Mary Katharine Cieslak is 22 year-old college grad who aspires to be a filmmaker, whatever that may mean in this ever-changing media landscape.
1) Tell me your “coming out” story.
I mean, my “coming out” story is still happening: I only just came out to my little sister last week!! That’s two out of eight people in my immediate family. Personally, I find people’s stories of coming out to themselves infinitely more fascinating. I think in cultures where it is dangerous to come out—and it is undeniable that Catholic culture is generally negative towards accepting anyone other than cisgender and heterosexual persons—there tends to be this self-repression of people within that culture. It took me 12 years to realize I was gay. I just compartmentalized all the little hints, the nagging doubts, and forced myself to forget. That’s just not healthy, and I think there’s also a danger that people will ultimately leave the faith altogether. Heck, it’s already happening, it’s been happening!!
2) What are your perspectives on SSA and being Catholic?
I really dislike the term “SSA” (same sex attraction). To me, it’s another way of disassociating queer people from that identity: “You’re not gay, you’re just a person with same sex attraction!” But you can’t discuss accepting your identity when it’s considered a tacked-on attribute, akin to having brown eyes or blonde hair. I admire how words and meanings matter very much in the Catholic Church, but here? It’s a conversation-halter. That shouldn’t be our goal. Catholicism isn’t a one-liner, so please, stop quoting Galatians 3:28 like you’re dropping the mic. Our faith is a constant dialogue between Scripture and Tradition. And a 2000+ year old conversation will not be nullified by people identifying as queer any more than people identifying by race, ethnicity, or nationality did.
3) How has coming out affected your life?
Well for one thing, a lot of personal questions were answered! But of course, many more took their place. It reminded me of how I felt immediately after I was confirmed in the faith: “Okay but, now what do I do?!?” In an unexpected but pleasant surprise, I do feel more sure in my body now that I recognize its intricacies better, even as I slowly, anxiously come out to people one-by-one. It’s become a journey of self-discovery, and I find myself getting excited each time the Church talks about this subject. More than anything, it’s has made me realize that my faith is happening, it is ever-present, and I must engage in dialogue with it! How could I not?
4) Who are your go-to saints?
Saint Jude, patron saint of hopeless causes!! *laughs* But in all seriousness, my go-to is my namesake, the Virgin Mary; she is such a benevolent Queen, a comforting Mother in a time where I am afraid to come out to my own. And I’m intrigued by the various discussions of saints and Biblical figures who were queer. The tomboy in me has always loved St Joan of Arc, so even if the idea that she is transgender is unfounded, make her the patron saint of it. Right now there is no official patron saint of any queer or MOGII persons. Give us someone, please!!
5) What advice would you give to Catholics who identify as having SSA?
You are made in the Image and Likeness of God, and you are loved by the Creator who made you. Now that you have discovered this new part of yourself, you can embark on this spiritual journey! And you do not have to make that journey alone. There are more and more of us realizing and accepting God’s creation within us every day. Seek us out. You were made from Love; you were made to be loved. Just knock.
6) What would you say to adults who struggle to understand homosexuality?
I was once like you. I thought, love the sinner, hate the sin. But love is not manifested through disapproval and disregard. How uninspired, how lazy of the Church Militant to approach its vulnerable members in this way.
Listen to the people who come forward. Make a safe space for people who do not. You are eager to direct people to God and show his love, but you cannot welcome them with one arm wrapped around them, while the other pushes them away.
Do not assume that you are never in the company of queer persons. Many times my father has unwittingly belittled his lesbian daughter at the family dinner, while in fear I bit my tongue on the truth.
Be gracious to people who fall from grace. The amount of times I’ve come back to confession pleases my priest to no end. Because the Church was made not to condemn but to save. Continuously. Constantly. Limitlessly: “A gay person who is seeking God, who is of good will — well, who am I to judge him?”