By W. John, BinetUSA
All too often, it seems that bisexual men and women find themselves in the position of having to defend the existence and validity of their identity. This is doubly so for bisexuals with a strong faith, or, heaven forbid, bisexuals who identify as Catholic. I found myself in one such conversation recently, but what did manage to surprise me was that I was having this conversation with a person I count as a friend and ally. In the course of discussing my identity as a bisexual Catholic, my utterly flabbergasted friend exclaimed, “LGBT Catholic? That’s a thing? Is that even wise?” I found this surprising because she already knew I was Catholic, and knew I was bi, but for some reason the notion that both are important to my identity totally confused her.
To be fair, I think that confusion is not uncommon. There are plenty of reasons why being Catholic and bi (or any shade of the rainbow) might seem incongruous. There are many who teach and preach that being gay is a sin by itself. How then can you hold a faith that says that the person you are, on a fundamental level, is dark and sinful, and separates you from God? Considering this thought, the whole group of people advocating for and seeking a religious/clinical transformation from being gay to being straight makes tragic sense.
This is, of course, not what the Catholic Church teaches. The Church’s stance on same sex relations (as the reader probably knows) is deeply tied up in the rules of marriage and premarital sex. According to the Church, sex should ideally be done between two people in love, to become closer and show affection. Critically, it must be done within the confines of the sacrament of marriage while allowing for the possibility of children. This is what the Church teaches, and is consistent with a few centuries of philosophical and theological thought. Any sexual intimacy experienced outside of these bounds violates the “natural order,” which somehow further separates you from God’s grace.
Faced with this concept in my youth, I had absolutely no idea what to do. I was an adolescent boy, with a dangerous curiosity and interest in all sorts of things I knew other kids were bullied for. I spent years wondering who and what I was. People often pressure bisexuals to fall into one category or the other, and so did I. At least, I did with myself, over and over, in the school yard and at home, staring at the ceiling at night. I prayed for the wisdom to know whether I was gay or straight, just to have some certainty going forward. It was a long time before I admitted to myself that I liked girls and guys both altogether too much to pretend that I wasn’t interested in one, even if it meant not quite fitting into either the gay or straight communities.
At the same time, my Catholic upbringing was still a huge part of my life, and the culture of my family. I’m not a fan of lying, especially to myself, so I had to try to bring these two worlds together. This wasn’t always the easiest process, and my attitude was not always kind towards the Catholic Church. It was during this conflict in my life that the scandals surrounding certain clergymen’s actions were coming into the public spotlight. The public scorn and anger fueled my willingness to separate some of my ideals from the Church, and I watched some people I deeply respected find their relationship with the Church to be irreconcilable with their own personal sense of morals and ethics. This period was important to my development, in that it highlighted one fact: the Church is a bureaucracy, run by fallible human beings. Our religious community has hemmed and hawed over issues of marriage, procreation, sexual activity, and a multitude of other theological issues for thousands of years. Some of the men and women that have argued on both sides of almost every major issue in our theological tradition have been canonized centuries later, and our current philosophical and theological teaching is the product of many brilliant Catholics arguing on both sides. The most important fact here is that for most of our traditions, these men and women did not have a rule passed down by a flaming tree or a set of stone tablets, but rather made rules after bickering and debating with others.
In my youth, I used this train of thought to justify the fact that I followed the Church’s teachings only as far as they suited me. I still believed in their core, fundamental values of forgiveness, kindness, charity, and self sacrifice, but had girded myself for an otherwise “selectively Catholic” life. My faith was almost more of an academic exercise than the foundation of my life. In time, that would also change.
Late in high school, I attended a Catholic retreat, hosted by the Christian Brothers, for students whose teachers thought had the potential to become leaders of their peers. I don’t know how I was identified, but I suppose my sponsoring teacher saw something in me that would be open to the experience. I was still deeply closeted to all but one close friend, but suddenly found myself faced with days of spiritual reflection and discussion of faith with a group of some of the kindest, most open-minded people I had ever met.
