Friday, August 28, 2015

The Vice of Effeminacy

The Church teaches that persons afflicted with homosexual tendencies who wish to live in accordance with God's will are called to observe chastity. Hence the talk about "chaste homosexuals." 

All Christians are called to chastity, whatever their state in life. But this stress on the chastity required of homosexual Catholics sometimes tends to orient our focus too much on sexual activity alone. For example, take the case of a homosexual Catholic who is chaste but effeminate in his manner. As long as that person is chaste, there is a tendency to shrug off the question of effeminacy. An effeminate man is laughed off as "just being eccentric." Some people seem to find effeminate men endearing; "My, how friendly he is!" others will say.

The implication in this sort of laissez-faire attitude towards effeminacy is that it is completely acceptable so long as it is not accompanied by homosexual actions - that the chaste homosexual can be as effeminate and flaming as can be but is praiseworthy so long as he is not engaging in sodomy.

Such a view is very reductive and fails to comprehend the entirety of the problem posed by homosexuality. Homosexual acts are certainly immoral, but so is the homosexual tendency and all its manifestations, including effeminacy.

Is effeminacy actually a sin? St. Thomas Aquinas takes it further and says effeminacy is a vice - that is, a habitually sinful disposition.

Effeminacy in the classical tradition is seen as a kind of "softeness." The Latin, mollities, means literally "softness", but in various contexts can also mean irresolution, tenderness, wantonness, voluptuousness, weakness, or pliability. It essentially occurs when the traits traditionally associated with the feminine are found in the man.

The sum of these traits in a man constitute the vice of effeminacy, which St. Thomas, following Aristotle, says is a opposed to the virtue of fortitude. The effeminate man is he who is incapable of "manning up" and enduring the challenges of life. St. Thomas notes how this is opposed to fortitude or perseverance:

"Perseverance is deserving of praise because thereby a man does not forsake a good on account of long endurance of difficulties and toils: and it is directly opposed to this, seemingly, for a man to be ready to forsake a good on account of difficulties which he cannot endure. This is what we understand by effeminacy, because a thing is said to be "soft" if it readily yields to the touch" (STh, II-II, Q. 138, Art. 1).

But it is not merely yielding to difficulties that make a man effeminate or soft; a soldier may be tortured for information and eventually yield, but that does not make him effeminate. Another thing is necessary. St. Thomas explains:

"Now a thing is not declared to be soft through yielding to a heavy blow, for walls yield to the battering-ram. Wherefore a man is not said to be effeminate if he yields to heavy blows. Hence the Philosopher says that "it is no wonder, if a person is overcome by strong and overwhelming pleasures or sorrows; but he is to be pardoned if he struggles against them." 
Now it is evident that fear of danger is more impelling than the desire of pleasure: wherefore Tully says under the heading "True magnanimity consists of two things: It is inconsistent for one who is not cast down by fear, to be defeated by lust, or who has proved himself unbeaten by toil, to yield to pleasure." Moreover, pleasure itself is a stronger motive of attraction than sorrow, for the lack of pleasure is a motive of withdrawal, since lack of pleasure is a pure privation. Wherefore, according to the Philosopher, properly speaking an effeminate man is one who withdraws from good on account of sorrow caused by lack of pleasure, yielding as it were to a weak motion" (ibid).

So it is not merely yielding to challenge, but more specifically, refusing the challenge of pursuing the good because one is attracted to pleasure. He is fundamentally a weakling, one who sees the face of virtue and shrinks back from the effort. St. Thomas and the classical tradition associate this with "womanliness." For example:

"Now the delicate are those who cannot endure toils, nor anything that diminishes pleasure. Hence it is written (Deuteronomy 28:56): "The tender and delicate woman, that could not go upon the ground, nor set down her foot for softness"...Thus delicacy is a kind of effeminacy" (ibid).

