We all had a reason to be there – Forgiven by Alains Morissette
So I was brought up as a catholic and I want to talk about how it affected me growing up so you get a better understanding of who I am. Anyone who knows anything about being part of any religion and having a faith knows that there are lots of positive’s that come with it. I went to church every single week and I cannot I hated it for the most part when ever I was there I felt safe and protected. This only changed if we where on holidays. On holidays my mum would still insist on going to mass and would find a little church with no air conditioning where we would spend an eternity listening to a mass in Latin that I did not understand. On the whole up until the start of my teenage years I had only seen my faith as a positive thing but as I got older being a good catholic and keeping my faith was starting to become difficult.I started to questions everything I had been brought up thinking was right. I especially rejected the views within the catholic church at that time on sex and sexuality.
At the age of thirteen I knew very little about sex or sexuality. I did biology at school and I knew where babies came from but at school we where never educated about that act of sex or the fact we even had a sexuality. I remember at some point during my first year at high school all the girls in class had been called on and shuffled into a classroom. Shortly after this two nuns walked in and introduced themselves. We found out that one of the nuns had once been a nurse and she was here to discuss turning into a good catholic woman. We discussed the changes our body would go through things we would experience periods, breast and PMT but at no point did we discuss contraceptive , STDs or anything about sexuality. I guess the message was kind of simple to them don’t have sex until your married and marriage was between one woman and one man. To be honest at thirteen I did not know there was any other kind of relationship but don’t worry that was about to change.
Before I tell you how that changed I need to go back to when I was a little younger I was in primary seven at a catholic primary school and for me it was a normal day. I went in to find Nic a girl from my class who I did not really know that well in tears on the steps in the playground. Although we where not close it was clear to me she needed some comfort. I asked her why she was so upset and she told me it was because Freddie was dead. I presumed it was a family member or pet but I was wrong. She then went on to tell he was the lead singer of a band called Queen. I then noticed she was clutching a small pillow with a badly printed picture of the band on it. I did not asked what had happened to him but I remember that the teacher later came into the classroom and confiscated the pillow. At the time I had no idea why. Nic’s response to that was to get more upset eventually the teacher responded by throwing Nic out of the classroom because she was putting other children off their work. I never really thought anymore about it at the time but me and Nic did become close friends after this and although we did not discuss what happened that day she did introduced me to the music of Queen and for that I will be eternally grateful. We listened to Queen a lot in those early days and sometimes I would sleep over and we watched videos of Queen performing live that her dad had at no point at that time did we ever discussed how he died. I don’t know why that conversation never took place at that time but it just didn’t. I often think if it had would things have been different. Would being a catholic have had the same effect that it ended up having on me and the truth is I’m not sure.
So instead a couple of years have passed and I have just have had the talk from the nuns which has left me with more questions than answers. So I meet up with my friend Nic who I am still friends with despite the fact we don’t go to the same secondary school. I did not see her as much but I knew if anyone could answer my questions it was her. I told her about the nuns and she seemed horrified at what I was telling her. I asked her lots of questions and she went on to ask me if we talked about STD’s or contraceptives. I did not want to look stupid so I pretended that although it was not something the nuns talked about I knew what that all meant. I quickly regretted my decision as she then went on to talk about HIV and telling me that was what Freddie had died from. She told me that after he died she stopped going to church with her gran because people at church had said to her that Freddie was punished from God for being gay and having sex with a man and that’s how was dead. I was completely out my depth and had to put my hands up and tell Nic I did not have a clue what any of it meant. She could have laughed at me or told I was stupid but she didn’t instead she told me exactly what it all meant and what she said changed my world.
I would like to say that I walked out of Nic’s house and I walked home and told my mum I would never step foot in a church again but I didn’t. In truth days passed and I was just having a hard time processing everything I had found out and as a typical introvert I kept all my thoughts and feelings on the subject to myself. I guess I was having a crisis of faith but had no idea what to do about it. I brushed the thoughts to one side and decided I wanted to buy some music I had stared to experiment a lot more with music when I was hanging out with Nic but all I actually only owned some Kylie and Easy 17 (not that there was anything wrong with that I loved it and still own and listen to the albums at times now) but I wanted more. My Dad listened to Runrig, the Corries and Enya and while that was all well and good I was left uninspired.
I decided there was only one thing for it to look for some inspiration so I decided to go in town and as I walked in to the local Music store I was overwhelmed by the selection. I did not have clue where to start but four hours later and some music advice from the guys who worked there I walked out with three albums on tape the first was Queens greatest hits the second was Aerosmiths big ones and finally an album called nevermind by a group called Nirvana( talk about them at another time). I put them into my cassette player one after the other in that exact order and bang the rest is history.
