Coming Out Is Fun

There’s something I’d like to see atheists say more often:

Coming out is fun.

I was hanging out with some of the folks from the Minnesota Atheists after my talk there last Sunday. We were talking, as so many atheists so often do, about coming out as atheists – -how important it is, how central it is to the success of the movement, the obstacles in its way.

And one of the women at the table — I’m really sorry, I can’t remember her name — said something that struck me. She was talking about an assortment of closets she’d come out of in her life. And she pointed something out that I think we sometimes forget:

Coming out is fun.

Coming out is exciting. Coming out is an adventure. Coming out is a rush. Telling someone something true about yourself, something they don’t know, something you don’t know how they’re going to respond to — it’s exhilarating.

And living an out life is fun. Being out makes you feel liberated. Being out makes you comfortable in your own skin. Being out makes it easier to find other people who share your values and experiences, other people you connect and resonate with. An honest life, a life where you’re not constantly keeping track of who knows which secrets about you and how they might hurt you if they tell… it feels good. It’s easier to relax, and to be yourself, and to have fun.

Coming out is fun… and being out is fun.

Yes, coming out can also be hard. It can be scary. It can be painful. It can even be dangerous. You might upset people you care about; you might have some difficult conversations. You might even lose people you care about — people you care about a lot. In extreme situations, you might lose your job, your home, custody of your kids. Coming out can be hard, and if you’re in a situation where it might seriously injure you, you should think carefully about whether you want to do it, and when, and how. I’m not going to pretend that any of that isn’t true. It is.

But I think that atheists tend to emphasize the second part more than we do the first. We tend to talk about coming out as a noble duty, a rite of passage, a difficult but necessary step to a better life for ourselves and the world.

And there can be some truth to that.

But there’s also truth to this:

Coming out is fun.

If coming out was fun for you — please tell how! If it wasn’t, of course I want to hear that too. I don’t want to bias the data pool or anything. But I would love to hear some more atheist coming-out stories that focus on the fun. If you have one — please share!

Coming Out Is Fun

52 thoughts on “Coming Out Is Fun

  1. 1

    I have seen people enjoy coming out to a small group of fellow atheists. And it was particularly striking in the case of a few who could not come out to anyone else; the most moving stories I have about someone coming out are all about people who came out to a small group of other atheists, and could not come out to anyone else.

    But personally, I did not particularly enjoy being an out atheist until I started discussing atheism online. (For the first 10 or so years of my regular internet use, discussion of programming consumed nearly all of internet usages,so I didn’t discuss atheism much in those years; only when someone else brought it up would I respond.)

    I dislike arguments in most media; on the internet, I enjoy them largely because (a) I can respond to each point someone makes in detail (something I clearly can’t do in meatspace), and (b) I can readily ignore them when I so choose (much harder in meatspace). For this reason, I do not enjoy being an out atheist around believers, and if they actively pursue the topic, I don’t care for it all, but I respond because I feel I should. For many years I was an out atheist only because anything else struck me as dishonest; I was convinced almost anyone who asked deserved an honest answer.

    I have formed friendships in online atheist communities that are very important to me. And I’ve enjoyed that process. But for most of of 20 years and more I’ve been an out atheist, I felt it was a clear example of a case where being right had unpleasant consequences.

  2. 2

    Coming out as gay thirty years ago was indeed liberating as well as risky. As a Brit it is very strange to me to hear people talk of coming out as an atheist in the same way. Benign indifference to religion is the default position here. Nobody would bat an eyelid if you said you are an atheist, but people will go quiet and gently change the subject if you announce your love of Jesus and gratitude for your salvation. I wish we had a little more positive insistence on the secular rather than this polite lack of involvement with faith. We are too afraid of offending Muslims and loony ‘faith groups’ generally.

  3. 3

    I tend to come out accidentally.

    “Wait, are you agnostic or something?”
    “Atheist, actually”
    “How could you have known me for 5 years and not know this?”

    Wound up having a discussion on facebook with my brother about the difference between agnosticism and atheism. I brought up “strong and weak agnosticism , negative and positive atheism, and Apatheism, Ignosticism, Deism, Misotheism and Maltheism. They all overlap a little.”

    his response: “Damnit…now I gotta look shit up!”

  4. 4

    Coming out as gay 30 years ago was indeed liberating and risky. It is strange for me as a Brit to hear that people in the US need to come out as atheists in the same way. Here, benign indifference to religion is the default position. Announce your atheism and nobody will bat an eyelid. Declare your love of Jesus and gratitude for your salvation and there will be silence and a polite but swift change of subject. The problem with this indifference is that we will not insist sufficiently on the secularising of all public affairs. ‘Faith schools’ can teach creationist nonsense to kids, Muslims do not integrate, and registrars can refuse to officiate at gay weddings on the grounds that their faith forbids them to. If only the law could be invoked to say ‘well, fuck that, officiate as you are paid to or get another job’.

  5. 5

    (3rd attempt at publishing this comment – is comment moderation on?)

