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First Choices

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The New Yorker
Annals of Religion | June 20, 2016 Issue
FIRST CHOICES
A growing number of L.G.B.T. Quintarians are choosing to devote themselves to gods other than the Bastard.
By Marta Neman

 

When Emily Allen was seven years old, she looked at the divines, acolytes, and other celebrants dressed in the Daughter's blue and white on the Daughter's Day and knew that she was to be one of them. "I don't think it was the Daughter speaking directly to me," Allen says, "but it was the defining moment of my life." Allen's parents were neither so devout nor so convinced that the religious life was the path for her. They did support her far enough to let her serve in the Temple in her hometown of Madison, Connecticut, but only as long as it didn't interfere with her schoolwork. Allen wanted to enter the Temple when she graduated high school, but again her parents protested. Allen went to college and holds a history degree from Yale.

The college years are when many people figure out who they are and what they believe. Allen already knew. In many ways, that set her apart from her peers. "I never quite fit in," Allen said. While her fellow students had casual flings, dated, or entered into long-term relationships, Allen refused all romantic and sexual activity. While virginity itself is sacred to the Daughter, plenty of people who are no longer virgins themselves become Her dedicats, acolytes, and even divines. Allen chose to maintain her virginity as a measure of her faithfulness to the Daughter. "You won't have the chance once you join the Temple," Allen recalled her college friends saying. Allen did not waver.

Like many young women before her, Allen moved to New York City after she graduated from college. There she presented herself to the Temple at Central Park, the largest and oldest of New York's temples, where she was accepted into the ranks of their acolytes. As an acolyte, much of her time is spent in service to the temple. She sings in the choir and works in the kitchens. Part of every day is spent in theological study preparing her to become a divine.

Allen has blond hair and blue eyes, flawless skin and a gentle smile. In the blue and white robes of the Daughter's acolytes, she looks as if she could have stepped out of a Golden Age painting depicting the Daughter herself. She is so deeply dedicated to her service and her calling that the temple's divines hold her up as an example to be followed. In every way, she seems to be the platonic ideal of an acolyte of the Daughter. There is one thing, however, that sets her apart: Allen is a lesbian.

 

Centuries of Quintarian tradition and theology hold that the Bastard is the proper god for L.G.B.T. people. It is the Bastard they pray to for protection and blessings. It is the Bastard's order they join if they choose a life of religious service. It is the Bastard who takes up their souls when they die. Ordol's "The Fivefold Pathway of the Soul" alludes to L.G.B.T. people's inclusion in the Bastard's care, and later theologians, sociologists, and novelists have expanded on the theme. Annual Pride parades heavily feature celebrants dressed in the Bastard's white and signs with slogans referencing the Bastard's favor. "The Bastard Loves You" is a favorite slogan of Pride t-shirts.

The L.G.B.T. community's affiliation with the Bastard is heightened in America, with its Quintarian majority and a vocal Quadrene minority. In the Quadrene faith, the Bastard is a demon, not a god. Quadrene doctrine therefore considers L.G.B.T. people spiritual criminals. The laws of Quadrene majority countries frequently impose punishments including imprisonment, cutting out of tongues, and death upon L.G.B.T. people. In the U.S., coalitions of Quadrenes and conservative Quintarians frequently form uneasy coalitions to pass anti-L.G.B.T. laws. For L.G.B.T. people who were raised Quadrene, the discovery of Quintarian faith and the Bastard's acceptance can seem like a miracle.

Bill Morris is a genial, rotund man who tells bawdy jokes to his students at Chicago's Seminary of the Bastard. Morris was raised in a strict Quadrene household in the small, majority-Quadrene town of Four Hearts, Arkansas. "I don't think there were Quintarians in Four Hearts," Morris said. "All I ever heard about them was that they were heretics. I didn't even know what that heresy was."

In high school, Morris had a friend who invited him over to watch movies he wasn't allowed to watch at home. One of those was "The Bastard's Lover," a low-budget 1985 movie depicting a gay Quadrene man's conversion to the Quintarian religion following a vision in which he has sex with the Bastard. Although Morris didn't learn much more about the Quintarian religion until he left Four Hearts to attend the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, he credits that afternoon at his friend's house as the beginning of his conversion. "To find out that what I'd always been taught was heresy was in fact the existence of a god whose particular care included people like me was a revelation," Morris said.

Morris is far from alone. A study from the Pew Research Center released last year showed that of those who converted from the Quadrene faith to the Quintarian, nearly sixty percent were members of the L.G.B.T. community. Media as far ranging as the critically-acclaimed television comedy "Main Street" and last year's best-selling anthology "The Bastard's Other Children" have explored the conversion of L.G.B.T. Quadrenes. Over and over again converts real and fictional talk about the importance of discovering the Bastard's care for L.G.B.T. people in the process of their conversion.

