The Education of a Gay Catholic

“Why?”

I had told my parents I wanted to be a philosophy major. They were not amused.

My mom tried to understand. “What can you do with that?” Do meant job.

“Mom, that’s not the point. I want to pursue the truth!”

My dad interjected, “That’s great, Chris, but you have to get a job eventually. You have to support yourself.”

I was a junior in high school applying to colleges. They had a point, but I knew what I wanted in my education. I had written in one of my application essays, “I will never forget that history is a record of God’s interaction with the universe. That fact was the single greatest thing I had ever learned in a history class… There is a meaning to the world, and this meaning is good. This meaning is God. I want to more fully know God, and I know that I can find Him in a Catholic education.”

Two years later, I sat in a small room on the third floor of DeBartolo Hall. Even today, I can remember the classroom scene. There were about fifteen of us, mostly men, all just out of high school. My professor began to speak, and I was instantly disoriented. “The point of this education isn’t to make you a better person. If you’re looking to become a better person, you’d better go join a seminary or something.” This was never believable for me. When you’re like me, your goodness is inseparable from how you come to understand the world, from how you come to understand yourself, from your education.

Not all Notre Dame professors have held the same views as my seminar teacher. In the middle of the last century, the French philosopher Jacques Maritain would frequently lecture at Notre Dame. For him, as for me, understanding is a matter of life and death. Maritain was a student in France in 1901. After reflecting on the spiritual desolation of French intellectual life at the time, he made a vow that he would commit suicide if he did not find some answer to the meaning of life within the year.

I understood his vow. I understood it in the nights that I stood in front of the mirror. I could see the vow in the drooping shoulders, the mouth falling down at the corners, the tired and empty eyes. I would stand in front of the bathroom mirror and not know who—or what—I was staring at.

Late one night, I quietly left my room and walked down the stairs to my dorm’s chapel. The hallway was quiet, and I was nearly alone when I walked down the aisle and slumped into a hard wood chair.  I came to the chapel after several months of trying to reconcile my faith with my attractions to Paul, and I saw no answer. He was my friend, and I loved him, but I saw no way out of my “intrinsic disorder.” I saw my love of this man, and I began to fear the love of any man. Would I be unable to keep myself from falling for any men I grew close to? Was I a monster? Was I God’s meaningless mistake?

I saw an emptiness in the mirror, and it was an emptiness in my world. I was living out the words of John Henry Newman: “If I looked into a mirror, and did not see my face, I should have the sort of feeling which actually comes upon me, when I look into this living busy world, and see no reflection of its Creator.”

Sitting at a table in front of a twelfth-story window in the library, I could see my dim reflection in the glass. Sometimes I would look up from my books and stare out the window. I would press my hands against the cold glass and wonder what it would be like to fall, down, down, away from the books that weren’t helping me and into the grey concrete that would end all this suffering.

G.K. Chesterton once called suicide a kind of anti-vow, “the refusal to take the oath of loyalty to life.” He said that suicide is not only a sin; it is the sin. It is the act of a man who sees no meaning in the world. For Maritain, for Chesterton, and for me, meaning is the only rival of suicide. If there is no meaning to this world, there is no value in living; at best we simply dwell in complacent brokenness until we finish out our days on this earth.

Jacques Maritain was saved from meaninglessness, and so was I. The search ended—and began—in Catholicism. Maritain’s Answer was found in the writings of St. Thomas Aquinas. Mine was found when I started to tell my story.

When I came out to my friend Anthony, I still saw that emptiness in the mirror. I think that the only way I found the strength to say it was the unspeakable hope that the feelings I had for him were mutual.

We sat in his car in an empty parking lot at three in the morning.

“Anthony, I… I… I’ve wanted to tell you. I… I… I…” I couldn’t get it out. Getting even that short syllable to escape my lips was an exhausting task, and I couldn’t continue on after it. “I…” But I knew that I would just have to spit it out.

