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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Hi Vivien,

Thank you so much for the very warm and well-written response.  Oh gosh... my sis!  This evening my mother and I had dinner with her.  Out of nowhere, my sis started talking about politics and became confrontational in regard to my political views (odd, seeing as how I never talk about politics).  Alas, she knows I voted for a certain someone that she didn't vote for.  As a good combat strategy, I used the DO NOT ENGAGE rule... the same rule that I use for religious topics.  For the most part, the strategy worked.  It annoyed her that I wouldn't take the bait, but it's the way it has to be unfortunately.  She just can't handle a differing opinion without becoming upset.  Again though, I love her dearly.  Yes, Vivien– deep down I think she is just scared and unsure of herself.


On a side note, she and a few of her friends at church are currently quarreling and behaving like kids.  Example:  "You wouldn't let my daughter's boyfriend come over to your house, how dare you... now I'm not going to talk to you for the rest of the year!"  Ugh.  It's like high school all over again, complete with in-fighting, silent treatment, and taking sides against one another.  It seems so childish.  Ah well.  In a way, I feel sorry for them... that they can't see the forest for the trees or abide by their own self-imposed belief system.

It must have been harrowing, to meet Matthew Shepard's mom so soon after his death.  I agree that we still have a long way to go in regard to protecting and offering help to lgbtqia youth.  Maybe you do this as well, but sometimes I think of the people who were so awful to deal with during high school.  I ask myself if I'm angry at them.  Usually, the answer is a resounding no.  I don't know if this is a healthy way to look at it or not, but I feel that bigoted, hateful bullies are in their own hell, often without even realizing it; and it's a hell that likely worsens with age.  How miserable they must be!

In regard to your friend who moved to the South... yes.  A good ol' boy church network is very much alive and well here.  My eldest nephew stayed in all kinds of hot water during his school years.  For the longest time, his name was synonymous with trouble.  Recently however, as he becomes more and more involved with religion and church, it seems as if things are handed to him on a silver platter (employment, a broader social circle), with little to no effort on his part.  Do you still communicate with your friend?  It is baffling to think, "How did this person become so religious, when he/she wasn't that way before?"  Hmmm... maybe it can be easier just to give in and go along with the crowd?  Or, to put it another way, easier for someone to wall off part of their brain and coast along on illogical reasoning, rather than fight against it?  I don't know... that's a tough one.

Lastly, the Buddhist group... wow.  On one side, it's beyond goofy.  On the other, it's exactly as you put it: Disconcerting.  How could anyone actually believe in something so illogical and beyond reason?  Deep down, I imagine that a great many people who "believe" aren't being honest with themselves.  As with your friend who moved to the South, maybe it's just easier for some people to coast through life without rocking the religious boat, so to speak.

Well, I better go before I write a novel here!  Thanks to you as well for sharing your experiences...

All the best to you and stay strong also–

Don 


   

 


  

Don, I’m totally new here myself and still getting my bearings. But since I’ve got a week or so on you I can welcome you to the board. 

When I read stories like yours I feel what I guess is a variant of survivors guilt.  I’m gay too. Your story could easily have been mine. But I’ve been lucky. My family is only culturally religious and not homophobic. But I have friends who have been on the receiving end of God’s “love.” It’s brought them nothing but pain. And it’s taught me a lot. 

Religion of the sort embraced by your family is a drug. You are dealing with addicts and with addicts the drug rules. “She no longer has time for anything other than work and the church, often neglecting our mother.” Replace “the church” with “getting her Christometh fix” and you’ve got it in a nutshell. 

And then there’s your older nephew, who is preparing to go half way around the world to find souls to feed to the Sky Troll when there are those right in his own back yard who need his help. This is not what responsible and compassionate people do. But it’s what people who have bought into a virulently expansionist religion like Christianity do. 

When it comes to your younger nephew I don’t know what to suggest except to show by the way you live that there is an alternative. I’m thinking that most of us were not proactively converted to atheism. We came to it quietly and on our own based on what we’d learned and seen and through the grace of our own reason. Be as open and accessible to your nephew as you can, provide the best example you can, and let him figure it out. 

You are a lot more understanding and forgiving than I would be in your situation, especially when it comes to your sister. I have no use for religion in general, and Christianity and its younger sibling Islam in particular. I tried the live-and-let-live approach but that didn’t work for me when dealing with people who know the will of the Living God and whose commission in life is to make me and everyone else submit to it. 

You obviously have a lot of strength to draw on or you wouldn't be here to write what you have written. I'm really glad you decided to share with us. 

Greg,

I very much appreciate your warm thoughts.  We will go gayly forward together (joking with you) *smiling.

Yes, my youngest nephew will likely be okay in the long run.  He's a smart cookie, so your advice to essentially lead by example is spot-on.  Over time, he'll draw his own conclusions.  I would only ever mention my beliefs if he specifically asked or if it came up naturally during conversation, and even then I'd probably not make a big deal about it.

In regard to my older nephew: At dinner the other night, my mom did convey to my sis exactly what you just mentioned... that he shouldn't make the trip, and that there was so much that he could do here in regard to helping people out.  I was proud of my mom for saying that to her.  After my mom said that, my sis gave no response (no response = disagreement).

I'm sorry to hear about your friends who've endured hardship because of their religious upbringing.  You just being there for them helps greatly I imagine.  And speaking of forcing religion onto others... I'm in agreement that it's one of the worst things about Christianity.  If the Bible works for person A, it won't necessarily work for person B.

Lastly, thank you for sharing as well.  It's good to know that there are like-minded individuals out there.  I'm happy and humbled by everyone's warmth, kindness, and encouragement.

*Sending warmth, kindness, and encouragement to you in return.  

  

 

Don,  I forgot to add my oldest grandson is gay.  He moved to a larger town during college and is doing great.  You will be fine.  K,

K. Hughes,

Thank you so much for saying that.  *Sending a BIG HUG and much love to you and your grandson : )  Everyone has been so thoughtful, warm, and friendly.

Your post made me think of something that happened about a week ago:  My mom and I usually go walking at a local community gym on our lunch breaks.  Sometimes one or more of my mom's coworkers join us.  Alas, one of the coworkers mentioned that she had a niece who was yanked out of public school and placed into a homeschool environment, because... (drum roll) a girl at school had asked the niece out on a date.  

I couldn't believe it.  What a crazy reaction.  A reaction that was beyond extreme.  If the niece wasn't interested, she only had to say, "No," and leave it at that.  Instead, a close-minded parent decided that public school didn't offer a good Christian environment for their child, all because a girl had asked another girl out on a date.  Yikes!  So, yes, it definitely helps to be in a large town where people tend to be more worldly, as opposed to a smaller, more rural area where people might go off the deep end over something that should really be a non-issue.       

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