Tag Archives: relationships

LOL: A Response to Fred Butler

26 Jun

It recently came to my attention that my open letter to Christian/homeschooling parents has attracted some negative attention. Hip and Thigh blogger Fred Butler has thrown down his fucking glove, so to speak. A friend who read this post before I did strongly urged me not to read it, as it had upset him and he suspected I might find it triggering as well. So naturally I read it right away, and while I completely understand why some find it difficult to read (take care when reading; TW for hatespeech), honestly? I laughed so hard my stomach hurt. A real live homeschooling mother has already responded, and I thought I’d take a few minutes to do the same. Quotes from Butler in bold. 

Butler, of course, is obviously extremely well-versed in the art of mature conversation, as you can immediately see when visiting his blog. (“Smiting theological Philistines with a great slaughter” was always my favorite way to share the love of Jesus, that’s for damn sure.) The first way he reaches out to us black sheep is with the title he chose for this piece: “7 Truths LGBT Kids Need to Hear from Homeschooling Parents.” This is a nice counter to my own post’s title (“7 Ways Christian/Homeschooling Parents Can Support LGBT Kids”); in that where I invoked action, Butler makes grandiose truth claims. It works because when faced with things like facts, and the faces of individual queer kids, and attempts at human connection, he’s now able to simply say, “Fuck you, I’m right.”

He also takes a hell of a lot for granted. Seriously, there are so many personal assumptions about me in his piece. In Butler’s mind, I must be gay; I was raised in the IFB denomination, but am now traveling on some kind of woo-woo “faith journey” (and it is necessarily false, even though he doesn’t know what it is); my parents are “wacky” and I not only hate but shun them; I’m ashamed of and embarrassed about my religious childhood; my life is ruined and I blame it all on the “twisted” things my parents did to me in the name of religion; I have a poor understanding of Christianity; &c, &c. It’s hella ad hominem, and while I don’t feel the need to justify my existence in any way to Butler, I would like to clarify that I am not taking some kind of “faith journey.” (I have completely left my parents’ religion. My post addresses Christian parents from my position as a formerly-homeschooled child in a similar setting, not from some kind of “superior” understanding of Christianity.) 

Butler also attempts to discredit me by dismissing my work as “one of those cathartic rants dripping with emotion that complains” about my homeschooling experience. In fact, I spent several days writing that post, taking great care not to infuse it with irrelevant emotion or backstory. I do write more cathartic, personal pieces sometimes–Butler may find them disgusting, but both writing and reading them can be valuable in the healing process. Anyone insinuating that “emotional” people’s voices don’t belong in debate, or that highly expressive people (or, tellingly, personally-involved people) are less capable of rational thought, can simply go fuck themselves as far as I’m concerned. 

There is also this honest-to-fuck gem“The Homeschool Apostates, I mean, Anonymous blog […] cross-posted it…” I can understand why a guy like Butler–high on control and suspicious of compromise–might feel angered or threatened by the Homeschoolers Anonymous collective. But there is no way in hell he’s getting a free pass on equating it to an apostasy blog. In the first place, the HA bloggers are many and varied; our backgrounds are diverse, and our numbers continue to grow. No one claims to speak for the others. Some of us have changed religions or abandoned it altogether, but some hold onto their Christian faith, and to call us all apostates is incredibly irresponsible. The second (and I believe more problematic) implication here is that to speak critically of any aspect of homeschooling is apostasy. Guess we can pack up and go home now, a Christian home educator’s just admitted it. Christian homeschooling has become an unofficial cult. 

I’m going to step over a lot of patronizing bullshit–there’s simply too much to address–to focus on the more trainwrecky parts of Butler’s seven “truths.” (He warns that they “will sting,” which is, I think, a little too self-important for my taste. You can shove some word vomit in my face and call it “the truth,” but I am not obligated to accept your argument.)

Consider the fact that you may be wrong–fatally so….You believe your shunning of your parents and their ways is sophisticated, so if they shun you…the feeling is mutual….[Y]ou are just as equally wrong….[Y]our rebellion against your parents’ form of Christianity extends to rebellion against the genuine truth: that homosexuality is a damnable sin against our Creator.”        

One of the biggest differences between myself and my parents is that I am open to change. I actively seek information, instead of running from it and covering my ears. I try to listen thoughtfully, and sometimes I revise my views in light of newly-acquired knowledge. That’s why I am where I am today. So telling me, a deconvert, that obviously I would believe as you do if only I were less afraid to examine my beliefs is ridiculous. Furthermore, I reject the rebellious/obedient dichotomy. It hurts children and it has no place whatsoever in adulthood. 

