Coming out of the closet is difficult. But realizing that you’re Gay when you’re Catholic, well, that’s a whole different ball game, isn’t it?
In the spring of 1998, my grade school class had begun preparations for a confirmation ceremony, which for you non-Catholic folk is a ritual that ‘seals the deal’ for your relationship with the lord. It builds upon baptism and is usually performed for youth between ages seven and sixteen. At the time, I was thirteen, right on the cusp of puberty. I was still trying to figure myself out and at that age, you don’t really know what your parts are doing.
During confirmation, we pick names of patron saints that we look up to and aid us in our journey as Catholics. I chose St. Adam, but not out of any holy desire, but because I had a crush on ‘Adam Park’, a character from the Power Rangers franchise. To prep for the ceremony, we cut out felt symbols of religious meaning and hot glued them to a felt sash, which I put on and paraded around the classroom like Miss Universe. I was oblivious as to how sacrilegious it must have been, but I felt so fabulous I couldn’t help myself. If I knew then that I was gay, the next few years would have been a lot easier.
There were some obvious signs. I had an obsession with the Wizard of Oz and bought a Dorothy Gale action figure with my allowance money. I played with stuffed beanie babies and danced around my yard. I didn’t play sports but instead started fashion show clubs and kitty-cat clubs. My obvious otherness wasn’t lost on the other kids. It’s natural for children to tease or poke fun of things that are different. Grade school was hell, and the bullies were worse. Thankfully, it got better.
In the summer of 2000, I auditioned for a local play, Titanic: The Musical and landed the part of the bellboy. Singing and dancing came naturally to me, and I remember feeling like the theatre was my second home. I gravitated to the place and nobody seemed to care that I was a little different. When I started high school, I thought it would be an opportunity to start afresh. When grade nine began I finally hit puberty and it dawned on me that I wasn’t like the other kids in my classes. Starting over would be a lot more difficult than I anticipated. You’d think that even in the new millennium, acceptance would be more prevalent, but not at my school.
My sister had been involved in Peer Ministry, and I saw what a good time she had, so I thought it would be a good opportunity for me to hide my feelings, and perhaps change how I felt about men. I remained in this group for four years, and although I had finally found the acceptance I long craved, I hid behind a veil of religiosity. Jesus was with me, and yes I was happy, but I wasn’t myself. I laughed off comments about my sexuality and insisted I was straight.
Our campus minister sat us down for a module on chastity. She preached that any impure thoughts came from the devil and that when you act on them, you’re sinning. Reconciliation would be given to any student who felt they were suffering from impurity. Chastity was what every young adult should practice before marriage. It would be a good decade before I learned to combat this guilt.
Before I knew it, high school was over, and university had come at last. I started my theatre and film program and the lie that I perpetuated came with me. I remained with my peer ministry group, but only now we were leading COR weekends (Catholics On Retreat). These weekends challenged young adults to face their deepest struggles with Jesus. It began with blacking out the windows with garbage bags and taking everyone’s phones so no one could make calls or tell the time (Weird, right?). Next, they sit you in a room full of other Catholics, and highly encourage you to talk about deep issues. I can’t say this is the case for all of Catholicism, but in this small pocket of the world, it seemed like a strange ritualistic event born out of the 60s.
If you could get teenagers to cry about their feelings, you felt awesome. I found myself opening up (not really), by telling stories about how I never had any friends, and God had led me to the greatest friendships I’ll ever have. I prayed with everyone for God to send me a girlfriend. Maybe it was the sleep deprivation, but I started believing my own lies.
As my university years passed, my parents started asking questions. Questions I wasn’t ready to answer or ask myself. To ward them off, I decided to go on a date with a friend from the theatre group named Amy. She would be my first “girlfriend” and she was lovely. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that I wasn’t attracted to her, but the guilt I felt and the sins I thought I was committing kept me from leading a life I desired. Maybe by magic, I would like women, so why not give it a try?
One day, a co-worker was crying in the back room and I asked her what was wrong. She told me that her fiancé had come out of the closet as gay, just a week before the wedding. I knew in my heart what needed to be done and I ended the fling with Amy. I vowed that I could never do this to another woman and I would resolve to live a life of chastity as God intended. I didn’t expect how lonely this would make me.
I attended a bible study and the topic of discussion was “gay marriage and its faults.” The leader of the bible study who was a respected woman in our local community raised a philosophical question that homosexuality was on par with pedophilia. We discussed that both acts were a disgrace in God’s eyes and that if you accept gay marriage, that you open the floodgates to any other kind of marriage (polygamy, bestiality, pedophilia, etc.) Being in the closet, and perpetuating my own lie, I kept my concerns quiet. In fact, I cried about it later.
My mother asked why I had stopped going to church after the priest gave a sermon about the sins of gay marriage. The secret was eating me alive, and I couldn’t bring myself to tell my family. I cried myself to sleep and contemplated suicide. If I couldn’t be myself, then what point was there in being at all. My family was deeply involved in our church community and I felt like the black sheep through it all. I began telling my friends, my colleagues, and even my sister about my problem. With each and every person it became easier, but it wouldn’t be until 2014 that I wrote a long and emotional letter to my parents finally coming out of the closet.
I was worried about what my parents thought, and even what my godparents, would think. I was worried they believed I was turning my back on Christ and that I was choosing this life somehow, which was not the case. I didn’t understand it at the time, but I tried my best to explain that it wasn’t a choice, and yes, mom, I had always been this way, and no, theatre didn’t make me gay, etc. Luckily, my parents accepted me with open arms and I had taken for granted the love they always had for me.
I’m not an atheist, but I guess I can’t put my faith in a place that perpetuates letting LGBTQ2 people feel this way. Even now after everything that’s happened, I find ways to believe in a better way of living, but I can never forget where I came from. I did, however, have somewhat of a happy ending. After a few awkward university years, I’m living in Toronto gayer than ever! I feel like I’m starting the life I always wanted. I catch myself singing hymns from Sunday mass sometimes while in the shower and I catch myself reading scripture, or searching for meaning where there is none. For years I’ve struggled to find a happy medium between both worlds, but perhaps I’ll have to wait to see what the future holds.
Being gay has taught me a lot of things. It has taught me that Catholics (like my parents) are genuinely and extremely loving. It has also taught me, that some Catholics are not like this and do not continuously perpetuate a culture of discrimination through their faith. It has taught me that friends will come and go in your life, that some people are happy living a lie, and that pray-the-gay-away camps are real.
The struggle to find a balance between LGBTQ2 communities and religious institutions will likely be an uphill climb for years to come. Perhaps the real answer to all of this is to remember the golden rule, “love one another.” Acceptance and tolerance can only be possible when everyone learns to be more accepting and tolerant.
I’m proud of all my decisions in the past or present, but I can safely say that I’m proud of who I have become. Being Gay and Catholic has also taught me that great love and acceptance are also real, that people are more understanding than you think, and that everything gets easier with time. I’m finally my true self, and I’ve learned that honesty is the key to living a life of happiness. This is my body, my identity, and I wouldn’t give it up for anything in the world.