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Living in Sin? How Gay Catholics Manage Their Conflicting Sexual and Religious Identities

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Abstract

Religious principles and values provide meaning and affect personal identity. They may also conflict with intimate needs and desires. This paper examines how gay Catholics manage conflicting areas between their sexual and religious selves. Eight Polish gays with a Catholic background, who identified themselves as strong believers, shared their experiences during semi-structured interviews that were subjected to interpretative phenomenological analysis. Results show that internalization of the principles taught by the Roman Catholic church triggered a conflict when participants became aware of their homosexuality. They used a number of strategies to reconcile conflicting identities, including limiting their religious involvement, questioning interpretation of the doctrine, undermining priests' authority, trying to reject homosexual attraction, putting trust in God's plan, using professional help, and seeking acceptance from clergy. This study alerts mental health professionals to specific risk factors associated with experiencing a religious conflict, and offers guidelines for counselling and further research.
ORIGINAL PAPER
Living in Sin? How Gay Catholics Manage Their Conflicting Sexual
and Religious Identities
Igor J. Pietkiewicz
1
Monika Kołodziejczyk-Skrzypek
2
Received: 1 August 2015 / Revised: 19 March 2016 / Accepted: 29 March 2016 / Published online: 24 May 2016
The Author(s) 2016. This article is published with open access at Springerlink.com
Abstract Religious principles and values provide meaning
and affect personal identity. They may also conflict with intimate
needs and desires. This article examines how gay Catholics man-
age conflicting areas between their sexual and religious selves.
Eight Polish gays with a Catholic background, who identified
themselvesas strong believers,shared their experiences during
semi-structured interviews that were subjected to interpreta-
tive phenomenological analysis. Results showed that internaliza-
tion of the principles taught by the Roman Catholic Church
triggered a conflict when participants became aware of their
homosexuality. They used a number of strategies to reconcile
conflicting identities, including limiting their religious involve-
ment, questioning interpretation of the doctrine, undermining
priests’ authority, trying to reject homosexual attraction, put-
ting trust in God’s plan, using professional help, and seeking
acceptancefrom clergy. This studyalerts mental health profes-
sionals to specific risk factors associated with experiencing a
religiousconflict, and offersguidelines for counseling and fur-
ther research.
Keywords Gay Catholic Spirituality Religion
Sexual orientation Identity
Introduction
Sexual identity often exists in a dynamic interaction with other
self-images such as cultural background (ethnic and/or religious),
which requires that individuals manage multiple identities
(Stevens, 2004). The belief systems of religiously involved peo-
ple often shape practitioners’ mental and emotional states, and
inform and influence general values, social axioms, and practices,
including those related to health and sexuality (Pietkiewicz,
2008). While religion can be a valuable source of coping strate-
gies by providing meaning, sense of control, comfort or support, it
can also create challenges and lead to distress when its principles
conflict with other aspects of life or identity (Pargament, Koenig,
& Perez, 2000). This article will explore how religious socializa-
tion affected the formation of gay identity of Polish gay Catholics.
Literature shows that attitudes toward homosexuality are
complex and may vary even within the same religious tradi-
tion. While some religions show little concern about the sexual
life of lay practitioners or remain positive about homosexuality,
most mainstream traditions are openly against homosexual acts
(Helminiak, 2008). Some studies indicate that negative religious
beliefs about homosexuality, shared by the community, can arouse
prejudice against sexual minorities and contribute to experiencing
the religious group as oppressive. For instance, Barton (2010)
describes religion-driven challenges faced by sexual minori-
ties brought up in fundamentalist Christian communities, where
homosexual acts are perceived as a sin against God and con-
demned. Other studies also highlight the distress associated
with fear of rejection for crossing the taboo by religiously ori-
ented gays and lesbians (Mahaffy, 1996; Rodriguez & Ouellette,
2000; Thumma, 1991). Some of the potentially traumatic expe-
riences reported by gays, including evident bullying (e.g., being
teased, mocked, threatened, publicly humiliated, and ostracized) or
witnessing gender-specific abuse by their peers or adults (Friedman
& Downey, 1999), can be legitimized by the belief system they live
in. Engaging in homosexual relationships can be even more
problematic when it leads to open persecution and penalty.
In some Muslim countries, for example, homosexuality is
seen as immoral, sinful or an illness, strictly forbidden, and
punishable by imprisonment and flogging (Jaspal & Cinnirella,
&Igor J. Pietkiewicz
ipietkiewicz@swps.edu.pl
1
Faculty in Katowice, SWPS University of Social Sciences and
Humanities, Techniko
´w 9, 43-126 Katowice, Poland
2
Krako
´w, Poland
123
Arch Sex Behav (2016) 45:1573–1585
DOI 10.1007/s10508-016-0752-0
Content courtesy of Springer Nature, terms of use apply. Rights reserved.
2012; Taylor & Snowdon, 2014). Yet, merely changing envi-
ronment does not automatically solve the problem if gays have
managed to endorse and identify with religious beliefs stigma-
tizing homosexuality.
Acquisition of religious values and beliefs conflicting with
sexual identity involves identification with significant others
who represent these beliefs. This can also take place in seem-
ingly liberal, multicultural contexts if gays are raised in fam-
ilies where homosexuality is rejected based on religious prin-
ciples. According to Howell (2005), recurring events involving
the threat and/or fear of abandonment or rejection by significant
others, especially at a young age, can have devastating results.
When these relationships contain both positive and oppressive
elements, this can create high ambivalence, and certain uncon-
scious mechanisms can be used to keep positive and negative
experiences apart. Because of attachment to a significant other,
the child mimics his or her behavior and, later, attacks his own
parts of self that had previously been directly or indirectly attacked
by the oppressor. In this way, sexual minorities may develop inter-
nalized homophobia, a negative self-evaluation for being gay or
lesbian (Friedman & Downey, 1999). It was long ago observed
that the interaction between the individual and the environment
(e.g., facing heterosexism, homophobia, oppression, and dis-
crimination) can significantly affect the process of sexual iden-
tity formation (Cass, 1979). This, on the other hand, may lead to
negative religious coping, such as punishing God reappraisals or
interpersonal religious discontent (Pargament et al., 2000), and
produce such pathological conditions as obsessive thoughts
about guilt and sin. Various authors also note that living in an envi-
ronment where homosexual expression is under attack or forbidden
can lead to alienation and inhibit coming-out (Coyle & Rafalin,
2001; Flowers & Buston, 2001). For this reason, sexual behavior
and related psychological mechanisms should be thoroughly ana-
lyzed vis-a
`-vis contextual factors.
Attempts to Reconcile Conflicting Identities
Experiencing a conflict between ethno-religious and gay identity
can significantly impact health and well-being. Participants in dif-
ferent studies report depressive moods, self-loathing, suicidal ide-
ations, and feelings of social exclusion (Barton, 2010;Coyle&
Rafalin, 2001; Schuck & Liddle, 2001). They also fear rejection
from family, clergy, and the religious community. O’Brien (2004)
coined the term‘‘double stigma’’to describe the experience of gay
Christians who felt additionally rejected by other gays for being
openly religious, because the LGBT environment remains critical
and dismissive of Christianity. Such findings should alert mental
health professionals about specific risk factors experienced by
sexual minorities who are affiliated with churches condemning
homosexuality. Literature shows that gays and lesbians use vari-
ous strategies in their attempts to resolve their inner conflict.
Various authors mention prioritizing one of these identities while
repressing the other. For instance, Schnoor (2006) described how
some traditionally minded Jews try to reject gay desires which
interfere with their Jewish lives. He also found people who be-
came ultra-religious to‘‘purge’’themselves of homosexual incli-
nations and the shame associated with internalized stigma.
Another study by Mark (2008) showed that some gay Orthodox
Jews seek sexual conversion therapies because they feel great
pressure to conform to communal norms, and experience intense
guilt and betrayal if they fail to fulfill them. Attempts to suppress
conflicting, erotic impulses toward same-sex werealso mentioned
in reference to gayMuslims (Jaspal & Cinnirella, 2010;Kugle,
2010) or Christians (Barton, 2010; Rodriguez & Ouellette, 2000).
On the other hand, some gay individuals may do the opposite and
reject religion, become apostates, or declare themselves atheists.
Examples of that can be found in studies on lesbian Chris-
tians (Mahaffy, 1996), Muslim gay Iranians in the UK (Taylor &
Snowdon, 2014), or Canadian gay Jews (Schnoor, 2006).
There is, however, little information on how people perceive
the costs of repressing either spiritual or sexual parts of their iden-
tity, what psychological mechanisms they use to reduce resulting
intra-psychic tension, and how this affects their well-being. Rodri-
guez and Ouellette (2000) noted that many gays and lesbians
have strong feelings about their religious beliefs and sexual
identity, and refuse to sacrifice (reject) either part of their self.
