In order to fully welcome all people, the Catholic Church needs to realize that each of its members enters juggling different identities, struggling to determine which one of these is best to reveal at the door. The idea that each of us manages different identities (based on race, ethnicity, age, orientation, gender identity, economic status, and many other categories) is called “intersectionality.” We don’t identify by only one of these markers, but by how the many different ones intersect with each other.
Intersectionality pushes us to see others as God sees us: whole and loved, regardless of what categories society places us in. Intersectionality remains incredibly vital in our increasingly divisive world, yet is seen little in media, culture, or even in our churches. We hear frequently about “the Catholic community,” or “the LGBT community,” or “the Latinx community,” for instance, but rarely “the Catholic LGBT Latinx community,” or any other sort of convergence of identities. Intersectionality honors a person’s experiences of identity, and places where each identity may intersect with others.
Recently, one online writer, Manola Secaira, wrote about her experience growing up as a bisexual Latina in a Catholic family, and how difficult it was to name her identity:
“I have no queer family, or at least no queer family members that are out. That’s the thing: Catholic Latinx folk don’t really talk about that.”
When multiple facets of identity converge, it can be hard to incorporate them all; instead, people are often made to feel like one part of oneself should overtake or silence another. In Secaira’s life, the Catholic or the Latina part seemed to overshadow the bisexual part.
In true intersectionality, however, identities should not have to be prioritized. They can exist simultaneously and live off each other, unable to be separated.
Strong distinctions in identity like these are experienced by many Catholics, but such stories often go unheard. The complexities falter as people feel that they are not “enough” to be in one community or the other. Xorje Olivares, a queer Catholic Latino radio host, echoed similar feelings as to why he continues to be so vocal about his identities:
“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.”
Secaira also wrote about similar feelings of invisibility, or of choosing one part of herself over another:
“Finding myself in literature and music was like building a collage of me, snipped from pieces of media that weren’t quite me but maybe part of me. I just wanted to know what I was feeling was real. When I didn’t have that, I felt like I had to choose one thing about myself to live with at a time.
“But I’ve never been only one thing. Most people aren’t. I’m not only Latina or American. I’m not fully in the closet, not fully out. I’m not gay and I’m not straight. I’m something that is just its own.”
Secaira cited queer Latina writer Gloria Anzaldua as the motivation to consciously read works by authors who shared similar queer Latina experiences. Even in her education, Secaira still was unsure about how to integrate these multiple facets of her identity, wondering:
“Wouldn’t it be easier to keep [my sexuality to] myself? Why, in situations like these, does it not feel easier? I feared what would happen if my strict, Catholic, Latinx family uncovered my identity. I wondered why inaction felt so stifling.”
This sense of stifling represents the opposite of what intersectionality hopes to achieve. Freedom, instead, is the result of living openly and honestly.
One role model who lived out each part of her truth openly and honestly was Marielle Franco of Brazil, who was the focus of a recent blog post entitled “Being a Woman, LGBT and Catholic in Latin America,” published by by the Global Network of Rainbow Catholics (GNRC).
An activist and champion of social justice in Brazil’s favelas, Franco, 38, was murdered in March 2018 because of her outspoken views in response to injustices in Rio de Janiero. A Catholic woman raised in the favelas, Franco became a figure for black, LGBT, and poor communities to look to for representation and hope, as she served as a Rio city councillor.
Franco exemplified this topic of intersectionality or layering of multiple identities; she was a living witness to it. She was black, gay, Catholic, a woman, and raised in poverty. The layers of identity weren’t something she could slip on and off: they were her life.
The GNRC post notes:
“Marielle was a woman, an afro descendant, a lesbian and she worked in favor of the poor that live in the favelas, where she also came from. In this context, Marielle was a person that lived and contributed from a place the Church nowadays refers to as The Frontier.
“For those who are not familiar with the traditional context of Latin American societies, we frequently witness the double, triple or even quadruple discrimination suffered by those who bear any of the characteristics Marielle united: she was a woman (gender), afro/native descendent origin (ethnic), LGBTI (sexual orientation) or poor (economic).”
Incorporating intersectionality means understanding people as whole people, with all components of their identities. Franco was not just gay, or just Catholic, or just black, or poor; she was all of these things at once. The core of Catholic social teaching tells us to end oppression and marginalization, and instead rejoice in the fact that we are all equally created in love. The root of the word “catholic” means “universal,” and what is more universal than acknowledging every facet of the human identity?
—Lindsay Hueston, New Ways Ministry, September 5, 2018