by Heather Doney cross posted from her blog Becoming Worldly
I have a concern about stuff I’m seeing and not seeing in the survivor community, and I think the time has come to address it, and talk about creating individualized post-fundamentalist roadmaps to ensure you’re not accidentally following new leaders in directions that don’t truly work for you. So here goes:
How should we interact?
Just so y’all know, a while ago I left the Homeschoolers Anonymous group and blog network and while I was clear to them as to why, publicly I was quiet about my reasons for that, since I didn’t want to contribute to a breakdown in the survivor community and I hoped with time things would settle out on their own. However, they haven’t seemed to settle, instead quite the opposite, and thats how I found myself the other day speaking out against the online behavior of a number of members of HA when they ganged up on Vyckie Garrison’s Facebook page, telling her she was unsafe and didn’t care about survivors.
Seeing as how I’m sure Vyckie does care, and how I like her as a person, and that she has given much of her time and energy to this issue long before anybody else even cared to try; and seeing as how those of us that built the second generation survivor spaces initially all met and grew our projects in one way or another due to Vyckie’s work (I certainly wouldn’t have had the excellent information on QF or the contacts that I did when I did, if it wasn’t for Vyckie and NLQ and the bloggers before me that she hosted there), I thought it was all more than a little messed up, and I said so. There was then of course more piling on of the sort some people see as “calling out,” an encouragement of high social justice standards using social media, and what I see as thinly veiled online bullying and social justice trolling – essentially being a power hungry jerk on the Internet while disguising it as being for social justice purposes.
The confrontation was over whether Vyckie, on her Facebook wall, was wrong to make a public post inviting speculation about what news we’d hear about the Duggar family in 2016 and then, when a lot of random people joined in with their two cents, turn off notifications and just let other people converse away.
Where are the boundaries?
The problem seems to be that not only did people converse, but some snarked in ways that were rather gross, including gleeful speculation as to which one of the Duggar kids might come out as gay. When some homeschool alumni pointed out that speculation about such matters was not appropriate considering these kids are minors, currently living in a cult family, and being gay is seen as really bad there and might get you abused and sent off to some really horrible reparative therapy, a melee ensued, with trolling behavior and rudeness and someone threatening to fight a couple former homeschool girls. So it seems pretty cut and dry about who was in the wrong there, right? Well no. Unfortunately, the story continues.
Some homeschool alumni tagged Vyckie in comments over 25 times, spamming her and demanding that she moderate her wall, shut down the thread, and ban people, and that was on top of the numerous direct messages they sent to her. When Vyckie finally saw what a mess this had become the next time she got on the Internet, she pointed out that it’s her policy not to moderate these types of threads, that it takes too much time and effort to regularly do so, and the people expecting her to needed to adjust their expectations. Vyckie set a boundary that people needed to recognize it as a public comments section, and stop spamming her. She also tried to find the guy who had threatened people but found his account had either blocked her or no longer existed.
Anyway, that should have been the end of it, right? A bad day on social media (notice how common these are becoming?), with everyone needing a beer and a back rub and some GIFs of cute puppies running around or something to decompress.
Nope, a number of angry HA members, not satisfied, ganged up on Vyckie again, demanding she sanitize her Facebook page and apologize to all homeschool abuse survivors for her mistakes, and at the same time they called her unsafe and said her lack of page moderation and refusal to comply showed she didn’t actually care about survivors.
So, as much as I disagree with the people gleefully snarking on the Duggar kids and speculating about the sexual orientation of minor cult children, I’m coming out on the side of Vyckie on this one. She is a survivor too, and she has a life now that isn’t just baking bread and breeding and listening to her husband and God. And if she says she doesn’t have time to moderate her Facebook page except in the most extreme of circumstances, that’s her call to make.
Besides, we should all be done making demands of women to serve us, but especially women who’ve raised 7 kids, several with a disabling bone disorder, and become an advocate after moving on out of a cult. They’ve had enough demands in their lives, dammit. We need to respect their sense of agency, even if we disagree, or might have other priorities ourselves. Unless you believe someone is getting hurt. And it is a pretty far cry to say that the Duggars read Vyckie’s Facebook page and would believe some random person speculating that one of their kids seems gay, and send the kid to preemptive anti-gay kiddie camp based on that. The person who was being hurt here is Vyckie – she was having her reputation as an advocate and a survivor slammed and dragged through the mud because she had the nerve to say no to people who don’t handle being told no very well.
