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As We Are

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HEATHER MATARAZZO
Heather Matarazzo

I don't remember the day that I was taught to fear God, but I do know that I was taught. Maybe it was in being forced to go to religious education classes once a week to learn about God, Jesus and the Saints in order to receive Communion and not go to hell.

In my most formidable years of molding, I was indoctrinated with a lot of teachings about who God was, what He wanted, and what would happen if we didn't do it. For example, I was taught that while God was "unconditional love," the not-so-fine print stated that there were also a lot of conditions to meet before you could receive that love. I was also taught that while we have free will to do as we please, if we did "wrong," God would punish us with everlasting torment and damnation. What's so free about that? That's like having a gun to your head and hearing, "You can do what you want, but if you don't comply with what I say, then I'm going to blow your brains out." The out was Confession, where, because you couldn't go to God directly, you confessed your darkest secrets to a middleman, called a "priest." You could be forgiven for almost anything with a prescribed Act of Contrition, or a Hail Mary, or an Our Father -- so long as you said them the prescribed amount of times.

Also, I didn't understand how we could be born "bad." If we were made in the image and likeness of God, then wouldn't we also be perfect, given that God is perfect? Well, no, I was taught, because of Eve. Eve sinned, and thus, I was also taught in one fell swoop that knowledge is the root of all evil, as is curiosity, and let's not forget being naked. Or women. Also, it's important to know that God can hold on to resentment for a really long time. But then Jesus came and saved us all. Except only if we believe in Him because He is truly the only way to get to God -- unless, of course, you don't repent for your sins, or you question the teachings of the Church, or use birth control, or masturbate (that really screwed me up), or hurt God's feelings by using His name in vain, or eat meat on Friday (until that rule was changed), or have sex before marriage... the list goes on and on. Oh, and also, you definitely can't be gay.

This last one didn't really faze me until I was about 11 years old. I had just started filming Welcome to the Dollhouse, and with that, I met -- or should I say, became aware of -- gay people. Now, I had always been attracted to women, but I could never put a name to it until that summer of 1994. Here I met a quite a few people who were gay, and were out, and for the first time I had a name for the feelings that I was having, a new sense of identity, and with that, panic, fear and, ultimately, utter rebellion.

When I finished Dollhouse I was back at school and those religious education classes. In class that year was a woman who was our teacher, and she shall remain nameless. I don't remember when exactly it came up, or how exactly it did, but what I do remember was this: she had stated boldly, "God sent AIDS to gay people to punish them for their sins." I was aghast. I was shocked. I was sickened. That couldn't be true; it simply couldn't. She was talking about my friends. She was talking about me. Right there, I made a decision: if this was God, then I wanted no part of it.

For years I struggled with the fear that maybe they were right and that I was going to go to hell. From that stemmed a lot of dates I forced myself to go on with boys, who, while attractive enough, didn't pique my interest at all. There were the make-out sessions, the feel-ups and the numbness that would creep over me. However, there were also a lot of people who came into my life who started to open my mind to a different way of looking at things. I was introduced to the possibility of reincarnation via Many Lives, Many Masters, as well as the idea that everything was energy, and that we were all connected. I started going to the library and reading books that spoke of a very different God, Universe, Divine Intelligence, Goddess, etc. Thus began the start of my spiritual journey. I got to recognize that I could have my own relationship and experience, that I didn't need to believe as my parents did.

I also found out that at least for me, there isn't any "right way" to God, Universe, what have you. It's what's right for me. And what's right for me today might not be right for me tomorrow. And what's right for me might not be right for you, and that's OK. We each get that gift to unwrap as we see fit, whenever, if ever.

If there is one thing I wish for people, it is to recognize that we all have a divine right to be here as we are. To quote Oprah, ""[Y]ou're worthy because you are born and because you are here. Your being here, your being alive makes worthiness your birthright. You alone are enough."

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