feature image via dreamyoga.com
Do you wish we talked more about the relationship between religion and queerness? Well then hello, you’ve come to the right place! We’re hosting a panel at A-Camp discussing this very topic, starring Vanessa, Hansen, Mey, and Fikri bringing four different perspectives to the table and (hopefully!) featuring a lot of camper participation, too. We wanted to include as many perspectives as possible in this roundtable, so we asked the entire team to contribute and twelve individuals stepped forward, all associated with different religions, attachment to their religion, and opinions about how being queer affects their religious identity and how religion affects their queer identity. The following contributions touch upon questions such as, “Do you have a daily spiritual practice? What does it look like?”, “How does your gender and sexuality intersect with your religion?”, “Is your family religious? What was their reaction to your queer identity?”, and “Do you try to find partner(s) who also practice your faith?” If you have a lot of feelings about any or all of these questions, please head to the comments and add your own voice to the conversation. We’ve gotta talk about this stuff more; we’re just here to get the party started.
I was raised in the Reformed Church and confirmed in the Reformed Church. And for quite some time, I knew I would leave it. My inkling solidified into resolve when, during my grandfather’s funeral, I saw posters for this video series that you could show to your sons and it would teach them not be girly, sissy or gay. It was my junior year of university and I already had broken up with my high school (then college boyfriend) because I was gay. Being gay also ended my relationship with the Reformed Church.
I came back to religion because of doubt. Earlier this year, I started not being able to sleep. For no reason whatsoever, I lay in my girlfriend’s bed listening to the city at night and I just thought, what happens when I die? I’m fairly science minded. And science doesn’t tell me anything. Many scientists, in fact, tell me there is nothing. Nothing after. And I just started floundering. I cannot conceptualize a world where that is the case, where all of us just end like that. Matter is never created nor destroyed, so how can human souls just end? Everything else is a cycle. We must be a cycle too. And yet. And yet there is no proof that there is anything beyond this life, and I like proof, so how could I be taken in by that mysticism? I became obsessed with the question. Nothing spurred it on. But I cried every night, and I didn’t sleep. I kept wondering if my thinking about death was a sign that it was close. I began to think that perhaps I was about to get hit by a New York City bus.
I had dinner with my girlfriend and Autostraddle’s own Gabby and Vanessa. I cried at the dinner table. Gabby comforted me by telling me, “Of course there’s something out there. It’s just not for us, that’s why we can’t know about it”. I found it easier to believe in something after that. When someone as wise and as rational as Gabrielle Rivera tells you something exists, doubts ease a bit. But not all the way. Not entirely. The question still haunted me. I continued on, sleepless.
“I cannot conceptualize a world where that is the case, where all of us just end like that. Matter is never created nor destroyed, so how can human souls just end?”
About a week and a half after that delightful mindset began, my aunt died. I found out later that it was very much expected, but no one outside of her children knew that. She kept it a secret from everyone, including her brother (my father). Or maybe he knew, but he didn’t tell me. I had no idea it was coming until it already happened. When I found out, I let it sit with me for a bit – didn’t really talk to anyone about it, outside of my family and my girlfriend. But when I finally did tell Gabby, she said something I’ll never forget – “huh. The spirit world has it’s way of getting the message out, doesn’t it?” I thought about it. Perhaps the thoughts, the doubts, the fears were all for a reason. My terror eased after that, to the point where I slept a full night again. And then I started going to church.
I decided to try the Unitarian Universalist church about 30 steps from my girlfriend’s apartment. It had a rainbow built into the brick wall in front of its gorgeous garden. It had looked so welcoming. I figured I’d at least give it a shot. When my girlfriend and I went the first Sunday, they were having a book sale to benefit their feminist reading group. I thought, “Huh. This is not what I remember about church. I like this much better”. The very first sermon I heard was about loving hands moving you into the next life. Come Pride weekend, they had a Pride service (partially scored with Sondheim songs, to boot). Perhaps my favorite sermon happened on Father’s Day – it was about parents. And how we surround ourselves with the people that we need to help us complete our growing up process. I thought about my queers, the queers that had even come to church with me that day. My girlfriend. My Autostraddle peeps. Heck, I thought about Gabby Rivera and exactly how much mind-changing and growing I’d done since diving head-first into this wonderful community we’ve got here. I thought that idea sounded pretty darn accurate.
My family has been Mormon since Joseph Smith decided to start the faith. My ancestors moved to Utah to practice their faith, some of whom were polygamists – although the LDS (Mormon) church does not practice polygamy currently. I remember googling, “I have a crush on a girl and I’m a girl” in the eighth grade and seeing a bunch of pages about “homosexuality” and “lesbians.” I had a queasy feeling in my stomach when I realized that I had heard the word “homosexual” in church-usually used in the same sentence as “beastality.” I looked up “homosexuality” on lds.org and found some 1970’s APA style bullshit about homosexuality being a “mental illness.” The website has changed since then, but basically it said that through having faith in god one could overcome homosexuality and also get the assistance of a psychiatrist. And then I remember thinking to myself, “My family can’t deal with this right now, so I’m not going to deal with it.” And put my feelings in a box and didn’t even think about it until my freshman year at Stanford.
“I ended up having to figure out how to separate my moral code from the faith I had been raised in.”
Over the last eight years, my spirituality has evolved. I decided I didn’t believe in the Mormon church before ever coming out. When I decided I wasn’t Mormon I had a weird identity crisis – the church tells its members what to eat, how much to tithe and even what underwear to wear. I had some existential crises where I would think, “Why don’t I steal? I don’t actually believe Jesus is going to cry if I do… So why do I think this way?” I ended up having to figure out how to separate my moral code from the faith I had been raised in.
My parents immediate reactions to my coming out were not that great, but over the last few years we have come to a sort of treaty where I respect their religion and they respect my right not to practice it. Currently, I have a regular prayer and meditation practice, read religious books from various faiths and I like not knowing exactly what’s out there. My favorite quote is, “There is more than one path to God,” and that resonates with me.
It feels awkward writing about being Muslim, trans*, and queer. No matter what, all three are experienced in such personal, individual ways.
My experience is being raised by religious parents, and practicing at a young age (praying & fasting by 8, hajj by 16). I was also a religious Muslim in Texas. Discrimination wasn’t a problem (Texas has had longstanding policies of Muslim acceptance). But there was a sense that, in a culture either Christian or secular liberal, I was somehow different.
That meant two things: developing an unwavering faith (because there’s nothing to stop you from losing it), and tolerance. Tolerance was something my parents encouraged (my mother once said that if I was going to pray for someone’s soul, it should be my own). What I believed affected my actions, but that was it. The strength or weakness of my faith wasn’t tied to its presence in my environment.
As such, I’ve mostly socialized outside of Muslim communities, and spent a lot of time in queer circles as an ally & supporter. It didn’t matter if I thought it was sin or not. If I had a right to be free from discrimination, so did everyone else. The question of sin didn’t affect me.
That is, until it did.
Being trans* wasn’t the issue: some scholars condemn it, but others are supportive (not to mention the history of trans* Muslims going to the Prophet (P)). But, now, I was queer. And while that negated none of my faith, I had no idea what it would mean for me. Would I be celibate? Unmarried? Unable to transition for some reason?
“Navigating the spaces around family and mosque has meant navigating the closet.”
