Please do not harass the coordinator for the prom. Her info can be found online, but I am deleting comments containing that because she does not deserve the ire of internet trolls in her inbox. The coordinator herself was not involved in the decision made. Please leave her alone.
Clare is studying for finals, so I’m taking the mic here. She is really encouraged by the outpouring of support from all sides, and I think this whole experience as felt really empowering for her.
I would like to ask that everyone commenting on the race issue would lay that aside, on the request of Clare’s boyfriend. He asked me pass this message on to you:
I don’t feel race played a part in all that happened Saturday night. I strongly believe they did not know we were together until the situation had already escalated.
Thank you for understanding. Attempts to revive that discussion in the comments will be moderated.
The Richmond Prom Facebook moderators (we’re not sure who they were) deleted all the comments that Clare and others left on their page. Homeschoolers Anonymous screencapped some of the comments before they got deleted. Late last night they deleted the Facebook page altogether. No statement has been made by the administration, no one has contacted Clare or me, and the rest of the group has yet to receive refunds. Her boyfriend did eventually get one, but that was after he negotiated privately with someone involved. No further comments were made by Mrs. D or the woman organizing the event.
Clare’s graduation is coming up very soon, and we’re hoping these same people won’t cause any trouble for her there.
Any discussion of using Matthew 18 in this situation is out of line and will not be entertained. This event was not explicitly a “Christian” event and this was not sponsored by a church. Clare did attempt to appeal to the leadership privately and was denied that opportunity, so even if Matthew 18 was appropriate, she still followed that course of action as much as the adults involved would have allowed.
For those who find Bible verses inspiring, you may enjoy the one that has come to mind frequently about this whole situation:
Meanwhile, when a crowd of many thousands had gathered, so that they were trampling on one another, Jesus began to speak first to his disciples, saying: “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs. — Luke 12: 1-3
And I’ll end with this little treasure from Anne Lamott:
“You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.”
Thanks again, everyone. We’ll keep you updated if anything more transpires.
p.s. If you want to support Clare’s college aspirations, any donations via PayPal on the side designated for her will go into a fund for her textbooks for this coming fall.
Another week, another story of everyday sexism. My sister (a different one — she’s 17 and doing dual enrollment at the local community college to finish up her last year of high school via homeschooling and will start college on the east coast this coming fall) was supposed to go to prom this past weekend, but everything went terribly wrong. When I saw her Facebook status about it (which used the particularly perfect phrase “rape culture activists”), I asked if she wanted to share her story with you here, and she took a little time this evening to write up this fantastic post for you all. This story is actually pretty common — things like this happened a lot in the homeschool ballroom dance + grassroots theater circles in Richmond. But I’ll let her speak for herself. I’m so proud of her.
So, I’m a high school senior, a homeschooler, and a girl, and something really awful happened to me last night, and it made me really mad. Not so much because it was something that did permanent damage to me, but because it is something I have seen happen over, and over and over to people I love and care for very much, and on what better day then mother’s day could I make a stand for the mothers, and the sisters, and the daughters and the friends who have been victims of this painful, traumatizing evil. So here is my story.
Last night was my senior prom. I live in Richmond, VA and several weeks ago my boyfriend got our tickets to the Richmond Homeschool Prom. The theme was “Twilight in Paris.” I got my dress, my shoes, we got our flowers and we waited eagerly for Saturday to arrive. My dress was gorgeous, silver, and sparkly and I got it at Macy’s and was very excited to find it after searching over 6 stores for this dress. The only dress code specified on the registration form was that “Ladies, please keep your dresses fingertip length or longer.” Like a good little homeschooler, I made sure that the dress was fingertip length on me; I even tried it on with my shoes, just to be sure. It was fingertip length, I was ecstatic, and I laid down several weeks worth of tip money I had been saving up to buy it.
Fast forward to prom night. I’m all dolled up, channeling my inner Marilyn Monroe with my blonde hair and bright red lipstick. I’m a tall and fairly curvy girl and you know something? I looked hot. Not trashy, but you definitely would look twice when I walked through a doorway.
And you know what happened? I got kicked out of prom because of it. Stay with me, I’ll explain. I showed up at prom with my boyfriend, and I was wearing the really cute silver dress that was fingertip length on me, and on my way in Mrs. D (one of the two ladies organizing the prom this year) stopped me and said, “honey, that dress is too short.” I said, “what is the rule?” she said, “fingertip length” and I put my arms down by my sides and showed her that it was fingertip length. After which she made a face at me and was like, “well make sure it stays pulled down, it’s too short.” I want you to know that she is a very short woman, and I assumed that she probably just didn’t understand that when you’re 5’9″ and leggy, everything looks shorter on you then it would on anyone else, even if it’s still inside the dress code. So, I tried to help her understand by saying, “I just have long legs, everything looks short on me, but it is fingertip length I just showed you.” To which she responded begrudgingly “Okay but you need to be careful and just keep pulling it down, but not too far!” I was annoyed with her pettiness, especially because I had so carefully complied to their rules, but I said “Yes ma’am,” and went into the ballroom.
