So here is the deal: I am a single, African American male, two years away from turning 30. With only two months to go before I receive my Bachelors in Information Technology. The gears in this old noggin have been spinning like crazy, wondering what the next step will be. What kind of job will I apply for? Where in Austin, Texas, will I live? Can I find individuals that I can call my friends? What about my coworkers? My family? How do I tell them about all of the personal changes that have happened in my life in this short span of a year and a half?
The changes I talk about are a doozy, if you take into consideration the community I came from and the deeply embedded roots of religion despite the pain and desolation surrounding this barren, small town of Mound Bayou, Mississippi (Google it, because you’ve probably never heard of it). The thing is, I’ve always known something was different. I was more interested in the boys than I was the girls at young age. I knew I liked other boys like me even before I was old enough to know what the word “gay” meant. But I also knew shame as well; the shame that came with being different and constantly hearing that it was wrong to feel that way, but not knowing why.
Now, as an adult, I obviously know what “gay” means, and what it is to be gay, but it doesn’t become any easier to be open about who you are, especially when surrounded by people that are anything but welcoming to differences. I can’t and don’t speak for other races, and I’m not even trying to denigrate my own, but in my experiences, I have never experienced more awkwardness and division than from that of my own race. It has been said that the African American community is by far the most homophobic of all others, but I won’t agree with that statement, even if my own experiences echo it loud and clear. One of the biggest reasons why most African Americans do not accept open homosexuals is the same reasons why most other races do not: Religion.
While I am being open and honest about who I am, I should make it clear that I am also an atheist. It is probably the one thing that I am definitely the most afraid to be open about, because being gay is one thing; to be an atheist is something unheard of in the black community. But it came much later in my life and was not a result of my bad experiences in religion. In fact, there are no personal bad experiences I can think of, other than my grandmother thinking the solution to my depression was reading a few quotes in Psalms and Proverbs.
Given, that even though I knew I was gay early on, the “God” thing eluded me. With the churches and later on the Kingdom Hall (my grandmother later became a Jehovah’s Witness), there were so many different messages about this god of love, and yet with each message I heard, the “love” wasn’t there. Looking around at the individuals sitting there, listening to the brothers give their “talks” as they are called in the Watchtower ministry, I found myself confused as to why this message was so profound. It made no sense to me at all and following along in the bible confused me even more. Apparently my grandmother – who raised me – caught on to my growing disdain for the church and gave me the choice of not attending after I turned 18. I left for the Army shortly after, and I have never been back to a Kingdom Hall since.
This story may sound clustered and convoluted but that is mainly because there was too much to factor into why I lost my faith. What gradually started as a fear of this god because of being sent to Hell for being gay, turned into a love I had with a personal god that blessed me with wonderful things the minute the pretenses dropped and I admitted to myself that I was gay… and that there was nothing wrong with it. Then all it took was a well-meaning friend to tell me that I was lying to myself, that there was no evidence that God loved me the way that I was — and she was right. Even though God spoke of his love in the bible, he made it clear that homosexuality was a sin and unworthy of his kingdom. She didn’t put it in that eloquent a context, however, and we have not spoken since. Maybe it’s me, but being compared to a murderer for being gay put a bitter taste in my mouth, and try as I might, I couldn’t reconcile the fact that this was how she saw me: as no better than someone who kills another human being.
It was turning point in my life because it forced me to really, and I mean really, study the bible. When I was finished reading the bible – something I had never done until that moment – it left me dumbfounded. After 26 years of existing, this was the first time my mind truly went blank. In that moment, I looked in the mirror at my expression and it spoke volumes.
“This book is awful”, I exclaimed. “All these years, and this is what my beliefs were inspired by?”
I went to my grandmother, my family members, my friends… no answers from them. When asked about some of the simplest things, like the flood accounts and how it made any sense with no evidence, the only response was “He’s God. He can do anything” as if that answer was good enough. After dedicating months to studying the origin of Christianity and other widely practiced faiths, and even those I had never heard of, it was too much. There was too much faith and not enough evidence. I had questioned my beliefs for quite some time, but only recently had I ever considered the possibility that it was all wrong. And now that I have, there was no going back to the comfort of believing in a loving, personal god. There was no belief there at all. I realized then what I know now: I am an atheist.
That’s just a little bit about me. I’m not trying to save the world or change minds or tell gay people to stop believing in gods. I am speaking from my perspective, my existence, and my life. Being black presented some of its own hurdles growing up in the south, but it got better. Being gay was something seen as evil, as disgusting and as unnatural, but indeed it got better (although it’s not quite there yet). But being an atheist still proves to be the one bastion that most people, including blacks, are still quite weary of, and I can kind of see why, being a former believer myself. All I can do is show them that even though I am an atheist and I’m gay, I am still human just like them. That I struggle with bills and finding my purpose in life, just like them. And that I want to get married, achieve personal milestones, and love with all of my capacity, just like them.