Mount Doom

Rowan Bay writes about feeling out of place as a gay teenager in a religious community

A photo of red, orange, and yellow molten lava on gray rock

When I was little, I was terrified of volcanoes.

Every night, when my parents tucked me in, they would reassure me that no mountains would erupt in my sleep. Yet, in the back of my mind, the fear remained. I was fascinated by Pompeii—that it served as a testament to the past and a testament to human terror. I was terrified that at any moment, everyone and everything I loved could be engulfed by molten rock and fire.

When I was thirteen, I realized I was gay.

I remember the exact moment, staring at myself in the bathroom mirror. I remember that night, crying in my bed and feeling betrayed. I remember the next day, sitting at the piano and feeling shame.

I wondered why God would do this to me. I didn’t hate gay people, and I didn’t think God did either. But I knew that a lot of people thought God did, and that it was going to make my life harder. I already struggled with my faith and felt out of place. I didn’t want one more thing that would separate me from my peers. I wanted answers, I wanted comfort, and in my mind, there was only one way forward.

Sitting in my home, isolated from the world, I threw myself into becoming the best Christian girl imaginable.

I was kind to my sister and constantly checked up on my friends. I read sermons and deleted “Reputation” by Taylor Swift from my liked songs on Spotify. After online school, I baked cookies to take to the neighbors. Every night I read my scriptures, then knelt down and prayed for guidance.

In some ways, this was a good thing: I became more aware of the people around me and tried to help them through what was for many an extremely difficult time.

Yet when I look back on this period of my life, it is with mixed emotions. Underneath it all was a terror of Judgment Day. I knew that no matter how kind I was, I was doomed to burn in hell alone.

The pressure continued to build as I immersed myself in my religion. I was terrified of death, but I didn’t want to be alive either. I looked at the people around me and wondered how they could smile. Did they not realize that we were all doomed?

Every day, I sat at home and let my thoughts spiral into hopeless territory. I was constantly replaying the events in my life, and I felt immense shame for everything I perceived as an error.

When I got the news that in-person school would be resuming, I waited for the first day of classes with tragic desperation. I lived for the knowledge that within a few months I would be spending my days anywhere other than my home, thinking about anything other than how much God despised me and the inevitable day when I would face the consequences of my sins.

Returning to school did help, but the pressure was still there, in some ways more than ever before. My small school was right behind an evangelical church, and the majority of my classmates had been raised in a similar religious culture as I had. The political divisions of the adult world crept into our school, and my principal frequently gave tearful speeches about how she just wanted us to learn to get along despite our differences. It was a nice sentiment, but it fostered an environment where issues of human rights were reduced to being labeled as “politics.” When someone submitted an anonymous complaint about political discussion at lunch, we were lectured. When I submitted an anonymous complaint about homophobic rhetoric, she responded with the poignant words, “We don’t do that here.” It hurt. Being alone at home was awful, but going out into the world only reinforced the things I felt about myself.

One day, I worked up the courage to stay after school and talk with a trusted teacher about the homophobia I was witnessing. I sat on the floor, next to the math books, and cried. She knelt down next to me, put her hand on my shoulder, and reassured me that she would talk to the principal and be harder on any homophobia she heard in her classroom. But once again, nothing changed. I felt so alone.


Oddly, my lifeline became the Lord of the Rings novels. I could easily immerse myself in a fictional world completely different from my own. There, good triumphed over evil, and even the smallest person could make a difference. In these books, love was explored in a way I had never been exposed to. Love was something that could transcend all labels; love was what separated good from evil. Instead of spending my every waking moment considering what a disappointment I was to God, I could distract myself by pondering elvish naming conventions and memorizing Quenya roots. Immersing myself in this fantasy universe—following Frodo’s perilous journey to Mount Doom—gave me the ability to put some distance between myself and the stressors in my own life. I still hated myself, but those thoughts were no longer on a constant loop. The pressure eased.

A few months later, I started high school, and everything changed.

