Words: Evie Hylands (she/her)
Artword: Ruby O’Hare (she/her)
This article features in our third print issue of the year: Ashes to Ashes.
My Gran was dismayed the first time I spoke honestly with her about religion. She was convinced I had become yet another by-product of my mother’s raging atheist mentality. I first started to question faith, not just hers but every kind, arguing with the other children at the local Sunday school that there was no way Jesus could have fit that many fish in his pockets. As my mother had decided early on that she would not drag me to our local parish every single Sunday, I used to embarrass Gran by my lack of knowledge of hymns and synchronised prayers.
She would tie my hair in tight pigtails and dress me in frilly little dresses that she loved. Once ready to show me off to her friends, she would parade me around the golf club so they would tell her how pretty I looked. In those same days, I would perform my stilted and unpractised hymns in exchange for dessert.
Growing up queer was confusing at the best of times. Honestly, it was something I denied for most of my life. Upon reflection, I don’t think I fully understood it until I was older. To this day, it is something that my grandmother still does not know. The church told my grandmother that I would make for a perfect mother with the perfect husband who could make me some perfect children… the ultimate happy family. That was something I never wanted and it took me years to finally tell her I did not want to be part of her practice anymore because the church did not align with my values. Subsequently, it has become a sore topic of discussion between us. We now tend to stick to safe subjects like baking or the life achievements of my many, many cousins. Every year she still tries to drag me to go to her church and every year I still tell her no.
I was around 15 when I finally told her I did not want to go anymore, when I realised that the homophobia that was present in the church was something I could not tolerate anymore. When everyone else went to church, I started to spend my Sundays how I wanted. My Gran tried everything to get me to go, bribing me with new outfits, books, and promises that I would be allowed to have my favourite dinner (seafood pasta). I miss the time that I used to spend on a Sunday with my Gran, and I understand that the time I have left with her is fleeting, but it felt so liberating to stop pretending. I gained a new sense of autonomy when I simply stopped tolerating underlying comments about gay nephews, and stopped pretending to smile when a jab was made at the expense of the queer community. I no longer had to exhaust myself by correcting people every other minute for the use of the slur. The way I was able to disengage, ridding myself of feeling drained and frustrated every Sunday, was beautiful.
I spent my time doing other things instead. Every Sunday I would explore new coffee shops, read books, and go on new walks by myself. I spent time getting to know myself – perhaps because it finally gave me the space to consider who I was. It was hard to let go of, and I know that it is something that still upsets my Gran. There were consequences too, other than the promise of eternal damnation, of course. I was ostracised from the “omnibenevolent” church community, and disinvited to dinners, bake sales, and community gatherings. Though I faced familial tension, for my personal growth it was a wholly worthwhile experience that I would do again in a heartbeat. To my Gran, I will forever be her queer, hippie grand-daughter who does not come to church – the odd one out in the family. I do often miss the time I got to spend getting dressed up and fussed over by my Gran but her doting eyes are waylaid by religion. If I wanted to relax into the comfort of her love, it would have been at the expense of my identity.