When I came out, I came out haltingly, in pieces. First I was “sort of gay,” because I thought that being gay meant being a lot of things I wasn’t: white, living in the Pacific Northwest, interested in Subarus and cats. Then I was gay but not too gay (still wanted boys to like me!). And then I was gay and deeply in love, and then I was gay and married, having our pictures taken outside a bookstore while people drove past and applauded and congratulated us on our wedding. That whole time, I was gay.
I was gay when I was raised in the Church, too. I was born Catholic, raised Catholic, attended Catholic schools for 13 years, and was so embedded in the Catholic community that I believed for a fairly long time that everyone else was Catholic, too, just different kinds of Catholic.
The church released its official guide about how parents should respond to homosexual children when I was 11 years old. It said that to accept being a homosexual within the bounds of the Catholic Church was to accept that what I wanted most in the world was a sin. Don’t worry, it said, “one's total personhood is not reducible to sexual orientation or behavior.” But to be gay and Catholic was to forever be alone.
I was gay and terrified, and full of deep self-loathing — so much that I tried to “pray away the gay,” taking inspiration from evangelical websites where I found fuel for the fire of how much I hated myself. When I was 17, I left the church — and religion — and I ran as far as I could in the opposite direction, because it was either my faith or my life, and I wanted to live, damn it.
But you don’t have to do that. You don’t have to stop being yourself when you discover who you are.
Sometimes people think that if you’re gay, or trans, or genderqueer, that means you aren’t anything else. But you are. You are your sexual orientation and your gender identity, and you are much, much bigger than that, too. You are still your interests, and your dreams, and that time you ran headfirst into a wall playing tag.
You are every piece of yourself, and more. You are bigger than what your family thinks of you, what your community thinks of you. Shit, you’re bigger than what the Internet thinks of you.
There’s responsibility inherent to identity, of course. You can be a gay Republican because you’re interested in a reconceptualization of the state as envisioned by the Founding Fathers and limiting the authority of the federal government over private stakeholders, but you’re still in the same party as these people. Sorry.
And your rights and your dreams will still be limited regardless of how well you know yourself — in this country, in other countries; by governments, and by religious authorities, and even by the people who love you most of all. Because some people’s visions of who you are are much smaller than your own. Some people will tell you that you can’t call yourself a femme boy because boys “can’t be femme,” or that you can’t be agender because you look like a “boy” or a “girl,” or that you’re not actually asexual if you’re still looking for love. Some people will tell you that you can’t be queer and want a deeper relationship with your faith. High-ranking representatives of the church you grew up in might even call a gay ambassador to another country a “faggot.”
Those people are wrong.
You can be everything you are, all at once. No one has the right to hold you to an identity that is not you and could not be you, even if it’s your friends or your religious leaders or your political party. You deserve to live your life, without apologies. You deserve to be yourself.
I started going to church with my wife a few months ago. It makes me feel at peace. Afterward, we get coffee and take a walk. It’s nice. It works for us. We’re still gay, still us, still ourselves. I’m still unsure of what I believe and mildly irritated by those who profess to have all the answers. But then we pray, and I feel whole inside, again, for the first time.