It’s why I started blogging: to find the place my queerness would have in my life and in my faith. Obviously, it didn’t happen all at once. But it wasn’t always incremental. There were times of stagnation weeks/months with no sign. Then suddenly you’d find a blogger, or make a friend, or read an article, and it changed everything. Over time, I’ve managed to create a place, online, where I’m comfortable with myself both spiritually and otherwise.
Creating that space in the world is different. Navigating the spaces around family and mosque has meant navigating the closet. It seems weak willed, like I’m just bowing to outside pressure. But being part of my family and mosque is important. If I’m blessed enough to get the chance to have that, no matter how tentatively, then I’ll do what it takes.
And it worked. I’ve been part of my family’s lives. What’s more, seeing the positive effect it’s had on me has led them to a place of understanding. For all intents and purposes, I’m now “out” to my immediate family, and they’re as supportive as I could hope for.
My mosque is another story. My transition has changed my appearance so much that I’m not sure I can pray in either section without raising ire. I’m not sure who to ask about it, or what to ask. All I can do is try and set up an alternate jummah.
What’s needed in the community is dialogue about where queer and trans* Muslims fit in. It feels odd that I’m able to talk about these issues on a queer website. That I’m invited to speak in Orthodox synagogues, that I can do charity work with evangelical Christians. It seems I can talk to anyone, but the people I need to talk to the most.
Looking back, I wish I’d engaged the issue earlier, and I feel hypocritical for calling for it now. But it’s needed – if nothing else to dispel the assumptions made about me, and other queer Muslims. Many of us are practicing. We are still very religious. And, personally, I don’t care about changing doctrine or winning hearts and minds. If Muslims can respect the rights LGBT people, they can do the same for LGBTQ Muslims; if nothing else, by making a space for them to practice Islam.
Allah will guide us from there.
Every time I think I’ve finally walked away from traditional religion, my body remembers something. I accidentally hum a gospel verse, I hear the echoing of a sermon, and I feel like I’m being pulled back in time. I’m still going through it – trying to resolve these two parts of myself. My fluid sexuality doesn’t not fit with the rules or the social standards of the Southern Baptist community I grew up in. But the community of the church was such a big part of my life growing up, that it’s hard to separate my heart/memory from it. Church is the first place I learned race: what it meant to be black, and how to act like I belonged, even as a book-loving weirdo mixed kid. When we left that church for good, I felt a void I didn’t have a name for. I missed people, not religion, and that’s something I have to still remind myself as I continue to grow.
“I haven’t found a thing to fill that void with yet, and I keep writing into that darkness. In this way, writing has become my spiritual practice.”
I’ve compartmentalized my old church life, my family’s new religious life, and my own evolving beliefs. I haven’t found a way yet for these things to exist together. Part of that has to do with not coming out to the people from my former community. (We were long gone by the time I realized I was different). Beyond my immediate family, my extended family is very religious – also rooted in Baptist traditions – but since our relationships are so strained, I’ve let fear keep me silenced. I’m too afraid to tell them about this part of myself and give them the chance to sever our ties for good. My lopsided coming out process has taught me that love sometimes does has limits. I have never wanted to give them a reason to have to make that choice to love me or not until I have to. Until I have some safety net of my own.
The themes of church and community have appeared over and over again in my fiction. I haven’t found a thing to fill that void with yet, and I keep writing into that darkness. In this way, writing has become my spiritual practice. Before I write, and before I lay down to dream, I still use the simplest prayers to ease my anxiety. I don’t address these prayers, I usually don’t even speak them. I figure just by just releasing the thoughts from my head that they are doing their job. They’ll get to where they need to go.
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I believe that there is something bigger than all of us, but I can’t define what that is. I think maybe it’s made up of all of us. There is something before this life and something after, but again, I don’t know what. Sometimes, I think that when a person dies, her/his energy simply splits into as many pieces as there were people who loved that person and each of those people gets a piece and that is how energy continues through the universe. It’s odd, I know, but it’s a thought that kind of makes sense to me.
I certainly don’t believe in a “normal” god. I cannot believe in the god that my parents do who actually cares about and is intimately involved in our day-to-day lives. I just don’t, not after all I’ve been through in my life which has not really been that long to this point. I frequently, however, pretend to believe it just to be able to feel safe where I am and have to be for now.
Oh. Ali. When I saw this article I wondered if any stories would include UU. I was raised and confirmed Lutheran, and attend a Lutheran school right now. A couple minutes into my freshman year, I called my mom and ceremoniously told her I had lost my religion. She encouraged me to consider attending a UU service, and informed me that I was actually dedicated Unitarian (their version of baptism, but based on the idea that the child is dedicated to the community and the community is responsible for raising the child together). So it took me 3 years to actually take my mom’s advice, but when I finally went to a service I was flooded with feelings. Fast forward to now, my girlfriend and I attend our local UU fellowship regularly (where we are welcomed with open arms and hearts) and it’s just so right.
I gave up on religion when I was 14, for me it is simply a structure put in place to comfort ones worries about life. I grew up in a home where we went to church (if we wanted to) god was never discussed as a means of classifying my moral behaviour. I don’t consider myself to be all that spiritual either. I’m am not one to believe in a higher power, in fact I DO NOT BELIEVE that there is some other thing that has some control over us and our decisions, except maybe society. What I do believe is that life on this planet was a complete and utter coincidence, a side effect of an expanding universe. Call me crazy if it makes you feel better, but this is my belief and I am quite content living my life free of these ideologies.
I was raised an evangelical Christian (in the FourSquare church) my entire life and I have always been deeply spiritual. When I was fourteen I started preaching at my youth group, then I started leading Sunday school, and going on missions trips. I always felt like religion was the most stable thing in my life. When I came many people from my church were supportive, but it was very much “hate the sin, love the sinner.” I remember the pastor coming to my house and asking me if I realized that I couldn’t be a youth leader or teach Sunday school anymore. After a few weeks I left the church I had belonged to four fifteen years and had a bit of a spiritual identity crisis. I tried going to different churches and simply not telling them I was gay, but that did nothing for filling the community void inside of me. That went on for about six months and then I was invited to attend the UU church in my town and something clicked. No one needed to love the sinner and hate the sin, because they didn’t believe I was sinning. It has been almost a year of going to Bethany (my UU church) and I’m a youth group mentor and finally feel as if the community portion of religion has been restored for me. It helped that most of my immediate family moved churches with me.
My girlfriend isn’t religious, but she does come to church with me sometimes. She likes the community aspect even if she doesn’t know exactly what here religious beliefs are. It can be hard to be in a relationship with someone who doesn’t share my faith, but my girlfriend and my faith are two of the most important things in my life, so I will always make it work.
I’m culturally Jewish and enjoy the rich traditions there are in my religious heritage. My parents raised me Christian and Jewish (my mom’s Christian, my dad’s Jewish), and I stuck more with Judaism, but sometimes I’ll sing hymns in the shower. The most spiritual thing I do as of late is go to yoga on Saturday mornings, where we read a bit from the Yoga Sutras before beginning to practice. Sometimes things I hear there resonate with me. Auntie Kate Bornstein says it all: “Don’t be mean”.
Oh gosh, what a relevant topic right now.
I was raised in the fundamental christian evangelical church. A particularly conservative branch of the Assemblies of God that was ultra-literal with the Bible, to be specific. I don’t know if this needs to be said, but I left that church with lots of emotional scarring. For a long time, this equated to a heavily anti-religion attitude for me. It’s taken years to come around and accept that not all people who do religion are abusive, and while I still consider myself an atheist I honor the value of having a compassionate moral code… which is hopefully what a religion or spirituality will boil down to. My spiritual queer friends have been a major source of healing, and I think I’ve had some valuable reality checks regarding the role of religion and morality recently.
