Which is Worse? June 5, 2011

Which is Worse?

According to a submission at PostSecret today, it’s harder to come out as an atheist than as a gay person when you have Christian parents…

As someone who’s not gay (and who doesn’t have Christian parents), I don’t think I’m qualified to say which is tougher.

But for the gaytheists out there, which was harder for you?

""Your honor, we feel we have a compelling case.""Counselor, this isn't even compelling fanfiction.""

Christian Preacher: “It Is God’s Will ..."
"It is good to have The One Person Who Can Truly Determine Who Is A ..."

Christian Preacher: “It Is God’s Will ..."

Browse Our Archives

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • I’d imagine a gay person coming out in a religious family would be the hardest of all. How many are driven to suicide?

  • NotYou007

    You missed an A

  • Without question, coming out as gay was much more difficult. At least as (only)an atheist you’re still following through on almost all of your cultural obligations. You’re still heteronormative, and that makes things pretty easy for my straight and atheist friends. But I think that may be typical for Midwestern towns, where Christians aren’t as hardline/fundamentalist/evangelical.

    I came out as gay before my family knew I was an atheist. That was a more difficult internal struggle, but now being gay and atheist have had separate repercussions that continue to be difficult to deal with.

  • I think coming out as gay prepared me for coming out as an atheist. I still haven’t told my grandmother (a pre-Vatican 2 Catholic) that I am an atheist, but she has known about me being gay for quite a while. My mom doesn’t even want to change her religion from Catholic to Episcopal until my grandma dies because she can make life…uncomfortable.

  • Dave

    I’d rather be a gay atheist than a Christian. Likewise, I’d rather have a gay atheist child than a Christian child.

  • Keigh

    Both were equally difficult. It was atheism, then my sexuality a few years later. I have a feeling that whichever is first is more difficult.

  • I get the feeling that my parents know I’m bi (does this count? XD ) but, I would rather tell them that than to tell them I’m an atheist as they’re hardcore mormon. And seeing that my dad is already pushing for me to go to church, every damn week, the sooner I could move out and be on my own, the better for me.

  • Rich

    I was raised Catholic. I told my parents when I was very young that I did not believe in the bible (I stopped going to church when I told them this. It did cause a big fight at the time, but after that it wasn’t discussed again until much later in my life). So coming out as an atheist was not very difficult for me.

    I still have not come out as gay to my parents. I have heard enough homophobic and hateful comments from them, and I know what will happen when/if I do come out.

  • James

    Some of my friends are gay, and they had a very hard time coming out. I am an atheist, and coming out to my Christian parents was not easy. However it was better then what my friends went through. Over all I am very happy with the result of my coming out. My parents took about six months to a year to be okay with me being an atheist, but now they don’t think anything of it.

  • Scott

    I’m gay and an atheist and my family has a much harder time dealing with my atheism than my sexuality. Being gay is a nonissue for them but being an atheist is something they do not accept at all. Some of my extended family have all but disowned me over my being an atheist. I find this rather bizarre. But I also find this reaction to be true with coworkers. I have never had a negative encounter in the workplace over my sexuality but I have had some pretty spectacular reactions when they learned I was an atheist. It gets especially bad when I get one of those annoying customers who actually ask if I have “accepted Jesus as my Lord and savior” (why they think this is an acceptable way to end a transaction I don’t know). One of these zealouts actually called my company’s customer service to report I was an atheist. Luckily customer service was smart enough to tell the customer this was not an issue or problem with the company.

  • Drakk

    I am not gay but I would think it would be more difficult to out oneself as an atheist.

    I think deep down despite all the denial (most) christians know that [*]sexuality is not a conscious choice one has control over – it happens as a result of genetics and therefore determined from birth (possibly, among other factors). Whereas to disbelieve in god is a more conscious choice (for most) that involves weighing evidence and logical reasoning. I think it might strike more of a nerve for xian parents to know that their child has rejected them after a conscious choice.

  • JW

    I think Zach has it right. Religion is important to people. It’s cultural, and enforced by guilt, so they might expect an internal struggle once in a while but think you’ll later grow out of it. But gender and sexuality are enforced by shame, which is much more in-your-face, because you’re screwing with their assumptions about who the sexual targets in society are. If your parents are Xtian fundamentalists it might be an equally big deal for both, but for people outside of your family I think coming out gay would be harder. Even in societies that are based on right wing religiosity, the sexual culture won’t be suppressed no matter what their religion teaches (I’m thinking of Serbia and the sexual pornography/rape culture that was behind the wars in the former Yugoslavia, despite the general “icky” approach Christianity takes towards sex). But I have no personal experience in the matter, just going on what I’ve studied about gender and religion and how they’re enforced.

  • Suzy

    I’m an atheist but not gay. I still haven’t come out to my fundamentalist Xtian father and I probably never will. He’s sick and I decided it’s better not to upset him. We don’t live together so it’s not like I have to pretend 24/7. If I was gay I think it would be equally difficult.

    I think what is more difficult depends on your personal environment. If your are surrounded with moderate/liberal Christians then coming out as gay might be less difficult.

    The society I live in is pretty homophobic. Atheism is not considered as horrible here though as in the US. That’s society. But for my father, who is a fundamentalist, I think being gay and an atheist are equally horrible.

  • warped-ellipsis

    Two stories. With variable counterbalancing. Yay science!

    tl;dr: Atheist is worse, probably due to the recent push of and for gays, and there being no similar visibility/social acceptance of atheism.

