CC image courtesy of Flickr, torbakhopper.
“Do you want to go to counselling?” my mom asked.
She asked this after she and my dad had spent at least two hours interrogating me on my faith, the most terrifying conversation I’d ever had. At seventeen, I’d tried my best to explain my own agnosticism through tears, saying how I never truly believed what they did. I hadn’t come out as trans, but coming out as non-Christian alone proved to be terrifying.
It was the first time she’d ever expressed concern about my mental well-being. I knew counselling would likely mean seeing a pastor, and, if they were able to wrench my identity out of me, conversion therapy.
I said no.
Up to this point, my upbringing had prepared me greatly for questions like these. I was homeschooled in a strict Christian household through K-12, and my education was mediocre at best. My mom was my only teacher until I was deemed responsible enough to use video courses, and coping under her authority was difficult. She was impatient, yelled constantly, and punished poor behavior with physical abuse and isolation. When bad grades meant getting hit, I learned to adapt.
It wasn’t long before I began to cheat. By 6th grade, I’d cheated heavily in nearly every subject, routinely lying about completing tasks. My mom was the perfect mix of abusive and neglectful, and rarely checked my progress enough to notice. Even when I was caught, I would fall back into the same patterns when her guard was down, trying my best to both placate her and keep myself safe.
It was a smart plan, and I felt wretched about it from late elementary school till the day I graduated. Every day, all I could think about was how I was throwing away my future, and how much it would hurt if she found me out. It wasn’t a proud thing. I’d distract myself with whatever entertainment I was allowed to block out the petrifying guilt and dread. Some days, it caused so much anxiety that I had to stop playing with the only friend I had to go panic and punish myself.
It was the worst time of my life, but in a messed up way, you could say it prepared me.
I never recognized myself as a girl, growing up. I didn’t know being trans was an option, but I knew I felt different. I hated my name, dressed oddly, questioned gender roles, and gradually cut my once waist-length hair shorter and shorter every year. I didn’t have a word for it, and I wasn’t even sure what I was doing, exactly. I just knew it felt right, and as long as I still called myself a girl, no one stood directly in my way.
I’d begun to privately consider myself androgynous, but even that didn’t fit the way I wanted it to. It wasn’t until getting more involved in social media in 2011 when I learned the term “nonbinary”. The internet had finally given me a term for what I was feeling, and after some time, I asked online friends to use they/them pronouns for me.
All of this was followed by clearing browser histories countless times.
Surprisingly, aside from dysphoria, I never began to hate myself for being trans. For once, I started to gain a sense of self, pushing through my own defensively dissociative state and dwelling on my identity and place in the world. This, however, did make things more difficult. The more my eyes were opened to, the harder things got to bear.
I had already been wrestling with an increasing lack of faith over the years. Christianity had never truly “clicked” for me, but I pretended it did, just like I pretended to be a good student, and a girl. I’d never enjoyed going to church, but was forced to go twice a week, to the point where it became triggering. Till I was nineteen, I heard sermon after sermon that demonized gay and trans people like myself. Most Sunday mornings were spent crying in the nearest bathroom for as long as I could without raising suspicion.
I felt like if the people of that church knew what I was, I’d be eaten alive within a week.
Despite coming out as non-Christian, despite routine breakdowns, and despite watching me literally cover my ears in the auditorium, my parents continued to force me to attend. The only reason it stopped was due to starting work as a 3rd shift grocery stocker, a job I’d specifically chosen to keep myself out of church and away from my parents. My quality of life increased immediately.
And living on an opposite schedule has proved to be more than a blessing for me. Working 3rd shift was a challenge of its own, but I fought hard to keep my first job, and still keep it to this day. Anything was better than the alternative. What better way to avoid the people you’re too poor to move away from?
Getting a job also helped me distance myself. The hardest thing about growing up trans, about growing up non-Christian, about growing up a liar, was knowing that no matter how much they said they loved me, they were going to abandon me. That was always at the front of my mind. If they knew what I was, they wouldn’t love me.
So I felt no obligation to love them back.
Even as young as sixteen, I anticipated being cut off from my family, and prepared. The only thing I could remember my mom telling me during our pitiful “sex ed” day was how some of her cousins were lesbians, and how lesbians were sinners, and how we were to avoid these cousins. I already knew that, someday, I’d be those cousins. I’d be the shameful qu**r in my relative’s warning tales, someone who only existed as a nebulous sex demon. I’d never follow the path they wanted, I’d never be an aunt/uncle figure for my siblings’ future kids, and I’d never be respected for what I really was.
And that was hard. It’s still hard. Trying to live with people who will hate you isn’t easy. Facing that no one will support you in financial crises due to what you are isn’t easy. Looking at my sweet thirteen year old brother and knowing I’ll likely be banned from speaking to him isn’t easy. I may not get to talk to him for well on five years as he faces the same abuse I did. And when we’re allowed to talk again, he may shun me with the rest. I worry about him the most.
But even now, I want to use it to my advantage. 2017 is the year I plan on moving out, escaping a toxic household to strike out on my own with gay friends who really love me. Coming out is likely to follow, the topic being practically inevitable at this point. I want to declare who I am as loudly as possible, cutting off every abusive relative in one fell swoop. It’s still going to hurt like hell, but you can’t say I’m not prepared. I’m ready to be banned from parties, weddings, and funerals. I’m ready for excommunication.
I’m encouraging it.
Homeschooling, in its own messed up way, may have helped me leave less traumatized than expected, teaching me enough to duck out of potential conversion therapy. It highlighted and encouraged my abuse, but it’s shaped who I am today: a twenty-one year old nonbinary man with nothing to lose and everything to gain. An autistic bi artist with a real future ahead of them. My treatment may have handed me an array of mental illnesses (avoidant personality disorder, social anxiety disorder, agoraphobia, the works), but I was able to survive, and I’m getting better.
Not everyone can say that much.
-Lyle (they/them, he/him)