So, my grandfather died last week. It's not as sad as it sounds, at least not for me, because I hadn't spoken to him in at least ten years. He and my grandmother divorced before I was born and he was on his third wife when he died. He was diagnosed with lung cancer two weeks ago. So, it was very fast and he likely didn't suffer too greatly.
Friday was the funeral. My wife and I went and it was. . .well, my family is deeply Southern Baptist. We are deeply queer. My wife is trans, so we are in fact legally married. My family, however, has not accepted her as a woman. They insist on using masculine pronouns and referring to her as my husband. Because of his, I had not seen my family since last Christmas, when I went down to visit them on my own. My wife hasn't seen them in over a year. Because they do not respect her identity and it causes her great pain and trauma to be misgendered.
She went with me because I didn't want to make the trip alone. I went because, despite the fact that we're semi-estranged, I knew this would be hard on my mother. And my wife, the amazing woman she is, butched up a bit....as butch as she can get with her long, long hair, breasts and hips. No one could have mistaken her for a man. It's just....she's a woman. She looks like a woman. But she put on a man's jacked and some black pants and let them use whatever pronouns they wanted. Because she knew I needed her. She's really amazing and I tell her that all the time, but I don't know if she believes me.
I'm caught between two worlds here. On the one hand, I love my family and miss them. I miss the holidays and seeing my niece. And I can't have that anymore, not if I want to have my wife there with me. And why wouldn't I want her there with me? We're a family. I love her so much, it's scary. I have a problem expressing emotion, thanks to the fucked up upbringing I had. I have a problem with vulnerability. I hide myself. I hide and protect and don't let anyone in, because I know that if anyone knew me, really knew me, they'd realize how horrible and selfish and awful I am. Except, I'm not those things. I'm not, but I can't make myself believe that because of the religious programming I got. I'm almost forty years old and I still can't shake this. I believe religion is child abuse. The Southern Baptist religion is child abuse. In order to believe it, you have to first accept that you were born broken and bad and evil. You have to believe you are so bad and so broken that you honestly deserve to go to hell and burn alive forever. How is teaching a child that not abusive? How is that not damaging and harmful? How do you expect anyone to grow up with a decent sense of self and normal coping skills? It's just horrible. Horrible.
My grandfather was not a good man. Or maybe he was, at the end of his life. I don't know. I know that he was verbally and emotionally abusive to my mother and my grandmother, as well as my aunt and uncles. I know he drank and smoked and gambled and cheated on my grandmother. I know he would disappear for weeks, taking all the money, leaving my grandmother to beg food from neighbors and churches, so their five children wouldn't starve. I know the only reason I ever got gifts from him for my birthday or Christmas was because my mother or my Aunt Vickie bought them and put his name on them. I also know that if I'd been a boy, he'd have been much more interested in me. (My brother got a lot more of his attention, when we did see them.)
And the thing is, as abusive as he was, as much damage as he did to my mother (and he did a lot of damage that she's still recovering from), I keep thinking that she put me in the same sort of situation. I know she'd never do it intentionally, or she'd never do it if she believed I was being abused, but that damned church she made me go to for 17 years did as much damage to me as her father ever did to her.
And I wonder about cycles of abuse. I don't have any children. I don't know that we'll ever have children, although my wife and I have talked about it. Maybe we'll have one, eventually. But I think...my mother did everything she knew how to keep her children from being abused like she was. My father is nothing at all like her father. She never made me feel inferior before being female and neither did he. And yet, she put me in a place where I was really, really emotionally and mentally screwed up. She didn't mean to. She still, to this day, does not realize is. She can't acknowledge that my experience in her religion was abusive and coercive and has created myriad problems for me. She just can't do it. I keep wanting her to, but I know she can't. It's too big. It's too much for her.
And I think, if I had a child, would I do something similar? Would I put her into a position where she was exposed to that kind of emotional abuse? I wouldn't want to. I sure as hell won't subject any child of mine to a religious upbringing. But what if I'm so focused on that that I miss something else? It gets in my head and I can barely shake it.
