Homeschooled Girls and Trash Cans: Latebloomer’s Story, Part Seven

Homeschooled Girls and Trash Cans: Latebloomer’s Story, Part Seven

HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Latebloomer” is a pseudonym. Latebloomer’s story was originally published on her blog Past Tense, Present Progressive. It is reprinted with her permission.

*****

In this series: Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four | Part Five | Part Six | Part Seven

*****

Part Seven: The World — (Not So) Evil and Dangerous!

"In some ways, I felt like my gay boss was a better example of love than many of the Christian people that I knew."
“In some ways, I felt like my gay boss was a better example of love than many of the Christian people that I knew.”

From hanging around with people such as Scott Lively in my fundamentalist Christian homeschooling community, I understood the danger that America was facing from the gay agenda.  I believed that the gay lifestyle was depraved and corrupt and a sign of rebellion against God.  I believed that God expected me to use political activism to stand up for righteousness and his design for the family.  I believed that my “pro-family-values” activism was actually me being loving to the deceived people around me, people who were just taking the easy way out by accepting every type of lifestyle.

Then one day I accidentally met a gay person.

It was at my first real job, when I was 23 years old.  My favorite manager, Chris, called the store one day while he was off-duty.  He chatted with the on-duty manager Katie for a few minutes; when she hung up, she remarked to me, “He’s so funny!  Why did he call me from a gay bar? haha!”

I was extremely confused.  “Yeah, that’s weird,” I said, trying to process the information, “Why would he be at a gay bar?”  Her jaw dropped, and she stared at me for a minute.  Then she said slowly, “Um…..because he’s gay.  Didn’t you know that?”

It was a huge moment for me, but a million panicked thoughts flooded my mind at once.  How was it that I hadn’t noticed anything “different” about him?  He seemed so normal and sweet, not at all detrimental to society!  He had always been so thoughtful to me, even from the first day I walked in the store in my awkward unstylish clothes and shyly handed him my resume.  He was the first guy to tell me that I was pretty, that I looked like his favorite childhood actress Molly Ringwald (he couldn’t believe that I had never heard of her).  But he was gay??  What was I supposed to do now??

I started to feel a huge spiritual burden for him, the feeling that I had a responsibility to help him get out of that damaging lifestyle somehow.  But how should I approach that topic with him?  Should I try to talk to him about turning away from that lifestyle and starting to follow Christ?  Or should I just invite him to church and let God speak to him through the sermons and the pastor?  I couldn’t really see either scenario playing out very well, so I waited and thought and prayed.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that I had no idea what was inherently wrong with gay sex and gay love!  Why was it not equally valid?  It started to seem a very arbitrary thing to forbid, and reality didn’t match what I had been taught about it in Christian culture.  In some ways, I felt like my gay boss was a better example of love than many of the Christian people that I knew.  After all, he had hired me willingly, even though he knew that I was a very conservative homeschooler and very likely to be strongly anti-gay.  I knew he would not have gotten the same treatment from many conservative Christian employers.  Cautiously, I started to think to myself, “Maybe homosexuality is ok after all.”

And that was just one of many cracks that formed as my Christian worldview hit reality.  For the first time in my life, I was hearing about other worldviews directly from their source, instead of a filtered, watered-down version presented merely to strengthen my own worldview.  And, for the first time in my life, I realized it was possible to hold different opinions from my own without being “blind”, “deceived,” or “in rebellion against God” — my worldview was not so obvious, and “unsaved” people were not so bad after all.

But what were the implications for the Bible?  I had always tried to approach it simply, ready to believe the literal interpretation even when it required personal sacrifice.  To me, it was a timeless book, orchestrated by God, without contradiction, the only reliable source of truth.  But as cracks formed in my carefully-constructed Biblical worldview, in the end I had to decide what I thought about the Bible.  I had always avoided my natural curiosity about how the Bible came to us in its current state–it certainly didn’t fall from the sky in its present form!  Acknowledging my questions about it was terrifying, but ultimately necessary.  If it were really from God, and if I really genuinely wanted to know the truth about it, I shouldn’t have anything to fear.  So, very gradually, I looked at my beliefs and asked the hard questions.

My worldview said, “The Bible is the source for morality!”  — But then why does it condone things like genocide, and call men “godly” when they offer their daughters to be gang raped, and advocate forced marriages between a girl and her raper?  Why doesn’t it condemn slavery and child sacrifice and polygamy with child brides?