    First, in conversation with my aunt and grandma, I told them I’m atheist. They were thrown for a loop but both said, “Well, everyone has to find their own way in life”, and that was it. They’re okay with it. They’re queer-supportive too, so even though I’ve not told them I’m bi, that won’t be a problem. My brother also knows I’m atheist, he seems to be okay with that–none of us siblings have really gone to church much the past several years. Summary: atheist then bi–atheist generated more of a flare, but both were accepted.

    Second, when I told my mom I was bi, it felt like I was explaining a foreign concept–not a rejection, more of the “how do you know, are you sure” questions. Given that it didn’t provoke a negative reaction, and nothing has been said of it since, I think I’m in the clear.

    Later, the God Delusion showed up along with Society without God, both of which my mom picked up and read the jackets of. Whoopsie….she went on the offensive, “Do you not believe in God? God and Jesus exist!” and then left the room. I explained the books’ existence as “the other side of the issue, just like Fox has both sides on their show”. Summary: bi then atheist–bi was cautiously accepted, even the possibility of atheism generated hostile rejection.

    I didn’t tell my dad about either identity; we used to be in a highly conservative Lutheran church. He’s become more flexible towards gayness recently, due to the move to a more progressive/modern church since the old one sputtered out. Flexible to others isn’t the same as flexible to personal family, unfortunately.

    side note: gaytheist? only if we can also spell it aytheist :3 If the UK can have random “e”s, we can have a random “y”.

  • Cthulhu

    Well I am a gay atheist and I have come out as gay, but not as an atheist. I actually do think it will be harder to come out as an atheist than when i came out gay. My family pretty much accepted it well that I was gay. The only thing that happened was that my dad said when I told him “you have got to be kidding me”. But the rest took it well. The problem is I have a fundamentalist aunt who weirdly enough accepts the fact that I am gay, she had a gay son, but would probably try to convert me if she knew.

    In away I think there is more of a taboo now to be an atheist than to be gay. As a side note I have told a couple people I am an atheist and they accepted it pretty well. They were fairly non-religious anyway.

  • Logan

    I came out as both at the same time to my mother. For me it was more emotionally taxing to work up the courage to tell her I was gay. But she took it harder learning that I was an atheist. I’m certainly marginalized for both living in the South, but for me it was much harder coming to terms with and eventually coming out as being gay.

  • SlipperyWhenWet

    Isn’t it sad that people are this afraid to come out as an Atheist?

    We’re afraid of saying we aren’t gullible and don’t believe things simply because we are told they exist.

    Although, maybe this just means people are becoming more tolerant of gays (which, even as a straight person, I see as good :D) and not less tolerant of atheists. Or maybe it’s both.

    BTW: My mother is still the only one who knows I’m an Atheist.

  • Kari

    A friend of mine said that she’d rather come out gay (she is) than come out atheist.

  • Mihangel apYrs

    In the US (as elsewhere) a LGBT person is consistently under attack by politicians, religious leaders and pundits. Their behaviour may, and probably does, colour a family’s response to coming out, if only in terms of “what will the neighbours think”.
    Parents can always fool themselves that they can bring their atheist progeny back to the fold; a gay person will be perceived as forever lost to normality by a Christist family.

  • Matt

    I’m not gay…but I am an atheist. A pretty confident and out-spoken one at that. It wasn’t hard for me at all to come out to my parents. I cannot imagine abandoning someone because they think differently than I do, so I never once worried about what my parents would do after I told them I was an atheist. I could have been wrong about them, and they could have completely disowned me, but all that would have done is shown that they don’t love me the same way that I love them. Yeah, we argue about religion every now and then, and it can get heated, but it never comes in the way of our bonds and never will. To those of you that are in situations where this would actually strain your relationship with your family: I’m really sorry, and it’s important to realize that you didn’t do anything wrong. Thinking is NOT a crime. Neither is being different. If your friends and family cannot see that then they are the ones that have the problem. Ask yourself, do you think less of them because they believe? It’s insane really, and it just shows a lack of compassion and empathy. It shouldn’t matter at all.

  • middle of the bible belt

    I live in the middle of the bible belt. My therapist and I have actually discussed this very subject. She likened my fears of telling my christian parents and friends about my Atheist beliefs to that of a gay person coming out of the closet. She stated that the emotions and reactions from most religious fundamentalists would be very much the same: shock, anger, intolerance, fear, etc.

    The fears and anxiety I’m experiencing are very real. I told a christian friend in confidence and he completely came unglued. Another coworker moved to another department after my so-called friend told her, because she “didn’t want to be around evil”. so much for friends.

    I hinted at my non-belief to my father, who immediately shut himself down emotionally. I will never tell my mother, because she would just freak.

    While I’m not gay, I now have a better appreciation of what gay people go through when they are afraid of coming out. I also have a better appreciation of the struggle they’ve gone through to get acceptance.

    anyway… to answer the question posed.. I would say coming out as an Atheist depends on your location and circumstances. Middle of Oklahoma? You’re going to have a hard time. Middle of NYC? Nobody will probably care.

  • Wea

    For me, coming out gay was pretty easy. (My Dad, a reverend, is also a couple counsellor – including helping gay couples stay together).

    I haven’t explicitly stated my atheism yet, as he got really upset last time I hinted at it.

    but I’m not too fussed, because I’m pretty sure he would still love me anyway. It’d just make some things awkward though.