Wednesday, September 14, 2011
Compared to other people, my family isn't the most fundamentalist. I wasn't told I could only be a wife and mother. I wasn't discouraged from going to college and getting an education. I wasn't trained to be dominon oriented, as some girls are. But everything revolved around the church. Nearly all my friends were church friends. Nearly all of my entertainment was church-oriented. When those church doors opened, we were there. I wasn't given a choice in the matter, not while I was living at home. I got up, got dressed and went to church. No discussion.
That doesn't sound so bad, does it? I mean, it's just church, right? Just four hours Sunday morning. And another three Sunday nights (we didn't always stay for the full sermon Sunday nights! Rebels that's what we were.) And you know, another four on Wednesday night. And well, the weekend-long Youth Rallies. Then the week-long Summer Camp I was compelled to attend, even when I said I didn't want to go. Really, going to Church was my part-time job only I didn't get paid and there were no sick or vacation days.
I had no choice. None. In fact, that was a recurring theme of the Church. God gave you free will, only not really, because He had a plan for your life and you were going to follow it, like it or not. And they said that, actually. That a lot of the time, God wanted you to do things you didn't want to do. That a lot of the time it was hard following God's plan, but you did it anyway because the consequences of not doing that were too dire.
What were the consequences? Well, they started out kinda small. First, God would make you miserable. Send the Holy Spirit on a torture run, give you grief and depression and anxiety and whatnot. Just to get your attention, you see. Cause that's how God works, he bullies you into submission. But, if that didn't work, well then he'd send the Holy Spirit out on a biological warfare mission. Get you sick, physically. That flu you got? It's not because someone sneezed on you or forgot to wash their hands, it's the Holy Spirit (aka God's Holy Hitman) trying to get your attention. Broke your leg? Sucks, but if you'd just done what God wanted you wouldn't have fallen off your bicycle and gotten run over by the car. And if that doesn't work? Well, then the Hitman goes to work on the rest of your life. Maybe you lose your job. Or your kid turns up pregnant. The car gets totalled and you have no way to replace it and the other driver has no insurance. Too bad. Listen to God, won't ya? But, if you STILL won't listen, after all of that? Well, then God's got to take you out. Like, dead. The Hitman puts a bullet between your eyes, squish. And you're off to see the Wizard, I mean, God. Where you will be told that if you'd just done what he wanted, you'd still be alive and your family wouldn't be crying their eyes out over your corpse.
So, there's your choice: Do what God wants or go to an early grave. Literally, they said that and backed it up with some Bible verses about God spewing lukewarm Christians out like so much garbage. There's another verse they used too, that I can't quite remember because I've blocked it out, but it essentially said that Yeah, God's gonna remove you so you won't be a stumbling block for others.
So, do what God wants, will ya?
Except, they couldn't really tell you what God wanted. You'd have to figure that out on your own, but really, if you were doing what God wanted, then you wouldn't be stressed or anxious and you'd never get sick and you'd never have any family/work/life troubles and you'd live to be old old old and die peacefully in your sleep, like all righteous people ever. (I guess Jesus was a screw up, because I don't remember him dying peacefully or being very old.)
So, it seemed to me like there was no getting away from God. You were compelled to do what he wanted, at the cost of your own free will and desires. Desire, wanting anything was bad. (And a whole other story. I'll tell you how that's affecting my marriage at some point.) If you didn't want anything, then you couldn't be disappointed when you didn't get it because it wasn't God's Will for your life.
When I was a sophomore in high school, I applied for a gifted boarding school our state runs. I wanted it so badly. Classes on literature and art and history and science and music and...well, it was everything I wanted. I was bored beyond belief in my public school and there were no private schools for me to attend. I was already reading at a college level. I was reading Tolstoy in class and all the teachers just let me, because they knew bored I was and that I was already way beyond what they had to teach me. (I'm not trying to be snobby. I didn't do anything to get the intellect I have. I was just born lucky.) I wanted to go to this school soooo badly. And I'd managed to convince my parents to let me go, if I got in. Which, frankly, was no mean feat. My father was hard to persuade and my Mom had to work on him for a long, long time. But finally, they agreed.
