Thursday, February 11, 2010

My deconversion story Pt 4 - It finally starts getting better...

I know my story sounds pretty awful. I’m sorry about that, but there’s not a lot one can do with the truth.

On the plus side, for the next seven years nothing bad really happened. In high school I was given my own room, where most of the girls slept 2-4 to a room, because it quickly became clear that I was too damaged, and knew far too much about human sexuality to be exposed to the other girls in so private a setting. If nothing else, by then I was a chronic insomniac, and afraid of the dark, which can be tough on a roommate. And thanks to my looks when any special guest came to campus, I was usually given some reason or other to be in my room, or in one of the private study rooms on campus. Basically I was hidden away because they were embarrassed by the freak. But at the same time, I made a number of very close friends, whom I’ve kept over the years, and received an excellent education. By the time I graduated high school, while I might have still felt like a freak, I was a freak who could do whatever she set her mind to doing.

I wanted to go to UC Berkley, or preferably the all-female Mills College in Oakland, where I wouldn’t have to deal with men before I was ready, but that would have meant living in the dorm. Mother wanted me to go somewhere where she could rent a condo, a place she could escape when J’s affairs became too embarrassing, on the excuse of visiting her daughter. So I ended up at another school, not nearly as good, where the only way to study biochemistry at the same level was to join an industry-oriented program. The program was mostly male, and unless the women in the program were sleeping with *someone*, they were harassed until they left. Since I was a freak who was still not comfortable with boys I was destined to be pushed out, until I met my friend S. S was a retired cop, who had gone back to school for his degree after being injured in the line of duty. He lived in the same building I did, and so it was easy for us to pretend to be sleeping together. It hid the fact that I was not ready to deal with sex, and that he was gay. Even this wasn’t all that bad, because by comparison to my friends who had gone to places like Berkley, Stanford, and MIT, I was able to log much more lab time in my smaller program, and I ended up with much more practical experience. In the end, they envied me as much as I envied them.

It was hard won experience. Back in high school I started getting shooting pains in my back and legs every time I had to climb the hill to the dorms, or go up more than one flight of stairs, or spent too much time standing. In college it grew steadily worse, until I was having trouble completing a full lab period, or even walking across campus. I went to the campus clinic and was told I just needed to lose weight, that my hormones weren’t all that bad, and neither was the pain, that it was all in my head. From that I took away that I was not only a freak, I must be a lazy freak as well. I worked part time, took 18 units a semester, worked 4 hours a day in the hot sun in the outdoor lab, rode 6-10 miles a day on my bike, and still weighed close to 300 pounds. And somehow this was all my fault, because nothing was really wrong with me. It was, after all, just some hormones.

During this time I can’t say I thought much about religion at all. I spent some time thinking I was still Catholic, and some time studying my father’s Pagan faith. But nothing ever held all the answers. Mostly, I was hoping to develop a personal relationship with something, some great deity that would accept me, and love me, even though I was some queer freak. But I never did. It was clear to me, I was on my own.

But it was also clear to me, after fighting through the pain, and accomplishing what I could, that I could do it on my own.

My deconversion story Pt 3 - Yes, they taught us these things

So far the bible is the easiest node to discuss. We covered the Documentary Hypotheses, the various sources for the Bible, and the politics behind the different translations as part of the required Bible Studies class during my freshman year of high school. Until I found to the Patriocentric community on the net fifteen years later I never met anyone who actually, truly believed the bible was the literal word of God.

So, really, from high school on, I never have.

My deconversion story Pt 2 - When people let you down

In this series Evid3nc3 discusses something he calls The God Concept. The idea is that what we usually call "Faith" is really a meta-concept, made up of various other concepts and beliefs. These concepts and beliefs are linked, much like the nodes in a computer network. Now if any one node goes away, the network will remain standing. However, if enough nodes go, the network will go with it. This is called graceful degradation. He walks you through the graceful degradation of his network in this video series. I'm trying to do the same, but my path will of course, be different, and so I will be sharing his videos out of order.

This is the graphic representation of the network.

