My Family Still Believes I’m a Straight Christian
Leading a double life with an unknown expiration date is challenging, to say the least
Hello, my name is Zuva. I am 23 years old and there are two distinct versions of me. To my friends and online community, I am an atheist, bisexual woman. But my family still thinks I am a practicing Christian heterosexual. This year would make it around five years since I initiated this deception.
I was never the best believer. Throughout my life, I always held doubts that I would bring with me every week to bible study. For example, it always bothered me that the location of my birth had been the decider of my faith. Surely you can’t get a ticket to eternal damnation just because you haven’t heard of Jesus or follow a different faith? How do you go about choosing the right faith? I wondered, constantly questioning the benevolence of God.
Nevertheless, Christianity was a badge I wore with honor. Throughout high school I was known as “The Christian.” When it came to my sexuality, I was self-certified as non-homophobic, but still sincerely believed it was a choice. Why? Because at 15, I had made that choice, not yet understanding the intricacies and nuances of bisexuality. I had consciously taken my ability to only focus on one side of my identity as evidence of a choice being made.
And I was content in my bubble. However, when engaged in religious studies, the weak foundations of my designated religion began to erode with every lesson. By sixth form (what Americans would call high school), my queries had carried me over to agnosticism.
But as my faith continued to crumble, my security in my sexuality continued to grow. And finally, after years of battling biphobia, I came out to friends. It was right around this time that one of my friends asked if I would ever come out to my family. My immediate response was to laugh.
I can count on my hands and feet the number of pastors and religious leaders that are in my family. As first-generation Africans, there is a culture of “accepted homophobia” in the ranks, though it’s not thought of as such, but something more like, “the fight for purity and preservation of life in an increasingly sodomitic world.”
During discussions on religion and homosexuality, I have learned to keep my mouth shut, no matter how much it hurts.
When I was younger, I made the mistake of hinting at my agnosticism to my mother. Her reaction was to — even though they weren’t speaking at the time — call my father, to question what it was that they were teaching her daughter. I was then bombarded with scriptures and passages from numerous family members, along with prayers for my deliverance. Because of this experience, I can only imagine the sorrow and pain I would cause my family by coming out. Though there are certain sects of Christianity who believe (and rightly so) that homosexuality is not a choice, my family does not belong to one of them. Thus I decided long ago that sacrificing my autonomy was well-worth maintaining my self-preservation.
For me, lying has become almost second nature. I use biblical knowledge gained from my childhood to maintain the lie. During discussions on religion and homosexuality, I have learned to keep my mouth shut, no matter how much it hurts. Since moving back to live with my father, church is mandatory, yet not too painful, due to my coping mechanisms:
- I sway and sing along to praise and worship, ensuring I’ve sat far away from any family members.
- During the preaching, I pretend to be taking notes while reading novels on my phone. I’m not sure if this facade is in any way discrete, however I also know that no one will ever comment on it.
- I make sure to listen to little bits here and there of what is preached about in church, just in case we decide to discuss it after the service.
Outside of church, I have other fields of protection, writing under a pen name for example. However, it isn’t always smooth sailing. I am constantly on edge about being outed by someone, and am prone to slip-ups. Just the other day my cousin showed me a picture of a woman and instinctively I commented on her attractiveness. My cousin was a little confused by my reaction, stating, “Were you talking about her hair?”
The anonymity I shroud myself in can become frustrating at times. My work has recently appeared in two major publications, but I’m unable to share this news with family members, due to it being akin to opening Pandora’s box. As far as anyone in my family is concerned, I have, so far, seen no success with my writing, I am simply a two time university dropout with a dumb dream that will never come to pass. But I am learning to stomach my pride.
Yet, even I know that no one can hide forever. My true self will eventually be discovered by someone in my family. Maybe not today, maybe not in a year or two, but soon. And when it does, I have to be ready.
This story was published in response to Human Parts’ Weekend Writing Prompt, “What’s a lie you told that everyone still believes? Large or small, life-altering or inconsequential, borne out of fear or ego-inflation or the simple pleasure of deception. Chronicle the lie. Share its origin story and where it led. What are you hiding, and why?” To receive prompts like this one every weekend, subscribe to our newsletter by following Human Parts.