Tag Archives: family

7 Ways Christian homeschooling parents can support LGBT kids

25 May

Some background for consideration: I am a homeschool graduate, now in college. I identify (right now) as queer and trans*. I no longer practice my parents’ religion, but I grew up in a conservative-evangelical Christian community. Certain aspects of that culture have not only made it difficult for me to understand and accept myself, but also deeply harmed my relationship with my parents.

I realize that Christian/homeschooling parents may not be eager to take parenting advice from someone like me, someone who turned out very differently than my own parents expected and hoped I would, but…my parents did their best to give me a Christian education. To raise me to serve Jesus. I became who I am anyway, in spite of their efforts to control my future. I hope that parents in this culture can try hard to listen to the stories my peers are bravely sharing, so they can learn healthier ways to love and parent their kids.

Speaking as a member of the LGBT community, a child of evangelical Christians, and a homeschool grad, the best advice I can give parents struggling to come to terms with their child’s differentness is to listen without condemning. Even if it goes against what you’ve been taught. If you want to maintain a relationship with your kid, you’re going to have to learn how to let go of your expectations for them. They’re going to be who they are anyway, with or without your acceptance.

 This is in no way an exhaustive list of things you can do as a Christian/homeschooling parent to actively support LGBT youth in general and your kids specifically, however they identify…just a few things that would have dramatically improved my self-image and my relationship with my parents.

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Create an environment of approachability. Employ positive parenting techniques so we can learn how to be confident and capable from a young age. If you teach us to conform or else, you’re teaching us to shut ourselves off from you in order to protect ourselves from what we perceive to be a real threat, regardless of your actual intentions. Our relationship with you will suffer, and we may also suffer long-term emotional consequences.

When you tell us that you love us “no matter what,’’ prove it. Don’t undermine our trust by simultaneously expressing hateful views of others. If we catch you lining up at Chik-Fil-A to protest federal protection of LGBT employees or cracking transphobic jokes, we will determine that your love for us is very conditional indeed.

If you want to raise us with a knowledge of Christianity, do some research into textual criticism. Catch up on the latest theological scholarship. Educate yourself so you can distinguish between what’s good and helpful, and what’s overly simplistic, lacking in nuance, or downright harmful. If this is uncomfortable for you, remember that many Christians–in fact, entire denominations–have found that being open to new information has led to a richer, more vibrant faith.

If attending church is important to you, make sure our church home is a loving, accepting community, in theology, theory, and practice. If it’s not consistently encouraging you to love more, if it’s sending mixed messages or advocates a systemic hierarchy wherein queer people are “rightly” treated as subpar humans, even in subtle ways, it’s not a safe community for us.

Thoroughly research Christian textbooks before you purchase them. Don’t blindly accept curricula just because it has “godly” and “biblical” stamped all over the cover. (This might require you to confront other assumptions, like theories of origins or structures of society.) Unfortunately, many of the big names in Christian-homeschool publishing are pushing a very specific political agenda that does kids a big disservice by discouraging and suppressing critical thinking skills.

Treat other LGBT people in your life with kindness and respect. Make our home a safe zone for our queer friends. Stand up for us. When we’re bullied, when we’re discriminated against, when “authority” figures in our world act with arrogance and hate. Be proactive in supporting political policy, at all levels of government, that seeks to protect LGBT people from discrimination and hate crimes.

Don’t interpret any point of divergence as a personal attack. We love you, but we are not you, just as you differ from your own parents. Everyone has the right to express themselves and make their own life choices. If we grow into happy, healthy, functioning adults, you should see that as a sign of success! You’ve done your job well.

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HOW DO YOU STOP ASSUMING PEOPLE ARE BAD

11 Feb

I mean, since infancy I was taught hardcore that humans are inherently evil and that only with Jesus’ help can we Change™. The only other option was to live a life of sin, hurting everyone around you while you destroyed yourself with not only your own selfishness and fundamental inability to ever do anything without mucking it up, but also with thoughts/feelings/actions that are generally understood as natural and healthy. And because I took this message so much to heart, accepting as true everything my parents/church/revisionist textbooks offered me, I grew up despising myself. Not just because I was bad, but also because of the many occasions on which my sobbing mother demanded I ask Jesus to change me and of course he didn’t. I despised myself because I was irrevocably bad.

In addition to turning never-ending bitter cynicism inwards, I also developed a super unhealthy interpretation of criticism, disagreement, general fuck-ups, and the other people in my life/people I didn’t know/fictional people presented in media. I don’t actually believe it, on a conscious level, but I don’t know how to kill it either. Sometimes I can’t help myself from asking another person if they think I’m bad because fill-in-the-blank (and “no” is still surprising). And when I hear other people fight or hurl insults at each other, my first reaction is, that’s bad. That person is bad and they just ruined a relationship forever and now no one will love them because they’re bad.

