The Unattainability of Absolutions: How Growing up Catholic has Shaped my Queer Identity and my Relationship with Literature & Writing

“My mothers daughter who at ten years old knew she was queer. Queer to believe that God cared so much about me, he intended to see me burn in hell; that unlike other children, I was not to get by with a clean slate. I was born into this world with complications. I had been chosen, marked to prove my salvation. Todavia soy bien católica— filled with guilt, passion and incense and the inherent Mexican faith that there is meaning to nuestro sufrimiento en el mundo.” (Moraga ix).

When I set out to write a blog post based on option C, I was determined to make it joyful or somehow celebratory relating to my queer experience. As usual when I set out to write something contrived, it was a miserable experience, and I sounded more miserable on paper than joyful anyway. I don’t know why I felt the need to write something uplifting; maybe to avoid getting too personal, or to refute the widely held conceptions that all stories of queer identity need to be wrapped up in shame and guilt and trauma. But this is not fiction; this is truth, something that used to come so easily to me.

I think a lot of queer kids learn to lie at a young age, learn shame and guilt so early and hold it so close to their chest that it gets all tangled up in their innermost identity. I believe guilt is largely cultivated and valued in the Catholic Church. I don’t at all think that Catholicism is an inherently bad religion. I think there are parts of it that are absolutely beautiful. I still feel the swell of my heart at church when the scent of my childhood is released from the thurible. I still pray to God every day, multiple times a day, and feel the guilty prickle of my skin when I tell someone I am no longer Catholic, that I don’t know if there is a God. At night, I shut my eyes tight and complete the same ritual I’ve done as long as I can remember, because if I don’t pray for the safety of every person I love in my life, something bad will happen to them overnight. I feel silly doing this and sillier writing it out. I turn 20 this week, and I still revert to a child in prayer.

Like Cherríe Moraga, I knew I was queer at a young age. I did not have words for the identity, but I did have words for the punishment. I had always been a truthful child to a fault; I would tell my mother when I did something wrong, so much so that she would tire of my constant admissions. I craved my mother’s forgiveness like she was God herself, even if the matter at hand had nothing. When I realized that I was queer, it felt like a lie by omission. It felt like that sticky feeling of sin, where usually I would run to my mother and beg her to absolve me, I could not do that this time. I had to make a home in that terrible sensation, hoping either it would go away or God himself would come to me in a dream and console me, tell me it was allowed, that the priests and the Sunday school teachers and even my parents, with their offhand remarks, were wrong. 

The only way I have ever known to quell the voice in my head that acts as a twisted, condemning Jesus is to see my thoughts on paper. I write all of my terrible thoughts out as fiction and read them back. Once it is in the world, even just sitting quietly in a notebook, no one can take the thoughts away from me or make me destroy them. The only other way I know to feel absolved of the “sins” of the thoughts is through reading the words someone else has written, that affects me so closely. It is important that Moraga published this piece. It is important for queer people, especially queer children who may not have a label for their identity yet, to see themselves in the words of not just their  own, but of others. God is always in my head, a manifestation of the guilt I had internalized and cannot get around to this day. But he is quiet when I am writing, or when I am reading something that absolves me like my mother used to. 

7 thoughts on “The Unattainability of Absolutions: How Growing up Catholic has Shaped my Queer Identity and my Relationship with Literature & Writing”

  1. This blog post was so beautifully written and hit so close to home for me, that I started crying. Growing up Catholic myself I cannot even describe how relatable this post was for me. I too have stopped labeling myself as Catholic because I don’t agree with so many parts of the religion, but I can’t stop myself from praying every single night. Like you, I’m convinced that if I don’t pray, something terrible will happen and I can’t have that guilt rest upon my shoulders. I’ve struggled for many years with my religious identity and how it can fit with my identity as a queer person. Hearing about stories like yours that are somewhat similar to mine help me to know that I’m not alone in this struggle.

