Sexism and Homeschooling: Maya’s Story

CC image courtesy of PixabayAnimus Photograpy.

Trigger warning: Detailed descriptions of abuse.

HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Maya” is a pseudonym.

I don’t even know how to begin to explain myself. Here I am sitting in the place I am forced by income and circumstance to live in (my parents’ home) outing myself to the world when it’s dangerous and precarious for me to do so in the real world. I can’t even use my real name online because I have been stalked and blackmailed by people who choose to support my ex-husband.

I’m getting ahead of myself. Maybe we should start near the beginning.

I was raised Fundamental Southern Baptist. At age 7 I would go door to door with little comic books called “Chick Tracts” spreading the Word Of God to Unbelievers. I was convinced it was my direct heavenly duty to convert people, that I would end up before the great throne of judgment when I die and God would berate and belittle me if I failed in this calling.

By the time I was 12 I would sob in my pillow at night because I had never led anyone to salvation or through “the sinner’s prayer”.

I found no solace in my worship of God because God was to be feared. I was convinced it was proof I wasn’t really saved, and that when the rapture came I would be left behind. It didn’t matter that I was the peacemaker in my family trying to keep my sisters out of trouble any time they saw the cracks in the system. It didn’t matter that I was an A student and had several crown pins in my Patch the Pirate sailor’s hat denoting my dedication and obedience, I failed in my life’s mission before I even hit puberty.

At 13: someone sexually abused my best friend. I was floundering, because I had no idea how to help. I urged them to confess to the parents, so the grownups could help. This was the worst advice I have ever given and it still haunts me.The adults were completely out of their depth too, and relied on the Pastor to fix it all. He had no formal education or resources to assist, and took it upon himself to send my best friend through Gay Conversion Therapy behind the parents’ backs. The atrocities my bestie lived through still feel like they are my fault.

I will forever carry the internal scars for damning their life.

At 16: The doctors declared me infertile. I was raised to believe the highest honor and calling for a woman was to raise children. It was the only thing I ever wanted from life. I took this as further proof that God was not with me. I remained active in the youth group, church nursery and kitchen staff duties. I was a model of obedience and feminine beauty through sacrifices.

The other kids teased me behind the grown ups’ backs that I was just trying to be perfect so the Pastor’s son would like me. They saw the truth even though I denied it. I secretly thought if J wanted me then it was proof I was exactly who I needed to be. We were in a fishbowl, and to be worthy of J’s attention meant I was the Perfect Christian Girl. It didn’t matter if I didn’t love him romantically, it was just a way to grade myself.

At 17: I was dying because my immune system had turned on itself.

It was the first time I ever considered killing myself. My prayers bounced off the rafters of the house. God didn’t care about me or any of my efforts. I didn’t see God protecting his children: I saw cover ups, deceit and an endless empty desert of a life ahead of me. I spent the majority of my time in bed, sick and suicidal. I still worked hard to project confidence and happiness in the face of these “trials”. I don’t know if anyone actually saw what was going on in my head and heart. I knew I couldn’t survive life at Pensacola Christian College, my new best friend had sent me weekly letters of her struggles there. She was a public school kid, but so much smarter than me and I just knew I would fail.

My parents couldn’t afford to send me to college just for me to get an “MRS.” degree, and my senior year of school was being fudged by our cover school so I could squeak through because the grownups thought I wasn’t going to live very much longer anyway. They saw me graduating as a spiritual act of mercy.

At 18: I recommitted my life to God.

That was a huge deal. I decided I was going to believe harder and obey better, and sacrifice until I was purified. If I followed all the steps I would be rewarded. It was promised. My health began to improve with doctor intervention and a new healthy diet. I graduated my homeschooling education. Apparently everything was working with my sacrificing, because my first bestie was “doing better”, my college bestie was surviving, and a suitor had entered my world. He was approved of by my father. I began courting the man, and thought he was handpicked by God just for me. All the signs were there and he seemed to genuinely love me!

While chaperoned by his sister I roamed his house he had bought. It felt like home to me. All the dishes were exactly where I would put them, and I could see myself living there. He was my “soul mate”. He worked on his church’s sound and recording team to broadcast the Word of God to the world. He was friends with all the young people the church held up as examples to follow. He had a good job, and a well known family. He had attended Word of Life Bible Institute, and in high school went to ATI conferences. He had an active ministry and I had the high honor of carrying his equipment and assisting him as he wired S. Truett Cathy and other well respected leaders for sound at events at the local Southern Baptist college.

I was so sure that we were going to light the world on fire for Christ.

That we were destined for greatness. We would be world changers. It would be okay that I had never led anyone personally to the lord, because I was made to assist a great man. His light would shine, and his shadow would be my protection.

At 19: I married him. He confessed privately to me the day before we married that he had sexually touched his sister over her clothes when he was a teenager. I asked him if he followed the keys to forgiveness as laid out by Bill Gothard, and he said he had. I asked if he had anything else to confess, and he said no. I asked if she had forgiven him and if he ever touched anyone else that way, to which he said she had and he didn’t.

I sobbed and told him I forgave him.

This led to heavy petting. I felt helpless, and confused that I had sexual response feelings despite not being on board with what was happening. I had been saving myself for marriage, so sheltered and completely innocent. I had never kissed anyone. I had no sex ed. His advances told me that it was too late to retreat. This was just…a forgivable little thing. God would forgive me for allowing the kisses and groping because I was marrying this man in less than 10 hours. No one had to know.

I’m still haunted by this. The anxiety and disgust have woken me up in the middle of the night so I can vomit countless times. I see it now much more clearly – he preyed on her, and then moved on to me.

At 20: I thought everyone dealt with this sort of thing, that’s why they always warned about “when the honeymoon is over”.

He stopped touching me in a sexual way again after the week of our honeymoon. I knew at a core level he married me from obligation. He wanted to have sex with someone and I was there. He wanted a place to vent his twisted frustrations, so I was there. It made perfect sense. I was there to keep him from giving in to his non-godly desires. I was there to cover up his dark places. I was there to be his “helpmeet”. He constantly told his mother what a failure I was, so she sent me Debi Pearl’s books with highlighted sections to help me improve in my God Given Duties.

Over the next nine years the abuses got worse. He started to manhandle me in front of others, so I would behave in a certain way. We no longer went to church, because the church had withdrawn him from the service team and taken away my kindergartners sunday school class because I had medically diagnosed depression. Obviously his house wasn’t “in order” so he had no further privileges in the church. This made things so much worse for me at home.

It was my fault he was disgraced.

Any failing of his became my failing. There were screaming matches. I can’t even begin to tell you how many times he urged me to kill myself. I knew he cheated on me, the evidence was always there when it was with women. One woman he worked with told me explicitly how she had had her way with him in the break room after work. Another girl threw a brick through his car window when he quit with her.

I became a shell. The more I cut off of my self the more I thought I would control the chaos I lived with. He borrowed money from friends and stole money from me – I had to be resourceful and creative to hide it and pay people back. I worked two jobs in addition to all the 1950’s ideals I was expected to live up to. It was never enough. I was just waiting for him to actually hit me or leave bruises. I was raised to believe only that was abuse.

Again I tried to kill myself. A friend forced me to vomit and the pills came up.

By year 10 of our marriage I had conceived.

When I lost the pregnancy, I was sobbing in the shower with blood everywhere. I was clawing at my skin because I couldn’t stop my body rejecting the new life. I remember him ripping back the curtain and telling me I deserved to lose the child, and that it was a blessing because I was cursed. That no child deserved me as a mother, because I was a failure at being a human being. He spit on me and left me in the shower, shivering, bleeding and alone.

Shortly after that, I learned he had an active account on Ashley Madison and it stated he was game for a good time with any gender.

One week after the miscarriage he pinned me to the wall.

He told me he knew I was going to leave him because I no longer slept under the covers with him. He said I would fall on my ass and come crawling back to him, and when I did he would laugh and turn me away. He frightened me so badly I fell to the ground when he let me go. He told me to clean up the floor and myself, because he couldn’t stand to look at me. I remember scooping up the breakfast into the plate, trying hard not to cry audibly. I used lysol wipes to clean it up and I was terrified he would punish me for not using the mop, but he had taken away my walker and I couldn’t really stand up. I took refuge in the bathroom and ran water for a bath, the sobs had overtaken me by then. I heard the door to our apartment slam, and he was gone. He frequently left on wednesdays to smoke and play card games, but he left earlier than normal. I expected him back at any minute.

I cleaned our apartment top to bottom, hoping to appease him. My atheist friend in Alaska set up a call between me and the local domestic violence center. She convinced me to give staying there one night’s chance, because I had an active suicide plan. I knew if I left my treasured belongings he would never give them to my sisters, so I called my parents to come get the things and my service dog. I thought inwardly if the night’s stay at the shelter changed my mind I would have my own clothes at my disposal.

Through the help of the shelter I learned what abuse is defined as.

I filed a Protection From Abuse order because he was stalking me and still using threatening language. We had a messy divorce. I am still forced through circumstance to live in my parents’ basement. In spite of this I’m learning that I am not cursed, nor a burden. That I am left with scars, but scars don’t inflict pain, they are proof you’ve lived. I will never allow him to hurt or use me again.

I will never allow the Fundamental Southern Baptist religion to control my life again.

I am not cursed. My disabilities are not proof that God has cursed me, or that I am of Satan. My disabilities are proof that I’ve got broken DNA and that’s all.

I will not allow Fundamentalism, Bill Gothard, the preacher, my childhood or my ex-husband to control me or ruin what’s left of my life.

I deserve better than what I was given and better than what I accepted. You do too. If you’re reading this and you’re inside the box still, know you can leave. It’s dangerous and scary, but there are people waiting in the wings to help you.

The world is beautiful.

You are beautiful, and they have no right to crush you.

I am now a Catholic. I vote for the Democratic party. I have friends that are Wiccan/Pagan/Atheist/Agnostic/Muslim/Christian/Jewish. I have friends who are LGBTQIA. I belong with these people. They are the ones that want to make the world a kinder place. They’re the people who turn love into a weapon that defends the weak against others that seek to diminish or deny basic human rights.

I am what I was raised to despise, and I believe God wants it that way. I finally sleep peacefully almost every night. I forge my own future, it’s not predestined or decided for me. I’m an apostate, and yet God hasn’t struck me dead. In fact, I think God and I have an actual understanding now. It’s not my job to win souls, or lead strangers through a rote prayer. It’s my job to be a good person.

One Ticket To The Gray Havens, Please: Marais’s Story

CC image courtesy of PixabayAnimus Photograpy.

HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Marais” is a pseudonym.

My pseudonym is Marais. I am 17 years old. This is what happened to me when I was 12-14. I was part of a not-very-well-known homeschool group called Regina Coeli that was part of a bigger religious group, which didn’t have a real name but was basically known as Traditional Latin Mass Catholics, FSSP, TLM, Usus Antiquior, etc. I would compare it to Quiverfull in that it wasn’t a homogeneous group or network, but was made of a lot of families over the the US and Canada who believed similar things: basically, that the Latin Mass is the only correct form of the Mass and that Catholics who go to Mass in the vernacular (English; Novus Ordo) aren’t as ‘Catholic.’ There were varying opinions on this: some people thought it was a sin to go to a Novus Ordo, while others thought that Novus Ordo Catholics were just lazy. Unlike some other writers featured on HA, I would describe my experiences with homeschooling as positive. I have a good relationship with my parents. We share a lot of religious and political beliefs, but I know that my values are my own and not just forced on me. I want to homeschool my own children. Sometimes I’m still hurting from my experience in late middle school, but it’s not because I was abused in any way. I was stuck in a confusing situation that I still haven’t fully come to terms with. It took a lot away from me, and I miss how happy I was then.

The first time I watched The Fellowship of the Ring, I was so excited that I went upstairs at 11:30 p.m. and bounced on my bed for ten minutes.

I felt as if I’d been given an invitation into the world of Middle-Earth, where there was plenty of evil, but there was more good, and good won out in the end. And if things didn’t work out perfectly, there was always the Gray Havens.

At fourteen, I was pretty unhappy. I’d found limited fame and fortune in doing spelling bees (typical homeschooler alert!) and built an identity for myself as a Word Nerd. Unfortunately, that identity dissipated when I lost my local spelling bee the year after I had tied for 12th at the National Spelling Bee. I had struggled to make friends ever since preschool (I had been homeschooled starting in kindergarten). Wherever I was with ‘normal kids’, I couldn’t keep up with their conversations. I felt invisible.

(I still struggle to talk at the pace of other people. If anything is distracting me from the conversation, I can’t keep up – it takes me too long to process what the other person has said and think of a response. I’m also still too shy to join a conversation I haven’t been expressly invited into. Like most homeschoolers, I communicate much better with adults than with people my own age. My best friend, besides my sisters, is a 30-year-old mom of four whom I babysit for.)

Regina Coeli Academy, which later became FisherMore Academy and today is Queen of Heaven Academy (more on that later), isn’t very well-known outside the Traditional Catholic homeschool family circles. Its tagline is “Catholic Homeschooling Online”, giving overworked homeschool moms of ten or eleven kids an alternative to sending their older kids to ‘real’ high school. My mom heard of it from a family who had pulled their daughter out of real high school and sent her to this online academy instead. They were only too delighted to spill their horror stories of her experiences at the real school to anyone who would listen. After my parents had a less-than-stellar experience with the staff at the local Catholic high school, they decided to send my sister and me to Regina Coeli.

