Healing Religious Trauma: A Gay Man’s Guide
Many religions have an issue with queer people. Queer people can start to associate the alienation, hate speech, adverse treatment, or even violence they receive with their faith. This can cut you off from positive parts of your spirituality and culture. Regardless of how it may seem, we all need a healthy relationship with the unknown. The lack can leave you at odds with yourself. Plus, this trauma response can leave people so rooted in their faith in science or spiritual apathy they end up as close-minded as the people who traumatized them. Is this religious trauma a sign many religions create a cycle of abuse to keep people hooked?
Religion vs. Spirituality
Spirituality is how we all connect with what we don’t know. Whether you believe in God, Allah, a Higher Power, The Universe, or a Spaghetti Monster in the Sky, that’s your prerogative. But the issue with religion is it is one part metaphysical, one part cultural, and one part faith-based system. It helps to explain the unknown and explore spirituality. But it’s also a system created by humans, mostly men, to translate the Divine. There are rules and regulations to maintain order. But once power is introduced into any equation, there’s room for corruption. Religion can be used as a tool to control people and all that mob mentality mishegas. At their core, religious texts are a collection of ideas, parables, and empowering thoughts and concepts to help people live better lives. Religious communities are a tool for us to come together and share faith, hope, and love. So why should we ever let some homophobes take that away from us?
In our society, some religious beliefs just get lost. For example, Christianity preaches love, charity, and forgiveness. Not sure where hating gay people fall into that system. People are preaching hatred in the name of Jesus, who loved everyone except people who wanted to make money in his temple. But where are the Joel Olsteen protesters? If memory serves, Jesus was a chill guy who died for the sins of humanity. All of humanity. So maybe Karen and Jeff in the Westboro Baptist Church should check themselves.
To heal our religious trauma, we have to unpack some of these issues with religion and our feelings about what happened to us. We need to get over our distaste for religion or spirituality if we are ever to find something more than what our eyes can see. It can be anything, but having faith is an integral part of life. We need to be open to something greater than ourselves to better connect with ourselves. If not, we end up trapped in the same toxic patterns of the people who oppressed us in the first place. Religion is meant to be a guidepost for spiritual exploration and a community of ordinary believers. The second it starts alienating members; it has clearly become corrupted by the same hunger for power and greed that affects economies and governments. Look at the state of our government. But we aren’t going to abandon all the ideals of America just because some loud men are haphazardly wielding power.
Why do so many religions have a problem with queer people? On some level, their beef could be jealousy. To navigate our community, our relationships, and the world at large, we have to develop skills outside of gender normative behavior. We juggle our masculine and feminine sides. You could argue this self-awareness gives us a spiritual head start and a more universal point of view. On a muggle level, there’s also the economic power that comes from two men’s salaries. Gay men are coincidentally the only winners in the pay wage gap. Plus, from a purely biological perspective, we don’t need to be part of the norm or society. We can choose if we want children. We can get up and leave at any time.
Let’s also never forget gay means happy. Happy people don’t need a tool like religion to control other people or themselves. We all need spirituality. We all need a connection to something higher than ourselves. But we don’t all need religion.
So can we reclaim what’s right without throwing it all away? I see so many people embracing Satanic iconography. But they seem to have more sympathy for the Devil than they do people in their own community. Also, no shade to Satanists. I just believe whatever your religion is, it should make you a happier and healthier person? I know some happy Satanists. But I also see sad, shady gays wearing Satanic T-Shirts complaining or saying nasty things. Whatever you believe, it should provide you with a community that helps empower you. Empathy, love, positivity, and forgiveness should not be virtues we throw away just because religious people claim to have more of it. In our politically-charged times, we should try and have mercy for people who are limited in their thinking. If only for our own peace of mind. After all, how many people swan dive onto a soapbox about abortion but ignore the state of our foster care system or children being molested and neglected in cages? How many people focus on random short passages about gay people in the Bible but ignore the countless references to feeding the poor and aiding the sick? They’re clearly missing a lot of the tenets of their own religion.
Here are a few tips to help relieve some of this trauma. Please bear in mind that religious trauma syndrome is a bit more advanced. This affects people who escaped cults or religions where they were physically abused or mentally indoctrinated. These tips may help, but I am focused more on the specific religious trauma that queer people face.
1. Dive Within
Oftentimes, religion can cut us off from ourselves. It puts our spirituality at odds with our biological urges. But religion is supposed to make us feel more connected. Whether you believe we all have a soul, spirit, or spark of the Divine inside of us, we are more than our bodies. Religion can be a tool for self-reflection. Instead, it’s often someone telling us what is wrong with us and wrong with the world. It’s someone telling us how to behave. It’s a monologue, not a dialogue. A more in-depth exploration can help you find what is right for you. It’s often said, the deeply personal is the universal. The more you connect with your past trauma, pain, and dark feelings the more you can learn from them and release it. The more you connect with your deepest thoughts, greatest skills and weaknesses, the more you can find your individuality. The issue with religion is it is the spiritual converted to a search for power. Throughout history, religions have been perverted by an individual’s quest for power, money, or influence. Step one is to find yourself.
