I was recently interviewed for a corporate diversity newsletter at Target, which I received permission to share here! Check out the interview below!
How do you find yourself to be diverse from your peers?
There are so many traits, attributes and experiences that make a person unique, and I’ve grappled with various dimensions of my identity at different stages in my life. For example, even as a kid, people have looked at me and assumed I’m Mexican. My dad’s actually Chamorro, and my mom is half Indian and half Irish, though she was once nominated for our county’s Hispanic Businesswoman of the Year Award (she respectfully declined). But despite these experiences, it’s only very recently that I’ve begun to explore what it means to be a racial minority and how that’s impacted my life. Reading Nicole Chung’s Memoir, “All You Can Ever Know”, made me remember that as a kid I wanted to be white. Chung writes about how as a child she thought being beautiful meant being white, and I’ve also had to work through this as well. Those childhood inclinations don’t just go away by themselves.
But even though those struggles began as a kid, my journey to gain consciousness of how my race has shaped me and my experiences has been a more recent journey. Reading Chung’s memoir and also Kiese Laymon’s “Heavy” have helped me explore some of those questions. I’ve spent much more of my time focused on some of the other facets of my identity. A less outward facing facet of myself, but no less central to my personhood, is that I identify as both gay and a committed Catholic.
Can you share a bit about your self-discovery of being both gay and Catholic?
I was raised in a traditional Catholic family in a pretty conservative part of Texas. The Catholic faith and community were an integral part of my childhood and continue to be a large part of my life today. Much of my self-discovery was realized through relationships and experiences with others, and also in large part through writing. It’s amazing what you can learn about yourself when you write your thoughts down on paper. This is a practice that I adopted early in life and continue to this day. I’ve written poetry, fiction, blog posts, a memoir, and, most recently, an article on these questions for an academic journal. When I look back, much of my journey has been traveled through writing.
What support did you find throughout this process?
I’ve become very close with my parents, though opening up with them about my journey has definitely been a process for all of us. My mom has been extremely loving and accepting from the beginning. For my dad, it’s his curiosity and disposition as a lifelong learner that has really deepened our relationship in recent years. It hasn’t always been easy, and it’s still a process. But I’m very thankful for them.
In addition to my family, I’ve been fortunate to have supportive friendships and mentors that have helped me grow in self-awareness. I’m especially grateful for one particular mentor in college. Even before I had really come out, I found I could confide in him about questions related to Catholicism and sexuality, and rather than just telling me what to do, he would pose various potential outcomes and scenarios to consider. He knew a lot of gay Catholics and the various paths they had taken, so he could use real life experiences to help me think through what I wanted for my future. I appreciated this approach because it gave me the space to decide on my own path.
Have you ever felt like your diverse identities contradicted themselves?
Coming into my gay identity as I grew older while also continuing to grow in my Catholic faith certainly came with its challenges. When coming out to friends, some responded that they didn’t think I could be gay because I am such a serious Catholic. When coming out to my parents, they felt a sense of lost expectations for my future. Could I be a member of the Catholic faith and also be gay? Could I have children as my parents dreamed for me? Can my sexual orientation and religious faith live harmoniously with one another? I think my mom described it really well when she said that my coming out also began for her and my dad a process of “reorientation.”
There’s also been conflict. At times, people have tried to get me to choose: gay or Catholic? They say, “Well you can’t be gay and this” or, “You can’t be Catholic and that.” But here I am. I used to entertain such questions, but I’m less inclined to do so now. If they want to have an existential crisis about these things, they’re welcome to do that. But I’m not going to do it with them. Almost one in five LGBTQ people identify as Catholic. We can be all of these things, because we are all these things. We don’t need any more justification than the lives we live.
Have you experienced any challenges on your diverse journey that have shaped you and/or stuck with you?
Of course. I’ve fallen in love and experienced heartbreak. I’ve lost friendships because of the way I’ve chosen to live my life. And I’ve had to say no, or missed out on, experiences in order to stay true to myself. During law school, I was recruited for an internship working in Geneva in international politics for the Church. But after sharing that I was gay, I was rejected for the position. They said that because of the political climate, it wasn’t a good time for a gay person to take the internship. As wrong as that decision and as hard as that experience was, I think it’s experiences like those that have impressed upon me the need to be an openly gay Catholic and to be engaged in conversations in the Church about sexuality. Stuff like that still happens, but I want to do what I can to make sure it happens less and less. I think you can let experiences like those break you and make you into a cynic. Or you can let them embolden you and work to better the world for those who will come after you.
You mentioned you’ve learned a lot about the type of work environment you thrive in and/or strive for. What kind of environment is that?
You can’t overstate the value of a work environment characterized by affirmation and respect. I love that I can come in to work on Monday and share with my coworkers that I went to church with my partner over the weekend. We all want to work at a place where we can both be ourselves and also be great at what we do. If I can’t be myself in the place where I spend most of my waking hours, why would I be there?
You seem to have come a long way on your journey. Is there anything you wish you had known along the way, or nuggets of “advice” you would give to someone else on their own journey?
First, I want to make clear that this is only my story. I’m not a spokesperson for anyone but myself. Every person has their own story and I cannot speak for them. Second, there are so many things I would tell my younger self, but some would include: (1) be more vulnerable with your parents; (2) be more honest with yourself; and (3) find active allies. There are passive allies, the people who will just give you space to be you. And then there are active allies, friends who are in the fight with you. Your active allies are the most likely to be with you during the long haul.
On that note, if you are reading my story and want to connect, please contact me to connect for coffee anytime!
June is Pride Month—are you celebrating?
I’m not really a parade or glitter or rainbow person (though I make a point now of wearing my rainbow watch, especially in Catholic settings). But I’m excited to say that this year will be my first year participating in the Twin Cities Pride community events! I hope to see you there!
In addition to his role as a Team Member in Target’s Contractor and Consultant Management group, Chris Damian is an attorney and published author, writing in the areas of faith, sexuality, education, the law and other subjects. To learn more about Chris’ perspective on Faith and Sexuality and Faith and (Homo)sexuality, check out an assortment of Chris’ authored work linked below: