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.

Breaking Free: Sheldon’s Story



HA note: Sheldon blogs at Ramblings of Sheldon. This is an original piece that Sheldon wrote for Homeschoolers Anonymous.

In December 2013, I cut my abusive parents out of my life once and for all.

It took quite a bit of emotional strength to do it, but when I finally did, I felt worn out, but I realized that all feelings for my parents that once had were no longer there, they felt dead to me, they were living human beings of course, but I no longer felt any love or affection for them anymore, still don’t.

What led to this point? Well, that’s a lot of details to that, and hopefully I can explain it without writing a book. There was plenty of abuse in my childhood, but besides the effects of the isolation from homeschooling which still cause issues for me to this day at 25 years old, what really got me was how I was treated as a young adult by them.

It started when I tried to attend Southwest Baptist University as a Political Science major. I just couldn’t adjust to being 250 miles from home, going from isolation as a homeschooler to an actual classroom experience, dealing with people on a regular basis, and actually being able to make decisions for myself on a regular basis, from the mundane to the major.

I didn’t realize at the time that I was dealing with depression, and panic attacks started with a vengeance, I lost count after a while of how many I had, but in a 10 month period, I probably had around 15-20 major attacks, with many smaller ones, and that combined with extreme fatigue and hopelessness from the depression, I could no longer function.

Everything came crashing down around me, all my hopes and dreams that led me to become a political science major. I ended up having to face the reality that I could no longer continue attending Southwest Baptist, and was brought home after the end of the freshman year.

Most parents would would do their best to help out their child at a time like this, console them, help them to put their life back together, and emotionally support them. Not mine. My father understood what had happened, but he wasn’t the one who ran our household, my mother was, and to her, the depression was the result of “sin” and “not having a right relationship with god”. Her idea was to punish me for what she saw as recklessness and misbehavior.

I was forced off of medication for depression that I had started upon coming back home (after realizing what the depression actually was), and was treated like a rebellious teen.

I was controlled and emotionally abused to the point that when I tried in desperation to leave with enough of what I owned to fit in my vehicle and a few hundred dollars in my bank accounts, I was convinced that I had to leave, or it would end up leading me to end my life. She personally barricaded the doorway to stop me from leaving, threatening violence, and telling me that if she did attack me, I would deserve it.

I kept fighting, and just saw this as a temporary setback, I worked, saved up money, and finally a bought a house. She did help me rebuild the house, along with my father, but her dark side was showing up again, her controlling and hostile ways. I finally had enough, and told her no longer wanted any help on the house if she was going to act that way. She called me an “ungrateful brat”, I didn’t care anymore, her guilt trips did nothing to me by this point, I told her never to show up at the house again, and I would bring back dad’s tools to them.

I knew, based on the past, that something drastic could happen, so I went out, and bought new locks, and was in the process of installing them that night, when she showed up, I knew it couldn’t go well, I shoved the door shut quickly, with the lock in it half done, it was a fortunate occurrence that the lock jammed because it wouldn’t been properly installed yet, because when closed, it wouldn’t allow the door to open.

I could hear screaming, and her pushing and shoving the door, and futilely trying to open it, she was trying to force her way into the house.

I had enough, I called my town’s police department, and when the officer finally showed up, I went out the back door to talk with the officer, and my mother started the victim act, lying to the officer, claiming that this was all because I didn’t “want to help them work on the house”. My own father, who used to run interference  to protect me and my sister as children tried to punch me in front of a cop.

His betrayal that day (along with his increasing habit of trying to cover for her and make excuses for her in the year leading up to that time), is really what got to me the worst, my mother is who she is, and I doubt she will ever change in her lifetime, but for him to turn into a carbon copy of her was shocking.

It’s been severals months now since that day, and it’s been hard, I’ve had to give up the social circles that I had, since most involved the church I was in, along with my parents (it was bound to happen eventually anyway, I couldn’t keep my change in beliefs a secret much longer), and I had to stand my ground with the manipulative pastor of that church who tried to guilt me into accepting my parents back in my life, despite me personally telling him what they had done, both then and in my past.

