Saturday, June 4, 2011

Fear & Coming Out

Note: this post, even more than the others, is really just me figuring some stuff out.  More of a public journal entry than anything else.  You've been warned.

Fear.  I’m scared.  I’m scared of a lot of things.  Most of all, I’m scared of disappointing people, and hurting them because of that disappointment.  I really don’t like it when people disapprove of me.  But, my life has been pretty awesome so far.  I have the ability to step forward and really say something.  Even if I lose some people, even if my parents completely disown me (which I don’t think they would, oddly enough), I have enough people that know who I really am, and who support me in that, that it seems a little silly at this point to hide at all.

I think I will keep this blog written under a pseudonym, mainly because it allows me to write about vulnerable things without fear.  Because really, even the most open person ever isn’t going to be like “hey mom! I had great sex this weekend. Orgasms are great, don’t you think?”  Well, maybe, but I’m realistic enough to know that if my real name were attached to such sentiments I would not be a happy person.  Because even though I know it’s important, constantly defending yourself seems more exhausting than I can deal with at the moment.  But I’d like to be able to bring some basic openness into my everyday life.  Small things, like putting “atheist” on my facebook profile.  The kind of stuff where I’m not going out of my way to tell people, but I know I’m not hiding either. 

It’s weird, because I’m not completely secretive.  Over the years, various parts of my emotional/mental life have inevitably come to light.  My entire immediate family knows I’m going to be living with my boyfriend next year.  My parents know I had sex this one time (although I think they accidentally got the impression that I wasn’t going to again…I swear I didn’t say that!).  My mom, at least, knows that a few years ago I was unsure about what I believed - she even supported the questioning and told me about how she didn’t get confirmed until she was older for similar reasons (well…then I started talking about my reasons for questioning, and she got quiet pretty quickly.  But still).  My family knows I’m a feminist, queer-friendly, commie-liberal.  They reacted not as badly as they could have.  Sure, we’ve gotten into fights.  Sure, there are still heavy, meaningful silences when I say something like “oh, let [my sibling] do that.  I did, and I turned out ok!”.  Sure, there are subjects that we very pointedly don’t talk about.  Sure, they told me that I was a huge disappointment, and that they thought what I was doing (i.e. going on a trip alone with my boyfriend) was evil.  But they still talk to me, most of the time.  We still laugh, and chat, and get annoyed at stupid stuff.  They still say they love me.  We’re still family.  That’s more than a lot of people can say. 

What I’m saying is, it’s certainly not because of my good upstanding moral values that my parents still talk to me.  So why would it be different if I told them that I’m a confirmed atheist?  I think I’m scared of crushing their hopes that this is just a phase.  They never outright say so, but there are gentle hints that despite all the other stuff, they still think/hope that I put some stock in religion.  I’m not sure, but I feel like that would hurt them more than anything else.  Part of me thinks it’s not really necessary for them to know.  But, on the other hand, I think it’s necessary for me to be out.  It could help other people struggling with believing to know that there are others who don’t.  And, in order to be out, my parents have to know.  

And then there’s my siblings.  I can talk to them about most things (they are also, for the most part, feminist, queer-friendly, commie-liberals), but I don’t think I’ve told them that I’m an atheist.  I don’t think they know that I have sex.  Mostly just because it’s awkward.  We’ve been pretty thoroughly trained to just not talk about anything actually pertinent to our emotional or mental lives.  For a long time, I don’t even think they knew I had depression/anxiety!  My parents never told them, and I wasn’t about to confide in them about all my terrible feelings.  I felt I needed to protect them (I’m the oldest).  I never intentionally hid it from them, we just never talked about it.  It sort of surprised me, when recently it came up in conversation with my sister and became clear she had no idea.  I had always just assumed my mom told them what was going on with me.  So maybe now it’s my turn to take responsibility, and tell them what’s going on with me.  Thinking about how alone I felt when I first decided to have sex…I don’t want them to feel like that.  Maybe it’s not too late.  I’m the big sister here.  I can’t stay self-pitying forever.  There are so many worse things happening.  Maybe by using my relatively good position to give me the strength to come out, I can help alleviate some pain.  

So. I think I have something of a resolution. I will talk with my siblings within the next two weeks.  I will tell them that I’m an atheist, and that I have sex, and if they have questions about any of those things they are more then welcome to talk to me at any time.  Also, that I completely support them if they are religious and/or don’t have sex!