I worked extremely hard on my application and was accepted to the semi-final round! Yay! I couldn't believe it. So, we went up to the school for the interview and additional testing. And I fell hard, so so hard, in love with this place. I could see myself, walking those halls, taking those classes...finally having my ideas taken seriously, not having people look at me like I was a freak. It was amazing.
And then we did the IQ and math tests.
Math. I hate math. I know now that it's because I have a learning disability, but i didn't know that then. So I did my best, but I knew. I knew that I'd blown the math portion. Still, I was hoping the rest of my scores would be more importan.
That was the longest summer of my life, waiting for those results. Waiting for that letter that told me I'd gotten in. That I could finally, finally have something I really, truly, deeply wanted. I'd never wanted anything so badly in my life. I'd always been too afraid, so scared of going against what God wanted for me. But, I thought, God gave me this mind, he gave me this intellect. Surely, he'd want me to develop it? He'd want me to use it as best I could? And this school would help me do that. So it HAD to be God's will for me to go.
Only, I didn't get in.
I remember walking down the long dirt road to our mailbox. I remember seeing the envelope. I remember feeling how incredible thin it was and I knew. I knew I didn't get in. I started crying even before I opened it.
I was placed on the alternate list. So, if someone else didn't go, I could get in. Only, that didn't happen. I never got called up. I remember crying for days about not getting in. I remember how crushed I felt, how hopeless and lost and just. . .stupid. Yes, I felt stupid because I'd let myself want something that badly. Stupid to want anything, stupid to need anything. Stupid to have any desires of my own. I wasn't supposed to want anything. I wasn't supposed to need anything. Because, you see, God had a plan. And that plan was more important than anything I could want or need or desire. So not getting in was a punishment. A punishment for not waiting for God to reveal his plan and daring to want something of my own.
(Of course, now I realize that's silly. I didn't get in because my Math disablity caused me to totally bomb the math tests and part of the school's focus was ON math, so. . .It really was beyond my control at that point, because I hadn't gotten my diagnosis and hadn't gotten any help to deal with it. Ergo, math go boom.)
And whenever anyone saw me upset about it, they'd tell me not to cry because God had a plan and there was something better waiting for me. Except, there wasn't. I finished public school and went on to a public college. (Although, I will admit the college I went to was awesome. It was actually the college version of the high school I tried to get into, full of nerdy, gifted people like me.) There was no silver lining, just a very disappointed 15 year old girl. Who spent the next year suicidial and obsessed with being the very best Christian she could be until she got sick of it and decided to make some serious changes in her life once she got to college. Clearly, what I was doing wasn't working, so fuck it. Try something new.
Tuesday, September 13, 2011
I find it very hard to say I'm not a Christian. There is an undercurrent of fear in those words for me, even if they are essentially true. I'm not a Christian, at least not in the sense of the religion I was raised in. Which is not to say I have no faith or that I reject Jesus. I do have a faith and I don't reject Jesus exactly. But what my parents want me to believe? What the church I was raised in tried to pound into me? No. I don't believe that way anymore.
It's fair to say I never really felt comfortable in my family's church. It always made me uneasy, always made me feel bad and guilty. I was guilty for being alive, for being myself, for not being who I was told I should be. Even as a child, maybe especially as a child, I couldn't shake the sense of judgement. I couldn't shake the sense of being measured and found drastically wanting. Even as a child, it just didn't make sense. If Jesus was the shepherd, like in the picture on our Sunday school wall, and he loved everyone, why would he send anyone to Hell? It never made any sense to me when they said the Jesus didn't send anyone to Hell, that people sent themselves there. That was stupid. No one would willing go somewhere where they would be on fire forever. That's just dumb. No one would chose that and yet I was being told that there were people going there. LOTS of people, as it turned out, since Christianity is a relatively recent invention. All those people before? Hell. All those people today who never got to hear the gospel? Hell. All those people raised in other religions, who believed as deeply and truly in their god as my family believed in Jesus? Hell. All those people who did hear and who tried to believe, but just couldn't? Hell.
