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TeenPact and Relationships

Everyone is told, no crushes are allowed to happen at TeenPact (because you can “allow” a crush to begin with).

Boys are told, to open doors for women, to let them go first in line, and to treat them like they’re delicate little flowers. Essentially, boys are taught to treat women like objects who are helpless and can’t take care of themselves. Girls are told to accept these gestures, always, even if they’re unwanted. Never turn them down.

Some of this is Tim Echols forcing southern manners down everyone’s throat, and some of it is perpetuating the idea that women are “the weaker vessel”. It’s hard, as a courteous person, because, having boobs means I can’t practice common courtesy on a human level. I’m not allowed to open a door, trade my place, give up my seat for someone who’s a boy because then it is interpreted as a slap in the face to them and their efforts at (forced) chivalry. This tells women to expect “special” treatment because they’e seen was weaker, and teaches men that women are weaker and need help to do basic things.

We’re supposed to let the men take command in setting things up, in making decisions, and whatever even if we disagree or have a better one. We can’t just assert ourselves and say no like normal people, because we need to learn submission.

In what I like to call the 2007 Speech From Hell, Tim Echols started by going on a raging tirade about “effeminate men” and I’m pretty sure he worked in how homosexuals were evil too. He said that it was an abomination to god and he was really angry with any man he saw who didn’t act manly enough for his liking. He listed specific examples (that I thought were ridiculous) but I can’t remember what they were now.

Then, he turned his attention to women, he singled us out and spent far too long on another tirade.

He talked about how we need to grow up and get married (fast! young!) so we can start breeding an army, because that is what we women are supposed to do. Our job in life, our job to further the cause, is to create more people and train THEM to make the changes that (hopefully) our husbands will have started to make. If we did that, god would be happy, we would be fulfilling our roles as women – because that’s just how it is. Women are not supposed to actually lead, women’s place is in the home, behind a man, who is supposed to be bringing the nation back to it’s christ-centered roots (don’t get me started).

Well before that point I had sworn off marriage, because a life of doing nothing but being pregnant and teaching children with the HOPE that they would be passionate about the thing I was and want to do the same thing just sounded horrible and unlikely. When he singled out all the women in the audience I felt embarrassed, ashamed, sad, horrified, and broken.

Because I had been told by my parents that what Mr. Echols was conveying was indeed my purpose, but I didn’t want that. I never had. It sounded like hell to me, though I would never have used those terms. It sounded just….the thought of it crushed my soul, and I was hoping TeenPact would be the place I didn’t have to fit that mold, but I was so wrong. I knew that once I got married I would have to go into that box – so I swore it off, and in case that didn’t work, I resolved to do all the things I wanted to do before I got married. Remembering that speech still devastates me and kills that thing that it killed before over and over again. I think maybe it was hope.

I felt completely broken, like a failure, because while every other girl was sitting there, raptured, already sold on the idea of getting married and having kids and getting permission to get married young, I was devastated, because that was just not the life I wanted – not the life I felt I was supposed to live.

I was supposed to do what they wanted me to do, without question, because a guy said it, I was never supposed to think.

And yet, thinking is what saved me from that fate, so, Thank you, TeenPact, for introducing me to my thinker-husband, my thinker-friends, and our sense of knowing we can indeed change the world, and reverse the lies and beliefs you perpetuated that only serve to enable the abusive environments we escaped from. Because of you, maybe we can make that change.



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TeenPact and Women

To my knowledge, there have only been two female governors in Maine, and none (to my knowledge) in GA. Maine is seen by the staff as the more liberal/wildcard state where things happen there that don’t (or aren’t allowed?) happen in other states. Maine and Hawaii I suppose, because there’s surfing there and every staffer wants to staff those two states.

I know both of the female governors closely. Women taking on a high leadership position that isn’t somehow under a male is almost unheard of. I was shocked when I won “president” at Back To DC in 2007, but I think that was because the dude who was running before was an obnoxious 13 year old who wasn’t even going to stay the whole time and I had previously attended the class and the one other alumni there was on my campaign. I may have won favor with the staff when I shared that I was struggling with running for the position (because *gasp* I can’t LEAD), instead of running the campaign (because that was completely different).

At National Convention, Women are allowed (I wouldn’t necessarily say encouraged) to run for Representative and Senator, and even Vice President. In my time there, I only ever saw Boy/Girl Pres/VP teams, because women running for president, while not directly prohibited was just known to be taboo. I ran for representative but never made it past primaries – although some women definitely are elected, the majority of the faux positions are still filled by males. I know this parallels real life, but here it’s encouraged. Women in leadership positions is allowed, but sketchily, always under men.

In fact, we are told, many times, in no uncertain terms that we (women) are supposed to just go along with whatever the men say – even if we disagree with it, and to not speak up if we do. They’re supposed to lead, after all, and we’re supposed to submit.

In “girl talks” a session where the guys go out (to talk about opening doors) and the women stay inside we learn that modesty is on us. completely. It is our job to cause our “brothers” to not stumble while we’re at class. We’re told exactly how to wear and to not wear items of clothing. In State Classes we must wear skirts, and they must be over the knee when you sit, never too tight when you move or bend over. All clothing must be able to hang or give at least an inch from your body, but simultaneously, should also be cute/professional and not frumpy. Just to be safe, I wore several layers – in the middle of summer, in the hot GA sun – just in case I got wet, or the sun caught something and my one-size-up tshirt were suddenly opaque.

