242. accouterments

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IMAG0774To your reply, I/we (your family) don’t expect you to be static. We are not static either. The reason to spend time is to keep up with those changes. It sounds like you think we don’t change, but in small ways we do, all the time. We just want to know who you are regardless of who that is. Sure, we wish things and you were different, but they’re not. But you’re missing out on your nephews and niece and the rest of us in who we’re becoming.

To me and us it’s not a matter of commonalities. It’s just relationship. For me/us there does not have to be a shared future. We just want a future with you. From my vantage point, it looks like you’re the one who does not want to be part of our lives. If that’s the way you want it, we’ll accept that. But I/we want you to know we want you—always have, always will. We don’t understand why you feel so intense a need to erase the past or put it behind you. We are all made up, like trees, of who we were, who we are and who we’re becoming. Seems to me that gutting the tree leaves you less a tree and a weak one at that.

Our door is always open to you. We love you.

Dad


Dad,

You wrote: “From my vantage point, it looks like you’re the one who does not want to be part of our lives.” Again, it’s not that I don’t want to. Rather, I’m struggling to see how it’s feasible.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this, and I’m curious how you think we can all be together, meaningfully, when there are so many issues we have to avoid and dance around—religion, ethics, politics. Your faith is a significant part of your lives, and it makes sense you’d want to talk about that together as a family. However, you know my views on religion and Christianity, and that I can’t participate in those discussions in a way that is authentic and affirming for everyone.

The fact is that I do recognize you’re not static, and that you are changing. But that’s the central issue here: where you seem to be becoming more conservative, I’m becoming more liberal in the same areas. For example, from our last conversation, it sounds like you’re disturbed and saddened by growing secularism, by what you see as increasing godlessness in society, and by the sense of alienation and displacement you’re experiencing from that as a person of faith. You expressed a sense of there not being a place for you and other evangelical Christians in this brave new world of equality and secularism—at least not in a way that wouldn’t force you to compromise your beliefs. I suspect that the others share your concerns.

I, on the other hand, see all of this as a positive development. And that’s just one example.

But the need to, as you wrote, distance myself from the past is less a desire for erasure as it is a struggle to find context for it. For me, it truly feels as if the person who I was four-and-a-half years ago died the night I became an atheist. It was a life-changing and traumatizing event, on top of growing up gay in a fundamentalist Christian community. Maybe I’m misinterpreting, but from our conversations you and mom don’t seem to think it’s quite as serious. Your experience with Christianity has been a beneficial one, so why would you? There may be elements of your faith you struggle with, but your lifestyle integrates overall with (and is affirmed by) your beliefs.

Why would I want to erase the past and put it behind me? Because it was horrific. My memories and experiences are colored by the intense pain and sadness of believing I was broken, sinful, perverted, and would be a disappointment to everyone if they’d ever learned I was gay. Yes, it manifested in often unhealthy ways, but the risk of sharing the reason I was so angry back then was too high. Living that way for fifteen years created the sense of alienation and isolation that made fear a fundamental part of how I relate to other people. I need to move beyond that because the ghosts of those beliefs are making it near impossible to function as an emotionally healthy human being.

So it’s difficult for me to be with the family when no one has acknowledged that any substantive harm was done, and when I’m in the process of trying to heal from that damage. Again, correct me if I’m wrong, but you likely see the underlying problem as a spiritual and not a psychological one: specifically, rebellion against God and his plan is what caused the distress of my adolescent and young adult years. You even said on numerous occasions that many of my troubles would be eased if only I’d give myself to God, so it’s plain you don’t see the brand of fundamentalist theology I was raised with as being a cause for my suffering.

But frankly, I do feel that a significant, pervasive wrong was done, one that you and the family cannot acknowledge or address because of your religious beliefs. That is, you can’t do that and leave your Christian faith and worldview intact. This is what makes it difficult for me to want to be around the family, or to believe that there’s a safe and welcome place for me at your table.

To be clear, I don’t think anyone intended harm, but this is the roadblock that I can’t see any way around. It wouldn’t be fair to ask you to revise your beliefs unless you were genuinely motivated to do so. But I can’t keep holding out hope that you will someday, nor is it healthy for me to keep going as if nothing happened.

David

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7 thoughts on “242. accouterments

  1. PaulDouglas

    Excellent response, David. I started reading The Velvet Rage by Alan Downs today and he talks about the toxic shame many gay men experience growing up and our struggle to identify and confront it. Looks like you are well along on that journey.
    I deconverted 5 years ago. Fortunately my husband deconverted soon afterwards and our families are not fundagelicals so I haven’t had to experience the pain that you have. I wish you well.

    • David

      Thanks, Douglas! Velvet Rage is on my to-read list, sometime after I get done starting to delve into Nietzsche.

      One of the principle barriers to actually identifying the shame and self-loathing was how “compassionate” the Christian view of homosexuality appeared to me from within it, at least on the surface. My parents, pastors, teachers, and friends weren’t screaming at gay people, or behaving in the way we associate with street preachers or with that closeted homophobe Steven Anderson. They “loved” gay people by “speaking the truth in love”, which I now realize means saying horrid things in the nicest way possible.

      God loves you so much that He sent his son Jesus to die for your sins, and the Bible tells us that He has a plan for your life… “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” [They always worked some Scripture in there.] Why would you want to follow your own path, which will ultimately leave you empty and unfulfilled?

      It was so hard to see and accept because these people were my friends and family. But there is nothing kind or compassionate about demanding that someone choose to live buried alive all because a group of people are uncomfortable with the differences of another. So the thing I’m still struggling most with right now is forgiving myself for staying there for so long and for not just following my instincts and leaving, even though, as Richard Dawkins quotes his wife in The God Delusion, “I didn’t know I could.”

  2. Phil

    David I applaud you. I wish that I could say it gets easier but with time I find I become more angry. On a positive note some of my nieces and nephews have seen the light and are becoming really wonderful people. I wish you happiness my friend.

  3. You really put it all out there. (not very Minnesotan of you – lol) You are so fearless & brave. You clearly have a firm grasp on who you are (in a multitude of dimensions) and what you need/want out of life. My mother has softened her positions over time and is now able to bend in my direction. But your parents seem to be too rigid to compromise at all. That makes me very sad. They seem to think that avoiding conflicting topics is a compromise, but you are too authentic to fake your way through. I wonder if your nieces/nephews could benefit from having you in their life. They are likely still young and open minded enough to consider your outlook and without you around they might be doomed to becoming fundie clones of your parents. But you need to take care of yourself & heal before you can be at full-capacity for helping others. I hope your family wises up to what an amazing human being they are missing out on.

    • David

      Part of what’s given me pause is my niece and nephews, although I fear that my sister’s and my parent’s influence has already corrupted their young minds with the constant playing of god music (read = bible verses adapted into songs for children) around the house. My parents are unlikely to evolve in their own views because they are so dependent on the Bible and their faith community. I’m still unsure about my sisters. The youngest one is, from what I can tell, pretty hardline fundamentalist, even though she works for Apple. The younger one (mom to the niece and nephews) has asked questions over the last few years that lead me to think she might be more progressive than the others, but it’s hard to tell if she’s just being the peace-keeping middle child or if she’s really open to changing her mind about some theological ideas… getting rid of doctrine of original sin would be a great start!

  4. mandarenee18

    Kudos to you, for following and refusing to dishonor your own path. I am glad you are having this conversation with your family, in whatever format and no matter the outcome.

    • David

      Thank you, my friend. 🙂 At the very least, my hope is that this will be a consciousness-raising for them. And who knows, maybe it will make them re-evaluate some of their hardline positions. Probably not, but we can always hope!

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