Autostraddle Roundtable: I’d Rather Laugh With the Sinners than Cry With the Saints

Today’s Topic: How does the religion we were raised with affect how we view sexuality today? ….Funeral Protests

This past weekend at the Big Gay Hate Rally, thousands of Evangelical Christians warned us that our life “choices” were leading us down a one-way road to hellfire. They fervently shook bibles in the air and proudly displayed “Sodom & Gomorrah” signs with a spirited vigor usually associated with positive expressions (like Pride Flags!). The rally (like many others we’ve been to) was a riotous and frightening endorsement of a very specific brand of religious groupthink — and it’s something all gays & allies have to contend with every day wherever we live, whether it’s from our own families or our elected leaders.

The opinions expressed by Sunday’s anti-equality crowd are hardly unique.  Many of you reading this might not even talk to your families anymore due to religious conflicts. We’ve had many gay friends who preferred to stay closeted rather than go against the church, and many more who’ve let the Catholic guilt literally eat them up inside and drive them insane. Some have rejected religion altogether, and others have carved a space within their spirituality where gayness is a-ok.

We realize that we are writing to you from a position of relative privilege — the fact that we are even on Team Autostraddle means we’ve been given the tools, from somewhere, to live our lives relatively openly. We’d love to hear your stories too!

So we all wrote a little bit about how our individual religious backgrounds have affected and shaped how we view homosexuality and our own sexualities today. Sidenote; we’ve got a lot of Jews up in here. This week Special Guest Intern JK joins in the conversation …


Autostraddle Roundtable:
Are You There, God? It’s Us, Autostraddle!



Robin (Former Christian Camper):

I have so many feelings on this topic its hard to know where to begin. I don’t want to get too personal about my particular religious affiliations, but I was raised in a very religious Christian household. I went to Christian camp and Christian boarding school and I fell in love with my religion from an early age. I wanted to always be thinking about things in a “spiritual” way and healing the world by reflecting God’s love through my tiny person and out to a world that needed it so badly. But I never understood why my sexuality was seen as something to be overcome — a stepping stone to wholeness and spiritual connectivity. So as I got older, this confusion about my own sexuality deepened. But as I struggled to deny it altogether, I saw the love around me change drastically.

When I came out, it was seen as a behavioral challenge. Like hyperactivity! I was told I would either get over it, or be healed by Godly intervention.

This instinctual right to judge among religious people weakens the practice of loving. It’s sad, because “God is Love” is the most prominent and universal religious ideal. Religious leaders will tell their people not to kill, hate or harm a certain segment of the population (read: gays) in the name of God, yet at the same time they’ll say that the gay “lifestyle” (hate that phrase!) is not God’s purpose and they cannot condone equal rights for gay people.

They’re asked to believe that one way of loving is a sin, and another is a miracle of God. And they buy into it!!! Why?

I think there exists an instinctual right to judge among many religious people that weakens the very practice of loving.

The thing that kills me the most is that religion allows people to remain stagnant. They often ignore advances in science, ideas or philosophy because God already spoke on the topic and the book is closed, so to speak. Conveniently, most religions pick and choose “spiritual,” “literal” or “inspired” words from ancient texts to assert feelings on specific issues. What I mean is you don’t see people picketing outside of Red Lobster about the gross consumption of shellfish, yet just last week Autostraddle team members witnessed a protest against the idea of two loving individuals legally committing their lives to one another.

In so many religious texts the fear of God is what saves humanity. I was raised to believe that fear is the opposite and the absence of Love (God). But then why did I grow up afraid of who I was? What many religions do to make us afraid of basic human functions and feelings is crippling, sad, and wrong. Every year in rural conservative America teenagers commit suicide because they are made to feel disgusting and unlovable — that is the biggest sin we have on our hands.  I think Jesus would be disappointed to say the least.

Children really take to heart what the adults in their life tell them. So hear this parents! Do not, EVER, tell your children that gay people are perverted or wrong. Here’s why. If they are gay, they will have to contend with years of self-hate and later on in life, years of therapy. Deal with it! If you don’t understand it, put down your bible and educate yourself. There are plenty of religions and spiritual leaders who have done so. If we have progressed past a man having six wives, we can move on to me someday taking one.