St. Thomas cites the biblical passage from Deuteronomy on the delicate and tender woman as an example of the behavior he is talking about. Thus the effeminate man is the delicate man, the womanly man. And this sort of behavior, insofar as it is voluntary, constitutes a vice. The effeminate man is the man who does not have a strong and deep sense of his masculinity; rather than man-up and accept the challenge of understanding and growing in his identity has a man, he prefers to shrink back and adopt the attitudes and mannerisms of "the tender and delicate woman." And this disposition is a vice.

Effeminacy is a vice contrary to the virtue of fortitude. Which leaves one question - in what sense can an effeminate but chaste homosexual be said to lacking in fortitude when he exercises enough fortitude to remain chaste? If he has the self-control to keep his disordered passions in check, how can he simultaneously lack self-control and fortitude through the vice of effeminacy? How can he simultaneously have fortitude while lacking it?

Virtue is a habit, a stable disposition from which one generally performs good acts. Good acts that are done by the virtuous man are called virtuous in a participated sense, not in the particular of each act. If a man lacks fortitude in many areas of his life, his exercise of fortitude in a particular act may not constitute the presence of the virtue of fortitude; a man who rises to the challenge of performing a difficult act when called upon but does not have a habit of doing so is not virtuous; he has merely performed a good deed. Similarly, a man who may have disciplined himself with regards to sexual activity but has effeminate habits in every other aspect of his life may not really have the virtue of fortitude.

It could also be argued that we are talking about different virtues. His sexual abstinence could entail the presence of the virtue of temperance, while his effeminacy reveals a lack of fortitude. Thus he may be truly virtuous in some respects but lack virtue in others. This is where a very clear understanding of the relationship of virtues to each other, and how particular types of activities align with particular virtues is important.

Back to the chaste homosexual. Not all chaste homosexuals are effeminate. And not all effeminate men are homosexual. But effeminacy and homosexuality are connected, and we need to recognize that even if there is no homosexual activity taking place, effeminacy itself is a vice that should not be encouraged, coddled, laughed off, or ignored. Homosexuals are called to chastity, and the effeminate are called to overcome their effeminacy and grow into their manhood - this may be a great challenge and require deliberate effort on the part of the man sincerely struggling with effeminacy. But that's what fortitude is - manning up and overcoming the challenges we encounter in this vale of tears.

There is one more question that must be addressed: Since what is proper to females and males can fluctuate in different cultures and times, how can effeminacy exist as an objective vice? For example, to wear powdered wigs and lace was manly in 1750. For a man to do so now would be bizarre. Since what sort of fashions are proper to men and women change over time, is it not futile to try to nail down what sort of behaviors constitute effeminacy?

Remember, a virtue (or a vice) is a fundamental interior disposition. We are not talking about clothing fashions or hair styles; we are talking about a person's character. Fashions change, and in general, a man has an obligation not to take up fashions and dress popularly identified as womanly in his particular culture so as not to scandalize others.

But effeminacy is something deeper than fashion; it is the deep-seated, habitual disposition towards delicacy and withdrawal of effort for fear of lack of pleasure. The mere fact that we cannot come up with a systematic list of what behaviors constitute effeminacy or deduce exactly when one has become effeminate does not mean the vice does not exist. This is the same with any vice: for example, when does a person become cowardly? When he has run away from something once? Twice? How often and in what situations does he have to shirk before he can be categorized as a coward? Furthermore, what is considered cowardly varies from culture to culture. In some cultures it is considered brave to strike an enemy suddenly and then run away; in others it would be considered cowardly to strike someone and then flee. It is very difficult to pin down, but everybody agrees that cowardice exists.

Similarly, everybody acknowledges that effeminacy exists. Aristotle wrote about it in the Greek world. Cicero, centuries later and in a different cultural milieu, also condemned it. It was preached against and condemned by medieval moralists. Aquinas understands it and considers it a vice. It would be absurd to suggest that moral authors from Aristotle to Aquinas and beyond were only writing about a subjective, relative concept when they condemned effeminacy. Just like we all have a general consensus of what cowardice is, the Catholic tradition has a consistent picture of effeminacy. Aristotle, Aquinas and the rest had a clear idea of what they were writing about, just like most people today have a clear idea of what is meant by an "effeminate man" or a "girly man." You know it when you see it, even if it is difficult to systematically define.