I’m knee-deep in a 1990s sitcom right now and I think part of the reason I’m so enthralled with the serial portrayal of interpersonal relationships is that I’m up to episode 56 and nobody’s been abandoned or disowned. Nobody’s said, “Oh my god, I can’t believe you said that about me. If that’s how you feel, I’m out of here.” I’m ridiculously fascinated with this mysterious world in which petty insults in the heat of the moment are not assumed to be the best indicator of a person’s real feelings, disagreements are fucking dealt with, and relationships develop/shift/end organically according to the needs and desires of the people involved. Do normal people really take this shit for granted.

DANCE, PUPPETS

14 Oct

My performance as an artist and an individual is something that has evolved over an extended period of time. As a young child, I fell into a social role already established for me by my parents and their religious community. I was supposed to be a sweet girl, respectful of authority and quick to obey with a smile. My early artistic endeavors were indulged as a kind of play suitable for a little girl. I played my part with sincerity, believing that I was “being myself” despite having had little opportunity to construct much of a self.

Adolescence and a growing sense of emotional separation from my parents, fueled in part by newly divergent ideological positions, shifted my awareness of my place in my family structure. I became a much more cynical performer in the presence of any audience which included a family member or fellow congregant, as I neither believed any longer in the front under which I was operating nor felt able to express a truer version of myself around anyone with the exception of close friends. At times when I attempted to drop the pretense and answer questions honestly, talking about my actual interests and goals, my audience would note, alternately amused and suspicious, that it’s “rare to meet a conservative artist.” My inability to admit to being different, even as I failed to conform to the expected formula, led to an anxious and short-tempered manner that belied my accommodating appearance and eventually to a great deal of poor communication, resulting in frustration for everyone involved.

Claiming more emotional and functional independence over the course of the past few years has enabled me to address aspects of my own performance and to begin to alter it until it feels more honest. I can now give people sincere answers about my beliefs and my goals; I can dress eccentrically (as artists are apparently “supposed to” do) if I choose without my “modesty” or gender presentation being policed–or not, if I don’t feel like it. I am free to devote a large amount of time to furthering my artistic pursuits and to take part in impassioned conversation about the value of art to society without once being demanded to financially justify access to the arts in the midst of a recession.

Yet setting still plays a large role in the ways in which I interact with people. While physical distance from my family affords me the freedom to present myself as I am, or wish to be, most of the time without fear of immediate repercussion, I find myself relapsing into the role of cynical swindler during routine communication with them, subconsciously censoring everything from the ideas I want to share to the language with which I express them. In a way, this continued self-editing often affects the rest of my everyday performance, causing me to revert to old habits of secretiveness, despite believing that such suppression is neither healthy nor necessary.

The case for destroying the family

24 Apr

[TW for homophobia, religious propaganda]

The Religious Right’s problems with civil rights aren’t news. Gay marriage, if and when legalized, will tumble their structures; marriage equality, they say, is an attack on the family. Queer activists and allies respond that one couple’s marriage cannot cause the delegitimization of someone else’s, that gay people are part of families themselves, that maligning gay people hurts families–by tearing them apart, by teaching them to turn on one another–and of course all of this is true. Yet defenders of “traditional marriage” continue to insist that recognizing the validity of gay relationships will alter the fabric of society by destroying the institution of the family.

They’re right.

The family is a very exclusive club, and only the favored–the similar–are allowed in. To join, you have to be a core member of a small group of blood relatives (with one or two exceptions); there must be a mother and a father present, and they must be legally married. The rest of the family is composed of these parents’ (usually biological) children. The tried-and-true nuclear family unit.

Under this model, which has come to be seen as “traditional” (and therefore inherently worth saving, somehow), one size fits all. The family is comprised of individuals, but instead of those individuals’ unique needs informing the needs of the family, each person is expected to sublimate themself for the benefit of their family unit. And the “family unit” is indeed a unit, operating as one, sharing one goal and one set of beliefs. The family is not only inherently exclusive, but also restrictive, as it limits the ways people can interact and connect with each other and whittles down their list of options to include only things that benefit their family group as a whole.

To clarify, I am not referring to families who happen to consist of married heterosexual couples and their children (although these families certainly enjoy their share of socioeconomic and legal privilege), but to the mythical Family that’s placed on a pedestal. To the expectation that a group of people will always magically get along with each other simply because they happen to share some genes. To the persistent idea that there is one correct way to have a family, to be a family, and that the many “family” groups who fail (for various reasons) to measure up are merely imposters, clusters of deviants with a universal, sinister plan to undermine the one true Family.

