Blessed Are The Troublemakers
I joined Blessed Is She with the intention of cultivating intentional Catholic sisterhood with likeminded women - women who love the Lord, His Church, and each other. That's not what I got, though. Read on the find out how it all went down.
** ALL NAMES HAVE BEEN CHANGED OR BLURRED TO PROTECT THE IDENTITY OF THESE WOMEN, AND ALL PHOTOS HAVE BEEN BLURRED FOR THE SAME REASON**
When I initially discovered Blessed Is She via social media, I was thrilled - a community of Catholic women who are pursuing Jesus! Exactly what I’d desired. Ever since deciding to become Catholic a year ago, I've longed for a community of other women who can walk with me on the path to Heaven. These women seemed like my tribe. I joined the Facebook group and introduced myself, and was met with mostly positive reactions. This happened, but it was resolved quickly, and I felt buoyed by the support of a few good women.
I moved on, looking forward to joining my New York City Area group for small group fellowship. The founder even reached out to me to tell me that I was welcome, and that she was glad that I was there.
As part of our small group fellowships, we meet twice a month in each other’s homes, cycling through members so that all who’d like to host our gathering get the opportunity to do so. Since I’ve joined, our meeting have mostly been in Brooklyn or Queens, up to an hour away from me via public transit. Despite the distance - and the misbehavior of the MTA on early weekend mornings - I dutifully left my house at 8AM on Saturdays to go and be in fellowship with these women I considered my friends and sisters in Christ. I was regularly one of the only people coming from Manhattan, and almost always the only person coming from Harlem.
I was participatory, prayerful, positive, and kind. I was regularly the only person of color in attendance - and when I was not, I was one of only two. I was certainly the only gay person in attendance. As such I sometimes provided insight into what it’s like to live as a Black person and as a lesbian in a world that is often unkind to me, and in a Church that doesn’t fully understand or accept me. Sharing in this manner often yielded tight lipped smiles and sympathetic nods, but nothing more. All of that notwithstanding, I always listened to the trials of my sisters, offered encouragement, prayed with and for them, and always offered whatever help I could when a sister was struggling, including personal and professional contact information.
Sometime in late January or Early February, prior to the start of Lent, I asked our group’s co-leader, Martha**, if I could host one of the gatherings. She responded enthusiastically, and we set a date.
A few days later, she texted me apologetically, asking if we should reschedule my date. I was wary, but I agreed.
I should've listened to my first instinct. As a Black person I can feel a microaggression coming a mile away, but as a woman I deal with a lot of gaslighting, both from myself and other people. I convinced myself it was for a good reason - "There's a bunch of people in our group who were here before me, I'm sure they want their chance to host too, and Martha** said I'd get my chance, so it'll be fine"
I doubted myself into believing that these people had my best interest at heart. I gaslit myself into thinking that these folks cared about me at all.
Gotta be quicker than that, Syd.
We never got around to rescheduling my date, but I refused to give in to my gut instinct yet again. I figured it would happen after Easter, given that we were approaching the end of Lent and Holy Week, busy times of seeing family and important times for prayer and reflection. Then, on the Wednesday of Holy Week, our entire BIS NYC group received this email:
That was it. Completely out of nowhere, after zero heads-up, no voting, and no discussion or input from the rest of us. It took a moment for the sensation to settle in, but it finally did - I got played. Really, truly, honest-to-God played. This email disarmed me for a few reasons:
Why split us up? We so enjoy one another’s company altogether. Yes, many of us have to travel a ways to get there, but none of us hated traveling so much that we wouldn’t come.
BIS Harlem - given that I’m the only person that regularly comes and participates from Harlem and have offered to host and cook on multiple occasions, wouldn’t it have made sense to at least ask me to help organize the group in Harlem?
Why the repeat of the mission statement, and the disclaimer about Church teaching? What was the point of that?
I’ll tell you what the point was. It was to make perfectly clear that “Hey, we’re hiding our own personal bigotry behind the inherent bigotry of this particular Church teaching, and we’re stating it here so that you get the general gist of it and so we don’t have to have an uncomfortable face to face conversation”. We’re all adults here. We could’ve had a conversation about this - but instead of being straightforward and challenging themselves to be charitable, open minded, and kind, they lied to me, avoided me, deliberately excluded me, and then hid behind an email. The manifestation of fragility and cowardice here lies in their outright unwillingness to be uncomfortable and to examine a frightening potentiality for them: the chance that, maybe just maybe, the Church teaching they hold so dearly is harmful to others.
For them - these majority straight, White, middle class women - Church teaching is a pair of blinders they put on, enabling them to see their perfect narrow path of following Jesus ahead. But blinders blacken peripheral vision, leaving you vulnerable to oncoming traffic, a woman who’s just fainted behind you, the homeless person at your left elbow. Just beyond their blinders are the people who are not like them - Natural Family Planning works perfectly for them, but what about the exhausted 33-year-old mother of 5, who knows she and her husband can’t handle more kids, but struggles with implementing NFP? Our bodies and the act of sex are beautiful gifts from God to a married couple! But what about the lesbian couple whose love itself and expression of love is deemed as sin? It’s not their problem, so it doesn’t register.
I let myself believe that these women cared about me, wanted to include me, and were excited to walk with me on my journey. How could I have been so blind? I should've kept my guard up - why weren't the tight lipped smiles and deafening silences when I shared enough to warn me?
