(This is Part 2 of a two-part post. You might want to read Part 1 first.)
So if coming out as atheist is different in important ways from coming out as queer… what does that mean?
In Part 1 of this post, I talked about an important difference between coming out as queer and coming out as atheist. I pointed out that coming out as queer doesn’t imply that straight people are wrong to be straight — but that coming out as atheist does imply that believers are wrong to believe. And I argued (among other things) that coming out atheist is always going to be inherently confrontational, at least a little bit, and is likely to always be at least somewhat divisive and upsetting… in ways that coming out as queer doesn’t have to be.
That being said.
Even given this important difference between coming out as atheist and coming out as queer, there’s still a parallel between them — and it’s a parallel we can learn from.
Coming out queer doesn’t imply, “You’re wrong to be straight.” But it does imply, “You’re wrong to be homophobic.”
When queers come out of the closet, we aren’t asking straight people to change their minds about being straight. But we are asking them to change their minds about us. We’re asking them to change their minds about whether being queer is moral, healthy, stable, socially sound, etc. In fact, we’re asking them to change their minds about a lot of things, things that have implications in their own lives and not just in ours: ideas and feelings about sexuality, about gender roles in relationships, about what it means to be a man or a woman, about how we define a family. We’re not just asking them to change how they feel about us. We’re asking them to change how they feel about themselves.
Now, that was somewhat more true in previous decades than it is today. When LGBT people come out today, straight people are a lot more likely to already be on board. Queers have successfully changed the culture to a great extent, and we’ve changed a lot of people’s minds: not only about queers being okay, but about gender and sexuality and family and so on. But that’s very far from universally true. Anti-queer bullying in high schools is evidence of that. And subtle forms of homophobia and heterosexism still exist in people who are basically pro-queer. There are a lot of people who haven’t changed their minds yet, in large ways and small — and we’re asking them to do that.
When we come out as queer, we’re not telling them that they’re wrong to be straight. But we’re still telling them, in many cases, that they’re wrong.
So atheists need to remember that. Yes, coming out as atheist means telling believers, “I think you’re wrong.” But it’s okay to tell people, “I think you’re wrong.” That’s one of the ways we get people to change their minds. And there is no way to ask people to change their minds about us without asking them to change their minds about themselves.
That’s true for queers — and it’s true for atheists. We need to accept this, and embrace it. We’re not going to get very far if we don’t.