Dispatches: Making the Safe Place by Royce Snyder

I met Royce when I was a college student at the University of Alaska, during the waning days of my evangelical journey. We had a few classes together, and his perceptive and uncouth contributions to our class discussions impressed me and made me chuckle in about equal proportion. For my undergrad thesis in 2006, I wrote a screenplay about a modern day Jesus who was a former evangelical Christian-turned-progressive civil rights activist. It was a way of processing my own experiences and emotions walking away from the Church.

I ended up directing a few scenes for my thesis panel complete with actors; when I asked Royce to play Jesus, it was because I thought his overall beatnik demeanor and flair for the theatrical made him a perfect fit (I was right); I had no idea about his own experience as a former Catholic. I guess we both used that opportunity to work through some shit. So when Royce wrote about his experiences as a member of the LGBTQ+ community who was raised Catholic, I was honored by the opportunity to share it with my readers.

If you feel like you are in a safe space to share your own journey with religious abuse, please know that this blog welcomes your voice and is honored to provide you a platform. Your journey is yours to share on your own terms and in your own way, and I will work with you to help you find an audience of readers ready to listen, be supportive, and to be inspired by your path, just as I have been inspired by Royce.

It is my pleasure to now give the stage to Royce yet again. Thanks for writing, my friend. You’ll always be my favorite Jesus.

* * * *

My little brother and I both had our first communion at 7 and 8 years old respectively. At the time we were both alter servers as well. We were given work books with which we were supposed to write in them the reasons which we were wishing to take part in this ritual and our knowledge of it. They were written in crayons and were largely pictures we had seen through the church of the story of Jesus offering his body and blood to his closest followers then being sacrificed on a cross.

We were too young to decide what to wear most days, let alone know how we felt about a complex religious philosophy at such a young age.

Children of that age are interested in simple things. Climbing trees, playing with toys, riding bikes and making friends. We learn about who we are and dream about what we will become, but we are still very much children who are largely ignorant of the world and our larger role in it. We were kids, after all.

One thing I knew when I was that age was that I liked girls and I liked boys. I didn’t know what being bi was at that age and from the way the adults talked about it they didn’t like other adults who were interested in the same sex. When my best friend’s parents caught us underneath his bed playing “boy/girl” (we were both boys) I was never allowed to see my best friend again. I think I was five at the time. His family moved away shortly after that and my world suddenly became much smaller and more frightening.

I didn’t know what I had done wrong; we were just a little boy and another little boy playing pretend games, but it meant I could never see my best friend again. And I never did. I was told by my parents that those games were wrong and that I was never to play them again.

I spent a great deal of my developing years thinking that and having to hide who I was for fear that all the other people I cared about and loved would be taken away from me if I did the wrong things. And the list of those things only grew as I got older.

I was 12 years old when I declared myself an atheist and told my mother that I wouldn’t be going to church anymore. It took a lot longer to finally come out of the closet as a bi man.

The ironic thing was that despite the social stigma of being an atheist after being born and raised a Catholic, I was more afraid of what the people who would call me a faggot in jest would do if they ever found out that I was queer. And I was right to.

I got into fights over it many times over the years. Had to learn to code switch and then later came fully out and had to learn how to fight. I also learned that when people got to know me for who I am as a person and liked me for it the “queer thing” or “bi thing” wouldn’t bother them as much.

I still have a lot of those years of hurt and all the history of having to hide who I was to keep the people I knew and loved from hurting me. Luckily I did finally learn that the people who love us and appreciate us never actually mean us harm or want to hurt us. And if they really do love us they will support our healthy relationships with other consenting adults because they want us to be happy and live good lives.

And we should want that for all of our children too. Children deserve to be loved, supported, and protected so that they can learn to have healthy relationships. They shouldn’t have to hide who they are in a closet for fear of being harmed by the very adults who should be supporting and protecting them.

I wish I could go back and tell that little version of me that life was going to get better. That he would have to face a lot of hurt and judgement and embarrassment from people who wouldn’t understand him, but that was because no one had taught them to be better at it and that wasn’t his fault.

I would tell him that he would meet and make friends with people from all over the world and countless different walks of life that would become a bigger part of his family and would not only accept but appreciate the person he would become exactly because of who he was.

And I would tell him not to spend so much time dwelling on the people who didn’t understand or wouldn’t accept how different he was, because it would be a waste of time that could be better spent doing wonderful things that would help make this world a little safer and more inclusive and better for a lot of people who felt like they didn’t have anyone that would understand them either.

I am very grateful for the family I have. I really hope that folks who read this might find some insight and remember that kids speak with the mouth of gods. That they deserve to be nourished and educated and protected so that they don’t have to suffer as we suffered.

If you believe this and you understand that then it’s not difficult to shift your position. Those letters of the alphabet, even if what those letters mean might be alien or intimidating at first, shouldn’t matter as much as children being allowed to grow into better human beings than we are – and that should always be the end goal.

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