But more than that, all those people who thought they were Christians, who thought the believed and who followed Jesus as best they could but didn't do it more or less exactly the way my church did? They went to Hell too. Especially the Catholics. They were ALL going to Hell, really. Except the ones who decided to convert to the Southern Baptist Cult. (Yes, it's a cult. A fucking huge one, but a cult nonetheless.) If they decided to join us, they could go to Heaven too.
Some other people could get to Heaven, too. Mostly the Southern Baptists, but maybe some Methodists and Pentacostals. Probably not the Episcopalians or Lutherans. Although, sometimes the Lutherans got it right, so there might be one or two of them. But definately no Unitarians or Mormons or Jehovah's Witnesses. They called the Unitarians a cult. Seriously. Unitarians? No centralized dogma, do everything by committee Unitarians? A cult? Of course, they didn't KNOW any real Unitarians. The closest Unitarian Church was about 3 hours away and they weren't gonna make that kind of drive to check them out. Anyway, their Sunday School literature said they were a cult, so that was that.
God did love the Jews though. He had a special place in his heart for them, so they were his Chosen People. But . . . unless they converted, they were still going to Hell. How does that make any sense? God loves the Jews more than anyone else, but he's still going to send them to Hell because they missed Jesus? Huh?
And think about Hell for a minute. What sort of God would send people, who he claims to love and calls his children, into a pit of fire where they burn. Forever. They don't die. They are immortal. And they are tortured, unspeakably tortured for eternity because they didn't think Jesus was the Messiah. What sort of God is that? If a person did that, we'd call him a monster and send him to the electric chair, but if God does it? Well, that's just God and his mysterious ways. Why should we hold God to a lower standard than we hold each other? Isn't God supposed to be BETTER than us?
And the rules. Dear Lord, there were SO MANY rules! There was no way to follow them all, and they kept changing. More rules kept being added and I could never keep straight what I could do and what I couldn't do. Some things were clear: No drinking, no drugs, no sex, no swearing, no thinking bad thoughts, no being selfish. . .But other things? I'm not supposed to lie, but what if I have to to protect someone? Like, what if some crazed gunman came into the room, looking for my best friend. Do I admit I know where she is so he can go kill her or do I lie? Clearly, lying is a sin, but so is letting someone kill another person if you can stop them, right?
The hypocracy. Oh gods, but all these people saying they were so good and so Christian and I knew they were cheating on their spouses or getting drunk on the weekends and driving or they were sleeping around and swearing and smoking and drinking and being well, normal non-Southern Baptist people. But they wouldnt' admit that! They would keep going on about those Gays or those women who get Abortions or parents who let their kids watch Dirty Dancing or whatever was the topic today. Always it was stuff they didn't do. You know, so they were so much better than everyone else, even though they kept saying that they weren't any better, you could tell they totally believed they were. Otherwise, why the hate? If you really believe you're the same as anyone else, why the hate-on for queer people? Why the lack of compassion for AIDS victims? Why the tsktsk I-told-you-so when the Catholic child abuse scandal broke? (Ok, now I know why. Because they're just people and subject to all the flaws of people, but at the time, they were holding themselves up as BETTER than that.)
Mostly, that's what did me in. The sheer hypocracy and cruelty of so many so-called Christians. I read what Jesus said and taught and I think, these people haven't read this, have they? They don't seem to be immulating the guy who hung out with society's outcasts and repeatedly stressed caring for the poor and destitute, while telling the religious authorities to go fuck themselves. Because you know, they sound a hell of a lot like those authorities instead of Jesus. They have the rules, but lost the spirit.
I was saved when I was 13 years old.
I remember the day very well. I remember dress I was wearing. I remember where I was sitting in the old church my parents brought me to every Sunday morning and Sunday night and Wedesday night and on the weekends for Youth Activities. I remember this feeling of just...needing to go to the front, to the altar, to take to the preacher. I remember going down there, remember telling him "I want to be Saved." I remember his squeezing my hand. I remember him saying "Praise God. Thank you Jesus." I remember him taking me to a bench, asking me a few questions, leading me through the Sinner's Prayer. I remember standing in front of the church, all the people coming by and shaking my hand or giving me a hug. I remember feeling like I belonged, finally.