When you are desperate to belong, you will trick yourself into believing the most unlikely scenarios just so you don't have to hurt and be lonely anymore. It's been happening to me my whole life. In 5th grade I played lackey to a group of girls who told me they'd let me hang out with them if I sharpened their pencils for them and got their coats to go outside to recess. I dutifully, almost proudly (ugh) trudged back and forth to the pencil sharpener, back and forth to the coat rack for WEEKS before a teacher noticed what was going on. In my mind I told myself that they wanted me to do their tasks for them because I was best at sharpening pencils and because I folded their coats over my arm neatly and didn't drag them on the floor. I kept telling myself that "This is what friends do for friends", even though anytime I asked one of them to sharpen my pencils or get my coat, they never did. In my loneliness, I didn't see anything wrong with it. I was a traumatized, bullied kid. The idea that I had to work to earn the friendship of my social betters who deigned even to tolerate my presence was not foreign to me, although it most assuredly should have been. I kept candy in my backpack to give out, hoping that would gain me friends. All of it, to no avail. I'm sensitive about this kind of thing, as you can see. And for good reason. To this day my anxiety lies to me by the minute and tells me that the people I love only pretend to like me - 15 years later I remain that bullied little girl inside. Nevertheless, I try to tell myself regularly that I belong, that I am worthy of friendship, that I am funny and nice and fun to be around. But I still bake sweets when new folks come over. Just in case.
All this talk of charity, and yet they actively wash their hands of the sufferings of those who are meant to be their compatriots and journeymen on this struggle towards Heaven. They choose to remain inside their bubble - a bubble in which this particular Church teaching doesn’t bother them because it doesn’t apply to them. They avoid leaving that bubble because it means examining not only their own personal prejudice and biases, but also examining the scarier thing - that Church teaching on this particular subject might just be hurtful, counterproductive, alienating, and detrimental.
The Church teaches that being gay is not a sin, but that having intimate same-sex relations is. The Church has a lot of beautiful, wonderful teachings - this one is not quite one of them. I literally agree with everything else stated in the Catechism except for this. I would likely feel the same if I were straight - because cutting someone off from the physical and emotional intimacy of marriage purely because of their orientation should trouble decent person.
If we’re not supposed to have shame around our sexuality because it is a God-given gift, why are we telling large swaths of the Church population that the only correct choice is to be totally celibate for the rest of their lives? Dismissing us, many repeat the refrain “God never said this life would be easy”. He didn’t, but he also didn’t say He would make it unnecessarily difficult. We all have crosses to bear. And then, you will get the squeaky clean LGBT Catholics who fawn over the teaching and profess to be totally happy with celibacy - awesome. Good for you! No, seriously, good for you! I hope your happiness with celibacy isn’t rooted in internalized homophobia and self hate, but in a deep calling and vocation to chastity that you would’ve also embraced if you were straight. The fact is that lifelong celibacy fundamentally cannot and does not work for everyone. If it did, we’d all be priests or sisters. We are all called to be chaste until marriage, but lifelong chastity is a calling, which naturally means that not everyone will receive that calling. The Church teaching against same sex intimacy is rooted in the idea that, because same sex intimacy is not procreative, it is not unitive in the same way that heterosexual intimacy is. his groundbreaking book God And The Gay Christian, Matthew Vines lays out comprehensive Biblical defense of same sex marriages. Though written from a Protestant’s perspective, his analysis is applicable to our lives as Catholics:
“The church’s condemnation of same-sex relationships seemed to be harmful to the long-term wellbeing of most gay people. By condemning homosexuality, the church was shutting off a primary avenue for relational joy and companionship in gay people’s lives. That wasn’t the case with other sins. Avoiding other sins always seemed to work to our long-term benefit”
- Matthew Vines, God + The Gay Christian
I'm not getting into the marriage debate, because I'm happy with what my blood pressure looks like right now - but I maintain the view that same sex relationships are life affirming and unitive. Without getting graphic I can assure you that non-heterosexual intimacy can be just as unitive as heterosexual intimacy. I could say more but I won't, not only for modesty purposes, but because I shouldn't have to defend my marriage or the sanctity (I said what I said) of my marriage. And don't get my started on procreative - what about infertile couples? Or an intersex person who may be sterile? If it's just about the symbolism of a man and a woman as being able to create new life, even if they aren't, then that's just exclusionary.
When a close friend of mine finally spoke to the founder of the group, she said this.
That second photo in the above series was what sucks most.
They were uncomfortable. Afraid. Afraid to come to my house.
Afraid to come to my house because they might see my loving wife. Afraid to see our wedding photos on the wall. Afraid to see that our home, our life, our love is completely and entirely normal. Afraid to come to my house and sit on my gay couch and eat my gay food and breathe my air.
That hurt more than anything.
Besides myself, there's another active Black woman in our NYC group. She is intelligent, witty, devout and a fantastic writer. Why were neither of us asked to write for the blog?
On the long list of things that bother me here, perhaps the most pressing matter is that these people I considered to be growing friends lied to me, avoided me, deliberately excluded me and then hid behind an email.
If I were being petty, I'd say that there are thousands of women in the ministry and that I can guarantee you that one of them is using birth control. I can guarantee that some of them gossip. I can guarantee that some of these women curse, don’t make it to Mass every Sunday, don’t experience Confession regularly, and commit a long list of other sins. But I'm not petty, so I won't. And to be perfectly honest, whoever those women might be, I stand with and sympathize with them. Life is so complicated and so messy, how could I judge them? But because I dare to live my truth, be myself, and air my “sin” out loud, I get punished? Because I refuse to lie, I am excluded?
It's been a little over two weeks since this all went down, and I'm still processing how I feel. I forgive everyone involved, but I don't forget. I know other women of color and LGBT Catholics who need a space to be in fellowship, so I'm in the process of creating a group of my own.
I don't quite know what my aim was with publishing this, but I needed to get it out. So here.