Lordy, where does one start with this topic? At first blush I would say that Catholicism was certainly an inhibiting factor when it comes to my gayness until the age of about 16. Then it became, or at least the residual association with it, an accelerant and shoved me into the immense relief of out in the open queerness and self-acceptance. That whole process from brainwashed religious bot to actualized- queer took a good ten years but I had a lot of crap to overcome and it was the late sixties and early seventies in the rural Midwest.
I find it amazing that I was able to escape particularly the eight years of Catholic grade school indoctrination. Daily Mass and prayer at multiple times during the day were part of the routine. As impactful as the indoctrination was I now have only distant memories and not all of them bad. It is in a pathetic sort of way reassuring to be told without question how it all works and use that amazing get out of jail free card called “Faith”. Something that could be used to dismiss any pesky doubts one might have.
Oddly perhaps one memory that has stuck with me was the unmistakable almost chemical smell that emanated from the nuns. In hindsight I think this was most probably the smell of mothballs used to keep their habits, especially the winter wool ones, from being munched on by insects. I would catch the odor multiple desks behind me when writing studiously head down and focused on my work as Sister Mary Whoever silently approached from behind. I suppose it might also have been the starch they used to keep various parts of their Habit’s fluted headgear firmly erect, no small feat really. One reason perhaps they were never caught out in the rain but on most days brought umbrellas to the classroom just in case.
As I have written about on many occasions it was the influence of two high school teachers that had the most impact on my budding identity both politically and sexually. One was an actual gentle and loving male sexual mentor who I rather aggressively sought out because I thought I might be gay (I was right by the way!). The other a radical anti-war nun who also was a great mentor for all things political and taught me to question all sorts of things in particular U.S. participation in the Viet Nam war. They provided the perfect mix of the physical and cerebral.
The reinforcing validity of those relationships quickly showed me that much of what I had been taught both from religious and political points of view was total bullshit. In those years it was gratifying to integrate the joys of sexual, most often but not always solo, self-gratification and then a few hours later, to quote the Rolling Stones, “head down to the demonstration to get my fair share of abuse”. I was learning, and this continues to this day, to speak truth to power at every opportunity.
These days I am quite comfortable with the label of Gay Atheist though I appreciate the Korean Zen injunction of “only don’t know”. That I suppose is actually an agnostic position and if I put my human hubris aside for a minute I do realize my absolute insignificance in the grand scheme of things. I do appreciate that there may be a whole lot I am clueless about when it comes to grasping the incomprehensible vastness and complexity of the Universe.
If the Hubel telescope and its photographic journey out into the cosmos have shown us anything it is that we, and our measly little planet, are much less significant than even a single grain of sand in comparison. I do not find that disheartening at all but am left to wonder in amazement that I am here at all. What astonishingly good luck that is and I relish in it everyday or at least try to.