So not completely in the closet, since there are a number of people who know now. As far as family: my husband, kid, one cousin, and two brothers know. Most of my close friends know and the ones that don't are for very calculated reasons. My parents don't have a clue, although I think my dad suspects I have gone astray a bit, but he would never say anything. My mother just thinks I have become more liberal. I've been "becoming more liberal" for a long time, but since I avoid talking about politics and religion with anyone in my family, no one is aware of the extent of my shift in opinions.
When I meet new people now I am very honest about my beliefs. I make it clear fairly early on in the relationship, whether that is a friendship or more of a working relationship, that I am not a believer. In the Bible belt the subject comes up a lot more than it should. No one has invited me to church although a few people have mentioned prayer in the context of me being stressed out with the adoption process.
The person who seems to have the most issues with me being in the closet is my kid. I know, for him it probably feels like he is keeping this big secret. And maybe that is unfair to him. But I have known my family for 36 years and he has known them for just under eight months. I think I am the better judge of how these people will handle this information. Or as I told him, "It is my secret to tell." I also explained that although I know he doesn't like it, to tell people against my wishes would be a violation, even if he doesn't agree.
It used to bother me more that I was so in the closet, but at this point I think enough people know that I don't feel so confined. And it's not like I am a different person. I'm just not convinced there is a god.
I've always had trouble making friends. As a kid it was a bit easier because you didn't worry about things like having something in common or what life stage you were in. You like to play with paper dolls? Me too! Let's do it. As a teenager I struggled with making friends because I was sheltered and naive. I knew that some of the kids in my youth group weren't wholesome per-se, but they were at church so how bad could they be? Little did I know at the time, but the other kids could see this in me and rather than exploit it, they too protected me. No one told me they were in a gang. I found that out much later, after I had left the church. My best friend in high school (who also went to my church)...well, it turns out she was using me as a way to manipulate her mother. I wasn't even her best friend. She had another best friend and they would send each other notes laughing about how stupid it was that I didn't see through her lies. I know this because when her mother and I finally caught wind of what was going on, her mother showed me. The level of hurt I felt was deep.
Around eighteen, I started to make a nice group of friends. No longer as niave or trusting, I was more cautious around these people. I vetted them carefully. I held back from the people in our friends circle who seemed too wishy washy or dramatic. This served me well. I made several really good friendships from this time. Those friendships have been a struggle to maintain, but I am quite proud that I have had the same best friend for almost twenty years now and talk to many of them regularly. There's about five of them and I really do value their friendship.
I have moved several times all over the country and I readily admit that I struggled with forming connections with people. I thought at the time that the way to build friendships was to just go to church. Of course, looking back at my most lasting friendships, none of them were formed in a church. Not a single one. But I had bought the lie of the church that says that the church is where you should go to fellowship. It's where people are who will support you and encourage you. So everywhere I moved, I would immediately start looking for a church to go to, because that's how you become friends, right? Proximity + one single common interest (God) = friends. Right? It took me way too long to realize that this was a terrible formula that did not work for me at all.
So let's break down for a moment some of the barriers that exist that I think limit my opportunities to make friends:
1. Questions. To me, playing the twenty-question game with every new person I meet is exhausting. I try to have more organic conversations. If I mention I have a sibling, I'm not going to drill you about whether you do too. I mean, I just assume (perhaps incorrectly) that if you had a sibling you would now insert it into the conversation if you wanted to. I have been told by people that this lack of asking questions makes it seem like I don't care. I do. I just don't want to have to pry information out of you.
2. Opionated. I am opinionated. For the most part, my opinions are well-informed as I read a LOT, but it can come across as a bit strong. I hold my tongue a lot. People have no idea how much I hold my tongue. I have some really strong opinions about some subjects that I don't share with a damn soul. But even with me holding back, the being opinionated can be a bit much for some people.
3. Bossy. I've been bossy my entire life. As a kid it made me precocious and annoying, particularly to adults. As an adult it has served me very well in business and drives people nuts at game night. I would like to think that I am not as bad as I was when I was seven, but I also know it is always there, lurking. As a result, I often avoid taking on extra responsibilities where I would be in charge, because I know how easily I can slip that personality trait on and people don't like it.
4. Talkative. Folks, I talk a lot. A lot. I like talking. I may not ask questions, but I love talking to interesting people about interesting things. I could go on for hours about books, video games, movies, music. I love listening to others talk about their hobbies and interests. I learn tons of new things by talking to people. I also know that for those who aren't talkers, this really throws them off. I mean, I would rather chat on the phone then text and there is a whole sub-section of people out there who find this notion abhorrent.
5. Geek. Nerd. I am these things. These things are me. I know way too much about Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Firefly, fantasy & sci-fi books, writing, physics, violin, classical music, D&D, puzzle video games, and board games. I do not like nor do I understand sports, manicures, MLM schemes, chick flicks, and badly written apologetics books. In church this particular thing was a problem because it seemed that only the guys liked the things I liked and guys & gals weren't encouraged to be friends...not unless you were looking to date. So I was stuck with the ladies whose idea of a wonderful afternoon was watching the newest rom com, followed by mani pedis, with a little Mary Kaye party in the end for something extra. For me, the entire afternoon was one horror after another, but I was trying so hard to fit in.