I grew up in the Dutch Reformed church in South Africa; it’s a generally quite conservative Christian church – very white, very Afrikaans. There were two of these churches in my town – the one we attended became increasingly more conservative with the pastors advising parents against allowing to read Harry Potter for example. Just silliness (imo).
As a result my parents decided to switch to the other church in town which was perceived to be somewhat less conservative, which worked out great for me. I attended church and weekly Sunday school and went on church camps that I have really fond memories of. I became involved with the church to the extent that I taught Sunday school myself; when I was in 10th grade the church decided to appoint a youth pastor. They went with a women which caused a lot of older people to leave the church / boycott her services.
The church council (almost exclusively men) stood by their decision to appoint her and it was awesome. The newly appointed pastor and my “confirmation leader” were both really smart women that I admired and looked up to quite a bit. I think they really were worthy of that admiration. I once had a long intellectual conversation with them both about the fact that the Bible says women can’t speak in church. The pastor explained to me that within the Dutch Reformed church’s doctrine the Bible is viewed as a “living document” that has to be studied and considered within the context of the time in which it was written. And that she really believed that to be true and thus she could serve as a pastor.
I think without that conversation I would have had a really hard time retaining my faith after I realized I wasn’t straight. (Which only happened a few years after.) Because I don’t think I would have been able to reconcile a faith that placed who I am in diametric opposition with that faith. I don’t know if that makes sense, but as a result of that conversation I could quite easily continue being a Christian AND be gay.
Anyway, the Dutch Reformed church of SA as of now does not allow gay weddings to take place in it’s churches and it doesn’t allow gays that aren’t celibate to be pastors. I think this will change. I hope this will change. My pastor does however conduct gay wedding ceremonies – at any other venue. And I actually personally know more than a few Dutch Reformed pastors and theology students that are gay. (I’ve always wondered whether it’s some kind of internalized homophobia that pushed them to study theology or maybe just a desire to understand their sexuality and the implications thereof as a Christian? -I don’t know.)
When I went to college, there were all these charismatic churches that were being advertised as being a lot less conservative than the Dutch Reformed church. I tried a bunch of them – but it’s totally false advertising. They’re very sing-y and a lot of time is devoted to praise and worship and for some or other reason they are classed as less conservative as a result. In reality these charismatic churches (which have sprung up EVERYWHERE) are a lot less evolved in their views and largely influenced by the American evangelicals. In practice they preach a far more conservative doctrine – women should be subservient; premarital sex is a no-no; homosexuality can be cured, etc – than the Dutch Reformed church that I experienced. And have gone back to since finishing college.
Anyway, this is a very rambly post, pretty much only relevant to me. ANYWAY.
Vanessa – in my experience, South African Jews are generally pretty fucking great and I would love to read about what it was like to be raised by a pair of them (in North America).
As a Jewish lesbian, I can relate to a lot of what Stef and and Vanessa said. While it took me a while to take that step and tell my family, I never had any doubt that every single one of them would accept me for who I was. I was worried about my grandparents, but their best friend’s daughter had come out years before me, and by the time I came out, she had a wonderful wife and a beautiful baby boy, and my grandma knit a blanket for him when he was born.
Now, I’m out to my whole family, and they are all accepting. In fact, last year for the Passover seder, I asked my great-aunt if we could add an orange to the seder table, which has recently been used as a symbols for queer jews who have been persecuted, similar to how jews were persecuted in Egypt. Since we already have a cup of water on the seder table (Miriam’s Cup, to go along with Elijah’s cup, to represent the women who were taken out of Egypt) I didn’t think she’d mind, and of course, she didn’t she embraced the idea, and had me explain it at the seder to my family. That is what my judaism means to me: family and tradition. And I have started to find ways to incorporate my queer identity into my family and into those traditions.
My dad made a joke a few months ago. He said “if you’re not going to marry a man, you can at least marry a Jew!” He was joking, but it goes to show which is more important. To my father, and to me as well, me being a part of the family, and marrying someone who could understand and join in my family’s traditions, is much more important than the gender of the person I marry.
I grew up in a conservative Christian family that has Mennonite roots but always went to a non-denominational Bible church. My parents have also been involved for over 30 years now in an extremely conservative (and very, very problematic) Biblical parenting organization. My church was very conservative doctrinally, but rarely actually talked about anything remotely “controversial” from the pulpit, except when they did a fundraiser for CareNet, a local pregnancy crisis centre that exclusively encourages carrying the pregnancy to term. That part of it never bothered me. They didn’t preach anti-abortion from the pulpit, and they didn’t shame or blame the more traditionally combated “sins.” And because I didn’t let myself even begin to wrestle with my own queerness until years after I had already gone through my own spiritual identity crisis and left that church, I never had to struggle with reconciling my early church community with my queer identity.
I struggled with major depression in my senior year of high school, and while I hadn’t completely given up my faith in God, I had given up any desire to remain involved in church, especially a church and a family that constantly talked about living the “right” way as if it’s some fixed notion for every person.
When I went to undergrad at American University in DC, I discovered an entirely new possibility for religion. I discovered that there are people who have faith but don’t believe that you have to shove your own moral code down everyone else’s throat. The on-campus Christian group I was involved with still wasn’t quite as liberal (as an organization; it was an Assemblies of God group) as I was, but the community was so open and accepting and just…diverse. I think that was the biggest thing. The first person I met in the organization was way more liberal than me (which is saying something), and nearly everyone was at least pro-lgbt rights politically, even if they weren’t on a personal, moral level. I went to a very conservative Christian high school where even holding any remotely liberal political beliefs incurred constant ridicule from peers (and, to some degree, teachers). I not only rediscovered my faith there in that group, but I rediscovered my community, my church.
I still struggle with finding that community, that church again. I came out last year, and since then I’ve gone to Bible studies and some services at MCC (a queer church all over the world), but it’s over an hour drive for me, so I haven’t been able to fully commit to going all the time. I go to a local Assemblies of God mega church that has some connections (both literally and just in the way they operate) with the church I utterly loved in DC. I like the services and the welcoming feeling, but I know that they won’t be supportive of my queerness so I haven’t let myself really dig in to that community.
So I guess for me, my religion and my faith have always been separate and distinct entities. My faith continues to grow through my queerness in more ways than I can possibly describe. But my religion (meaning my outward relationship with the church) is still tentative.
I’ve always loved the quote (and bare with me because I know that the quote itself is extremely problematic in its implicit slut-shaming capacity) often attributed to St. Augustine, “The church is a whore but she is my mother.”
Again, I don’t agree with the notion of “whore” being an implicitly bad thing, and I know the quote is hella problematic in that sense, but at the same time, it has always (and probably always will) summed up my relationship with the church so well. I will always love my religion and my community; I will always hate so many things about it; I will always fight to reconcile the church community to what I believe to be the message of my faith; and I will learn to have peace with those things that may never change. It’s pretty much the same struggle I’m going through with my family, and comping to peace with that last point has been ridiculously hard, but so freeing at the same time.
