I Grew Into A Culture Warrior: Lauren Wood’s Story

CC image courtesy of Flickr, Grufnik.

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

When I saw the call for stories about homeschool families and politics, I immediately thought of the article “I Lost My Dad to Fox News.” As a person who likes to stay politically informed as a result of my upbringing, I don’t often trust Salon, but that article echoed many of my feelings towards my own father.

Before I can continue, it’s helpful to understand that, as a kid, I had a lot of anxiety, which follows me to this day. While I attribute some of my anxiety to my deep-seated fears about the wooden rod with which my parents spanked us, I’m not a psychologist and can’t say for sure if that was the cause. I did attend a small, fundamentalist high school because my mom recognized that she couldn’t teach things like chemistry and algebra, but my parents still held many of the homeschooling circle’s beliefs, such as courtship.

The first time I can remember an awareness of politics in my family was the pro-life march that our Southern Baptist church organized every October.

Perhaps it was called the Mile for Life, but I believe my first appearance was as a seven-year- old.

Basically, we formed a long line down the main street in my hometown with signs with slogans like ABORTION KILLS CHILDREN, ABORTION KILLS WOMEN, and I can’t recall the others. It scared me deeply to think that thousands of people in my own hometown were killing babies. I didn’t know about sex until at least nine or ten, and considering that there was no abortion clinic in my county (and I believe there’s only one in my state), this fostered a deep paranoia that millions of babies were being killed all around me for some inexplicable reason. I also didn’t understand why women were supposedly dying too. So even though I didn’t want to go, I was very scared about all this death, and I did hope that maybe my sign might convince someone not to kill a woman or child. Refusing to attend the Mile for Life would have absolutely warranted a spanking, because defiance was the quickest way to the rod.

My dad often listened to Rush Limbaugh in the car, and watched the usual cast of FOX and co. When the Gore/Bush election happened, I heard a lot about a conspiracy called global warming, and how Gore would destroy America. Again, I was terrified. I didn’t want my whole country to be devastated. The nail-biting voter counts in Florida were all I heard about, and I sat on the edge of my seat hearing about it, petrified that a single vote would destroy the nation.

A few years later, I also learned that a few states were allowing men to marry men, and women to marry women. I didn’t have the vocabulary for the word “lesbian” or “bisexual”, but I did hear about homosexuals, and my only exposure to that “lifestyle” was from the pulpit of First Baptist. My pastor taught that homosexuals hated God, the nuclear family, and America.

I had no idea why, and I didn’t consider myself “homosexual” because I was not an adult, I didn’t hate God, and I didn’t America.

The thought that I was gay never crossed my mind. Rush Limbaugh said that homosexuals would lead to America’s destruction just like the fall of Rome, as Rush Limbaugh said, and it scared me. Slowly, I began to realize in middle school that it was not in fact acceptable for me to want to hold a girl’s hand or kiss her.

While homeschooled, I learned that evolution and global warming were liberal conspiracies. I learned to fear liberals and how they wanted to destroy my family.

I learned that even though racism didn’t exist, except possibly reverse racism, I was probably not ever supposed to date a black man.

I spent a long time on message boards (probably due to my lack of interaction with other kids) arguing for conservative politics so that they wouldn’t become liberal leaders and run the country into the ground, similarly to how many former fundies express a need to witness to everyone so that they don’t go to Hell. In some areas, that wasn’t too difficult due to the amount of sheer racism and misogyny on the internet. It was always nice to meet other people who agreed that reverse racism was definitely a huge issue and feminists were evil.

Like many homeschool children, I repeatedly heard the phrase “Honor your father and mother, and your days will be long.” They often told me that if I dishonored them with disagreement, I would not have a happy life, and they tell me that to this day. My father made it clear that he was God’s representative to us on earth, and as such, it was his job to let us know right and wrong.

Throughout high school, although I was not homeschooled then, I quashed any budding “liberal” ideas. This included any acceptance of my “homosexuality”, a word I have come to hate. My father’s bookshelf was peppered with Dr. Dobson’s and Charles Colson’s latest, and I read all of it at his suggestion. Both have a lot to say on political issues, and I knew that since my father agreed, I would too. In an effort to change myself so that I might not accidentally end up an atheist at a pride parade, I watched straight or male-male sex scenes in the hopes that I could rewire my brain to associate men with pleasurable feelings. It never worked.

We ate dinner together every night, a blessing and a curse. While my father didn’t rail about politics on a nightly basis, he did bring it up often, complaining about how an anti-American Muslim was now president of the United States. We saw D’nesh D’souza’s conservative propaganda films about how Obama wanted to let immigrants take over this fine nation.

It was a heartbreaking thing to finally realize in college that I could like women, just like those Fat, Ugly Man-Hating Feminist Lesbians who were all going to hell.

I’m not sure why their appearance mattered, but it was usually included in a criticism of lesbians.

I still struggle with my weight, even though I am naturally tall and skinny, out of fear that I might resemble the caricature my parents despise.

