Laneia (from Tiny, Conservative, Southern Town Full of Christians):
Growing up in a tiny, conservative, southern town full of Christians, I was expected to believe in ‘god’, respect my elders, and find a man—in that order. My family wasn’t super religious, at all, but they considered themselves to be Christians and assumed I felt the same way. I didn’t, though, and a deep conversation with my boyfriend at 15 sealed the deal. His cousin was dying of AIDS and my boyfriend’s family had told him that this cousin would obviously be going to hell—not because of his orientation, he was straight—but because he wasn’t a Christian. We both had a hard time understanding why, if this young man had followed the rules of his chosen religion, he would be punished later. It may sound crazy, but that was the first time I had even considered other religions. It was also when I decided I didn’t believe in any of it.
I didn’t tell anyone that I didn’t believe in god, or that kissing my boyfriend made me feel like a blob of nothing, or that I thought sex was boring and painful. I assumed that no one else felt this way, about anything, and that I would eventually be normal.
I kept this to myself because I was afraid of what people would think. I mean, my mother praised my individuality and taught me to be my own person, but there was also this unspoken rule that what people thought about me was more important than anything, which still plagues me to this day. So I didn’t tell anyone that I didn’t believe in god, or that kissing my boyfriend made me feel like a blob of nothing, or that I thought sex was boring and painful. I assumed that no one else felt this way, about anything, and that I would eventually be normal. After all, my friends believed in god and seemed to enjoy the premarital sex they were having, so clearly this was my problem.
It took me a very long time to come to terms with what I felt for girls. Not because of my own religion, but because of the religion and judgment of others, and because growing up in such a small town greatly limits what you see as viable options for yourself. The only gay girls I knew of were butchy dykes, something I didn’t relate to at all, and I thought ‘atheist’ meant ‘satan-worshiper’. It was super confusing and frustrating and lonely.
Coming out to my mother wasn’t really a big deal—she was more worried about what her co-workers would think. Coming out to my religious family members was excruciating because I took that opportunity to tell them I didn’t believe in the bible that supposedly condemned me. This made for an interesting Christmas, as you can imagine.
What makes me sad, though, is that I know of so many people who can’t or won’t come out, either to their families or even themselves, because of religion and the judgment of others. If I had continued to live in my hometown, I’m sure the pressure to fit in would’ve been too much, and I doubt I’d have ever acknowledged my true self. And for the record, I do blame religion for these things. On one hand, I think religion can help people deal with terrifying or sad situations, but on the other hand, it can also have a tremendously negative effect on personal freedom and growth. Religion is too often used as a weapon, especially against the gay community, and causes millions of people to violently hate themselves and/or others. Also, what about SCIENCE?! Science doesn’t hate anyone! So I don’t understand why we even have to have a debate about what ‘god’ thinks is right or wrong because there’s no such thing as burning bushes that speak to people!! Ok, I have to stop here due to my strict rule of No Religious Talk Before Alcohol or Midnight.
Stef (Bat Mitzvah Theme was HORSES):
I grew up in a pretty lax house that only barely practiced Reform Judaism. I did attend Hebrew school and was Bat Mitzvahed (the theme of my party was HORSES. I was awesome). I hated the entire process – I was seriously THREE when I decided I didn’t believe in God, and I tolerated the whole business more or less because it was what was expected of me. My best friend was half Jewish and half Protestant, and she got to have a Christmas tree AND a menorah AND never had to go to temple – I was totally jealous.I dropped out of Hebrew school when I was in high school, and nowadays I go to synagogue for the high holidays and that’s about it… and even then, it’s really just to make my grandparents happy. I’m happy to have been raised Jewish, if only because I can appreciate being a little different – not being expected to know all that much about Jesus, the Chinese food and a movie on Christmas, that awesome vegan chocolate rugelach at Whole Foods, feeling that extra separation from George W Bush’s gun-totin’, Bible-thumpin’ version of America. I appreciate the traditions and the culture, but my parents are pretty understanding about my rejection of the whole religion side of things. I’ve never heard them verbally agree, but I think they feel the same.
I may not have always felt understood, but my parents definitely never prevented me from making my space cadet weirdo choices.
I’ve always been a total space cadet weirdo, and I’m very different from the rest of my cousins – as a kid I was quiet, artistic and bookish, and now… well. I work weird jobs, I have an odd diet, I listen to strange music, I drink and swear, I wear a lot of black, I had pink and blue hair for a while… I may not have always felt understood, but my parents definitely never prevented me from making these choices. I guess I’m pretty lucky to have had that freedom.
Honestly, I don’t talk to my family very much about my own sexuality or romantic life, and they’ve never met anybody I’ve ever dated. Still, we do gossip plenty about the romantic lives and sexualities of various extended family members, celebrities and other unfortunate subjects, and my parents are pretty awesomely open-minded about that sort of thing. It’s really just never been an issue, and I really appreciate that.
I should call my mom.