explored far more eloquently by Anthony Esolen, here, for instance. Esolen has also trenchantly answered the "new homophiles" here without any trendy nonsense about deconstructing anything, and certainly not deconstructing heterosexuality, of all things!
Hannon, either because his head has been addled by reading queer theory or because he wants to be even-handed, or maybe both, is not willing to stop at saying that homosexuality should not be regarded as a part of personal identity. He must go on (as the title of his post attests) to say that neither should heterosexuality. In fact, he informs us quite seriously that the concept of heterosexuality was invented in the late 1800's. In the 1860's, to be exact. As an historical thesis, this has all the virtues that "things fall up" has as a scientific thesis. (Hannon apparently got the claim from Michel Foucault, that fount of accurate, unbiased historical information and model of intellectual rigor and clarity.) Let's not quibble about words. I make no etymological claims about when the word "heterosexuality" was invented, because I don't know. I'm pretty sure I'd never heard the word before my own adulthood, which was long after the 1860's. But the concept that it is normal and healthy for men to desire women and for women to desire men, that, indeed, these normal and healthy desires are part of the very cement of all human society, and that part of being a normal man or a normal woman is having an "orientation," a telic attraction, toward the opposite sex, making that orientation part of one's normal individual identity, is as old as mankind, as old as the day when the Lord God said, "It is not good that man should be alone. I will make him an helpmeet."
Or listen to St. Paul:
For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet. (Romans 1:26-27)
See that part about "vile affections" and what is "against nature" as opposed to the "natural use of the woman"? That, my friends, is the "gay-straight divide" which Hannon tells us was an invention of the 1860's. The "natural use of the woman" is what a sexually healthy man desires. That which is "against nature" is what homosexuals desire. It's really very simple. And it wasn't invented in the 1860's.
St. Paul's identification of heterosexual intercourse as being natural looks like the sort of "heteronormativity" that Hannon wants us to reject. Perhaps Hannon should lecture St. Paul to the effect that such heteronormativity creates "pride" and "pathetically uncritical and unmerited self-assurance." But all such sophistical rhetoric does nothing to change the one paralyzing fact: Homosexual desires and acts are not only contrary to chastity, they are also contrary to nature. Normal heterosexual intercourse may well be (in specific instances) a sin against chastity but is not a sin against nature. No amount of talk-talk and worry about heterosexual "pride" can change the fact that there is a fundamental asymmetry between heterosexuality and homosexuality. The former is a gift, God's created engine for the perpetuation of the human race and for the generation of much love and beauty. The latter is a perverted and tragic disorder.
And what pernicious nonsense Hannon talks about pride and heterosexuality:
But heterosexuality, in its pretensions to act as the norm for assessing our sexual customs, is marked by something even worse: pride, which St. Thomas Aquinas classifies as the queen of all vices.Please. So imagine a mother whose daughters have always, since childhood, noticed handsome and/or charming men. Imagine a father whose son has blushed over the beauty of women. Suppose that this mother and this father regard their children's inclinations as part of a beautiful, natural, God-given plan for the world. Suppose that they regard themselves as stewards whose job it is to guide these natural, powerful, God-given instincts in the right direction, their job to bestow, in fear and trembling and with God's help, wisdom and guidance upon these budding young women and young men. Is this pride? Is it pride for the children themselves to believe these things about the naturalness of their own feelings? Far from it.
Imagine that we were beset with a dirt-eating activist contingent in our society who tried to make out that eating dirt is normal. Would it be anything other than nonsense on stilts to chide those who say, "The desire to eat food is normal. The desire to eat dirt is deviant and disordered" for fostering pride by such declarations of obvious truth?
Now, someone might say, Hannon wants us to emphasize married sexuality rather than heterosexuality as the norm. What could be the problem with that? Since it is set expressly in opposition to the normalizing of heterosexual desire, lots and lots. First of all, if we ditch the very concept of heterosexuality as a natural, telic orientation in anyone who isn't married, how is anybody ever going to get married? Call me over-literalistic if you will, but it's important to remember as one reads heady talk like Hannon's about "deconstructing heterosexuality" and about how "heterosexuality blinds us to sin" that if unmarried people didn't have heterosexual desires they would never become married people! If churches and other organizations didn't regard heterosexuality as normal and natural, they would have no reason to provide, for example, opportunities for young people to get to know each other and hopefully meet mates and get married.