They may use compartmentalization, a short-term coping strat-
egy to reduce intra-psychic conflicts associated with multiple,
incompatible identities, by de-emphasizing one of them, depend-
ing on the context. For example, when attending a religious insti-
tution, the gay identity would be de-emphasized and, when attend-
ing a gay festival, the religious one (Coyle & Rafalin, 2001, Rodri-
guez & Ouellette, 2000; Wood & Conley, 2014). However, Jaspal
and Cinnirella (2010) questioned the suitability of this strategy for
those for whom religion constitutes a whole meaning-making sys-
tem, informing their life narratives and other identities. Various
authors also mention revising religious beliefs and re-interpreting
religious scriptures as a way of resolving the conflict. Some gays
join LGBT-affirming religious groups and create their own per-
sonal or communal spirituality (Buchanan, Dzelme, Harris, &
Hecker, 2001; Rodriguez & Ouellette, 2000; Schuck & Liddle,
2001; Thumma, 1991). An additional psychological strategy worth
mentioning is observed among some gay Muslims living in the
UK who prefer not to define themselves as‘‘gay.’’Tosustain pos-
itive self-evaluation, they make a distinction between homo-
sexual acts and gay identity and, while they perceive these actions
as wrong, they claim this does not define who they are. They also
use external attribution, refuting personal responsibility for their
behavior by saying they were born this way, or saw the main-
stream culture as a contributing factor (Jaspal & Cinnirella,
2010). It is possible that a similar strategy could be used by
Christian gays, who are taught that it is the sinful act and not the
sinner who should be condemned.
Gay people reconcile their sexual and religious identities on a
social level in different ways. Brekhus (2003) identified three
main types of strategy in which urban gays in America manage
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their homosexual identity: lifestylers (pea cocks), commuters
(chameleons), and integrators (centaurs). Lifestylers build their
self-image primarily upon being gay and they prefer to socialize
exclusively in LGBT circles. Commuters lead a conventional life
in the suburbs, from which they escape to satisfy their social and
sexual needs with other gay people. Integrators, on the other hand,
treat homosexuality as part of themselves. Their sexual identity
diffuses other identities, e.g., professional.
The kind of lifestyle gays adopt, and whether or how they
come-out, significantly depends on local culture (Barret & Bar-
zan, 1996; Stevens, 2004). Flowers and Buston (2001) note that,
in sociocultural environments of compulsory heterosexuality, it
may be especially difficult for gay people to disclose their sexual
orientation. For instance, gay Jews in the study of Coyle and Rafalin
(2001), preferred not to disclose their sexual identity within their
Jewish community and, like commuters discussed by Brekhus
(2003), often avoided discussing relationships or sexuality-related
issues, and kept a very low profile. Some complied with commu-
nity expectations relating to heterosexual dating, or simply lied. In
some countries, such as the Islamic republic of Iran, there is a
significant prejudice and discrimination against sexual minorities,
and homosexual acts are prosecuted. For this reason, contextual
factors should be thoroughly examined to understand how sexual
minorities integrate various parts of self, how they express these
parts, and what problems they may encounter. Contemporary stud-
ies which analyze these problems are limited in scope and number.
Those that exist have been primarily conducted on the American
continent or in Western Europe, where there is high cultural
diversity and sexual minorities enjoy more rights. No empirical
studies have been found regarding Eastern Europe or the Middle
East, where some countries are still significantly influenced by
religion, and it would be beneficial to broaden our knowledge
about experiences of LGBT people living in these areas.
Religion and Homosexuality in Poland
Poland is an interesting showcase for the study of attitudes toward
homosexuality with reference to religion. There are no laws in the
country against homosexual activity; the state does not recognize
same-sex unions, marriages, or allow adoption by same-sex cou-
ples. Values and norms in Polish society are strongly affected by
the Roman Catholic Church. According to the Central Statistical
Office (GUS, 2013), 33,384,936 people were baptized into it.
Sociological analysis by Boguszewski (2015) indicates that,
despite growing secularization and privatization of religious faith,
the majority of the population still declares themselves to be believ-
ers (92 %) and invarious degrees engagein religious practices.
Forty-four percent of young respondents (aged 18–24) still report
participating in holy masses, religious services, and other events
organized by the Church, at least once a week (Boguszewski,
2015). In recent years, however, there has been a visible and
steady decline in religious involvement of youth.
Catholic principles seem to affect the way people perc eive
homosexuality and think about LGBT involvement within
the religious community. Roguska (2015), in her sociological
report, shows that Polish Catholics do not want the church to
change its attitude toward sexual minorities. Seventy-five per-
cent are against allowing sexual minorities to use the sacrament
of marriage and 52 % oppose letting them participate in Holy
Communion. Despite that data show that there is a growing
acceptance among Polish Catholics to living out of wedlock, pre-
marital sex, homosexuality in general, divorces, and using con-
traception. An Internet search of local websites identified a few
Polish forums and groups supporting the Catholic LGBT com-
munity, such as Faith and Rainbow (www.wiara-tecza.pl). How-
ever, no studies exist on how sexual minorities in Poland who
identify themselves as Catholics cope with anti-gay sentiment in
local communities or how that affects their spiritual practice. Such
problems are of special interest to professionals studying human
sexuality and how it affects well-being. This explorative study is
an attempt to fill this gap. It aims to explore personal experiences
of gay Catholics associated with their religious socialization, dis-
covering their sexuality, and finding ways to express their sexual
and religious self.
Method
This study was conducted in Poland in 2014 and 2015. It was
guided by the interpretative phenomenological analysis (IPA)
framework, a particularly useful methodology for exploring
people’s personal experiences and how they build their inter-
pretations of phenomena (Willig, 2008). This methodology
was selected to build a deeper understanding of how gay men,
brought up in Polish Catholic families and with strong faith,
developed their gay identity. Pietkiewicz and Smith (2014)
explain that IPA combines ideas driven from phenomenology,
hermeneutics, and idiography. It employs‘‘double hermeneu-
tics,’ in which participants share their interpretations of phe-
nomena under investigation, followed by researchers trying to
analyze, make sense, and comment on these interpretations.
Samples in IPA are small, homogeneous, purposefully selec-
ted, and data are carefully analyzed case-by-case. Willig (2008)
highlights that small qualitative studies may generate hypotheses
that can later be tested by methods of the hypothetical-deductive
paradigm. Participants in this research described their religious social-
ization and its impact on how they experienced their homosexuality,
experienced intra-psychic conflicts and attempts to resolve them.
The first author (IP) is non-Christian and, despite living in
Poland, did not have a Catholic upbringing. His knowledge
about Catholic values and norms comes from mass media and
interaction with the environment where the majority is Catholic.
He is also an academic teacher and certified psychodynamic psy-
chotherapist, with substantial experience in counseling and pro-
viding psychotherapy services to gay people representing various
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faiths. He could thus bring a more clinical perspective into the
analysis. The second author (MKS) is a psychology graduate who
has been significantly involved in religious practices and the study
of the Catholic doctrine, which gave us a valuable understanding
of the phenomena participants referred to.
Participants
Participants of this study were eight homosexual males aged
between 24 and 45 years. Five of them had higher education,
two of them secondary, and one was still a student. All were
Caucasian, Polish, and brought up in families where religion
played an important role in everyday life. All were signifi-
cantly involved with the Church and regularly participated in
religious practices at a young age and during adolescence.
They all took religious lessons, attended events organized by
the Church; two served as ministrants and one was involved
in a Catholic youth group. All participants declared that spiri-
tuality and relationship with God was an important aspect of
their lives, but five reported lesser involvement with religion
in adulthood. One was in transition to the Evangelical church.
Four participants currently had a relationship with another man.
Only four had disclosed their sexual orientation to family. Five
participants used professional help (counseling, psychotherapy
or pharmacotherapy). See Table 1for information about the
interviewees, whose names have been changed to protect their
confidentiality.
Procedure
Following the approval of the University Committee for Research
Ethics, the second author used her personal network to approach
potentialcandidates. Shepersonally knew two participantsand
others were recommended to her (chain-sampling technique).
Those who met the criteria of inclusion—(a) defined them-
selves as gays and (b) identified a strong involvement of their
families in the Catholic Church—were invited to participate in
interviews. Only one person out of the ten approached did not
agree to participate, without explaining why. One interview
was excluded from the analysis, because it turned out during
the discussion that the man’s parents withdrew from the Church
when he was young and, although he regarded himself as spiritual,
Table 1 Participants and their characteristics (N=8)
No. Name Characteristics
1 Borys Age 24, graduated from a middle school and is now training to be a hairdresser. Born and brought up in a large city. A few years ago, he
moved to a smaller town to live with his boyfriend and his parents. His grandmother is a zealous religious practitioner, and regular
Church attendance has been significant in his family; however, he stopped religious practice 8 years ago. He used counseling and
disclosed his sexual orientation to family
2 Arthur Age 25, student. Born in a small town and moved to a large city to study and live with his boyfriend. They have been in a relationship for
2 years. He was a church ministrant for a few years but has not participated in religious practices since confirmation at the age of 16
except for occasions such as family member’s baptism or marriage. He disclosed his sexual orientation to family
3 Radek Age 25, medical doctor. Born and brought up in a large city. Hasrecently rented an apartment with a friend. He is single and has had one
short-term relationship. His family is very religious. He was a member of a religious youth group and a church ministrant in
adolescence. Although he declares himself as a man of faith, he began to withdraw from religious practices in his adolescence and
now seldom goes to Church. He used psychiatric treatment for anxiety symptoms for a few years. He only disclosed his sexual
orientation to selected friends but not his family
4 Konrad Age 27, university graduate. Born in a small village and moved to a large city to pursue education and career. Single, and has never been
in any relationship. He occasionally uses the Internet to arrange a sex date, after which he loathes himself. He used to be highly
involved in religious practice and considered becoming a priest, but was discouraged by his spiritual guide. He has used
psychotherapy. He only disclosed his sexual orientation to selected friends but not his family
5 George Age 28, secondary education. Born and brought up in a small town. He moved to a larger city a few years ago where he works as a
hairdresser. He has been in a long-term relationship with his boyfriend. For the last 6 months they have lived together with his
partner’s parents. He declares himself a believer but has attended church less frequently since his adolescence. Nowadays he
scarcely engages in any religious practice. He disclosed his sexual orientation to family
6 Adam Age 32, doctoral student. Single. Born and broughtup in a large city. Lives with his mother and sister. His father died when he was 15.
