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Category: Spiritual Abuse

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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On being a broom (and why I can't just relax and enjoy shit)

I realized why I have a hard time relaxing and taking actual vacations and even enjoying the holidays.

As a child all of the times that most children have “off” to play and relax and do their own thing, I never had. We never had summer break, we took Nov-Jan off every year instead, and during those two months we never rested. During those two months, my mom made lists, my mom kept us running ragged either baking or crafting or “ministering” to other people, or doing deep seasonal cleaning. I remember, vividly, begging, all of us, begging to keep ONE DAY in two months free so we could just watch a movie and relax and not make cookies (or make cookies that we actually got to eat instead of for everyone and their aunt).

We had “parties” that I don’t ever remember being fun, because the entire time leading up we spent deep cleaning, and cooking, and setting up, and then when it was party time I had to help mom keep the party and the guests organized and on-schedule, and I had to make sure the dessert came out of the oven at the right time, and often was interrupted with some kind of caretaking need in the middle of a group activity.

My mom hated it when I planned my own (graduation) party and I told her she couldn’t do anything and that I had no plans, and we were just going to hangout, maybe watch a movie and order pizza. Even then she still tried to dictate what happened when, I was still pulled aside, it was still stressful.

All I remember my mom doing during breaks, and actually for the majority of my childhood was sitting in her recliner, writing us lists of things to do, and getting upset when we didn’t do them all fast enough for her.

Her version of helping and “being productive” was sitting there, after giving us our lists, watching us do the things on the list and telling us what we were dong wrong or should do differently, or coming up with more things to do simultaneously.

There is no pleasing my mother. We had “breaks” solely so we could do chores and things we couldn’t have done while we were “schooling”. Forget that we didn’t school on Fridays, because Fridays were intense cleaning days, you know, on top of normal cleaning all week.

Even my dad, my mom would write HUGE “honey-do” lists for on his one week off (you know, when we kids just wanted to play and have him rescue our toys from the packaging). My mom was a slave-driver who bred her own slaves.

And yes, I do feel like I and all my siblings are just slaves in my mothers eyes. She wouldn’t say it that way, but that’s exactly how they live(d) and practice(d), and people wonder why I have horrible self esteem issues.

I mean, I was told, outright, for years, that my purpose and job in life (while I was home) was to serve my “family” (i.e. mom). I felt, literally (I cannot emphasize this enough) like I was just a broom with arms, legs, and a heartbeat. I remember standing in the kitchen one day, fighting back tears, devastated as I was doing two things at once, that I didn’t have 8 arms, because I could. not. keep. my. mother. happy. I could not physically clean, and cook, and hold the baby, and do the laundry all at the same time. I was human, I ONLY HAD TWO ARMS, and yet, there was my mom, in her chair in the next room, berating and harassing me because while I was cleaning the dishes and cooking and had a toddler draped around my leg, I hadn’t yet started the laundry, or brought her snack.

If I was “caught” doing anything that loosely resembled “relaxing” that was immediately rectified with other tasks (unless it was bedtime, or the like 90 minutes of “free time” I had that rapidly shrank). I feel horribly guilty if I am not doing some kind of mundane work when I could be, because I was never allowed to breathe.

I wasn’t a person until I ran away. Before that, I was nothing more than a breathing, walking, broom. 

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Out of the (agnostic) closet (and into the fire?)

This has been coming to a head and swirling around for some time and I just need to let it out now:

I. Don’t. Believe. In. God. Any. More.

For so many reasons.

One, I became a christian entirely out of fear. I was terrified of going to hell. I can’t mesh staying in a religion that preaches damnation, operates on fear, and then tells you, simultaneously, to not be afraid of nuthin – because perfect love casts out all fear. I can’t balance that paradox.

Pascals gamble is so so flawed. Pascals gamble is not a reason to become or remain a christian and when I realized that the only thing keeping me in christianity, was fear (and if it’s true I win everything, if it’s false I lose nothing, but if I’m wrong, I’m screwed – fear tactic 101), I realized that living completely in fear of everything, was stupid and not a way to live and certainly not a way any deity I’d want to follow would want me to live.

Two, I can’t take the non-answers, the cliches, the culture, the holier-than-thou, and the unacknowledged hate that pervades much of christianity. I KNOW not all christians are like that (duh), but the truth is – since I stopped living as though I had to be The Most Holy Human, I’ve become a better person. I’ve become more empathetic and compassionate and I can actually be myself – because I don’t have to repress all of the things that may or may not be heaven dealbreakers.

And I have to believe that a truly loving god would want that – not for the people he created to live in constant fear, to live not fully, or to live as shells to save face.

Three, a long time ago, I wrote about how christianity is about love. I feel very deeply that it’s what it should be about (more accurately, that’s what any religion should be about), but from discussions with other people (outside and inside the comment section) it’s clear that it’s not. Christianity is about sin, it’s about being worthless and trying to get better to be worthy of heaven even though you don’t have to do anything but believe to get your pass. The True Christians alter their lives and personalities and values completely to be the best christian they can be, worthy of heaven, because being a christian means you’ll want to change like that.

There are so many contradictory things within the message of christianity that I just can’t take anymore.

Jesus loves you as you are; you are broken and worthless and need to change to bring glory to god.
God loves us all equally; but if you're not straight you're going to hell.
Jesus elevated women; but SHUT THE FUCK UP AND STAY HOME AND HAVE NO PERSONHOOD SO SAITH GOD.
Men and women are equal; men must rule the women, and women must submit to the men, for the glory of god.

There are so many.

Four, I couldn’t deal with worshipping someone who cursed women with pain for half of their life (and then MANDATED them to have all the babies) and told men: hey, look out for the thorns on those roses, oh, and, it’ll be hot tomorrow. And people wonder why I have issues.

Five, so Jesus’ remains weren’t in the tomb (oh yeah, I’ve read ALL the apologetics books, and I went to apologetics camp, briefly practiced competing in apologetics), that actually proves very little. But what’s to say that the other gods aren’t real (the bible never says no other gods exist, just that this god is a jealous bitch and you better only like him)? All religions have things in common and all religions (for the most part) think that their way is The Only Way (TM) and  who’s to say? I can give you all the meaningless pat answers I learned as a teenager (which basically equates to: But it IS true), but those get old and don’t hold much weight – at least not for me, not for right now.

Lest you assume I jumped into deconversion haphazardly, let me assure you – no, I struggled with this for a long time. It’s HARD to leave christianity, it’s HARD to even be THOUGHT of as having LEFT christianity, it’s harder still to ADMIT to having left christianity because, by the time I hit publish on this, any semblance of normal relationships I had with other christians is going to go down the drain. They’ll tell me how easy it is to not believe, but it’s not true. It’s HARD and it’s hard knowing the fallout – knowing I will suddenly become a project, or a black sheep – knowing that the thread of personhood I had with them will be eradicated.

It’s HARD not having excuses for your behavior (because god), it’s HARD not having someone you can point to to get people to stop pestering you about your life (because god), it’s HARD suddenly not having a handy little good christian girl’s guide to life and living. It’s HARD having to own my decisions, my behavior and my path.

What’s nice, is not having a massive guilt complex every time I think someone may not share my faith, what’s nice is not having to not take bread with those people because they don’t match my version of christianity and may be corrupting influences, what’s nice is being autonomous and being me and not living in fear that if I am myself (the way god, apparently, made me) that I’ll be doomed to eternal torment.

But what about the afterlife? what about heaven and hell?

Honestly, I don’t really care. I want to love as many people as I can, and live as fully as I can while I’m here. If I do that, then I’ve lived a good life, I don’t care what happens next. I take comfort in the thought of nothingness (which I know, bothers a lot of people), I’m fine with the idea of just ceasing. If I’m wrong and I go to “hell”, well, hey, it was worth it to be able to live.

Comments are on, but if you start preaching at me, being concerned at me, or generally overreacting and being a dick, I’ll delete it. I know where to find all the answers you’ll try to give, and I’ve gone through them all. Nothing you can do or say is going to change anything – I have no qualms about your religion and I’m not going to try and de-convert you or stop you from talking about it, but don’t try and shove it down my throat.

 

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I have something to say

I have a story to tell, a story that’s been hanging over my head for months and I haven’t said anything out of fear and now I just need to release it so I can feel better.

This summer, I was cornered by people I trust – put into a situation against my will that triggered an onslaught of PTSD, flashbacks, and sent me back into the past where I was 16 years old, sitting on a couch, being berated and interrogated and told I was a horrible person.  

