Guest Poster Ian Miller: The Church Can Be the Darkest Closet. On Religious Trauma and Coming Out
I'm Ian Miller- an aspiring author and digital artist by trade, and a part-time psychology student on track for my Doctorate in Counseling Psychology. As a trans person my niche lies in LGBTQIA+ issues, trauma recovery and specifically narcissistic abuse support. My writing reflects my experiences and the lessons I've learned about myself in navigating the difficult world these situations can bring. I’m always more than happy to provide a support for those who feel alone in their circumstance and to help them heal.
I've lived all over but have settled in Maryland for the past three years. I live with my wonderful partner, brother-in-law and our two cats. In my free time I love hiking, photography, travel, film and music as well. Feel free to reach out to me on any of my socials if you'd like to know more about me, or want to discuss anything further!
Instagram & Twitter: @eancoffeebean | Facebook: Ian Miller
Trigger Warning: This post discusses religious trauma and can be triggering for some. It is alright if you need to step away while reading it or need to wait to read it at another time.
NOTE: This writing is the experience of the author and is not meant to be a blanket statement about all religious communities.
I was raised in the Southern Baptist church, in predominantly white, Christian communities in the south. Naturally, the discovery and development of a queer, trans identity didn’t exactly fly. I had tampered with sexuality being fluid around age thirteen, and long story short, I was outed. Rather than confronting the emotional turmoil I’d been subjected to in figuring out who I was, my parents’ solution was the church. Regular attendance, youth group, and you could probably guess: homeschooling. One could hardly call it ‘schooling’, as instead I was teaching myself from heavily biased, nonsecular, Christian-based textbooks. Rather than learning anything worthwhile, I plummeted into a deep depression. I recall many days where I wouldn’t leave the bunk bed I’d adopted after my brother moved out for college. I wouldn’t eat, and I could barely sleep at night- feeling monitored and unsafe, like a prisoner in my own home. This was only the tip of the iceberg in my conscious removal from faith and the church entirely.
Throughout my life, religion actually didn’t make sense to me. Mind you, I was taken to church every week, and my family was heavily involved in volunteer events and the community as a whole. But whatever God was being prayed to, heard, or spoken about- I could never get. Instead I found myself as a naïve child indoctrinated from the beginning. When questioned by my pastors and fellow church goers about my relationship with this God, I never really had an answer. While I could provide a forged response in the moment, I began to settle for the boundary of “I don’t like to talk about my faith”. This was deemed acceptable, as faith can and is a private matter for plenty of folk. While there are those comfortable expressing it as openly as any other part of their identity, I was not one of them. The few times I ever gambled with God was to have him take my queer identity from me- a vivid memory of me knelt by my window in our Tennessee home, begging to not be this way. I knew how adamant my mother was, what I could be at risk for: homelessness, abuse, having no one. We lived in a small town, I had nowhere to go. My family was all I had, and at the time I couldn't imagine a greater loss. After I was outed as bisexual and essentially put on house arrest, I did what any rational, scared teen would do when their survival mode is activated: I shoved it down, and put it away.
Anyone knows of course, that repression only serves as a ticking time bomb. Rather than feeling better in my newfound ‘Christian, straight, cisgender’ girl identity, I saw myself as a fraud. This façade, a perfected mask put up for the sake of keeping my family's’ suspicions at bay, was slowly beginning to crack. I met someone in my Anglican youth group of all places, someone who understood me, who was just like me, kind of. She was a transwoman, but the mutual understanding and immense relief in finding community was there. We remained in the closet together, only daring to come out on the swing sets in the churchyard once the group would disband for the evening. We talked of our futures, what kind of life we wanted for ourselves, the fear in what our families would think, and how much we believed we had to lose. As friends do, we drifted apart when I moved states- but knowing she was okay gave me the hope that I would be too. Though that time wouldn’t come for several more years, I knew it would pay off somehow.
Growing up and developing my sense of self, my values and the things I deemed important in life came without the church. I already don’t believe in the inherent sense of good and evil, and therefore refused the idea perpetuated in my specific churches, stating that humankind were “born in a state of sin”. I already dealt with feelings of self-hatred and shame, for reasons even beyond just my sexuality and gender identity, so what was the point in a God telling me I was horrible too? By the time I graduated high school, I was identifying as agnostic, unsure of what to believe, and knowing what I didn’t. When I got to college, church was the farthest thing from mind, despite my mother nagging me to find one, or even a church-related group to join. My ultimate goal in finally being away from home was simple: to be myself. With that came unraveling the guilt of not going to church, being able to sleep in on a Sunday and do what I wanted on my own terms. I would brush off the questions of church with the excuses of classwork, which wasn’t entirely a lie, as I would frequently pull late nights to complete assignments and whatnot. Learning to lie wasn’t something unfamiliar, as I’d already done so plenty when living at home. With the freedom I had now as an adult, I found that while the lies became fewer and far between, they still remained for my safety. I didn’t feel right about it, but hindsight being twenty-twenty, I know now it was for the better. Understand that you don’t have to go along with something just because that’s how you were raised, or it’s what your family believes is best for you. Anything worthwhile in life isn’t going to be something that serves to tear you down and put you in line.