Telling the Stories of LGBTQ Catholics: An Interview with Xorje Olivares

Xorje Olivares is the queer Latino host of “Affirmative Reaction” on SiriusXM’s progressive channel.  He’s also Catholic.  Xorje has written commentary for several major U.S. publications, but Bondings 2.0 became interested in him because of an occasional interview series on LGBTQ Catholics that he does for the online publication them.  We featured a few of those interviews in a post last month.  Recently, Bondings 2.0 blogger Lindsay Hueston sent Xorje some questions to learn more about this prolific writer.  (For other Bondings 2.0 posts which featured Xorje’s work, click here.  He archives all his articles at HeyXorje.com.)

 

What motivated you to start writing about the intersections of faith – specifically Catholicism – and LGBTQ identity?

Even though I was extremely comfortable living as each of those identities separately for most of my adolescence and early adulthood, I’ve always had questions about what it means to bring the two together and actually thrive as a grown man. I’ve had my moments of strife mixed in with moments of triumph, and I’ve learned so much about myself because of it. I’m just incredibly proud to be both gay and Catholic since I found the perfect balance for myself (as others around me have done), and I just want to be able to tell others that our existence is real, it’s possible, and it’s pretty life-affirming.

Xorje Oliveras

What barriers have you run up against in writing about these experiences and issues?

I think I told myself that no one wanted to hear or read about these issues–that I’d get nothing but eye rolls for speaking out about something so valid to me, at least. Plus, there weren’t many outlets that were open to featuring queer Catholic stories. I’m sure a lot of that has to do with editors’ hesitance to highlight entities that have historically caused harm to LGBTQ people (and continues doing so). But I’m glad that several publications are now seeing the benefit of including these types of features. It proves that there’s a desire to embrace diversity, however it appears, particularly among other queer individuals.

How do your personal experiences and various identities influence your writing?

A vast majority of my writing is based on my experiences. I was always taught to write what I know, especially if there aren’t many out there already speaking from that unique perspective. I know quite intimately what it means to be a queer Catholic, particularly one who grew up on the Texas-Mexico border in a devout Mexican-American community where catechism classes were a must, and Sunday morning Mass was a weekly ritual. While that is specific to me, I’m sure at least one other person will find common ground through even the smallest of elements in my journey. And that’s who I write for because I keenly remember what it’s like to feel invisible.  I can assure you that someone who has even one of my identities knows that feeling all too well.

There’s a lot of dissonance between the Church and younger people, and the Church and the LGBTQ community. How do you continue to stay involved in this dialogue when it can be easy to just disengage and continue to be frustrated with the Church’s lack of progress?

I’m a proud member of Out at St. Paul, which is the LGBTQ ministry for the Church of St. Paul the Apostle in New York City. It’s through that group that I can be my whole self and share that with both my queer and Catholic communities, each of which hold a special place in my heart. I find it my responsibility as a member of that group to reach out to others and see if I can be helpful in their quest to figure out what it all means: what does being a queer Catholic look like in their eyes as opposed to mine ?; what are their frustrations and have they found any solutions? And I certainly learn from my peers, too. For those of us who are still church members, despite everything the Church has ever done, I’m curious to find out what would do us in.

How do you carry your queer identity and your faith into the Church in the modern day?

I definitely see myself as one of the more radical queer Catholics out there, in the sense that I am totally unapologetic in my identity and am unafraid of speaking openly about how I refuse to compromise my innate sexuality for the purposes of conforming to an antiquated institution that is still iffy about even letting me through the door. And I think that the Church needs that. It needs to see fully-realized queer people standing up for themselves because it in no way detracts from their devotion. I can be pissed at the Church for treating me differently and still love my church and my God.

Where do you see the future of the Church headed in regards to LGBTQ Catholics and their experiences?

It depends on who is leading the Church and if they actually care about its future since it’s no secret that people are leaving in droves. If we continue to share Pope Francis’s mentality–that God made gay people this way and He loves us regardless–then I think we’re making wonderful progress (though there’s a lot of work ahead of us). But then again, we’re also talking about the same pontiff who has made disparaging remarks about trans folks and has signed documentation that would bar out gay men from serving as priests. You then have a handful of prominent Cardinals who just last fall praised a memoir of a man’s conversion story, saying it would serve as a tool for others with similar attractions and struggles. So many leaders still view sexual orientation as a struggle when we see it as our truth. That’s a problem, and it leaves me worried. At the same time, I’m encouraged by the emergence of more LGBTQ ministries, like my own, nationwide.

What kinds of responses do you receive from your posts about LGBTQ Catholics?  Are there any that stand out?

Because my most-recent work on queer Catholic identity has been for an LGBTQ-specific website, I have received a lot of responses on social media from queer people who say they finally feel seen–that it’s comforting to know that they’re not alone in waging this internal battle between the sexual and the spiritual that is necessary in order to shape their true, authentic selves. The messages I receive definitely prove to me that there’s a significant amount of us out there. It’s just a matter of finding everyone at the right place and the right time.

But of course, I definitely have my critics, who range from traditionalist Christians who think that LGBTQ identity is inherently sinful to LGBTQ peoplethemselves, who are upset that I’m “defending” a religion that has traumatized them in a myriad of ways. I understand that people have their opinions and have reasons for forming them, as I do. I try not to take certain attacks personally. If people are hurt, I cannot (and do not) argue with that.

What are some misconceptions you think people have in being LGBTQ and a person of faith? How do you think you fight against these misconceptions in your work and in your writing?

Just because I’m Catholic doesn’t mean I refrain from being critical of the Church, its hierarchy, and the sometimes hateful rhetoric it espouses. If anything, I’m constantly reexamining my place within the Catholic Church because of its inability to modernize itself and its teachings. Like my fellow faithful, there are aspects of my religion that I appreciate greatly and others that I think are repressive, discriminatory, and exclusionary. Take the Church’s positioning on women clergy or LGBTQ sexuality. But being Catholic is ingrained in me, mostly because of my ethnic culture. And I really do feel that it has strengthened my understanding of who I am as a gay person. God made this choice for me, and I try and make sure others know that.

Lindsay Hueston,  New Ways Ministry, July 15, 2018

3 replies
  1. John Hilgeman
    John Hilgeman says:

    I first heard Xorje on the Progressive radio channel on Sirius XM. An interesting person with perceptive insights.

    Reply
  2. Ralph
    Ralph says:

    Great work Xorje. I attended Saint Paul the Apostle catholic school, graduated in 1967, school is no longer there. I received Holy Communion and Confirmation the church. Wish all parishes were this open.

    Reply

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