How A Lesbian Goth Kid Found Spirituality in the South
I was raised in the south, so from a young age I found myself in a church. I wasn’t like the rest of the kids I knew. My parents didn’t put much stock in going to the three time a week church services, that most of my friends and family did. We were in and out whenever my mom got the sudden urge to seek out council, but we always fell back out of the routine.
Most of what I know of the Christian religion comes from a picture book and a Q&A book that had ended up in my bookshelf at some point.
When I was little, my mom would sit and read bible stories to me from the picture book. She told me that going to church wasn’t necessary, having personal faith was. She went from the example set by her father, my Grandpa. He’d read the bible cover to cover and considered it a book he’d read and moved on. The only times I remember ever seeing him in a church was for weddings, funerals, and baptisms. I think back kindly on that picture book though, because my knowledge of those stories is not much different than the Greek or Roman fables I read as well. I came to the conclusion that I could take the stories, learn what the moral of it was, and take the lesson into my life. I consider myself grateful for not being raised in an oppressive church, as it has left me with a kind feeling to what the Christian religion is supposed to be. It was always full of love and forgiveness in the way I was taught it. I’m aware that this is not the relationship that most people have with this belief system, but when viewed from this angle, the angle of what it’s supposed to teach, it helps me remember that there are lots of Christians who do believe in love and forgiveness.
When I was a child, I had a cousin that I wasn’t allowed to see much, because my mom and hers didn’t get along. When we were young we were inseparable, and when my family moved us into the same school district when I was 12, we had the opportunity to spend as much time together as we wished. Her parents followed the three times a week church schedule common for the culture of that area. They went to a “Church of Christ” which is not as strong as the classic “Southern Baptist” but still preached female subservience and ultimate guilt that is so common in larger churches. Yes, you could be forgiven, but only because you were terrible enough to need it.
Around this time, a few major things in my life happened. The first of which was that my mom got really sick. She had a fever of 104 for a week straight and ended up in the hospital hallucinating and burning through her short term memory. She was discharged from the hospital, but the mother I knew never came back. Instead, a woman who felt useless and alone came home to drown herself in whatever substance she could find. The second was that we found out I needed major spinal surgery to correct the curvature of my spine. It had gone completely unnoticed by my parental units who were too deep into trying to “fix” my mom. My grandma was the one who noticed it. The third of which was, of course, teenage hormones and the terrifying realization that I looked at girls the same way my friends were looking at boys.This became the perfect cocktail, when mixed with the church for shame and self hatred, to lead me to the darkest times in my life.
I didn’t go to my cousin’s church because I wanted to. I went because I wanted to be around her. She was my best friend. And if I wanted to spend the night with her Saturday, I knew I’d be in the church Sunday. And as much as I wanted to tune out what they were saying, to think instead of my religion as that picture book, it all couldn’t help but soak in. Its hard not to, when you’re being screamed at by a man that everyone seems to respect, that you are terrible. Not long after that, I came to the conclusion that I didn’t believe in organized religion. Even as a young teenager, I could see that it was the collection of judgment that was the problem. I knew there was a higher power. I knew what I’d been taught and it wasn’t what I was sitting in that church and learning.
Back at home, I had a computer with complete internet access locked in my bedroom with me. My home life at that time was spent strictly between three places: my bedroom on my computer, my brother’s room watching reruns of The Simpsons, or down the street with my grandparents. My relationship with my parents was nonexistent, unless I’d done something wrong enough to catch their attention. That would lead to a 30 minute conversation and dismissal back to one of the three mentioned locations. Then, there was a day, that I was on my computer, surfing around the internet and a brand new thing came to my attention. I don’t remember how I got there or what sprung to mind that idea, but suddenly, I was inundated with information on Wicca. It was a moment I’ll never forget because it was like a door opened. It all made so much sense, but I didn’t begin to know what to do with the information.