He has never been in any long-term relationship and was reluctant to discuss his gay experiences. He was very much involved with
religious practices until his confirmation. He is in transition into the Evangelical church where he attends regular meetings. His
mother still attends church and his sister converted to Buddhism. He used counseling and disclosed his sexual orientation to family
7 Matthias Age 35, university graduate. Raised and lives in a large city. In a relationship with a partner but they live separately. Previously had
relationships with men and women. He and his family are deeply committed to religious practice. He used counseling and group
therapy in a Catholic institution. The only family member to whom he disclosed his sexual orientation is his sister
8 Sylvester Age 45, university graduate. Born in a small townand moved to a large city to study. He is single and shares an apartment with a friend.
He has had one long-term relationship and a few short ones. He declares himself a believer but only occasionally participates in
religious practices. The only family member to whom he disclosed his sexual orientation is one of his brothers
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he never felt strongly affiliated with Catholicism. Thus, he did not
meet the criteria for inclusion, which was to ensure a homoge-
neous sample expected of IPA studies (Pietkiewicz & Smith,
2014). Interviews were held at places chosen by the participants,
usually their homes. Participants perceived the topic of the study
extremely meaningful and were very willing to share their expe-
riences.
Prior to meeting individual participants, an interview guide
was created with areas to be discussed with every participant and
sample open-ended questions and prompts to explore their expe-
riences of growing up in a religious family, discovering their sex-
uality, and meaning attributed to homosexuality with reference to
their faith. It was crucial not to make any suggestions that there
might be any conflict between these areas. Instead, the intention
was to encourage participants to reflect upon their experiences
and share their unique interpretations, in line with IPA principles.
The second author collected data using audio-recorded, semi-
structured, in-depth interviews, ranging from 60 to 90min in
length. With every participant, she used open-ended questions
or instructions, such as
Can you tell me about religious life in your family when
you were young? How did you know religion was impor-
tant for your relatives? How did your relatives and reli-
gious community refer to sexuality? When and how did
you realize you were gay? How did you experience and
interpret your interest in other men? What did your family
and religious community think about homosexuality? How
did that affect you? How do religious beliefs affect you as a
gay person? How does being gay impact your spiritual/
religious practice?
Data Analysis
Verbatim transcriptions were made of all audio recordings,
and analyzed using NVivo10, qualitative data-analysis soft-
ware (QSR International, Burlington, MA). Consecutive ana-
lytical steps recommended for IPA were employed in the
study (Pietkiewicz & Smith, 2014). For each interview, both
researchers listened to the recording and carefully read the
transcript several times. Individually, they produced extensive
notes about the content and language use, and wrote down their
interpretative comments using the ‘‘annota tion’’ feature in NVi
vo10. Next, they categorized the notes into emergent themes by
allocating descriptive labels (nodes). The researchers then met
to compare and discuss their coding and interpretations. They ana-
lyzed connections between themes in each interview and between
cases, and grouped themes according to conceptual similarities
into superordinate themes and sub-themes. The aim of this study is
to balance between the hermeneutics of empathy and the hermeneu-
tics of suspicion (Smith, Flowers, & Larkin, 2009). In the Results
section, the data are presented mostly at face value, highlighting
similarities and differences between participants. More in-depth
interpretations offered in the Discussion reflect our understanding
of data, which is inevitably shaped by our professional background
(i.e., clinical psychology and psychotherapy) and an assumption
that unconscious processes and mechanisms exist which people
may not be fully aware of (psychodynamics).
Credibility Checks
During each interview, clarification questions were asked to
negotiate the meaning participants wanted to convey. At the
end of the interview, they were also asked questions to check
that their responses were thorough. The researchers also com-
pared their interpretative notes to evaluate their understand-
ing of the content and its meaning (the second hermeneutics).
Results
Participants discussed their religious socialization and its impact
on developing a gay identity. Significant themes repeatedly
appeared in interviews and were grouped into six superordinate
themes and ten sub-themes, as listed in Table 2.Thesearedis-
cussed and illustrated with verbatim excerpts from the inter-
views, in accordance with IPA principles.
Theme 1: Growing in Faith
All participants described their religious socialization at home,
school, and the Church in great detail. They characterized their -
families as strongly involved with religion who celebrated impor-
tant religious holidays (e.g., Christmas and Easter) and treated
Sundays as sacred, when the whole family would dress nicely and
attend Holy Mass. Sylvester said that wearing special clothes was
a way of showing respect. Borys remembered his whole family
going for walks after Church and discussing themes raised during
the sermon. Parents often checked how carefully children listened
to the sermons. Borys also recalled saying prayers with his parents
or discussing the Bible with them every evening. Seven partici-
pants recalled these childhood experiences associated with reli-
gion with positive feelings and two said they missed them.
This was fantastic. We were all together as a family. At
Christmas, there would be 30 of us in a small house in
the countryside. I really miss that. – Matthias (age 35)
Religious principles strongly affected the worldview and opin-
ions shared by family members, and informed moral decisions
and conduct. Five participants referred to mothers and grandmoth-
ers as guardians of the religious tradition, whereas fathers were
presented as more reserved or absent. No participants talked
about God with their fathers, and described relationships
with them as more distant.
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My mom participated in the Neocatechumenate and was
very involved emotionally in faith issues. She really lived
her faith. You could see she often thought about God or
recalled something the priest had said, or she would say
how wonderful the reading was. – Radek (age 25)
All participants were also exposed to the Catholic doctrine
at schools where religion was taught. They treated clergy and
religious teachers with great respect. Borys said he ‘‘perceived
the catechist at the middle school as someone representing God
himself because she was teaching on his behalf.’ It was thus
difficult to question the principles taught by them.
Exposure to intense religious socialization and resulting
positive experiences led participants to ascribe special mean-
ing to the spiritual domain. Not only were they baptized at birth,
but all later attended their First Holy Communion, followed by
Confirmation at the age of 16. Until then, all had regularly gone to
confession. Radek and Arthur served as church ministrants and
participated in religious youth organizations, trying to embody
their faith in everyday life and follow Catholic principles in dis-
tinguishing what was right, moral, or sacred, and what was immoral
or sinful.
Theme 2: Discovering One’s Homosexuality
All participants said that acknowledging their attraction to same-
sex was challenging and even challenging to their self-image.
Borys recalled starting to ‘discover something in himself’’ but
could not understand why he was different from his classmates,
and searched information about homosexuality on the Internet to
familiarize himself with the topic and understand his own desires.
They talked about boobs and asses all the time. I didn’t
find that interesting and had to hide my feelings. I felt
weird, embarrassed. They were all thinking and talking
about girls and I felt different. So I started searching the
Internet to understand. – Borys (age 24)
George, however, claims he always found other boys interest-
ing and preferred to spend time with them. As a teenager he
decided he ought to have a girlfriend, but found this experience
unsatisfactory. Later, he visited gay clubs and dated boys with
whom he established intimate relationships.
I felt weird in those places [clubs] as it was completely new
to me, but week after week I began to get used to that envi-
ronment. Later on I even began to date guys and have,
you know, hanky panky. – George (age 28)
Other participants claimed they were unaware of their sex-
uality for a long time. Interestingly, four of them reported study-
ing the Bible even more in adolescence because they were seeking
answers to existential questions or to feel closer to God. Then,
between the ages of 21–24, they experienced a‘‘sudden revelation’’
or were confronted by someone to whom they were attracted.
Matthew said a befriended priest suggested he migh t be gay, and
Arthur recognized his gay desires when he fell in love with a
man.
Theme 3: Experiencing a Conflict
All participants experienced at different moments of their
lives intense conflicts between developing sexual awareness
and needs, and their religious beliefs and aspirations. Two
found ways to come to terms with their sexual identity, but
others experienced emotional turmoil (see‘Theme 4: Seek-
ing Peace’ section). Homosexual inclinations were threatening
because they were seen as sinful, disappointing to family, and
put them at risk of social discrimination.
Spiritual Dilemmas
Participants highlighted that although the Catholic Church
officially does not condemn homosexuals as people, intimate
behavior with same-sex was regarded as a sin against God.
