I was born and raised in the Catholic faith. My parents are converts to the Faith, so it’s easy to understand the strength of their conviction and willingness to instill it in me. For a while, they were very successful, and in many ways, they still are. But something changed around the time I started going through puberty and began to feel attracted to boys as well as girls.
As a well-trained Catholic child who trusted the church had the answers to everything, one of the first things I did was to look up what the church had to say about my attractions that I found natural, but confusing. What came next felt in utter conflict with everything I had ever been taught on how the church wants us to treat our fellow man.
The continued homophobia of the Catholic church, both of individual members and of the hierarchy’s doctrine as a whole, is impossible to justify. Not only is it needlessly harmful to youth who are struggling to understand their own sexual orientation, it perpetuates a culture of hate (of the self and of others) that is contrary to everything Jesus taught. My goal with this essay is to prove the Catholic’s teaching to be wrong — both morally and biblically — and how the consequences of this continued wrongdoing warrant immediate action to reverse their doctrine.
When I was first questioning my sexuality, I turned to suppression driven by a hatred for my own attractions that was instilled in me by the Church. This was certainly not healthy. I was awful to people who I knew were gay or trans because I was taught to treat myself without respect. I watched videos that fed my hate, and looked for every reason to justify my fate.
That was about the time I had joined the debate team and met my best friend, who is is both gay and trans. They were really the first person I felt comfortable confiding in on this. They helped me feel okay with myself, and to reconcile a doctrine that felt at odds with my existence and that existence itself. For once, I felt comfortable with my bisexuality, but wasn’t really open for a while due to a strong feeling of hostility from many in the church on the issue.
In spite of all of this, I still tried my hardest to stay in contact with my friend, and our friendship continued to strengthen. I came out of my shell and made some new friends, and I slowly began to become more comfortable with my sexuality. One day the topic came up in conversation, and I just said I was bi. They didn’t make a huge deal of it like my father did, which brought me a comfort I had never before experienced.
This is how the Church ought to treat people who are LGBTQ — with respect and understanding. And to be fair, the Church does teach that the dignity of the person can never be violated because they are LGBTQ (see CCC 2358). But at the same time, in the same portion of the Catechism of its teachings, the Church preaches that homosexual acts are “intrinsically disordered” and can be approved “under no circumstances”. In 1986, the Church reduced gay members of society to simply those who have a “strong inclination to an intrinsic moral evil.” This is as if having meaningful relationships and the capacity to experience love like any heterosexual person can (and do) was some sort of perversion of the human capacity to love.
Teachings towards people who are transgender aren’t any more reassuring. Almost all teaching equates gender to birth sex without exception, and many have been rejected from church communities and roles due to their transgender identity, but because there is no official doctrine, this is not yet applied universally.
Further, just this March, the Church took a huge step backward by refusing to recognize same sex marriage, saying that “God cannot recognize sin” — a huge slap on the face to the thousands — if not millions — of Catholics who look to the Church for support. Younger, questioning me, who just needed some answers as I figured out this very difficult question of identity, was one of those people. When the institution with answers about everything gave me an answer that I know to be wrong, my faith in that institution was shattered and may never recover.
While no surprise, harsh language like this runs contrary to everything the church claims to support regarding the dignity of LGBTQ people. The church can claim to respect the dignity of LGBTQ persons, sure, but that is impossible to do if they do not respect their relationships. It is natural to be inclined to love, and it is only more natural to express that love. This is fundamental to our culture and to our society, as well as integral to our very concept of their personhood.
To deny that people who are attracted to the same sex are not experiencing a legitimate attraction that can be expressed legitimately is the same as telling them that they are acting inhuman.
The consequences of this confusing and ultimately contradictory teaching are immense and extend far beyond the particulars of being LGBTQ. For one, stigma and unfair treatments have negative material, mental, and physical health consequences that are impossible to put into words. I know this because I experienced it firsthand. When faced with the decision over whether to come out, I faced intense depression, self-hate, and suicidal thoughts that brought me to a dark place I would not wish on my worst enemy.
In that dark place, I needed support, but in my life that had been built around the Church, support came with the condition of submission. Fear of rejection is something no youth should ever have to experience, but too many do. In fact, research published by the CDC found that those with stronger rejection were 8 times more likely to attempt suicide.
These teachings further a church where not everyone is welcome, where salvation comes with the condition of compliance, and where even those who are meant to be entrusted cannot be understanding of their unique needs. Being gay is only mentioned once in the New Testament, and even then many biblical scholars argue it isn’t even talking about that. Being trans couldn’t have even been imagined during the time of the composition of scripture, and all of this doesn’t even take into account that the Bible is fluid and hardly meant to be taken at face value unilaterally.
The point is, teaching is fluid, and the Church is making a mistake by insisting that doctrine towards LGBTQ people is immutable — a mistake whose cost is measured in lives lost.
The moment of realization that I do not have to define my gender or my sexuality with these teachings was such a liberating moment for me. Dysphoria is like wearing a pair of shoes that are too tight and aren’t broken in properly, and expressing your true gender is like going to the store to pick a shoe that fits your foot better. Throughout the course of my self discovery, I experienced euphoria in situations where I was able to present myself in a feminine gender neutral manner, especially when people recognized and reciprocated by doing things such as using singular “they” pronouns. I chose my name, Grey, to both honor my chosen name and reflect a more genuine self.
Under the Catholic church’s needlessly harsh and poorly justified doctrine, this comfort I experienced as I experimented with my sexuality and gender is out of reach of today’s youth, which causes untold stress. A congregation that treats LGBTQ members as unequal is like intentionally leaving that hundredth sheep behind to be lost forever — a source of comfort and strength forever taken away until they comply.
I ultimately found support that got me through my coming out, and today I am proud to be much more open with my sexuality and gender, although I still keep it far away from church grounds. Being rejected by my family and clergy was terrifying to me, and nobody should have to experience it.
It is the duty of the Church to bring that sheep back into the group, as Jesus taught us to. Just like every other member of the Church and the human race, people who are LGBTQ ought to be treated as children of God and are entitled to equal protection and rights — which includes the right to love who they want to love and express in a manner that is true to themselves. It is possible to live a moral or life that is gay or trans, and the church needs to recognize this immediately. Thank you for reading ❤
- Grey Alexander Crawford