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Stereotypes Last Only As Long As You Let Them

This woman and Penn Jillette might have a lot in common to talk about regarding how the Religious Right have been portrayed in our culture.

[Eve] Tushnet entered Yale in 1996 a happy lesbian, out since age 13 or 14 (she can’t quite remember). Her father, a nonobservant Jew, and her mother, a Unitarian, both belonged to progressive traditions, tolerant of her sexuality.

When, as a freshman, she attended a meeting of the Party of the Right, a conservative group affiliated with the Yale Political Union, it was “specifically to laugh at them, to see the zoo animals,” she says.

“But I was really impressed, not only by the weird arguments but the degree to which it was clear that the people making them lived as if what they were saying had actual consequences for their lives, that had required them to make sacrifices.”

In Ms. Tushnet’s time, as in mine — I was four years ahead of her at Yale — the Party of the Right had a benignantly cultish quality. “Have you read ‘The Secret History?’ ” she asks, referring to Donna Tartt’s 1992 novel about a secretive student clique obsessed with Greek literature. “It was like that.”

But she listened to them, sincerely, and came out with a far, far different view of them than the culture had led her to believe.

But she found the Party of the Right students compassionate, intellectual and not terribly exercised about her homosexuality. She was drawn to the Catholics among them, who corrected her misimpression that the existence of sin “means you are bad.” It means “precisely the opposite,” they taught her. “It means you have a chance to come back and repent and be saved,” she says. She began reading books like St. Anselm’s “Why God Became Man.” She began attending church. Her sophomore year, she was baptized.

“By the time it was real enough to be threatening,” she says of her conversion, “things had gone too far. I didn’t see it coming.”

So now she’s a fervent Catholic and against same-sex marriage, but isn’t trying to change her religion to fit her notions of right and wrong.  She really believes in it, and understands what that means for her life.

As the hundred or so daily readers of eve-tushnet.blogspot.com, and a larger audience for her magazine writing, know by now, Ms. Tushnet can seem a paradox: fervently Catholic, proudly gay, happily celibate. She does not see herself as disordered; she does not struggle to be straight, but she insists that her religion forbids her a sex life.

“The sacrifices you want to make aren’t always the only sacrifices God wants,” Ms. Tushnet wrote in a 2007 essay for Commonweal. While gay sex should not be criminalized, she said, gay men and lesbians should abstain. They might instead have passionate friendships, or sublimate their urges into other pursuits. “It turns out I happen to be very good at sublimating,” she says, while acknowledging that that is a lot to ask of others.

Marriage should be reserved for heterosexuals, whose “relationships can be either uniquely dangerous or uniquely fruitful,” she explained in an e-mail message. “Thus it makes sense to have an institution dedicated to structuring and channeling them.”

She has her problems with the ex-gay movement (see here for her very thoughtful NRO piece on the topic), but does understand what the Church teaches on the subject and, rather than practice the a la carte version of Christianity some do, she’s taken Jesus’ advice to count the cost, and decided to apply the teachings rather than ignore that which she holds true.  That’s dedication and commitment.

But she got there by actually listening and giving a fair hearing to what others considered religious nuts.  Don’t believe the press.  Well, in general, but specifically about the Religious Right(tm).  Find out for yourself.

Doug Payton blogs at Considerettes.

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