“I’m gay.” With those two words, the world changed. I could never take them back. He could never unhear them. My eyes were full of tears. I babbled on. “I mean, it’s much more complicated than that. But… that’s, I guess, the easiest way to say it.”

We talked. The feelings weren’t mutual. But he didn’t leave. He didn’t reject me. He just listened.

After a while, I told him about my fears. “When you’re like me, it’s just so hard to be honest. If people know about it, there are real social and professional consequences. Especially in the Catholic world. If you want to teach in a Catholic high school and you’re open about this, you can forget it.”

I looked straight ahead as he responded, “I think that one day I want to be a principal at a Catholic school, and I can’t think of anyone that I would rather have teach my kids.” It was too much. I put my head against the dashboard and started crying. He put his arm around me, and, after a bit, I just leaned over and put my head against his chest, sobbing as he held me.

“Man can only accept himself if he is accepted by another,” wrote Pope Benedict XV. “Only from the You can the I come into itself.” I remember laying against him and thinking, “I feel as though I’m loved the way I was made to be loved.”

His love was painful. I felt the pain of being released from a dark prison and being blinded by the sun, seeing it for the first time in a long while. I found a true love that made manifest a true wisdom, which according to Newman is “from above, chaste, [and] peaceable.”

One night a few weeks later, my friend Brittney and I sat on her porch. Brittney was a Catholic Studies major at the University of St. Thomas. She had also been one of the many students to actively promote Minnesota’s “marriage amendment,” defining marriage as between one man and one woman. We were friends, and I knew that if I wanted our friendship to continue to grow and develop, I would have to tell her.

She sat forward with her hands on her knees, her blonde hair pulled back into a ponytail and falling over her right shoulder. She had a gift for assuming the demeanor of a loving mother. I felt so much like a child. I had to tell her.

“Lately, I’ve been feeling like God’s calling me to reach out to people who feel misunderstood and alienated and can’t find a place in the Church…” I struggled for words. “I feel like I need to speak more about my personal experiences and… and.. and.. I’m gay.”

She responded slowly and softly. “I am so proud of you, Chris.”

Again, the burden lifted. Through Anthony, Brittney, and friends like them, I began to see myself. I took shape in the mirror, formed by those who saw me before I saw myself. They tell me: there is a meaning to my world, and this meaning is good.

Chris DamianChris Damian recently graduated from the University of Notre Dame and is currently pursuing degrees in Law and Catholic Studies at the University of St. Thomas. 

12 thoughts on “The Education of a Gay Catholic

  1. This is so similar to my story.

    I had feelings for him for about a year and a half. We had been roommates last semester in college, but I was really hesitant to room with him again. You see, when we moved back home for summer, (him to New Jersey and me to Ohio), I cried so hard on the way back. I wouldn’t get to see my best friend for four months.

    I had hoped my feelings for him would have gone away during that time, but lo-and-behold, when I first saw him at our new apartment, all those warm, fuzzy, wrong feelings came rushing back in. I knew I was head over heels.

    I knew he was graduating early, and thus he was moving out of the apartment in December. There was this nagging feeling deep in my gut that I just had to tell him. I was lying to him by acting like I was into the girls he was into. I googled and searched and researched how people came out to their friends. I worried about his reaction. Yes, he’s very open minded and liberal, but what about when his own roommate is gay? “It’s okay, just not in my house.”

    I kept mustering up the courage to tell him, but I just couldn’t. Then one night, after coming home drunk from a bar, I decided that I was going to say it. I had had enough of the lies and the torment inside me. He left to go on a walk to sober up a bit, and he never came back for the longest time.

    I gave up and went to bed completely hammered. I texted him several times and said, “I need to talk to you,” and, “I have something to say.” He never responded.

