It’s hard for LGBTQ people to talk about religion, or even to interact with religion, because most of us have been victimized by religious zealots of one sort or another. Bigots have conveniently cherry-picked verses from holy books to tell us we’re abominations and deny us basic human dignity.
As far as I’m concerned, if you’re outside of the heteronormative gender binary in the United States, you are perfectly justified telling organized religion to go to …
Well, you know.
This Sunday, I thought I’d talk about my own struggles, if that’s OK. I’m writing this from a Christian perspective, fully aware that plenty of people in the world aren’t Christian … but also aware that I’m in Pittsburgh, and Christian churches play a big part in our local scene. (And I’m also fully aware that you might think I’m some kind of a nut who probably hasn’t gotten past Santa Claus and the tooth fairy, either. If so, feel free to skip this whole deal.)
For most of my life, I was a faithful, once-a-week, mass-going Catholic. I was an altar boy and attended Catholic schools for 13 years.
And I spent a lot of time feeling guilty because I felt like girly inside … envying my girl friends, wishing I could look like them, wishing I could trade places or lives with them. When I was at church, I used many of my prayers asking God to take away those feelings.
As I grew older, I realized it wasn’t happening. So, what did that mean? Was I going directly to hell for wanting to wear dresses? If there’s a God, why would he (or she?) put me through this misery? Was that his (her?) plan for me—for me to be unhappy?
Still, I kept going to church, feeling more and more out of place—a fraud, an impostor. I’d think, “God knows you were staying home from school to watch those transvestites on ‘The Jerry Springer Show.’ God knows when you were looking for a book about Christine Jorgensen. God saw where you were reading that story in People Magazine about Caroline Cossey.”
Sometimes, I’d stop going to church for weeks at a time, but I always found my way back. Even when traveling, I rarely went a week without going to Mass.
Now, don’t get me wrong … sure, I was going to church every week, but I suppose I wasn’t much of a Catholic. I had doubts about doctrine as far back as grade school. I was what true believers refer to as a “cafeteria Catholic.”
In catechism class, sister taught us, “The pope is infallible. He never makes a mistake.” Wait a minute, I thought … he never wakes up, and says, “Gee, I think I’ll have corn flakes,” pours his cereal and then remembers, “I forgot to get milk”? He never misspells words? He never trips over his shoelaces? (I eventually learned “papal infallibility” was more nuanced than my second-grade understanding, but the seeds of doubt were planted.)
Guardian angels didn’t make a lot of sense to me, either. (If anything, they seemed a little creepy, hovering around when you went to the bathroom.) And I wasn’t sure why I was supposed to pray to saints, and not just ask God for help. (Mom, a Catholic convert raised Protestant, had her doubts, too. “Why go through the operator when you can dial direct?” she would say.)
Like I said, I was strictly a cafeteria Catholic.
And I’m just not a super-religious person. Pushing my religion on other people seemed weird and offensive. If there was a higher power, was I to believe that only Catholics or Christians had the right answers? When I got to college and met Hindus and Muslims and atheists—righteous, moral atheists—was I supposed to believe that if there was a higher power, the higher power would keep a righteous, moral person out of heaven because she was an atheist or a Buddhist?
Where was the logic in that?
I became more and more skeptical of “god” being some omnipotent being sitting on a throne in the clouds, and I became more and more skeptical that belief in a higher power was a prerequisite to living a good life.
If I was changing, well, the church of my youth was changing, too. My perspective was getting wider. Its perspective seemed to be shrinking. When I was a kid in the 1970s, the Catholic church seemed to be committed to social justice and progressive attitudes. As more and more Protestant churches were ordaining women, I fully expected women to be accepted into the priesthood when I was grown.
But by the 1990s, the Catholic church of my youth was becoming more and more reactionary, and by the early 2000s, I hardly recognized it. When Benedict XVI became pope, right-wing Catholics were ecstatic. Bumper stickers showed up in our church parking lot: “The cafeteria is closed.”
I started looking for an exit.
Next Sunday, we’ll pick this up in the aisles of the social sciences department at Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, where I’m not convinced I benefited from a miracle, but I sure did have a lucky and fortunate coincidence.