Crystal (Just Was What She Was) :

My upbringing was not at all religious. I couldn’t even tell you what my parents believed in, if anything, and so it didn’t have an affect on my sexuality or opinion of gay rights.

No religion or authority figure was telling me what was right and wrong, and this allowed me to make free decisions about who I was going to become and what I was going to believe in.

I was fairly independent as a child, I was left to figure things out for myself and so there was very little conflict or confusion when I began to explore my sexuality. It just was what it was, you know. No religion or authority figure was telling me what was right and wrong, and this allowed me to make free decisions about who I was going to become and what I was going to believe in. I guess when I realised that I enjoyed the company of ladies, it didn’t feel wrong, there was no pressure to resist and I didn’t feel like I needed to explain myself to anybody.

Religion and sexuality did cross paths later, as a teenager, but by that stage I was already comfortable in my bisexuality. I went to an Anglican high school and sometimes lived at a ‘non denominational’ church, and so I had the “Homosexuality Is Sin” message forced down my throat regularly. All I could do was take on board the best of their teachings and disregard the rest. When I came out of my closet completely, they shut me out. It was sad because some were like family, but I accepted it because I think that tolerance needs to go in every direction.

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  1. Oh my goodness I have so many feelings about all of this. In fact, most of this made me cry. I could write my own lengthy essay on the subject, but I’ll refrain. But I will say this- I believe that God and I are ok with each other (now), it’s the organized church and I that don’t get along. And the conservative, hateful extremists are the reason why I’m not really out to my family, and that hurts, I think about it every day. Every day.

    • I forgot to add that I love Tinkerbell for the Buddha quote. I’ve had the same quote on my MySpace for a couple of years now. It’s something most people don’t do…

  2. Reading this makes me want to give every member of Team Autostraddle a hug, but then I’d just ruin your nice shirts what with all the tears.
    I can’t say much, because WOW…so much emotion.
    But I will say because of the religion forced upon me by people who were supposed to have my best interests at heart, it took me years to finally be ok with who I am. And I don’t think that is what Jesus or Mohammed or whatever imaginary figure had in mind.

  3. This is really amazing. You guys articulated everything so well. Defo need to read this again as got a tad emotional whilst reading. Too many feelings!
    My mum is a bit mental, but also a hardcore conservative (and homophobic)
    Catholic who already told me that I was going to go to hell when I refused to keep going to church when I was fifteen, so I’m less than stoked about the prospect of coming out to her. Luckily, her knowing isn’t important to me. I am totally fine with people believing in God, and respect peoples’ personal religions, but organised religion really makes me crazy! I just don’t understand all the hate.
    Sorry for the rant. And thank you guys so much for all that you’re doing on Autostraddle, its ace!

  4. Before I dive into reading this, I have to say that what I can see of the little pic you used next to the title of the post (someone help me out here, is it an avatar???), it looks like a place I visited in Tennessee? Am I right? Srsly, I have this pic on my hard drive from my trip cross country. My gf spotted the street signs. I will send it as soon as I’m at my computer!!!!!!!!!!

    • Leah, pretty sure that’s Nashville, TN in the pic. If I’m recalling correctly, that should be the intersection of Church & Gay St, because I think a building housing a bank and a law firm is on that corner. I remember giggling about it when I was on a trip with people who were interviewing at law firms in downtown Nashville. hehe

  5. i have many many things to say, and about 800 more questions. But for the sake of time and short attentions spans I’ll just say this, this is such a touchy subject and many people dive head first into it with the assumption that what they think is an absolute truth. But I am very impressed with the way team Autostraddle presented itself.

  6. “It was super confusing and frustrating and lonely.”

    That’s how I would describe growing up. A lot of you guys described yourselves as weirdos! Autostraddle is a place for weirdos, I love it.

    I still have a place in my heart for God (or whatever he represents), though not the institution. Faith is a personal thing.

    • Once upon a time I wanted our tagline to be “girl on girl culture for weirdos” but I was voted down. Luckily the subliminal message persists.