Gays were expected to keep sexual abstinence, even when liv-
ing in a loving relationship with a partner. Internalization of
religious principles made participants feel extremely guilty
and fear eternal condemnation. On the other hand, being unable
to satisfy their needs for love and intimacy evoked frustration
and anger toward the doctrine. Those who confessed to having
an intimate life with another man often heard it was sinful and
immoral. Borys described a confession that he found traumatic.
I confessed everything to the priest. When I started to
say that I had a partner and we engaged in sex, the priest
Table 2 Constituent themes
Superordinate themes and sub-themes No. of participants
with theme
Theme 1: Growing in faith 8
Theme 2: Discovering one’s homosexuality 8
Theme 3: Experiencing a conflict
Spiritual dilemmas 8
Fear of disappointing family 7
Anticipating rejection by the community 8
Theme 4: Seeking peace
Reducing religious involvement 5
Questioning the interpretation of the doctrine 4
Undermining priests’ authority 6
Trying to reject homosexual attraction 3
Putting trust in God’s plan 6
Using professional help 5
Seeking acceptance from clergy 6
Theme 5: Coming-out in a Catholic family 8
Theme 6: Bearing the sin 5
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said I had to stop, because God did not like that. He said
this sin was worse than murder. At that point I decided
not to go to confession anymore. – Borys (age 24)
Sylvester, Adam, and Matthias had similar experiences and
felt guilty for not getting absolution. Sylvester was also angry at
one encounter which led to him avoiding discussing his personal
life with priests.
I had problems with confession especially when I felt bad
about something. Once I talked to a priest at the famous
Luminous Mount monastery, but he really discouraged
me. I left the confessional before getting absolution. The
priest called me a pervert or something. He shouted at me
and I didn’t go to confession until my pilgrimage to Assisi
five years later. – Sylvester (age 45)
Fear of Disappointing Family
Participants said the teachings of the Church strongly affected
their relatives’ values and expectations about social roles. Receiv-
ing a sacrament of marriage, conceiving offspring and rearing them
according to Catholic norms was highly valued. Fear of disappoint-
ing loved ones was often an obstacle against coming-out (described
in Theme 5).
I certainly wouldn’t meet their expectations, because my
parents wanted me to have a family. They wanted grand-
children. That would destroy their dreams. – Radek (age 25)
While concerns or disappointment Radek attributed to his
parents may be typical of any family irrespective of religious
background, he and Arthur also discussed religious conse-
quences. Both were convinced their mothers would wonder if
they could meet in heaven. Participants claim that concerns
about the afterlife are crucial for all believers.
Anticipating Rejection by the Community
All participants referred to social stereotypes about gay people,
strengthened by media reports which, they believed, often viewed
gays as‘‘effeminate’’ or‘‘camp’’ in the way they dress, talk or
move. Our participants did not identify with that image, and cared
about behaving ‘‘normally,’’ meaning ‘‘manly.’’ Borys claimed
that society, including priests and religious teachers, associated
gays with promiscuity, immoral behavior, sexually transmitted
diseases and the inability to establish long-term relationships. He
was ashamed about disclosing his sexual orientation and antic-
ipated rejection when religious teachers, nuns, or priests made
negative comments about gay life during classes or sermons.
I felt rejected during religious lessons, even thoughthe cate-
chist was not directing his comments to me. Obviously, no
one knew I was gay. I was 13 then, and you knowfaggots,
dykes, etc. No one would officially admit being homo.
When people made jokes about gays it really hurt. Now,
when I listen to what priests say about gay people I feel like
standing up and shouting that it is not true. Look at me and
my boyfriend! We do not change partners like gloves, I am
not HIV positive, I don’t have AIDS or hepatitis! – Borys
(age 24)
Radek was also hurt by a comment he heard in the religious
community that‘‘love cannot be born in a swamp.’’ Adam inter-
preted social prejudice against gay people in terms of scapegoat
mechanism. He thought people ascribed to the LGBT commu-
nity all kinds of sinful qualities they would not like to find in
themselves.
Theme 4: Seeking Peace
All participants tried to resolve inner conflicts between their reli-
gious values or aspirations, and growing gay identity. They used
strategies such as reducing religious involvement, questioning
the interpretation of the doctrine, undermining the authority of
priests, and putting trust in God’s plan.
Reducing Religious Involvement
Participants said they were frustrated and angry, and felt guilty
and rejected by the Catholic Church, because its doctrine forbids
homosexual love and relationships, treating these as sinful actions.
Five participants gradually withdrew from religious practices and
attending church, because they felt unwelcome. Radek talked about
his disappointment and sadness:
I don’t see the problem. I don’t think it matters who I love. I
am just sorry the Church can’t open its gates to all mankind,
including homosexuals. We are not openly invited. We feel
excluded, like sinners. – Radek (age 25)
Questioning the Interpretation of the Doctrine
Another way of coming to terms with one’s sexual identity
included attempts to challenge the Bible hermeneutics pro-
vided by the Church in relation to homosexuality. Matthias
maintained that the negative attitudes of the Church toward
homosexuality were based on the Old Testament, which he
saw as irrelevant in modern times. He was convinced that
there were no direct references in the New Testament that
would condemn homosexuality as sinful behavior.
There are so many things in the Old Testament that are
impossible to apply in our Catholic faith. That was a com-
pletely different world, so it was also written in a specific
way. I rely on the New Testament and, although I am not a
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Bible expert, I don’t think there is really anything against
homosexuality there. – Matthias (age 35)
Undermining Priests’ Authority
Six participants expressed doubts about priests’ personal con-
duct, and two of them exhibited strong hostility toward clergy.
Adam said he was once verbally attacked and thrown out of con-
fession, but he admitted to teasing the confessor, despite know-
ing he would not agree with his views.
I was angry when I went to see him and tried to challenge his
views. I told him I was in love with a married guy and that
Jesus also had a special relationship with some of his stu-
dents. He screamed at me and threw me out. That was fool-
ish of me and I wouldn’t do it again. I don’t need to prove
anything to them [priests]. – Matthias (age 35)
Another participant belittled priests as moral authorities.
He was convinced they themselves committed sins by engag-
ing in inappropriate sexual relationships. He claimed that one
of his confessors was overtly interested in hearing details about his
masturbation and intimate contacts and was convinced the priest
was aroused by those stories. This disgusted him and he felt they
had no right to tell him what behavior was virtuous and what was
sinful. This helped him cope with anticipated critique and rejec-
tion.
Many priests are heterosexual, but shouldn’t they respect
celibacy? It really bothers me to think where that priest has
put his hand before touching the holy host. I sto pped going
to confession. Why should I confess to a stranger who may
be a greater sinner than me? Because that does happen.
Who is he to tell me how to be a good man? – Sylvester
(age 45)
Trying to Reject Homosexual Attraction
Three participants felt awkward about being homosexual. They
shared negative views about the gay community and sought indi-
vidual and/or group therapy hopingto suppress their attraction
toward other men so they could establish traditional families.
Instead, they found themselves confronted with conflicting
needs and desires. Matthias attended group counseling for gay
men held by clergy. He said it was a valuable experience because he
learned to express emotions and feelings, gained more insight into
his behavior, and fell in love with another group member. He thought
participation in the group helped him embrace his homosexu-
ality, even though he initially hoped to change it. Adam also
came to terms with his homosexuality, but Konrad never man-
aged to accept himself. He often experienced guilt, shame, and
self-loathing. He was unable to suppress his sexual drive and
engaged in occasional sex and compulsive masturbation after
which he became auto-aggressive and sometimes had suicidal
thoughts. He also admitted to being homophobic, and strongly
attacked in himself a desire for emotional involvement with
other men.
There are days when I feel depressed and isolated at home. I
don’t wanna see any friends; I have a beer or two and watch
these [pornographic] pages for hours. Sometimes I enter a
chat room to hook up for a sex date. I help myself [mas-
turbate] to reduce tension but later I feel really bad, dirty. I
hate myself for all that. When I have a date it is just for sex,
and I never meet the guy twice. I prefer not to know their
names or what they do. I cannot imagine getting emotion-
ally involved with another man, not to mention establishing
a relationship. That is a sin. – Konrad (age 27)
Putting Trust in God’s Plan
Trying to accept one’s homosexuality often required rejecting the
doctrine presented by the Catholic Church, according to which
two men engaging in sexual acts would be eternally condemned.
However, all participants stressed that their individual relation-
ship with God was still important. Three questioned whether their
love for another man was a sin and all were searching for meaning,
why they were born homosexual. Adam speculated that if‘God
created mankind in his own image,’’ then being attracted to another
man must also have a divine aspect and should be acceptable.
Radek imagined God as benevolent and hoped any of his faults
would be forgiven, as long as he followed his conscience.
If I am a good man and live according to my conscience,
then God will forgive me everything. Such an omni-
scient and powerful person cannot be unable to forgive.
– Radek (age 25)
Interestingly, he refers to God as a person endowed with
certain qualities; perhaps, the ability to forgive is something
he would hope to receive from his parents if only he were able
to disclose his sexual orientation to them.
Using Professional Help
While four participants reported using some sort of counseling
or psychotherapy because they experienced a conflict associated
with their homosexuality and/or had problems with coming-out,
only Borys said he expected support rather than trying to change
his sexual behavior. Unlike his mother, he did not believe he
could be‘cured from that affliction.’’