They found out a year and a half ago that I am gay, in my senior year of college, my father threatened to pull me out of university. He only didn’t because my major is very uncommon and can’t be found at any more conservative schools. I attend a Southern Baptist university, now in graduate school, although it’s a moderate one that doesn’t care (too much) that I have a girlfriend. My parents now consider it an evil, liberal institution for not somehow stopping me, and now say they don’t care whether my little sister attends a Christian university or not, “because it didn’t help Lauren.” In political discussions, they are often interested in my brother’s thoughts, because they consider him “on the same page” while I am “rebellious”.

My parents also expressed great paranoia throughout my life about what they were certain I told my friends about them. When my father found out I was gay, he said, “I know that you’ve told all your friends and teachers that I’m a close-minded bigot.” I didn’t think I had, but he shook my confidence, so I called my best friend asked if I’d ever spoken disrespectfully of my parents. “No,” he said. “You’ve only ever spoken highly of them.”

Again, defiance is the number one way to get on the wrong side of my parents, and they tell me that my identification as a Democrat/liberal has dishonored them.

On their anniversary, my father tweeted, “25 years together—THIS is ‘love wins’.” He also tweets things such as a girl with a shirt saying, “I’m not going to let Muslims rape me to prove how tolerant I am.” My roommate has encouraged me not to look at his Twitter anymore so that I don’t get outraged; my father tells me he doesn’t have Facebook because he is afraid he will get in too many political debates. I said, “But you don’t have any Democrat friends, do you?” He replied, “Oh yeah, you’re right.”

I can tell for sure that my mother believes I am simply rebellious and want to be a Democrat because I resent my strict upbringing. I don’t think she will ever be able to get over from the fact that a liberal lesbian could have come out of her home—ironic because I am the only one of my three siblings that attends church regularly. My father sees me with a few more dimensions, I think, because he still often tries to engage in political discussion with me, but still holds that anyone with my political views is either willfully defiant or simply ignorant. My sister tells me that my parents wish I wasn’t “so political,” but really, I feel like my upbringing has forced me to stay aware so that I can back up every belief.

The last time I visited home, he asked what news sites I read. He downloaded The Atlantic app at my suggestion, because it seems to be a fairly moderate source, much more moderate than his usual outlets. It’s the biggest accomplishment I’ve made towards nudging him away from the Matt Walsh types that tell him I hate God, I hate men, I am stupid.

I laughed at hearing how my parents think I am too political, because they raised me to be so involved in current events.

Except as a kid, I was raised to be a Culture Warrior for the Religious Right. Of course I am still politically active, because I am still defending myself against what I believe to be dangerous ideology. It’s just that it’s theirs.

Socialized but Sheltered: Emily DeFreitas’s Story

Socialized but sheltered is the phrase I’d use to describe my state when I entered college.

I knew how to communicate with people. I had enough social skills to get by, but I had been so underexposed to new people and ideas that I would be shocked and confused quite a bit during my first year.

Academically, my transition into college went smoothly. I had gotten a real high school diploma and transcripts through NARHS; I also took college level courses at my local community college as a high school senior. I highly recommend both of those things to anyone homeschooling for high school. Because of them, I had no homeschooling-related issues with the admissions process, and had a pretty good understanding of what a college class was like, having taken a few.

The main things I hadn’t experienced were living away from my parents for an extended period of time and encountering religious and political diversity on a regular basis.

I chose to study creative writing and English at Widener University, a private college near Philadelphia with no religious affiliation and a pretty diverse student body. School was a good hour and a half from home, so I lived on campus for all four years. My transition to life on campus was definitely aided somewhat by my parents. They literally insisted that I stay at school for a full month before even thinking about coming home for a weekend. That set me up for success because I didn’t have the option to chicken out and go home if homesickness decided to rear its ugly head. There was only one instance in which it did, several months into my freshman year, but I’ll get to that later.

While I was homeschooled (for every grade except 9th), most of my friends were Catholic, like me. I met them at church, or through Catholic homeschooling co-ops. My friends who weren’t Catholic were conservative Christians, often also homeschoolers. I was severely underexposed to liberal ideas, so much so that in college when I stated my conservative opinions I was shocked to discover that many of my peers didn’t share those views. I was much more right wing than I thought I was. (I thought of myself as a middle-of-the-road independent at that time because I supported marriage equality.)

In fact, in spite of my own support of marriage equality, I quickly discovered how uncomfortable I was when other people voiced their support of the issue. One student wanted to do a poster about the issue for Constitution Day, and posted it to a message board for a program I was in. I was a bit shocked. Could she do that? Wasn’t a topic like that taboo? If I remember correctly, she wanted to create a display that would start dialogue on the issue, which is a great idea for a college setting. Why was I uncomfortable? It wasn’t that I didn’t want people to agree (or even disagree) with me. The main issue, I soon realized, was that I had never met so many socially liberal people before.

I was uncomfortable because I had no idea what was normal for these people. What were their expectations of me?

Because of the lack of political diversity I had been exposed to, I spent my freshman year pretty much completely unable to figure out when it was socially acceptable to bring up politics. I had never developed the sensibility to choose a different topic even for the sake of a peaceful lunch with my friends. Worse, I was grossly misinformed on several issues, and was often surprised to get into an argument with a peer and have him or her refute my claims easily. The issue that caused me the most social woes was definitely the issue of abortion.