Girls need to be given a picture of themselves as girls and boys as boys during their whole lives, from long before they are actually married, and part of that picture is the understanding and expectation that, in due time, they will be attracted to members of the opposite sex and that this is perfectly natural. Nor is this sort of gradual heterosexual self-awareness appropriate solely in relation to the one and only one person they will actually marry. It need not be a case of lust for young women to notice men, including men they know they are never going to marry, and to recognize that they find those men attractive or unattractive, to evaluate and even analyze those instinctive attractions, to decide, for example, when they are wise or unwise. And the same mutatis mutandis for young men. To hold, as Hannon urges us to hold, that attraction to the opposite sex should not be considered an important part of one's normal and innate identity any more than same-sex attraction is is a psychologically dangerous thesis. Adopting it would be utterly disastrous for parenthood. For this reason alone it is to be hoped that Christian parents completely reject Hannon's misguided advice if they should happen to read it. The solution to the tragedy of children who agonize over their sexual identity is not the deconstruction of heterosexuality but rather a "heteronormativity" so absolute as to be beyond doubt or question, a "heteronormativity" that gives children a secure background against which to set themselves and in which to grow up.
Here is another point: In general the relations of the sexes are part of what makes the world beautiful and interesting. When a gentleman holds a door for a lady or even compliments her respectfully on her appearance or when a lady dresses nicely because there will be gentlemen present at some meeting, this is all entirely good and appropriate as far as it goes. The parties need not be married to one another at all. Certainly such recognition of the presence of members of the opposite sex and appreciation of them, even of their physical attractiveness, can descend into crudity and lust, but it need not do so. None of us should want to live in an androgynous world. Nor should we be reacting to our own pornified world by trying to turn all male-female interactions into androgynous interactions unless they are between people actually married to one another. So, no: Gender identity and even sexual identity cannot and should not be confined solely to "married identity," and heterosexual identity in these areas is normal whereas homosexual identity is not. That is one of the places where the "new homophiles" err. They want to create some space, for homosexuals, for a category such as I have just described for innocent heterosexual appreciation. There is no such space, however, precisely because homosexuality is intrinsically disordered.
A central fallacy of Hannon's post consists in the strenuous attempt to treat homosexual inclinations and heterosexual inclinations as on a par. In this Hannon actually agrees with the "new homophiles." They, like him, want to treat homosexual desires in a similar way (as much as possible) to the way one treats heterosexual desires. Their solution is to treat homosexual desires as, somehow, a positive thing, a gift, and part of one's identity. That puts them to some degree (except that they must not be acted upon) on a par with heterosexual desires. Hannon, too, wants to treat the two even-handedly, yet his solution is to say that neither is a normal part of identity and that any identification of oneself in connection with one's sexuality merely blinds one to sin. What neither group is willing to do is to recognize the absolutely fundamental asymmetry between heterosexual and homosexual desires. The reason that the former are a normal part of identity is because they are really part of nature, really part of God's design for the world. Masculinity and feminity are important aspects of reality, and our recognition and celebration of them is an important part of being human. The reason that homosexual desires are an unhealthy source of identity is because they are disordered. Identifying oneself as intrinsically "a homosexual" really is identifying oneself with one's inclinations to sin. This is not so for being heterosexual.
It may be replied to all of this that I am just out of touch with the world of 2014 and don't understand the extreme perversions of "heterosexuality" that many people are being exposed to and developing a horrible taste for--e.g., via pornography. This ain't the 1950's, so maybe we shouldn't celebrate heterosexual desire. No, dear reader, I assure you. Though I do indeed try to follow the injunction of Philippians 4:8 to think on whatsoever things are pure, lovely, and of good report, I am indeed aware that people can be inclined to genuine perversions which happen to be carried out with members of the opposite sex. Even without going into any lurid detail, one can see this merely by considering that a pedophile man may desire little girls.
What, then? Is the solution to this to reject or deny the beauty of natural attraction between the sexes and of the natural recognition of the attractiveness of the opposite sex? God forbid. If anything, we need more and more attempts to resurrect that old world and that old vision. Hence, my deliberately dated references above to relations between ladies and gentlemen in public situations.
Moreover, to go back to Hannon's post, how does the existence of sexual perversions involving males with females support Hannon's thesis that heterosexuality should be "deconstructed" and that its "deconstruction" is an "opportunity" for Christians? In short, it doesn't support it one smidgen. Since God did indeed make men and women and did indeed intend them for one another, since normal heterosexual desires are indeed natural, Hannon's denial of "heteronormativity" is just flat wrong. No amount of twisting or perversion of the sexual instinct on the part of (some of) those who are not homosexuals can possibly change the fact that he is wrong. It simply does not follow from the fact that there are unhealthy urges and acts involving members of the opposite sex that there are no healthy urges and acts. Indeed, the only healthy human sexual urges and acts are between two people who are members of opposite sexes. If Hannon thinks it is "prideful" to point that out and to recognize it in society, then he just has a war on with reality.
I would go so far as to say that for Christians, who have both general and special revelation at their disposal, to join in "deconstructing heterosexuality" as Hannon suggests is so badly confused and so wildly irresponsible as to be actually sinful. Such a "deconstruction" can only do harm, not good. Let us join in promoting "heteronormativity" in every venue where we can, and most of all in our homes.