That feeling -- and it was a wonderful feeling, a sense of belonging and acceptance that I'd never really had before -- lasted for a week. Maybe two. Then it was replaced by Rules. Rules for what I Must Do to be a Good Christian Girl. There were so so so many rules. Pray every day. Read the Bible every day. Tell EVERYONE about Jesus (as though they'd never heard it before!). No swearing. No drinking. No dancing. No dating until you're at least 16 and then only with boys from church and only in groups, never alone. Confess your sins every night because you don't want to die and have unconfessed sin, that'll get you punished when you get to Heaven. Oh, you'll go to Heaven because you accepted Jesus, but it won't be as good as it could have been if you die with unconfessed sin. Even those sins you don't know you committed! Yes, that's right. You can commit a sin and not know about it and if you die without confessing it, it screws over your Heavenly Reward! So every night, I prayed, "Jesus, forgive me for the sins I committed today and didn't realize."
My feeling of belong was replaced with a feeling of inferiority, of never being good enough, never being able to Do It All Right and of being a Failure as a person. I was always terrified I'd do something wrong. Always terrified I'd let God down. Always always always afraid. Fear became the dominant theme of my life.
I spent a year, from about 16 to 17, being totally, completely afriad to do anything not directly related to God or the Church. I wouldn't allow myself to watch television. Or listen to non-Christian music. I made myself read a chapter of the Bible every night. I prayed all the time. Constantly. No ending. I wasn't doing this because I loved God or because it made me feel more loved or whole or whatever. I was doing it because I was TERRIFIED I was going to fuck up and go to Hell. I was certain that I was bad, wrong, damned, completely unworthy. And why wouldn't I feel that way? Everything the church taught me said I was. God was doing me a favor by letting me into Heaven, but he'd only do it if I followed all the rules and said all the right things and thought all the right thoughts and went to the right school and got the right career and married the right boy and had all the right children and made them go through the whole cycle again.
I was terrified and traumatized by my experiences growing up. And NO ONE noticed. Or, if they did notice, they didn't say anything. They just let me go on. That last year, that year I was so intense on being Good and True and Right, I was falling apart. I cried all the time. I slept all the time. I had no joy. I had no peace. I was clearly totally fucked up. And NO ONE noticed. NO ONE did a damned thing. My parents took me to see the preacher. He told me to read my Bible more! Like I wasn't reading it enough? Every day, chapter after chapter. Every day, more and more depressed and suicidal.
When I moved out to go to college, when I was 17, I made the conscience choice NOT to go to church anymore. I decided I would NOT join the Baptist Student Association like my parents expected me to. I made the decision I was NOT going to seek out religious students to be my friends. I'd just had enough. I'd spent a year, throwing myself at God's feet, begging him to love me and accept me and to Make Me Good and to take the pain away, and he just wasn't listening. Or maybe he was listening and he didn't care? Maybe he was the sort of God who got off on causing teenage girls pain. You could certainly make a case for that from reading his Bible. Lots of pain and destruction and torturing his children in there. So I'd had enough. Fuck this, I thought. Well, didn't use that language at the time. I was too terrified of burning forever for it. But that was it, essentially. Fuck This. I tried. I did my best. I believed and I loved and I followed the rules and what did it get me? Standing in front of the mirror in my parents' bathroom, looking at a bottle of my Mom's sleeping pills, trying to make a list of all the sins I'd committed so I could confess them all before taking the bottle and sleeping forever, that's what it got me. Looking at all of my father's hunting rifles that were in the gun cabinet, all easily accessable with plenty of ammo, trying to decide the best place to shoot myself to make sure it worked and I didn't end up a vegetable for the next 60 years, because my parents wouldn't turn off the life support.
So Fuck That, I thought. I was still alive and I was out of my parents house and I could decide if I was going to submit myself to that torture anymore. And I said No. Just, no. It was the most radical thing I'd done in my life and I was scared out of my mind. But I knew, I knew if I was going to survive and be a functional, happy person, I had to get out. I had to get away from the place that had filled me with so much fear all my life. I had tried to be what they wanted me to be. I had tried so so hard to be the person God told me I was supposed to be. And I just couldn't do it.