  7. Wow- this is just great. So many different perspectives yet all so similar and well articulated. I especially connect Laneia (except Northern, not Southern) and find this such great timing as I simply have not been able to stop thinking about this lately- about religion and how it should be self-regarding, an individual comfort that need not be forced upon others! Especially with what is currently happening in NH (where I’m from) with the gay marriage bill battle and religious right switching sides. Why can’t we just coexist and let others be? Gah! Guess that’s the question of the century though. Also (side note), I have had “Only the Good Die Young” [Bill Joel=love] stuck in my head all day & have thought it to be especially relevant so when I read the post title thought it was quite the cool coincidence- thanks for that. okay, anyways, great entry. It’s so frustrating at times, but at least things are looking up! <3

    • yes, individual comfort — you said exactly what i was trying to say up there! thank you!

  8. “I guess that’s part of why I want to do Autostraddle; ‘cause lessening that social pressure just a little bit might make the other stuff easier to handle.” – Riese (and generally the auto-verse)…you totally make my little gay heart giddy. It lessens the catholic guilt, it really does.

    • Lynne,

      *sigh* Catholic guilt… the Catholic guilt that reaches to every single aspect of my life, for me, is worse than just the Catholicism/sexuality connection. I mean, it’s been so bad at times that it can impact what I choose to wear, to eat, etc. And it’s been over 8 years since I considered myself Catholic!

      And, by the way, I’m not out to my family. They’ve not approved of many of my choices, but luckily it’s not too important to me for them to know. Fortunately, I was able to be strong enough to be open and out to friends and co-workers, so I actually do feel as though I’m living an “out lifestyle”.

  9. oh wow. you guys always managed to balance heavy stuff with humor like nobody else. where else would i find “bat mitzva theme was HORSES” and “the thing that kills me most is that religion allows people to remain stagnant” in the same article?

    my formerly superrepublican dad has gotten more liberal as he’s gotten more spiritual over the past five-ish years. when i came out to him–and he was the first person i told–i was crying harder than anything but he hugged me really hard and told me god made me just how i am. and what more can you want in a dad?

    • It’s so hard to know what to expect when coming out — rarely does someone expect a better reaction than what they receive, but every now and then there’s stories where someone expects the worst and gets a hug. I was really surprised to find out my grandma has known for a while and really doesn’t care, just wants me to be happy. Which makes me happy.

  10. Thank you for writing this. It’s so very true…

    I’m the product of Protestant evangelical charismatic born-again Christian parents (yes, they really do use each of those titles to describe themselves, though usually not all together!). Then I brilliantly headed off to Catholic university, which I am thankfully done with.

    But what I really want to share is the most insidious form of Christian intolerance I’ve run across (Catholics & Protestants have both used it): Homosexuals are born homosexual, but God gives us all a powerful tendency towards some sin (like alcoholic genes, etc.), so homosexuals must overcome the sin by living chastely.

    Makes me SO angry, but they say it believing that they’re being “loving”!

    • Liz,

      Your statement: “But what I really want to share is the most insidious form of Christian intolerance I’ve run across (Catholics & Protestants have both used it): Homosexuals are born homosexual, but God gives us all a powerful tendency towards some sin (like alcoholic genes, etc.), so homosexuals must overcome the sin by living chastely.”

      That is it exactly, and the thing that troubled me the most about Catholicism’s view on homosexuality! Catholicism widely teaches that tenet of the faith. Oh… just you mentioning it sent me on a roller-coaster of memory-laced emotions. *sigh* I remember the first time I heard the teaching was literally within a few days after my first experience with a woman (my mom was homophobic to the degree that she ensured I didn’t even learn about the Catholic Church’s position on homosexuality until my teen years). I couldn’t begin to put into words the desperation I felt and the suffocating feeling that was closing in on me. Ow… just remembering how it felt is rough.

      • I was having a really hard time with it too, how I feel like all the rules and the details just weren’t jibing with the overall message of love and when I told my priest uncle/godfather about it all, he told me something that kind of soothed my distraught spirit (or something).

        Anyway, he said something about how the Church provides a foundation for most people to live a good, honest and holy life but sometimes there are people that don’t really fit that general profile and in those cases, you kind of have to establish for yourself what it is to be a good person and how to live a spiritual life.