When I got into the ballroom I laughed, because I was surrounded by girls in much shorter dresses then me, albeit they were shorter, and therefore stood out less in the crowd, but it was still frustrating. I joined my group of friends, (there were six of us), and told them what happened, they were all appalled, especially considering we’ve been attending this prom all four years of high school and usually wore much shorter dresses then we chose this year. We were also a little grossed out by all the dads on the balcony above the dance floor, ogling and talking amongst themselves. We weren’t dancing, but swaying with the music and talking and enjoying ourselves, when Mrs. D again approached me, and gestured me off the dance floor. She took me into a corner in the hall way, with another woman, (who I’m assuming was a parent/chaperone) and told me that some of the dads who were chaperoning had complained that my dancing was too provocative, and that I was going to cause the young men at the prom to think impure thoughts. At this point I said to her that I hadn’t been dancing at all! Much less seductively, and that even if I had been being inappropriate, they should issue a warning instead of just kicking me out.
Then she proceeded to reiterate that my dress was too short and I that I was going to have to leave. I again showed her and the lady with her that the dress met dress code standards, the only thing the dress code said was it had to be fingertip length, and they never had us sign any sort of agreement to abide by that rule in the first place, and second of all my dress was in compliance with the one rule. Mrs. D said again “The dress is too short” and I asked the chaperone standing next to her what the rule was and she reiterated that it had to be fingertip length, I showed her my fingers and said ” Is this fingertip length?” and she said “yes, but I can’t make that call it’s on Mrs. D.” Then I told them I was trying to understand what they were kicking me out for since my dress complied with dress code and everyone I had been standing with would vouch that I hadn’t been dancing inappropriately. (At this point one of the girls in my group came back and said that she’d been by my side the whole 15 minutes we’d been there and I hadn’t even danced more then 2 seconds and it was completely appropriate.)
At which point they told her that she wasn’t welcome in the conversation and when I protested and asked that she be able to stay to verify what they were saying to me they got very rude and said if she didn’t leave they would kick her out too. Then she went and told my date what was going on and he got very upset , and came over and was respectfully asking them to explain to him the situation, and they told him that it was none of his business and they were kicking me out and he needed to leave. At which point he said “That’s fine, she wasn’t doing anything wrong but if you’re kicking her out then the group that she came with is leaving too and you’ll need to refund all of our tickets.” And Mrs. D said “No, we will refund Clare’s ticket but nobody else’s” And then my date got very angry (but was still being respectful not raising his voice or anything). And he explained that we all drove together and if I had to leave everyone else would be forced to leave with me and therefore they needed to refund everyone. I want to reiterate that my date was being very respectful, but he was also obviously frustrated with her for refusing to communicate with us in a mature or respectful way. Then she got very rude, repeatedly saying “I will not debate with you about this,” when my date was simply asking questions to help him understand the situation, and Mrs. D sent the chaperone to get security at which point both my date and I respectfully demanded to speak with the lady in charge of prom, and Mrs. D refused to let us.
Security came and my group went to get their stuff, I was crying and I asked the security guy if my dress was compliant with the dress code and if he had noticed any inappropriateness in my behavior and he said he didn’t think I did anything to get kicked out but it wasn’t his call. He helped me get my stuff and walked me to the front door, my date was still talking to Mrs. D and demanding our groups refund. She said, “Ok, I’ll give you all your refund if you go to the front and leave now,” and so the group walked to the front where I was, and only I was given my refund ($25). The group I was with got very upset because they had been promised their refund since we had all come together and if I was leaving they had to leave too, at which point we were told that the leadership would converse and make sure we all got our refunds, later that night when one of the girls in our groups mom called and asked how they were going to refund her, they stated “We aren’t going to do refunds.”
When we walked out of the prom, frustrated and angry and feeling very disrespected and violated, some of the people in my group shouted profanities at the security guards, and I personally flipped them off. I putting this part in the story because I want everyone who reads this to know that we shouldn’t have reacted so immaturely to their unfair and disrespectful actions, and we’re all adult enough to admit that. But what I want to know is if the people involved in this situation at the Richmond Homeschool Prom are adult enough to own up to their wrong actions as well. And refund my group as they verbally promised to do, and issue an apology for kicking me out of my senior prom because their husbands felt as though my body was something they had a right to control.
What happened last night was so wrong for so many different reasons:
I was told that the way I dressed and moved my body was causing men to think inappropriately about me, implying that it is my responsibility to control other people’s thoughts and drives.
I was talked to disrespectfully, ganged up on and treated as less then a person by people in authority, and when I requested to have one of my peers present to validate later what was said in this “meeting” I was denied that right and my friends were threatened for sticking up for me.
We were verbally promised a full refund for our group, we received only a refund for my ticket, they need to refund 5 more tickets for our group.
I felt violated by the sheer number of male parents that were assigned to do nothing for five hours other then watch girls in short dresses and heels dance to upbeat music. I think that it is sick and wrong that they assigned them to sit on a balcony above us and look down on us and single us out for our clothes or dancing.