Declaring homosexuality as sinful and being pro-family values is NOT bigoted. I know you probably would say you would never think a Christian is a ‘bigot’ for standing against homosexual sin, but you do. When you are by yourself with your friends, you all sneer at those ‘stupid Fundies’ and those ‘family values ret*rds’…[s]o don’t act all self-righteous when you tell homeschool parents, who you hate to begin with, to ‘prove’ their love to you.”   

Fuck that. I absolutely do think of you as a bigot, Fred Butler, and I’m not afraid to say it. You don’t get a free pass on discrimination and inciting hate just because you’re religious. You also don’t get to own “family values,” because the values you preach are explicitly and violently against many, many families. Queer people grow up in families and then form families of their own. It’s also quite telling that you think of (and apparently use) mental challenges as an insult, and I’m not afraid to call you on that either. It’s offensive and ableist–dare I say, bigoted. And although your entire post is a flaming trainwreck of “divine” hatespeech, this is what I most want an apology for. Apologize for using our developmentally disabled and mentally challenged brothers and sisters, friends, neighbors, children, selves, as pawns in your disgusting argument against human rights, and apologize for publicly associating the use of this reprehensible slur with people who believe that absolutely everyone has human rights.  

If you believe your parents are wrong about textual criticism, do your own research into textual criticism. You’ve probably gathered around yourself a bunch of apostate textual critics like Bart Ehrman…who provide you with intellectual comfort for your re-reading of the Bible and its dismissal as God’s infallible revelation….[S]uch men, as smart as they may be, are dishonest frauds….Their warped take on the discipline has been soundly answered and refuted by capable men.”

This is hilarious. First, my parents are not “wrong” about textual criticism. They don’t know what it is. They have been led to believe that seeking any kind of deeper understanding of cultural, contextual, linguistic, &c issues inherent in any ancient text is highly suspect, and they become angry whenever their beliefs face intellectual challenges. In my open letter, I ask parents in this situation to open themselves to the fact that there are countless interpretations of the text and to read some academic work on the subject. To, god forbid, entertain the possibility that they might not actually know everything for once. Researching a topic means sifting information, weighing evidence. It does not mean rejecting out of hand any information that conflicts with your presuppositions. Second, while I enjoy Ehrman’s work, I’m perfectly willing to concede that it isn’t perfect–on the grounds that all of us are subject to criticism and our views to refinement. You seem to think, Butler, that there are “capable men” on one side, and Ehrman & Cohorts on the other–but actually, this is an entire field, and Ehrman has (very enjoyable) secular critics as well. Do you read, and give equal weight to, these secular writers? Take your preconceived ideas and shove it.

If you are actively involved with a ‘faith community’ now, you are blindly being led to the destruction of your soul…Biblical Christianity does not, nor cannot affirm homosexual behavior as normative….Homosexual sin has never been affirmed as normal by any genuine Christian body of believers, nor will it ever be….Only liars and deceivers tell you that being gay is normal….The leaders [of gay-affirming churches] are heaping upon you massive amounts of spiritual abuse the same as your Fundamentalist parents may have heaped when you were homeschooled.”

Wow, fallacy alert. It’s almost like you’re saying that your narrow definition of Christianity is the only possible right answer, is that it, Fred Butler? Yeah, not interested. You know who tells me that being gay is normal (for gay people, obviously)? The American Psychiatric Association. The American College of Pediatrics. The American Psychological Association. Do you want me to go on? Because it’s a fucking long list. And it includes scientists who once contributed to the conversion therapy myth, or whose findings were twisted to support an agenda they simply don’t. And the accusation you just leveled against them, against everyone who’s simply committed to not hating, is truly staggering. To conflate affirming, respectful, kind behavior with the vitriol and the long-term damage inflicted by the religious right, on both personal and political levels–to claim that those who treat us well are “in reality” more damaging to us than those who want us dead or dehumanized–is outrageous and beyond offensive. And I guess that shows exactly where your priorities as a Christian lie. As a wise, wise dog once said, “If this is torture, chain me to the wall!” 

War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.

