A few weeks ago, on National Coming Out Day, I decided to share some personal information about myself on Twitter. My husband has known for about a decade, my friends have known forever, and my parents have known for a couple years. I am not exclusively attracted to men. That makes me queer. Not a huge deal. Pretty standard stuff. For a long time, it wasn’t even something I saw fit to talk about because I am in a heterosexual marriage, which means I have a straight life and straight privilege. However, there are plenty of negatives to hiding aspects of your life. So I came out. Then, earlier this week, Pope Francis was quoted as supporting civil unions between same-sex couples, a stance that is contrary to Church teaching. And conservative Catholics unleashed their rage on the LGBTQ community.
Does the Pope’s Support for Queer People Mean Anything?
This is not the first time Pope Francis has expressed private support for civil unions. He did this as an Archbishop in Argentina, even as he was simultaneously waging an intense campaign against same-sex marriage. How does this make sense? Basically, the pope’s stance is that gay marriage does not exist, because marriage is by definition heterosexual. He also believes homosexuality is contrary to God’s plan for the world. I disagree, but this is Church teaching. He also believes, correctly, that LGBTQ people are human beings and deserve protection under the law and a chance at happiness. Civil unions may be sinful, according to the Pope, but at least they prevent discrimination.
Forgive me if I don’t find this to be a huge step forward for queer people in the Church. It’s a baby step, maybe, but not much of one. Because, contrary to popular belief, the Pope’s personal opinion does not Church teaching make. Infallibility only applies when the Pope speaks in a certain way about certain things. His statement to a documentary filmmaker does not qualify. Church teaching holds that homosexual activities are “intrinsically disordered.” They also hold that heterosexual marriage is the bedrock of society. By contrast, homosexual unions are society’s downfall.
Is It Possible to be Queer and Okay in the Church?
Theoretically, according to Church doctrine, a queer person (and by that I mean anyone who is not exclusively heterosexual) can live completely free of sexual sin, provided they do not engage in same-sex sexual activity. In practice, however, queer people experience an onslaught of hate from fellow Catholics and an endless gauntlet of moral tests, which no one could ever live up to. Side B Christians, that is queer Christians who practice celibacy, experience intense criticism for having non-sexual partnerships. Or their friendships are held under a microscope. Simultaneously, they experience hatred from members of the wider queer community, who consider them traitors or even “LGBT Uncle Toms.”
And what about bisexual, pansexual, or heteroflexible Catholics in straight marriages? Surely we are fine. We are not, after all, engaging in any sort of homosexual acts. Are we okay? No. We are not okay.
Unstable, Undesirable, and Disordered
In his recent article No Families, No Children, No Future, published in the same week as the Pope’s civil union comments, conservative Catholic writer Rod Dreher laments the fact that 30% of American women identify as LGBTQ. At first he took offense to the fact that these women “have no interest in sex with men.” Later, he updated his statement with this gem:
A number of readers have pointed out that the “B” in “LGBT” — bisexual — is probably doing a hell of a lot of work in that 30 percent number. This is probably true, but it doesn’t really change much. I’m not sure how many men would want to partner with a woman whose sexual desires are so unstable. I would never have wanted to date a woman who identified as bisexual.
Later he saw fit to share a comment from a reader, which could just as well have been about me:
I have a Catholic friend who recently ‘came out as Bi’ and her social media announcement about it was all about ’embracing’ this incredibly important part of her identity. I can’t help but wonder how much of that is just a filler for something deeply broken inside, with some of these women… But as all who live by lies know, eventually those rotten cores will crumble, and there will be an emptiness left that almost nothing can fill.
LGBTQ+ people, but women in particular, are the downfall of society. We are unstable, undesirable, and fundamentally broken. All of us.
So Why Does This Matter?
Circling back to the Pope. The Vatican and bishops worldwide are already walking back his comments regarding civil unions. These comments were not intended to validate same-sex marriages, only to assert that queer people should have rights and not be discriminated against. But for many people in the Church, his comments were too much. Because despite fancy theological arguments and appeals to sexual ethics, Christian opposition to homosexual relationships is rooted in homophobia first.
The only piece of hope I have – and it is a small one – is a feeling there are more LBGTQ+ people in the Catholic Church than there are Rod Drehers. For a long time, people like him have controlled the narrative.
It’s time we started speaking up. All of us.