I also might tell my parents that I’m an atheist by the end of the summer.  That one I need to think a little more on, but I think I will. Because, like I said, I have proof that I can survive their disappointment, and that they are made almost as uncomfortable by it as I am  - so will quickly try to ignore it.  Which sounds kind of horrible, but actually just means that then I can get on with living my life in freedom.  

I’ve been meeting more and more people who have left.  People of all ages - even some that are related to me!  And you know what? They’re still alive, they’re happy, and they even have their own communities and support networks!  Many of them are very open, and nothing terrible has happened.  There’s this big Bryn Athyn boogeyman, that says if you leave, or you disagree, or whatever, everything will be awful and everyone will hate you.  I’m beginning to think that maybe it’s not true (although I guess that depends on who you are and who’s relationships you value keeping).  What is it, exactly, that I’m so afraid of?  I’m still not sure.  Any ideas out there?

Another thing that has been niggling at my brain more than usual lately is a dilemma that has plagued me since I first gave up on the Writings.  In the words of the Clash: should I stay or should I go? Is there any point in trying to change Bryn Athyn? For the first few years of my non-religious phase I decided I should just leave.  I couldn’t care about what was going on in Bryn Athyn, because I had too much to work out in myself.  I got sucked into the BA mindset far too easily.  I was too easily confused, too easily persuaded, and fell far too easily into wondering if I was evil, or wrong, or “maybe religion isn’t so bad…”.  There were too many hazards for it to be worth it.  So, I dealt with being in Bryn Athyn when I was there, but when I wasn’t I tried to just put it out of my mind.  I think this was the right decision for that period of my life, absolutely.  But, now that I have mostly accepted who I am, and confirmed what I do/don’t believe, I’m wondering if maybe it’s time to reenter the discussion.  I look at people like Amy Childs, and think about how much strength just knowing she exists gives me.  I realize how important it is to have open apostates working for change.  Part of me wants to come back and be a superhero, or something.  Create a haven for everyone who feels lonely and harmed.  Cruise the streets righting wrongs, that sort of thing.  I think I just might be healed enough that it would be ok.  But, at the same time, I am still just so over it.  I have a life to go live, thanks.  More on this later, as I have a whole cultural-relativism mind-tangle I’ve been meaning to write out.  For now, though, I think coming out to the family in various ways, supporting those who are still in the Bryn Athyn circle working to make it better, and continuing with this blog is a good step.  


  1. These are all such tough issues. Personally, I've found that being really open, and treating these big issues with some humor, has been very freeing, but I certainly did not always feel prepared to do that. In my experience, the first couple of times you give voice to a secret, it's really scary. But then it gets easier. I think of this AA adage, "secrets keep you sick" - which has been true in my recovery. The more open I am, the healthier I have become, but the AA wisdom may not be right for everyone.
    About whether to stay or go - the adults here have made a choice just like I have made my choices, and I respect that. I'm most concerned about the young people. I've thought of writing a blog post/FB Note, a kind of "it gets better" for New Church kids, and just trying to spread it around and hope it gets to people who need it. I don't know, though.

  2. I haven't come out to my parents either in most respects (they know I'm an atheist but that was the easiest of my heresies). The trouble I have with it is mostly a sensed lack of curiosity on their part. Occasionally I fantasize that they might be more zealous and want to "save" me if only because it would mean that they were able to conceive of me. Them not wanting to know is paradoxically telling me "we want to maintain our relationship with you as pleasant as it is" and "we prefer not to know who you are because we greatly prefer the fantasy of you that we've developed."

    I'm curious how you have found your parents in this regard. Do they question you about your life or do they mostly go about business as usual?

  3. So, uh, just realized I never replied to these comments.

    Mallory: I think a "it gets better" for NC kids is the best idea ever.

    Curtis: ABSOLUTELY. I definitely feel like my parents interact with a fantasy me. I try not to encourage it, but sometimes it's so much easier to evade the vague questions that - if pushed - could lead to discussion, and allow the fantasy to remain intact. If I do answer truthfully, in an attempt to start conversation, there is palpable, angry silence, followed by an abrupt change in subject. There's very, very much the sense that if we ignore certain things they just won't exist. In fact, this very deliberate ignorance, often painted as respect for privacy (when, in fact, my actual privacy is often impinged upon), is something that has begun to disturb me about the whole family dynamic - immediate and extended.

    Although, I'd be interested to hear what heresies you have that are worse than being an atheist. Because good on you. For my family, I'm pretty sure that would be the worst. Although, I guess there's always the "she has God just doesn't KNOW she has God" clause.