    Coming out as gay 30 years ago was indeed liberating and risky. It is strange for me as a Brit to hear that people need to come out as atheists in the same way. Here, benign indifference to religion is the default position. Announce your atheism and nobody will bat an eyelid. Declare your love of Jesus and gratitude for your salvation and there will be silence and a polite but swift change of subject. The problem with this indifference is that we will not insist sufficiently on the secularising of all public affairs. ‘Faith schools’ can teach creationist nonsense to kids, Muslims do not integrate, and registrars can refuse to officiate at gay weddings on the grounds that their faith forbids them to. If only the law could be invoked to say ‘well, fuck that, officiate as you are paid to or get another job’.

  6. Ein

    I had a “coming out” moment of sorts around the fourth grade, though I’m not sure it exactly counts. You see, my parents raised me and my sister utterly without regard to religion. My father was indifferent but nominally Protestant and my mother was a vague sort of spiritualist, and the topic just never came up. There were friends down the street that went to nightly church events, involved in some sort of Christian equivalent of boy scouts: finish certain tasks, like memorizing certain Bible verses, and you’d get badges. The few times I went, I participated in relays for the sweets involved and daydreamed through everything else.

    Just before fourth grade, I moved. At some point, the topic of religion came up. I’d heard about it before, of course; I lived in Virginia and then in North Carolina, in the American South. I’d also heard about the Easter Bunny and Santa. I’d mentally filed God into the same cabinet: lies parents tell to children for the sake of tradition and family holidays. So when the topic of God came up, I naturally expressed some degree of confusion. I mean, I was nine, and that pretty obviously wasn’t how the world worked! Surely everyone else had figured it out, too?

    (The problem of evil was my reason for dismissing religion then. I was always in poor health, though thankfully for reasons I’ve been able to address. That did gave me an early understanding of what inherent, unavoidable inequality is, and it never made sense to me that anything magical enough to change that sort of thing wouldn’t.)

    I don’t have many memories of my childhood, but that one is particularly strong: Explaining the topic and my answer to my parents from a place of honest confusion, and being told that, while they thought that was a fine view to have, I probably shouldn’t spread it around, because other people actually believed it.

    I wonder how many other children shared that sort of experience? To this day, it adds a private dimension of humor to every “God = Santa” analogy.

  7. 7

    I was in the audience on Sunday and enjoyed the talk immensely. I especially liked your point about how atheist anger comes primarily from a place of compassion. I had not heard it articulated in quite that way, but a lot of my anger at religion is based more on how it harms individual believers and society at large rather than any purely personal grievances.

    But one of those grievances is central to my coming out experience. I figured out I was an atheist about halfway through high school, but right around the same time my older brother told my parents he was gay. Their reaction was not accepting, to say the least, and it was the main reason I kept my atheism under wraps around them as long as I did. I remembered that I would take more care in hiding my freethought literature than I did my porn collection, since if my mother came across the latter she would at least be reassured I was straight. When I did come out to my parents it was more by accident, as I had inadvertently left a t-shirt from my campus atheist student group at the top of a load of laundry I had taken out of the dryer. By that time, though, the steady decline in my church attendance may have already tipped them off. For whatever reason I was not treated nearly as badly as my brother had been a few years earlier, but it will be their reaction to him that I continue to remember as the most poignant example of how religion will compel otherwise decent and loving people to treat a fellow human being, their own son no less, like the scum of the Earth.

    Thanks again for coming to Minnesota to speak. Also, as a Camp Quest volunteer and board member, thanks for the awesome fundraising you did for us earlier this year.

  8. 8

    Huh. I hadn’t thought of my coming out as fun. Most of my friends knew for years, or at least the close ones. I think of my coming out moment as when I came out to my family, just a few months ago. Hmm, fun parts about that?

    I came out by copy-pasting the text of my blog post “Heroes” to Facebook, intending my family to see it (it’s also when I quit using a pseudonym online). Before I posted it, I asked my wife to read it, telling her that I was thinking of putting it on Facebook, but not saying what was in it. I went to the living room and waited. She came walking in and said “I think I found a mistake, but I wasn’t sure if you meant it to be worded that way, so I just highlighted it for you.” I asked her which spot, and realized it was some phrase I’d been questioning when I wrote it. I waited. Nothing more was forthcoming.

    “Well, what about posting it to Facebook?” I asked. She shrugged, “Ok.”

    “You realize my family will see this?”

    “Yes, but I’ve never understood why you would hide so much of yourself from them.”

    “If this is online, it could be found by potential future employers during a background check, and might be used against me.”

    “Then we’ll deal with it.”

    The matter-of-fact attitude expressed by focusing on a writing mistake is the fun part, in retrospect (I condensed and paraphrased a few things, obviously). Yea, I fucking love that woman.

    Other fun parts?
    -My best man feeling the need to tell me how he’s long respected me and my integrity, and how proud he was that I finally had come out to my family.
    -One of my friend’s who didn’t know telling me he was Christian, but not about to reject me as a result.
    -The very interesting discussions I’ve had with that friend and others on Facebook, now that I’m no longer worrying so much about what I might accidently reveal by what I say.
    -Being comfortable tabling with the local freethought group and Minnesota Atheists at the local Pride Fest.
    -Finding passion (and yes Greta, anger) in the atheist, humanist, and LGBT movements. I lacked passion previously, and had just about given up hope of finding any.

    Ya know, it’s been better than I thought. Thanks for the question, it made me actually think about some of the positives. There’s still some stress. I’m still waiting for my very religious family to try putting pressure on me, but even that’s fading (Damon Fowler’s experience is what I feared, though not what I expected; that it failed to happen that way is a huge relief). And I still have to keep my mouth shut with clients and their families, but so do the Christians and Muslims.