  • Deltabob

    My mom was much more upset that I am an atheist than she was to learn that I was bi or that I had been in a poly relationship for many years.

  • “gaytheist” i love it, Hemant! i’m so stealing that. it’s as good as “gATM” referring to the queer community and politicians who lie to us about supporting equal rights when running for office and who know the queer community can be more financially generous if we think we’ve got someone who’ll fight for us.

    for me, coming out queer was way harder. i’ve got liberal parents who never took religious ideas very seriously. but my dad in particular was upset when i told him, because in his opinion, gays are more unhappy due to negative social pressures. but he got over it. grandma is a believer, and she was mildly upset when i told her i am an atheist, but got over it and oddly enough, had no problem when she learned (via my blog) that i’m queer.

  • Rose

    When I came out as an atheist to my family I was utterly terrified, (We’re talking curling-up-in-a-ball-in-the-corner-and-rocking-back-and-forth terrified) and I still haven’t summed up the courage to tell anyone but my parents. But I’ve never really been as scared by the though of telling my parents I’m gay. I’m not gay, or at least I’m pretty sure I’m not (I’m 18-I think I’d probably know by know) but I made up my mind a long time ago that if I was, I wouldn’t have a problem with it. And my parents are…well my dad’s super conservative, and he’s made it very clear that he thinks homosexuality’s wrong, but I’ve noticed that my mum’s become a bit more open minded ever since she found out I’m pro-gay. So in short, I know I can’t really compare, but I definitely sympathize with whoever made this picture.

  • J S Brown

    When I openly professed atheism to my mother, she said, “This would have been so much easier if you had just been gay.” It was bad at first. That was in 2003. Since then, I have been quite successful in educating her about atheism and religion beyond Christianity. My atheism isn’t a big deal anymore. In fact, it’s barely an issue at all.

  • Zotnix

    Without a doubt I’d say coming out as atheist was more difficult for my family but easier for me.

    When I came out as gay my mother had found a mgazine (The Advocate) and asked me if I was gay….and I merely said yes. She had trouble looking me in the eye, but in the end it was calm.

    When I came out as atheist my mother screamed at me, telling me I was going to Hell, that I had nothing to live for. There were accusations that demons from the internet had possessed me.

    I suppose that a lot of the trouble with me being atheist was that I had led her to the faith when I was young (around 10). So this was, in essence, betraying her. In her mind the very person that saved her soul from Hell was now willingly leading himself into Hell and that was way worse than anything else.

    Coming out as gay was something I was forced to do and my mother had time to process it before confronting me. Once cornered, I found it very easy to come out at that point, but the fact I refused to do it on my own was testament to my utter terror at the prospect. I, perversely perhaps, supposed that being atheist was not nearly that big of a deal. I didn’t really fear coming out as atheist as much as I viewed it as not their business, but it turned out to wound them very deeply.

  • Unknown

    Atheist -not really a problem.
    Transgender -well, I spend a lot of time thinking about why I still bother hanging around. You can guess what happened.

  • Matt

    I came out as a gay guy first, and then as an atheist, like, ten years later – so the gay one was much more difficult. I did pave the way for my brother and sister though, they have a much easier time not fitting into the straight white protestant expectation.

  • hippiefemme

    My mom has explicitly stated that she wouldn’t be upset at all if I brought a girl home (and I’m a woman), but she became increasingly upset and scared the last time that I alluded to not having faith.

    For her, it’s not about heteronormativity because she’s fairly liberal (pro-choice, pro-same-sex marriage) and believes that her deity wouldn’t punish someone for being who they were meant to be. However, lacking faith means that you’re doomed to eternal hellfire. I think the reaction is more out of fear for my soul than anger for not being who she intended me to become.

  • Interesting how Christians are so often painted as practicing homoophobia.

    Hmm, kind of looks lately here that there’s a real Christophobia developing.

  • asonge

    @Ken, Homophobia is not tolerated within the atheist community. It is called out and denounced constantly, and if the person wants a rational argument, they get one.

    While Christians on the whole are starting to even out in the US on homophobia, silence on the issue by Christians tends to lend itself to the status quo that homosexuality is a sin…though modern Christian culture is iffy on the mutability/heritability of sexuality (still leans toward “it’s a lifestyle choice”, though). Christian liberals and moderates don’t even make up half the number of Christians based on most surveys (I’d say that the evangelicals are nearly all conservatives at the very least), and to me it seems the liberals are the only ones speaking out, and they don’t make up anywhere near “most” of Christianity.

    Also, phobias are irrational fears. If you feel like I’m wrong, rationally explain why. If not, you’re just trolling.

  • Lex

    Whichever revelation comes first, I think, is received the most poorly, because both will typically shatter a “good Christian” family’s belief in itself as a “good Christian” family. The second revelation just ices the cake, so to speak.

    I came out as an atheist first. It was a controversy that stretched on and on for months with plenty of arguments (I’d call them debates, but I was really the only person debating). About a year or two later, my mother asked me if I am a lesbian (despite the fact that I live with my male fiance). Being bisexual, I told her that. She never brought the topic up again, probably assuming it is a natural outcropping of my atheism, since the one and only question she asked in response to my answer was “For how long?” to which I of course replied “Forever.”

    We still get into arguments on Facebook sometimes (I live across the country from her now), but it is always about religion and never about bisexuality, so overall I think it the atheism that bothers her more.

