The Hook Up: How do I reconcile my sexuality with my religion?

HookUpHeader

I have struggled with sexuality my entire life. I couldn’t understand why I didn’t feel the same as all of my counterparts in high school. Then one day I got on Hulu and happened to watch the musical episode of Grey’s Anatomy. I watched it and I was completely dumbfounded that Callie and Arizona are such normal people but also gay. I looked up their entire history and suddenly the world made sense. From there, I went on an incredible journey of understanding my amazing gayness. I found AfterEllen and it has been my window into a world I was afraid to enter.

My fear stemmed from the community I came from and my religion. I am the proud product of 13 years of Catholic school. I love my faith and community more than anything, and with the help of my priest, I have been able to accept that I can be both Catholic and gay. The only problem is now I have to figure out a way to make my community see it the same way. I’m from West Virginia where everyone knows everyone. I have become extremely successful in my own right with school and scientific research and my biggest fear is that being gay will eclipse all that I have worked so hard to accomplish. I don’t want to come out because I’m afraid people will forget about all I have been able to do and just label me as “the gay.” How do I overcome that? Also, (back to the religion) the few lesbians that I have interacted with have no respect for my religion and constantly make fun of my belief in the Catholic church or God. That usually drives me into a long-winded speech about religion. I respect their unbelief but they treat going to church like a hate crime. Is there a way I can concisely and politely say, “It’s none of your business how and with whom I choose to worship God.”—Praying Gay

Dear Praying, “It’s none of your business” is a perfectly acceptable conversation ender. It’s short, to the point, and communicates to others that you’re not willing to deal with any bullshit. You don’t have to launch into any big speeches or justify your beliefs. All that’s going to do is frustrate you and wear you out. In my experience, it’s more effective (and better for your sanity) to not engage with those who are just going to, pardon the expression, crucify you for who you are. Religion and sexuality, unfortunately, are often presented as polarizing, warring factions, even though, of course, the real story is often more complicated.

Plenty of queer people are religious. In fact, a Pew Research Center survey found that a 51 percent of LGBT Americans have a religious affiliation, and 17 percent of them say religion is “very important” in their lives. Of those who are religious, most identified as Protestant or Catholic. Though Pew also recognizes that religion “is a difficult terrain for many LGBT adults,” and one that is not without trial and conflict.

As a general rule, I’d advise you to steer clear of the lesbians (and the charlatans and toxics) who aim only to mock and disregard you. This is easier said than done, I realize, but there are plenty of people in the world who will celebrate and respect you for who you are. Find them. PFLAG has a list of queer, religious advocacy groups and resources you might start with in order to find your tribe. And I’m not sure where in West Virginia you live, but there might be a Meetup group you can go to (or create yourself if there’s not).

As to your fear of your life being eclipsed by your sexuality, I’m reminded of a quote by the queer author Jeanette Winterson, who wrote in Weight: “The hells we invent are the hells we have known.”

That is, often our fears and assumptions are creations of our own minds, and don’t necessarily have much basis in reality. This isn’t to negate your concerns or anything, but to remind you that you may have built up a crisis in your mind that doesn’t yet (or will ever) exist.

Some people, the incredibly reductive ones, might look at you and just see “gay.” But most will not. Most people will look at you and see a person. A person with varied desires, interests, complexities, and opinions, who also happens to be gay. It might take a little time or adjusting, but those who are worthy of your time and attention will “get” it, and be understanding.

Because I’m not someone with a religious background or ties, I asked a few friends on Facebook who’ve faced similar situations to weigh in. “Coming out doesn’t negate everything else about her and good people know that,” said Dara. “Anyone who can’t see that is not worth knowing. She should thank them for revealing their blatant stupidity, so she can cut them out of her life. Also, why care so much that people recognize all she’s been able to do? Did she do it for them or herself?”

FullSizeRenderillustration by Natasha Miren

Sexuality is, like it or not, a part of who we are. That we are judged for it is not ideal, of course, or even desirable, but it’s also not the end of the world. Give it time, and, as much as possible, surround yourself with those who really see you.

“People will always find ways to label you,” said Laura. “If you’re not the gay, you’re the girl, or the computer nerd, or the softball player. It’s human nature to label and categorize everything, including people. So just accept that it will happen, and don’t come out for any other reason than to live your life the way you want to, honestly and without apology.”

Michael reminds you to “look at how our Pope handles the question: ‘Who am I to judge?’ Practicing, sincere Catholics try our best not to judge despite human weakness that tempts us to do so. Just look at how Jesus lived his life…one of love and conciliation, no hate or judgment.”

You’ve already come an incredibly long way in figuring out who you are and moving in the direction of your truth. That’s no easy feat. Hold on to that and make no room for the naysayers or those who want to knock you down.

As the great writer and Catholic Flannery O’Connor wrote in her book of letters, The Habit of Being: “Keep an open mind. Keep it open toward faith, keep wanting it, keep asking for it, and leave the rest to God.”    

Anna is a freelance writer in Oakland. Get overly personal emails and haiku from her attinyletter.com/annapulley. Or Twitter @annapulley. Send her your Hook Up questions at askthehookup@gmail.com