The kids at Regina Coeli introduced me to the Lord of the Rings, and for that I will be forever grateful.

Once I had watched the movies and read the books, I discovered that the community would completely accept my enthusiasm and even obsession with the books, which my mom found violent and unsettling. In class, people would call me Arwen (my favorite character) if I wanted them to. I could be the girl who had an elf sword.

However, they also introduced me to the Traditional Latin Mass, and that isn’t such a clear-cut issue. It’s hard to explain the extent to which the TLM permeated that school’s culture. In my second year there, Regina Coeli officially changed its name to FisherMore Academy and became a partner and feeder school for FisherMore College, a tiny liberal arts college in Texas whose most important draw for students was the TLM offered DAILY! on its campus. The partnership changed a lot of things. I watched in deep envy as some of my classmates moved to Texas to be near the college and its Mass.

More than anything, I think the partnership strengthened the us-vs-the-world mentality.

The TLM community magazine, aptly named The Remnant, from the verse Zephaniah 3:12: “But I will leave within you the meek and humble. The remnant of Israel will trust in the name of the LORD.” Sadly, we weren’t humble. We were inordinately arrogant and pleased as punch with ourselves for being right when everybody else was wrong. If you couldn’t think of anything to talk about with another Regina Coeli student, bashing the Novus Ordo (Mass in English) was always fair game. My sister’s history teacher referred to the Novus Ordo liturgy as ‘clowns and balloons.” One boy in my religion class said that his family drove three hours each way every Sunday to attend Mass in a cafeteria, simply because it was in Latin.

The Regina Coeli family who’d first told us about the school had moved to a different (TLM, of course) parish, and whenever they talked to us, some part of the conversation revolved around me and my sister complaining about having to go to the Novus Ordo every week, and the other kids in this family telling us about how great their Mass was. On a visit to an out-of-town church, my sister started crying at the end of the Mass, in which the cantor sang a lovely, if modern, song at the end of Communion and everyone clapped. After Mass, I sympathized with her as she sobbed that she felt so bad for the people who had to go to Mass there every week.

I wondered miserably why I wasn’t crying too and berated myself for enjoying the music.

It bears mentioning that unlike most families, my parents never got involved in the Latin vs. English drama. They were content in the Novus Ordo and prayed and waited patiently for my sister and me to be content too.

I attended my first Latin Mass when my sister and I went with that first Regina Coeli family on a Thursday night during Lent. Unfortunately, what I remember best was how bitterly cold it was in the church and how hungry and bored I was. I didn’t understand the Latin (duh), and the Mass seemed to take way too long because of all the extra prayers that the faithless Novus Ordo community had subtracted. The supper in the church basement was potluck style, and TLM families pride themselves on who can get by on the most penitential fare (read: watery, meatless soup) during Lent. After we got home, my sister was ecstatic and couldn’t stop talking about how amazing our night had been. “I wish every night could be like that!” I agreed with hopefully convincing enthusiasm, wondering why I was feeling so let down.

To tell the truth, I hadn’t liked the TLM.

I didn’t want to go back. At the same time, I felt panicked. This was who I was. Everything depended on my going to the Latin Mass: where I would go to college, who my future husband would be, how I would raise my kids. How could I not like something that I had built my life around? I had taken my friends’ glowing descriptions of their Sunday experiences at face value.

Not long after my disappointing evening, the FisherMore scandal broke. In a nutshell, a badly done real estate deal caused the college to lose a lot of money. At the same time, some board members were concerned about a speaker the college had brought to campus, who declared that the Second Vatican Council was invalid. (In the Catholic Church, you can’t just say that a Church Council is ‘invalid’; despite this, my classmates and even a few teachers had been saying the exact same thing all year.) The bishop ended up telling the college that they couldn’t celebrate the Latin Mass anymore, a catastrophe for a school that had built itself around the TLM. My religion teacher went off the deep end, posting crazy things that didn’t make any sense on the course homepage. The college students started a GoFundMe campaign to keep the college open. Though they reached their goal amount, the college closed almost immediately.

For me, I knew the game was up when my parents, who are the most generous people I know, refused to donate to the GoFundMe campaign.

My mom was concerned about the attitudes she’d seen in my sister and me and some of our friends. She had caught on to the toxic disgust toward the Novus Ordo. Actually, it wasn’t too hard for me to ditch the TLM. The hard part was accepting that this whole way of life, which had made me very happy, was over.

“Well, I’ve been afraid of changin’
‘Cause I’ve built my life around you”

I listened to “Landslide” a few months later and blinked back tears. The problem with letting go of the TLM was not the liturgy itself, but the way of life it offered me. It had offered me entrance into a secret club, a Remnant. I could be in the same group as the TLM elite. It offered me a chance to be different, special, separate, counter-cultural. I could go to a TLM college, meet my husband, graduate early because of my transfer credits from FisherMore Academy, and live in a little house in Texas near the kids I’d known from online classes ever since middle school. We’d homeschool our (many) babies together, go to church together, share recipes and go on walks and have cookie swaps and sing-alongs and volunteer together.

It was a picture-perfect life, and it’s hard to just walk away from that.

It’s still hard to keep walking away. I think of the guy who was the closest thing I’ve had to a boyfriend. We emailed each other every day during eighth grade. I think of the girl friends I had. I’ve never been that close to anyone since. I feel like Frodo: I’m glad I came back, but it really, really hurts to think of what I left behind. I wouldn’t be happy if I went back now, but if I had stayed in, I would be happy there now.

How do you pick up the threads of an old life?

How do you go on? 

When your heart had begin to understand;

There is no going back . . . . .

Forgive me for quoting the movie instead of the book, but I feel that nothing better expresses my feelings about this. Frodo had the Gray Havens to go to when he came home and it wasn’t home anymore. I am so envious. I know that this will never be fixed. It’s going to hurt for the rest of my life: whenever I hear Gregorian chant, whenever I see a priest ad orientem, whenever I think about that musty old church basement that was awful and uncomfortable but also really beautiful, because I belonged.

Don’t expect me to let go. One ticket to the Gray Havens, please.

Sexism and Homeschooling: Ella’s Story

CC image courtesy of PixabayAnimus Photograpy.

HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Ella” is a pseudonym.

On the surface, patriarchy and sexism did not impact my childhood as drastically as many of my homeschooled peers.

