The first time I masturbated, I cried. I finally cave in to my carnal desires. But once the waves of ecstasy subside, my heart becomes heavy with Catholic guilt. Years of religious teaching on sexuality instills the idea that sexual acts for pleasure’s sake are self-indulgent, un-Godly, and sick. It also re-affirms what I don’t want to accept: I am attracted to men. I am not just a pervert; I am a gay one, too.
In the upcoming years my religious upbringing and sexual journey intertwine, clash and reconcile. I hear my homophobic father lament the downfall of society because of the legalization of gay marriage. I learn to forgive; that parents can love you and not accept you at the same time. My religion teacher compares homosexuality to bestiality; I learn the importance of questioning authority. I come out at a Catholic retreat during my high school senior year; I learn that despite being quiet, I am strong. I join the University Catholic Center at UCLA and see queer couples hold hands in Church; I learn that spirituality is defined on your own terms.
In order for me to embrace my queer identity, I search for ways to bring queerness into my spiritual and religious life. The religious world I grew up in was cold and distant, but I figured out that there is more to Catholicism than stale incense and tattered Bibles.
“Once a Catholic, always a Catholic,” claims Director Guillermo del Toro. My relationship with Catholicism is constantly changing, but there will always be a soft spot in my heart for melodramatic Latin prayers and tacky Advent wreaths. And part of my reconciliation (pun intended) with the Church came from the discovery of a beautiful queer aesthetic within this heterosexist, patriarchal religious institution. I didn’t have to look far to figure out queerness was everywhere. Here are seven reasons why Catholicism is the gayest religion ever:
1. Vestments fit for a Queen
Eons ago, I was an altar-boy at my local parish (and no, there weren’t any hot priests). Before every Mass, I’d go into the closet and admire the embroidery and fabrics that the priests had to wear. I was sure the visual drama and attention to detail would rival any haute-couture dress gliding down a runway in Milan. Turns out, I was right. Catholic vestment has actually been a great source of inspiration for designers like Alexander McQueen, Dolce & Gabbana, and Valentino. Religious leaders look much more fierce when they’re wearing gold lace (Islam, Buddhism, Judaism, and all others, take note!)
2. Jesus Abs
You may not believe that Christ was the son of God, but there’s one thing that we can all agree on: he has great abs, especially considering that ancient Jerusalem didn’t have Crossfit. Religious paintings of men have always veered on the homoerotic; Saint Sebastian is considered to be the first gay icon thanks to the semi-nude, ripped physique that plagued closeted artists’ obsessions for centuries. Truly, there’s nothing more wholesome, American and appropriate for children than a muscular bearded man wearing a loincloth (and tied down to wood.)
3. We revere Madonna
She may have not brought voguing to the Superbowl, but we all know that the mother of God is the real HBIC; and Catholics take worshipping her to a whole new level. The divas revered by the gay community share similar qualities: they’re independent, strong women who flourish in the spotlight without the aid of men. Mary is an example to all of us; the original Unwed Mother bore the child of Christ without even having sex! She really deserves the title of Hail Holy Queen for proving you don’t need a man to be fabulous.
4. We’re a lot more liberal than you think
The nuns that taught us may have had sticks up their asses but that doesn’t mean that we followed suit. In February 2014, Univision released a poll showing that 54% of American Catholics support gay marriage, 79% support contraception, 59% support women priests, and 66% support abortion (in some cases). Catholics like Joe Biden and Chris Cuomo have gone out publicly to support gay marriage, much to the dismay and chagrin of bishops that seriously need to get with the times.
5. Pope Francis
Who would expect a pope would be chosen as The Advocate’s 2013 Person of the year? All the old farts still recovering from the “revolution” of the Second Vatican Council need to watch out: Pope Francis is a force to be reckoned with. He’s one of the few religious leaders constantly reaching out to the queer community, he’s gotten rid of an anti-gay bishop, advocated for civil unions in Argentina, and he’s made headlines around the world with the question, “Who am I to judge?” Let’s hope that Francis’ leadership can bring the Church further in the right direction towards queer-Catholic relations. (How about the existence of trans people in the Church?)
6. Singing Nuns are Divas too
At one point in my life, I seriously considered joining a convent. I look good in black, habits can always cover up a bad hair day, and my favorite movie has and always will be The Sound of Music. What gay boy didn’t want to be Maria growing up? She had the voice of an angel, the grace of a movie star, and she ended up with Christopher Plummer. If I end up not finding a job after graduation, expect to see me twirling around the Swiss Alps in an apron, in search of God — or, God willing, my Mr. Von Trapp.
7. We Don’t Take the Bible Literally
Unlike our Protestant friends, Catholics don’t take the Bible literally. The Church recognizes the importance of historical and cultural context when it comes to interpreting Scripture; the Bible is inspired by God, not directly written by The Mighty Hand. You’d have to be an idiot to apply ALL the sayings of an ancient book (written during completely different societies and histories) to the way you live your life in the 21st century. Additionally, Cardinal Ratzinger (the previous not-so-gay-friendly pope) has ironically also stated that above all, individual conscience trumps religious authority. So continue getting tattoos and eating shellfish, you godless sodomites!