I Am Afraid

There’s still a t-shirt somewhere in my drawer that has a few spots of my boyfriend’s blood on it. He was attacked earlier this year and, in the hospital, I gave him a hug, staining my clothes.

Violence against gay people is not a new thing, but it is relatively new to me. I’ve grown up in a city that has a reputation for being rough. I would always hear jokes when I was smaller about how people from Liverpool were violent, thieves, or both. I think it bothered me occasionally but never that much. Mostly, I was confused because the Liverpool I knew was just a normal city. I never used to feel unsafe walking alone at night (hello, male privilege) and I’ve barely even witnessed a crime, let alone been the target of one.

Perhaps it was all the nice laws that we passed, the people like me who are open about their lives in the media, or maybe I was just ignorant of the fact that I’m in potential danger every moment I’m in public, but I thought we were 100% safe unless a stray asteroid came plummeting our way.

I’m a human being. I can be with other human beings. I’m allowed, by law, to live my life. But I’m not necessarily a safe human being. And maybe this isn’t a new fact, but it’s news to me and I’m actually scared now. Every law that I could wish for could be passed and this still wouldn’t stop me or those I love coming to harm should we irritate the wrong person.

I can’t even justify being as scared as I am, due to the fact that guns are essentially non existent in this country. A horror such as Orlando is orders of magnitude less likely to occur in the UK and I’m somewhat relieved about that. But when I walk down the street hand in hand with a guy I love, every single one of you is, to me, a potential threat. Schrödinger’s Attacker, if you will.

And it’s not just because my boyfriend was assaulted – my cousin was too, in a completely separate incident, but for the same “reason”. I stop holding hands when we walk near groups of rowdy guys. We’ve even stopped apologising to each other about that now. We’ve had things shouted at us, I’ve had to stand my ground while some upstart teenager tried to intimidate me (an utterly bizarre experience), and yes – I notice every double take that we get. When was the last time you felt scared to show affection on an empty public street? For me it was today.

All of this is small stuff in comparison to last weekend, or to the number of trans people killed in the US this year alone, to the LGBT people murdered by ISIL, or the struggles of those in the past who fought for rights I now take for granted.

Yet all of the things I experience are still worrying. If I’m not anywhere near as safe as I thought I was, then what exactly do I do about this? Is there anything that can be done at all? Does anyone else care?

I have always known that there are people out there who would hurt me if they could. But until now I assumed that this was close an impossibility – on a par with the knowledge that bubonic plague would kill me if I caught it. But now the threat level, as it were, has been raised not just for me but for all of my people. Not least, the people of colour in my community who made up almost the entire list of the dead in Orlando.

In the wake of the Paris attacks last year, my news feeds on Facebook and Twitter were saturated by those who poured out their love. There’s good reason to think that I saw more of these posts than most, seeing as how I’m a French graduate with friends who live in Paris and around France, and other friends who have more Parisian acquaintances than I can count.

Yet this weekend, the lack of comment by those outside the LGBT community about these multiple hate crimes (not to mention the foiled attempt to murder more people at LA Pride) has been more than conspicuous. A few months back, every single profile picture was overlaid with a French flag. A useless token gesture, perhaps, but a gesture nonetheless. I can’t help but notice the glaring absence of certain demographics from any mention of Orlando.

No you don’t all have to write weepy statuses, tweet your condolences, or change your pictures. But when none of you do, we can’t help but notice.

Maybe I’m overreacting. I probably am actually – giving into fear and all that. But we, as a community, are hurt, and I can count the mentions of it by straight people on my fingers. I can count the mentions by my Christian friends on one hand. And no, not the full hand.

I still wear the t-shirt sometimes. I think it’s some Fault In Our Stars-esque metaphor* in which I wear something that bears the symbol of hurt, but I feel stronger for it now being unable to hurt me. In any case, I live in genuine fear that there will be more blood on my clothes by the end of this year and this is becoming normal to factor into my thinking. However this will not stop me going to Pride festivals or gay clubs, holding hands, or being conspicuously homosexual right in your face in the middle of the street. Yes I am more scared now than I was last week, and maybe I’m less scared than I will be next week, but while right now this rules my feelings, I cannot let it rule my actions.

