by Isabella Krueger
During one of my religion classes, our teacher played a video in which a man explained the sacredness of marriage. He went on to elaborate that heterosexual marriages are the only healthy, pure form of love. Then he reminded his audience that there is help for people facing same-sex attractions, and such individuals do not face alienation from the church. He explained that society offers homosexuals two options: stay in the closet and hide their homosexuality, or be openly gay and live a homosexual lifestyle.
He elaborated that the Catholic Church offers a third option. LGBTQ+ faithful are encouraged to tell their religious communities about their struggles with same-sex attractions, and then they will work together to overcome their unnatural, confused desires. Thankfully, it was during this religion class that I realized how disgusted my community is with my ‘lifestyle,’ and how frequently this disgust presents itself in the form of love and compassion.
Religious leaders believe that by offering this third option, they separate themselves from homophobic people that call us “faggots”, “dykes”, and “trannies”. What they fail to understand is that their tones deliver the same hateful message that we’re abnormal and disgusting. However, it causes difficulties for LGBTQ+ Catholics in understanding who they are and where they belong because different aspects of ourselves — religion and sexuality — are not allowed to overlap. These conditions make it impossible to find people in our religious communities we can trust, cause difficulties in practicing our religion, and leave us feeling merely tolerated, not accepted.
Society made me assume the hardest part about being lesbian would be enduring harassment from strangers and classmates, but in my experiences, the most emotionally draining messages came from the people closest to me. When I first started identifying as lesbian, I expected harassment at school. I never was harassed as I anticipated; it wasn’t until several years later that I realized where true homophobia resides. My friends, family, and religious community members were the source of the most condescending messages.
One example of this comes from a friendship I currently have with another Christian from my grade. I knew she was against living a ‘homosexual lifestyle,’ so I made sure she knew I was gay from the start. If she felt uncomfortable, she would know before becoming close friends. However, it wasn’t a barrier to our friendship, as I anticipated.
Our last semester in high school, we somehow had every class together, and we became close friends. She came to me for advice about guys she liked or liked her, and we both felt comfortable venting about whatever was on our minds. And she was, and is, concerned about my wellbeing. I had planned to come out to my family after college in fear they wouldn’t help me pay for it because I was gay. It was a terrible idea and much more draining than I thought. My friend saw how it was affecting me, and convinced me to tell my parents. She helped me through the most emotionally painful time of my life and continuously checks up on me now that we go to different schools.
This friend has improved my mental state significantly, but she simultaneously considers my homosexuality a challenge I face. What I didn’t realize at the time, was that she encouraged me to come out so that my parents could get me the help she thought I needed to overcome my sexuality. She recognized my pain, but found the source of that pain solely from having same-sex desires, not being afraid to tell others I had them. I remember her telling me, “You don’t have to do this by yourself, you can ask for help Isabella.”
I realize now that ‘this,’ was referring to my homosexuality. She thought being attracted to women was eating me up inside. She learned this from the church’s approach to treating homosexuality as a sin and denying it as a legitimate identity — allowing people like her to tolerate, but not accept. It’s what I’ve struggled to realize and accept for a long time. I understand now that my friendship with her is only possible because culturally the church detaches homosexuality from LGBTQ+ people’s personalities and traits to humanize otherwise ‘revolting’ people.
The ideology is meant to make us feel loved, which it does to some extent, but it mostly leaves us feeling hated. By loving the sinner (me), but hating the sin (my homosexuality), they assume that they follow the Bible’s teachings of unconditional acceptance. When they consider our identities a tragic mental error, it leaves us feeling merely tolerated, not accepted.
The Catholic Church assumes they present themselves as approachable people but in reality their efforts to ‘cure’ the LGBTQ+ community make them difficult to trust. I’ve learned how to navigate my friendship I previously mentioned with the understanding that she doesn’t realize that homosexuality is part of my identity, not a disease. Other relationships I have with Christians in my community are more difficult for me to justify.
Last year, I had another religion teacher who introduced himself and explained his educational background. He specifically studied how evolution is a theory that the Catholic Church believes in, and told us that he could answer any questions about how the Catholic Church and science interact. So, I expected this teacher more aware that LGBTQ+ people are born as they are since he’s not opposed to scientific research and discoveries.
At the next class, however, I realized my perception was horribly wrong. The lesson was on marriage and sexuality, and during the opening and closing prayers, he asked for guidance to any individuals facing same-sex attraction. He assumed his prayers would comfort people in my ‘position,’ but his words only reminded me how dangerous it is to assume I can trust religious adults in my life.
Catholic and Christian ideology often follows the conception that the religious LGTBQ+ community seeks their help in developing a closer relationship with God. In reality, religious openly LGBTQ+ individuals are not seeking approval from other people, we are seeking approval from God. To grow in our faith and connect with God on a deeper level, we don’t feel the need to change or overcome our sexual identities.
Other Christian denominations have reformed their teachings to allow LGBTQ+ people to be themselves while practicing their religion simultaneously, but the Catholic Church is mostly absent from this reform. It may seem evident that religious LGBTQ+ people can join an accepting church, but for Catholics, this is less simplistic. We believe that communion truly is the body and blood of Jesus Christ, and receiving this body and blood is a vital aspect of accepting him into your life.
LGBTQ+ friendly Christian denominations don’t follow this interpretation of communion. Because my religious beliefs align with the church, but my personal beliefs do not, the isolation I feel has led me to develop an individualistic mentality toward my faith. I don’t try to connect with others concerning my religion, because each time I do, I learn later on that they want to offer help to overcome my homosexuality. I found myself faking a lot of my responses to discussions in my religion classes.
Additionally, I have to write a letter to my priest for our upcoming confirmation. We’re asked to discuss any concerns we have about confirmation, and immediately I thought about me being gay and struggling to find any religious adults I trust. I promptly reminded myself that I didn’t know if I can trust my priest, and discussing my true concerns would likely result in a kind yet painful conversation about how he can help me in overcoming same-sex attractions.
What I appreciate now is I learned to develop my own religious beliefs. Practicing my religion in a more reserved context because of my sexuality has only enriched my understanding of my faith. When I recognized that it was Jesus I needed to worship, not the Catholic Church; it became possible to uncover what religion meant to me. Reaching this point of understanding has been difficult. It would’ve been much easier if I had religious adults I could trust. The church assumes that for me to reach the kind of peace I have with my sexuality and faith, I need their counseling to overcome my deranged desires. In reality, having the opportunity to grow in my faith without their interference or influence is exactly what allowed me to trust and follow the Holy Spirit.
I found my footing when it comes to practicing Catholicism while identifying as lesbian, but the process included a lot of unnecessary pain. My religion teacher said people like me need not worry, because there are acceptance and guidance in the church for people facing same-sex attractions. What the church fails to recognize is that this ‘acceptance’ is only granted if we deny and suppress our truth. Despite having religious adults I couldn’t trust and taught that my sexuality and religion aren’t permitted to overlap, my reading the Bible on my own has allowed me to find the Holy Spirit in all the ways my church denies as a possibility.