My issues with queer-positive atheism


Following my big rant on queer-positive Christianity, I have a much shorter rant on queer-positive atheism. There are fewer things to unpack, but even the smaller issues are important to me, because I interact more frequently with atheists than I do with religious people.

So you’re not a fundamentalist Christian

The number one criticism I have about atheist attitudes towards queer people is that they’re very self-satisfied about it. Yes, we all know you’re way ahead of fundamentalist Christians. We all know you were in favor of same-sex marriage (or opposed to all marriage) before it was cool. Good for you?

As I previously said, one of my major issues with queer-positive Christianity is that they’re starting from very low standards, the standards of Christianity. Atheists have the advantage of being able to scrap Christian standards entirely and build something better. But you’re tossing out your advantage if you’re always comparing your attitudes to those of very religious people.

And I’m not even saying that we as atheists need to be more ashamed of [insert prominent anti-SJ atheist here]. Shame is not what I’m going for at all. It’s just that, even when we’re all on the same page about social justice, social justice is still a thing that takes work and not just lip service.

Queer people aren’t your tools

It has been true, as long as I’ve ever interacted with atheist groups, that they bring up queer issues quite frequently. However, the most common context for this is when listing harms caused by religion. It’s on the list somewhere between science education and reproductive rights.

It’s fine to talk about how religion harms people, but when that’s the only context where atheists ever mention queer people, it seems like queer people are just being used as a political tool. And when atheists are only interested in queer people as political tools, that tends to constrain the kind of queer issues they are aware of.

This is a sticking point for me as an ace activist, because there’s no obvious way to weaponize asexuality against religion. So every time I encounter lack of awareness of asexuality among atheist groups, I think to myself, “It’s because they’re only interested queer people as tools.”  I also note that atheist groups have started paying more attention to trans issues lately, and this seems to coincide with the religious right trying to create trans-exclusive bathroom policies.

Stop being weird about queer religious people

Another common context where queer people are brought up in atheist discussion is in reference to queer people within religions. Many atheists express incredulity that queer people would ever participate in the groups that oppress them, or express incredulity that such people even exist. Often this is done in a joking manner.

Since queer people have all sorts of backgrounds, of course there religious queer people. If you think about it statistically, do you really think that 100% of them would leave? Surely the correlation isn’t perfect because, as you may know, queerness doesn’t define the whole person. And even every last queer person left their religion, they wouldn’t do it instantly. Not to mention that there are plenty of churches that at least market themselves as queer friendly.

I just have a hard time grappling with this idea that queer religious people are so strange a phenomena that they are funny. Many of the queer atheists around you were, at one point, part of a religion. You’re laughing at our pain.

Conclusion

This has been a short rant with just a few scattered points. Perhaps I’ll think of more later, or my readers could add their own thoughts.

I should add, I’m fairly happy with how the atheist community has improved over the years. For some atheist communities such as the one here on FTB, social justice has become more and more of an emphasis, and I am pleased. However, I’m frequently reminded that mainstream atheism has changed much more incrementally.

Comments

  1. NYC atheist says

    Interesting thoughts for this cis het white guy to mull over. We all have blind spots, and this shines a light on some of mine.

  2. khms says

    So every time I encounter lack of awareness of asexuality among atheist groups, I think to myself, “It’s because they’re only interested queer people as tools.”

    Just speaking for myself here, but the reason that until recently I never talked about asexuality with everyone is that, until recently (that is, on approximately half a century), I hadn’t ever noticed anyone talking about this. (And that first may well have been you.) In other words, I didn’t know this was actually a thing.

    Given how new I am to the topic, I am not qualified to even guess how many others might be in the same situation.

    I can, however, add that, as far as queers go,

    * I’m not very familiar with jokes about religious queer people;

    * while statistically speaking, your argument seems solid, I do share this utter bafflement at queers among groups that are particularly known for being queer-hostile (but then, I have very similar feelings to that queer-hostile stuff itself, demonstrating that psychology isn’t my strong suit);

    * the context queers and atheism sticks in my mind most is the context of “let’s learn how to do it from them”[*];

    * and the stuff that sticks in my craw the most – even though I’ve mentioned it myself on occasion – is this expectation of religious anti-gay conservatives being repressed gays.

    [*] I note how very applicable one of the most-mentioned strategies is to the refugee problem: the parts of this country with the least numbers of refugees are the most refugee-hostile, and vice versa. Familiarity clearly breds tolerance. (Same trend in Internet discussions about the topic: those most opposed are least knowledgeable.)

  3. says

    @khms,
    On the individual level, I expect that atheists who aren’t aware of queer issues aren’t aware simply because they haven’t heard about them. But on a community level, I think it’s because some messages propagate easily throughout the community, and other messages don’t. So for instance, trans people have been talking about bathroom access for a long time, but only recently has that message been spread widely among cis atheists.

    Mind you, there’s some practical value to shifting attention to bathroom access now. Obviously it’s much more important to talk about now that conservatives put it on their agenda. I don’t know, I’m not saying it’s wrong, I’m just bothered by perceived patterns.

    Like you, I also hate claims/jokes that anti-gay conservatives are repressing same-sex attraction. The evidence for that is weak. And if it were true, that just makes me feel sorry for them, which is not really the desired reaction. I don’t think of this as something I hear specifically from atheists though. I believe I mostly hear it from gay men. Drives me up a wall.

  4. says

    So every time I encounter lack of awareness of asexuality among atheist groups, I think to myself, “It’s because they’re only interested queer people as tools.”

    This is one of the reasons I gave up on organized atheism as a movement. It seemed to me that whenever certain popular atheists did talk about social justice stuff, calling themselves “feminists” or whatever, it was only because they could use that issue as a cudgel to bash over the heads of religious people. They never really believed in any of it beyond that.

    And that whole “how can [black/queer/female/trans/etc] person be religious?” thing seems so condescending to me now (though, unfortunately, I used to think it myself). It betrays a lack of thought about the issues here, and where religion can be used for good in these contexts (liberation theology, for example).

  5. =8)-DX says

    @Siggy

    But on a community level, I think it’s because some messages propagate easily throughout the community, and other messages don’t.

    On of the reasons I started getting into feminism, LGBTQIA+ rights, intersectionality in general was because all the atheist groups seemed to be rehashing the same old material: after 50 million videos and blogposts on proofs of god, bigfoot and 10 commandments monuments, it turns out sexuality and identity as well as the experiences of other groups are extremely refreshing topics, with plenty of material to delve into and much to learn. That’s what makes it so frustrating to see the Big Thinky Leader Atheistos go with standard bigotry: shouting “lalalala I can’t hear you” instead of examining more important topics than detailed discussions of 16 creationists dancing on a pinhead.
    =8)-DX

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