Let us be kind to those we don’t understand. If Orlando has shown me anything, it is that I am deeply saddened at how divided we truly are. A refusal to acknowledge each other’s pain does not help it go away. We weep with those who weep because the killing of just one innocent person is like the killing of the entire world.

 

*“[Cigarettes] don’t kill you unless you light them,” he said as mom arrived at the curb. “And I’ve never lit one. It’s a metaphor, see: You put the killing thing right between your teeth, but you don’t give it the power to do its killing.” The Fault In Our Stars – John Green

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes

ReverseI remember the time in life I realised that I didn’t have to pretend to actually like football. As a 14 year old in an all boys school (and desperately trying to pass as a straight person) this was a great relief. Having not grown up in a household where football was of any importance whatsoever – a grace for which I am yet to thank my genius parents – being dropped into a world where the lingua franca was whatever player performed well that week, and whether Liverpool or Everton would do well that season*, was all a big culture shock. Coming from a city where you were either a Red or a Blue, I seemed to confound comprehension of my peers by choosing neither. But as I dipped my toes into the waters of Not-Giving-A-Hot-Shit (a place I would soon dive into body and soul) I became more and more myself.

I guess my ten year journey has led me to here then. An almost completely different person in many respects but still me at heart. So it is with tentative trepidation that I find myself secretly googling the results of world cup matches. My eyes are glued to any screen showing a game and I honestly have favourite teams and have mapped out a strategy of who’s going to win. Or at least – who I want to win.

It’s not that I’m suddenly actually interested in football, it’s more that I’ve unexpectedly found that I can appreciate the beautiful game. I see patterns and formations, I can anticipate goals and game developments quite intuitively. I think I need to be deeply involved in the game in some other life, my brain appears to be hard-wired for it in a way most other peoples aren’t. It’s disconcerting to find that one of my inbuilt aptitudes is for a thing I have such disdain for. I think I have much self-examining to do when the tournament is over.

And so this sudden life epiphany has me all pre-disposed to think about change and how suddenly it can occur even when the tide seems to be against it. And forgive me for this rather jagged segue into a different topic, but on this Pride weekend we’re marking 45 years since the Stonewall Riots.

In less than half a century, my people (that’s right, I’m the Moses to society’s anit-gay Pharaoh) have gone from an imprisoned minority to being plastered annoyingly across every channel you could hope to watch. Louis Spence prances round like a knob, Alan Carr flaps and cackles live on our screens, and Graham Norton slathers us with bitchy sass while we watch Eurovision. And we FUCKING LOVE IT. I think that we need to take a moment to realise just how massive this is.

While other political groups are still campaigning or fighting for their cause, often with violence, all we did was stand up and shout loudly and gayly and people listened. After all, it’s hard to ignore such an immaculately dressed interest group.

Perhaps this feeds into my new love for non-violence and leanings towards Jainism (please don’t be alarmed when you wikipedia that and see all the Swastikas – they invented the symbol and the Nazis just stole it)  but I think that even if you disagree with us – you can’t deny we have a killer PR team.

Yay for equal rights, yay for non-violence, yay for football, and yay for The Netherlands – YOU CAN DO IT!

*I’ve yet to actually take the time to actually work out how long a football season is and why this matters. The season always seems to be starting and ending.

Why I Am An Atheist

Now there’s an eye grabbing title.

This is a long blog. There’s a one sentence synopsis at the end if you want it.

As a sort of preface, I do have to say that while some of you may wonder why I bothered writing this given my love of keeping private life choices private and not intruding on others’ beliefs, I have to say that I just needed to. I need to get this out of my system, (the explanation, not the atheism) and not have to be afraid of explaining myself every time I bump into an old Christian friend. I’m writing this as a notice, like handing a note to the teacher excusing me from PE, so that I can assume that people now know where I stand and so not have to worry about awkward conversations and having to discuss which Bible translation is best or whatever. So here it is people, how I went from happy clappy Jesus lover to a godless hell bound atheist. I jest. There is no hell.