        You know he said it way better than that but that was the general idea of it and it’s something I’ve kept in mind since.

  11. well done, grrls. this is SO important…you should definitely write much more on this, and perhaps a reader article about it? i have a feeling this is a big issue for everyone, across the board.

  12. SO glad you did a roundtable on this. Serious, I was fortunate enough to be raised in a super secular and liberal environment/choose what I wanted to believe in- my parents flipped for other than religious reasons. As such, I’ve always found the societal pressures harder to deal with than religious ones. Not everyone is so lucky, I think.
    Tinkerbell knows what’s up. Word.

  13. Wow, just wow, loved this.

    I have many friends on opposite ends of the religious spectrum and historically I hid my real opinions from the people who I’d considered the most religious. (and who I thought would be most judgmental) To my surprise and relief, as I’ve come out – they have been some of my biggest supporters.

    I’ve been lucky to have made good friends that see beyond labels and actually see me.

    I really, REALLY like what tinkerbell quoted from Crimethinc.

    Great post. Bravo everyone.

    • you know what i think’s great? you’re also the one who sees beyond labels and actually sees your friends — not just their religions. i don’t think we get enough credit for that.

  14. 1)When I read Carly’s “hebrew school dropout”, I sang it to the tune of “Beauty School Dropout” from Grease. Irrelevant but funny.

    2)I grew up in Kansas, home of Fred Phelps. Because I grew up in the land of Baptists, I am very afraid of organized religion even though I did not grow up in a religious family.

    3)I grew up working class and have long been interested in class and homophobia.

    4)I too went to a nerd magnet school. Autostraddle + magnet school queer nerds = awesome.

  15. I love that there are so many Hebrew School dropouts here. I finally convinced my parents to let me officially drop out this year (finally) after years of skipping pretty much every week for other random activities.

    My religious environment is pretty much the same as Carly’s in that my parents are totally supportive and don’t care that I’m gay. I also go to/went to a hippie temple where my Rabbi is a woman who has done commitment ceremonies (I totally just thought of the Julie Goldman song when I wrote that…) even though my state doesn’t have marriage equality or civil unions.

    I’m 16 now, and I’ve pretty much decided that I can’t bring myself to participate in organized religion, even if reform Judaism is pretty accepting.

    • I’m jealous of all these hebrew school dropouts. I wanted to play soccer but Mom made me go, which made me bitter towards religion. Kinda funny that now I’d love to go. I guess social pressures dominated my life absolutely back then, any way you look at it.

  16. I really appreciate the voices of each of you. It makes me sad to think about the internal conflict people face with religion and sexuality. Though religion can be an enriching thing, I find that it is too often used as justification for hate. I feel even more lucky to have grown up in a lax family and be part of a Quaker school. Though I do not quite practice in the “Society of Friends” I believe in the “SPICES” – Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community, Equality, and Service. I feel like such a fruit always saying this.. but.. I just want everyone to love each other! Hah. Sorry for the novel.

    • “I just want everyone to love each other!”
      me, too! i don’t know anything about Quaker school, but i love the idea of SPICES! i think i may look into this further. seriously.

  17. I loved this post. So great to hear everyone’s experiences with spirituality and how it shaped the way they feel about homosexuality. I’d love to see more posts like this that touch on issues i’m sure alot of your readers are dealing with. So many people have turned to the internet to get perspective on their before-after-and-during coming out process and this is the kind of thing that will really help them out in that regard.

    You’ve got a great balance of homo-news/ entertainment / fun / personal experiences and insight at A.S. and I’m so so impressed at what the team’s made here. On the realz.

    I was also very impressed / a little in love with this sentence from Robin:
    “This instinctual right to judge among religious people weakens the practice of loving.”

    • “You’ve got a great balance of homo-news/ entertainment / fun / personal experiences and insight at A.S. and I’m so so impressed at what the team’s made here. On the realz.”
      this is exactly what we hope we’re doing here. thank you! xxx

  18. Really excellent, guys. Thanks for addressing the issue in a thorough and respectful way. I really enjoyed the different perspectives. Hope to see more in the future on this topic or other equally compelling issues.

