Anxiety Around Religion: A Queer Problem
Most of us have grown up with the idea that God hates the gays, cultivating an anxiety around religion and religious people. My childhood held very little religious practices–hardly any church, no baptism, just the family parts of Christmas and Easter. And the more I learned about myself, the more Christianity made me nervous.
Praying away the Gay
In the beginning, when I first consciously noticed I liked girls more than I was “supposed” to, I started praying to God for the first times of my life. My family long since abandoned attending any regular church services after we moved into the Midwestern corn fields over a decade ago. Sometimes my sister and I joined our cousins’ Sunday Catholic service if we couldn’t get our mom to pick us up from a sleepover early enough. I never found the need to pray.
But learning I liked girls–like, liked girls–I was scared. My anxiety around religion formed alongside this discovery, humoring the concept of hell for the first time. (And by “humoring” I mean “thinking about nonstop and wondering if that was were I would end up for being gay.)
To guarantee my spot in heaven, I needed to be straight. So, I prayed God would make me straight. After months of nightly “Please, Lord, make me straight” prayers and no change, I amended my prayer to, “God, please ensure that I never fall in love with a woman.” Logic there said that, so long as I never fall in love, I’d never have to act on being gay and never have to tell anyone that I was.
To no one’s surprise, the praying didn’t work. Eventually, I learned that “gay” wasn’t an act to perform or a secret to keep. It was an identity, simply a part of my being.
Maybe I Don’t Want Heaven?
After accepting that I would likely fall in love with a woman and that turning straight wasn’t in the cards for me, I gave much more thought to heaven and hell. Did this self-acceptance condemn my eternal afterlife? And did I care right now if it did?
There’s obviously no answer to those questions. But for myself, I moved on by deciding that, if God was real, he would’ve given me an out by then. I obviously didn’t want to go to hell and I tried to change myself to make that happen. I gave it nearly a year of my life and the end result was feeling suicidal most nights. I had no one to talk to about any of it except for God, and he didn’t give me very much to work with. Maybe He (or some other higher power) meant for me to be this way; otherwise, why would trying to change make me want to die? Not to mention, suicide is another thing God isn’t too fond of.
I heard a song by Gay New Zealand singer Troye Sivan called “Heaven” during this point in my life. The chorus of the song goes like this:
Without losing a piece of me
How do I get to heaven?
Without changing a part of me
How do I get to heaven?
All my time is wasted
Feeling like my heart’s mistaken
So if I’m losing a piece of me
Maybe I don’t want heaven
Something about that felt right. I shouldn’t have to give up a part of myself or change who I am to be loved, to find peace, to reach some arbitrary goal after I die. Especially when that crime is love.
Anxiety around Religion when Meeting my Roommate
I started my second year of college with three new lottery roommates and a new bisexual label–out to everyone on the Internet but no one in my real life.
I unpacked alone until one of the roommates returned home, coming to my bedroom door when she noticed my presence, resting a casual hand on the doorframe. “Oh hey! You’re back!” I smiled with a nod. She had a stereotypical college girl look to her—tall and lean, naturally pretty, presumably athletic, exceptionally friendly.
She tapped her fingers against the frame, but not impatiently. “Well, I’m going to play some music while I unpack,” she smiled perfect rows of white teeth. “You can join me—only if you want,” she assured me, hands coming off the door frame. “I just don’t want you to think I’m being rude because I’m going to be in my room.” I nodded again and told her I’d be there in a moment.
I gulped a few times crossing the living area to her room. She broke from a hum-along to the song playing to greet me with a genuine smile, and I complimented the floral decor hanging on her door. “Thanks! I like doing crafty things here and there. I don’t have much time–especially at school–you know? But I like doing it. What about you?” She turned to me, pausing from the tidying to wait for my answer.
I nodded, taking a seat on the edge of her bed as she motioned her permission. This is an easy one. “Yeah, I like crafting. Random art projects and things.” She nodded along and hummed with her song without looking disinterested. I needed something to look at and stay focused on. There were little pieces of papers taped up by her mirror. I only read the first—it had some sort of inspirational quote on it—before she asked another question.
“What kind of projects do you like?”
She talked like we were having a formal meeting. Like she was interviewing me, but trying to make me feel comfortable at the same time. Yet she seemed oblivious to the fact.
I drew in a breath. “Just like, scrapbooking—I really like scrapbooking.” My eyes dart back to the paper with a quote on it.
I looked down at her bed where there was a décor frame that held several pictures. There was one of her with a group of people outside. It looked hot there, not like anything here. She saw me looking at it. “I was on a mission trip in Guatemala.”
I nodded. “Looks fun.” My eyes ran over all the pictures, but nothing gave me any alarm. No necklace crosses. I reminded myself of my best friend from high school and her trip to the Ukraine. It doesn’t have to mean anything, I told myself. “I have a friend that did a mission trip.”
“—Do you believe in God, Jesse?”
I had all of thirty seconds to process that she actually just asked me about my religious values when we’d only just known each other for approximately five minutes. Of course, she wasn’t to know that I’d been asking myself the same question for what felt like my entire life. Yes, I almost said. If I did believe in God, maybe you won’t hate me for the other stuff.
My eyes darted around the room, avoiding her eyes and landing on the tacked up papers by the mirror. The one next to the inspirational quote was a bible quote. Maybe they both were.
“I don’t know,” I finally admitted. I caught a glance at myself in the mirror. I’ve always hated the way my face goes red at the nearest sign of discomfort.
She stayed organizing things, stayed only just distracted enough to make me think, briefly, that this conversation didn’t matter to us that much. She didn’t say anything, but glanced up at me and smiled, almost nodding, like she was waiting for more.
“My dad grew up Catholic,” I offered.
It seemed to be enough this time. “So did my mom. But I didn’t really like it like that. My family was never religious in that Catholic-y way.”
“Mine either. We went to church sometimes when I was little.”
“Me too. But now though, I’m the only one who’s very religious.” She then took off on a long gush of her Jesus-loving path, white teeth glistening the whole time. I tried reciprocating her level of enthusiasm with the very short moments she stopped between gushes for me to utter a quick, “definitely” or “Uh-huh.”
Do you believe in God, Jesse?
Those twenty seconds between her question and my answer flashed one too many thoughts to carry on with this conversation as equal participants.
Thoughts about how I used to talk to God every single night, saying thanks for things that I appreciated, sharing hopes for the future. Thoughts about how I didn’t really think that made me believe in him, that maybe I thought if I missed a day he wouldn’t be happy with me. Thoughts about maybe I was just superstitious instead of religious. Thoughts that pondered all the other reasons he might’ve been mad at me. And the one reason it always came back down to. The same reason I felt unsettled when I found out someone described themselves as “very religious.” The same reason it elicited a fight or flight response. The same reason I tuned out from her Jesus-gush. I was too afraid of hearing something I couldn’t bear to hear.