Under the model of the family, it’s not just gay couples and their loved ones who go unrecognized. It’s young people abandoned by their parents. It’s orphaned children. It’s single parents. Anyone who doesn’t meet the stringent requirements has no hope of belonging, of finding their place in a family that our culture will acknowledge. The blow is made especially bitter when society insists, over and over, that nothing in life could be more important or fulfilling than family.

Fortunately, the family is a myth. There are many ways to form families, and people have embodied the diversity of family groups throughout history. A daddy and a mommy and their children can be a family, but so can two daddies and their children, and so can two mommies and their children. Grandparents or aunts or uncles or other relatives raising children can be a family. A collective of caring adults raising one child can be a family. Parents who choose to live unmarried, single parents, divorced parents, remarried parents, polyamorous parents, trans parents. Children can have more than one set of parents. Parents can have children not naturally born to them. Extended families. Blended families. Broken families. Chosen families. Child-headed households. Households with no children at all. People with pets. Platonic partners. All of these are real families, and I’m sure there are more.

Fundamentalist Christian culture sees gay relationships–really, most (if not all) less-conventional partnerships and families–as a serious threat, if not directly to their own marriages, then to the future marriages of their children. For if two men can marry each other, what happens to the tired gender roles they impart as immovable doctrine? If two women can function in a loving relationship just as well as a man and a woman, what does that say about their carefully constructed formulas for a happy marriage, about the things each partner is “supposed” to want and need, about human nature large-scale? It becomes no longer necessary to see humanity as yin and yang, two separate but complementary halves. Each person is equal–not the same, no, people are not the same; but we are equal. And children might come to believe that, if people of every gender are equal, gay relationships might not be so sinful and harmful as their parents would have them believe. If women and men are equal, the “natural” right of a man to lead his family (including his wife) as head of the household dissipates, and he is left as simply another member of a family group who must work hard to understand and be understood, who must earn respect and appreciation instead of demanding it. Christian men are terrified of losing their “god-given” authority, and they are right in assuming that broadening the definition of family will eventually challenge their position as little gods in their tiny universes.

So yes, we aim to crumble the family. I can think of no better result of legalization of gay marriage than the widespread broadening of the definition of family to include everyone, everyone who wants in. Everyone is equal, and everyone deserves to be valued as such.

Nothing is as you said.

18 Dec

You’ve kept me closed indoors under surveillance for such a long time, under the guise of “protection,” that I now doubt my ability to survive outside on my own. If that’s what it takes for you to add members to your flock, if the only way you can keep your young at home is by clipping their wings, then goddamn, that’s desperation. Nevertheless, I’ve still managed to make a few observations.

You told me the world is full of uncaring, cold-hearted people, but I keep meeting lovely people. I suppose they’re all exceptions to the rule.

You said I’d find the working world full of minority lazy-ass (but you won’t say ass) drifters who take every opportunity to slack off, leaving the few honest, white hard workers like myself to cover for them, but I’ve found that my coworkers work as hard as I do, and sometimes I’m not the poster child for industrious labor. (And thirteen of our group of fifteen are white to boot.)

You assured me that everyone who disagrees with your political views is either lazy or on a mission to take away our freedoms, but you’re the ones with a lousy work ethic and the anti-choice protest signs stashed in the closet.

You said that thanks to my fine home education and the godly instruction of my parents and church authorities, I was well-prepared for anything life might throw at me, in fact, better prepared than my sad little public school counterparts, but now it seems they’re the ones who know how to do things, and I’m the one scrambling to catch up, fill the gaps.

You taught me that people who put their faith in other gods are dangerous and evil, and that atheists (despite having more faith than anybody) are sad, lonely people at heart, but you forgot the part where you make excuses for violent Christianity and avoid meaningful relationships yourselves.

You warned me about spurious organizations and Strangers who are only interested in exploiting me for my admittedly limited supply of money, but I’ve found that a little common sense goes a long way, and there are so many generous people–people who don’t necessarily have a lot of resources at their fingertips but think nothing of giving you a ride home when you’re stranded, buying you ice cream when you’ve had a long shift and you’re tired, people who’ll chip in to help cover your expenses in a pinch.

You’ve drilled into me that I can’t go anywhere, can’t do anything, can’t survive on my own–not that it’s forbidden, just that I cannot–but miraculously, armed with a GPS, the internet, and several libraries, I’m discovering that you’re incredibly wrong about my ability to do these big and frightening things by myself. I think I’ll get there.

You warned me that people out there are untrustworthy, but you’re the ones going through my personal belongings and searching my internet history. You’re the ones blacklisting my best friends.

You made sure I knew without a doubt how alone and unhappy I’ll be if ever I forsake the path you chose for me before I was born, but nothing has filled me with more despair and self-hatred than trying to walk this road for you.

You told me I am easily swayed from my principles and led astray, but you have no way of knowing how laughably untrue that is. After all, you’ve been trying to shake me from my sense of myself and the world as far back as I can remember, and though you may refuse to accept it, I’m still myself, for all your efforts.

