There Are No ‘Gay’ People

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The words ‘hashtag’, ‘selfie’ and ‘tweep’ were among 150 new words added to the Merriam-Webster’s dictionary this year, and with selfies being taken by everyone from Barack Obama to Pope Francis to Kim Kardashian, it’s little wonder this word is among those making the list. While the evolution of language has, with technology, become all the more rapid, language remains one of the most vital tools underpinning a society.

It is language that shapes reality for the members of a society, allowing us to attach meanings to things. Words convey reality and the better a language is used, the more precisely concepts can be understood. Inversely, the poor use of language can misinform a person or a whole society, about a particular truth.

Enter the word ‘gay’. Originating in 12th century England the original meaning was ‘joyful’ or ‘carefree’. By the end of the 20th century, the word gay became the recommended and preferred term for persons experiencing homosexual feelings. While I am not losing sleep that a word once meaning joy has become the key identifier around homosexual actions, what does concern me greatly is the usage of the word gay in direct reference to a person.

“My friend is gay” or “He was born gay” are two of the most common examples. Even in talking to people who consider homosexual actions wrong, (and note that judging objective moral action is always different to the subjective judgment of an individual person), they will still refer to a particular ‘gay’ person as if that term is completely descriptive. In fact, this usage has become so normalized that the nuance is not often understood, so allow me to be more specific.

At the most fundamental level a human person is just that, a person, and our personhood is lived out as a male or a female. These realities of personhood are not accidents or awards bestowed upon us. They are more identifying than stating we are a plumber, an athlete or a teacher. They describe us in a most intimate way because they describe our bodies which are the sign of who we are. We are born as human persons, nothing more and nothing less.

What some segments of society have sought to do, though, is to erase this most fundamental identity and instead provide a host of ‘genders’ for us to choose from, (for example Facebook recently listed 56 categories of gender). Even though it may sound freeing to be able to describe yourself as bi-gender, pan-gender or gender fluid, it is in fact the opposite because we pin our identity to something that is not the most underlying description of who we are.

‘Gender’ has become the way we feel about ourselves – or have been pressured into feeling about ourselves – at a particular point in time for a myriad of reasons.

To refer to a person, any person, as ‘gay’ or ‘homosexual’, (or even as ‘straight’) does a great injustice to who they are. When we do it we allow ourselves to fall into the push of a movement which seeks to minimize our basic human identity. We can say that a person has a ‘same-sex attraction’ because that is fundamentally different to saying that a person is ‘gay’.

The sexual issues that a person may deal with are not issues that we should allow to dominate who they are; true companionship must be deeper than that. Even if a person declares apparent pride in their ‘sexual identity’ as ‘gay’, ‘lesbian’, ‘transgender’ etc., we need to uphold their innate dignity in the way we use our language.

There is perhaps no better summary than this passage taken from a document released in 1986 by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith entitled On the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons:

“The human person, made in the image and likeness of God, can hardly be adequately described by a reductionist reference to his or her sexual orientation. Every one living on the face of the earth has personal problems and difficulties, but challenges to growth, strengths, talents and gifts as well. Today, the Church provides a badly needed context for the care of the human person when she refuses to consider the person as a “heterosexual” or a “homosexual” and insists that every person has a fundamental Identity: the creature of God, and by grace, his child and heir to eternal life.”

Bernard Toutounji

Bernard Toutounji

Bernard Toutounji is an Australian Catholic writer and speaker. He writes a fortnightly column called Foolish Wisdom ( which examines afresh issues within news, culture or faith. One of Bernard’s favourite quotes comes from Edith Stein who said "All those who seek truth seek God whether this is clear to them or not". Bernard is married to Jane and they have two daughters.

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14 thoughts on “There Are No ‘Gay’ People”

  1. Pingback: How Pope Francis Personally Picked Cupich -

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    We are born as human persons, nothing more and nothing less.

    Ugh. Of course, this is just what a “gay rights” activist would say — “nothing more and nothing less”, meaning not definitively male and not definitively female. Yes, you contradict this elsewhere, but that only means you are contradicting yourself.

    By the way, even admitting that “male” and “female” are fundamental, your statement is not supported by Scripture. One’s ancestry really does make a difference; there were specific promises given to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Aaron, and David about their descendants. The default ideology of America is egalitarian, but we need to be cautious about mistaking that for Catholic teaching.

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      “male and female he created them” — genesis. 5:2


      “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’b ?6So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” Mathew 19

      don’t buy the lie there is any support in the bible or Gay marriage.

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        I think you completely misunderstood my comment. The author (Bernard Toutounji) wrote, “We are born as human persons, nothing more and nothing less.”Toutounji’s statement is 100% compatible with nonsense like “letting children decide for themselves if they want to be boys or girls“. In fact, we are each born not only with a long list of specific characteristics, we are each born with a divine plan for what we should become and do. This is obvious with Jeremiah, the Blessed Virgin, and John the Baptist, but it is also true of people like you and me, even though we fail to live up to being all we were intended to be.

        Toutounji knows all this, but he was just sloppy in the way he phrased it. We have to be careful to be more precise with our words these days.

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        Hmm, i can see were you take exception with the wording.
        I think in context though a ‘person’ – nothing more and nothing less, is intended to be inclusive of all the ‘inborn’ features that make that person unique. In catholic theology each ‘person’ is so unique that they require a separate immortal spiritual entity to cause their person hood (aka a soul). The soul itself is even masculine or feminine. That would , I assume , for a catholic writer, be included in the ‘and nothing less’ part. It also , seems to follow with the reset of the article.

        The word ‘person’ itself was originally coined by catholic theologians in an attempt to explain the trinity. A being who has 3 persons, but only one nature.

