1:3 AN EMPTY CAGE

Monday morning—Listening to music on my way to work. Crucify hadn’t come up in a while. Yet another July thing. ¹ I bought the E.P.—remember those?—20 years ago this month in Salt Lake. ² That’s where I saw Tori Amos perform live for the first time the following year and where I spoke with her in July 2009.

1Who I am; where I am; why I’m writing this blog.

3—By trying to live up to the principles of my religion I’d created a wedge between me and my God? I need to honour both my religion and my sexual orientation in order to be whole.

Back then Tori’s songs explored her strict Christian upbringing and struggle with the patriarchy and at the same time her voice and words asserted her womanhood and sexual side. I felt drawn to her music—wounded but defiant, fierce but intimate. People who are familiar with her work set to find their own voice and owning their own shadow. Naturally, Tori became the perfect soundtrack to my coming out.

That was so long ago. Sometimes I forget. I’ve grown since then. Plus, I’ve listened to these songs so many times that most have lost their impact. But this morning is different. “I know a cat named Easter. He said, ‘Will you ever learn? You’re just an empty cage if you kill the bird’.” She’s singing to me now.

I can hear my friend Heather—in the pool at our San Diego hotel before a Tori gig in July 2015—say, “You know, it’s become clear to me now: both your sexual orientation and your religion are integral parts of who you are. Now I understand your need to honor both in order to be whole.” 

Many Mormons understand that sexuality is a vital part of a person’s identity, but not for gays. And many LGBT people understand that being true to oneself no matter what other think, is noble, but not for Mormons. Heather, another Tori fan, a bisexual and a psychologist who has no time for religion understood. 

 

Not regardless of my sexual orientation but because of it, I have pondered existential questions that most people never consider.

 

Most people in Britain are OK with me being gay.But they’re not so OK with me entertaining any sorts of religious beliefs—and it’s even more true for gays—given that religion is perceived as anti-LGBT. People often imagine I hold on to religion because it brings me comfort in the face of the unknown or that I am religious because I have not thought it through. 

Stephen Hawking said, “heaven is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark.”² So, people imagine I cling to religion because I’m afraid there’s no afterlife. But the prospect of a never-ending existence (in which one’s actions in this world determine one’s fate) is much scarier to me than a fade-to-black. Especially so if homosexuality is such a sin! Religion does bring me comfort, of course, but it brings me much confusion, frustration and sadness too. I think life would probably be easier if I was convinced I could be merry, witty and gay, for tomorrow we die.

To be sure, Hawking’s statement implies that religion is for the gullible who haven’t thought things through; a remark I’ve heard countless times. While I can accept that I may be completely wrong about religion (or the existence of God), I just cannot accept that I haven’t ‘thought it through’ when I have spent over two decades reading liberal and conservative studies or commentaries (as well as anti-Mormon literature) and spent sleepless nights enquiring, questioning, taking notes, rationalising about religion and my standing before God. I anything, I have overthought it!

Those attacks are often religious people’s fault, through bad examples or short-sighted and erroneous versions of God and religion learned from parents, priests or ministers, that made it look like ‘a fairy story’. 

Many also look no further than the ‘thou shalt nots’ of religion. As a consequence, they won’t touch a Bible. Treasures of knowledge and wisdom; ‘fresh’ cultural and historical perspectives remain unknown, even though they find the same pearls of truth  rebranded in self-help books and in the Body, Mind and Spirit section in shops. 

And very much like the religious people they criticise, Atheists won’t allow themselves to doubt. Many people refuse to entertain the possibility that there might be something more than the ‘here and now’. Are they not just afraid of the light, to quote John Lennox?I love God and I could not walk away. Like we cannot show or prove the love we have for others or their love for us but only manifestations of it, I cannot prove God’s existence—and it’s not my job to do so. But I have never come to another conclusion that there is a God, and a loving one to boot.

I do struggle with some commandments, like I do with some rules at work. And I think we all struggled with some rules when we were growing up. Our parents knew more about the consequences of our actions and were doing their job as loving and responsible parents. God is doing His, as the loving and responsible parent that He is. Whether I like—and follow—our Father’s rules or not, and regardless of my sexual orientation, I believe all He did, does (communicate) was and is for the advancement of the human race and for individuals to reach their full potential. 

Not regardless of my sexual orientation but because of it, I have pondered existential questions from a young age that most people never consider. I’ve spent my whole life seeking the Truth and making sense of my circumstances. I genuinely think that being gay is what led me to God.

 

Many Mormons understand that sexuality is a vital part of a person’s identity, but not for gays. And many LGBT people understand that being true to oneself, no matter what other think, is noble, but not for Mormons.

 

Many religious people have expected me to ‘give up being gay’. I tried, prayed and fasted. I did all the right things but it never changed a thing. I felt guilty; I felt down; I had some serious panic attacks. One day I stopped trying. Like a grown child stops wanting to empty the ocean with his bucket, I did not give up—I gave in. And I am not ashamed of it. 

However, I am ashamed that I neglect God, like I sometimes neglect family or friends when I am ‘too busy’ with work or romance, or when I think they’d disapprove of my choices. But I always end up missing God and I feel like an empty cage when I don’t pray or read the Scriptures. I need God in my life. 

I need love in my life too. If I forget about romantic love, I feel empty. My spiritual life was so strong when I reclaimed my Mormon faith with a Fundamentalist streak several years ago! It was a personal faith and I felt so close to my God and I felt the Spirit all the time. Over the months and the seasons, I tried to put into practice all that I learned and accepted to be true, but a few years after officially becoming a Fundamentalist, I felt lethargic, cold. I was spiritually flat, to use a friend’s expression. 

Trying too hard to be someone else, I had lost something. Could it be my self? I couldn’t communicate with God like I used to. It was like talking to my estranged father—it was cold, there were no feelings. I was ‘an empty cage’ because I’d killed ‘the bird’. Isn’t it ironic—but sad—that by trying to live up to the principles of my religion I’d created a wedge between me and my God? 

Heather said I needed to honour both sides. She was right: I need God in my life. I need love in my life too. I cannot let go of my religion and I cannot deny my sexual orientation. 

I’m at work now. Tori’s singing: “I have enough guilt to start my own religion.” That line’s not me. I’m not trying to create ‘a new way.’ I’m just trying to live my life the best way I can, honouring my religion and honouring my sexuality, as I need both to properly function.

 

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