But I guess, I have to start by saying that I’m not sure I’m an atheist. Perhaps agnostic would cover me better but I hate the word’s connotations. To me it smacks of an ambivalence, or simple disinterest and ignorance of the issues and that’s certainly not the case. I don’t believe in God but there are a few things I’ve seen in my time of God-squadding that puzzle me into allowing, at the very least, a slight divine foot in the door. Not the God of the Bible though, especially the one preached in any church I’ve been to. So yeah, let’s just call me an atheist and be done with it.

Leaving church was hard. Really hard. I hesitate to say it’s the hardest thing I’ve done (though this one time I did once manage to drop toast and have it land butter side up) but it comes somewhere near the top of the list. For me to not just take a break from it, as I intended, but to utterly abandon and now totally reject everything I’ve been taught from birth is no walk in the park. Nor is it a decision made overnight or in reaction to any single issue. I liken it to my coming out of the closet – it happened over a period of months and it sucked just as much, if not more.

Explaining that I didn’t leave church because I’m gay is a conversation I’ve had to have far too often. I didn’t leave church solely because I’m gay. Sure, it was quite a significant factor, but I left church because I hated church.

I hated church because every Sunday before I walked through the big blue double doors I had to change myself in order to feel even remotely accepted and at home. This is not the fault of the particular church I was at or the majority of the people there but instead it was just because I didn’t believe what everybody was there to believe in. Now while church is obviously a place where people go in order to change – it’s all about being made more like Jesus which is a rather good goal in my opinion – you’re supposed to be changing in reaction to the teaching, in your discoveries of God and how much you want to be as loving, and good, and holy as he is. I changed because I knew if I happened to voice my opinions I would be quietly taken aside and told that I was wrong and needed to repent. I would be pointed in the direction of different courses and conferences I could go on to re-educate myself. I would be looked at like I’d just said I think all babies should be ritualistically slaughtered instead of “I think it’s up to the mother not the government whether she wants to have an abortion or not”. My stance on politics was tolerated up to a point but my advocacy of a French-style secular society where people were free to believe whatever they wanted as long as it was in the privacy of their own homes, would have been shot down in flames. And if I even thought about suggesting that we stop trying to get people to be Christians and just be nice and hope people notice the radical change, I’d have had countless Bible verses branded on my eyelids or something. And when it really came down to it, I just think that it’s totally crazy for one person to tell another what they think they can and can’t do.

When you have to steel yourself for a weekly activity that should bring everlasting peace and eternal joy in your soul, something’s not quite right. I realised that I believed virtually nothing of what was taught in regards to Christian “morality” and living. I liked that Jesus bloke and some parts of the Bible are amazingly comforting and beautiful but it all kind of stopped right there. So I decided to take a break. If there really was a “God shaped hole in the heart of man” then I’d feel the ache and need to get back to church.

What I found instead however, was that almost all Christians had one of three reactions. Confusion, pity, or ambivalence. Confusion generally turned into simple denial with people not understanding what I was quite clearly saying. “I don’t want to go to church any more” was countered with “Why don’t you come to our church instead?”, “I believe that people can do what they want as long as it doesn’t hurt anybody else.” earned replies along the lines of “But that’s not what the Bible says!”. So what? I don’t believe the Bible! Pity was the more annoying one however as people assumed that I’d become mentally deficient and that I’d see the error of my ways soon enough – I obviously knew I was wrong deep down. Nope, I think you’re a loony and I hate just about everything about Christianity, better luck next time. Ambivalence ranged from being exactly what I wanted (who wants everyone everywhere asking what your religious views are?) to being incredibly hurtful. Those who I would have expected to actually give a damn about my damnation barely batted an eyelid. As odd as it sounds, I would have really appreciated one or two people going out of their way to talk to me about how I felt instead of the multitude of people who crawled out of the woodwork to tell me exactly where I was going wrong. Greater love has no man than this eh?

But what really kills me is that the Bible says that “by their fruits you will know them” as in, you’ll know they love Jesus cos they exhibit his characteristics. If the above verse is true then I know of very few Christians. The Christianity I see preached is moralistic garbage that is harmful to all who hear it. I can hardly believe I spent 23 years lapping it up.

