Being made to feel like you don’t exist

Being made to feel like you don’t exist May 20, 2013

You may remember David Waldock’s excellent guest post, Jobs a Creationist Can Do. I mentioned that David was an ACE survivor, but for personal reasons preferred not to write about his own experience. Today he left a comment in which he described how attending an ACE school and fundamentalist church felt when he was a gay teenager. I defy you not to be moved. With permission, I’m reposting it here because I want everyone to see it. This comment was left in reply to today’s earlier post, in which Caroline, an ACE student, defended Accelerated Christian Education and the view that homosexuality is a perversion.

Caroline, let me tell you what I hear you saying:

“YOU DON’T EXIST. YOU DON’T EXIST. YOU DON’T EXIST. YOU DON’T EXIST. If I acknowledge you exist, it will fundamentally challenge my identity. THEREFORE YOU DON’T EXIST.”

Let me tell you about myself.

I was raised as an evangelical, fundamentalist, literal word of god believing good Christian, in an ACE school. I believed that I believed all the right things. Young earth creationism? Check! Infallibility of Biblical wisdom? Check! Christ born of a virgin? Check! Fundamental sinfulness of man? Check! Man led astray by woman? Check! Women inferior to man in every way? Check! Death and resurrection of my saviour? Check! Personal relationship with god? Check! Importance of strict discipline for children? Check! Satan hiding behind every street corner waiting to tempt me into sin? Check! Importance of being pious and judging the sinners (especially those believers who believe the wrong thing!) so they know they need to receive Jesus into their hearts? Check!

I had it all. And yet, I was never able to achieve the behavioural standards demanded of me. I got caned five times one week for leaving my flag up. I got demerits and detentions for looking insolent. I got told off publicly for arguing with monitors and supervisors. I was bullied by fellow students then punished for responding to it. We had staff who were bitter, twisted, abusive and poorly trained who took it out on me and other students. Then, when I got home, I would be criticised again, hit with a tennis shoe for showing my parents up. But at least nobody spoiled me by sparing the rod, eh! I left that school with three GCSEs.

Not only that, I didn’t exist. Around the age of 16 I realised that women didn’t really do it for me; friends would talk about girls and media stars they found attractive, but I didn’t see it. I saw Keanu Reeves not Sandra Bullock, Aladdin not Jasmine, Ben Afflick not Milla Jovovich. And whilst I’d heard of homosexuals, I knew I wasn’t one of them because, as always reminded, they *chose* to like men, and I definitely wasn’t choosing this. I really really wanted to like womenfolk because it meant I wasn’t an outcast who would probably catch HIV and die, and the church had made it quite clear they deserved that fate.

After a lot of struggling, I admitted these feelings to one of the youth leaders (I was about 17 or 18 IIRC, and in a different church to my parents). Bear in mind this was in a one-to-one, what I didn’t expect was for the public humiliation and prayer which happened the following Sunday, when they attempted to exorcise the demons of homosexuality from me. When I first came out to my parents they didn’t talk to me for 4 years because they thought that meant I was a child abuser. Now, at the age of 21 with 15 years experience, I am still gay and I’m still haunted by my childhood experiences. It’s still a struggle.

So, let me tell you, Caroline, I exist. I was born gay. I am not an example of demonic powers. I am not a sinner in need of salvation. And however much you want to believe that I and people I love and care for are not real, we are. We are all around you, in your workplace, in your neighbourhood, probably even in your church, trying desperately to ensure nobody else realises their secret.

Caroline, you don’t realise the real, everyday harm that your denial causes. On the psychological level, you force us to hide who we are, to disconnect our reality from being revealed. We hear messages telling us we’re evil and going to hell. We’re told we’re worthless, and we really hear and believe those messages. It’s why so many young LGBT people experience serious depression and anxiety. It’s why LGBT people marry to deny their own identity, and end up hurting families when they’re found acting out their secret desires in public toilets. It’s why so many LGBT choose suicide over facing up to the humiliation of honesty. Your words, actions and attitudes are making people hate themselves so much they’d rather kill themselves than look in a mirror. You tell them they are not equal. You tell them they are not worthy. Caroline, you tell them they are less than human. And don’t try the “love the sinner, hate the sin” argument, because it just doesn’t wash. You tell someone their natural state is sinful and you’re telling them that they themselves are sinful.

If that wasn’t bad enough, whilst you may condemn physical violence against LGBT people, your denial of their existence and condemnation of their activities creates a fertile soil in which it is acceptable to tie teenagers to fence posts and kick them until the bleed to death. It creates an environment in which beating up a couple on their way home from a birthday party is just one step up from telling them they’re sinful. It creates a society in which its acceptable to post dog poo through people’s doors because they live with their same sex partner. Your failure to promote equality and to acknowledge and celebrate diversity in this society legitimises the criminalisation and deth penalty for being suspected of being gay in other counties. Yes, you can say that’s wrong, but, Caroline, you feed that. Your words have real world consequences for real prople every day.

But this argument won’t work with you, will it, Caroline, because you know The Truth, don’t you Caroline? Let me try another approach.

Go and read 1 Corinthians 13. Where in there does it say “love judges” or “love condemns”? Where does it say that The Truth is better than being concerned about the effects of what you say and do? Where does Paul does it say that knowledge is a constant?

It doesn’t. You condemn yourself, Caroline, by your words. You condemn yourself by your actions. You condemn yourself by you hypocrisy. But you know what, Caroline? When you’re ready to accept the reality of this world, and when you notice the subtlety of the bible, and when you’re ready to accept me and my brothers and sisters for who we are, and you’re willing to make a stand for us for equality and to stand against those of us who oppress us, when you’re willing to acknowledge you made an error and accept that your attitudes kill, bruise and harm people…

…when you get there, I’ll be there for you. I shall hold your hand as you struggle to adapt to a world outside the closed doors of your blinkered religious world. I shall listen to your tears as you come to terms with the harm done by your teachers to you and to society. I will accept you as you are, with all your flaws and quirks and history.

Because, as I’m sure you remember, Jesus taught that you know a tree by its fruit. And Caroline, the fruit from your tree is bitter and poisonous.

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