Enough of that, I’m tired of being forced to be someone I’m not, to please people who won’t accept me anyway. I’ve had a lot of new experiences, I’ve learned what’s it’s like to have the simple freedom of walking around in public with a Pink Floyd or Sons of Anarchy shirt, and not give a care in the world.

I’ve learned how to work on my house myself, I’ve started coming to terms with the fact that I don’t really feel masculine or feminine emotionally on the inside (I recently changed the gender status on Facebook to “non binary”). I’ve found a great Unitarian Universalist congregation where I can be me, and be accepted as one of the group anyway.

Life now can be challenging, but it’s worth it, there’s no going back.

A Homeschooling Adventure: Homeschooling on the Open Seas, Harmony’s Story

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I have been following Homeschoolers Anonymous for quite a while, after searching for a social group I could be part of that reflects some social issues I’ll expound upon below. I was really not expecting to find what was posted here — stories of abuse, religious restriction, brainwashing, even death. It has been an enlightening experience, and I would like to extend my heartfelt sympathies and support to everyone whose stories I’ve read.

It is because of the harshness and true struggle of these stories that I have refrained from trying to tell my story. How can it compare? How can I hold myself to the same standard as these brave men and women sharing their suffering? But I think it is important to share my story, as it illustrates a detrimental effect homeschooling can have on your later life, even if it is well-meant, non-religious, free-form, and even in a setting that still amazes people to this day.

I had grown up in Colorado until I was 10, and up to that point I had been going to public school, brought up by my Dad after my mother divorced him when I was three or four. I began by going to the local basic elementary school, but I didn’t like it, so the last few years I had been going to a normal charter school. I was not an exceptionally smart kid, but I had a great imagination, and no problems making friends and keeping social with my little group. But in 2000, when I was turning 11, my dad remarried, and retired from his job to sweep us all away on an adventure of a lifetime.

His plan was to sail down the Caribbean, in a 40-ft boat, and go through the Panama Canal, across the Pacific, and finally settle in New Zealand.

Even at 11, I was no stranger to travel, having been to Tahiti, the Bahamas, Venezuela, and New Zealand itself, as well as yearly camping trips to Utah or Grand Mesa in Colorado. So the idea excited me, as it would any young boy, and it was only with a faint inkling of what I was really losing that we hauled our way to Florida to begin the journey.

So, obviously, since we would be moving so much and so quickly, homeschooling was the only real option for our continuing education. Our education largely came from textbooks and workbooks, and some educational computer programs. There was no religious undercurrent — my dad had disliked going to church, and had not wanted to foist that on us as well. So we were free to read the Bible if we wanted and make our own decisions on that front. We largely taught ourselves, going through the books and doing assignments for about four or five hours a day (year round, no winter or summer breaks), going to our parents if we needed help understanding something. For extra-curricular activities, my new step-mother was teaching us Russian and art, and of course we had all the swimming we wanted.

In exchange, however, my social world had shrunk enormously.

People had been voicing their concerns to my dad (who was in charge of everything) about our social development, and he had simply voiced confidence that we would be stronger, because we would be free of peer pressure, drugs, alcohol, violence, all the dangers he had begun seeing grow in our world. I believed and accepted that rationale, and prided myself on skipping the rebellious teenager phase, and being a teetotaler until I was 23.

But the reality was that, without outside input, my development had simply been short-circuited.

There were indeed other children on other boats down in the Caribbean, and we would try to make friends with them. For the most part this worked out great, although in some cases we were forced to try to interact with people we didn’t like. But each and every one of us were going our own routes, and most friendships would only last a few months before our paths split again. So for the majority of those 5 or 6 years on the boat, we had a very inward-focused social world, and depended on the family almost entirely.