I spent a week listening to the tapes over and over again but whenever I listened to Queen what Nic had said about Freddie just reacted over and over in my head So I did what I always did I went to my very catholic Gran to ask her for advise and get her opinion. I did not get the response I thought I would or maybe in truth I did but my Gran told me it was a disease that men got if they kissed other men, they got ill because in the eyes of God this was wrong and they where all sinners. I asked her if she though that gay people deserved to die and she went on to say that it was something that was nothing to do with her it was up to God and that was the end of this discussion. I had never thought that my Gran was anything less than perfect but in that moment I realised I was wrong. I felt that she was being blinded by her faith surly she could she this point of view was wrong. This was only the second time my Gran had disappointed me in my life the only other time was when I was eight and she told me that dinosaur’s where never here on earth and that the bones left behind where all fake. The dinosaur comment is something we all laugh about now but as for her opinions at that time on homosexuality it was no laughing matter but and I was left horrified but thankfully over the years my Gran views like the views of so many other people of faith have changed on the subject of sexuality and sex. In my Grans case I would like to think in part I was responsible for that.
Getting back to being thirteen. A few days had passed since the chat with my Gran and I was still struggling with it all and not telling anyone. Also around this time at school I was also struggling to fit in so I was spending lots of lunchtimes in the music department alone practicing my music. I was allowed to go to the music room to practice but I really should not have been allowed to eat and drink there but Mr Collins the supply teacher was happy to let me do it. I admired Mr Collins a lot he knew so much about all styles of music and there was not an instrument he could not play I guess I really looked up to him. On one particular day we got onto the subject of the music we liked and we talked about Queen. He was just in the middle of telling me about one of three concerts of Queen he was at when I blurted out and ask him how he felt about Freddie dying from HIV. There was a small pause and I thought I had made a huge mistake. You know I’m gay Mr Collins said. I sat in silence and for the next few minutes I listened just listened as Mr Collins went into lots of detail about his life and sexuality. After quizzing him for the rest of lunchtime I felt like my head was going to explode. As school ended that week I found myself at a crossroads with my faith.
That Sunday I went to church but I just could not shake that little voice in my head saying god is punishing them. I think that this was really the first time that I did not see my religion as a positive and was dreading going to mass. I loved Queens music and I really liked Mr Collins and I was just unwilling to accept that anyone deserved to be punished for who they loved. I did not understand why if God was so kind and good he would punish anyone let alone kind and decent people who just happened to love people of the same-sex. Mr Collins left the school a week later as a supply teacher and being gay I don’t think the parents liked him teaching in a catholic school but I have no proof of this. I really missed him. The following Sunday after he left I decided to tell my Mum and Gran that I did not want to go to church anymore. My Mum never asked for specific’s but I could see she was a little disappointed but she respected my decision. I guess she had seen it coming for a while I thought by not going things would change and they definitely did. I just had underestimated the impact it had already had on me and how hard it was going to be to switch off.
After I stopped going to church I started to question what my own sexuality was. How do you know ? what if I like girls ? what if I like boys ? what if I like both ?. I was overwhelmed by it all. I confused curiosity with sexuality. I was scared that if I thought any of my female friends had nice breasts or a nice round bum then I must be gay. There would have been nothing wrong with that but I was so scared. Then just as I was thinking about all these things it happened I stared to feel a horrible feeling in the pit of my stomach I could feel it rising up. I swallowed it down hard and dismissed the thoughts as fast as I could.That was the first but not the last time that I would feel like this. I now refer to it as my catholic guilt and now as an adult I have got a lot better control of it but still sometimes I let it win and takeover.
The next time I experienced it was the first time I kissed a boy despite how happy I was I also felt guilty and a little ashamed. I knew it was not wrong what I had done but it was hard to shake the thoughts. Then it happened again catholic guilt attack. I knew deep down there was nothing wrong with what I was doing but despite never going back to church I was allowing it to still really influence my life it was plaguing me and all my big special moments. I just wanted to have intimate and sexual experiences that did not leave me feeling guilty or left me with the overwhelming feeling that I needed to be punished. I was so hard on myself and I was letting it eat me up inside and it was affecting my relationship’s. I would push people away as I did not want to be intimate with them because I was afraid to be. I would like to say I woke up one day and all the feelings of guilt and shame disappeared and I lived happily ever after but that would be a lie. I have learned to give myself a break I have grown and through the support of an amazing relationship and amazing people in my life have learnt to accept myself and deal with my catholic guilt. I like to think that being a catholic also had many positive influences on my life as well. Of course there is no getting away from the massive negative connotations on it too but religion is also changing and evolving and my personal opinion is we use religion and sometimes religion uses us. I don’t practice any faith in particular now I like to think I taken a lot of the positive parts of lots of different faiths and believes and let them be a positive influence in my life. I class myself as spiritual but I do not let any one religion or person dictate to me how I should live or what my beliefs should be.