Grace DoerflerAugust 13, 2021
Via iStock

I went to an Episcopal church last Sunday. And the Sunday before.

I am not an Episcopalian—not yet, anyway. I am just a Catholic who, even before the latest torrent of homophobia on Catholic social media, was very tired.

Although I have always been Catholic, I often question if I can truly find home in this church, which often seems to go to great lengths to make people who love the way I do feel unwelcome in the Body of Christ. The hatred and overt homophobia that have dominated Catholic news lately have been devastating, but the message—that L.G.B.T.Q. people do not belong, that we are disordered, that our lives and our loves have no worth—is all too familiar.

How long until this narrative is disrupted?

As someone who identifies as both Catholic and queer, I deeply believe there is a connection between our words and our lives. Through my Catholicism, I have faith that language is a holy space in which we encounter the divine. It was through the Word becoming flesh that God chose to encounter her people; it was with a word that Jesus offered healing and grace; in naming, we commit to relationship with God.

The process of coming out holds a certain sacramentality. Breaking the silence can allow the inbreaking of the Spirit.

Similarly, for many L.G.B.T.Q. people, the process of coming out can hold a certain sacramentality. Each disclosure of our identities (for those of us who are able to come out) is a leap of faith. Breaking the silence can allow the inbreaking of the Spirit.

Stories weave together the fabric of my faith: the women religious who have modeled the prophetic leadership that flows from baptism, the Catholic Workers who have taught me about love and chosen family, and the L.G.B.T.Q. Catholics at my university, Notre Dame, who welcomed me when I tentatively began coming out. In this patchwork of stories and role models, I have found reasons for hope and resilience when little in the church seemed salvific.

At the same time, I hold just that—a patchwork. Too often, queer and transgender Catholics grow up without hearing narratives that could well be lifelines to community and self-acceptance.

I did not know more than one or two openly L.G.B.T.Q. people until I got to college, and conversations about queer and trans identities seemed always to happen at a whisper. Without representation, I did not know that it was possible to have a good life as an L.G.B.T.Q. person, and for a long time, I thought that every gay person’s narrative was one of shame, sacrifice and silence.

Silencing the truths of L.G.B.T.Q. Catholics’ lives will only rob the church of the gifts we have to offer.

There is a unique claustrophobia in being closeted, and for those of us who have spent much of our lives without the language to articulate our identities, it can be intimidating to break the silence. The first time I tried to come out to one of my friends, I could not do it. It was too difficult to say the word gay out loud; I only succeeded months later. Little felt sacred in the initial work of getting past enough shame to let another person in and to seek a language which had always felt inaccessible.

But treating one another’s stories with compassion invites the possibility of new life and growth. In narrating my own identity and letting it coexist with my faith, I have finally found not a cross but new life. In the process, I have encountered God and found community in new ways. It felt like coming up for air after being trapped underwater.

Young L.G.B.T.Q. Catholics need stories in which we can see that a future that includes our queerness is possible. Perhaps just as importantly, straight Catholics need these stories, too. We need more scripts in which L.G.B.T.Q. Catholics can see ourselves, more ways of saying aloud all the ways in which people can be images of God.

As long as L.G.B.T.Q. young people grow up without seeing ourselves represented or respected in the church, I do not know how church leaders can expect us to find spiritual belonging here. I want to belong to a church that is willing to see my L.G.B.T.Q. siblings and me as just like straight and cisgender Catholics in our striving to follow Jesus. What would the church gain if it treated L.G.B.T.Q. people as fully part of its varied tapestry—as people, not as an ideology or disorder—so we could all get back to the Gospel?

I know that I am loved by God—including my queer identity, not in spite of it. I cannot say the same of the Catholic Church.

Some days I am ready to leave, and some days I think that I should stay and work to build a church to which I would be proud to belong. Either way, I do not think it is wrong to want a better spiritual home as a queer person of faith.

It is painful to stay in a church that only offers conditional acceptance, one that would tell me to see my call to love as a cross instead of a gift. And it is heartbreaking to watch Catholics manifest our collective phobia of talking honestly about gender, sex and sexuality by demonizing L.G.B.T.Q. people.

As I have prayed in the Episcopal church this summer, I have given myself the radical permission to imagine what it would be like to go to a church that would not tell me that part of my personhood is broken, in which I would be welcome to come wholly as I am—as a lesbian, as a disciple.

I know that I am loved by God—including my queer identity, not in spite of it. I cannot say the same of the Catholic Church.

Can Catholic church leaders stand in my shoes?

To build a church that truly fosters “respect, compassion and sensitivity,” as the Catechism calls us to do, we need to know one another and ourselves. Forbidding authentic speech about queer sexuality and gender diversity will not make L.G.B.T.Q. people disappear. Rather, silencing the truths of our lives will only rob the church of the gifts we have to offer.

I believe in resurrection. I believe that someday the Catholic church will be more expansive, more generous, and more loving toward its L.G.B.T.Q. members. I believe that God is present in our stories, and that these stories can bring new life to the church—if allowed to do so. But for now, I do not know how long I can keep choosing a church that so seldom seems to choose its L.G.B.T.Q. faithful in return.

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