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Does religion belong in LGBTQIA books?

Amy Leibowitz lgbtqia books religion spirituality

This question comes up a lot, perhaps because religion can be a complicated issue for LGBTQIA folks. Many of us come from backgrounds where religion was used to control and abuse us. Some of us continue to engage with communities of faith; others do not. There isn't one simple or correct answer to the question.

In my own work, I tend to write a combination of religious and non-religious characters, drawing on my experiences as a child of an interfaith marriage. I grew up in a relatively non-religious household with some leftovers from both of my parents' upbringing. For a host of complicated reasons, I did not convert to my father's Judaism but instead to a conservative/fundamentalist type of Christianity. Many years later, my relationship to religion, faith, and spirituality is complex and multi-faceted.

Often, I receive comments in reviews of my novels or in private messages along the lines of:

I don't usually read the religious ones, but this was different.

It probably helps that I try to come at it sideways. I have a handful of what I might call "traditionally" religious characters who practice their faith in much the way one would expect: attending services, living according to the guidelines of their community, etc. But I also have a handful of rebels whose spirituality is, shall we say, less orthodox (self-pleasure while praying the rosary; comparing the scars of queer-antagonism to Jesus' nail-pierced hands; openly attending church as a polyamorous family). This is not done for shock value. It's part of demonstrating that being an LGBTQIA person of faith does not require imitation of conservative heteronormativity.

I do believe that this has a place in fiction. As a reader, I enjoy when authors thoughtfully engage with spirituality and religion. Or lack thereof, as the case may be; I think atheism is sorely underrepresented in fiction. It is a societal construct that faith is automatically at odds with being LGBTQIA. I do not believe the purpose should be to convert or to de-convert anyone. It should be for exploring all sides of a character's development and for allowing all kinds of people to find ourselves in the story.

While I explore mainly Judaism and Christianity, other authors write about their experiences within other religions and religious communities. I encourage readers to seek out #OwnVoices books (written by authors who have grown up in or are currently practicing these religions).

What's your take? Do you love, hate, or feel indifferent toward religion in LGBTQIA books?

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