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  • Writer's pictureDanielle Amerena

Please Don't Drink the Holy Water

Updated: Oct 23, 2023

I was raised by an overly Catholic family. We weren’t the Bible-preaching types, and we certainly weren’t the kind of people to believe the bible word for word either. We were overly Catholic in the way that the word “sex” was considered an inappropriate word in my household. Instead of learning about the stork, my mother had my brother and I believe that Jesus himself delivered the baby; but only to married couples, because doing anything remotely sexual “out of wedlock” was unheard-of and forbidden. If anything, bad happened, regardless of how minor, my mother had a specific saint to pray to. Being Italian, she preferred those saints whose descent was of such. I have vivid memories of my mother yelling “Pray to St. Anthony!” while walking down the hallway with her hands waving in the air as any good Italian would.

I was forced into the church at an early age. In fact, by age four I was already a fully active member of our church choir. Every Sunday at 10 AM, I sat in the far-left pew in that dorky red choir robe singing to “Jesus Loves the Little Children” while the old ladies talked about how adorable I was. At age eight, I became an altar server, and, if I do say so myself, the best one by far.

I didn’t know anything else. In my mind every other kid my age went to church and sang along off-key. All families had holy water in a container in the kitchen. It wasn’t until I entered first grade that I realized I was different from the other kids. It didn’t affect my childhood so much as it did my teen years.

I was always teased about my connection to my religion. I didn’t blame them, I knew I was weird, I mean what thirteen-year-old looks forward to going to religious education classes. Every kid dreaded having me in their religion class, because I was the know-it-all teacher’s pet; but trust me, I wasn’t trying to be. I always knew the teacher from going to church, and they always called on me, “Obviously, Danielle knows the answer.” I felt like an outcast, but at the same time, it made me feel superior to my peers. As weird as it sounds, knowing my religion was the only thing I did better than anyone else.

My friends knew my family was different from the moment they’d step in the door. We were the only family who kept holy water in a container near the fridge. My brother had brought it home after a mission trip to the Dominican Republic. It was a small bottle with a cross poorly drawn in faded sharpie on the front. If you didn’t know what it was, it could be mistaken something you could drink. Many times, we had to tell our visitors “Please don’t drink the Holy Water”. Sometimes I had the urge to let them drink the year-old water, just to see their reaction after that first sip. We eventually moved the bottle out of sight. To be honest it was slightly embarrassing at first, but it became a staple in the house, and the running joke of the family.

I remained true to my religion up until around the age of nineteen. At that point in my life I was officially “out and proud”, and my religion started to wear on me. To my surprise, a large majority of my family was supportive of me. I wasn’t sure how they would react when I told them I liked women and the thought of anything sexual with a guy made me want to throw up. Despite my family’s positive reaction to the news, people I knew berated me for being gay. Apparently, the commandment “love thy neighbor” didn’t apply to those that were gay. I didn’t understand. I was still the same caring person they knew before; the person who would drop anything to help, regardless of what was going on in my life. Still I had to listen to every ignorant person lecture me. Many times, I was told I was wrong for how I felt. People said I needed to choose to be either gay or catholic, but I couldn’t be both. I remember working with a guy who cornered me and lectured me, telling me God saw my orientation as wrong, that I was a hypocrite and shouldn’t be allowed in the church anymore. After a while, I started to believe it. I still went to church, but I didn’t feel like I was connected anymore. I had lost the only thing I knew more than anything, my faith.

With all the hype about gay marriage and the acceptance of LGBT in the Catholic Church, I started to feel unwanted. I didn’t feel like I belonged. I refused to come out to the people I knew from church. I was afraid of what could happen. Only a few close friends from the church knew. I was told that I was a role model for the kids at my church; parents would tell me their child looked up to me. I didn’t want their idea of me to be warped, because their parents didn’t “agree with my lifestyle”. Even if they would be accepting, it still scared me to think about the possible reaction. I had been in the center of the church; running fund-raisers, attending social events, I was even the drummer for one of the few churches in the area with a full drum set. I tried to get my heart back into the church, but I felt like I could have a closer connection being away from it. I stayed a figure in the church as the “adorable girl drummer”. I couldn’t bring myself to let down the kids, and that little fan club of old ladies that looked forward to head bopping in the pews. I stayed, but I refused communion, prayer, and blessings.

In November 2018, my nightmare became true. The church I had been a part of for the past 14 years, asked me to step down from my volunteer positions due to my "lifestyle". The clergy had received complaints from parents that one of their teenagers’ confirmation teachers was gay. They deemed me as a bad role model for the young minds for the church. I was not officially asked to leave the church, but their actions made me feel unwelcome. I lost something that meant so much to me. I’ll be honest, I’m still not healed. But that doesn’t stop me from praising God in my own way. I pray in the songs that I grew to love in my church.

I’ve been called every name in the book. I’ve been assaulted by men who thought that they could “change my mind”. And worst of all, I’ve been cast aside by people I loved, and those I used to know as friends, but I refuse to let this hold me back. Today, I am married to the love of my life, and we were wed in November of 2021. I live my life out loud. I am proud to identify as both lesbian and bigender. My beautiful wife is my biggest supporter.

Don’t let anyone tell you that you aren’t good enough. You are worthy and loved, no matter who you are. If we are truly made in god’s image, you are beautiful the way you are.

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