St. Sebastian Martyred at Boulder Pass, Arizona, Lotan Lotan, Oil on Board, Blue Coyote Gallery
Last week I had the joy of sitting down to dinner with some of my favorite people in the world: two Latin American seminarians who I look up to tremendously, and some of their peers. The conversation at the table turned to Pope Francis, and whether people agreed with all of his groundbreaking statements–a conversation I was excited to see taking place. Unsurprisingly, this led to a discussion of his famous “Who am I to judge?” remark–which he made in response to the idea of gay men serving the Church in the priesthood (which, as chance would have it, I firmly believe is my vocation).
Pope Francis’ news-making comment pulled me between joy and a simultaneous sensation of underwhelm. I know that there are plenty of gay priests and seminarians from both statistical and anecdotal evidence. I also know that many or most bishops and religious superiors have ignored or liberally interpreted the Vatican’s confusing directive about denying men with “deeply seated homosexual tendencies” admission to priestly formation for decades. For me, the pope was simply acknowledging something that was profoundly obvious to most thoughtful people, and deserved to come to light already–that both gay and straight men can be wonderful priests.
However for my companions at that table, this statement by the pope was a disorienting revelation. They spoke about allowing gay men to be priests as though (1) this wasn’t already happening, (2) such people are more likely to cause scandal to the Church through sexual sins and crimes, (3) such people would probably have problems with celibacy, and (4) such people would upset the single-sex religious communities where they would be members.
This is part II of a series which is introduced in the previous post.
By my 20th birthday, I was a confident and happy young man who had spend the last 6 years as a proud Catholic who was actively discerning a vocation to the priesthood. This identity survived a lot during that time, including the private recognition that I was gay. Over the next year I pursued a desire to be more open about my sexual orientation with both myself and close friends–an impulse which I think was healthy and necessary. However, I got swept up in the media maelstrom surrounding gay marriage and lost my sense of vocation and my faith as a result.
When I first came out to close friends, most of whom shared my Catholic faith, they were extremely supportive and understanding. However, I did not let these interactions determine my perception of what being gay should mean for me as a Christian. Instead, because I acknowledged that I was a gay person, and because I was (and still am) a news junkie, I paid a great deal of attention to what was said about gay people in the media. I could easily read a dozen stories about LBGT issues each day as the culture wars over gay marriage raged. As a gay person in the process of figuring out what my sexual orientation should mean for my life, I started to take what I read personally. When I read something positive about gay people and their relationships, I felt affirmed. When I read something negative about gay people or their relationships, I felt insulted and indignant. And over that year there were many opportunities for indignation in relation to the Catholic Church, and none in which I felt affirmed.
I paid close attention as a cast of Hollywood all-stars reenacted the blockbuster Proposal 8 trial and lampooned the defenders of California’s gay marriage repeal and their comically irrational and ignorant arguments. My Church had proclaimed itself an ally to that side of the debate. Other groups on the larger “side” of the culture war included the Westboro Baptist Church (of “God hates fags”) fame, and the hateful lies that gays were child molesters, bad parents, and wanted to “turn” kids gay.
My largest fear in coming out came from a sensation that other people wouldn’t or couldn’t “get it.” I struggle to pin down what it means to “get it,” and I apologize. However, it has to do with the hope that when I come out to people that they simultaneously understand something of what I’ve experienced as a queer person, but also continue to see me as a whole person without applying stereotypes. I suspect one (and perhaps the only) way to reach that balance is to be willing to hear multiple, nuanced stories of queer people that are unfolding in the world around us, and here the media can help and hurt.
Today there are many more LGB characters on screen, from Glee to Modern Family (although this does not mean they have totally escaped from unhelpful stereotypes). More importantly, there are more out LGB people who can serve as real life role models who also break through stereotypes and provide a reference point for people who don’t imagine themselves as clearly in their parents, pastors, relatives, etc. I think that both of these realities can help LGBT people feel less isolated and imagine more possible (happy!) futures than without such representations. It also has allowed the people around us have gotten used to the idea of gay people existing in normal parts of society. When I tell someone I am gay, there are now enough examples of what that could mean floating around that it does not put me in the kind of box that I imagine it would have 10, 5, or even 2 years ago.
Mainstream media has offered fewer role models and representations of transgender people than other members of the LGBT community. Even as a fellow “LGBT” person, I definitely struggle to understand the experiences of trans* people. I’ve read the Wikipedia page and taken gender studies classes, but that doesn’t mean I’m adequately prepared to empathize with the unique constellation of struggles many members of that group face. This is where I see a great value in Transparent and shows like it. Maura and her family raise a tremendous number of issues worth considering:
-the the fear of coming out is far greater with those with whom we are closest, and the hardest part can be starting the conversation (Maura’s kids think she has cancer when they are invited over for dinner out of the blue)