Dana’s one of our amazing interns at Rainbow Youth, who identifies as a lesbian and a Catholic. She took the time to discuss with Curious some of the issues she’s had to face as part of both communities.
What came first – your realisation about your sexuality or your faith?
I always laugh when anyone asks me this. I have always been a stubborn person, taking the most difficult path possible because I don’t see the point in doing what someone else has already done. Most people will assume that I never would have become Christian if I were okay with being gay (I like how that rhymes), but, as a matter of fact, I was already a firm lesbian when I converted to Catholicism (though ‘non-practicing’, as Catholics adorably and naively term a lack of… certain experiences). And, yes, it was a conversion in the Pauline sense – complete with a Damascus experience. I needed something dramatic, because – well, it really does take stubbornness to become Christian when you already know that some of the things that Christian churches teach are blatantly wrong. I was indignantly hostile towards Christianity – and Catholicism was the worst!!
I kept negotiating with myself – surely I can find a church that will accept me for who I am – but something was pulling me towards the Catholic Church. It was home for me. The way I see it, God called me and sent me because the Church needs me (and I need the Church). So I’m stubbornly staying put, until they kick me out. Which they probably will, eventually. Technically, this article is probably enough to get me excommunicated, but I don’t think that I’m famous enough that it will matter.
What are some of the most challenging aspect of being both catholic and queer?
Well, it’s impossible. But not as impossible as you might think. There seems to be no space for anything but heterosexuality in the Church’s teachings on marriage (see Chapter 3, Article 7 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1994), and the Church views non-heterosexual sexual expression as being purely an act of lust, with no element of true spiritual or emotional companionship involved. I’m getting to the point where hearing ‘homosexuality is a sin’ suddenly bursting out in a church doesn’t make me feel cold, but there are still certain topics that cause me to brace myself.
Last year, at the (awesome! amazing!) passing of the Amendment to the Marriage Act, there was a Church service where the priest handed out and read aloud a letter to the congregation from the Archbishop that reminded my generation, ‘Generation Y’, that the Amendment was (as far as the Catholic Church is concerned) an attack on the institution of marriage. This felt like a personal attack on me, on several levels, but I was angry rather than ashamed.
The most difficult thing is having to constantly harden myself against the Church that I love, when I really just want to open my heart and rest my heavy burdens on the assisting shoulders of my community. I can handle intellectual attacks – I enjoy the challenge of playing with ideas. But I am a trusting person, and it’s annoying having to be constantly on guard.
Do you find it hard to be in queer spaces with your religious beliefs and vice-versa?
Yes, I find that I am asked the question ‘how do you reconcile your faith and your sexuality’ from both sides, with the assumption that the two things are at odds with each other. But, for me, faith is about relationship with God (with religion being the mode in which I choose to express/share that faith) and sexuality doesn’t, or shouldn’t, get in the way of that relationship. I could easily ask the same question of heterosexual Christians.
Everyone finds it difficult to ‘reconcile’ their sexuality with their faith – but why? It’s because, at some point, faith and sexuality have been put in opposition to each other, and the focus on sexual orientation is just one manifestation of that insecurity. I find that in queer spaces, bringing up ‘God’ tends to lead to awkward silences, and bringing up sexuality in religious spaces can lead to heated debate, even without bringing queer sexuality into things.
I feel that queer spaces can lack some of the nurturing philosophical depth of religious spaces, and, on the other side, religious spaces can become very intellectual, floating around in mystical realms in a way that can become disconnected from basic human emotion and physicality. I think that both communities could become enriched by drawing together the wisdom that they have gained from their separate explorations. This freedom of exploration was necessary – but now it’s time to bring things together again.
How do you feel about people who share the same faith as you but reject homosexuality?
Before I became Christian, I rejected the religion completely – and everyone who practiced it – because of its attitude towards homosexuality. But I find that things are more complicated from within a religious tradition. I have met a lot of loving, amazing Catholics who strive to serve others in imitation of Jesus (and do a far better job of it than I do!), and I simply cannot allow myself to judge them for their faith in a Church that I also love and admire.
It takes a lot of courage and spiritual maturity to even begin to challenge the spiritual world-view that you are brought up with, and some people are faithful followers rather than ideas-explorers; I like it when my perceptions are challenged and turned on their head, but I can’t expect everyone to be like me! So long as Christians treat me as a Child of God, and defend my brothers and sisters against persecution, I cannot fault them for holding a belief that irritates me. As for spiritual leaders – I expect them to act in a just manner, whatever position their tradition takes on certain issues. Their job is to lead people towards God, not alienate them.
What would your advice be for queer and trans* youth who want to explore their faith?
Find someone that you trust – anyone who is secure in their faith tradition, and mature enough to engage with deep questions. Don’t trust someone just because they’re a religious leader. They might be wonderful in every other way, but if they make you doubt your own experiences and self-identification, this will negatively affect your ability to open yourself up spiritually. Faith is about learning to trust God’s voice inside of you.
It helps a lot to have guides along the way – and if you can find a community where you feel safe, this can be very beneficial. But your faith journey is not determined by anyone else’s reaction to you. God will continue to engage with you, and guide you where you need to go. You’ve already begun your spiritual journey by engaging with your deepest desires and coming into a sense of self.
And if you have an affinity to a particular tradition, don’t let anyone tell you that that tradition is hostile to homosexuality. It is your tradition, and you can make it what you want it to be. You belong to God. Stand strong in that knowledge. Be brave! The strength that you will gain in your faith will actually help you to stand in your identity in a world that seems hostile towards it. And it will give you the compassion to stand with your brothers and sisters overseas and in your communities who are suffering in the most terrible ways for their courage. My faith is my rock, and no-one can take it away from me.
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