Days after Christmas 2015 I got on a plane to Madrid to visit my dear friend Juanma Fiñana. It would be my first New Years outside the Netherlands and I was looking forward to it a lot, exciting! I had a connecting flight in Paris CDG, for only one reason; it was cheaper than a direct flight. On that flight from Paris to Madrid it happened; I managed to get a random Spanish Catholic woman to pray for my homosexual soul!
Seat 23F, next to the window, was mine to occupy during the flight and when I arrived to board the plane it was already full. Two people kindly stood up making it possible for me to sit down in the metal tube neatly stacked with people. When I am about to spend a few hours next to a stranger in a plane I have the tendency to play nice and show my best manners. After sitting down I thanked the woman next to me in English and asked her if she spoke English, Spanish or French. “All three” she kindly replied. She looked quite friendly, had long light brown hair, a small posture and I estimated her to be around 45 years old. I extended my hand and asked; “can we speak English? I am Jorian by the way”. She smiled and said “Of course, I am Johanna, nice to meet you”. (the name of Johanna I made up to keep her anonymity)
The Dutch Royal family and politics
We started talking about where we are from. Originally she came from a small city in the north of Spain but now she worked for the European Union in Paris and lives in Madrid, traveling up and down frequently. I explained her I am Dutch and live in Amsterdam. This triggered her, to my surprise, to start off a seriously enthusiastic conversation about the Dutch King and Queen. She follows them on social media and reads about them. The recent news that King Willem-Alexander was spotted in a McDonalds with his children was something she loved. But Queen Maxima was way more popular because, among other things, she is an ambassador for the UN. From that topic we went to politics because of the historic results of the Spanish elections recently. She proved to be quite aware of Dutch politics as well which meant a delightful conversation. By this time little more than an hour passed and we had some quiet time with a delicious sandwich. It was clear we were capable of having a good conversation together and it seemed we were going to be best friends forever!
You are Catholic, right?!
When I finished my last bite and was still chewing she asked me; “you are Catholic, right?!” I suddenly realized that we were in a small tube, that we were very close physically and would be for at least the next hour. Considering the nice conversation we had before and the way she asked me the question I concluded it was not the moment (yet) to go all Stephen Fry on her. I answered: “I was Catholic yes”. She looked at me, decided my answer was good enough and went on: “so you are going to JMJ?”. JMJ?? What the fuck is JMJ I thought. Didn’t I pay attention in church when I was still attending? She pointed at an advert in her magazine “JMJ!” A picture of pope Francis rising above a crowd of thousands of people was what I saw. “Sorry, I don’t know what JMJ is, what is it?” I decided that as long as I could talk about general topics like this and maybe divert her attention somewhere else, the temptation to talk about all controversial things like abortion, sexuality, family life etc would be less and we could sit the last hour in the plane out in a decent way.
“You must think I’m crazy” she continued “but I believe Jesus is coming back to earth this year at JMJ, all the signs are there”. The conversation went on and more and more I realized there was no escaping the big issues. I tried to lead the conversation elsewhere several times but she just came back to the Catholic Church every time again. Frequently checking the time on my phone I dragged the conversation. This way I hoped we didn’t have to spend too long next to each other anymore by the time she would find out that I’m a progressive gay Liberal from the political party (D66) that, among other parties, is responsible for the first gay marriage in the world.
Two guys or two girls together could never raise a family in a healthy way
“Two guys or two girls together could never raise a family in a healthy way”. There it was. She said it. And I gave no reason at all for her to say this. I guess she was comfortable with me because of our conversation so far. She went on; “God just doesn’t approve of a lifestyle like that and it’s absolutely not possible for two guys or two girls to love and care for each other the same way a man and a woman can”. I kept on the surface and decided to hear her out for the next 15 minutes. After some more empty reasoning, insults at different levels and only 30 minutes left to arrival, I decided to go in and join the conversation. I asked her, stressing that she didn’t need to answer my question if it didn’t feel comfortable for her, “How would you respond if one of your daughters (she has three) came to you explaining she likes women?”.
I carefully selected this question for different reasons. One, because it’s about her daughter she might not lecture so much. Two, planting a seed for when one of her children proves to be gay in the future. And three, this way she was forced to deal with the situation, she could turn her back on a random person but not on her daughter.
She was ok with the question, took a moment to think about it and then answered: “I would not approve of her lifestyle and explain her that this is not the way I raised her. But I would also respect her and tell her that I regret the difficult life she chooses. To be honest I find it hard to judge because I have no experience with gay people”.
I was surprised how different it was from what I had been expecting after the Catholic Church propaganda from before. I asked her if she knew anyone gay or lesbian, she didn’t. Then I asked her if she would like to get the chance to talk to someone gay or lesbian to ask what she wanted to know. She hesitated but said she would appreciate to talk to someone gay or lesbian. I decided, with 20 minutes left, to come out and give her the opportunity.
Keep praying, just keep praying!
“Well Johanna, I am gay and if you like you can ask me anything you like to know“. She was quite surprised and didn’t know how to respond. After about half a minute she still didn’t say anything and I decided to rephrase; “in regards to our conversation before, is there anything you would like to say to me?” After a few seconds she turned to me, looked straight at me and said: “keep praying, just keep praying!” I explained her that that would not happen, we talked about it before when she asked me why I left the church.
“God is your father, he will always be your father, even if you don’t want Him“.
I hate this kinda good intentions but inescapable blessings that I don’t want. I am expected to be thankful for a blessing I don’t want which forces me to recognize something that I don’t even believe does exist.
It was clear the consensus in our conversation was over, we would never agree on anything to do with religion or family life and lifestyle. That is actually exactly what I told her, which she agreed to. I was glad I had dared to be outspoken about everything. It made me feel I could talk to people I don’t agree with and still have a great time and good conversation.
In the mean time the airplane had arrived at Madrid airport and reached the gate. While I was waiting for people to leave, she was going through her purse. After some thorough searching she turned to me and said: “here, for you. It is a medallion of Maria that a priest gave to me a long time ago. And because you will not pray, I promise you I will pray for your soul, you’re a good human being”.
I wear this medallion with me every day. Not because I believe in its spiritual powers, not because I respect the way she forced her believes on me by giving it to me, but because it reminds me of people with other lifestyles, opinions, morals and values and still wishing them the best.