My Filipino father wasn’t always a practicing Catholic but it was important that these ideals were ingrained in us as children. Later in life, while I was a teenager my mother changed faiths and married someone of a similar belief and we attended more Pentecostal and Evangelical church services. Through this time of transition I was coming of age and starting to realize a latent attraction towards other males. I was very afraid of getting caught or being found out. I knew what I believed to be enough religious people at the time to generalize my greatest fears into internal words.
I came to a secret belief or conclusion about all faiths. Whether this was ever directly uttered or not, I cannot say, but I believed that all religions, regardless of which religion, all agreed on one thing: everyone hates gays. And in many ways it felt like there were only two options: either I ‘choose’ to be gay and open about it, which would mean I have to give up God and all religion. Or I choose to stay spiritual and religious and have to live a lie. In order to be free, it seemed, I would need to cut myself off from all spirituality. So I resigned that I would have no part of this anymore in my life and I came to live as an open gay male.
Coming out may have solved some of my problems, but not all of them. During these first years I started to develop a drinking problem. As a by-product of my alcoholism I ended up contracting HIV. I felt incredibly ashamed and did not feel I had a lot of options to turn to, so I ended up drinking more and eventually turned to drugs. When my health deteriorated more, I become open to trying a few more ideas and somehow began to practice yoga. Through this practice I learned about different spiritual and religious concepts through the Buddhist and Hindu belief systems.
The desire was there inside me to grow more, but the grip of addiction, and my own fear and prejudice, held me back from exploring more.
When things became incredibly rough, I ended up in a 12-step meeting, of all places. And here, it seemed I was confronted again with this idea of God. Was it possible that the one thing I thought I couldn’t live without was actually the missing ingredient to having a better life, I wondered. Through reading and in the meetings, my psyche was hit by a question I could not shake, “Why don’t you choose your own conception of God?”
That had never occurred to me before. It was completely new information. The idea that ‘God’, instead of having a predetermined definition, could be something I could pick to mean whatever ideals I felt it embodied and establish the type of relationship I wanted to have.
What worked for me initially at the time was that perhaps there existed some ‘God’ that loves me as I am, with no conditions or restrictions on that love; in my head and heart it was some sort of Gay God.
Since then, my idea has branched out and self-acceptance and connection have also grown. I became a yoga teacher. I devoted myself to a regular practice and adopted spiritual principles to guide me through life and my regular dealings with others.
While this relationship may be personal, I do not always feel Divinely inspired or intimately connected to this Spirit of the Universe on an individual level. Sometimes praying feels like it is just me alone, yelling or screaming at the ceiling above my bed. But I believe that if this little spark of Creation and something Divine lives inside of me, then it also lives inside of other human beings all around me. And the best way to connect with It is to connect with others.
I have found through experience that the more people I can connect with that do not live like me, the more I can learn about what God is. Being supportive of people who live differently than me helps me to see things that I may have overlooked in my own life. I have learned that my prejudices and fears against religions were wrong; that my perceptions needed to change.
Many of the most inspiring moments I've had came from casual conversations where that person shared the answer to an unspoken question in my heart. And in this way, my life becomes molded and shaped by the love and kindness of those around me.
I have found it incredibly beneficial and important to support those that have different beliefs than myself, whether or not I actually believe them personally, and to not support those whose beliefs hurt others.
In Daoism, this is referred to as the Ethics of Difference: to respect diverse ways of life as having equal worth, and so logically it cannot respect any ways of life that do not regard other ways of life as having equal worth.
Also, through this way I have learned of the Copper Rule of living: to do (or not do) unto others as others would (or would not) have us do unto them. By embodying and living the Copper Rule through religion and society, one can find a way to bring esteem to others and in so, find esteem and respect for one’s self in their own beliefs.
This goes farther than the Golden Rule to live by ‘do (or do not do) unto others as I would (or would not) have them do unto me’. It encourages one to think and see the world through their eyes and conduct oneself as they would wish and by so doing, to learn more about oneself. What I have found is that my capacity to love and be accepting is greater than I realized.
By creating space and trying to follow these ideals, I found love and acceptance and space to be myself. My beliefs and ideas of religion have evolved beyond that which I could have imagined before.
I know that I am fortunate. I live and flourish in a space and bubble on this planet where there is huge freedom and opportunity to be the way I want and live the life I want. I also know that there are many places on this planet where that may not currently be the case.
I see this as a great opportunity for us as a society to demonstrate to those in other places, through our actions, the potential and capacity for growth when we set aside differences that divide us and instead embrace them.
My family has loved, and continued to love me unconditionally through any change or transitions I have made. Because of this, knowing that they will always ‘have my back’ means I have had the freedom to explore and evolve to where I am today.
But I am one and we are many. If we can do this on a larger scale, the possibilities for spiritual and societal growth is infinite.
Thanks for taking time to read this. Whatever is holy and Divine that lives inside of me honours and bows down to whatever is holy and Divine that lives inside of you.
Alcoholics Anonymous. 2001. “Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th Edition.” New York: A.A. World Services: 12
Huang, Yong. 2010. “Respecting Different Ways of Life: A Daoist Ethics of Virtue in the Zhuangzi.” The Journal of Asian Studies69 (4): 1058 & 1060