I have a brief, and somewhat contentious, history with the Catholic Church. I believe I’ve mentioned aspects of this relationship before. The contention isn’t between myself and any particular individual of the Church, but with the Church, as a religious organization, herself. More specifically, with her doctrines, especially those regarding the LGBT community. While it’s true the current Pope has expressed a mind more open than previous Popes regarding LGBT people in general, it still isn’t quite in line with what many of the Church’s LGBT children require of their religious organization.
Now, some LGBT Catholics, especially among those born in the Church, don’t wish to leave the Church, but they do. Either they abandon all religion, convert to a more welcoming denomination, or form and attend breakaway churches which follow the Catholic traditions and liturgy. When I last departed the Catholic Church “for good,” I attempted to attend a Metropolitan Community Church at first; this religious organization is a generic Protestant church of no particular denomination, and it was formed by and specifically for the LGBT community and its allies. However, I didn’t attend it for long; a few months at most, because I wasn’t comfortable in the congregation—that’s in the congregation; I was quite comfortable with them—because I missed the formal, ceremonial, and participatory aspects particular to the Catholic Church and couldn’t invest myself in the worship of God with any of the solemnity I’d come to learn in my chosen church, primarily because I could not accept the MCC church’s differences from the Catholic Church. I eventually abandoned religious practice altogether because I felt I could not exist in the faith I wished to and felt uncomfortable elsewhere because of my firm belief in Catholicism.
I have always missed Catholicism though. There was not a day, a Sunday, a religious holiday when I did not consider returning to it. This desire was stronger at some times than at others, though those intense feelings of longing for Catholicism didn’t regularly coincide with any particular celebrations or solemnities within the Catholic Church. It was more than missing the people, or the ceremony of it; it was missing my place in a spiritual life.
In case I haven’t mentioned it before, I’ll say it now: I have always felt my spiritual home is in the Catholic Church. I was baptized and raised Lutheran as a child, up until around age ten or eleven, when we moved out of the city where I was first introduced to church, but I always held a secret envy for the one Catholic girl in my neighborhood. Not because she got to go to private school, but because she was Catholic—and I didn’t at that time have even a vague notion of what Catholicism was about beyond what very little I’d learned in school and seen on TV. My desire for Catholicism was encouraged when I was about 13 or 14 years old, when I happened to be flipping through our cable channels one day and happened upon a movie wherein a character was in Confession. I don’t know what about that particular activity so enamored me, but I knew I wanted to do that and watched the rest of the movie in the hopes of seeing this character involved in more Catholic activities.
I’m not sure of the year any more, but I finally realized my dream of converting to Catholicism in the middle of the first decade of the new millennium. I joked the entire time I was undergoing Catholic education in RCIA that I was being “cheated” of my Catholic baptism because the Catholic Church accepts Lutheran baptisms, and enjoyed a lovely confirmation ceremony. I felt so happy when I had my very first Catholic Communion, and I can’t describe the excitement of my first Confession before it, though I do recall clearly how freeing it felt to admit my sins to someone and not be judged for them.
And I unfortunately became a hypocritical zealot during that first religious experience. I broke away from the Catholic Church within a few years, certain I did not belong, if it turned me into that. I tried other things, primarily paganism, encouraged in it by a close friend, but was not happy, though I did learn quite a bit about religion in general. I didn’t stay pagan for long, though I came away from it with a new respect for the faith.
When, a few years later, a friend who’d been pagan with me expressed a desire to convert to Catholicism—because I started talking about returning to the Catholic Church—I willingly rejoined. I sponsored her into her new faith with joy and, though I was more mentally stable than I had been during my first Catholic experience, I eventually broke away from the church because I realized I was not what Catholicism expected me to be—namely straight or cisgender. I was in good counseling up at the VA at this time and had begun unwrapping the aspects of myself I’d hidden from myself for my entire life and I knew I needed to focus on those things, and I felt absolutely certain there was no place for me at all in the Catholic Church, given its then rather inflexible views of LGBT people.
So I departed the Catholic Church again. “For good.”
And that is where I stood until very, very recently. This second time, over the duration of which I attended that MCC church for a brief while, I’ve had a growing feeling. I don’t know how to make it happen, but I am absolutely certain that there can be no change for LGBT people in the Catholic Church if we don’t do what we can to fight for that change. I’m not talking about being militant here, or violent. I’m talking about participating in the religion as an openly LGBT person who is fully accepting of the self and of the place they have in God’s love. I’m talking about living by example and advocating for ourselves to seek change in the Church’s treatment and expectations of its LGBT members. As I said, I don’t know how this can be done, but I’ve discovered I’m willing to return to Catholicism with this in mind.
This does not mean I’ll stop writing LGBT characters in my fiction. This does not mean I’ll start pasting Catholicism into my religious structures. As has always been my goal with my writing, I’ll continue to develop interesting cultures and religious organizations for my characters to live in and experience, and I’ll continue to keep my characters true to themselves, whatever part they may play in their worlds. Most of all, this does not mean I’ll abandon my fantasy and science fantasy writing. This stuff is, above all, even Catholicism, my first love, and I’m not giving it up for any reason, even if the Catholic Church would not condone the relationships my characters have (as a great many of them happen out of wedlock and are, of course, between LGBT characters).
I am mentally stable now, and I know myself far better than I knew myself when I first converted, so I doubt I’ll slip into hypocritical zealotry again. I’m returning to the Catholic Church with open eyes, aware of its flaws as well as its assets. I recognize now that I can do only what is right for me, and I believe being Catholic as I’m accepting of my trans* and gay aspects will keep me balanced and open-minded. I am where I belong, both spiritually as well as secularly, and all I can do is my best to see that both aspects of myself are well-tended.