One of the most common misconceptions I hear about celibate LGBTQ Christians is that we live our lives out of fear, sexual repression, or exclusive obedience to a traditional sexual ethic. While many LGBTQ Christians view their celibacy as a sexual mandate, this assumption overlooks genuine stories of people falling in love with their calling. I want to share a little about how I started falling in love with celibacy. This story doesn’t provide all the details of my story or decision-making process. It’s purely meant to be reflective on some fond memories that led me to where I am today.
I remember the first time I heard about celibacy. I was six years old and asked my mother why Catholic priests were not married. She said something to the effect of, “Priests are married to the Church. They don’t marry because, without wives, they can be more available for their parishioners.” Even as a young kid with no theological training, I remember being struck by the commitment to a broader community being equal to the level of commitment for a spouse.
While growing up, I never even imagined myself getting married. Even phrases from my parents like, “One day when you’re married and have kids…” were completely lost on me. In elementary and middle school, I pictured myself owning a three bedroom house: One room for me, one room for my library, and one room for guests. I envisioned a living space where people were welcome into my home at a moment’s notice – for seasons of unemployment, travel, or even fleeing a bad home situation. I yearned for a home where family, friends, and acquaintances could sit at my table for a meal and conversation; a home that was theirs as much as mine. I kept these dreams to myself because I didn’t think anyone would understand.
After growing up with a mostly secular childhood, I found myself drawn to Christianity my junior year of high school. During this process of conversion, I treasured the experience of meeting priests, seminarians, and monastics – each one called to a celibate vocation, permanent or temporary. As I grew deeper in friendship with these people, the word that kept coming up in my mind was “freedom”; Freedom to love and serve neighbor in a truly radical sense. Witnessing this kind of spiritual freedom gave me goosebumps and a feeling of butterflies in my stomach, sort of like a first childhood crush.
I began to wonder if my attraction to celibate people was stemming from a deeper longing to become a priest. I attended discernment retreats, sought spiritual direction, and visited seminaries. I was also touched by visiting monasteries, particularly observing the Benedictine principle of “Let all guests who arrive be received like Christ”. Seeing monks and nuns offer guest housing, cook meals, and a place of spiritual retreat was highly reminiscent of my childhood longing for a home of hospitality.
Long story short (and I plan on writing about this at some point), applying for seminary didn’t happen. In 2013, after my first year of college, I began a long-term relationship in order to discern marriage. Obviously, (and this is another long story) this didn’t pan out either, as I began to ponder more deeply God’s calling in my life.
In the beginning of 2015, I stumbled across a blog that would change my entire perspective on LGBTQ vocation and celibacy, called A Queer Calling. The authors, Sarah and Lindsey, write about their experience as a celibate, LGBT, Christian couple. I found myself captivated by their story while immersing myself in reading about their discovery of celibacy. Article after article, I found myself over the course of two years saying, “Me too. That’s how exactly how I feel.”
Their post “Defining Celibacy” was particularly formative. I began to see celibacy not as a mere abstinence from sex, but a deeper calling to vulnerability, shared spiritual life, commitment, and radical hospitality. If you are interested in learning more about celibacy, I highly recommend reading their story. I literally cannot say anything about celibacy more poignant than Lindsey and Sarah. It’s an honor to share my story alongside theirs.
I started seeing that my earlier draw to priesthood wasn’t a calling to the priesthood itself, but an attraction to celibacy. Ending my romantic relationship wasn’t an act of forsaking intimate relationships, but an act of freedom to experience intimacy with more than one person. Embracing celibacy wasn’t a denial of my sexuality, but an empathetic integration of my sexuality for the service of others. The process of solidifying my identity as a queer person was fundamental to understanding how I relate to others.
As I prayed over what Jesus and St. Paul taught on celibacy, I could no longer see celibacy as a strict regulation of my sexuality. I now see celibacy as my unique path to manifest the Kingdom of God. People have asked me, “So does that mean you would be celibate even if you were straight?” I have no way of answering that question, because I believe sexuality is an integral part of who I am. I believe God uses the totality of our being to draw us closer to Himself. However, I can say that my celibacy would remain intact even if I possessed a liberal sexual ethic.
I don’t know what the future holds. This is only my first year of intentionally living life as a celibate person. I’ve had successes and failures so far, not unlike a marriage which has successes and failures in its first year. Perhaps I’ll be called to live out my childhood fantasy as a single person with a three bedroom house. Or it’s possible that I will live in an intentional community with a group of Christians. Maybe I’ll thrive as a pair with a celibate partner or a covenanted friendship. I’m not ruling out God even calling me into a monastic community.
I don’t know how to live in celibacy quite yet, but I know that I’m falling in love with it. And right now, that’s enough.