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In the post-hippy years of the early-mid 1970s, my mother proclaimed aloud how she wished she could understand the bible. Like many peers of her generation, she had grown up during the Great Depression, watched as her brothers and husband went off to fight in World War II, worked hard to help support her daughter (my elder sister), and rejoiced when the war was over and they proceeded to build what they believed to be a greater country that the one they grew up in.
Unfortunately for them, they also faced a daunting task of raising a generation of children who knew nothing of the misery they claimed they grew up in and then looked fondly back upon as better times. A combination of cultural upheavals with rock and roll music, an expansion of civil rights and liberties from minorities to women to gay liberation, and an increase in drug experimentation caused them to believe that they had spawned a generation they were ill equipped to deal with despite the adversities of the life they yearned to go back to.
And so my mother, like many of her peers, believed that what they perceived to be a rot in society was attributable to the devil, and the only way to go back to the world they believed to be superior was to get back to God. The problem for her, like many others, was that she could not understand a word of what the bible was really trying to say.
Enter the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Because she knew so little about religion—and Christianity is, let’s face it, a bundle of contradictions and contrasts—they become first people who knocked on her door instructed her in the fine art of that old time religion. I was obliged to sit in on weekly bible studies in our home as a teenage boy with my two brothers and two frumpy middle-aged women learning about “nocturnal emissions” and “the time of the uncleanliness of women” counting down the minutes until I could go listen to my Three Dog Night records once the bible-study mistress was gone.
I discovered my sexuality then, and to my own personal distress, that my inclinations toward sex were the beauty of women as a temptation, but that once the fantasies began, I felt more of a connection with them than to them. I yearned for male companionship, and at the same time felt a degree of disgust at engaging in sex with another male. My fantasies were all passive and submissive; I did not initiate the sexual encounters I dreamed of, but allowed them to overcome me, and the dominant partner in the imaginary exchange was always another, more aggressive and strong partner. As the pleasurable experience continued, I imagined myself to be female; soft of skin and fair of face with long flowing locks of curly brown hair, and full breasts with nipples yearning to be touched by strong hands.
Shame and guilt struck later, as is always the case with young people who have been indoctrinated in the religious perspective that sexual inclination itself is a sin—let alone ones that are not in a male-to-female perspective; and far less in one in which the participant is woefully uncomfortable conforming to the role assigned in life. I was passive in everything: sports, play, imagination, fantasy. My dream was never to be a warrior-prince type; my lot in life was never oriented toward the nine-to-five career;, but to write, paint, play, dance, imagine, and create.
Throughout my younger years, I was scourged by religion; not by my love for it, but by my crushing fear that the angry deity from The Ten Commandments would send a plague of locusts or something equally biblical for my daydreams of wearing gowns, tending to the children and the garden and the servants, and waiting for my prince to come. My sexual fantasies were occasionally populated with lovely ladies in lingerie, but for the most part I internalized these women: I was not fantasizing that I was making love to them, but that I was one of them. It actually took decades for me to realize that was what was happening to me. The adoration I felt for the female body may have originally enticed me into sexual fantasies, but they were always fulfilled by daydreaming of guys. And it was in such a position that I felt my most comfort and inner peace.
The crushing fear in me, as it is in any LGBT person, was that my parents would discover this, and that God—who I learned was always present, always watching, always listening, and always angry—would eliminate me from the “Kingdom”, that paradise earth with butterflies landing on fingertips and baskets of food dumped on tables depicted in Watchtower literature.
I drifted out of the religious cult when I became old enough to understand that no one religion that claims to be the sole possessors of truth can truly speak it. I was uncomfortable with the notion that Catholics or Protestants or Mormons and the like would all lose their salvation if they weren’t Jehovah’s Witnesses, and departed the fold. But the intense scrutiny of the Angry Man on the Mountain would always follow me, knowing that I wanted to be female, to love a man and be ravished by him, and tend to the household while he did the wage-earning work. And thus I became a victim of the “180-degree Turnabout” that is Evangelical Christianity.