Eventually, though, our homeschool supplies became inadequate for continuing education, and it was starting to become time to think about higher education. We were about at Grenada, near the southernmost tip of the Lesser Antilles, one island away from the mainland of South America, when we decided to head back to the states. We stayed in Miami, Florida for a few years, usually at a marina or a dry dock as we restocked on educational supplies and tried to get a new, bigger boat ready for our next foray to try to get back on track.

The reality was that Dad had been growing older too, and he didn’t feel like he was in condition with growing medical concerns to risk sailing across the Pacific. If he didn’t feel like he had to be in charge, and train us and trust us to run the ship if he had to be helicoptered to a hospital, things might have been different, and I might be in New Zealand now.

But the point is to show how Dad, even if he wasn’t overtly religious, had still absorbed a lot of the patriarchal ideas from his parent’s church and his upbringing.

He had been passing that down to us as well, though we didn’t know it.

In Florida, things slowly got worse for our family. We stopped homeschooling, on hiatus while we tried to work things out, but we were more restricted than ever, because Miami was a hotbed for the peer pressure, drugs, and violence we had been warned about all of our lives. So going to normal school there was out of the question. My older sister and I got our GED’s, where I had my first glimpse of college and wanting to really feel like I wanted to go there. But we were stuck in limbo while Dad tried to work things out.

Long story short, we made a last ditch effort to make an art gallery in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, and it failed. My family split apart with another divorce, with my older sister and my step-mother and her daughter remaining in Eureka Springs. I went to Tulsa with my Dad, because he had a friend there and it was a good place to continue my education.

In Eureka Springs, ostensibly I had more freedom than ever. I had a car I could drive, and a whole town of people I could socialize with, if I wanted. I had nothing but time on my hands, and nothing to do except go to town and help with the gallery every now and then. But I was more isolated than I’d ever been before- I was forced to stay in a camper in the back of a pick-up truck, because my mother and sisters had rented an apartment that didn’t allow pets, so I had to stay there with the dogs and the cats. But I hardly ever went out- I kept myself confined, worrying about the dogs, not having any motivation to leave. I was by myself most of the time- Dad was hired as a trucker to supplement the gallery’s income and keep it afloat, so he was away for weeks at a time, and my sisters lived in town. But I just couldn’t leave the camper except to get food.

When Dad and I moved to Tulsa, it was actually worse.I stayed in the trailer for a year while we waited for residency to get into college, too afraid of that peer pressure/drugs/violence world out there. When I finally enrolled for classes, at first I could not even talk to the teachers- though the homeschooling now apparently paid off, as I was literally steam-rolling through the classes, only getting B’s in Composition because I had never heard of and didn’t know how to use MLA format. But even though I was doing great academically, I was still suffering socially. I didn’t make a single friend, as I just didn’t have the courage to talk to anyone, and I had no connection to them.

I often felt like I was a time traveler, as I had missed so much of what was integral to everyone else’s development and frame of reference.

And I was dismissive of them too- it seemed like all the girls were dressing like sluts, all the guys were idiots, the teachers were liberal scum. I even refused to write a paper for a sociology class about the gender/orientation spectrum, protesting that it was complete nonsense.

From these last few sentences, you can see that I had pretty much unthinkingly adopted my dad’s point of view. Growing up in that homeschooling environment, so inwardly and family focused, had denied all other points of view. And even though Dad wasn’t aware of it, he was one of the only guiding points we had available. He was unconsciously passing along his parent’s strict, conservative religious teachings to us. It was only after I finally decided on archaeology over paleontology, and studying anthropology, that I began getting a global perspective.

I had dismissed sociology as just liberal propaganda dressed up to look scientific to push their agenda- but anthropology gave me the tool of cultural relativism to realize that Western notions of right or wrong weren’t necessarily the right one. I learned about how other cultures express sexuality, religion, and family relations. I learned more about how people worked, in a sense of all of humanity, not just Americans.