        So if you say the ‘person’ of the Father, nothing more and nothing less, you are not by any means excluding masculinity as a characteristic of ‘The Father’ any more the omnipotence. They are part of ‘the person’ that is the Father.

        I took the article to mean that regardless of what sexual struggles we endure, the masculinity or femininity of the human soul is not altered, and it’s expression in the body that naturally occurs proves that no one is ‘gay’.

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        My issue was really with that one sentence. If you want to say that since every human person is either male or female, “nothing more” does not exclude the sex, and “nothing less” insures it, well OK. Unfortunately, it is more likely to be understood as, “We are all born as persons (who happen to be human), nothing more and nothing less.” Personhood does not require sex; the angels have no bodies, and their names do not mark them as either male or female.

        “Person” was not coined by theologians. If I remember correctly, it had a meaning something like “role” in Greek drama. Apparently it was not much used before the conflict with Arius, though, and you are right that there it gained its meaning for philosophy and theology. The neat thing to remember is that God is not a person by analogy with us, we are persons by analogy with God.

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        The meaning it had prior to the council of Nicaea was ‘mask’ , like the one worn by a theater actor. The mean we give it today ( something that defines the characteristic of a being) is specifically because of it’s use in the trinitarian formula as developed and that counsel and as a refutation of Arianism.

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        I understand what you are saying that the normal casual reader may makes something very bad of that sentence. The author should consider more careful wording next time regardless of which meaning He intended. Unfortunately the word ‘person’ has become one of those squishy words. Does person _require_ sex. Obviously not, more the few of the catholic theologians I’ve run across, at least the ones the regularly uphold church teaching, believe in spiritual beings posses masculinity and femininity ( as opposed to being male and female). So you would expect angles to be masculine or feminine , regardless of their lack of bodies. I think that was as universally undisputed position until recently.

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        Yes, but that strikes me as more of a speculation than anything — something along the lines of the “rankings” of the choirs of angels, which seems to be based largely on European political structures. To me it seems that the various choirs might be more analogous to the different parts of a symphony orchestra. The oboe might be considered a fairly low-ranking instrument — unless the music being played is an oboe concerto, in which case the soloist is much more important than the first violin. Just as I think it is a mistake to project political structures onto the choirs of angels — or onto the Church hierarchy, for that matter — I think the description of angels as being “masculine” or “feminine” might be simply projecting our experiences onto the unfamiliar. Sometimes this works perfectly; sometimes this works with caveats; sometimes this is just the wrong way of thinking, as with the lumiferous ether and caloric. Guesses like this may be fun, but they are not to be confused with the revelation of the Father as “Father”.

        While we’re at it, let’s use the proper language for the main point of this article: sex is a proper accident of a human person, but although “sexual preference” is an accident, it is not a proper accident. (To say nothing of being badly worded. I think I was about 15 before I realized the question of sexual preference was not equivalent to, “Blonde, brunette, or redhead?”) This also could not be said “in public”, because to most people “accident” means “an unintended misfortune”.

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        i like the way you think, I’m honestly not well informed enough about angelic studies to say much more other then that scripture does support some kind of ‘ranking’/ categories between heavenly beings ( for instance when the angle delivering the message to (Daniel 10) Daniel is delayed until Micheal comes and assists him in getting passed the devil.

        Still, no reason the ‘classes’ cannot be organic , much as hands and feet are all parts of a organic whole with various functions.

        As to masculinity and facility, the angles are sometimes refereed to with explicit sexuality in the bible. Gabriel is a male, so are ‘the men’ in the ascension of the books of acts, various others as well. None I can think of that are feminine, but if one why not also the other.

        Femininity is of coarse spiritually the characteristic of receptivity , which might be more appropriate for a angle closer to God, then the ones that deal with humans. As you said though, now we have passed into speculation.

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        Yes — some sort of ranking. But even in the military, there are times when a doctor or an engineer has the final say about an issue, not his commanding officer. The few glimpses Scripture gives into the nature of angels are enough to say that they are not all interchangeable, but anything much beyond that is an extrapolation.

        Zechariah 5:9 may involve “female” angels. “Then I lifted my eyes and saw, and behold, two women coming forward! The wind was in their wings; they had wings like the wings of a stork, and they lifted up the ephah between earth and heaven.” (RSVCE)

        I would take the appearance of an angel with a grain of salt. They often appear human, even though we know they are not human, because that makes it easier for them to interact with us. Appearing as males may have helped them interact more forcefully with the ancient Israelites.

        Listen, I’m a physicist, and the natural sciences give us example after example of how plausible speculation with insufficient data has led to false assumptions. The problem comes (either in the natural sciences or religion) when people start becoming dogmatic about their unsupported speculations.

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        yes, I work in computer science and I have seen many times plausible speculation has lead to massive error. Still plausible speculation is almost the definition of a hypothesis. Only in theology the idea of a ‘testable’ hypothesis has different criteria of evidence.

        I once saw a pretty good comparison like this:

        Scientific law – Dogma

        Theory – Doctrine ( can be either well established or a lesser type)

        Data – Revelation(including scripture) , Inspiration of the holy spirit, Collective experience of the people of God and private revelation.

        The difference being we can have more certainty about Dogma and well established doctrine then we can about their scientific counterparts.

        I suppose I’ve gone off topic now, but the point is many things that fall in the Data category are ambiguous and the church has always taught they you believe them if they help you get closer to Jesus and reject them if they don’t.

        Anyway, it has been fun talking to you. I hope to see you around. I get into some good discussions over here.

        if you want to check it out.

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        We have a lot in common. I picked up a master’s in software engineering in 2012 to broaden my career opportunities.

        See you around!

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