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Losing My Religion… Again

TW: Homophobia.

I have to write all this out now because I’ve just returned home from this experience (24th March 2021). Otherwise, I wouldn’t be jotting down all the raw emotion I’m feeling. This blog post is probably going to be the most important blog post I’ll ever write.

I’m bisexual. I cannot dodge it, cut corners, or hide it.

I’ve known for roughly 5 years of my life now and I hadn’t told anyone until 2020 just before the first U.K. lockdown. Ironically, the first person I ever told was some random girl at a party who I had spoken to a few times in my first year at university. I blame the bottle of Jack Daniels.

My exchange in Seoul was always going to start as a lonely one. Although I’m travelling with my friend Sam, there was always going to be a tug-of-war between sticking with Sam and venturing out and making new friends.

However, I have never felt more lonely during the weekend that has just passed. It was around 1 AM and these thoughts were bubbling in my head: “This exchange is pointless,” “Why am I here?”, “You’re never going to make any friends.” I couldn’t sleep because I thought I was never going to meet other international students due to Covid-19 and with the university remaining online. So, I did three things:

1) I emailed both Southampton and Seoul National University (SNU) explaining my situation and if they can contact the relevant people to connect me to the wider student world.
2) I messaged two module group chats to see if people were interested in making friends. (Joining in the Spring 2021 semester, friendship circles have already been formed and sealed).
3) I posted an S.O.S. on the International Students Facebook page asking whether there are any groups to join or if any willing students are wanting to make friends.

The former two have, so far, been unsuccessful, so I was relying on Mark Zuckerberg’s marvellous creation to pull me through. This was when I received a private message.

I won’t disclose the name of this individual. However, they notified me that they saw my Facebook plea for help and wanted to assist me. They assured me they were a “Christian club member at SNU” and that they “help students as a mentor”. Great! This was genuinely what I needed and I was quite proud that I had successfully networked. In my brain, this individual (albeit twice my age) was the potential flood gate to introduce me to other students.

The conversation quickly turned to religion. At the time, I was still learning about Korea’s history and how U.S. Protestant missionaries established a basis for Christianity in Korea roughly 140 years ago. Luckily, I have a direct connection to religion and tried to relate. I was raised as a Catholic, with my Mum being fully Irish and attending a Catholic primary and secondary school. However, I lost my religion 7 years ago due to personal circumstances.

For some reason, I felt compelled to tell them these circumstances. I felt somewhat in a safe space; they assured me they had a similar experience to me, but instead of losing their relationship with God, their relationship strengthened. 

One thing led to another and they invited me to a 1-2-1 Bible study group so that we can get to know one another. So, I travelled half an hour to Nakseongdae station and arrived extremely early (because I felt quite nervous). The prospect of opening up my relationship with God again after experiencing past trauma didn’t excite me. In fact, it made me uneasy. I grabbed a hot chocolate from Holly’s Coffee and waited until noon to meet them.

I was scanning the crowd for their face that matched their Facebook profile picture when I stalked them. There they were, waddling down the street. Small, alone (but a parent of three) rushing towards me with an oversized raincoat and a purple rucksack. The introduction was awkward at first because of the language barrier. They had their mask around their chin (sigh) and we sort of went for a handshake which turned into a fist bump. We started to get to know one another.

Wandering the streets of Nakseongdae, the mentor offered to pay for lunch and I got a choice: Korean or Vietnamese. I chose the latter as I had never tried this cuisine before and I wanted to try new food. They paid on this ATM-looking machine outside and I tried to push the oak door to get into the restaurant (it was a sliding door, so I made a fool out of myself). Even so, we were told to wait. When it was our turn, we were greeted by a pleasant server in this extremely small shack—almost like a miniature British pub. The stalled seating was curved around the counter facing the kitchen, divided by a sheet of transparent plastic.

We took our seats and got talking. They explained they had a degree in Fine Art from SNU and lived in Toronto for 8 years. I explained my position as a student. The conversation went from family to traveling to Covid-19 to different Korean customs. It was genuinely lovely and they seemed interested and wanted to take care of me. Again, I felt safe. (Lots of noodles though, couldn’t finish it. Not after smothering it in hot sauce).

After grabbing a quick coffee, the mentor guided me to their church. From the outside, I could tell there was construction work happening. Dust filled the air and the pounding of drilling filled my ears. They assured me not to worry and they apologised if it disturbed our session. What struck me was how modern the inside of the church was. I realised, of course, the dominant strand of Christianity in South Korea is Protestanism. The worship area was like an assembly room with distanced chairs due to the pandemic, each with unusually tattered Bibles resting on the cushions. (I noted there was a drum set in the corner). 

We eventually reached the meeting room where we would discuss my relationship with Jesus. A relationship that they assumed was already partially formed. A Bible was prepared with a question sheet next to it; I felt like I was sitting down for an exam. Swapping out the Bible for an English translation, we began with Luke 5: 1-11: “Jesus Calls His First Disciples”. We read out the parable (after a few mishaps of me speaking at the same time as them by accident). 