The feeling of betrayal is one I’m still trying to shake if I’m honest. Christians have said the worst things to me, and said it all with a smile on their face. Apparently, you can say anything you want, no matter how hurtful it is, if it’s “in love”. Being told point blank things like: “You need help” (church leader), “You know you’re just wrong yeah?” (close friend), having numerous rumours circulated about me*, are just some things to make me think that maybe this “holy spirit” I hear so much about doesn’t exist or simply does a crappy job of changing people. Now of course nobody is perfect and I can’t expect everybody to be angelic all the time, but when the people who are decent human beings are in the minuscule minority of all the hundreds of Christians I know, I begin to see a pattern of baloney emerging.

Then I come to the science. This may come as a shock to some of you, but until very recently, I was a young earth creationist. “There are no transitional fossils” I would parrot. Yet there are in fact thousands. Even ones of fish with legs that crawled out of the sea. One look at the Wikipedia page for that quickly shattered my illusions and gave me a healthy dose of reality. Also, if the earth is that young, then the pyramids were built around 100 years after Noah’s flood. Seeing as how only 8 people were supposedly on the ark, they must have been really busy! I could go on but there’s no point. While this paragraph may seem like common sense to most of you, it’s all new for me. Talk about feeling like a prize idiot.

God seems to me, from my extensive reading of the Bible, and years of listening to preaching, to be capable of doing no wrong. He just gets other people to do it for him. He commands the Israelites to murder women and children in the Bible (only a few pages after telling them that murder is sin). The Bible he “inspired” is a book that is able to be manipulated in so many different ways that you can literally make it say anything you want to. If there were a God, one who was all knowing and who saw the future, you’d think he’d tie off a few open ends so that we don’t spend years thinking that it’s totally fine to have slaves, sell daughters, kill people who don’t believe the same as you, oppress women, and suppress science. If the Bible is God’s word and is “breathed out” by God then give him a tic-tac because it reeks of injustice, rape, murder, and pure evil. Just think. One explicit verse like “Thus says the Lord: ‘Oh and by the way, women are totally equal to men, and don’t have slaves'” would have saved literally millions of lives.

And it’s not as if I don’t know all the counter arguments and ripostes some of you are so eager to throw my way. I know literally every point you want to make because I spent years making them myself (so please spare me the boredom of trawling through the comment section saying the same thing). Having studied the Bible in depth, having been to numerous churches of multiple denominations, having prayed in earnest for God’s goodness, having waited to hear his voice, having believed with my whole heart, I now wholeheartedly and without reservation reject Christianity and its implications as morally repugnant, utterly evil, and without a doubt one of the biggest loads of bullshit this world has ever witnessed. Kudos to the guys who pulled the wool over our eyes though, that takes balls.

I have no intention to return to church. I have no desire to hear that you’re praying for me. If there is a God, he will bring me back right? That’s the fifth point of Calvinism and it totally counts cos I did believe without reservation. So thanks Jean Calvin for that handy theological loophole to get me out of annoying arguments.

I have very little problem with Christians. It’s just now I totally understand how repulsive it is to have faith shoved down your throat, no matter how they butter it up and layer it in cake.

So that’s a small snippet of why I’m an Atheist. If I went on, I’d only bore you all I’m sure. I really needed to throw this out there. It became almost a physical necessity to tell people where I am. After all, when your life changes so spectacularly and irrevocably for the better, you feel the need to tell people don’t you? ** The only thing left to say is that I’m still me. I’m still the same sarcastically smug know-it-all who loves films, coffee, wine, and gin far too much. If you were my friend before, you’re still my friend now. I have not become an amoral Satanist who wants to take over the world, I just believe a little differently than before is all.

If you’ve made it this far then I must congratulate you. Thank you for taking the time to find out what’s going on with me, just know I’m always willing to do the same for you too.

TL:DNR Synopsis:
I don’t believe in God and I’m not going back to church cos I think it’s totally whack.

*The rumours ranged from the true, to the utterly bizarre, to the impressively crazy. I once heard that I went round seducing fresher boys in the university Christian Union. While I’m flattered that somebody thought that I had the necessary skills to seduce anybody, let alone multiple people; I remain puzzled as to what started the game of Chinese whispers that cranked that out.

**Yes I know this is just like what you think with your evangelism, I’m being facetious. Yeah I kinda ruined that one by explaining it didn’t I?