  • Andromeda

    I’m a straight female atheist. I have a male friend who is gay and is very religious. He brings up my atheism more often than most people. He would say things like, “I know you’re not religious, but can you please pray for…” He has also told me that if we lived closer he would try to drag me to church.

    I don’t think one can be compared to the other since every one is different and it depends on each persons prejudice. It never surprised me that my friend can be that religious but some of the blatantly bigoted things he’s said does. Tolerance is not all inclusive.

  • ellie

    im bi and atheist. in my case, im still in the atheist closet. it was easy to come out as bi for me because i already have several out gay and lesbian cousins. but, as of right now, i dont know of any of my cousins being out atheists.
    my family has some very conservative people in it, that dont know that im bi. they dont know because it is not currently relevant (seeing as im single, i would probably tell if i had a gf, but if or when i do tell them about my being bi, there could be a riff in the family. i imagine it would be even more so if i came out as atheist too.

  • Coming out as atheist to my parents was good practice for when I came out as pansexual — not that that was my intention. My parents’ reactions were about the same each time: Disappointment; some anger; fear about what was going to happen to me and my soul; a certain amount of pointless Christian moral lecturing; grudging appreciation of my honesty. (And although both times my strongest motivation to come out was how tiring it was to stay silent — most anyone will tell you that coming out is a relief in comparison — the need to be honest with the people I’m close to also spurred me to tell them.)

    I also think that both remain equally difficult in that, for the sake of a peaceful house, we’ve come to a mutual understanding not to bring up either my atheism or my sexuality. So despite their basic knowledge my identity, I can’t try to elaborate on it and try to help them understand it besides letting them see me living my life as I always do; and I can’t really come to them for advice on something connected to either part of my identity. That coming out is a relief but not a total miracle cure is something I had to learn.

  • altar ego

    I came out as an atheist first, to my mom only. My dad would have had a fit. It was a non-issue. I came out as bisexual a few years later, and that one was much scarier (again, only to my mom and other non-dad relatives). I feared that her knowing I was bisexual might have caused her to stop helping me out with college and car payments, or maybe even stop talking to me. For a long time, my mom believed that teh queers were evil, evil people. But I managed to educate her after I took a lot of queer/sexuality courses in college, and she changed her mind. At that point, it became safer to come out.

  • Michael

    Most definitely coming out as an atheist was and continues to be the most difficult. Coming out of the gay closet, I was greeted with mostly indifference. Coming out of the atheist closet, people tried to push me back in or tried to convince me I was wrong. I belong to two of the most hated groups in America but that has only made me a stronger person. I wish everyone would come out of their closets. There is strength in numbers.

  • Brewster

    I was home-schooled in a very conservative evangelical Christian family, so I’m sure you can imagine the importance of religion in my upbringing and my family’s devotion to all that comes with contemporary American Christianity. Coming out as gay was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. I had no idea of what to expect from them and had panic attacks from worrying about it. While my family took it better than I had expected (as much as asking if I had tried gay conversion therapy can be considered part of a good reaction), they seemed much more upset when as a kid I just hinted at the fact that I was no longer religious, let alone an atheist. In retrospect, I think that even though they were not happy with my being gay, if I were still religious, they think one day I could be rescued from my “life of sin.” To them, my being an atheist and gay means I need twice the prayer for redemption. I still am in touch with my family, but obviously is not the same relationship anymore. That being said, I’m am happier now than I’ve ever been in my life before. Coming out as a gaytheist was the most liberating feeling I’ve ever had.

  • I’m not gay but I always thought it’s probably much harder to come out as a gay person than as an atheist.

    Anyway, I think it depends. Once I exchanged some e-mails with Jen Peeples, from the Atheist Experience show (I asked her opinion about why some gay people still follow a religion that says so many horrible things about them) and in her reply she mentioned that it was harder for her to come out as an atheist than as a gay woman.

  • MacCrocodile

    I came out to my parents as gay about ten years ago. It took a lot of courage-mustering, and I finally just kinda said it in that tearing-off-a-bandaid way. It was difficult for me, but they took it well. The conversation turned casually to how being gay would jibe with church. “Oh, yeah, that’s another thing,” I told them, “I’m also an atheist. I don’t think I’ll be going to church with you any more.” Although they also took that relatively well, it was harder for my dad to deal with that than the gay thing. I think it was the other way around for my mom.

    Ugh, it’s complicated.

  • Liz

    I think it’s a case by case kind of thing. If your parents are ‘liberal Christians’ they might think being gay is okay, as long as you believe. BUT if they find out their child doesn’t believe in anything…you can imagine how that might be worse. Even if they think atheists can go to heaven, they could be thoroughly disappointed that they would ‘choose’ to stray from God (and the family values)

  • JulietEcho

    When I told my fundamentalist, ministry-employed parents that I was an atheist, they weren’t happy but our relationship stayed mostly the same (I was already independent, in college, etc).

    When I came out a few years later as being poly (after my boyfriend and I had been dating for two and a half years), they compared it to pedophilia and my dad and sister wouldn’t speak to me for months. Their objections were exactly the same standard objections you hear from Christians about homosexuality, so I have no doubt that coming out as gay would have gotten a very similar reaction.

  • @Ken,

    When a prevailing Christian idea such as “Hate the sin, love the sinner” runs rampant, it’s hard not to be wary of Christians as an LGBT individual.

    Because the idea is in inherently homophobic. It shows a gross misunderstanding of what it means to be LGBorT, and it carries the assumption that the sinner needs to be loved and cared for until they stop being gay.

