So I was reading this blog post, wherein an exmormon airs his dirty conscious by confessing religiously-motivated cruelties, and I thought it was an interesting concept. There are some things I did and said as a religious person that I am deeply, deeply ashamed of, but I either do not know how to apologize, or am no longer in contact with those I mistreated. So I air my conscious here, on my little piece of internet real estate.
I confess . . . that in my senior year of high school, I made homophobic remarks, alienating a large group of my friends in the process. To be honest, I don’t really know why I made gay jokes. I had nothing against homosexuality; neither my immediate family nor my ward have ever discussed it (to my memory). I just knew that it was “wrong,” and that the one or two times I asked my parents about gay or lesbian couples, they clammed up as though it was something shameful and embarrassing.
The specific remarks I made, that I recall, were targeted toward a very flamboyant out male teenager. There were a lot of out kids at our school in the 1990’s — you were as likely to see two girls kissing by a locker as you were to see a hetero couple. Gay couples attended school dances without any of the hoopla you read on the news today — straight kids attended school dances in same-gender pairs, too. It just wasn’t a big deal.
This particular young man was a very pretty asian boy we’ll call “Freddy.” He was petite, wore skinny jeans and well-fitted shirts, had nicely muscled arms, and pretty dark hair that was streaked with color and longish in the front. His eyes were large and liquid and beautiful. He also affected the stereotypical “gay accent,” with the lisp and higher pitch. I honestly didn’t realize he was gay — sure, there were gay couples at our school, but I didn’t really pay attention to who was dating whom, and I hung out with an alternative crowd of kids who liked to act different from the mainstream, anyway. One day I was riding home with him and two other friends, one of whom I had a crush on (“Matt”). We would switch off carpooling, so this was a pretty frequent occurrence. After we dropped off Freddy, I began making fun of the way he spoke, dressed, and acted, saying, “He just sounds so gay!”
Matt, who often laughed at catty remarks like that, remained oddly silent. He seemed uncomfortable, and when he dropped me off, he didn’t give me the usual hug and air-kisses goodbye (I really was completely clueless). Most of the group avoided me after that. It took a week or so before one of them explained it to me: Matt and Freddy were both gay, and I’d really hurt their feelings.
I didn’t know how to apologize, and I didn’t really know how to react, either. I had never actually spoken to or interacted with a gay kid, and I felt sick and ashamed that an unexamined bias could have alienated my friends. So sick and ashamed that rather than examine it at the time, I ignored the whole situation. I wish I knew where you were today, Matt and Freddy. I hope your lives are happy and full and devoid of hateful, petty people.
On the plus side, it was this incident that made me closely examine my views on homosexuality, and their lack of validity. I became an LGBT ally and HRC donor in part because I had mistreated my friends. I also became much more perceptive regarding sexual identifications, which has been of immeasurable assistance through the past 12 years.
I confess . . . that as an active mormon girl, I was a pretentious, self-righteous pain in the ass. I might still be, but I really hope I learned my lesson. After I married my husband, I feared for the eternal souls of my in-laws and several non-member friends. I seriously alienated them and pushed them away by repeatedly pressuring them to attend to church, talking about “eternal families” in front of them, and passive-aggressively trying to guilt-trip them into attending the church by offering to pray for them or talking about how much I wished they could attend our temple sealing. I was a horrible, dickish person.
To this day, I can’t read journal entries or look at scrapbook pages from that time without feeling deeply, deeply ashamed. I loathe the passive-aggressive manipulation that is part and parcel of “re-activating” lapsed LDS members. Worse, because of the very nature of passive-aggressive interactions, they are almost impossible to apologize for. Everyone does them at some point in their lives; and they may even fool themselves into thinking the other party is just “too sensitive.” But when years and life changes have given you the proper perspective, you see your pettiness in the cold, clear light of shame — but too many years and too many changes have piled up, and there is no clear route to apologizing without dredging up a past that is perhaps better buried.
I confess . . . that as a teenager, I made some non-LDS friends with the sole intent of trying to convert them. I was not interested, initially, in them as people or friends; I was interested in getting them baptized or reactivated. Obviously, these “friendships” didn’t last. I lost touch with them, often within months, once it became clear they were not interested in the church. I have been on the receiving end of such “friendships,” and I can honestly state there is no friendship more painful than one that is revealed to be a lie. I wish I could find you, Andy, Bob, Candy, Mark, and Thor. I wish I could apologize and tell you that no-one deserves to be treated with such disrespect. I’m really sorry.
And my deepest and most shameful confession . . . I confess . . . that after my closest friend, an atheist, died, there was a brief period wherein I seriously considered putting her name on the temple lists and having her baptized postmortem. I knew it was against her wishes, I knew she would not approve . . . but I actually considered it.
I didn’t, which is a saving grace, but it still shames me that the idea even occurred to me.
I am by no means a perfect person now that I’ve left the church. I still struggle with treating people with the dignity and respect I believe all people deserve. It’s much harder to live up to ideals of kindness, respect, and forgiveness in reality than it is to hold them in the abstract. I still sometimes fall short of what I consider to be a decent, kind, patient human being.
But I also know that leaving the church has made me a more compassionate, forgiving person in many respects. These days, I listen to my conscious rather than rote lessons, and decide based on other’s peoples actions, not words, whether or not they are positive, healthy influences in the lives of myself and my loved ones. These days, instead of judging someone based on their relationship (or lack thereof) to the church, I try instead to see where they are coming from. I “walk a mile in their shoes,” I try to imagine what kind of person I would be if I had lived their life and experienced what they experienced.