At three years old, I learned about Hell. Since then, I had a clear image of what that unholy place was; a dark dungeon that burned with the heat of one million blue stars. I saw a lake of bubbling lava, where the angel of death rowed a boat made of human flesh and bones. Whenever I thought about Hell, I heard the screams of the trillions of lost souls there.
And when I first started to discover my queerness at eight years old, I saw Hell as the place my soul would reside for eternity whenever the sun set on my life.
My pastor and loved ones (religious and otherwise) championed the idea that all queer people would roast in Hell. I felt myself die whenever the television pastors my mother watched every day had sermons on homosexuality. They always recited 1 Corinthians 6:9-10: “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.”
Afraid of going to Hell, I wanted to cleanse myself of the “homosexual demon” that corrupted my young body — that’s what my pastor called it. I felt my young life fading away quickly, and myself failing to expunge the demon that condemned my soul to a tortured eternity. I didn’t realize it then, but that was my personal Hell: being forced to consider and dread my life after death throughout my entire childhood.
It wasn’t until my grandfather’s death in 2012 that I started questioning my Christian faith. All of my family claimed that my grandfather went to Heaven. But he’d lived an ungodly life. He abused his children. He had an addiction to drugs. He did not believe in God. How could someone like my grandfather go to Heaven and not me?
If God made everyone in his image — as the Holy Bible says — why is my queerness so repulsive to him? Why didn’t he just make me heterosexual? Why do I serve a God that doesn’t want me in his kingdom because of how he made me? Why do I serve a God that forgives the most terrible people and not LGBTQ people, regardless of how good they are?
Obviously, for the same reason he created the tree of knowledge and told Adam and Eve not to eat from it — and that is no reason at all.
When I finally abandoned my Christian faith in 2013, I could not destroy the image of Hell that burned vividly in my mind. I no longer believed or trusted in the Christian God, but I still believed in Hell — and I still believed that I was going there when I died. I wanted to believe that Hell did not exist, but people like Michael Botsford who claim to have died, gone to Hell, and returned to life reminded me that there is a possibility that Hell exists.
Even now, I still believe Hell exists. However, as Maya Angelou said, “If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.” I can’t change the fact that I believe Hell exists, but I can change how I feel about Hell. As I changed my attitude towards Hell, I felt freedom like I’ve never felt it before.
I stopped seeing Hell as a place for lost souls and started seeing Hell as a place for people who discovered themselves here on Earth. I stopped seeing Hell as a fiery wasteland and a utopia where puritanical hypocrites were not allowed. If Hell truly exists, I’d rather be there than in Heaven. In Heaven, I can’t be my unapologetically queer self — in Hell, I can be. I’d just be hot all the damn time.
The Bible pretty much prohibits fun of any sort. I don’t want to live in a place where I’d be condemned to Hell if I caught a hard-on or accidentally shook my penis too hard after peeing — that is if we have genitals in the after-life.
Changing my attitude towards Hell gave me an opportunity to finally enjoy my life a little bit without worrying about what will happen when I die.
Besides, if we read the Bible or ask a radical Evangelical Christian who goes to Hell when they die, they list would be great party companions: The entire Stan Twitter — mostly queer idols, Democrats, sex workers and people who love sex. I’d rather be there than with hypocrites who tell children about Hell so that they live in fear their whole lives.
Illustration by Bronwyn Lundberg