I’ve been dealing with the psychological and emotional fallout of that since – it’s gotten better over the last month or two, but for what felt like an eternity, I couldn’t write, draw, or even use my voice for fear of it happening again.

I forgot I was an autonomous adult because the situation sent me back to a place where I was powerless, because the people who cornered me kept calling me back every time I tried to escape, because I was already in the middle of a tunneling flashback, I shutdown, which for me looks like this:

 become robotic and stoic, I don’t even know what I’m saying anymore, because I just became a shell running on autopilot, giving the answers that they want to hear as best I can without giving away more than I am comfortable with. Sitting calmly, listening to my accusers, showing no emotion, giving reasoned answers, trying to end the interrogation as quickly as possible.

Meanwhile, I am hiding somewhere in a cave warding off nausea, panic attacks, and tears. Somewhere they can’t see. Because I can’t let them see, it’s not safe to let them see that I’m bothered, that will validate their point.

I am well practiced at this. I spent my childhood perfecting this response. This is what my fight or flight looks like, because I was never allowed to express emotions or explode at my parents. 

Note: if I ever become stoic, cold, and reasoned during a discussion that is uncomfortable, I am not there. In general, I can’t talk about anything in any other way than passionately or emotionally.

When that finally ended, I was sick. We went to the lighthouse – as far away from the cottage as we could – and I curled into a fetal position and bawled and screamed for what felt like an hour.

I can’t really put into words all of the ways it hurt. My mind is a minefield and they tripped on all of them. Everything exploded in a dozen different directions – trying to figure out how much is PTSD and flashbacks from the past, how much of it happened, how to deal with the feelings of betrayal from people who “are just concerned”. Even writing about it now, almost 4 months later brings back all of the complicated feelings that are still a tangle of wires.

I made a point not to give them answers to their questions, and in the process a lot of very hurtful things were said and assumed in their own right.

I threw up all night that night, after everyone went to bed, assuming I was fine.

I told them it was food poisoning, but I lied. It wasn’t food poisoning, but I didn’t want to deal with more questions and “worry” and weird apologies-that-aren’t-apologies when I just wanted to be left alone. I am good, too good even, at telling people what they want to hear – often at the expense of myself and my own preferences. You could say I was trained to do so.

I was asked questions about my lifestyle and faith from a place of fear and worry, I was asked who my friends were and if they were christian (because you don’t want to get answers from the wrong places and they didn’t know who I was friends with). As if I were a 14 year old starting high school with friends doing drugs and they (complete outsiders!) were entitled to know.

At various points, even on autopilot, I did somehow find enough mental capacity to reiterate that I am an adult and I don’t have to tell them anything and I have no obligation to them. I’m proud of that.

They admitted(?) I wasn’t obligated to tell them anything as they continued to pry and confirm whether or not I am indeed a christian (or good person) and tell me that I should have come to them with questions (they don’t know where I’m getting answers!) because they’re pastors and know all of the things.

But the thing is, I didn’t have questions – I knew the answers, and ganging up on me, forcing me into a conversation and berating me, making wild assumptions and accusations and saying things that just show how misguided and misinformed they are about the world and how it works doesn’t make me want to talk.

I didn’t expect to have to deal with this kind of situation as an adult, I wasn’t prepared to feel trapped, again, and the fact that it happened bothers me.

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Depression and Spiritual Abuse

Looking back, it’s no wonder that all of the feelings and self loathing that lead to my depression, brought depression. I was taught that I was worthless, that I should never think well of myself, that I needed to be humble, I was never allowed to show any emotion that was not a plastic smile. Perfection was constantly demanded, and perfection is what I was incapable of. I am, and was keenly aware of my failings, of the places I don’t measure up, where I don’t meet parental wishes or requirements – those were held over my head, brought up in arguments to coerce me further into being my family’s slave.

I remember times when my parents would sit there and berate me for hours (under the guise of “concern” and wanting to “help my [spiritual] walk”) and tell me that because I missed doing laundry one day, misheard or misunderstood a demand, that I was a bad sister, a person going down a path of destruction, away from god, if I kept up this “rebellious” attitude.