    • Thanks! We hope to do more in the future on compelling issues too. This one felt really good to put together.

  19. I just wanted to take a second and thank you guys for everything you do and especially this post. I deeply appreciate having this site to go to when I’m feeling down. You all do a great job. Keep it up.

  20. This was great guys, I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. You do a great job on this site.

    My upbringing was completely religion free and, while I’m interested in religion and completely respecting of those who wish to practice it, I have some huge problems with it that I can’t even begin to explain.

    I wanted to share a quote with you that I stumbled on the other day, which I quite liked. In fact, I think I was looking at your Actual Lesbians/Bisexuals gallery and saw the pic of Katharine Hepburn. I didn’t realise there had been so many rumours about her sexuality and I Wikipedia’d her ass and found this quote:

    “I’m an atheist and that’s it. I believe there’s nothing we can know except that we should be kind to each other and do what we can for other people. And chicks are hot.”

    Okay, well I added that last sentence myself, but the rest is 100% authentic.

    • Wouldn’t it be awesome if everyone can live by the simple idea of being kind to each other?! Thanks for sharing that quote, loved it.

  21. This is def. one of the best things I’ve ever read on here-
    I have many thoughts- I gotta say I can relate most to a mix of Riese and Natalies though.
    My dad is Jewish and my mom is Catholic and we were raised neither. (Wanted to be both when Confirmations and Bat Mitzvahs happened) Both came from religious families though- my Catholic grandparents didn’t care less about the religion factor they loved us unconditionally. The Jewish grandma on the otherhand has always frowned upon my mother for not being Jewish and thinks every decision made for us children can be blamed on my Catholic mother. (She would flip a shit if she knew my youngest sister is baptized)– This prompted me to ask my father if he turned on his religion for love and he said “I can’t talk about this right now”.. lovely

    As far as sexuality goes- I have absolutely no memory of a homophobic phrase being used in my household my entire life– except by me in middle school. I even remember when I was like 12, and my mother said to me after watching some tv special on teens I am assuming “Nicole, if you are ever pregnant, or gay, or anything I want you to know to never be afraid to tell us” Surely, I rolled my eyes and years later tested this theory by buying pregnancy tests and leaving them in the car my father and I shared… anyways…

    Like Riese said it was def. the social pressures of middle school & high school that formed my opinion. I remember one of the “unpopular” girls freshman year literally coming out to me about her crush on my “popular” friend– which obviously lead to my friend making fun of her– I didn’t, but I have always felt bad about that- although according to facebook – this girl is doing just fine now and lives with her girlfriend in NH, and that former friends, well she has seen better days.. just saying. The End

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  23. I am tempted to send a link to this article to my mom, who thinks I’m going to die at Armageddon, and that this is a phase I can change my mind about if I focus hard enough.

    • Me too and I kind of hate that she insists that I can. You can’t pray away the gay, Mom! God knows I’ve tried. No, seriously, he does.

  24. Oh my God, the Catholic guilt! I don’t think that will ever leave me no matter how much I distance myself from the Church.

    But anyways, in my own experience, growing up and coming out really changed the both way that I saw the faith I was raised in and the way I saw religion as a whole. I went from a confused kid looking for the faith my parents believed in so fervently to more of a deist-y why-can’t-we-all-just-get-along type.

    Being able to look at religion objectively is wonderful; I think it’s one of the more fascinating aspects of humanity. But I don’t think one can understand it when so biased towards one side.

  25. My mum believes in God, I don’t. She believes in a loving God and Jesus who don’t actually have a problem with homosexuals. I tried to convince her that Jesus actually DOES hate homosexuals by reading the entire New Testament. Apparently Jesus never said anything bad about gays-it was all that sonofabitch Paul. Also the Old Testament. (For a religion with a lot of hatred for Jews, they sure put a lot of emphasis on following ancient JEWISH laws.)

    My point is, I was shamed. And I love my mum, for following the idea and the spirit of Christianity-Jesus loves everyone, so should we-rather than the strict rules a two-thousand year old book lays down.

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