The Pro Boner: Pro Interview
I think Dr Dick is the most interesting person I’ve ever talked to. He is the only ordained Catholic priest with a doctorate in human sexuality. I don’t know about you, but I find that to be the most compelling combination.
Dr Dick is also one of the nicest people I’ve ever talked to. He just exudes empathy and affection, even over Skype. So as you can imagine, he was probably a fabulous priest as well as a perfect candidate to tackle the sensitive topic of human sexuality.
Dr Dick is also gay. Unfortunately, it turns out it’s not that easy to be a gay Catholic priest with a sexy Phd, and Richard has had to endure some very hard times.
After releasing a dissertation (Gay Catholic Priests: A study of cognitive and affective dissonance) that pissed off the pope, Richard was silenced by Rome and embarked on an exhausting 13 year long battle with the Church ending in 1994 when they formally issued their decree of his dismissal.
But don’t worry Dr Dick hasn’t been wasting his multitude of talents and skills. He has in fact achieved a great amount, during the fight and since, with a resume stretching from cleaning houses to founding a porn company. I am so thankful I got to hear the story from the man himself, and am delighted to share our conversation with you.
Talking with Dr. Richard Wagner (aka Dr.Dick):
The Pro Boner: I guess I’d like to start by finding out how you came to get a doctorate in human sexuality?
Dr. Dick: I started off as a catholic priest. I knew that I was gay, and I told the leadership of my community before I was ordained in 1975.
I was working in a high school at the time but then my religious community decided to phase out its presence at the high school. Those of us who were at the high school got to choose what they wanted to do next, and I wanted to do an upfront gay ministry.
It was this magical time in the late 70s where something like that seemed possible. My religious community, the Oblates of Mary Immaculate said that they would sponsor me, which was extraordinary because it’s a very conservative community, but at that moment there was enlightened leadership at the top.
So I said, “let’s get started”! And they said, “no we can’t just put you forward as ‘Father Wagner, interested party’, you need to get another degree”.
I think they thought that if they put me through another educational programme I would loose interest. So I asked, “what kind of degree do you want me to get?” And they said “how about a MFCC [Marriage, Family, and Child Counselling] ?" And I said “don’t you think that’s the wrong model for gays and lesbians?” So they said, “Just find a programme!”
I found the Institute for the Advanced Study of Human Sexuality in San Francisco and they said okay. So I left Oakland and moved to San Francisco, I started the programme and I went through it in like 3 and a-half years and wrote my dissertation [Gay Catholic Priests: A study of cognitive and affective dissonance].
Wardell Pomeroy, who was Kinsey’s right hand man, directed my dissertation. And he said “Richard do you know what you’re dealing with here?” and I said “Oh don’t worry Wardell everything will be fine, my community is supporting me and they know what I’m studying and they’ve seen my dissertation”.
And they were paying for it too?
Absolutely, because I took the vow of poverty. So here I was going along and as soon as the dissertation was finished the Institute wanted to promote me because they were so proud of the achievement.
They got me some media attention and that just blew me out of the water. I was all over the papers all over the world. Because no one had ever expected that there were gay priests. There had been one other priest, John McNeil, a Jesuit that had come out, and his book ‘The Church and The Homosexual’ is a really important book.
I still don’t understand how we got here from priesthood. You said that you told the church that you were gay before you were ordained. Why were you allowed to become a priest still and why did you want to?
Well because it didn’t invalidate what I thought was my vocation. I was good at what I did, I was a terrific priest.
When I came out it was still a felony to be gay in most of the states in the USA. So that sensitivity, being an outcast, and being a minority, helped my ministry. I was so much more sensitive to the issues of not just sexuality, but race and whatnot in our society.
So what happens when you're about to become a priest and you disclose that you’re gay?
Well it all depends. I mean it just so happens that there was enlightened leadership in my community at the time.
Did you know that it would be okay?
No. It was a big chance, because they could have said “no ordination for you then”. And that certainly has happened to lots and lots of people. I did it because I thought who’s going to start a career in the gospel message on a lie?
I imagine that a lot of people do.