For the record I am also an excellent friend to have. Despite my flaws I have many strengths too. I will rearrange my schedule to spend time with you, even getting up at 4 or 5 in the morning to go have breakfast if you are a morning person. I keep in contact through text, messenger, social media, email, and phone, even when you don't reciprocate. I will remember your birthday and buy you an awesome present that you will like. I will go do things I don't love just because you love it. (ahem....bowling) I will invite you to concerts, plays, movies with no expectation that you will pay for it. I just want the company of someone who will enjoy it. I will babysit your children for free. I will buy a plane ticket and come visit you if you don't live near me anymore. (I've been to Boston three times since leaving, and to Seattle three times as well) There is absolutely no drama with me. Even if you are behaving in a way that I think is wrong, I won't offer advice unless asked for and even then I am kind and gentle. I don't talk shit behind people's backs. Ever. I accept people for who they are, flaws and all. I find more value in being supportive and kind, then being the kind of person who "tells you how it is".
How does this all tie into making friends when religious vs. not. Well, one thing I have found is that the 5 flaws listed above are really frowned upon in the church. Christians are supposed to ask other people a lot of questions because that is part of evangelizing and also a part of making those surface level semi-connections that are supposed to make new church-goers feel welcomed. Being bossy and opinionated were big no-nos for women in the church, unless you were the church gossip who "prayed" for everyone. She was okay in that context because she was only bossy and opinionated because she was such a strong woman of God, don't ya know. Talking was fine, as long as you talked about the right subjects, which did not include any of the interests listed in #5. Those interests were wordly. Sure, everyone saw the newest Marvel movie, but have you seen the newest craptastic Christian film? Because that's what we should be talking about since we are both Christians and are interacting in the church. Even my awesome church in Boston was sometimes guilty of this, although there was an added dimension of extreme intellectualism that colored all of this.
Here's what I have noticed about trying to make friends outside of the church: People are more forgiving of my flaws. The fact that I talk a lot means that there are certain people out there who would never be friends with me, but it isn't because they think women should be quiet in the church. My interests matter more because I'm not expected to fit into a neat Christian-woman box. Informed opinions are seen as adding to the conversation, not subverting the status quo. Making friends didn't become easier, but it certainly feels like there is some pressure that has been put off be being outside of a church. A pressure that I wasn't even aware was there until I walked away.
For the record, I am a wonderful friend once we have formed a connection. I have flown across the country for people. I will keep in regular contact. I'll get up extra early in the morning to have breakfast, even though I am not a morning person. I have gone to concerts for bands I don't like, just because a friend loved them. You can be guaranteed that I will never fight with, yell, or gossip about you to anyone.
I have some fairly fond memories of youth group. As a teenager I was a believer and I didn't see the overt sexism, homophobia, and manipulation that surrounded me. To me, youth group was where my friends were. It was where I got to "minister" to other youth. We went on trips places and had fun. There were conferences, lock-ins, camping trips, concerts. There was always a religious spin at some point, but 90% of it was just supposed to be entertainment. Everything was fine until about sixteen when I started to push back a little. Remember that means there was a good four or five years there where I was fully drinking the Kool-aid.
At sixteen, I convinced the adults to let me lead a small group. They agreed but on the condition that an adult was present. No problem. About 15 other teens signed up and were excited to join. I planned on using a book called "Mature Christians are Boring People and Other Myths About Mature Christianity" as my template for a 6 week study. It was by Ron Luce, the leader of Teen Mania ministries, who I would come to loathe only a few short years later. His book though, suggested that mature Christianity was about obedience, doing what God tells you to do, which means that teenagers can be more mature as a Christian than adults. As you can imagine, the adults did not like this. How DARE I suggest that a teenager could be a more mature Christian than an adult? But here's the thing, I had become a Christian at the age of four. I had already read the entire Bible through once and was on my second reading in chronological order. I had been in Sunday schools, children's church, Bible studies, since I was four. Nevermind that I was a disciplined, responsible teenager who had started my own babysitting business. (It was a legit business. I even paid taxes. I was hugely successful.) So in my mind and even looking back now, I was certainly more mature than many of the adults in our congregation. Now, that maturity really had nothing to do with my Christianity, but somehow I equated the two. I was also very angry when my small group was disbanded after two weeks. I saw it as the adults feeling threatened. I still believe that. My parents know it.