When rereading a book could more aptly be referred to as facing your own sorry past.

2 Sep

I just revisited a book I read once several years ago, and it’s hard to tell who’s changed more–me or the story. It’s the YA novel I Am Not Esther, by Fleur Beale, and my second reading of it was much more shocking than my first. I remember feeling a little guilty checking it out at the library, because it looked like it portrayed the protagonist’s Christian relatives in a negative light. And when I brought it home, I probably hid it, in case my mother went poking through my stack of library books, as she sometimes still does. I remember feeling vaguely uncomfortable at different points in the story, and I loved the book, but I felt bad for loving it. When I came to the last page, I observed how terrible twisting the Bible’s teachings could potentially be, and I was bored with myself for letting that be the end of it, but to venture any further was to wander into dangerous territory.

But I never forgot it, and it came up in various “OH-there’s-a-book-you-should-read” conversations with different people, and suddenly I missed it very sharply and wanted to read it again. And it became very clear how different I am from the reluctant religious adherent I once was. And how different that grudging follower was from the back-talking, ever-questioning xhild I was before that. When I was six, for instance, I took no sass about God being male (or even Jesus, come to think of it. One lunchroom altercation involved me arguing emphatically that Jesus was most definitely a girl) or how, even if God hypothetically were male, that would mean boys were better than girls. At that age, I wanted to be a Hindu. I liked reincarnation and I liked the magic of India as seen through the lens of my PBS station. I gave flippant answers to my Sunday school teachers’ questions about hell. And then somehow I became this person who–though bitter about it, and though it launched my first bout with depression–accepted the hierarchy inherent in complementarianism. Christianity bored me like no other, but I was beaten, and I was told so often that if I left, or even questioned, then I’d live a meaningless life, probably become a criminal due to my moral foundation suddenly whipping back and forth like a windsock, and when it was all over, suffer eternal punishment.

And now, heh. Now I’m much closer to my xhild-self than I have been in years. When I like something, I like it. I don’t have to run it through a Does This Thing Meet Fundie Standards? test anymore. I think allowing myself to be honest is helping me heal, putting those once-buried parts of me back where they belong. And I like this book. It’s not that all of the details of the characters’ lives and religious practices are so very similar to the way I’ve grown up–I’ve always been free to wear jeans (though I did have to fight to be able to wear them to church); we watch movies, we read newspapers, we listen to music. But the underlying principles, oh yes. The doctrine, the ideology. It’s painfully familiar to me. And maybe it’s accurate to call the sect described in these pages “extremists,” but really, they’re just carrying out my family’s religious beliefs to their inevitable end. Where do you draw that kind of line? Why is this a cult, this religion of fear and shame, if the religion of my family is not? They may look a little different on the outside, but they believe the same things. It hurt like hell the second time around, but maybe it will also help me heal the wounds I’m going to inflict.

I Am Not Esther is about Kirby, a young girl who’s suddenly and unceremoniously abandoned by her mother, left in the care of relatives she was never told about, relatives who belong to a very strict fundamentalist sect of Christianity. (Or you could call it a cult, that works too.) They rename her Esther and try to tame her. She resists and rebels, but they pull her in, quietly, gradually. It’s not that they manage to win her over; it’s that the treatment of her cousins, some of them young children, is dependent on Kirby’s behavior and adherence to the rules. If she wants to find her missing mother, she has to bide her time.

And it’s about Daniel, Kirby’s oldest cousin. He’s grown up in this religion, it’s all he knows. His family is so deeply invested. His future is already planned. He doesn’t always believe his family is right, and he wants to chart his own direction. But a lifetime of indoctrination, of having his obedience linked to the happiness of others, is hard to break. There are always reasons to stay, to put off leaving just a little longer.

The twins and Maggie helped me cook dinner. Uncle Caleb came home earlier than usual and went straight in to Aunt Naomi. He stayed there for ages, and we could hear him praying. “I think she should see a doctor,” I said to Daniel.

“She is my mother, and I cannot do anything,” he said softly, as if to himself.

“Do you know what you’re going to do?” I asked, after glancing around to make sure nobody was listening.

He nodded. “Yes, but I will not do it while my mother is unwell.”

“Be careful,” I said. “You can always find a reason for not doing something as difficult as that.”

One story seen through two sets of eyes. Two rebels with very different backgrounds. Everything looks a lot more black and white from the outside. People who’ve never been entangled in anything like this often don’t understand what the big deal is, why leaving is never just leaving–why it can mean losing all your ties, and why you’d care anyway, if your family was really that narrow-minded. Why people can’t just agree to disagree. I wish the whole world thought that way. I wish books like this could be shelved in science fiction.