About two years later Mother met J, her second husband. He was a very traditional Italian Catholic, who was also at the time married with two children. They met while Mother and his wife were serving on the PTA. After an affair lasting about 6 months, he divorced his wife and he and Mother ran off to Nevada for a quickie wedding. Oddly enough, our community approved of his divorce and their marriage, even the Priests and Nuns. See, while Mother was doing quite well in her career, she had only a high school diploma, and was advancing through her company’s in-house education system. While J ex-wife was attending college to try to better herself, now that her children were in junior high. This meant that she was getting too far above J, who only made it to the 8th grade back in Italy, and clearly was neglecting him.

Now, from what I understood of faith and morality, people were supposed to stay married forever, divorce was supposed to be bad, and an affair was supposed to be worse. Mom was divorced, yes, but she insisted that my father had abandoned her, so it clearly wasn’t her fault. This, on the other hand, was clearly at least partially her responsibility. Jesus himself spoke out against divorce and adultery in Mark 10: 1-10 and in Matthew 5:27-31. It was clearly right there. And yet everyone was saying this was a good thing. It was my first brush with the hypocrisy of Christians, but it wouldn’t be my last. At the time I thought it was just my community, and at the ripe old age of 11, I vowed I would be better than the example of my elders. I would stay sexually moral, wait until marriage, and then be faithful to my husband.

After J moved in, one of the first things he wanted me to do was to start calling him Dad. But there was something creepy about him from the start, and calling him Dad just didn’t seem right at all. Besides, I had a dad out there, somewhere. I remembered the name of the town he was supposed to live in, and I remembered from my reading that if you sent a letter to General Delivery the USPS would try to find that person for you. So I wrote him a letter telling him I wanted to meet him, hoping he would protect me from the creep Mother married, and sent it off.

Turned out that, in a way, Dad had abandoned Mom. He had come back from Vietnam with PTSD, which he was self-medicating for with an excess of illegal drugs. He had been alternating between rehab, the psych hospital, and his mother’s house up on Mount Shasta. So he wasn’t available to protect anyone, physically, mentally or emotionally. But he was able to show up for lunch one day, tell me about my family, including how my Grandmother ran a book store similar to one in a town nearby. It was disappointing, to say the least. Around then J had his first affair on my Mother, which was somehow my fault. Apparently wanting to meet my own father meant I was rejecting J, and pushing him away from my Mother. Heavy stuff for an 11 year old.

In addition, he and my Grandfather, who still lived with us, were not getting along. J was older, and had been a child in Italy in WW II. His father had worked in the civil service under Mussolini. My Grandfather had been in the US Army in WW II, and fought in the Italian theater. As you might guess, they re-fought that battle every moment of the years they lived together, and used any excuse to fight. Including any attempts to discipline me. If one told me to do something, the other insisted I do the exact opposite and whichever choice I made was choosing sides, preferring one over the other. If I did it J’s way then my Grandfather would go sit in his room and literally sob because I didn’t love him any longer. If I did it my Grandfather’s way then J would go off to his mistress, saying I didn’t want him in the family, and my Mother would once again blame me for his affairs. Something as simple as setting the table could become a battlefield, as J wanted the table set European style, while Grandpa preferred an American setting. I went to my teachers, who informed me that to Honor Your Mother and Father meant not to go tattling on them.

And while all this was going on, my body was exploding. Quite literally. Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome is not that uncommon in women, but I developed one of the worst cases known on the west coast at the time. My ovaries went in to overdrive, flooding my body with testosterone, the male sex hormone. Within a year I packed on close to 200 lbs, all of it bone, muscle and retained fluids from the excess of steroids. My periods became irregular and I became infertile. And I began growing facial hair. Not just a few, pluckable hairs on my chin, I grew a full beard and moustache, as well as ample chest and body hair. In addition my feelings grew even more chaotic. At one time my testosterone levels tested as high as 375 parts per measurement. What no one said, or realized, or understood at the time was that that was in the range that was desired for transgender women pre-surgery. My body was literally trying to undergo a sex change.

Rather than trying to help me navigate what was clearly a medical problem, my family about as badly as they could. My Grandfather retreated further. My Mother distanced herself from her freak of a daughter, preferring the company of her friend’s more delicate, feminine daughters who could shop and look good in clothing and makeup. And J turned out to have a secret love of transvestites. He insisted Mother cut off my waste-length curls, saying he didn’t want her spending the time helping me with them any longer. He forbid her from buying me women’s clothing, saying I was too rough on my clothes and that it was a waste of money. And he refused to let me shave, without giving a reason at all. Mother made up for that by saying that shaving was too unfeminine, and it would be better to have it waxed off. But to wax hair it has to be at least ¼ in long, which meant that I would be walking around town with a beard for weeks. I looked, and felt like a freak.