Most of us know and experience the fabrication that is inherent in their doctrine, but few understand that it is fully-grounded in what the bible teaches, although there is no specific to “praying away the gay” as they’ve referred to it, anywhere in the bible. Instead they tie together scattered references in the scriptures that appear, when cut and pasted together, to form a whole. The Bible—specifically Moses and the Old Testament—condemns “a man who lies with another man” as a confusion; listing it in the same context as bestiality.
However, there is hope, we were all told. God can turn the heart around. “Ask and you shall receive, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened to you” could be taken seriously to believe that whatsoever you asked for you would receive; provided, of course, that the request was in the will of God. That certainly made sense to me, and I was eager to have God miraculously remove this desire from me so that I could live like a man, behave like a man, drink beer, watch sports, and cuss with the guys, and have the desire for male companionship in my life taken and replaced with the desire to ravish a woman in a bikini and not burn with envy for her.
First you make sure you are asking the will of God; no problem there! God’s hatred for homosexuals is all over the Old Testament and even in a couple of spots in the New One. Ask that God will remove the temptation; hey, bring it on. I certainly believed that a life lived as a heterosexual would present less problems and be more socially acceptable than my own personal intense desire; no one can argue with that. “God will not allow you to be tempted, and when you are tempted, He will provide the means of escape, that you may bear up under it.”
Well, that’s the part where it starts to get a little more complicated.
Because here, you see and must understand, is where God seems to be a little bereft of fulfilling His share of the agreement, and it is here that the He became he, at least for me. It was at this point, laying on the concrete after 18 years of faithful prayer and suffering that the Angry Man on the Mountain could not seem to address one simple request. Laying there on the sidewalk in my then-homeless state, abandoned to the concrete with no job, no home, no vehicle to visit my kids with, and no money, I made the final prayer that god would lift the temptation I had endured every night about a man who had once propositioned me to stay the night with him, a man I found absolutely gorgeous, and who I can honestly say I fell in love with. The desire assailed me in the night nonetheless, relieved only by masturbation, and it was then that I realized that the supposedly senior partner in the agreement was simply not doing his share, not fulfilling his part of the agreement, and that the last 18 years of my life spent in denial of who I really am was a complete hoax.
In time I would accumulate enough knowledge to compare that the preachers who proclaim this doctrine of “Ask and you shall receive” combined with “praying away the gay” do not make the same request when it comes to donation and tithing time for church. The do not “agree in one” to obtain financing from heaven for their ministries, and then expect god to miracle it down to them from above. They ask for divine wisdom to create opportunities and appeal to people’s generosity to acquire that which they need. They ask and they receive with no real perceptible divine intervention.
And such is the case with praying away the gay. No one who asks this really receives this. Even the man who started the movement itself has acknowledged that for all his lofty talk of god miraculously lifting his desire for male companionship from him, in reality it did not work that way. After years of deceiving people into believing in this hoax, he finally admitted that he was still attracted to men. [Schlatter, 2014]
Curiously enough, this confession came from him just after I had my own personal epiphany that I was wasting my time asking god to change who I really was. And after that, I became an honest person for the first time in my life, the 180 became a 360, and I went back to where I had been in those early 70s when I fantasized that I was a young woman waiting for my prince to come.
But I am not a young woman, I am a grown woman much older and with a lifetime of experience and a number of lines in my face to prove it. But I am an honest woman. For the first time in my life I have become an honest person, and I would not go back to that harvest of bitter fruit of lies and deception for any reason.
I no longer believe in any kind of loving god who designs all things to perfection and demands that you live up to his standard of perfection. I am a believer that there is a creation but that it, like its maker, is obviously fraught with flaws. I do not assume that such a creator is over my shoulder, but that we are all—like all that we see and know—are accepted as a design flaw and not expected to be perfect, any more than the ocean or the earth or the universe are perfect. They simply abide, and it is the responsibility of honest people to help it to run as well as possible despite all of its flaws.
And that, my friends, is where we come in. We are not perfect, but we are honest, and that makes all the difference in the world.
[Shlatter, Redeemed: Former Ex-Gay Activist Renounces The Movement, Talks With Hatewatch October 02, 2014. Retrieved from: www.splcenter.org/hatewatch]