Wednesday, September 02, 2015

The Effeminate - redux

HRH The Prince Edward,
1st Duke of Windsor

Something to consider...

Ever since Fr. Mason has written about the vice of effeminacy, I've seen several comments on the subject as well as one 'headline' which no longer exists, but which claimed: "Homosexual acts are certainly sinful, but so is the homosexual tendency and all its manifestations, including effeminacy."  That was taken from an essay which stated, "Homosexual acts are certainly immoral, but so is the homosexual tendency and all its manifestations, including effeminacy."  Because effeminacy is a vice, in opposition to the virtue of fortitude or courage and perseverance.  The author suggests culpability for the vice asking, "Is effeminacy actually a sin? St. Thomas Aquinas takes it further and says effeminacy is a vice - that is, a habitually sinful disposition."  (Inclination to an objective disorder perhaps, but not a sin all by itself - that is - if a person has effeminate characteristics, and so on.  Therefore it should be regarded as a habit which if not mortified, may incline one to sin.  A man may have a vice, though not guilty of sin.  See New Advent.)

The author seems to be directing his fraternal concern onto the 'chaste and celibate homosexual' - perhaps in view of the emergence of the so-called gay-Catholic 'movement' associated with the Spiritual Friendship model.  Being gay and acting gay are two different things.  Though gay people refer to themselves as tops and bottoms when it comes to homosexual acts, often times that has little to do with effeminate behavior, even though St. Thomas certainly alludes to the vice in discussing sodomy citing the receptive partner.  Yet effeminacy is more interior than that - its role in the act of sodomy is the extreme.

In contemporary homosexual culture, manliness is the preferred trait, and one of the reasons men find men attractive in the first place - especially straight men, athletes, handsome actors, and so on.  In history one has only to recall the Spartans and Greek warrior relationships - masculinity was highly prized.  While pederasty was tolerated with boys and young men, only the catamite would be on the receiving end - no pun intended.  There was no homosexual marriage or partnership otherwise - and effeminacy was never esteemed or tolerated.  Effeminacy was more aligned with cowardice, fear of effort, delicacy/weakness, even sloth, I think.  Weakness related to pusillanimity and temerity - fear of the effort or difficulty involved in the acquisition of virtue.

I've written on this subject many times before.  The effeminate man is not necessarily a womanly man - that particular trait today is comes closer to gender dysphoria.  When Fr. Mason, or Cardinal Burke speak to the issue of the feminizing of the American male - it isn't about being a femme or Nellie, or calling men 'Mary', as gay people used to say.  Nor is it about lace and satin vestments.  It goes deeper than external manifestations of effeminate behavior.  It is not necessarily peculiar to homosexuals either.  It's more a disposition, an inclination, a propensity - a defect.

To the virtue of fortitude is also linked that of magnanimity, which leads to the lofty practice of all the virtues, avoiding pusillanimity and effeminacy, but without falling into presumption, vainglory, or ambition. - Three Ages

That some gay men can be effeminate, there is no doubt, that some gay men can have as a predominant fault a tendency to the vice of effeminacy - that too is clear.  Yet it is much more fundamental than womanliness, fastidiousness, or acting like Nathan Lane's character in The Bird Cage.  And as I said - it isn't peculiar only to gay men.  The actual vice of effeminacy is really more about the lack of courage to struggle through temptations against chastity and/or to labor in the acquisition of virtue; fulfilling one's duties in one's state of life, or persevering in virtue and the practice of religion and that kind of thing.  Both men and women, straight or gay - or trans can possess, as a predominant fault, or some propensity for the vice of effeminacy.  It is a propensity - not actual sin.  Just as the homosexual inclination is an objective disorder - but not a sin in itself.  Every sin is a disorder - a tendency is an objective disorder.  The terminology is very proper to discussions related to the virtues and moral theology - but a bit foreign to ordinary conversation.

We need to be careful when discussing these issue to avoid making burdens too heavy for same sex attracted persons to carry, or to make rash judgement concerning their state of soul based upon personality traits or gender non-conformity, if you will.  Especially today, when there is concerted effort in education, media, fashion and popular culture to androgyny.  Great confusion ensues.