I never signed any documentation agreeing to adhere to any sort of dress code, and the dress code that was verbally communicated to me was followed to the letter, and yet I was still kicked out.
I was informed by more then one friend who stayed at the prom throughout the course of the evening that there was some truly dirty dancing, and that there were several couples making out and grinding on the dance floor, and yet out of a group of 500 people, only one person, (me) got thrown out for inappropriate dancing.
The whole situation made me feel violated, walked over and ostracized. My group of five people had to leave the prom because I stuck out, I have long legs and I was wearing a sparkly dress, I didn’t look like most of the 13-15 year old girls there, I looked like a woman. And goddamn it, I am so tired of people who abuse their power to make women feel violated and ashamed because she has an ass, or has breasts, or has long legs.
This is a message to the women who understand that sometimes, it doesn’t matter how much you pin a dress, you’re still going to have cleavage show when you bend over. This is a message to girls built like me, who can’t find jeans that fit because your ass is just too damn big! The girls with long legs, who are forced to prove that their dresses fit the dress code, just because they have more leg showing then most girls.
This is what I want to say. You are beautiful, no matter how you are built, no matter how you chose to dress or dance or what words you chose to say in the heat of the moment. And even more important then knowing that the fact that your looks, and your body and how you dress doesn’t get to define whether or not you’re beautiful, you have to know, that people are responsible for their own thoughts, desires and actions, and it doesn’t fucking matter if you’re just swaying along with music, or if you’re grinding up on your date, or not even dancing. You are a person, with a soul, and with potential and with purpose, and the way that other people treat you, should never be based on how you dance, or dress or talk. You are a person, I am a person, is it really too much to ask that we be treated like people? Talked to as equals? As responsible adults who get to have opinions and likes and dislikes too? How is it that what I look like and how I dress constitutes the level of respect you give me? How is it that you refused to refund me when I asked for it, but when my male date asked for it, you agreed to refund my ticket to him? I’m only 17, but I can see there’s something wrong about this, please, please tell me I’m not the only one who think it doesn’t matter how people are dressed or how they move their bodies, we should still treat them with respect and decency. And enough with the slut shaming. Please. Goddamn I’m not responsible for some perverted 45 year old dad lusting after me because I have a sparkly dress on and a big ass for a teenager. And if you think I am, then maybe you’re part of the problem.
Clare is doing well and is supported by a good group of friends. She will respond to comments as she can, but this week is her finals week and she may not be readily available.
I think it’s silly how so many of us took to the blogs when the Church gatekeepers wouldn’t listen to us, and how so many of us are now so invested in policing each other.
To counter that, I’d like to talk about this year. This year has been terrible, you all know that. My going away gathering in DC before I moved to LA (appropriately) was one where my friend strung a banner over the doorway that read “Fuck 2013.” I loved her for it.
But the other thing about this year is how beautiful it’s been because of the good people who have been there for me. I’ve gotten to meet so many of my blogging friends, I’ve lived out this year almost entirely in other people’s spare bedrooms and on their couches, and I have not lacked anything.
Do you remember those Xanga posts people used to do where they’d write a post with five little somethings to five different people, without naming those people? It’d be like: Things I Wish I Could Say To You! and then they’d write out those things and just leave it open to interpretation who they were talking about. [Probably all of Taylor Swift’s songs started this way, let’s be honest.]
I’d like to do that for Thanksgiving, but as a thank you, not as a bitter-ex-friend-message. If you’ve been touched, healed, held, changed, loved, heard, supported by good folks online, real-life friends, authors (or even books, articles, movements, or movies you found through the blogosphere), join me for a link up on Friday where we don’t name names, don’t patrol the borders of our favorite community, and don’t judge each other if we realize someone is thanking a heretic, a misogynist, a politician, or an Autostraddle author. Everyone’s journey is different, and we each have things we’ve learned and been grateful for that may have originated in odd or socially non-Kosher places.
Here’s a sample of what I want to see, a real-life thank you to someone who’s been a huge part of this year:
Thank you for letting me cry in your kitchen, for dragging me to your in-laws, for buying my favorite beer and sharing your ice cream, for giving me space when the noise in my head got too loud, for letting me say all the most inappropriate things that popped into my head, for helping me pack and unpack at least three times, for picking me up at the Metro in the cold and rain when I called at the last minute, for venting about the internet with me, and for always answering the phone when I needed you, even if if was after you just had a car accident. Thanks for your real friendship when we were both reeling from years of charades. <3
Join me on Friday and let’s link up together to each share at LEASTfive unidentified thanks to those who have made 2013 a better, more whole, and more healing year for us.
There’s no limit on who or what you can thank. But let’s take a moment to appreciate the good that this community is capable of doing for a hurting soul.
Someone found my blog recently by searching for “fought back against spanking” and that hit me hard.
Whoever you are, I want to give you a hug. You’re not alone.
