Religion is complicit in homophobia: What I Wish Theist LGBT+ Folks Understood

By Joyline Maenzanise

I was born into Christianity; my mother was one of those people who went to church religiously and that way of living was instilled in us from a very young age. I became aware of my attraction towards women in my late teens. At that time, I did not take the feelings seriously; I did not even think they might mean anything more than just fleeting feelings. I was too busy trying to fit into the heteronormative standards which always felt like a taxing competition with other women for the attention of men. Patriarchy! How could I, anyway? Zimbabwe is a generally homophobic country; homosexuality is illegal and it is demonised.

In my early twenties, my attraction towards women became more pronounced and hard to ignore. This started bothering me, especially as someone who was still a Christian. I knew what the Bible says about my sexuality; I had heard it preached about in church or on television. On top of that, I had already had a deacon at the church I once was part of tell me that I was possessed by a male demon. I’m not sure if this was because of my sartorial choices; I wore (women’s) pants a lot.

I began to pray about this; I believe I was praying the gay away.

Still, those feelings for women never went away. At that time, I took that as a sign from the deity. I could be with whoever I wanted to be with. I had moved from Zimbabwe to South Africa when all this was happening.

Accepting my own sexuality has been both a liberating experience and a burden. Being queer made it hard for me to attend the church that I had been going to (His People Church). I remember one sermon where the pastor had even preached against homosexuality. To be honest, I don’t think there’s any other thing that is condemned by these pastors (and other religious person) as much as homosexuality, even though the Bible is filled with many other ‘deplorable’ actions. Anyway, I began to feel more and more out of place and eventually I just stopped going to church.

Being busy with studies also made it easier for me to leave. I was still religious though; sometimes my mentor invited me to her church (I have forgotten the name but it just happened to be a few blocks away from His People). It was great that they welcomed everyone regardless of sexual orientation but I did not feel at home in that place. Maybe I felt uncomfortable with being one of the very few Black members or it could have been the absence of the upbeat vibe that I had loved about my previous church. It just didn’t feel homey, despite being LGBT+ friendly.

I have since dissociated myself from religion.

Though my sexuality is not the reason for this, it certainly is one of the major reasons why I will stay as far away as I can from religion. The move has been, somewhat, freeing because being constantly bombarded with verses that speak against my existence or how I am doomed to an afterlife of suffering in hell no longer sends shivers running down my spine. I’m not even bothered by that!  Right now, I am more concerned about my happiness and living my life (this life) unfettered. Like I always say lately, hell, it if does exist, can wait!

Marriage, family and coming out

I came out to my familyin January 2014. I decided to tell them because I wanted them to know that if I ever mentioned marriage, they would know better than to expect any dowry because I wouldn’t be bringing home a man. I know some queer women follow the tradition of paying dowry to the partner’s family but I have told myself that I will not allow heteronormative practices to worm their way into my life as a queer person. I will not allow how I relate to my partner to be informed by any patriarchal/ cis-heteronormative standards.

I came out to my siblings and aunt (our parents have passed on) in an email because we all live in different places and I just couldn’t wait for when we would all be together. Judging by the current state of our relationships, I don’t know if that will ever happen. Honestly, it was better and safer for me to do it that way because even though I didn’t know what their reaction would be, I anticipated the worst given our religious upbringing and the patriarchal violence that marred memories of growing up together.

I struggled to even come up with the right words to use.

Luckily, I had a queer friend from college who, after I confided in her, told me how she had gone about it with her family. She was fortunate to have an accepting family. That wasn’t the case with me (or many other queer folks). My younger siblings and oldest niece reassured me that all was good. While some siblings chose not to say anything, some said that this was hard for them to accept just like it was hard for me to let them know. My oldest brother decided to send a long sermon on how homosexuality is a sin and that I needed to be saved. It was too long so I merely skimmed through it.  After a few days, he sent he another email checking to find out what decision I had made after his ‘oh-so-loving advice’. I ignored him and every other hurtful email he has thought to send afterwards. It was, and still is, clear that some siblings thought I was seeking their approval when I told them about my sexuality. I didn’t want their blessings; I was merely letting them know.

