My Coming Out Story: Luis Menéndez-Antuña | UB today

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STH Assistant Professor on Creating Space to Explore Identity and Religion

June is Pride Month. To celebrate, UB today resume our My coming out story series, where members of the Boston University community share their stories of coming out and self-acceptance.

We’ll bring you a new story every week throughout the month.

First up: Luis Menéndez-Antuña, assistant professor at the New Testament School of Theology, a practicing Catholic, former Fulbright scholar, and lifelong activist who identifies as gay. Menéndez-Antuña teaches courses on Greek, the New Testament, queer theory in religious texts, and more.

Here is his story.

“Very traumatic, but also very liberating”

I’m not a big fan of the coming out story. It assumes you are hiding somewhere and then there is a moment of enlightenment where you realize who you really are and decide to share it with the world. I’m not saying it’s not a good story. I think it works for some people. But I don’t think it works for everyone.

So for me, there is no coming out story that I approve of for my own personal life. That doesn’t mean I haven’t had to share my sexual preferences with the world at times. (The first time I said “I’m gay” to someone was to a very close friend when I was 21.) I’m actually very open about it; I love talking about sex and sexuality. I am very open professionally, personally, spiritually…you name it.

I always knew I was attracted to the same sex. I think there was trauma [from my upbringing] simply because I grew up in a very rural setting and never had a reference to what a gay man might look like. I was born in Spain, the same year that the country’s dictator, Francisco Franco, died. So I was born into a democracy, if you will. It was still very traditional, very Catholic and very conservative, in the worst possible way. But Spain was one of the first countries in the world to adopt same-sex marriage. So you see the contradictions, don’t you?

I remember the death of Freddie Mercury very well. I was in my mid-teens and he was the first cultural reference of a gay or bisexual man I had seen. So for me, the connection between being gay and dying of HIV was there from the very beginning. I mean, I really thought I was going to die of HIV. I had never even touched anyone! I’ve since shared that experience with some of my friends, and we’ve all gone through the same thing, maybe not with Freddie Mercury, but with other well-known personalities.

I think my big disadvantage was also my big advantage. I grew up in a very Catholic environment, but it wasn’t too crazy. (And that’s my experience – I don’t mean it’s everyone’s experience.) Some religious traditions view sexuality as something completely evil and impure. This insistence on sex as something bad never stuck with me; we don’t have a culture of purity in Spain. And I went to Catholic school all my life! For me, Catholicism has provided me with a good foundation of values, a good sense of who I am, and clear goals in life. It helped me a lot to deal with my homosexuality, despite the initial trauma I experienced with the HIV crisis.

This is something that I also try to bring to my classes. I teach a lot of students who come in very traumatized by the church and by all kinds of conservative backgrounds. But religion can be both very traumatic, but also very liberating, and a great way to explore queer identity in a very emancipatory and invigorating way. That’s what we try to do here at the School of Theology.

For example, I teach a course on queer theory and the New Testament. Queer theory helps us defamiliarize what we know from the Bible. It’s a document, isn’t it? Or rather, a group of documents, which many traditions consider authoritative and inform the way many of us, myself included, try to understand the world. But it is also a literary work. And as a literary work, it can be interpreted from many different angles, just like Aristotle or Shakespeare. One such perspective may be queer theory.

I like to think of it like this: first there has to be a mode of deconstruction, then a mode of construction. Why? Many people approach contemporary issues with many misconceptions about what the Bible says. A lot misconceptions. Let me give you an example. Consider the cultural discourse around the “biblical view of marriage”. If you came to my class right now, I couldn’t tell you what a biblical view of marriage is because there are is not a vision of marriage to begin with. In the Hebrew Bible you have polygamy. There are different versions of what marriage is in the New Testament. But for the most part, that’s enough against marriage, period. Think about it: Jesus was single. In several versions of the Gospels, he asks the disciples to abandon their wives. Paul indeed recommends to the communities to not to marry. So I’m not saying the New Testament is queer. But what I a m say is that it is not this heterosexual text that you may have been led to believe.

I got into theology for different reasons. I felt like it was the natural path for me [with my religious background and an undergraduate degree in philosophy]. Also because after three years of teaching philosophy and religion in high school, I realized that I had no intellectual challenge. And the second thing that happened was the economic downturn of 2008. I was like, okay, this is an opportunity for a career change. I wanted to do a PhD in something that I could contribute intellectually, not just for ideas, but for real-world application. So I was thinking: What is the most homophobic field in the human sciences? The Bible? All right, let’s do it.

For me, the thought process was like, okay, this is the most homophobic area, for obvious reasons. But, it’s an area where I can make a real contribution, because if I’m successful, I’m going to teach pastors, I’m going to teach activists, I’m going to teach people who are going to be impacted in the real world. Queer theory is also just a small part of what I do. I also have an activist background – I worked for many years in prisons and also lived in a homeless shelter for many years. In general, I am very interested in how contemporary questions or issues inform scripture readings, and vice versa. So I also teach colonial theory; I’m going to teach a course on slavery, just because I’m very concerned about how churches talk about reparations. I always try to make a contribution whenever I can, in debates around contemporary topics.

I agree that one of the journeys of my life has been to find my place in what I know. But, I never talk about myself. This is never about me. These are traditions. It’s about finding resources to build communities. This is the world we want to build together.

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