The memories triggered by that phrase aren’t pleasant. In some ways, I realize I’m reliving the feelings of utter helplessness, desperate fear, and anger associated with those memories. Things with my ex took a much more stressful turn in June, friendships have been shifting, I moved three times in a month, and lost ground with church being a safe space (not my church’s fault). And I’ve been fighting occasional waves of processing/grieving that last for days and make things like focusing, doing my job well, prepping for the GRE, and being a social person really really hard. So much of this season is out of my control. So much of what I’ve been through has been dumped in my lap by circumstances, and I’m sitting on a pile of rubble wondering “what now?”
God was supposed to be good. God was supposed to have a plan for me. I played the game I was taught to play by my Christian upbringing. I was the dutiful one who did what she was supposed to. I followed the rules, didn’t pass go, didn’t collect my $200.
And some days when I just want someone to hear me out, when I write pieces like this, or could write pieces like that, I wonder…what happened? When did all the staid-and-true life pieces on which I was supposed to be able to depend go and turn on me? Why? What did I do?
I remember, when I was a kid, I’d be somewhere in the house, doing school, and I’d hear someone fighting with a parent. I’d hear voices get louder, someone thump their hand on a counter or a table, and then more yelling until the parent had enough and the child would shriek, and I knew that they were going to get spanked. And you could hear the wailing and crying all over the house.
But there is something fundamentally terrifying about the shift that happens when a parent goes to spank their child, for the child. They have no one else to depend on for food, shelter, direction, comfort. And suddenly something goes wrong (and a child of the age when spankings typically happen usually doesn’t have the reasoning capabilities of the adult doling out the punishment), and it’s hard to say why or what the transgression was (in our house, the loudest person usually got the punishment), but suddenly your comforting, nurturing parent on whom you depend…is hitting you.
I’m not a psychologist, so I’m not qualified to say what exactly this does to the psychological development of a child, but I think it boils down to reinforcing that they are
dependent on a higher authority,
this authority is sometimes nice, so be emotionally vulnerable to them,
but if you make a mistake, this authority will be capricious and hurt you until you comply with their will, and
discussing your side is always secondary and less important than the perspective of the authority.
I have a really hard time seeing God as a caring Father. I have a really hard time seeing God as nurturing.
My last spanking was when I was 16 years old. It was the last spanking because I fought back and screamed at my dad to hear me out, because he didn’t understand the situation and had come into the room to spank whoever was being loud. I don’t remember the details, but I think I sassed my mom right when he walked in. I think I was mimicking her back to herself because I was upset at a double standard. I don’t even remember if I was right or not. I just remember the terror of being yanked into the hall bathroom and being told to lean over the sink for my punishment.
I’m not saying that every parent who spanks their kids at any point ever is going to ruin them for life, is going to make them unable to trust God.
But it might make it a whole lot harder.
And if your child might ever have a reason to fight back, or if you ever think of the parenting process in any way as breaking the child’s will to yours, you’re wrong.
Your child isn’t yours. And you will be held accountable.
Listen, talk, work as a team, compromise. Embody grace.
And if they don’t turn out just like you, congratulations. You have succeeded in not perpetuating a cycle of unhealth, and you have nurtured an individual.
Last Sunday night, I got a call from one of my post QF/CP buddies–we’re both the oldest from big homeschooling families with some unhealthy dynamics, and we both left that world when we got married (which torqued both of our fathers, for different, but similar reasons). She and I have been discussing with some of our post-QF/CP peers the needs of new adults trying to get out of borderline abusive or codependent or controlling family situations.
“Hännah,” she said. “I need advice.”
And then she spilled a story about her family’s downward spiral into isolation, fear, and control (increasing after she left and got married as a reaction against how “bad” she turned out), about how her sister “Jennifer” was demeaned by daily screaming from her mom, Bible-based lectures from her dad on why her interest in being vegan and an animal rights activist were rebellious and wrong. Despite many requests to be allowed to make herself vegan food, she was never given permission to even make herself a salad. She wasn’t allowed to touch fruit or vegetables unless given permission, which sometimes meant that food would rot in the fridge even though she wanted to eat it. Jennifer’s parents also threatened her pets, telling her that if she did not eat meat for dinner, she would wake up the next morning to find one of them gone.
The final crushing moment came last weekend, after her high school graduation, when she wasn’t singing in church (out of self-consciousness) and so, in a fit of anger, her parents removed all of her access to the outside world, taking away the power cord to her computer and her cell phone charger. She managed to get a few calls out, begging for help, with the battery power left on her phone.
She called her sister, and asked her to come get her out.
Her sister called me. “What should I do?”
But we knew there was really only one option, and so she and her husband put in 28 hours of driving in three days and went to rescue Jennifer. They got her out after a confrontation with her parents that required police backup, and cost Jennifer her three pets, her graduation gift iPad, her computer, her art supplies, her summer clothes, and her life savings of nearly $3,000.
Jennifer plans to become a concept artist for computer games, and wants to start college classes in the fall in order to pursue her art, but she will need a computer and art supplies and a number of other essentials to start life over in a new state with little to her name.
