How to Be Gay in the Catholic Church
"Jesus said to love my neighbor, and I can’t help that Grindr says the nearest one is 264 feet away."
Photo by Flickr user Jere Keys
Lord knows that I love dick… and He has for quite some time. In fact, it's been His will for roughly 29 years that I should solely find members of my sex attractive, and engage in physical (and often deeply spiritual) relationships with them in hopes of finding love. Who am I, a God-fearing Catholic, to question that? Jesus said to love my neighbor, and I can't help that Grindr says the nearest one is 264 feet away.
Though I may be a bit more religious than your average churchgoer—I spent ten years as an altar boy in South Texas, happily attended Pope Francis's Mass at Madison Square Garden last September, and live on the verge of getting the Virgen de Guadalupe tattooed on my ass—make no mistake: I also hung up my habit years ago. Yes, I proudly wear a cross necklace, but these days I'm more Mary Magdalene than John the Baptist. I may be out dancing and partying on Saturday, but you'll know where to find me come Sunday afternoon.
That said, it's a constant struggle to square my sexuality with my faith. Doesn't the Catholic Church's hardline rhetoric against gay marriage upset me? Of course! Wasn't I bothered to learn earlier this month that Pope Francis signed off on an explicit ban of gay men and LGBTQ-affirming individuals from entering the priesthood? Absolutely! Especially because we're talking about a man who three years ago said "Who am I to judge?" when it comes to gay clergy, and recently held an audience with a gay former student and his partner while visiting the States. I thought we were making progress here, Frankie—que pasó, hermano?
My queer Catholic friends and I were distressed (though unsurprised) by the pontiff's explicit condemnation of queer people—queer people, mind you, who are looking to contribute to an aging Church that's trying hard to appeal to disaffected, pro-gay millennials. The Vatican leader's persistent oscillation between ally (saying Christians should apologize to gay people for past offenses this June) and foe (saying that honoring one's transgender identity aids in the "annihilation of man as image of God" this August) is proof positive that the Church is ideologically confused. And this constant standing and kneeling is making LGBTQ people impatient.
To admonish "homosexual activity" while turning a blind eye to the supposed sexual deviancy of our straight brothers and sisters—sex out of wedlock, sexual experimentation, all the fun stuff—is both hypocritical and damaging, and it's astonishing that the Church doesn't see it as such. Who knew the forgotten verse after "all are welcome" was "depending on who you fuck?"
I, like most LGBTQ Catholics, am a modern-day, socially-conscious parishioner in a stunted and horribly antiquated institution, albeit one that I return to each week because it's what I know best as the product of a devout Mexican-American household. It feels right to me, since I genuinely understood elements of my faith years before I ever had a grasp on the nuances of my sexuality.
But my Catholic identity came first, and you may be surprised to hear that it was my faith itself that helped me come to terms with my sexuality during my adolescence. Despite growing up in a predominately Mexican-American community that placed a lot of value in the concept of "machismo," I felt then, and continue to believe, that God made me and millions of others different. And I never questioned His intentions or asked that "this cup be taken from me" (as Jesus did prior to the crucifixion) because I always viewed my sexuality, and my individuality, as a gift. For God never errs, correct?
Perhaps that's only because my catechism teacher was able to successfully convince me that some answers in life, particularly when it comes to the Lord, just aren't guaranteed. That's a divine deed I was certainly eager to embrace. Sure, I asked (and continue to ask) God for understanding on how to best navigate life as a complex creature, but what vulnerable human being hasn't? And that's not to diminish the experience of countless LGBTQ people who either grappled or still struggle with finding the perfect balance between practicing Catholic and pragmatic queer. It's just to say that those who are faithful arrive to the altar of Christ at our own pace. And that's only if we make it past the wooden doors and creaky pews.
But don't think I'm a Catholic Church apologist. I'm especially not going to defend Cardinal Timothy Dolan, our nation's highest-ranking Catholic official, for breaking bread with Donald Trump at this year's Al Smith dinner, considering our president-elect has surrounded himself with homophobes, or for refusing to acknowledge that the deadly attack at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando six months ago specifically affected my community.
But I will, like many other other queer Catholics, defend my God-given right to pursue our faith in the hopes that future generations of queer people will somehow benefit from our dogged persistence. As the Gospel of Matthew had it: "Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you." It's Scripture's version of "We're here; we're queer!" So why stop knocking now, especially if fewer doors are available?
One can only imagine what the Church hierarchy will look like in 50 years, when papal applicants are former Snapchat users. Visibility is a virtue, and it's only helpful to know that there are people who look like you, love like you, and pray like you. Being gay and Catholic are both choices—the only difference is that God made the first.