As a person comes to terms with their sexual orientation or their gender identity it is almost impossible not to come up against the three headed monster of culture, religion, and family.
As a teenager, it was not religion that I feared. My family was not very religious and I had no strong beliefs in religion. But after reading a book on sex when I was fourteen that described homosexuality as a sick and deviant lifestyle, I feared I would live a life of poverty, outcast by my family and by society.
As I now listen to men in support group meetings to men who are attracted to men but are married to or in a relationship with a woman, religion comes up over and over again.
The language of religion eludes me. How does a man “trust the Holy Spirit to guide” them? What does that even mean? Every man who has ever tried knows that you can not pray away the gay.
As a man who tried to change through years of therapy and then through a “philosophy” that turned out to be a cult, I know all too well what it means to have the words of the group in your head to explain to yourself your attraction to men.
When I listen to men at support group meetings that have had years of religion indoctrination, I think, that just like in a cult, they have a lot of unlearning to do. The words of the group become hard coded in your mind and you speak to yourself using the language of the group.
I struggle to provide feedback to men who have used religion for years to hide who they truly are. I can only translate their experience into my therapy and cult experience, but the language I use does not always resonate with them.
There is a man who recently came to a support group meeting who works as an ordained minister in a very conservative Christian religion. He is out to his wife about his attraction to men but is hidden about his ongoing relationship with another man. His religious organization that would throw him out in a second if his homosexuality was known.
I fear that this man is on a path of self-destruction. He described going on a drinking binge last year because of his despair about his attraction to men. He said that he is no longer drinking and is looking for a pathway through his issues, but when he described walking hand and hand with the man he is dating a few miles from his house, it sounded to me like he is looking to be caught.
No man carries the burden of the closet alone. We are in the closet because in some way we fear the retribution of religion, culture or family. Of the three I think religion can be the hardest and most complex to change and challenge. But at its core, it is beliefs, hard coded into our brain, and repeated like a mantra, that can keep us locked inside ourselves, afraid to move forward and become who we truly are.