I came out as an atheist to my brother and his wife the day before yesterday. I was really quite nervous about this, even though I previously came out to them as being queer (which went wonderfully- they basically said that they love me and support me no matter what, and if there’s anything they can do to help, to just let them know). I grew up in a family where religion was considered to be one of, if not the, most important thing in life. I know my parents are against things like gay marriage, and yet I am much more terrified to tell them that I am an atheist than that I am queer (I think I’ll wait, on both counts, until I at least have a steady job). If I told them I’m queer, I could perhaps get them to see that being queer is not choice and that there is a difference between having certain feelings and acting on them, although it would make things more complicated if I had a partner of the same sex or if I decided that I want to transition in some way (both of which are still definite possibilities, although the latter more so than the former).
Being an atheist, though, unlike being queer, is not something that can be described as ‘having certain feelings’ or as something that just is, and can’t be changed. Even if you argue that beliefs are, to some extent, not a choice, they certainly aren’t something that can’t be changed. Being an atheist would mean (in their worldview) that I will definitely go to hell when I die, whereas being queer would just mean that, I don’t know, that I have more temptation or something? I’m not entirely sure what it is that makes me more afraid to come out to my family as an atheist than as queer.
It already makes my mom uncomfortable that I like to buy cargo pants and t-shirts from the guys section of the store (let’s face it, there just aren’t any good cargo pants in the womens section, and the good t-shirt designs are more readily available on ‘unisex’ (that is, mens) t-shirts), so perhaps it would not be so surprising that I am queer? I don’t know. I did tell my parents that I am asexual, and I have a nagging suspicion that they may have thought that meant I am gay but in denial (I am, in fact, not gay). I’m jealous of all the people on AVEN who have parents that tell them it’s ok to be gay but don’t believe them when they come out as asexual (“it’s probably just a phase”, “have you had your hormones checked?”, “you must just be in denial about being gay”, etc.). Trying to convince people that you are what you say you are and that they shouldn’t erase your identity because it doesn’t fit in with their personal view of the world (which would be totally frustrating and a pain in the ass) sounds a lot more fun than trying to convince yourself that worrying that your parents will disown you for coming out is silly. I do worry that my parents will reject me, in one way or another, if I tell them that I am an atheist and/or queer. I especially worry that my mom will have a hard time coming to terms with me being atheist. She reacted very badly when her non-Christian friend died, when I was a child, feeling so bad that her friend was going to hell, feeling guilty that she didn’t do something more. I just, I can’t tell her. But I really want to tell my parents. I hate hiding things. Whenever we talk on the phone, and it feels like we’re closer because of keeping in touch, I really want to be open about these things because they’re important to me. But feel like I can’t possibly tell them, and I feel torn when I talk to them. I end up wanting to pick up the phone less often. Either I need to be less close to them, or I need to be able to tell them the things that I feel it is important to not hide.
I hate that I am so conflicted and worried about this. I hate that I can’t help but talk about how afraid and conflicted I am about the idea of coming out to my parents every time I talk about coming out. This was supposed to be a post about coming out to my brother as an atheist this weekend, and about how he just said that that’s my choice, and he’s ok with that. This was supposed to be a post about how awesome my brother and his wife are, and how I can talk to them about politics or religion or whatever, and even when we disagree we all still accept and respect and support each other as people, and as family. Even my brother didn’t seem to think that telling my mom I am an atheist would be a good idea (though he did say he’d support me if I did).
I’m not sure I could have told them if I didn’t suspect it might be possible that they have their own doubts. Neither of them have gone to church in some time, due to some bad experiences they had with ‘church politics’ sort of stuff, but, as I found out this weekend, they are still Christians. They just aren’t so big on the whole organized church thing anymore, which I can understand. And I’m ok with that.