At the age of eleven I converted to Catholicism. It was also at the age of eleven that I began to question my sexuality. However, religion became part of my life first and, consequently, my inner struggle began.
I was raised by a wholly loving family growing up. They were accepting of all my quirks and individualities. As cliché as it is, I wanted Barbie’s for Christmas and playing football with the boys at school was a completely alien concept. But that didn’t stop me from trying to force myself to fit in and resist my differences. Unfortunately, whereas most primary school children cherished worry-free years, my lower school days were often wracked with anxiety and self-loathing. Don’t get me wrong, in many ways I was a happy child that enjoyed learning and had a small close-knit group of friends. But the bullying began when I was nine, when I had decided to showcase my gymnastic skills in a ‘talents assembly’, and it climaxed when I was eleven. For two years I responded to ‘gay-boy’, ‘faggot’ and ‘puff’ and not once did I fight back.
I used to have to hide my lunch box away because the bullies would take it and throw the contents at me…
After being fairly feisty and confrontational with my brother as a child, my mother had advised me that ‘if you don’t give people the attention they’re looking for, they’ll get bored’. In most cases this was wise, but it was advice I took a little too literally growing up. I just took as much as I could. It began with occasional name calling, but this grew. I used to have to hide my lunch box away because the bullies would take it and throw the contents at me. But, when things started to get physical I eventually burst and went home distraught to my parents one night. They were mortified and marched me to the head teacher the next day. Unfortunately, as with many things, it got worse before it got better.
I didn’t gain entry into my first choice high school, and unexpectedly attended a Catholic high school. The school, and the Catholic faith that it encouraged, offered a home from home: a complete family ethos that was accepting of all my quirks in exchange for my faith. For the first time in my life I had a lot of friends, people were kind to me. I began to fit in, but not completely. I wasn’t Catholic. And so, my journey in faith began. I spoke to our school chaplain and my R.E teacher and, with their support and the support of my parents, I attended regular classes for months until I converted to Catholicism on the Easter vigil of my first year at high school.
In the middle of the night I searched for solutions online and found many organisations and camps in the U.S that could ‘fix’ me…
For a moment, I was settled and content. I was accepted. I completely fit in. Then I began to question my sexuality. I knew that I liked girls, which was and still is something that I recognise as wholly innate in my sexuality. But I also knew that it wasn’t only girls I liked. At first the confusion wasn’t physical though. I didn’t think anything when getting changed with boys or anything like that. There were just certain guys in my life that I knew I wanted to be around, but I didn’t know why.
However, I wasn’t willing to abandon the faith that had been my saviour for what just seemed like some ‘silly thoughts’. I convinced myself that it was a phase, hormones or something like that. I loved everything about what I knew of Catholicism. There was a place in its family for everyone, and it encouraged us all to be the best versions of ourselves that we could be. Nonetheless, as my frustrations with sexuality grew I researched and sought out anything I could on Catholicism and its views on bisexuality and homosexuality. The results were not good. I was too loyal to transgress, and convinced myself that the more I threw myself into my faith, the less I would have these feelings over my sexuality. I attended church twice a week, read the bible regularly and attended a number of pilgrimages. It was on pilgrimage in Lourdes after talking to priests and hearing various services that I had come to decision that I was actually blessed. God thought I was strong enough that I could face this challenge. Homosexual feelings were my cross to bear and it was my challenge to remain obedient to it for the rest of my life.
Of course there were moments of experimentation growing up, but each of these were followed by weeks of guilt, self-hatred and so much prayer…
With this newfound energy to keep my sexuality at bay, I continued my heavy involvement in the church. I had two girlfriends in my time at college. When I was in those relationships I can honestly say that the thoughts that had once dominated my mind on many sleepless nights barely appeared. I had beaten it. In between the two relationships that I had, however, were some of the hardest moments of my struggle. I can remember one night I couldn’t stop myself from crying because I didn’t think I could hold back my feelings anymore and that I would be letting my family and faith down. In the middle of the night I searched for solutions online and found many organisations and camps in the U.S that could ‘fix’ me. It was from that point that I began saving, and I didn’t stop until I attended university.
Of course there were moments of experimentation growing up, but each of these were followed by weeks of guilt, self-hatred and so much prayer. In the end it didn’t seem worth putting myself through these ordeals in order to test my strength in resisting homosexual feelings. However, when I came to the University of Warwick, unfortunately my relationship with my girlfriend finished. However, it was not this that began to change my thought process.
It was the most natural, invigorating and frightening feeling in the world…
Once I arrived, the Catholic bubble that I had once hidden myself in was burst. I was now part of the most beautiful, diverse and accepting community, far greater than I could have ever dreamt of. I was free. I didn’t plan on engaging in any relations with boys. However, I am naturally and unavoidably effeminate and somehow managed to unintentionally catch the attention of a few boys. Away from home, away from where I was known, and away from Catholicism, I eventually gave in. It was the most natural, invigorating and frightening feeling in the world, but I couldn’t stop smiling.
Eventually I told my new flatmates. It’s funny how it’s so much easier to tell those who don’t know you, rather than those who do. By second term I had confirmed to myself that this was not a phase, this was not a blessing, this was not a challenge from god, but this was me. I finally accepted me for me and on Valentine’s Day I decided I couldn’t hide it anymore. I came out to my best friend, my brother and then my parents. I am so fortunate. I was loved and welcomed with open arms by all and by my third term everyone knew. I cannot describe the overwhelming relief of eight years of pent up emotion. But what was even stronger was the love that I received from my best friend, my brother, my parents, my family and my ex-girlfriend. I understand that not everyone is as fortunate as I, and I really do recognise that as a blessing.
So, over a year has passed since then. I am wholly contented with my sexuality. It took me a little while to choose the right kind of boys as I was a few years behind everyone else, but now I’m happier than ever with a boyfriend so lovely I couldn’t have dreamt of finding him. However, a couple of months back, I thought all the activity with the church was over. After I came out, I decided to stop going to church. Partially, I was angry for the way it had made me feel but I also felt that I could no longer support an institution that couldn’t fully support me. However, one day the phone rang and it was the Priest that had converted and confirmed me in the Catholic faith.
With no recognised partnership between same-sex couples, I couldn’t quite justify letting faith back into my life again…
My absence had not gone unnoticed by the community and he wanted to see me. He had done so much for me over the years I thought that I at least owed him a visit. When I went in to the lounge in the Fathers’ house with my mother, the first thing my priest said is ‘You are loved. You are no sinner. The Lord loves you, this community loves you, and I certainly love you’. I was taken aback. We chatted for an hour. Unfortunately, I couldn’t quite give the priest the response that he wanted and I couldn’t agree to go back to church. He was completely supportive, comforting and loving in every way but he couldn’t quite convince me that the rest of the Catholic church was as supportive as he was. With no recognised partnership between same-sex couples, I couldn’t quite justify letting faith back into my life again.
This is not an article to put people off having a faith, or having a faith with a non-heterosexual sexuality. I took from the church the messages that I had concluded and had I had that conversation with that priest much earlier who knows what could have happened. This is simply my journey. But for what it’s worth, although the journey was cluttered with Barbies, bullies and the Bible, I couldn’t be more loved or more accepting of myself today. It sure was worth it.