At home, I had been taught that I was part of a “pro-life generation,” meaning that young people were supposedly becoming increasingly pro-life. Having attended the March for Life in Washington D.C. twice, and been president of a pro-life organization during my high school years, abortion was my favorite political issue. I mistakenly thought that making pro-life statements among people I had just met would garner at least partial support from most of my peers. I would bring it up all the time—in the dormitory, or in the dining hall at the tables my friends and I would push together to accommodate everyone we had just met. I would get into loud arguments with people I had only met the day before. I was literally just trying to find a friend with whom I could share a common hatred of what I perceived as baby killing.

Ultimately I found people with a variety of opinions on the issue, and the vast majority of them had much more nuanced thoughts than I had. They were also better informed.

Much like politics, religion was another difficult subject. There were other students who practiced their religions regularly like me, but there were many more who practiced a different religion, or who had one but didn’t practice it at all. Many of my friends identified as Christian but weren’t churchgoers. I met a few open atheists during my freshman year, a few Muslim students, cultural Jews, and some Catholics who were fairly liberal. The idea that there could be so much religious diversity in one place was eye-opening, but also difficult for me at first. I used to walk to the nearby Catholic church alone, before I met another student who was looking for a church buddy. My biggest moment of homesickness was when I was upset that I had no one to go to mass with me. It’s the only time that I cried as a freshman over something that I missed about home. Everything else was so new and exciting that I hardly had time to feel homesick.

I definitely made some social flubs along the way, but the time absolutely flew by once I started really sinking my teeth into classes and extracurricular activities. By my sophomore year I had finally grown accustomed to the fact that the people around me were going to think a thousand different things about the world, and that was OK.

Eventually, instead of looking for people to state my opinions to, I started to look for opinions and ideas I hadn’t heard before. I came into college with my parents’ opinions and religious beliefs, and came out with completely different ones.

Because I had finally been exposed to so much, I knew my ideas were my own. They were informed opinions I could be proud to have, and no, I won’t be bringing them up at lunch on the first day of work.

I know better than that now.

Why I Chose to Walk Away: Elle Christopherson’s Story

CC image courtesy of Flickr, Ryan Hyde.

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

My mother was the model Christian home educator. She self-reported to the local school board when she wasn’t required to do so. She had me tested every few years for her own peace of mind. She kept journals and records and piles of my work and even paid for a distance-learning program in high school to ensure official transcripts for college. My mother led creative workshops in our co-op, and enrolled me in an animal dissection class taught by a certified biology teacher. She enjoyed teaching, from her own childhood play to leading Sunday school today, she has always loved to teach. Mom was in so many ways the ideal Christian home school parent. We were the envy of the church and even my friends. So why don’t I speak with her today? Why so deep a rift between me and the woman who passionately raised me?

This is the story of my lightbulb moment.

‘Biblically based.’ The core tenet guiding every moment of my life in school and out. My mother converted from Catholicism to Pentecostalism when I was three years old. Unable to afford our church’s private school, mom took inspiration from a visiting missionary couple and began to home school me when I entered Kindergarten.

She had good reason to avoid our local school system, which today is even further financially drained and failing, but so much more than simply avoiding a poor school, she hoped I would embrace God’s word and its relevance to our lives.

I was four the first time I prayed the sinner’s prayer. For months following, at bedtime I silently repeated, “Jesus, please be in my heart. Jesus, please be in my heart. Jesus…” until sleep came. I was terrified that He might not know that I really meant it, that if I didn’t wake up I might go to hell and be separated from my Mommy forever.

Mom chose books through Abeka and Hewitt-Moore catalogs.

In history, I learned how the events of the Pentateuch played out into the formation of the societies we have today (Gen 10:32). I learned from science textbooks that ‘the circle of the earth’ (Is 40:22) indicated knowledge of our spherical world well before this discovery, proof of the Bible’s scientific accuracy and divine origins (2 Tim 3:16). In my health book I learned of the US’ abysmal rape statistics, but was encouraged to follow the Bible’s guidelines on modesty (1 Tim 2:9) and trusting God for a mate rather than dating (Ruth 3:10) to prevent unwanted attention. I attended church an average of 4 days a week (Heb 10:25), volunteering in nursery (Prov 22:6) and with the worship team (Col 3:16), church cleaning (1 Pet 4:10) and eventually leading Sunday School (1 Tim 2:2). At fifteen I chose to become my mother’s apprentice (Titus 2:3-5), and took charge of my youngest brother’s schoolwork until I married and moved out. As training for womanhood, I did the majority of housework at that time, and cooked all meals three to four days a week (Prov 31:13-19). We read the Bible together every morning, and individually (Joshua 1:8). I read it cover-to-cover four times and came to the conclusion that I should never wear pants (Deut 22:5).

The first real fight I had with my mother was over a woman’s right to preach in church. I had become convinced that the Bible indicated it was never okay (1 Tim 2:12, 1 Cor 14:34); she insisted God made exceptions like Deborah (Judg 4:4-5) especially in gifts of prophecy (Joel 2:28). At that time she told me that she was eager for my wedding, because she didn’t want me to ‘corrupt’ her children with my ideas (Rom 16:17). This hurt me deeply, because so long as the gospel was being preached, that’s all that mattered to me (Phil 1:18).

I was fearful, lonely, and unhappy, with no real understanding of why.

As far as I could tell, I was doing most things right, and repenting of the rest. This was supposed to bring me fulfillment and happiness unknown to the world! (Gal 5:22-23) But then, my mother always told me the world can ‘enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season.’ (Heb 11:25) That must be why relatives appeared so carefree! Some of my viewpoints changed over time — I stopped wearing dresses (Gal 3) — but I always prayerfully came to these conclusions through scripture… or so I thought. Then I began to research infant circumcision.

The New Testament makes abundantly clear that circumcision is no longer requirement for a relationship with God (Rom 4), and in fact is even insulting to the cross (Gal 5:2). I easily decided it was wrong for a Christian to choose this. I was told that it was ‘cleaner,’ that modern science has shown this as wisdom God gave to the Israelites, and this is why Christians still follow the practice in spite of Biblical admonitions to the contrary. I looked into the science and discovered that it is hardly proven, this notion that amputation of genital tissue is necessary and beneficial for all mankind. That this practice was introduced among Americans only in recent history out of a desire to reduce ‘sinful’ masturbation in children. That over seventy percent of the world’s men have their parts intact, and modification is most common among highly religious people and nations — not the most scientifically advanced. Still, they asserted that the world was missing God’s will. I argued that if anything, science supports the New Testament’s position that it is no longer necessary.

As I delved deeper into the history of genital alteration, I learned of intersex individuals. I had never heard of this before, except in a passing joke. If it was possible to be born with both male and female parts, how was this ‘fearfully and wonderfully made’ (Ps 139:14) individual to find a partner and not be forced to commit the ‘abomination’ of homosexuality (Lev 20:13)? What if it were possible that those with same-sex attraction actually were born with that preference in their biology, since it’s possible to be born with a combination of sexual parts? I began to read more. Maimonides stated that circumcision was intended to curb the adult sexual inclinations of both males and females. Brit B’peh actually gives diseases to children.

The more I read, the more disgusted I became, and the more I found discrepancies between basic human decency and the Bible itself.

We fought for pro-life legislation because of verses that spoke of the value of human life, citing scriptures like Psalm 127:3. It certainly didn’t matter that the babies had unbelieving parents. Yet in just as many verses there are stories of God backing and causing infanticide and forced abortion among the disobedient (1 Sam 15:3, Hosea 13:16 for starters). We abhorred slavery of all kinds, and our Abeka history texts glorified the good Christians who brought slavery to an end in America. Yet there is not even one verse in the entire good book that condemns slavery. No, but there are New Testament admonitions for slaves to obey their masters (Col 3:22). How can one live ‘Biblically’ with a good conscience? By cherry-picking, apparently.

We lived by the verses we liked, explained away the ones we didn’t.

Everything began to crumble.

So it was that simple concern for baby humans which opened my eyes to the extent to which our textbooks (and churches) selectively chose Bible quotations alongside manipulated scientific and historical data to ‘prove’ conservative Christian theory, thus instilling their ‘Biblical Worldview.’ My mother was correctly led to believe that lifelong indoctrination would make departure from the faith extremely difficult. All my siblings still believe what they were taught, to varying degrees of fervor. It was only after marriage and caring for my own firstborn that I finally realized how little love is shown to all mankind’s sons and daughters in the Bible. The claim that God loves us all is constantly challenged within that same ‘good’ book.

I’m still unpacking all the pseudoscientific claims I relied upon as proof of the Bible’s validity.

All my life I heard pastors and home school mothers debating how and why adult children fall away from the faith when the Bible clearly says, ‘Train up a child in the way he should go; and when he is old he will not depart from it.’ (Prov 22:6) Now I understand why those fell away, why I have chosen to walk away: the Bible tells me so.

‘And whosoever shall offend one of these little ones that believe in me, it is better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he were cast into the sea.’ Mark 9:42

How to Become Disillusioned with Everything in Just a Few (Not) Easy Steps: Fidget’s Story

CC image courtesy of Flickr, Ryan Hyde.

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

One would think that my lightbulb moment would have been when I realized I was bisexual, but that would be incorrect: I realized I was bi and then became the literal vision of sin in my own mind. I was valueless because I wasn’t straight, because I was a liar, because I hurt myself, because I was so vain that I had an eating disorder (that was genuinely how I viewed myself).

Despite secretly being trash in the eyes of the people that I looked up to, I still clung to the ideals I was taught and tried to box up all the wrongness in me and still be perfect.

Thusly, I didn’t really have one lightbulb moment; I had a steady brightening, punctuated by a few flashes of further clarity. It started perhaps with panties (I wrote about that already though), but it might well have started with anime (though, embarrassingly enough, that was kinda more of a sexual awakening than a political one), but the most light was shed by a few people in my life when I was a teenager.

The brightening was started by the youth pastor at the very ‘progressive’ church my family went to (progressive like they sang three hymns instead of six). The youth pastor, Mr. C, was a kind, intellectual man who really listened to people when they spoke, who made you feel real, and respected, and human. I was totally unused to anyone treating me the no-expectations way he and his wife treated me and totally unused to being part of a group that wanted me there. I was not popular in my youth group, since I was awkward, and other, and aggressively conservative, but even though none of the kids wanted me there, Mr. and Mrs. C certainly did. More than just my presence or attendance, they wanted my company, wanted my friendship, wanted a real relationship with me. It stuck with me so much as a young teen because every other man in my life– and every other authority figure for that matter– ultimately did not give one shit about me as an individual. Sure, my mom loved me, but when it came to opinions, if mine didn’t match hers, I received an eye roll and a question about the morality/biblical-ness of my idea (it’s incredibly difficult to admit that now that she is dead, but at the time it was painful and constant).

Co-op and Sunday School teachers thought I was clever when I parroted their ideas, but when I asked hard questions or even just asked about the purpose of certain rules, I was being a troublemaker, or disrespectful.

Mr. C didn’t condescend, didn’t shush, didn’t simplify or gloss over, and he didn’t herd us to conclusions in his sermons like I was used to. He was a pacifist (which was unheard of to me at the time) and a liberal (according to my father). He didn’t water down biblical ideas, and he didn’t buy into a James Dobson Gospel. In homeschool world I was a worker bee with no defining traits and no voice outside of the carefully scripted narrative of the leaders, but with Mr. and Mrs. C my voice was sought out and listened to, even when it faltered and even when I was confused or ‘disrespectful’. Over my six years as part of that youth group, I learned from Mr. C that God didn’t hate me because I was bisexual, that God didn’t hate me because I was a freak, that God didn’t hate me because I cut myself, and most importantly, that I ought to be listened to. As I learned from him, I started to pull away from the idea that the Only Truth™ came from conservative evangelical sources, I started relying more upon what made sense to believe and less upon what I had been told to believe. In the end, he and his wife were the first adults I came out to as a teenager, and the only adults I ever told about my cutting.

They cared about me for more than my obedience or loyalty, and that taste of realness set me searching for the truth they seemed to be borrowing from.

The next flash was provided by Tumblr– and the watered down version of feminism I found there. The flash culminated the night of Texas Senator Wendy Davis’ 2013 Filibuster of Senate Bill 5. As I watched the livestream something in my heart smoothed itself out at the sound of the multitude of people literally crying out for reproductive choice, and all my questions about abortion were made irrelevant. That sounds so stupid, but that’s exactly what happened. I was sure that these people, and Wendy Davis, were right, and that everything I had been taught about abortion (standard “it’s murder/the fetus cries/it’s the most violent medical procedure known to man/women are chattel literally put on the earth for breeding purposes” lies) had to be wrong. I started reading up on the issue, and soon I answered for myself all the questions I had on the subject.

Luckily for me, I had been prepared for this kind of self-education by several years of educational neglect, and so I didn’t even begin to doubt the new opinions I was forming.

The last two flashes were my best friend in high school and Emilie Autumn, a gothic industrial musical artist. Emilie Autumn sang about being objectified and fighting for her sexual agency and being treated like property and sexually mistreated (Thank God I’m Pretty, Marry Me, Mad Girl and Gothic Lolita, especially) all of which fed into the anti-patriarchy, fuck-the-rules-my-father-made, consensual-sex-positive attitude I was fostering, and gave me a soundtrack to ‘rebel’ to. My best friend was an outsider to homeschool (not even a Christian– oh the scandal), the first friend I chose without my parents’ permission (directly against my father’s will, in fact) and a boy my age who didn’t try to lure me into sex, despite being sexually attracted to me. He– like Mr. and Mrs. C– treated me like a person and actually listened when I spoke. He was the rock that my new normalcy built itself upon. Following that metaphor, the sandy foundation that my parents had piled their beliefs on began really and truly crumbling when I enrolled myself in public high school for my junior year, and with the help of a few more teachers who really listened to me, it had disintegrated entirely by the time I graduated.

Now as a liberal, feminist, goth, (mostly out of the closet) bisexual, agnostic college student I’m still blinded from time to time as new lights come on to show me other lies and agendas I was raised believing. I honestly don’t think that these lights will stop coming on for me, because this stuff tends to follow people, but that’s a good thing. My mom was wrong about a lot, but she did teach me one thing that means almost too much to bear at times: never stop trying to learn.

So here I am, trying to learn– and sometimes trying to unlearn.

TeenPacters Speak Up: Part Four, My Experience And A Lot Of Parantheses

TeenPacters Speak Up: A Series by Between Black and White

HA note: This series is reprinted with permission from Between Black and White. Part Four was originally published on May 21, 2013.

*****

Part Four: My Experience And A Lot Of Parantheses, by DoaHF

DoaHF blogs at Out of the Chrysalis.

Photo gallery courtesy of DoaHF.

My mom saw a poster for it on the homeschool group’s website. It was being promoted a lot since it was the first year that they gained access to our State. I think I was the only student there who wanted to attend. Amid all the testimonies of hating the fancy (and modest) clothes, hating civics, and it being a struggle to not listen to music or watch television all week, I wondered what was wrong with all these other homeschoolers.

Yes, I had a lot of pride, but I was raised thinking that homeschooling was better than public school and it was unfortunate that public schoolers could not get a 4 day crash-course of in-depth politics training on a state level. I reveled in the homework and the required modest clothing and I had no problem with the rule about media because my media consumption was already incredibly minuscule. The rules about guy-girl interactions was not a problem because of how strict my father was, and all of the guys there were younger than me and not that appealing.

I also had a family background in politics (2008 was an election year and my grandparents and older sister were so caught up in the whirlwind that my leaving for so many days was a big deal around the house) which made me the student who knew it all.

And that was a problem. My whole TeenPact experience I was either patronized by staffers and administrators, or I was the problem that they had to deal with and work around.

One of the staffers inserted a rabbit trail push for John McCain votes/support (we were all too young to vote anyway) and I piped up (in the middle of class) about his immigration bill and his history of non-conservatism. That got me an extremely dirty look from all staffers and I was ignored every time I raised my hand after that — except when no one else knew the answer. (I was down for a couple in-kind contributions to a campaign, so I knew what they were. None of the other students did.)

I definitely stood out in the class as the only student to ask the Aide to the First Lady (She was also a high-level judge) what (the Judge/First Lady’s) stand was on abortion and how she would deal with cases to repeal Roe v. Wade. (I was also very ignorant about how the real world worked. I spouted what I was taught with passion and sincerity.) I was the only one who knew what an “ex-post facto” law was and my team won the Constitution Game because of my knowledge of the Constitution. (Literally, a staffer had to help the other two branches because Congress blew them out of the water.) (Both years!)

And, when I went and visited the 3rd year (I was unable to attend due to financial constraints – and more on that later) the whole alumni class asked that I be allowed to participate on their team. Their requests were turned down by the less-than-amused staffers.

I was completely gung-ho about TeenPact after my experience. I was effusive in my praise and I thought it was the best thing I had ever experienced and I wanted to attend all their other offerings.

Unfortunately, TeenPact is a rich, middle class thing. You pay your own way for everything. And “everything” is not cheap. You get an experience, the opportunity to meet friends, meals, and a T-Shirt. Often the events are far away and even staffers have to pay their own transportation. Housing is an extra cost on top of the $200-$300 event. (Unless it it its own event, like Endeavor or National Convention, which raised the price tag to $400 or more.)

The first year I was in TeenPact I won a scholarship to go to National Convention and found a last-minute ride from Maryland. It was a 750-1000 word essay on What Does it Mean to Be a Conservative.” Reading over it now it is a huge mess of right-wing idealism, including a rant about government distribution of wealth. Back then, I was so excited that I could hardly contain myself.

I spent the week in a mix of pride, boredom, and frustrated anger. There was an obvious problem with popularity. The kids who had staffed multiple places had a huge edge over people who had staffed only their home state or not staffed at all. Their actual personalities were often sickening, but they still received the most votes and applause (or the elections were rigged in their favor). While there is a lot of discipleship and depth in the core groups, a lot of the event was fluffy and I was bored by the big speeches, only broken by the funny skits and attempts at making me play“The Game” (you just lost). Huge promotion of the Ultimate Frisbee tournaments annoyed me, as I was never that in to sports, and all attempts I made at throwing Frisbees resulted in everyone laughing and pointing. I would spend the afternoon wandering the camp looking for people in my group who might not be already with their cliques and might want to do something with me than gawk at Adam whats-his-name in a pink shirt playing with “The Bojangles.”

Because it was the first year that my state had ever had a TeenPact class, I was the only one from my state in attendance. I made a laughable attempt at running for Congress (and was one of the few late entries who actually paid my $10, to my knowledge). My contribution to much talked about and poorly attended silent auction was a necklace set that I hand-made.  It was made fun of for not having a more political or state relevance. (I think, I hid and refused to tell them that I made it.)

The only other person I found who was really a “kindred spirit” was a guy, and as I was not “allowed” to crush on him or spend any time with him without someone else there (I didn’t know anyone except staffers, and I followed the rules that I saw many of the “regulars” breaking) we never really got to know each other very well. Interestingly enough, he is the only one of any of them that I still keep in Facebook contact. And, through him I got to know a couple who are now some of my good friends.

I came home from National Convention tired emotionally. I felt suddenly like TeenPact was not the marvelous place I had once thought it to be. I felt left out and unwanted by the very group I would have given my talents to willingly and eagerly. Unable to afford any other event that year, I began saving what little money I had in order to attend the State Class next year. I also applied to Staff, but I was turned down, which I almost expected. After all, I had spoken up and contradicted a staffer and made myself stick out. I paid for my alumni class all by myself, as my quiverfull father did not have the funds to spend on me for a second year. This is notable in that I was not allowed a job and made this money over the course of a year of saving odds and ends that came my way from neighborhood cleaning or babysitting jobs or from family members. I had no way to make money, so spending that much meant a lot to me.

I aced the alumni class, again proving to have put the most into the assignments and again leading my branch to victory in the Constitution Search. (When teams were picked everyone asked to switch to my team.) I made an effort to work my hardest and to not cause any issues. I was trying to prove myself as a competent person who was a good candidate to staff her own state. I was also at the upper age limit and I knew that this would be my last class.

