7 Ways Christian Homeschooling Parents Can Support LGBT Kids: Theo’s Thoughts

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Theo blogs at The Neon God They Made.

Some background for consideration: I am a homeschool graduate, now in college. I identify (right now) as queer and trans*. I no longer practice my parents’ religion, but I grew up in a conservative-evangelical Christian community. Certain aspects of that culture have not only made it difficult for me to understand and accept myself, but also deeply harmed my relationship with my parents.

I realize that Christian/homeschooling parents may not be eager to take parenting advice from someone like me, someone who turned out very differently than my own parents expected and hoped I would, but — my parents did their best to give me a Christian education. To raise me to serve Jesus.

I became who I am anyway, in spite of their efforts to control my future. I hope that parents in this culture can try hard to listen to the stories my peers are bravely sharing, so we can work together to build healthier, respectful relationships.

Speaking as a member of the LGBT community, a child of evangelical Christians, and a homeschool grad, the best advice I can give parents struggling to come to terms with their child’s differentness is to listen without condemning. Even if it goes against what you’ve been taught. If you want to maintain a relationship with your kid, you’re going to have to learn how to let go of your expectations for them. They’re going to be who they are anyway, with or without your acceptance.

This is in no way an exhaustive list of things you can do as a Christian/homeschooling parent to actively support LGBT youth in general and your kids specifically, however they identify — just a few things that would have dramatically improved my self-image and my relationship with my parents.

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(1) Create an environment of approachability.

Employ positive parenting techniques so we can learn how to be confident and capable from a young age. If you teach us to conform or else, you’re teaching us to shut ourselves off from you in order to protect ourselves from what we perceive to be a real threat, regardless of your actual intentions. Our relationship with you will suffer, and we may also suffer long-term emotional consequences.

(2) When you tell us that you love us “no matter what,’’ prove it.

Don’t undermine our trust by simultaneously expressing hateful views of others. If we catch you lining up at Chik-Fil-A to protest federal protection of LGBT employees or cracking transphobic jokes, we will determine that your love for us is very conditional indeed.

(3) If you want to raise us with a knowledge of Christianity, do some research into textual criticism.

Catch up on the latest theological scholarship. Educate yourself so you can distinguish between what’s good and helpful, and what’s overly simplistic, lacking in nuance, or downright harmful. If this is uncomfortable for you, remember that many Christians — in fact, entire denominations — have found that being open to new information has led to a richer, more vibrant faith.

(4) If attending church is important to you, make sure our church home is a loving, accepting community, in theology, theory, and practice.

If it’s not consistently encouraging you to love more, if it’s sending mixed messages or advocates a systemic hierarchy wherein queer people are “rightly” treated as subpar humans, even in subtle ways, it’s not a safe community for us.

(5) Thoroughly research Christian textbooks before you purchase them.

Don’t blindly accept curricula just because it has “godly” and “biblical” stamped all over the cover. (This might require you to confront other assumptions, like theories of origins or structures of society.) Unfortunately, many of the big names in Christian-homeschool publishing are pushing a very specific political agenda that does kids a big disservice by discouraging and suppressing critical thinking skills.

(6) Treat other LGBT people in your life with kindness and respect.

Make our home a safe zone for our queer friends. Stand up for us. When we’re bullied, when we’re discriminated against, when “authority” figures in our world act with arrogance and hate. Be proactive in supporting political policy, at all levels of government, that seeks to protect LGBT people from discrimination and hate crimes.

(7) Don’t interpret any point of divergence as a personal attack.

We love you, but we are not you, just as you differ from your own parents. Everyone has the right to express themselves and make their own life choices. If we grow into happy, healthy, functioning adults, you should see that as a sign of success! You’ve done your job well.

Asexuality And Purity Teachings Can Be A Toxic Mix: Christine

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

I am an asexual. This means that I feel the same amount of sexual attraction for men that a straight man does, and the same amount of sexual attraction to women that a straight woman does. I remember that the conservative community denied the existence of asexuality, but I can’t remember the exact reason. I think it was something along the lines of ‘they’re just celibate’ or ‘they’re just abstinent’. However, many celibate or abstinent people feel sexual attraction, and many asexuals are not celibate or abstinent. To learn more about what asexuality is and is not, this is a great informative video:

I don’t know whether I was born this way or whether it has roots in my upbringing. All I know is that this is the way I am and the doctors say it has nothing to do with my hormones.

You’d think that asexuality would be a good fit for someone raised in a purity culture. However, due to the ignorance some are deliberately kept in about our own bodies, feelings, reproduction, and sexuality, asexuality and purity teachings can be a toxic mix.

Many homeschoolers try to ‘protect’ their children from knowledge about sex, sexuality, and reproduction. My parents fit into this category. As a result, I didn’t learn about human reproduction until I was in college, and didn’t learn that other people experience sexual attraction. Or rather, I misunderstood what sexual attraction was. I thought ‘being attracted’ to someone meant thinking they were smart, or good looking, or fun, because those were the kinds of attraction I experienced. As a teenager, I developed crushes based on those attractions. I did not know that other people experienced the world a different way, so I did not know that my experience was different or that I was asexual.

Due to the way my mother covered the TV screen when a couple would begin to lightly kiss in the 1940s comedies we were allowed to watch – and in the rare other shows and movies we were able to watch – I received the impression that all affectionate touching between a man and a woman was ‘sexual’. After all, sexual lust was supposed to be a desire that we all feel, and the desire I felt was one for affection. I wanted to be hugged, long and firmly. I wanted to lie with my head in my crush’s lap while he stroked my hair. I desired these things so badly it hurt, but I believed that they were obscenely sexual thoughts that I must, and did, repent of in tears. It wasn’t helped at all by the fact that our pastors and community leaders taught that the slightest amount of affectionate touch between a man and a woman was sin, must be avoided at all cost, would sully us for our future spouse, and would lead to procreational intercourse. “Don’t heat up the oven if you’re not going to put something inside” they said – and completely missing the sexual reference of that statement, I thought it meant ‘don’t touch someone if you’re not ready to procreate with them’.

There was also the problem that having a crush on someone was called, a la Josh Harris and his book ‘I kissed dating goodbye’, ‘giving away a piece of your heart’. Someone went further than this and said that having a crush on someone you weren’t married to was being an ’emotional whore’. So I had a huge amount of guilt about my crushes, even though they weren’t sexual (which I didn’t know). As a teenager, my best friend told me that ‘girls like us’ don’t have or respond to crushes on boys. My mother told me that homeschooled girls who talked to boys ‘are the ones they like now, but not the kind of girl they’ll marry.’

The long and the short of it is that a lack of information about sex and sexuality combined with the sexual-attraction-blindness of my asexuality led to many, many painful hours and tears over very innocent matters. It also led to ignorance of my orientation, which is not helpful when you hope to meet a compatible spouse, and which caused a lot of complications in my relationships.

