When I opened up about my experiences with religious indoctrination on Facebook a little while ago, a relative expressed shock anyone could believe the things I believed for so long. I knew they were defensive because they didn’t like my criticism of Christianity, and their faith was of a more liberal variety, but it still stung. Their thoughtless implication was that I was stupid to have accepted the beliefs I was raised with for so long.
When I started writing about my experience leaving religious fundamentalism behind and shedding the indoctrination that I’d been raised with, I noticed something: it took me so long to break free because for most of the years during which I struggled, I had no personal help on my journey. I was, in fact, being actively impeded and slowed by some of my nearest and dearest.
When I finally made some friends that were supportive of my journey, because they’d already traveled the route or were somewhere ahead of me still working on it themselves, I made progress so quickly that the people that had impeded or slowed or feared changes in my life were unsettled. They saw me as enormously and quickly changed from who I had been.
The truth was that I was finally becoming myself – the self I could glimpse in my childhood, the self that had been taught they weren’t acceptable the way they were and that they must be transformed into someone else entirely. Religious indoctrination had turned me into my own worst enemy, convinced that the real me was a blight on my soul that must be eradicated. I was weaponized against myself. I didn’t harm my body but I sliced my psyche to ribbons.
So much of my life has involved being unseen, unsupported and unacceptable. Disappointing myself because I couldn’t live up to people’s expectations. Feeling abnormal because the way I experienced life didn’t appear to match the way other people experienced life. People placed templates on me and I usually thought they had every right to do so. I tried to fit those templates, tried and failed, repeatedly.
Over the course of my existence every major part of me was expected to be a certain way and conform to certain standards. My faith, my gender expression, my sexual orientation, my sex life, my procreation, my parenting, my domestic existence, my emotional bonding, my appearance, even my communication – all of it expected to conform to preset average, easily understood and manageable, so the people in my life could see the behavior and responses they expected and be comfortable with my existence.
Maybe it would have been a little easier if I’d been standard in most ways, but the random number generator wanted me to be an outlier. Genderqueer, bisexual, demisexual. My biological clock never turned on. I don’t want a homey nest and roots. I’m both analytical and highly empathetic. I feel things strongly but the biochemical process in my brain never shuts down the part responsible for logic and reasoning. This means I can make calm decisions while literally shaking from a flight or fight reaction. I could have a discussion about philosophy while in the middle of intercourse. I crave intense connections and dread shallow socialization.
I don’t know why I’m this way, I think this is just how I am, I would say, but that wasn’t the acceptable answer. I just wasn’t trying the right things the right way in order to experience life the way other people did. I, too, could know what life was like for them if I just followed their advice and suggestions and criticisms. When I tried, and failed, it was my imperfect efforts at fault, not that the advice and suggestions were useless for me.
It would be nice to feel seen, accepted and liked on a more frequent basis – liked not for what I’m imagined to be, but for what I am.