My worldview said, “The Bible is written by eyewitnesses, and their accounts don’t contradict each other!”  — Then why was I afraid to look at the supposed contradictions?  They are there, after all, and just saying they don’t exist isn’t a valid argument.  The Bible has internal contradictions on theology and history, and there are significant variations between historic manuscripts.  Also, many of the books have unknown authors and were first written sometimes hundreds of years after the events took place. In its present form, the collection of books we call the Bible doesn’t have even more contradictions because those other books were thrown out as “uninspired” simply because they contradicted too much.

My worldview said, “The Bible is the source of truth about salvation through Jesus!” — Then why are there over 2,000 language groups in the world today that have no way to access that truth?  Why have billions upon billions of people lived and died without ever having a chance to hear it?

I was rooting for my Biblical worldview to win, I really was.  It was comfortable because it was all I knew, and I really don’t like change.  However, in the end, it didn’t hold up very well against reality.  In the end, there were too many cracks, and my worldview shattered.  And when it shattered, I finally saw what a tiny box I had been living in, and what a huge, beautiful, and interesting world was out there to discover.

Since much of my personal growth happened while I was in college, some have said that my changing opinions were the result of “liberal college brainwashing”.  To those people, I doubt that I could say anything to change their opinion about that.  However, the fact is that at no time during my education at community college or Christian university were my opinions mocked or belittled.  At no time did anyone tell me what to believe or not to believe.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of the fundamentalist Christian homeschooling environment.  That is where you are told what to believe.  That is where other opinions are belittled.  That is where even questions are dangerous.  I don’t want to be part of that culture anymore.  To me, a worldview is not worth keeping if it requires ignoring or twisting reality to fit the worldview, pushing down your questions and doubts, and only listening to those who already agree with you.

These thoughts took a very long time to process, and my ideas are still a work in progress today.   For now, I am finding that many of my new ideas fit within a looser interpretation of the Bible, one where I don’t completely abdicate my responsibility to think about what’s right in today’s world.  I see that morality was a work in progress in the Bible, and I accept that it still is today too, and that I have a role to play.

*****

End of series.

Homeschooled Girls and Trash Cans: Latebloomer’s Story, Part Two

Homeschooled Girls and Trash Cans: Latebloomer’s Story, Part Two

HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Latebloomer” is a pseudonym. Latebloomer’s story was originally published on her blog Past Tense, Present Progressive. It is reprinted with her permission.

*****

In this series: Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four | Part Five | Part Six | Part Seven

*****

Part Two: The Social Isolation of Homeschooling

What do homeschooled girls and trash cans have in common?

They both only leave the house once a week.

"What do homeschooled girls and trash cans have in common?"
“What do homeschooled girls and trash cans have in common?”

This joke was well-received among homeschooled youth because it rang true for so many of us.  For almost all of my teen years, church was the only social activity that I engaged in, the only time during the whole week that I might have a chance to interact with people who were not my immediate family.  Making friends in that context, especially as a shy teen girl, seems daunting.  However, I had an even greater obstacle to deal with: I was not allowed to participate in youth group.

My parents were absolutely terrified of teenage rebellion.  Thanks to various books and speakers popular in the homeschooling community, my parents believed teen rebellion to be a recent American trend due to indulgent parenting and peer pressure.  A rebellious teen was more than just an annoyance in the homeschooling community: that teen was turning his/her back not only on the parents, but also on God.  What a tragic waste of years of sacrifice and careful training by the parents!  This type of thinking motivated my parents to maintain careful discipline and to shelter us from almost all contact with our peers, even at church.

I distinctly remember the conversation between the youth pastor and my mom.  I was probably 14 or 15, and so shy that I would start shaking if anyone tried to talk to me at church.  Although social interaction was painful, I desperately needed it, and I think the youth pastor noticed that.  He approached my parents after church one day to invite us to Sunday school.  My mom asked for the materials that were being used in Sunday school, and took them home to peruse them with my dad.  I heard the decision the next week at the same time as the youth pastor: “Our kids will not be attending Sunday school.”  The reason?  Apparently the material mentioned a teen who was frustrated with his parents, and it was dangerous for me to think that frustration was a valid or normal feeling for a teen to have toward parents.