It was the first time I felt that someone really cared about
me and was interested in my feelings. I felt rejected by
my mother because she couldn’t accept I was gay, and
the therapist really listenedtohelpmeovercomemyfears
and accept myself. I didn’t want treatment to ‘cure’’my
homosexuality. – Borys (age 24)
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Radek used psychiatric medication for 6 years to treat his panic
attacks but was unable to understand reasons for his anxiety. He
said he was only worried about how his family would react to
learning that he was gay.
Seeking Acceptance from Clergy
Six participants said they hoped for support from priests but were
discouraged by their expectation of hostile attitudes toward gay
people. While five participants had negative experiences during
religious lessons or confession (see Theme 3: Experiencing a
Conflict’ section), three of them reported positive responses.
Sylvester described the relief he experienced from the supportive
words of his confessor:
I was complaining about everything and told him all these
sins, etc. He just looked at me and said:‘‘You know, St.
Francis was not much better than you at this age.’ This
was all he said to me and he granted me absolution. That
was such a relief. – Sylvester (age 45)
Adam hoped that Catholic priests could change their atti-
tudes toward homosexuality and he often provoked tense dis-
cussions with them. Years later, he established a friendly rela-
tionship with a pastor of an Evangelical church whom he found
more accepting and open-minded, which encouraged him to
convert. Konrad also perceived his spiritual director as uncritical
and understanding, which only revealed the discrepancy between
his own harsh super-ego and self-hatred for being gay. Konrad
admitted that gave him some sense of control—no one could hurt
him more, because he was his own most critical judge.
Theme 5: Coming-out in a Catholic Family
Four participants reported disclosing the fact of being gay to
their families. One kept it entirely secret and three only revealed it
to a selected sibling. Reluctance to coming-out was associated
with anticipated reactions. All participants were convinced
that itwas difficult for theirparents to acceptthat they weregay.
Borys said it was a shock for his mother when he came-out
duringa quarrel. Feelingrejected by her madehim seek support
in counseling.
When I was 16 we had a fight about my school results and
behavior. She said something like:‘‘Perhapsyou are a fag-
got,’’ and I said,‘‘You bet I am.’’It was a shock for her. When
she realized what this meant she said she didn’t want to know
me, that she didn’t have a son anymore. She ignored me and
didn’t speak to me for a month. It was the most difficult time
in my life. – Borys (age 24)
Adam thought his mother still believed he would change
and establish a‘‘normal’’family. He attributed her inability to
accept his homosexuality to being‘‘programmed by the Church.’
She referred to the assumptions made by the Church that
this is a terrible sin, that these people will never be happy,
risk HIV, AIDS, and never establish permanent relation-
ships. – Adam (age 32)
George believed his parents would rather think of him as a
bachelor who was preoccupied with work and uninterested in
relationships, rather than a homosexual living with a partner.
He thought that was unfair and resulted from the shame of
having a gay son.
My parents prefer me to stay single, saying:‘‘Youwould
be better alone.’’ Then I ask them:‘‘But why? Shall I sit
with you on a couch, drink coffee and watch TV or go to
Church for the rest of my life? Why should I be alone if I
can be happy with someone?’’There is someone I love,
who supports me. My mom would find it easier to accept
if I stayed a bachelor than to think of me as a homosexual
living with another man. – George (age 28)
Theme 6: Bearing the Sin
All participants believed the Church was unequivocal toward
same-sex relationships, seeing them as sinful. Those who
accepted homosexuality as part of who they were and realized
their needs for intimacy with a partner, claimed they did not regard
gay identity as a sin. To achieve that, they rejected conventional
interpretations of the doctrine and adopted alternative hermeneu-
tics. They also perceived that they had to put trust in God’s benev-
olence. On the other hand, Borys questioned whether such con-
scious attempts could resolve deep-rooted conflicts.
I wondered about converting to another church, but would
that help? Even if I changed faith, I have been raised accord-
ing to this doctrine—that only heterosexual relationships
are acceptable—since childhood. This is what I was taught
by priests and religious teachers. That concept permeates
my being. – Borys (age 24)
Those who limited their participation with the Church said
that confession made them confront the anti-gay attitudes they
tried to reject. Four participants perceived that homosexual rela-
tionships were inappropriate. Konrad was full of shame and guilt
forcommittingthesamesinrepeatedly(i.e.,engaginginhomo-
sexual activities). George tried to compensate God for his‘‘sinful
life’’ by performing good acts(e.g., giving financial support to his
sister and helping her raise her children).
God does not like me to go with men. I go to confession,
but I know I will repeat my sin sooner or later. I try to make it
up to God by good deeds. I help my sister by giving her
money. I tell myself that, as I am gay, I can support her
financially as I don’t have my own kids. – George (age 28)
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Borys also expressed his great wish and sadness for not being
able to receive a blessing for his relationship. He thought it would
show society that such relationships can be full of care, love, and
respect.
Discussion
This study explores how Polish gay Catholics establish their gay
identity with reference to the religious tradition in which they
were brought up and the beliefs they endorsed and internalized
during socialization. The context of this study is unique, because
Polish society is generally homogeneous, meaning that the major-
ity shares the same race, language, societal norms, and traditions,
and declare themselves to be Catholics. Despite globalization,
Poles have relatively low exposure to cultural differe nces in terms
of ethnic or religious backgrounds compared to many countries in
Western Europe or America. Our participants were raised in
Catholic families where regular religious practice and living
the principles of faith were emphasized. Religion affectedtheir
values and social axioms (including eschatological beliefs),
and was perceived to be a significant channel through which peo-
ple not only expressed their spiritual needs, but also the need for
affiliation and closeness. Participants in this study provided inter-
esting examples about how their family life was organized around
religious practice (e.g., parents read and discussed biblical stories
with their children; they attended services together and celebrated
religious holidays). However, the very faith that often helped find
meaning, spiritual strength and solace, at some point triggered a
conflict when participants began to experience same-sex attraction
and realized they might be gay. Sexual minorities are probably not
alone in experiencing conflicts associated with faith. Heteronor-
mativeCatholics may also struggle withmoral dilemmas about
pre-marital sex, committing adultery, divorcing, using in vitro
fertilization, etc. What is, perhaps, special about being gay is
that the conflict refers to identity, and not merely behavior (despite
the fact that some gays try to separate homosexual acts from being
gay, e.g., gay Muslims in the UK studied by Jaspal and Cinnirella
[2010]).
Discovering attractions toward same-sex in an environment
characterized by anti-gay sentiment evoked anxiety. Similar expe-
riences were reported by homosexual Jews (Coyle & Rafalin, 2001;
Mark, 2008; Schnoor, 2006), Muslims (Kugle, 2010), or Christians
studied by Barton (2010), Mahaffy (1996), Thumma (1991), or Ro-
driguez and Ouellette (2000). Our participants also shared simi-
lar concerns to gay Asians (Chan, 1989; Wang, Bih, & Brennan,
2009)orJews(Mark,2008), who worried about disappointing or
being rejected by families for failing to fulfill social expectations to
establish a‘‘normal’’ family, and procreate. Feeling ‘‘different’’ and
confronted with forbidden desires required participants to seek
ways to resolve inner conflict. Literature identifies strategies used
by gay people, such as trying to reject their gay identity or religious
identity , using compartmentalization (an unconscious psychological
defense mechanism used to avoid cognitive dissonance by keeping
two identities separate), or integrating conflicting identities (Ro-
driguez & Ouellette, 2000). However, as many of these studies are
sociological, there is little information about the mental processes and
psychological mechanisms involved in the strategies investigated.
For instance, if gays reduce their involvement with religion (even to a
minimum) to find intimate fulfillment with a partner, how do they
cope with internalized beliefs conflicting with their sexual behavior?
Does rejecting these beliefs on a conscious and rational level free
them from experiencing emotions previously triggered by the des-
cribed conflict? What psychological processes are required to inte-
grate conflicting identities?
Controlling Desire
Various authors report that gays and lesbians may attempt to
suppress homosexual needs (Barton, 2010; Rodriguez & Ouel-
lette, 2000; Schuck & Liddle, 2001). Our participants were no
different. They tried to reject their unaccepted desires, with little
success. Unable to‘sustain purity,’’many of them felt guilty and
sinful, apparently due to internalized values and beliefs about
sexuality shared in their close environment. Participants ascribed
their significant others with traditional religious beliefs concern-
ing intimate life (its purpose and normative expressions of sex-
uality) and could not differentiate between opinions about
sexuality presented by their parents or grandparents from those of
the Church. Self-hate in this case could result from an identifi-
cation with the oppressor (Friedman & Downey, 1999)men-
tioned earlier. It is not clear which factors were more stressful for
our participants—the reluctance toward gays attributed to the
Church and its leaders, or the attitudes toward sex and spirituality
ascribed to significant others. All our participants described their
families as highly involved with religion. There was only one
person whom Brekhus (2003) would call a lifestyler, but he was
excluded from the analysis because it turned out his family had a
relaxed attitude toward religious practice and withdrew from the
Church when he was still a child. Positive identification with sup-
portive parents might have helped him cope better with an oppres-
sive culture. This requires further analysis by comparing religious
individuals from more fundamentalist and liberal families.
