Two Catholic speakers shared stories of God’s love through their struggles with same-sex attraction to a gallery full of students on the evening of Sept. 5. The talk, titled “Who are you? Identity and Same-sex Attraction,” began the second week of the Gift of Human Sexuality Symposium.
Speakers Dan Mattson and Rilene Simpson took to the stage on Monday at 9 p.m. to tell their personal stories about living with same-sex attraction. Simpson kicked off the talk by sharing her witness.
Simpson grew up Catholic in a troubled household, which led her to question her faith. Her father struggled with alcoholism, so her parents soon divorced when she was one year old, and she spent the majority of her life without a father.
Simpson said that as the middle child, she did not get much attention when she was younger and did not often ask for help. “I grew up thinking I was smarter than everybody else. I still think it sometimes,” she said with a chuckle, which was followed by a chorus of laughter from the audience.
Simpson dated two men throughout her time in high school and college. The first lasted only six months, but the other lasted through the end of college despite its toxic nature. After a three-year dating dry spell, Simpson met a woman with whom she spent 25 years of her life. Living in a big house with plenty of money, Simpson and her partner seemed to have the best life, but they struggled on the inside.
Eventually, Simpson and her partner began to struggle financially as well, which led to bankruptcy and ultimately put pressure on their relationship. The couple soon split, and Simpson went back to her hometown parish, received confession and returned to the Church.
Mattson, who shared his talk “Why I Don’t Call Myself Gay” at last year’s Symposium, followed Simpson, beginning with a reading from the Bible on the fall of man. He then asked the question, “What are you longing for?”
Mattson used the metaphor of “picking the forbidden fruit” to describe his temptation with same-sex attraction, which he expanded as also applying to temptation in general.
Mattson shared with the audience that he had often felt ashamed of his temptations and thought that God was angry with him. However, “it wasn’t God’s wrath that I felt,” Mattson said. “I felt God reaching down to me in mercy and kindness and saying ‘let me clothe you.’”
Throughout his talk, Mattson emphasized God’s mercy, love and forgiveness, saying that the Lord wanted Adam and Eve to run to him and to not be ashamed. Powerfully, he concluded his talk saying that “we know who we are.”
Following their prepared remarks, Mattson and Simpson turned to the audience to address questions varying from how to love family members with same-sex attraction to how to have a conversation with someone of the opposing view on gay marriage.
Love was central to the speakers’ answers. “I recommend (talking) about other topics that you do not agree on … and gently point out, ‘do you think we can disagree about this and still love each other?’” said Simpson.
Freshman Veronica Eckart, who attended the talk, was inspired by the fact that “they stressed the importance of loving people first,” she said. “It’s not about fixing them. It’s about supporting them and journeying with them.”