My parents encouraged higher education and my mother believed that women should be able to support themselves. I was allowed to drive, vote, and even get a job the summer before I went to college. It wasn’t until later, looking back, that I  began to see the way sexism had influenced our home and negatively impacted me.

My early homeschooling years were focused on unit studies, outside play, and childhood fun. My siblings and I have many happy memories of our childhood and in many ways, I would love to replicate them for my own children. It wasn’t until I was a pre-teen that other influences began to change our home life. We started receiving magazines from Above Rubies, Vision Forum, and other religious ministries that cast a vision for a happy home based on Biblical principles.

About this time, my mother discovered my father’s hidden pornography addiction and in the wake of that pain and how it impacted her marriage, this vision became a catalyst for everything changing.

I was 12 when I was informed that we would not be wearing pants anymore, because feminism blurred gender lines and spoiled the femininity God wanted us to have as women. Similarly, I learned that women have a duty to protect the men in their lives by covering their bodies and hiding any curves. I remember my mother discussing her appreciation for a large busted family friend who was “aware of herself” and wore loose, draping clothes that helped hide her figure. My brothers were not allowed to go to the mall and any family outings to the park or lake involved the awkward process of looking around for any immodest women and leaving if any were spotted. I quit swimming because being required to wear a t-shirt over my swimsuit was too embarrassing.

Puberty was a messy process of self-loathing for me and the rest of my teen years were spent with a vicious, fixated anger directed at family clothing rules. I was convinced that our outdated dresses and skirts were the reason I had almost no friends and no community.

My self-esteem plummeted and I felt utterly alone much of the time.

Occasionally I would seek to push the limits and shop for what I perceived as attractive or fashionable clothing, but usually I was directed to find other options. I remember being 16 and standing in front of the mirror with a slightly loose graphic tee, feeling a strange sense of attractiveness because I could see some curves of my body, only to be told it was inappropriate. I felt shattered.

Today, a decade later, I can look back with a degree of objectivity and see the irony of my mother responding to the way sexism had hurt her with a sexist worldview as the solution. I feel for her. She had been treated as an unworthy sexual object instead of a valuable human being and because she felt powerless to change her spouse, she focused on controlling our environment instead. Unintentionally, she took the very sexism that had hurt her and made it an integral part of our lives.

We began to see men as fragile creatures who had to be protected from their own sex drives and whose egos needed coddling to feel masculine.

Women were to publicly hide their sexuality and privately feed their husband’s sexual desires in the home to help them avoid worldly temptation. They were to “influence” the men in their lives to make proper decisions, while simultaneously  submitting to their leadership. Feminism was about selfish disregard for others while true womanhood served others. At the time, it all fit together in my mind. I retaliated inwardly to the external rules of modesty, but I didn’t recognize the underlying beliefs I had developed about myself as a woman.

When I left home for college, the exhilaration was incredible. I bought my first pair of jeans. I thought (with a guilty thrill) that they were very tight, although in retrospect they were at least 2 sizes too big! I went to Aeropostale in mid 2000s fashion and re-created my wardrobe.

I thought I had left patriarchy and modesty behind me, but I didn’t realize how subtly sexist philosophies had ingrained themselves into my mind.

I turned down the first guy who asked me out because it was “dangerous” to go get dinner with him. I saw myself as vulnerable rather than self-sufficient. What if he took advantage of me? Instead, I began a serious relationship with him because I needed to “protect my heart” so I wouldn’t become damaged goods.

I almost broke off our relationship when he told me he had looked at pornography in high school, because I thought it meant he was damaged goods (to the contrary, he has been nothing but respectful and valuing of me and my body). I became engaged at only 19 even though I felt too young and unsure of myself, because I was afraid to be alone. I didn’t know how to be confident about myself as a person.

I cancelled my application to graduate school when I became pregnant, because it was wrong to continue a career when I was going to have a family (thankfully my husband supported my journey back to graduate school several years later). It took me a long to become aware of how intertwined my views about gender were with my life choices.

These days I am casting a new vision for myself.

Being a successful, happy woman looks different for every person. I can be strong and vulnerable at the same time. My body is not the property of those around me, to be either hidden to protect them or displayed to gratify them. It is mine. I can use my voice. I can have passionate opinions and speak strongly without fearing that I am dominating men.

My children are a beautiful part of my life and dreaming about my future when they are gone doesn’t make me love them any less. I can be my own person and have my own passions and interests, even if my husband doesn’t share them. We can disagree on many things and still be united as a couple. Conflict solving should involve both of us and a “trump card” based on gender is an unhealthy way to manage it. And probably most of all, it is important to learn to know myself for who I am and express that rather than reflecting the expectations of those around me.

I am still sifting through remnants of sexist philosophy and figuring out what needs to be tossed out.

I imagine it will be a lifelong process, as I mature and life experiences change me. I am excited for what the future holds and proud of the opportunity to raise a daughter who will stand with me against patriarchy in our society rather than facing it at home.

Sexism And Homeschooling: A Call For Stories

CC image courtesy of PixabayAnimus Photograpy.

By Shade Ardent, HA Editorial Team.

‘A woman’s place is in the home’

‘We were created to be his helpmeet.’

‘You will stay at home under my authority until I hand you over to your husband.’

‘You need to be more submissive.’

‘There’s no need for college.’

‘Courtship not dating is what’s right for you.’

‘Promise me your heart and your purity.’

‘Don’t be immodest.’

Did you hear things like this when you were homeschooled? If so, you were probably assigned female at birth.

To be homeschooled and read as female (even if you are trans or non-binary) is to enter into an alternate universe. I know my brother did not have the same experience that I did, and that we are not the only siblings to have this disconnect in our stories. While everyone’s homeschooling situation is unique, there are certain aspects of a type of homeschooling that run common among those of us who are not read as male.

We were less-than, considered weaker, easier to fool, stumbling blocks. We were fit only to be a wife and a mother. Patriarchy and sexism ruled our environments, but we survived it.

Homeschoolers Anonymous is doing a series on sexism and homeschooling. We would like to hear your stories of how sexism and patriarchy affected you.

We will begin posting submissions on April 10, and will continue throughout the month of April.

If you are interested in participating in this series, please email us at HA.EdTeam@gmail.com.

We take privacy seriously and will happily make your submission anonymous at your request.

Policy: We accept autobiographical stories with a minimum age of 13. Stories belong to the people they happened to.

HA Note: Because patriarchy harms everyone, we will be accepting stories from all genders. We will not, however, accept stories that try to claim ‘reverse sexism’.

I Want To Be Like You: Kaden’s Story

CC image courtesy of Flickr, torbakhopper.

“When I’m big I want to be a boy like you.”

