Ash Wednesday and Lent bring up some interesting conversations with other people and with my own internal dialogue: How can I be Catholic and gay? Am I truly Catholic if I consider myself queer? Am I actually invested in the betterment of queer community if I identify as Catholic?
Growing up, I used to play Mary. I’d drape a blanket over my head and cradle my teddy bear who, for the duration of the game, was Baby Jesus. For much of my childhood, I was surrounded by other Catholics: my parents and extended relatives were Catholic, my neighbors were Catholic, my Sunday School classmates were Catholic, and the people I saw at church every weekend were (obviously) Catholic. My dad’s family was especially Catholic (as in my Grandma collected fragments of saint’s bones and kept them in her attic). Also, several of my dad’s aunts were nuns.
I was the only non-boy to wear pants (rather than a dress) to my Confirmation and my mom still won’t let me live it down. At the time, I was an awkward pre-teen with a massive crush on a girl and I knew it was wrong.
As a kid, my understanding had been that sexual orientation was a choice. Without any certainty as to when I “chose” to be gay, I turned to God and prayed that I would stop feeling the things I felt for girls. While I knew I was attracted to women and not to men, I didn’t consciously identify as anything queer until late in high school. I dated boys and talked about boys and pretended to have crushes on boys, all the while wondering if God hated me for lying so much.
After coming out to my parents and facing their less-than-ideal reaction, I started to question my faith rather than my orientation. During the months that followed my initial coming out, it felt as though God had abandoned me. Until I left for college, home no longer felt like home; I was not welcome there. I didn’t think God would let something like that happen and I wondered if he was punishing me for being gay. I didn’t want a relationship with someone who would punish me for being my most natural self. Including God.
I never lost my faith entirely, but it ebbed and flowed. As I became more involved with the queer community, I encountered people who’d had similar negative experiences feeling abandoned by religion or having it used against them. There was a certain expectation among some people for me to reject the Church entirely. Others simply assumed I was non-religious and made back-handed comments about Christianity when I was around. I get it; a lot of people disguise hateful sentiments as “religion” and some religions truly do preach against being queer or trans. Because of this, there’s a lot of animosity toward religion (specifically Christianity) among LGBTQ people.
I felt out of place in the queer community and in the Church; I did’t fit the mold for either one, yet I felt a strong connection to both. Some time in the middle of college, I began exploring whether it was possible to be both Catholic and gay. I discovered that being Catholic was not a form of treason against the queer community; if anything, showing up and being myself in the Church was an act of creating space for others who felt less welcome.
The Catechism (guiding doctrine of the Catholic Church) says the following:
While some of the language in the Catechism is quite strong (and arguably homophobic), it’s clear that queer people in the Church deserve the same respect as their non-queer counterparts. Of course, it says gay sex shouldn’t be a thing, but it explicitly calls for the acceptance of LGB people as human beings. Unfortunately, some Catholics haven’t read up on that portion.
I don’t agree with everything in the Catechism. It would be irresponsible to follow every word without question. I have no intention of remaining “chaste” and I certainly don’t view my orientation as “disordered.” My personal belief is that God wouldn’t have made me this way if it wasn’t His intention to do so; He doesn’t make people to suffer. However, I want people to know that I’m Catholic and I’m gay…and I’m not picking sides.