    I’ll agree. It’s been fun.

  9. 9

    I was never really that religious myself so I don’t exactly have a coming out story. My mum did the church thing for a while after my dad kicked his final bucket but it was never anything serious and mostly so she could be around other people. Australia is much like england in its attitude to religion (as Steve repeatedly mentioned above) so the social stigma is somewhat stronger against godbotherers than atheists.

    I do remember the thing that finally stopped me going to church though. One day when I was about 9 or 10 I asked for peanut butter on my jesus cracker and ended up being given a lecture by the priest after the mass (Given the other things priests have been known to give little boys I suspect I got off lightly). Whilst he was sitting there telling me in a fairly kindly manner that it was a serious thing that I shouldn’t make jokes about, I came to the realisation that any organisation that didn’t have a sense of humour was one I wanted no part of. After all if you can’t take the piss, what else is there in life?

  10. 11

    To some extent I didn’t come out because I was never really in. But this in itself led to problems since whilst my parents were (to all intents and purposes) atheists, the world around me wasn’t. I can recite with unerring accuracy the Lord’s prayer and sing many hymns (although I do have problems with “Jerusalem” in that I can’t remember to build in the green fields before my satanic mills which is embarrassing when you’re singing along at the top of your voice). Every morning was a sit down in assembly and a lesson read by our headmistress, which involved a Bible Story and the Message which was “Believe in God and you will be good”. On television, I saw evidence that if you “Believe in god, you will be good” and even I was able to comprehend that the opposing message was “If you don’t, you’re evil”. “Highway to Heaven”, “Little House on the Prairie” – even “Airwolf”, with its good characters being called “Gabriel” and “Archangel” and “Saint” – funnily enough being pronounced “Sin”, but the idea was still there – all these centred on the fact that you must believe, that someone was watching, that justice can be meted out even if the good guys didn’t quite get there. “Quantum Leap” – based around science, but ultimately being about god and Someone Leaping Sam around (heck, I’ve even written my own fan fiction involving god). I had always wanted to believe, I had always tried, and been mired down in guilt and confusion because I came to the conclusion that I must be lazy and in some way defective because I was utterly unable to. I eventually avoided discussions about god, and even thinking about religion since I could not bear the shame of my own failure.
    And then I read Richard Dawkins’ “The God Delusion” and actually cried whilst reading it, as it answered what I felt, and finally there was a person in authority at last telling me that there wasn’t anything wrong with me, it was just that I couldn’t believe in something without evidence.
    The fun is looking at scientists arging with believers because they talk about stuff which is beyond my comprehension but is pretty much just part of their day. But some of it is just amazing anyway, particularly in the animal kingdom, and just makes me go, “Wow! I never knew that” and I wouldn’t have read this if I hadn’t got more involved with being an atheist.
    “Greatest show on Earth” – best Dawkins ever, I think, although I’m still reading, “The Blind Watchmaker”.

  11. 12

    Actually, were I come from (Quebec, AKA French Canada), the practicing Christian are the ones who really have to do a coming out. Agnostic/Deist/Cultural Christian seems to have become the by default position, and deep religiosity is viewed mostly with suspicion. Churches are actually being turned into rock climbing centers and libraries, because no one attends except at easter and christmas…

  12. gc

    The experience will vary depending on the person, but coming out in a large metro area is generally going to be far different from coming out in a small rural community. In most US communities you will find established churches for many of the major Christian denominations, but you will find zero atheist groups of any kind. If you are lucky, there may be a small Unitarian group in the community.

  13. 14

    I came out in the last two months, and I’d say it’s been exciting more than fun – I don’t think I’d choose to come out atheist as a weekend activity or anything!

    It was an enormous relief to be met with the degree of acceptance and curiosity that my husband’s mother/side of the family displayed. We’ve had some excellent discussions, exchanged reading and viewing material, and email relatively regularly. Some people have felt like a specimen, what with the barrage of questions that came after the fact, but we don’t mind. For them, it comes from a place of ignorance – they’ve never thought to ask these questions, nor did they have anyone to direct them to. It stems from a desire to know and understand us better as people, and that’s totally fine.

    My parents, on the other hand, have screamed and cried and promptly swept in under the rug. It’s not…bad, like getting kicked out of the house or losing your job, but it’s incredibly awkward, a poorly hidden elephant in the room. I get cards and letters from members of their church encouraging me to “continue my spiritual journey” and “seek to fill the God-filled void in my heart”, so I know my parents are talking about my atheism…with everyone but me!

    The gossip feels disrespectful, but I recognize that my relationship with my parents has never been based on mutual respect and understanding, so I’m not offended that they’re being childish about this one aspect of my life. The moment they grow a pair and take an interest in me as a human being, and my life, I’ll be waiting, but until then I’m not holding my breath.

    tl;dr – Coming out – mixed bag, not an over-abundance of fun in it.

  14. 15

    Oh, yes. Coming out was a blast. I didn’t grow up religious, and there wasn’t a lot of overt religion around me (aside from the pervasive background noise), just a mild awareness that some people had stuff to do on Sunday mornings, or Wednesday evenings when we were confirmation age. However, nobody around me really seemed to identify as atheist until I started talking about it publicly.

