3 min

Making up God as I go along

'Anger is not a religion, but it can play one on TV'

Credit: Xtra files

“I can’t go to church anymore,” I said. I was 14 and anti-everything. “I don’t agree with what they say in church.”

Mum was not surprised, but was devastated. “Since when? Even on Christmas? Don’t tell your grandmother. So you don’t believe in God? Where do you think you came from? Just sit there for Pete’s sake, it’s only an hour a week. You spend more time in the bathroom fighting with your hair. You’re being selfish. You’ll be preyed on by cults and, finally, what are you going to replace it with? You’re going to have a problem with every religion anyway, so why not just stick with this one?”

My mother used to photocopy articles for me from the Catholic Church. Loving the sinner and hating the sin stuff. Being attracted to someone who looks like you is like having the urge to commit murder. It happens! We’ve all got impure thoughts in varying degrees; it’s fine, as long as you don’t actually act on them.

I would bring this stack of papers back to her when my highlighter ran dry. I would challenge her to defend doctrine established by a million men she’d never even met. Instead of reminding me of what a ridiculous feat that would be, she tried to do it. She tried to speak for her religion as a whole the way some of us speak for all queer people, as if our strength as a group depended on our uniformity. She insisted that she loved me even as she wanted me to be someone else. I didn’t care if she loved my “sinner.” I wanted her to love my “sin,” too.

I’ve since recognized that loving a Catholic mother is kind of a parallel challenge in acceptance. I am still learning to love the sinner – my mother – while feeling incapable of loving the sin – her support of the conventional Catholic church.

For mum, life without organized religion was unfathomable. She was sure there would be a hole in my soul where Catholicism used to be. I didn’t imagine a hole, because I thought I’d abandoned Catholicism to be a queer, feminist artist.

In lots of ways the leap was small. I found new bibles; Jeanette Winterson’s Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit, Keith Haring’s journals. I found a new pastor, Ani DiFranco. There were queer churches like Buddies In Bad Times Theatre and Glendon’s School Of Women’s Studies. There were new crosses: haircuts, rainbows and bike bumper stickers. There were new holidays like Pride and International Women’s Day on which I could renew my commitment to being… well, myself.

It is in my queer nature to be defiant. There is an attitude which governs my life the way a religion would that emerged with my sexuality and my understanding of my relative place in the world. It involves trying to help empower people who always lose. It involves mistrust and a constant struggle for independence. It involves a lot of anger, too.

Being angry is not a religion, but it can play one on TV. When you are as passionate about resisting oppression as other people are about enforcing it, it feels religion-like.

But I’ve left out, for the most part, the community aspect. When I sit at home and write, draw or sing with myself about what I believe, it’s definitely not a religion. It’s me not trusting other people. It’s me fearing I will be corrupted by other people’s opinions because I am not secure enough in my own.

I am haunted by memories of participating in antiabortion rallies as a child. I am plagued with the anger of being told what to believe about myself and about other people.

So I’ve been anti-God for the past 10 years. The word spirituality used to make me gag. It conjured up pictures of women with plug-in waterfalls doing yoga and wearing purple. I equated being religious with being weak. I translated believing in a higher power into ditching a healthy belief in people power.

Everything is relative. I needed years of self-governing in order to question whether or not it’s working for me. Does anyone who was raised to believe in a god, whose faith has always been intact and unthreatened, ever have faith at all? Without the experience of being without something how can you know what it’s really good for?

Suddenly I am experiencing the need for spiritual guidance. I want someone to help me know what to do, and that is out of character for me. I am finding myself drawn to people who have a higher power in their lives. I want the peace and the consistency that they enjoy. I want to stop asking, “What would a queer woman artist do?” Maybe I have only just realized that this is like asking, “What would I do?” Not so useful a question when you’re feeling lost or small. Or when you’re in the middle of a streak of bad decisions. I am not a good god for myself. At least, not right now.