I grew up in a Catholic household and spent my formative years in a Catholic grade school complete with ugly plaid uniforms and regular trips to church. As a family, we went to mass on a near-weekly basis until I was in sixth grade. It was then that my parents insisted my sister and I continue on to church while they stayed home sleeping in, eating breakfast and reading the paper. Instead we would sneak to Winchell’s for donuts and then swing by the church just long enough to run in for the weekly bulletin as inaccurate evidence that we’d actually been there. It was about this same time I had started to wondering if I might be afflicted with this “homosexuality” that I’d read about during our religious sex education class earlier on.
In the seventh grade, after a year battling the demons of my theoretical homosexuality, I felt I needed to up the ante and re-fill my holy arsenal. If I was going to battle the devil, I was going to do it with the home field advantage. I became an altar girl. I felt like a revolutionary, because it was the first year our church allowed girls this precious position. I was a trailblazer for females looking to get in good with the Lord. We had weekly practice during recess, meaning we’d have to give up those cherished moments of fresh air for our Savior, but I knew that sacrifice was what it would take to win this battle.
I should have known that my demons were hefty and strong. I should have known that listening to that dirty rock and roll music on my headphones while sitting on the church altar, waiting for our priest to commence the lessons, was immoral and sin-ridden. I should have known then that things wouldn’t work out between me and the church, but I didn’t. I wagered on, hauling the metal representation of Christ on the cross during mass processionals as I pondered soft bosom of the new girl who had moved from Chicago. I wore my crisp white robe representing purity in the light of God’s love as I fantasized about making out with her in the church balcony. I handed out the Blood of Christ while looking at the lips of each hot girl sipping from my cup, wondering what it would be like to drink from theirs. I was slowly slipping form my pedestal of youthful virtue, into the fiery depths of Hell.
After two years of service, I graduated on to high school and was forced to relinquish my altar girl position. I would no longer be able to fight the evil spirits with Easter candles, incense and communion hosts. My white robe was taken away and every last bit of holy virtue with it. I entered the public school system, rife with sexual perversion, sins of the flesh and cuss words. I was immediately at home and any devotion to the Holy Trinity slowly seeped out of my body.
It was about this same time that I started to let the realization really sink in that my fascination with girls was more than a sophisticated appreciation of their beauty, fashion sense and lipstick choice. I had more religion in all four years of high school than any other period of time combined, as I sat in bed late at night begging for God to take away the images of naked girls that appeared when I closed my eyes and replace them with hunky naked men. Things weren’t working out in the Lord’s favor.
In college I had little use for religion or spirituality. I had a lot of use for alcohol and denial. I fell for my roommate, but convinced myself otherwise and developed a faux crush on a guy in the dorm next to mine. It was safe, for me and everyone else. I spent that first year partying, drinking, and sometimes going to class and studying to distract me from the real problem raging inside of me. It wasn’t until my second year, while living depressed and alone in a darkened apartment sequestered from the rest of the world, that I finally lost the battle with my repressed homosexuality. It all came flooding out, complete with a fascination with all things sexual. I spent hours online perusing chat rooms and websites and read copious books and sex manuals on how to be the perfect lesbian. If I was going to be a pariah, I was going to be the best pariah, so help me God.
Fast forward a few more years and you’ll find me making my final trip to a church. My post-long term relationship transitional “friend” convinced me to make a trip to the hot spiritual hangout in Seattle known as the Center for Spiritual Living. After an hour of singing hymns, hearing scriptures and testimonials and praising God, I had seen and heard enough. I flashed back to grade school, to days as an altar girl performing the Stations of the Cross, to forced church practice with our principal, a nun and the most butch gay lesbian I have ever seen, who made us sing On Eagles Wings until we got it right. I found myself in the parking lot, hunched over and gasping for air. The Catholic girl in me was being exorcised in a fit of hyperventilation.
As the family heathen, I now find spirituality in many different places, not one of which is a church or designated holy place. To the dismay of my mother, I prefer the quiet acceptance of Eastern philosophy to the blame and ridicule of the Catholic faith. I think back to my formative years and see a frightened young girl with nowhere to turn, feeling abandoned by God and I wish I could make things different for her and for other young kids who face the same torment that I had. I wish I could show those people who taught me that homosexuals were Hell-bound perverts that, in fact, the majority of us are respectable human beings looking for the same love and acceptance straight people are.
It has not been much of a personal ordeal for me to abandon the Christian faith or Catholic Church because the climate within is so contrary to beliefs I hold dear. Religion shouldn’t be about controlling another’s actions through fear, nor should it be about judgment of those who differ from the teachings in a beautifully written but wholly fictitious book. Religion should be about acceptance, about love of all things including oneself. I was taught at a young age to hate and rid myself of much of the person I am; to conform to a cookie cutter role of a good, moral Christian girl who doesn’t question anyone or anything.
Spirituality isn’t about religion, and many people who have religion clearly have little or no spirituality (do I need to bring up all those Catholic priests?). I find spirituality in the world around me and in my ability to love another human being despite gender. Whether I believe in Jesus, Buddha, Allah or nothing, I should be free to love and live the way I choose without the scorn of anyone else in the world. I think we all deserve at least that much.