So, dear readers, I’ve never done this before, but I think this is a worthwhile cause. Would you be willing to chip in $10-15 to help raise $500 for Jennifer’s new laptop?
Update: Use the button below!Comment with your email address below, and I’ll email you my PayPal address and get the fund directly to her–and I’ll tell you how much we raise sometime next week!
I’m also putting together a care package for her, so if you want to write her a note of encouragement (Jesus jukes need not apply) or send her a gift card for clothes or art supplies, let me know and I’ll send you the details on how to make that happen.
Thanks, everyone, for all your support. It means so much for those getting out to know that they’re not crazy or alone, and that good human relationships should not involve conditional love or manipulation.
Jennifer is a pseudonym. Names have been changed to protect identities.
There are two things I’m afraid to write about, for myself. The first is music, and my relationship to it. The second is anger and my fear of myself when angry.
SGM taught that anger is a sin. I remember my mom coming home from care group and telling me that it made so much sense now that she had been enlightened to see it: anger is a sin and it grieves God.
And so I fought my anger for years, like I fought against desire. It’s absurdly obvious, now, how interrelated those two were with the levels of stress in my life at the time. I was angry a lot. I was horny and masturbated a lot. And I really, really hated myself. I was so afraid of who I was becoming and I didn’t know what I could do to change. I prayed all the time, I only listened to Christian music and sang worship songs, I read my Bible every day, I journaled. And I cut out reading any mystery or fantasy, in hopes that I would get my spiritual life in order so I could overcome my two deadly vices.
I still don’t quite know what to make of anger. I’m reading a book that talks about how some kinds of anger are healthy and good, piercing facades to motivate change and wholeness. How some, bad forms of anger are only out to consume and devour. I’m not sure what to think of this.
Anger is really lonely. Anger, for me, was/is usually driven by fear — of not being good enough, of being misunderstood and thus rejected, of being abandoned or neglected.
Today I read two articles. One was a HuffPo piece on Post-Partum Depression and how it causes rage. And I read it and I suddenly was back to last year, when I was on a BC that didn’t work well with my body, which caused mood swings and made me so afraid of being alone. Something would trigger it, and I’d get intensely afraid, and my ex wouldn’t hear my fear, but only anger, and he’d need space and walk out the front door, and then it would become anger. And I’d angry cry myself to sleep and have nightmares of being abandoned.
And I’d remember, when I was crying that when I was a kid, I only every cried when I was angry. I remember telling people this as a sleepover trivia game piece. “I never cry. Only when I’m angry because they don’t understand.”
You have no idea how fearful it is in a legalistic home, with an authority who practices that smoldering, quiet anger, to be misunderstood as the one at fault. You’re brought into the bathroom and you plead and beg and say that there was a mistake, you were loud because the other sibling did x, it wasn’t you’re fault, and you get told to pull your pants down.
And you take it. Because you’re the kid who plays at being orphans, and you read The Whipping Boy and Anne and Little House and you want to be bold and brave and so you don’t cry or wince. Five or six smacks with a strip of tarred conveyor belt, and it’s over. Your face is hot and you look the parent in the eye, and they lean in and put their hands on your shoulders. And oh, they have bad breath from lunch. And they look at you and tell you they love you, but you need to learn x, and you maybe fuss back a little, but in the end you’re apologizing and they’re prompting your apology speech for the sibling who’s waiting outside the bathroom door with a smug look of the one who got away with it.
When it’s over, you carry on like nothing happened, because you don’t want to make a scene and you have to set an example for the younger kids, because if you fought a spanking and they saw, all hell would break loose.
You live like that because it’s right, it keeps order, and avoiding crisis is what surviving in a big family looks like.
But there’s another part of it, too. I read Elizabeth Esther’s post about being spanked and spanking and turning off emotions to break someone, and oh. Her story, her talk about the anger and the cold and the spanking–that is why I am afraid to have kids. My ex would tell me he wanted 10 kids and it’d be great and he’d be a stay-at-home dad and homeschool and I could still work…and I would know, yes, he’d be a great father. Yes, that could work. But I couldn’t escape the chill in my soul at the thought of being a mom.
My parents didn’t use the Pearls’ methods. My mom was a bad authoritarian, thankfully. My dad was a very businesslike authoritarian.
But I still learned to turn off my emotions when I was in a fight with someone “below” me in the family pecking order. If I was an authority, I could become a sociopath to get my way. And I ended up babysitting my siblings a lot. When that happened, they’d push my buttons and I’d snap. I could feel it. I suddenly stopped empathizing. Controlling the situation was all that mattered.
And what made it worse, is that I’d babysit for other people also, all the time. When I did, I’d be fine. All feeling and kindness and firm structure. I could do it. I really enjoyed it, actually. But with my siblings, the boundaries were set differently, and I would be so frightened of myself when I got cold. It’d be an out-of-body experience, watching myself get angry from a distance. We’d get into full-out wrestling matches over who had the ability to phone mom and dad, who had to do the dishes, who had to change the baby. It was ugly. Those evenings, when I was babysitting and things would get out of control and I couldn’t fix it and I got angry? Those are the worst memories of my childhood. It was so wrong. And I’m so appalled by it — even then, I was horrified by it. I didn’t know how to be different. And it scared me.