We must be vigilant, and tell our “sisters” if they’re wearing something we think is too tight or revealing. Lady-Staff will confront girls to change their outfit if they feel it’s inappropriate. Because, again, it is our responsibility to show ourselves as non-human-shapeless-forms so our “brothers” don’t accidentally see our bodies and think something bad.

Boys aren’t told how many fingers width a neckline is allowed to be before it’s “too much”. They don’t have to reach up, and bend down to check and see if any skin shows.

But we, we seductresses in our pubescent awkwardness, we must never show any more skin than necessary to avoid heat exhaustion – and even then, pants must be loose!

I hate using the phrase “rape culture” but the more I think about it, the more this perpetuates it – because regardless, it is ALWAYS the women who are at fault. We are essentially told as much, and this is coupled with “don’t tell a man no” is just a setup for abusive environments and relationships to thrive.



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TeenPact and Me

TeenPact is a christian conservative/evangelical organization that organizes government and civics classes and camps throughout the country. Their goal is to raise a generation of christian leaders (teens) to go and bring the country back “for christ” by encouraging activism and male leadership.

When I think about TeenPact and my time there, I don’t feel anger – like I do with most of my other past experiences. I feel confusion. Because I have so many good memories and experiences that are entrenched in environments that perpetuated the lies that enabled an abusive environment to thrive.

The thing about organizations like TeenPact and NCFCA is that their goal is to raise a new generation of leaders – thinkers, even – to do one specific thing: Take the nation back (for god!). What they don’t count on, is that by giving us the tools and resources to think critically, we’ll actually, you know, think critically and carry that on throughout our adulthood. Which is awesome and I’m really happy that I was allowed to learn that, because it’s served me well and enabled me to become the person I am today. Funny thing though, our parents and the people who head up these organizations get extremely grumpy and upset when we do what they taught us to do (or at least you know, the thinking part of that) without doing the rest of what they wanted us to do.

They teach us how to think, but then, they don’t actually want us to think, they want us to do their bidding.

And this, in a nutshell, is my beef with TeenPact. I’m going to be splitting this into parts instead of writing a book of a blogpost – because some things need to be fleshed out more, so for today, I’m going to concentrate on one particular event that happened while I was staffing.

I staffed one of the GA State classes in 2007. As staff, I helped oversee the voting process – a process which is designed to teach students about how elections work (assuming everyone is honest). The votes were tallied and my friend was a clear winner. I was pleased with this, and a little proud because he had really gone out of his comfort zone to even run. I was appalled, confused, and maybe a little angry when in that back room the Program Director turned to us and said, well, I don’t think he’d make a good governor, we should choose someone else. The founder was there and the high ranking staff wanted to impress him (by discarding the process?) and decided that my friend wouldn’t do it.

So in that back room, the Program Director, and the higher ranking staff decided to choose someone else from the 3 candidates to be governor and told us to be quiet about it. I was 15 (2 weeks before my birthday) and I had no idea how to respond – I was too shocked to say anything and too surprised to complain or dissent, so I stood there quietly, feeling as though my mouth was gaping. When we left the room with the new results, and with the Program Director deciding that his vote overruled all, I was full of shame and guilt. We announced who won and there were many questions – because in the other room, everyone tells everyone who they voted for, so everyone actually knows who won. People asked me questions and I couldn’t respond, my friend asked me and I was crushed and had to give him the same line I had given everyone else “it’s just what the votes were”.

I felt helpless because everyone who I would have talked to about it, was in that room and made that decision. They didn’t expect dissent – honestly, I don’t even think dissent is allowed, though it’s never directly stated – it’s a very homogenous group and anyone who does dissent is instantly cast as weird/strange/anything you don’t really want to associate with.

The staff did what they did because they didn’t want to get in trouble with Mr. Echols. I don’t know what the staff meetings are like, but I imagine that choosing a good face was enough of a requirement to strike fear into the hearts of the interns.


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Ex-Teenpact Blog Week

I was talking to a friend a while ago, and we were comparing notes on our experiences with TeenPact. It feels like such a taboo subject to talk about, I’m actually almost scared to, which honestly, is why I am – because if this one thing from my past has this much hold on me for no real reason (when I’m open about everything else) I should probably talk about it.

So on the 20th-26th, we’re doing an Ex-Teenpacters exposé. Because TeenPact is just another piece in the conservative christian “culture wars” machine that teaches (or in my case, because most of this wasn’t new, emphasizes) the lies and the wrongness of my past as right and perpetuates misogynistic theology (among other things).

Guest/Anonymous submissions are welcome and Starfury at Between Black and White will be posting them over the course of the week. If you’d like to post on your own blog (like I am) we’ll have a link-up widget over there as well.

I have a feeling that our two stories aren’t the only ones out there, and I think it’s time that we give those a voice.

If you want to submit your story, email us here.

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I was meant to be an arrow

We would scoff at the idea that people wanted to have well-rounded educated children. I was meant to be an arrow to pierce the darkness and pop all the well-rounded bubbles. << actually a thing that was said.

I watched the news nightly from the time I was 8, I listened to Rush Limbaugh and Laura Ingram and Sean Hannity religiously as a teenager. I saw Bill O’reilly speak, Ralph Reed recognized me and said hello at TeenPact. I went to a video conference that Newt Gingrich did, I attend the FRC Action convention with TeenPact twice, I met Bobby Jindal, Zell Miller, and Sonny Perdue knew who I was. I had a name in the Republican circles in GA. I campaigned for countless religious right candidates. My first sign waving venture was during the 2004 election and I caught the bug. I spent time in local campaign offices putting together phone banking scrips that worked really well, I traveled and campaigned for people in Alabama, Florida, Virginia, and New Hampshire – as well as being thoroughly involved in the political scene in Georgia.