“When you began your new ‘faith journey’ you probably secretly read gay revisionist literature that told you the Bible mistranslated specific passages that condemn homosexuality….Just because an author has “Dr.” in front of his or her name, or graduated from some Ivory league school, does not mean the person is a scholar and thus competent with handling the biblical text. The person has an agenda….[Their arguments have been] shown to be propaganda rather than genuine scholarship. [Links to external apologetics sites.] Just make sure you don’t smugly go away falsely believing no one has offered any response.”

Again, I am absolutely not interested in Christian apologetics or in being proselytized. I was a Christian once, and trust me–I studied this shit. A lot. But I don’t buy into it anymore, and it’s not my responsibility to stand here and let someone talk down to me in the name of Jesus. Now: “The Bible” can’t mistranslate anything (it’s just an inanimate stack of pages), but it does contain mistranslations, thanks to innocuous errors, ignorance, and pointed agendas. It’s rampant. The Bible’s anything but “clear” on…anything. And yes, unfortunately some do claim the title Dr. unearned…but in an academic setting, where writers tend to disclose their field of specialization and the nature of their educational pursuits, “Dr.” does in fact point to scholars. It’s okay for you to accept that; I’m not sure why you find it so threatening. Scholars can publish clumsy papers or come to inaccurate conclusions or write bad books, but none of that disqualifies them as “specialists in a particular field” or “highly educated people.” If I had to guess, I’d say that your words here represent a much larger distrust in the educational system in general and universities in particular…which is sadly unsurprising. It’s just that for some reason I always hope homeschoolers would value knowledge more than that. But no. 

And LOL, “Ivory League.” Talk your way out of that one.

Treat the Evangelical Christians in your life with mutual love and respect....You cannot hypocritically suggest [Christian/homeschooling parents] treat you with love and respect, yet at the same time demand they overturn what historical, biblical Christianity has fundamentally taught concerning gender, marriage, and sex, so as to embrace your false revisionistic version that confirms homosexuality.”

I’m not sure you know what the word “mutual” means. It’s impossible for one person to direct “mutual” anything at another. Mutual love and respect by definition means love and respect that people feel and express towards each other. You seem to be having a massive vocabulary crisis, Butler, because it also doesn’t sound like you’re too familiar with the definitions of either of those qualities. Love is not participating in oppressive efforts to strip away our civil rights. Respect is not clamoring for our silence and conformity. I wrote my post to parents who don’t want to lose their children, and I think it’s safe to say that many, if not most, of us find the possibility/reality of losing our parents to be very painful. We would rather not be alienated from the people we care about or forced to cut off valued relationships for the sake of our own mental health. But we will. Nobody’s asking Christians to give up their faith. This is not a mark of persecution. We do demand to be treated as adults with the right to make our own life decisions, and we ask you to make an actual effort instead of beating your chest and yelling about how right you are all the fucking time. 

Don’t interpret any pointed criticism as an ignorant, bigoted attack against you. Stop wearing your feelings on your sleeve. The people who are offering pointed challenges to your new found ‘convictions’ don’t do it because they think gays are ‘icky’ or they are attempting to shut-down some social iconoclasts that are rocking the boat of tradition. You alone have chosen to stir up your inordinate affections and rush headlong into a lifestyle that will not only lead to the physical destruction of your health, but also the spiritual destruction of your soul. Moreover, you insist that the entire Christian worldview…be overturned and done away with all for the purpose of soothing your hurt sensibilities.”

Okay, some criticisms are valid and lead to interesting conversation (and hopefully, greater equality across the board in the future). “I’m right and you’re wrong because the Bible!” is not an intellectual argument. “You’re wrong because you have feelings and they’re girly!” is not an intellectual argument. And good luck playing the classic “It’s not that we hate social instigators” card and then trying to sneak the “How dare you challenge tradition” thing past us. Your paradigm? Rejected. We don’t play by your rules. We want to honor the humanity in us, not beat it into a bloody submission. Those of us who remain in the Church look to the egalitarian values espoused by Jesus and to a long history of gender equality and empowerment in the early Church, now largely covered up by bro culture and boss culture. 

“’For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household. He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me.’  (Matthew 10:35-38) And if regrettably, that means you may chose to continually be our enemy in spite of our best efforts to bring our restoration, then I decide to follow Jesus.”

Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

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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.

________________________________________________________________________

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.

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.

Self-fulfilling threats of isolation.

