Faith & Feminism: Can the master’s tools dismantle the master’s house?

This beautiful guest post from John Freml, who incidentally, studied with our last guest blogger, Caryn D. Riswold, continues our Faith & Feminism series. See John’s full bio after the jump, and be in touch with if you’d like to contribute a future column. I’d especially love to hear some reflections by feminists with affiliations with eastern religions, as we seem to have a scarcity of their voices here.

Queer Catholics are in the middle of an extremely strenuous and unrelenting tug of war.  They are told by their church that their desires are a “grave depravity,” “intrinsically disordered,” and “under no circumstances can they be approved.”  Meanwhile on the other end of the rope, many secular feminists and queer people make little effort at understanding why queer Catholics choose to stay.  They are accused of selling out, succumbing to the pope, and even self-hatred.


While I no longer attend church regularly, and I usually call myself a “hopeful agnostic,” the Catholic church is still my spiritual home and has been since before I could speak.  I am a queer Catholic, in a healthy gay relationship of over three years, with queer friends.  I study queer subjects, I do not compromise my views in the face of opposition from the church, and I definitely do not hate myself.

It wasn’t always like this, though.  During my first few years of high school at Sacred Heart, my afternoons consisted walking to the nearest Catholic church and spending hours on my knees, begging God to change me.  I went to confession every week and told the priest of my debilitating “impure thoughts” (he would assign a quick “Hail Mary” for my act of contrition, and send me on my way).  I shed many tears to a God who seemed not to listen or care.

It was not until my senior year of high school that I had the courage to whisper three terrifying words to my English teacher after class: “I am gay.”  Her response, luckily, was of great joy and acceptance. (When I graduated, she gave me her own copy of Shakespeare’s sonnets, with a note that she hoped I would find as much happiness in them as she did; I treasure that to this day.)  Her positive response gave me the courage to tell Sister Linda, a nun who then hugged me and told me that God still loved me.  I really needed to hear that.  All of this finally gave me the confidence to come out to my entire theology class during a presentation on spirituality; I received an A.

These positive responses are what still give me hope in the Catholic church, and they are also the reason that I was so enraged when I first heard reports of the Vatican investigating claims of feminism and activism among American nuns.  They weren’t just after people with whom I sympathized; they were (and are) after my friends.

Audre Lorde famously proclaimed, “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.”  However, if all feminists and queers left the Catholic church in droves, I worry about who will be left to hug the young boy who just mustered up the courage to tell someone he is gay.  Who will let the young lesbian know that God still loves her?  Who will offer encouragement to the young person struggling with gender identity?

It is my desire that the church hierarchy, as well as secular feminists and queer people, begin looking at queer Catholics a bit more seriously and engage in a more sincere dialogue.  The work of groups such as DignityUSA are critical to this end.  I realize that much needs to change within the Catholic church before most of us can even think about glancing at it seriously;  however, my only argument is that everyone, on both sides of rope, has much to learn if we would only be open to listening to all of our stories, Catholic or not.  It is only then that lasting change can begin.

John Freml is a graduate student in the Department of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at the University of Cincinnati in Ohio, where his research interests include queer theory, feminist and queer theology, and pop culture studies. He earned a B.A. in German and Religion at Illinois College in Jacksonville, and currently lives in Cincinnati with his cat, Elsa, and dog, Bentley.

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