111. “Gay” vs. “Same-Sex Attraction”: What’s the Right Language?

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One of the many benefits of Cor Project Membership is access to our private Facebook community where TOB enthusiasts can interact with one another, share ideas, and ask me what ever is on their mind in our monthly live chats (to learn more click here). I thought I’d share one of the many exchanges from last week’s live chat. One member asked:

“What are your thoughts on the whole ‘gay vs. SSA’ language argument? Can both terms be used accurately to describe one’s sexual attraction? Or should one be favored over the other? If we use a term that is foreign to the public at large (i.e. same-sex attraction), does that isolate us and make it more difficult to evangelize the culture?”

Here was my answer, with some additional thoughts for this context…

For those who may not be aware of this debate, in some Catholic circles, rather than saying one is gay, or homosexual, people speak about having same-sex attraction (SSA, for short). This is not the way the culture speaks, of course, so what’s the purpose of using this kind of language?

Language shapes the way we see reality. To say one “is gay” or one “is homosexual” is to identify one’s humanity with something that, in all reality, is not a reality. That is not to say there is no such thing as those with a predominant erotic inclination towards members of their own sex. But recognizing that is quite different than saying one is gay or homosexual. Again, there is no such thing as homosexuality per se. Nor is there any such thing as heterosexuality. Those words were invented in the late 1800s. All that exists is sexuality – and that refers to the distinction of male and female.

[tweetthis]Language shapes the way we see reality. – @cwestTOB[/tweetthis]


The word sexuality comes from the Latin sexus which means to divide (as in “section”) or to recognize the distinction or difference of. Look now at the actual meaning of these words: homo-sexuality is an oxymoron – it means “same difference”; hetero-sexuality is redundant – it means “different difference.” When we absorb these fabricated terms into our view of the world, we end up with the false sense that there is a category of people called “heterosexuals” and a category of people called “homosexuals.”

But why stop there? There is, of course, no reason to – which is why Facebook stopped at about 56 gender options before it just decided to provide a “customize” button. The modern “customization” of sexuality began with the invention of the false categories of homosexuality and heterosexuality.

So, is “same-sex attraction” a better way to describe the phenomenon? I do think it is better, but it is also problematic because I should be attracted to my own sex – not in a neurotic eroticized way, but I should be attracted rightly to everything that is true, good and beautiful, and one’s own sex is indeed that. It’s also problematic for the reason posed above: few people in the culture with which we are trying to enter into conversation relate to that term.

Bottom line: it’s hard to find the right language to talk about these difficult and sensitive issues. Whether we use the terms “gay,” “homosexual,” or “same-sex attraction,” we need to be very clear about the limits and problematic nature of each of those terms.

Question: What are your thoughts for terms to use when discussing these matters? Share your comments on Facebook and Twitter.

Photo by Cor Project.