Film: People with same-sex attraction find peace in Church
Dan, Rilene and Paul knew that once their stories were out, life would not be the same.
“We’ve been advised not to google ourselves,” Rilene said, laughing.
These three are the subjects of a recently released documentary, “Desire of the Everlasting Hills,” which chronicles their stories of having same-sex attraction, and how they eventually found peace in the Catholic Church.
The film made its world premiere in Pennsylvania July 19 at a conference for Courage, the Vatican-approved apostolate that reaches out to Catholics with same-sex attraction with the goals of growing closer to God, engaging in supportive friendships, and learning to live full lives within the call to chastity.
Its simple style and universal themes of human love and longing, however, make the film a touching and moving experience for a much broader audience.
All three said they approached their involvement in the film with some trepidation. They were hesitant about the responses they might get from their family and friends, and those in the LGBT community.
“I was very scared to do this movie,” Dan told CNA July 19. A professional musician, he was worried what people in the music industry might think. He didn’t want to be seen as “Dan the gay man.” Before this film he had never been publicly out, and had occasionally dated women.
“But I was thinking about 1 Peter 3:15, where he says ‘Always be prepared to give an answer for the hope that lies within you.’ With how good God has been to me, if I can help other people through my story, that’s why I chose to do this.”
Dan’s passion is especially to help young people who are experiencing same-sex attraction. Although he was Catholic when he was young, his family became Protestant by the time he was in his teenage years. He remembers feeling like there was no one he could talk to about what he was experiencing.
“I remember the pastor doing a series on sexual purity, and he was talking about lusting after women,” Dan said, “And I remember thinking, ‘Who can I tell, that the guy two pews in front of me is the guy that I’m lusting after?’”
In the film, Dan recounts going to a strip club as an experiment. He ended up talking vegetables with a dancer, and still uses some of her gardening tips to this day.
He then decided that he still wanted the normalcy of a dating relationship, so he started dating Jason, with whom he was in a relationship for about a year. But his desires for a family and biological fatherhood were reawakened when he found himself falling in love with Kelly, a woman at work.
When his relationship with Kelly ended, Dan said he found himself tempted to find another relationship with a man.
“But I had reached a threshold where I realized the path to peace … was not going back.”
Rilene participated in the film because she felt she owed it to God to be as outspoken about him as she had been about being gay.
“When I was gay I dragged my partner out of the closet,” she said. “I feel like I at least owe God the same level of full disclosure, so that’s why I am openly back in the Church and abandoned my gay identity.”
In the film, Rilene recalled that at first she wanted to be loved by a man and to have a family. But after a dating dry spell and a woman making a move on her at a party, she started questioning whether or not she might really be attracted to women.
On a business trip, she met a woman, Margo, who was to be her partner for 25 years.
“I think she was a lot like me in many ways, she was professional,” Rilene said. “And she wanted me, honestly. And I needed to be wanted.”
But even throughout that relationship, Rilene said she felt restless and often alone. After a series of financial downfalls and a marriage proposal from Margo, Rilene left the relationship and eventually found her way back into a Catholic parish.
She said she felt like the film was a good chance for her and the other subjects to sort through their thoughts and examine their lives.
“There were so many blessings in this movie for us, the actual conversation, the questioning, helped to focus our own thoughts for each of us on different aspects of our life that maybe we hadn’t considered as closely before.”
“And it has wonderful graces so far, and whatever else comes, that’s the way it goes, we’ll just take it as it comes.”
Paul got involved in the gay scene after moving to New York City in the 1970s. He landed a high-end job as an international model and rubbed elbows with celebrities at clubs in the city.
“Studio 54, especially if you were young and somewhat attractive, you could go there and it would be total heaven. The lights, the way people dressed, the music, the movie stars … it was exactly like you’ve heard,” he said in the film.
When he wasn’t at the studio or at the gym, Paul spent his time looking for partners. He found himself going through dozens, and then hundreds, and then thousands of lovers.
“It became frantic, and it was never my intention … but I became insensitive to what it means to be with a partner, both body and soul.”
When the AIDs epidemic claimed around 90 percent of his friends, Paul decided to move to San Francisco for a fresh start. He met his partner, Jeff, there and they moved to a cabin in Sonoma County.
One day while watching T.V., Paul came across a strange image and called Jeff into the room to laugh at what they saw.
“I’m laughing mockingly at this nun with a patch over her eye, a distorted face (I didn’t know she had a stroke at the time), and a complete, old fashioned habit,” he said.
It was Mother Angelica on EWTN.
Jeff and Paul both laughed at “these crazy Christians”, but when Jeff left the room, Paul kept watching.
“I was about to change the channel, she said something so intelligent and so real and so honest that it really struck me.”
“You see God created you and I to be happy in this life and the next. He cares for you. He watches your every move. There’s no one that loves you (that) can do that,” Mother Angelica said.
From then on, Paul was hooked on Mother Angelica. But he hid his new obsession. He would change the channel after watching her so that Jeff or anyone who used the T.V. wouldn’t see the nun.
“And it reminded me as I was doing this of when I used to turn the channel when I was watching porn because I didn’t want Jeff or anyone else to see a porn station come up.”
Paul anticipates that the negative response to this film will be huge. Even though the film wasn’t public at the time of the interview, Paul said he’s already seen a reaction.
“I got blowback because I walked up the stairs … of a church called the Catholic Church. I lost clients, I lost friends.”
“People were in shock that an educated, relatively intelligent man could believe in Jesus Christ. These were the few friends that were aware that I was back in the Church.”
Dan echoed Paul’s sentiments about the reaction he expects from the film.
“I think my colleagues would have no problem if I were to come out as gay. I think they’re baffled by the fact that I’m Catholic.”
All three also said that once they were back in the Church, they started to distance themselves from the label “gay” or “lesbian”.
Within the Church, the terminology is not preferred because it tends to pigeonhole people by defining them first by their sexual drives.
“I went to a Protestant conference and one of the people said, ‘Maybe you need to consider the fact that the label 'gay' doesn’t define you,’ and that was one of the most liberating things,” Dan said. “I think the very fact that the Church would avoid the terms gay and lesbian speaks to the truth of the human person, and there’s something vitally important about the Church’s refusal to use that.”
When asked about what the Church needs to do to better serve people with same-sex attraction, the answer was resoundingly that priests and the Church need to be better educated about the Church’s position.
Rilene said within the first few years of living with Margo, a priest knocked on her door for a parish survey. When she burst into tears, explaining that she used to be Catholic but felt unwanted by the Church because she was a lesbian, the priest didn’t know what to say.
“He just said, ‘No, we want you!’ But there was nothing behind that … he just had no tools. So I think that our priests need the education, they need training. I know priests who I don’t think even know what the Church’s position is on it, or are resistant to it.”
“So, that’s what we need to do. We need to arm our priests.”
Dan said he hoped that priests would also not shy away from the topic, or the Church’s teachings on the subject.
“One of the guys in Courage said chastity isn’t a consolation prize. Our lives are better because of the Church’s teaching, and we shouldn’t be embarrassed by that,” he said. “We should shout it from the mountaintops, it’s the good news!”