    Then, all of a sudden, it was like I’d turned on a spigot. My friends wanted to talk to me about the experience of being atheist–their experience. Deconversion stories, things they’d always found ridiculous about theology and mythology, the annoyances of being assumed to be Christian. They wanted to talk about it all, and me coming out gave them the opportunity to do it.

    It was one of the funniest experiences of my life, discovering I was surrounded by other atheists, and one of the things that keeps me determined to make atheism more visible for everyone.

  15. 16

    I used to be a born-again Christian for an embarrassingly long time, but finally my intellectual honesty won. Coming out to former fellow believers was generally awkward. I recall one such encounter that’s rather funny in retrospect. A guy I knew from the church met me on the street and wondered why he hadn’t seen me around in several months. I told him I wasn’t a Christian any more, which made him attempt to rescue me from the clutches of the demon that had blinded me to the Blood of the Lamb that had been slain to build an eternal dwelling for me, or something to that effect. I kept wishing he’d stop but I wasn’t assertive enough to say so outright. Finally, he asked if I’d mind him praying for me. I told him I wouln’t mind at all, happy that he seemed to be leaving. However, he put his hand on my shoulder, raised the other hand and started praying out loud right there on the sidewalk! I was mortified.

  16. 17

    I came out to my mom when I was sixteen. She was a kind of generic Christian at the time (atheist now). She just shrugged and said I should keep studying the issue. She used the “God believes in you” thing but lovingly, not maliciously.

    A couple of years ago my nephew’s SO came out to our side of the family at a family gathering. He encouraged her to talk with us. She is terrified that her family will find out, but she was so happy to finally have people to talk to about it that she was almost hysterical. She told us that she had never believed, even as a small child. It all seemed silly and mean, is what she said.

  17. 18

    I was never really “in”, but the first time I took a stand because of my atheism was in science class, 1986.(I do remember the year, because I remember that my science teacher had taken a vacation to Florida, where he observed Halley’s Comet)I forget what grade it was, but I was 15. One of my classmates father’s had unfortunately died. And my science teacher asked if there was anyone who objected to having the class say a prayer for my classmates family. I was the one who objected. I kind of felt like a jerk for doing so, but I felt it was important. That was also the same year that my history teacher was retiring, and walked out of his classroom on the last day before summer because he took his last day before retiring to evangelize to class.

  18. 19

    I’m envious of those of you above who live in areas where indifference to religion is the norm. I live in southeast Texas where it is assumed that everyone is Christian. This is tiresome and depressing.

    One of my co-workers made a comment to me about praying about something. I told him I’m an athiest. His response? “How long has THAT been going on?” Odd, right?

    My mother hasn’t been very good about it really. She’s convinced that she’s a Christian even though she hasn’t set a foot in a church in years and I seriously doubt that she prays. I think it may be more of a “Pascal’s Wager” sort of thing with her. She also tends to use the phrase “claims to be an athiest” when talking about the very few non-believers she knows of. I’m working on her, though.

  19. 20

    Like Steve from the UK, Guillame from Canada and Sumdum from the Netherlands above, I never really needed to be “in the closet” about my atheism. In Sweden it’s much the same, non belief in God/gods is mainly a non issue, and it is the very religious who are viewed with “smiling and backing away slowly”-suspicion.

    It was, funny enough, me coming out as skeptic that was the tricky thing! 98 % of all the people I knew, as well as my relatives, didn’t believe in god, and were, at most, what Dawkins described as cultural Christians who maybe married in church and baptized their children because it was old traditions, and there is such a nice atmosphere in our old country churches. (The church in the small village where I live is 800 years old, many find it quaint and charming to go there for things like that, but the ceremonies are just empty words to them.)

    However… most of them are wooish like hell! They believe in ghosts and the afterlife, they believe in psychics and mediums, they believe in UFO-kidnappings, and whacky conspiracy theories, they take homeopathic “medecines” and go to chiropractors. They are into Tarot cards and astrology and dowsing.. Yeah, the list goes on and on… (Not all of them are into all of these things at the same time, a few believes in this, and a few others in that, you know, they have their pet woos. I think as good as ALL of them DO believe in the afterlife and ghosts though.)

    When I was a kid and a teenager, up to about my early twenties, I used to believe in all sorts of things like this as well. That’s what everybody talked about when I grew up, and I found it fascinating. But, to be brief, because I DID find it fascinating my natural curiosity and thirst for knowledge made me devour books on the subject. I wanted to know how it all worked and what was the “real woo”, I wanted to separate it from the stuff that I could see, even back then, was obviously bullshit. I thought there was a real version of it somewhere. So, in my mid twenties that started a steady journey towards skepticism for me. I soon realized it was ALL bullshit! When I got access to the Internet I learned even more and finally got in contact with other skeptics and got to discuss and read people within the skeptic and atheist movement. I realized I wasn’t alone in not believing in all this woo, and that was wonderful! For me it wasn’t sad, or very hard, to let go of these beliefs. I never really believed that very strongly in the first place (I had just never heard anything else growing up) and for me it was mostly just a joy to learn more, and discard those things I had been wrong about. It was an interesting journey for me.