I ended up leaving my parent's church and youth group after going to a Audio Audrenaline concert at seventeen. We went with two leaders and half dozen youth. For some reason, one of the leaders brought her ten-year-old daughter who hated the concert and the noise. More on that in a bit. It was there that I bumped into a guy I knew, a guy who would quickly become my best friend for the next nineteen years. (we're almost on twenty) He had blue hair that he would put into spikes and our youth leader with the kid, we'll call her B, did NOT like that. I got a very stern talking to about associating with "people like that". Let me point at that at this point I had shaved off most of my hair, was wearing huge Jinko jeans, had double piercing in each ear, and solidly considered myself a skater chick. This guy with the blue hair was my type of friend and I was justifiably upset with B. We get our seats and B leaves with her daughter because daughter doesn't like the noise. The other leader, O, is now left to watch over her 12-17 year-old charges. One boy K (aged 12), asks if he can move up front with the semi-mosh pit that is mostly people jumping up and down. She says okay and off he goes. Half hour later, I have the worst headache even though I am still quite enjoying the concert. B returns from her bathroom trip to announce that we are leaving. Her daughter doesn't like the music. The concert is not anywhere close to over. She looks around. "Where's K?" And this is when things went downhill. O pretends like she doesn't know where he is. I mention he is up front, confused as to why O (the adult) is lying. One of the kids is sent to fetch him. He returns, smiling, obviously having a good time. B is visibly angry. "Didn't I tell you not to go up front? How dare you disobey me. We're leaving." A few of us protest. But the concert isn't over. She marches us all outside where she proceeds to berate K, who has now begun to cry. At first, I was so angry that I had to walk away. Then I came marching back and went OFF. I've literally only done something like this maybe four times in my entire life to someone not in my own family. "How dare he? How dare YOU? O said he could go up front. She lied to you. He asked and she said yes. That's why he went. He went because he was allowed to. How DARE you berate him in public like this. How DARE you make him out to be the liar. And how DARE you make us leave. You are here to chaperone us on a trip WE wanted to go on. Not your ten-year-old. Us, the actual teenagers in the youth group. I love this band. I want to stay and listen. The problem in this situation is YOU." Folks, that was a very quiet hour and a half ride home. That kid thanked me for standing up for him. B never chaperoned another youth event again. I left to find another church a few weeks later.
My new youth group was at a Vineyard church. They had a pool table, something considered evil by my previous church. They had couches in the youth room. They were still obsessed with sex and my body being a sin factory, but they were not nearly as stringent and the youth pastor was awesome. Eventually that went downhill though when the youth pastors son began having serious behavioral issues and the church assumed that the parents must be crappy parents to have a kid with such problems. So they made him step down to "get his house in order". The new youth pastor within two weeks got rid of the pool table and the couches. He replaced them with tables and chairs so we could have "serious" Bible studies. Attendance went from 50 youth the 15 in about a month. It sucked.
I stayed at that church though and just started attending another youth group. Of course, now I was an adult so it was more like volunteering. This church was serious about youth group. They went all out. The music, the food, the activities. It was organized, it was fun, and kids from churches all over the city attended. Attendance at one point was over 150 kids at one point. There were more kids in the youth group than adults who attended the church. It was there that I really began to see the manipulation tactics. The teenagers who rededicated their lives to the Lord every other week. The push to have new converts. I did surface level things like setting up and prepping for games, so I never saw the underbelly of this church. That is until my good friend A came out as a lesbian. A had a rough life. Her mother was a drug addict, mentally ill, and abusive. A's life has been a series of bad decisions made by an immature mother. At one point A lived with us for six months because things got so bad. A was like a little sister to me. Now, even at that time I believed being gay was a sin, but I witnessed firsthand the shameful way that some Christians can act in regards to it. At first, they tried to "counsel" her. When she didn't relent they shunned her. Completely. They had a big meeting and told everyone in the church, adults and youth, that if they saw A on the street they were to walk the other way without saying a word to her. That this was love because she refused to repent. No one could be friends with her. I left, although I was hoping this would all blow over after a few weeks. It didn't. For months my friends who went to that church wouldn't come over if A was over, wouldn't attend parties if A was invited, and wouldn't acknowledge her if they ended up in the same room together. It was cruel. After a few months I marched myself over to the church and went OFF on that pastor. The gist of the conversation was how dare you hurt this person that I love. She left your church. Why can't that be enough. How am I supposed to love an minister to someone when she is continually hurt by the very people who once claimed to love her? Here's something truly horrific for you...it's been just over fifteen years since this happened and people STILL do this to her. I am not joking. If she comes back into town to visit family and bumps into people from that church who are still drinking the Kool-aid, those people still don't acknowledge her existence. A few people later apologized, but for the most part, it was just treated like something that was necessary to the situation.
I was done with youth group by then. Even though I kept going to church, I refused to help or be a part of any youth group. I could see the damage that was being caused by the adults in charge and since my opinions/thoughts were so unpopular, I knew I would just be a squeaky wheel who would eventually be discarded. Although there were certainly many fun aspects of youth group, I am now super cautious concerning them. There is a reason our kid is going to a Unitarian church and not a Baptist or Evangelical church. I don't want anyone filling my kid's head with homophobia or teaching him to be embarrassed about his body. Or worse, teaching him that the purpose of a woman is to be his helpmate and sexual object. I don't care how many fun games they play, I worry that my kid will end up in a youth group that teaches their kids to shun people they don't like or agree with. And although Christianity is certainly on the downswing, I know that youth group is where many people get sucked into the cult of Christianity and this makes me sad. Indoctrinate them while they are young.
This is a personal, but secret, blog archiving my deconversion from a Christian to a non-believer.