A Portrait of the Atheist as a Young Queer

If someone were to ask me what my religion is I’d say I don’t have one. I might say I’m a pizza-bagel, meatballs and matzo balls, a Christian-Jew. I’d say I’m lucky; I get to celebrate Chanukah and Christmas, double the presents. I’d say I’m a fan of gefilte fish and chopped liver, the unpopular Jewish foods, the foods that make even the most pious Jew cringe. I’d say I’m a Hebrew school dropout, and I’d be damn proud of it. But am I religious? No.

My mom is a Roman Catholic from Queens, NY and my dad is a Jewish immigrant from Israel. When it came time to pick a religious route, my parents chose Judaism. I went to the JCC for pre-school, where I stole blue sticky tack from all the classrooms and climbed the giant menorah outside. A few years later in Hebrew school, I impressed the congregation with my 5-year-old singing talents while lifting up my dress and yanking on my tights. Then I dropped out. My brother, on the other hand, completed Hebrew school and eventually became a Bar Mitzvah.

Maybe my lack of faith is due to the fact that I was never fully immersed in either Christianity or Judaism. The closest I ever really got to Jesus was when I stole the plastic baby Jesus doll from the nativity display in The Costa Linda Beach Resort main lobby while on vacation in Aruba (I wanted to share my breakfast with the little guy). Or perhaps it was because after my parent’s divorce, both my father and mother had new lives to adjust to, new responsibilities, and establishing a belief system wasn’t a main concern. But whatever the reason, I’m certain that my sexuality didn’t help.

*

When I was younger my mom always told me that, “God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.” I grew up thinking that girls could only be attracted to boys, and that boys could only be attracted to girls. That was just the way things were. But at some point I started to feel…different. When I entered high school in 8th grade I joined the Gay Straight Alliance (“Are there even any gay people in it? It’s more like the Straight Alliance!” my mom would joke). I even marched in a local pride parade alongside girls with short haircuts carrying tote bags that had “I ♡ Vaginas” written on them.

“Look at what I got!” I said, showing my mom the mini rainbow flag I bought at the parade.

“Great…” she replied, flatly, with a hint of concern.

I attended more GSA meetings, and read more about the struggle for LGBT equality. In one of my classes we watched Jesus Camp, an exposing film that shows how easily manipulated Christian youth are, especially when it comes to homosexuality being deemed a sin. It was around that time when I realized that the only people who hated the gays were Christians. And if the Christians hated me then I hated them, too.

Being in churches made me cringe and mentions of God made me laugh. I refused to say the pledge of allegiance because I was not part of the “one nation under God” (but I was still required to stand, according to The Wheatley School student handbook). When asked by my Global Studies teacher, “Did God create man, or did man create God,” I was the first to raise my hand and answer, “Man created God. They didn’t know any better back then.” During my baby cousin’s christening I refused to hold the hands of the person next to me. I sat there stubbornly, arms crossed, filled with anger and discomfort. I hated them, they hated me, and I hated myself.

*

I was just finishing up 11th grade when my Nanny had a heart attack. My mom and uncle flew down to Florida to be with my Grandpa for a week. I’d get phone calls every day with an update on my Nanny’s condition. She was getting better, I was told. She just needed to watch her weight, maybe eat healthier. But she’d be all right. A week later when my mom returned home I expected she’d be all right, too. Maybe a little flustered, a little distressed. After all, her stepmother had just suffered from a heart attack, and she’d lost her mother when she was a teenager. I expected her to be upset. What I didn’t expect was for her to start going back to church.

“Where’s mom?” I’d ask my stepdad on Sunday mornings.

“Church,” he’d tell me.

“Oh, right…”

During holidays and family meals my mom would say grace. My brother, Matthew, and I would look at one another, puzzled, snickering under our breath.

“Mom, we’re Jewish,” Matthew would say.

“Just let her do her thing,” Bennett would say, shushing us both.

My mom noticed I was rejecting her faith. I was rejecting all faith, really. She’d start talking about God, about God loving me, about God watching over our family.

“There is no God.”

“Annette, don’t say things like that!”

“What? It’s true!”

*

There was a turning point for me, a really drastic one, during winter break of my freshman year of college. My mom asked for one thing and one thing only for Christmas: that Bennett, my stepdad, and I go to Christmas Eve mass with her. I was reluctant, hesitant, completely against it.

“Do we have to?” I asked her.

“I never ask you for anything. This is all I want.”

Churches made me uncomfortable. Usually when I walked into a church I felt unwelcomed, like I didn’t belong. No one did anything in particular to make me feel this way. But it was just an undertone – I knew the church’s stance on homosexuality. I knew that, to them, I was and would always be a sinner.

But as I walked into St. Aiden’s on that chilly Christmas Eve, the scents from the Italian restaurant next door drifting in and meshing with the burning incents, I had an entirely new feeling: awe. I was awed by the beauty of the reeves and candles and lights, by the sound of the holy hymns and chiming bells. The mosaics of stained glass surrounding me – images of saints and bible versus – were kaleidoscopes of spheres and prisms, the most angelic hues and shapes. I yearned to touch the beams filtering in through the windows, to just reach out and blend and smear the air, to make the light-blue a lighter blue and the dark-blue a bluish-orange and the orange an orange-purple. Ridiculous, I know. But I couldn’t help but love. I couldn’t help but smile at all the people in the labyrinth of pews, all the families, all the children in miniature suits and ties and red velour dresses with bows around the waist. And that’s when it hit me: I was being ignorant. The only reason I hated the Catholic Church was because I was fearful of it, fearful of rejection and rude remarks, fearful of the unknown. I was no better than those obedient, unwavering Christians who hated gays. After this realization I decided I should, no, must change my outlook on Christianity, on all religions. I must be more accepting.

That’s what led me to take Modern Catholicism, a Religious Studies course, in college my sophomore year. I wanted to show my mom that I was making an effort to understand her religion. She was thrilled, naturally, to know that I was trying. I thought it was only fair, considering all the reading and research and campaigning on LGBT issues she’d done since I came out to her. Modern Catholicism was my first step. I ensured my mom that, no, I wasn’t going to convert – I still don’t believe in God, and don’t think I ever will. But I now understand why other people rely on God. He/she’s their safety net, their source of support and comfort during difficult times. And there’s something beautiful in that.

– Annette Covrigaru

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