    Coming out as a skeptic to all my woo-believing friends and family hasn’t been a tough experience the way some atheists have had to endure, not at all, but it has had its difficulties, and a few similarities. Some of my friends and relatives were quite, quite provoked when they brought such subjects up and I, being honest (and naive I guess) promptly told them I no longer believed in such things, and here’s why. (I stupidly thought they would welcome the knowledge I had found, the way I had, and find it interesting. I wasn’t aware then that they were a bit more invested in these beliefs than I had been). Nowadays I avoid it as much as a can when it comes to those closest to me, because… yeah, they don’t want to hear it. I simply have a whole lot less in common with many friends, relatives and family members these days.

    It’s… maddening sometimes, hanging out with people who would never believe in God (like, DUH, he’s a fairy tale character) but would at the same time be really provoked if I said there is equally no evidence for that the person they pay to read their cards can really do what they claim to be able to do. It’s weird having friends who are perfectly rational when it comes to everything else, well educated and smart, never miss a show on mediums and blindly fall for cold reading tricks and TV show editing the likes of which they would never be fooled by if the subject was about something else. (Not even when I was a woo believer myself did I fall for those TV shows, my goodness those mediums were SO bad and obviously fake!) It’s sad to see my cousin trying to battle depression with homeopathic sugar pills, and see my aunt pay an amount equivalent of about a hundred dollars for a doll that the doll maker claimed held the spirit of her dead son. And I can’t say anything because it is then ME who’s the bad guy, the party pooper… I just shut up these days…

    So, yeah, they all know these days I think it’s all bullshit and bunk. They do not ostrasize me in any way, but I am, sort of, considered to be a bit of the “cynic, crank, know it all” of the group.

  20. 21

    I just realized that what I wrote above was rather… negative! We were suppose to say what was FUN about coming out about stuff!

    Well, as some others have said, the best about it, the very best about it… Is not having to pretend I believe in any of that bullshit! (Or to let people just assume it.) Even if I don’t bring it up myself, people know what I think.

    And… I discovered that I did have two friends who don’t believe in any of that either, and we are now closer than ever before. I have SO enjoyed being able to discuss such matters in real life with someone close to me, as opposed to always only doing it on line with strangers (which is a lot of fun too, by all means).

  21. 22

    I don’t know if I ever came out, I have told people over the years that I was an atheist. I never really hid it. Of course my eldest sister prays every night for me to find God (I checked under the sink & behind my desk, he isn’t there) and my father doesn’t believe me (apparently I am rebelling against religion for the past 30+ years).

    I think because I live in Canada religion is less of a deal. My brother is an atheist too but he and I treat it pretty much the same.

  22. 23

    I was never in; I don’t remember ever being uncomfortable with my lack of god or something.

    But then, there was the first day I was uncomfortable with the difference.

    I was about ten and sitting on the bus on the way to school and one of my younger friends (think he was about 7) was talking about how he went to church and learned a song. This itself wasn’t unusual to me – I went to (a UU) church, and learned many songs.

    He sang the song to me and it was just, well, it felt like blind praise. I asked him what the song meant, what it taught about the people of that faith, what… he couldn’t understand what I meant. He thought the song was just true.

    It was that day I started worrying about the world.

  23. 24

    This is a particularly apropos topic for today, the day that “Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell” is really over. Lots of queer folks in the military are coming out today, so let’s all raise a glass to them.

    Of course, coming out as atheist in the military has its own set of problems…

  24. 25

    I am out as an atheist, but I never had a specific coming out moment. It happened gradually.

    I grew up in a mildly religious household. But during my freshman year of college, I joined a fundamentalist church and became very dogmatic. I quickly became disenchanted with the church, but I thought I would go to hell if I left, so I stayed. After several years, I started asking hard questions about my faith and my church. The church’s answers failed utterly to assuage my doubts. Finally, after about 9 years, I was fed up and left.

    After I rejected that church, I allowed myself to question everything. I put every aspect of my religious belief under the microscope and little by little, my belief in god crumbled. That process took about a year.

    My family is still religious, even more so than they were when I was growing up, so it felt risky to tell them I didn’t believe anymore. Instead of saying, “I’m and atheist,” I engaged them in discussions about their faith, which was easy to do because they talked about it often, and I shared my point of view. Over time, they came to understand that I didn’t believe and why. I think they dealt with it better that way then if I had approached the issue head on.

  25. 26

    Also from the UK so people finding out I was an atheist was a non-event, I raised more eyebrows when I went through a religious phase in my early teens. I got to about 15 and realised that the people around me were mostly old ladies and maladjusted fruit loops, and quietly walked away. After that I drifted into deism, agnosticism, and into who-realy-cares-ism (practically the national religion), it wasn’t until much later that I really thought things through and became an atheist.

  26. 27

    Yes, Ingrid! Cheers! 🙂

    My coming out as atheist and/or bisexual has been a gradual thing. I’m a private homebody by nature, so there’s not a lot of opportunity or reason to make any kind of announcement. This does remind of when I came out to a friend from work, though. She actually initiated the conversation and was more interested in my being bisexual than atheist. She asked, “So you’ve actually had sex with another woman?” I told her that there had been more than one. She then asked if I’d had serious relationships with women, and I told her that I had. When it came around to how one of those relationships had ended, I told her that my girlfriend had gotten pregnant, and that I was fairly certain the baby wasn’t mine. Ha! True story too! I can’t wait for the chance to tell it again. 🙂

  27. 29

    Wow..I guess this is my 15 minutes of internet fame.