My blog was relatively well known – as well known as a teenager’s commentary on politics can be, anyway. I lived and breathed political activism from the time I was 13 until I was just shy of 18 when the burnout set in.

Politics is interesting where it overlaps with religion – and sexism, and gender roles. I’ve talked a bit about TeenPact and the sexism and queerphobia there is just as rampant in the republican party. My political involvement was a bit of a paradox. On one hand it was the only thing that was encouraged besides being a homemaker and I latched on to it for dear life. On the other, we acknowledged that a woman’s place was not in politics unless it was under a man in some way, so my activity was limited to ensure I was always under some kind of male authority – training to be a political helpmeet (my husband or son(s) could be the president someday, after all).

I am keenly aware of the amount of hate and fear of others that runs rampant in the christian conservative-republican communities. I was inundated by messages from all sides that being queer, liberal, compassionate, and seeing The Others as just as human as we are was wrong. Damning, even.

I was told by every authority figure to fear anyone who was different from what I was, what we were. The lack of compassion never set well with me, but I had nothing to compare it to. It was all I knew. I was warned of being too learned, too knowledgeable, too educated lest I become one of those man-hating feminazis. We shunned education in favor of the blissful ignorance paraded as enlightenment by right-wing pundits and preachers.

There wasn’t really a dramatic turning point. The burnout happened when I was close to 18 while my legs were infected and I couldn’t keep up physically or emotionally because life in general was taking it’s toll. I dropped out of politics and into relative obscurity – I was married, so it was expected. Quietly re-evaluating the things that were important to me while working really hard to be the kind of wife I was supposed to be (until self-acceptance became a thing and our relationship was healthier for it).

 

I wasn’t raised to be an independent person. My mother literally said, of my independence and desire for it “what do you think God thinks of that?!” I was 17 and a half and just stared at her blankly, and quietly mumbled something along the lines of “I think he’s probably okay with it?”. I was raised to obey whoever is above me, it’s something I’m still trying to un-learn.

While campaigning, I wasn’t campaigning for things I truly believed in because I wasn’t allowed to have my own beliefs, I was campaigning along the Paulino Party Lines – because that was accepted and encouraged. As long as I followed the rules, campaigned for those my parents approved of, and didn’t get any independent thoughts in my head, I was free to travel for short periods of time and feel like I was making a difference.

Toxic religion and conservatism permeated every fiber of my existence and my very confused and hyper closeted self. Being told day in and day out that you’re wrong for not being X or Y enough, burying all the thoughts and feelings that don’t line up with what you’re supposed to be…ignoring the things that feel wrong because technically they’re right. I learned that politics is corrupt as fuck and the GOP isn’t better than anyone else, and the reason they can organize and come out in droves is because they use hate and fear as their motivators.

Over time I reclaimed my independence, and I couldn’t let fear and hate dictate my actions anymore. I accepted that the person I am and the person I am becoming is the opposite of the person I was supposed to be. I am everything I was supposed to be fighting against.

Here I am, 2016, actively working to make the world better, to be an arrow to pierce the darkness, to bring light and compassion and empathy into the world any way that I can.

They succeeded, I suppose, just not in the way they meant to.

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Well Then, God is a Shitty Author Part 4

I went a couple weeks listening to my parents and not talking to Alex. Making sure they weren’t monitoring me, etc. As they became convinced I had moved on (apparently cutting my hair in an effort to defy them = moving on) I went into planning mode. Alex and I had figured out ways of communication my parents didn’t know about. Living in the basement does have it’s perks.

One of our friends from TeenPact was running for congress in NH that year and asked me to help him campaign, my parents agreed, though were worried I’d see Alex,  I convinced them that wouldn’t happen, and so I flew to Boston and took the bus to NH (my parents also didn’t know about the bus part). Alex met me at the airport. He took the bus from Maine to Logan to meet me, and we put our faces together and smushed our lips into each others for the first time, because fuck it.

He rode with me until the last 30 minutes of the trip to NH, and I went on my way like nothing happened. He met me at Logan on the return trip too and waited with me until I had to go through security to fly home. He told me he didn’t hate me and I wasn’t damaged and he still loved me and it was good.

Came home like nothing happened, no one asked questions, although I did have to lie while I was on the bus, about the bus, which was exciting.

In November I also started carrying my messenger bag around with me (stuffed with a jacket) so my parents wouldn’t think anything of it when I left with it on my birthday. My mom had ordered me to send my promise ring back and I hid it in a drawer and told her I lost it, until Nov/Dec when I started wearing it on a chain around my neck tucked into my bra so they wouldn’t notice. They weren’t overly observant, or didn’t care once they had decided I was over it and they could continue to use me as they had for the last decade.

Meanwhile, I still had a hope chest full of supplies for my future. A hope chest that was in my bedroom as a constant horrible reminder of everything that went down in flames. A hope chest full of things I bought that I knew I wouldn’t be able to bring when I moved out. A hope chest, ironically, full of dashed hopes and broken dreams. I had about $1k of supplies in there, everything from pyrex glass measuring cups to towels and linens, and suddenly I needed a way to get rid of it. I told my parents I wanted to get rid of it because having it bothered me (which wasn’t completely untrue), but mostly, I wanted to have that giant, valuable, loose end tied up before I left.

