Tuesday, November 10, 2009

I Hate Post-Traumatic Priest Disorder

     For me, going to the doctor is always a textbook lesson in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Whether it is the antiseptic scent of the examination room, the feel of the examination bed’s paper covering crinkling beneath my bum, or the sound of the doorknob turning and the latch clicking as the doctor enters, no matter how many years and therapy sessions pass since I was sexually abused by the pediatrician in my early teens, the PTSD is always there. The sensory stimuli relentlessly take me back to that cold examination room and the multiple abusive genital “examinations” that I suffered.

     Over the years, I’ve come to deal with PTSD as an old annoying friend, who shows up on the doorstep when least expected. The door bursts open. The intrusion takes place, but then conscious choice comes into play. I can either let the old friend take over my inner space, or I can acknowledge the intrusion, recognize the old friend, and say, “Oh, you again. Been there. Done that. Have a nice day,” and go on about my day. Of course, there are days when the friend busts down the door and sprawls out on the sofa, eating everything in the house, hogging the television, and polluting the air with rancid farts.

     Today is one of those days.

     This morning, I had a physical, and that meant prostate and testicular exams and a code red terror alert for the PTSD sensors. When I moved to L.A. three years ago, I wanted a gay doctor, someone that understood the unique health concerns of gay men without judgment. I found one. Doc P. is trustworthy, compassionate, thorough, and the only health care provider who has spent an average of more than ten minutes in the room with me on every visit, asking questions and listening to my health concerns. He’s pleasant, funny, and greets me with a hug. Hugging in a doctor’s office! PTSD! Boundary violation! Codependency! Formation issue!

     In seminary and spiritual direction, I underwent comprehensive “formation” (their word) to become a “suitable” (their word) candidate for the Roman Catholic Priesthood. So, I not only have post-traumatic stress disorder from the abuse I endured, but I also have post-traumatic priest disorder. All the therapy in the world can’t remove their hack job on my brain. So, like PTSD, when the PTPD acts up, I have to acknowledge the visitor and then forcefully tell him to get lost.

     The following are terms that help to explain PTPD:
1. Formation Issue: Any issue that challenges one’s becoming the perfectly obedient, chaste, celibate (celibate means behavioral abstinence, including masturbation; chastity is total purity of being), prayerful, compassionate, and poor of heart (diocesan priests don’t take a vow of material poverty)  Christ-like priest that god (a.k.a. the church) wants one to be. Because I was a victim of sexual abuse, both as a child and in college (by the trusted priests “forming” me), and because I was gay, a thinker (not one to just parrot back what I was taught), and disposed to live the socially radical aspects of the gospels more so than the church’s imposed self-aggrandizement, I had numerous formation issues.
2. Boundary Violation: Doing anything that uses another person to meet one’s own intimacy needs. This reduces that person to an object, thus devaluing their dignity and the dignity of the entire human race.  Examples: any person who looks at porn, has non-procreative, especially non-vaginal, sexual intercourse, has abortions, or embraces embryonic stem cell research. It does not include persons who support a war, where actual national boundaries are violated, to invade a country and kill hundreds of thousands of people for oil and daddy’s pride.
3. Codependency: Anything that results in one’s actually relying upon another person for intimacy. All sexual and intimacy needs are enemies of celibacy and to be treated as sin, which is an addiction. Sexual Attraction = Addiction. Needing someone in one’s life, means one is codependent. Yes, a priest needs people and there are chaste and celibate ways of having emotional intimacy met, but if one relies on a single person, instead of one’s congregation or priest-support group as a whole, then one is codependent and has started down the “slippery slope" (their word) towards compromising one’s boundaries and ultimately one’s chastity, celibacy, vocation, faith, and salvation. If you look up “slippery slope” in any Catholic seminary formation guide, you will find a picture of me skiing downhill with a rainbow colored scarf blowing freely behind my perfect hair.
4. Homosexuality: A priest’s sexuality is a gift and in the image of god, but to use it genitally is intrinsically depraved. Are you a “priest who happens to be gay” or a “gay priest?” I never understood the difference between the two, but to the closeted gay, white, and male celibates that formed me to compartmentalize and treat my sexuality as an addiction, this made sense.
     So, when Doc P. hugged me today, I had a PTPD episode. However, I quickly reminded myself that it’s 2009, not 2002, 1995, or 1989. I am neither in the pediatrician’s office, nor am I in Fr. Moustache’s confessional. I’m no longer in seminary or the priesthood. I no longer believe the self-actualizing lies of closeted celibates, who told me that two gay men are incapable of real intimacy.

     And sometimes, when two healthy and honest gay men hug, a hug is just a hug.

Not this time!