I wanted to attend Endeavor that year, but I was not able to make enough money and instead looked at the perfectly lit pictures of the other girls having a High Tea and shooting guns in a field thinking about how nice it would be to be able to have that kind of an experience. But their middle class families could afford the airfare or gas, the dresses, the makeup, the scones and high teas, and the price of the event.  My father made about $40,000 a year for a family of 11.

The last year I spent in my home state I applied again to be a staffer and I was turned down again. One of my fellow classmates was accepted, though, as he had gone to National Convention and Survival. He also said that one of that year’s staffers had pushed really hard for him. It figures, the staffer I had interrupted my first class was now an Intern (albeit he never came back to my state).

Now, over 5 years later, I look back on it all with a sigh and a shake of my head. I was young and passionate. I had a lot to give and they turned it down. But in the end, I was the one better off for it. I left that state and have since been able to mediate my passion with real knowledge of the world and the incredible amount of variety and complexity in it. I no longer have “pat” answers to everything and I think I am all the better for it. I also refuse to accept their misogynistic belittling of women. I believe I have the right to wear a pair of dress pants instead of being relegated to a skirt. I think that I have just as much ability and knowledge as any male, as they refused to allow women to be an Intern for more than one year. Men could do it for two years and then if they excelled, they could go on to be a program director and have their own gavel made for them. I acknowledge that I could definitely be a Mayor or a President, which position they never elected a woman into. It was an interesting coincidence, if it really was a coincidence.

I refuse to think of myself less because I did not have the money that the “TeenPact Families” (ie. the blue bloods) had to host events and send their kids to staff 5 states and run expensive presidential campaigns with the paraphernalia, candy, and free T-shirts.

I have saved only my first state class t-shirt with all the names on it. The names are mostly faded and can hardly be seen. I have de-friended most of the Interns (or been de-friended) and have since hidden most of my TeenPact pictures and videos. It is a chapter in my life that I do not regret, but do not like to announce. I prefer that no one remember me or pick me out as one of them. I regret being so conservative and blind. I do not regret getting away and changing.

And I hope that people who read this think twice about endorsing a misogynistic group that exists for the wealthy middle class republicans to indoctrinate their children. They also get together groups of students to do grunt work for HSLDA.  Read about that scandalous mess here.

To be continued.

Copy Kids—The Immorality of Individuality: Jessica’s Story, Part One

Copy Kids—The Immorality of Individuality: Jessica’s Story, Part One

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In this series: Part One | Part Two | Part Three

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I believe that the greatest source of tension between myself and my mother is that I have deep sense of compassion. I care about the suffering of others, too much in her opinion and it set me apart from her in a serious way. I loved to help people and she always believed that people need to help themselves. A very staunch conservative Republican. I was not her mini-me and she couldn’t stand it. I also didn’t fit her mold in any way. My mother always told me, “I had three kids. I wanted an older boy, then a girl, then another boy. That way you would be in the middle of two protectors, but your older brother can’t protect you and you don’t fit.”

She was right. I did not fit.

My mother did get her wish on the order of the children. I am the middle of three children. My older brother has a mild form of autism known as Aspergers Syndrome. My younger brother was the definition of the baby. My parents made the decision to homeschool after a series of bad experiences with public school. Autism, especially high functioning spectrum disorders, were not at all well understood in the late 80’s and early 90’s. So when my brother, with his severe speech delay (caused by deafness as a toddler) and a complete inability to cope with his peers came to public school, they had no idea what to do with him. The school attempted to diagnose him with a range of disorders from mental retardation (he has a genius intelligence) to epilepsy. This difficulty with public school coupled with their extreme religious right views led them to homeschooling.

It was perfect. My parents could hide away the autistic child that they did not understand and were ashamed of, they could indoctrinate us and they could discipline us without fear of anyone hearing the stories or seeing the bruises.

I believe of the most fundamental problem with religious homeschooling is that in the seclusion provided by homeschooling, abuse can hide and thrive. There does not have to be anyone else around that differ from the views of the parents. How can a child even know they’re being abused if they don’t know that other children aren’t treated that way? It took me years to identify the sources of abuse in my childhood. There are still times when a childhood memory comes to mind, I think it through and realize just exactly how fucked up the situation was.

My three earliest childhood memories go as follows:

Memory number one: I remember myself sitting in a highchair, I couldn’t have been more than two. My mother was chasing my older brother around my highchair with a rolling pin.

Memory number two: I was about four and was sitting playing with dolls in the living room. My oldest brother starts screaming from the bathroom. I walk to the bathroom to find my mother beating my 7 year old brother’s head into the shower wall and there was blood running down his naked body. Then we went to the hospital for stitches. We had to practice saying, “He tripped in the shower.” This was my first introduction to the government.  If we didn’t say what we were told, the government would take us away and put us with awful people that wouldn’t feed us.

Memory number three: I was 5. I do not remember what I was in trouble for, but I remember my mother looking at me and saying, “You give me looks like you want to stab me in my sleep. I’ll get you first.”  I’m sure at some point in time, I played with my parents. We had a swing, I had a bicycle, but I remember almost nothing before around age 10 that wasn’t traumatic.