I remember being bragged about to people (when convenient) only to be later pulled aside in private and told to shape up. I remember dismissal and invisibility. I was a pawn, a tool, a broom. I related strongly to cinderella and everyone thought it was cute, but they didn’t realize that I felt as worthless as the dirt she was mopping. That I believed I WAS as worthless as the dirt she was mopping – to know and be told in actions that I am only loved and approved of when I DO things in a certain way, with a certain demeanor regardless of feeling, ill, tired, or stressed. When I was imperfect (as all humans are) I was punished – verbally, emotionally, spiritually, psychologically, mentally. I internalized their words of my failures and believed that I was a failure, who didn’t deserve any good.

This was not aided by the fact that my family explicitly believed and taught that it was better to live a life of suffering (by gods hand, of course) than to live a happy life. That god did not want us to be happy (and by unspoken extension, wanted us to be miserable or persecuted).

It’s no wonder that between the bullying because of my imperfections, and the toxic theology of my parents, that I internalized at the most impressionable ages, my total and utter worthlessness and the only way to deal with that, was to hate myself as much as I perceived I needed to be. It’s no wonder that it escalated. It’s no wonder I shut down, became numb, stopped feeling, and felt robotic. It’s no wonder I was and at times still am, utterly ashamed of being a woman (someone who is less because of different anatomy)*.

*by people like my parents, the tendency of republicans in positions of power, and people who perpetuate the theology of “equal but different” where differences justify belittling.

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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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Unsafe Places

Churches are not safe. I can’t step into one without coming up with an escape plan and spending a majority of the time warding off a panic attack. The families (particularly if the church is made of up of mostly families, with multiple children under 10), the songs, communion, the language in the preaching – the whole experience is still so very riddled and damaged by my past and I can’t see through it.

It doesn’t help that, for a supposedly “spiritually dark” place, the majority of churches seem to be very conservative/evangelical rife with things that make my insides scream and want to run away and/or throw up in the church bathroom. When I do go to church, which is rare and only for special family events (because, panic attacks) I shut down and distance myself as much as possible.

Language in the church is so loaded I can’t even begin to describe it in concise terms, it just is. I hear my past in my head – I can’t read the bible, the KJV I avoid like the plague. Communion scares the crap out of me, and I exit as soon as I can when that’s announced because I can’t bring myself to do it. Because I can’t do it sincerely, and I was doomed to hell if I ever did it wrong. I can’t sing, and some of the songs bring back so many harsh memories, I freeze when Blessed Be Your Name plays because of the theology that went along with it – glorifying a god who takes things away because he can. It doesn’t set well anymore. This particular song brings me back to my stillborn siblings, because this was their song in many ways.

I feel very alone. Because I can not, cannot believe in the god I used to believe in, in the god that all my new church experiences still proclaim (intentionally, or no. I can’t tell, because again, language barriers) I don’t hold it against them, and I usually assume the best (if I know the pastor) – but needless to say conservative churches are not good places for me.

I feel a lot of hate stemming from the christianity (and people who practice it) I used to know, and I feel like that can’t be what it’s about. If it is, I have no qualms with abandoning it as the only reason I became a christian was due to fear (pascal’s gamble, much?). Why is it that realizing the motivation for christianity (and other religions) is based on love and maybe that’s what we should be focusing on instead of hate so…wrong?

You can’t even google liberal christianity without an overwhelming amount of results pointing out that its wrong or not real, if not made a mockery of – “hippie touchy feel-y love”. But what’s so wrong with that? What’s wrong with love and acceptance instead of fear and falsely justified hate? It’s hard because all of my life I’ve heard it made fun of – the one thing I hope to be true. That god is not evil like I was taught, because how could that god not be evil? To want people to love him because they are afraid of death and hell. I don’t want to waste my time on a tyrannical misogynist deity.

I can’t go to church because my faith in humanity and the pieces of my soul that have been restored start to die. I can’t go to church because I can’t get past the hate, misogyny, and cruel nature of a deity who’s supposed to be loving. I can’t go to church because the atmosphere is so riddled with fear and judgement that I feel stifled. I can’t go to church because I am not accepted there.

I find that I still accept the idea of a deity, but in a more hands off way – I feel like the message of religion is all centered around the same thing: loving our fellow human beings. And I’ve found that I can accept that, I can do that, I want to do that even. If there is no god and I love my fellow man I have lived a good life, if there is a god and its not the christian god then I have still lived a good life (and assuming the deity is loving, just, and kind, or karma, I won’t have anything to worry about) and if the christian god does exist in the way I hope, from the New Testament, then I expect I’ll be greeted with “well done”.

