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.