And here’s where I’m coming out against the overall pattern of ganging up on people you see as being wrong on the Internet and trashing them. It’s not cool at all, and that’s a much bigger problem and pattern and quite a bad side of humanity I’m seeing here – the tribal behavior of the middle school bully that us homeschool kids never got to be or have.
How do you handle mistakes and disagreements?
You see, this is the reason I left HA. It wasn’t because I lost interest in being a part of the survivor community. Its because this happened before and I wasn’t ok with it then either. The gang-up that precipitated my leaving was done to Rachel Held Evans. Because she chose to participate in a panel with a pastor whose wife had accused him of being abusive, she had to deal with a torrent of HA members’ online messages accusing her of betraying all that she claimed to stand for and being an unsafe person and tantamount to an abuser herself.
I said it was wrong, that this was bullying, that this didn’t help our homeschool reform cause at all, and when I said this was an immature reaction and suggested that maybe some of these former homeschool survivors (for whom part of their abuse history is that they were very socially isolated, and the Internet was often the only place they could make friends or be themselves) didn’t have the social skills to understand how badly this was coming off in real life, I got accused of being an ableist, and a bad ally to gay people and domestic violence survivors, plus a few other things, and my comments were deleted. With that, I’d had it and I left. I asked them to take down my name as an HA blog partner but gave them permission to still repost writings of mine as they chose.
They have reposted some, but very infrequently, and there has been a quiet shunning gathering traction as I am now “unsafe.” And I stopped blogging almost entirely in the midst of this, because I’ve been concerned about public online bullying happening to me too, and it has felt like an elephant sitting on my keyboard every time I wanted to hit the “publish” button.
Who is “one of us?”
I also see that after this blowup on Vyckie’s wall, that this slowly growing fault line between the parents who joined a cultish movement (and I use “joined” loosely, because nobody ever joins a cult on purpose) and the children who were born into the Quiverfull/Christian patriarchy world has become a full-on fissure and people are already being encouraged to get on one side or the other in this impending survivor community divorce. Vyckie had already quietly stopped recommending survivors join HA (and so had I) and Suzanne had posted very few HA stories on NLQ as of late, but HA sent NLQ a letter asking that NLQ take down all HA related blog posts and that they’d take down theirs. As if all survivors and supporters can’t benefit from all of our stories being shared widely.
It’s a shame, as an acrimonious breakdown isn’t what any survivor community needs, especially one as singular as ours, but it’s also a shame because I personally feel I helped build something that is now encouraging people to behave in ways that are anathema to what I believe in.
What is safety, really?
Many of my fellow homeschool alumni who are speaking the loudest about the creation and protection of a “safe space” right now were raised with the Pearls’ “To Train Up A Child”methods and seem to have have switched out the tenets of it but not the mentality, so they end up treating interpersonal issues like not using appropriate pronouns for trans people as deserving of the same treatment you’d have gotten for disobeying parents – swift punishment, character assassination, and shunning; a breaking of the opponent’s will to be bad. And the problem here isn’t that people shouldn’t expect to have their chosen pronouns respected (at least I think they should). Rather it’s the utter lack of generosity, indeed the entitled loathing gleefulness with which some people play gotcha and tear other people down, the vicious attack format that it all comes in.
Also, it is one thing to direct online anger at the HSLDA and the people and politicians actively making money or scoring political points by loosening homeschool laws and fearmongering that social workers will snatch your children solely for being homeschooled and Christian. But to go on some purity crusade against fellow survivors in the name of a “safe space?” Well, I can tell you exactly what that reminds me of. Yep, same old Bologna, slightly different flavor from what we grew up with. Only the true believers need apply, so that they can witch hunt, shun, look down on, or kick out anyone seeming a bit too lukewarm or troublesome.
