My hard choice

 

 

Sometimes when you get to know the creation better, you get to know the Creator better.

---Methodist minister

From a friend of an STA parishioner

God bless Everyone! No exceptions

I was baptized Catholic as a baby. My mom and dad raised me in the church. I always attended Catholic schools. We prayed as a family at home and attended Mass every Sunday. My uncle is a Catholic priest. Faith in God was always an important part of my life. It gave me direction, happiness and purpose.

I attended a well-known Catholic university. While in college there, I finally admitted to myself that I am gay. Saying those words to myself for the first time felt like being struck by lightning. It was simultaneously thrilling and terrifying. Although there were a lot of new things to learn about and adjust to, I was happy that for the first time I was living my life authentically and honestly. Coming out to my family and friends was both difficult and rewarding.

The process took about a year. Gradually, my parents adjusted to this new information. As they learned more about what it means to be gay, they became very strong allies. I always knew that they loved me and supported me no matter what. They remain my biggest champions to this day.

Unfortunately my relationship with my Catholic faith did not survive. I spent several years trying very hard to balance remaining Catholic with living openly and honestly as a gay man. Ultimately I came to the sad conclusion that this was impossible. I knew I would have to choose between the two. Catholic doctrine is very clear: being gay is not sinful, but acting on same-sex attraction is. I did not want lifelong celibacy. I knew that to have any chance of living an emotionally fulfilled life, I would have to leave the church. And so I did. It was not an easy choice, and it did cause me a lot of hurt, sadness, frustration and resentment.

In my hurt and anger, I also rejected religion and all it stood for. I decided that I simply did not need God or faith in my life, so I put them behind me and never looked back.

After college I moved to the San Francisco Bay Area. I wanted to live in a place where I could explore who I was in a non-judgmental atmosphere. The Bay Area was excellent in this regard. I met a lot of LGBT people. I dated, and made friends. I was able to be myself, without guilt or shame, in school and the workplace. It was incredibly liberating. I feel like my 10 years there really did a lot to heal some of the hurt I experienced in college and to make me proud and strong moving forward. It was also in San Francisco that I met my partner, who is now my husband. Four years ago we moved back to the Midwest. We even got legally married in Iowa. Getting married by a judge in my home state was not something I ever could have imagined being possible while growing up. It was a powerfully emotional and healing experience for me.

Despite being happy with the person I had become, I still felt a big void in my heart where my Catholic faith used to be. I began to wonder if I had been too hasty in rejecting God and faith from my life. I knew that rejoining the Catholic Church was out of the question for me, but I wondered about possible alternatives. Slowly I began to feel a call towards Judaism. I had studied abroad in Israel in college. My husband is Jewish. He grew up in a liberal, non-practicing household with an Israeli mother. Although he is a spiritual person, we never went to Temple, prayed, or worshiped in any way. I told him one evening that I was thinking about conversion. He was skeptical but supportive. I took a class on Judaism. I spoke with a Reform rabbi and began meeting with him regularly. I prayed. My husband and I joined the Reform Temple in our city.

A few weeks from now, I will enter the mikvah and officially convert to Judaism. I am happy that faith will once again play a role in my life, albeit a different role than it used to. I am happy to have found a religion where I can be a faithful person and also an out and proud gay man. My husband and I are valued members of our Temple. It is a great feeling to know that we are supported for who we are, and that our sexuality is in no way an impediment to living a spiritual life.

For a long time I was very angry and bitter about "what happened to me" when I came out as gay in the Catholic Church. My rabbi has helped me to put that experience in context. He has taught me that I am the result of all of my life experiences and that many of my Catholic experiences actually paved the way for my new faith. In that way, I no longer regret or reject my Catholic upbringing. Making peace with the past has been a liberating experience.

That said, it is unfortunate that it had to take so much pain to get to this point. If the Catholic Church were a welcoming place for LGBT people, I probably never would have left. What I would like for Catholics to understand is how difficult of a choice Catholic doctrine really does force LGBT Catholics to make. Many choose to do exactly what I did, which is to reject their faith entirely. This is sad, because it leaves those former Catholics without any community to sustain them. It also needlessly deprives Catholic communities of some of their most vibrant and creative members. Of course, those who choose to remain also pay a heavy price in terms of guilt, or of shutting themselves off completely from the experience of love and affection that should be a part of life for us all. I hope that someday the church is able to revise its doctrines so that the LGBT Catholics of tomorrow do not have to make this sort of choice.