There was another toxic teaching that reacted badly with my asexuality. There’s a letter in Paul’s epistles that was taught by our pastors and leaders as follows: A wife must allow her husband to have sex with her whenever he likes. This teaching is obviously toxic by itself. But for an asexual who doesn’t know she’s asexual and for whom this is the entirety of her sex-ed, this is what I thought sex was. Sex was something a man does to a woman. “It’s clear from nature, from very human biology” said Douglass Wilson, author of “Her Hand in Marriage” and the Credenda Agenda, “that men are for initiating and women are for responding.” (my paraphrasing) After leaving my family and starting into the world on my own, I decided that I didn’t think premarital sex was sinful, but that I personally didn’t want to have sex until after marriage (due to my desire for sex being tied very closely with reproduction). When my boyfriend raped me, I felt horrible but thought it was sex. I thought to complain about it to a friend would be to say that sex was wrong. So I stayed with my boyfriend and tried, futily, to convince him to ‘not have sex with me unless I wanted it.’

The above story wasn’t helped by the fact that I had not been taught about ‘good touch’ and ‘bad touch’. As a child, I was taught that I must always put my own interests and feelings aside and serve other people, and not argue. My body had never been my own – not when my parents coerced me to hug someone (‘to make them feel loved’) or when they’d told me to pull down my pants so that they could give me more spankings, or walked into the room while I was getting dressed, or had to go to a homeschool class when I had a 104 degree fever. So I was unused to being in touch with what my body told me, which made it even harder to recognize the full extent of what was happening to me. When touch felt bad to to me, I didn’t know to name it ‘uncomfortable’ or ‘undesirable’ or ‘repulsion’ or ‘fear’. I described the feelings to my boyfriend. He told me it was arousal and excitement. I didn’t know enough to know that he was wrong.

So, ironically, the teachings that my parents thought would keep me abstinent and make me a ‘good girl’ actually ended up putting me in unwanted sexual situations.

I sometimes wonder if some of the other things I was taught helped make me asexual. Not having a name for my vulva until college except for “pee pee thing’. Being taught that my vulva’s function was only for ejecting pee and babies (I was taught that pregnancy began when a man and a woman stood too close to each other.) Being taught that my ‘pee pee thing’ was very dirty and must never be touched. The close companionship each of my parents had with me instead of each other, called by some psychologists ’emotional incest’. As a young girl, I saw older girls mocked and derided by my parents, friends, and role models for being interested in boys. When I got my period, its function was not explained to me, but my mother cried and wished I wasn’t growing up. As my body began to develop, I was mocked and shamed. My breasts were a shame to me. My periods were a shame to me. Other maturing features of my body were a shame to me. The more I kept them hidden, the less I would be mocked. I never dared to mention a crush I might have on a boy because I could not bear the mockery and shame I knew was due to come.

Did this crazy upbringing ‘make’ me asexual? I don’t know. I do know that there was never a time when I felt sexual attraction, so if it’s due to my upbringing, that upbringing took affect before the time when sexual attraction would have normally developed. I’m still clueless about some things: As I’m writing this, I’m wondering when that time is for other people.

Be A Winner: Susie

Be A Winner: Susie

Also by Susie on HA: “Tough Love.”

To all the LGBTQ kids out there I want to tell you something: It’s okay. Things will get better. They will. Life may be confusing and hard right now, but this is your storm. Weather it. Stand strong. You know what they say — “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” — and, as cliché as that may sound, it is true.

Sometimes I think back on the hardships I have endured just because I am gay and it feels like I am telling someone else’s story. I have come so far. It may feel like you have no control over your life right now. It may feel like you’re a victim of your own circumstance and in many ways you are. But I am no quitter and I do not believe in ever being the victim, ever. But what do you do if you’re LGBTQ and you’re in this conservative vacuum with what seems to be no way out?

You find a way. You find your voice. You find your inspiration and you take control. Even if you have no control, you take command. Steer your vessel. Dream. Dream big. One of my favorite quotes is about innovation. Innovation you say? What does that have to do with being persecuted for being LGBTQ? Well nothing, at least not on the surface. Just read it…“Innovation is the fabric upon which I create the tapestry of my life. Threads of Vision and Determination sewn with the needle of Strength.” Did you catch the keywords in that quote? This is YOUR LIFE. YOURS! Do not let anyone tell you what you can or cannot do. It is your life to live, your judgment to be had and they are NOT the judge. Get a Vision for your life. Find your Determination and use your Strength to make things happen.

When I was sitting on the floor in a room that was not my own in a city that was unfamiliar to me with only $7 to my name, I could have given up and many would have. I could have focused on how bad things actually were. I could have chosen to give up, give in and “repent” so that I could go home and lead a life that was not true to myself. And for some in my situation death would have been a viable option. But for me, none of those were options. The fact that I had $7 meant nothing to me. I knew my family was in the wrong and I knew I was going to make it and that someday what they had done to me would make for an incredible story.

You cannot give in or give up. You are a fighter. How will you use the current situations in your life to make you a better person?

And remember, God does love you just as you are. God made you and when the Creator was done making you, s/he smiled because s/he knew they had done well. Lastly, always, always, always remember Jesus never condemned homosexuals. Jesus never spoke out against homosexuals and Jesus never cured a homosexual of their sexual orientation. Paul was not Jesus, nor was he the mouthpiece of God. You are enough. You are good enough. And you will get through this.

Oh, and I love you. I’m rooting for you. Go be a winner!

The “Homosexual Agenda”: Libby Anne

The “Homosexual Agenda”: Libby Anne

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Libby Anne’s blog Love Joy Feminism. It was originally published on Patheos on March 21, 2012.

I was (probably unwisely) perusing the conservative Catholic blogosphere, and it has started to get to me. I’ve read numerous blogs talking about the “homosexual agenda” that is taking over the country and oppressing everyone else. I remember being taught this growing up, to the exact minutia. Reading about it now, though, it makes me angry.

You know what the “homosexual agenda” is? Gay people want to be able to live their lives without threat, hold jobs without fear of being fired for their sexual orientation, and be legally allowed marry people they love. Right now, they can’t do that. The “homosexual agenda” is not about “oppressing” Christians, it’s about letting gay people be full human beings. It’s not about giving gay people more rights than everyone else, it’s about giving them the same rights as anyone else.

I think the reason reading about the evils of the coming “homosexual agenda” has been bothering me is that I have numerous gay friends. They’re great friends who are always ready to help me in a pinch, they have their own dreams and ambitions, and they have crushes and relationships just like anyone else. And so when I hear about the “homosexual agenda” and then think of my friends, I get mad. Mad, because those who speak with fear of the “homosexual agenda” want to deprive my friends of the right to hold a job without fear of being fired for who they are and the right to marry who they love. I feel mad because in some parts of this country my friends might still find their lives under threat, simply because they are sexually and romantically attracted to members of their own sex

I remember believing the whole “homosexual agenda” thing. Back then, I was afraid of gay people. They were different and scary. They were pedophiles who should not be trusted around children. I wonder if that’s how the people writing the blogs I was reading feel when they talk about the “homosexual agenda” – fear of something different, scary, and “unnatural.” But that fear does not excuse the actions anti-gay activists take, actions that seek to deprive my friends of their basic rights and to relegate them to second class citizens.