You have to remember, at this point, that this was the Right Wing Conservative Evangelical South that I lived in. It wasn’t like I could just go and find a witch to ask questions to. I didn’t even so much as mention it to my brother or grandma, who were the two family members I could tell anything to. At this point, I was already the obvious black sheep of the family. My classification at the time was bisexual, my clothes were all black (a frequent source of argument with my parents), I listened to the Sex Pistols, I’d already gone through withdrawals from morphine from my back surgery, and was a closet cutter. Lets add witch to the mix, just to make things more interesting. I shut down the feelings I had on the subject and ignored it. I had enough on my plate just fighting to be who I was, without taking this information into reality as well. I was treated as the burden by simply existing, and all of the reasons I knew I was the black sheep were completely hidden from my family. I felt the weight of it on my shoulders every day. I just wasn’t in the position to take any more on.I know that sometime over the next couple years, it came back. I remember the pull was strong, and I’d catch myself hiding to look up Pagan practices in the same way I’d hide everything else. Hid the pictures of girls in my nightstand and cuts on my legs under my jeans.
I hid it all.
I had three friends. Three friends that I finally brought the conversation around to. They knew I didn’t subscribe to organized religion. The four of us began using the school computers to look up information. We’d pass stapled pamphlets with information about the elements or silly spells from the internet to each other between classes. We each had pentacles that we started to wear, just enough to catch the attention of our classmates. They assumed we were Satanists, because they were ignorant. Around that same time one of the three of my friends involved in our little “Coven” came out as gay. This was not an issue for us, but forced us all into the limelight, because there just weren’t other out gay people. So not only were we the “Satanists” but we were also the gay Satanists who wore spikes and black and drew way too much attention to ourselves. I came out to my friends after that summer. Partially because my friend had been brave enough to set the example, to show me that, at least, our friends would accept me. I came out as bi and still dated boys, because it was easier and less suspect. Sometime, over the craziness that was high school, the faith between us became not the most important thing. I didn’t know how to go about learning anything new, and we were all to scared to do anything if we didn’t know what we were messing with.
Life went crazy. Hormones became a thing, religious oppression told us we were all wrong, and my parents found out about my cutting. In the same conversation, I managed to tell them I liked girls, didn’t believe in God, and my mother managed to take it all personally. I held these secrets for years to avoid that particular conversation and my mom found a way to make it about her. They tore apart the files on my computer. Made me listen to them, read all my bad teenage angst-y poetry aloud, and decided it was, somehow not only all about my mother, but also that I was apparently fucking crazy. They tried to have me institutionalized and drugged me up. They talked me into dropping out of school. They took me away from my friends and stripped my computer of its Ethernet cord. They took the stacks of CDs that I’d acquired and then I got sick. I got Mono, which led to this whole thing ending with me, alone and as crazy as everyone seemed to think I was, for six weeks.
Then, somehow, life moved on. I got my GED. I started working for the big corporate home office that was stationed in my town. I bought my own Ipod and had my music back. Music was my religion at that point. I moved out the first opportunity I had. I was 18 and made a big scene of moving out to live with the girl I’d been dating on and off in secret for the past 3 years.
My religion didn’t become something I thought about. I was fascinated by religions, in general. I learned what I could from anyone I could. What their thoughts on things were, while claiming I was a strong agnostic. I still believed that there was something more powerful out there. Something I knew was there, but didn’t quite understand. Something that connected us all. Just wanted love and peace for us. Over the years, life happened. The next experience I had that I remember with a religion that pushed me further from wanting to claim one was a boy. Because, of course it was. He wasn’t the type of guy I’d have ended up marrying. We didn’t date more than 6 months, and had a way of breaking up with each other every other week. But, the main problem was that he was Jewish. He didn’t practice the faith, but it was how he was raised. He came from a strongly religious family of his own. His father had even gone so far as to make them live in Israel for a few years. His father is also that one that convinced him it was okay to cheat on me, as long as the girl was Jewish, because I wasn’t. It wasn’t a relationship that would have gone well even if that hadn’t happened, but I was 20 and young. The impression I was left with was that I was judged for assumed lack of faith. It wasn’t just Christians that would do it. Any faith left to the right minds could cause it. I pulled further away from claiming any religion. I just focused on that ethereal being that I thought of and kept my mind open when other’s told me about their faiths.
