Below is part 2 of a series of posts presenting excerpted videos and transcripts of an interview I conducted October 14, 2012 with my college best friend John Hazlet, whose struggles with doubt and depression were instrumental in my personal deconversion. (The full two part interview is here and here.) At the time of our interview John was a Benedictine monk, publicly discussing his homosexuality and struggles with mental illness. In June of 2013, John left the monastery and is in a relationship with a man. He remains a Catholic.
In the segment of our interview excerpted and transcribed below, John talks about his experience living out of the closet for the first time.
Dan Fincke: So when you went to study at Oxford, where you did your Master’s degree. At that time came out as openly gay. What was that like, and how was that… how were you processing that theologically at the time? Because you were believing again, you were studying some sort of theological degree, I’m not sure exactly which, but you were studying theology, you were in a theological community, and there was … what was that whole experience like, that period where you were out, and I think you were also… you did lose your virginity, right? And you even had, um, a relationship or two? What was this all about? How did you come out? When did you lose your virginity? What was that all about? And how were you processing all of this theologically at that time?
Bede (John) Hazlet: Well, it was very complicated, that’s the short answer. And in various way, I think on a psychological level, even today, I tend to react instinctively negatively to the fact that I’m attracted to other dudes. I’m beginning to overcome that, but it’s deeply ingrained for various reasons. And I think to some degree it impedes the theological, or even anthropological process of trying to figure out what it means to be attracted in that way.
So at that time, that reactive tendency was still very much in place. I tended to see being attracted to members of my own sex as almost viscerally unacceptable on some level. And yet, at the same time, especially as I started to study theology more broadly, and I’d like to think more deeply, beginning to access in a richer way patristic sources and liturgical sources, and beginning to find, I think, a richer, deeper sense of what it means to be human in the sacramental world of catholic theology with a small sense, because I was part of the Anglican Communion at the time, though very Anglo-Catholic. It just began to dawn on me that there was a possibility that it might be possible to reconcile myself conscientiously, not just with having these desires, because my instinct was to think that the desires themselves were somehow something I was to blame for, but even with expressing them in one context or another.
I was at a theological community in a sense, in the sense that I was part of the theology faculty, and I was active in various Anglican contexts. But it was also a very mixed kind of community. Oxford… one of Oxford’s elements of richness is that there’s a lot of interaction residentially between people studying various disciplines. So though I was studying theology, I was coming into contact with people studying all kinds of other things. And though I was studying as a believer, I was associated socially, and even became very close friends with a number of people who adamantly rejected religious faith, or at least the kind of faith that I had. So there was this dawning sense that maybe there was more to coming to terms with queerness than just rejecting it in horror and trying not to think about it.
And that came to a head when I was… it was after my first year at Oxford, in the summer. I was visiting an Anglican seminary in New York, General Seminary, having a very good visit, a very fruitful one in pastoral and theological terms. Becoming friendly with a number of people, and making one friend, who’s remained a friend. And September 11th happened, which seemed completely surreal. Sirens everywhere, seminarians visiting the site, hoping to be pastorally useful, and finding that everyone they might have been pastorally useful to was dead. And then realizing that I couldn’t go home for a period of time, and being offered, very generously, hospitality by the seminary for that time.
In the context of that very intense experience, where my questions about meaning and the divine, suddenly came head to head both with a fairly rich experience of seminary community mobilized by crisis, and with the implications of what religious faith in its more toxic forms can achieve, and with just the brutal human realities of pointless, apparently, pain and death; suddenly, my thinking about homosexuality kind of crystallized, in the sense that I just felt like – and I realize this was naïve, I think my current view is somewhat more nuanced – but I just felt like, things that brought people together in love, or in delight, or in anything other than blowing up buildings, should be honored as coming from a divine source. So it was under those conditions that I “lost my virginity”, as you put it.
I’ve never actually been in a relationship in the sense of seeing someone. While I was at Oxford, I kind of… I came out of the closet, um, you could say somewhat flamboyantly, in that I was quite open about my orientation at the time. But in a fairly small circle. I was open about it at Oxford, to some degree, in England, but really not back at home at all. Because I was very concerned about the affects of my parents finding out about this. I needn’t have been, really, because they’ve come to terms with it quite peacefully, although my mom has pointed out, she might not have at that time, so there was an element of timing involved.
But, you know, I… so, while I was at Oxford, and sort of, fresh out of the closet and feeling this rush of the sense that, “Gosh, I don’t have to loathe this part of myself anymore, I don’t have to loathe my body, my physicality, my maleness, my sexuality, and so forth.” So, rather than loathing it, I just sort of tried to celebrate it in a very… well, maybe somewhat reckless way. Actually, on a very small scale, as these things go; just with probably three people overall.
