Wednesday, April 10, 2013

While They're Young: Part 2

In case you missed it, this series deals with indoctrination that begins before a child is even born.  In the case of Part 1, "gender reveal" baby showers and how they reinforce heteronormative gender norms.  But the name of this blog is Trans and Godless, and I simply cannot talk about indoctrination without touching on religion.  Specifically about shame.

Once my parents divorced and we lived with my dad, we went to my grandmother's Baptist church and later to the Church of Christ when he married my step-mom.  It was the Church of Christ that I threw myself into with all my heart.  For one, because it was the only social outlet in the small town of less than 10,000.  For another, it was an acceptable place to run away from home, which had a lot of drama due to 5 kids and a dad with schizophrenia living under one roof.  And finally, because I had a lot of internalized shame about my gender and sexuality.  It was a very by-the-Bible church, and while there were no overt homophobic sermons, there was general understanding that God wanted people to be a certain way.  And since even divorce and musical instruments were frowned upon, I hardly thought the church would be okay with me being a girl, let alone a bisexual and trans girl.  Marriage was a holy covenant between a man and a woman where the man had power over the woman, who was intended to serve her husband as punishment for the sins of Eve.  Everyone was a hopeless sinner and the only way to be redeemed and allowed into Heaven was by accepting Jesus and being baptised in the church.  We were instructed to evangelize to our friends and loved ones, lest they be lost to Hell forever.
Now, I want to be perfectly clear that I ultimately made the decision to go to the Church of Christ.  Yes, my step-mom took all of the kids on Sunday, but I voluntarily went several nights a week beyond that.  My dad was very infrequent in his attendance as well, so if I really wanted to push it, I could have done the same.  But I didn't.  Nobody forced me to go to church and I don't blame anyone for it.  However, I do think there are tactics used by churches that target the vulnerable.  And I understand that, from their point of view, someone who is emotionally vulnerable needs their god in order to be whole.  I don't think there is anything intentionally devious on their part, but they need to take a step back and look at it from an outsiders point of view.

I believe I was 10 when I started attending but didn't really get into it until I was in middle school and old enough for the youth group.  The youth group was a lot like the youth center I run now.  The space was generally a cool place to hang out with board games, table tennis, and friendly, older teens with an air of acceptance.  The key difference, is that at my youth center we're not pushing an agenda, unless you count "be safe" as an agenda.  While the youth group, ultimately, is pushing Jesus and baptism.  Nearly every event I attended, especially retreats, missionary trips, outreach programs, and services, had an "alter call" when teens were encouraged to unburden their sins through baptism.  And it was this theme of "sin" that did the most damage to me.  I felt guilty because I believed I was a disgusting pervert and sinner for being a girl in secret.  Then I went to church, which told me that God punishes us because we're sinners and we're doomed to be sinners forever.  So I would pray and worship until tears ran down my face as I so desperately sought forgiveness, only to return home and go right back to being who I was.  So this vicious cycle made the shame I felt about being trans even worse over time and warped my view of reality.  When I grew facial hair and breasts at the age of 12, I thought God was punishing me because I still felt like a girl, instead of realizing my hormones were just a special concoction.  When I was sexually assaulted by bullies, I thought God was punishing me because I still felt like a girl, but ultimately spared me from the worst of it because He still believed I could change.  So I didn't report the incident.  I didn't tell anyone until a decade later.  I locked the memory away and did my best to forget about it and focus on being a boy instead of making sure those bastards got what they deserved.  I thought that all of my problems would go away if I just believed enough.  If I prayed enough.  If I worshipped enough.  If I could just be holy enough, then I would stop being a girl. 

And then I went to theatre camp.

I was 13 when I attended a scholarship, audition-only, month-long arts camp at Arkansas Tech.  There were four schools: visual arts, dance, music, and theatre.  I was the youngest camper, with most kids getting ready to start their senior year.  Here I met Jonathan, who was the first openly queer and unashamed person I had ever met.  He was 18, he was cool, he was stylish, he was funny, he was so comfortable with who he was and the world around him that I quickly looked up to him.  He could tell I was queer, but mistook me for being in-the-closet-gay.  The last week of camp, we snuck onto the roof of our dorms and stayed up all night.  He was the first person I ever kissed as a teenager, the first person I ever smoked weed with, the first person I ever had a non-judgmental discussion about religion with, and the first person I ever told I was trans.  There were two things he told me that have always stuck with me.  One, any kind of god worth worshipping would never create a hell of eternal punishment.  Two, you can't change who you are.  The only thing you can do is choose to hide it or accept it.

"No homo" - Jesus
That rocked my world.  For the next year my faith became shakier and I attempted to read the entire Bible in order to strengthen my faith. 
Big Mistake. 

Like so many atheists before me, I was a Christian when I started on Genesis and by Revelations I was not.  I made one last effort on my 14th birthday.  I finally answered the alter call and got baptised.  I had heard that once you were dunked in the water Jesus would reveal himself to you and there would no longer be question as to His existence.  I was dunked in nothing but a white robe and when I was pulled back up the only thing on my mind was not Jesus or the Holy Spirit or divine understanding, but covering my chest so my nipples wouldn't show through.
I kicked around with other religions and spirituality and "woo-woo" for a while after I left Christianity.  I thought that just because Christians got it wrong didn't mean that someone didn't have it right.  So I looked, but still carried the shame from Christianity about being queer.  My mom got custody of my sister and I, and things got way better.  But I believed I needed to be "the man of the house" for them, so I kept up the act for a few more years.  It wasn't until I really started dropping faith all together than I began to realize my situation.  I tried to be a gay boy, thinking that would be a decent compromise.  Then one day I thought to myself one day, "All right, Dorian, let's talk.  You know what you are and you know it's not going to go away.  You know it's only going to get harder the older you get, so you might as well just bite the fucking bullet and deal with it.  Whatever happens has to be better than all the lies and sneaking around."

So I came out.  I told everyone I knew that I was a girl.  That I always had been and there was nothing I could do about it except just deal with it.  Two weeks later I was out at work and everywhere else and I never looked back.  I dropped what little mysticism I had left and just focused on catching up with my life.  A year after that, I started college and saw a flyer for the Secular Student Alliance on my campus.  It said in bold letters:

Are you a girl?  Are you an atheist?  Come to our meeting!

And I thought, "You know, maybe I am an atheist."  I went to the meeting, made some of the best friends I've had, and became the Trans and Godless heathen who writes this very blog you (hopefully) enjoy.

They're awesome.  Give them money if you can!
So why do we need to fight against religious indoctrination?  I can think of many reasons, but the biggest of all has to be shame.  While my experiences of religious shame might be unique, I am not alone.  There's shame of sex, shame about modesty, and countless other forms.  If nothing else, children need to be protected from shame.  Because that's the kind of thing that causes so many LGBTQ teens to turn to suicide.  This is how religion poisons people and then offers the antidote.  "You should feel disgusted at yourself for who you are.  And the only way you can feel clean again is through our religion."  It needs to be stopped.

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