I was in line at my local mega-chain bookstore last night when I realized the person paying at the register in front of me was a man, wearing a long wig, make-up, long painted fingernails, a number of flashy rings, earrings, and a diamond-ique nose ring. It is not the first time I have run into a person who was cross-dressing, but my immediate reaction was pity. Oh no, the poor guy, so uncomfortable in his skin that he feels the need to walk around in public assuming another identity.
And then it hit me like a ton of bricks. How was I any different?
I stumbled upon, and was drawn to, this particular community because it’s been hard for me to “come out” as an agnostic to my family and to some of my friends. Many hours of my life are spent dressed up as a good Christian by implication and in the absence of evidence to the contrary. I simply have not been able to face them all with the, “I’m sorry, I don’t believe what you believe anymore” line.
What makes it so difficult to truthfully acknowledge a new agnostic view to Christians around you? Obviously there must be a strong fear of judgement that is all-consuming. I’ve read quite a lot about the inconsistencies between the Christly idea of unconditional love and the Christian reality of “If ye love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15 and a beautiful choral anthem by Thomas Tallis). I certainly feel as though my Christian upbringing was far more of the latter than the former; my continuing struggles with perfectionism have been linked back to an upbringing characteristic of conditional love. My fear of being truthful with my family is certainly associated with a fear of being unlovable by them.
That perhaps explains aspects of my difficult relationship with my Christian family. What is less clear is how this translates into new relationships. I still have a tendency to mask my developing inner agnostic behind a vaguely Christian world-view. Part of it is a fear and dismay at losing the ritual in my life, a theme that I have heard echoed by other de-converts. Part of it is the fundamental human difficulties associated with being different and not “fitting in” with everyone around you.
The irony, of course, is that my greatest growing pains in the Christian church (midwestern Evangelic sort) came as I was getting older and realized that I did not fit well into their club. The strident and career-oriented feminist in me ran into the female majority of the Evangelical church–happy housewives and young mothers–and realized that I was playing the childhood game of “one of these things is not like the others.” Fortunately since the scientist in me was also simultaneously questioning the prevailing views in other aspects of the faith, I did not feel the need to try to force myself into their mold. That really would have been serious cross-dressing!
What I need to learn now is how to be proud of myself and my new identity. I don’t know how to “come out” to my family and some friends as an agnostic. I don’t know if the current situation–with me quiet and often fuming at the things said and implied–is better or worse than what would or could happen if I just told them the truth. Fear keeps me from being as bold as the cross-dressing person in the bookstore.