Just some late-night ramblings on the memories stirred up by those articles, but also: I don’t plan to spank my kids, if I ever have kids. And this is why. This is why I try the best I can to be thoughtful about respecting other people’s bodies, comfort zones, rights. Because I know who I can be. It’s ugly shit. I can be better than that.
(And I don’t think it was just total depravity that made me capable of that.)
I’ve been a little loath to answer this specific question since I started blogging. I prefer to tell vignettes and talk about the big picture of spiritual abuse in the church and use my story in bits and pieces to show examples of how certain authoritarian or legalistic ideas trickle down to affect people in real life.
The reason I’ve been hesitant to tell my story is because it’s not just “I was in this one church for 10 years and it was really messed up” – my whole life has been touched by spiritual abuse and I’m only now in a place where I can begin to feel safe.
I started blogging under a pseudonym because my dad felt like I was slandering him online. My “disclaimer” post happened because my mom got a call from an old friend saying: “how do you feel about being smeared on your daughter’s blog?” and that was both inappropriate and upsetting.
Here’s the thing: my parents are just as much survivors of spiritual abuse as I am. Their active engagement with certain parenting theories, their church choices, and their reasons for homeschooling altogether made us as a family incredibly vulnerable to spiritual abuse. They are still dealing with the aftermath just as much as I am.
The point is: it’s not their fault. As their child, I am stuck in the tension between talking about what spiritual abuse looked for me and being honest about that and being mature and compassionate toward my parents as well-intentioned, kind people who didn’t know what they were getting into, even though their choices directly caused me to grow up the way I did.
And of course it wasn’t all bad. I’m not trying to paint a bleak picture of life with my family — there is a lot of sweetness and light there.
But, it’s still true that trying to become an adult with independent ideas in my family (and in anyQuiverfull family, I will add) is a harrowing journey that can require the young person to either hide their new adult self, suppress their new adult self, or confront the emotional control impulses in QF parents with honesty and risk fracturing the relationship.
And that is a decision that no child should have to face.
So, if you’re a friend of my parents and you’re reading here, please, please understand me: I am not slandering my parents. Slander is telling falsehoods to attempt to smear a person’s reputation. I have no vendetta against them, I crave for them healing and freedom, not condemnation and guilt. I’m not trying to shame them or rebuke them. I’m just telling my story and please don’t tell me how I should tell it. You didn’t live it.
My parents chose to create their family culture around the idea that they could try to get things right where they thought their parents had failed. They saw their children as their Christian legacy, and while they never really engaged the “have more Christian kids to have more arrows in our quiver for God’s army so Christianity can reform and redeem American culture” philosophy which defines a lot of “Quiverfull” families, we were still very much a Quiverfull family.
From an early age I knew that dating was wrong because it was “practicing for divorce” and that I would court to find my husband, that grace was like if mom took my spanking for me when I deserved it instead of her, that I was responsible to behave rightly so that I wouldn’t cause my younger siblings to follow my example and sin/make bad choices, that I was homeschooled because that was the way God wanted parents to raise their kids, according to Deuteronomy. I was taught that I had to be sure I was saved, that rebelling against my parents would be as bad as practicing the sin of witchcraft (and the story of Saul was a byword for that happened if you were okay with witchcraft). I believed that people with mental health issues probably had demons, and that Jesus was coming back soon and I would be held responsible for the lives of sinners I was close with and hadn’t preached the gospel to.
I went up for altar calls three times after I initially prayed the sinner’s prayer with my parents at age 5 or so, because I knew I was often angry with my sister for being annoying, and God’s word said that if I hated my brother I couldn’t love Jesus. I was terrified that I would disqualify myself from a relationship with him because I didn’t know how to love my siblings.
Initially, my family was the only one of its sort in the churches we attended. We’d be the only homeschoolers, the only big family (that was when there were only 5 of us kids), the only ones who didn’t “believe in youth group” and didn’t watch a lot of popular movies and weren’t allowed to listen to “secular” music. But we did find likeminded people in the homeschooling community, some who were as “fundamental” as we were, some who were less strict but still passionate about raising their kids to honor God.
That’s how benign it started. These parents all just wanted to raise their children in a way that would please God and help their kids avoid making “the same mistakes we made” in their teenage and early adult years. But the difficulty with this is that it turned “pleasing God with my life” and “raising my children to honor God” into a formula. Insert One Child, separate from The World, remove Temptation and Rebellion, bake at Christian Community 24/7 for 18 years, and presto! happy Christian heritage passed on successfully to offspring.
If you read the literature my parents and their peers read—Mary Pride, the Pearls, Gregg Harris, Jonathan Lindvall, Bill Gothard, etc.—you’ll see that these people meant well. You’ll see them reacting to abstract cultural issues that disturbed them, and reacting against their own childhoods to try to do better than their parents’ generation. But you’ll also see a heck of a lot of bad handling of Scripture, straw man fallacies, fear-mongering manipulation of idealist motives, and youthful arrogance. Their teachings directly influenced my parents’ decisions and those of many others like them.