The thing I know about fundamentalism is that it thrives on self-righteousness and aggressive shaming/othering, this feeling that you belong to the group that’s got the one right answer and you and your group will spit this pearl of wisdom into the other person’s eye real hard, while treating them like swine, if they do not immediately realize it. And, after wiping your spittle out of their now bruised eye, they are then supposed to thank you for knocking some sense into them and apologize for being wrong.
And most people, quite obviously, don’t react like that. They spit back, or walk off and think you’re crazy or an asshole, or (worst of all) cry quietly by themselves that night, recalling the day’s events and wondering if maybe they were as wrong as you said they were and do actually suck and somehow deserved it.
Because just like the so-called sub-Christians who use zealous faith as an excuse to do bad deeds self-righteously, and make it hard for Christians who care about doing good to be taken seriously, the social justice assholery and trolling makes it harder for people who genuinely care to do the actual real work (not online yelling) of meeting the needs of the downtrodden and the inequalities they face in our society. It makes it more difficult for them to get heard and respected for what they’re really saying when they talk about checking privilege and reforming systems of abuse and neglect when people have more often come into contact with this terminology being used as a gotcha game trump card for slamming somebody in an argument.
But if you point out this harmful dynamic (like I’m doing now), you get accused of tone policing. It is all a big self-sealing argument, no room for criticism of the behavior, no room to be wrong, no room to change course, only a forward march with the directive. It sets up a pattern where, if you buy into this setup, you always find yourself yelling at people for the “right” reasons and having most of them think you’re a jerk, so you just yell more often and louder until you have a breakdown. Feels a little like home, doesn’t it?
What does a balanced life look like?So I think you can see where I’m going here. The opposite of being a Christian culture warrior, an arrow for Christ, is not going out and becoming a social justice warrior for the left. It is to study generosity and moderation until you become comfortable with it. Forging those swords into ploughshares is a much more radical shift than defecting and fighting for the other side.
How about not being a warrior for anything for a while? How about making friends and learning to love yourself and your freedom of choice and practice being able to respond to someone being wrong with kindness and the patience to explain why you see it differently, or, if you don’t have that patience, the sense to walk away and not do more harm than good?
When the Rachel Held Evans debacle happened, I came to the sad realization that not only was I not going to be heard in a community that I had helped build and truly had high hopes for, but the obsession with “safe space” actually made it unsafe for people like me. I felt so judged, so labeled, like none of my hard work and caring had made me worthy of basic human decency, and after the fact I saw that I’d been put up on a pedestal I didn’t ask to be on and then torn down and thrown away when it was determined that I didn’t belong on said pedestal. But nobody belongs on a pedestal.
What is within the realm of okay behavior?
Survivors on self-healing journeys are people who sometimes have a bad day (and sometimes more bad days than good days), or get triggered easily, or say the wrong thing, or act according to the old script on certain topics because we haven’t gotten around to processing that aspect just yet. Or we are people who sometimes just disagree, see things through a different lens, a different set of priorities. We are individuals after all. In my case, I really enjoy having priorities that are mine, developed by me, and not someone else. That is a big deal. And I don’t deal well with pushy behavior to conform. And hey, we all have our issues, whether we’re survivors or not. Human beings are complex. None of us are safe. None of us our pure. And not all of us think becoming safe and pure is the damn goal to reach for anyway. I sure don’t.
What does a healthy support structure look like?
What I need is a space with generosity and patience and a good sprinkling of fun. I envision a space that has a value system where you call in with respect and consideration when someone acts in a hurtful way rather than calling them out with a superiority attitude. A space where interpersonal relationships and actual humans are valued just as much as the rules.
And HA hasn’t been that for me. It once seemed like it was, for a time, and maybe someday it could become that again, with better moderation and leadership and understanding of these issues, but it isn’t there yet and sure doesn’t seem to be heading in that direction right now.
NLQ isn’t perfect either. Sometimes I get really mad at some of these newly-emerged former Quiverfull moms who think it’s ok to keep pseudo-homeschooling, leave their eldest daughters with all the work, and at the same time act like they are the primary or even sole victims of Quiverfull. And a lot of the movement atheists piss me off because doesn’t sitting around snarking on Christians all day get old? It sure did for me. And no, I did not share my survivor story for anti-religion snarking purposes, thank you, and besides, haven’t you learned it’s totally rude to insult somebody’s faith if it isn’t hurting anyone, and just as rude to equate the moderate members of a faith with the extremists?
