I’m a believer and also a lesbian. I am a paradox, right?
For years I battled a raging internal conflict, burning in my own hell-fires of disorientation, struggling to reconcile my sexuality and religion. Bombarded with misleading and confusing ‘religious’ messages about homosexuality, I felt ashamed to accept the truths of my own sexual orientation, let alone voice them aloud. Watching the fervent legions of Westboro Baptist Church members surging through streets, waving their ‘God hates fags’ signs, I felt dirty and impure for feelings and thoughts that I did not chose to have. I lied to myself and lied to others, pretending to be something I was not so that I would not displease my religion. Not only was I in that notorious closet, I was buried six-feet under suffocating winter-coats, with the doors firmly bolted and the key misplaced.
My self-deception was eating away at my soul; I was losing sight of who I was, losing sight of my path and losing sight of any sense of purpose I’d ever had. I was blinded by social dictates which told me I couldn’t be gay and believe. Ironically, in trying to stay faithful to my religion by smothering my sexuality, I was losing my faith; losing faith in religion, losing faith in an all-loving Creator, losing faith in myself. I began to avoid going to my place of worship, for fear of being judged. Even though my sexuality was unspoken, I felt there were a thousand condemning eyes upon me. I stayed quiet, hidden – yet it was only my misconception of religion that silenced me.
I finally had a revelation: I was created this way. I cannot help the way I was made and since I believe that I am created, I cannot have been made to be something so ‘evil’. Life is a gift: my life is a gift, your life is a gift and it is not something to be squandered in living a lie. Loving one another, respect and service lies at the heart of religion. Faiths tend to point towards Oneness. LGBT+ people are no less a part of this than anyone else. Religions should open their arms to everyone equally, fighting for the acceptance and respect of all people. In accentuating the incompatibility of religion and homosexuality we are not only misunderstanding what religion is about, but we are making peaceful harmony an ever more distant dream.
In learning religious values, we are too hasty to settle for what we are taught by social transmission. We do not question. The resounding words of Leviticus 18:22, “You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female”, strike fear into our hearts. The words of the Qu’ran (Al-Araf, 7:81) echo in our heads, “you practise your lusts on men instead of women…you are a people transgressing beyond bounds”. But if we delve deeper, we realise things are not so transparent. There are many complex interpretations of these passages, and there is no reason why the explicitly anti-homosexual readings are the true ones. The world is not the same world it was when these passages were written thousands of years ago. Obviously it’s tricky to tread the line between universal truths and cultural trends, but there are lines to be trodden somewhere – I personally believe this is one of them.
Some of the world’s oldest religions are openly accepting of homosexuality: in Hinduism, ancient myths and art celebrated same-sex devotion as well as a rich diversity of genders, including androgyny and a third gender, hijras, seen as a mystically powerful force. Earlier this year, the Dalai Lama threw significant moral-weight behind gay marriage when he spoke-out against homophobia. In his eyes, same-sex relations, providing they are consensual, are not wrong. He made an interesting point, however. He said it is the individual’s choices where sexuality and sexual practices are concerned. Either way, sexuality should not come between the individual and their faith, and it should not violate fundamental principles of love and respect.
After years of struggling to reconcile my religion and sexuality, these two core parts of my life coexist in harmony.
I am a believer.
I am a lesbian.
I am proud. And you should be too.
Tessa Standen studies Philosophy at the University of Cambridge and is also Welfare Officer for Lent term 2015 at Newnham College