For Aidan Thomas, silence has permeated discussion of his sexualityLuke Ellis-Craven

Content Note: this article contains discussion of homophobia and homophobic slurs

Growing up in a church community, it was something of a surprise for my twelve-year-old self to suspect I might be gay. Of course, this realization didn’t occur overnight – it was the accumulation of many months of wondering why the image of Katy Perry naked on a cloud in the California Gurls music video just wasn’t doing anything for me. This journey of self-discovery was further complicated by the fact that my father, like his father before him, is a Vicar. Unless I experience some kind of Prodigal Son revelation, this trend seems unlikely to continue much further down the family tree.

My dad led a Protestant church in a mild-mannered Surrey village. Contrary to popular depictions of Christianity, sermons on the evils of homosexuality weren’t really a feature of my Sunday mornings. In fact, the only occasion homosexuality was mentioned was when same-sex marriage was being debated, and frankly I don’t remember a word of it because I never particularly paid attention during services. While I’m thankful I didn’t have to listen to anti-gay bile in my formative years, I also didn’t hear anything about what it meant to be gay. This silence was deafening.

“We may not always agree, but I’m blessed to have parents who are willing to listen, as hard as it is for me to speak.”

I didn’t find any answers in secondary school either. Schoolkids, merciless in their pubescent angst, sought out to punish any form of difference. The word faggot was tossed around aimlessly, meaninglessly; even I probably indulged in it from time to time. Ironically though, I spent as much energy hiding my religious background as my sexuality. It wasn’t exactly cool to be Christian in school and those who were religious were easy pickings for teasing. My dad was a visible Christian figure in the community; since I had no intentions of making secondary school any more grueling than it had to be, I did everything in my power to hide this. Friends didn’t come over to my house or meet my parents. I feared being spotted walking into church on Sunday mornings.   

However, the nature of my dad’s job meant that the church was ever-present in my home, even as my own attendance steadily declined. Overwhelmed by the pervasiveness of the religion I rejected, I retreated onto the internet. There I found acceptance and understanding, but also a greater awareness of the violence faced by LGBT+ people worldwide, often instigated by religion. My resentment towards the faith I had once held grew stronger. I spent more time alone in my room, distancing myself from my family and their beliefs. I developed a caricature of Christianity in my head: ignorant, narrow-minded, condemning. A deep-rooted anger formed inside me.  

Fast forward several years, and I am now out at home. My parents are wonderful people, truly loving and generous, which I am deeply grateful for. It would be disrespectful to those in more difficult family situations for me to downplay the love they have shown me since coming out. Rather, what I’ve found that is that ‘coming out’ was not a standalone event, but an ongoing process of negotiation between my parents and I which shapes our everyday interactions. They’ve accepted my relationship, but we steer clear of the word ‘boyfriend.’ I still go quiet when gay characters come appear on TV, watching my parents for any sign of discomfort or disapproval. 

“While I’m thankful I didn’t have to listen to anti-gay bile in my formative years, I also didn’t hear anything about what it meant to be gay. This silence was deafening.”

In the two years since coming out, we’ve had two, maybe three, conversations regarding sexuality. The most recent was prompted article on teaching primary school kids about LGBT+ rights, which my mum and I disagreed on. It didn’t take long for the situation to escalate. Perhaps this is the consequence of years of actively suppressing such a fundamental pillar of my existence; it takes a while to summon the emotional flood, but when it finally strikes, you’re going to need an Ark.  

We fire questions back and forth between each other. There are some questions that ignite such anger in me that I cannot hold them back: How can the church stay silent on the persecution of LGBT+ people worldwide?”. We quickly agree that there is nothing biblical about homophobic violence.

There are other questions, questions that have nagged away at me for years, that my parents could not answer even if I dared to ask them. “Where do you think I’ll go when I die?”, for example. I keep that one to myself.

The discussion is intense, and it’s clear my passion is getting the better of me. Mum gets defensive, and it hits hard: “You really hate Christianity, don’t you?”


Mountain View

Playing the gay card

I disagree, strongly. My parents probably wouldn’t believe it but I’m actually a big fan of Jesus. The Jesus I grew up with taught values, beautiful in their simplicity; compassion, charity, forgiveness. But I concede that her perception of me reflects the years of silence I allowed to develop between us, an act of adolescent self-preservation which has stunted me in adulthood. Every day I spent locked away in my room, living online, was a day I allowed misunderstanding to take root. Growing up, I didn’t know what they believed about homosexuality but I never allowed for the possibility that there could be reconciliation between my sexuality and their religion. We may not always agree, but I’m blessed to have parents who are willing to listen, as hard as it is for me to speak. Slowly but surely, I’m learning to overcome the silence, one conversation at a time.

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