A disclaimer: I live in a small town, a town so small that until quite recently it was considered a village. Our town is nestled about an hour west of Chicago, and people have chosen to live here for various and sundry reasons, including its proximity to a major metropolitan area as well as for some citizens, the advantages of being in a small town where everyone knows your name.

I am part of a library book club, and have made friends that way, but recently went to check out a mens’ group at my local Catholic Church. I made sure, when I walked in the door, to drop my voice into a gravelly hyper-masculine tone and monitored my mannerisms. It occurred to me that I was seeking to “pass” as straight in much the same way that in the not-too-distant past some light-skinned African-Americans may have sought to “pass” as white. Why the good opinion of strangers mattered so much to me remains a mystery?

Being both Catholic and gay poses certain challenges. Until quite recently, the position of the church seemed to be something along the lines that having a gay sexual orientation in itself was not sinful, but that acting on it was, an untenable position, if ever there was. Our new pope, however, Pope Francis I, has made public declarations about homosexuality, saying, “Gay people should not be marginalized,” and, going further, “When someone is gay and seeks the Lord, who am I to judge him?”

The problem with the meeting was more than me merely feeling judged. A good forty-five minutes was spent discussing how to snare new members rather than focusing on the spiritual needs of the thirteen of us present. The guys had a lengthy discussion as to how a significant monetary donation to help high school students do service work projects during their spring break would raise the visibility of the mens’ group and attract new members. Everything revolved around getting more butts in the seats, and it certainly seemed to help if you happened to have discretionary income to donate to those causes the mens’ group deemed worthy. Though they appeared friendly to me as a newcomer, I found myself wondering how welcoming they would be if they knew for sure I was gay? A lie by omission is still a lie. I kept thinking of the old song played during the Sesame Street skit: “One of these things is not like the other.”

In the future, I suspect I will go where I feel I can fully be myself, where I can date a man without feeling liking I’m sinning simply by being who I am. In my mind, I think we Catholics would benefit not by concentrating on our sinfulness, but rather by focusing on leading more spiritually centered lives.

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