23 Jan

“You think you’ve got issues? Adding a boyfriend* into the mix doesn’t solve anything, it just means you have triple the problems to deal with now. Your personal crap, his personal crap, and an entirely new class of problems that crop up as a result of your relationship. Don’t even consider the possibility of a significant other until you can stand up all by yourself.” That’s the message pushed onto youth in the Christian bubble by respected evangelical leaders, everyone from [female] purity-obsessed heart-throb Chad Eastham to Shannon Etheridge, coauthor of “Every Young Woman’s Battle.”

*because everyone is cisgender and heterosexual hahahaha

So you can’t turn to lovers. And you have to be careful with your friends, because they’re fallible and could lead you astray. Christian friends are susceptible to gossip and exclusivity, and you should take particular care to avoid becoming close to any “nonbelievers.” You should always be primarily concerned with maintaining a good reputation. Your parents are necessarily your parents, not your friends (and not both). People in general will fall, will fail you, will leave you empty and broken and needing more. Where can you go?

The answer, obviously, is Jesus. Jesus is your one and only, Jesus is your best friend. Jesus will heal your hurts and give you strength and be your refuge. In fact, Jesus is the only one who can do these things for you, the only one who can meet your needs. The only right answer, whatever the question. Whoever you are.

You know what, if you find purpose in the Christian tradition or another religion, that’s wonderful, good for you. If the promises of Jesus offer you some comfort and stability, okay. But taking those very personal experiences and applying them cart blanche to everyone isn’t just absurd, it’s harmful. I remember countless Sunday mornings spent studying the congregation, wondering how many of them actually felt the connection they claimed they felt, and how many of those actually had one. Because I tried, I did everything I was “supposed to” do, and it was never there. Jesus was never my friend and confidant, he never answered my prayers, and he never gave me peace. He never made me feel less alone. The religion never came alive for me as it seems to do for some. Jesus was a dead end. Jesus is dead. Talk about high expectations.

Instead of beating it into kids that no one will ever understand them or love them as much as a controversial philosopher from an ancient age, can’t we just teach communication skills? Can’t we teach our children how to value themselves and each other? Yes, I realize that hooking up with someone or making new friends can’t fix all your broken parts. (I’ve never heard anyone outside the evangelical subculture even hint at such an idea.) But how is anyone supposed to learn how to stand up or grow at all without trying and making “mistakes”? How are we supposed to ever be ready to love people if we’re trained to mistrust the love and acceptance other people have for us? Pair my stunted self-awareness and connection to others with a sense of the utter deadness engendered by the failure of the only “legitimate” vehicle for finding meaning and happiness, and all you get is separation. I can’t escape the deep, dark isolation by tunneling down even further.

No, one person can’t fix me, but loving and being loved is healing, especially since so many pains originate from being loved too little or too poorly in the first place. Even the shock of realizing that other people consider you lovable goes a long way. If I wait to form bonds with people until I know how to stand up by myself, I never will, because it’s the relationships I’m forming now that are helping me figure everything out. A little scary, yes. With all the stops and starts and false alarms and plot twists you’d expect in human interaction, I guess. But I’d rather try and incur the occasional damage than never gamble and never, never win.

I’m breaking my silence.

16 Aug

Trigger warning for abuse, rape fantasies

So I feel like opening my big mouth about some things I’ve experienced, things I’ve been taught, things I’ve been taught to ignore and make excuses for. Things I’ve been punished for speaking about before. And since this has kind of been a season of exorcising personal ghosts for me, I first want to address a past experience that’s been shoved away and hushed up for several years now.

I had my first boyfriend when I was two. We spent the majority of our time together having tea parties with stuffed animals representing characters from Barney the Dinosaur, singing “Skip to my Lou,” and…skipping. Skipping to our actual Lou.

Boyfriend #2 didn’t come around until I was eighteen; my parents disliked the idea of teenagers dating, especially exclusively and not in the company of a large group of friends, and I was shy and awkward. I had trouble letting even my oldest friends in, trouble communicating, trouble knowing what I wanted to communicate in the first place. Self-awareness wasn’t a high priority in the environment of my youth; there were even some who denounced any effort to know oneself as selfish and wrong. My youth group made a point of reinforcing “traditional” gender role expectations, encouraging girls* to be passive and boys* to take action. We were being groomed for a future of conservative, white bread, heterosexual marriage. And one day he asked me out and I had no reason to say no, so I said yes. I mean, sure, he’d thrown basketballs at my head before, and there was that time he flipped me out of a hammock onto a concrete floor, but that was all in fun; he liked me. I should feel flattered.

