For as long as I can remember, my family was never religious, but our affiliation was Baptist. I never thought much about it until third grade when we were doing an Easter crossword puzzle in class. The clue was “you go here on Easter,” and I had no idea what the answer could be until one of the kids in my group said “church.” I remember remarking that I don’t go to church, and the eyes of those in my group went wide. I couldn’t figure out what the big deal was. I didn’t know much about God, church, or the Bible and I always thought that was just fine, but that moment changed my relationship with religion for the foreseeable future.
I’m not exactly how or when, but I eventually became aware of how important church is to black culture. As a result, I remember thinking that religion was something I was supposed to be into as a black person, so when I was a teen I asked my mom why we don’t we go to church and aren’t religious. She told me, “God hears you wherever you are, not just in church… I want you and your siblings to come to religion in your own way.” And for me, that was enough.
However, I was 11 and living in the Bible Belt when what I did know about God came back: he didn’t like gay people, and I had just realized I was queer. Fuck!
As I got older, I didn’t think about religion a lot until people brought up my having a disability and the idea that I needed to be healed. That had always bothered me in middle school, but I left it alone. Once I hit adulthood, my relationship with religion changed as I learned more through pop culture. By the time I was 20, I had been out of the closet as queer for seven years, and as far as I knew God didn’t love me because of that. It didn’t help that the more I learned about ableism, the more it became clear to me that people use the Bible to peddle their ableist bullshit by the ton, like the idea that we need to pray to be healed. But I’d also discovered that we are all made in God’s image, and if that’s true, then having a disability and using a wheelchair and being queer are as natural as my brown eyes and ability to breathe.
It also isn’t lost on me that as a person with a mental illness, religion is supposed to be my cure-all. As a former psychology major, I’ve always had a lot of thoughts about mental health and religion, and though prayer is extremely helpful for my anxiety I see no shame in believing that God (I refer to them as The Universe and honestly think gender isn’t that big of a deal, but I understand why folks don’t believe in that idea), the medications, and the therapists all work together in some harmonious way that allow me to function as a whole person.
These days, religion and I are cool. It’s actually helped me to love and accept myself better. My relationship with God and The Universe is just between us, and I like it that way. I believe that all that I am is exactly who I’m supposed to be. There isn’t so much wonder for me anymore. I don’t consider myself a Christian and I don’t attend church, but I think my mother was probably right—God does hear you everywhere.