I was willing to change my views when confronted with actual gay people, and in response to additional information (for example, the fact that gay people are statistically less likely to be pedophiles than are heterosexual people). I rather suspect, though, that the individuals whose blogs I read probably aren’t ready to change their views when confronted with contrary evidence.

When reading predictions of the takeover of the “homosexual agenda,” the common theme seems to boil down to “gay people want to force us to accept them as normal.” Well yes, yes they do. Because they are. But in actuality, the actions gay activists tend to take are directed not so much at personal beliefs as at physical actions that harm them.

Remember when I said that “religious freedom is not a get out of jail free card“? Well that’s what’s going on here too. Your religious freedom is violated if someone forces you to believe that gay marriage is okay or forces your church to perform gay marriages, but it’s not violated if gay people are allowed to get married. Your religious freedom is violated if someone tells you what you have to believe about God’s view of gay people, but it’s not violated if teachers are required to stop students from bullying gay kids and to explain as school employees that being gay is not considered a disorder by the scientific community, or if people are not allowed to fire someone just for being gay just as they are required not to fire someone just for being black. What’s at stake here is people’s actions, actions that do real harm to gay people, not their beliefs. You are free to believe as you like, but if your actions will do actual harm to others, you are not allowed to act as you would like.

Now sure, I’d really like to change people’s beliefs too. I don’t like beliefs that see some people as lesser than others, especially when these beliefs are based not on any evidence but simply on specific interpretations of a stone age text. I seek to oppose misogyny and homophobia both through fighting actual discrimination and through working to change people’s minds. Wanting to change people’s minds, however, is not the same as legislating what people are allowed to think or putting people in jail for their views, though those decrying the “homosexual agenda” don’t seem to realize that.

I’ve decided not to browse the conservative Catholic blogosphere. It’s not good for my blood pressure. But will continue to fight for LGBTQ rights and I will continue to work on countering homophobia by changing people’s minds.

Why Not to Judge Racist, Bigoted, and Sexist People: Lana

Why Not to Judge Racist, Bigoted, and Sexist People: Lana

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Lana’s blog Wide Open Ground. It was originally published on January 22, 2013.

Yes, a lot of people are racists, bigoted, and sexist. We live in a world where people love to push the other person down. People love to make themselves superior  and shove the world in a nice box. But life doesn’t work that way.  And that box is wrong. As we’ve seen from the test of time, women aren’t more dumb than men, and girls aren’t worse at math than boys. Stereotypes are not only wrong, but they are also holding us back from moving forward.

But. Yet.

I grew up in that box.

I hated being the inferior sex, but I still believed I was. I was taught that I had to wear more clothing, speak more soft, and watch boys at our homeschool camps get to rock climb. My homeschool leaders would have denied they were teaching me that I was inferior, but they were.

And I honestly believed being gay was a choice. A simple choice. I had never met a gay person. I had no idea.

I grew up isolated. I simply didn’t know what I didn’t know. I love homeschooling. Always will. But this doesn’t change the fact that because I was homeschooled, I was taught my parents’ view of the world and never had the opportunity to have a teacher with a different perspective. I simply could not imagine another world out there. The homeschool, evangelical culture was my life. One world, one lens, that’s all I had.

My friends in Asia can’t understand a way of life where people work hard and live above the poverty level. Some cannot imagine earning the kind of money that would even afford a car. I’ve tried to teach them tricks, and its failed. In the same way they can’t imagine, I couldn’t imagine another way of life outside fundamentalism growing up. My world was black and white. How could I imagine what colors were? The Bible said homosexuals can’t inherit the kingdom of God; this meant they went to hell. Logical? Not quite. But I simply couldn’t imagine.

Some of us didn’t grow up fortunate enough to be taught what it really meant to love our neighbors as ourselves. My family was not mean or malicious. We weren’t out to get anyone. We were simply clueless. We didn’t know what we didn’t know. My parents were honestly as clueless as me.

That’s changed now.

When you meet a clueless person, try to have patience. Yes, talk to them. But have patience.

I changed. But the part that made me most reluctant to change was that people called me bigoted and sexist at my university. That hurt me. And I grew to think of these people as just hateful people. They never convinced me. Only leaving the country convinced me.

Always remember, people are a work in process. Let’s go alongside and help each other rather than judge each other.

Why I Stopped Being Anti-Gay: Heather Doney

Why I Stopped Being Anti-Gay: Heather Doney

Heather Doney blogs at Becoming Worldly.

I was homeschooled until my grandparents forced my parents to put my siblings and I in public school.  I landed smack into the middle of 9th grade and big time culture shock.  It wasn’t that my high school was some liberal bastion of anything (being in the suburban Deep South, it definitely wasn’t), it was simply that I was around a ton of people my own age for the first time in my life and most didn’t seem to care about or hardly even notice me at all.  I was that unsocialized homeschool kid, the only one like me, alone in the crowd, awkward, lonely, and vulnerable.

I tried hard to adjust and at the end of sophomore year something amazing happened – I finally, for the first time in my life, made a close friend.  He was smart, so we competed for who got the higher grade on assignments, and he made me laugh with his mischievous sense of humor.  We lived in the same neighborhood and soon became official “best friends.”  This meant that we sat by one another in every class we could where there wasn’t assigned seating, passed notes, and got together to ostensibly help each other study for tests, then mostly sat around listening to music and talking instead.  He really helped my transition into public school get better and made me feel much more normal. I finally, for the first time in my life, did not feel socially alone. It was awesome.

We generally got along well except for a couple serious arguments on faith and morality.  The first was after he’d convinced me to go to church with him and ended up trying to pressure me to “get saved.”  The fact that I was agnostic really bothered him. “I just want you to go to Heaven, Heather,” he’d said.  He’d also once told me (when unsuccessfully trying to skip an extra credit event and convince me to just sign his name to the attendance sheet) “Come on…please? You don’t believe in God, so what does lying bother you?”  It was such a hurtful comment that I remember my reaction to this day.  I’d started crying and explained that just because I didn’t pray didn’t mean I didn’t have a decent sense of right and wrong!  I had rebelled against some things, but still kept a lot of the morals I’d been taught as a homeschooler.  Lying was wrong.  Cheating was wrong.  Stealing was wrong.  Being gay was wrong.

Looking back, I guess one reason my friend and I bonded is that we both had painful secrets.  I never told him, not even once, about the patriarchal violence, supposedly based on Christian values, that I still endured at home.  After all, the only thing worse than it happening was people knowing about it.  Sometimes I called him up and asked to come over though, not telling him why I needed to get out of the house.  During one of those hangouts late in our junior year, as we idly sat around listening to Eryka Badu, his new favorite singer, he’d said “would you be my friend no matter what?”  “Yeah,” I’d responded, “Why?”  “Nevermind,” he said. “I’m not ready to say yet.”