Preparing them for the possible future.

Since coming out, I have had to deal with a brother who believes I am suffering because I am gay. He seems to have deluded himself into believing that there is no gay person on the face of this earth who is happy and living a fulfilling life. He has even suggested that I find a pastor to help pray for me in a misguided attempt at some form of conversion therapy.

‘Stay away from gay people’, that’s what he’s also told me.

To add to the pain, my mother’s sister sent me a video of an ‘ex-lesbian’ who is now in a heterosexual relationship, apparently in hopes to let me know that I too can change if I am willing to denounce my sexuality and allow the Holy Spirit to change me. Like geez, give a human a break!

Homophobia disguised as love

Some people have said all the reactions from relatives are coming from a place of love. I call bullshit on that. Someone who loves me will accept me the way I am. If there is one thing I have learnt from experience, it is that, sometimes, people give advice not out of concern for another person or their well-being, but because they want to ensure that that person does not step outside of what’s considered ‘normal’ or acceptable and therefore, does not embarrass them or ruin their reputation in any way (by association or relation).

Since dissociating myself from Christianity, I am no longer afraid to question religion. I do not censor myself when talking about religion. I criticise it as the system on which many oppressive systems (which many of us call out with so much rigor) are predicated. I call out its complicity in the unjust treatment endured by queer folks, which vary from one geographical location to the next, from one religion to the next or from one denomination to the next. Sadly, I do this much to the chagrin of queer folks who are religious. I find it really disheartening and very ironic. Before deciding to do otherwise, I would expend so much of my energy questioning the intolerance towards the LGBT+ community of these institutions, being fully cognizant of the Biblical principles they use to justify their stance. I would question these teachings in much the same I criticise the way the Bible seems to glorify suffering or devalue women. Personally, I am not bothered that some religious institutions won’t accept queer folks because I’m not religious. I don’t want to be in those spaces! I don’t want to force myself into spaces where I am not wanted. However, I cannot afford to ignore the intolerance of religion because it is those exclusionary, discriminatory beliefs tend to find their way into other aspects of our lives thus posing a huge risk to the livelihoods of queer folks. My own queerness does not afford me the luxury to disregard this. Sanctimonious sacrosanct

I know I am not the only queer person who criticises religion or expresses their anger at it. People have legitimate reasons for their anger and sadly, this anger often goes dismissed as offensive by those who follow religious practices. I’ve had one queer guy tell me to never talk to him again after I posted a Facebook post expressing my anger at God. Mind you, he felt justified enough to express his intolerance at my anger towards his God (whom he believes is too sacrosanct to be questioned, let alone despised) even when he didn’t even know or bother to understand why I was angry. To top it all off, this was the reaction coming from a queer individual who is in the closet and uses a pseudonym on Facebook. He is in the closet online and offline. Ask yourself- why would someone be in the closet, despite attempts by some folks to convince them that ‘coming out’ isn’t necessary?

Fear. Deep down, the cause of that fear stems from religion. Still, some of these folks defend it and the deities they deem to be ‘loving’.

It is not my desire to strip anyone of their autonomy when it comes to choosing whether to subscribe to any religion or not. I would just appreciate it if queer folks who are religious would be aware of how religion continues to shape other people’s realities. Just because your religious institution has accepted you or you believe your God loves you the way you are, whether you are ‘out’ or in the closet does not mean you get to stifle other people’s anger towards how oppressive religion really is. Some religious institutions are less dogmatic and some queer folks are only fortunate to be part of such institutions. The same cannot be said about those queer folks who have been (or risk being) murdered, those who have been ostracised by their families or communities, those who have lost their jobs or failed to land that job, those who have resorted to (or have considered or consider) ending their own lives, those who now suffer from some mental illness because of the trauma induced by living in a society whose hate or intolerance is justified by religion.

If you have a family that believes in a deity or deities and loves you for who you are, good for you. If your church welcomes ALL, good for you. You are one of the privileged few.

There are other posts about religion and homophobia including this one about how God Loves Gay people and this one about accepting yourself as a queer christian. There are also ones about coming out such as this guide that has helpful tips and also one about how staying in the closet can be an act of self care and preservation. 

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