Have Queer People Been Robbed Of Their Spirituality?
By Cameron Colwell
I keep running into stories of queer people of various religions, and of various points on the sex/gender spectrum, being vilified in the name of faith.
After recently reading of the fear of gay Muslims and those working to support them, a chain of seemingly disconnected instances in my memory flared up; the Muslim-raised boy I met for drinks one time talking about his homophobic, religious father; the Anglican girl in my university’s queer collective who was asked to leave a youth group after coming out as asexual; my own experience at fourteen when I was told by a hip guy from the local megachurch, clad in skinny jeans and a v-neck, that homosexuality was immoral and practitioners of it were doomed to spiritual death.
When I was struggling with my sexuality, there was a time of my life where I identified both as Catholic and gay.
I’d resolved that I’d settle the contradictions between the two by just ignoring my sexuality, thus saving my soul. I think it lasted about two weeks before I decided the pleasure involved in kissing cute boys was worth running the risk of damning my soul to the flames of hell for eternity. Were I a little younger, with a more socially progressive mileau, there’s a chance I might’ve found a church that welcomes LGBTQIA+ individuals, but this was not the case.
After I attempted to communicate with several people who I know have shared a similar experience, I was blessed to receive a deeply informative response from my aforementioned Anglican friend. As a child, Katie, who identifies as asexual, “loved going to church, I loved my religion, but as I moved into my teenage years I felt a growing disconnect between myself and the church. They were talking about things I had no concept of and there was never any indication that a deviation from the norm was possible, let alone acceptable.”
Prompted by my further questioning, she continues: “I am openly queer at church and this has led to significant conflict between myself and the church leadership team. I used to lead a group in the church-run youth group, but was asked to leave as I was too openly queer and was ‘not a good, Christian role model for the impressionable (teenaged) children. Before that I had butted heads with other senior figures in the church over my openness about my sexuality and my support of queer rights.”
“I was reprimanded for my response when I was asked a question during a Bible study and, to demonstrate the applications of my answer, I referenced the fact that I am not heterosexual in passing. The teen then relayed my answer to their parents who took exception to my admission and brought it before the youth minister. He made sure to tell me that he had reassured them by letting them know that ‘it’s not too bad, because it’s not like you’re a lesbian, you’re not telling the girls to have sex with other girls’ and impressed on me the importance of not mentioning my sexuality anywhere that any of the teens I led could hear.”
“In the church leadership’s eyes my comfort with and openness about my sexuality was “implied acceptance of an active lesbian lifestyle” whatever that means. This did not cause me to doubt my faith in God, but did make me doubt the institution of the Anglican Church, doubts I still have today. I would say that I am technically Anglican, but I disagree with the way that a lot of The Church acts and responds to things.”
After I ask if she has difficulty reconciling her faith and her sexuality, Katie comments that, “At this point in my journey I see no need to reconcile my faith and my sexuality, because I don’t see any conflict. I see no way in which I cannot be both Christian and asexual. When I was younger I struggled more with this. I thought that I had to change to be like everyone else, but that changed as I became more comfortable with myself, who I am and my relationship with God.”
Katie’s comments remind me that, despite my staunch atheism through high school, I now recognise that the person I am is very much informed by my old religion.
I can’t deny that some of the parts I love most about myself – my passion for social justice, for instance – are informed by the teachings of the Bible. Also, I remain a deeply spiritual person. Maybe it’s because of my adolescent struggles with mental illness, but I’ve been left with a deep inclination to find meaning. For a long time in my younger years, homophobia had left a hole through my middle. There’s a brilliant quote by David Foster Wallace about how everybody worships, but the benefit of worshipping a spiritual entity is it doesn’t consume you: Worshipping beauty destroys you by making you feel ugly and unable to age peacefully; worshipping money destroys you by giving you the feeling you never have enough, and so on and so forth.
I guess, intentionally or unintentionally, I’ve filled that void with the occasional wine, a taste for existential literature, and writing: Art has given me what many people search for in religion: Rituals, structure, meaning, community, and faith in a nebulous power that I can find hope in, that being, the power of art to enhance the lives of other people.
I’m a firm believer that one of the keys to long-term satisfaction with life comes from a sense of meaning. Queer people, I think, have historically been robbed of this kind of meaning: Unlike other minorities, queer people do not have access to community through religion, a shame, considering that across time queer people have been denied entry into traditional non-spiritual sources of meaning, like marriage, family, and similar.
Though, not everyone has the luck to have the time and resources to find meaning through something like art, I still think meaning is something people eventually find, healthy or not – For a lot of people, particularly people who have had a rough time of life, it’s very difficult to run on nothing. Hence the abundance of otherwise atheistic people believing in a vaguely defined ‘something out there.’
This is why I’m deeply happy when I see stories about queer people becoming involved in religious institutions.
For too long, the traditional access points of spirituality have been denied to people who don’t conform, either in gender identity and sexuality, to social mores. It’s about time we take them back.