I am a fifty-year-old Roman Catholic priest in a small parish in Nebraska. I entered the seminary during my third year in high school. I knew even then that I was attracted to men. Becoming a priest and committing to celibacy was my way of dealing with my fears of going to hell.
As I’ve gotten older, the struggle to resist acting on my attractions has grown more difficult. I have considered leaving the church and coming out as gay, but I worry about what the future might hold for me. My faith is still an important part of my life.
Recently, a friend of mine took me to breakfast with several of his gay friends who are my age or older. It was surprising to me that I didn’t see any difference between the way they live their lives and the way straight people do. They have jobs or are retired, do laundry, fix meals, and pay their bills like everyone. I don’t know what I expected.
I began to wonder, “Why are people so afraid of LGBTQ people?” I am starting to ask that question as I ponder coming out.
I really feel normal being gay. It comes from being around other gay men and seeing them as not different than myself or other people I know. I hope to someday pay back your kindness to me by helping someone else on their journey of self-discovery.
I try to avoid advising people about how to deal with issues of faith, but I can tell you it is one of the most complicated parts of deciding to come out.
When churches do not welcome the LGBTQ+ community, people who consider coming out often feel they must abandon their faith. Fortunately, some churches have become open and affirming, but so far the Roman Catholic Church has taken the position “It’s okay if you’re gay, but acting on it is not.”
Many people who consider coming out find themselves in a predicament. You feel you have a choice between two options: a bad one and a worse one.
While in the depths of these difficult choices, some men can begin to think of suicide. They find it difficult to believe there might be other options.
In making these decisions we magnify the negatives and minimize the positives, which paralyzes us. Giving up what we know for an uncertain future is difficult.
Your experience with these gay men was like one I had when I first came out. I went to a gay fathers’ support group. I immediately felt at home. I could be myself, unfettered and uncensored. I don’t know what I expected, but I also saw they were like me. It shattered every stereotype I had about what it meant to be gay.
I was also impressed with how diverse the group was. From the outside, I expected all gay men to be alike. I was so wrong. I immediately felt a sense of peace with myself. I could be the person I was meant to be.
People fear us because they don’t know us. That is why coming out is important. We don’t all have to come out in the same way. We can do it in small ways or carry a flag in a Pride parade. But the most important step is coming out to ourselves and saying, “I am what I am, and I’m okay with that.”
I do what I do because someone did it for me. I know you will find a way to pass it on to someone else, though how that unfolds may not be apparent to you for a while.