Barbara Grier’s “Lesbian Nuns: Breaking the Silence”

There has been quite a lot written recently, about the high proportion of gay men in the priesthood, and the reasons for this. There is not nearly as much written about the counterpart, lesbian nuns.  One notable exception is ”Lesbian Nuns: Breaking Silence” (1985), by Rosemary Curb and Nancy Manahan.

At Nihil Obstat, there’s a reflection on lesbian publishing, prompted by an obituary for Barbara Grier, publisher of Naiad Press, which includes some useful thoughts on Curb and Manahan’s book.

The book resonated with a large swathe of Catholic lesbians, especially former women religious, who left their communities because their lesbianism was not compatible with either their vows, or the forced invisibility of homosexuals in the Catholic Church.  The spiritual community they experienced in religious life was missed, and it left an ache in some that was never healed. 

There is an interplay between sexuality and spirituality in Catholicism especially, with its emphasis on sensuality and the body.  Think of the suggestive pose of St. Sebastian, and the orgasmic rapture of St. Theresa of Avila.  Even Christ hanging on the cross often has his loincloth positioned in a pretty erotic angle. How can anyone avoid the subtle message of these images or even avoid making them an object of desire?

Unlike many of the other titles in the Naiad list, this book went on to be a smash hit, and made money – a lot of it. Eventually, some of the stories were sold to Penthouse.

The tremendous irony of the whole thing is that Barbara Grier, who spent a lifetime working hard to publish lesbian literature, had her greatest notoriety from providing lesbian sex thrills to men.

Read the full reflection at Nihil Obstat

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