Editor's Note: You've seen Steven Colbert's "Better Know a Lobbyist," but our version is so much gayer! Each weekend, we spotlight a different TBP contributor. In case you've missed any of our previous interviews, I've got links at the end of the post.
This week we're talking with one of my favorite TBP contributors (and one of the newest ed team members), Father Tony. Father Tony writes one of our weekly advice columns, in addition to writing for his own site Farm Boyz/Perge Modo. Father Tony is a Roman Catholic priest who has been on an extended vacation from that vocation for many years. To prepare for the priesthood, he went to live in a seminary where he was the youngest of six hundred students ranging in age from fourteen to twenty-five. After two weeks in the seminary, he realized that he and everyone else therein was gay and that it was not to be discussed.
Father Tony and his partner, Chris, have been together for twenty-five years, and occasionally consider getting married. They divide their time between homes in Fort Lauderdale and Manhattan where Father Tony is a writing coach and web editor.
Follow me after to jump for Father Tony's thoughts about Jesus, spirituality, and traveling in South America.
1. How did you get involved with TBP?
I am the lovechild of Bil Browning and Arianna Huffington, conceived on a yacht docked in Key West. Ms. H had a tough time getting Bil to "do the deed" because a pitcher of Cuban rum made him determined to recreate Natalie Wood's death by repeatedly falling overboard. That seaweed-infused seminal beginning has given me a lifelong need to live on an island, and I have done just that in Manhattan, Fort Lauderdale (barrier island), Montreal and Provincetown (Cape Cod is an island).
2. What was your coming out experience like?
Really rather a non-event. A gradual embracing of the obvious. For me, the most important coming-out experience was coming out to myself at the age of 14. I had entered the seminary where I was living in a granite Gothic monstrosity in Connecticut with 600 guys age 14-25, most of whom were gay. One night, alone in my dormitory bedroom, I lay awake pondering the possibility. I sat up in bed and forced myself to whisper aloud the words "I am a homosexual." I fell back on my pillow (think Scarlett O'Hara in that "morning after" scene) with a mixture of relief at having resolved the issue and a child's willingness to accept the Catholic clergy's don't-ask-don't-tell double standard. There were other smallish coming-out moments. Locating and entering my first gay bar in Manhattan (I wore a fur coat and red sneakers). Truthfully answering my mother when she finally asked me at the age of 31 if I was gay (she had already come to know and love my partner). Meeting with the personnel officer of the agency where I was the Chief Financial Officer (not out) and having my partner established as a "domestic partner" for purposes of health coverage. Finally working as an openly gay man attending the annual office summer picnic with partner on my arm.
3. What made you decide to go into ministry work?
A question I often answer flippantly (the costuming?). Actually, my best friend in grade school had the idea. Going away to live in the seminary seemed attractive to us because our pre-divorce parents were fighting constantly and the seminary was a respectable escape route from our miserable homes. I really didn't think much about being a Catholic priest at the age of 14. Along the way, I found that I was getting a great education while gaining community leadership status and no pressure to act-out as a heterosexual by dating women. It was damn comfortable and supportive. When the bishop sent me to Rome where I worked as an Assistant Master of Ceremony of Pope Paul VI while pretending to study theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University, I was able to put off any thoughts about real ministry work for four years while I improved my tennis game and engaged in organizational power-sex.
4. Now that you've left the Catholic Church, how would you define your own sense of spirituality?
That is perhaps the most interesting and complex question I will ever be asked because it is an issue that is always with me. I had to surgically remove my experience of Catholicism in order to discover and grow my own actual spirituality. This has taken years. I had always had a personal acquaintance with and love for Jesus, the man brought to us via his own words in the Bible and free of all the nonsense perpetrated by the churches that bear his name. I believe in the truth he spoke. I also had to surgically knit the political (Machiavelli) and aesthetic (Kant, Wilde) and philosophical (Sartre, Heidegger) and epicurean parts of my head with the loose sutures of skepticism that might allow for occasional bouts of atheism and an overriding radical humanism. Oh, and for the record, I have never really left the Catholic Church or the priesthood. I have not been suspended. I'm simply "not present and accounted for." I could return to it at any time.
5. What is your favorite thing to do on the weekends?
Getting reacquainted with my partner who works long and hard during the week managing a successful design/manufacturing business he started 12 years ago. In Manhattan, we argue, we drink coffee, we eat garlic, we go to the gym together, we look at bad art. In Fort Lauderdale, we sleep, we skate, we swim, we meet Cuban guys.
6. What was your favorite part of your recent trip to Argentina?
The breakfast buffet at the Hotel Axel in Buenos Aires. I highly recommend staying in a gay hotel like Axel because you meet so many fascinating fellow travelers at breakfast. You swap information and recommendations. It becomes an instant family with some folks leaving as new ones arrive. And the coffee was good.
Check out previous interviews with TBP Contributors
Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore
Rev. Irene Monroe