I recently wrote about times that I’ve been rejected, excluded, and discriminated against by Catholics. A Catholic parish rejected an offer to share my experiences as a gay Catholic, because the community “wasn’t there yet.” A job offer for a Catholic employer was rescinded after I disclosed my writings on Catholicism and homosexuality, even though those writings sought to affirm the Catechism’s teachings on sexuality. A priest once advised another guy to break off his friendship with me after he suspected I had developed “feelings” for him.
Looking back at these situations, I now realize that I’ve been objectified. We all know of the capacity to sexually objectify others. The most obvious sexual objectification occurs when we reduce another person to an object of sexual gratification, when we treat a person as simply a means for sexual pleasure.
But there’s another form of sexual objectification. In Love and Responsibility, Karol Wojtyla writes about objectifying others by reducing them to their “sexual attributes.” This can be done in two ways (he only discusses the first).
The first form of objectification, “indulgent objectification,” turns someone into an object of sexual fantasy. I’m degraded, and my integral personhood is lost, when someone sees me simply as an object of sexual pleasure. This form of objectification turns me into the substantiation of disordered erotic desire, and the person who sees me in this way fails to see me fully so that I can be loved as a person.
The second form of objectification, “avoidant objectification,” turns someone into an object of sexual fear. This can happen when someone refuses to speak or act or engage with me out of a fear that encountering me would inevitably lead to sexual sin. And this feared sin can either be a sin of lust or the “sin” of “condoning” a particular lifestyle by having a conversation with me. This form of sexual objectification is also one of the natural results of the “avoidant approach” to sexuality.
Two (Unequal) Sides of the Same Coin
Both of these forms reduce a person to his or her sexual attributes, by either indulging in or rejecting a person solely because of them. They’re both forms of sexual objectification. But the second form of objectification reduces me to my sexual attributes in far more insidious ways than the first.
While “indulgent objectification” still recognizes me as valuable—albeit in a disordered way—”avoidant objectification” refuses to recognize or acknowledge me at all. And while “indulgent objectification” can be overcome by a proper orientation of the senses towards loving me in an integrated way, “avoidant objectification” is resolved by the simple destruction of my entire being, including my sexual attributes. If the former turns me into the substantiation of incomplete desire, the latter turns me into the substantiation of evil. The proper response to the former is a reorientation to true erotic desire, but the response to the latter is simply rejection. The resolution of disorder calls the Christian to greater love, which would treat me as a personal subject to be loved and engaged as a complete other, as an irreducible center of dignity and grace. The “avoidant approach” draws the Christian to make a quick stop to the spiritual garbage can. This is why so many gay Christians feel like garbage.
Ultimately, any objectification demands a response from me. It demands an increasing personalism, a response to those who might objectify me with my own increasing gift of self. This comes from recognizing that Christ always responds to me as a person, a whole person, including—but not reduced to—my sexual attributes. This vision of the person can be seen especially in Gospels where Christ looks into the faces of sinners, especially sexual sinners who have been made outcasts and objectified as a substantiation of certain sins. Christ looks us in the face and calls us to personhood.