“A Good Christian Boy.” What is now something of a worn-out meme among members of the LGBT+ community used to be the strong, bold image I was raised to aspire to. Unconditional obedience to elders within my family and within the Catholic Church was drilled into my brother and me from a young age, along with nightly prayers and fish on Fridays. Routine, tradition and respect are the studied elements of any child’s healthy upbringing, and they were the standard fixings of growing up in the rural midwest. I found them paralleled in my second upbringing: my coming-out experience.
I didn’t think the Catholic Church respected me. (I still have a complicated opinion on this matter, in the interest of candor.) Occasionally our priest would say something openly homophobic, but much of the suppression took a more duplicitous form. A culture of guilt dominates the Catholic Church, at least where I was raised, and from the age of six I remember being taught specifically and pointedly about sin. At one point we were actually given a paper list of what constitutes mortal sin or less-mortal sin and sent into confession with it. That was a fascinating day, especially as it was right around the time I started to put two and two together about being attracted to men.
Forgiveness is something of a brand for many Christian churches and faiths, but I never saw that in the Catholic community where I grew up. The words church elders used as vessels for this notion were empty, devoid of any basis in reality. I was an exceptionally rebellious teen as a result. It was truly as if I woke up one day and decided I’d had enough. However, despite there being no love lost between myself and the church, I am still a product of my upbringing within it.
As a young queer person blossoming into an academic little flower, I interned in my new city under a group of guys who were a generation older than me. At least two of them were openly gay. One in particular was a long-time advocate for folks living with HIV and AIDS.
As a young queer person exploring gender as well as sexuality, I started weaving myself into the drag world in my university town and learned very quickly how formative respect for elders can be.
As a young queer person who just came out, it became my job overnight to educate myself so that I was equipped to defend my own existence in an argument. Thus, it also became vital to dive into queer history. Immersion doesn’t begin to do justice – it is necessary for every queer person to contextualise their very existence within the framework of LGBT+ history, the images and legacies of folks who fought before we had any rights whatsoever. Without them, thousands more could be dead from AIDS. Gay clubs and queer spaces wouldn’t exist.
In all of these experiences, respect for my queer elders has remained abiding. I listen to elders in queer spaces, I learn where traditions originated, I try my damndest to use language that honours and does not appropriate. Every day I watch my chosen family’s backs, and someday it will be my job to raise a generation of historically grounded queer folks. So I read, I respect, and I strive to spread light.
That, to me, is what a relationship both with my queerness and with God is all about. History, tradition, respect. A family you choose. I take comfort in the fact that these commonalities exist between my beliefs and those of the people who want me shot dead, and I know that God sees me being the best Christian boy I can be.