In early December of last year, I kissed a girl for the first time. It felt, among all the usual things associated with a kiss, as wholly natural as my first kiss with a guy years ago.
I had been dimly aware that I was not straight, but attracted to both sexes since my years in Catholic high school — it wasn’t until college that I consciously acknowledged it. By this time, I felt ready to tell my family, and from there, others. I remember thinking Christmas might be a good time.
Instead, I came out publicly Ash Wednesday of this year, which happened to fall on Valentine’s Day, after having told my family a couple days earlier. I met a friend, we went to a coffee shop, I made a Facebook post, and closed my laptop to enjoy my drink. I contemplated the responses I might get — the support, the backlash, the confusion. I felt peaceful with my sexuality and at ease knowing that I was no longer hiding it.
Mostly importantly, I finally felt a bit of pressure off the intense regret I felt from not telling my dad in time; just before Christmas, my father passed away very suddenly and very unexpectedly, leaving unimaginable emotional chaos for me and my family to navigate, and giving us the rest of our lives to ponder all the things that we wanted to say to him.
My father attended Notre Dame, where he was in the seminary for two years. Although he did not end up pursuing Catholic priesthood, his Catholic faith was something he held dear to him all of his life, and something he passed onto his family with passion, but never with force. As a result, my sisters and I were always happily involved with our Church and genuinely connected to our faith.
Despite his deep devotion to the church, my dad never hesitated to break with Catholic religious teaching when it conflicted with his personal faith. LGBTQ issues were among these breaks.
In various roles at UNM, he helped push policies like the preferred name initiative, and published articles on the topic, like a recent one on the plights of trans homeless youth of color.
He spent his life and his career following the principles formed by his faith, not handed to him by a branded religion. Confiding my regret to a friend after his passing, I remember her saying that he probably would have thrown a party to celebrate if I had gotten to tell him.
For me, even if dictionaries might use them interchangeably, faith and religion differ. When I think of religion, I think of the written rules and histories of Christianity, Judaism, Islam, etc. I think of dogma, recitation, sacraments, traditions.
When I think of faith, I think of individual spirituality and your personal connection to the higher power you believe in. I think of genuine prayer, personal reflection, and the formation of a belief system and code of morality unique only to you.
Reconciling your LGBTQ identity with your religion may take years of gradual change and generations of activism, which I absolutely encourage you get involved in as I truly believe LGBTQ rights align with the core principles of every major religion.
With Catholicism, I believe the Church will eventually come to find that the dogma surrounding LGBTQ issues was created because of societal attitudes on the issue much more than it was grounded on actual theology. Religious establishments are extremely resistant to change, but progress has been made, and will continue to be.
Reconciling your LGBTQ identity with your faith, however, is something you can start working on today, whether you came out years ago or can’t fathom coming out any time soon. It begins with deciding for yourself that your creator did not make a mistake when she made you gay, or transgender, or queer, or however you identify.
A large part of this comes from your own conscience, an important concept especially in Catholicism. For me, it never felt for a moment that who I am is wrong in God’s eyes. Concealing her creation felt like a much greater sin.
My coming out post concluded, “This Lenten season, I resolve to begin letting love occupy the places I’ve always housed fear.” I haven’t fully accomplished that, as I still fear attracting hate from many angles as I move forward in my life and career, and I especially still fear that the Catholic community I love might turn its back on me.
But under that post, instead of seeing disappointment and negativity from conservative friends and their parents, and from old clergy, teachers and faculty from the Catholic schools I attended, the comments reflected only love and support.
I encourage you to give your faith community the benefit of the doubt. I encourage you to reconcile yourself to your identity first, so that any disapproval you encounter from family, friends and society are met with peace and not uncertainty. I especially encourage you to pray, and trust that while people may cite religion to fuel their hate, the god you believe in finds no fault in you.
Gabriella Rivera is a news reporter for the Daily Lobo. She can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter as @gabbychlamps.