The experience was enlightening, to say the least. The trip culminated, for me, in a group meditation session. It was the first I had ever experienced, and led to the greatest religious experience of my life to date. We were vocally guided through a set of relaxation techniques, and began a trip through a series of locations through guided imagery. Our guide first directed us to begin in a place of utter comfort and joy, a place where we could imagine no greater happiness, either a real place or a place we knew only in our imaginations. As I stood there in that place, we were directed to let that joy fill our hearts and raise us up into the sky, higher than we had ever been.
My experience began to take on a dream-like quality, and the lines between the guide’s voice and my own experience began to blur. The group became insignificant, as my experience became more and more individual. I was told to imagine a tall building, devoid of any other soul, and enter the elevator on the top floor. I was instructed to go down, and watched as the next floor down, the third, fourth, fifth, and so on, passed by, each darker than the last. As I passed the seventh floor down from where I began, the light had vanished and left nothing but peace. Even in that dark place, there was no fear, only the knowledge that I was safe, I was myself, and nothing could hurt me.
Dimly, I was aware that the guide was asking us to imagine a field in a forest. The elevator opened, and without prompting I found myself in a field that was shaped from a curious amalgam of my own childhood memories. There, in a field protected by a dense wall of trees, was the small pond my father showed me through the woods of my childhood home, and next to it, the enormous willow tree from my old backyard. All familiar pieces together in this new place, in the middle of a forest that I have never seen before, painting a never-before-seen picture that still somehow feels familiar. In this place, I felt completely at home, and the guide’s voice became an unwanted distraction.
Even still, she asked us to imagine Jesus approaching me in this intimate space, and I tried to do so. Despite years of carefully practiced teenage skepticism, I found myself watching His light weave through the surrounding trees, until He reached me in this newly discovered sacred place. The guide told me to ask Him a question, hold it in my heart, and wait for an answer. I was, at that time in my life, desperately afraid of the repercussions of coming out as bi, and with more sincerity than I had mustered in years, asked him how and when should I come out? Unbidden, the answer came to me: “You will know when.”
To describe the serenity and grace I felt at that moment would be impossible. Suffice it to say that in that moment, many things were made clear that I had never understood before. God has faith in me. He accepts me for who I am, and trusts me to do what is right. Most importantly, I was filled with the knowledge that God loves me, personally, in a way that completely overwhelms me, and that I love Him with everything I am in return.
I have never been the same since that retreat. In the years since, I have experienced very dark times, and also times of great joy. Whatever has happened in my life though, I thank God for all of my blessings, and know that He always stands by my side. Whether I am in a place of great happiness or great sorrow, I return to that willow by the water, to seek comfort or to give thanks for God’s grace. “The love of God” is no longer an abstraction for me, but a very literal presence in my life.
My years practicing as a Catholic have been colored by this experience as well. As I have matured, so has my appreciation for what the Church has given me. In an overly simplistic way, I know I could not have connected to God the way I have without my experience with the Church. But in a more abstract sense, I know that my years with the Church have given me many gifts. I have spent years in thought on the meaning of theological teachings, and have gained a deeper understanding and a greater analytical mind as a result. I have known the kindness of spiritual men and women, both laymen and clergy, who seem to have experienced something close to what I have, and have gone out and spread that joy as a result. Most importantly, I have learned that I am not alone, and that there are people in this world who try, as often as they can, to change this world for the better.
If I am ever blessed with children, I know I will raise them in the Catholic faith. I won’t do this because I believe every word of theological teaching, but because the Church has taught me things that I think are necessary. It has taught me that the right thing to do is not always the easiest thing to do; in fact, it rarely is. It has also taught me to think for myself, and to grow from the knowledge I gain, a lesson I will teach my own children, as well as the value of following your own conscience. Most importantly, it has taught me to be kind, to love my fellow man, and to be good to the people around me. I have faith that Jesus cares very little for who I spend my life with, so long as I live my life every day in His grace, comforted by the knowledge that He loves me. In return, as often as I am able, I work to earn and deserve that love, to better myself and help those around me, so that the world that He has created might be a better place. My bisexuality has in many ways guided and illuminated my spiritual journey from an obedient child, to a skeptical adolescent, to an adult that tries every day to be worthy of the love and gifts given to him. For who I am, and the man I will become, I am grateful. Thanks to God, I will always be able to rest in the shade of the willow tree, one of His bisexual sons.