    So, yes, in general, I’m scared of Christians. It is that demographic that votes to eliminate my rights as a gay individual. They were the ones that harassed me in high school, and they are the ones that now, instead of harassing me in childish language, harass me with childish rhetoric. Not much of a change, mind you.

  • Fenrir

    I’m an atheist and bisexual. I came out as an atheist to my Catholic parents, two aunts and everyone in school when I was 13. Thankfully, it has never been an issue and because of that, I have never lied when someone asks about it.

    Now, not being straight in Venezuela is a whole different thing >_> It’s funny that I don’t have a problem if they think that I’ll burn in hell but I’m scared of what could happen if they find out that I might like someone without a vagina ._.

    I apologize for my English. I’m still learning.

  • This is what is stupid about the which is the worst “coming out” contest people get themselves into:
    1. What differences does it make which is worse. The variation within each group is far greater than the extremes.
    2. The reality is both are generally traumatic and depending on the beliefs of the family and community can have dire consequences.
    3. They are really the same thing. Neither has anything to do with a person being Gay or Atheist and everything to do with the harmful and evil beliefs of their parents and community.

  • Lisa

    If I or one of my brothers were gay, I’m sure it would only take a little time, or even if that, for my parents to eventually accept it.

    Once my mom saw me come home from a library with a book on evolution, and only said ‘I don’t believe in that.’ and refused to say another word about it when I said hey, look, they have evidence here. And she’s ‘fake’ Catholic, in that I’ve never once saw her go to Mass. She went to Catholic schools, but that’s really the extent that I know of.

  • cat

    I told people I was an atheist before I even knew the word, at twelve, in an intensely rural conservative area. It hasn’t interfered with my ability to find work, get into programs, my physical safety, etc. The worst I have received for atheism is a few snide comments. Being queer-bi and genderqueer is a completely different experience. I have dealt with all of those things as a queer person, and more. It affects pretty much every aspect of my life, and is likely to affect even more in the future. I have queer friends who lost their homes, were subjected to physical violence, were threatened with being locked in a mental institution (ze ran away from home to avoid it), were sexually assaulted, the list goes on and on. I have never heard the sort of horror stories about atheists kids the way I have about queer kids, with very rare exceptions. Loosing one’s home, facing physical violence at school,etc.-these are still common experiences for queer kids, but extremely rare ones for atheist kids.

    I don’t like the term “coming out of the closet” being used for atheism. It is co-opting the queer experience, and it involves denial of the existence and experience involved with the closet. Cis heteros-queerness is not your metaphor, cut it out.

  • SIlent Service

    As somebody who qualifies under both I have to say I had no problem telling my parents that I don’t believe in gods or religious silliness. I have not told them that I’m bisexual and probably won’t. Telling them I like guys would create far more problems that telling them I think their beliefs are silly. Just not gonna go there.

  • Evan

    My whole family has known about my atheism for a really long time. We even have an occasional interesting conversation about it. But I still can’t bring myself to tell them I’m gay.

  • The two things are differently difficult for me.

    Coming out as gay was far more stressful to me, especially since it was 20 years ago and I stood a serious chance of being rejected by everyone I knew and loved. I had a *mostly* positive experience, fortunately, but that was by no means certain. However, I had a HUGE incentive to come out, which is that I desperately needed physical companionship and couldn’t emotionally handle being in the closet any longer, so the easiest way for me to find a boyfriend was to just come out of the closet and look for one openly.

    Coming out as atheist, on the other hand, is very different. My dad is an atheist and very stubborn about it, so I know that if the rest of the family (all christian) has any problem with me, he’ll come to my defense, and as he’s very well respected and loved in the family, that will get them to knock off any misbehavior and treat me well. Also, most of my friends are atheists or generic deists, with some very accepting jews and ultra-liberal christians mixed in, so I make no secret of my beliefs with them and that’s fine.

    So all that’s left is some of my family, the ones who I know will treat me well once they know I’m an atheist, but who I know will feel very hurt by it and/or concerned for my “eternal soul”. If these were family members I didn’t get along with well, I’d probably just go ahead and not care, but they’re among those who I care about most. Since basically everything else in my family life is going okay (I’m not pressured to go to church or have religious ceremonies or live my life like a strict christian or any such nonsense), I find it extraordinarily difficult to come out as atheist to these family members because I don’t want to upset them and ultimately I don’t have to. But it’d be convenient. Very convenient. And I get more and more tired of them supporting right wingers and republicans, and being out as atheist might give me additional arguing points about that. So I may yet do so.

  • Miles

    @cat,
    As a straight atheist I have great respect for LGBTQ individuals who come out of the closet, but I really think the metaphor applies to atheists as well. In both cases it feels like hiding who you are to go along with the normative culture. In both cases it is a way of living without shame and guilt over a stupid cultural bias, but secretly have to question when your community condemns you for it. In both cases it is a way of empowering yourself and your community.

    And on a more viscerally emotional level, in both cases it is not something you could or would choose to change about yourself. I honestly don’t know how I would go about believing in something that to my knowledge isn’t justified by reason or evidence. I could ignore or pretend pretty well if I really tried, but deep down I’d always be an atheist.

    I imagine being LGBTQ is something like that. Maybe I’m missing a crucial part of the “coming out of the closet” metaphor, but if I am, I’d like to know it. In the meantime, I think co-opting the queer experience is justified by the similarities, and imo it is an homage to the queer experience. Atheists who use the metaphor are looking up to queers as trail blazers and people of strength and pride.