  2. hi!! This blog post was amazing, it both comforts me and breaks my heart that I can relate to your experience so deeply. I’ve been reflecting on my own Catholic upbringing a lot recently, especially the parts I miss. It hurts that the community I was raised in and loved so deeply is simply unwelcoming to so many different types of people- including myself. I feel that same pang of guilt when I tell people I don’t have a religion or necessarily believe in god, free thought after years of indoctrination can be really confusing and sad at times. beautiful work:)

  3. Thank you for sharing your poetically written experience. The feeling of lying to your mom is so painfully familiar to me. Whenever I recognized my queerness, I felt that I had sinned both by God’s and by my mom’s account. The inability to lie or perhaps compulsive need, to tell the truth, is something Catholicism drills into us at a young age. We must be held accountable for every mistake, every sin. It is exhausting. I can feel your exhaustion through the words you wrote. But writing about that feeling brings validity to your thoughts like you said. It is almost like a confession, I can imagine. For me, I find solace in reading similar experiences, as well as writing lists. I don’t write in quite the eloquent way that you do, but I find that writing lists of my experiences, memories, and thoughts validates my emotions and queerness, in the same way confessing to my mom did.

  4. Hi!
    I mean it when I say this blog post was beautifully written. Through the use of your metaphors and the symbolism of sin, I am able to understand the severity of repression members of the LGBTQ+ community have to deal with, especially within the Catholic Church. I too, have a similar situation and ultimate feeling towards the Catholic Church. Prior to the pandemic, one of my cousins (on my dad’s side of the family) got married. To preface, my parents are divorced, and they differ in terms of religion. My mom is Methodist meanwhile my Dad is Catholic. I however, am not religious at all. When I was attending this wedding, specifically the mass, I felt extremely uncomfortable. At the time, I was closeted to my family yet had a girlfriend. Within the ‘mass’, the priest cited statements such as “woman and man should be hand in hand” and that a “women owes themselves to their male counterpart”. I was extremely uncomfortable, as I sat in a space where I was not accepted for who I was and furthermore, who I loved. In terms of your post, I can relate to this sense of “guilty prickle on your skin”, solely for the way in which you are, and something that you cannot choose. All in all, great job with your writing; although the situation is unfortunate itself, I was able to closely resonate with you and your experience, which gave me some sort of comfort in knowing I wasn’t alone 🙂

  5. Wow… My mind is blown and my heart aches for you. This was absolutely stunning, and a little frightening to read of someone with such a similar experience to my own. For a long time, my Catholic upbringing has made me feel guilty for partaking, let alone enjoying, in any sort of sexual act – especially with other girls. While the scents of mass comfort you, they make feel sickly and shaky, and I have refused to go into a church for years now. I’m convinced if I look Jesus in the eyes, he’ll strike me down right then and there for seeking pleasure in bodies that are not his own, that he so generously offered up for us. I don’t want to reject him, but I can’t love only him, and I’m afraid this guilt is never going to ease up. I feel like writing has done for you what reading your piece has done for me just now. I felt absolved for a moment knowing you have suffered like me. Thank you.

  6. I loved reading this blog post it was so beautifully well-written and demonstrated necessary vulnerability to relate to Moraga’s poems. This reminded me of Angels in America because of Joe’s situation and complications with his faith while being queer. I know being Mormon and being Catholic are not the same, but they both share the critical viewpoint of the LGBTQ+ community as being sinful. It takes Joe a long while to come to terms to his sexuality even though he has been living this dual life for a while behind his wife’s back. I think the connection between the want of validation from Joe and the want of forgiveness on behalf of your mother both stem from a similar place of acceptance. In all, each story is unique and I thank you for sharing a glimpse of your own.

  7. This was really cool to read and your ability to put into words the catholic guilt that can quite literally stem from anything is so satisfying. While everyone’s relationship with God is different I think most share the same fear of praying for their loved ones and the consequences of not.

    No I do not agree with a lot of the same things as the Catholic Church. We all sin in one way or another but the definition of what is sinning has gotten so twisted, political, social, economical, and personal. I definitely agree that reading about similar experiences or view points settles the conscious a bit. I am not quite sure what to add to your post but I just wanted to say it really resonated with me!

Comments are closed.