I grew up religious. Not the “we sometimes go to church, but never talk about God” way, but the church at least twice a week, personal relationship with Jesus, hellfire and purity culture kind of way. From the time I was fifteen, I knew that I didn’t feel what other people were feeling in church. When I could get past my fear of hell, I knew I didn’t believe in it the way they did.
So I did what most scared, powerless kids in Christian families do– I lied. I lied to avoid losing love and safety, to avoid judgment, and to retain some of the freedom I knew would vanish once I told the truth. I went through the motions with my eye on the prize: college. I believed college would be where I could do, think, and be whoever I wanted.
So I did what most scared, powerless kids in Christian families do– I lied.
Through college and the years after graduation, I slowly started peeling back layers of intersecting traumas in my life: attachment trauma, religious trauma, and the traumas of living under cishet patriarchy. I processed my sexuality, touched some of my most wounded places, and began to understand the deeply rooted fog religious trauma had cast over my life, leaving no part of myself untouched.
My trauma manifested everywhere: it was in my fear of being too much, in my fear that, at my core, I am bad and terrible and deserving of every bad thing, it was in my denial of my sexuality for over a decade, and it was in my latching onto any love that came my way as the thing that would finally make me worthy and lovable. My religious trauma pushed me to run away from myself in search of something I’d never find until I finally stood still, dismantled the life I knew, and looked inward.
I processed my sexuality, touched some of my most wounded places, and began to understand the deeply rooted fog religious trauma had cast over my life, leaving no part of myself untouched.*
This summer, I finally came out to my parents as queer and experienced the rejection I had always been afraid of. It was a tipping point that had been a long time coming. My worst fear of abandonment was realized. Thankfully, it came at a time where I can survive without my parents. Their rejection was a natural extension of their fundamentalist beliefs and their desire to cling to the safety of those beliefs over having a relationship with me.
I was devastated by my family’s rejection and deeply craved a safe space for care, healing, and the empowerment of my queerness. I needed to negate the narrative that queerness was bad, that I was a problem, and that I had done something to be ashamed of in choosing to live as my fullest self and share that self with my family.
This summer, I finally came out to my parents as queer and experienced the rejection I had always been afraid of.
For years, ritual has been a source of healing for me. It has represented a space for compassion, for sitting with my fears, for holding my own hand, and for rooting into my power when I’ve forgotten I have any. After coming out to my parents, my ritual practice began shifting by becoming less structured and more fluid. Less prescribed, more creative. Less based on thinking and more based on the body.
A month after I came out to my parents, my partner and I planned a camping trip to the ocean close to where I grew up. My parents weren’t speaking to me, but we decided that they didn’t own that ocean or those stars. That Saturday night, a ritual softly wove itself together. As the sun started to set over the marsh, we drove over the blue-lit Bethany bridge while my partner changed into a collared shirt and tie. Racing the darkness, we pulled up to the spot we scoped earlier: a patch of bay right by the entrance to Burton Island Trail.
We both gasped when we saw how the hot pink and lavender sunset reflected into the glass of the bay. It was quiet and we were alone with this beauty. I slowly stepped out of my clothes, allowing my partner and the magic of this night to witness my full body. We waded into the water, towards the sunset, holding hands. In the water, they put their palm under my back and asked me: “Do you accept the death of your past self and your rebirth, knowing that you will continue to die and be reborn throughout your evolution?”
I said, “I do.”
They dunked me under the water and I choked and sputtered on a mouthful of bay. As I rose, they said, “Rise as your fullest self.”
We watched the sunset and floated around in the water. I felt a little bit lighter and a little more free. So much in life is shit, yet so much in life is magic, but most things are somewhere in between. This moment was everything at once– me, my love, the bay, the sunset, the emerging stars and the birds swooping overhead.
As I float, I think about how I was baptized at age seven in a lake by a Pastor wearing swim trunks and how I couldn’t consent to that experience. When you choose to say yes without the option of saying no, there is no choice.
I think about how this moment is marked by my autonomy and my expansion into Me. I think about how this moment is marked by love of all kinds, especially queer love. I think about how I am taking back my power from my parents, from the religious institution that shamed and traumatized me, and from the pieces of it that still live within me. This baptism was a choice to feed my truest self and what makes me whole– not those fragments.
I think about how I am taking back my power from my parents, from the religious institution that shamed and traumatized me, and from the pieces of it that still live within me.
I think about the ways we honor and claim the things that happen to us; What we choose and what we never would.
I think to myself that I am going to be okay.
About the Author
Eryn Johnson (she/they) is a queer poet, writer and facilitator based in Philadelphia. They write to remember, to heal, to process. Her work explores the impacts of religious trauma and internalized homophobia, telling stories of survival and of becoming. You can find them on Instagram @erynj_.
Follow on IG: @erynj_ |