Slowly, I began to change my accepted views. I saw how ethnocentric right-wing politicians really were, pursuing an agenda focused solely within their Christian-political world-view. I explored my own sexuality, coming to terms with it and even completely changing my gender identity.

I also began seeing the need for my own independence. I needed to get out from my dad’s apron strings, and begin learning how to do things on my own. So I moved from Tulsa to Norman to attend OU, to attempt to make it on my own. But I still find myself secluded- I stay in my room, lacking the incentive or energy to go out, even to see my other room-mates. I have gone to several campus organization meetings, but most of the time I find some excuse not to go. Like before, even though my intellectual development expanded again, my social development still lags far behind.

So many homeschool parents intend the best for their children. They want them prepared for the world that they see, to be good, upright people, or to protect them from the evils of the world. But, as hopefully my story illustrated, even homeschooling in the amazing setting of the Caribbean can give much different results than you could imagine, and how parents can rarely foresee the outcome of what they are really doing.

LGBT, Queer, And Other Things That Make Us Say, “What Does That Mean?”: Deborah

LGBT, Queer, And Other Things That Make Us Say, “What Does That Mean?”: Deborah 

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

I grew up hearing a great deal about how evil gay people were and how the whole world was going to be destroyed either directly by them or by God because “the righteous” didn’t murder all of “the gays”.  So I thought I knew what it meant to be gay and really didn’t care if that was different from transgender, queer, or any number of other terms I heard.  In fact, none of these terms mattered all that much to me because (forgive my even using the term) I just lumped them all together and called them “sodomites” and figured that they were all pedophiles as well.

Then one day I began to realize that these were real, live people I was talking about in such hateful terms and would have treated like trash if I had met them.  These same people with hopes and dreams and feelings were really just as human as straight people were.  At that point, I decided to meet some of these people, do some research, and see what was really going on with them.  It was very awkward at first.  I knew I had to put away the offensive words, but I really didn’t know what was or wasn’t offensive or what the non-offensive words meant.  Thankfully, I had some patient friends who walked me through all of that.

If you relate to this dilemma, let me help you out.  Here is my little friend, The Genderbread Person 2.0


I know it is confusing at first.  You may notice that each category is on a continuum.  That is because these things are not completely black and white.

Gender Identity: Here we have the most commonly known terms “male” and “female” as well as other possibilities.  This is a person’s truest gender and can only be determined by that person.  Always, when referring to people, use words that line up with their gender identity. If that is unknown or they identify as something like “genderqueer” or “genderless” then gender neutral pronouns  such as “ze” or “zir” may be appropriate.  It is never ok to call a person “it”.

Gender Expression: Not to be confused with biological gender or gender identity, gender expression refers to outward things such as clothing, hairstyle, and mannerisms.

Butch: gender expression that is toward the masculine side

Femme: gender expression that is toward the feminine side

Androgynous: gender expression that has characteristics of both the masculine and the feminine

Gender Neutral: gender expression that is neither characteristically masculine nor feminine

Biological Gender: This is a person’s physical gender. While we generally refer to people in terms of male and female, some people don’t fit very well into either category.   We are not all born with clearly male or female genitalia.  Those who have both male and female physical characteristics at birth are said to be “intersex”.   (Here is where I discourage use of the term “hermaphrodite”, which is no longer appropriate.)

Attracted to: (Also often referred to as “sexual orientation”) Just like the heading says, it really is all about who you are attracted to.   Please don’t question someone’s sexual orientation.  If you say you are hungry for tacos, it would just be silly to tell you that you really want lasagna.

Straight: a person who is generally attracted to people of the “opposite” gender.

Lesbian: a woman who is generally attracted to women.

Gay: a man who is generally attracted to men.  (“Gay” is also used when referring to lesbians.  Lesbians are gay, but gay men are not lesbians.)

Bisexual: a person who is attracted to both men and women.

