I like hearing people’s coming out stories and waiting for the bit about death, the bit where queerness becomes palatable only in the face of death. I guess some people aren’t even this lucky. Coming out as an atheist was worse than coming out as gay. I mean, coming out as gay was pretty easy actually, following the suicide attempt and the coming out as an atheist.
I remember the moment I knew I was an atheist for sure. I was 20 years old at the primate enclosure at the Bronx Zoo. There’s this part of it that’s all glass, floor-to-ceiling windows with benches in the middle, which kind of creates this feeling of just chilling in the middle of a forest with the chimpanzees and apes and gorillas and stuff. Normally I move through those kinds of spaces quite quickly. I usually make myself very small, but I felt compelled to sit down and watch them.
I told my mum I was an atheist when I was back in London a few months later. I told her on a busy Tube carriage returning from central London. I am not sure why I chose that place or that moment. I don’t know if I was hoping for some kind of safety in public, despite British people being the most passive people I have ever met. I don’t remember much from that conversation, but I do remember crying and movement and the words, “I don’t want blond grandchildren.”
I am sitting on the floor of a branch of Citibank in Bushwick on a Saturday, and I am pretty sure I have been cursed because someone is using my card in Chicago to buy baby clothes. I am happy for them, but sad for me, and I don’t believe in God, but I do have at least two friends, so I text them, and they agree I need protection. We brainstorm what kind of adornments I can wear—a very fashion-forward approach—but I gave my Hand of Fatima away so we have to choose between a yin-yang pendant and a small golden model of Aladdin’s lamp.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I enjoy being an atheist or go out of my way to tell people about it. It’s just a truth that becomes this forced spectacle in contrast to a human-made default position, like organized religion or heterosexuality. I know how corny it sounds, how white it all sounds, but I figured if “pansexual” can have a moment, maybe atheism can have another one. Only…