He didn’t say until the beginning of senior year.  We were painting set pieces for our senior play behind the cafetorium (yes, a cafeteria/auditorium combined) and he told me he was in love with “Jay,” another high school guy.  They had kissed and he felt so happy and he also hated himself, figured God would hate him, that his grandmother would hate him.  I told him that I was shocked to hear this but I loved him no matter what and he was my best friend no matter what.  We changed the subject to other things.

I kept my composure until I got home and then I got in the house, dropped my backpack on the stairs, sat down next to it, and bawled my eyes out.  My Mom came out of the kitchen to ask me what was wrong and when I blurted out that my friend had said he was gay, the horrified look on her face made me cry even more.  I felt so confused about everything.  This was the same mother who, in a lecture to me once on how I was “so disobedient and disrespectful,” had said “at least you’re not a lesbian.”  Like most homeschool kids, I was not raised aware of the fact that both gender and sexuality are a spectrum rather than a dichotomy, some either/or.  I was instead taught it was all black and white and being gay was just a really bad choice, terrible in fact, made by messed up people.  Fact is, while I’m pretty straight, I have occasionally found other girls attractive before, so at the time my Mom had made that comment, I’d felt silently guilty for that.

I was now quite heartbroken for my best friend.  I cried for the “disorder” he had, the wife he’d never have, the babies that would never look like him, the unhappy, shunned life I imagined he would always lead, and then, after I was done crying, I had to think about homosexuality in a light I’d never done before, not as I’d been taught to view it, as something done by disgusting and warped people, but as the seemingly innate orientation of a loved one.  It made me feel very confused and start to reconsider my beliefs.

The next day at school my friend passed me a note, a letter he’d written.  It said that if I told him to stop being gay that he would, that he wanted me to tell him if I thought he should stop, convince him out of it, that because I was his best friend, I could.  Now, as an adult, the answer to such a letter seems easy but back then it wasn’t.  It was while writing him a response by flashlight in my bed late that night, thinking the situation and my response through for hours, that I realized that being gay was obviously not a choice, like I’d been told.  It was just how he was and it was society that was hurting him, not his orientation.  He would not be risking everything for this if he could help it.  He found guys attractive like how I found guys attractive and he always had.  I thought about the tone in his voice when he said Jay’s name and then the answer was clear.  He had to be himself and he also needed to avoid emotional abuse as much as possible.  I wrote him back a note saying that I loved him no matter what, that he was my best friend, and if he loved Jay and wanted to be with him, that I would keep his secret, wouldn’t say a thing, so no one would be mean to him about it.

I kept my word and was fiercely protective of him when rumors started, but another friend he confided in wasn’t.  She told people he was gay.  Word spread fast in our small southern high school.  Suddenly social life became harder for him, and my friend, the stellar student, always put together, always chatting with everyone in the hall, started getting lower grades and seeming to hate school.  I was worried about him.  Being a marginally popular guy had always mattered to him and now he endured all this social judgment and it was a huge weight on him.  I could see it.  His boyfriend Jay had it even worse.  Jay’s father found out about the relationship, called Jay a faggot, threatened to kick him out of the house, and forbid him to speak to my friend.  My friend and Jay’s newfound love did not survive the stress and they were over before the senior play happened.

Soon afterwards, my best friend and I were in cap and gown, walking across the stage at graduation.  Southern graduations are loud affairs, often with airhorns, whistling, and stomping involved, but it seemed like hardly anybody around me even clapped for my friend as he walked (although personally I yelled like a banshee because hey, that’s how it’s done).  None of the football players, baseball players, or basketball players (and my high school was a sports-first, academics-second kind of place) wanted to be seen as being too heartily enthusiastic for a gay guy though.  After all, then someone might suspect them.  My friend was the exact person he had been before – smart, dedicated, competitive, good looking, fun to be around, and yet because of who he had loved he was now seen as tainted and dangerous.  It was hard to watch this unfold, but I imagine it was considerably harder to endure.  I can definitely see how homeschooling (in the right kind of non-fundamentalist environment) could help protect a kid from the pain of that sort of anti-gay culture.

Thankfully things have changed a lot since that graduation day in 2001 and my friend and I, who still keep in touch, have very different lives now.  When they say “it gets better” I suppose that’s what they mean.  I have a graduate degree and nobody has laid a hand on me since I was 17, and he has an accountant boyfriend and a good job today.

It wasn’t a conscious decision to come out as an “ally” and I actually never officially have before now, but I will say that this friendship definitely changed my perspective and I have been one ever since, just in quiet ways.  After all, this friend was my ally at a key time in my life, the very first best friend I’d ever had.  Once I saw the truth about how toxic and false the anti-gay worldview that I had been taught really is to people like him, I had to stop perpetuating it myself.

Shame on those parents who think that their children are an “arrow” in this “fight for traditional marriage.”  Nobody, gay or straight, deserves to be another casualty in this “culture war,” and nobody deserves to be shamed or prevented from being honest about their romantic and sexual desires because it shakes up someone else’s little world of black and white thinking.  Today I am proud to say that I am no longer anti-gay and I strongly feel that gay people deserve equal respect, equal love, equal opportunity, and equal honor for their love and relationships.

Homeschooled and Kept Ignorant, But Still Queer: Melissa

Homeschooled and Kept Ignorant, But Still Queer: Melissa

HA note: Haley, Melissa’s spouse, shared her thoughts yesterday. Their courtship and coming out stories have been shared by Melissa on Patheos.

I was homeschooled from kindergarten through adulthood. I was the oldest in a large family, and very sheltered. We had the patriarchal beliefs common in the Christian homeschooling movement, so my role in life was very defined. I liked a lot of things about being a girl, but I sometimes wished I was a boy so I would have more freedom to go places, study something in college etc.

At the same time, I was fine with dressing modestly. The idea of getting male attention wasn’t really that appealing to me. I had a hard time imagining a guy I would feel comfortable submitting to and living with, and yet I had been told from early childhood that someday I would grow up and marry a good Christian man who would protect me from the world and support us financially while I stayed at home and had lots of babies to homeschool.

I wanted to be “right”. I wanted to be approved of. I wanted to fit in with my community and become that older Proverbs 31 Woman that all the younger girls asked for advice. I did the best I could to pay attention and please my parents by being who they wanted me to be. By age 17 I was very depressed, and thought about suicide often. I wanted to get out of my parents’ house and away from the expectations and restrictions so badly. As a female, the only way that was going to happen was when I got married. So whenever we were in places where I could potentially meet eligible young men such as homeschool conferences or homeschool gatherings I would anxiously watch and hope that someone would notice me.