My four year old self thought I was giving my cousin a complement. However he saw otherwise; I was beaten, called “faggot”, then pushed down the stairs. That complete rejection from a family member was enough to scare me into submission for the rest of my childhood.

I grew up in a conservative homeschool family. At a very young age I showed signs of being transgender I always wanted my hair cut “like a boy.” Only played male characters during play dates, and hated being called a girl. Any effort to be myself was squashed under strict southern baptist doctrine. Thus I did my best to ignore my growing dysphoria so I could fit in with my peers.

After I graduated high school. I slowly came out to  friends with very mixed reactions. I felt that I had to prove myself to them so I made the horrible mistake of coming out to my parents. My mom cried while my dad exploded in anger kicking in my door and telling me “You are as bad as a child rapist!” I was forced into conversion therapy and shoved back into the closet where I spend two more years.

Last month everything came crashing down.

I drove my dad to the store then without warning he started screaming at me demanding to know why I was “Giving God the middle finger”  I was shocked by his sudden aggression. He told me that he wouldn’t allow me to corrupt my siblings by being a “cross dresser”  I locked myself in the family bathroom for safety. While he pounded on the door and threatened to drag me into the parking lot.  In a panic I texted my coworker who came to my rescue. Her mom got security  to keep my dad away while we walked to their car. He threatened her the entire walk but she refused to back down.  As we drove away she told me “We will not let you be homeless.”

When I got to their house I was group hugged and given hot chocolate. The rest of the week was a blur of crying, having the police help me get my things from my parents home, saying goodbye to my younger siblings, quitting my jobs, and adjusting to a totally new environment.

Lucky for me the family I’m staying with have been very patent while I adjust to not being abused.

My progress is slow but steady. I’m saving for top surgery, finding a new job, and I no longer jump every time a car goes by. They have all proven to me the support that they have from buying me my first suit, to helping my save for top surgery. They have given me the confidence to see that my dad can call me horrible names, he can tell my siblings and other church members that I’m a horrible person. But he no longer owns me. I’m no longer going to cower in fear while my life goes by without me.

I am loved, I am important, and have everything I need to be ten times the man he ever will be.

Mirror Blindness: Alex’s Story

CC image courtesy of Flickr, torbakhopper.

I don’t know when I started trying to ignore everything about myself.

It must have been early in my childhood, but the further I look back, the blurrier the memories get.

I’m Alex, and I spent twenty years being raised in a radical Roman Catholic homeschool community.

My parents raised me to “die to self”, to deny my own wants and unnecessary needs, in order to show my love to God. Love, after all, was an action, not a feeling. If you loved God without giving your body and soul to Him, without “bleeding yourself dry”, that wasn’t real love. It would not save you from everlasting fire.

I was designated female at birth, and as such, my mother warned me against vanity. I got to listen to my mother shaming women for wearing too much makeup, or for dressing immodestly. Their prideful, lustful skin exposure would cause men to think impure thoughts. It would send their souls to Hell.

So, I stopped looking at myself in the mirror, except for the occasional spare glance.

I didn’t have to. My mother insisted upon fixing my hair, long after I reached the age when I could do it myself. I didn’t know better at the time; after all, my siblings and I were isolated from the world, to protect our fragile innocence.

Me and my siblings never had any real privacy. Any time she felt we were being particularly disobedient, or were having “impure thoughts”, she would look through our belongings. Journals and sketchbooks included. Anything she found that she didn’t approve of would send her into a screaming rage. To give you an idea of how picky she was: once she found a drawing I had made of a flying snake, and called it blasphemous.

My mother got harsher with me as I grew, especially after I hit puberty.

She’d tear me down for every error. I don’t like to talk about it, but to summarize, I wound up with a very negative self image. The things she called me: lazy, selfish, bossy, and worse- became my self-image. There was no one whose word I trusted more than hers, so there was no one to tell me otherwise. I learned to hate myself. The only way I knew to cope with that was to be always lost in thought, daydreaming. The stories in my head helped me to ignore my own existence.

Inside and out, I was blind to myself.

Since all sex before marriage was sinful, and even thinking about sex was a grave sin, I never questioned my sexuality. Even the word “sexuality” was just a “liberal” word, and never used. I had strange ideas about love. Because I had never been taught otherwise, I had thought no sexual attraction or romance was even necessary in a relationship. “True love is not like a love song,” my mother had told me. “Feelings come and go; you should marry your best friend.”

My first relationship, as a result, was a catastrophe.

I dated a boy, the son of one of my mom’s friends. We got along well and could have long conversations. Marriage would mean freedom from the tedious world I was stuck in, so I decided to begin a relationship. He was very in love with me, but I did not feel a thing aside from friendship. Why should I? Friendship, I had been told, was all that was necessary. Feelings were unnecessary, and dangerous, as they might lead to the sin of premarital sex.

We fought more often then we got along. Neither of us knew the first thing about a healthy relationship; neither of us had ever been shown an example of one. We’d both come from emotionally abusive parents, after all. Excitement quickly turned to stress; our parents put a lot of pressure on us. Preparing for marriage was a big deal, and dating without intending to marry- that was unthinkable!

The worst part was being pushed ever harder into a feminine gender role. My boyfriend would tell me of a dream he had where I was wearing a “lovely dress”, and that he couldn’t wait for me to care for him and his children one day. He always wanted to be a gentleman; to hold doors open for me, defend my honor, the whole nine yards. Perhaps there should have been nothing wrong with it, but it made me very uneasy.

Finally I cracked under the stress.

He wanted to join a non-Catholic Bible study, and my parents feared it would draw him away from the faith. I tried to control him. We had our most painful fight yet, and then he left me.

The depression I’d had since my pre-teen years escalated after that. I felt like a failure. Some days, I lacked the strength to even leave my bed. I was forced to look at myself for the very first time, if only to find out what went wrong. For once in my life, I had to stare myself straight in the eye.

Not long after the breakup, my parents started to ease up on their previously-elaborate Internet censorship systems. Distracted by other hobbies and projects, they left me to myself more often. I opened my eyes to other people’s opinions, and through sharing my art, made some friends from very different backgrounds. I learned a lot.

Yes, a romantic relationship DOES need feelings. Even if they ebb and flow, they should always exist. I read up on what a healthy relationship was supposed to look like- and in the meantime, found out that the relationship my boyfriend and I had was NOT one. And- love was not a gory sacrifice. It was supposed to be built on mutual kindness and respect. My own emotional health was important too!

Someone who truly loves you would not want you to suffer.

I found, to my surprise, that LGBT people were not the soulless degenerates I’d been taught they were. I also let go of my fear of letting myself be attracted to others. And, lo and behold, girls were so lovely! The emotions they stirred up in my heart felt new and exciting. I’d never let that happen to myself before.

