The chance bonding of an outspoken NPR correspondent and a gay priest bridges the gap between faith and sexuality.
Through a succession of meetings, Browning (A Queer Geography: Journeys Toward a Sexual Self, 1996, etc.) exposes the intricate dynamics of his interactions with “Brother Peter,” a gay priest he befriended in a Paris art gallery. Their conversations advanced and intensified (largely due to Browning’s ever-inquisitive nature) as he respectfully challenged the belief system of his newfound confidant. Surprisingly, Peter consistently delivered unfettered comments to a number of provocative issues including masturbation, fornication (he believes penetrative sex to be a “genuine human value” but would never state so publicly), gay pornography and what’s behind his intensive involvement and identification with a “broad network of gay motorcycle clubs.” Most importantly, however, Browning frankly questions how Peter reconciles his admitted sexual forays (both alone and with other men) with his vow of celibacy. Eschewing relationships and romance, both men admit to reveling in the “disarming intimacy of naked touch,” only without expectations. Their conversations conjure a wide swath of references, from gay classicists John Boswell and Daniel Mendelsohn to the charitable faux religious group of nuns The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. These chats dovetail with introspective dialogue on men and masculinity, arguments for and against gay marriage, the artfulness of pornography and how Peter’s own spiritual revelations brought him to the church. Threatening this weighty and ultimately satisfying exchange of opinion and perspective, however, are circuitous moments in which Peter unconvincingly justifies his life’s many contradictions.
A flawed but compelling discourse chronicling the “dual dictates of devotion and desire.”