Then, over the course of the next few years, life happened again. I moved apartments. I lost friends that I thought I’d have a lifetime, and I made new friends. I focused on my love life, because I’m nothing if not a hopeless romantic, and found little to no luck there. I traipsed from one unhealthy relationship to the next until I was ready to completely shut the door on the entire concept of falling in love. I knew what I didn’t want. I had no idea what I did. I’d gone through a year with the two worst relationships of my life. One was an 8 month affair with a military sergeant who had just been discharged with completely untreated PTSD. He felt it necessary to remind me almost weekly that someone in his position could be forgiven for, at least, one post discharge murder. The other was a girl I’d had a crush on since high school. I caught her sending naked pictures of herself to inmates.
So I was single. I was single for a good 6 months before I decided to try my hand at the dating game again. Internet dating had always been my go-to. Though, it is where I met the aforementioned sergeant, so I’m not sure why I thought it was a good idea. I didn’t put too much stock into it, though. I figured, I’d post my profile. I’d mark it just for women to see. If I got anything, then so be it. The third date I went on was with this crazy little lesbian that I ended up meeting at a Hookah Lounge. I loved her before the night was over. I include this, because its one of the most spiritual experiences of my life. It was that moment that I knew that past lives were a thing, because I knew that she was exactly who I’d been waiting on. I knew her even though I didn’t. I’m a person who doesn’t let anyone in easily, for just cause, and she walked right in. Didn’t even stop to look at my shields when she walked through them. She had two room mates at the time that were students in the Native American religious practices. I was fascinated with it. It was the closest thing to the my private pagan lessons that I’d heard and I wanted to know everything they did. Over the course of the next year, I’d learn that even their religion could be oppressive. They were segregated because they were white. They were under the thumb of a teacher who thought it was appropriate to make them leave work to come do her dishes. Their faith was being used against them. Just like the Christian preacher who would scream at us, just like the ignorant kids who looked at my friends and I as “Satanists”, just like the Jewish dad who couldn’t imagine a non-Jewish girl being worthy of his son’s love. It was another step away from religion for me. It was beautiful and I believed the things they could do. But I didn’t need yet another group of people judging me.
In the course of this year, I got to know another woman. A woman who, for all intents and purposes, looked like the furthest thing from the people I associated myself with. I worked with her and she latched onto me. I didn’t know why, and as we all know, I don’t let people in. She wanted to be my friend and I couldn’t begin to understand why. But, we were co-workers and peers. I’d been in my position for several years and she was brand new to it. Bright eyed and bushy tailed and exactly where she wanted to be. I ended up taking her under my wing, because it was my job. I was the senior trainer and our brand new manager had been a peer of mine before he was promoted. He knew what I was capable of, I had no other choice. So she was always there. The facade of her was the stereotype of the area. Live in boyfriend, long term relationship, straight, preppy, and everything I’d avoided with a vengeance my whole life. I’d spent a lot of years building myself as the rebel. The girl that didn’t care what you thought, and wore it on my sleeve. Yeah, I was gay. Yeah, I wore torn and spiked clothing with way too much black makeup. Yeah, I didn’t believe in your god and was proud to admit. I was the badass goth bitch stuck with this preppy chick, who should have wanted nothing to do with me. Yet, there she was. Always. She learned what I taught her, and came to me for council. She trusted what I told her. She let me snap at her and be a complete sarcastic bitch, even though at the time she didn’t understand sarcasm. She followed me to smoke on my breaks. She followed me into the bathroom at work, just to be an ass because I couldn’t pee if someone else was in there. She started to open up. I realized that she was completely different than the person she presented herself to be. The more she told me about her life, the more I realized that I’d been completely wrong about who she was and what she stood for.
