In The Lion’s Heart (2nd ed, Full Quiver Publishing, 2014), Dena Hunt tackles a topic that’s hot and that gets people talking in loud tones at times: same sex attraction. She does it in a way that’s not preachy, that’s good writing, and that’s gut-wrenchingly honest. While I loved the book, I didn’t necessarily love reading it. This is a much-needed look at same sex attraction and a challenge to people who reduce people to terms.
Hunt spoke with me about her book and the challenges she faced while writing it.
What do you see as the importance of having this kind of difficult conversation in story form?
I think you can tell more truth in fiction than in nonfiction. I think that’s why Our Lord taught us in parables. He didn’t give us technical data; he gave us stories. That’s the way that truth is best assimilated by our limited human intellect, at least mine. Therefore, I believe in the truth of stories. I believe that’s where the truth is: in story form.
“The Lion’s Heart” tackles a topic that gets many people, on both sides of the issue of same sex attraction, hot and angry. Why did you choose such a hot-button issue to write about?
Have you noticed that the people on both sides of that same sex attraction discussion or issue seem to express themselves with equal self-righteousness? The truth is in neither place. You can’t both be right, and you can’t both be righteous. I don’t think that people, when their righteous wrath gets aroused, think very clearly. We stop listening when we get all righteous. You do stop listening when you start feeling outraged, and that’s on both sides.
So what’s the real truth? Well, go to the Church and this time, listen instead of talking—or ranting, actually. The truth is on neither side. The truth is simply that God loves you, regardless of which side you’re on, regardless of whether you call yourself gay or straight, regardless of any kind of vocabulary you want to apply to yourself. The truth lies in the love. Love opens a door, an intellectual door, not just an emotional door, to understanding. As much as (the main character of my book, Paul) knew, he didn’t understand until he loved, and then he did. It’s still like God teaches us.
How did you research a novel like this? What was your process? Who did you talk to? How did you learn about the inner workings of same sex attraction?
I didn’t have any direct experience with same sex attraction. I had no real knowledge about the subject at all. I contacted Fr. Paul Check, who is the director of Courage International, which is the outreach of the Church to the community of people who have same sex attraction. It’s no surprise that he was very hesitant to talk to me at first. I explained my intention and dropped a name or two. He put me in touch with a local chapter of Courage, the one closest to me. That was an hour away.
I called the young man and spoke to him on the phone. His reaction was the same as Fr. Check’s: “What in the world do you want?” I wasn’t asking for information on meetings or anything like that, nor did I want to attend one, because, frankly, I was sensitive to the members. I didn’t want to sit there like an outsider.
So I said, “I would rather, if you don’t mind, I would like you to be my mentor,” and we talked for two hours on the phone, that first phone call. He became a good friend and he still is.
I got [the information] in the very best way, not from text, but from a person, someone who has had same sex attraction and has a good deal of experience in dealing with it, a devout Catholic, and a member of Courage International.
One of the themes of “The Lion’s Heart” transcends same sex attraction: adultery. How do you see this as an important piece of the discussion of same sex attraction?
I will answer you in one word: biblically. That’s what God calls all sin: adultery. Every sin is a violation of the first commandment. Our sin is not always recognized as a sin, but it’s odd if we talk about this or any sin, how we feel an estrangement when we sin. Perhaps we don’t even know the cause of it, but we find out later.
Adultery is part of all sin: we are unfaithful to God and to his will for us, in how we live and how we love and how we trust. That is infidelity; that is adultery.
The adultery is part of the story, because one of the characters is married, yes, but that’s a legal term. And if we use moral terms, we have to say they all sinned. That’s how God—the prophets—uses the language of adultery. Israel was always guilty of adultery. The Church is the Bride of Christ and guilty of adultery when we sin.
What’s the overriding theme and message you’d like your readers to take away from your story?
It was important to me that people both in the Church and outside the Church understand what the position of the Church really is. There are a lot of people in the Church who don’t, who use this outraged condemnation and start screaming without knowing why. Why is this a threat to the family? Yes, it is, but why? Understand it. An outrage solves nothing; it obfuscates, it’s emotional fog.
It was important to me that readers understand what the Church’s position really is. It’s not so simple as pro/for or against, something that mundane. It’s much more complex, because humans are complex and love is complex. We have to understand it with the heart.
How do you hope to impact the conversation on same sex attraction? Do you think it will impact the conversation?
There are many different possibilities. There will be people who are angry. Same sex attraction is not supposed to be condemned, it’s supposed to be understood. I am content that Courage approved the book, and they know more about this subject than anybody else, because that’s why they exist.
I would hope that the book would have the same impact on people who are not members of Courage, that they might understand themselves and their loved ones, people in their family and their friends, and how to respond to same sex attraction.
There’s an intellectual flaw in the entire argument, and that has to be exposed. That was presented in the novel as a lifejacket. It’s sanity, nothing but sanity. It has nothing to do with soapboxes or rights or any other such stuff. It’s just plain sanity. If you get ahold of that lifejacket, then you can see clearly and understand better, both with your head and your heart. I would hope that the novel gives them that kind of lifejacket.
What was the hardest part of writing this book? And how did you approach that challenge?
Getting the source was the first hardest part. That was Courage, as I told you. And then, being afraid to be honest and then having to overcome that fear because the whole purpose of the book was honesty. That’s what’s been missing. And by honesty I do not mean graphic, because that is not honesty.
Maintaining honesty, presenting it always for approval to my mentor as it was being written, not for his editorial comment but for his substance input. For example, you don’t use the word “gay.” I had to learn some terminology, some vocabulary, that I was using without being aware of it. Writing the book was educational; I learned a lot.
The hardest part was letting go of it: I always have a hard time putting the final period on something and letting go of it. Also, maintaining prayer.