Words: Tom Falle; picture: Provided
I’ve never liked religion. Even the mild and relatively harmless Christian traditions at my secondary school left me sceptical, suspicious.
Of course, at the time, I played along willingly. I sang hymns in assembly, engaged in that phony mass ritual of group prayer, and even carried a crucifix during the Christmas service - but to me, it was all a pantomime, an exercise in historical campery that no one really believed.
It was my time at university that hardened my views on the subject. I began delving into atheist literature, and this coincided with my first honest engagement with my sexuality. This was quite the combination of happenings. The loose framework of my worldview melted away - as I became more confident in my queerness, my disregard for the myths I was taught at school grew more fervent.
I grew increasingly angry with religion, but didn’t really experience the conflict between faith and sexuality until I met a young, English, evangelical Christian. Let’s call him Tim. He was really into his faith, holding prayer meetings and discussions with his fellow faithful. They always tried to coax us in with cake - which was quite welcome after a nasty freshers’ night out. But they stood very little chance of converting my friends and me.
A few weeks in, after the novelty of these Bible meetings in our block of flats wore off, things got weird. Tim started offering us massages. He was particularly keen to massage the boys. We naively accepted this bizarre ritual. He was cute, in a Ned-Flanders-meets-Jude-Law kind-of-way. One day I said, cheekily: "What about you Tim? Would you like a massage in return?" His face went pale. "Absolutely not," he said. "I might get too excited."
My heart broke at this moment - I understood Tim’s conflict. He was gay, but completely locked out of his sexuality by the extremes of his faith. Searching for thrills in mundane ways without admitting it to himself. More contradictions emerged after that. Despite his no-sex-before-marriage rule, he always carried a condom in his wallet. He even started to ceremoniously invite me into his room for a ‘styling session’ before a night out, but only ever ended up taking his clothes off.
Tim is now married with kids.
My life was taking a different path - I had met my first boyfriend and had visited Soho, alone, for the first time. It seems pretty tame now, but as a 19-year-old from Jersey, the sheer excitement of entering metropolitan queer spaces, anonymously, was like no other thrill. My world, though arriving too late, was opening up. Tim would never experience this awakening, though, because the pressures of his family, his ‘friends’, and his Bronze Age guidebook kept getting in the way.
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Since then I’ve learned more about religious constraints on sexuality and gender identity, and the ugliest manifestation of that repression, in this country, is conversion therapy. This ‘therapy’ seeks to change a person's sexuality or gender identity through a variety of means, and has been debunked by scientists.
The wicked realities of such practices were mapped out in a UN report - techniques range from group prayer to electric shock therapy, and can be found across a range of cultures. In the UK, many of these practices continue both covertly and overtly. It’s meant to be banned, but the UK government keeps kicking the passing of legislation into the long grass, taking time for a ‘consultation’.
To my mind, conversion therapy is nothing more than a damaging kind of witchcraft that tries to convert individuals from being who they fundamentally are. It belongs in medieval England, or a Dan Brown novel. As the late writer Christopher Hitchens said, queer people are ‘created sick’ yet ‘commanded to be well’ by God - a rule that, were it actually true, could only be described as tyrannical and sadistic. I’m not sure what consultation is needed.
My track ‘Conversion’ is just my small contribution to the movement to ban it. It’s less diplomatic than the work of Ban Conversion Therapy (whom I really admire), but, I try to get across two things in the track and video. Firstly, that being queer is innate and great, and secondly, any religious authority that tells you otherwise deserves ridicule. No amount of historical symbolism or scriptural justification should come between you and your queerness.
I’ve already had a backlash from some religious conservatives online. Amen, I guess.
‘Rhumba Club’s debut album ‘Welcome To The Rhumba Club' will be released on 12 November. Follow Rhumba Club on Instagram here.