What Growing Up Gay and Catholic Taught Me About Identity
Author: Christina Giuggio
In the same way that I don’t tell people at church that I’m gay, I haven’t made a habit of telling my LGBTQ+ friends that I’m an altar server.
Neither of these labels are sources of shame in my life; in fact, religion and sexuality are central to my identity, and the way they have clashed and danced around each other is an important part of who I am today. Now, at 18, the relationship between them continues to ebb and flow as I develop a deeper connection to my queerness and come to understand the role of faith in my life. But in a world in which they largely interact like oil and water, nurturing that relationship does not come naturally to me.
Though I like to think of myself as a creative, I find a great sense of comfort in understanding the world in black and white. I love knowing things about myself that are concrete. For instance, my favourite colour is blue. My favourite season is spring. I love Earl Grey tea, especially in the morning. I have always struggled to exist within any sort of uncertainty, and this proved especially problematic when I turned 12 and started to question my sexuality. I don’t remember the instant the thought crossed my mind, but I know that three things happened in a row that made it increasingly hard to ignore: one, a good friend came out to me; two, I started watching Pretty Little Liars and became a bit too invested in Emily and Maya’s relationship; and three, I had a crush on a girl for the first time. At this point, any lasting doubts about my sexuality quickly faded away.
However, knowing that I wasn’t straight was not particularly comforting to me. My Catholic school was much more Last-Supper-colouring-sheets than it was fire-and-brimstone, but the clear avoidance of LGBTQ+ topics in class and the casual use of slurs at recess didn’t exactly fill me with hope for my future. I didn’t know anyone else who was both LGBTQ+ and religious, and the idea of navigating this grey area by myself terrified me. So I did what had always made me feel safe and started looking for answers. For months, I spent every evening scouring the Internet, cycling obsessively through news stories, documentaries, blog posts, and Youtube sermons. I cried reading about others’ experiences being ostracized by their own religious communities. I flipped through a crumpled copy of the Catechism of the Catholic Church over and over, as though it may have changed since the last time I had read it. All I wanted was to find something to let me know that it would be okay, but instead, everything I consumed made me more afraid of who I was.
Unsurprisingly, none of these actions brought me any closer to self-acceptance. I wanted to believe that I could have both — that is, exist as gay and Catholic — but I didn’t understand how those identities could coexist when everything was telling me otherwise. Something I began to realize, however, was that the fears I held regarding my religion did not align with who I believed God to be. I wasn’t scared to be gay because I thought God would hate me, I was scared because I knew other people would. When I prayed, I never found myself “praying the gay away”… I prayed that I would be able to celebrate my love freely in the outside world. I started to view my relationship with God as something that could not be touched by anyone else, something that existed solely for me. Through the constant conflict of what I thought to be two irreconcilable identities, I began to see the beauty in what was simply my identity: who I was, who I wanted to be, who I loved, what I believed in. When I fully embraced the imperfect overlap between my sexuality and my faith, it became perfect, because it became mine.
Looking back to that phase of my life, I wish less of my time was spent agonizing over who I was allowed to be. I resisted having to give up any part of myself so strongly, thinking I’d inevitably be forced to — I wish I had known that wasn’t the case. And while I’m thankful for everything that I learned through that experience, if I could tell my younger self anything, it would be that it’s okay. It’s okay to not know who you are. It’s okay to not know how to categorize yourself and to just wake up every day and choose what feels right. It’s okay that it doesn’t ‘make sense,’ as long as it makes sense to you. It’s okay to just be.
A lot has happened since I was 12 years old. I was incredibly lucky to have friends that supported me when I very awkwardly came out for the first time near my thirteenth birthday. I was even more fortunate, two years later, to have parents that were open minded when I decided to share that part of myself with them too. I’ve grown close to people who have been through the same struggles that I have, and found such peace in finally feeling understood. At the same time, I’ve continued to experience conflict: I’ve argued with teachers in religion classes, developed a fear of getting close with anyone who I haven’t come out to, and I am still at odds with a larger religious community in which I feel I’ll never belong.
As I said before, the relationship between my religion and my sexuality has continued to change throughout the years, and, in writing this, I’ve realized that I am no closer now to fully grasping who I am than I was before. However, I am becoming increasingly comfortable with the uncertainty of it all — the fluidity of my identity as a whole, and the simple truth that I don’t need to be sure of every part of me in order to love myself. I’m learning to not only accept, but to celebrate the way I’ve come to reconcile being gay and Catholic. And I’m excited to keep growing and evolving in each of those identities as time goes on and to hopefully never stop.
There’s one thing that I am confident in saying I know: there’s nothing in my life that’s more sacred than love, and, in that way, my identity will always be spiritual to me.