When I was given this assignment on the first day of class I was concerned about how someone would take it if I walked up to them and said “You’re black and I’m white, want to do an interview on it?” or if I walked up to a gay person and said “You’re gay and I’m not, want to be an experiment for my class?”. I thought any interview I could have would be awkward and make me and/or the interviewee feel uncomfortable. A few weeks ago, I told a close friend about the assignment and how I was worried about if I would be able to do it. Turns out, she had just moved into a new apartment this semester and she thought maybe I could interview her neighbor. She described him as a white guy our age, skinny, and definitely gay. A couple days later I came to her apartment and decided to have some courage and ask him if he would like to do an interview for an assignment. I told him the gist of it and he agreed.
My interviewee was Judd Elliston. He is a 22-year-old middle-class American and he is gay. As I asked him about his abilities, religion, and ethnicity, I ran into something that kind of shocked me and additionally made me revise some of my questions for the interview. Judd said that he was an atheist. Because I was already in the process of interviewing, I wasn’t able to research anything about atheism so I could prepare myself for what he would tell me or what I could ask him about it. I have never looked into atheism before, so this interview gave me some information on what atheism actually is as well as changed the way I would judge a person just because he/she is an atheist. After I got his basic information, I began my questions by asking him to tell me more about himself and how being gay and atheist has affected his life.
Judd told me that he grew up in a small town and lived in a very religious Christian home. He and his family went to church every Sunday and most of his close family-friends were from the church. As he got older and in high school, he began struggling with his feelings and what he should do. He was obviously afraid to talk to his family, and he didn’t know how his friends would react. He told me that this put a ton of stress on him and he struggled with depression and kept himself from his friends. Finally, he told his friend and eventually a lot of people at school knew. He was very open when discussing coming out to me, which made me feel a little more comfortable addressing the situation.
I asked him if he was ever treated differently in school after he came out as gay. He told me that the kids acted weird toward him at the beginning, but he wasn’t ever really bullied about it. Then he told me the story of when his best friend’s parents found out that he was gay. They said she wasn’t allowed to be around him anymore and they even went as far as shaming him and asked him how his parents could accept their gay child into their home. After he told me this, I wondered what his parents thought about it. He said that when he told his parents, he wrote them a letter because he couldn’t face them in person. They told him that he needed therapy and that this was not how they raised him. He should know that being gay is a sin. He told me that now, six years later, he believes that the situation made his relationship with his parents more open and abled them to communicate about subjects that some families would find harder to talk about.
This made me wonder what I would do if I was a parent and my child came out to me as gay. I believe if I didn’t get an insight to his personal experience, I wouldn’t have any idea how to handle it if I were the parent. I asked him what he wished his parents would have said when he came out and he said he just wished that they weren’t so quick to judge him and try to change him before the thought of just accepting him even crossed their minds. I would never want my child to feel like I didn’t accept them or love them for who they are. I believe if I were in the situation, it would be hard to hear but I wouldn’t let the child know. I would just hug my kid and tell them that they are my child and I’m going to accept them no matter what choices they make. If Judd’s parents took him being gay so roughly, I couldn’t imagine what they did when they found out he is an atheist.
Judd explained that he had just recently within a year or so started studying atheism and he has yet to tell him parents about his conversion. I then asked him what challenges he faces as an atheist. He said that people typically think of atheists as bad people. As he was explaining how people judge atheism, I realized that I was a person who does exactly what he was talking about. He said that people often have the wrong idea of what atheism actually is and that we judge them based on our lack of knowledge. I asked him what he wished people knew about atheist and atheism. He said that just because he is atheist does not mean that he hates God or hates Christians, he grew up Christian. Judd does not believe that there is a God who created all things. He grew up believing all of these stories without question, but where is the proof?
I then asked him if he ever wondered if he was wrong, and there actually is a heaven and hell. Judd told me that he believes when he dies, he is dead. Gone from life. There is no reward or punishment and he doesn’t want to live his life the way he always has. He told me that he wants to live his life in the moment instead of living his whole life by rules that justify what is going to happen after he dies. Then he took a different approach and said that he isn’t doing anything morally wrong in life, so even if there was a punishment, he doesn’t believe that he would die and go to hell, if it existed.