Thoughts From the Crossroads of Self Identity and Religion

 

NOTE: Today I will be broaching some very serious, potentially triggering subjects. Read with caution lovelies.

If I somehow haven’t made this clear before, I’m really really gay. I mean, really gay. Ellen Page in this video gay. But I’m also a Christian. Specifically, my congregation is a part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, though of course I believe religion is interpretational and not exactly the same from person to person. Both these parts of my identity are very important to me but do not define me, as with anything else, but sometimes, people from both communities try to make them.

I was in fourth grade the first time I really believed in God. I’d been struggling with anxiety to the point where I couldn’t go outside without hyperventilating, and I spent my days feeling like I was fragile enough to shatter into a thousand pieces at any given moment. Whenever my parents left me at home alone for a quick run to the grocery or to pick up my brother from a friend’s house, I’d sit in the same place the entire time, shaking, still. Unmoving because the creaks and noises I heard didn’t just sound like burglars and monsters–they were burglars and monsters. The scariest kind. If it wasn’t that, I’d be afraid my body would give out on me with no one around to keep it from falling apart.

Our culture prioritizes hiding, and I knew I’d have to keep these things hidden deeper than anything. What I didn’t know was how to hide.

So I started praying, not as a means of hiding, but to calm myself down. It worked, mostly. I found myself truly believing the things they told me in Sunday school about a God who loved me, who looked out for me, who held me accountable to myself. I prayed to Her whenever I felt too afraid to continue. I’d hear a storm outside and tell Her I would helpĀ save the environment one day if the thunder and lightning passed. When I felt a pang or ache in my side and worry it meant my inevitable decay I promised Her I’d write those books I’d always wanted to. It helped me breathe again and get through my day. Eventually the pain would pass but the fear lingered. To this day it lingers.

My faith has since come in phases, like the waxing and waning of the moon. I’ve had many moments of doubt and I never stop questioning my beliefs, but I think both doubt and questioning are integral to the understanding of one’s faith and oneself. I have had more moments than I’d like where the world has gotten me so down, when I feel so guilty about the things people of my faith can do, that I have stopped believing, or tried. As I grow older I find it harder to rationalize my faith as the world screams “religion defies logic” with one fist and “religion promotes hate speech” with the other.

It’s true. Religion is not logical. Some people use it to condone vile actions that I will never uphold and never support. That is most of the reason I am writing to you today.

Leelah Alcorn was a teenage trans woman who committed suicide this week because her conservative Christian parents could not accept her for who she was and, among other brutalities, isolated her from her friends and sent her to conversion therapy. I won’t go into detail because I do not know all the details and do not believe they are mine to comment on, but her story needs attention, as do the stories of hundreds of thousands of others. Roughly half of transgender people will attempt suicide before they’re 20. And some people, some Christians, are perfectly okay with this, or are in denial about it. Leelah’s parents claim their daughter was caught in an accident.

So many people have so many better words than me about this, and I invite you to read them (tumblr is a start because many people have thoughts on this issue & links to charities you can donate to and helplines, some of which I’ll link below). I am not transgender, and I am not Leelah, and therefore I have no authority to speak on this other than to report what I know to be the facts and send all the love I have to Leelah, to transgender youth, to all who struggle with being someone the world tells them they’re not supposed to be.

Many things about both the facts and the response trouble me. No parent should put their child through that. No one should put any other human through that, or drive a human being to take their own life. And no one should do all this in the name of a religion based on love and acceptance.

I’m lucky. I have lived in a setting where I have not needed to fear my parents’ reactions to my sexuality, nor my friends, and where in fact many of my friends are queer themselves. My church openly accepts members of any sexuality or gender identity. I am so fortunate, and so grateful, and thus the things I write come from a place of privilege. Remember that. The queer community has always been accepting and is one of the first places I felt a true sense of belonging. Yet I find it harder to come out to my queer friends as Christian than I have found it to come out to my Christian friends as queer. I don’t know many religious queer people, and many of the queer people I associate with make remarks on a regular basis about how the planet would be better off without religion or how the Bible should be banned. I understand that these things do not come from a place of intentional maliciousness. It’s easy for us to blame religion as being the root of the problem because it means we don’t have to blame the culture we’ve helped to create. Religion may be that root some cases, but does that really mean it is inherently evil and should be wiped out?

