Why Being Raised Christian Makes Me A Good Bisexual Poly Person
All of us, regardless of background, can trace many of our adult behaviors to either the environment in which we were raised or the character of those who helped raise us, if not both. While there are exceptions to all cases, generally speaking somebody who is raised in an abusive environment will seek escape from the reality of that environment in some form of self-destructive behavior, which then carries on into adulthood. Similarly, a person who is raised in a protected environment may be ignorant of some of the dangers posed by a less gentle, less forgiving segment of society. Those raised in areas in which overt racism is present may be more aware of the effects of how prejudices alter perception, and those raised in areas free of such societal pressures may not understand how deeply run the roots of those prejudices may lie.
I’ve spoken of it before, but for those unaware, the vast majority of my life has been spent living in states south of the Mason-Dixon Line. Additionally, my parents are devout Lutheran Christians, which meant I spent a good portion of my weekends and my afternoons during the Advent and Lent seasons inside a church building. The combination of living in the Buckle of the Bible Belt with deeply devout parents meant that I was nearly always surrounded by people who believed to their deepest cores that the Christian Bible is irrefutably sacrosanct, literally true, and an absolute guide for moral behavior. This belief extended to most major areas of notable Conservative dispute, particularly the areas surrounding evolution and human sexuality. I was taught to belief — and encouraged when reciting or defending the belief — that evolution is not scientifically valid and that humans lived alongside dinosaurs. Any belief in the evidence provided by the fossil record was disputed or discarded simply because it did not fit within dogmatic. Simply put, the scientific method was considered irrelevant and, in a fashion that seems to be uniquely American, cast aside not to be thoughtfully discussed.
As I look back to that time in my life, I often feel shame at being sucked into the arguments provided. My blind faith in the absolute correctness of the Biblical accounts of things being the only way “things could have happened” was borderline fanatical, and impervious to rational arguments challenging my beliefs. Thankfully, my parents taught me to be discerning and thoughtful and to never stop reading, which led to broadening my lens and finding additional information that debunked and thoroughly refuted my prior beliefs. My hypothesis had been wrong, and when presented with overwhelming evidence I was forced to adjust my beliefs to better hold with the evidentiary truth. In just such a manner was I also forced to adjust my views on human sexuality.
I was raised using the “abstinence only” method of sex education in the home, in what little form of talks my parents and I held. In my pre-teen years my mother handed me a series of sex-ed books written from a Christian perspective — replete with messages of “God has plans for your body” and “God only wants you to experience sexual pleasure with your spouse” — and told me simply to “read these.” The books were marked for age appropriateness and had corresponding levels of cartoon illustrations that evolved with the series to reflect the maturing audiences. In the space of one afternoon I read the entire series, from the elementary school age up through older teens. The drawings in the upper teens level book were very lifelike, and featured men and women alike. In the space of a week I had memorized every biological change boys and girls would face during puberty, all without one bit of conversation with my parents. IN fact, the only real moment of discussion I can ever remember us having is while I was watching an Episode of Seaquest DSV my mother saw a condom in the show and asked if I knew what it was and what it was for. When I replied that I did she told me that she better not find out I was needing them, ever. Thus was my level of sex education from my parents; everything else I had to read on my own. And read I did.
When I was in sixth grade we vacationed at a house belonging to friends of my parents. The room in which I stayed was library/study, wherein all the books that pertained to the Anatomy and Human Sexuality courses taught by the college professor living in the house were stored. I read through 3 of the Human Sexuality books in less than a week, always late at night when I was supposed to be asleep. No amount of talks with my parents, nor of reading Christian themed books teaching abstinence, could have prepared me for the depth and details provided in those books relating to the human sexual response and experience. Every subject was covered, from the stages of human sexual arousal to various sexual experimentation such as sounding and group sex. Sections on male and female prostitution were included as well, which should have made a “good little Christian boy” squeamish but seemed captivating instead. Clearly, even then, I was well on my way to breaking free from the mold and exploring my own way through the sexual experience, which led to my first encounters both with other boys and later with my first high school girlfriend.
Even so, with all the predispositions of my Christian upbringing requiring that I hide portions of myself from others for fear of persecution (both real and imagined) and later unlearn many of the teachings to which I had been submitted as a child, being raised in a Christian environment did teach me many valuable things that I believe still help me to this day. In that regard, I must thank my parents for the outstanding job they did; as Mrs. AP often reminds me, they helped shaped the man I am today, and she loves me more than she ever thought possible, so they must have done a good job. She’s right. While I eschew many of the teachings of the Christian religion and the Lutheran Church, there are many valuable lessons to be learned from the pure teachings of Jesus as portrayed in the Christian Gospels, as well as many character lessons to be learned from the parables and stories told within the Christian Old and New Testaments.
