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← Coming Out Is Fun

Cartomancer's Avatar Jump to comment 15 by Cartomancer

I never had to "come out" as an atheist. I don't actually know any religious people - atheist is as default a position in my circles as heterosexual is in the world at large. More so, in fact. So I can't really contribute anything there. Indeed, I generally assume everyone I meet is an atheist, and the fact I almost never meet anyone new has so far meant that I have never needed to revise this heuristic.

On the other hand I did come out as gay when I was 22, and have a fair bit to say on that score. But I am wary of derailing the thread by hijacking it for the gays, so I shall stick to articulating my experiences with an eye to how and whether they apply in the context of coming out as an atheist. I am genuinely interested to see how far the comparison can be drawn.

First of all, I like to point out that the first stage of coming out isn't telling other people, it's admitting it to yourself. I found the hardest part coming to terms with my sexuality in my own head. Once I had that tacked down I told all my friends the day after. Sure, I had sexual feelings, but I found them so difficult to reconcile with my personality and self-image that I locked them away and ignored them for six years, avoiding anything sexuality-related like the plague. Is this something certain atheists go through? Are there people who just can't accept that they don't believe in the religion, and seek to distance themselves from anything religious or overtly non-reliigous at all?

Secondly, I note that "coming out" is not just one discrete event. It has to be done afresh with every new person you encounter, and there has to be a decision as to whether, when and how you tell them. Well, every new person you encounter outside a context where the default assumption is that you belong - like a gay bar for sexuality, or the RD.net comment threads for atheism.

Finally, and most interesting to me personally, I wonder whether some people have found coming out as an atheist to have brought with it problems, anxieties and self-image issues that simply were not a concern when they were still "closeted". By this I don't mean simply the adverse reactions of other people, I mean inner, psychological turmoil. When I came out as gay I stopped being insulated from the sexless, uncomplicated world I had got used to, and started having to think about the whole complex, difficult, frustrating and angst-ridden world of sex and relationships. I had to admit the love I felt for my best friend, which has made the last ten years of my life rather strained and miserable. I had to cope with the feelings of inadequacy that come from being unable to secure a relationship or sex or any of that, while my friends and peers got on with it effortlessly. I had to wrestle with how to incorporate and reconcile my sexuality with the rest of my personality. I felt the urge to do things to express that part of me, to share it with friends who were in the same boat, and then I began to feel the frustration that came from having first very few and then no avenues at all through which to do so. It's kind of like having read a book that you absolutely must tell someone about, but having nobody to tell who is in the least bit interested in that kind of book. Have any atheists who have had to "come out" felt anything like this? Any yearning to express and validate and share their atheism that has been stifled and muffled by a lack of outlets and a lack of close atheist friends to share it with?

So I can't really say I've ever had any kind of fun or relief or enjoyment from having come out. If anything it just made the world more complicated.

Sun, 25 Sep 2011 16:22:19 UTC | #875028