I went from a loud, imaginative, inquisitive child to an insecure, fearful teenager who forgot how to make friends or empathize with people because of the legalism embraced by my parents, church, and myself. I became a queen at legalistic self-censure and unintentionally pushed friends away with my self-righteousness in this black and white formula Christianity where I had it all figured out.
I spent a lot of lonely nights in late middle school and high school crying on the couch to my mom about how I felt so unwanted by the girls I counted as my friends, and she’d rub my back and hug me and tell me that it was their loss, and I’d be a wonderful friend.
But what I didn’t realize was that it wasn’t all just “different seasons of life” where they couldn’t relate to my busy life full of housework obligations for my family, my parents’ restrictions on curfew, getting a job out of the house, internet, movies, music, etc. It wasn’t just my academic aspirations in a peer group of wannabe stay-at-home-moms/future pastors wives. My “dry spell” with friendships was, perhaps in part, due to my stuck-up legalism that pushed people away.
If a friend told me about the boy she was crushing on I’d frown, thinking of the boy I was currently trying not to crush on (because it was wrong, duh), and offer a “correction” about how we were just 16, so we shouldn’t be thinking about boys, really.
If a church acquaintance was hanging around with guys after church and wearing a tight top, I would pull her aside and offer the “observation” that it seemed like she was flirting and to watch out for form-revealing tops that might be too “inviting” for “our brothers in Christ” and might “make them stumble.”
If my friend told me she was frustrated with her younger siblings, I would murmur empathy, and then launch into a sermon about how we’re called to serve our families, how it’s practice for our life-long roles at home as women, how we can’t love God if we’re not loving our brother, and Do Unto Others As You Would Have Them Do To You. I’d tell her that mom made us memorize that verse so we could remember to love each other and suggest that she memorize it, also.
Basically, I was a goody-two-shoes who didn’t observe or have compassion for how my friends felt, because I had been raised (by my parents and my churches) to believe that the kindest thing one Christian could do for another was to call each other out on their sin. That was having grace for each other—correcting each other by “speaking the truth in love.”
In reality, there was no grace, there was no concept of love, and the truth I spoke was condemnation rather than healing and hope. And I was just parroting what I saw around me, living out “the right way to do relationships” with other Christians.
If I did that to you and haven’t been able to apologize to you for treating you like that: I’m so, so sorry. Please forgive me.
You can’t love someone if you think that showing love means looking for their weaknesses and exploiting them to make them feel guilty (“pursue holiness”).
I discovered this for myself the hard way. When I started branching out intellectually and becoming an adult thinker, my dad started withdrawing his affirmation of me as his favored child and challenging my ideas. It wasn’t the sort of casual dinner table discussions of various “grey area” issues you sometimes see between thoughtful teenagers and their parents. It was more of a white-knuckled intellectual hazing—I had to defend my position to him on his terms in order to keep my place in his mind as a fellow Christian.
It started with little things. We’d agree in our discussions of how our SGM church’s polity was hurting people and setting itself up for the pastors to have too much power. But then it’d shift into other things: I’d argue for why ballroom dancing wasn’t too much temptation for me, why I thought I should be allowed to wear shorts instead of cutoffs, why I thought that I should be allowed to go to my friends’ houses on Saturdays when he thought I should stay home and help the family instead.
But then it shifted into larger issues as my world expanded through college, and we found ourselves in arguments where I defended the worth of studying Derrida and he’d accuse me of moral relativism. I’d argue that my boyfriend’s student loans weren’t a moral failing, and he’d tell me that the Bible says that those who borrow are fools.
The watershed moment when I realized our relationship had fundamentally shifted when he and my mom confronted me for kissing my boyfriend without asking their permission, almost a year after we’d started dating. It was moving too fast, they said. It was asking for us to fall into temptation, they said. I was rejecting dad’s authority over me and choosing the path of rebellion.
That morning, when they put me in the car and drove for a couple hours, locking the doors and not letting me leave until I had “confessed” to them my potentially sexually immoral relationship with my boyfriend, was when I realized that my boyfriend had been right when he said that my dad was inappropriately controlling and didn’t respect me as an adult person.
I had thought I had done everything right, that I’d figured out what was right and wrong, that my dad and I were practically best friends, that I’d never have a bad relationship with my family.
But that morning I realized that I wasn’t free, he didn’t treat me like a spiritual or moral equal, that my relationship with my parents was inappropriately codependent, that the world was muchmuchmore saturated with gradients of grey than I had ever dreamed, and that I didn’t have anything figured out.
I was morally and emotionally infantile, asymmetrically maturing in my fluency in Pharisee, successful passive-aggressive social manipulation, intellectual irrationality through simplistic logic, and unable to name for myself my own feelings, experiences, loves, fears, passions. If something about me wasn’t acceptable to the world of SGM and my parents’ approval, it didn’t exist as a valid reality.