I just want to love people, and be loved – accept and be accepted. Is that so wrong?

I don’t think church will be safe for me for a very long time; if it ever is, it will be because I’ve found someplace that is accepting to all people, and loving to all people, without inducing guilt, employing fear tactics, or excommunicating people they believe to be “in sin” (actually if they talk about people being “in sin” I won’t be going there. period).

—-

By the time this is posted I’m going to be at PAX East, I’d like to reply to comments by friendlies but won’t be able to until Monday, so please be patient.

For those about to leave freaked out, angry comments or determine the status of my salvation:
1) don’t waste your breath
2) shut the hell up
3) It’s my business alone and not yours
4) I’m at peace with where I’m at and I’m working through everything in my own time, the best thing you can do is leave me alone about it and just accept my journey as my journey

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I Don't Pray Anymore

When I was 10 and we were well into our left-the-cult-but-still-kept-everything-but-demons days we started going to church again. After being told churches in general were evil, it was weird going back to the buildings. My church experience was never great, we were never at one long enough to belong, because the pastor would say something and my parents would have a disagreement and we’d either leave or be asked to leave. I occasionally had time to make friends before we were shunned and never spoken to again. It was lonely, to say the least.

In September of 2001, 10 days after the trade centers fell, we had another reminder of the love of god – my mom had a stillborn. A boy, which was special because I only had one brother and at the time there were 3 girls including me (and another boy meant we’d have a chance of carrying on the family name, because that was somehow important..I remember that remark being made before). He died in the birth canal with the cord wrapped around his neck – he suffocated. My siblings and I were sick with the flu at my grandparents house, so it was just my mom and dad (homebirths were unassisted, always) at home and they called and had us come home and told us the baby died.

They showed us the blue and purple and red body, my mom was holding and touching it and wanted us all to hold it. I flat out refused, grossed out by the thought of touching a cold corpse (in who knows what state of decay *shudder*) I went to lay down and when I woke up a few hours had passed and the police and paramedics were there. I remember seeing strange people walking around while I was on the couch kinda delirious from being sick and dead baby, I think they tried to ask me something but I just mumbled something about just getting there and not knowing what happened and being sick. They were very very nice to me and understanding (which was comforting because I was scared), they took the corpse and my mom sobbed. I didn’t understand, I didn’t understand why they kept the corpse around for so long.

By the time the funeral had come around, maybe a week later, the paramedics had labeled it SIDS, which I came to understand as Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. My parents said that this was all part of gods plan and nothing could have been done to stop it. My dad somehow worked the love of god and the salvation message into the eulogy, talking about how it was a good thing, and told us kids how this would be a good opportunity to get my catholic grandparents to convert.

I didn’t cry.

I didn’t cry for many reasons, one was because I learned early on that crying was weakness, but also, because I truly believed with all my heart that god was going to bring the baby back, I prayed sooo hard and didn’t want to leave the graveyard because I knew that there was going to be a miracle, I had the faith of a mustard seed – though it felt like more; I didn’t know what a mustard seed was, but I figured I could be moving mountains because I believed it so much. That there would be cries of life before the coffin was lowered into the ground and everyone would be surprised.

But as we left and the grave-people were getting ready to bury the coffin, there was no noise, just silence.

This didn’t bother me until years later, I just assumed that maybe I didn’t have enough faith even though I thought I did and gave it all I could muster.

Cut To: 2004

Valentines day (2 weeks before my 13th birthday), 7am, we were all there this time. I was woken up and told to keep the kids under control/fed/etc as mom was in labor in the master bathroom. I popped on cartoons and fed the kids and those things that you do while trying to pretend you can’t hear the screams and noises of labor.

The worst happened. We all heard it, “BREATHE” was shouted over and over again and silence fell.  Color drained from our faces. I don’t remember any sequence of events after that, the memory is locked somewhere, but I remember touching this corpse (girl this time) because it seemed to be important to mom. Still cold and blue and purple and pink and gross. It was the same cause; strangulation, the paramedics labeled it SIDS again, but I think we were at our grandparents house when they showed up because I don’t remember interacting with them. My grandparents did their best to comfort us and just let it all sink in. They’re good at that, at giving us what we need and being generally unassuming. I don’t think they know how much that means to us.