I went from not knowing any gay people to being surrounded by people who were out and proud. I was shocked and amazed at how comfortable they were in their identities. This deepened my sense of isolation. They had claimed this part of themselves as a radical act of self-love; I had locked this part of myself away in a desperate attempt at receiving love. I was afraid to talk to people. I didn’t know what to say. I felt like an alien dropped into human society and expected to blend in.

Every morning, I had a Bible study class. At first this was something I looked forward to. I wanted to learn more about the Bible as the historical piece of literature it is, but it soon became clear that my teacher was exhausted and incompetent. I dreaded his rambling lessons about how polygamy really wasn’t that bad or how trans people were a mistake. Sometimes we had lessons where we would read a scenario, often involving an “older sister” who was struggling with her faith or sexuality, and discuss our response with a group. These tasks were excruciating.

But for all my rage, I can’t really fault the teacher. He was just reading from a manual. Directing my pain at a perpetrator of the issue has less impact than directing my fury at the source.

But it still hurts. Being told you have no purpose beyond your uterus hurts. Being told God is the source of all love except the love you feel hurts.

And knowing that it doesn’t matter what you do because at the end of the day you’re still a woman in a culture that defines your existence only as far as you can help men hurts worst of all.

Sometimes I feel like I’m screaming into a void. As I grow up, I hear so many people talking about the things I felt I could never say, and saying them well. But still nothing changes. If anything, it seems to get worse. And maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe that means people are making enough noise to finally be perceived as a threat. But in the meantime, all around the world, women and queer people keep dying. Laws meant to hurt them keep passing. Maybe that means the fight is worth something. But how many people have suffered and died for that glimmer of hope?

That summer my mom tried to take me to Pride. I just sat in the car and cried.

A few months later, in a fit of emotion, I came out to my family. I was terrified it would change the way they thought of me as it had changed the way I saw myself, but it didn’t. They gave me a hug. It was not the catastrophic event I had anxiously anticipated. A year later, I came out to my friends, and again, they still loved me the same.

Now, I’m happier and more comfortable with myself than I have ever been. I’ve grown up. I still struggle with existing in a dichotomy. I recognize the way my religion has hurt me and the people I love. Every day I see it more. At the same time, I am afraid of how I might hurt the people I love by choosing a different path.

I still think of my life like a volcano. Every day the pressure builds. But I am less afraid. I see the ways in which I am an active agent in my own life and how the choices I have made contribute to the pool of magma. I know that on the day of its eventual eruption, it won’t destroy everything and everyone I love. I thought coming out would change the way my loved ones see me, but if anything it’s made most of my relationships stronger. I am less afraid of myself, and less afraid to give myself to others.

I’ve never been able to talk about any of this before. For a long time, I didn’t know how to put it into words. I still don’t—not really. I’m writing this because I hope there are people out there who also can’t put it into words but will be able to see themselves in mine.

When I realized I am gay, I didn’t know any queer people, and I had no way to express what I felt. I loathed myself and felt like nobody understood. I now know that there are millions of people who do. In many ways I have been lucky. There are things that make situations like mine infinitely more difficult and complex, and I will never be able to understand. I hope someone out there can see part of themselves in this and know that they are not alone, unloved, or worthless. To you, I say: there are people out there who know how you feel, and they will love you purely, eternally, and unconditionally.


Community, Identity, Faith and Spirituality, LGBTQ+, Fear


1 comments have been posted.

Rowan, Thanks for your bravery in writing to those who can "see part of themselves in this and know that they are not alone, unloved, or worthless." and to let them "know there are millions of people ... out there who know how you feel, and they will love you purely, eternally, and unconditionally." It is universal need we all share, even when we feel unworthy and loathe ourselves for whatever reason we feel a separation. I do need to let you are wrong about something - you are wrong. You do REALLY know "how to put it into words." Beautiful words. Words of hope, connection, and love.

Celia Kay | May 2024 | Powers, OR

Add a Comment