I had no idea gay people existed until I was 14 and reading World Magazine and came across a negative reference to the dangers of “homosexuals”. I asked my mom what homosexual meant, she said it was when two men thought they could be together in the same way a husband and wife are together. It seemed like she thought it was a big deal, a bad thing. Of course at the time I didn’t have any real understanding of sex either. I knew that babies grew in a mothers belly, and I had attended the births of several siblings, so I knew how they got out, but I was still under the impression that sex was a magical transference of seeds needed to start a baby, that happened while you slept in the same bed. I started to suspect there was something more to it when I was reading all the purity books about how amazing sex was after you were married, and how hard it was to stay pure before you were married. If sex was supposedly this amazing, there had to be more to it than just sleeping. I tried looking up sex in the dictionary, but “act of copulation” didn’t help me very much. Eventually when I was almost 17 I found a book in the library that I did not dare to check out, but read as much as I could as fast I could in the corner until it was time to go home. It was here that I first learned about penetrative sex and what an erection was. It didn’t dawn on me that if men could be together, then there was such a thing as gay women as well until a year later.

I may not have known what sex was, or what being gay actually meant, but I knew I had a hard time imagining being with any of the guys I encountered. I hoped that my mom was right, and that god really was going to help locate he perfect guy for me. I did not have friends my age, most of the homeschooling families we knew had much younger children, and we didn’t go to church.

By the time I was 18 I had had enough sexually arousing dreams about women and enough urges to kiss or touch the breasts of friends I hardly knew to start to question if this was normal. My sisters or cousins would talk about celebrity guys who were attractive in their opinion and I didn’t know what to say, so I picked whoever was the most stereotypically masculine to hide the fact that I thought Catherine Zeta Jones was way sexier. I asked my mom what had attracted her to my dad, and when she said his broad shoulders that became what I would say I found attractive when people asked what my “type” was.

Eventually I got up the courage to ask my dad what our beliefs about gay people were supposed to be, I didn’t say I was asking for myself. He told me that homosexuality was caused by an especially disgusting demon, he almost seemed to shudder just thinking about it. My dad claimed to have heard and seen both demons and angels, so I felt that he must know what he was talking about. I was pretty sure I had never encountered a demon, and I had been very careful to follow the rules of the house so as to stay under the “spiritual umbrella of protection” my father provided, so I did not understand how I could have allowed demonic influence into my life. Maybe I wasn’t gay. So I asked about bisexuals, what did we believe regarding them? My dad said they did not really exist, that the only true bisexuals were demonically influenced witches. I knew I wasn’t a witch, and I was too scared to inquire further and give myself away.

So I told myself I was imagining things. This wasn’t really true about me. The only reason I was attracted to women, was because I had zero sexual experience, and the only body I had access to was my own, as soon as I got safely married and had sex, I would be attracted to men like I was supposed to be. I had never read anything that portrayed gay people in a positive light. I had never met a openly gay person, or even seen one to my knowledge. I didn’t know what was wrong with me, but I was sure that getting married would fix it.

The amazing thing is, that only a year after we began going to church, I met someone who I thought was a boy and fell in love. He was tall and had beautiful blue eyes and soft full lips that I so wanted to touch even though we were not allowed. We could talk for hours and he actually listened to and thought about the things I said. I had never had anyone treat me so kindly and respectfully. We had a parent supervised and controlled courtship, and got married after 10 weeks, and only 8 days after kissing for the first time. Basically, I went from having never held hands to having sex in a little over 2 months.

As you can imagine, sex was still an awkward topic. The attractions I thought would magically disappear after marriage, didn’t. I didn’t dare talk too openly about it, but sometimes it worried me. I was happily married, I was attracted to my spouse, but I was still very attracted to women and worried that I was a bad person for feeling the way I did. I had many other detrimental beliefs related to sex as well. I had an understanding that I was obligated to be there to service my husband’s sexual requests whether I felt like it or not. I had always been told that god had designed men with very active sex drives, and that if they were rejected by their wives, men would turn to pornography, or even another woman, and I would have no one to blame but myself. I had no concept of consent. In fact when I was first married I had made a promise to myself that I would never say no to a sexual advance from my husband, even if I was sick or exhausted. I also had a lot of anxiety about my worth being tied to how often my spouse wanted to have sex. When my spouse was too tired or just not really interested in having sex, I worried that I wasn’t attractive enough or wasn’t performing adequately. Sex was often one big ball of worries fear and second guessing.

Five years later I had the surprise of my life when my husband came out to me as transgender. What happened next was a 2 year journey that inspired more growth both in our relationship and as individuals than ever before. We discovered just how much each of us had been hiding from the other for our entire marriage. Shedding that fear of rejection and judgment and being honest is one of the most powerful transformations I have ever experienced. When Haley told me that she needed to transition to female and live as she truly was, I wasn’t really phased, and that fact led me to face my sexuality head on for the first time in my life. Haley was patient, and waited while I read and read and asked her question after question. Eventually when Haley felt ready to transition, we came out publicly to our families and started our marriage over again as a lesbian couple. I couldn’t ask for a better partner or co-parent, and the respect we have for each other has only continued to grow. Reactions were about what we expected, and we were reminded many times over why we had hidden for so long. Some people cut us out of their life and refused to speak to us. People who hadn’t communicated with us for years sent us long emails detailing how wrong and evil we were for making this “choice”. It was exhausting and draining, and I was so grateful that we were adults and financially independent before we had dared to come out.

Sometimes I wish that I hadn’t had to spend so much of my life living someone else’s idea of who I needed to be. It has been quite the task to learn how to relax and just be rather than second guessing every single thing I think, do or say. I also wish I had known how many wonderful supportive people were out there, just waiting to embrace us for exactly who we were. Coming from such an isolating, restrictive and judgmental community growing up, it has been a new experience to meet people from all backgrounds, religions and sexual orientations who are accepting and loving. I have also been surprised by how many people from our old life have come around in some way. My parents in particular come to mind, after a rocky start and 3 months of silent censure, my parents have found the ability to be tolerant. Even though they do not understand or affirm our sexuality or the journey our marriage has taken, they have chosen to try to love us and be with us.

It’s been almost 8 years since we got married, 3 years since Haley came out to me, and 1 year since we came out to the world. I thought we had a unique story, but since telling our story on my blog we have been contacted by so many other couples who married in the closet and stayed together after coming out. There are so many years that we lived in shame, sometimes we can get frustrated with all that time wasted, and pain endured. Only one year in, sometimes it feels like the new goals and dreams will never happen. It’s been a lot of work starting over from ground zero, some days we fall into bed too exhausted to even say goodnight. Sometimes old messages haunt us, telling us that we are not good enough, that we are failures, that who we are is somehow less than. But overall there is something about the honesty of this life that feels really good. We have the story that we do. We came from the background we did, and it took as long as it did for us to overcome the shaming messages and be ok with who we are.

There really is nothing to regret, only a life to live, fully.

Guard Your Heart, Part Two: Kathryn E. Brightbill

Kathryn Brightbill blogs at The Life and Opinions of Kathryn Elizabeth, Person.

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In this series: Part One | Part Two

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Sometimes the hardest person to come out to is yourself.