    I’m the woman that Greta is talking about in this post. My name is Robin Raianiemi*, and I’m quite flattered that my words were both remembered by someone I admire so much, and even more flattered that you (that’s Greta) took the time and effort to actually write such a terrific blog post.

    Yes, I’ve come out of many closets. I’ve come out of religion, and as an atheist, as a gay man, and as activist in the eighties, and finally, as a male-to-female transgendered woman.

    Some of those coming out experiences were negative. At first. But even the worst was transformed, given time, into a positive result. (I’m reminded of a time in which I–accidentally!–outed a friend as being a gay man. He hated me for a year, and eventually thanked me for doing it, because it forced him to face what he may never have had the courage to do for years.)

    There’s an emotional rush to the act, when it goes well. The affirmations, the love and affection, the intimacy, the closeness…living in the closet, whatever that closet may be, isn’t normal, or natural. Sometimes, it staggers me to know that people will rob themselves of the joys of living an authentic life, in sacrifice to utter nonsense. It’s a joy to come out, and ultimately, it’s an act of love to come out.

    My advice to anyone living in any closet is simple. Do what you need to do, and come out. You owe it to yourself.

    End of sermon.

  28. 30

    One day, when I was coming out as trans, I closed the door to a friends office, and asked her if she could keep a secret for two or three weeks.

    The conversation went something like this:

    “Can you keep a secret for a few weeks?”

    “Is this about your sex change?”

    Seems that the secret I thought was a secret wasn’t such a secret after all. My physical changes were pretty much the talk of the office, as it turned out, and people started putting two and two together, and got, well, me.

  29. 31

    My parents were agnostic, and were highly amused one Sunday morning when I stormed out of the basement where we kept the TV and complained “There’s nothing on but stupid god shows!” Nevertheless, perhaps because we recited the Lord’s prayer every day at school, I maintained a naive belief in God, and even attended a Baptist bible school for a couple of summers.

    We moved to California, which did not have school prayer, and my belief eventually vanished. One day I was riding home on the school bus and noticed that I hadn’t thought about God for a while, and suddenly realized that I didn’t believe in God. At all. “Am I missing something?” I wondered. “Maybe I should ask my sister.” By the time I got home I think I’d figured out that she and my parents were non-believers. My father told me that we were agnostics, since saying there is no God is as much an act of faith as the reverse.

    Almost the only thing that changed was that I stopped saying “under God” when reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. A classmate noticed, and I was invited to join a Unitarian youth group, but after a few gatherings I decided I wasn’t especially interested in religion as a subject. (My parents did wind up joining the Unitarians; back in the 60’s they had some wild parties, among other things.)

    So, the moment of realization was heady stuff for an 11-year old, but the social ramifications were nearly nil.

  30. 32

    I’ve come out of a few closets. The broom closet. The fur-coat closet. And, yes, THE closet — I finally came out as bi to family. (They’ve already dealt with the Pagan stuff, and don’t really give a shit about the Furry stuff.)

    It IS liberating!

  31. rom

    As a person who lives in a smallish town in east Texas, there are still many areas of my life where I have not come out, and probably never will.

    If I told my coworkers, I would probably end up losing my job due to “not fitting in with the company culture” or some such excuse. I remember one of my coworkers mentioning meeting an atheist once, and the way he sort of spat out the word “atheist” made it seem like he was talking about a murderer or child molester.

    If I told most of my neighbors, I would probably get reactions ranging from mild discomfort to disgust. I don’t think any of them would get violently angry, but you never really know. The local police aren’t exactly renowned for their ethics, so I’m sure they wouldn’t press into it too hard if one of the disgusted types decided it would be fun to come over and rough up the evil atheist.

    Thankfully, I have a group of like-minded friends that I can talk to, my brother is also an atheist, and I’m about to move close to Houston, which although not exactly a bastion of free thought is at least comparatively reasonable.

  32. 34

    The most fun coming-out I know of wasn’t mine. My son was about 10 when one of his friends (the daughter of our adult friends) was visiting. I don’t remember how the conversation got there but he told her somewhat diffidently, “Our family doesn’t believe in God.”

    Well she just lit up. “You don’t believe in God? MY family doesn’t believe in God either!!” The joy and relief she felt at just not being other for once was palpable. It was an amazing moment.

  33. Jem

    I didn’t have ‘moment’ of coming out. But I do have a semi-related story about the first time I encountered creationism.
    I was nine. I had been taught evolution is a fact by my science-enthusiaste father. I had a good group of friends consisting of three others, and we were in the library one day looking at a kids biology book which talked about that horrible thing called evolution (FSM forbid). All three of my friends started to angrily rave about what a piece of crap evolution is. nine year olds, getting angry about evolution! At the time I was contemplating it with confusion, but now I look back on the incident with sadness at the corruption of their young minds. The kind of anger they expressed could’ve only come from their parents. Nine-year-olds don’t get angry about scientific theories on their own.
    Anyway after that I was a little more suspicious of religion, and as a rule I didn’t bring it up for fear of more angry ranting on my friends part.

  34. 36

    I came out to co-workers in the factory I worked at in Tennessee. It was not fun. My neighbors: not fun. My religious brother and his wife: not fun. I am glad to be an atheist but I’ve never equated being one with fun.