I was raised by liberal Catholic parents who, especially my mother, encouraged me to develop my own political/ideological beliefs while still raising me in the church. In fact, because my friends who were Catholic (at my public school) were also liberal, whereas many of my Protestant friends were conservative (there were very few non-Christians where I grew up), I didn’t realize until I was in college that Catholics were often thought of as being a major part of the “Religious Right.” All of this, I think, helped me to firmly believe that supporting LGBT rights in no way conflicted with my faith long before coming out.
That being said, it was still very strange going back to my hometown church for the first time after coming out (and I’m still not out to the families I grew up knowing in church), and I still deal with reconciling my sexuality and faith. I’ve also discovered that both real world issues and fictional depictions of the difficulties around the intersection of LGBT rights and religion really get to me. I still identify as Catholic, but I think it will always be weird knowing that some people in my church will think I’m going to Hell for dating girls, and knowing how many other young people may not grow up in a liberal environment that helps to combat those messages.
This was wonderful to read everyone’s diverse background. Thanks, AS!
“I’m not the sort of non-believer who has a condescending, negative view of religion; if anything, growing up in the church has taught me that religion has as much potential for creating good as evil.” This is the perfect sentiment. I’ve grown up as a Ukrainian Orthodox, and in order for me to still participate in traditional Ukrainian things, I still have to be tangentially attached to the church. I’ve never been spiritual, but the loss of being able to marry and baptize my kids in the church has been particularly profound, except sometimes I’m fine with it and other times I’m frantically Googling to see if there are any Orthodox churches or loopholes that will allow me to still claim some traditions in the future. I guess at the end of things, I’d consider myself a “theist agnostic” which means that I believe there’s probably some higher being, but that none of our religions have gotten it right.
I was originally raised Episcopalian, but my family converted to Catholicism because of the whole openly gay bishop thing, which should tell you a lot about my parents. They took to Catholicism like fish to water; my father’s in the process of discernment for the deaconate, meaning that he could be ordained within the next 5 years. I was heavily involved with my youth group until I went to college, when I had Gay Panic and stopped going to church entirely. How could I be queer and a member of a church that openly denounces my existence?
The problem is, I love the Catholic Church. I love the ancient rituals and the incense and the gold-encrusted spaces. I love the Eucharist. I love getting really intellectual about faith, and I love faith that isn’t afraid of the sublime and the beautiful. I’m tired of having to choose between being a good Catholic and being a good queer; I’m tired of cringing at the “family values” sermons that pop up every so often, and I’m equally tired of feeling uncomfortable in queer spaces because I do still believe. I tried not to for a while, because I thought it would be easier. It felt like being in the closet all over again.
My parents don’t know I’m queer, in part because I don’t want to make my father (my mother, too, but mostly my dad) choose between God and me. He’s felt called to the ministry for 20 years, and I’m not entirely sure that he would end up choosing me. Not because he doesn’t love me; when we’ve talked about his being a deacon, he’s brought up the fact that he took vows at my baptism first. But in those vows, he promised to “be responsible for bringing up the child that you present in the Christian faith and life.” If (when) he becomes a deacon, he becomes a representative of the Catholic church. And I’m fairly sure that means he can’t support me getting gay married, or being in a relationship with a girl.
The worst part, to me, is that they honestly don’t think that their beliefs are hateful. They can’t see that believing that gay people are called to celibacy isn’t accepting, or loving, and I have no idea how to bridge that gap. I love my parents, and I love the Catholic Church, and I think my life might be a hell of a lot easier if I didn’t, if I could cut those ties without losing integral parts of myself.
Also, AS (and contributors), thank you so much for discussing religion and queerness. It’s a subject that gets brushed under the rug a lot, and it’s important. This is one of the few queer spaces where I feel okay being Catholic, like no one’s going to jump on me and say “how dare you be Catholic? Don’t you know what that church preaches?” So thank you for creating that space.
I really liked this and can identify with a lot of it despite being an atheist who wasn’t raised Catholic.
“The worst part, to me, is that they honestly don’t think that their beliefs are hateful. They can’t see that believing that gay people are called to celibacy isn’t accepting, or loving, and I have no idea how to bridge that gap.”
I have this issue with my own parents as well (and have also yet to come out). They really think they’re being loving by not shunning gay people or thinking they need to marry someone of the opposite sex. My parents will sometimes bring up my mom’s college teammate who has since come out or the music pastor who was ousted from their church for being gay 20 years ago. They still love and accept the teammate (despite never talking to her or about her except to prove a point)! What the church did to the pastor was wrong! But then it’s wrong that the teammate lives with a woman, and it’s disgusting that the pastor is now married to a man and that another church would let him lead. Oh, but even though their “lifestyle choices” are wrong, they still love those people. (The comparison: “When a baby has a dirty diaper you think the diaper is disgusting but you still love the baby.”) Be queer all you want, just don’t be queer with another person. That’s loving, right?
Thank you especially for your second paragraph. As an atheist who wasn’t raised in any religion, it can be hard for me to understand what it’s like to be in a position like yours, how someone can both totally embrace their queerness and willingly stay involved with an institutionally homophobic religion, but your description helps a lot. It’s really gutting. I don’t know what it’s like to be queer and religious, but I do know what it’s like to feel like you have to choose between two different parts of your identity when they’re both important to you.
This is 100% so much of what I feel. I loved Catholicism for all the reasons you’ve stated. I loved the rituals, the beautiful cathedrals and churches that were always the nicest thing in a podunk town, I loved the chanting and the incense smells and getting to do the first reading at Mass, and that intense feeling of belonging to something ancient and higher than yourself. I don’t believe in all the things Catholicism asks of me anymore because it does go directly against the way I live my life, but I don’t mind going to Mass and I feel extremely comfortable in a church. I love that I know all the hymns and the prayers, and I get to say them along with my family. There are so many moments when my family and I have HUGE disconnects, but we all know The Apostle’s Creed and we can recite it together. That feels good, for whatever reason. There’s a lot we disagree about, and my life will always be 85% a secret to them, but the distance between us feels temporarily, even shoddily, bridged when we’re participating in the same rituals.
I too can related to what Vanessa and Stef are saying, but at the same time it’s a bit different for me seeing I am Iranian background, and we tend to be a bit by the book when it comes LGBTQ community(well not sure about the t). I am also now agnostic the more I start to better understand science and religion. My father doesn’t really like it, my mom’s a bit indifferent and my grandma(on my mother side) maybe on the same page as me, though I get the feeling she’s not LGBTQ friendly. I have to come out to them that I want to transition, or the fact I am genderqueer, because of the fact most of my family aren’t LGBTQ friendly.
I was the other day watching the movie Boy’s Don’t Cry and my father kept using she for Chloe’s character and I had to keep correcting him, saying, that person is trans*male, therefore a he and he’d like not care and still refer to that character as a she. He also got mad when I was watching the L Word the other week and a scene where Shane and Carmen were kissing and he’s like what his this trash you are watching? I’m like it’s a Showtime Show. He’s like it’s trash turn it off. :`/ The only good news is my sister is the only accepting one and I’m always sending her recipes I see on autostraddle.
I just noticed that it should have read: “I have [b]yet[/b] to come out to them that I want to transition, or the fact I am genderqueer, because of the fact most of my family I don’t think is too LGBTQ friendly.” Also, the Synagogue I go to with my father have being more blunt about being against the LGBTQ community citing cause the Old Testament says so. The Rabbi, an old school Iranian also says that interfaith marriage and the LGBTQ community is taking away from traditional values. I really got offended when he said that, even hinted at my father I was.
