Approaching the holidays, it’s not hard as a member of the LGBTQIA+ community to run afoul of non-affirming faith based ideas, groups, and people.


As someone raised in a small Southern Illinois town who kept any remote thought of my gender, gender identity, much less sexual orientation (!), under lock and key lest I betray myself to God’s just punishment, I KNOW what the painful connections between faith and fear look like, as well as religious heritage vs. religious hatred.

 JaimieHileman17
We were raised Roman Catholic in an area with very few Catholics. I’ve referred to this type of staunch Catholic upbringing as “garrison Catholic”. Most of the faithful were one type of Baptist or Evangelical or another. There were the usual mainline Protestant sects such as Methodists, Presbyterians, and Lutherans. There were only two Catholic parishes in the whole county.


The parish church was a three minute walk from the elementary school. I can remember walking on Wednesdays after school to the church for Catechism classes and being pelted with rocks and sticks by kids who thought our religion was a weird and blasphemous one.


I was later told by one of my tormentors that they attacked us because the town had no Jews to beat up; to the local Evangelicals, we were the next closest substitute when it was felt necessary to bash a religious minority.


I don’t have to imagine what it would have been like to have been bullied and assaulted for my gender and gender identity, as well as religion, had it been known. As it was, I was bullied from the fourth grade until a junior in high school for less-than-masculine gender presentation. Reading, wearing glasses, speaking English without a pronounced southern accent, having braces, being slender and not into football, these things all marked me as a failure in performing gender correctly, and peer-reinforced gender expectations carried brutal punishments for infractions.


By the time I made an accommodation with my gender dichotomy solid enough to remain living, at age 20, I had left the Catholic Church and it had left me. I was certain I was a devout orthodox born-again atheist and that was that. My fervor was unquenchable.


A report from May 2015 by Pew Forum finds that the total number of Catholics in the United States has dropped, now comprising about 20 percent - or one-fifth - of the total population. Perhaps more troubling for the church, if ex-Catholics were a denomination, it would be the second largest after Catholicism itself, with nearly 13 percent of all Americans describing themselves as “former Catholics.”


Funny thing happened on the way to the future, however.


As I grew closer to self-acceptance, as I learned not to hate myself for who I was, as I moved over the years from knowledge at age five of being transgender (didn’t have the word, but I knew the dysphoria), moving from awareness through acceptance, to action, I slowed my roll when it came to religious bashing.


Yes, I still carried (still do) a great deal of anger and pain against those Christian sects that target LGBTQIA+ people for discrimination and violence.


I will not stop talking about those who use faith as a weapon against us.


Yes, there are scars where once was only adoring and unquestioning love for the Mother Church in all things.


But.

 ChristmasWindow
As I healed enough to begin my transition, to claim space from the world to live within as my genuine and authentic self, I had less space in me for hatred. Instead I found space in which judgement could be withheld. My spouse had begun attending the Unitarian Universalist congregation in Alton. It was a Welcoming and Affirming Congregation. After some years, when I was on the verge of being 365-minus-40 in my transition, I went with her one day.


I didn’t die.


Nothing spontaneously combusted, as I had been suspicious of occurring.


I went again. Survived.


I met a wonderful group of people who helped me find peace and accommodation within myself for the Bible-shaped wounds of the past, through their actions and deeds. A great many are lifelong friends.


I gained the perspective to realize that while I may not believe in an anthropomorphic deity or God, from Jehovah to the Flying Spaghetti Monster, I could no longer honestly say that I KNEW there was no Divine, no ineffable, no higher power, no interconnected relationship between all living things.


Within that shadow of doubt, all things are possible.


At the same time my Trans and LGBTQIA activism has led me to get to know quite a few welcoming, open, and affirming faith traditions here in the St. Louis area, from the MCC Metropolitan Community Church, welcoming UCC United Church of Christ churches, Trinity Presbyterian University City, Trinity Episcopal CWE, St. John’s Episcopal Tower Grove, the CRC Central Reform Congregation, the St. Louis area UU Unitarian Universalists congregations, and many others.


The holidays are hard. For many of us, they always will be.


Not everyone has had the good fortune of accepting family when coming out.


Our culture firmly mashes up the expectations of family togetherness and love during the holidays, excluding a whole bunch of folk in the LGBTQIA+ community.


People have extremely heightened expectations of what the holidays “should be”, generating anxiety, frustration, and anger on a mass scale. People can be really ugly this time of year, like the @#*&^% that cut me off yesterday in Brentwood to snatch the parking place for which I’d been waiting ten minutes.


But here’s where within “that shadow of doubt, all things are possible” comes into play. While our biological and birth families may never come to understand or accept us completely, we all have a chance to create community, to find family. I know my “found fam” sustains me in ways for which I’ll never be able to adequately express gratitude.


I have been inspired by the many ways in which the LGBTQ community has found family and created community. We are as diverse in our affection as we are as a people.


THAT is a thought I think I’ll take with me, heading into these last two weeks of the year when every nerve is frayed and every parking lot is a battleground.

 

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