This past weekend, my parish held its annual outdoor Mass and picnic. Despite the heat, the sun, and my pouting six-year-old, it was a beautiful Mass. I love outdoor Masses, and an outdoor Mass in the early fall always brings me back to the Convocation Mass at the start of my first semester of college. Time has erased any specific quotes from my memory; what I remember are the sentiments: a sense of belonging, of closeness to God, of the beginning of something new. Each student was given a large journal, with introspective prompts in sections for each semester of a standard college career. I embarked on the adventure of higher education with the understanding that this journey would be one of gaining self-knowledge as much as academic knowledge — and with a wide-eyed optimism that a Catholic school was necessarily the best place for such pursuits.
I was a particularly naive teenager.
To be sure, the Catholic tradition does uphold the importance of self-knowledge. Augustine prayed, “Lord, let me know myself; let me know you.” St. Teresa of Avila penned an entire book on the subject. And St. Hildegard of Bingen wrote, “Dare to declare who you are!”
And yet, there are areas of our selves that the Church discourages us from exploring, particularly when we are young: anything remotely connected to sexuality. In high school and college, at youth groups and retreats and talks and rallies, I heard over and over and over: sex is bad. Acceptable sex-related conversations were limited to waiting for marriage, learning about “natural family planning”, protesting abortion, and practicing modesty. Often, these conversations were held in segregation: boys in one room, girls in another. Always, always, always, the assumption was that everyone in the room was straight, or at least planning to act like it.
Maybe, hopefully, your diocese was better – but this was my experience. Questioning my sexuality was something that never even crossed my mind as a possibility as a teen. It was simply something other people did. Plus, I was a late bloomer; I was out of high school before I stopped being mystified as to why people thought waiting for sex was hard. Even now, writing this, I feel twinges of anxiety, of transgression; Catholic guilt dies hard.
It wasn’t until I began seeing representation of queer relationships in the media and meeting outspoken queer Catholics at Call to Action events that I began to wonder. It started as just a noticing: “Huh. I can really relate to this. That’s weird, since I’m straight.” I began recalling moments from my adolescence, written off at the time with reasons that then, I truly believed, but which now sound like absurd mental gymnastics. I began googling things like “how do you know if you’re bi?” despite feeling silly, because aren’t I too old for that?
For the first several years, I kept these thoughts to myself, telling myself that, since I didn’t start questioning my sexuality until I was already in a hetero marriage, I had no business claiming a queer identity and it didn’t matter anyway. Then a friend shared this article during the 2018 Bisexual Awareness Week, and I began to wonder: maybe it does matter. Maybe knowing myself isn’t enough; maybe I need to be a witness, too, as so many friends have been for me. Maybe staying silent is just another way to skirt around my Church-given discomfort with talking about sexuality.
This morning, I opened Twitter to see a trending hashtag: it’s #BiWeek 2019. As I write this, I’m only out to two people besides my husband. What better time to take St. Hildegard’s advice and change that? And what better place than here, in the community of faith that has empowered me?