The Queer Issue
I sent for an application to become a nun in 1976, around the same time the Vatican declared that homosexuals were "intrinsically disordered." The Pope's edict said: "Be nice to Catholic homosexuals. They're damaged and forbidden to express an abnormal sexuality. Their only moral choice is lonely celibacy."
What I want you to know is that being Catholic in 1976 was like being caught in the crossfire of a homo holy war. The pope wielded beatific rage against gays as if they were responsible for the whole sexual revolution.
Even if you suspected the pope might be useless, his words still conjured up long centuries of shame. The war against Catholic gays was as much an internal war as a cultural one. Some of us got lost in it.
I don't actually remember reading the pope's decree. I didn't need to. I was so repressed by an Orthodox Catholic childhood that I was a sexless zombie. At 15, I was hardly aware I was going through puberty, much less that I might be queer.
I grew up across the street from our Catholic church, which dictated what my brother and sisters and I could watch on TV. Everything fun or campy, like The Addams Family, was forbidden. We learned to quell emotional fires in confessionals, or in enforced contemplation. The one time my father cried was when a Catholic divorcée participated in Holy Communion. "The world is falling apart," he said.
And it was.
And that was a good thing, but it sucked if you were stuck on the Catholic battlefield of your own sexual identity. I pretended to pine for boys. I was secretly obsessed with cheerleaders. In the hell of my virginal confusion, a convent seemed like a less torturous option than being labeled a perverted kook and suffering cultural exile. Like the pope said: better to be miserable and moral than human.
Anyway, the packet on "becoming a nun" came in the mail. It turned out that I needed a college degree before joining a convent. In the meantime, I discovered alcohol, which made sex with boys possible. I married a Catholic man and embarked on a series of fervent platonic friendships with women. One of them made dentures for a living. My husband became suspicious. The pope kept issuing decrees. One pope died and the next one (John Paul II) kept up the call for self-denial and celibacy. Gay Catholics started asking for recognition and apologies. We were deep in the '80s by then.
Just before I fell from Catholic grace, I joined a charismatic Catholic study group that met on Capitol Hill. I tried the baptism vow renewal and the mystical chanting, but I could no longer ignore that I was more attracted to women than to my husband. I tried though. I really tried.
Once I came out, I couldn't be Catholic anymore. I still can't, even though today the church is much gay friendlier. The new pope, Benedict XVI, still smolders homophobic, but his warnings seem as thin to me as the memory of sacrificial smoke.
Trisha Ready is working on a PhD in clinical psychology, which is something like the secular cousin of becoming a nun.