Reducing Religious Involvement
Another copingstrategy our participants used was to limittheir
religious involvement, e.g., Church attendance and confession
(Barton, 2010;Coyle&Rafalin,2001; Rodriguez & Ouellette,
2000). However, they also admitted to a sense of loss—they really
missed participating in community events and sacraments. There
is no evidence that rejecting organized religion can solve religious
conflict if people still carry their internalized beliefs and norms.
For example, one participant (Borys) said that although he could
leave the Church and consciously reject conflicting beliefs, they
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were still with him, because they had been imprinted in his mind,
since childhood. It is possible that those who leave still feel guilty
about breaking a taboo (whether consciously or not) and try to
make it up to God, the world, or other people. There may be addi-
tional unconscious motives for leaving, besides the conscious
ones (i.e., refraining from a community in which one feels unwel-
come). Some gays may project their own (previously internal-
ized) negative feelings about sexual minorities onto priests and,
by avoiding contact with clergy, gain control over their own ambiva-
lence. While projection can help people deal with threatening
parts in themselves, it can also distort reality (i.e., not all Roman
Catholic priests are hostile toward homosexuality) and influence
relationships with the external world. For instance, many of our
participants made no further attempts to seek spiritual guidance
from priests, even though some might have been potentially
more supportive.
Participants also reported conflicting relationships with
significant others—a few referring to distant, uninvolved, crit-
ical fathers or rejecting mothers. Transferential feelings and
emotions may influence how sexual minorities perceive the
Church, its ministers, and God. Transference, the mechanisms
of projectionand projective identification likely to be involved
here, are thoroughly discussed in the psychoanalytic literature
(Gabbard, 2014). This interpersonal dynamic can fuel already
existing tension associated with an oppressive and victimizing
environment.
Undermining Religious Leaders’ Authority
Our study identified a unique coping mechanism, not mentioned
in other studies, which involves undermining the moral author-
ity of the church and clergy. This is an example of negative reli-
gious coping (Pargament et al., 2000), expressed by interpersonal
religious discontent. By using devaluation, some participants felt
justified in questioning priests’ eligibility to make comments
about gays’ moral conduct. This may reflect the oppressor-victim
dynamics mentioned earlier, in which various conflicted parts are
likely to activate at different moments (Howell, 2005). Partici-
pants sometimes felt oppressed by priests’ anti-gay attitudes (e.g.,
making harsh comments in public or refusing to grant absolution)
and at others they could themselves become aggressors.
Developing Autonomy
Reconciliation of conflicting identities may only be possible
via differentiation and separation. In this study, and others
(Jaspal & Cinnirella, 2010; Rodriguez & Ouellette, 2000;
Schnoor, 2006; Schuck & Liddle, 2001; Thumma, 1991),
gays report actively exploring their own spirituality and try-
ing to de-legitimize official interpretations of the doctrine,
seeking alternative hermeneutics. In other words, they sym-
bolically separate from authority, just as adolescents need to
rebel from their parents, questioning their values or ways of
life, in order to build autonomy. They compare and contrast
their own with other families, and make personal, mature
choices in life. This natural process enables adults to create
an integrated, multi-dimensional image of their parents
which helps to identify with them in some areas and disagree
in others, understanding their parents’ strengths and weak-
nesses, and perceiving them as separate and unique individ-
uals. What also helps people differentiate and separate is estab-
lishing new relationships of dependence (with another person,
spiritual guide or group). Identification with and dependence on
new objects helps individuals revise old relationships and beliefs.
A similar individuation process may occur in people who join alter-
native religious groups affirming gay spirituality. Various authors
(Barret & Barzan, 1996; Rodriguez & Ouellette, 2000; Thumma,
1991) highlight the significance of establishing new affiliations
with such communities. According to Barret and Barzan (1996),
gay people can feel liberated from the Church as an external author-
ity. In our sample, only one participant was in transition to another
Church, while others simply reduced their religious involvement.
Although they felt physically separate from their religious com-
munity, they still endorsed its beliefs and expressed doubts about
religious consequences of the lifestyle they had chosen.
Using Benevolent Reappraisal
Our study identifies expressions of positive religious coping
strategies (Pargament et al., 2000)usedbyparticipantstorecon-
cile their gay and religious identities. These involve benevolent
religious reappraisal to make meaning of being homosexual, seek-
ing comfort and reassurance through God’s love and care, or using
spiritual counseling. Similar strategies were also reported by gay
Muslims who believed Allah was merciful and created them as they
were (Jaspal & Cinnirella, 2010). Many of our participants ascribed
God with human qualities, e.g., loving, caring, just, and also judging
and forgiving. Rizzuto (1979) explained that the personal image of
God is often in a dynamic relationship with significant others. In an
oppressive religious environment which attacks parts of identity
(homosexuality), persecutory, punitive elements in this image of
God may be found. Howell (2005) says, however, that people tend
to maintain and protect the situation of tenderness by dissociating
memories of the abusive situation (i.e., protecting the good from
being overwhelmed by the bad). Similarly, the image of God can
also be split into a benevolent, idealized object, and an oppres-
sive, threatening one. Putting trust in God as an idealized object
may involve projecting the split oppressive part into the Church
and its representatives. This coulddescribe examples in this study.
Additionally, some participants described sometimes feelingthey
were in contact with the punitive aspect and used punishing God
reappraisal. Unfortunately, this study was limited by research ques-
tions, and participants’ coping strategies were not explored in rela-
tion to their personal image of God or attachment styles. Exploring
these areas in sexual minorities living in various cultural contexts
would be an interesting area for further investigation.
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Although literature lists these main strategies as alternatives,
this study shows that some participants used a variety of these
strategies simultaneously or sequentially, if one was found inef-
fective. Certain strategies could also fade and become reacti-
vated (e.g., Konrad limited his religious involvement but had
bouts of frequent Church attendance to cope with his guilt and
self-loathing, after which he would immerse himself in work
again and stop religious practices). Further analysis could iden-
tify the circumstances in which gays activate these strategies.
Sexual minorities were found in this study to experience
intense internal conflicts relating to their religious beliefs and
affiliation. Because of potential risks associated with ego-dys-
tonic
1
homosexuality, screening tests for sexual behavior and psy-
cho-education should be fostered in religious communities. Those
who exhibit conflicts relating to homosexual attraction should be
encouraged to use counseling. Using spiritual guidanceoffered by
priests who express positive attitudes toward gays and lesbians
should also be encouraged. Clergy should be educated about the
potentially devastating effects of openly expressing prejudice
against the LGBT community by people who represent author-
ity. Therapists, on the other hand, are encouraged to explore spir-
itual conflicts with their clients, and analyze meanings ascribed
to being gay, with reference to religion. They should also encour-
age clients to explore their spirituality by examining their religious
beliefs from different reference points (e.g., cultural, political), and
seek religious support groups for sexual minorities. Psychologists
should examine clients’ transference on the religious institution and
clergy, individual image of God, and coping strategies in relation to
their clients’ personality and relationships with significant others.
This IPA study, by its nature, analyzed a small sample idio-
graphically. Although no claims can be made about the general
applicability of our findings because representation is not an issue in
qualitative studies, certain areas are highlighted that can be of inter-
est to community health psychologists, counselors, psychothera-
pists, and researchers who take on further psychological research
into LGBT spirituality and sexual behavior. This study sample con-
sisted of individuals with deeply religious upbringing, but it tran-
spired that most of them limited their religious involvement when
they found it conflicting with their gay identity. Further compara-
tive studies should be carried out with people who remain active
practitioners, convert, or join alternative religious groups specifi-
cally oriented toward the LGBT population. This sample is also
disproportionately made up of highly educated men. How they
cope with conflicting identities may vary from those with less edu-
cation, lower social capital, or levels of social agency. Such dif-
ferences can be analyzed through comparative studies. The sam-
ple was also limited to individuals who lived in large cities. It is
likely that gay inhabitants of rural areas (known for higher reli-
gious involvement and more collective culture) experience prob-
lems discussed herein with greater intensity. Bell and Valentine
(1995) explained that it is especially difficult to disclose sexual ori-
entation in such environments. The interviewer in this research was
not gender matched to the participants and they had not been
informed about her sexual orientation.It is difficult to speculate
how this affected their disclosure. Taking into account how they
spoke about male authority (their fathers or priests) it is possible
that having a female interviewer, of a similar age to most par-
ticipants, helped some of them open up and disclose their atti-
tudes explicitly. Finally, strategies to cope with conflicting sexual
and religious identities, and consequences of using them, should
be analyzed quantitatively. They could also be explored in refer-
ence to personal image of God or numerous psychological
variables such as personality traits, attachment style, or self-
compassion.
There is little psychological research on how gay Catholics
brought up and living in highly religious environments estab-
lish their sexual identity. Most studies relating to conflict between
ethno-religious and sexual identities are dated, sociologically ori-
ented, or involve other denominations and more multicultural coun-
tries. This study may be the first Eastern European empirical research
exploring intra-psychic conflicts associated with establishing a gay
identity vis-a
`-vis Catholic identity, and discussing strategies used
by participants in their attempts to reconcile conflicting identities.
