A new memoir by a trans/non-binary poet who grew up in a deeply conservative Catholic community tells a story of rebirth that connects LGBTQ reality to the message of Easter.
In an interview with them, an online queer magazine, R/B Mertz discusses Burning Butch, their memoir of growing up in a Washington, D.C. suburb. Mertz was homeschooled with seven children in a conservative Catholic framework. They compared coming out as a kind of resurrection:
“‘I feel like queer people have to die a lot. We almost always die, except in the new movies. Resurrection is something that as a Catholic is just constantly there. In poetry and imagery and everywhere every Sunday, you’re talking about death and resurrection, death and resurrection. There’s the literal death of queer people — such as murder, suicide, HIV, and all the things that exclude people that makes life harder — and resurrection is just the hope that you won’t literally die and you will be able to recreate your life in a way that makes it desirable to stay in.
“‘I got top surgery last year, and so I’ve been thinking more about physical scars and transitions and new kinds of body imagery, which is [something] I wasn’t as much thinking about when I was writing the book. But that is very Jesus-y. Jesus is like, “Stick your finger in my scar to make sure that it really happened to me,” and that’s like a queer memoir thing: “OK, here it is, how it actually is to be this person who gets battered around in our culture.”‘”
Mertz offered advice to those who desire to “reconcile their faith and queerness”:
“‘I’m wondering, in general, if the book — or even the fact of the book — is placing me in a closer proximity to the Catholic church than I actually am. My goal with this book was to portray the humanity of the people within this toxic culture, not to make the culture appear less toxic. I say a lot that Catholicism and even Christianity are languages that I speak — maybe like variants of the same language — and that while I no longer have a horse in that race, I like horses. So, if I can speak this language and reach people who might otherwise harm their queer children or themselves because they’re only listening to certain parts of the literature of this language, I think it’s handy that I spent some of my most energetic, passionate years tearing through this literature, looking for signs, and that I was okay. And I did find them. On the margins. The Mystics, the forgotten saints, the trans saints of the early church that nobody talks about — but like queers everywhere else, what I needed was all on the margins.'”
Mertz offers a message that queer people need to develop authenticity before they can make peace with their religious upbringing:
“‘Catholicism and Christianity were bats used against me. But just because I was beaten with this particular tool doesn’t mean that’s always how that tool is used.
“‘I don’t recommend trying to stay in your religion to the point that you’ve tried to kill yourself about it. I say, leave. Make your own house and get it in order. Live your life — a true authentic life. Go and find people like you who don’t make you feel like you’re silencing some part of you. Then see what returns to you. What parts of your tradition do you want to go out and restore and bring into your new life? Which is redemption, I think, the idea of redeeming, of making something positive out of something negative, like art out of pain, meaning from suffering — and again that theme of death and resurrection.'”
In the Easter season, Mertz’s reflections remind queer people that suffering can be transformed into new life.
—Elise Dubravec (she/her), New Ways Ministry, April 20, 2022