Growing Up Gay and Without Religion in the Bible Belt (New Member Intro)

Greetings and Salutations,

My name is Don, an artist and writer residing in the Bible Belt (within a small town just north of Atlanta). I'm a new member and wanted to take a moment to introduce myself. There seems to be a wide range of diverse and like-minded people here, so I'm looking forward to interacting and perhaps making a few friends along the merry way. Of course, a big hug goes out to those out there who read this.

An abridged history of myself: I've lived in the Bible Belt all of my life. Art and writing have seen me through some difficult times. I'm in my early thirties now, but... it has been a long road. Growing up gay in the South can be nightmarish, particularly during adolescence. When one adds a lack of religious belief on top of that... well... to put it bluntly, sometimes I'm surprised to still have all of my limbs and extremities. All hell can break loose when people start speaking in tongues... Often, I've felt very alone in a rural/ suburban area where mega-churches occupy every other street, and the good ol' boy network holds sway over sanity and reason.

During school, there was the regular parade of death threats and dirty looks by loving Christian classmates. At one juncture, I remember walking around the outside of my high school in order to get to my next class, just because the hallways were a constant battle. It's always nice to be walking along and have your books knocked out of your hands by friendly God loving football players, or to be slammed into a wall and have teachers look the other way. I fondly remember a girl named Jessica Kanup and her shark-faced barbs: Faggot, homo, gay boy, queer, and so forth. I'd kind of like to see her on a "Where Are They Now?" special.

I've never believed in God. For a brief period during elementary school, I attended a small church with a religious neighbor/classmate. Alas, my relationship with religion was doomed from the start. I remember sitting on a pew during church as a preacher ranted, thinking: If God exists, why does He allow my father to hit my mother? Why does He let my father hit me? Or hurt my sisters? I never understood. So I thought, either God doesn't exist, or He doesn't know. Otherwise, He would help, wouldn't He? As the years of abuse trudged on, eventually I settled on the God doesn't exist mantra.

Fast forward to a recent dilemma (and this is also part of why I joined this network... to be able to discuss this/ get opinions on the following scenario):

Outside of funerals and the odd Thanksgiving prayer, the rule of not engaging with religion has worked... until fairly recently. Within the last few years, my eldest sister (roughly ten years older than myself) has become very religious. Just when I thought that I had reached the safety zone of adulthood, religion returned to cause more friction. And I should've seen it coming. A few of my sister's friends were always very conservative and religious. Unfortunately, they've succeeded in roping her in. Now, my sister, brother-in-law, and my eldest nephew all harbor that "lost, far-away" look in their eyes. It saddens me greatly. I feel as if I don't know my sister anymore... like I can no longer identify with her... like I've lost her in a way. She was never the easiest to get along with and has always leaned on the judgmental side. From my perspective, religion has only served to amplify the "I'm always right, you're always wrong, how dare you disagree with me" personality type. I hate that she has gone in this direction, because we shared such a troubled childhood with my father, we've been through a lot, and I love her dearly.

Now, my sister's family gives a never-ending stream of money to a church that they attend every Sunday, Saturday, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. They teach Bible classes that they aren't qualified to teach, spreading ignorance. They can't afford, nor do they have time, to keep their house up. Example: a broken AC unit at their house has remained in disrepair since March, because all of their money has gone to the church. My eldest nephew has been sleeping on an air mattress in the living room all this time as he tries to save up money for a mission trip to South Africa... all in order to spread further ignorance. A friend of mine made a joke in regard to this that made me laugh: At least my eldest nephew will be used to no air conditioning...

Seriously though, it greatly saddens me about my sister. I feel more and more uncomfortable around her. Happiness alludes her... it's as if she has convinced herself that she's happy, and wears the mask of happiness, while uncertainty lurks underneath. She no longer has time for anything other than work and the church, often neglecting our mother. Sometimes she calls my mother on the phone, telling my mom that she needs to think about "salvation." Evangelical books have been popping up at my sister's house. They feverishly pray at every single family get-together.

At one juncture, my sister became upset with me when I didn't go to my youngest nephew's baptism. She wanted to know why I didn't go. Sadly, I felt as if I couldn't tell her the reason. In all likelihood, if I had told her the truth, that I thought it was wrong to force a ten year old boy to pledge allegiance to an imaginary being for the rest of his life and that he was too young to know what he was doing, she wouldn't have spoken to me for a year or more. She does that frequently now... when she gets angry at someone, she doesn't speak to the offensive party for months on end... which, to me... that seems to not mesh with the "Do unto others" motto.