Open Access This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative
Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (http://creativecomm
ons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribution,
and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to
the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative
Commons license, and indicate if changes were made.
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... As visões acerca da identidade e atributos de Deus podem funcionar como fatores de risco de piores resultados em saúde mental, contudo estas podem também ser importantes recursos que auxiliam até mesmo na permanência nas comunidades de fé. Essa ambivalência vai depender da imagem de Deus que estas pessoas têm (HANSEN; LAMBERT, 2011;PIETKIEWICZ;KOŁODZIEJCZYK-SKRZYPEK, 2016;WHICKER;AUBIN;SKERVEN, 2017;SAFAVIFAR et al., 2016). Dahl e Galliher (2010) em um estudo que tinha por objetivo examinar a relação entre as experiências religiosas de minorias sexuais e resultados de saúde (conflito de orientação sexual, autoestima e depressão) afirmam que emoções negativas referentes a Deus e o sentimento de estar sendo julgado/a pela comunidade religiosa refletem no aumento dos sintomas depressivos. ...
... As visões acerca da identidade e atributos de Deus podem funcionar como fatores de risco de piores resultados em saúde mental, contudo estas podem também ser importantes recursos que auxiliam até mesmo na permanência nas comunidades de fé. Essa ambivalência vai depender da imagem de Deus que estas pessoas têm (HANSEN; LAMBERT, 2011;PIETKIEWICZ;KOŁODZIEJCZYK-SKRZYPEK, 2016;WHICKER;AUBIN;SKERVEN, 2017;SAFAVIFAR et al., 2016). Dahl e Galliher (2010) em um estudo que tinha por objetivo examinar a relação entre as experiências religiosas de minorias sexuais e resultados de saúde (conflito de orientação sexual, autoestima e depressão) afirmam que emoções negativas referentes a Deus e o sentimento de estar sendo julgado/a pela comunidade religiosa refletem no aumento dos sintomas depressivos. ...
... Por outro lado, a ressignificação da imagem de Deus foi considerada um elemento importante no processo de permanência em instituições religiosas e no processo de redução dos sentimentos de culpa e de aceitação de suas sexualidades. Estão presentes nos estudos as concepções de Deus como uma figura personificada e relacional (PIETKIEWICZ; KOŁODZIEJCZYK-SKRZYPEK, 2016). O relacionamento com Deus foi considerado importante para pessoas que optaram por permanecer em suas comunidades de fé, sendo uma fonte de paz, esperança, conforto e um importante meio para superar os desafios da vida (LIBORO; WALSH, 2016). ...
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Diversas pesquisas têm demonstrado os inúmeros benefícios decorrentes da integração da espiritualidade nos cuidados em saúde, contudo entre minorias sexuais essa relação é mais complexa e paradoxal. Buscou-se, por meio deste estudo de revisão integrativa da literatura, verificar o papel da espiritualidade/religiosidade (E/R) na saúde mental de minorias sexuais. O levantamento foi realizado no mês de julho de 2020, nas seguintes bases de dados: SciELO; PUBMED; Biblioteca Virtual de Saúde; Biblioteca Digital Brasileira de Teses e Dissertações e Portal de Periódicos da CAPES. Foram selecionados para análise 27 estudos. Estes estudos evidenciaram que elementos espirituais/religiosos podem funcionar tanto como fatores de risco de piores resultados em saúde mental quanto fatores de proteção. Contudo, apesar da evidência de que a E/R pode ser um recurso de resiliência e força para melhor lidar com o sofrimento, experiências negativas com a E/R têm um impacto mais proeminente na saúde mental destas populações. Estes resultados sugerem a necessidade de um cuidado em Saúde que seja sensível às crenças e práticas espirituais de minorias sexuais, potencializando recursos protetivos que auxiliem no enfrentamento e ressignificação de experiências negativas. Especialistas em assistência espiritual poderiam contribuir no atendimento das demandas específicas destas populações por meio de uma assistência espiritual inclusiva livre de qualquer tipo de julgamentos e condenações.
... One combination of social group-based identities that are traditionally perceived as incompatible is religious and sexual minority identities (including gay, lesbian, and bisexual identities). Several religious ideologies vehemently condemn any deviation from heterosexuality, characterizing same-sex sexual acts as unholy, immoral, and sinful (Pietkiewicz & Kołodziejczyk-Skrzypek, 2016). Research unequivocally demonstrates that these beliefs can be internalized by sexual minorities, resulting in internalized sexual prejudice (ISP; formally referred to as internalized homophobia, see Herek, 2004) and thus higher rates of depression, self-harm, and demoralization (Herek, 1998). ...
... Research shows that having a sexual minority identity can conflict with a range of social group-based identities including gender (e.g., being gay and male: Koc & Vignoles, 2016, 2018, ethnicity (being a woman of color and lesbian: Parks et al., 2004), and religious identities (e.g., gay-Christian: Anderson and Koc, 2020;gay-Muslim: Koc et al., 2021), and sometimes multiple combinations of these identities (e.g., British Muslim South East Asian sexual minority men; Mitha et al., 2021). In particular, the combination of religious and sexual minority identities has a documented range of harmful health and well-being outcomes (including depression and suicidal ideation, Pietkiewicz & Kołodziejczyk-Skrzypek, 2016), and affective outcomes (including shame and guilt, . Thus, there is an urgent need for research exploring strategies for the management of the perceived incompatibility of conflicting identities. ...
... An explanation for these results may be that the initial experience of religious comfort when coming out affords a sense of acceptance by the individual's religion, which may not match how the individual will be received by the members or leaders of their religious community. For instance, exposure to seemingly affirming messages from religious groups may conceal underlying intentions of encouraging suppression of same-sex attraction or change to a heterosexual identity (Jones et al., 2021;Pietkiewicz & Kołodziejczyk-Skrzypek, 2016). Therefore, initial feelings of comfort may endorse the continuation of religious engagement and extend an individual's subjection to teachings with undertones of sexual prejudice (i.e., the union of marriage being between a man and a woman) which in turn can result in increased ISP over time. ...
... Individuals must then come to terms with what is often viewed a 'sinful' sexual identity and therefore 'invalid' and 'contradictory' religious identity. Responding to this struggle, studies reported that participants either integrate both identities in, for example, granting 'coming out spiritual significance by emphasizing the role God played in [their] sexual awakening' (Sumerau et al., 2016, p. 632) and trusting in God's plan (Pietkiewicz & Kołodziejczyk-Skrzypek, 2016). Or participants prioritise or reject one identity either by attempting to treat, heal, and pray away their LGBTQ+ identity (Barton, 2012;Beagan & Hattie, 2015;Pitt, 2009) Wilcox, 2002Wilcox, , 2009. ...
... Struggles related to beliefs and experiences of these identities being incompatible are also visible in the multitude of studies that considered religion as part of an intersectional perspective. This is true especially within the family settings where religious anti-LGBTQ+ attitudes are frequently experienced as a barrier for (initial) family support and acceptance (Johnston & Jenkins, 2004;Lalich & Mclaren, 2010;Pietkiewicz & Kołodziejczyk-Skrzypek, 2016;Potoczniak et al., 2009;Roe, 2017). Further, parents' longstanding religious beliefs that are often the reason for negative reactions, 'can be very difficult to alter' (Mayeza, 2021, p. 302). ...
Article
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Coming out is a fast‐growing global research area with numerous interdisciplinary publications dedicated to its exploration. To contribute to a more organised and concise way of understanding this rapidly expanding field, I introduce a three‐lens typology. Based on the systematic categorisation of over 700 publications, coming out research can be viewed via the following three lenses: (1) the different social institutions in which individuals come out, (2) to whom individuals come out, and (3) the content of individuals' coming out. The identified lenses focus on ‘coming out in’, ‘coming out to’ and ‘coming out as’, which adds to current conceptual understandings of ‘coming out into’ and ‘coming out of’. Further, lens 3 demonstrates another usage shift of the coming out terminology. The concept of coming out originally was used outside of sexuality contexts and currently is being used more broadly again. However, in contrast to its original meaning, the new areas of application (e.g., fatness, atheism, illness) are still linked to conceptualisations and experiences of non‐normativity. This publication assists students, scholars, and practitioners with navigating the extensive amount of coming out literature. It further illustrates the potential and challenges of coming out research and points towards the future—the if, how and what—of this field.
... In specific contexts, religious teachings cannot merely be the primary measure; culture participates in shaping religious responses to homosexuals. It also does not mean that religion does not have a unique view on homosexuality (Knill et al., 2020;Pietkiewicz & Kołodziejczyk-Skrzypek, 2016). Acceptance and rejection of the practice of homosexuality among religious communities depend on the core teachings of religion that are applied in practice by a society. ...
