Updated: Aug 17
By Ana Pollorena Carpenter
My four children attended Catholic schools. My two oldest girls attended from pre-k through 6th grade, Robert from pre-k through 4th and my youngest only attended pre-k. We were active as a family in our parish, as well. All my children served as altar servers, went to Vacation Bible School, joined the youth group, attended teen conferences and participated in the expected sacraments. As for myself, I worked at the Catholic school, was a Eucharistic Minister, taught youth group and volunteered where I was needed. My husband Mike, not Catholic, volunteered where needed and was a great supporter of the children’s involvement. For me my faith has been my rock, my strength and what has seen me through some dark times. I have felt that the best thing I could do was share this gift of faith in the Catholic church with my children, but more importantly a faith in God. In doing this I fear that I unwittingly created inner turmoil for Robert as he grew and became more aware of the doctrine of our faith. He began wondering if he had a place in his church and the world. He was trying his hardest to fulfill what the church asked of him and what he thought I asked of him, but all the while he was questioning and fighting who he was.
Unfortunately, this added to his social and mental health issues. Robert suffered with his ADD and depression which became more prevalent as he entered his teen years.
The depression and ADD was made worse because Robert was and still is uniquely and beautifully himself. He is stubborn, talented, intelligent, quirky, sarcastic, outspoken, kind, gentle and loving, just to name a few of his amazing attributes. But some of these traits didn’t always help him fit into a group of peers at church or school. For the most part his peers at church weren’t rude or mean…just not as welcoming as they could have been. At school he struggled with not feeling smart or like he fit in – and most of the students just couldn’t figure out what box he fit in, either.
He used to speak his mind, sometimes before thinking things through and could be very blunt, which made him appear rude, flippant or even disrespectful, especially when angry or disagreeing with others. He often struggled with communication which left him feeling like a square peg in a round hole. I struggled as a parent to know how to help and guide him. There are few things more heartbreaking to a mom than watching her child lying in the fetal position, asking to die.
Through counseling and medication, we were thankfully able to navigate those stormy waters. He still struggles at times, but as a family we have seen him begin to find his way. I thank God for Robert’s siblings and the unique ways they each contribute to his wellbeing. Older sister Kiah sometimes feels frustrated and hurt by things he has said to her, but still persists in being there and trying to help him. Sometimes she is the one who most “gets him”. His other sister Sosana serves as his reality check and compass for faith. His younger brother Alex adores and looks up to Robert and has become a great advocate for him and other LGBTQ+ young people. There really is something to be said about those sibling bonds.
Watching the weight lifted off his shoulders after he finally came out is nothing more than a blessing. He has grown and is working very hard to find himself every day. In the past year he has decided that he actually identifies as pansexual and again, I am just happy for who he is, no matter the label. He has ventured into the world of drag and it’s been a joy seeing him develop a passion for something. He is succeeding in college with a goal to graduate, which is so different from when he was in high school and hated it. He has friends and he loves to laugh! I am so proud of the young person he is becoming.
Our family no longer attends Mass regularly. We are each on our own unique faith journeys, yet still believe in God and that God has a plan for us. As I took a break from writing this the other day, I asked Robert if he regretted or resented having been made to go to Catholic school and attend Mass. His answer surprised me to some degree. He said “No, I think it gave me a path to follow to be a good person and to know God loves me. No one purposefully at church has ever made me feel bad about who I am, even when I was being a brat. I know those people that matter at church or anywhere else love me for who I am. However, I just don’t feel like I have a place in the Catholic religion right now based on the doctrine. That’s OK because I know I am loved and that’s all that matter.” I think that is what I respect most about my beautiful child; he is strong and has become his own voice while choosing to be surrounded by love.