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 …
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.
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.
Intern JK (boot-camp caliber Roman Catholic):
If nothing else, my Roman Catholic upbringing (we’re talking boot-camp caliber) certainly shaped my belief-set about love, tolerance, acceptance and equal rights for all. The definition of “Catholic” is “universal” — we’re all one people created in God’s image. Roman Catholics believe that God IS love, and we’re to strive every moment of every day to be a physical representation of God’s love on earth.
On one hand, we had Love, Equality, and Goodness, and on the other hand my community endorsed rampant racism, homophobia, and general intolerance.
I grew up in a very strict Roman Catholic household in the South (Kentucky, to be precise), surrounded by contrasting teachings of the Church. On one hand, we had Love, Equality and Goodness, and on the other hand my community endorsed rampant racism, homophobia, and general intolerance.
As a kid this was a constant, daily source of torture for me. I couldn’t understand the hatred I saw on a daily basis, especially the hatred from one Catholic towards another. I was torn between feeling my acceptance of people was defined as a sin although I felt it was natural and good. The stereotypical “Catholic guilt” wreaked havoc on my psyche.
As I grew older and strived to learn more, and as I was struggling with my own sexual identity, this inner conflict worsened. Although Catholicism taught me that love was the most beautiful and precious gift we could give to others, my mother had a very narrow view of Catholicism, and I was subjected to an atmosphere of racism and homophobia. What had happened to everything I learned? Everyone seemed so beautiful to me!
I could write a novel about the internal struggle caused by my religious background, but needless to say, just as I knew as a young child, we are all beautiful and deserving of love. There is nothing bad or ugly about love. How could there be?
Now agnostic, I still hold tight to what I was taught about love in Roman Catholicism: that we are all equal and deserving of love. I’ve found this belief to be a common-thread linking all religions. Where there is love, there is good.
Riese (Hippie Liberal Feminist Gender-Neutral Reform Judaism):
Jews and Gays go together like um … Jews and Gays? Growing up in a reform Jewish household (Mom was the Jew, Dad was a Quaker but he never practiced) in a liberal college town with young parents, I never heard, let alone internalized, any homophobic rhetoric or judgment of sexual behavior whatsoever.
Furthermore, my parents were hippies and my Mom was a feminist politically radical future-lesbian and therefore, because the Jews value education, I was very educated on the Plight of Other Children who were Cornered into Traditional Gender Roles and Stifled by Religious Conservatives. You know, the Popular Kids who Got 12 Days of Christmas. I wanted them to like me! I didn’t like Hebrew School ’cause the kids there teased me for going to Gifted School with the nerds, so my beliefs are shaped more on my literary understanding of the Torah and my family’s celebrations (and! I once spoke Hebrew fluently) than of an attachment to the community itself. I actually dig Judaism — what it teaches. It makes sense to me.
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.
Sometimes I thought that it actually would’ve been easier to reject the blatant dogma of the church than it was for me to reject the complicated abstract social pressure or the crippling sense of outsiderdom and lonerhood that made me feel like I needed a boyfriend for so long. WTF? In my high school no-one said lesbians went to hell, but they did say lesbians were ugly pathetic weirdos who went muff-diving ‘cause they couldn’t get a boyfriend. EeK! My tenuous rep could not withstand such judgment.
I realize now how lucky I was to be raised without this judgment but incredibly aware of its existance. So. So. lucky. Was, and am!
I can’t imagine how anyone can handle religious/cultural/familial pressure on top of the social pressure, that blows my mind. I admire those who do, they’ve been my friends and I’ve seen the self-hatred eat them up inside. 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.
Ultimately: Jews don’t have heaven and hell. We live for life, not for the afterlife. The G-d I believe in (and yeah, I am one of those weirdos who totally believes in G-d) values love above all else and just wants people to be nice to each other and happy. It made me sad on Sunday to see so many people who’d been tricked into thinking otherwise.
Alex (Learned her Morals):
My brother and I went to ‘religion school’ once a week to learn our morals, and then I’d come home and ask why we never went to church like everyone else to which Mama Vega replied “We don’t need to go to church just to be close to God. We do that by being good people.” And that’s when I started questioning everything.
I’ve had a lot of feelings about religion (and the existence of God) all my life. None of this relates to sexuality, though. No one in my life ever told me I was going to hell for my homosexuality. My dad doesn’t believe in God but he’s a weirdo with more than a touch of homophobia.
Personally, Religion has never been a huge part of my life. Even though every single person on both sides of my family is Jewish (mostly reform, a few conservative), my parents were never really into going to temple and things like that. When I was younger, I went to Sunday School, and eventually started Hebrew School, well on my way to being Bat Mitzvahed. But, Hebrew School conflicted with karate or basketball or whatever other nonsense I had gotten myself into and when I told my Mom I’d rather do that stuff than Hebrew School, she consented. She didn’t force it on me or look at different temples.I wasn’t even a teenager yet and I was dropout… a Hebrew School dropout.
