Tales of a Heretic Daughter

Raised a good Catholic girl, I make everything a church. Folding chairs transubstantiate into church pews. Joan of Arc’s pendant is often my necklace. St. Christopher’s medal protects my car. Catholicism was as present as air in my upbringing. It is more a part of me than most things. I am not a practicing Catholic. I fear this makes me a bad daughter, always aware that my religious ambivalence disappoints my parents. This blog is my confessional, my reconciliation. Here, I lay my vulnerabilities. Through the screen of the internet, a heretic daughter describes that you lose more than your religion when leaving the faith.

My parents met though a Catholic young adult’s league. Their faith is their foundation. Sunday masses underpinned my whole childhood. Nightly, we knelt at my parent’s bed and prayed. I was always reaching for a rosary, some holy water, a tangible connection to God. I identified as devoutly Catholic for many years. As things changed, my values presented differently. I could not longer embrace Catholicism in the same way. This essay is not intended to critique Catholicism. It’s not my place to tell you what feeds your soul.

Catholicism feeds my parents’ souls. It has stabilized them through a myriad of troubles. For this, I am grateful. I can be grateful for this while also recognizing that Catholicism doesn’t currently resonate with me. I think it is hard for my parents to see that I can love them without loving the church. They are their values and see a rejection of their religion as a rejection of them. I want their approval. I want them to be proud of me. I want to be a good daughter in their eyes.

The art of submission is synonymous with the divinity of women. Really, the art of submission is expected of the vulnerable in organized religion. Or, this is how religion was explained to me. I was always told to be quieter, smaller. My parents felt a twinge of embarrassment for having such a brazen, audacious daughter. I don’t blame them. I exist as all the things they were warned against: loud, fleshy, unladylike, I talk about everything. I used to pray every night for God to make me quiet. The prayers went unanswered. My passion is a burner always on high. My tongue is a switchblade. I froth at the mouth when on a rant about things. It’s a lot. I am a lot. But, if I am made in God’s image, that all of this is good– all of it is a reflection of god.

I am still the good daughter: honor roll, Magna cum laude, a job after graduation. I pay my own bills, make sure my car has a full tank of gas. I say please and thank you. Yet, I am not the perfect daughter. I am loud, a radical queer feminist, a brazen woman who demands to write her own rules. I am still trying to redeem myself from ideologies I don’t subscribe to. I’m still vying for my parent’s approval. I do think they’re proud of me, but it is always with an asterisk, a parenthesis, some condition. I love and respect them. In some ways, writing about them feels like a betrayal, that I have breached their trust. Families mire in complications. It is possible to both adore my parents and acknowledge how we’ve differed. I don’t think there’s shame in that.

At sixteen, my father shared three red pamphlets with my brothers and me. “Sex and the Catholic Teen”: the rhetoric was shaming, patriarchal, and unhealthy. It stressed the importance of virginity, how such physical intimacy should be reserved for marriage. The gist was: don’t have sex before you’re married. But what if I did? Would God abandon me in the wake of my sins? Is the congress of two consenting bodies the worst thing we can do? I didn’t think so then. I don’t think so now. But I just slumped in my chair. I did not argue. Good girls don’t do that. I didn’t have sex until after leaving my parents house, didn’t want to ruin myself in that way while still in there way. I was damaged in other ways. I was an anatomy of ruins cloaked in the body of a girl.

Ten years later, I think sex-negativity could be talked about in terms of value and not the value of your body. Rather, we could teach people that they don’t have to use their bodies to get value because it is already valuable. Because they are already valuable.

Of course, I would be remiss to unfold the relationship with my parents and religion without discussing my current romantic relationship. I am dating a woman. I could say it isn’t a choice, but I am also attracted to men. I primarily dated men previously. Therefore, it is a choice. I chose her. I don’t regret it. What hurts is that whether it’s religion or generational differences, my dad still doesn’t know about her. She is still a secret my mom asked me to keep. Her ask is a plea for peace, a prayer to not disrupt this family. I’ve been a fault line before.

I think I would have been fine if I had never dated women. I could have been satisfied continuing to exclusively see men. Fine is not whole. Satisfied is not full. We don’t get to sever ourselves into fractions and say we are all we can be. I waded through a quarter of a century before I could un-tether myself enough to trust another person and allow another person to love me. That person happens to be a woman. I wish I could say I’m 100% proud, but there is internalized homophobia lurking in there, the “what if” of heteronormativity ever present. There’s a weird embarrassment or fear of being tainted by my own queerness. The only way to process that, for me, is to write about it. To claim these reflexes rather than scurrying away into protected norms. I don’t see a lot of normal, unglamorous folks out here processing the gray area between gay and straight. There’s something taboo and sensitive there.

I remind myself that heternormativity is what I’ve been conditioned to think and feel. What I actually feel is love. Love is the truth. Love is the compass. Heck, attraction is a better compass than the phobias we’ve been shackled to. I lack a crystal ball with every answer for my life to come. All I have is now. Right now, I am in a healthy, generous, and loving relationship with someone who respects me. It is new and imperfect. I am choosing to stay within this haven, while acknowledging that I may lose my father for it. I want to be a good daughter, reader. But I want to be a whole person more.

I don’t like to think about sin or hell. We don’t become better people by avoiding bad behaviors. We become better by adding in the good. My parents do a lot of good, and I think it is tied to their values and beliefs — ones I observed growing up. They echo in my conduct– not that I am a saint, but that I try to do good daily. I try to make others’ burdens lighter. I feel like their daughter when I do that. I feel like their daughter when I enter a Cathedral or ornate church, and I feel something.

I want to be a good daughter. I want to be moved by mass. I wish the scripture resonated with me like it does with my parents. The rituals, passages– none of it has ever left me. But they rattle hollowly when I perform them. Remnants of my upbringing surface from time to time. A car accident triggers the sign of the cross from my hands. I pray to Saint Anthony whenever I lose the TV remote. My faith is a heritage I cannot unbind from my DNA. I believe in God, and I think God loves me. I think my parents do too, even if we are praying to different Gods under the same sky. We just worship in different churches. For mom and dad, church has four walls. For me, church is inside the arms of everyone who has ever loved me. Mass is tender and sustained eye contact. The holiest hymns I’ve heard are people opening up to me. There aren’t any saints or sinners but a bunch of people doing the best they can. My religion doesn’t have a name but you know it when you see it. I hope my parents can see it.

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