Also, the constant coverage and discussion of the Duggar debacle is too much. Their family situation breaks my heart for a hundred reasons that I could devote at least one post to but I probably won’t because even the thought makes me immediately tired. And so many people have exploited those kids (for money, for Christian testimony, for entertainment) that any extra exploitation, even just mining the situation for laughs, has become the opposite of funny to me.
What comes after acknowledging the effects of trauma?
I also don’t read survivor stories of the “these are the things that happened to me” variety much anymore and I don’t write them either. It was a phase. I got mine out, had my catharsis, and I know enough of those by heart now, know many of the people who carry these stories and live everyday with the fallout, and what I want to consume now are stories of healing and perseverance and rebirth. I would like to see more of those, the sharing of all the small human ways it can be done.
So yeah, no survivor space is ideal, and not every space is a fit for everyone at every phase of their journey, but I want one that prioritizes healing and generosity. One that leaves room to fuck up and try again, on your own terms, without being yelled at by 20 people demanding your groveling, public shame, or ejection. We’ve all seriously had enough of that punitive punishment stuff to last a lifetime.
How about giving hugs, and being told you’re worth it, you’re worth everything? We haven’t had enough of that. We haven’t had nearly enough. Some are like this dog and don’t know what on earth it’s like to be really loved. And even if you do know, who wouldn’t like more? Can we please do more hugs (or at least waving in a friendly way at each other) and more compliments and kind greetings?
What do I actually want to do with my life now?
Is there anybody else who would like to set the life of being an arrow for Christ/social justice warrior aside and concentrate on building yourself into something less weapon-like? Do you want to have deeper friendships (including with yourself) or explore what you could do instead of distancing and shunning at the first sign of ideological divergence? Are there peers of mine interested in building community around peaceful healing, affirmations, conflict resolution, restorative justice, and caring about all people, including yourself? What about learning to let go of perfectionism and soothing the worries that the person to your left or to your right might be a wolf in sheep’s clothing? How about discovering how not to beat yourself and others up for being wrong? Because I do. Because I am still trying to. As that’s the journey I’m on. And a community supporting that journey is something I figured we needed all along. We all have these questions. There won’t be one right answer to any of them, for anybody. But a community that is centered around exploration of what else we could become if we choose not to be soldiers in the culture wars, trying new versions of the same old script and punitively enforcing ideological purity, well that might be good. I think stepping away was the best thing I’ve done for myself.
Coming out of Quiverfull, you realize you don’t know how to live, not really. Our purpose was only ever supposed to be lining up to meet the enemies at the gate or materially supporting those who were gonna be lining up. We were children bred to be soldiers and we don’t have another set of approved options or a pre-Quiverfull “normal” to go back to. We can only create a new normal. And judging from the tenor of things as of late, I think many of us need to work on answering these questions in a space carefully removed from any pressures to rejoin the culture wars arenas we were raised in and told we existed to serve for life.
And I don’t know about you, but I defected so that my life would be better than that, and I wanted a survivor community so we’d all work together to help each other have better than that.
It’s still what I want. I just think it’s hard to do something we’ve never done before, much easier to repeat a new version of the same old thing. So I figured I’d end this post, not with any more concerns or examples of dysfunction, but by issuing a challenge: Answer these questions yourself, without the old script or anyone else’s new script, just you and yourself, and see if the exercise leaves you with any more insights into your post-fundamentalist journey.
And if you want to talk about it, I’d love to know.
Heather Doney blogs at https://becomingworldly.wordpress.com/
Heather was raised Fundamentalist Evangelical in South Louisiana until she was 13. At that tender age she was introduced to the world at large and starting her journey away from home schooling environment.
Her blog is primarily about Quiverfull lifestyle, homeschooling culture and politics, child welfare, PTSD, education, poverty, big families, gender issues, and maybe a few bits of south Louisiana or New England culture and a recipe or craft project or two thrown in, just for fun.
She is a member of NLQ’s The Spiritual Abuse Survivor Blogs Network
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