Spirituality and religion are complicated topics to navigate for many people, particularly when considering the ways religious ideas tend to shape societal views on sexuality.
Team CASSIUS spoke to Xorje Olivares, a Latinx media personality who identifies as gay and Catholic. He talked to us about his journey navigating life as a gay Catholic and how he’s found peace living at that intersection of both.
CASSIUS: Can you talk about how you were first exposed to Catholicism?
Xorje Olivares: I grew up on the border in a small town called Eagle Pass, Texas and when you grew up in a heavily Latinx community, especially one that’s Mexican-American, that means Catholicism goes hand in hand. I was an altar boy for 10 years. If we missed more than five Sundays in my entire childhood, that was too much. I don’t want to say my parents were strict about it — it’s not that my parents ever yelled at me to get ready for church. It was part of the tradition of who we were so we never really questioned it. Catholicism is something all my friends from back home know because it’s part of being from South Texas.
C: When was the first time you learned about sexuality in the context of religion?
XO: I was at a retreat in high school and the priest who my family was friendly with said to the group, “If you’re gay it’s okay. If there’s sexual intercourse, then it’s a sin. But if you are who you are, that’s what it is. God and Jesus still love you. There’s nothing to be worried about.” That was the first time when I took a deep breath and said well, this is fine. From age 10 or 11, to later on in high school, there were always these question marks in my head asking is this bad? Is this good? Am I going to hell? Do I have to be completely okay with the fact that this is going to be my fate? I think after he said that, whatever hangups I had completely went out the window.
C: How did that change the way you thought about your sexuality after the priest made that clarification “it’s okay as long as you don’t have sex?”
XO: See, that’s the weird thing — I never felt this call to be celibate. I was surrounded by straight people and all the good kids were going to church, but you knew they were having sex anyway. So why do they get a pass but people like me don’t? I thought, well if he said God created me this way, then what issue would be taken with however way I choose to express myself? Now that I’ve become part of the particular church group that I’m in, this conversation about how unrealistic it is for LGBTQ+ people to be called to the celibate life when no one else is adhering to that. Straight people within the church are trying to control our lives because they want to be able to control it and make our sexuality more palatable for them, but more difficult for us to actually live it.
C: How did the dynamic from you being in South Texas change when you moved to New York City?
XO: When I moved to New York, there was a church right across from my apartment so I would go to that church. I wasn’t engaging with anybody else, but that’s kind of a Catholic thing — whatever conversations I want to have with Diosito, are the conversations I have with Diosito. Then somebody reached out and said they were doing this documentary about being LGBT Catholics and asked if I wanted to be part of it as someone with a Latinx perspective. I did the documentary and it’s for a church here in the city that has an LGBTQ+ ministry, which is pretty much unheard of.
I started going to that church and I fell in love with it. I never needed anybody to pray with me, but just realizing you’re praying with someone who maybe had the exact same fears of what being gay and Catholic meant changed everything for me. That was 2-3 years ago, and now I’m still part of the church but I also recognize that it’s so progressive and so ahead of it’s time. I keep forgetting what an underground gay Catholic is for a lot of people. Because if I were to go home, I don’t know if it’d be okay to tell everyone that I’m gay.
C: What do you tell queer people who are surprised when you tell them that you’re actively involved in the church?
XO: It’s essentially what I’d tell anybody who has any sort of hang ups on religion in general: sexuality and spirituality are two deeply personal things. Nobody tells me how to pray, I don’t tell anybody how to pray. Nobody tells me how to be gay, so I don’t tell anybody how to be gay. One thing that I recognize, especially after starting to go to this church is that the same way there are people who embody queerness to a certain extent, there are other people who embody Catholicism to a certain extent. The same way that no one has the right to tell you when to come out, nobody has the right to take away your relationship with God — however deep you want that relationship to be.