2. Process Your Feelings
I’ve said in my comedy, “Feelings are like buttholes. Everyone has one, but some are messier than others.” But it’s true. Religion, hell America, keeps us from fully expressing our feelings. These unexpressed feelings can pervert our thoughts and weaken our bodies. Live your Elsa from Frozen fantasy, and let them go. Therapy, art, and talking openly about your feelings can help you release a lot of what you are holding onto. The more you learn to feel your feelings in the moment, the easier it is to let go of hoarding unhappy memories and unexpressed emotions. Once that hurt, anger, and sadness are gone, it can be easier to forgive and find love.
3. Research For Yourself
Religion often starts at a young age. We get indoctrinated into customs and belief systems before we can think for ourselves. Coming to old religious texts or ideas with a fresh set of eyes will help you more clearly understand what you really think and believe. Also, by now, your B.S. Detector has evolved. Some religious ideas are just ideas and were never meant to be lifestyle guidelines for people in the Midwest.
4. Reclaim Your Time
You spent how many years of your life believing in something. Wouldn’t you like to make the most of that time rather than tossing it all out? Maybe it’s the power of prayer? Muslims pray 5 times a day. Imagine if you took 5 times in your day to connect with what matters most to you. Hell, imagine taking 5 times a day to just connect with yourself. Maybe it’s peace, love, and joy. It wasn’t until I listened to the song, “I Would Die 4 U” by Prince that I really connected with the idea that Jesus died for our sins out of love. Prince was a Jehovah’s Witness. I thought about those lyrics as if he was singing about Jesus and had a profound experience. I went to Catholic school for 14 years. I was constantly bombarded by graphic images of Jesus on the cross, in pain, or covered in blood. Maybe it was the droll priests at Mass, but it never connected. But hearing Prince sing it, I understood the idea of a man who loved so deeply he was willing to die for someone. I saw the beauty in something that had been so negative.
5. Take What You Want and Leave the Rest
We are living in times where you can cherry-pick the food you eat, the art you consume, and the customs you adopt. Why not do this with religion? We are exposed to so much more than just what we grow up with. I think the more we expand our understanding and horizons, the more we can come together as a planet and deal with our common problems: animal extinction, global warming, and deforestation.
6. Heal Emotionally
It’s one thing to process, but it’s another heal. Healing involves a lot of forgiveness, letting go, and releasing blame. “Forgive them for they know not what they do,” Jesus said that as he was dying on the cross…allegedly. But we can still take it at face value. We have to connect with the emotions at the core of our trauma. Do we feel violated our faith was attacked by someone’s petty grievances with gay people? Do we feel isolated because we were a part of the congregation until we realized we were gay? Do we feel personally attacked? Once we can connect with the deeper feelings, we can process them and move on.
All of the hatred in religion, be it misogyny, homophobia, or even racism, is to keep us from connecting. Meanwhile, the more we connect as a community, the stronger we are. Most of these religions were started in times of tribal warfare. If we connect with the source material on our own, we may find something that speaks to us. The more we can connect with something greater than ourselves, the more we can connect with ourselves. The more we open ourselves up to having deeply profound experiences, the more we enrich our lives.
8. Have Faith
If I can poorly paraphrase RuPaul for a second, “If you don’t have faith in anything, how can you have faith in yourself?” Faith is the first thing to go when we have religious trauma. But faith is something that has allowed a lot of these religions to survive through times of savagery and tribal warfare. So while some people may try to attack that, that maybe what’s the most sacred to us. It doesn’t need to be a faith in an all-seeing God, or secret gold tablets, or alien parasites. It should be a belief in something that inspires us to live better lives.
I hope these tips can help take some of the weight off your soul. We face a lot of haters from various faiths who are bothered by what we do in the privacy of our own bedrooms. But how evolved and enlightened can they be if they hate total strangers? It’s taken me years to reconnect with the idea of a higher power or a spiritual world. But in doing so, I’ve found that exploring my faith and spirituality on my terms has given me tools to live a happier life with more intimate relationships and more love in my heart. And that’s enough proof for me that believing in something is important.
Christian Cintron is a writer, actor, and stand-up comedian. He has written about entertainment and gay culture for Edge Publications, Queerty and DNA Magazine. He’s also a regular contributor to Backstage.com.
YouTube: CintronicComedy // Twitter: AbsoluteCintron // Instagram: @SighKickScream