Coming out as gay, coming out as atheist

One really good point that got raised in yesterday’s discussion was that when you deconvert, and tell other people about it, you risk being rejected by friends and family. I’m not quite sure what to say to this worry, though it’s worth noting the similarity the the problems associated with coming out as gay. And as a fan of Dan Savage, I’ve heard him give advice on that issue more times than I can count, and I think his advice would probably work for atheists. I’m not really speaking from experience, though, so once again I’d very much like other people’s input on this.

Basically, Dan’s standard advice for young gay people goes like this: if you live with your parents, and they would have a horrible freak-out over your being gay, it’s okay to lie to them about it. If your parents are helping you get through college and they would cut off their support for you over your being gay, it’s okay to lie to them about it. But if you’re not in one of those situations, come out now, even if your parents would freak out. And if you are in one of those situations, try to speed up the process of becoming independent, and come out once you’ve become independent, even if your parents would freak out.

If your parents freak out, treat them like a little kid having a tantrum. Don’t give in–once they realize throwing a tantrum won’t lead to them getting their way they’ll very likely stop. And realize that on the off-chance they do disown you permenantly, all that will have happened is you’ll have learned the hard way that they didn’t really love you in the first place, because if they really loved you, they wouldn’t make their love contingent on you being how they want you to be.

That all strikes me as good advice. And I think analogous advice would be good advice for someone facing the prospect of coming out as an atheist. One thing I’d add is that this is a prime example of how most religious believers only halfway believe the things they claim to believe. There are lots of fundamentalists in America who claim to believe that all the gays and atheists are eternally damned, and if your parents really believed that, the logical thing would be for them to treat your being gay or an atheist as worse than a crystal meth addition, and never ever be okay with it. But while it may feel like they’re behaving that way at first, with most parents, give them some time and they’ll find their love for their kid trumps the religious beliefs they thought they’d had.

Another thing: my parents have always been cool with my atheism, but I think it was a factor in my drifting apart from the friends I had through most of grade school/middle school/high school. Never a blow up over it, and not the only factor, but a factor. In retrospect, though, I don’t regret becoming an atheist. I regret not making other friends sooner. So if all your friends are Christian fundamentalists, NOW is the time to start making other friends. Don’t let the situation drag out.

Again, I don’t have the same experiences with this as other peoplpe, so I’m very much looking forward to hearing your thoughts.

(Note: Tomorrow is a holidy in Korea, and I plan to use the time to write a big, meaty, intellectual post. And maybe even some small ones on top of it! I know what I’m going to write about, but you’ll have to tune in then to find out what that is.)

  • Yellow Thursday

    I got the whole “where did I go wrong?” tirade when I came out as atheist to my mom. I wan’t very tactful. (I guess I’m still not.) Still, she didn’t kick me out or anything. We still talk, just not about religion.

  • Laura C.

    There are lots of fundamentalists in America who claim to believe that all the gays and atheists are eternally damned, and if your parents really believed that, the logical thing would be for them to treat your being gay or an atheist as worse than a crystal meth addition, and never ever be okay with it.

    Actually, a lot of the fundamentalists I interact with on a regular basis do treat it like that. (In fact, my school’s counselor explicitly told me he would consider his son being gay or non-christian worse than drug abuse – which is not only incredibly unprofessional, but also probably illegal. Too bad there’s not much I can do about it with lack of proof and a biased school board.)

    And, like a meth addiction, they think the solution is to try to get the individual concerned “help,” rather than kicking them out or cutting them off. It makes sense if you put yourself in the shoes of a fundamentalist parent. The thing is, these people are willing to subject kids to harm – usually psychological and emotional, but sometimes physical – because they see it as a temporary discomfort. It’s not a matter of their love for their child overcoming their religion, it’s a matter of their religion dictating how they express their love and concern.

  • JeseC

    A few more things I would add:

    – Watch for emotional dependence as well as physical dependence. Having that kind of family strife can be incredibly damaging to your own stress levels. Take precautions: set up a support network, be ready to take care of your own feelings, that sort of thing.

    – You may have to set some pretty strong boundaries. Many people’s first reaction will be to try to convert you. Repeatedly. It will often be necessary to establish boundaries on when you will talk about religion and how much. Enforce these.

    – Don’t be afraid of Christian friends! I know, bad atheist, but I’ve had some incredibly supportive Christian friends. Mind, none of them come from the “you’re going to hell” camp…at the end of the day, they think I’m wrong but they don’t think it makes me a bad person or means I’m damned. Particularly important since many like me may have been restricted to Christian environments.

    • JeseC

      Oh yeah, and watch for the classic “it’s all just a phase/you’re really still a Christian/you’re just expressing your anger.” In my experience this is how a lot of fundies reconcile the cognitive dissonance – by simply disbelieving your claim to not be a Christian. There’s really no arguing with this one – I’ve found the best response is to just ignore them and move the topic on.