Coming out stories never get old. Each one is a gem: a blend of overcoming fear, dealing with rejection, sometimes being surprised by acceptance, and feeling the freedom of being authentic. These are all situations everyone, no matter what age or orientation/identity, faces, so it’s always good to hear a new story of coming out.
Damian Torres-Botello, SJ, a staff member of the Performing Arts Department at the University of Detroit-Mercy, recently shared his coming out story with The Varsity, the Michigan school’s student newspaper. The interview happened after Torres-Botello had already shared his coming out story at an event sponsored by the campus’ Rainbow Task Force.
He described his growing awareness of his identity when in the sixth grade he saw a Ricki Lake television show about gay people and he realized this description fit him.
He discussed that his first reaction was to hide and hope for change:
“He wasn’t able then to fully accept himself. He said he had enough to handle being a poor, overweight, brown-skinned kid attending a white, upper-class Kansas City, Missouri, Catholic grade school.
“As a young boy, even though he knew what he felt, he wanted nothing more than for his feelings to go away.
” ‘I prayed a novena to St. Jude, the patron saint of hopeless causes, to not make me gay,’ he said. ‘I attempted to pray the gay away.’ “
He related how he prepared for a long time to tell his parents who raised him in a loving family. Yet, when he shared the news, they kicked him out of the home. Eventually, his parents “came around,” though they are still not fully supportive.
His Jesuit community, however, does support him. In 2015 his superiors gave him permission to share his sexual identity with others. Torres-Botello reflected on how his faith and sexuality intersect with one another:
” ‘There is a misunderstanding in certain circles that saying “I am gay” implies I am sexually active, which I am not,’ he said. ‘Catholic religious men and women take three vows, one of which is a vow of chastity. In the conversation about identity, it is vital to know how someone identifies.’ “
“While coming out has been important in Torres-Botello’s life, it isn’t what defines him, he said.
” ‘I am many things and being gay is truly only one of those identities,’ he said. ‘Every aspect of my being informs my faith, my life and what I love. I am a whole picture, not one puzzle piece.’ “
This last quotation tells so much. First, it would have been great if Philadelphia’s Archbishop Charles Chaput would have heard this statement before he told the synod on youth that LGBT people see their orientation/identity as their primary identification. All people are composed of a variety of identities and we bring certain identities to the foreground under certain circumstances and bring others forward under other circumstances.
Respecting these identities is important because, as Torres-Botello states, “Every aspect of my being informs my faith, my life and what I love.” We should not forget this deeply Ignatian notion that God is found everywhere, in all creation. When people reject LGBT people, they are saying that there are some aspects of a person’s life where God does not exist. That is so wrong. We are the sum total of all of our aspects, our experiences, our ideas. Nothing is without God.
Finally, his statement that “I am a whole picture, not one puzzle piece” is a beautiful way to encapsulate the spiritual reality of all human lives. We are all whole pictures. No part of us is an isolated puzzle piece, and no person is a problematic puzzle that needs to be solved. We are all mysteries. I think that one of the reasons LGBT people challenge some religious people is because some people refuse to accept mystery in their lives. They are happier and more comfortable with clean-cut answers and neat compartments. Mystery transcends such controlled packaging. Mystery shows us that the whole is bigger than what we so myopically imagined.
What a gift Damian Torres-Botello is to the staff and students of the University of Detroit Mercy! What a gift he is to our church!
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, November 17, 2018
For a great analysis of how coming out stories are truly sacred texts, check out: