I love telling people that I was a seminarian.
It’s not true. But when I was young and closeted—so very long ago—I was seriously thinking about becoming a priest. At the time that seemed to be the only way I could live with other dudes (in something called a “rectory”) and dress in drag on the weekends (in something called a “cassock”) without breaking both my parents’ hearts.
Which is how I wound up at Quigley Preparatory Seminary North, a Catholic high school for boys who were thinking about becoming priests. The Chicago Archdiocese closed Quigley, which was located just south of the Viagra Triangle, in 2007. It was declining enrollment that did Quigley in. Because nowadays Catholic boys who want to live with men and play dress up have more and better options—like coming out and/or joining the marines.
So I was never a fully blown seminarian. I wasn’t even a briefly fondled one. (Catholic grade schools, Catholic high schools, altar boy, receptionist in rectory, and never once molested—forgive me, father, but what am I? Chopped liver?) But I was, when I showed up at Quigley on my first day of high school, very seriously thinking about the priesthood. That serious contemplation lasted, oh, about six weeks.
Quigley was hell on Rush Street. Most—not all—of the teachers were assholes and, as in any environment where closet cases are overrepresented (the Catholic church, the GOP, Ultimate Fighting pay-per-view audiences), homophobia was not just tolerated, it was encouraged. Bullying was rampant at Quigley, and I was a target.
I could recount some bullying stories here—beat downs, casual violence, threats of violence—but I don’t want to give the bullies the satisfaction of seeing their actions, which terrorized their victims at the time, fade into anecdotes. Let’s just cut to the chase: it was bad, and one day I decided that getting beat up by boys I wanted to blow me was no fun. Getting beat up by boys who also wanted to blow me sounded like way more fun—I was Catholic—and there just weren’t any boys like that at Quigley.
I organized my expulsion two months into my sophomore year by setting off firecrackers in my locker. I wound up in another Catholic high school—St. Gregory the Great—with two of my siblings before finding the high school where I belonged: Metro High, an alternative Chicago public high school which, like Quigley, is now closed.
Sometimes I wonder what kind of priest I would’ve made if I’d stayed at Quigley and gone on to a real seminary and then somehow had managed to get my gay ass ordained. A good one, I’d like to think, a priest like Father Tom or Father Ed, two priests who made a real difference in my life. But thankfully for me—and the church—circumstance and social change carried me to a pulpit that was much more my style.