I am not with any of this saying that religion in general does not have flaws, because like any system it is full of them. I am not excusing the actions of people like Leelah’s parents, or religious organizations that proudly promote discrimination. I am saying that religion is meant to help, and it is people who use it to hurt, and therefore we shouldn’t dismiss all religions as worthless. If you can say with confidence the world would be a better place without religion, you are saying that the world would be a better place without me, and others like me.

I struggle with my faith. I struggle with believing in a God who could let what Leelah’s parents did to her happen, who could let any number of atrocities in this world happen. But the God I believe in is not the scary condemning monster of a God the rest of the world presents to me.

My God is more of a force than a concrete being floating on some cloud while the world burns. My God is loving above all else. My God works in tandem with science and logic; She but another facet to these explanations. My God creates the perfectly flawed, because our flaws bring destruction but ultimately they bring us beauty. My God accepts all and does not condemn people to hell for who they are. My God does not condone actions of hate made in Her name.

The time I felt the closest to God I’d ever been was this past July. It was my fifth night at summer camp, the last before I had to return home. I was surrounded by teenagers of diverse sexualities and gender identities who were Christian like me, for the first time in my life feeling like the queer community accepted me for my religion and my religion accepted me for being queer. That week had been a slice of paradise–dance routines and music and gluten-free food and joking around with friends and in-depth discussions about God and gender and sexuality. I’ve never been able to grasp the idea of heaven in the contemporary sense of the word, but for the first time, I could see how a place like it could exist. By the dying embers of our last campfire, I prayed harder than I’ve ever prayed before or since. And now I pray again.

I pray for LGBTQ+ teenagers who feel alone, because it is so easy for teenagers in general to feel isolated, particularly when half the world is telling them they’re wrong. I pray for trans women, and that cis people will truly, genuinely listen to trans people. I pray for the parents of Leelah Alcorn, because they live in ignorance of the grievous injustice they have done. I pray they will stop denying their wrongs and start to live with open hearts and open actions. And I pray for Leelah. I pray that she will find the peace the world didn’t grant her.

Praying may not be everyone’s cup of tea. It doesn’t have to be. But prayer has helped me in the past, and I’m not going to stop. My faith gives me strength.

These are my thoughts, based on my personal experiences. Some people have different experiences that cause them to hate religion because of brutal things very religious people have done to them. I am in no way trying to discount or delegitimize that. But I do urge you to think before generalizing all religions and religious people as the same, as hateful and worthless. It is a strong belief of mine that a vast majority of religions are meant to promote love, and it is us people who use them instead to promote our own discriminatory agendas. And not having a concrete religion, or any religion? Perfectly okay. Demonizing religions practiced in peace? Not okay. I say do not ban religion. Ban hate speech people make on behalf of a religion that in all likelihood would be appalled at that behavior in the first place.

As always, I am not an expert, only a girl with a keyboard and some thoughts. Please call me out on any inaccuracies you see.

~Links~

Organizations to support/donate to:
Trans Lifeline–http://www.gofundme.com/TLLCreatingChange
Trans Youth Support Network–http://www.transyouthsupportnetwork.org/
Trans Women of Color Collective–http://www.twocc.us/
Trans Student Educational Resources–http://transstudent.org/
Kaleidoscope Youth Center–http://www.kycohio.org/

Support Groups:
Pathways–http://pathwaystg.org/
Other Trans Support Groups–http://iamtransgendered.com/SupportGroups.aspx

Helplines and resources:
LGBTQ Hotlines–http://www.glbtnationalhelpcenter.org/ http://www.lgbt.ie/get-support.aspx
Transgender Helpline–http://www.transgenderzone.com/transpanic.htm
Gender Support Lines–http://www.supportline.org.uk/problems/gender-identity.php