There was a family at our church who had just moved to the area and apparently had nothing and were sleeping on towels on the floor. This was perfect. I immediately offered them everything (save for one bedding set and keepsakes) in my hope chest and they took it. Everyone was so proud of me and my generosity and I was told I would receive what I had given up 10-fold (yay christianity).

Kitchen
Only a small portion of what I actually had. Also I only took pictures of the kitchen stuff. 😛

 

But I didn’t care, and didn’t count on it. I actually felt a little guilty because I wasn’t giving my hope chest away out of the goodness of my heart, I was giving it away because of practicality. I would rather have had it go to someone else than my family be able to keep it and use as some kind of bargaining chip. I don’t tell this story often, because people tend to attribute philanthropy to something that I still feel was an entirely selfish move. I wish I had been able to keep my hope chest, but I knew it wasn’t possible.

When your entire teen life is spent hearing about how having a hope chest is so important, and it’s such a good idea, and then you don’t have one when you need it, it’s hard not to feel judged. It’s weird. The feeling of being an example for everyone you know because you’re the first to embark on the journey they’ve all been waiting for is intense too. Something I’ll need to talk about more I think, but back to our story.

I broached the subject about meeting friends at the mall by myself for my 18th Birthday in November too, to give them time to get comfortable with the idea and not flip out about it. It took a lot of work but I managed to convince them to let that happen before January, and in January, I went to Florida to get my driver’s license.

I only had one shot at getting my license. To my parents and grandparents, it was no big deal if I didn’t pass the first time, but I knew if I didn’t get it done in January, I wouldn’t be able to again, I’d have to start all over with a new permit at age 18 because I would be living in Maine at that point. So I worked really hard and I passed the test in January, much to my relief. In order to get my license, I needed my vital records (convenient), so I grabbed my birth certificate and SS card to take to the DMV. When I got back my mom asked me where they were, I said I had brought them with me and they were in my room and that I’d put them back….but I actually just hid them away safely, along with my diploma, and thumb drive with my “transcript”.

My mom was due any time in February and I hoped beyond hope that she would have the baby before my birthday. Before I left.

My birthday approached and no baby. I knew I only had one shot at leaving too, and if I missed it…….my life was over in more than one way. I don’t mean to sound dramatic, but that was my reality. I needed to leave, or I wasn’t going to make it. The toxic hell-hole of my existence was becoming all too clear. I had even spent several months talking to a pastor who didn’t know my parents about the situation and they agreed it was unhealthy, so I felt like it was okay, as far as god was concerned (because I was still christian at the time) to leave.

There was this problem though: I was my siblings primary caretaker at this point, and if the baby wasn’t born before my birthday…who would take care of them?

My grandparents came up the week before my birthday, took me to get red highlights in my hair and were around to help with the new baby, so my plan was still a go. I knew if I left without the baby being born, then at least other adults would be around to take care of my siblings, and I wouldn’t be leaving them completely alone. I had some amazon money from christmas, I divvied up my stuff to my siblings and I bought them each a toy and left it in a backpack by my bed. It was, and is still, important to me that my siblings know I didn’t leave because of them, that I love them, that I didn’t want to abandon them, but I didn’t really have a choice. 

I don’t know if they’ll ever know that. But leaving them tore me apart. I almost didn’t leave. But I had to.

One of my friends had joined the military and was stationed in GA and graduated the day or two before my birthday, so Alex came down for that (and to get me), and a couple other friends of mine picked me up and we went to his graduation and more relevant to my interests, I got to chill with Alex for a while. As a group we agreed not to post any pictures or anything on Facebook until Alex and I were safely away.

–aside– my online friend community was THE BEST and I wouldn’t be here without them, they were supportive and understanding, and I am so happy I know them –/aside–

Also, our best man, but he was in his dress uniform for that.
Alex, me, and Jake – also, our best man, but he was in his dress uniform for that.

On my birthday, I convinced my family to celebrate it early because my plan was to go to a movie and I wouldn’t be home until the kids were in bed. So they grudgingly obliged, and my presents were all conveniently travel sized, so I could throw everything in my messenger bag along with a change of clothes, my laptop, and my vital records. Then I hit the mall and my friend and I took pictures outside of Olive Garden while we waited for everyone else to get there, we were adorable.

She was my maid of honor, she's pretty rad. <3
She was my maid of honor, she’s pretty rad. <3

So everything was going to plan, but instead of going to a movie, Alex and I booked it out of GA and called my parents when we crossed the border.

They…..lost it. Threatened to call the police (thankfully, a police officer already knew, and also I was an adult and wasn’t kidnapped, so :P) and even wrote up a fake police report on Facebook, went between love-bombing guilt trips (“we would have helped you pack!”) to calling me a liar and deceiver and otherwise horrible person. The trip up the coast was intense, but finally, finally we were alone and had privacy and could just fucking be.

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Well Then, God is a Shitty Author Part 2

Alex’s dad called mine because he wanted Alex not to be crushed if he asked and dad said no. Or so the story goes.

Anyway, not long after, maybe the next day or later that night, Alex called and asked dad The Question (because asking to court is basically asking to marry me. I’m not joking either, courtship is “dating with the intent of marriage, and also with no privacy, and your parents controlling everything” but I think in the actual quote they use the word accountability), and to my surprise, my dad said yes. My mom was ecstatic, because her life-long dream of being pregnant with me simultaneously might actually be a thing.

We started courting (marionette dating) when I was 16 and he was 18, my mom heard wedding bells immediately. We had maybe a month of courting in peace before my parents (mom) started asking when he was going to propose if I really wanted to marry him or not. Something along the lines of, you graduated high school, now you can get married! was said, to normalize, I suppose, the pressure they were suddenly putting on their 16 year old to….tie the knot. And I told them then, and I said this before, it’s not that I didn’t want to marry him, eventually, but neither of us were ready.