Pansexual: someone who can be attracted to people of any biological gender or gender identity.

Asexual: someone who has little to no sexual attraction to anyone.  Again, please do not question this.  If you say you are not hungry, it would be rude of me to say that you have just never tried good food or don’t know what you like or want.  Also, do not say that most women are asexual.  This is untrue and offensive.

And now for some other terms that you may be wondering about.

LGBTQ: This refers to the subset of humans who do not fit the mold of  “cisgender person who is only attracted to persons of the opposite gender”. The letters stand for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer or Questioning. There are other acronyms such as QUILTBAG, and sometimes people will leave out a letter or two that they don’t like. I hate to say it but there are some in the LGBTQ community who, in spite of everything they have experienced, have a hard time accepting those unlike themselves. Personally, I think the entire culture is becoming more accepting and that includes the queer community. GLBT is the same as LGBT, just with a couple letters switched. I’m sorry I can’t cover the whole queer alphabet soup, so if you hear something and wonder about it, there is always Google.

Cisgendered: a person whose biological gender and gender identity match from birth.

Transgender: a person whose biological gender at birth is different from their gender identity. Transgender persons may be Male to Female (MTF) meaning that their biological gender at birth was male, but their gender identity and therefore true gender is female; or Female to Male (FTM) meaning that their biological gender at birth was female, but their gender identity and therefore true gender is male.  “Gender dysphoria” is the term for the negative feelings a transgender person has toward their biological gender before transitioning.  This feels much the same way a cisgendered person would if they woke up one day and found that their gender had changed while they slept.  The difference would be that the transgender individual would be expecting to wake up in the wrong body – so there might be somewhat less screaming from shock involved.

When referring to a transgender person, always use terms associated with their gender identity, not their biological gender.  Terms like “he-she” or “shemale” are completely unacceptable in this context.  They tend to imply that the person is a sex-worker.  Transgender persons often dress based on their gender identity, take hormone replacement therapy (HRT), and have surgery so that their body matches their gender identity.  It is impolite to ask them where they are at in the process or for details on how these things work.  If you want information on what transgender individuals go through physically, look it up.  Would it be appropriate if I asked you what your genitals look like and what hormones you have in your body?

Queer: used as an umbrella term to cover anyone who is not exactly straight and cisgendered.  Some people still feel negative vibes are associated with this word, so I personally would not use it to refer to an individual unless they first used it to refer to themselves.   It can be used to refer to the whole community when alphabet soup gets tedious.

A: This is another letter that is sometimes added to the alphabet soup.  It stands for Allies.  If you are straight and cisgendered, but support equal rights for all, you are an Ally.  Wear the title proudly.  (Just please don’t try to make yourself sound cool by using this title if you don’t actually support anti-discrimination laws and gay marriage. Many in the community can respect you for being on the fence or even not wanting these laws, but don’t try to pretend you are doing us favors simply because you don’t use cruel language or don’t tell people we should be killed.  It shows that you have no idea what it is like to be us.) If you are an ally, we welcome you to the community and thank you for your support.

If you are still a little worried that you will use the wrong word at the wrong time, take heart.  The important thing is that people know you are trying to choose kind and appropriate words. Don’t be afraid to apologize if you make a mistake or ask if you are not sure about something. If you don’t insist on using offensive language, most people are more than willing to overlook a few mistakes.

Ok, wow! If you made it through all of that, you deserve a little fun.  A friend showed me this. Maybe you will like it.  If you have an iphone, take it out, press and hold the button, then ask, “Siri, are you a boy or a girl?”  Siri will likely say something along the lines of, “Animals and nouns have genders.  I do not.”  It is easy to imagine Siri as a woman because ze has a “woman’s voice”  in English (American).  If, however, you  switch to English (United Kingdom) ze suddenly has a “man’s voice”.  While I have a tendency to prefer thinking of zir as a woman, ze is genderless. I now respect Siri’s gender identity and use gender neutral pronouns.