They didn’t mean to shape me into that person. But when you create a world that is morally immature and only black and white, you stunt yourself and those under your authority and prevent the brilliant beauty of diverse humanity and the full impact of grace on human relationships from being visible. And that short-sightedness combined with power over people is the perfect storm for spiritual abuse.
Spiritual Abuse Awareness Week, Day 1
YOUR STORY & LANGUAGE/CULTURE OF SPIRITUAL ABUSE
Prompt: What is your story? Share your experience — showing the details without going into specifics about places or people involved. What made the environment spiritually abusive? Was it language, unspoken social codes, beliefs, assumptions, expectations? How did these factors enable the abuse? How did you eventually leave, and why?
Join up and share your story! Post on your blog, then come back and link up below. Feel free to use Dani’s image on your post, and tweet your thoughts at us with the hashtag: #ChurchSurvivors
You could find a whole host of famous historical examples of this, but my thoughts went to the strong women in my life.
My great-grandmother, who gave us our blue eyes, lived in Chicago during WWII, deaf and smart and beautiful. One day she trapped her supervisor in the hold of the ship she was building (she said she welded him into a corner) when he tried to molest her. She got his boss and the whole crew to see her innocence and see justice done. When she finished telling me that story, she chuckled to herself, and added “he was afraid of me and showed respect, after that.”
My grandmother, her daughter, who was smart and beautiful like her, was tricked into marrying her first husband when he told her that the doctor’s office had mailed her pregnancy test results to him as planned, and that the result was positive (it wasn’t). But before that, she had turned down three other fellows to pursue her dreams of college and a career. She even chucked an engagement ring in a pond when her beau suggested she stay home and have babies instead of going to college to get her English degree. But then she got stuck, thinking she was pregnant.
When she actually was pregnant and a mother, later, she worked in an office to put her husband through his Ph.D. program and made herself more professional in a Northern workplace by losing her Texan accent. And then she put herself through a masters program to get her teaching degree, with her little ones quietly next to her in the back of the classroom each evening.
Later, she taught me a passion for good writing and edited my childish short stories and middle school attempts at writing a novel. When I went to college, I became an English major, just like her. When she died, I got her National Honor Society pin. I keep it pinned to the inside of my wallet. I am her kin.
My mother isn’t her daughter, but she is yet another smart and beautiful woman. She graduated from the University of San Francisco with her RN and a 4.0, and then worked night shift for a year in the intensive care unit in a SF hospital, caring for patients suffering after receiving liver transplants. When she quit her job, it was to give life to and homeschool nine energetic, stubborn, fiercely creative children. She threw herself into this role with passion, but never lost herself. Her love of learning and her independent drive to nurture creative talents has been a stable and beautiful part of my family culture from day one. I am proud to be her daughter.
And my New England grandmother, her mother. A more reserved woman, but her self-sustained contentment and independence in her long years of widowhood have fascinated me. She sings in the church choir, she takes athletic classes, she reads voraciously and has fine taste in music, literature, musicals, and food. She has quiet but firm opinions on how things should be, but bites her tongue and lets people make their own mistakes. I’m realizing that under her reserve is a depth of soul and intellect that I under-appreciated previously.
This is my heritage: strong women who know what they want and why. And they know how to get it, how to live well, and how to preserve their dignity and integrity.
And I want to be like that. And maybe I intimidate people sometimes, but I don’t need to worry about it, I suppose, if I’m making sure to walk in the little way as much as I can. I am also a strong woman.
My husband’s family is very musical, and we spent much of the weekend singing this and that, or listening to them jam on various instruments. Kevin, some of his brothers, and their uncle prepared a rousing performance of “Bamfield’s John Vanden” by The Bills, and it was the highlight of the musical festivities.
[thanks to my lovely mother-in-law for recording this on her iPhone]
Sometimes I write about my experiences as the oldest child from a big “Quiverfull” family and growing up in a church that was spiritually abusive. My story is my own and it provides the context for talking about hurtful assumptions or disturbing teachings which I sometimes write against. As the guinea pig of a generation of good intentions, I hope to help my peers move beyond some of the half-truths and black-and-white assumptions we grew up with by writing about where I have been.
I am in no way blaming my parents for the choices they made (which they made for various personal reasons related to their own experiences) or the teachings they received (some good and some not so good) and passed on to me. They were doing the best they could in a Christian subculture where some bad ideas were strongly touted as the right way to do things and there was very little in these teachings that had been proven and tried. While we may not agree with each other on which decisions they made were “good,” I greatly respect them and acknowledge some fundamental differences in our methods of approaching the world. We are able to agree to disagree and still enjoy each other.
If you know my family or my parents, please do not contact them about my writing. We are on good terms and hope for it to remain this way. They know about my blog, we’ve talked about it, and we would appreciate it if you don’t meddle. The content of this blog is my perspective only and I do not speak for them. I do not write to condemn or criticize them, but rather to comment on the “movement” in which we were all variously participants. We’re recovering in our own ways and at different speeds.