How to Heal from Homophobic Religious Trauma
Earlier this week, I emailed my mom to ask her a few questions about what her journey has been like having a gay son.
I grew up in a religious family and I wanted to learn about the process she went through to reestablish a relationship with God and religion. I also asked her what advice she would give to another parent with a religious background whose child just came out. Even though I came out to my mom fifteen years ago, I hadn’t ever asked about her process.
As I typed my questions, I realized how layered it actually was. I knew she was going to have to dig deep and revisit a painful part of our journey.
A few days later, on my way to my car after speaking to a religious group about my book, Raising LGBTQ Allies, I received her reply. Once I sat inside my car, I began to read her email. It was honest and heartfelt and made me cry.
It was the first time I really saw the distance my mom traveled to reestablish her relationship with God and reclaim faith on her own terms. I saw courage, strength, redemption, and mostly, I felt loved.
Rather than tell you what she said and offer the advice she gave, I’ve included her response. Her words aren’t just for me, they’re for anyone who has been hurt by anti-LGBTQ theology.
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First of all, I came to the realization that God does not make mistakes. As a woman of deep faith, I had to take a really long and honest look at my hardcore stance on my religious beliefs. I had to also reconcile my beliefs on having a gay son.
It was truly a huge, life-changing understanding that took place in my heart and then my mind. I knew I would lose many of my Christian friends. But most importantly, I knew God doesn’t make mistakes.
How could I possibly play God? How could I hate or reject a gift from God, such as my beautiful son? God is Love. He says you will know my people by their love for one another, without judgement.
A lot of my friends in the church rejected, not only my stance, but me for taking a stance. I came to the realization that as deeply as my love was for you, God created you, and must love you even more.
I also knew, within my heart of hearts, how very hard your coming out was, especially to me. I knew this is how God created you. Period.
When you told me at 24 when you were in town visiting from Mexico, I cried. I had to look within my heart, soul, and mind. The shift wasn’t instant. I was frightened at first and scared of the unknown. By reexamining my religion, I no longer judged you but loved you even more for all the years I was blinded by the truth.
The guilt was overwhelming. Then came understanding, acceptance, and eventual appreciation of what I’ve learned along the way. If I could share my experience with another person of faith and offer them any advice, I would say:
It might be challenging at first. I’m not going to say I wasn’t questioned, rejected, and hurt by some of my closest friends. I questioned my own beliefs. I went to counseling, which gave me a better understanding of myself.
God doesn’t punish us by giving us children we think are a mistake. I had even thought God was punishing me at first, through my children for my past. I came to realize that’s stinking thinking and just bad theology.
God’s Love is unconditional and all-encompassing.
Research the interpretations of scripture. Through revisiting scriptural text on same-sex relationships and being gay, I actually learned more about theology and it brought me closer to God. I realized how easy it is to misinterpret scripture and so learn to be a critical thinker, even when it comes to religion. And especially when it comes to using God as a means of persecuting another human being.
Look at your child and listen to them with an open heart and mind.
And lastly, but most importantly, look into your own belief system and dig deep. Shame is a heavy burden no mother would want their child to bear.
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Despite some families’ progress, homophobia can still rear its ugly head. In fact, a common theme among most of my therapy clients has been related to a reactivation of religious trauma. Many of my new clients are seeking support to help them heal from unprocessed toxic shame and religious trauma that the surge of anti-LGBTQ legislation has triggered.
Recently, one of my new clients told me during our first session that despite being in a loving relationship and having supportive family members, he thinks that he’ll always subconsciously believe he’s going to go to hell for being gay. After our session, I started to reflect on my own journey of coming out of the closet as a gay Christian.
Similar to my client, I also used to believe, for a very long time, that I was going to go to hell for being gay. Since reconciling my relationship with religion and redeveloping my relationship with a Higher Power, I can say with my entire being that I no longer have the same belief. It’s taken years of interpersonal work, but I can truthfully say that I no longer believe there’s a benevolent being that would ever punish me for being gay.
What’s more, as an LGBTQ-affirming therapist who primarily works with gay men, about 1 in 5 of my clients have been through conversion therapy at some point in their lives. Whether it was self-imposed “conversion therapy” where they worked tirelessly to “try and not be gay” themselves or having been sent to a conversion therapist, the effects of repressing their identity continues to impact their mental, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing.
Whether or not we grew up with religion, our lives have been influenced by religious beliefs. The United States was founded on Puritan values that still course through the veins of many North Americans today. Part of unlearning a thought system based on fear is by reexamining our beliefs, especially as they pertain to outdated and misinterpreted religious concepts that create harm in the lives of LGBTQ youth, or any human being.
Shining a light on the complexities of familial homophobia and transphobia can help more families lovingly address them should they unexpectedly arise. What’s more, making amends where there’s been harm is part of healing any rupture.
The more we can recognize, repent, and repair anti-LGBTQ theology, the more we can help our LGBTQ loved ones learn how to heal from homophobic religious trauma. And the more we can help a young person learn how to love themselves, from the inside out, and teach them an inner sense of self-acceptance from an early age—which includes feeling welcomed, celebrated, and affirmed—the more we repair.
We don’t have to believe in gravity for its effects to work. If we walk off of a bridge, we will fall. Religious or not, challenging long-held misguided beliefs and learning how to love ourselves helps build new playgrounds. Every parent is meant to bless their child. Building new playgrounds, together and connected versus divided and separate, will create a new world for future generations of LGBTQ people.
***Excerpt from Chapter 9, “A Mother’s Faith,” in my book, Raising LGBTQ Allies: A Parent’s Guide to Changing the Messages from the Playground.
If you’re a gay man who is interested in freeing yourself from the bonds of homophobic religious trauma, contact me at Chris@ARoadTripToLove.com or (323) 484-3985 for a free 15-minute consultation.