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Some years ago a tall, handsome straight artist friend of mine complained that he was being stalked by a Greek Orthodox archimandrite. The black veiled archimandrite had apparently seen my friend painting outdoors and inquired about his art. Fascinated by the trappings of Orthodoxy, my friend accepted an invitation to dinner and later included the archimandrite on his list of friends. Platonic spirituality soon gave way to raw human nature, however, when the archimandrite began making sexual advances. Then he asked my friend to accompany him, all expenses paid, to Mount Athos, where they would share a remote monastery cell. Although my friend made it clear that he was not interested in the trip or in doing anything as a “couple,” it would take a few more weeks of stalking before the archimandrite packed his bags and shipped out to the Holy Mountain alone.
Queer and Catholic, a new anthology of queer Catholic writing, reminded me of my artist friend if only because some of the stories reveal how sex and religion are powerful co-conspirators when it comes to seduction and subterfuge.
Editors Amie M. Evans and Trebor Healey have included over thirty-five essays that cover the full range of the Catholic growing up experience. Many stories describe ‘Catholic guilt’ connected with sex and coming out; other essays sashay into full blown erotic writing. Kevin Killian’s well written, “Chain of Fools,” in which Killian, then a lusty sexy Catholic schoolboy, describes his various encounters with priests and monks, most notably a black robed brother who had the young Killian bury his head under his “tent.” (No doubt this is how the honorable archimandrite wanted to camp out with my friend).
“His black robe made a vast tent, a dark tent I wanted to wrap myself in and hide in forever, with only his two bent legs and his shadowy sex for company,” he writes. Unlike some essayists in the book, Killian never completely gives way to erotica, which I think is a good thing. Mixing raw sex with spiritual and theological concerns never does either justice. It’s always been my view that descriptions of raw sex tends to diminish the importance of a serious exploration of moral issues.
Killian, unlike all those altar boys who claimed they were coaxed against their will to have sex with the parish curate, was a willing, even eager participant. As a teenager he did not mind it at all when his name was put on the lusty available schoolboy list that was passed around to ‘host priests’ seeking sexual variety. The priests, not shockingly, could never remain faithful to one boy for long.
The juxtaposition of fun and seriousness in this book has its climax in the interview with ‘Sister’ Soami, one of the four founding members of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. The not-so-fabulous attire of today’s Catholic sisters (utilitarian, dour and secular) could not stop the queer sisters. “We self respecting drag queens could not allow such fabulous attire to moulder in convent attics and closets. Truly, our intent has never been to trash the Roman sisters, but rather to honor and emulate their unstinting devotion and work within our communities,” ‘Sister Soami says. With convents all over the world, the queer ‘order’ actually has rules for admission. (A postulant may be required to dress as in a Catholic school girl uniform).
In ‘Fragments from a Catholic School Girl’s Memory,’ Ami Evans describes her quest to be a saint and a martyr, with Saint Joan of Arc as her patron saint. “I would have my own holy day, statue, and list of duties and responsibilities that people would pray to me to take care of for them. Old women would come to church to pray to me and young girls would choose my name as their confirmation names…”
Editor Healey describes his boyhood impressions of Protestantism. “I worshipped in big cathedrals with an organ soundtrack by Bach, surrounded by stained glass, states and incense, while they sang lame hymns in white-washed rec rooms. Our priests wore robes while their ministers wore suits and looked like car salesmen….”
Writer J. R. G. De Marco describes his first sexual experience with a fellow altar boy in a church basement. “I felt light-headed,” he writes, contemplating the moment. “I wanted this to happen even though I knew I would burn in Hell. The cries and moans of the spirits assaulted me and I began to resent them.”
This anthology is like a Catholic Satyricon filled with easy reading from both current and former Catholics, although once a Catholic, as this book confirms, the template is always there. This is further proof that the great French poet Arthur Rimbaud was right when he said, “We are a slave to our Baptism.”
QUEER AND CATHOLIC
Edited by Amie M. Evans and Trebor Healey
Paperback, $24, 352 p