It started out pretty Okay, I guess. We wrote notes back and forth. I liked that–I was still very shy, and since, by my current standards, we hardly knew each other, conversation was somewhat intimidating. Before long, he was confessing his undying devotion and demanding mine in return, moving faster, faster, faster. He often seemed depressed, expressing dejection because he “expected too much from me,” prompting me to deny it and reassure him. No, no. Of course I love you. 

But my offerings, though more than I felt I could safely handle to give at the time, were too small and awkward for him to accept. He kept pushing for more and more commitment, taking more extreme measures to ensure maximum time alone with me. If I expressed discomfort, or even a desire to sit with friends instead of in dark corners, alone, “I didn’t love him enough. I was hurting him. I didn’t care what he needed, I was only concerned with myself. Relationships require 100% from both parties, and he was putting in his effort, and now it was my turn.” I’m sorry. I love you. I’ll try harder, I’ll work on it, I’ll be better.

He started kicking me in the shins. It was a game. The objective was to see how hard he could kick me with his hiking boots before I winced. I wore the bruises like a badge. It meant I was brave and strong, it meant I could master my pain, my emotions. It meant I finally succeeded at something he wanted me to do.

Then came the phone call, the request to “change for him.” I’m not putting words in his mouth. I was horrified and immediately withdrew, undoing all the precious progress he’d made with me the past few months. He apologized and said it was okay, I didn’t have to change for him. It was obviously a great concession on his part. I couldn’t understand why, if he liked me so much, he suddenly wanted me to be different. He explained he was only trying to help me become a better person.

He told me he expected us to get married the summer he graduated from high school. I did not look forward to a bleak and endless life legally tied to him, was not anxious to be the little babymaking housewife he obviously intended me to be, and I told him so. I told him that although I knew I was probably going to be forced into that life, I didn’t want it and I wanted him to know I was deeply opposed to it. And he said, “What, so you think you can just do whatever you want? That’s not how it works. The husband’s the head of the home.” When in a little act of rebellion I began posting this song everywhere, he said, “What’s that supposed to mean? You’re mine.” He showed me a list he’d written describing in detail various coercive sexual acts he fantasized about, and when I was upset, it was because “girls* don’t want sex☆.” He blamed my anger on PMS, and when I denied even experiencing that phenomenon, he repeated, “Oh, you’re just PMSing. All girls* do.”

There were so many little things–too many to list–and it added up to an overwhelming environment in which I felt irrevocably trapped. I had trouble breathing and sleeping; I was always always paranoid and afraid I’d somehow misstep and say the wrong thing. I often did say the wrong thing, apparently, and he never let me forget it…or how generous and forgiving he was for continuing to Love fucked-up me. But the little things were so little, it was difficult for me to pinpoint where things had gone wrong. No one else appeared to think anything amiss, and he twisted past events and conversations so much, I thought the problem was just me, I was going crazy. I was misremembering. But I was oh so lucky to have such a caring person in my life. Of course I was extremely depressed, but I honestly felt so disempowered, I had no idea how to get out; I didn’t believe it was even possible. So I did the only thing I felt able to do; I pulled away, tried to put as much distance as possible between us.

One day, I was skimming the newspaper and ran across Dear Abby’s list of warning signs of abusers…

Pushes for quick involvement. Comes on strong, claiming, “I’ve never felt loved like this by anyone.” An abuser pressures the new partner for an exclusive commitment almost immediately.

Jealous. Excessively possessive; calls constantly or visits unexpectedly; prevents you from going to work because “you might meet someone”; checks the mileage on your car.

Controlling. Interrogates you intensely (especially if you’re late) about whom you talked to and where you were; keeps all the money; insists you ask permission to go anywhere or do anything.

Unrealistic expectations. Expects you to be the perfect mate and meet his or her every need.

Isolation. Tries to cut you off from family and friends; accuses people who are your supporters of “causing trouble.” The abuser may deprive you of a phone or car, or try to prevent you from holding a job.

Blames others for problems or mistakes. It’s always someone else’s fault if something goes wrong.

Makes others responsible for his or her feelings. The abuser says, “You make me angry,” or “You’re hurting me by not doing what I tell you.”

Hypersensitivity. Is easily insulted, claiming hurt feelings when he or she is really mad. Rants about the injustice of things that are just a part of life.