After spending a few years post-college working as a wedding and gift registry consultant (turns out I liked studying computer science a lot more than doing it), I decided a change of course was in order, packed up everything and moved to Vietnam to teach for a year. I had a wonderful time and learned a lot about myself and also learned tons from the very talented and accomplished Vietnamese faculty at the university where I taught. Coming back to the US sent me into a tailspin of reverse culture shock and I spent a long few months feeling like I didn’t know which end was up or what ground was solid. During that time I found myself questioning all sorts of things as I tried to figure out what to do with myself and which direction was forward. It was during that time that I began to realize that it wasn’t just that I had been really good at guarding my heart, and that it wasn’t just that I hadn’t found the right guy, it’s that I never was attracted to guys in the first place.

When you’re the model homeschool child, “gay” is something that happens to other people. As a kid it was those people I’d see on TV marching, or who my parents’ religious right friends would rail against, but it’s certainly not the sort of thing that a good little homeschooled church kid would consider to have anything to do with themselves. And it’s most definitely not the sort of thing that even crossed my mind as something to consider as an answer to make sense of things in my life as I was growing up.

In retrospect, all sorts of things about my past make sense, from never having an answer when my sister would ask me who I had a crush on when I was little, to not being able come up with a guy I thought was hot when asked by my hall mates in college, oh, and the reason I watched xXx about six times in the theater my senior year of college wasn’t just because I liked the car chases (though the car chases didn’t hurt), and it certainly wasn’t Keanu Reeves who I was watching The Matrix for. But back then, I was so busy guarding my heart that I didn’t see any of that.

I won’t pretend that finally realizing and coming to terms with being gay was easy because it wasn’t. I knew that I needed to live honestly and that doing so meant that my life wouldn’t be quite the same as I’d envisioned for myself—staying in the closet was not an option I was willing to consider.

I’m fortunate though, in a number of ways. First, by the time I figured it out, I was out of the homeschool bubble. When I was growing up I was the model homeschool child. I don’t think my parents were ever aware of the pressure I felt I was under with other people telling their children to be like me—I never said anything about how kids would comment about what their parents had said about how brilliant my siblings and I were—but when you know that other people think your family is wonderful there’s pressure not to let them down. By the time my younger brother finished school, my parents were more than ready to hand any responsibility they still had off to others and to just be done with the whole homeschool world completely. While I didn’t feel it, there are a lot of queer former homeschoolers who do feel the pressure of what their coming out will do to their parents’ reputation within the homeschool community.

Second, by the time I realized I was gay, I’d already thought for years that LGBT people deserved full equal rights, and had concluded that the belief that it was a sin came from taking scripture massively out of context. For kids, homeschooled or not, who grow up in evangelical households, the sin issue is usually an enormously difficult thing to grapple with.

Ironically, perhaps, I feel like the other issues aside, my background as a homeschooler actually helped me. As mainstream as my family was, and as much as I worked to blend in with my surroundings so I wouldn’t stand out as the “weird homeschooler,” homeschooling—or at least homeschooling during the era I was homeschooled—at its core is a countercultural movement. Fundamental to any countercultural movement is a willingness to go against the mainstream, to stand out, to be different, and to question the dominant paradigm. By homeschooling, parents do not just teach their children academics or a particular set of theological or political beliefs or worldview, the very act of homeschooling is teaching children how to think and act counter-culturally. That’s not something that just gets turned off or erased when you graduate.

The recurring theme when I try to write about my homeschool experiences is the tension that exists between what is and what was supposed to be. Homeschooling was supposed to produce activists, and here I am, an activist, but I’m on the opposite side from where I was supposed to be. It was supposed to teach us how to learn and keep learning on our own, and it did. It’s just that I kept learning enough to learn how much of what homeschool “leaders” were saying wasn’t true. And homeschooling was supposed to produce young adults who could stand up for what they believe and who wouldn’t be buffeted about by external pressure. Well, here I am. I was taught not to care what society thought and I’m not going to suddenly start listening now or bending to external pressure when it comes to my sexual orientation.

I’m sure others in the homeschool world consider me to be a disappointment, wondering what went wrong because I’ve so clearly ventured off of the path that homeschooling was supposed to set me on. I don’t doubt that there are those who are trying to figure out what to do to avoid such an obvious failure as the increasing number of homeschoolers who are coming out must, in their minds, be. And, I am sure there are those—even some who are reading this piece—who are wondering what my parents did wrong, since homeschooling was supposed prevent people like me from happening.

I would argue, however, that my story is a homeschooling success story. The reason I’m here today, the person I am, is because of what my parents did right. I am the person I am today, with the internal fortitude to live my truth openly and honestly and to be my own person because of my experiences as a homeschooler. So what if that person is a politically liberal, openly gay, Christian, nerd with an activist streak a mile wide? The system worked. Just not in the way intended, and that’s a good thing.

End of series.

The Queer Elder’s Son: George

The Queer Elder’s Son: George

Trigger warnings: this story contains brief references to molestation.

Hi, I’m George, and I’m a queer man who was homeschooled.  And guess what?  For me, it wasn’t all that bad.  Yes, within the conservative Christian community I was raised in, complete with the requisite Bill Gothard character studies and HSLDA membership, I actually turned out okay.  How is this possible?  Let’s take a look.

I’ve never attended a public school.  I stayed at home and was taught by my mother from a self-created curriculum from kindergarten through senior year of high school.  During this period, my family attended a series of churches, trying to find the correct mix of the fundamentalism my mother sought and deism my father was attracted to.  Surprisingly, this meant a lot of different churches including one ill-fated and ill-advised attempt at creating our own.

We’ll start with some of the ugly stuff.  Like most in my situation, sexuality was always correlated directly with shame.  We never, ever spoke of sex.  I found out about it when I was ten years old and reading the encyclopedia article on vaginas.  The line “insertion of the penis into the vagina” was the most detail I got, later telling my parents who laughed, asked if I had questions, and never spoke of it again.  The secrecy and taboo nature of sex led to me being more than slightly obsessed with it.  However, the idea of purity had been ground into my mind, and I remember flagellating myself after masturbating for the first time, thinking I had left my purity behind.  No God could love someone like me.  But the confusion of sex as being ugly — after all, God struck down that man who ejaculated on the ground — and somehow ‘good’ was something my mind was unable to rectify.

I still hesitate when trying to find words for what happened next.  The simplest explanation is often the best.  While at a Christian summer camp, I was molested by a male counsellor over the course of a three-week session.  He was in his late teens and while what occurred between us wasn’t rape, it obviously wasn’t consensual sex either.  I came away from the experience with two major problems.

First, my purity was definitely gone now.  What I had done with that man meant I was officially damned to hell.  It was over.  Could I even go to heaven now that I’d lost that part of myself?  I figured the answer was no.

Second, I enjoyed it physically.  I found myself attracted to him.  Him, a man.  I was a homeschooled preteen, and thus the idea of homosexuality didn’t even make sense to me.  But it was obviously not normal and not something men were meant to feel for men.

For mostly the second reason, I kept it a secret.  And the next year?  I went back to the same camp, he was still there, and we picked back up where we had been.  This move I did regret afterwards, serving myself up to him so obviously.

So that year I decided to tell.