I feel so sorry for my youngest nephew. I want so much to take him aside and say something along the lines of: "Not everyone believes in God, and it's okay if you don't... don't ever do anything out of fear." But, he's not my child. He is my sister's child, and despite how I feel, they are raising him in the manner that they desire. I do know that he went away to a Bible summer camp, and came back from it scared to death, because some kids there had told him that if he wasn't baptized, that he was going to burn in hell for all eternity.

Maybe some members here have had similar experiences and could offer advice? Perhaps, even though I can't overstep my boundaries with my nephew, I could tell him what I believe, and leave him to draw his own conclusions? I don't know. My main concern is my sister. She has every right to do as she wishes, but sadly I see us drifting further and further apart... and I kind of feel like I survived all of that stuff in school, only to have it resurface again... and I just, I feel like I can't deal with religion anymore. I just can't, period. I'm over it and can't tolerate it causing me distress. At my sister's birthday party recently, I felt so uncomfortable with the way that she and her friends were carrying on (God this and God that) and praying that I had to leave the room and disappear. I stuck around until the candles were blown and that was all I could handle.

I wish that I could move away to some other area, but my mother is older now, and she needs me. Maybe I should just continue my current strategy, by not engaging with my sister or her family over religion... but it's getting harder and harder to do so as she sinks deeper and deeper down that path. In other words, dear readers... please help!

Lastly, I'm currently writing a novel about all of my experiences here in the South. I've fictionalized everything, so hopefully my sister won't get angry and not speak to me for a year. That has helped too... to get some of this stuff off of my chest and turn it into something productive and artistic that might help others. Obviously, it helps to write about it here as well. Also, I realize that this has become a lengthy introduction, and perhaps the part concerning my sister would've been better suited for another section of the forum, but I had to get it off of my chest, and it came out here during the wee small hours of the morning. So please forgive me for the length of this post, and if you've made it this far, I appreciate you reading this and I appreciate your time.

Love and Best, Don

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First of all, Don, WELCOME.  We're glad you found your way here ... sounds like you need it!

Times I feel like the weirdo here in that I'm one of those who DIDN'T grow up in a total immersion christian environment.  We even have a group here - Recovering From Religion - for those who are still dealing with getting shut of the last vestiges of indoctrination, as well as groups for those of specific religious background who want to share their own horror stories.  In any case, there are plenty of folks on A|N who share similar history and POV and can offer some thoughts on how to deal with your sometimes-toxic surroundings.

Me?  I'm one of the "spit-and-vinegar" crowd here, and there are a few of us as well, those who have virtually NO TOLERANCE for religion and make no bones about saying so.  I'm about a light-year and change from being a Christopher Hitchens, but when something bites me, I bite back, and frequently write about it here.  If you've got a question for me, please know you'll get my best shot, and if I don't have a proper answer, I'll say so.

Again, welcome!  Please have a FUN time here!

considering the shutdown.. egh eghmm.. this is chock full of who's who in #$
https://www.atheists.org/shop?&nccsm=21&__nccscid=19&__...

oh and if you can find/get your hands on .. i enjoyed and was educated in a way .. w/ new faces some black man's standup routine at Reason Rally DVD>. 4 set! very cool. he was funny.  like 5 acts into the gathering.. cheers

Don,

Welcome to nexus!

Here's the LGBTI group on Nexus, in case you are interested.

I know what you mean about wishing you could move.   A generation ago, that's what I did.  Over and over again.  Moving can also be isolating - new place, no friends, no family, culture shock - but sometimes it is an option.  It's not perfect, however.

Possibly not engaging your sister in discussions is best.  Only you know your family dynamic.

Good luck to you. 

 

 

Thank you for the replies thus far. *Another hug*  It helps so much just to be able to come here and talk with everyone.  I felt relief after making my post... just to be able to talk about it with a diverse group.  Thankfully, I do have a few close friends, mostly in the Atlanta area, who can identify with me in regard to religion- so on a personal face-to-face level, at least I'm not completely alone in that regard.  I think that this site will greatly help too by offering a larger support group outside of my few close friends.     