I think if you’re not raised with religion it won’t really mean much to you. I understand the idea of a higher power but I don’t really have any concept of one or how that would work.
I can appreciate that lots of people have to find a way to bring these parts of their identity together though.
i’m filipino. that says it all. i’ve been damned by some relatives a long time ago. they will say they love you but the “i will go to hell” somehow gets in the conversation anyway. other family members are cool. still, the message of “i will go to hell” messed up my confidence and my self-worth growing up. i became rebellious in everything. i was getting wasted at age 13 and going home at 2am. i was selling drugs at 15 and i went to rehab at the same age. it all came down to the fact that i was so lonely because even though i was out, the dirty looks i get from my own relatives makes me feel so small. my drug addict friends were the only ones giving me the time of day and listening to me. they don’t say i’m wrong. they get it.
i guess what i’m trying to say, religion and the religous people are the LIE. i’m not the fake person here. i exist and my sexuality exist and my sexuality is right. i decided not to be BRAINWASHED anymore because it’s been killing me inside. i couldn’t take it for one more second.
i walked my way and took my spirituality and owned it without the religious beliefs.
Mormon here. My story sounds really similar to Brianne’s, but I’m not really sure how to feel about my religion at this point in my life. I don’t know if I believe in it, or if I don’t, or really anything about religion besides “I don’t know.” I do believe in God and an afterlife, but I’m less focused on the specifics than some people, I think. I think all religions are true and that religion is sort of a language by which we communicate with the divine, but that religion itself–all the churchgoing and culture and rituals and things–aren’t the important part.
One thing I do know is that I’ll never give up identifying as a Mormon, no matter my feelings about the church. It’s my culture, so much more than anything else that ties me to my family and my ancestors and really how I was raised to see the world. And it’s a label I’m proud to have.
There are definitely some awesome Mormons out there, and there is room for some interesting feminist concepts in LDS theology (Heavenly Mother, for instance). I think a lot of people (Mormons included, quite probably!) don’t realize that LDS feminism does exist.
The least imperfect way I can describe what spirituality is to me is an orientation. It feels like as much of an immutable part of my psyche as bisexuality, monogamy, or introversion. I know this feeling isn’t universal, and if someone doesn’t feel this way, I wouldn’t try to convince them that they should. But believing in a higher power and identifying that belief as Christianity (albeit a very different kind than the fundamentalism I was raised in) is as much a part of being true to myself as being openly queer.
I’m a Buddhist meditation teacher and I have found Buddhism to be more compatible with my identity as a lesbian than my Catholic upbringing did. I don’t consider Buddhism a religion, and I even shy away from the term ‘spiritual’ because i don’t think that from a Buddhist perspective there are ‘spiritual’ and ‘nonspiritual’ things, there is just life. I have a daily meditation practice and teach meditation as a form of mind training in letting things go and cultivating compassion. I am starting to see the overlap of the Buddhism, humanism, and certain mystical strains of most world religions. I also met a bunch of awesome Catholic anarchists at Occupy Wall Street. It took awhile for me to find Buddhism because after being scarred by my Catholic upbringing, I had issues with the idea of ‘belief.’ But I’m glad I finally let my guard down long enough to see that belief is beside the point, it’s all in the practice.
I found Ali’s doubt because of what happens after death the most interesting because I’m the complete opposite. There being nothing after death is calming to me. Even when I was religious I would joke that I was a bad christian because I didn’t want to go to heaven because I hated the thought of living forever.
I absolutely understand the desire for there to be something after death, but I also think eternity is kind of an awful concept when you really consider it. And the thought of anyone in hell for eternity is unimaginably horrible, so as someone who used to believe in hell as well as heaven death being the end really is a comfort to me.
Totally agree. I really like the temporary-ness of the world. Some day the sun is going to expand and destroy our little planet and there will be no one left to remember any of us. For me, that means we have to love as much as possible so that our existence isn’t meaningless. That’s just my interpretation though, and I understand why people want something after.
Ohh, this is exciting, and very relevant to me! I spend a lot of time reading and thinking about religion. I kind of love theology and theological discussions, which might seem fairly strange considering that I’m an atheist.
I was raised in the conservative Charismatic Evangelical world. I attended faith healing services and spoke in tongues. I anticipated the rapture and knew that evolution was a lie from Satan. Jesus was lord and George Bush was his prophet.
On top of that, I was homeschooled and through that was exposed to the even more conservative fundamentalist world. Growing up in Arkansas, my social circle actually included the Duggar family. While my parents had no problem with things like birth control and higher education/careers/pants for women, many of the friends I made through homeschooling vehemently did. I went through periods of feeling really guilty that I was more interested in math than motherhood.
I could write a lot about my faith journey, but I’ll just say that I had doubts starting very young and they only increased the more I read and studied. In college I tried a bunch of different churches. I still love the ritual of Catholicism (and the lovely progressive Episcopalian church in my town), and I found myself oddly drawn to the LDS church. I very nearly joined, but couldn’t get past the fact that women don’t have the priesthood in the church (despite the precedence of female prophets like Deborah and apostles like Junia in the Bible, as well as many other women with a very active role in the early Christian church, but I digress–this was a big issue for me in my family’s “complementarian” church as well). At this point I was still trying to pray my gay away, so while anti-LGBT positions did bother me quite a bit, I didn’t feel like they were relevant to me personally.
Last year I finally let myself really look at the evidence and eventually accepted that I didn’t believe at all anymore. It was really painful and scary for a while, and there were a few instances of getting blackout drunk and telling strangers I was going to hell (the exact same thing that happened after I kissed a girl for the first time, actually…). It felt like a real loss for me, and the fear of hell persisted for a long time. A secular student alliance group helped me a lot in feeling less alone at my overwhelmingly Christian Bible belt university (where even the LGBT group can be pretty Christian and often wasn’t particularly friendly to our “atheist club”), and a year and a half later I feel pretty good about my identity as an atheist.
My journey to unbelief actually felt a lot like realizing I was gay, and coming out as both can feel pretty similar as well when you’re surrounded by conservative Christians (my status: not out to parents at all about my orientation, somewhat out about belief). I tried to make myself straight and I tried to make myself believe. Ultimately I couldn’t do either, and when it comes down to it I think I’m glad.
“I went through periods of feeling really guilty that I was more interested in math than motherhood.”
Ugh, completely. My experiences (I’m thinking in a quite similar church to the one you’re describing) were a lot like this. I had this total sense of guilt that I was not able to force myself to believe the same things that my family and peers did, and it stung so hard that I was constantly branded as a rebellious child who was deliberately being sinful when I really would have liked to feel anything at all in church services, or when I read the Bible, or when I went to church-approved therapists (probably the most screwed up bit of my story), just because it would’ve made my road so much easier. I don’t know if I was ever earnestly afraid of hell because I was never able to conceptualize god in that way, but I always felt like a screw-up or a PK or something like that.
You were in an Assemblies of God church, right? I went to one that was basically an AG church without being part of the denomination, and my family goes to an actual AG church these days (my uncle is also a pastor at another one).
“I had this total sense of guilt that I was not able to force myself to believe the same things that my family and peers did, and it stung so hard that I was constantly branded as a rebellious child who was deliberately being sinful when I really would have liked to feel anything at all in church services, or when I read the Bible, or when I went to church-approved therapists (probably the most screwed up bit of my story), just because it would’ve made my road so much easier.”
