In a way, I am a Christian because I am gay.
I was raised in an ultraconservative family. My parents were members of the John Birch Society and sent me each year to a summer camp run by the John Birch Society. I was raised to believe all their crazy conspiracy theories. When I was a teenager my mother decided that Vatican II and Mass in English were also the results of a vast conspiracy to destroy the Church, and she insisted I go each Sunday to a schismatic chapel where they offered only the old Latin Mass.
This is the sort of offensive nonsense the John Birch Society put out.
While I was still pretty conservative, the whole idea of a massive conspiracy to destroy the Church by praying in English ultimately seemed far-fetched to me. I fought having to go to my mother's chapel filled with those wild-eyed conspiracy theorists. She pled with me to be "conditionally reconfirmed" by Archbishop Lefebvre, (who had been excommunicated because he was too conservative for Pope John Paul II!) because apparently the Holy Spirit does not reply to a summons in English. She tried to bribe me, but I refused. Not so much out of idealism, I have to admit, but just because it all seemed kind of creepy.
About this time, I began to admit to myself that I was gay. In those pre-Internet days, the only way to find out about anything was to go to your local library and see if you could find a book about it. Unless you wanted to ask the librarian (which I most certainly did NOT), it would take a while to find the right books.
What I learned from the books at my local library was that gay people were child molesters, hung out in public restrooms waiting to prey on unsuspecting victims, wanted to be women and were voraciously attracted to every male within reach.
Wait, you mean all gay men are NOT like this?
But none of this applied to me. I wasn't attracted to children. I had no desire to hang out in a restroom. I didn't want to be a woman or dress like one. I was not wildly attracted to every man I saw. And more importantly, I knew I did not choose my orientation as many insisted.
And yet this is what we were told that gay people were by Church and society. Clearly, I had been deceived. Conventional wisdom was entirely wrong about gay people, and I knew this to a fact first-hand.This was crazy! How could the world be so wrong?
What other things I had been taught were also wrong?
To me, the understanding of myself as a gay man, contrasted with what society and Church said about gay men, meant that I had to do a thorough inventory of everything I had been told was true to this point. If I had been lied to about this, then anything I was taught could be false. Even my religion.
Although I had rejected the extremism of the John Birch Society, I considered myself a moderate Republican, a fiscal conservative. But I grew increasingly frustrated with Ronald Reagan's refusal to acknowledge the AIDS epidemic raging around me. There were lots of photos of his wife Nancy hobnobbing with her gay friends in Studio One, and the idea she would abandon her friends to a shameful and lonely death to support her husband's political agenda was a real wake-up call to me.
AB101 protests in California, October 1991
But the realization of what the Republican party was becoming was made very clear in 1991 when Pete Wilson, Republican governor of California, vetoed AB101, a bill outlawing job discrimination against gays and lesbians, a bill he had promised to sign during his campaign. I marched every night for weeks with massive crowds throughout the streets of Los Angeles, enraged at the deception of the governor and his sellout to religious extremists (http://articles.latimes.com/1991…). (The governor was dogged by crowds of angry protesters at every public appearance he made throughout the state, starting the first night at LACMA and continuing for months.) The GOP war was formally announced in 1992 when Pat Buchanan gave the famous "culture war" speech, declaring war on gays and lesbians on behalf of the Republican Party (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cul…).
Finally I could no longer be a Republican; could I remain Catholic? Was it just Catholicism that was the enemy, or was it Christianity itself? I had stopped practicing my faith in the mid-'80s. but why did I occasionally get up on a Sunday and feel the need to go to Mass? Was it just conditioning? I had to find out.
This photo should give you some idea of why Dorothy Day is awesome.
And so I began to read. I read John McNeill's seminal work The Church and the Homosexual, and learned things were not exactly the way some in the Church present them. I read about gay history and educated myself in theology and comparative religion. But I also began to read spiritual writers like Thomas Merton. I read the autobiography of Dorothy Day, The Long Loneliness. And I started to go back to Mass more frequently, slipping into the back pew. I learned for the first time about the Christian responsibility to the poor and the outcast. Somehow, I had never learned this. It was like a revelation, because I was raised to think the Faith was all about being right when everyone else was wrong.
There was a lot of crap in the closet. Not just denial about one's orientation, but also implicit acceptance of all sorts of toxicity, and all sorts of assumptions left unexamined. But Christianity was not one of those things. It was true. I came to feel that in my heart. Because I learned it was not about the Church; it was about being a disciple of Jesus Christ — and not because of the Church, but sometimes in spite of the Church. But I came to understand the necessity of the Church to the continuation of the gospel, and I came to see my Catholicism not as a way of "being right" or some sort of tribal affiliation, but as a witness to the longed-for unity of all Christians. It's not easy to live in unity, often with people you disagree with, but it's worth trying.
Washing of the Feet by John August Swanson
And so it was one Holy Thursday that I slipped into a church in West Hollywood for the ancient Evening Mass of the Lord's Supper, where the highlight is the re-enactment of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples as the ultimate model of humility and service. I was learning that Christianity was not about rules and theology, but about this simple act. I hungered for this wisdom and way of life.
And that's the day I reclaimed my faith.
Had I not been gay, today I may well have been an ultraconservative Catholic, unmoved by plight of the the poor and the oppressed, focused only on correct belief, petulant about liturgical minutiae and always trying to score a point "for my team" and conflating my identity as a Christian with my Republican party membership. But all that went out with the other crap in that damned closet.