Did you see the Pope’s comments about gay people last week?
He told a gay sexual assault survivor that “God made you like that and loves you like that.”
This is a big deal! It’s a clear departure from the Church’s official stance on homosexuality, but as someone who’s been both gay and religious for a long time, it’s not a departure from my beliefs.
I get asked all the time: “How can you be a part of the Catholic Church if you’re gay?” The short answer is that I’ve been able to make peace with the Church’s beliefs in tandem with my sexuality because I’ve learned to listen to myself. What society has to say about my sexuality — or anything else, for that matter — is irrelevant. As a result, I’ve found communities within the Catholic Church that welcome me and accept me for who I am. I’ve said before that I believe in God, and that ultimately trumps whatever the Church has to say about my sexuality.
But, truthfully, my journey has been anything but linear. I grew up attending church every single Sunday. I even went to Catholic school. I have always been a devout Catholic in the sense that I strongly believe in the message of the Bible. There were, however, several years of confused abandon when I started to come to terms with my sexuality. I knew that I believed in God, but I also knew that I believed in my desires. Being told that I was choosing this lifestyle by the sacred Church that I had put so much faith in all my life was disorienting, to say the least. When I realized I was interested in men, I found myself actually angry at God, and I quit going to church every week. The Church had always taught me that same-sex relationships are wrong, but I couldn’t help my feelings. I was angry that God had made me wrong. I was young and trying to follow my heart, but I was being told that what was inside my heart was wrong.
When I finally did come out, I was told not to be a part of the Church because it didn’t accept me. But eventually, I learned to follow my own heart. I knew that if I believed in God, that He wouldn’t have made me this way if He didn’t love me. Returning to the Catholic Church was a very personal decision between God and myself. I learned to go against two influential communities — the Church and the LGBTQ+ community — and follow my own heart.
We’re all walking contradictions. Authentically living your life takes courage because someone is always going to tell you how you should actually be living. It may seem bizarre that I am a practicing Catholic and an out gay man, but that’s my truth. That contradiction will be different for everybody, but the advice remains the same: learn how to listen to yourself and drown out the external noise. Here are some ways that have helped me, and that I think can help you find your voice, too.
Remember that you’re not alone. When we find ourselves feeling scary and overwhelming emotions, it’s normal to feel alone. I find it helpful to remember that the world is a really big place. No matter how unique your situation is, there are people who have been through it. Personally, I find some comfort in knowing that I’m not exploring entirely uncharted territory. Reminding yourself that you’re not alone will give you courage to…
Find your community. Humans are social creatures, and your tribe is somewhere out there. I promise. You have to be brave enough to put yourself out there to find them. When you find your people who aren’t judgmental, who accept you for who you are, and who lift you up (rather than tear you down), it’ll be that much easier to drown out the overwhelming societal influence and learn to listen to yourself. (For the record, it’s okay and expected to have multiple communities that serve different purposes.)
Expect the naysayers. There will be people who don’t get what you’re all about. That is okay. It will be painful, but it is okay. Today, I’ve found my way back to religion and I’ve discovered my own community within it. But I’d be lying if I said this community has always treated me well. In fact, the most brutal criticisms when I came out came from certain Catholic family members. Their reactions were disappointing, to say the least. But I’ve long accepted that I simply can’t change other people’s minds. They’re entitled to their opinions, but that means I’m entitled to mine, too. Learning to expect and accept the cynics has helped me trust my own gut.
Spend time alone. When you are going against the grain of society, you will need to be rock solid in your beliefs. Carve out time by yourself to reflect on what you really believe, to be really honest about what voices are your own and what voices are external. Identifying this might not be easy, so give yourself adequate space to identify where those voices are coming from.
I understand what it’s like to be told by everyone around you how to think, what to feel, and who to love. I’ve been told by everyone to not love men, and then I found solace in the gay community. Then, part of that community told me I shouldn’t be in the Catholic Church. I ignored both sets of people. And now, I’ve found a community that feels right to me. No matter what contradiction you’re feeling inside you, I know you can find your voice too.
It starts now.