Definitely. A big issue for me was that I was never as emotional about church as all my peers–there were times where I was the only one who didn’t cry at a sermon–and they interpreted that to mean that my heart wasn’t for God, and they would pray that God would change my heart. It hurt a lot.
I was lucky in that I come from a fairly liberal non-religious family (that includes several lapsed Catholics). I was nervous/hesitant/etc about coming out to my sister because a few years ago she became a born again Christian. It went much better than I expected.
I had issues with religion because it was just another way to make me feel like an outsider. I was never against people who are religious or learning more about religions other than the one I was raised with though. I just felt really out of place in church when I was younger. Less so now, but the feeling is still there.
I have never understood how people can think being something other than straight is sinful/wrong/etc, because -if there is a god- humans were made in God’s image. Surely god wouldn’t make anyone other than who he/she/they were meant to be, right? And surely God (if indeed god exists) makes things that improve the world, not detract from it? Right? I hope that’s the case.
…and it always bugged me when people would say ‘it’s part of god’s plan.’ I’m too much of a believer in choice to fully believe that.
My atheism came on gradually but started in middle school, when some serious things were going on. It didn’t have anything to do with me coming out as not straight. By the time I’d come out I’d already considered myself a non-believer for several years.
i love God but i don’t believe in a lot of the holy stuff too.
seriously now, has anyone came in and out from heaven or hell? and lived to accurately tell about it? like come on! how do you undoubtedly have the knowledge on that? call me a prick but it’s like believing in dragons. it’s a myth.
The whole point of faith is that it’s stuff that you can’t prove. Reason can come into it, yes, but in the end you have to believe things you can’t see or touch or necessarily fully understand. God doesn’t fit in human minds. And a lot of people are uncomfortable with that, and that’s fine. You don’t have to believe in heaven or hell or anything else, but please don’t belittle those who do.
stating my opinion is “belittling” you?
I’d say comparing believing in heaven/hell to believing in unicorns is a bit belittling, yeah.
unicorns aren’t real! but i’ve seen them at gay pride videos?
k fine, sarcasm aside..
you could’ve just browsed down through the comments. this site does not force anybody to read anybody’s post or to even like it. you’re free to make your statement the way you please as i am to mine.
there’s a deeper reason why i do not believe in heaven and hell anymore but i don’t feel the need to dramatically expose the rest of my experiences in life so i’m just asking you to leave it be. my contradiction of a comment is just a one person comment, written by a stubborn little queer. it does not even add up against the millions of christian devotees in the world. my comment is not a threat to your beliefs.
Say I don’t believe in X or Y. I say, “Believing in X is like believing in Y,” reflecting my belief that X and Y are equally believable and equally unbelievable. You say that constitutes belittling you because you believe in X but not Y. I’m not telling anyone they should feel bad for believing in X (or Y). Life is hard and complicated, and if belief in X or Y helps you, I’m happy for you. I’m just expressing that X and Y are alike in that they seem to me to be equally likely to exist. Obviously that is not everybody’s opinion, and that’s fine. But I don’t understand how it’s offensive for me to express my belief in the similarity of X and Y.
And when I was at the Episcopal/religious middle school I went to I remember pissing off/messing with the clergy/people who taught the divinity classes by asking the -to use their words- “difficult questions.”
I also remember once refusing to participate in Eucharist.
Mainly my experience with religion has been intrigued by the possibiity of feeling welcomed but not actually ever having that happen, and general awkwardness.
I really appreciate this discussion- I feel like many people think that queer and spiritual are mutually exclusive, but for me, they are two of the most important aspects of my identity. Being raised in the United Methodist church is not something I would change for the world. I’m deeply grateful for the community I have there. I would so much rather embrace this part of my identity than try to make it fit in with all the other pieces of me or question it. I’m also so grateful that my church never taught me that homosexuality was wrong in any way; it was very much an atmosphere of love and acceptance.
I can relate to so many of these entries. Thanks for this post AS!
I grew up in a conservative evangelical church with even more conservative parents (or at least father). The church we attended was never more than where I went on Sunday mornings after my parents dragged my siblings and I out of bed. In high school I was able to make the community more of my own, but it still never felt quite natural. I attended a christian reformed college that was much more open-minded and my faith life was (re?) kindled. The community, the sound of voices singing in one body, the power of a group sharing such strong and important beliefs changed me.
And then I started doubting. I fell from faith hard, but slowly. I was depressed and couldn’t function. I certainly couldn’t force myself to fake a life of faith, which is what it felt like at the time. The churches I grew up in always did a great job of praising, but never properly taught how to grieve or be sorrowful. A counselor I spoke with at the time said something that still resonates with me, “it is okay to believe and it is okay not to believe. But sitting in the middle, not knowing can be unhealthy and dangerous.” At that point, I’d been sitting in the unknown for a while, but not letting myself realize it. I was doubting my faith, my beliefs, my moral code, and my sexuality, but I didn’t want to admit any of it. Not to myself and certainly not to anyone else.
When you grow up in a faith, it’s hard to step away. For me it felt like I was stepping into an abyss of nothingness. How would I differentiate right from wrong without the moral code of the bible? Right now, I’m still in the unknown territory of faith-life, leaning mostly towards solidly not-believing. I’ve found that figuring out what I don’t believe in is a lot easier than knowing what I do believe. Someday I want to be able to darken the doorway of a church with my shadow again, but right now the scars are too fresh, the wounds too deep.
Thanks to all the contributors who shared, this is exactly what I needed tonight.
I’m really struggling with what to post on here because I feel like this is a topic I could talk about for hours. As a Presbyterian/Christian, my faith is supposed to free me. As a hidden gay person until a year/year and a half ago, it was part of what held me in chains. Or at least I thought it did.
As it turns out, embracing my homosexuality has made me a better Christian. I’ve learned more about unconditional love, compassion, acceptance, and community in coming out and making way into the LGBT community than I ever thought I would. I’ve been very fortunate in that my Christian Network has been surprisingly accepting and loving and actually helped me believe for myself that I am who God created me to be and that my sexuality is not a sin. I’ve experienced the “dark side” of Christianity regarding gay issues here and there but no where as severe as some.
I’ve experienced too much to not believe but I’ve also learned the difference between faith and religion and it’s a hard fight to rebel what religion has told you goes against your faith when you know it’s not true. But it’s a battle worth winning.
I respect those who leave/change/embrace faith for reasons on their own but it breaks my heart when I hear people say they left it because of how they were treated or made to feel because of who they are…and that’s not what I stand for as a believer in Christ and I know that as progressive Christianity grows, those instances will decrease, but it needs to happen sooner rather than later. There IS so much good Christianity in the world that IS inclusive and IS loving and I want to do my part to reconcile the two worlds. Because I can”t imagine my life without my faith and I can’t go back to a fake life as a ‘straight’ person.
I also want to be an ally for all the non-spiritual/religious LGBT out there, no one deserves to be ostracized for their beliefs. Everyone should love everyone. It”s that simple…
Sorry, I feel like this is more stream of consciousness than a coherent thought lol.
