For many Christians, being gay and a follower of Jesus is a contradiction in terms. As the Christian ‘Right’ loves to note, the Queer movement we see in popular media often glorifies sexual promiscuity and public displays of lewd behavior (think thong-clad go-go boys grinding their way through Pride). Based on what they have seen on Fox News and their own prejudices, they view Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender folks as sex-crazed non-conformists who have freely chosen a path that leads straight to hell. With this very limited understanding of what it means to be a Queer person, it is not too hard to understand why the phrase ‘gay Christian’ is paradoxical to many people of faith.
It was at this intersection of faith and sexuality, of Christianity and homosexuality, that I found myself the summer of 2014. The previous months I had been progressing forward with my discernment, devoutly practicing my faith with Eucharistic Adoration, daily Mass, the Liturgy of the Hours, and preparing music each week for the parish choir (I served as interim choir director for about six months). Yet, these outward expressions of faith did not necessarily demonstrate real spiritual growth. My sexuality harassed me constantly, nagging me no matter how hard I tried to repress it.
While I never attempted anything with other guys during that time, I definitely wanted to. I was close to the edge, so close that it scared me, and I was terrified that during my Europe trip that summer I would succumb to the gnawing feeling in my stomach screaming that things were not right. If I ‘experimented,’ it could mark the end of my journey to the priesthood, ruining my chances of answering the call I had received the previous fall. It would be embarrassing, and, if revealed, I believed it could make me unwelcome at my home parish. Under no circumstances could I fall- the stakes were too high.
That summer I had planned a three country journey across Europe. I began my trip in Spain with a lovely visit to my Spanish friends (although we consider each other family at this point) in Segovia. Their open world-view and vibrant social life put me at ease during my stay. Nevertheless, in my next country, Germany, where I was visiting a friend who had studied abroad at my high school, the question of my sexual orientation was put on full display. While she understood that I was studying to be a priest, she and her friends joked in German about whether I was asexual or gay (I had been studying the language with Duo Lingo for several months, so I could understand quite a bit, although my ability to respond was quite limited). It hurt me to be labelled as the one thing I was trying so desperately to outrun. Due to this and some other verbal bullying I received, I left for Ireland early.
With several extra days in Dublin and not a lot of cash, I meandered more or less aimlessly around the city and suburbs so as not to spend all my time stuck in the hotel room. On one of these walks, I decided to go to confession, having not been in several weeks. After trudging through the sands of Dublin Bay at low-tide, I finally made my way to a church I had found online offering confession that afternoon. I had planned to go in, make a good confession, get my penance, and get back to living my pleasant little lie/life. Like all the best moments in life, though, God had different plans.
Unlike in my home parish where confession was almost always face to face, this church’s only option was a very traditional, boxed-in confessional. It was completely private with the priest sitting on the other side of a non-transparent screen; whatever I said would not be tied to my face or my life. It would be spoken in secret, heard in secret, forgiven in secret. My secret would stay just that- a secret.
I began my confession like any other, “Bless me father, for I have sinned.” I told him everything I had done since my last confession, from lying to drinking too much. Those were the easy ones. Then, in a whisper, came the bigger stuff- conversations on apps, persistent thoughts, lust- the whole lot of it came tumbling out before I had even realized what I was doing. I told him about my discernment, my fear of God’s rejection, my hatred for this thing that kept pursuing me. When it had finally been said, my breath caught somewhere between my lungs and my throat, and everything I had been carrying around with me for years, holding onto like a sack of moldy shoes, crashed down to the burgundy red carpet in a torrent of tears.
I expected to be told I ought to fight this, pray more, be a better Catholic. Instead, I heard that God loved me just as I was. I heard in that Irish confessional that no matter what happened next, no matter whether I chose to become a priest, be celibate, or live as a gay man, God’s love for me would never change. In spite of my fears and doubts, my hurt and hiding, there is nothing I could do that would diminish His love for me. The priest told me to hold onto that love, to let it be my guide and my companion. It would not lead me wrong.
After that confession I was confused. I had understood that my secret was not too big for God, but was it too big for the folks I loved and cared about? Was it too big for my church? And what did it mean for my call? I left Europe with many more questions than I had entered it with.
Finally back home, I visited a trusted priest (who shall remain unnamed for the sake of his work) for confession to bring up more of the same sins I had confessed in Ireland. This time, however, instead of trying to comfort me and tell me it would all be okay, he asked me point blank-
“So what are you? Gay, bi, pan?” I was shocked.
“I’m straight, father, I swear.”
“Um, well, it doesn’t really sound like you’re straight.”
I was flabbergasted at the frankness of his question.
He continued, “It doesn’t really matter to me, but it’s something you should know about yourself.”
And do you know what my penance was? Not a rosary, not Adoration or reading the Bible. No, my penance was to go home and figure out my sexual orientation.
Without that final push from this trusted priest, I doubt I would have had the courage to look at my sexuality clearly and honestly. I spent two weeks pondering, writing, searching for a way out of accepting what was so clear to me. It was no longer avoidable or deniable.
Knowing that once I uttered the words, I could never take them back, I went into the bathroom and looked at myself in the mirror. I stared deep into my eyes, and I saw in that moment the spark of divine love that rests inside each and every one of us. I recognized my humanity and the worth that brings with it. I finally realized that beneath my fear and my pride, there is a truly lovely, good creation that God wills into being every single moment.
So I whispered the words that I had feared since childhood.
“I am gay.”
Coming out to yourself is the first of many closet doors a queer person must break down, but I tend to think it is the most difficult. If you are questioning your sexuality or gender identity, give yourself the time and space to really consider who you are. You do not need to rush into declaring yourself as one thing or the other- if you maintain a spirit of openness to whatever answer you find along your journey, in the end you will find your real identity and self.