“Have you ever had sex with a woman?” the priest asked in a condescending tone, as if he had the moral authority to judge me. I reluctantly said “no,” avoiding any eye contact with him. In a stern voice he asked, “Have you ever kissed a girl?” I looked back at him, wishing he’d stop asking me questions and again told him “no.”
I could feel the intensity of the situation increase, as the church’s tiny room got hotter and hotter. His smile grew like a Cheshire cat and in a patronizing tone he said, “You have not committed a sin, hija. It is fine to be in the relationship as long as you don’t engage in carnal sin.”
The intensity of the situation made me feel guilty for my sexuality that I was already in the process of coming to terms with. My parents had just discovered that I was a lesbian and forced me to talk to a priest in the hopes that he would “talk some sense” into me. Instead, I was disturbed that he felt entitled to so invasively interrogate me about my sexuality.
After this experience, I distanced myself from church and anything that had a tie to it. This fundamentally changed my life because I grew up devotedly practicing Catholicism.
When I was 11 years old, I joined my church choir and would happily go to the practices every week. There was not a day I would miss. Not only did I go because I enjoyed singing, but also because I wanted to feel connected to God.
My desire to feel closer to God was heightened by taking Bible classes. I wanted to learn about the church’s views on how to live a life that God approved of. While working on an activity about morality and the Bible, my catechism teacher secretly said to me: “You don’t need to do this activity Lupita, you already know to differentiate between good and bad.”
I felt empowered by what she said and knew at that age that whenever I needed to make a decision in life, I would know what to do.
But when I realized I liked women, that line blurred.
I could not understand how Jesus, who is supposed to love everyone, hated me and thought that me liking a girl was an aberration. When I realized how homophobic the church was, my world fell apart and I questioned everything the church taught me.
The contradictions in the teachings of love and the hateful behavior of the church made me a passionate critic of the Catholic Church. When I came to UC Berkeley I was exposed to how deep the hypocrisy was — Catholicism was used as a means to colonize the Americas.
The Virgen de Guadalupe was used to colonize indigenous peoples. She was a religious symbol in Europe and when they started to colonize, they pictured her as brown-skinned and changed her name to Tonantzin, the name of the Aztec mother goddess. Then they built Catholic churches over the remains of indigenous temples.
Indigenous peoples were more inclined to convert because the Virgen didn’t look foreign or threatening. Others converted when they went to their temples to pray to Tonantzin and ended up in Catholic churches.
The professor then said that the story was transformed and transferred over generations, ultimately making the Virgen a national symbol in Latin America.
I was shook — I grew up praying to the Virgen de Guadalupe, seeing people around me praise her, and was even named after her. But, after taking that class, I realized that the Virgen de Guadalupe was nothing more than a myth that stripped away the beliefs of indigenous people and served to colonize them.
The same church that had judged me for being a lesbian was also based on Western ideologies that were imposed on people of color. Colonizers practiced Catholicism yet committed mass genocide without the church questioning the morality of the violence. I was disgusted, realizing how the religion I deeply admired growing up was used as white people’s imperialistic tool to impose heteronormative norms and subdue natives to their capitalistic enterprise.
Although I respect most of the people in my life that grew up Catholic, I can no longer accept a system that has physically and culturally killed others. One that has demonstrated itself to be intolerant and hypocritical.
After my family learned I was a lesbian, I separated myself from church because of their homophobic treatment toward me. But now that I’ve become aware of its true history and purposes in Latin America, not only do I not want to be associated with it for its homophobic rhetoric, but also for its undeniable role as colonizers.
Lupita Lua writes the Friday blog on unlearning white supremacy and decolonizing aspects of her life.