by Kristin Russo, co-founder of My Kid Is Gay
I came out to my parents when I was 17 years old. My mother, a devout Roman Catholic, did not take the news well. Only a year prior to coming out to her, I had also decided against being confirmed in the Catholic Church. Looking back, I can’t imagine how it must have all felt to her at that time. Her faith, at every turn, was telling her that her oldest daughter was walking, if not sprinting, down a path bound for hell.
Hell has never sounded like a real place to me. My mind has always categorized it alongside the fantasy lands of movies like The Neverending Story, a beautiful (or in this case, fiery and terrifying) metaphoric place created to illustrate larger themes and lessons. Hell’s lesson, in my estimation, was to simply say “Don’t be an asshole. Bad things happen to those who only care about themselves.” Which, funnily enough, seems to also be the lesson present in The Neverending Story.
But, I digress. Let’s skip back again to 1998, when my mother had all but convinced herself that I was swiftly sliding down a horrible and sinful path. She saw, from the outside, a person who was turning, as hard as she could, away from her faith. I understand why it might have seemed like that to her… but it was as far from the truth as possible. I wasn’t at all turning away from my faith, but was instead in the midst of a very important wrestling match with my beliefs and with myself, in an effort to create my own identity.
Confirmation had been explained to me as a marriage to the Catholic faith, a commitment to it for all time, and a personal choice. It seemed crazy to me to commit to a religion for all time when I didn’t yet know who I was, or what that meant in a larger, religious context. How can we ask that of any 16-year-old, truly? At the same time, I knew that some of the core parts of Christianity were very important to me -- loving others, not casting judgement, patience, kindness. And, on top of all of this, it seemed that much of Catholicism -- if not all -- wasn’t open to “people like me.” It was a lot to process.
I was also 16 years old. If I was in the middle of that wrestling match today, I would probably have the ability to sit down with my mother, to explain to her the complexities of what I was going through, and to hear her concerns and fears. At 16, though, you’d have been lucky to get much more than an angry quip, a glare, or a slammed door in your face. Communication is not the strong suit of most teenagers who are in the middle of such an internal battle.
In the ten years that followed, I explored my faith on my own terms. I found that I loved the solace that I found in big, empty churches. I learned to pray. (You’d think I would have learned this in my ten years of Catholic school, but that doesn’t compare to actually making the decision to have a conversation with a higher power.) I took religious studies courses, and discovered the incredible likeness between nearly all of the world’s religions. I thought about faith in a historical context, and realized the deep importance of belief and hope in what can be a very overwhelming and confusing world. I became a more spiritual person in those ten years of self-reflection than any amount of doctrine could have inspired.
When I was 26, I decided to make my confirmation. I didn’t agree with many of the things being done within and around the Catholic faith, and I still don’t, but I had found a deep connection to the underlying values that the faith offered, and I felt it was symbolic and powerful to commit to those values on my own terms.
When I was 26, I learned that being gay and having a relationship to faith were not mutually exclusive.
When I was 26, I was able to sit down and talk to my mother. I listened more carefully to the things she feared, I explained my own views of religion to her, and, believe it or not, we both learned. We both grew. Her view of her faith expanded, and my view of the importance of individual relationships with religion became clearer. After ten years of fighting each other, we began to walk back toward a place of shared respect and love.
Kristin is the CEO & Co-Founder of both Everyone Is Gay & My Kid Is Gay. She also hosted & produced the first season of First Person, a video series on gender and sexuality from PBS Digital. She co-authored the book This is a Book for Parents of Gay Kids (Chronicle, 2014), is the co-director of A-Camp, and holds a Master’s in Gender Studies from the CUNY Graduate Center in Manhattan.