Cruelty to animals or children. Kills or punishes animals brutally. Also may expect children to do things that are far beyond their ability (whips a 3-year-old for wetting a diaper) or may tease them until they cry. Sixty-five percent of abusers who beat their partner will also abuse children.

“Playful” use of force during sex. Enjoys throwing you down or holding you against your will during sex; finds the idea of rape exciting.

Verbal abuse. Constantly criticizes or says blatantly cruel things; degrades, curses, calls you ugly names. This may also involve sleep deprivation, waking you with relentless verbal abuse.

Rigid gender roles. Expects you to serve, obey, and remain at home.

Sudden mood swings. Switches from sweet to violent in minutes.

Past battering. Admits to hitting a mate in the past, but says the person “made” him or her do it.

Threats of violence. Says things like, “I’ll break your neck,” or “I’ll kill you,” then dismisses them with “Everybody talks that way,” or “I didn’t really mean it.”

I was completely shocked. Not all of the signs fit (as far as I knew), but an alarming number of them did, and I wondered how many check marks you needed before it qualified as abuse. Then I decided that if you have to wonder, it probably does. I’d never heard of emotional abuse; I was under the impression that abuse was always physical. So I started doing some reading, and I was floored. It was such a relief to realize that I wasn’t insane and I wasn’t just making a big deal out of things, and that there were ways to get out and to heal.

So I broke up with him. I was thrilled to hear the rumor, which he started himself, flying around that he’d dumped me; I’d expected him to put up a fight, not help me out. So I confirmed our breakup when people asked. Then he approached me angrily, wanting to know why I hadn’t discussed it with him. He wouldn’t take “I’m leaving” for an answer. For weeks, he continued to stalk me, choosing seats directly behind me, getting up and following when, panic-stricken, I moved to get away from him. He would block my path when I tried to leave; he’d reach out and poke my arms and touch my shoulders. When I responded angrily, forbidding him to touch me, he said, “I can do whatever I want. I can touch you if I want. You can’t stop me.” He kept calling and I kept hanging up.

It got so bad that I finally broke down and asked for help. We were at a youth conference with a large group of students from the church I attended at the time, and I had to enlist some bodyguards, friends who patiently let me hide behind them, who sat on either side of me for protection. On the last night, the group gathered for prayer, the youth pastor asked for prayer requests, and for the first time, I said the words, “I was abused.” I didn’t name names or give details; I just wanted help. And I thought a group of people who’d dedicated their lives to following the principles Jesus had taught should offer sanctuary to those in need.

Unfortunately that wasn’t the case. The youth pastor’s wife sat helplessly in my dorm room, watching me form angry magnetic poetry on the mini-fridge, whispering with another youth leader about the best way to handle my outburst. The first thing they asked was whether I wanted to reunite with my ex and start over. I laughed in their faces. They concluded, a bit uncertainly, that where he’d stepped out of line was simply overstepping the boundaries of a dating relationship; he had, they said, tried to take on a role that was inappropriate to any man you weren’t married to. I refused to speak to either of them for the remainder of the trip.

It was worse at home. The youth leaders informed my parents of the horrible thing I’d done. They were furious and called an emergency meeting in our living room with the youth pastor, his wife, my ex, and his parents. That’s seven people bombarding me with accusations and hurt looks, demanding I recant and not only delete anything negative I’d written about the situation online, but publish an apology. These were dangerous things I’d been insinuating about him; I could seriously damage his reputation! I felt so attacked, so panicked, I spent the entire two hours trying to disappear into my chair. Eventually I couldn’t handle any more and left the room, ignoring the imperative to at least come back and say goodbye to our guests.

And I continued to read. My approach to healing was very DIY, out of necessity. My mother caught me with a book about psychological abuse and its effects, and she called another conference with the youth pastor and his wife. They were all extremely uneasy with my choice of reading material and warned me to be very careful, as the book was a secular one and most likely offered some advice and opinions contrary to the design for the family as described in Christianity. The only time anyone even mentioned therapy was when my mother threatened to send me to a counselor to address my own abusive tendencies and unravel why I’d make such accusations of a nice Christian boy. I’d ruined her friendship with his mother, and it was unforgivable.

To everyone who participated in the systematic destruction of my psyche and refused to help me put it back together, and to every Christian who enables abusers and blames their victims…this is my personal Fuck You.

☆This particular girl* actually doesn’t want sex, but is nonetheless sex-positive. I was enraged, etc., etc.