The tough thing about social phobia is that it is often self-reinforcing.  In my case, my severe social anxiety displayed itself in uncontrollable muscle spasms, and anticipating the shaking made me even more anxious about interacting with people.  What if someone noticed me shaking?  I used to cry myself to sleep at night quite often, occasionally trying to get my mom to notice my tears by sniffing juuuust loud enough for her to hear as she walked by my door.  When she came in to ask why I was crying, I would say something like, “I don’t have any friends” or “I don’t know how to talk to people.”  The answer to these was always the same: “You have us” or “You’re talking to me right now.”  In the morning, life would proceed as usual.

Unfortunately, the “usual” for my life at home was very empty and quiet.  My dad was working long hours and was permanently in a bad mood when at home, and my mom was always sapped of energy for various reasons.  She left us kids to do our schoolwork independently much of the time; we even corrected our own errors from the answer key.  Later, due to mysterious and debilitating health problems, her energy was so low that just going to the grocery store was often too much for her to handle.  It was simply understood in the family that we shouldn’t harass her about wanting to leave the house.  Since I wasn’t able to get my driver’s license until I was 18, I was stuck for hours, days, weeks, months, years with little-to-no mental or social stimulation.

Little-to-no stimulation is not an exaggeration; obviously, a teen girl who can’t even go to Sunday school due to “bad influences” is going to find many other things forbidden to her as well.  Our home did not have a TV; we watched few movies; we only read pre-approved Christian or classical books; we did not have internet access; and we certainly did not listen to most music.  My one musical joy was listening to Steve Green and going to his concert with another homeschooling mom.  When I tried to add Rebecca St. James to my CD collection, my mom almost had a meltdown because of the beat and the heavy breathing; it didn’t matter that almost every song was a verbatim quote from the Bible.  I knew my role–honor your parents–so that CD went straight into the trash and I tried to feel happy that I was obeying God.

What did I do with my time at home?  I dragged my school work out to take up most of the day; I spent large amounts of time spaced out, lying on my bed; I wrote in my journals; and I made my own clothes.  My homemade clothes were the outward sign of my feelings of isolation.  Starting at about age 13, I was responsible for furnishing my own wardrobe (within the boundaries of modesty my parents provided, of course).  I had $25 a month to work with, and my mom could tolerate shopping at fabric stores much more than at clothing stores, where everything was “immodest.”  (And that was in the women’s clothing sections–I didn’t even know that clothing came in junior sizes until after I had graduated from high school!)  Out on various errands or on family vacations, wearing my very odd, ill-fitting clothing, I felt the stares and desperately wished that human contact was unnecessary.  “I wish I could just be a hermit!” — this sentence occurs a little too frequently in my teen journals.

My first friend of my teenage years came from Hope Chapel, when I was about 17.  Pastor Reb Bradley, with the support of the homeschooling families of HC, would not allow a youth group in the church.  Finally, I was not so odd!  It was easier to strike up a conversation with someone, knowing they might be just as desperate and nervous as me.  It was easier to not feel judged when the other person’s clothes were just as odd as my own.  I could more easily feel successful at conversation because it was not full of cultural references that I had no idea about.  I became a little more confident socially, strengthened my atrophied conversational muscles, and got a little more hopeful about life.  I was even able to add a second friend by the time I was 19.

Now I’m 30 years old, with four years of college and eight years of work between me and my teen self, yet I still feel the effects of the isolation I experienced growing up.

First, I still feel significant social anxiety in even the most non-threatening situations.  I am particularly at a loss in group settings full of new people.  What do I say? When do I say it? Whom do I say it to?  How/when do I end a conversation?  Even in a circle setting, when it’s my turn to say my name, my blood pressure skyrockets.

Second, in the whole world, there is no place and no group of people where I feel like I belong.  It’s like I was raised in a different culture, with the distinct difference that I can never go “home” to it.  I’m permanently a foreigner; interacting in this foreign culture takes a lot of attention and effort.  I’ve tried to catch up on the culture I missed…to watch the movies, to listen to the music, to see pictures of the clothing styles…..but it will never mean to me what it means to you.  People always use cultural references and nostalgia as a way to build community and connections between people; for me, they create distance and remind me how different I am inside.

My profile photo is of the 80s star Molly Ringwald.  The first time I ever heard her name mentioned was at my first real job, when I was 22 years old.  God bless my dear gay boss, who saw through my awkwardness and gave me a chance at the job because I looked like his favorite childhood actress!  When he learned that I had no idea who she was, his jaw hit the floor.

These days, I manage to avoid shocking people too much, unless I decide to tell them about my past.  To me, the biggest compliment I can receive today is, “You were homeschooled? Wow, I can’t even tell!”

*****

To be continued.