There’s a small change in one of the definitions of Fr. James Martin’s second edition of Building a Bridge: How the Catholic Church and the LGBT Community Can Enter into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion and Sensitivity. The change may be minor, but it makes a world of difference to a particular group of people who are often forgotten.
The 2016 recipient of New Ways Ministry’s Bridge Building Award, Fr. Martin has been speaking around the U.S. about LGBT issues since the publication of his book last year. The change in the second edition of his book grew out of a conversation with a member of the audience at one of his appearances.
In The Asexual online journal, Grace Gist recounts her experience asking Fr. Martin to revise his definition of the ‘A’ in the LGBTQA+ acronym to indicate asexuals, rather than allies. Gist first read the initial version of Building a Bridge leading up to one of Fr. Martin’s talks:
“He recognizes that LGBTQ and LGBTQA are common, but in explaining the latter he listed the A to mean ally. I was disappointed, but not terribly surprised—the A gets left out and misidentified often enough that us ace folks begrudgingly expect it, but that doesn’t meant the mistake doesn’t sting.”
Following the lecture she attended, Gist approached Fr. Martin at the book signing. She thanked him for his “openness in learning” more about the subjects he writes on, and then made her correction about the ‘A’ definition listed.
“He thanked me for this information. He pulled out a small notebook, wrote this down, and told me he was glad to know. He didn’t just listen to what I had to say—he heard me, properly and genuinely.”
The experience of being heard by Fr. Martin individually was to the author “a most remarkable joy” of being seen “without question.” Then, beyond this initial personal connection, when the second edition of the book was released, the definition was there with an update. Gist writes:
“Asexuality isn’t a focus of the book, but to have the word there in black and white, however small, is a powerful, joyful thing.”
Public representation among the asexual community is small but growing. The Asexuality Visibility and Education Network (AVEN) explains asexuality:
“It’s a lack of sexual attraction. Asexuals are generally very different from one another: some experience romantic attraction, some don’t. Some experience arousal, some don’t. Asexuality is not celibacy – celibacy is a choice to abstain from sexual intimacy while asexuality is an orientation which results in lack of sexual attraction.”
Among their FAQs, AVEN further contrasts asexuality and celibacy, where the former is a sexual identity characterized by lack of sexual attraction, and the former an intentional lifestyle choice often celebrated in the Catholic church and practiced by members of the clergy and vowed religious communities AVEN also draws a distinction between sexual and romantic attraction:
“Asexuals may regard other people as aesthetically attractive without feeling sexual attraction to them. Some asexual people also experience the desire of being affectionate to other people without it being sexual.”
A good proportion of asexuals get crushes on others and fall in love. Emotional and romantic attraction are separate from sexual attraction for them. For some people these forces are connected, but they are not joined for asexual people.. Many asexuals talk about having a ‘romance drive’. They need to be intimate with another special person, it’s just that the intimacy they desire isn’t sexual.”
While there may not be clear reasons for conflict between the church and asexual individuals, it is important to continue to affirm their existence as real and valid, and one worth including fully in conversations about how to fully serve all members of the church.
–Catherine Buck, New Ways Ministry, July 19, 2018