  • Alex

    Apologies to the straightheists, but it’s not even close. My family, although religious, is fairly liberal. Even though I know that, logically, they would be more accepting of my homosexuality than my atheism, I never found the strength to come out as gay.

  • Alex O’Cady

    I was raised in/around San Francisco in a very liberal family. I never had to “come out” as gay, so much as my mom asked me if I was, and I replied “well, yeah”. I struggled within myself to figure out my identity, but the journey was always well supported by my family, and I never had to defend myself to them.

    I didn’t have much of a problem with my atheism either, except the occasional patronizing “Well, you’re still baptized, so you’ll go to heaven anyway” from my grandmother – which always struck me as the equivalent of “well, you’ll meet a nice man some day”. Luckily, my younger brother has grown into a very outspoken freethinker, which has had an effect on everyone else in the family (it’s a small family), and now my grandmother is in the minority when it comes to belief in the Magical Sky Fairy.

    So, family hasn’t been a huge issue. As far as community goes, I’ve all but left behind trying to be active in the LGBT movement because nearly everything lately has seemed to focus on getting religion to accept the gays. Every time I’ve gone to a meeting or town hall or rally, I hear overly-inclusive platitudes about God making us the way we are – inclusive, that is, of everything except nonbelief. So, I just don’t go anymore. Not worth the stress.

  • Abigail

    I’m bi and an atheist– and in the closet for both. I know that my family would accept my bisexuality. They’d probably be a bit uncomfortable and maybe joke about it or think it’s a ‘phase’, but they would still love me and be accepting. But, I’m honestly terrified that my family will find out I’m an atheist. They would not accept that at all. Once I recorded an episode of Morgan Freeman’s Through the Wormhole (or whatever it is called) about the Big Bang, and my mother freaked out about how anti-christian that was and how “PEOPLE DIDN’T CRAWL OUT OF THE OCEAN AS MONKEYS!” (still trying to figure out how that’s related to the big bang). So, yeah, if Morgan Freeman gets a reaction like that, I plan on staying in the atheist closet at least until I finish this next year of college and can move out!

  • Around most of my family, I’m still in the closet as bi. And no one outside my college circle knows I’m an atheist.

    Coming out to my parents as either scares the shit out of me, but coming out as an atheist scares me the most. For insurance reasons, I’m waiting until I’m 26 for the bisexuality, but may never come out as an atheist.

  • Dale

    I freely admit my atheism to anyone who brings up the subject and I’ve received no negative reactions. Indeed a few people asked me many questions and found that my answers actually made sense. Of course none of these people were fundamentalists – but the few christians that know me have no problem with it whatsoever.

  • Kate

    Reading through these stories has made me realize how fortunate I was when I came out as an atheist. Both of my parents are Christians, but they’re fairly rational/intellectual people (both of them are professors). I was terrified before I came out to them, but they took it pretty well. They did ask some questions that came across as a bit thoughtless, but they’ve been very understanding/respectful about it since then. Well, my dad has, really, as we can have conversations about it. I can’t talk with my mom about it because she tries to stay calm, but it’s always been in her nature to get very defensive/angry in those situations. And I actually had to “come out” to her about being politically liberal (which she doesn’t like about me). So sometimes she lashes out about one or the other. So, again, we don’t talk about it.

    Now, I’m also bisexual. I haven’t come out to my parents about that and while I’m not worried about them just finding out somehow, I’m far more worried about what coming out as bisexual would mean (I’m only out to a few of my friends). Part of it is that when I was 13 and first starting to consciously struggle with my sexuality, my dad actually asked “you’re not a lesbian, are you?” followed by “because you know that’s not okay.” I know his attitude on the issue has been changing a lot over the years and that he sees no reason why LGBT couples shouldn’t be able to get married/have equal rights. But I don’t know how that wouldn’t translate to accepting me, especially after that conversation all those years ago. And my mom… she really is less tolerant than my dad. She got sort of upset during the 2010 Winter Olympics because they were letting Johnny Weir compete and he was “just so flamboyant.” She already doesn’t like that I’m liberal/atheist, so I can only imagine what she would be like if she found out that I’m bi.

    In general, I’m more worried about being bi than being an atheist. I’ll be attending a liberal college in the “godless north” (I live in the midwest) in the fall, so I’m not too worried about being out as an atheist. I haven’t had many problems here, so college should be fine. I’m not terribly worried about being out as bisexual in college, apart from the fact that I hope my roommate doesn’t have a problem with it (talk about awkward). But in general, I’ve been way more worried about talking with my parents about these issues. Nearly everyone my age has been fine.

  • Bobby

    I am a gay atheist, and it was harder for me to come out to my parents as atheist than it was to tell them I’m gay.

  • Alex

    I was beaten and ridiculed by my parents when they found out I was an atheist, but lectured and grounded when they found out I enjoyed pornographic material of the lesbian nature.

  • Rien Finch

    Coming out has been so much more difficult than it was at 14 telling my parents I didn’t believe in a god. Sure there were struggles over whether I attended Church or not, as I was underage and had to under the rules of their house, but I shudder think of what might have happened had I actually told them I was gay while I was living under their house and their rules. When I was 23 and came out to her, she said it was a symptom of depression and I should seek medical help. If I’d come out at 14, or 15, 16, 17, what sort of help might I have been forced into?