Then, perhaps most importantly of all, I learned that gender did not depend on genitals.

I’d never felt connected to being female. I felt like an outsider, especially among the other highly-feminine homeschooled girls in my circle. Puberty had been hell, not just for the struggle against sexual feelings, but because my body was changing in ways that made me uncomfortable.

For so long I’d distracted myself from this, even when the tomboys around me were more feminine than I! I couldn’t look like a girl without being uncomfortable, so I didn’t want to be noticed at all. When guests would arrive, I might spend a little time among them, talking. But then the discomfort would sink in, and I’d hide myself away. Hearing my own birth name always was, and still is, disorienting.

Another reason I ignored what I now know to be dysphoria is that I didn’t want to be a boy, either. I’d been taught the angels were neither male nor female, and from a very young age, I’d wished I could be one of them.

Often I’d cried, wishing I had no body at all.

When I started looking in the mirror, I came face to face with things about myself that I’d always known, deep down inside. I don’t feel ashamed of my sexuality. Any shame I once felt has been erased by my parents’ behavior when I finally broke free. The way they’ve treated me since has broken my heart a thousand times over. I looked back and saw the sourness in their prejudices, and that the abuse and isolation wasn’t normal after all.

I’m Alex, and now I’m free to look in the mirror.

I don’t have to be a girl, or a boy. I am free to love girls and other nonbinary people, to love the world I was sheltered from, and love myself.

Trans In Hiding: Lyle’s Story

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)

Trans Is: Elliott Grace’s Story

CC image courtesy of Flickr, torbakhopper.

My name is Elliott Grace, and I am a homeschool alumni.

I am Non-Binary Trans, and this is my coming out.

This is probably one of the hardest things I’ve written up to this point.

I’m afraid to come out, to share this. I’m afraid of being questioned, being rejected, being told that I don’t qualify as trans. I’m afraid that people will try to correct me, argue that this is not who I am, that I am wrong and will eventually find out they were right.

Some of my close friends already know I consider myself trans, and sometimes I explain that I use “they/them” pronouns when I’m introduced to someone. It says “trans” on my facebook profile, but you only know that if you’ve looked for it, and it doesn’t explain what that means to me.

Because I don’t know what it means.

It would be nice if there was a quiz I could take, a checklist of things that grants me permission to use the term “trans” to describe myself and my gender. I wish I could give you a straightforward and approachable description of what it means to be non-binary. I wish I could explain everything it is and is not, and educate you so you’re better equipped when someone comes out to you.

But I’m not prepared to do any of these things, so I’m just going to come out. I’m going to tell you what it’s like to be the me who is trans.

. . .

Trans is thinking it’s normal to hate being a girl, because my parents were misogynistic and openly talked about the ways girls were bad.

Trans is assuming that I didn’t want to be a girl because it sucks to be a girl in christian fundamentalism, not because I’m trans.

Trans is missing the gender roles from my childhood, because when I followed them people approved of me.

Trans is not coming out to my parents because they stopped talking to me years ago.

Trans is hating my voice, and not watching recordings of myself so that I can forget what it sounds like. Trans is knowing that If I’m reminded what I sound like, I’ll likely end up trying avoid talking altogether.

Trans is the happy and safe feeling when a partner says to me, “you’re dashing” instead of “you look pretty.”

Trans is spending a couple years trying to figure out if I’m a guy.

Trans is needing to get permission from my boss to shave my head.

. . .

Trans is a client telling me I “stole a man’s haircut” and having to play nice when I want to tell him to fuck off.

Trans is cringing when someone refers to me as “ma’am.”

Trans is feeling guilty for not appreciating passing as a woman, when so many people wish they could.

Trans is waiting to change my name at work until I change jobs because I’m afraid it will be too hard.

Trans is wishing there was a box to check besides “male” or “female” when I have to fill out a form.

Trans is crying in the bathroom at the doctor’s office because the staff chided me for putting down the “wrong” name on my paperwork even though Elliott is my legal name.

Trans is my doctor asking what’s wrong, and when I tell him he says “you don’t look like an Elliott.”

Trans is when the bank says my husband Elliott is a signer on my account.

Trans is thinking I don’t deserve to ask people to change the way they talk about me.

Trans is debating whether I want to take hormones.

Trans is dating someone that wishes their body was more like mine, and feeling like I should be more grateful.

Trans is other trans people feeling threatened when I say that I’m not a man or a woman, because it will be harder for them to convince people being trans is valid if I don’t fit in the gender binary.

Trans is wishing I had a beard so people wouldn’t think I’m trying to measure up when I wear makeup.

Trans is when I feel like I’m in drag but so many people just see a girl in a dress.

Trans is people telling me I’m a trans guy, even when I tell them I’m not.

Trans is when my mail is addressed to “Mr. Elliott Harvey.”

Trans is other trans people telling me that I don’t qualify as trans because I don’t hate my body enough. Trans is wondering if they’re right, because what I hate most about my body is being disabled.

Trans is deciding I don’t want to take hormones right now, but being afraid people will tell me I’m not trans if I’m not on hormones.

Trans is answering to Elliott and then asking to be called Grace.

Trans is when people think I’m a boy, until they hear my voice.

Trans is people asking what my real name is.

Trans is not asking people to use they/them pronouns for me, because I don’t know how to handle it if they refuse.

Trans is going on a date with someone that assumes I was born a boy, and listening to them complain about how awful people who were born girls are.

Trans is when people assume I’m a trans woman and I don’t correct them, because at least they think I’m trans.

Trans is knowing that I will never pass as non binary, that people will always try to see me as either a man or a woman.

Trans is the joy I feel when someone says they didn’t know whether I was a boy or a girl.

Trans is coming out to the internet, but still feeling unsure about coming out to friends.

Trans is me.

I Am Trans: Reese’s Story

CC image courtesy of Flickr, torbakhopper.

Hi. Name’s Reese, like the peanut butter cups.

I first realized I was trans FTM in college, I believe. I read some post or another on Tumblr (I know, I know), and it got me thinking: Was there such a thing as being agender? It sort of fit in my head, because I’d never liked girly things, like Barbies or nail polish or even the color pink.

(Which is a perfectly acceptable color, by the way.) It ate away at me for years, being non-gender conforming. I hid it behind jokes and feeling generally uncomfortable in my own skin.

“Oh, I don’t wear nail polish, it makes my fingers feel weird.”

“Oh, no thanks, I can’t walk in heels.”

I mean, these are very highly gendered things that shouldn’t be gendered, but at the time I felt like I was…failing to be female.

I really didn’t understand anything LGBT+ during pretty much my entire life until college. I was raised in a fairly strict Christian home, and was homeschooled K-12. I do remember pseudo-teaching myself to read, with some “help” from my mom, who was my teacher. We used the A Beka Book programs, starting out with just textbooks, then moving on to the videotaped classroom experience.

