When I was 13, I remember sitting in my bed in the middle of the night and praying to God to make me straight.
I can still recall the salty tears streaming down my face, the acrid smell of an extinguished candle and the feeling that I was an abomination.
As a gay person who grew up Catholic, navigating religion can feel like a tightrope, always on the verge of falling. Your sexuality is deemed a moral defect that needs to be cured. You are told that you’re born innately sinful, not just because of original sin, but because of your attraction. You must either remain celibate all your life or be sentenced to hell. You are denied your humanity.
Growing up, I never really paid attention to religion until I was around 12 years old. The conversation around gay marriage was a national discussion and my very existence was at the forefront of it. What I saw online were religious conservatives complaining that allowing gay people to marry was a “slippery slope” and would lead to the legalization of pedophilia and bestiality. That hostility obviously impacted my feelings about religion.
I’m fortunate to have grown up with parents who didn’t care about judging sexuality, but the religion aspect did leave an impression. According to a 2017 American Journal of Orthopsychiatry study, LGBT people exposed to religious anti-gay prejudice display higher levels of shame, anxiety and depression. When churches reject LGBT people, whether in policy or scripture, they are effectively telling young gay teens, “You are not welcomed here.”
Even though my church didn’t outwardly display homophobia, this unreceptive attitude simmered underneath. I felt I wasn’t supported there. I felt like God had abandoned me. I felt that my sexuality was a malady that had to be cured, which led me to some dark places.
But the underlying issue here is the idea that being gay and being spiritual are at odds. This is a false assumption.
The path to finding my spirituality began with leaving the Church. At first, I reveled in the freedom that atheism gave me. I could reject everything about the ideology that hurt me with arguments. I could take back a part of my humanity that religion denied me. But the problem is that I was denying another part of myself.
I found that spirituality wasn’t an experience of society for me. It was the personal, the connection you feel that does not require a building or a congregation. It was the quiet mornings when the sun is just rising over the mountains. It was watching a candle cast shadows around your room. It was embracing the moments that you feel elevated to a higher plane.
Spirituality is more important than religion. The thing is, spirituality is a different experience for every individual. For gay people, we’ve had to find a place where our sexuality is not just tolerated, but accepted. Perhaps it’s time we reclaim spirituality as well.