    A commenter asked above ‘how many are driven to suicide?’ Answer: lots. Including myself. Not talking about religion is easy enough, but when I’m planning on bringing a same-sex date to my brother’s wedding …

  • My parents were raised in Mormon and Catholic households, we went to a Lutheran church when I was a child, and they’re non-practicing now. I think my mom is just keeping it up for appearances (she works at a Catholic school). So I consider them pretty secular. It was much harder coming out than it was telling them I’m an atheist. I agonized over the former, while the latter I found it easy to bring up in conversation (though I didn’t any convictions about atheism until after I came out).

  • Coming out as atheist was harder for the simple reason that when I came out as gay/asexual, I had the experience of coming out as atheist already on my belt. I believe that my mother had a harder time with my atheism, and my father had a harder time with my sexuality. But they were both pretty accepting.

  • Dreaaa

    For me, atheism was easier to come out with than my sexuality. I finally told my parents I was an atheist about a year ago, and it was really hard but still have not about my orientation.Honestly, I don’t think I ever will. Also, it was actually harder to admit to myself that I was gay than an atheist.

  • Ashlyn

    I am bisexual and an atheist, and my parents treated both coming-outs pretty much the same, by ignoring them! They know that I sing in an LGBT choir and that I help organize the local Skeptics group but we never discuss it.

    I guess it might be a bit awkward if I ever brought a woman home to meet them, I can’t think of a similar situation where they would be directly confronted with my atheism.

  • MamaGump

    It’s always easy to say your situation is harder than “if” you were gay. It is also offensive. If you’re not gay, don’t presume to have the slightest idea what it’s like being gay, coming out, etc.

  • Norickayer

    That reminds me, I haven’t told any of my Catholic relatives either of those things yet.
    It was easier for me to come out as an atheist to nearly everyone. I was critical of religion even as a believer, so it wasn’t a stretch, and anyone who’d have been upset had already begun avoiding me at that point. In most cases there was no “coming out”, but a slow shift from Catholicism to deism to pantheism to atheism. My father is a non-practicing Jew, which probably helped mitigate my mother’s feelings on the issue.
    My parents were similarly accepting of my lesbianism, but I was much more hesitant to come out as gay than as an atheist. I’d learned to fear rejection for one.
    It’s easier to be gay in the atheist community than to be an atheist in the gay community, in my experience.

  • Dominic

    I am gay and an atheist. My parents are both Catholic. I told them I was gay about 8 years ago and while I think they both know how I feel about religion, I’ve never actually been able to tell them directly that I am an atheist. I have boycotted all religious holidays though.

  • XPK

    I am a bisexual atheist. I ended up telling my family all in one foul swoop. “Killing to birds with one stone” so to speak. My father is a retired minister who was on the synod’s theological board and essentially helped craft the church’s theological bigotry against the GLBT community. When I confronted my father about this he said, “I wanted to change some of the wording on that, but I was outvoted.” As if saying gay people are supposed to live miserable, lonely lives in a nicer way changes the bigotry. And why the fuck does the church have to vote on whether people are allowed to be happy? (Rhetorical question, I already know the answer. And unfortunately in America today, we do get to vote on who gets rights in our state constitutions.) Anyway, I feel it was much easier for my parents and siblings to kinda-sorta vaguely know who I am, but pretty unacceptable to say it out loud. I know it was a step I needed to take personally, but everything comes with a price. Somedays I regret the cost even though I don’t regret being honest with my family.

  • Coming out as bisexual dating a guy was significantly easier. They know I’m an atheist, but I haven’t exactly said anything. My family is much more upset about the atheism than the bisexuality.

    Now, coming out as transgender – don’t get me started. That will never happen.

  • t0ast

    I came out as an atheist and later, bisexual to my parents. They attended a (really tame) Roman Catholic church, went through the baptism/communion/confirmation motions with me and prayed at meals regularly, but didn’t put any major emphasis on religion otherwise. I had figured these two things out about myself by my late teens, but still held off for a few years. I did this because I didn’t know what to expect and wanted to be able to independently support myself if things went nuclear. Thankfully, they didn’t.

    There was a small amount of friction on the atheism side of things, as my dad tried to guilt trip me into attending church and my mom half-heartedly attempted to sell me on religion again. Fortunately, they dropped it in a matter of weeks and have been fine ever since. Oddly enough, my extended family members (which are about as religious as my parents) haven’t really said word one about it to me to date. I’m guessing most of them know, but don’t really care a great deal, so I’m fine with that.

    On the bisexual side of the coin, I was a few months into a relationship with another guy by the time I graduated from college. I eventually let on that I was dating someone, but left it at that. They’d jokingly pry, but I wouldn’t give away anything compromising. After a while, I let my parents know over dinner, and later, my relatives by e-mail. There were no issues whatsoever. Much to my surprise, everyone who has met him has only had good things to say, so it’s difficult to imagine it going any better than it has.

  • dune

    In my country (Latvia) where only about a third of population is really religious coming out as atheist isn’t really coming out. It’s actually more embarrassing to say that you believe in Jesus, everyone will giggle and treat you like a sissy.
    But we have a real problem with homophobia. Even half of the atheists (if not most of them) hate gays. They can’t really rationalize it, just say it’s disgusting or unnatural. And that’s probably because most of the atheists haven’t come to their atheism through reason. They reject god simply because it’s so badass.

    So coming out gay is definitely much worse here.