At any rate, I discovered Tumblr around 2010-2011 (which was… an Interesting Time, as it were), at first because of the Broship of the Ring comics by Noelle Stevenson, and then because of the Doctor Who/Sherlock/Supernatural craze. (Yes, I was a SuperWhoLockian. No, I still haven’t forgiven myself for it.) But there was a whole lot of “Gay is good!!!!!!! Because boys kiss!!!!” nonsense going on, which struck me as odd, but I went along with it.

Fast forward to 2014, when I first started feeling like being agender was being truly and honestly myself. My mother “found” (snooped in a notebook that I carelessly left out) a coming out letter where I detailed my plan to have a hysterectomy/top surgery, because I wasn’t their daughter anymore. (I also came out as biromantic/asexual, but that’s another story.) I was working midnights at the time, so I woke up at around 1:30 PM to a phone call from my sister-in- law, who was literally shaking as she fed my infant nephew his lunch. My mother had gone completely off her rocker. She took the letter she searched for (how did she know to look in that notebook? Should I have left it out? Was she just looking for a piece of paper?) directly to my brother and sister-in- law, because I had mentioned that I’d told them about being biromantic and asexual.

She literally said to them, “The next time I see you, I’ll have a gun.”

She threatened them with violence, because she thought we were “hiding” things and “lying” to her, and (her favorite word for a while) “deceiving” her. She turned out to be mentally ill, and that overshadowed the emergency family meeting we had later in the day. Fortunately I had the night off, so we could have a meeting. I was shaking and sobbing the entire time. To quote my father, “We’ll talk about what’s in the chair later.” Guess who was sitting in the chair? Yours truly. My father, the man who I thought understood me the most out of all the adults I’d ever talked to extensively, called me a “what.” Not “her,” or even “who.” “What.”

I’ve never felt so dehumanized, so belittled, so Othered than at that moment.

Most of the “family meeting” consisted of my older brother talking about forgiveness and something else that was probably really good and important, but I was just too shocked to listen. I was numb. How could my mother do this? How could she be so completely mad that she threatened her own son, her own daughter-in- law, her grandson, with violence? What about me? Was I going to be kicked out? I was making minimum wage at a McDonald’s and barely paying off my student loans.

What the hell was I supposed to do? Where was I going to go?

“You’ll always be my daughter.”

That pretty much ended my closeness with my father. I’d always wanted to be like him, to be book-smart and goofily funny and able to fix things with my hands. But after that conversation, I just wanted to go bury myself in a hole somewhere and feel the crushing weight of earth on my body. It would’ve been better than the crushing disappointment, the feeling of “Who you are isn’t wanted here.”

I’d been tentatively feeling my way around the gender spectrum, first finding solace as an agender person, then realizing that I felt more masculine than anything. I don’t doubt NB folk, but I know who I am and what gender I am.

I haven’t exactly come out as trans to my parents.

My mother, as I said, is mentally ill and refuses to seek treatment for it, and my father is at his wit’s end as to how to deal with that, so I feel like starting T and changing my name/gender and/or getting top surgery would be something that would, well, be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. So I’m waiting to come out.

I have very fortunately either learned to completely shut down my dysphoria, or I have very minor dysphoric symptoms, but there are days (since I still present as female in public) where I have to steel myself, grit my teeth, and say, “Okay, they’re gonna call me ‘R;,’ and it’s not ‘Reese,’ but it’s close enough, right? I can do this.”

To this day, I still don’t like little stupid things, like hugs, or buying women’s shirts (because they’re SEE THROUGH, dammit, and that shit WILL NOT STAND), or even washing myself in the shower. I have been wearing baggier clothes to work, ones that don’t flatter my figure or make me look feminine, but it’s been hard. I work at a Christian-based company, and it’s… it’s a bit like being homeschooled again, which is nauseatingly comforting, or rather nauseating because it’s comforting. Nobody swears, nobody really takes the Lord’s name in vain, none of that. And it’s a nearly all-female crew, which makes things even worse, in a way, because I have to use my girly-girly customer service voice, and I have to withstand people saying “God bless you” when God either blessed me with his Holy middle finger or simply forgot to do the whole “blessing” thing.

I mean come one, nobody blesses on Wednesday!

(I was born on a Wednesday. Y’know that one poem, “Monday’s child”? About the days of the week? Well, the line for Wednesday goes, “Wednesday’s child is full of woe.” I would like to thank God and also Jesus for that little bit of whatever-it- is.)

My self-image has always been skewed, since I was basically born with major depressive disorder, and apparently when you’re born like that you don’t get the mandatory Self-Esteem package. And of course, not being able to come out safely has been worse because of that. But at the same time, I take comfort in the fact that I know who I am now. I am Reese, and Reese means… me. Will I ever be okay in my own skin? I don’t know. I honestly have no idea. I just know that I’m more comfortable with myself now than I have ever been, and I hope that I will only get more comfortable as time and money and legal changes allow. I mean, it’s fairly difficult some days more than others, but I’m not out, which is both blessing and curse. I don’t have to deal with slurs being thrown my way, I don’t live in a metropolis, so I don’t have to deal with any kind of sexual harassment, and to top it all off, I’m so shy and awkward I either wouldn’t notice unless it were blatant harassment, or would notice and would (in my head, anyway) get increasingly snarky about it until the other person got uncomfortable and shut up. (In reality, I think I’d nod and smile until they left/I left that environment, and then I’d go home and cry. Or possibly kick myself for not being brave enough to stand up for myself.)

As far as community support goes… I don’t really talk about being AFAB, except on my sideblog/private Twitter, so. My online friends (which are, come to think of it, for the most part either LGB or trans men themselves) have been nothing but supportive and kind About my issues, going so far as to respond to my over-emotional posts about whether or not I’m “really” trans (because let’s face it, if I’m not out in public, if I don’t “act masculine” at all, if I’m not taking T and/or immediately planning surgeries, am I “really” trans, or am I just some stupid Special Snowflake Tumblrite who really desperately wants to be “different” in order to “fit in” with the “different” crowd?) with kindness and Compassion.

My two brothers have sort of expressed support.

My older brother in particular has been kind and accepting, and my younger brother has been at the very least reading my emo tweets and going so far as liking some of them. I really can’t say about my sister-in-law, and I’m quite sure my grandparents would possibly die of shock if they knew.

My mother… is mad, and I don’t trust her as far as I could throw her. I fully intend on coming out once I get the money/financial stability to say, “Oh hey guys, by the way, my name is Reese and I’m a dude, LOL bye see you in Europe” (where I plan to move once I can get a job lined up).