I’d made the same assumptions about her based on her appearance, as I all too often got upset about people doing to me. She’d lived a life full of trails that put mine to shame and she came across as happier, kinder, and more well adjusted that I had any hope of. She’d been raised a Pagan. She had no shame in explaining that to me. She told me the things she saw and felt. And I never questioned that she did. I went from trying to brush her off to being fascinated with her. I went home to my new girlfriend, and proclaimed that I thought she was my best friend. I didn’t even realize when it had happened. The next few years were life. My girlfriend and I fell more in love. We moved in together. My work friend became a better friend every day. We ended up marrying in her backyard. We had a completely agnostic ceremony led by my atheist brother. We forwent the bible, and instead he held a copy of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” for the ceremony. We promised ourselves to each other in the way we believed. We assured each other we would be together and promised that no matter what, we’d find a way to make it work, in this life or any other. That Harry Potter book thing would become a huge source of discontent in my family and that surprised the hell out of me. I’d long come to accept that the life I was going to live wouldn’t be the one they expected of me, anyway. I hadn’t imagined that small thing would be seen as sacrilegious. They’d looked past the fact that I was marrying a woman and had a ceremony performed by an atheist to hone in on the silliest joke part of it all. I stepped again further from claiming any of it.
Then, at some point, one of my aunts started posting a bunch of stuff on her Facebook about the Law of Attraction. I remember rolling my eyes at it, just like any other thing I saw in the same vein. But, then managed to run across the documentary “The Secret.” It was a pretty basic thought process. What you focus on in your life is what you get more of. It was logical. If you focused on the bad, you got more of it. If you focused on the good, you got more of it. It could all just be a matter of perception, but if it was something that could make me happier, I’d take it. I asked my aunt about it and she happened to have been trained as a life coach in the theory. She gave me lessons over the phone for a few weeks to teach me what she knew and recommended a few books for me. I tried to share this information with my wife, and while she was interested and polite, she wasn’t at a point to really believe it. Our relationship had always been based on a mutual respect for each other’s beliefs, so I didn’t push it on her. I did use it to quit my fancy corporate job and manifest the ability to go to school to get my esthetics license.
The next October, my wife decided she wanted to celebrate Dia De Los Meurtos. We invited my work friend, because we figured it would be something she’d be into. We set up our offerings to our people and sat to have dinner. Having my friend there was crucial to the process because she could see the people coming in. I wasn’t sure if I believed her completely. I’d lost both of my grandparents, my real parent figures, and she’d said my grandma was there. I was quizzing her on things trying to figure out if she was really seeing what she said she was. I didn’t know if I believed her in the end or not, but I knew something had happened that I couldn’t quite understand. My wife’s sister ended up sending her a book on the Law of Attraction at some point that year. That was the push she needed to believe it could be true. Then we decided to test it out to the max. My brother and his family recently decided they were moving to Colorado. My niece and nephew were the most important things in my life, next to my wife. I knew I couldn’t be without them, but we were also in no situation to move. My job of managing a day spa was barely paying our rent. We only had food through our liberal use of the overdraft policy at my bank. But, we decided we were going to Colorado. We didn’t know how, but we were doing it. We set a date. Once we’d set our intention, we manifested it to ourselves. Over the next several months, every obstacle got out of the way and we got here. I was believing in something, believing that I could make things happen for myself. I manifested my current job into my life and I was convinced. Not only was it exactly what I was looking for, but I was exactly what they were looking for too. I’d have never found it in Arkansas. It couldn’t exist there. But, somehow, here was my perfect job, waiting for me in Colorado.
Then, we met a wonderful woman and over the course of time, found out she was Pagan. My wife brought the idea of asking her to teach us to me. It made sense. It seemed like the logical pathway from what we’d learned we could do. We were both hippies when it came to the environment and wanting to be in and a part of it. We’d always spent large chunks of our time out in nature. My wife didn’t know about my past experience with Paganism. The gay Satanist kid that thought her and her friends were a coven. She had no idea when she brought the idea up to me. That’s how I knew it was what we were supposed to do. It was the right feeling that I hadn’t had since I was a teenager hidden in a dark bedroom reading about the elements. It was where I was supposed to be. I didn’t know what I was looking for, but there it was. The lack of judgment. The ability to see the world for what it is. The explanation of the higher power I felt and the complete openness to see it for what I saw it as. It was what I was searching for. Now, I look forward to finding what I’m searching for next.
I look forward to the knowledge I can gain, the sense I can make of the world around me. I’m searching for the strength in nature to be the person I’ve spent my life fighting to be, and the strength to know I can be her. I’m searching for me, and what the point and lessons I’m meant to learn in my life are, and I’m searching for my place in it all.