Loren, thank you for the warm welcome.  I think I'm nearing the "spit-and-vinegar" phase.  I just... don't want to spend my whole life being ostracized.  In the same breath, it's like I'm between a rock and a hard place, as I love my sister.  I'll look into the group that you suggested.  With your no tolerance stance, I bet you have some stories!

Sentient Biped, I enjoyed your friendly welcome as well, and I will indeed visit the group.  Thank you for your empathy... hopefully after moving, a new circle of friends and loved ones formed around you.  And, I think you may be right about not engaging.  It has been my strategy thus far... it's just that I hate to be that way, because it pushes my sister and I apart even more.  It's almost like... losing someone.

SecularCortex, thanks for the book and DVD suggestions.  If nothing else, maybe it will be good to leave some of those around the house here and there, as a counter balance to the evangelical books at my sister's place.   

Don, part of the whole "spit-and-vinegar" thing for me is the fact that I'm old enough at this point (62) that, for the large portion, I don't worry about the reaction of people around me.  My wife is an agnostic, I myself am semi-retired, and sufficiently secure in myself to feel as though I can handle most encounters with theists, if not all.  We've had JWs visit our house multiple times in the last four years, and each time they discovered that the guy who lives here is an atheist, and an informed and outspoken one at that.  I'm polite with them, but their superstition gets exactly ZERO rhythm with me.

I'll grant you, not everyone can adopt such an attitude.  I'm glad I can, and it's liberating as all get-out!

Like you I'm old enough to not care.  The last time an fundamentalist came to my door to invite me to church I told him I didn't attend church that I'm atheist.  I haven't been bothered since.  That was over five years ago.  Liberating indeed!

Seriously Don, listen to Loren!  He gets right to the heart of the matter, and no one could word things any better!

Don, things are getting better all across the country.  Some places faster than others.  Somewhere I read Atlanta is a bit of a gay hub now - unthinkable 20 years ago.

I suspect in the long run, atheist will be a bigger challenge than gay.  Religious people have always taken a "pick and choose" approach to what they accept and what they don't.  They are finding LGBTI people more tolerable, since we are their sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, cousins, and schoolmates. 

Accepting someone gay, in the end, does not mean challenging someone's core belief in gods.  It might challenge their interpretation of what they think their god wants, but rationalization can get them around that.  Being atheist, that challenges the entire god concept, godly love - something christians pick and choose about - and life after death.  That's the bigger threat to the fantasy.

Welcome, DonGaddis. Thanks for sharing so much with us. Your sister sounds like she's a hard core religion addict. She is lost to you as much as if she were addicted to alcohol or drugs. Too bad about your nephew. There is hope, many members freed themselves from similar family upbringing. Telling him about your beliefs seems reasonable to me.

Awww!  Thank you Ruth.  I very much appreciate the welcome, and... yes, the analogy is spot on.  It's like losing someone to drugs or alcohol.  Maybe some day she'll get better or won't be so absorbed... but at the moment I don't see that happening.  

My nephew really reminds me of myself.  He even likes to draw and paint.  I've thought about that too, that he might possibly move away from religion as he grows up and is able to get away from home/ becomes more free to explore his own opinions.  I wish that there was some way that I could suggest to him that things aren't so black and white in regard to religion, and be a good influence in that way.  So, yes, I may just tell him what I believe, and give him room to run with it and form his own conclusions.  

Welcome Don.  I'm fairly new here and have found a wonderful group of people.Unlike the ones I'm exposed to in real life. As for your sister,  it will get better.  Age helps a lot.  Your sister will, hopefully, mellow out as time goes by.  My family are still seriously religious but they have learned, after almost twenty years, to leave me out of it.  They pray before meals at every family get together while I stand there quietly and wink at the youngest kids.

The last time I went to church I walked out during the service when the preacher started slandering gays.  I never went back and they've never asked me to. That was over 15 years ago. When our mother died a few months ago my oldest sister was going to take that opportunity to have a serious talk with me.  She was concerned about the future of my soul and our departed mothers soul.  I told her firmly that our mom was a wonderful woman and if my sister's heaven is real mom is there. And that I will be just fine.  I'm certain this subject will never be mentioned again.  Welcome again and I think you'll like the family here.

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