As a professional queer and social justice advocate, I never thought I'd want to champion the side of faith and spirituality. I was raised Catholic, but like far too many LGBTQ+ people, I had a brutal and painful falling-out with the church when I came out that I continue to work through.
What I've come to realize over the years, though, is all the ways that my life is still shaped by my upbringing in organized religion, and surprisingly to me, the benefits this continues to bring me. It was the first and most formative place that I learned leadership and community, and in many ways where I learned activism.
What has fueled my healing is a deeper understanding of the separation of church and spirituality. Many churches are similar to other institutions (education, the medical system, government, and more) in the United States that are plagued by centuries of white supremacy, colonization, puritanical sex-negativity, ableism, homophobia, and transphobia. Church and religious leaders and the institutions that they have built have no right to own my spirituality or my ability to seek support from higher powers (for me that includes gods, goddesses, gender-fluid spirit guides, and ancestors). In rejecting the institutions they made, I also cut myself off from beliefs, rituals, and practices that I actually want in my life as a queer person of color.
It can be scary to be out as queer and spiritual, let alone religious. But I've found myself still connected to mental health supports like prayer and holiday traditions (re-imagined and reclaimed, of course) that my immigrant families have implemented as part of their survival for generations.
And I find I'm not alone in exploring coping methods born out of spirituality. I see examples every day of my most cherished LGBTQ+ community seeking spirituality and faith by any other name. We are seeking validation, security, and community. Like all humans, queer folks want to know that we are not alone. We wonder why we're here on this planet and what our purpose in life is. We want to know, just like everyone else, if we're doing this life thing right.
Why not admit to ourselves that believing in something bigger than us may be part of a mental health support system? Or that there is beauty and true restoration when we can admit that we don't have all of the answers, that we can ask for support even if we're not sure exactly how or when it'll arrive, and that coming together in community can help us to manage and even grow during prolonged times of uncertainty (see: current times)?
Part of my spiritual activism comes in response to the trends I've noticed that occur when a community seeks emotional or energetic comfort without a deeper spiritual center. We live in a consumerist society that will sell us our spiritual support if we let it. We could easily seek validation from social media likes and purchase grounding tools like moon boxes brought to us by national corporations. In our capitalistic and distraction-filled society, we can lose sight of what is actually sacred.
Untainted by institutional and organized misdirection, a spiritual practice can lift us up and help us to recharge. A deep spiritual core is one tool we could work on developing to combat the anxiety fueled by our ever-present uncertainty during shelter-in-place orders exacerbated by isolation. Spirituality, rooted in ritual, can be the self-care LGBTQ+ activists actually need to address burnout, beyond bubble baths and binging TV. Let's see what rituals and practices we can co-create when our expansiveness for connection, our deep knowingness of ourselves, unfettered by societal norms or even the families we were born into, are the central root of our beliefs and traditions.
Why should we let ourselves be cut off from rituals and practices that could help us in our own journey? Why not take what works, and do what we always do -- queer it up and reinvent it for ourselves?
Becca Mui (she/her) is a queer cis femme biracial social justice advocate. Build with her on IG@HouseOfOurQueer.