  35. 37

    I come out every time I sneeze and someone says, “Bless You”. I’ll usually say, “No, thank you, I’m an Atheist.” This has become a running joke now at work (in Kentucky).

  36. 38

    I only ever had to come out as atheist to my mother, which was not fun. She asked me to never say that I was an atheist again where she could hear me, and I acquiesced to her wishes. We never talked about it again. Everyone else I’ve ever known has gotten the drift just from being around me, I think. I don’t think I was ever in the closet about my atheism, but my mom had to be told because she had a peculiarly Catholic capacity for self-deception.

    Coming out as trans, on the other hand, was a total gas. It was terrifying and exhilarating, and completely liberating, kind of like the best thrill ride I’ve ever ridden. I said to friends at the time that if I had known, I would have done it ages ago. I haven’t had any bad experiences, either: No alienated friends or family members; I’ve had nothing but love and support. Ain’t life grand, sometimes?

  37. 39

    I come out every time I sneeze and someone says, “Bless You”. I’ll usually say, “No, thank you, I’m an Atheist.” This has become a running joke now at work (in Kentucky).

    I used to have an old supervisor who, if she heard you sneeze, would say “Bless you unless you’re an atheist!” It amused me.

  38. 40

    Great post, Greta!

    I guess I’ve got varied “coming out” stories, but the most exciting for me have probably been the fleeting moments that I’ve come out to my students.

    I teach college level English, and for three years I did so in Utah (where, as I’m sure you could deduce, most of my students were Mormon). At the beginning of every semester, I had my students do an exercise called the Cultural Eye, in which they looked at various identifying features about themselves — their age, gender, sexuality, social class, religion, political affiliation, health status, etc. — and came to some conclusions about how these aspects served to create a “cultural lens” through which they viewed the world. Then, of course, we discussed how that tended to affect their research and writing.

    Inevitably, though, they usually wanted to know where I stood on many of these issues, too. Though I didn’t voluntarily offer up the answers, if they asked I was more than happy to let them know. And it was always fun coming out to my students as an atheist at the beginning of every semester. It was never something they expected.

    The responses, though, were what I enjoyed most. Sometimes I would get students who came to me, absolutely relieved that I was not Mormon and they felt they could be open with me about certain issues. I had one student who chose to write about the dangers of religion, and another who wrote about how he, as a gay man, should be able to adopt in Utah (this student wound up a finalist in a writing contest, eventually getting to present his paper to hundreds of other students).

    I had other students who felt it their duty to convert me. One began, after the semester had concluded, to e-mail me back and forth in order to convince me that the LDS faith was the only way to live a happy life. Another left a Book of Mormon on my desk after the semester had ended.

    If nothing else, though, I always got my students to think about the concept of atheism when I came out to them, and, if nothing else, that made it worth it each time. I think that many people (especially in conservative areas) like to either pretend that atheists don’t exist or choose to believe popular misconceptions about us. Allowing them to see that there are real atheists that are acually a whole lot like they are — even in Utah — still brings a smile to my face.

  39. 41

    Coming out has been an evolution in my case, starting out as a doubter, then an agnostic and now, a full-blown atheist.

    Even now, I don’t flaunt it, but I don’t try to hide it. I couldn’t with my personal blog and my commenting on several websites and blogs under my own name.

    Being more and more open has cost me some long-time friendships and maybe a carpet job or two. It’s hard for me to keep my mouth shut. I refuse to be ashamed of the way I think.

    I’m even advertising on Craig’s List to find like-minded people in the Cottonwood/Sedona area. I’ve only been doing it about a week and so far, no responses. You’ll find an abundance of “Wooo, Wooo” here, but I think people of my mindset are a bit rare. There have to be others, so I’ll keep searching.

  40. 42

    Hi Greta and all,

    First, congratulations on your move to the new site, and having managed to migrate your archives, good work!! It’s nice to have access to so many Freethinkers in one space.

    I don’t know if I had thought about coming out as an Atheist “fun”, but now that I consider the idea, it certainly was. And exciting, scary and a wee bit intimidating as well. Of course whatever angst I felt was eased by the fact that I live in Seattle, so I wasn’t expecting bonfires or lynchings. Like most of us, I expect, I came to Atheism gradually, from reading Sam Harris’ “Letter to a Christian Nation”, later Christopher Hitchens’ “God Is Not Good” and finally by discovering this blog, which then exposed me to many other atheist bloggers and to Richard Dawkin’s “Out” campaign.

    I ordered a red and black ceramic “A” from Surly Amy at the shop at Richard Dawkins’ site, and recall that there was a touch of fear the first time I put it on, but overriding that was the anticipation. I knew that this was the right thing for me to do. I knew that I at least, among many others, had to say that I did not have any imaginary friends, and I was fine with that. I wondered what, if any, reaction I might receive at work (a large urban/rural library system) but I thought, if believers can wear their crosses, Stars of David and ritual dress to work, why should I not be allowed to show my beliefs if I chose to do so?

    As it has turned out, so far only one person has commented on the bright red “A”. She was one of the managers at a library I substituted at and she asked what it signified. I told her and she said that she had wondered if I might perhaps have been a adulterer and laughed. I don’t always wear it, but have no fear of doing so now.

    It’s good to be out, the water’s fine, and I hope more folk decide to join us.

