Finding an unexpected queer community in a religious school

Despite the teachings of the church, I found myself and my community. PHOTO: Jack Lucas Smith/Unsplash

By: Fern Ridley, student at SFU

Content Warning: Queerphobia, Religious Bias

I think most people who grew up aware of their homosexuality felt like they were the “only ones” at some point. I was attracted to girls before I even realized I had to like boys, but I felt like I couldn’t tell anyone because I didn’t have anyone like me to look up to. Fortunately, the indoctrination never came from my family, but when you spend seven hours a day in a homophobic religious school, you can’t avoid queerphobia.

I was 12 when I cut my hair short for the very first time. It was as if a weight had been lifted from my shoulders, literally and figuratively. I remember showing up at 7 a.m. to basketball practice with a happy smile as I walked past my peers and awaiting their responses.

“There’s a boy on our team!” shouted a girl.

“Are you a lesbian now?” rang in my ears.

It wasn’t my attempt to come out. It was nothing more than an experimental haircut, but at my at school, might as well wear a rainbow shirt with the word “queer” embellished on the front. I had always struggled to fit in, even before people thought I was queer. Now even my closest friends would turn around and avoid me while changing.

I had always felt different from others, but being the only girl in middle and high school with short hair, I had become a target. I remember the day when advice advise called me into his office and sat me down. It was freshman year of high school, shortly after I cut my hair even shorter. He he said I could tell I wasn’t like the other girls, ad told me to listen more carefully to what I was taught at school on the role of a woman. It was for my own good, he told me.

Some time later, I confessed my feelings to a crush. He responded by saying me he wI would have liked to come back if I had told him before cutting my hair. My first boyfriend was the first person to like me since my haircut. I picked it up partly to “prove” my supposed heterosexuality to all the girls in my class.

Growing up queer in a religious school is terrifying and confusing. It’s almost like being in two closets, one of which keeps you blocked from being able to see your true self and everyone else’s other. With so little conversation about sexuality in my school, queer people have become a fantastic ‘other’ associated with the dreaded ‘outside world’.

Fundamentalists like to pretendend theYou can shape a cute little bubble to protect your loved ones from reality. “Hate the sin, love the sinner” is Something you’ve probably heard if you grew up in a Christian environment. As a child, this made sense to me. We were brought up to believe that all humans are sinners, and because of that, everyone else is too. . . Wrong.

It doesn’t seem as nice looking back as an adult. How can you reduce someone’s identity to sin? How can you equate the innocence of sexuality with something harmful like deception or violence? I experienced a lot of cognitive dissonance about my sexuality and gender because of this saying, and I would constantly write my feelings down as a passing phase.

When I found myself friendless again in my freshman year of high school, I met a small group of people who felt like home to me. We spent hours animal crossing change our hairstyles and outfits. We dabbled in cosplay and embraced fantasy fiction as a way to escape our repressive realities. None of us realized it at the time, but our homosexuality was a big part of what brought us together.

Our friendships were characterized by a lack of judgment. Because we were all locked up at the time, this acceptance was mainly seen through a shared pleasure in our hobbies. We all had different interests, but we still supported each other. After high school, we faced more serious challenges because of our identities. Discovering that we were all queer was like meeting each other again, in the best way possible.

Now we have a lot more to connect with each other and have started to process our education. Some of the things we collectively experienced were ostracism when we went against gender roles, the surprising lack of resources we grew up with, and the lack of knowledge about homosexuality and genre. The few times I remember teachers talking about homosexuality were when they were offeredan outdated religious perspective on current events. Nobody dared to question the professor for fear of being unmasked.

Friends have spoken of how shame lingers, staying with them even when they try to unlearn it. In the end, it kept us from thriving.

A friend of mine said “you can’t stop people from being themselves forever, only delay people from discovering their true identity”.

Looking back, I can name many gay people I dated in school. with, but only one came out in high school. The others remained silent until the end of the studies because there was such a high risk of ostracism. What we have all learned is that suppression does nothing to “cure” gay people, and everything to harm them.

Graduation felt liberating, but it was hard to fight the feeling of isolation that we had ingrained in us. Without a clear sense of community, the queer people in our school felt like we were alone. Because we were all forced into hiding, we felt like we were thrown into adulthood without the community that those who attend public school can have.

I was only able to truly love myself once I completely removed myself from the fundamentalism I grew up with. most I withdraw from learning bigotry, the prouder I become of my queer identity. My friends and I are still learning to be ourselves openly, but I’m glad I managed to maintain our bond. If things were different, I don’t know if I would ever be comfortable in my own skin.

No matter how hard people try to silence conversations about gender and sexuality, they’re just teaching students to hide. We are who we are regardless of what our teachers say. It breaks my heart to think of the suffering we have all endured, feeling alone and unable to express our identities. I can only hope that over time fewer people will have to experience what we have growng up. DrankIn the end, however, I’m grateful for the community that I unexpectedly found.

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