The curriculum that we used was from Bob Jones University. The famous science textbook page that is floating around the web about the girl with the hair dryer that states we don’t know how electricity works? That was in my elementary “science” book. I will say that my mother did dedicate herself fully to our education, but we inherited her educational weaknesses. She was not at all proficient in even basic math. As her daughter, she was convinced that I shared her lack of math skills. She firmly placed in my head the idea that I was incapable of math. Instead, we focused on reading. The science was young earth creationism and the history, revisionist christian. I knew that the earth was no more than 6000 years old. God created it in six literal days and then flooded the planet.

When I shared my disdain for the idea of killing everyone on earth, I was beaten. God was not to be questioned. This was the academic aspect of my early childhood years.

The theological side was pure right wing extremism and some things that I can’t even give a label to.  I would like it to be noted before this section that I believe my mother suffers from untreated mental illness.  She is a pathological liar and possibly schizophrenic. I will lay out the basic tenants of my religious upbringing.

1) Abortion:

One of the most important lessons that my mother ever tried to teach was about evils of abortion. Alone in the car one day, she told me the story of my twin brother. I could not have been more than five. I learned that my mother had originally been pregnant with twins. After she was several months pregnant, she was in a car accident that killed my brother. At this point, she did not know that she was pregnant with twins. She was informed at the hospital that the fetus was dead and needed to be removed before it caused infection. She refused because she does not believe in abortion under any circumstances. God would deliver the baby when he was ready. A month later, the doctor did another ultrasound and found me. If she had submitted to an abortion I would not be here.  Then, in graphic detail I was told how my brother’s arm was born, then he came out, then me.

I was horrified. I had nightmares for weeks. I cried and cried. I spoke to my brother in prayer for years. Even as a teenager, I would lay in bed at night wondering how my life would have been different if my twin hadn’t died.

This might be one of the most important stories of my entire childhood.

It is completely made up.

At the age of 27, I told this story to a very close friend of mine. He looked at me like I had three heads and called bullshit. I was completely taken aback, highly offended. How could anyone hear one of my most personal, painful secrets and tell me it was crap? I had to prove him wrong. I ran upstairs to get my birth certificate, it would say twin birth and then he would apologize. I had never really read my birth certificate before and it said single birth.  I became instantly nauseous as the details of the story ran through my head. My mother never mentioned that story in front of anyone. We were always alone but we discussed it a lot. I ended up filing for copies of my birth records at the hospital I was born at.

I was a single, uncomplicated delivery. Single.

2)  Obedience to men:

To quote my mother, “You kids are the third most important things in my life:  God, my husband, then you. Remember, I will always choose your father over you.” This was ironic, very ironic. As I’m sure you, the reader, has noticed, I have thus far said very precious little about my father. There really isn’t anything to say. I saw him for roughly one hour a day in my early childhood. The only other times I saw him were on his few days off and vacations. When he was home, it was misery. He hit us; he beat my eldest brother with sticks. We also sometimes saw him at night. If we had misbehaved during the day, my mother would report to him as the head of household.  He would then come home from his second shift job and wake us up for a spanking with a heavy leather mechanic’s belt.  It was rarely more than one child a night, so if you were awakened in the night to the screams of another sibling, you were safe.

Even though my father was rarely present, I was to submit to him in all things. Then one day, he would pass me to my husband and I would submit to him.

Women were created to help men. We were not to question. Honestly, this is all I know about my father. I don’t know what his childhood was like. I don’t know his favorite food, his favorite color. I know that he’s a Republican, that he enjoys camping, and that I was to listen to him second only to god, just like my mother. This was also in my homeschooling curriculum. Most lessons for girls were somehow tied back to obedience of the father and, one day, the husband.

3)  Demons are real:

My mother was in constant fear of demonic influences and witches. Growing up, she would constantly discuss demons and witches. She was very fearful of witches casting spells on items to watch us. Things like MTV and other modern tv and radio could lead demons into us. This was so deeply ingrained from such a young age that I would lay awake at night paralyzed with fear that the scratching sound at my window was a demon. I even had to burn a present given to me by a friend once because my mother believed that my friend had cast a spell on it.  Even today, as an atheist with no supernatural beliefs, I still have to catch myself if something unexplained happens. The anxiety can be literally physically paralyzing and I have to stay constantly aware. I can’t let my self start into my cycle of fear.

At the age of ten, my mother decided that we had surpassed her ability to teach us. This and the strain of my older brothers autism led to the decision to put us in the local public school. I also believe, though I cannot verify this, that we were put in school because we did very poorly on the Iowa Test of Basics Skills that the state had forced my parents to take us to.

I was very excited about the prospect of school. I was going to be around kids of my own age for the first time. I would get to have friends.

Then the first day of school started and I was completely out of my element.

Imagine, if you will, that you are doing an experiment with monkeys. The test is to see how quickly the monkey can adapt and learn. So, you take this test monkey and you put it in the driver’s seat of a running vehicle heading straight for a wall. The purpose is to see if the monkey, having no prior experience with cars, can stop the car before it crashes into the wall and dies.

I was that monkey. I died.

To be continued.