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Recently, the discourse on homosexuality has heated up again in Indonesia. Various responses appear to this phenomenon, some strongly reject it, and some tolerate it. Most of the rejection came from religious circles that used religious arguments. This study explores the core teachings of Buddhism and Confucianism, especially about homosexuality, and compares the two. This study argues that the attitude of Buddhism and Confucianism towards homosexuality is highly dependent on the cultural context in which these religions exist and are practiced. In other words, certain Buddhist/Confucian societies are sometimes more tolerant of homosexual practices than other Buddhist/Confucian societies. That is, the core teachings of religions cannot be merely a measure; culture participates in shaping religious responses to homosexuals. However, it also does not mean that these two religions do not have a unique view on homosexuality. Using the literature study method, this study will focus on exploring the attitudes of these two religions, Buddhism and Confucianism, towards the practice of homosexuality, especially to queering the core teachings of both. The results of this study indicate that in both Buddhism and Confucianism, acceptance and rejection of homosexual practices exist, and almost all use their respective core teachings as arguments. In short, this study contributes to providing an overview of how homosexuality is accepted and rejected in Buddhism and Confucianism.
... The impact of LGBTQ+ influence is most obvious in a review of how queer individuals and groups have impacted antagonistic systems of power, and not by making them more tolerant. Rather the change is measured in the vitriolic and convulsions within the institutions (Pietkiewicz andKołodziejczyk-Skrzypek 2016, p. 1575). There are many political systems that oppose queer rights and recognition, but few match the level of the Roman Catholic Church, the nationalist parties, and political actors in Hungary and Poland. ...
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The impact of LGBTQ+ individuals upon church institutions, state organizations, and political actors is expanding globally. Considerable policy objectives that protect queer people and families, most notably on marriage, trans rights, and non-discrimination policies, have been enacted in many nation states. However, although there are exceptions to queer political progress, broader church and government inter-actions have been altered as well, demonstrating a dynamic religious and political relationship. Far-right nationalists and traditional religious conservatives respond to queer influence by moving further to the right and using LGBTQ+ individuals and political groups as rhetorical and political targets to motivate their base. The result is a draconian environment for progressives inside these institutions. Also notable is the political power necessary to provoke this obsessive focus upon anything ‘queer’.
... Psychological research partially supports officials' assumptions; in numerous surveybased studies, sexual minorities whose religious communities condemn same-sex activity have described a conflict between their religious and sexual identities (e.g. Pietkiewicz & Kołodziejczyk-Skrzypek, 2016;Schuck & Liddle, 2001). The body of literature on this topic is dominated by Festinger's (1957) cognitive dissonance theory, according to which people who hold conflicting beliefs or identities experience discomfort that leads them to change their behavior or cognitions. ...
Article
Full-text available
The number of people seeking asylum based on their sexual orientation is expected to continue increasing. Assessing the credibility of such claims to determine whether asylum-seekers meet the criteria for refugee status is a complex task for asylum officials. These assessments involve several psychological aspects, affecting applicants’ disclosure and asylum officials’ determinations. Here, we present a narrative literature review of 47 original manuscripts to analyze credibility assessments in asylum claims based on sexual orientation. We demonstrate that asylum officials often make assumptions regarding human sexuality, sexual identity formation and sexual behavior that are either partially or entirely unsupported by psychological research. These assumptions are problematic as they undermine the validity of the asylum process and put vulnerable individuals at risk of severe harm. The challenges are aggravated in the cross-cultural context of asylum determinations, where applicants from different countries may manifest their sexual orientation in ways that deviate from Western expectations. We discuss the implications of our review’s findings for psychological research and asylum practice.
... Psychological research partially supports officials' assumptions; in numerous surveybased studies, sexual minorities whose religious communities condemn same-sex activity have described a conflict between their religious and sexual identities (e.g. Pietkiewicz & Kołodziejczyk-Skrzypek, 2016;Schuck & Liddle, 2001). The body of literature on this topic is dominated by Festinger's (1957) cognitive dissonance theory, according to which people who hold conflicting beliefs or identities experience discomfort that leads them to change their behavior or cognitions. ...
Article
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Classical concepts of human development elaborated in the 20th century do not take into consideration the normative development of homosexual people. On the other hand, the depathologization of homosexuality has resulted in an increase of knowledge about gays’ and lesbians’ performance and health. The process of homosexual identity formation, usually beginning in adolescence, has been recognized and well described in the field of psychology. However, this knowledge is rarely integrated with general theories of human development. The article presents the developmental challenges of adolescence and points out the limitations and possibilities of Erikson’s theory in incorporating the experiences of homosexual adolescents. The authors discuss the specific difficulties minority adolescents face growing up in a heteronormative culture and the main stages of homosexual identity formation. The article ends with a reflection on the possibility of integrating the concept of homosexual identity development with Erik Erikson’s theory of identity crisis and its potential solutions in adolescence.
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This article examines the responses by users of the social media platform, Twitter, to the English Premier League’s (EPL) support, via four tweets from their official Twitter account, for the annual Rainbow Laces anti-homophobia in football campaign. Locating our analysis within the corporate social responsibility (CSR) agenda of the EPL, the four tweets received a total of 24,997 ‘likes’, 4,951 retweets, and 1,865 comments. Of those comments directly responding to the campaign and wider CSR agenda of the EPL (n = 407), 236 contained supportive comments and 171 contained negative comments. Despite support for the Rainbow Laces campaign, the comments also reflected some resistance to the overall CSR agenda of the EPL. Here, responses called for a greater focus on issues outside of LGBT+, such as mental health and reducing the financial burden placed on fans to consume football.
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Full-text available
Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) has become a popular methodological framework in qualitative psychology. Studies based in IPA focus on examining how individuals make meaning of their life experiences. A detailed analysis of personal accounts followed by presenting and discussing the generic experiential themes is typically paired with the researcher's own interpretation, which is an expression of double hermeneutics in practice. IPA draws upon phenomenology, hermeneutics, and idiography. This paper presents fundamental principles behind IPA and offers guidelines for doing a study based on this framework. For many decades, the mainstream experimental psy-chology relied on quantitative methodology based on a model which involved testing theories by deriving hypotheses from them, which could then be checked in practice via an experiment or observation. The researcher looked for disconfirmation (falsification) of theory and, by eliminating claims which were not true, he or she was believed to move closer to the truth. In contrast to this approach, we have observed a growing development of qualitative research methodologies.
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Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals are at risk of having negative experiences with religion because of mainstream religions’ non-LGBT-affirming stance. Negative religious experiences can lead to religious or spiritual (R/S) struggles and loss of R/S identity to maintain sexual identity. The authors describe R/S abuse, R/S struggle, and how these can result in loss of R/S identity in LGBT individuals. They provide a case study and discuss counseling implications and areas for future research.
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A qualitative and quantitative study of 66 lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) respondents examined perceived conflicts between religion and sexual orientation. Nearly two-thirds reported having experienced such conflicts. Sources of conflict included denominational teachings, scriptural passages, and congregational prejudice. Reactions included shame, depression, and suicidal ideation. Resolutions included identifying as spiritual rather than religious, reinterpreting religious teachings, changing affiliations, remaining religious but not attending, and abandoning religion altogether. Respondents listed resources that helped them achieve positive resolutions. The experience of conflict was associated with greater difficulty in coming out and with greater diversity in age at coming out, suggesting that religious conflicts can affect LGB identity formation. Implications for practice with religious LGB clients are discussed.
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Using grounded theory methodology, the experiences of 11 self-identified gay male college students were explored to understand how the environment contributed to the exploration and development of a gay identity. One central category (finding empowerment) and 5 integrative categories (self-acceptance, disclosure to others, environmental influences, individual factors, and exploring multiple identities) emerged from the research. Findings suggested that one's sexual identity is complexly integrated and often at odds with other aspects of the individual's identity.
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Howell examines the relationship of segregated models of attachment, disorganized attachment, mentalization, and defensive exclusion to dissociative processes in general and to particular kinds of dissociative solutions. Enactments are reframed as unconscious procedural ways of being with others that often result in segregated systems of attachment. Clinical phenomena associated with splitting are assigned to a model of “attachment-based dissociation” in which alternating dissociated self-states develop along an axis of relational trauma. Later chapters of the book examine dissociation in relation to pathological narcissism; the creation and reproduction of gender; and psychopathy.
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This study explores the effects of a Christian identity on self-reported dissonance, and the relationship between source of dissonance and its resolution. One hundred sixty-three self-identified lesbians drawn from a convenience sample provided responses to open-ended questions regarding tension between religious beliefs and homosexuality. Source of dissonance was coded as internal, external, or nonexistent. An evangelical identity predicted both internal and external dissonance, although the likelihood of experiencing internal dissonance was higher. Resolution strategies included altering one's religious beliefs, leaving the church, or living with the dissonance. Respondents experiencing internal dissonance were more likely to alter their beliefs. However, the effects of the age of Christian identification and age of first suspecting one's lesbianism suggest that identity synthesis may forestall dissonance resolution when the source of tension is perceived as external.
Article
This study examined the factors that affect an Asian‐American individual's choice of identification with Asian‐American and lesbian or gay identity. Nineteen Asian‐American lesbians and 16 Asian‐American gay men belonging to Asian‐American lesbian or gay organizations answered survey questionnaires. Results indicated that most of the respondents identified more strongly with their lesbian or gay identities than with their Asian‐American identities; however, most indicated that acknowledgment of both aspects of identity was preferred. Other situational factors, including disclosure of lesbian or gay identity to family and to the Asian‐American community, as well as discrimination because of sexual orientation, race, and gender, were examined in regard to identity development.