Faith, Religion, & Spirituality

by | Nov 21, 2023 | Queer, Faith, Religion, Spirituality, Trauma, Mental Health

Faith, religion, and spirituality are all around us whether or not we engage with them. Printed on every dollar bill in the United States is the phrase “In God We Trust.” Gallup polls from before the pandemic showed that 90% of people living in the United States believe in some type of higher power/God, and religion/faith/spirituality is often how we interact with our understanding of whatever that is. A common goal among the major world religions is an attempt to answer questions such as: how did we get here, what is our purpose, how should we live our lives, and what happens after we die? Along with these inquiries, religion often prescribes certain ways to live, and historically, this does not include being lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, asexual, questioning, or otherwise. Whether you’ve grown up in a church, synagogue, mosque (or any other institution that taught religious principles and spiritual practices), you’ve likely been impacted by the teachings of these institutions. Family members may hold unaffirming views, teachers and professors may have made remarks in class that gave away their bias, and as of late, entire legislative bills have been dedicated to upholding harmful views and beliefs about the queer community.

By definition, psychology is the scientific study of mental life and behavior. And what discipline more than faith and spirituality, regardless of the religion, so encompasses our mental and behavioral lives. For many, childhoods spent in institutions of religion meant the absorption of teachings that effectively communicated to us that we’re deficient or defective in some way. Some of us may hold a belief that there’s something wrong with us, and we may have been told harmful information about our sexual identities, such as the idea that it could somehow be changed, prayed away, or that long-term suppression is the only option if we desire to hold on to any aspect of our spiritual identity in harmony with our sexual identity.

I’m far from being an expert in the realm of sexual and gender identity, but I feel convicted in my belief (informed by my education and training as a therapist) that there’s nothing wrong with you… with us… for being lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer/questioning, intersex, or asexual. I recognize how much that’s a message I myself need to hear at times (despite having heard it a hundred times before). And yet, just hearing it is often not enough.  A well-known book in the professional mental health community “The Body Keeps the Score” captures the science behind the notion that our bones (well, our nervous system rather) know things at a deeper level than our brains often do. And the “knowing” or fear that we’re defective in some way, because of our queerness, may have been reinforced a thousand different ways throughout our lives, inviting a host of supporting characters onto the scene such as shame, anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, and relational challenges. While queerness alone is likely not the sole culprit behind such presentations, a queer identity (closeted or out) developed against the backdrop of many religious teachings may have created an overwhelming inner tension and dissonance. To that I say, you’re not alone.

As a therapist who identifies as gay and has the privilege of working with a handful of clients across the queer-identifying spectrum, I’m struck by one common theme among my queer clients: a sense of surprise as they uncover the numerous ways that their queer identity was a thread running through most (if not all) of their major, negative, and often traumatic, life experiences. This has been true of my queer clients whether they were raised religious or not because we’re brought up in communities (neighborhoods, schools, towns, cities, states, countries) shaped by the undercurrents of harmful religious teachings. This is especially true in the United States where white evangelicalism has an outsized influence on our country’s mores.

If you’ve made it this far, here are a few takeaways I hope you consider:

  • If any or all of what I’ve offered resonated with you, you’re not alone. Truly.
  • If you’re LGBTQIA+, there’s nothing wrong with you. And yet, shame, discomfort, confusion, and pain regarding your identity is to be expected, and there’s nothing wrong with you for feeling that too.
  • Further, inner challenges regarding your sexual and gender identity aren’t a life sentence. It’s hard, meaningful work… but in therapy, these things can be unpacked and integrated into the whole of your being.
  • No person, no institution, and no faith leader, has the right (or even the cosmic ability) to dismiss you from any faith or spirituality you feel drawn to.

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