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

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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.

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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.

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47 Comments

  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.

  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

  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.

  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.

  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.

  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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