I have a weird relationship with religion in general, and Christianity in particular. It’s naturally going to happen if you are raised in a way that pressures you strongly into beliefs that go against who you are.
I am transgender. I came out to the world at large nearly a year ago, and have lived as a woman since then. For most people, it pretty much came out of nowhere, and even the ones who I came out to before were shocked by it. Their impression of a sudden and dramatic change in who I am was of course natural from their point of view, and also completely wrong. My discovery of my identity was a terrible and painful process that lasted years and years.
The process was made more difficult by many, many things, but one of the most painful obstacles was the set of religious beliefs my parents tried to force me into.
Now, a quick note:
I’m going to be using emotionally charged language in this post, such as saying my parents ‘tried to force me into’ certain beliefs. I understand they didn’t mean harm by it, but revisiting the years before my transition brings back a lot of negative emotions.
I hope you aren’t personally offended by my word choice. Please understand this is a coping mechanism for making painful subjects more bearable.
In fact, if you’re of a religious persuasion, you can read this post solely to understand how and why non-religious people often become anti-theists, and mock religion.
I was born into a fairly non-religious family. Sure, they professed to be Catholic, but it was more the Lite brand of social religion some people profess to just because it’s easy. I don’t remember much about this time, though I have vague recollections of having received some Catholic education, and having read the whole Bible at some point.
Then age nine, my family moved to the US, where my father discovered Christianity and soon got my mother to convert with him. I was dragged along to church and things went all right for a while. I was into Sunday school, and I built a social circle there with the other kids. It was fun. We went to a church that rented a high school on Sundays, and so got to play out in the big field or on the playground.
It was fun. I got to make friends, learn about how great God was, and life was good for some time.
After a few years, however, things started to change. My parents had really gotten into religion, and the crowd they were with were not the most balanced out there. And so, they adopted such classic beliefs as “Spongebob is evil,” and “Pokemon is satanic.”
Ironically, it was the latter that was the first step into my eventual atheism.
I was in Earth Sciences class one day, and as usual, I had rushed through the day’s assignment and asked the teacher if I could please use the computer. He said yes, and I rushed to sit at one of the computers by the door to the room. I was planning on just browsing for a while on stumbleupon, when I looked to the computer beside me and saw another kid playing a totally cool game. Wow!
I asked him how he got the game on a school computer, and he told me the game was actually on his flash drive. I got him to copy it to mine (one of those horrible Cruzer ones) and from there, it was a short step to discovering I could download any gameboy game I wanted and play it on the emulator the boy had given me.
One of the first games I got was some Pokemon game, maybe Ruby or Sapphire, and I was hooked. It was incredibly fun and crucially, not Satanic in the slightest.
It might seem like a very minor thing, but in the wider story in my life, it had thematic significance. It showed me my parents could be completely wrong about something, and that their religious beliefs (then mine as well) could delude you into thinking something that wasn’t true. I didn’t renounce Christianity then, but the seeds of doubt had been planted in my head.
Right around that time is when things really went to hell for me. I was around 12 years old, so puberty, and the emotional instability and physical changes it brought were just around the corner. I was also just starting high school, and the change in interaction and social behaviour between boys and girls became more marked.
As a younger child, gender hadn’t been a major part of my identity, though there were small signs. There was an incident an aunt shared with me after I came out; apparently, she’d caught me trying to wear my mum’s stockings, age 6 or 7. I also have vague recollections of fantasies I had of sneaking into another aunt’s room and wearing her makeup.
I imagine part of led to me behaving the way young girls would have behaved growing up, but I was young enough that when that behaviour was faced with rejection, I just moved on to the next thing and didn’t focus too much on it.
It didn’t last, and after starting 9th grade, gender became more and more the main theme of my life. Suddenly the unfocused tendencies that had guided my desire when I was younger became more focused.
I spent whole afternoons daydreaming about doing ‘girly’ things. I went to sleep, desperately wishing to wake up a woman. Then I started sneaking into my parents’ bedroom when they were out, and trying on my mum’s clothing. It felt wonderful.
This became a regular practise, sneak, dress up, maybe wear some makeup, and feel deliriously happy for a few minutes, before rushing to put everything back in a panic.
Things went like this for a couple of years. The dressing up was on and off, sometimes I’d dress up every day for a whole week, other times a month would by between me dressing up. That all stopped when I decided I was going to trust my mother with my deepest, most meaningful secret.
My dad was at work and my mum was downstairs cooking dinner when I tiptoed to her room and wore a dress of hers I liked, then did my makeup as best as I could. I took a deep breath, and shaking violently as I did so, called her over. She came up the stairs, opened the door to the room, and then… I don’t know. I can’t remember exactly how it went, but I remember her making me wash the makeup off, change out of her clothes, and then being forced to pray with her for God to “heal me” of my perversion and sinful urges.
Something similar happened when my father eventually found out. He took out a Bible and tried to shame me out of my “sin.”
I can’t wait for the day society as a whole loses its transphobia to the point where that bullshit can be widely recognised as the child abuse it was.
Here’s where religion comes into the picture. I was a Good Little Christian, and I mostly ignored the homophobic and transphobic beliefs of everyone at church, but my mum had forced me to see an incompatibility with the religion they’d forced into my head, and my instinctive knowledge of who I was meant to be.
