Religion is a significant solace to many—it has never comforted me, but I have seen those I love and respect turn to it for comfort. I have never felt the religion in which I was raised, Christianity, to be available for me. But I sorely miss it.
Even worse, some have a view that because I am queer God will punish me with eternal torture. As written in Revelations 20:10:
And the devil who had deceived them was thrown in the lake of fire and sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.
For those who grow up when and where it’s assumed being queer is a sin, they live under the threat of being “thrown in a lake of fire and sulfur” and “tormented day and night forever and ever.” Though some may say it outright, it is the necessary meaning of all those who say that the Bible means being queer is a status sin that condemns us to hell. Strangers say it; some people would refuse commercial services based on that view and claim protection of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause; some politicians seek to pass laws codifying that view; and some parents say it to children.
I shudder to imagine the few crimes that anyone could believe merit eternal torture; and, indeed, the United States Constitution’s ban against cruel and unusual punishment would forbid the State from, if possible, meting out the punishment of eternal torture. One need not be a snowflake to melt under the threat of hell, particularly when voiced by someone you love.
My grandmother was like Mee Maw on Young Sheldon: according to her, at her 80th birthday party, she was still 29, and, if anyone had dared to ask—no one did—she remained a natural blonde. She had a crimson lip and nails (and even a matching door), painted not just her door but art, and combined a soft drawl with razor-sharp wit. When asked if she and her boyfriend in his 80s were going to get married by a woman jealous of her catch, she responded: “I don’t think so, we don’t plan to have any children.”
But, as a teen, I also remember my grandmother saying at dinner one night: “God sent AIDS to punish homosexuals.” I’m not certain if that’s an exact quote because panic and anger short-circuited any intellect. I yelled at her how unChristian that was. But I thought to myself: “If she thinks that of gay people, what would she think of me?" Apparently she believes that the eternal torture of gay people cannot begin soon enough. And I knew, deep inside, I would be perceived as worse if I were to let my secret slip. So I didn’t, and she died never knowing I was trans, having never truly known me.
Because I was too reactive to the possibility of hell and those that threatened it, as a teenager, I was atheist. In college, I took a course on modern Jewish history and the professor skillfully revealed the author of the principal secondary text to be antireligious. I was compelled to admit that no one can disprove the existence of God and that many religious people, such as Martin Luther King, Jr. or Billy Graham or Mother Theresa, have been an enormous force of good. Many I’ve known personally are wonderful. And so for a while I was an atheist striving to become agnostic, until sometime in my 20s or 30s I became trusting enough to call myself agnostic. I now hope to be spiritual.
Though I now rule out few possibilities, I will be surprised if I will ever feel safe embracing the religion of my childhood. But I hope, in my lifetime, my being will stop being regarded as a sin.