About this time I started high-school, a Catholic, all-girl school which was 2/3 boarders. The Sisters there took one look and insisted that Mother take me in for a full medical work-up. That was when I was diagnosed with PCOD, and told that I would never have children. In fact, since ovarian cancer was inevitable I ought to just have a hysterectomy and be done with it. But I was sure that wasn’t how my life was supposed to go. Motherhood was supposed to be the greatest aspiration of Christian and Catholic girls, the Bible spoke so highly of mothers. That couldn’t be right. So, I left room open for a miracle and refused the surgery. Then they offered me medication to try to lower my testosterone levels, but only on the condition that I also go on birth control, since the risk of horrible birth defects was so high, and I was in high school, where anything could happen. The Sisters informed my Mother that since the Vatican did not allow for birth control I could not take the medication and stay enrolled at the school. She decided it was better that I stay, even as I grew more and more freakish.

I suppose that decision worked out for the best, because when J found out I wasn’t going to be having his baby, the abuse started. I knew at the time that it had nothing to do with romance, or even how sex ought to be between loving men and women; I had read enough to understand that. But I also knew that he could easily carry out his threats to throw me out of the house, and given his position in the community, that no one would help me. So I managed to block it out of my mind and keep going until the day that I blacked out in front of Sister C. I woke up in the Emergency Room several hours later, and after they had discovered the rape. Between J and the sisters there was enough political pull to keep it all quiet, although CPS did get involved. A deal was worked out that I would live at the school when J was in town. During the 6-7 months of the year that he worked out of town, I could return home.

What I do distinctly remember was the local priest coming to visit me at the school not long after it happened, offering to hear my confession on the subject. I told him I didn’t have anything to confess. He said that I did, as I had seduced and tempted a good man. I was shocked by this. I told him that I had been asleep in my bed every time, that I had never tempted anyone. He informed me that he didn’t believe me, that it had to be my fault and that if I did not confess I could no longer take communion.

I didn’t give up on God that day, but that was the first time I gave up on the church and on other Christians.

My deconversion story Pt 1 - my life as a Christian, and other things

After watching Evid3nce3’s videos on his deconversion process, and after reading all of the comments in reply to my short version of my deconversion over on the True Womanhood forum*, I’m beginning to think I ought to write my own story. If nothing else, just to get it clear and get it out. I’m going to use Evid3nc3’s idea of a network to structure my tale, even though it flows differently, simply because it’s so thorough and accurate, at least in my opinion.**

So, my life as a Christian, and as other things.

I was born into a family that was already breaking up. My mother is an Italian-American, who lived in a very close-knit, very cohesive, fairly traditional community. My father came from a family of hippies and free-spirits, whose mother was, I believe, one of the founders of the modern Neo-pagan movement. By the time I was born their marriage was already gone, Mother told me many times over the years that I wasn’t wanted, that they only reason why she had me was because her Mother insisted, that she only stayed married so I wouldn’t ever be accused of being a bastard. Within six months of my birth their divorce was final, and since it takes about six months to finalize a divorce in California, for years the family joke was that she stopped on the way home from the hospital to fill out the papers.

She moved in with her parents, and stayed home for the next six years to raise me. I was raised in their Italian Catholic tradition, which was fairly loose at the time. Mass on Sunday, no meat on Friday, little else worried about the rest of the week. I recall her spending a lot of time out, gone with her friends to listen to music, and do whatever else she was doing when she didn’t have to watch me. I remember my Grandfather, who was suffering with lingering PTSD from WW II mostly out in the garage, self medicating with vast quantities of beer. But he was also kind and loving, I remember him building me toys and taking me fishing. Most of the time I remember my Grandmother, who loved me so much, and wanted me around all the time, whether it was helping her in the kitchen or sitting next to her learning to sew while she watched her soaps.