  • wasd

    I think it’s a case by case kind of thing. If your parents are ‘liberal Christians’ they might think being gay is okay, as long as you believe. BUT if they find out their child doesn’t believe in anything…you can imagine how that might be worse.

    I am fascinated by these personal stories and hate to have nothing to offer but theory… but this makes a lot of mathematical sense.

    If you are a fundamentalist there is a wide sea of people whose faith is insufficient. Maybe you think “atheist” is just synonymous with devil worshiper, and devil worship would be bad, apparently. But if you kinda know what Atheism is then it might just mean “part of the vast less than perfectly religious masses”… People who act gay on the other hand… well those are a freaky weird minority.

    And boring gay people, well they screw with the idea of a supposedly old testament based moral code.

    But if you are a moderate then the core of your belief is that literally everyone can be a blessed and loved believer and there is no need to dwell on any of that old testament unpleasantness. The whole point for many is that there are just too many nice gay people for them not to be let into heaven. Being gay is just something between you and the guy at the pearly gates. Now why would the pearly gates bouncer in chief keep out nice gay people? But being Atheist… well thats puts you in in that freaky little minority that just refuses to be saved even though we have worked so damn hard for all those years to make it ridiculously easy…

    Being non accommodating atheist screws with the idea religion can and needs to be saved from its scriptures.

    “I have bend the bible all this way and you are still not happy?”

    Anyone care to compare coming out to fundamentalist compared to coming out to moderates?

    I do feel slightly less bad for without asking comparing the ostracized non christian or non mormon kids with the ostracized gay kids.

    I also sense reading between the lines that coming out gay is getting easier (IE From insanely difficult to really difficult). And for that we gay and/or atheists have a lot of brave gay people to thank.

  • Charlotte

    For me, it took quite a few tries before my mother, a Catholic, would accept that I was an atheist (my father was OK with it). She would tell me not to say I was an atheist, it’s not true, etc. I still get offers from my mother’s side of the family for prayers on my behalf and such, but they seem to have accepted it for the most part after 10 years or so.

    Anytime that I’ve tried to hint at my asexuality, however (much less difficult than being LGBT, but related), they just don’t believe me. I’m not comfortable explaining it to them in detail, and I’m still sorting it out myself, so now I am “focusing on my career” and/or “picky” whenever my mother brings up my not dating and/or her desire for grandchildren. It’s really frustrating to have people think that your core values/traits are completely made up or just a phase.

  • Well, I didn’t come out to my folks as gay, but as bisexual, so it’s similar enough to count, I hope?
    Anyway, the athiesm one was probably harder, though to be fair, they think both are “just phases”. They have since I came out to them as bi towards the beginning of freshman year, and since I came out as an atheist about the time I would’ve gotten confirmed, but didn’t because I thought it was all a big load.
    I’d say it was harder because my mother’s a minister though, and my dad is pretty spiritual. Our church was always, or at least as far back as I can recall, very accepting of people of different sexualities and the like.

  • Ramon Caballero

    I know you study/teach math but still:
    Atheist => A=without, theos=gods
    Polytheist => Poly=With many, ..gods
    monotheist => Mono=Only one, …gods
    gaytheist => ?? Those who have a god that is gay?

    That is not what you want to say, right? 🙂
    I think you use a dash for what you want to say: gay-atheist, if you really want only one word.

  • @Mara Jade:

    Ugh, I hate that “this is just a phase” or “you’re just rebelling” statements more than anything. As my Pharyngulite friend put it “coloring your hair purple is rebellion, deciding the truth about who you are is growing.”

  • Sadie

    I announced that I was an atheist when I was 12. I think I was too young to realize that that could be interpreted as a bad thing despite my entire family being Catholic. But I did know that it was not okay to be a lesbian. I’ve told my parents that I don’t believe in God and they are still in denial over it. I don’t know when, if I ever will, tell them that I am a lesbian.

    If I hadn’t told them that I was an atheist at such a young age, I think it might have been easier to tell them that I was gay.

  • Kelly

    Coming out as gay was far more difficult than coming out as atheist.  Being gay has much more social stigma attached than being atheist.  Period.

  • Athy

    Your last statement rings /painfully true/ for me as well. And our stories are similar – I came out as atheist about two years ago, having been critical of religion for most of my life. I still haven’t come out as lesbian, and it took me much longer to realize it about myself and even longer to accept it.

  • Tester

    OMG, it is so much harder to come out as gay.  It’s not even close for my family.

    I grew up in a hardcore Evangelical Christian family.  They are very anti-gay.  I am already out as an atheist.   They just think I’ve fallen away from the truth and hope I come back some day.  It is no reflection on them as Christians who see the world as very black and white, right and wrong, heaven and hell etc…

    I’m not out as gay.  If I did that, that would be destroying their life too somehow.  That would be the worst thing in the world.   Telling them they have a gay son would be such an embarrassment for them.  Our relationship would be destroyed.  They would stop at nothing to try to change me.  They would torture me.  I would have to completely cut off contact with my entire family and disappear.

    If you think about it, you might be able to imagine what life was like for me as a teenager wondering what the hell was wrong with me.  I thought I was going to hell, and had no one to talk to.

  • Marie Alexander

    It depends on your parents, really. Mine personally, the difference wouldn’t even be close: gay would be harder

  • John Conolley

    Unfortunately, the word has already been coined. There’s no getting away from it now. All we can do is refuse to use it ourselves. And cuss every son of a bitch that uses it behind his back.