When I identify, I tend to use the term queer. For me that encapsulates a lot of things. I’ve mostly been interested in other women; I’ve always been gender non-conforming, so that’s part of the reason that I like this term. It also for me has always encapsulated a more radical approach to the world, pushing for people to really be themselves, whatever that is. And so, for me using that term binds you together in solidarity with people everywhere, whatever cause they’re fighting [for], whether that be for economic justice or for social justice or different political causes. That’s really important to me, and I think the reason that’s so important to me is when I first heard that I was like, “Well I already do that, because I’m a Catholic. That’s what it means for me to be a Catholic. So obviously, this term is how I should identify.” That resonates so much with who I am and the way I am because I was raised in this faith.
For me there’s never really been a reconciliation that needs to happen. I think deep down inside I’ve never really questioned the ability to both be queer and have a full spiritual life. I think that what’s been difficult has probably been the social side or the community aspect of both of those things, because I have yet to find a place where I feel like I can be both fully queer and fully spiritual at the same time, both in the queer circles that I run in and the religious circles that I run in. But I think on an individual level, I’ve never really felt a division like I’ve either heard people talk about or seen represented in the media. An ‘evangelical being forced out of the church’ type thing—that’s never been a problem for me.
I was raised in a Catholic family, and I’ve always thought of my family as a particularly religious family, in that we went to Mass every Sunday and we were very involved in different kind of social justice work and in the liturgy itself—my siblings and I were all altar servers, I did some lectionary reading type things. Being involved in church was a way my parents showed us how they wanted us to treat other people. It really struck home the point that community is the most important thing, very much the “love your neighbor as yourself” kind of premise. Regardless of who someone is, where they come from, what their background is, their stage in life, their circumstances—you see Christ’s presence in them and you see yourself in them and you do what you can to ease whatever suffering is going on in their lives and you share in that joy. So for me, that was really the essence of what it meant to be a Catholic. All the trappings of it, all the doctrine and going to Mass and everything, were all important and great but that was never the core of it for me.
I don’t remember ever having a talk or anything at church that clearly laid out what the church’s policy on homosexuality was, but for some reason I intuitively knew that it was against what is deemed ‘the natural order of things.’ But when I started to come out to myself, I never thought that there was something wrong with me. I figured that there was just something wrong with the way that other people were interpreting stuff. I figured that G-d creates flawed beings, but he doesn’t create something that he doesn’t want, or doesn’t value. And so for a body of people on Earth to be telling me that didn’t make any sense to me, it was just an inherent contradiction in what I interpreted to be church teaching. It very much to me was kind of, “Well then I must be fine and there must be something wrong with the way that other people perceive this.” I think I’m kind of lucky in some ways that that was personally the place that I got to, and got to relatively quickly, because I think that it allowed me to continue to have faith [whereas] I saw many people that I knew struggle with it a lot sooner than I did.
My mom’s reaction when I first came out to her, more than anything, was that she really hoped that I wouldn’t lose my faith—that was like her biggest concern. She basically said, “We didn’t prepare you for this, your life as a minority, as a sexual minority, as a member of a group that’s still not seen as 100% valid or equal in this society. We didn’t prepare you for that, so you’re going to need something to lean on and I really hope that your faith isn’t something that you lose, ‘cause you’re gonna need it.” At the time I was almost offended that she would say that, because it had been such a core thing for me.
While I was in college and I was continuing the coming out process, I was generally pretty well received, and one of the places I was surprisingly well received in my opinion was the Catholic society at school. That was actually one of the first places I came out. I was the music minister for a while, I was the treasurer, and it was never really a problem. It was odd to me that the space where I encountered more resistance to [inhabiting] these identities that were both very important to me, was in the school queer community. The majority of the people there had not had a religious upbringing, and so all they heard were the horror stories. There also were people with these horror stories of growing up in religious families and being rejected and being kicked out from all sorts of religious backgrounds. They kind of looked at me and they were like, “I don’t understand how you can continue to participate in an institution that you know historically is very against you and who you are.” And I think at the time I didn’t really have a whole lot of ability to delve into that. I think there was so much going on and so many things to experience that, for me it was a lot easier just to kind of be like be “Well, it is how it is and I’m not gonna interrogate it too much because I want to focus on my school work.” (My school work was in science, and so I didn’t get a chance to really get into it a lot there.) For the majority of that period of time I would go to church on the weekends and at the same time I would be hanging out with my queer friends and it was all fine.
One of the things that was valuable to me is that I could see so many common threads in the things that I valued out the Catholic community at my school and the queer community at my school as well. They both had a very strong emphasis on social justice, and on community building and the creation of a family—that you are really 100% there for the people that you’re surrounding yourself with. That rhetoric was so strong in both places. That was one of those things that was really great about coming out in that environment: a lot of the themes and the subjects already felt so natural to me [based on] how I had been brought up. In fact, I felt I could use a lot of the same language in both communities. There was a lot of resonance there that I think most people didn’t see, but I could feel, and I really enjoyed that.
When I graduated college I moved back home, it was losing both of those communities simultaneously that really threw me into the first moments of really questioning my faith that I think I’ve ever really had.
At the same time, Maryland, which is the state that I’m from, was gearing up for a vote in the following election cycle to legalize same sex marriage in the state, and there were at least one or two sermons where the priests [in my home parish] were asked by the diocese to preach on that and to try to sway your vote against it. And I remember going to those and just being totally shocked. Typically at the Catholic church, the priest tries to have the homily reflect something about the gospel or one of the readings that happens. These sermons had nothing to do with anything, and they were just kind of seen as something that had to be done. I think that was the first time that I really started to see what people had been trying to point out to me before, the way that politics have affected some of our religious communities. It was just the first time that I had really seen that.