First and foremost, I was taught to love other people for who they are, not for what they do. While this is most often quoted in a bigoted fashion when anti-gay groups insist that they “Love the sinner but hate the sin” while actively lobbying to deny other people basic human rights, at the core of the ideal the message is sound. The ideal application of this concept is that one should always approach other people with an openness of heart and mind, to extend love to another human being even before that other person has given any indication that said love must be earned. In this respect I highly agree with the teachings with which I was raised, and was further encouraged to discover in my later studying of Humanist, Pagan, Wiccan, and Buddhist beliefs that this basic tenet extends across multiple theistic and non-theistic beliefs and philosophies. Treating other people from a base of love ans respect is not inherently difficult; just look at pre-school and Kindergarten children who innately want to share and include their peers in playtime, and who get dejected when the ability to share is minimized or removed. As a group, we are designed to love, to share, and to want to work together. It’s why Social Media is so popular, and why groups such as Anonymous and The Occupy Movement are generally regarded as good things individually, even when party politics doesn’t agree with the specific actions of the groups.
Beyond being taught to love, however, I was taught to listen. One of the side effects of hearing a Pastor deliver a sermon every Sunday and on the occasional Wednesday is that one must actively engage in not only actively listening to the message being delivered but also processing the contents of that message and applying those contents to aspects and conditions of one’s life. This ability, once honed, plays well into multiple aspects of daily life, such as paying attention in school or heeding the concerns addressed by one’s boss, coworker, spouse, or child. Often I am guilty of doing too much processing and not enough listening, but the skill of learning to do both stems from those times I sat in a wooden pew listening to the message being delivered by the man in robes behind the pulpit.
Additionally, attending church on a regular basis helped me learn how to engage with others in a social setting that was safe and comfortable despite the fact that I have an introvert-leaning personality and do not feel comfortable in large crowds. By being exposed to the same people in the same setting every week I learned that there is not inherent danger just being in a group of people, an that interacting with those people is not going to bring automatic embarrassment or shame. The early stages of my crowd-management coping techniques were forged in the fellowship halls of the churches of my childhood, in which I often hyper-focused on one or two people with whom I would interact and from there I would slowly branch off to talk to other people. Always I would return to the same person or two to whom I had attached myself, as if they served as a home base in whose presence I could recuperate.
It is a sad fact that when I broke away from my Christian upbringing and began earnestly exploring my queer sexuality and polyamorous nature that I forgot the good things being raised Christian had taught me. In my quest to rise above the seeming limitations of the thought processes associated with worshiping a jealous God I threw away everything I had been taught. Instead of treating others with love and respect they were met with distrust aloofness, sometimes even rudeness. Dismissive actions became my default stance instead of actively engaging my listening skills. Crowds were avoided, social settings were dodged, and isolation was quickly sought. I regarded myself pridefully as a lone wolf who needed no others, when in actuality I was desperately yearning for a loving, caring pack to which I belong.
As I have become more comfortable with my sexual and polyamorous nature and become more open to new experiences and sensations, I find myself returning to those tenets and skills learned as a child in those various churches. When I meet somebody new at a party or a club, or even just during my daily outings to work, the store, and the like, I try to see each new person as a person deserving of my love and respect. By envisioning that person as a future friend my attitude automatically adjusts even when I know I am unlikely to ever see that person again. My stance relaxes, my voice softens, and a smile comes readily to my face. I become more friendly, and in return so do those around me. It’s contagious, this thing called friendliness, and it stems from choosing to act from a place — a core — of love.
Actively listening comes in exceptionally handy when dealing with relationship issues that stem from being Bisexual/Queer and Polyamorous, both with Mrs. AP and with whomever we befriend or with whom we engage romantically. The verbal dance of negotiating with a new partner requires listening to and understanding the various boundaries and kinks that are part of that person’s sexual makeup. Furthermore, if I am not properly listening to Mrs. AP I may miss concerns or misgivings she may have, or I mistake a minor concern for something major and thus act inappropriately. This is a common issue with which I find myself dealing, in that I may take a small comment she makes and internalize and personalize the comment and extend it to the absurd instead of listening to and processing what she is saying and the manner in which she is speaking. What she means as a tease I may mistake as a subtle insult if I am not properly engaged in listening. With my propensity to drop into a self-inflicted existential depressive state — a malady often suffered by those whose brains are just a little too actively introspective — not listening fully and properly becomes a dangerous thing indeed.
Navigating a crowd has seemingly obvious advantages in opening myself to meeting new people; after all, I cannot add somebody new to my life if I am too nervous to engage with somebody new. While I still struggle with taking that first step and initiating the blind contact with somebody new, once I find some way of beginning conversation with somebody I can usually find ways to continue and extend that conversation into getting to know that person better and sharing mutual contact information in some way. Mrs. AP and I have done this in modest respect off and on over the past year as we’ve made new friends either at parties held my mutual friends or while out for an evening at The Castle. We could both put more effort into extending ourselves into meeting other people, and I’m sure we will as we both move outside the shells into which we’ve withdrawn. I know I’ve been lost within mine for quite some time, but I’m finding my way out and I’m sure I’ll find new friends and new loves as I wiggle my way out.
And to think, I have my Christian upbringing as a child to thank for me knowing how to live well as a Bisexual Polyamorous man.
Stay SINful, friends.