I just left a phenomenal gathering of activists, clergy, social workers, researchers, and other experts sponsored by the Religious Institute to put together a guidebook about how spiritual communities might provide pastoral care to bisexual people (and others who don’t easily fall within a straight/gay binary). At one point, we were asked to write down one sentiment we felt was key for the guide to address. Mine went something like this:
Someone should not have to choose between her sexual identity and her religious tradition.
As a bisexual woman, the issue of choice is a complicated one. It makes people nervous to know that, hypothetically, the world of romantic attraction is so “wide open” to someone like me. (I say hypothetically because, back when I was single, I only fell in love about once every five years — it was so rare that I was thrilled when it showed up, no matter what form it took!) Although this is less an issue with my generation and those after me than for those who came before, there’s still a subtle pressure to “pick a side.” C’mon, which one are you really? Are you gay but you want straight privilege? Are you only willing to come “half” out of the closet? Are you still “figuring things out”?
As a bisexual woman, I don’t want to be pushed into “choosing” whether to deny my attractions to women or to men, when the reality of attraction is much more complex than that. I feel equally uncomfortable when faced with pressure to “choose” whether I’m Catholic or bisexual, Catholic or feminist. Last week, I saw a bumper sticker that declared, “You can’t be pro-choice AND Catholic.”
I wanted to add a sticker that said, “YOU don’t get to decide who is Catholic.”
Unfortunately, I think a lot of progressive Catholics feel this pressure to choose sides: Where do you really stand? Are you pro-choice OR Catholic? Are you gay OR Catholic? And it doesn’t just come from Catholicism, either. It often comes from the political or personal communities we find ourselves in: “If you’re a feminist, why do you continue to align yourself with a religious tradition that oppresses women?”
But just as issues of sexuality, reproductive rights, and women’s equality are complicated and nuanced, so too is the Catholic church, including all the clergy and lay that comprise it now and throughout history. So, too, are each of our relationships to the places we call our spiritual homes. Pressuring anyone to “choose sides” when it comes to core aspects of her identity is a form of spiritual violence, and it’s not okay. So rather than go into intensely personal territory when these different aspects of identity are challenged, sometimes I’d rather just exist quietly in this inbetween space. Perhaps the next time someone asks, “How can you be both x and y,” I’ll simply respond, “Because I am.”