But importantly, I think, always fairly furtively; never in the context of relationship, although one of those people has become a friend; always kind of furtively, and with deep, sort of, misgivings, I mean… recklessly trying to embrace this dimension of myself, but as I realize in retrospect, really not having thought through it on a very deep level. I mean, I went from being reactively opposed to it, to being reactively celebratory of it. But, I don’t really think I accessed any of the deeper human, or even, especially theological dimensions of the whole question of what our sexuality means. That’s something, ironically, I think I’ve only begun to do, really, as a monk, which we can talk about in due course.
Dan Fincke: And, um, well there was an Anglican priest who played a… who was… you know, I don’t know if it was sexual, but there was something like a… romance that you’d had, if I remember correctly. Can you talk about him?
Bede (John) Hazlet: There was. It wasn’t a sexual relationship. The closest analogue I can think of to it, was kind of the Victorian romantic friendship. He was, I don’t know, fifteen years older than I, and just the most, kind of, simpatico person I had come across so far in my life, no offense to you, Dan [both laugh]. I think part of why we get along, is that we are very different in a lot of ways, and yet have this deep similarity in the way we think, or approach things, or whatever it is. But with this person, there was just a sense of almost being cut from the same cloth; that in him, I discovered aspects of myself that were already there but unrecognized, and I think he would probably have said the same thing. We delighted in the same things, we loved Englishness, and good food, and cooking, and good wine, and drinking. We loved hospitality, we were both basically kind of introverted, and yet, we loved being around people, something that subsequently I’ve realized is quite important for my mental health; that I’m something of introvert, I like solitude, but I’m also susceptible to a kind of toxic solitude, so I need people around. That’s part of why I live in community as a monk.
Dan Fincke: I was very worried when you wanted to be a parish priest, that that didn’t… that you would become lonely and isolated, so…
Bede (John) Hazlet: Yeah, and that’s one of the major reasons I left the seminary, recognizing myself that that would be the case. So it was just a very, very deep friendship. With a fairly high degree of physical but not of sexual intimacy. And I have feelings about it that are similar to your feelings about our interaction when we were at Grove City, in that there came a point when he was having some real struggles in his life, and my social circles were kind of expanding, there were a lot of other people in my life at the time, and I just kind of drifted away from him. Probably at a time when he would most have needed me. I’m not sure, in retrospect, that there would have been a lot I could do to help him through this period of struggle. But I continue… I mean, one of my great regrets so far in my life has been that I wasn’t as good a friend to him as I think I should have been at the time. And that’s something we’ve talk about since then. And although I hardly ever see him, we are in touch periodically, and [I] still think of him as a close friend. And have learned a lot, just about being human, from him. I learned a lot about joy, tending to be a fairly melancholic person, fairly joyless in some ways. So it was, and remains, a rich friendship.
Dan Fincke: He was much older than you, right?
Bede (John) Hazlet: I’m not sure exactly how much older. I think, at the time, I was in my twenties; he was probably in his forties or early fifties.
Dan Fincke: Okay.
Bede (John) Hazlet: I don’t actually know his age.
Dan Fincke: Okay.
Bede (John) Hazlet: And, yeah, I mean, he was also gay, so that helped.
Dan Fincke: Right. Because, I remember, the way you had characterized it, at the time, I remember it sounding somewhat romantic, in the sense of there had even been contemplations of maybe living together permanently. I mean, you were somewhat swept up, at some point, earlier on.
Bede (John) Hazlet: Yeah. I’m not sure he would have thought in those terms. Maybe he would have. But I was kind of asking myself, What sort of relationship am I looking for? And I was just beginning to come to terms with my sexuality in a pretty juvenile way. But at the same time asking, Is that really something that will necessarily need to be expressed for me to be content. And thinking about my deep friendship with this Church of England priest, I started pondering the possibility that maybe we could have a very content life together, in some kind of close cohabiting relationship that wasn’t a sexual relationship, that involved a very deep love and a huge amount of affection, but not expressed in that way.
The rest of the excerpted videos and transcripts from the interview:
How My Best Friend Helped End My Faith and then Became an Openly Gay Monk
Out of the Closet for the 1st Time, at Oxford
On Anglicanism and On Celibate Love
How Catholic Moral Teaching On Sexuality Is Evolving
Does A Good God Guide The Catholic Church? A Debate
Is The Catholic Church’s Treatment of Gays Morally Defensible? A Debate
Does Celibacy Infantilize and Create Child Molesting Priests?
A Gay Monk Argues Against Reparative Therapy
On Treating Mental Illness, Rather Than Romantically Theologizing It
How the Catholic Church’s Views on Gays Might Evolve
The transcripts in this series were created this summer by Josiah “Bibleman” Mannion. He donated his time to produce the more than 12,000 word transcript of the entire interview. Josiah makes his living as a photographer and currently needs camera repairs done that he cannot afford. If you would like to chip in to this generous man, donate to firstname.lastname@example.org and my friend Sarah Morehead will get the money to him. (UPDATE: The atheist community came through big and Josiah was able to get a new camera!)