by David R. Farnsworth, MA, LPC, NCC
I have met with many individuals who struggle with the concept of “Spirituality” because it has become too infused and interwoven with the word “Religion.” For some LGBT individuals, religion has been a source of intense trauma and pain. To be able to process this pain, oftentimes, they remove themselves from religious communities, or are forced out by the dogma and those who seek to enforce it.
It is quite an internal conflict to try and conceptualize, “because of who I am naturally attracted to, I am a sinner.” To most LGBT individuals, this natural attraction started during the normal developmental ages of about six or seven, and then gets a bit buried until puberty. For heterosexual children, it is pretty easy to put it on the back burner because what they feel matches society in every single way, especially matching their given religion.
Now, I say this again, “It is quite an internal conflict” for a SIX- or SEVEN-year-old “to try and conceptualize: ‘because of who I am naturally attracted to, I am a sinner.’” Next time you see a picture of yourself at six-years-old, have some compassion for yourself that on some level, you were given the extra (oftentimes hidden) conflict of having to internalize that. How? What did we have to do to internalize that? It does a number on a kid…that is for sure.
Then the tricky argument by some religious heterosexuals is that they are choosing how they feel. How would they know? Are they choosing their heterosexual attraction? It is one of those profound human experiences that is universal…we all know what sexual attraction feels like, whatever gender.
Oftentimes the LGBT child grows up wanting to make parents, teachers, priests/pastors and peers happy and God as an extension, of course. At times they embrace the religion, and then oscillate to their natural attraction, then back and forth. It is not uncommon to see the pendulum swing back and forth between religious zealot and “backslidden” rebel. It is just the pattern of working out this conflict.
At a certain point, many LGBT individuals walk away or get shunned, not all, but many. And often with that comes the denial of acknowledging the spiritual nature of their humanity. Spirituality does not equal religion. Although there are those who make religion a large part of their spirituality, and that is them. But the LGBT individual who has been religiously traumatized MUST recognize and respect their spiritual needs or else the void sets in.
To those LGBT individuals out there who have been hurt by religion, I am not here to say that you MUST find an accepting church and go there for you to heal and start to nurture your spiritual life; however, I do encourage you to look broader. Ask yourself, “What do I think of MY spirituality?”
What INSPIRES you? A long walk in a park early on a Saturday morning in the late summer; Reading a book to your child; Having coffee with a friend; Something that connects you to anything bigger than yourself – these are our spiritual needs and they demand to be nurtured in life for us to tap into true happiness and fulfillment. Religious trauma healing can be had for LGBT individuals, don’t give up!
Ps, here’s what the leader of the Catholic Church recently had to say on the subject: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/07/29/pope-francis-gays_n_3669635.html