About a month ago, I saw the movie Boy Erased after I was asked to write a review of it. If you're unfamiliar with the film, it's based off of true events and tells the story of a teenage boy, Jared, who comes out to his parents as gay and is enrolled in a conversion therapy program.
I didn't have extensive knowledge on what conversion therapy was before I saw the film, but I walked away from it disgusted and highly disturbed.
I could write several posts to cover all of my thoughts on the film and conversion therapy, but in this article I want to focus on something that I feel everyone can understand, our basic need for communion and friendship.
I've quoted this section of the Catechism before, but I feel as though it's essential to reitterate here.
In paragraph 2331, the Catechism of the Catholic Church states:
"God is love and in himself he lives a mystery of personal loving communion. Creating the human race in his own image . . .. God inscribed in the humanity of man and woman the vocation, and thus the capacity and responsibility, of love and communion."
I cannot help but be drawn by this call to communion, not only communion with God to also with each other.
We are all brothers and sisters who share the inherent dignity bestowed on us by the Creator, Who is Himself a loving communion of Divine Persons. We can't escape from our desires to be in communion with one another and with God, but this is almost exactly what I saw in this conversion therapy program in many different ways, two of which I want to discuss today.
Separation From God as Loving Father
In one scene, the leader of the program was speaking with one of the young men one on one in front of the group. There was a point where the the leader said something along the lines of, "God isn't going to love you if you continue to act this way."
I was highly disturbed by this, as this is a grave misunderstanding of God not only as Good, but as Merciful and Loving.
God would never and can never take His love away from us; even a person's ability to choose eternal damnation is proof of God's love! If we lead lives that tell God we do not want to spend eternity with Him in Heaven, He doesn't force us to.
God doesn't take His love away from us if we should fall short of His glory, whether someone believes that or not. The fact that this "man of God" would even think to say such a thing was revolting to me.
Hearing this kind of rhetoric in this setting must've been so off-putting and even damning for the boys, as they walked away from this program with an understanding that God was no more than a trianical dictator who shuns and possibly even curses those who cross Him. This is by no means a Christian view of God the Father Who gave His only Son as ransom for those He loved, those who betrayed Him by sinning, those He still wanted for His own.
Christ tells us in the Gospel that He calls us friends (John 15:15); this is not at all how a true friend acts towards his loved one.
The Condemnation of Brotherly Love
One scene that I was caught off guard by (but honestly should've expected) was when Jared was reprimanded by a fellow participant for comforting another boy with a hand on the shoulder.
This young man, Cameron, was participating in an activety with the leader in front of the group. Having trouble with the assigned task, the leader demanded that Cameron be left alone in the room so that he could "think about it."
While all the participants were walking out of the room, Jared who was one of the last to leave, placed a comforting hand on Jared's shoulder. Jared was soon after scolded by another student for touching Cameron.
In our over-sexualized culture, almost any form of physical touch, no matter how platonic and harmless, can be misconstrude as romantic. Friends can't even comfort friends without people speculating that they might be "gay."
Anyone who has a close friend can see how dangerous this mindset is. We use our bodies to communicate with each other; what will happen if the words we say in the language of our bodies are constantly misinterpretted? There will come a point where we feel as though we can't speak at all.
Once we can't speak to each other, how will we communicate?
The simple answer: we won't.
We will begin to isolate ourselves, unsure of the vocabulary to use to exclaim that we need love, that we need communion, that we need human interaction. Man will stand as islands, as ships in the night, passing each other by without being able to say a word.
The Vocation of Friendship
My interactions with my friends have saved my life, reminded me that I am human, and I am worthy of love and capable of loving others.
I have no idea where I would be without my friends; we all need them, and are called into friendship with our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.
If my friends walked around scared that I would make romantic advances on them, the friendships wouldn't last very long at all. I'd feel uncomfortable, they'd feel uncomfortable, and eventually we would just separate.
Men and women who experience same-sex attractions are not that different from those who don't, we need to experience the comradery and communion of authentic friendship as well. We have the capacity and responsibility to love others just like anyone else, and that includes a way that is purely aimed toward platonic friendship.
The film Boy Erased just highlighted for me, among other things, the fact that there's s stigma place on those of us with SSA, that friendship is not possible for us, even though it is necessary for our survival as human beings.
When that call to friendship is denied, it chips away at our human experience. We lose such an essential part of flourishing as men and women, the joys of not doing so alone.