I related to so much of what you posted. I was so terrified before coming out, but (with the exception of most of my immediate family) the reality was that coming out actually strengthened my faith so much. Coming out showed me the incredible extent of unconditional love manifested in so many of my friends. Especially when I finally came out to my best friend (and the girl I was in love with for most of my senior year of high school and freshman year of college…though I never would’ve admitted it at the time), I was so terrified that our relationship would change, that I’d lose that friend. The truth was, though, that she already knew (or was reasonably sure) and was just waiting for me to realize it myself and then tell her so that she could help me through figuring out how to move forward with telling my family. It was one of the most amazing experiences of my life, just feeling her unconditional acceptance and love, even though she openly admitted that she didn’t have all the answers about how my ongoing faith-struggle would/could be reconciled with my queerness. She made me feel so safe and so loved and just so…whole. And that’s what my faith has always done for me is make me feel whole; so having that experience made me so much more confident about moving forward with coming out to the rest of my friends and eventually my family.
My family (for the most part) still doesn’t support me, and completely for religious reasons. And it’s still painful; but I’ve come to realize that my family, my true family, are people like that best friend who accept me and support me unconditionally, even if they feel they don’t have all the answers. It’s not about saying that they love me, but don’t support part of me. It’s about loving and accepting and supporting my whole person, every part of me. And that’s a huge part of what my faith is: embracing a community that knows and truly expresses the unconditional love that Jesus acted out in the Bible.
So I get what you’re saying about not being able to (or even wanting to) extricate the faith part of yourself from the queer part of yourself. They’re both so much a part of my identity that I could never turn away from either one. But, at the same time, I completely understand why so many people feel so hurt or disheartened with or even just uninterested in any form of organized religion. I struggle with the organized part of faith so often. And I too want so badly to be an ally for those people. And not the type of ally that simply tries to show “non-believers” a “different type of Christian” for the sole purpose of trying to “convert them.” That’s not the point. That’ll never be the point. For me, it’s simply about loving people.
Anyways, that was very ramble-y and stream of conscious too. But I essentialy just wanted to say “ditto” and thanks for sharing.
I’m a queer(bi) Presby Practically-Pastor’s-Kid and I feel all of this so hard.
I went through a long period of doubt and confusion and anger about religion that only really began to heal when I came out to the religious people in my life, including my mother (the head of Bible Study/Women’s Ministry at our church). Being out, being authentic – this is my Christian self.
I’ve never felt that I was born wrong or that my queerness was in conflict with my Higher Power; it was heartbreaking to me to learn that the people of the community and institution I love think otherwise. Being separated from communion with my Higher Power / God because of that fear was poison for me.
It’s strange being (what is essentially) a PK and a queer because in a way the spiritual authority and parental authority in your life are one and the same, which is why I delayed coming out to my somewhat-liberal mother for so long – I was terrified that my moral and religious authority would tell me that I was wrong in her eyes. Even though I knew in my emotional self that I was/am created in my Higher Power’s image, I didn’t want to hear anything else from her.
In my daily prayers to God / etc. is thankfullness for my mother’s open heart. When I was literally sobbing kneeling on the floor with my head in her lap, I asked her if she wished I was different, if she’d rather I was straight. And she said no and my heart broke in a good way.
I can go to church now without baggage, and it’s done an incredible amount of good for my mental health and sense of self.
You worded that so perfectly, thank you!
VANESSA!! My mom basically said the exact same thing to me when I came out to her, “Well at least she’s a nice Jewish girl!
For me, my Jewishness and my queerness have both provided me with some of the most supportive communities I’ve ever found. That sense of belonging in both ways, especially when the two come together, has become increasingly important to me as I continue to develop my own identity. I don’t know if I’ve quite figured out ME yet, but I know that I feel most comfortable with myself when I’m secure in my belonging in Jewish and queer spaces.
I’m sitting here with tears in my eyes. At times I’ve felt that the queer community is not accepting of religion-in fact, it can be outright hostile.
I love hearing everyone’s background and journeys in and out of religion and through faith. You’re all simply lovely.
Hansen, what you wrote in particular speaks to me so much:
“My faith fluctuates a lot now, some days I’ll feel pretty Athiest, some days Agnostic, but most of the time I feel pretty sure I’m in the right place as a quiet and personal Christian.”
I was brought up as a Catholic and went to a Catholic boarding school, and I completely bought into it until I was about 15, when I was realising I was queer. Cue a good few years of horror (at my own feelings) and denial and stress, and then complete rejection of all religion.
Now, for the past couple of years I’ve been re-evaluating a lot of what I thought, and thinking about how religion/spirituality can fit into my queerness (and vice versa) , and I’d say I do still identify as a Catholic, despite the terrible things that a lot of the Church believes and says. Like someone said above, I love the church and all the hymns and incense and ritual, as well as a lot of their teachings (obviously not all…), and the sense of community. I haven’t been back to church yet, but I hope I will soon.
Also, this is my very first comment here on Autostraddle, and I love the fact that this place and all of you even exist, because I’m not sure where else on the internet (and in a lot of real life places) there would be this sort of discussion where everyone could have a say and not be judged for whatever they might think. It’s actually part of the reason I started rethinking my faith, because from reading other articles I was realising that there is no one right way to be or only one thing you could identify as. Since I started reading Autostraddle I’ve come out to more and more people, I’m speaking out about LGBT and feminist issues, and I’m so much more comfortable in who I am.
So in conclusion to this rather gushy and serious post, thanks to all of you guys for existing, continue doing what you do, and eat, drink and be merry.
Lutheran schools really are full of lesbians from my experience. I’m a Lutheran Lesbian that may end up being a pastor depending on how everything goes. My university fully backs my relationship and is talking about letting my lady and I get married on campus.
Not trying to press Lutheranism on anyone, but if you’re out there looking for a church to go to, try an ELCA Lutheran church. They’re the queer-loving kind.
Can I just thank all of you for these comments? They’re all really amazing.
i was just thinking the exact same thing.
I’ve been struggling with coming to terms with my sexuality and connecting to my faith. My parents church supports the LGBT community, but my parents families don’t and use religion as one of the reasons behind their arguments. I’ve fallen away from Christianity, mainly because after graduating a Catholic High School (despite not being Catholic) I began to question my beliefs. I’m not sure if I can ever connect my sexuality with my faith.
i so understand this.
For a long time spirituality was a thing that worked for other people but not for me. I was content to be an atheist in high school and beyond. Sort of like sexuality. I felt such relief when I learned in my early twenties that asexuality existed, that my not being attracted to others was okay, it didn’t mean that I was broken and needed to be fixed.
Several years into my career in early childhood, I had a difficult year and was looking for supports. I felt overwhelmed. Then I found a book on Taoism that talked about nudging the flow. We can’t always change the things that we find frustrating, but sometimes we can nudge the flow. The idea gave me some peace as I worked to nudge the kids in my care towards kindness.
For the first time I felt a sense of spirituality, of connection through time. I had always liked the idea that after I die I become food for the worms, but now I started to couple it with the idea that our spirits live on in the minds and hearts of those we have touched.
A bit later I started to notice that I found women attractive. And just like spirituality, sexuality started to make sense for me personally. Interestingly it made me feel normal, that I was now like other people in that I was sexual, even if some might condemn if as homosexuality.
I remember walking one evening and offering myself up to the universe as ready to love someone of my very own. A few months later I met my wife. She had asked of her Goddess someone to love her. Currently I mostly identify as a secular humanist- for better or for worse I believe in people- and I believe in love and kindness.
As far as organized religion goes, I attended a Presbyterian church with my family growing up, though my parents offered to take me to any church of my choosing, just so I would had some knowledge and understanding of religion. After moving away for school I am now back in my hometown. While my wife and I got married in a private ceremony so as not to out her as trans, we will be having a public ceremony around our one year anniversary that will be held at the Presbyterian church.
