Coming Out, Catholic: Meet Ryan McQuade
When it comes to opening up to your loved ones about your sexual orientation, there is a whole gamut of how people choose to do it. Some people tell their best friend over coffee. Others write a letter to their parents. There are those who choose to share their experience via social media. And, surprising as it may seem, there are still others who choose to come out to their church youth group.
Eden Invitation member, Ryan McQuade was born and raised Catholic, and was always active in his faith and parish youth ministry program.
On a retreat in high school, the opening icebreaker was one in which everyone wrote down their worst fear on a slip of paper. New to the area, and determined to start fresh, after experiencing a number of damaging friendships in middle school, Ryan decided to be honest, vulnerably sharing his worst fear.
“I’d grown up in youth ministry and I was like, ‘We’re gonna burn these, or nail them to the cross,’” says Ryan, recalling the experience. “It was grace; I said, ‘I’m going to be really honest, I want this to be very different, I want to make friends here,’ So, I wrote, ‘I’m afraid that I’m gay’ on the paper.”
But things took a bit of a turn when the priest collected all the slips and explained the next activity: that they would play Pictionary with the fears listed to “show how they’re not scary.”
“It was a really insane moment for me,” says Ryan. “I saw a guy get up and he had pulled my card. He started drawing it and I watched as people guessed. Finally no one guessed it, so they read it. It was a huge moment for me. The room went very quiet for quite a while, and I felt God say to me, ‘You don’t know who you are. Your family and friends don’t know who you are. But I know who you are.’”
“Before that moment, acknowledging, ‘I don’t know who I am' was horrifying,” he says. “But under this new context, it’s been liberating to say, I don’t have to know everything. I can be a mystery to myself and I can be okay with that because I’m following Someone who knows who I am.”
Although it was this knowledge that gave Ryan, now an Arizona-based artist and designer, the confidence he initially needed to share his experience, he soon realized it wasn’t just a one-time thing. Not only would he have to continue sharing his story with others, new and old friends alike, in the years to come, but he would also be on a journey of coming to know himself as the Lord continued to work in his heart.
“The way I share with people has changed and evolved,” he says. “I go back to what Jesus said. I don’t have to have this all figured out and I don’t have to have the right words or terminology to make other people comfortable. I get to share what He has shared with me. ‘Coming out’ is a continuous lifelong process, as you begin to discover more and more of yourself.”
Ryan encourages those who are considering opening up about their experience to keep it simple. He reminds that it doesn’t have to address every single point; especially with close family and friends, the conversation will be on-going.
“Just get started, say, ‘I need to talk to you about something,’” says Ryan. “That’s like jumping out of the plane. Once you get it going, you’ll find the words come. It doesn’t have to be a perfect conversation. You just need to be able to say the things that are rattling around in your brain.”
“If you’re coming out to someone and it’s a really important conversation—your parents, or siblings, or a spouse, or a really good friend—that’s not going to be a one-time conversation,” he adds. “(You can) even offer to them, ‘If there’s anything you want to say, or you need to ask me, you have the ability to bring this up any time.’ That’s been really big for me.”
“Or use Eden Invitation,” he says, smiling. “I do that, too. ‘Oh, I’m part of this great ministry called Eden Invitation, it’s for LGBT+ people,’ and I think they can put two and two together.”
Finding people who will pray with and for you as you’re having these conversations is also important. Whether it be a family member or close friend, or a community like Eden Invitation, building a support system can help you get through the anxiety of sharing your story.
“Eden Invitation is a great support because you can be in it anonymously and ask for those prayers before going in to a hard conversation,” says Ryan. “And then you have a touch-point afterwards. You need to be able to tell someone, ‘Here’s how it went.’ That community support is huge.”
Yet, for some, the question remains, “Why should I tell others about my experience?” For Ryan, though incredibly nerve-wracking, the reasoning was somewhat simple. Being honest about this aspect of his life gave him the opportunity to receive the love and support of his family and friends and embrace reality, distinct from the lies that had begun to rattle around in his head.
“It’s hugely liberating,” Ryan says. “I get to live in reality and not the horrors that my mind can come up with.”
“In order to not tell people,” he continues, “you have to create horrible scenarios, where people aren’t accepting or loving or don’t understand you. And the truth is, that isn’t reality. You really don’t know if that’s the case until you open up and share this with people. Even if reality is hard, it’s better than that nightmare.”
Since being open about his experience, Ryan has also found his relationship with God growing, as he finds himself more able to enter into the abundant life to which God invites all of us.
“When I was not out, this was all I thought about and it completely consumed my mind and my spiritual life; all my prayer was about being straight,” says Ryan. “This is still a huge part of my spiritual life, but now, I’m able to pray about my involvement [with] the poor and other devotions that mean a lot to me. By being out, [this experience] is allowed to be properly ordered in my life… It hasn’t completely consumed me where I’m obsessively praying for it to be gone; I’m allowed to live the fullness of the spiritual life.”
At the end of the day, Ryan hopes that other Catholics who experience same-sex desires or gender discordance will come to find freedom in sharing their experience with others, leading to a fuller acceptance of themselves and God’s love for them.
He shares the Gospel story of Lazarus, the man who Jesus raised from the dead.
“The story of Lazarus means a lot to me right now, as to what ‘coming out’ means for a Christian,” Ryan says. “I put myself in [Lazarus’] shoes and think… He wakes up and finds himself in a tomb, and there are two directions he could’ve gone. He could’ve said, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m alive in a tomb, I don’t belong in here,’ or look around, see the tomb, and think, ‘I should be dead right now.’ It was the call of Jesus that made it abundantly clear that he was not meant to be dead in there.”
To other Catholics who share this experience, Ryan offers: “Hear somebody saying, 'You don’t belong in [the tomb]. You’re not better off dead. Someone is calling you.”