How My Priest Helped Me Come Out

Question: How did you come out?

Dan Savage:  Yeah, I mean I was raised in a really religious family, Evangelical Catholics.  My parents were in Catholic Marriage Encounter for the Tristate area and I went to a seminary and I was thinking about becoming a priest. And I realized I was gay pretty early and I think I had intimations even as like three and four years old that, you know, I told my mom that I was going to be a girl when I grew up.  And what does that mean?  Was I trans?  No, I think at three and four I was looking at the relationships that my female relatives had with men and thinking well I'm going to have that kind of a relationship, so I must be a girl.  That is the only explanation that one day I will be a girl because I want a husband. And that is how you get a husband, you have to be a girl.

And then I sort of buried that because I realized that that was not something my parents wanted to hear or anyone else in my life, but you know you hit puberty, a little before puberty and I was in denial for a long time.  I hate to be gross, but I would let myself masturbate about men once if I had masturbated about women four times, so I would like picture men having sex with women and then realize I was only really thinking about the man.  It was all very crazy and Catholic. 

I came out in the end for the same reason everyone comes out.  The anticipated pain and the fear of what might happen by coming out is less scary than a life in the closet.  Eventually you realize that a closeted life is going to be more painful and unpleasant than whatever the worst possible consequences could be of coming out.  I was afraid that my parents would reject me.  I was afraid that they would throw me out of the house.  Every day from the time I was about 11 or 12 until I came out to my mom when I was 17 or 18 and to my dad when I was 20, every day when my parents told me that they loved me I thought no you don’t.  If you knew me, if you knew what I was you wouldn’t say that. And that is a horrible thing and I was really close to my mom and we were really—you know total mama’s boy—we were really tight and to doubt her love every day from 12 to 17 was kind of emotionally shredding. And I just realized my parents were wonderful parents.  They raised four really great kids and they taught us to be honest.  They taught us to have some integrity and to be ethical, and what they taught me about how to live my life was on a collision course with who I was. And I couldn’t lie to them about who I was and be the person that they had raised me to be.

I was ready to come out to my mom when I was 14 or 15 years old, but then my dad left and divorced my mom and I didn’t want to pile on. Though, you know: "This will take your mind off the divorce mom.  Hey, crying lady in your room in the middle of the night I'll give you something to cry about." So I waited a couple of years to tell her and it was hard when I told her.  She didn’t react...  She reacted pretty well and I want to say I was Catholic and that was the most horrifying, horrible thing about my coming out. But my mom went directly to her priest, Father Tom, called him over and sat down on the porch swing and told Father Tom the news that I was gay or had told her that I was gay and she wanted to know what to do—and it makes me cry every time I talk about it—but Father Tom put his hand on my mother’s knee and said, “Judy, I'm gay.”  And came out to my mother at that moment just as I had come out to my mother the day before.

And that helped my mother so much because she… Tom was a good friend and Tom was like one of our—We were so Catholic we had priests.  He was one of our priests, right?—and for him to do that for me at that moment really kind of nullified some of my anger at the Catholic Church because that did help my mother and he told her it was better for me to be out and gay than to live the way that he had lived and I was on the verge of living the way he had lived.  I was thinking about being a priest so I could be closeted all my life and then I realized I could live in a big house and wear dresses and fuck boys without being a priest. 

Recorded on October 18, 2010
Interviewed by Max Miller

The advice columnist, normally quite critical of religion, tells us how a Catholic priest helped his mother come to terms with his homosexuality.

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