This TED Talk struck a chord with me. If you’ve been following this blog for a while, I’m sure it’ll come as no surprise that my “closet” was not believing in the Unification Church.
Years ago, I’d spoken to my parents about how I didn’t really believe in the church. Although, I was vague about it and didn’t go into details about what I did and didn’t believe, it still felt good to get it partially off my chest. But because I wasn’t direct, my parents held out hope that I’d change my mind – exactly like she says in the TED talk. For a while, they kept trying to match me with church guys, urging me to “just give them a chance”. At one point I snapped at them and said in no uncertain terms to “back off!”
I thought that was the end of it. It’s been 3 years since I snapped at them and I thought they’d come to terms with my lack of religious beliefs. But just a few days ago, my mom emailed me, asking if I was interested in being matched. I guess they thought I was just going through a phase after a few bad matchings and needed time to heal.
I’m in the middle of writing a long email to my mom, explaining exactly what led to me leaving the church. I’m learning to be direct and I hope this will be a big step in helping them believe that it’s not just a phase. Wish me luck.
I’ve mentioned before that I’m getting much better about talking to my friends about my upbringing, but I wonder if it’s even possible for my non-church friends to understand how difficult it was to admit to myself that I didn’t believe in the church and how difficult it is for me to be honest with my parents about it. If you haven’t had a strongly religious upbringing, it might seem like no big deal.
“Mom, Dad – There’s something you should know about me… I don’t believe in God.
“That’s nice dear. Now finish your broccoli.”
They’ll never understand how it feels to honestly believe that if you’re wrong about the church and leave anyway, that you’d be failing not only your parents and God, but the entire world plus all of your ancestors and descendants*. It’s like Catholic guilt times ten. They’ll never understand how it feels when your parents and the parents of a guy you’ve never met have such high hopes and expectations that you’ll marry him that you can hardly bare to disappoint them.
At the same time, I’ll never really know what it feels like to experience the challenges that other people have gone through. I’ll never really know how hard it can be to be gay. I’ll never really understand what it’s like to be black or another minority. From the outside looking in, it’s easy to downplay what other people are going through, thinking that if I was in the same position, it’d be easy to deal with. Thinking things like ‘People aren’t racist. It’s all in your head’.
Even if we can never completely understand each other, in the end, I’m not sure it matters that much, as long as we’re sympathetic and don’t dismiss each other’s feelings. It does me no good to write off other people’s struggles because I might think they’re not as hard as mine. It does me no good to feel guilty or weak that leaving the church was so hard for me when other people have survived things that are much, much worse. It doesn’t change the fact that it’s one of the hardest things I’ve gone through. But I can say this – it feels so much better to be able to share with my friends and with my parents about how I really feel than continuing to live in that closet.
*I realize this sounds like an exaggeration. I keep trying to sum it up in a couple of sentences, but can’t seem to. ↩