Confessions of a Passive Homophobe

I can't remember for sure when I first became aware of the idea of homosexuality.  It may have been in Junior high, in the form of the incredibly archaic "Family Life" textbook we were given in 8th Grade at San Jose Catholic school.  It didn't say much, but it certainly said that it homosexuality was not OK.  And, for whatever reason, I just accepted that on face value.  Which is a little strange, really--I pushed back on a number of other ideas in that pseudo-sex ed textbook, such as abortion and birth control.  But, not this one.  I think, on some level, it was because homosexuality didn't make sense to me.  I couldn't relate.  Because I couldn't relate, it was easy and costless for me to accept the Church's natural law arguments about homosexuality.  Homosexuals are "intrinsically disordered" because our bodies are designed for procreation?  Sure, why not.  It's not like it would ever affect me in any way.

There were gay people in college, of course, but the first time I really dealt with gay people was when I joined the priesthood.  In my entrance interview, I remember being asked if I was gay or straight.  When I said I was straight, I was asked "how do you know?"  I remember being stunned with that question--how did I know?  I never thought about it before.  My honest answer, which is probably the best possible answer, was "if I were gay, I assume it would have occurred to me before now."

I have no idea what my interviewer thought of that answer.  As it turns out, he was gay himself.  It is not much of a secret that a large percentage of Catholic priests are gay--my estimate is somewhere between 40 and 60%.  So, if you go into a Catholic seminary, you encounter gay people.  My superior was gay.  My spiritual director was gay.  Some of my classmates were gay.  For the first time in my life, I felt like a minority for being straight.  It was incredibly disconcerting.

When I entered, we were told that being gay was no different from being straight, because all of us were going to be living a vowed life of celibacy.  But, that was before the sex abuse crisis in '01 and '02.  The perception among the gay priests that they were being blamed for the abuse of children, and that certain groups were using the scandal to force them out of the priesthood.  And they were not wrong--they were being blamed, and right after I left the Vatican issued a decree that gay men could not be ordained as priests.  So, these men were scared--scared that they were going to be targeted, scared that the comfortable and safe environment that they had found to be gay and still Catholic was going to be blown up.  They were scared that their lives, and the closet that they were living in, was going to be destroyed.

I understand this now, and I deeply sympathize with how difficult it must be to be a Catholic priest and a gay man.  But I did not understand at the time.  At the time, I felt like I was not getting any support from the people who were supposed to be helping me on this journey.  I felt like I was being isolated and excluded for being straight.  I was resentful of the gay priests who were running the program.  And with that resentment came some lingering thought that maybe all of this talk of "intrinsically disordered" had something to it.  Maybe there was something wrong with gay people.

I never vocalized that out loud.  But I thought it, and I know I treated gay people differently based on that thought.  But more than anything else, my reaction to gay rights issues, including gay marriage, was annoyance.  Why do these people keep causing trouble?  Why are they upsetting the apple cart?  As the tide toward gay rights became more obvious, I ironically thought about gay rights issues in entirely selfish terms.  Would I be perceived as a bigot for not getting with the tide of history?  Would I become one of the segregationist holdouts of the 21st Century?  Again, this was all so annoying--why couldn't these gay people have left well enough alone?

Then, things changed for me.  Well, two things changed actually.  First, I started to meet happy gay people.  They were happy to be gay, happy to be in relationships, happy with their lives.  That made a powerful impression on me, and made me realize that there were possibilities other than the often tortured gay men I met in the context of the Catholic priesthood.  You could be gay and be normal.  And if you can be gay and be normal, why shouldn't they be allowed to be normal in society?  And even in the church?

The other thing that happened was a simple thought experiment.  In retrospect, it is insane that this didn't occur to me earlier, but it didn't until about a year ago.  The thought experiment is a simple one:  I have a son or daughter who comes to me and tells me that they are gay.  Am I really willing to give the approved speech that I love them but hate the sin of being gay?  Am I really willing to tell them that I expect them to be alone for the rest of their lives without a partner?  It was unambiguously clear to me from the moment I thought about it that I would never be willing to give that speech to my children.  Instead, I would love them as they are and want them to be happy.  But, if I knew I couldn't give the speech to my children, why was I willing to give that speech to other people's children?

In the past year, I have been studying Scripture and looking more closely at the issue of the Christian rejection of homosexuality.  And I have come to the firm conclusion that the traditional rejection of homosexuality is not explicitly mandated by Scripture, is the product of outmoded and disproven understanding of what it means to be gay, and, most importantly, is inconsistent with the core Gospel message of love taught by Jesus Christ.  I am, in a real way, a convert.

Indeed, I'm embarrassed by my previous ignorance.  It's easy to take the Obama route and say that my views have evolved, but that's a cop out.  I should have known better.  I should have asked questions of the gay people I met, to try to understand their experience and perspective.  I should have thought more critically about what I was being told about homosexuality.  And, most importantly, I should have stepped back and asked myself where Jesus was in all of this.  But I didn't do those things.

And, for that,  I need to confess.


yetisaurus said…
Beautifully written. Thank you for confessing and for having the courage to do it publicly. I hope and anticipate that your readers will be moved to reexamine their thoughts on homosexuality and to give love and acceptance a try. You're awesome.
Lydecker said…
Thank you for this post, it means a lot for you to share your story about your journey to becoming an ally.

I find it's important to listen to people's personal stories about their thoughts and why they think what they do, and how that changes. Asking questions and listening helps us lead to greater understanding. That's something that obviously you have learned and helped you find a greater understanding of what gay people face, but it's also something that gay people and allies should be learning about homophobia, ignorance and prejudice too.

Thanks for sharing your growth process, and for being supportive!
aimai said…
I like this post very much and you clearly struggled with it but why the sideswipe at the President? Just because he chose a delicate way of discussing his own change of heart doesn't mean that he put any less thought in it than you did--it just means that given the politicized climate around his pronouncements he decided not to go into detail about where, when, and how.

Sure, you should be ashamed of your complacency and your narrowmindedness and in your own apologia you can be as harsh with yourself as you see fit.But your post is rhetorical and takes place in the context of lots of other considerations and reconsiderations and duties which you don't share with the President.

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