Perhaps an example of an effeminate man can be glimpsed in the conduct of the former King Edward VIII, the Duke of Windsor, who abdicated his duties as king to marry Wallis Simpson, the Duchess of Windsor.  He was always the perfect gentleman, a playboy, royal celebrity, and resisted the responsibilities to which he was obliged.  It seems to me he is the perfect model of a man subject to the vice of effeminacy.  Therefore you see it is neither a fault limited to homosexuality or men - it is sexless - genderless, as it were.  Perhaps the Duchess proved to be more virile or courageous in so far as she persevered in the marriage, though most likely unhappily?  It is said she loved her last husband the most.

Actual sexual sins are sexual in nature and kind.  

I've know men who have been very masculine who nonetheless exhibited faults and failings which suggest the vice of effeminacy.  Frequently it has involved the failure to be perform or be faithful to the duties of their state in life, seeking comfort and ease, neglecting those in their charge , and so on.  It seems to me it may indeed be a pervasive sin, or failing in modern society, especially considering the fact Our Lord told Sr. Lucia the penance now required from man is the fidelity to the duties of one's state in life.  It takes courage - fortitude.  The difficulty involved is the suffering one encounters in the spiritual combat.  We have no idea what others go through just to make a living.

I've known very good men, some priests with feminine characteristics and mannerisms; slight lisps, hissy esses, all the stereotypical mannerisms one can attribute to gay men. It does not ever mean a man is gay or even has homosexual inclination, nor that he is prone to the vice of effeminacy.

Gay readers hate it when I use the term effeminate - I mean it in the sense of the 'vice of effeminacy' and not in the sense of acting femme or butch - heterosexual men and women can and do share the vice as well.  I've printed the following from Fr. Mason several times since 2011:  Saint Thomas includes effeminacy under the vices opposed to perseverance. It is from the Latin Mollities, which literally means “softness.” Mollities is the verb used in 1 Corinthians 6:9 which deals with the sexual sin of sodomy. It involves being inordinately passive or receptive.

Below are some reminders from the Catechism for myself and my readers to keep in mind when speculating and discussing the personal foibles of others.

2477 Respect for the reputation of persons forbids every attitude and word likely to cause them unjust injury.278 He becomes guilty:
- of rash judgment who, even tacitly, assumes as true, without sufficient foundation, the moral fault of a neighbor;
- of detraction who, without objectively valid reason, discloses another's faults and failings to persons who did not know them;279
- of calumny who, by remarks contrary to the truth, harms the reputation of others and gives occasion for false judgments concerning them.
2479 Detraction and calumny destroy the reputation and honor of one's neighbor. Honor is the social witness given to human dignity, and everyone enjoys a natural right to the honor of his name and reputation and to respect. Thus, detraction and calumny offend against the virtues of justice and charity. - CCC

"Love is a teacher, but one must know how to acquire it, for it is hard to acquire, it is dearly bought, it is won slowly by long labor. For we must love not occasionally, for a moment, but forever." - Dostoevsky, Fr. Zosima

It also seems to me that many people appear to go along in life somewhat unconscious or oblivious to the moral virtues. The acquired moral virtues are obtained by the practice of moral acts directed by natural reason and human goodness, while infused moral virtues are supernaturally placed in the soul at baptism. We can lose these infused moral virtues through sin - vices contrary to the virtue, yet they are restored to the soul through the sacrament of penance. I think confessors and spiritual directors might agree that even with penitents striving to amend their lives, many often do not focus a great deal of attention upon the acquisition or development of the virtues. Understanding their importance can often be far from one's thoughts in the everyday occupations and diversions which comprise our lives. Even with prayerful persons eager for contemplative graces proper attention can be lacking.

Therefore I have no problem whatsoever with pointing out good theology on vices and virtues, it is simply important to not attribute sin where it may only be a fault or an inclination - a character weakness, or simply an acquired mannerism.  Devotions such as adoration and the rosary, constant prayer and recourse to the sacraments are the ordinary means of sanctification.  Likewise, those faults or defects God in his providence leaves in the soul, sometimes are only purified in and through the dark night and or suffering.  