To their detriment, in their eagerness to marry me off, they spent the last half of the year I was 16 drilling into me that I was an adult and capable of making my own decisions even though I was still technically a minor.

Sneaking around the SR rules
Sneaking around the TeenPact “Special Relationship”  rules at the FRC Action conference 2007 (if you can call having permission “sneaking”)

I ended up being in the general vicinity of his college a couple times that fall, due to campaigning and TeenPact events, so we got to see each other a couple times, though, never alone (obviously). Which was so nice. We even gasp held hands a couple times. This was happening simultaneously with my leg infection, and one of the campaigning trips I was on (where I walked for 10 hours with an abscess on my knee) was the one he was at, and he hung back and walked at my pace with me, while I hobbled along. Why didn’t he just carry me? because RULES YOU GUYS. RULES. Nonetheless, while everyone was miles ahead and oblivious, I didn’t mind having the company…and the relative privacy.

–aside– My brother went with me on one of the TeenPact trips (the one pictured) where Alex got a pass from his school to go because it counted for some class or other, and at first I was annoyed, but then figured out that siblings can totally piggyback and no one cares. So that was the best. Honestly, I feel bad that I didn’t want him to come, because it was actually fun to have him there (not just because I didn’t have to walk in heels the whole time). Go figure.–/aside–

The first time we held hands, it was like trying to put together a puzzle while blindfolded. It took us a while to figure it out. I’m not kidding. It was awkward and weird, and we were trying to be sneaky, and anyway. We eventually DID figure it out, but man, fingers, guys, they are complicated.

I went up to meet his family in December. It was intense because my parents and his parents (who to this day, have never met) were already starting to have issues with each other. Mostly because his parents were like, no, you can’t get married yet, and my parents were like, YEAH HUH THEY CAN. And they pressured Alex into buying me a promise ring, if not an engagement ring, because…my parents really wanted me married.

First Maine visit
The ONLY reason I’m not wearing a jacket is because it was 70ºF that day, weird, right?

 

 

Being as excited as they were, however, they wasted no time in taking me to turn in my bonds and fully stock my hopechest.

You know, because two months into courting is totally the time to fully prepare for your future together.

When I came home from Maine and I wasn’t engaged (keep in mind, we’d been officially a couple for barely 4 months) my parents were disappointed. There was other drama, that at the moment is sort of blocked out. Needless to say both sets of parents were draining me and I wasn’t thrilled with them. My parents started questioning his commitment to me because he didn’t ask me to marry him that trip.

They started being more outspoken about their reservations when he still didn’t propose after he came to surprise me for Valentines day. Not that he would have been able to anyway, because I and everyone else had the flu and I sort of willed myself better to hangout with him but still. Funny though, because it was a surprise, so I didn’t know, so I was chilling on the couch being sick and my mom kept asking me if I wanted to brush my hair. All afternoon she asked me this, and I was like no, I don’t want to brush my hair, I’m sick. I don’t care if it’s messy. And then Alex came and she was like THIS IS WHY I SAID YOU SHOULD BRUSH YOUR HAIR. And I was like, eh, he won’t care. He didn’t.

Alex came to visit me over spring break 2008 (we’re 17 and 19 at this point), met my paternal grandmother, who’s still the strongest woman I know and it was one of those weird trips where it’s like, well, Gramme has to like him, and she did, even though she was like, months away from parting. At the time, both sets of my grandparents lived in Florida, so that meant a 10 hour car ride south, Alex, my brother, and I in the back seat of the 15 passenger, to meet my grandparents and go on our annual “vacation”/fulfill some of our residency requirement, to Florida. I showed him around the city I grew up in sorta. We went on an incredibly awkward and overdressed date, but we looked cuute.

We went to Ruth's Chris, it was a bad bad idea.
We went to Ruth’s Chris, it was a bad bad idea.

Short trip to my hometown and to see my Gramme aside, most of what happened was Disney World and Sea World which sounds like it would be THE BEST THING EVER, but in reality was…not. My parents had unspoken expectations of things they didn’t communicate (not unlike the time the year before, they said we could do whatever at a GA park thing and were livid that we didn’t hang with my brother, despite not having told me to), said we could wander and got upset over stupid stuff that wouldn’t have been an issue if they told us ahead of time. Were mad about my phone dying, and mad about Alex and I talking (just talking, not anything questionable) at the timeshare my grandparents had gotten for everyone, and about us getting stuck on a ride (mechanical failure). Generally, it was a horrid trip, my parents were insane and tense and ready to explode at any given thing – even the kids were on edge and anything they or I did just……it was bad. I don’t remember a lot of details, just a lot of awfulness.

I need to go back to Orlando without my family there to enjoy it again sans the horrid baggage and guilt that came with that trip.

The ride back to GA was even worse. My parents stopped at chick-fil-a near the GA/FL border and sent the kids to the outside climbing area and sat down with Alex and I and gave us a stern talk, because we had fallen asleep in the back seat. All three of us had (my brother was there too), and my parents were like, WE NEED TO BE ABLE TO SEE YOU, YOU COULD BE DOING WHO KNOWS WHAT BACK THERE. And we were just…aghast at the violent outburst in such a public place. My parents were angry, because Alex, my brother, and I fell asleep on a 10 hour car trip and all three of us were leaning on each other. They said we were doing foreplay and didn’t listen to us when we said 1) no, we weren’t and 2) we didn’t even know what that was. Which was TRUE. Because we were homeschoolers who’s parents thought it best to give NO EDUCATION TO AT FUCKING ALL and decide that meant we were equipped for life.

