Question: When did you come out?
Andrew Sullivan: The first person I came out to was God. And the first conversation I ever had about this with anybody was in prayer. For me, God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit have always been my closest friends in this journey. It’s funny; I’ve never quite put it like that before. So when people tell me: "How can you be openly gay and Catholic?" My response is now and always has been: "I’m openly gay because I’m a Catholic." Because my conscience really... and it was not an easy decision, it was a struggle for a long time. I was a very precocious kid and I thought a lot about this and prayed a lot about it. And was because I really believe it was my moral responsibility as a Christian to tell the truth. Because I do not believe that the truth can ever be in conflict with God. And I think a lot of people are afraid the truth is in conflict with God. And are unable to let go and let the truth of the world, I mean, as John Paul II put it, the one thing Jesus tells everybody here that meets in the gospels, the most common thing that he ever says is, “Be not afraid.” And homophobia whether internalized or externalized is really fear; it’s not hatred, it’s fear. It’s fear of the truth about ourselves.
So, and the first person I actually told that I actually was going to have an emotional or sexual relationship was a priest. I went to confession and said, "Bless me Father, for I am about to sin." I did it preemptively, because I knew at some level I didn’t really think it was a sin. Then having done it and having entered that world, boy was it not a sin. It was a form of such lung-filling life that... such an obvious blessing from God, that it was absurd. I mean, not that a homosexual cannot sin, not that I haven’t sinned, not that there are some aspects of sex that are so powerful that they obliterate from our minds even an understanding or the sense of the presence of God. In that sense because they take us away from him, they can be sinful. But I mean by sin, simply forgetting God. 'Cause this stuff is so awesome.
On the other hand, I also believe that there are moments in sex that are so awesome that they actually reflect God. So I see no conflict. But to return to the basic question. So the first person I came out to was God, the second person I came out to was a priest, who himself, of course was gay because there are barely any who aren’t. And then my parents and my family. And I went home to England and I asked my mom and dad to sit down together to have a conversation with me, which is something I’d actually never done before. And they were kind of a little perplexed by this. And so I sat them both down in the living room and I said, "I just want to have a conversation with you both at the same time. I’m gay. I always have been and I always will be, and I’m happy."
And my mother, I mean these very English people, and my mother is also... I mean, they’re English, but Irish in origin and my mother’s devoutly Catholic. She just said, "What does that mean?" I said, "I'm gay. I’m a homosexual." I finally decided I wanted to clear it up. I think she was still grabbing onto various forms of etymology at that point. And then she said, in classic English fashion, "Oh my God! I better go make a cup of tea." This was her literal response to this question and she left the room to make tea, which is what the English do when all hell breaks out because you know... it’s a ritual, you know what to do.
And my father, who is and was like a bit jock, captain of his rugby high school team, captain of our town’s rugby team. A real man’s man, English, reserved, bent double and started sobbing, which kind of took my breath away. And I said to him, "Daddy, you know, why are you crying? I’m okay. I’m really okay. It’s okay. I’m happy, I’m fine." He carried on what seemed like forever. I’ve never seen my father cry. He only ever cried once before, according to lore, which was when Kennedy was shot and killed. And then when his own mother died. At least that’s... I don’t know if that’s literally true.
But finally I said, "Well, can you tell me why you are crying so I can respond to it?" And he looked at me in the eyes and he said, “I’m crying because of everything you must have gone through when you were growing up and I never did anything to help you." Which was some of the most beautiful words anybody has ever said to me in my life. And then I was a wreck.
And my father has been a rock for me every since. And again, it’s a long time ago, but it’s funny how when you say it again, that you remember how painful that was and how cathartic that was, and how tough it still is for so many people, and how much pain and misery that is still inflicted on so many people in the world. And we’d been reminded of it recently with these ghastly suicides; this horrible torture in the Bronx or in Queens.
But I guess at the bottom, so to speak, I believe that that was a moment of grace. That my father’s ability to transcend so much was God intervening and lifting us up to a better place and therefore all these things that are supposed to be contradictions within me and within many other people are not. They are actually just things we just don’t yet fully understand.
Recorded on October 12, 2010
Interviewed by Max Miller