I was recently asked to speak on a corporate panel on intersectionality, focusing on “The Talk.” The Talk is a video released by Procter & Gamble, exposing the hard truths black mothers have to share with their children. While preparing, I asked myself: “What is ‘The Talk’ you would give to young people like you?”
The “me” here is a gay Catholic deeply embedded in the Catholic community, a gay man who always wanted to be a Catholic school teacher and who tries to be active in the life of the Church. This is The Talk…
You will have to decide upon the degree of your hiddenness. The degree of your openness is inversely related to the range of opportunities available to you in the Church. To the extent you are open, you will lose jobs and invitations and platforms to people who worked half as hard as you and who will say things they say are about people like you. You will think, “That doesn’t sound like me at all.”
You will be upset and mad and frustrated and sad that you and your straight Catholic friends are not on equal footing. Be upset and mad and frustrated and sad, because it is neither right nor just. But don’t be so upset and mad and frustrated and sad that you cannot work twice as hard as them. Because if you want what they get, that is what you will have to do. And even then you still might not get it. But do it anyways.
If you decide to stay in the Church, your presence will be one of Her great graces. Your presence is a gift much of the Church hides from Herself. In the light of your love, Her children will shroud themselves in darkness. People in the Church will not recognize the gift which is your presence, your presence as you bear it. But He who sees what is done in secret will reward you. This is one of the promises made to you.
Remember the Israelites who were taken into exile.
People will see you hurt by those in the Church, and they will tell you they are sorry. Pay attention to what they do after they say they’re sorry. Most people will do nothing, because when they say they’re sorry they just mean that they feel sad about what happened to you, but they plan on moving on with their own lives unchanged. But some people, after they say they’re sorry, will do or say something to make amends or to curb further injustices. Smile and nod to the former. Keep the latter as your friends and comrades.
You will introduce yourself to a priest and share just one piece of yourself. And then the priest will give a bunch of unsolicited advice based on his preconceptions on what your life is like, based on something he read on LifeSiteNews.com. If you don’t take his advice, he will say you’re prideful. Be prideful. Aquinas endorses this, and chances are he’s never seriously read Aquinas. While working twice as hard, maybe read Aquinas. He’s like Jesus. He’s not just who they say he is.
Your friend’s mom will say something about how the clergy abuse crisis is because of homosexual priests. You will know she knows her son is homosexual. They will both hide it.
Remember the God who was not always nice to the exiled Israelites but who stayed with them in the desert.
You will have friends who come over for dinner. Then you will come out. Or you will get a boyfriend. Then they will stop coming over for dinner. At first you won’t notice. And then one day you’ll realize you haven’t seen them in a while. You’ll wonder whether this was because you’re gay or partnered or both. Someone “in the know”–because somehow you’ve gotten “out of the know”–will confirm this.
Then you’ll think about other friends you haven’t seen in a while. And you’ll start to wonder whether all of them stopped coming over for dinner because they didn’t want to dine in the house of a sinner. And you will feel upset and mad and frustrated and sad. And you’ll try to keep your mind on those who do show up. But it’ll be hard not to be distracted. And you’ll start to worry about the day when others won’t show up. And you’ll worry about being paranoid. You’ll wonder whether you’re going crazy.
You’ll go see your therapist, and your therapist will tell you you’re not suffering from paranoia. She’ll say,
“People are paranoid when they get overly worried about things that they shouldn’t be worried about. But this has actually happened to you. So it’s not just paranoia. It’s the reality you live in.”
You’ll feel better because you’re not crazy. But you’ll be upset and mad and frustrated and sad because of reality.
A family friend will say that you’re going to hell. No one knows how to respond to this.
Remember the God who stayed in the house of Zacchaeus.
Strangers will make gay jokes, and they will make you uncomfortable. Friends will make gay jokes, and they will make you uncomfortable. You will smile along and wish you’d said something. You will say something, and your friends will wonder why you had to say something. Years later, you’ll wonder why no one else said anything.
Catholics will tell you you have a place in the Church. Catholics will tell you you are not fit for the priesthood or marriage or teaching or same-sex roommates or opposite-sex roommates or mentoring or frank conversations about your experiences.
You will get a job working for the Church. You will quietly get asked to quietly resign. You will learn how one person’s shame is another person’s safety net.
Remember the God who fed the Israelites during their exile.
There are so many other things I wish I could say to you. I wish I could say that all will be lightness, that things will be fair, that you will be wanted. I wish I could tell you that those who speak in God’s name will treat you well. I wish I could tell you that the thing which should bring you the most comfort in your life, the Church, will do just that. But I do a disservice by lying to you. I could lie to you. Or I could tell you how the world is, and you can be prepared.
You are Joseph in the well. You are Zacchaeus in the tree. At times, you are Christ on the cross (though, like all Catholics, probably not as often as you fancy yourself).
Remember your neighbor, the compassionate Samaritan. Be the Samaritan.
A self-proclaimed expert on doctrine will ask you what is important for gay people. You will say, “first, to love God and, second, to love your neighbor.” They will not be satisfied with your answer.
Some of your Catholic friends will have an existential crisis about how to relate to you. They won’t be able to make sense of the gay and Catholic thing, or the gay and Catholic and dating thing, or the openly gay and Catholic thing. They will say things like, “If you choose to do/be/act this way, then you are choosing to not have me in your life.” And this is where we begin.
Do not let them push their existential crises on you. Do not think that injustice, especially injustice administered quietly, is acceptable. Do not think that they represent God. Do not allow them to hurt you in God’s name. When you decide you cannot step down, do not step down. They will not like it whatever you do, so do what you’re going to do. And do it in God’s name.
“For the Lord is good. God’s mercy is everlasting. And God’s faithfulness endures from age to age.”Psalm 100:5
Chris Damian is a writer, speaker, attorney, and business professional living in the Twin Cities. He received his B.A. in Philosophy from the University of Notre Dame and his J.D. and M.A. in Catholic Studies from the University of St. Thomas. He is the author of “I Desired You: Intellectual Journals on Faith and (Homo)sexuality” (volumes I and II). He is also the co-founder of YArespond, a group of Catholic young adults seeking informed and holistic responses to the clergy abuse crisis. In his free time, he enjoys hosting dinner parties and creative writing workshops.