Your teenager hearing the word foreplay for the first time during a lecture from you in which you are mad at them and then you refuse to explain what it is and also disbelieve them when they tell you they’ve never heard of it. Just no.

I didn’t learn about what foreplay was until months later, on fucking wikipedia thank you.

Things went south (even more) quickly after that.

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Well Then, God is a Shitty Author

cracks knuckles

So, I was looking in the archives and realized that in the ~5 years I’ve been blogging here, I’ve only mentioned courting like, 4 times (swear it feels like more though), and it’s such a huge part of my story….but also an intensely emotional and painful one, which is why it’s referenced but never really talked about. This is going to change. Probably. Maybe. If I can stick it out long enough to finish it. My locally crafted whiskey and moonshine may be coming in handy for what will most likely become a series – so I can’t promise the best writing ever (which, actually isn’t something I ever promise), but, I think it’s time.


We met at TeenPact National Convention, but we’d followed each other’s blogs before that. He was SmartHomeschool and I was Politically InCorrect. We and a handful of other people were first timer’s at the camp and everyone else we knew had run off to hang with their already established friends, and as we wandered, we kept running into each other and finding a handful of other loners at random times to make our group more TPA. We called ourselves The Magnets, because, we just sort of all ended up at the same place at the same time, snacking on skittles and starbursts.

The Magnets 1.0
We had *all* the homeschool moms concerned about us.

 

Alex, I will have you know (the tall one in the middle FYI – I only look appropriately scaled because I’m 12″ in front of the dudes. IRL I was shoulder height to them), was a tough cookie to crack. Super shy and awkward, I made a point to open up his little clam-shell-self that week, because I just REALLY wanted to know what was inside his brain. Which sounds weird, but I’ve never really felt that much curiosity for anyone else. Plus he was cute to boot, but I would never have admitted it. boops baby alex’s nose SO I MARRIED HIM. THE END.

Just kidding.

If only it were that simple camp love story.

Anyway, back to reality.

Alex was a cool person, we became fast friends, not just because we were more or less stuck together for a week, but he was thoughtful and smart, and interesting to talk to. He argued with me when no one else would, and didn’t just take whatever I said and leave it. We were equal. Which is sort of an unheard-of dynamic in our circles. When we went back home, we would spend hours every night IMing each other about everything under the sun. We had a lot in common, and we had a lot not in common. Eventually he brought me on the board of the magazine he started with some other homeschoolers and everyone basically started shipping us immediately.

We, of course, didn’t see it. We were friends, best friends, equals, that’s it. Everything we knew about marital relationships involved whatever sex was and submission (and not the fun kind), so, we went about our lives as best friends.

Alex came to visit me for my graduation party the week before TeenPact National Convention 2007, and that was when things started changing.

That visit was intense for reasons that actually have nothing to do with Alex and everything to do with my extremely pregnant mother.

It was that trip that Alex learned things weren’t sunshine and rainbows with my family. The day or two before National Convention, my parents sat me down upstairs and started yelling at me about laundry and shirking my responsibilities (Alex, who had been staying in my room while I camped with my sisters, heard everything from the basement). I came downstairs in tears to do the laundry they had exploded about – really the whole thing was a miscommunication, as was…..well, usual. I hadn’t done the laundry because I had to take a shower, mom had told me to do both without specifying the order, but then I had to make dinner and get the kids to bed and do all her other work, so I was going to get to the laundry, but apparently I hadn’t done it fast enough, or enough of it.

I got downstairs to the laundry which was adjacent to my room, and I just collapsed into a pile of tears. I forgot Alex was there and he came over and I tried to brush it off like everything was fine. I think I told him I deserved the verbal abuse my parents had just thrown at me, loudly, for an hour. I sat there and took it and apologized to them. I apologized to him for crying in front of him, and told me it was okay (to cry). He helped me with the laundry (he actually attempted to help me with all of my chores that week, but as soon as mom noticed she’d give me more shit to do), and was just there. I….never had anyone do that before. I always tried to never cry, because my mom told me crying was weak and would get me made fun of. Alex didn’t make fun of me, he was just present and calm and…helpful.

Anyway his visit with my family was full of shit like that happening, it wasn’t really awesome and I felt really bad about it, but then we went to camp again and I got to escape it for a while, even if camp was full of religious guilt that just reinforced that my parents were right about me.

TPNC 2007
Oh yes, The Reb pose. Very edgy. WE WERE ALMOST TOUCHING.

After he went back to Maine, and the life of being a mother resumed for me, things just….I felt halved. I powered through one of the most intense pregnancies my mom had ever had, probably the most intense actually, because she had an emergency c-section after having essentially a one-month long contraction. I had slept everywhere but my room for a large part of June (NC was end of may), including often the floor or a couch upstairs so my parents could wake me to man the house if mom went into labor.

But that’s another story. Anyway, time to myself after that was really scarce, I would be up until 2am because the only time I could talk to Alex was after everyone else had gone to bed and most of it involved him trying to tell me I wasn’t loosing my mind because of everything that was happening.

rewind When we were saying our goodbyes at camp, he told me to look under the coffee cup full of Reece’s in my room (his graduation present to me. Seriously, best. ever.) so that was, naturally, the first thing I did when I got home. He’d written me a letter that…reading it now, basically just said I love you for two pages, but at the time mostly was just the most validating thing I’d ever heard and desperately needed. That I wasn’t a horrible sister, that I was really strong, that what my parents were asking of me was insane and I didn’t deserve to be treated poorly.