"If the Church, through the power of the Holy Spirit, can call evil by its name, it does so only in order to demonstrate that evil can be overcome if we open ourselves to 'love for God to the point of contempt for self. This is the fruit of Divine Mercy...'" - John Paul II, Memory and Identity

It's important to remember how different souls are, how many weaknesses and faults are not deliberate or malicious, but simply an acquired trait as in a type of temperament.
"Therese believed that God frequently allows us to experience in ourselves the same weaknesses which we deplore in others,,, [Thus] when we see ourselves fallen into those faults we are then more prompt to excuse them in others." - My Sister St. Therese, Sister Genevieve of the Holy Face
"'Sometimes it happens,' she went on, 'that despite their best efforts, some souls remain imperfect because it would be to their spiritual detriment to believe they are virtuous or to have others agree that they are.'" - Ibid
Those of us who have no charge in the direction of souls, nor are qualified to teach or preach, need to be careful in our pronouncements on moral theology and things such as canon law, lest we give a too narrow interpretation for those unfamiliar with the type of debates these subjects engender among academics and intellectuals - or simply well meaning guys with a theology degree.

Go to confession, check with your confessor or spiritual director and keep your eyes fixed on Jesus, and as his Mom said - "Do whatever he tells you."



  1. Terry you are writing about a very complex and subtle issue. The psychosexual development of boys is both a process and a genetic mystery. I recall my early teens as a time of terror where I and my friends had to establish and constantly protect our masculinity. Image was essential. To be called a "fem" in any way was a fate worse then death. I still shutter with agony when I recall the abuse given to the poor guy who could not help his walk, lisp, mannerisms or famine interests. I thought, hoped, we had grown past the idea of masculine being macho. This is why I have trouble with your framework of it being a disorder, even a sin. I think you are alluding to a flamboyant lifestyle but this is not clear to me. It seems more than that.. I have known too many "manly men" who have not been a stellar model of Christian masculinity. I do not know how one teachesnever mind enforces what you are describing as a sin. The Duke and Dutches of Windsor are an interesting couple. I have read many theories about their attraction, relationship and marriage. The Duke is a pretty ( no pun intended) good example of a typical British aristocratic male. Genetics and social conditioning produce this type of male. You can see some of the same thing in Prince Charles and William. A certain inclination and behavior that was once considered good breeding. Not sure we can categorize it as a vice, or more so, a sin.

    1. No - I'm not saying it is a sin - it's a vice - vices are contrary to virtues - hence in this case the vice is contrary to the virtue of fortitude. I'm sorry I might have screwed this up - I was trying to point out the problem of actually saying its a sin. It is not sinful for a man to have feminine characteristics or mannerisms - indeed he may not have any issues with effeminacy. Teresa of Avila counselled her nuns to have a manly spirit - but she certainly wasn't telling them to act butch.

      I wonder if I should remove and redo what I wrote - I had many distractions while trying compose this.

      I grew up in a tough Italian neighborhood so no problem with masculinity.

      As Fr. Mason mentioned in his essay:

      "What Saint Thomas means by persevering is when “a man does not forsake a good on account of long endurance or difficulties and toils.” An “effeminate man is one who withdraws from good on account of sorrows caused by lack of pleasures, yielding as it were to a weak motion.” Thomas states that this effeminacy is caused in two ways. First, by custom, where a man is accustomed to enjoy pleasures and it is, therefore, more difficult for him to endure the lack of them. Second, by natural disposition, less persevering through frailty of temperament..."

      What he points out is that an “effeminate man is one who withdraws from good on account of sorrows caused by lack of pleasures, yielding as it were to a weak motion.” Though Thomas calls it a vice - it is a fault which results from original sin - hence we combat the tendency just as we would the inclination to pusillanimity, temerity, and so on. The acquisition of the virtues is the aim - not accusing people of sin or making them feel guilty about themselves.

      You are right in what you say - it was pretty much my point actually. Let me know if that is clear, otherwise I should just remove the post I think.

      Thanks Wallace.