This is probably the lowest point of this tale, the part where things suddenly screech to a halt.  My mother told me she did not believe me, it was too ridiculous to think the person I was specifically singling out had done what I was saying.  So I slammed it back inside and did not speak of it again for years (this post is around the fourth time I’ve ‘said’ it in the last fifteen years).

Unfortunately this didn’t mean the attraction to boys went away.  Which was a problem, especially once I found the terms to label it.

Sitting through long discussions of purity?  Of how to remain like Timothy or Titus or some other short book of the Bible?  I had already committed the sin of Onan, with another man.  How on earth was I supposed to return to a time before that all happened?  So I settled for keeping it quiet.

Fast forward a few years, to my first same-age homosexual encounter.  In an extremely conservative Christian organization, I attended an annual ‘summit’ of sorts.  Boys and girls were kept very separate for propriety’s sake.  I am unsure how the organizers didn’t see how this would backfire, as it led to me and several others initiating activity which was just a ‘joke’ and ‘so gay lol’.  I do wonder about those men, some of them now married with children being raised in the heart of southern baptist ministries.

This was when I decided to embrace my sexuality.  I had only one life.  The shame I felt about it?  Still present.  Always present.  Knowing God hated me.  But he had hated me since the first moment I had had hands lain on me back at summer camp, so what did it matter any more?

I manifested this choice in several overt ways.  I began to dress much more flamboyantly, with bright colors, patterns, and the occasional piece of non-gender-appropriate clothing worn in public, even to church.  I started to spend time grooming myself, discussing personal hygiene with ‘the girls’ and loving the camaraderie we shared.  My male friends dropped away one by one, until none were left, which was picked up on by the homeschooling community we were a part of.  My mother was a leader in it, my father an elder in a church with a few thousand congregants who all paid close attention to his kids.

The son showing up in makeup, flares, and paisley?  With a sash?!  Yes, it was noticed.  The boy who was quickly becoming ‘one of the girls’?  Oh, very much noticed.

People whispered.  People talked.  I wasn’t invited to so many messianic seder celebrations any more, but I could handle it.  Because I was already damned to Hell!

But soon the girls weren’t allowed to be my friend either.  The more conservative families pulled away entirely, leaving my own siblings without close friends.

Finally my parents had two very different conversations with me.

My father sat me down and requested very plainly that I not come out of the closet.  He said if I did, he would cut off ties with me.  But otherwise, I was free to live my life.  There was no preface at all, it was said during a car ride to get groceries, and I guess my desire to self-destruct had reached a point where he felt it necessary to say something.  I told him I was still into girls, and his smirk made me want to prove him wrong.

Within the same week, my mother and I were baking together (yes, a homeschooled son allowed to help prepare family dinner!) when she asked me if I was gay.  She quickly followed with “because it seems like you really want people to think you are.”  I told her I sort of was and sort of wasn’t.  I just liked expressing myself.

My mother, a friend of Michael Farris, worshipper of Francis Schaeffer, former pal of Doug Phillips, said she just wanted me to be happy.

We had Bible studies every morning still.  I read about how much Jesus loved those who were as fucked up as me, obviously lacking the belief that this was true.  My parents loved me, and still love me.

Shortly, my father was removed from the board of elders of our church.  We were still welcome to attend, but not to hold leadership or serve in any particular area of ministry.  The hunt for a new church began quickly, settling on a liberal Presbyterian congregation that left me with less of a desire to rub my sexuality in everyone’s face.

Prior to enrolling in college, I dated a Good Christian Girl for a year to make my family happy.  We did it all the right way, asking about courtship, allowing her father to have some level of control (my own father terrified of messing up what seemed like the perfect ‘out’ for him with regards to his gay son), and keeping things very chaste.  After our breakup, my mother asked if we had ever kissed, and seemed disappointed when I said no.  Seemed like that wasn’t the cure, but she had hopes still.

I dated another girl in college, one I got much more physical with, though not to the point of full-on sex, as we were at a conservative Christian school and she wanted to preserve her ‘purity’ for marriage.  I was aware mine was gone and didn’t believe in the magic ability to restore virginity, so I broke up with her rather than break her heart with the truth of me.

I remained celibate for the next two years, toning down my flamboyancy and joining a church’s youth ministry where I quickly became a favorite of the kids and a hot item for the single ladies seeking a man to produce a quiver full with.  I think perhaps browsing my old Facebook photos was enough for them to know it probably wasn’t going to happen.

The period of celibacy brought great joy to my parents.  Perhaps I wouldn’t turn out gay, just maybe.  I had dated two girls after all.  I was just a bit more…out there than most men.

When I started dating my most recent partner, a black male poet from Brooklyn, I kind of figured it was time to admit something to myself.  But my Dad’s words about coming out still rung in my head, and I kept it quiet.

That relationship ended without anyone ever hearing about it.

Shortly thereafter I moved far from my family’s location.  Dated a couple other men, a couple other women.  Kept it quiet and out of their earshot (except for my mother, who once asked specifically about my ‘special friend’, who she found endearing).

The shame is still there.  The desire to hide it is still there.  Most of my siblings don’t even know I’ve dated men, much less several men.

I wonder where I’d be had it not been for that summer camp.  I wonder if my belief in purity would have resulted in many more years of repression or would have resulted in me being able to maintain a heterosexual relationship?

But those value judgements are for people who desire to make value judgements.  I’m past that.

My parents still love me.  They are from a different time, a different age, and aren’t quite able to cope with the entire truth.  But they know who their son is, and they love him anyway.  They love him enough to lose friends, to be removed from a church, to question their own deep biases.  Sure, things could be better.  But they could also be a lot worse.

Mostly, I worry about those who are less happy than me.

Is my story the picture of perfection?  No, not at all.

But I’m finding ways to like myself.  Finding ways to believe in something that brings me joy rather than pain.

I’m here, I’m queer, I was homeschooled and I’m not ashamed.

I Am Trans, And I Am Beautiful: Haley

I Am Trans, And I Am Beautiful: Haley

HA note: Melissa, Haley’s spouse, will be sharing her thoughts tomorrow. Their courtship and coming out stories have been shared by Melissa on Patheos.

I grew up homeschooled from age 8-16 when I started taking classes at community college. I am the oldest of five with four sisters younger than me. My dad was a pastor and my mom stayed home to homeschool all of us. We were very conservative politically and religiously. Almost all of our friends went to the church pastored by my dad and another pastor homeschool dad. Almost every child in the congregation was homeschooled. It was a very conformist place. Diversity was measured in curriculum of choice, whether Abeka, Bob Jones, Sonlight, etc. Almost all of my social outlets happened at church under the control and observation of the homeschool parents. If you didn’t like that control, tough luck, you didn’t have access to anything else.

As a means of survival growing up, I figured out that agreement with the system was the only way to survive. I watched some other kids try to buck the system and suddenly they had no homes or they lost the ability to drive a car, or their parents stopped supporting their education. I also observed families where kids were given very little academic education in favor of gender role based education for girls to become wives and mothers while the boys were taught how to learn handy practical physical labor skills. I lived in a family that tolerated higher education as long as you kept saying the right thoughts. I was part of a forensics class in community college that I enjoyed but my parents seemed to dislike the gay professor who coached the team and they worried about influences over my life. I quit forensics after only one semester because of their worries.