I remember one Sunday I went to church by myself, and in the middle of the sermon I just got up and left and started crying. And I still can’t—I don’t remember the sermon, I don’t really remember exactly what happened, but something inside me just like snapped. I just couldn’t be there anymore. It really sent me into kind of a spiral. I stopped going to church with any regularity. It’s only been recently that I’ve kind of found my way back in certain ways but not others.
My family actually has been surprisingly okay with it. There was a point at which they considered switching parishes, even though we’ve been going there as long as I’ve been alive—I’m 23 years old. I distinctly remember having this conversation with them because their decision was, “We wanna stay here. We want to stay in the Catholic church and we specifically want to stay in this parish because we think it’s important for people to see that there other ways, there are progressive Catholics, there are liberal-leaning Catholics, that the church is big enough to contain multitudes, as it does, and we think that that’s very important for us to do that, and we understand if you don’t feel that way, if you aren’t interested in doing that or, you know, if you just aren’t of the same mind.”
I still miss the feeling of being able to go to a Mass and feel safe, feel like I’m not on edge waiting for something to be said that’s gonna hit me the wrong way. I haven’t done a whole lot of searching for other faith communities. I’ve always been really interested in other religions and I’ve always been lucky to have friends of a variety of backgrounds that I can go to and talk about what they believe. There’s a lot of other communities that I’d like to experience or visit and see if it feels more like a home, but I still think I’m kind of reeling from all of a sudden feeling pushed out.
And it totally hit me out of left field. I was at a place where I felt like this wasn’t a question in my mind, that I was really solid. I had been thinking about going back to school for a religious studies degree of some sort, and that’s kind of on hold for now.
It’s definitely been the loss of the community I think that’s hardest. On a very personal level, I still have a prayer life, I’ve always incorporated aspects of meditation into my spiritual life. I’ve always been really into labyrinths, I think labyrinths are a great form of meditation, they’ve been really important to me at very key points in my life, and I recently stumbled across near my work place an Episcopal church that has an outdoor garden labyrinth, and it’s gonna be my new favorite place. I walked it a couple days ago for the first time, and it was a moment where I truly was able to feel relaxed and really connected to a place, and I hadn’t felt that in a while. I’m really excited to kind of expand on that.
I think deep down none of my actual belief in a G-d has changed. I still very much believe in a higher power and I think the ways that I’ve always described that figure have been different, again, than what I was technically taught. G-d to me doesn’t have a gender, doesn’t have a form—maybe this is my scientific background coming in, but I very much envision G-d as just an energy, or a kind of a thread that runs through everything. I guess if you’re talking about Catholic theology, the concept of the Holy Spirit has always felt most solid to me. “The love between the Father and the Son.” That’s just such a weird concept, but for me that’s always been the easiest way to envision this concept. And that’s still pretty solid.
I said that when I graduated college I lost two communities: I lost my Catholic/spiritual community and I lost my queer community. I’ve been lucky in that I’ve been able to build up kind of a queer community in D.C. through some other activities that I’m interested in. I play on a rugby team, I’m in a band that is a safe space for queer musicians, but those communities—even when I feel that connection that for me is a very spiritual thing, you know, when you have eight people moving together in a rugby scrum, or when you are in a marching band and everything just aligns perfectly and you’re kind of in sync—these things I’ve always talked about in spiritual terms [and yet] those spaces aren’t a place where I feel like I can use that terminology.
I don’t find very many people like me, who have any sort of spiritual inclination. Some of it’s an age thing too. I’m two years out of college. A couple months ago a friend of mine invited me to a happy hour that was specifically geared at queer Christians, and everybody there at least had six years on me. So some of it’s just feeling like a fish out of water, and losing a space where I feel I can really have these kinds of conversations. ‘Cause the queer community to me has always been a space where having a spiritual identity is odd, because so many people either have prior bad experiences that have kind of caused them to shut that part of themselves off, or so many people just have no interest, or didn’t grow up in a space where that was an area of their life that they really stopped to reflect on. And for me, for [spirituality] having been such an important area of my life growing up, and then all of a sudden losing a space where I felt like I could talk about it, engage with it -- to then have this other, very important identity in my life be a space where it feels like it has to be pushed aside or is somehow weird, is just like, a strange thing to wrap my head around.
I’m hopeful that I will find another space that will feel like a spiritual home for me, that will feel truly welcoming—and I’m not 100% convinced that the Catholic church won’t come around. I think part of it might just be the individual parish I am involved with at home, because I’ve met plenty of people on an individual level and plenty of priests and other members of the religious orders who are totally welcoming, who I feel like I can talk to and can communicate with, and feel like I’m able to be open and fully myself as a queer person as well. But right now, it just—that doesn’t seem to be the place where I can feel comfortable, and I really think I’m still grieving over losing that aspect or that sense of community there.
I guess I just am continuing to pray and have faith that, at some point, I will be able to really find my way back to a place where once again I feel I can have all these sides of me co-exist, and be able to share that with other people.
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This story was condensed and edited from a Queerituality story Casey L. recorded in Washington, D.C. on August 1, 2013. Thanks to the Religion & Faith group at the Human Rights Campaign for allowing us to use their space. Photos by Francis Gonzales.