The kids in school made fun of me, called me a “lesbo” and I was like, “I don’t know what that is,” but I figured it out pretty fast. I’d go home crying to my mom every night after school and she’d hold me and tell me it was OK.
Since then I’ve only set foot in Synagogue for funerals. We celebrate holidays with the whole family but it’s more about the culture than the religion. Similarly, I consider myself Jewish but it’s more of a cultural thing. I like Judaism and what it stands for and what it teaches, but in many ways that’s where it ends for me.
For me, religion has never had any affect on anything going on in my life, nor has it been a device used against me by anyone close to me. When I was growing up, I didn’t actually know what “gay” was, I was a bookish weirdo with no friends who lived in my own little world. I was a total boy, though. I got mistaken for a boy, I dressed and acted like a boy, I played with action figures and other boy things, and there were a few weeks in middle school when I would ponder why it was that I wasn’t just born a boy (these thought were prompted by me thinking I looked like Kirk Cameron one day, true story). My parents always let me act, dress, and think how I wanted (though I’m sure they sat back and laughed at some of my ensembles, #80 especially). The kids in school made fun of me, called me a “lesbo” and I was like “I don’t know what that is” but I figured it out pretty fast. I’d go home crying to my mom every night after school and she’d hold me and tell me it was ok, and that I was better than all those losers at school… which is why I have a huge ego now! Har har, just kidding, those pep talks were all that got me through middle school… and really great grades, cause then I got to escape those assholes and go to a magnet school for nerds, where I fit in pretty decently.
I am not sure if I’m actually making a point here. Few things scare me as much as organized religion, most of it is crazy brainwashing or people trying to make a couple of bucks. Organized religion (and I know I’m generalizing here, but bear with me) is helping to destroy the ideals that our country was founded on and is mostly responsible for the fact that I can only get married in 10% of the country. Religion hasn’t affected me on a personal level; I’m out to my entire family, have been for years now, and no one has ever reacted negatively. I know I’m lucky in this regard. And if I have kids some day, I’m going to teach them values and morals, like my parents taught me, and they can figure out the rest for themselves. If they want to be a bad Jew like their Mom, that should be their decision.
Natalie (No Religion For Her!):
“No religion for you!” my father asserted.
“But, Jorge! The children will grow to be heathens!” my mother quipped.
“NO! No religion. Such atrocities have been committed in the name of this god or that god. I do not want our children tainted with the weight of that history.”
This is how I imagine the conversation between my mother (pro-structured religion) and my father (anti-religion) went. My brother and I grew up in a rather secular household; while we “celebrated” Christmas and Easter, the religious undertones were not present. It was mainly about the presents. We were deep and substantive like that. It was things other than religion that shaped my fundamental beliefs.
“NO! No religion. Such atrocities have been committed in the name of this god or that god. I do not want our children tainted with the weight of that history.”
Do I believe in equal rights for LGBTQ individuals because of my lack of religious upbringing? I doubt it. I mean, sure, if I’d been raised with a religion that held a certain stance on equality or homophobia, it would’ve affected my views.
But I didn’t, and I I think I’m the way I am (believer in equality across the board) not because of any religion or lack thereof; I am who I am because of the people and the institutions (friends, strangers, my family, the schools I attended, the books I read, the programs I watched) that comprised my life.
To be sure, I think there is a relationship between religion and one’s world views, particularly on those “ morally tricky” topics like abortion, gay rights, sexuality and marriage. But, is it a straight-forward, easily traced connection? Absolutely not. Variables abound and entry points for change are numerous.
Hello Autostraddle this is Tinkerbell. I believe in Love of all religions. As you know I was born in Miami, land of heathens and old Jews. I only like beautiful things, but I do not like hotpants. I have constructed my own religion based upon the teachings of my boyfriend Littlefoot and Riese my Hero. I believe all gay people are good because gay men wear better jeans than straight men, and because of the lesbians who I know and love and who pet me. Here is what I believe is my religion called Autostraddleism:
1. “Just to be is a blessing. just to live is holy.” (Rabbi Abraham Heschel)
2. “Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it, no matter if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense.” (Buddha)
3. “And this I believe: that the free, exploring mind of the individual human is the most valuable thing in the world. And this I would fight for: the freedom of the mind to take any direction it wishes, undirected. And this I must fight against: any religion, or government which limits or destroys the individual.” (John Steinback)
4. ” But this is how the revolution begins: a few of us start chasing our dreams, breaking our old patterns, embracing what we love (and in the process discovering what we hate), daydreaming, questioning, acting outside the boundaries of routine and regularity. Others see us doing this, see people daring to be more creative and more adventurous, more generous and more ambitious than they had imagined possible, and join us one by one. Once enough people embrace this new way of living, a point of critical mass is finally reached, and society itself begins to change. From that moment, the world will start to undergo a transformation: from the frightening, alien place that it is, into a place ripe with possibility, where our lives are in our own hands and any dream can come true.” (Crimethinc)