    The next morning, I woke up upset. I got ready to go to work, and was sitting on the couch stewing until it was time for me to go. I heard him get out of bed and walk downstairs. He had no shirt on, and was wearing black athletic shorts. With his cute Ray Ban glasses on and his messy hair, he said, “Good morning. Sorry I didn’t see your texts. My phone died.” I then understood why he didn’t come back then.

    He sat on the east end of the white couch, while I sat on the west end. I curled up into a ball, looked at him, and started sobbing my eyes out. It was time. I told him, “I have something to say. I haven’t been very honest with you…or with anybody…but I just want you to know…” I cried a little bit, “that I’m gay….” I looked away from him.

    A brief pause later I said, “If you’re not comfortable with me now, I’ll move out.” That’s when he got up, came closer to me, and sat down next to me. “Oh God, here we go.” I thought to myself. I cried and cried and cried that morning. I didn’t even realize it, but he had put his arm around me. When I noticed that, things got much worse for me. “I wonder what he’s thinking,” I thought to myself.

    I told him that I would never in a million years do anything to hurt him, and that I hope that he won’t do anything to hurt me. I then confessed something I didn’t even think I was going to be able to do. I said, “I love you as a friend, and you’ve been a great friend to me. One of the best…but…it’s really hard….because…I love you more than that…” I expected him to get up and leave…but he didn’t which made things even harder. I told him I punished myself every time I thought of him. I don’t remember much after that. Everything was in a daze. I was having panic attacks…my first ones ever.

    For three days after that, I slept on the couch in the living room downstairs. I didn’t want to face him. I didn’t want to hurt him. I didn’t want to make him uncomfortable. I completely avoided him as much as I could. I would stay up late, and go to bed three hours after he went to sleep. I would get up two hours before he got up, all the while sleeping on the couch. Three days after I came out to him, he confronted me and said, “I now realize that you’ve been sleeping on the couch. You don’t have to do that.” I felt comforted a little bit.

    I had told my other roommate a few days later, and it was much easier.

  2. Dear Chris, your friends are means of God for the acceptance that He is granting you. A steadfast fidelity towards Him will lead you to a peaceful acceptation and an intimate quiet. But that is not the goal…in the last spiritual exercises I have taken part, I have reflected above Saint Joseph: his vocation was irremediably broken: half a father, he died before the revelations about the nature of his Son, he was not under the Cross, he was not present at Pentecost…he was only a just man with a great ability in discernment…and that is all. i have understood that his was a condition so close to our own (being myself a gay catholic) we are called to live in the light of promise and hope, we are not holding anything in our hands, we are precarious, but this precariousness is precisely the best condition possible for the announcement of the Gospel…we are lost to human affectiveness, to sexual intercourse, to easy consolations, so – as Paul explains – we are that rubbish which is shown to the angels, which is the proper stuff of the Gospel-spreader. The message of God – if carried by us – will be recognized infallibly as God’s because we are called to speak through our weaknesses, and we are speaking, with our lives to a future generation of catholics (not only gay catholics)…the worst is that living a promise is in many cases frustrating, the best is that we are not the owner of the message of God, but the useless servers. I hate conservative catholics because they find in moral patterns all the content of faith…but as we know history is the field of the action of god and of the answer of man (read Danielou’s Essai sur le mystere de l’histoire), the sacraments are making history…this development – personal and historical – is unknown yo conservatives. I hate the others saying act according to your nature, God loves you in every case, because the fidelity to God must be demonstrated and lived in full…to be chaste, means to have a pure heart to be in communication with the sentiments and will of God, that is much more than to be continent. alberto, Italy.

  3. Thank you for sharing. If something like this had happened when I was in University it might have avoided a lot of heartache for me and for those I love. But that was the ’60’s, and things were a lot different. I am now 65 and am finally becoming able to come to grips with the person I have been all these years. We can’t control the hand life deals us, but we surely can control how we play it.

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  5. Thank you, Chris. That was so beautiful and inspirational in every way, and helps me with things I’ve been struggling with, myself. To echo what so many have said already, may God bless you, Chris.

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