I miss you” was said with all the weight and meaning of “I love you” when it’s said for the first time.

blah blah blah pregnancy, june, july, GenJ camp, CPS visit, all other stories….September.

Alex and I had written each other letters by hand over the summer because it was fun and….I don’t remember why we started, but anyway, he was heading off to college in the fall and I was worried he’d fall off the planet and I’d be alone without anyone I could talk to about life who would really understand. All naturally platonic, stupid shit, jokes; we were basically pen pals who were madly in love with each other and refused to acknowledge it (but secretly hoped).

So one day in September, out of the blue, Alex’s dad calls my dad, and asks what his answer would be if Alex asked him for permission to court me.

And so it began.

 

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I don’t know what to call this

I was going through the files on my laptop looking for something specific and I ran across a picture that I saved from 2007. I won’t post it here, because it makes my stomach turn, but content note: graphic descriptions of infections and medical neglect.

My parents stopped taking us to doctors before I was 10. They believed that god told them doctors were evil, to go to doctors was to not have faith in god’s ability and will to heal the sick. Along with that, came the belief that if you were sick, it likely had something to do with sin in your life. Both of these came from James 5.

Screen Shot 2014-02-20 at 12.26.40 AM

 

So, anytime we got sick, we did that. We’d have dad pray for us, literally anoint us with extra virgin olive oil, and then make sure we didn’t have any unconfessed sins. Ex: a cancer sore we could have because we “talked back”.

Because my parents didn’t believe in doctors, they also didn’t believe in medicine, because there is a greek word called Pharmakeia which is where the word pharmacy is derived from, but also means witchcraft. My parents made the jump to then decide that any medication, including ibuprofen and tylenol is evil, because witchcraft.

(side note: just writing this all out now is making me feel sick. First, I can’t believe I remember these arguments so well, and secondly, I just, I can’t, it’s so stupid)

We had one bottle of children’s chewable aspirin on hand, they reasoned THAT was okay because it’s from bark, not chemicals, and because one of my sisters was prone to migraines that resulted in vomiting – but that was only for dire emergencies.

My mom had “natural” remedies, like tea tree oil, oil of oregano, and wurther’s hard candies (for sore throats  << that one I’m not complaining about, actually, it was candy). Stuff that 1) doesn’t actually make sense and 2) is not located anywhere near the pharmacy area in the grocery store.

(side note: it took Alex so long to get me to take ibuprofen for migraines because of this.)

So, when I was 16 and a half, I had this horrible horrible infection on my leg. I could not move. It was swollen and oozing and painful, any movement at all was excruciating (and no painkillers), it swelled so much that my thigh didn’t look like part of my leg anymore, it was some weird mutated…thing.

My parents believed it was boils, like Job had (Job 2:7)

Screen Shot 2014-02-20 at 12.13.04 AM

 

So, they prayed for me, anointed me with oil, asked about my sins, which I couldn’t think of and then….the fun started.

Remember: no medicine, no doctors, nothing. My mom decided we had to keep the infection clean (makes sense), so, she would push and squeeze the abscess until puss came out of it (so. fucking. painful.), then she would put oil of oregano in and around the wound because it was a “topical pain reliever” and “antiseptic”, I’m pretty sure hydrogen peroxide happened too. Basically I just remember my siblings complaining that I smelled like spaghetti (maybe that’s why I hate it so much).

It was deep, and there was a good bit of blood – it was blue and swollen around the..head? I still have a visible scar from that first one. And the second one.

This went on from the time I was 16 and a half until I was 18 – it didn’t start fully clearing up until I left home, though it had gone down in intensity.

The second one, was right below the first, had two heads (which I think had more to do with my mom PHYSICALLY SQUEEZING THE ABSCESS than anything else) each wound was big enough you could put a pencil eraser in (I still have that scar too), and there was like, a flesh bridge between the two holes, so they were connected /open at the bottom/inside the wound, but on the top there was a little bit of skin that kept it from being a fucking gash.

After the first one though, my parents were less concerned, and I managed to move – while still in excruciating amounts of pain with no recourse – and do chores and go places and manage.

As time passed and I continued to get these and they continued to leave scars and I continued to function in large amounts of pain, my mom started commenting on how my legs looked.

Because, due to the scars – and random abscesses, they looked polka-dotted. So, I wore only jeans or ankle-length skirts (or tights) so as to hide the hideousness of my infected legs. (This continued well into my marriage, in fact I think it was around a year before I stopped wearing exclusively jeans and wore skirts/dresses that were above my knee, because of that reason.)

I walked for 10 hours in boots with an abscess on my knee (it was not fun and towards the end of the day I was having a really hard time walking/keeping up with the group, but being carried was not Teenpact Appropriate). Some of my skirts had stains from them.

I passed up an opportunity to intern with Teenpact after that trip because of my legs and knowing I wouldn’t have the stamina required to wear heels and walk all day.

They were frequent but became smaller – I started to be able to get to them before they developed into something bigger.

This whole time though, over a year and a half  – no one thought anything of it, no one thought to maybe get it checked out, this infection that didn’t go away – this thing that we’re calling boils and figure it has something to do with god, and not providing any kind of relief from the pain, I just had to suck it up and deal with it, and I did.

Our second year together, my legs and scars were healing and I was wearing shorts and short skirts and my parents would always comment on my legs – “oh, it looks like they’re clearing up!” which actually just reminded me that my legs might still be unseemly and polka dotted.

