Several months ago, I was scrolling through old voice memos on my phone when I stumbled across one that was two hours long. I hit play, and was immediately taken back to when I was 16, arguing with my father about Heaven and Hell. I transcribed the whole thing right then and there, but I wasn’t sure what to do with it. Today, I’m sharing a few clips.* When this took place, I had virtually no one in my life who loved and accepted me for who I am. I had to suffer quietly, counting down the days until I could escape. Now, I have so many friends and mentors who love and support me, and I don’t suffer alone.
In the recordings, you’ll hear me mention Spanish class, which took place at a homeschool co-op I attended every Monday for two school years in high school. You’ll hear my father threaten to “cancel my education,” which is particularly sad to hear, looking back, because for all intents and purposes, my parents did cancel my education. My parents homeschooled me because their only concern was religious indoctrination, even if this meant depriving me of academic resources and learning opportunities a child going to public school would have receive. Despite their plan failing more often than it has succeeded, this continues to be their methodology with my younger siblings.
You will also hear, over and over again, my father bringing the conversation back, in one way or another, to the fact that I am queer. I came out to my parents when I was 13, though I didn’t fully accept myself until I was 17 or so. From the moment I came out, my parents would not trust me when I expressed doubts about anything within Calvinist Christian theology. “No,” they would say, “that’s your sin talking.” Ever since then, I’ve had to re-learn how to trust myself.
One more thing: if you’re queer and have had similar arguments with parents, you may want to just read the transcript, or skip this altogether. It may be hard to hear.
Me, quiet: “I thought I was going to get to bed early tonight, and not fall asleep in Spanish class tomorrow.”
My father: “Oh yeah, ’cause it would be more important to learn Spanish—no, wait, we’re talking about Heaven and Hell for you, aren’t we, [raising voice] we’re talking about Heaven and Hell for you, Son.”
Me: “It’s not that I think Spanish class is more important, it’s just that, I feel like, every time that we have this lecture, it just goes on forever, and we never get anything.”
My father: “Would you like me to cancel your education? This is all that matters.”
Me: “And then we’re probably going to have this same lecture in the morning, for an hour and a half, before I get to go to class, with tears in my eyes, because we couldn’t talk about anything else.”
My father: “Or you could turn from your sin.”
Me: [Yelling] “Are you someday gonna stop saying that same thing over and over again and acting as if I haven’t done it? You really think I haven’t done it? You really think I haven’t done [quiet, crying, some kind of punching into a pillow sound] everything that I ever could?”
My father: “Yes. I’m here to offer you—”
Me: “—That’s the most ignorant thing I’ve ever heard anybody say.”
My father: “We do restrain ourselves. We don’t want your life to be miserable. We don’t want our lives to be miserable. But honestly? My real thinking about Heaven and Hell?—”
Me: “Why can’t I just be a normal kid?”
My father: “—makes me want to come after you. But I can’t change your heart.”
Me: [Crying] “Why couldn’t I have just been normal? This really just all comes down to G-d deciding to make me into some freak.”
My father: “That’s probably the most powerful—I don’t know, maybe most touching sort of thing, of just saying, ‘Why didn’t G-d make me normal?’ because I think I would feel that way and I think I have felt, you know, those questions about, like, you know—I don’t want to feed your doubts about G-d. But I remember very much, not understanding why I, for example, I would have a sexual appetite, and be too young to get married. So, I kind of took the tack I think that John did, ‘Well, I’ll just hurry up and get married.’ But I couldn’t just hurry up and get married. I had to wait.”
A few thoughts
I have two older siblings and four younger siblings. I have four uncles and four aunts, more cousins than I can count, and all four of my grandparents and one great-grandparent are alive. So much family, and there is only one person in my extended family who loves and accepts me as I am. That hurts. Sure, I have a chosen family, a web of people from Michigan, where I’m from, and from everywhere else, due to the military. The people I count as family have mentored me, laughed and cried with me, and supported me through so much. I always know I have someone I can call, no matter what is going on and no matter the time of day, and that’s something many young adults can’t say. Still, I wish I had a grandparent, a parent, or a sibling who was “on my side.”
When I go home to visit with my younger siblings, conversations regarding worldview arise again and again, because that’s what my parents raised me on. Around the dinner table, we talked about religion, and sometimes politics, and rarely anything else. Now, I visit, and my parents wonder “why can’t we talk about anything else?” But worldview is as all-encompassing as it sounds, so even if we talk about something else, it’s never too far. If we talk about the media we enjoy, I know if I mention various popular shows, they’ll have only heard of them in passing, since they have strict rules about the media they consume. And, of course, if I bring up my boyfriend, I can feel the awkwardness in the room just as well as I could feel it if it started to rain in the kitchen. A few years ago, I was chatting with my mother, and I mentioned that a budding relationship with a guy I really liked had fallen apart, and it was causing me some sadness and distress. After a short pause, she said, “Well, I’m sure you know, I can’t really feel sorry for you.”
This stuff hurts, and I don’t always know what to say. But I want someone to listen to these recordings, and hear what I went through. I want a parent or grandparent to realize that it’s not right to talk to your kids like this. Compassion is the only way forward.
*Note: Soon after rediscovering the recording, I sent the transcript to my father. I asked him to read it, and let me know if there was anything he would do differently now, or anything he regretted saying. He did not reply.