Cameron Esposito's new memoir, Save Yourself, is the story she needed when she was younger. The lesbian comedian tracks the story of her Catholic upbringing and queer liberation, including an early interest in the priesthood and majoring in theology at a Catholic university.
NBC News calls the memoir "a series of ( often hilarious ) observations and recollections" that take a "deep dive into Esposito's ingrained devotion and her subsequent crawling out of it, which both contributed to her becoming…a nationally known comedian."
NBC described a photo Esposito posted for the Easter holiday, in which she is dressed in rainbow robes, with a caption that addresses 'queer folks raised in non-queer-affirming Christian faiths.' She added the message, "We are the risen, who have stepped out of our tombs. Keep rising, pals. Keep rising."
One passage from Save Yourself explains part of her motivation to become a professional comedian. Esposito writes:
"Being a Eucharistic minister is the closest you can get to being a priest if you're a woman. You can be a nun if you're a woman, but nuns don't get to stand on the stage, er, altar, and talk to the congregation about their opinions. Stand-up comics, do, though."
In a second Easter-themed Instagram post, Esposito read to her audience from her memoir's epilogue. In part the excerpt expresses her continued anger and frustration with Catholicism in her life:
"I'm mad that Catholic doctrine still swims in my mind, that I think in Bible stories, regard Sundays as sacred, and love when radio stations start singing Christmas carols in October… once a year or so, I wonder if I should go to church. Then I remember, nope! I'd get 'don't fall for bejeweled taboos meant to preserve the wealth, power and dominance of a few white men' tattooed on my forearm…but you can't get your first tattoo at 37."
But she also recalls how one message has influenced her positively:
"And yet, one of the Bible's greatest hits stays with me: 'God is love'. It's often interpreted as God is made of love, or God loves, but there's another interpretation, that the love between people or across a community is God.
"Look, humans are scared out of our minds and want to be saved. We want to know why we are here, what we are supposed to be doing, and how to protect ourselves. Like Dolly Parton, I am a seeker, still out here hunting down the answers to these questions. Best I can tell for now: connection. Connection to others, connection to ourselves. Maybe that connection is god and we're our own saviors meant to save ourselves."
An NPR interview promoting Save Yourself also addresses Esposito's experience of coming out during her time in college:
"I was at a conservative Catholic college and realized that I was falling in love with a woman. I was a theology major at the time. ... I was also really interested in specifically the social justice side of what I saw in my faith, doing work to try to connect with those who are underserved. And it was in doing this work that I met this woman, another student at my college. We eventually kissed, which was this, like, massive life-transforming kiss."
In the shadow of COVID-19, Esposito is grappling, like so many of us, with increased worries for loved ones. Her partner Katy is immunocompromised and was diagnosed with the virus. In an article for Refinery 29, Esposito describes a harrowing hospital visit early in their relationship, and reflects on how she often puts her own needs on the back burner for others:
"I'm built to think I should prioritize other people's battles over my own. I don't know if that's latent Catholicism or the community oriented bent of queerness or a problem of boundaries that I am definitely working through in therapy. I do know I often feel empathy that is so strong, I can lose sight of myself."
If her writing and life is any indication, Esposito has been successful in living out the social justice messages that drew her to theology as a young person. By publishing her memoir and telling her story, she will continue to influence young people who need these stories to be toldand hopefully, will be fulfilling to her own needs in the process.
Catherine Buck is a writer and educator from Burlington, New Jersey, who is a contributor for New Ways Ministry. The article is at www.newwaysministry.org/2020/05/04/in-new-memoir-comedian-cameron-esposito-digs-into-queer-liberation-catholic-upbringing/ .