Many L.G.B.T. Quintarians describe similar experiences when discussing the deepening of their faith. "I was never particularly devout until I realized I was gay," author Dylan de Groot said in an interview last year. De Groot's first book, "The Bastard and Me," became a best-seller and has been translated into twenty-seven languages. "Once I knew that," de Groot said, "I understood that there was a place for me in the Gods' care and a reason I never felt drawn to any of the other gods."

 

Not everyone agrees. There is a growing group of dissenters within the Quintarian L.G.B.T. community who reject the idea that the Bastard is the only god for them. Dawn Patrick is a transgender advocate who wears the Mother's green whenever possible. "I don't begrudge anyone who finds comfort in following the Bastard," she said, "but why should we limit ourselves to that?"

Five years ago, the New York Times published an op-ed from Edward Joyce titled "We're Not Leftovers." Joyce argued strongly against L.G.B.T. Quintarians dedicating themselves to the Bastard.

For too long, we have been pushed aside. For too long, we have been told that we belong with the scavengers and unwanted. It is time for us to take a stand. We are not disasters out of season. We are not scavengers chasing after the tiniest crumbs of human and divine regard. We are not leftovers. We have a place in the full care of our Five Gods and in our Quintarian temples.

"We're Not Leftovers" has joined "The Bastard Loves You" as a prominent slogan on Pride t-shirts and signs. The dissenters, who have yet to develop a unified organization or name, tend to be young. A Pew Research Center study on the phenomenon found that L.G.B.T. Quintarians under 40 were twice as likely to say that the Bastard is not the only god for the L.G.B.T. community as those over 40, and those under 30 were three times as likely to agree.

A youth movement it may be, but the idea is not new. Joaquin Vasquez studies Quintarian theological history at Harvard. "The Bastard is the primary god for the L.G.B.T. community, but there have always been individuals within that community who dedicated themselves to other gods," he said. His book chronicling many of them, "In the Gods' Names," was released last month. The historical figures in the book include many already associated with other gods. Alexander the Great was an officer-dedicat of the Son and Virginia Woolf's work is littered with her musings on the Daughter. Others are those who casual students of history might associate with the Bastard. Oscar Wilde prayed to the Daughter. The transgender law activist Sonya Rodriguez's soul was taken up by the Father.

"We have this idea," Vasquez said, "that L.G.B.T. people whose lives were so marked by their gender and sexuality must have necessarily been adherents of the Bastard. The world is so much more complex than that. People are so much more complex than that." The historical precedent, and the very Bastard-like idea that life isn't neatly divided into categories, make the idea of choosing other gods increasingly attractive to young L.G.B.T. Quintarians.

 

The movement is not without its detractors. Divines of the Bastard, like Bill Morris, tend to be unconcerned about which god Quintarians, L.G.B.T. or otherwise, follow. Divines of the other four gods are not always so easy-going. Wesley Welles is an outspoken, conservative divine of the Father who frequently appears as a panelist on Fox News. In recent months, he has become the spokesperson for what he calls "the return to orderly Quintarian decency." Welles believes that there is a specific order to the world, and that Quintarians are bound to maintain it by dedicating themselves to the gods specific to their sex, sexuality, and stage of life.

Welles and his followers insist that they aren't trying to keep L.G.B.T. people out of Quintarian life. It is this very rigidity of belief, however, that has led to numerous social and legal obstacles to the L.G.B.T. community's full participation in civic and religious life. In the past year, conservatives citing Welles introduced bills in over a dozen state legislatures that would ban transgender people from using public restrooms consistent with their gender identity. The so-called "bathroom bills" are widely considered a backlash against increased social acceptance of L.G.B.T. people.

The increasing numbers of L.G.B.T. Quintarians devoting themselves to gods other than the Bastard also tracks with the more general increased acceptance. As social and legal attitudes move toward the idea that members of the L.G.B.T. community can participate as full and open members of society, so too is that idea reflected in religious practice.

"This is political," Dawn Patrick the transgender activist insists. "If we're limited to following the Bastard, then we're limited, period." We're Not Leftovers advocates frequently echo this theme and cite Welles' insistence that L.G.B.T. Quintarians belong only to the Bastard and therefore should not have full legal protections as evidence.

The theological historian Vasquez takes a long view. There have always been L.G.B.T. Quintarians who devote themselves to the Bastard and there always will be. "There have always been social movements and their oppositions, and there always will be," he said. This one, in his view, is different only in its particulars.

Emily Allen, the acolyte of the Daughter, doesn't see her choice as a political one at all. "Obviously I think people should devote themselves to whichever God they think is the right one for them," she said with a light laugh. "I didn't choose the Daughter and not the Bastard for some sort of political or even theological reason. I chose the Daughter because it was the right thing to do. I hope it means She chose me." To date, neither the Gods nor any of their Saints have weighed in on the debate. ♦

 

Marta Neman has contributed to the magazine since 2010.