Mostly, though, she read to me. Or rather, let me read to her. As an adult I would be diagnosed with hyperlexia, a very mild form of autisim that leads to developing reading skills abnormally early, at the loss of verbal and social skills. By the time I was in the first grade I was reading at the high school level. But I couldn’t make friends, none of my classmates made any sense to me. And I did not express myself well; I tended to stammer and suffered from aphasia, the loss of words while speaking. This also might have been caused by an incident that happened when I was four. I have dealt with asthma on and off during my life, and this one time I had a very bad attack and ended up in the ER. According to my mother they gave me adrenalin, although my husband now insists it must have been epinephrine. Either way, you’re supposed to stay calm for a time after, because your heart is already beating so strongly, and the risk of breaking off a blood clot and causing a stroke is so high. Either no one told my mother that or she didn’t hear it, or she just grew impatient and wanted me to run off what must have been a case of the jitters, but she let me run around my aunt’s back yard. Not long after, according to family lore, I turned white and fell over unconscious. I woke up in the emergency room again, and was soon sent home. But in pictures taken after, you can see the paralysis on the left side of my face, which lingers to this day. I’d had a small stroke. Regardless of the cause, I was also dealing with aphasia, and I had a very hard time relating to others, and I have ever since.

However, when the time came for me to start school, either because my grandmother insisted or because she was afraid of the bussing that was just coming into vogue, I was enrolled at the school attached to our local church, and she went back to work. From then on my education was left in the hands of the local Sisters of various denominations, religious and otherwise. This meant that I was cut off from any resources available to the public school students, and also meant that I was placed with well-meaning women who had no background in education whatsoever. School became a place where I read a lot, usually quietly, in a corner. As far as faith goes, I suppose it was a decent enough education. I learned all the traditional bible stories, how to say a rosary, what to do about the stations of the cross. When I was in the second grade I made my First Communion just like I ought. But even by then my world, and my faith, were falling apart.

My beloved grandmother was dying of cancer. And my body was starting to change.

Grandma has been diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma five years earlier. It had been years of watching her grow sicker and sicker from the chemo and radiation. Now, that week-end she slipped into a coma, and a week later she was gone. I didn’t get to go to her funeral, it wasn’t considered appropriate for children. Instead I went to school like every other day. Since we didn’t have a sandbox or playground equipment at our school it was considered a treat when we walked the three blocks to the nearest city park for PE. On the way back we would stop in the school driveway to reform lines and calm down before walking past classrooms. I remember that day the teacher chewing us out because we were watching the funeral procession at the church next door. We weren’t supposed to pay any attention. She was too angry for me to be able to tell her that my Grandmother was in that coffin.

In the meantime I was beginning to deal with the wreck of hormones in my body. At the time nothing was said except that I was developing early, and to wait and see, but now we know that Precocious Puberty is a major problem that heralds further illness down the line. I was 7 years old then, already well over 5 feet tall, head and shoulders about my teacher in that First Communion picture. And my body was already starting to develop, taking my emotions with it. There were no resources for support, for grief, for teasing the concerns and tears out of a child who knew too much and didn’t speak well. All that happened was Sister Agnes leading the class in a rosary for my Grandmother. This was considered enough.

My grandfather retreated into his garage and his beer fridge. My mother, who was now working full time, took her salary and what she could get of my Grandparent’s money, and decided to go shopping whenever she could. She certainly didn’t want to be bothered by housework, and since she was perpetually on a diet, she didn’t want to cook either. By the time I was eight I was coming home every day after school to cook and to clean, in the hopes of making the house spotless enough to satisfy her. If she was happy, and it wasn’t long before she was all the time, I could go to the malls with her on week-ends. Not that she would buy me anything but books; those kept me quiet, but it got me out of the house and away from my Grandfather’s endless mourning. I remember wondering why God took my Grandmother away when I still needed her so badly? Why God didn't give me a normal Mother like everyone else, one who cooked and bought my uniforms instead of making me do it, and who took me to Girl Scouts, and every thing else? Why God couldn't help my Grandfather, who was clearly so not well? Why no one else made sense to me, why I felt like I had to be apart from everyone? But no matter how much I prayed or tried to develop a personal relationship with God, He was never there. And no one even though to try to talk to me about any of it. The local priests never came by. The sister’s never brought it up. I was pretty much left on my own to deal with all of it as best I could.

Two years later she met her next husband, and things got worse. But I’m going to split this entry, it’s already long enough.


* Who are some of the nicest, kindest ladies I've ever had the pleasure of meeting. Thank you all for your kinds words, and all the hugs. They mean a lot.

** And thank you for putting it out there.