Most of my prayer-group buddies see my pro-LGBT posts on Facebook, and they don’t talk about me anymore.

From being staunchly Catholic to indifferent towards god The journey of a young gay man who admires JesusPixabay / Image for representation only
Blog LGBT Monday, February 29, 2016 - 12:06

By Timothy Jairaj

“You know something?”

“What?”

“When she left me, you weren’t there for me.”

L said this one day when he was over the breakup, and walked off with a smirk. A few weeks ago, he had cried over the phone. I didn’t know what to say. He never cried in front of me again. He was my first friend, and for a while, my best. His words pierced me like a sword. Like a stake through my heart.

It never struck me until then, that the few friendships I had were starting to bend and break under my heavy moral anxieties.

I was religious and all, so I was against all my friends having relationships. I’d tell on them, discuss them at our prayer meetings. I was the Mallu aunty no one wants to have. I was a nerd, a teacher’s pet. Teachers were always short of informants, and there were not many such students with no friends to lose. I loved rules. I loved torturing people with them. I’ve always been schadenfreude like that.

***

In the eleventh grade, I started failing in exams – after 10 years of A1 excellence. That year, I was the youngest-ever member appointed to the National Team of Jesus Youth Bahrain, and I found my identity and inner peace there. Cell meetings were the best. We leaders would gather together and pray and eat mini pizzas.

A slouching walk and a faded sling-bag are the easiest images to recall now, five years after. In that sling bag, there would be a copy of the Bible and the Catechism of the Catholic Church. I never read them. I just liked them being there. It’s like when you want to call someone your boyfriend just because it gives you the sense of a little more completion, not because you care about his feelings.

During one of the few regional conferences I attended as a representative of Bahrain, I met Cardinal D. He is an aged catholic bishop on a wheelchair, who plays the guitar and gives interesting sermons. I was thoroughly fascinated by his command. I looked him up, and found he opposed homosexuality. He said, “Homosexuality is a disease of the soul and it can be cured by the Sacrament of Confession”.

I just stopped.

A disease, he had said.

It pierced me.

I tried to go back in time…underwear models when I was 12 evoking a mysterious throbbing in my pants, and the ethereal pleasure in ogling mannequins, trying to feel their abs as I walked by, trying not to be noticed. Then I thought harder…my brother’s friend telling me to stop holding hands with my bestie L while walking around in church…we weren’t even near puberty, for sure…When I was around seven or eight, my sister telling me not to let my palm hang down, like daintily. When reminded of it, it was a near reflex reaction, my hand would straighten out stiffly, as if it were sure of something…

***

Being a youth leader, I had to be an example of Catholic Sexual Morality. To illustrate, L had kissed his girlfriend once. He confided in me, and I was furious. I ran to the priest, his name was Fr Jay.

Me, furiously: Father, is it a sin?

Fr Jay, excitedly: It was western no, lip-to-lip?

Me: Yes, yes it was.

Fr Jay: They got pleasure out of it. So yes, it was sinful.

It was his first kiss, and I ruined it. Cardinal D though, told me that having a girlfriend is not a sin. Another priest told me that if a potential seminarian showed up saying he hated women and was against girlfriends, he wouldn’t be allowed, because that’s bad attitude. 

L and I a good laugh about it a few weeks ago. He’s still a good friend; 16 years and counting. When I came out to him as gay last year, he didn’t take it very well. He had to talk to K, K had to calm him down. Then he read my blog. Then he was scandalized. Then he was convinced. K knew everything, he knew I was gay. K was also a youth leader in church, and a very, very close friend.

***

Trust me, I tried not being a hypocrite. I tried very hard to stop masturbating and watching porn and all those other intrinsically disordered acts. Many priests tried to put the brakes on my sexuality, with their exhortations to penance and their emphasis on how much Jesus loves me, and even by saying, “Would you do it if you knew Jesus was watching you?”. Now everyone has qualms about telling a priest their sins. But being gay makes it a wee bit harder. I had to say ‘Father, I have watched pornography and masturbation…and…and…some of it was homosexual!” Well, it was entirely homosexual. MSM, to be precise. Straight porn is plain weird. And for some reason, I never thought of lesbians.

It was only in the first year of college that I started asking questions. We had a few classes on the Bible in which we looked at it as a work of literature, and they sort of unsettled me. For one, I had by then become friends with people who drink, smoke, do drugs and have sex before marriage; who were gay and ‘straight’, believers and non-believers alike, and so I was confused. Where did goodness come from? In the silence of the rite of consecration during the Mass, I began to think.

My last confession was around two years ago on Christmas Eve. I confessed that I was with another guy. The priest told me that people are gay because of the sins of humanity.

***

Today, I don’t know what I believe in. Perhaps, I’m atheist. I sure am indifferent to God’s existence. It feels safe. This safety is often questioned; recently a friend told me that I became averse to the Church because I was too fundamentalist before, and realized that I was losing popularity among other nineteen-year-olds like me. I wonder if today my identity is just characterized by the absence of wavering.

I become sad when people say piercing things like this. Things were a lot simpler when I was a child. Sitting away from my parents somewhere in the front row, my concern would be not being noticed by anyone while tearing and eating bits of the Mass Bulletin, which contained hymns and prayers. Or making faces at people, as my mom watched in horror. Or, when I simply slept in the first row, and the priest would joke about it later when he visited my convent school. He made me smile a lot.

Good man, he was. He came for my Baptism party, and gave me my First Communion. As I received my certificate from him, he whispered, "You will become a priest, no?" I was going to. The Nuns also loved me. One of their congregations came from Rome, and I sent her back with a handwritten letter to Pope Benedict, but he never replied.

But all these people would be scandalized to hear me say that Jesus was a regular guy, who liked to tell interesting stories. He was popular, and kept tripping on the self-righteous priests. Just like Luther. And Barbara Harris, the world’s first woman bishop. It's just that I can't find Jesus in Churches or in confession anymore. Or in rosaries, through novenas and in ‘personal prayer for an hour a day’. I’ve stopped looking for the person, I want him to Rest in Peace, he does deserve it after all that effort trying to get people to loosen up.

Most of my prayer-group buddies notice my pro-LGBT posts on Facebook, and they don’t talk about me anymore. That’s what K tells me. When I’m down in Bahrain for vacations, I get fake smiles and cold shoulders from them. When Barbara Harris was interviewed about the community response to having a woman bishop, she just laughed and said, ‘No one can hate like Christians do’. No one likes dissenters. They hated Barbara for standing up for women’s rights. They wanted to burn Luther for speaking out against extortion by the Church. They crucified Jesus for speaking up for the poor.

***

Today, there are straight girls who ask me “You’ll (physically) fight back huh, if something happens?”, or say “You’re like my sister” and “I’ve always wanted a gay best friend!”. And those obnoxious bro-bro dude-dude straight boys, dripping testosterone.

Sometimes I get mad. Sometimes, I sigh. It’s just so unfortunate, that people’s notion of what makes a man a man is still lost in the darkness of some cave.

***

Going to Church today is always a fail attempt at going home. When I rarely do, it’s always with my sisters, or when I am home with my parents. I guess I’m still building this brave new world, and each tap on the keyboard is like laying another stone.

(The author is an under-graduate student in Bengaluru.)

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