In response to a blog post entitled Gay, Catholic, and Doing Fine.
Note: My views on Catholicism have come from my own experience and journey. I was raised Catholic, schooled Catholic, and then decided to not live Catholic any longer. I don’t believe its dogma. For the most part as I mention the Church in this post, I am referencing the institution at large and its dogma. I know plenty of good people who continue to shape my life in positive loving ways who are Catholic. Please be mindful of this differentiation as you read on.
When I came out at 19, I faced some of my worst fears and biggest personal challenges at that time. I held an extremely high standard for myself and felt as though I would be letting down several groups of people by admitting and accepting that I am gay. It turns out, it wasn’t as scary as I imagined. (I recognize it is not always as easy for others in the LGBTQ community.)
As the people in my life responded with love and acceptance, I found myself softening and breaking down. I spent years through adolescence and teenagehood building walls within my heart, to hide from others and from my Self. Even though all of the most important people in my life were telling me that they still loved me, accepted me, and wanted me to be happy and healthy, I was in conflict.
The fact of the matter was that I was struggling to love and accept myself. I had already resolved that my intention for coming out was to live an open and healthy lifestyle, not in shame or shadow. I wanted to be able to date openly with other openly gay men. I wanted to have transparency, not to spend my life in gay chatrooms, clubs, and backrooms.
My desire was connected to a part of my Self that wants to experience an intimate connection with another man, sexually, emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually. It’s not that I don’t want intimacy with a woman—just not sexually.
I would argue my previous claim about my struggle to love and accept myself; clearly I had already started to find my self-worth if I sought support to live an open and healthy lifestyle. Rather, my struggle was rooted in my concept of God.
I believed that this aspect of me, my gayness, was supposed to be something to overcome, a challenge of my life given by God “himself”. For as long as I was conscious to the thought that I might be gay, I spent praying that I wouldn’t end up gay. I would beg and plead from the bottom of my heart. I believed that if God truly worked miracles, I could devote my life to him and be healed of this impurity. (Seems that a lot of men before me had this thought; see gay priests, catholic sex scandals, etc.)
Pretty fucked up, right? Well, not for some.
After nearly 10 years and no change, I became exhausted with the plea, with the lies, with the façade. Some more hardcore religious might want to tell me I prayed for the wrong thing. Maybe I should have prayed for strength to accept the cross that is mine to bear for life. Maybe I should have sought therapy to help me work through the challenges of my sinful desires. Maybe I am to learn about God’s love through celibacy.
I struggled to assimilate many conflicting concepts from my 12 years of Catholic schooling. On one hand, we are subject to God’s will; we are each given our own “cross to bear” in life and we cannot do anything but accept it. On the other hand, God has given us free will and the power of discernment to live lives of fulfillment and joy, “to glorify his name”. On one hand, we each have a vocation, or calling, or purpose in this life, that we must find by listening to our hearts; we can celebrate this vocation through the Sacraments (Eucharist, marriage, ordination, confession, etc). On the other hand, if your vocation doesn’t fit within the framework of Catholic dogma, you are stuck back at the first hand (“cross to bear”).
In other words, “Too bad for you.”
Maybe it’s just because I am a bit of a spiritual rebel, but for a God who I am taught is so omnipotent, omnipresent, omni-everything, these teachings depict a God very limited in scope and capacity. I wasn’t content to simply accept these things that I was being told about lifestyle, and particularly relative to homosexuality.
Earlier in my life, I went through cancer treatment for childhood leukemia. During this time, I had some profound spiritual experiences for a 10-year old; hell, even for a 30-year old. My experiences led me to this very real understanding of God being a part of me, within me—not a presiding force above and separate from me. I suppose this taught me from a young age to look within for Truth, that my heart has the answers I seek, because in my heart so is God.
I could not simply accept what the Church was feeding me about my Self. My life experience, my faith, my spirituality guided me beyond. It is the seeking of a larger scope of understanding of what God might be that has continued to this day.
Today, I don’t view being gay as having a cross to bear. That seems to be a rather unhealthy view. My gayness is something for me to celebrate and experience fully. It can bring me joy or pain, freedom or limits. I choose limitless joy through expressing this part of my Self.
You see, I don’t believe that I am born gay to learn what it’s like to be celibate and build a deeper relationship with God. On the contrary, I believe I am here (gay or otherwise) to build a deeper relationship with Self, and the aspects of God that are within me and around me, through my relationships with others. The intimate experience and rewarding challenges of my relationship with my loving and committed boyfriend is a part of that exploration leading to a deeper part of my Self and knowledge of God.
What Steve Gershom presents is pretty much a Gay Catholic Poster-Child response about living out Catholicism as a gay man. If you’re not clear on this, the Church says that being gay is not a choice; a gay person is born gay. However, to act upon how you were created would be sinful. So, the only real choice for a gay Catholic is celibacy. Which is what Steve has chosen. I absolutely respect the journey he is on and I don’t hold judgment of those who choose celibacy as a life-long commitment or a periodic practice.
Steve’s heart could very genuinely be leading him to celibacy as his lifestyle to know God. I am skeptical, though, because he really has no choice, unless he leaves the Church. It is clear from his writings that he is a devout Catholic and his Church is more important to him than his sexuality. I can respect that too. But by defaulting to celibacy, is he denying an essential desire of his heart, which is to share intimate union with another human being that doesn’t come from friendship or ministry? Only he knows.
And perhaps that is the greater point here: ONLY HE KNOWS. The Church doesn’t know. Neither do the priests he visits at confession. Neither do I, or any of you. Only by looking within with pure and objective intent can we truly discover our heart’s desires. Only by looking within can we discern what is right for each of us. It is a practice and process of a lifetime.
When we look at the conversation in the United States about the legality of same-sex marriage, a good question might be, “Who has given the right?” The cliché of “God-given rights” can be thrown around—and in the case of same-sex marriage, it may not always fly with the fundamentalists out there. Yes, I do believe it is my God-given right to love who I love and express my commitment in whatever way I choose, including the same way as many other people do.
But I also believe it is a right that I give myself. I demand more than a civil union. That is not enough, and it is not equal. I believe that I deserve the right to marry based on my own self-worth. I don’t see how I am fundamentally different from anyone else in this world, and it is not up to a church or a government to create separateness based on who I love. It is up to me.
At this point, it may be obvious that my worldview has been influenced by many other sources aside from Catholic dogma. I recognize that a lot of my views are in direct conflict with the Church’s teachings. I know that I will not change how the Catholic Church operates. I also expect that I won’t turn the hearts of many hard-line Catholics, and that we are arguing apples and oranges.
I’m not writing this with the intention of persuading anyone to change her opinion of religion, homosexuality, or marriage. I’m not asking you to drink the koolaid and buy into what I’ve shared about my own beliefs.
I’m asking you to make space for authenticity. Don’t believe what I tell you. Don’t believe what Steve tells you. Don’t believe what the Catholic Church tells you. Be a seeker and seek the Truth for yourself.