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Fierce Dignity

By Diogenes (articles ) | May 20, 2003

I've got just what you want for that hostile, confused, Walkman-wearing fifteen-year-old boy in your family: an ethics textbook for Catholic high school students authored by Fr. William J. O'Malley, S.J., and all-too-appropriately titled Building Your Own Conscience. A verbatim excerpt (page 68):

The following song, I Am What I Am," by Jerry Herman, from La Cage aux Folles is sung by an aging transvestite in a gay night club. The man he has lived with for twenty years has, on a drunken spree, fathered a son whom the two have raised as self-sacrificingly as any regular parents. Now the boy is engaged and wants to bring his intended and her straight-laced parents to meet his father -- but not his "mother." Before, the song has been sung in quick tempo mockery. Now it is sung slowly and with fierce dignity.

I am what I am..., etc.

The singer has come through a hell he did not himself choose and, at least according to his lights, has made the best of it. His situation is extreme and dramatic, and yet each of us is born into a family, a point in history, we did not choose. Each of us has been affected by others' choices and others' treatment of us. Can you face the fact that the singer is gay and see something that the song says to you?

What are the things about yourself that simply can't be changed? What are the things that can be changed? How? When?

Should you have any lingering doubts about how this book will be used by those dedicated bachelors in your school's Religious Studies department, your mind can be put at rest. Building Your Own Conscience has the imprimatur (1991) from the Most Rev. Charles V. Grahmann, D.D., Bishop of Dallas.

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