I realized, yesterday, after digging up that picture on accident, that my infection, much like my teeth, was something that they had the power to stop and chose not to. Instead they chose to shame me about it and give me the bare minimum of help (if oregano oil and being made fun of because of it counts as help) because of their religion.

The first two scars are shiny and feel weirdly smooth, but are fading.

leg

 

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Child Marriage: I dodged the bullet

OMG THE CUTEI don’t know that I’ve written much about the process of the relationship Alex and I had before we got married. I started this blog after the fact and before I had even begun to process the hellmouth that was my childhood.

With three creepy-as-fuck-patriarchs coming out in favor of child marriage – something they’d always been in favor of, I suppose, but just now coming to light – I keep remembering how close I was to that being my story, our story.

This might be timey-wimey.

Ever since I can remember, my mom really really really wanted to be pregnant at the same time as me. I don’t know why, I just remember her telling me this, often, and it creeping  me out before I was 10 – and after I was 10, but I remember being REALLY damn young when she was telling me this. I feel like I was 8.

When we started homechurching, my mom become obsessed, I mean obsessed with jewish culture. Like everything about it was perfect and not at all weird, and by jewish culture, I guess I should clarify, I mean old testament jewishness, and whatever of that was referenced in the new testament. Yes, how women were property and bought/traded for dowries, and how they were surprised for when they were getting married, and their parents picked out their husbands (my mom is also obsessed with betrothal), and then how they wait for the couple to do it, and then they bring out a sheet that had better have a bloodstain on it to prove…virginity – because, obv’s everyone bleeds (<nope).

She had, before I was a teenager even, basically planned out my wedding to be like that. Complete with my future husband building an apartment attached to their house, and even as a kid who knew nothing, this was the thing I fought against, this was the battle I always chose, I was NOT going to allow my mom to pick out my husband, and dictate my wedding and create the most humiliating ceremony I could imagine – just so she could get her jewish fix and fulfill her dream of carrying children simultaneously.

For context: She had also decided that I would marry at 18 to ensure that pregnancy thing would be feasible. She was pregnant when I was 18 (I’m 18 years and one-week older than my youngest sibling) and I did end up getting married at 18, but the simultaneous pregnancy hasn’t happened (and never will, thanks to my own birth control and my grandparents stepping in after the last baby and paying for my mom’s sterilization).

Anyway, back to the story…

So, my childhood was already riddled with disturbing fantasies from my mom in relation to my future love-life, and I had been fighting this battle for as long as I can remember. Thankfully, my dad was on my side here, and also thought that my mom’s whole wanting to control all of that thing was ridiculous, which made it easier to just look at her and say no whenever she mentioned it (that was the only thing I was ever able to do that with) even though she ignored it.

I had read too much Elsie Dinsmore to be cool with the idea of betrothal. 😉

Anyway, after we moved to Atlanta I went to TeenPact State Class and then TeenPact National Convention where I met Alex and we became fast friends over the course of the year. Later that year my parents told me they were done teaching me/had taught me everything I needed to know when I was 15 and they said I’d graduated. It was 2006. I turned 16 in February of 2007, had my graduation ceremony at the state homeschool convention in May, and Alex came down for camp, and that fall we started courting (which is, in our case, another kind of hell). Because he lived in Maine, our relationship was Long Distance and we saw eachother less than a handful of times a year – which means most of our relationship involved lots and lots and lots of talking and getting to know each other over IM/Email/Phone calls.

Nonetheless, as soon as my dad said “okay” to us courting in September of 2007, my parents – especially my mom- heard wedding bells. Courting is basically like, “dating with the intent to marry” but with everyone sticking their hands and ideas into the situation but without actually caring about or getting to know the two people involved – they just want power and think they can because they’re parents, so they must be right, right? (no)

My mom, at this time, had just had my second brother, and so, my broom services weren’t as desperately needed. By december they were pushing Alex to propose, made him buy me a promise ring, and kept asking about when we were getting married, and don’t you love him? (yes) don’t you want to marry him? (sure) but why not NOW? (because I’m 16) We’ll sign the paperwork! eventually I just looked at them and told them, I feel like you’re pushing me out, and I don’t know why. They were like, we’re not pushing you out! and I forget what else they said, but in retrospect, that conversation, and me not coming home engaged after visiting and meeting his family for the first time after christmas changed things.

But one thing remained, they wanted me married. STAT. They wanted him to propose like, right away, and when he didn’t propose by my birthday, in February (because we both decided it wasn’t a good idea to get married at like, 17 and 19) they got pissed and over the course of the summer of 2008, decided to do everything they could to sabotage our relationship.

It was brutal and nasty and deserving of more than one post because it was fraught with verbal and emotional abuse, withholding, and bribery – complete turns of opinions and demeanor’s, saying one thing and then the next morning saying something else, the last pregnancy that ruined everything, and the reason I had to run away.

If I had complied, as I did in every other thing, my relationship with my parents would have been less strained for a short time, but neither Alex or I would be in a healthy place. 16 is too young. Much too young.

So when people talk about child-marriage proponents, I remember being 16 and pressured, unbelievably pressured by my parents, to make my boyfriend propose and marry me.

because it’s better to marry than to burn with passion 

I wonder if some of the logic of Swanson, Maranatha’s dad and husband, and Creepy Duck Guy wasn’t part of the logic my parents had too: female independence is bad, marry them off young so they can do what god commanded women to do – be fruitful and multiply.

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