Finally, it is important to note that one is never going to be perfectly actualizing fortitude, even though he has a stable disposition and could be called virtuous in that respect, until he reaches beatitude and has perfection of all virtues. Since we are judging particulars it is hard to treat of it scientifically, as if we were dealing with only principles. The point is not to dwell obsessively on whether a particular person has fortitude or not; God knows that. The point is to understand why this trait is considered vicious and how it relates to the other virtue which is its contrary.

Most of you are probably aware of this already, but Fr. James Mason wrote an excellent article on this vice for Homiletic and Pastoral Review, discussing how effeminacy ruins seminary candidates; I highly recommend his article ("Forgotten Vice in Seminary Formation"). I highly recommend it.


M.D.A. said...

Excellent piece! It often happens, at least in my experience, that effeminacy is mistaken for a virtue, especially humility or meekness. As such, the vicious are often confirmed in their vice, since they experience approbation.

Boniface said...

Yes, all things according to their nature. Humility and meekness is a virtue, but it looks different in men than in women. Effeminacy is certainly not anything close to humility.

Jared said...

I tried to find an email address on the blog so I could share how providential this post was for me, but for a public comment I will just say thanks for writing it! It's hard to find much out there in the way of information and advice about this vice.

J said...

Something I have been wondering for a time is, should we make use of terms like heterosexual and homosexual? You know, today all kinds exist like pansexual and the like. It seems to me we're using the enemies vocabulary and thus entering his world, but we should reject that world all-together. What sexuality am I? It doesn't matter, you can be attracted to dogs or fire-hydrants; you do the deed if you're married, and that's between a man and a woman, and all else is just distortion and irrelevant. Am I wrong?

Boniface said...

I don't think there is a hard and fast rule, but there is some truth to what you are saying. One of the first victories of the homosexual lobby was to divide the human race into homosexuals and heterosexuals, which seem to make a normal ordered sexual life simply one of two options.

That's not to say there is not different ways to refer to people who perform certain disordered actions. A person who was intemperate in drink was simply called a drunk. A person who performed homosexual actions was a sodomite. The names reflected the disordered actions these persons performance. Now names like homosexual, alcoholic, denote something different: namely That these persons are afflicted with a condition which they may not positively will. I think much of that is garbage, of course.

There are simply people whose sexuality is more or less ordered, and then there are people who sexuality is this ordered. And that's really it. If I have to referred to them by name, I will say homosexuals as a convention, but traditionally they would just be called perverts or sodomites.

Anonymous said...

Excellent. While I attend the EF (Tridentine Mass) I am sorry to see so many effeminate men trying to get involved in it. For starters, get rid of the lace surplices.

Boniface said...

Thats retarded. Lace is not inherently feminine. We are not talking about dress but a person's disposition. Vice is a habit of the soul, not what someone wears. This was clearly explained above.

Anonymous said...

The most masculine priests I have met celebrate the TLM. I think that real men appreciate the military precision. One priest said that the role of the vestments is for them to sort of make the priest disappear. What is important is not his personality. He is not giving a performance. He becomes the hands of Christ. The vestments give glory to God, not to the priest.

Unknown said...

'The point is to understand why this trait is considered vicious and how it relates to the other virtue which is its contrary.'

Note well, that the opposite vice machismo - a hyped-up version of ordinary masculinity, rather than a diminution of it - is a vice most marked in many women with a same-gender sexual affection, attraction, or acceptance aka 'Lesbians' of the non-feminine sort, or 'homosexual women' as a pseudo-science (fictive) definition of psychological traits.

The British and other cultures, not least in a Catholic perspective, have had a genuinely affectionate if gently mocking acceptance for effeminate males (less so for aggressively butch women) - also an at times unspoken aversion to knocking it out of them, as children, either by brute force or scientific manipulation.