    2. Terry, I do not think you should remove. I just think the whole issue needs more clarity. That can only happen through discussion. Feminine boys/men have a rough time of it in the world. I think you are referring to exaggerated mannerisms, preoccupation with fashion and decorating etc. a person might be able to control some of this but why should they have to? Maybe it is a selfish vice of narcissism that you pointing out? I don't know, but I think what you are getting at falls under something else in the rubrics. I still think effeminacy is thought of and used as code for gayness even though we know one does not equal the other. I vote to keep the post. It is thought provoking.

    3. Thanks - I edited it a bit for clarity. Hope it works. God bless.

  2. "Teresa of Avila counselled her nuns to have a manly spirit - but she certainly wasn't telling them to act butch."

    I like the thought of having a manly spirit. ^^ As a woman, I want to press on with courage, determination, fearless (though I fail and fall). I want to be strong in mind, body, soul and not fall apart at every scandal or difficulty life may toss my way. I want to pull up my sleeves and put my combat boots on and with rosary in hand, faith, hope and charity in my heart, love God and neighbor all the more.

    If more of us could live this way, just think of what we could do!

    The post was an interesting. Gracias Terry. <3

    1. I love Teresa of Avila - excellent model.

  3. +JMJ+

    My philosopher friend Brandon has an on-again, off-again series on the virtues and vices on his blog. It was he who first explained effeminacy to me. He has also suggested that we call it "mollience" instead, so that we stop getting tangled up in the wrong associations. If you don't mind a link, Terry, here you go: Thursday Virtue/Vice: Mollience.

    After reading his post, I thought of the Eurovision Song Contest, which a French client once told me is now enjoyed only by women and gay men. That's hardly an exaggeration. A couple of years ago, a popular Swedish host teasingly told the "super" fans in the most expensive area that she had an important message especially for them: "You just haven't found the right woman yet!" (They took it well.) And I did know one openly gay man who stunned himself when he fell in love with a woman and realised he wanted to reconsider his life. But I digress . . .

    Anyway, I think about the life of a "super" Eurovision fan and can't help seeing how effeminate it is, in the sense that pleasure becomes the greatest good in their lives because all the truly greater goods are just too much effort. It's not as if they're totally lazy: they do hold down jobs to earn the thousands of Euros they spend just to be there year after year. But because they choose Eurovision, they don't choose harder things that can also be pleasures, like raising a family. And I don't mean to single them out. Anyone who loves his (or her!) lifestyle and "freedom" so much that he (or she!) decides not to have children is effeminate. That barren sex has become associated with effeminacy isn't just some coincidence: it's the perfect emblem of great pleasure without the risk of pain in the pursuit of a higher good.

    PS -- When I was studying Oscar Wilde in uni, the lecturer said that all the gestures and affectations we now find "gay" used to be, in Wilde's time, taken as a sign that a man was only interested in flirting and dalliances with women but would never actually marry one of them. Because pleasure was his chief good and marriage would mean the pain of having to grow up.

    1. Yes! Thanks E! Eurovision is so gay - I once posted a couple of contenders whose music I liked.

      What you say about about marriage is absolutely correct - the pain of having to grow up - being responsible and accountable. It's more than that - but you know - thanks for the link - I'll check it out. It probably would be a good idea to rename it what with all the gender confusion and manly gay men not wanting be accused of being femme.

    2. Excellent - he brings up another parallel - luxury - luxuria - which I have referenced before. Likewise he stresses it isn't a 'man' only 'vice'. I like this:

      "Thus Aristotle says in the Nicomachean Ethics (Book VII, section 7), "One who is deficient in resistance to pains that most men withstand with success, is malakos or luxurious, for luxury is a kind of malakia; such a man lets his cloak trail on the ground to escape the fatigue and trouble of lifting it, or feigns sickness, not seeing that to counterfeit misery is to be miserable." Aristotle also makes the interesting argument that, contrary to what is usually thought to be the case, excessive pursuit of amusements (for example, to the detriment of oneself or one's duties) really has more to do with avoiding pain than pursuing pleasure, properly speaking: amusement is a kind of rest from the pain of toil and labor, and so pursuit of amusement is (usually) more of a pursuit of rest from pain than a pursuit of pleasure itself." -

      Thanks for the link!

    3. +JMJ+

      You're welcome! You and he are right that it's not so much about the pursuit of pleasure (though this is what I stressed in my comment) as it is about the avoidance of pain.


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