  41. vel

    what I’ve enjoyed most about coming out is that my parents now talk to me constantly about science and religion, when we had nothing to talk about before. They are very curious about atheism and science, and other religions and their old Protestantism has largely become ignored, which probably does cause them some uncomfortableness since they live in a small rural community and I’m a city girl. Now they think and realize that they can question. I’ve also taken some delight in discussing things with my SIL whose mother is this nasty evangelical pastor. She just can’t accept that her mother is a loon but she still occasionally asks questions.

  42. 44

    First of all, thanks to Greta and all of you – it was an interesting read.

    Although I come from a country where the religion is still quite strong, I know about it really from the news. It’s like … well, the polls show one thing, and everyday practice shows that the people are lukewarm about it at most. I’ve never really had a problem with declaring myself as an atheist – I don’t think I’ve ever been able to provoke even a mild surprise. (But perhaps that’s because I live in a big city; in the countryside it might be different.) So I’m one of those for whom the phrase “coming out” sounds like a misnomer – with my colleagues and family such a confession provokes no more sensation than “coming out” with your love for ice cream.
    Anyway, it seems to me that it’s rather the Christians who start having that sort of problem. Recently one of our top tennis players organized an action “Don’t be ashamed of Jesus” – it was about …oh well, about “coming out” with your Christianity in a world full of all these nasty indifferent or at least mildly religious people. Hmmm, can you imagine going to an exam and saying to your fellow students “No, I’m not nervous at all, Jesus will help me to pass this test”? Or going to a party and saying “No, I will not drink, because I have Jesus in my heart”? As for me, I can hardly imagine someone behaving in such a way and not provoking … ironic smiles at best. And it seems to me that the world is becoming less and less friendly for Christians in this respect.

  43. 45

    I’ve often had the experience of mentioning “I’m an atheist”, wondering if I’ll get a negative reaction, and instead hearing: “Oh, actually, I’m an atheist, too!”

    Recently, I was eating at a shared table at a restaurant in Los Angeles, and was dressed in a somewhat outlandish costume (for complicated reasons), and one of my fellow dinners asked me if it was some kind of religious dress. When I explained that it wasn’t, and that I was an atheist, they came out and said they were too, and wasn’t it a shame the way religious hatred poisoned so many things. It turned out they regularly watched Pat Condell (the atheist video blogging comic), who I’d also heard of. It was a really nice conversation. This sort of thing happens to me quite often.

  44. 46

    I was fired Friday. It’s the third job in a row after coming out as an Atheist. As soon as someone finds out, it’s only a matter of time – a very short time. I now have three weeks to find a new job or my next address will be my car. I live in the Birmingham, AL area where some people would rather put a bullet in your head than hire you if you are not white and christian.

  45. 47

    I have come out as gay and as an atheist, gay brings a more positive reaction, but the reaction of the others who believe the crazy religious stuff, they might as well believe in daffy duck. I read a lot of Richard Dawkins, Chris Hitchens, etc., have a masters in Psychology and an adequate understanding of evolution and natural selection, however I would like to ask anyone who might have an answer to this as an example: If nature takes away your hormones at menopause because you are too old to have any more babies (like you’d want to anyway!), why can a person live with alzeihmers for years? Why doesn’t the body just shut down before a fatal illness or old age besets it? It makes no evolutionary sense at all.

  46. 48

    When I was fourteen and coming home from a particularly ridiculous catechism session, I told my parents that I didn’t buy any of it and would never set another foot in church. My father said “Oh.” and my mother added “that’s nice, dear”.

    In the Netherlands, and in academic environments at that, being an atheist was never an issue at all. But then I moved to rural Italy and gave birth, and I had to come out all over again, this time to a village in a country with a > 90% catholic population and very little secularity in politics and education. Sometimes I jump back into the closet for my children’s sake, but I’m working on it.

    Good luck Cheryl, things seem to seriously suck in AL.

  47. 50

    It’s not fun here. But that’s a good thing. You see, there’s no excitement or adventure to it.

    Instead, if you “come out” to any group of people, the reaction is much as if you’d just announced that you’re left-handed.

    “Yeah okay, noted.”

    A total non-event. Which is, I suppose, as it should be.

  48. CG

    I was lucky enough to have fairly enlightened parents. My father grew up Presbyterian but hasn’t practiced in years; my mother is a practicing Catholic, but of a rather liberal, naturalistic stripe. I grew up with the “religion is a useful metaphor” trope, and played along for 12 years of Catholic schooling… until I realized that other people took it seriously, and that the metaphor wasn’t that useful, anyway. It was like suddenly discovering that the people around you never found out that Santa isn’t real.

    My family seemed to take it pretty well – they had to deal with my uncle coming out as an atheist years ago, and he still gets invited to family parties, so I knew it wouldn’t be that big a deal.

    My partner’s family was another matter entirely. They take their religion very seriously.

    Odd story: My partner’s father was dying, after a long and painful battle with cancer. Sitting in his hospital room, my partner’s mother asked me (in a tone that was simultaneously accusing, suspicious, and dismissive) what “nontheist” meant (at the time, that was how my Facebook page listed my “religious views”) – “so, you don’t believe there’s a god?” It was a very strange time and place for that encounter, and I didn’t feel comfortable giving her a full explanation then.

    Getting along with her is a bit of a challenge, to say the least.

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