Softness in men can be a major drawback, where a hard-headed determination is required; it can also be a much needed attribute, with regard to the heart, in dealing with other people - and that is the problem you seem to face .. how to allow for beneficial softness without undermining the ability to take tough blows.

Our work culture, school life, and political environment also - unlike almost any other in history - is built around only the softer virtues, e.g. prolonged and enduring compassion, the ability to listen and intuit answers, a eagerness to be of service ..

The world and his current husband, at large, gladly offer an imperial harem as the preferred pattern of life not a Spartan military camp, which made even ordinarily manly men (and womanly women) ready for test or toil, liking it or lumping it .. and something of an awkward relic. A Catholic seminary, however, is the Roman boot camp for learning the tough-take realities of life, self-sacrifice and the need for gentleness in due measure - it was, however, turned into a harem workshop On How To Please with remarkable ease, by determined pastors. So there is the real issue, effeminate softness in men (like brute machismo in women) is fine on the stage, or in Call Centre, even in the hospital, perhaps (with or without gender neutralised schooling) on the football field, it can have no place in a Roman Seminary or religious cell .. because the vocations are very different and because 'it is often from our outward movements that other men form their judgment about us' (not politically correct but the way things work, even in the most politically correct of environments).


Boniface said...

Machismo would be the contrary parallel...although I would suggest, at least in my country, that characteristic is not nearly as big a problem as effeminacy.

Mick Jagger Gathers No Mosque said...

Dear Brother Boniface. Keep up your great work.

Amateur Brain Surgeon also cited the work of a great re this pestilential perversion.

It is impossible for a restoration to occur owing to the prevalence of perverts with control inside the One True Holy Roman Catholic and Apostolic Church.

Mark said...

I think you might want to distinguish between moral effeminacy (the kind that St. Thomas Aquinas talks about) and effeminacy in how one carries oneself (the kind we just "know it when we see it" and what we usually mean by effeminate in our modern day way of speaking).

A guy can be a rough and tough guy in the way he carries himself but still be morally effeminate in the sense that Aquinas talks about, in that he refuses to give up certain vices because he is addicted to the pleasure. And in the opposite way, a man may have a gay lisp, voice, or even face (like the dude in that picture) that he can't at all help but still demonstrate the virtue of perseverance by observing God's laws.

With that said, I think effeminacy in how one carries oneself is defect in character, or a personality disorder. Not a vice. It doesn't mean it's OK or should be shrugged off, I just think we're mixing up a term (effeminate) that is used in two very distinct and different senses.

Boniface said...

It can be very complicated though because the physical effeminacy can (and often is) a sign or aspect of moral effeminacy.

In the article I cited about effeminacy in seminaries, if a man demonstrated physically effeminate traits (lisping, limp-wristedness, feminine voice, etc), the bishop actually forced them to take training to change those traits.

Clear Waters said...

I'm always amazed just how effeminate the enemy has become since the French Revolution. One has to observe that if we replayed that conflict with the current crop of leftists, the Ancien regime would win with only a constabulary.

Unknown said...

I was starting to think I was the only one who could read corinthians or see this as a major problem; possibly apostacy.
Almost every time I try to bring up issues in the Church even to Priests I get the / a "Love" speech in a very effeminate way...
They say the peace of the Lord is upon you, but all I feel is weight and pain.
Why is it every time I go to church these days I feel as if they are attempting to seduce?
Is anybody going to fix this problem; what do we need? a massive exorcism....

Unknown said...

If those physical traits are a sign of effeminacy, particularly an indication of potential homosexuality, the Bishop cannot train that out of the seminarian. Perhaps that is one reason for the prevalence of homosexual priests who have been exposed through acts of sexual abuse upon minors etc. It may not have been clearly understood by the Church hierarchy that homosexuality is not a random choice but rather an inherent trait of individuals with very complex contributing factors.

I question the validity of the association between physical and moral effeminacy, where is the evidence for this claim of yours?

Anonymous said...

This is a joke, right?