The gender bias towards men becoming big earners with power while women were supposed to tend home and hearth and be a man’s helpmeet was kinda weird to observe for me. You see, ever since I was a child I’d wished I was a girl (at birth I was assigned male and raised by my folks that way). When I was 11 I read a history book (a secular one that sneaked into the home) about Christine Jorgenson the first American to publically transition from male to female and I immediately thought, “Someone else like me.” But I already had heard the denouncements of gay people. I had been hearing the strict, strict, strict conceptions of gender all my life. I knew that this awareness was something I should never ever talk about. In fact, I spent my adolescence on a roller coaster of simply hating myself for my sin and perversion. I accepted the lie that there was something seriously wrong with me. I plowed myself into my religious faith in an attempt to save me from my “sinful” desires to be female. No amount of repressing would put it out of my mind for long. I’d look in the mirror and wonder what I’d look like as a woman. I’d sneak moments of untraceable internet access to look up transgender people and information about them. I’d secretly hide elements of women’s clothing in my room, and then often feel super guilty and throw them out only to buy more later. As I considered a career, I felt that the ministry was the highest calling, it was all that I knew growing up as a preacher’s kid, and it was a career that I could never gender transition in because that wouldn’t be possible. I needed to protect myself from myself or so I thought.

Oddly, homeschooling in some ways had a couple of upsides to being transgender. And here is why. It was easier keeping up appearances around your peers when you only saw them at most a few times a week. I didn’t suffer some of the bullying that my trans sisters experienced in public school settings. Also the exclusive homeschool setting gave me opportunities to day dream and imagine. During these times I would often image myself as a woman. However, the homeschool setting was a terrible place to be transgender overall. You couldn’t meet other people like you and if they started giving clues they might be like you, they’d be kicked out of the church and the community. It has been fascinating as an adult to meet other queer homeschooled adults. We were there the whole time, it was just we all knew that saying anything about our identity would get us thumped and humiliated. I feared my parents somehow figuring out I was trans, I had read in Christian publications like World about therapies to try to make people straight. I knew these therapies sounded awful and I didn’t want to ever be subjected to them.

Basically, growing up homeschooled I had had no access to life on the outside. I didn’t know anything about jobs, taxes, how the government actually worked, basically nothing. The closet was an act of self preservation while homeschooled. You couldn’t let that get known. There were times when I got very mad about not being able to change my feelings so that I wanted to be a male. I would get depressed and contemplate suicide over feeling frustrated that I couldn’t change and not wake up wanting to be female. I also had severe anxiety about everything. I developed an ulcer when I was 17 and a college student. My parents were very focused on my grades. I performed well gaining magna cum laude in community college, and summa cum laude for my undergraduate degree at a local Christian College. When I went off to seminary, working for my dad’s ministry, and with him holding the purse strings, I poured my life into school and work. When I was excessively busy it would reduce the amount of thoughts about being a woman. But it would never go away or even let up for whole days. I could maybe have an afternoon of work where I didn’t think about trans people and being a woman but never more than that.

And for those who might argue being trans is a choice that isn’t the case because women in the homeschooling community are less than men. I understand that now as a liberal participant of society today. There is no reason for a homeschool “boy” to want to be a “girl.” And I knew it even back then. If I was a girl, my options in life would be reduced by the community. If I got married and had a baby, I would never have a career, I would have to obey my husband. I would have very little autonomy. Being a guy which felt all wrong to me had so many benefits compared to the women I’d known growing up that it kinda made it a little bit easier at that time pretending to be a guy to retain that level of control over my life. As I started meeting women outside the homeschooling community and saw how they could live their own lives, I realized that I could be a woman and live a good life and have personal autonomy. Patriarchy is a terrible teaching and it degrades women. It was oozing everywhere in the homeschooling community I grew up in.

But when I was hiding who I was, I was still steeped in the homeschooling community and I started courting this other homeschooled girl named Melissa from a family that then numbered nine siblings and today numbers 11. I was almost 20 and she had just turned 20 when we married. After a quick supervised courtship I proposed to her and we married. Within a few months of our marriage we had already suffered a miscarriage and were just waiting for children to be given to us. I went to seminary the summer I was married and plowed myself into my studies. We tried to live up to the ideology we’d been raised in. Melissa had been denied higher educational opportunities and due to my dad’s “job” for me which taxed me heavily working 80+ hours a week of school and his projects, she didn’t work and was my stay at home wife until our first baby was born. She got pregnant and had our first baby when we were 21.

When I was twenty-three I was burned out working for my dad, trying to start another homeschooler church in the city I’d gone to seminary in, finishing seminary, and becoming a parent to two. I was in crisis. My gender issues were still raging, I was getting disillusioned by the ideology I’d grown up with but didn’t know any alternatives. After a tumultuous summer, I took a call to serve a church in Canada over 1000 miles away from both of our families in Illinois. I served that congregation for three years and it was during that time that I finally was far enough away from the craziness of the Christian Homeschooling Movement to live my own life. We had two children born in Canada. I started reading things I never had before. I started meeting more normal people where women worked jobs. I discovered some of the stuff I’d heard in the U.S didn’t seem all that relevant in Canada. Finally, I came out to my wife as transgender when I was 24 and we started a two year journey to acceptance.

During that journey Melissa realized she was more lesbian than straight and I had always known I was attracted to both sexes and our relationship deepened and grew more intimate than ever before. Instead of being play actors doing our “roles”; we were two people living our lives together. During that time period our marriage became a real partnership. When I was 26 I started the process of gender transition and left the ministry. I was so proud of that day when I legally became Haley. In the 18 months since then, I went back to school to be a cosmetologist and am now employed as a stylist. Melissa entered the workforce for really the first time and she has thrived. Our parents took things badly but really they controlled our lives for long enough. Homeschooling is the ultimate tactic to retain control of children who should be developing into autonomous adults. I am very proud that my oldest child attends public school and will be joined by her sister next year.

Being transgender and homeschooled wasn’t cool. I think everyone deserves to have teachers and people other than their parents who invest in them. I gained so much from the teachers I’ve had in higher education and it was huge that these people were outside of my family system. I also believe that experiencing diversity is awesome. I didn’t knowingly meet in person another trans person than myself until after I was already in the process of gender transition. That is how isolated and homogenous my circle of contact was. I had very little exposure during homeschooling to the outside world. Even ethnic minorities were quite mysterious. This is not okay!

I am so glad that I have met so many vibrant LGBT homeschooled young people who got out.  We are okay just the way we are. Growing up homeschooled we had every reason to hide our identity but now that we are adults, we can be ourselves finally. I am the happiest I’ve ever been. I love being me. I no longer feel like an actor in my own life. I am glad to be a woman, wife, mother, friend, and cosmetologist! I love raising my four kids and having them know me for who I really am. I am glad to have the truth out there.

I am trans, and I am beautiful.