It wasn’t simply a matter of choosing one or the other. My religious beliefs were a major part of who I was, and couldn’t simply be discarded just like that. So started the worst period of my life.
For the next couple of years, I’d switch between trying to fight who I was, letting my mind play the role of my parents in a recurring production of Repressing Who I Am, and ‘relapsing’ into trying to be myself. The poison my parents had planted with their emphatic rejection and religious influence would in that way lead to intense self-hatred, as the religious side of me felt guilty about engaging in what it saw as sinful behaviour, and the rest of me felt resentment at being suppressed.
It was horrible. I’d feel miserable as I attempted the impossible task of denying myself from exploring my identity, and then that religious guilt would come in after I’d dressed up, or tried lipstick or something.
It drove me to depression and social seclusion, which made everything worse. I hated who I was, and couldn’t stand my life.
I am not doing the experience justice. I’m not trying to. Even now, I’m trying to speak about it with as much as distance as I can. To be more descriptive I’d need to relive the emotions, and I don’t think I could possibly handle that.
I genuinely don’t know how I lived that way for years. Thinking about it now makes me want to hide under a blanket and cry.
Just as the ironic first step on the road to atheism was the fact that Pokemon wasn’t anti-Christian after all, the final assault on my faith was evolution, something I still strongly believe to not be anti-religious.
I went to a Christian school for senior year. It was a pretty nice place, aside from the disgusting homophobia and such shared by most of the staff, of course. It was a great experience, as I made some good friends, and was taught by some great teachers. However, for some reason, we didn’t cover evolutionary biology in science class, and were instead taught about the subject by a Bible teacher.
Yeah, I know.
It went just as you would imagine. We were fed “intelligent creationism” and “rational” reasons to believe in a Young Earth. They supposedly taught us about ‘alternate viewpoints’ but all they did was talk about other worldviews with biased misrepresentations.
However, one day the teacher brought us a DVD of a debate between Richard Dawkins and some guy called John Lennox.
We were supposed to watch it, make a summary, and state who we thought did better in the debate. I was shocked watching it; Dawkins might have been a little rude at times, but he kept using logic and citing scientific fact, while Lennox, to my eyes, hid behind contrived, shaky arguments. I wrote that Dawkins had done a massively better job of representing his beliefs than Lennox had.
Just a few weeks later I was visiting my city’s annual book fair when I spotted a book with RICHARD DAWKINS on the cover. I rushed over to it excitedly and for the first time beheld the beautiful cover of the book which would change my life:
I know citing a Richard Dawkins book as literally life-changing is bordering on self-parody, but I do mean that genuinely. Just like playing Pokemon for the first time and seeing how harmless it was led to me realising my parents could be wrong, reading a book detailing exact proof of the overwhelming likelihood of The Theory of Evolution showed me it was possible for everyone I trusted to be completely wrong about something.
What’s more, something about it resonated with me deeply. I didn’t just find evolution interesting, I fell in love with it. It was subtle, beautiful, and spoke to my soul in a way nothing had before. I actually came close to enrolling in college to study evolutionary biology.
Anyway. The book categorically destroyed every supposed argument I had been taught to defend Creationism and the belief in a Young Earth. I felt disillusioned. Here was something I had been taught all my life by my parents, my teachers, pastors, etc to consider false and it was clearly the truth. I felt angry. How dare they hide something so wonderful from me?
I think what did it was my frustration at how there were Christians who believed in Evolution. I had been taught something false all my life out of a fear that the truth would shake my faith, and the truth was not even inherently contrary to that faith!
My anger led to me realising all of Christianity might be wrong. I read The God Delusion and other books, and after a lot of thinking, I realised my belief in God had been borne more out of comfort than genuine conviction or a shred of logic or proof.
As soon as I finally abandoned religion, I was able to let go of my self-hatred and finally learn to accept myself.
Here’s the thing. You might feel offended if I posted a picture like this:
However, I don’t do it for you, I do it for me. Do you want to know why people mock religion? Why they profess belief in the Spaghetti Monster and his holy noodly appendages?
I can’t speak for others, but for myself it all comes down to the following:
In my mind, Christianity is lumped in with child abuse, and emotional neglect. Faith is coupled with self-hatred, undeserved guilt, and deep rejection. Religion is linked with blindness to beauty, and the anger I still feel at having been taught to believe a lie.
I don’t do mockery of religion that much anymore because I don’t want to hurt religious people, but I still laugh when I come across things like Hasa Diga Eebowai. It’s not from a desire to hurt others, but rather because it helps soothe some of the scars I still have from an attempt to brainwash younger me into a life of falsehood, self-delusion, and hatred and rejection of who I am.
I recognise there are Christians who believe in Evolution and who are quite accepting of transgender people. It’s the reason I’ve tried to reconsider my atheism lately. However, it’s only now that I’ve lived for months and months as myself and have had time to strengthen my identity that it’s become possible for me to do that.
I hope this has made for good reading. It’s difficult for me to write about this. A lot of the pain still feels fresh.
Anyways, happy Easter to you if you celebrate that, or a great Sunday if you don’t 🙂