My mom said, later, that she felt god telling her that he did this because he loved her, this was his way of saying I love you. It was her valentines present, taking the baby. Same weird salvation, this is good, this is love, etc message was preached at her funeral too – another opportunity for my grandparents to convert, and a few months later they did, so it was all seen as a wash and “worth it”. We laid her to rest beside my brothers grave. I didn’t pray for her return this time, I figured that Lazerous and Jesus were probably just one time things.

Honestly it’s the questions that got to me most. Because every pregnancy since the first stillbirth, my siblings (who were around to remember) have asked “is this baby going to be born alive?”. The thought of them asking that and me having no answer, and mom and dad’s pat answers still make me cry and my blood run cold. I hate that it’s even a question that had to be asked.

Cut To: 2007-2008

My life had become a living hell. I was 16-17, I was growing into an adult, forming my own opinions and, to their credit (and chagrin) my parents didn’t raise a weak daughter. My boyfriend-now-husband and I were in this process called “courting” à la Josh Harris. I don’t remember where my parents heard of the idea, probably a homeschool convention that also included HSLDA and Mike Farris. For those unfamiliar, it’s like, trying to date but with your whole relationship being micromanaged and manipulated by control freaks and outsiders who have no interest in the relationship itself, just in dictating things without taking the time to get to know anyone. In our case it went from my parents trying to marry me off at 16 because as soon as the word “relationship” entered it was like wedding bells were ringing. At 17 my mom got pregnant and the cycle of my existence as a person ended (again) and my existence as my mother’s sentient broom began – only this time, I fought back. I was just getting into my personhood after a decade of not having one.

I was dragged out of bed and cornered and bullied by my parents for hours. Told I wasn’t being godly enough, told I was a better daughter and better skilled when I was 8, that Alex was generally evil, and corrupting me, that I was on my way to hell and had better shape up, that god disapproved and I needed to make it right. It was my DUTY to end my life and be a live-in slave to my parents whenever they demanded it. That because I was a woman/younger, THEY heard from god for me, and there was no way I knew for myself what was best for me, and god wouldn’t tell me something against their will.

Unfortunately for them, they spent the 6 months prior drilling into me that I was an adult and capable of making my own decisions. I quickly came to the conclusion that people didn’t have the power to bestow and then relinquish adulthood at the drop of a hat, or plus sign of a pregnancy test.

I was devastated when my mom told me she was pregnant. No, not devastated, enraged, panicked, and hurt. I had spent the last hellish year, and especially six months praying oh-so-hard for god to work, to make it better, to make things okay. And the result of my prayers, every single time? the problems made up by my parents just escalated, escalated, and escalated until my parents told me that I was no longer allowed to talk to Alex. My prayers were hitting the ceiling, I felt pieces of myself dying as I spent those last six months of 17 plotting my escape and trying to fly low enough under the radar so as to not be noticed, so my near-suicidal depression wouldn’t cause room for concern and cause more squelching. I misdirected to survive, letting my parents think I was “over” Alex just to get me to my next birthday. I felt abandoned by god, which crushed me, because I had done everything, I had given up having my own life for years, I rarely saw friends, I didn’t ask for much, I worked so hard.

Cut to: February 28 2009

I left on my 18th Birthday, I had a party away from home (that took a lot of work) and Alex and I left that night. My parents went nuts when we called them. They went from acting concerned and sad to bullying, not hesitating to pull god into it.

Cut To: March 4 2009

Newest baby was born by Cesarean due to complications and that the previous child (boy) had been an emergency C-Section. The reasons for this C-section? Umbilical cord wrapped around her neck.

I don’t think it hit me then. It hit me on the anniversary of the first stillborn. It could have been prevented. It was the same thing that killed him and the other one, but this one made it because they happened to be at a hospital. I’ve rarely been more crushed and angry than when that realization hit.

I stopped praying because my prayers didn’t do anything good, they only made things worse. I stopped praying because god obviously never listened to me. I stopped praying because I was tired of being let down and abandoned by someone who was supposed to never abandon me.

I’ve cried and wrestled and fought over this. Why didn’t god listen? was I not good enough? does he not care? if he did care, why did he let this happen? why would he abandon the fervent prayers of an innocent child, of a young adult? I don’t know, all I know is, praying has left me disillusioned, callous, and cynical.

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