If I’m going to lie, if my whole life is a lie, how am I going to tell other people how to live? Or make suggestions about how other people should live? Or preach to them? You know? It just didn’t make any sense.
And I thought well this is a risk that I’m going to have to take because if I don’t come out now I’m going to have to come out relatively shortly thereafter.
And I thought it was an important thing for the church to look at, because it was the key to understanding everything else.
If we understood misogyny in the church, which is really what homophobia is all about, then we would understand the role of women in the church much better, and gays could be accepted. So I thought it was the key to moving forward. But they didn’t agree.
It seems a brave move to me.
Well you know… I was really naïve. I thought all things would be better if we were just honest. I took people at their word.
What is your relationship like with the church now?
Nothing. I’m not even a believer. That was beaten out of me. As you can guess I wasn’t particularly orthodox but I was a believer, a true believer. And now it’s just nothing.
I have to say that my training as a priest, the gospel message, which I think is a really good message, has infused everything that I’ve done since. It’s infused my sexology, my death and dying work. Not in the sense of god, but a sensitivity toward people who are hurting. People who are on the margins. People who are excluded. People who are unwelcome. Those are the people that I gravitate toward, because I think they need it the most.
So how did Dr Dick come about?
I started doing a sex advice column probably in about 1998 through gay.com. It was more like a bulletin board thing, and people would ask questions while we were online, it was really the old days.
Then over the years I was asked to write columns for different websites, and then in about 2007 I decided to just start collecting my stuff on my own site. I did 7 years of podcasting, I racked up about 427 [episodes]. It was really labour intensive. I liked it, I did question and answer format, and I did interviews, it was great. Now I still dabble with the question and answer stuff [on drdicksexadvice.com], but that’s about it.
But you also take private clients don’t you?
Oh yes. Most of my clients are remote clients that I speak to on Skype or on the telephone. It’s curious because a lot of the people who want to talk to me, or get my advice, or therapy, or whatever, seek me out – as opposed to finding someone local. They know exactly what person they want to talk to.
What is the majority of your clinical work?
Individuals who have sexual dysfunction, disability, disorientation, dysphoria. They don’t know who they are in terms of their sexual interests. Or they’re having problems with it.
Have you had any other priests seek your advice?
Oh yeah, yeah. A lot of people contact me through my other site [gaycatholicpriests.com]. And also through The Amateurs Guide I hear from a lot of people who have sexuality and intimacy concerns related to a disease process, or because they’re facing the end of their life. So I get a really wide range of people through the different websites.
Do you think the church can be helpful in helping people with their sexual concerns?
No, I think all of monotheism is basically sex negative. It’s very patriarchal and misogynistic, and because of those things these traditions are; anti homosexual, anti woman's sexuality, and anti pleasure particularly for women. So that causes great problems it seems.
Let’s talk about your approach. What do you think is the most important thing in having a healthy sexuality?
Just being honest with ones self. Owning ones eroticism, and then being honest about it with other people.
A lot of people get in to traditional relationships, it seems, because they see it as the only avenue. But you know, kinksters, and polyamorous folk are all funnelled into heterosexual monogamy, and it doesn’t work, it just doesn’t work.
So not only doesn’t it work for gay and lesbian folk, it doesn’t work for all these other types of people as well.
If I know what my erotic interests are, and I disown them, or I am not honest with somebody else about them, there’s going to be trouble.
How can we teach people to be able to recognise what their erotic interests are and what other avenues are out there for them?
Well we can't invite people to own their eroticism, if we only acknowledge or reward one; heterosexual monogamy.
So if we understand a wide range of human sexualities, then people have more latitude to be honest.
So there. Listen to the doctor. Be honest with yourself and with others. Understand and acknowledge other human sexualities.
Check out Dr. Dick at drdicksexadvice.com
Follow him on twitter @DrDickSexAdvce
I would also highly recommend reading his book "Secrecy, Sophistry and Gay Sex In The Catholic Church" that details his 13-year battle with the church. AND BONUS the dissertation that launched the whole backlash is published at the end, and is a thoroughly interesting read.
And keep an eye out on The Pro Boner: Pros for future interviews with other interesting individuals in the sex business.