A Catholic trans man’s book review of an Evangelical queer woman’s journey of acceptance is a reminder that “Being an open, visible part of the LGBTQ+ community in a Christian church is never an easy task,” especially when “that visibility to give voice to the dignity of LGBTQ+ people in the face of a Christian culture that would prefer to erase various identities.”
That is the lesson that Maxwell Kuzma gleaned from Julie Rodgers’ latest book, Outlove: A Queer Christian Survival Story. In his review published in the National Catholic Reporter, Kuzma relates how parts of Rodgers’ story will resonate strongly with LGBTQ+ Catholics.
Rodgers grew up as someone who was “fiercely evangelical and passionately in love with Jesus with one small problem: She was attracted to other women.” Believing that “if she was good enough,” God would make her straight, Rodgers details her life working with various ex-gay ministries and the cycle of shame and disappointment she eventually experienced when she “discovered beauty and sanctity in her queer identity.”
Kuzma warns that Rodgers’ vivid descriptions or her struggles with mental illness and self-harm can make the book difficult for LGBTQ+ readers who have shared Rodgers struggles of being openly queer and openly Christian. He describes one particular episode:
“There’s a moment in the book when Rodgers is out in public and, for the first time, she’s not engaged in any kind of work related to being gay: She’s not speaking at an ex-gay event, or working on campus as a visible queer chaplain. It is then that she realizes her whole life is dominated by her queer identity, as if being queer is a glass ceiling, limiting how high she can ascend in an evangelical environment. She is always on display, always under scrutiny. Is she Christian enough? How can she support same-sex marriage? Why would she choose to call herself gay?”
For LGBTQ+ Catholics trying to work in Catholic spaces, Rodgers narrative will likely reflect their own story of finding the balance between being true to their faith and true to their queer identity. Kuzma describes it as feeling like you are “under a spotlight [you] could never escape, always visibly different than everyone else, always scrutinized more.” Outlove, as Kuzma describes, is not a book about theology, arguments supporting same-gender marriage, or even about LGBTQ+ Christian celibacy.
Rather, Outlove is about Rodgers’ growing understanding that theology does not matter to someone who does not want queer people to be a part of the church. It does not matter what words are used to describe their identity or how “perfect” they act. There are simply Christians who are so uncomfortable with the existence of queer identities that they will refuse every effort to help queer people feel at peace and at home in the church.
Kudos to the National Catholic Reporter for finding a trans person to review this book by a queer author. This action reflects Kuzma’s comments about Rodgers’ book. By publishing Kuzma’s review of Outlove, NCR is recognizing that “queer people truly have so much to contribute to the church.”
For Catholics, this book is a reminder that baptism makes Catholics full members of the church, so their contributions to the church should be fully welcomed and appreciated inclusive of their LGBTQ+ identities.
—Bobby Nichols (he/him), July 8, 2022