As far as faith is concerned… being depressed sort of killed all positive aspects of faith for me. I thought God hated me. I thought I was sinning somehow, because why else would I be sad? I must have been making God angry, and that was why He was making me sad. And so on and so forth. My faith officially died during my sophomore year of college. I was exhausted, and I kept up appearances until my second attempt at getting my degree, at which point I threw all pretenses out the window. Knowing what I know now, I wonder that I was a believer as long as I was, because if God truly loved me, if he really really honestly wanted me to be fulfilled, why would He have put me through this?

Am I supposed to be held up as an example of what to do when suffering?

If so, what is the point? Honestly, it boggles my mind that people who suffer are expected to take their pain and turn it positive, like some kind of twisted Pain Olympics.

“Aaaand here comes Van Gogh around the bend, painting away! Oh, he is going so strongly! Oh wait, he shot himself. Well, at least we got some pretty pictures out of him, eh folks? Naturally, we’ll only like them after he’s been dead for a while, but hey! Ahead of his time, am I right?”

I know for a fact that being bitter is a bit like being a robot with internal rusting, where it eats and eats away at your infrastructure until you collapse/implode, but really? What if I want to be whole, and not in pain? What if my pain is preventing me from creating? What if I don’t want to do anything anymore, because everything hurts? Why do we prize pain over anything else? Is it a learning experience? Yes, of course. Should terrible things happen? No, but they do. Are you “not really” something because you don’t suffer from/for it? Absolutely not. Creative people, or people in general, exist and create in spite of and in active resistance against the pain they experience. Does pain make something more precious? Is that why we value it?

If anything, pain is a handicap.

Is that why we cheer so loudly when someone in pain produces something?

“Oh look at him, he ran 300 yards with a broken leg! Never mind the fact that because nobody fixed his leg and waited for him to get better that he’ll be crippled for life, he ran 300 yards on a broken leg! Amazing!”

I digress. Basically, faith, while nice and good and generally not an objectively terrible thing (honestly, it’s what you do with and about and because of your faith that makes it terrible), I don’t really see any value in it. I’m biased, of course. But what can I do?

The hardest thing about self-discovery is honestly other people. I’m a sheep, I’ll say it now. It is very difficult for me to have an original thought. I tend to agree with sensible people, so I must have some modicum of sensibleness, but I am as unoriginal as a stick figure comic on the Internet. (Can be original, but it has to try really, really hard.) I have heard many differing opinions about trans/NB-ness, from openly trans/NB people no less. I’ve heard trans men staunchly discredit NB people as “trying to be special” and “taking away from our legitimacy as a group.” I’ve had NB people completely not respond to me when I asked for reassurance in my gender identity (though come to think of it, they were probably the wrong person to ask).

Overall? It’s been confusing. The language we use to talk about ourselves has been  changing constantly as we do more research and learn more about the human body/brain and gender in and of itself. I really honestly don’t know what to think of myself nowadays. Am I a man? Am I a deluded female who has internalized so much misogyny that she doesn’t know what to do with her female aspects? Is my rejection of stereotypically “feminine” things a reaction to having “femininity” shoved down my throat because I was born with certain genitals? Am I honestly a trans man, or am I dishonestly trying to “steal” another identity because I want to “be different/cool”?

And so on.

On good days, I know I’m trans and male and I read my friends typing my chosen name, not my deadname, and that makes me feel…not content, but fulfilled.

On bad days, I type angry Twitter rants through my tears and try not to cry too loudly.

I suppose the impact of not coming out has been…well. I’m honestly not sure. It’s been easy in that I don’t really have to deal with being outright rejected and/or cursed up and down for who I am (yet), but at the same time, I get no support from my family (which I really doubt I’d get to begin with), so. I’ve been sort of stunted, in that regard. I always get surprised when people are nice to me and use my name. As far as emotions… I’m going to sound like a lame action hero, but I prefer not to have them if at all possible. I’m an avoidant sort of person, which means vulnerability gets paraded around as either a horrifically self-deprecating joke, or, if I can’t get away from facing my emotions, I get Too Real and make people uncomfortable.

This is very rambly, for which I apologize. I honestly don’t really have a hopeful message here. It can be hard, it can be easy. It all depends on who you are, where you are, and how you are, as well as who/where/how other people are with regards to your gender identity. I think of a Terry Pratchett quote, from The Wee Free Men, about trusting in yourself, and believing in your dreams, and following your star.

And if you do all that,

“…you’ll still be beaten by people who spent their time working hard and learning things and weren’t so lazy.”

I suppose that’s the best advice I can give.

You have to put in the work.

I have to put in the work. We have to put in the work. And we will screw up. I’ve probably screwed up at least a dozen times (badly) telling this story of my being trans, and I will probably continue to screw up until I’m dead. But it’s the trying, the incessant reaching for and struggling towards a goal, or a series of goals, or just getting through tomorrow. That’s what’s important. If you’re going to do anything, you have to keep moving forward. (A shoutout to Meet the Robinson’s, which was a very underrated movie, in my opinion.)

Never stop reaching.

Gender Rainbow: A Call For Stories

CC image courtesy of Flickr, torbakhopper.

By Shade Ardent.

Trans. Non-Binary. Gender Non-Conforming.

Until recently we have existed on the edges of society. Often estranged from family and community, or living a hidden life for our own safety. We walk the paths hidden from society too often. When we come out, we are frequently met with derision and physical danger. With the recent legislation and now the current National Geographic issue discussing trans issues, our existence and challenges have come to the forefront of society’s dialogue. This awareness has brought new acceptance but also new challenges for our community.

Homeschooling can bring particular challenges with being trans, non-binary, or gender-nonconforming. The closed-off lifestyle filled with strict gender roles and fundamentalist teachings is largely unsafe for us. When there is no way out, what do we do? How do we survive?

Are you a trans, non-binary, or gender non-conforming homeschooler or homeschool alum?

Homeschoolers Anonymous would love to hear your story.

Here are some story prompts:

Did you know you were trans/non-binary while being homeschooled?

How did you find out?

If you came out, how was it received?

Did you find support in your community?

Did you find out after you were homeschooled?

How did this affect your self-image?

What has been the hardest or easiest thing about self-discovery?

How did this impact your faith, or lack of it? Did you have to hide yourself for safety, and if so, what means did you use to hide? How did that affect you emotionally?

We are going to begin posting stories on January 16th, and continue throughout the month.

If you are interested in participating in this series, please email us at HA.EdTeam@gmail.com.

We take privacy seriously and will happily make your submission anonymous at your request.

Policy: We accept autobiographical stories with a minimum age of 13. Stories belong to the people they happened to.