Well, as a novelist, you still get to carry on the poverty vow, so you haven't totally caved.
(laughs) Exactly! That will always be.
The other two... not as much. But one out of three ain't bad.
Yeah, I'm certainly not in it for the money. I think the reason I wanted to tell this story is because so many people can relate to it. Many of us grew up in churches where we didn't feel included and who we were was bad. So, we've left that and many of us still are seeking some type of spirituality, but we're not really sure how to do it.
And there's the notion of 'Do I want to support an institution that, at least at the Vatican level, is condemning me?'
Like if I just kept showing up and giving them money, I'm silently saying, 'You go!'
Right, I'm not going to support something that's doing that, and that's why today I'm obviously not a practicing Catholic and I certainly couldn't, in good conscience, be a member of that church. But my main issue is I want to make sure that just because I'm gay, it doesn't mean I can't be someone who believes in Jesus. And there are people who think those are two completely opposite things.
Yeah, you didn't abandon the spiritual life so you could be purely sexual...
No, but I do think that's what happened to a lot of gay people. Everything became sexual and it's not really having a full life. Part of the book is that Vito wants to have a full life. He wants to experience all of that. He wants to have spirituality, he wants sexuality, he wants everything to be whole. He feels like, 'If I stay in the brothers, then I'm spiritual, but I lose the sexual part; and if I leave religious life, and just become a gay man, then everything is sexual and I have no spirituality.'
But I tried to bring readers back to a time... that's why I use so many of the song lyrics and talk about George Michael dating Brooke Shields, and Elton John being married to a woman. I think we've come really far, which is great, but to be mindful to the fact that not very long ago, it was a different time.
I didn't read anything about the book before starting it, so I went into it thinking, OK, he's going to be some closeted religious guy, and that whole story that you'd expect. But then I start it and he's gay and going to the Pet Shop Boys concert, and it was like, what book is this?! That would have been the cliché version of this book.
Exactly, and I think that's one of the things that people think about it. One of my fears was that people would initially think, 'Oh, this is about a closeted priest who is really struggling with coming out,' so right away I wanted to make it really clear that this guy is out, he's comfortable with being out, he's been out since he was a teenager, and yet he still chose to enter religious life.
Initially, the chapters were broken up that way. One would be about him living in community, or teaching in high school being a brother, and then the next chapter would be him having some gay escapade somewhere, and they were very jarring because I really wanted to show how divided he felt.
And was the goal that throughout the course of the book, you'd start merging them? Was it going to be a device?
Yeah. My hope was to kind of have people, when they were reading chapter one, to say, 'Oh, this is a nice brother teaching his students.' And then be in a sex club in chapter two, and have them be like, 'Is this the same guy? What's going on here?' And show how he's trying to merge those two worlds together, but really the device I used was him falling in love, which really makes him go, 'OK, I can still be a gay guy, be in love, and still have a spiritual thing.' But I've gotten such great feedback from people who have read it and, even though they may not be Catholic or from different faiths, they understand that struggle, because they themselves have gone through trying to be spiritual in a world that I think is dismissive.
There is a huge polarization about this issue because, one you pick sides, you've chosen not to be the other. Especially for readers on Oasis, this is just one of many huge things that's going on, and unlike coming out, where you just do it and it works itself out... I mean, I always say that the people who leave you after you come out, good, they're gone. That would have either happened on its own, or it's good it happened. But this issue is all nuance. Most people can't just say, 'this is what I'm doing,' and move forward.
That's exactly true. We were talking before about the Catholic Church and kind of picking and choosing, and certainly there are people who are practicing Catholics who go to church and they use birth control, and they're able to justify that. I know gay guys that are really active members of the Catholic Church, and they're OK with that. But I think for a lot of these big, new megachurches, this whole new Christian Evangelical ministries with huge TV screens... and when I was a teacher, I was a teacher for many years at a public school in southern California, where a lot of these new megachurches are springing up. And there is that real definite thing of...
Well, fundamentalism is always attractive because it removes choice and thought. It's just 'This is it,' and I think a lot of people take solace in that. A world with nuance is nice if you're able to sign onto it. It's definitely an attractive thing. In Jesus Camp, the one woman said, 'look at Islam, they've got people ready to fly into buildings, we're nowhere near that yet,' and I was like, that's a goal?
(laughs) Yeah, I can see it being comforting to people to be told, 'This is the way it is,' and I can buy into that, and maybe if you are a straight couple who want to lead this moral, upstanding life, it's OK. But if you're a kid being raised in that church, and being brought to that church, and you know you're gay and you're hearing this is the most horrible thing, and your family has kind of bought into this church and thinks you must change, it's such a struggle.
I think what happens is, when you do come out, you give up any type of spiritual connection. I've had friends who were raised Catholic like I was, who have nothing to do with the church, which I understand because I don't either, but who have now found Kabbalah, or they're Buddhists or something, which is great. They're trying to find some spiritual path.