The conversation was light at first and I was asked what I made of each verse. Apparently, my interpretations were “interesting” and lacked the essential link: my relationship back to God. When I would make logical conclusions about the parable, the mentor would add an ellipsis to the conversation with their eyes! Urging me to continue, to add, “because of God” or something. I dunno. It was draining, I have to be honest. I hadn’t read a Bible in 7 years and they were asking me to take leaps of faith instantly rather than ease my way into anything. I originally thought to myself: “If this is what I have to do to make friends, I will do it”. Then, I wasn’t so sure about this.

This is when the meeting got uncomfortable. We got on to the strange and dangerous topic of “God’s will” and what “God’s will” is. I explained to her my complicated relationship with the Bible: I prefer the New Testament to Old. The reason? God is an awful being in the Old Testament and people ought to “fear” him, to which the mentor agreed. I questioned if it was moral that God killed the entire population because they were sinners. The mentor pointed out the contradiction that my Confirmation name is “Noah”, so I should agree with Him. They even asked me if I fear God, to which I responded, “No”.

At this point, I felt extremely uncomfortable, feeling as though I had walked into the lion’s den. But I persevered. Earlier in the day, I mentioned Korea’s progressiveness in response to racism, homophobia, etcetera. But I also pointed out how far behind Korea is in these areas compared to the West. This topic came up in conversation again when discussing God and I began to get nervous. In regards to homosexuality, the mentor said “it is God’s will that homosexuality is a sin, therefore we should follow him”. My body tensed up. I wanted to leave immediately.

The Bible study session was wrapping up anyway, but I felt a compulsion to ask the “mentor” a question; a question that was so important because it put this whole relationship on the knife’s edge. I asked, “What is your view on homosexuality?” To which, rudely, they flipped the question back on me and asked, “What is your view?”

Now, remember how I mentioned I hadn’t come out as bisexual officially. Only to a few friends. Not to any adult. So, I was about to tell a complete adult stranger my sexuality. And I did. I said bluntly, “I’m bisexual”.

I used to believe that I shouldn’t have to make an official announcement about my sexuality, but only mention it if it’s necessary to the conversation. Given this incident, it made me realise how far behind we are in accepting someone for being who they are. Hopefully, this blog can help lost souls out there.

After coming out, they sat back in their chair with an awkward smile, nodding. A tension that wasn’t there before boiled between us. Although they didn’t show it, their face stiffened like concrete and a fit of anger subtly rose within them. Once the dust of my coming out had settled, another bombshell followed. The mentor rambled on about how the Bible is God’s word and that the Bible says homosexuality is a sin. I stared at them, breathing heavily through my nose, without blinking.

When I was offered the chance to speak, I held my tongue and responded that the Bible is a product of the generation it was written in. In the English Bible, Leviticus 18:22 is translated as, “Man shall not lie with man, for it is an abomination”. However, the German translation states, “Man shall not lie with young boys as he does with a woman, for it is an abomination”. In fact, the literal translation of “arsenokoitai” (the original Greek word) is, “Boy molesters will not inherit the kingdom of God”. The Bible was purposefully mistranslated for a homophobic agenda.

When I first began talking with this person, they told me not to be nervous. They told me to “come as you”. I came as me and I was invalidated because of my sexuality. At that moment, I was afraid. I was even more alone than when I sent out that early morning S.O.S.

This person told me if I were to join this Bible study group, God will always “love” me but He will see my sexuality as a “sin” and I would need to change my ways. They even told me a crude story about how when a lesbian student, in a relationship with another girl, joined the study group, she was indoctrinated and decided that her relationship was immoral. She broke up with her girlfriend because “God told her to”. This is the level of messed-up stuff I’m afraid of in the world. Having faith and being part of a religion is one of the most wonderful things about humanity. Using it to control and discriminate against others? That’s truly one of humanity’s great pitfalls.

I ended the session swiftly, remaining polite, responding to the person’s questions where appropriate. They even walked me back to the train station. The sad thing was, the bubbly mentor that I had originally met had stiffened. Their excitement to meet me had diminished. They were not interested in me anymore or my anecdotes. I felt ostracised. Used, wrung out, left to dry.

They invited me to the Sunday ceremony and I said I’d “think about it”. They reassured me that they didn’t want to convert me from Catholicism. I didn’t care because I knew deep down I didn’t want any part of this “Fellowship”.

The train journey back was the hardest. Stuffed into a busy metal capsule, I looked around at everyone with me on this journey. Who was also bigoted? Who would hate me for my sexuality? I’m on the other side of the world, without friends, without family. I’m on my own on this bloody train. Any person I would have a conversation with would be tarnished by the fact they would probably despise who I truly am.

But, I have to move on. I declined to join that Bible study group. I have to continue on the quest for friends. There are certainly more liberal, progressive, understanding individuals who will accept who I am. It’s just going to be a rocky road to get there.

I am bisexual and I’m not going to change that for the world.

P.S. Happy Pride Month, y’all! This was so strange reading back. I hadn’t opened this document since the incident happened. I’m so grateful for the friends I have now made. Weirdly, this incident has now allowed me to move on with the next stage of my life! I came out to my family that evening and now I’m excited to share my story with you guys! Stay safe out there.

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