Growing up in the south, I’ve been exposed to a lot of Christianity, but it never managed to take hold. Until fourth grade or so I thought the stories being told at Sunday school were like Aesop’s fables, just allegories with a lesson. When I realized this wasn’t the case, I was alarmed, and even got into arguments with the Sunday school teachers over the feasibility of some of the stories. I was more or less forced to keep going to church until I was confirmed in 7th grade. While I can’t say I had a positive experience in the church–some kids tried to drown me at church camp once, that was a real eye-opener!–I don’t think I’m a non-theist because of that. Rather, I can’t understand the disconnect with reality that numerous Christians have. I’ve had people argue quite adamantly against simple scientific concepts, and I’m always polite and understanding, but inwardly I am utterly bewildered. It’s hard to respect somebody who insists on hiding their head in the sand in lieu of reality. Then there is the deal-breaking question of my youth: what makes any one religion better or truer than any of the hundreds of others?
But ultimately, it’s not science that keeps me away from Christianity. I’ve had discussions with Christians in which they have tried to convert me, but it comes down to the same thing every time. Belief is placed above all else, and I don’t think I could get behind a god who cares more about his (seemingly fragile) ego than in individuals doing good. A god that would punish somebody who is actively doing good for not believing seems awfully petty. I consider myself a secular humanist for just that reason. If I can improve the lives of others even by a marginal degree and do no harm, that should be good enough for any hypothetical god. If it isn’t, I can’t really offer anything more, because I am not somebody who has the capacity to believe. Faith seems to do wonders for some people, and I envy that to an extent. That’s not to say there’s some “void in my heart” waiting to be filled by religion. If anything, being a non-theist has saved my life. If I had embraced the concept of an afterlife, it is highly unlikely I would be here today to type this comment.
I’m a lot more open about being a non-theist than I am about being queer. I’ve had people report the opposite to me, that they had a harder time informing their parents they didn’t believe than they did coming out to their parents. I’m a lot more afraid of the hate I’d get for coming out than for being a non-theist. Ultimately my friends, religious or not, are fine with both, but I’m too wary of my own safety here to be open about it. With the non-theism, I always figure that being a good person will at least dissuade people from being aggressive. It’s mostly people just trying to debate with you or nudge you into believing their particular branch of Christianity, if anything at all. Their hearts are in the right place, I suppose, and it’s generally not threatening. I have been threatened over perceived queerness, though, and the threat of violence over that seems much more plausible. People will just assume that you’re a Christian here, but if you dress a certain way people will make snap judgments about your sexuality.
I’m always open to talk with people about their religion (or lack thereof), so this has been an excellent post. Thank you, everyone, for sharing your stories.
I was brought up Buddhist, which I think has been hipsterized in the West, but can be a very severe, old school religion when combined with some of the prevailing attitudes in parts of East (similar to what Sindu said about Hinduism). I had no idea if Buddhism had any say in homosexuality, so I looked this up: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buddhism_and_sexual_orientation
I agree with a lot of the philosophical aspects of Buddhism (and other religions, for that matter), but cut myself out of the structure and label after a monk told me that a good friend of mine died young because he must have done something bad in a past life. My mom also told me that SHE must have done something bad in past life, to cause me to have queermo tendencies, so there’s that.
I do think we are all connected to each other, and can have tangible effects each other’s lives, and biology supports this in very basic ways — the movement of molecules, the creation of memories in the brain, the conservation of matter.
I also think you should be compassionate to others just for the sake of not being an asshole, not because the sky’s going to open up or you’ll be reborn as a one-legged hyena.
I love talking to people about religion, though. Why people believe and how people believe is really fascinating to me, and as we see in politics, unfortunately, has really important implications.
Kinda wish people stopped laying into Christians and Muslims – because Hinduism, Buddhism, for that matter my own Asatru, people are precisely the same. God, Prophet, spirits, Buddha, they all are acribed the message of consideration and being reasonable – while people tend to follow their evolutionary nature, animal instincts of pack uniformity and hierarchy. I see no point in organised religion because it’s inevitably bound to be subverted by human condition, no matter how enlightened the source.
also, lol more irony, if i was not powerful enough to keep them out of my personal space and things on the trivial basis of right of the strongest, rolled over and presented myself to them – the only religion i know of that would outright and unquestionably see me as evil and non-human is a particular branch of neo-paganism, yea one of those politicised, fluffy kumbaya one-with-earth deals. So much for having a political figure as a founder, it just proves me right, the more human nature and less trancendence, the more hate. Tell me it isn’t so.
just got home from camp a few hours ago and i just wanna second miriam in saying thank you so much to everyone who has left thoughtful, open, honest comments on this post. i was so nervous about leading the panel at camp and about publishing this post while most of us were away at camp/unable to moderate as vigilantly as usual, but you guys impress me every time. i’m so glad we are having conversations about religion and spirituality, and i hope we can continue to do so. thanks for being such wonderful commenters <3
The panel was so wonderful and led to lengthy and deep discussions back in the cabins. It is great to have a space to continue coming together and supporting one another.
This article couldn’t have come at a better time in my life. I was raised Catholic, but over the last few years have questioned parts of my faith, including how I want to celebrate that faith, what exactly I believe, and if there is a faith community that shares whatever those beliefs may be. I know we’re always on a constant journey of faith of all kinds whether it is faith in one God, many Gods and/or Goddesses, all or none, faith in humanity, faith in science, faith in faith. This article just comes at a really important step in my own journey, and I want to thank all of the contributors to the article as well as contributors to the comments. It’s helped me find the courage to take the next steps I’ve wanted to take, but have been too afraid.
Oh man, Hansen, I so totally relate to the whole Alternative Christian music thing. I totally listened to Emery, Anberlin and the Chariot all the time and mewithoutYou is still one of my favorite bands. I feel like so much of my coming into my own as a christian was based in that music scene.
definitely a timely and totally applicable-to-my-life-atm discussion, thank you SO MUCH Vanessa.
but ughhhh feeeeeelings; where to begin?
still identifying as christian (the pentecostal kind?) and still coming out to myself and others, but have successfully reconciled faith + being gay. This year has def been struggle street with where my faith stands and actively pursuing my relationship with God though: haven’t found a church I like since leaving my last one (which was a mega church) and I’m pretty lazy at any kind of bible reading (plus, going through a pretty self-focused phase and not really having many conversations with God). I’ve previously done the whole run-away-from-the-church thing and I wound up back there, so figure there’s no point in doing that again, which is super annoying lol I don’t really know. I love Jesus, but for some reason still fear death, and occasionally that confuses me about why I am so faithful. But regardless, I will always believe in God.
It’s been tough, to feel so alone in this, and in the middle of these two (seemingly) opposing worlds of faith and LGBTQ and refuse to give either up, so it’s really lovely to read everyone’s stories and experiences and thoughts.
I’m a secular humanistic Jew, which is a very you-do-you style of…”religion” would probably be the wrong word, but semi-spiritual cultural tradition, I suppose.
At any rate, I have trouble finding services that really resonate with my beliefs/values and that speak to me, so I write my own. If anybody wants a secular queer-focused hagaddah, please let me know.
I grew up and was confirmed Lutheran. My mother thinks she has failed me because now this is what moves and inspires me, this is the essence of my “religion”, or really, my atheism: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=70fwivCntc4
It really upsets me when people think atheists have no depth, that we are judgmental and are not moved by beauty or disturbed by amorality.