In another life I might have been a priest.
In the kind of life where a woman—a lesbian, specifically—could be a priest in the Catholic Church.
Let me rephrase that—in a future life, perhaps I’ll be a priest. Because I like to believe the world will evolve and that I’ll get to see it again in a different incarnation. Something about the professional confessor has always appealed to me, perhaps because as a lapsed Catholic, I don’t go to confession myself…
My godmother taught me that the best confessors are mirrors as well as vaults—reflecting the intention of the person speaking while guarding their secrets religiously—so I treat all confessions like they’re sacred. Even the UnCatholic kind. The everyday purging of the soul that happens spontaneously over tea, or while standing in the street as children run around the cul-de-sac, is just as holy.
The loaded concept of sin aside, there is something healing in being able to verbalise the darkest thoughts in your head. Out loud. And have someone acknowledge them. Whether or not you perform an act of contrition; whether or not you believe God has forgiven you, confession—Catholic or UnCatholic— provides a necessary absolution.
Being Catholic has always been a paradox in my life: something I simultaneously allowed to shape me, and fought against with an almost teenage rebellion. When I began writing UnCatholic Conduct, I knew that the main character Jil would face internal conflicts where religion and lesbianism clashed in the same manner that I did while working in the Catholic school board—and trying to come to terms with all the cognitive dissonance that entailed.
I expected that Jil would fight against dogmatic views with a ferocity and a passion—and stroppiness—that nothing but this topic could elicit, because of course in my 20s, this is how I felt too. I rejected the church before it could reject me, finding it easier than seeking out the grey areas where we could blend.
Many people assume that the main character in a novel is written about the author. It’s often the case. But when I look at UnCatholic Conduct and Illicit Artifacts (forthcoming), I realise that the person who received more of my personal infusion was Jessica Blake—the Catholic school principal Jil falls for. I imbued Jess with my own experiences—struggling to learn that religion is only one vehicle to faith; that withdrawing from a set of rituals doesn’t have to clip your spiritual wings; that you can feel connected to the universe without feeling connected to a certain book…
For Jess, the Catholic life provides a necessary structure and set of rules, but she experiences a real problem when she finds herself attracted to Jil.
There’s something confessional about the act of writing these characters, and I am enjoying the process—at the same time that I continue to receive everyday confessions.
I think of my godmother often when people seek me out—her deep-seated spirituality and staggering empathy for others; her broad-minded ability to distill all the ritual into one universal message of acceptance and love. She’s achieved the type of spirituality I hope to understand myself one day: the compassionate kind that defies barriers of human construct.
Ultimately, this is what I want for Jess too, and for everyone, really, who feels at odds with their faith.
I hope we all find it…