Lately, this has been on my mind rather a lot. I've been thinking about writing something and submitting it to TBAT for Slacktiverse, something about how the focus on obedience and submission... basically fucks people up, probably with an emphasis on women-- the only initial reservation being that, although I read every post there, I comment once in a blue moon. The slightly more worrying reservation is that every time I start writing it in my head, it gets so personal I change my mind, both about publicizing it and about it being able to help other people. But I'll sketch something out here, and see if I can figure it out. After all, the more I find out about my childhood, the more I realize how much I have in common with other people raised in RTC households.
So here's the thing. I am, by nature, incredibly submissive. If you know me in person, you might find it incredibly hard to believe, though-- in a weird subversion, evolving Fundamentalist culture has beaten the submissiveness out of me. My family remembers it. My dad has jokingly told my sister not to worry about being a brat when she was younger, because obviously she'd look like one next to a goody two-shoes like me. I hate confrontation, always have, and as a child, I rarely questioned the adults in my world (which was very small).
See, here's how my siblings and I, and all the kids in our church, were raised. Obey. Obey your parents, for that is God's Will. Obey God, in all things. Submit to the authorities that God has placed over you; questioning that authority is disobedience in and of itself. The only time this is incorrect is if an authority gives you a command that is clearly against God's commandments-- and in that case, God's direct authority trumps the earthly ones. Over time, and talking to others raised in this subculture, I've learned that for a lot of people, this was what drove them to question. They asked questions, and got smacked down repeatedly, and this only made them question harder, and in the end, rebel. My older sister is one such woman. I am not.
Obedience and submission were overwhelmingly easy for me. Obviously, since I was a kid, fairly smart and active, I got into trouble, did stuff I shouldn't have, snuck around with my brother, etc. I'm not saying I was Elsie Dinsmore or anything like that. It was just that, although I questioned the physical world around me, I never even considered
questioning authority. If my parents, or the pastor, or the church adults, said it, it was true. Always. If the Bible (KJV, of course) said it, it was true. Always. This was a fact of the world, as surely as the Sun came up every morning and rain fell from the clouds and mulberries were delicious. (We had a tree in our backyard. One of the happiest memories of my childhood is climbing that tree to sit and read, and daydream, and eat mulberries until the ripe ones were all out of reach.)
Then my mother lost her mind. She fell, so gracefully nobody noticed until it was too late, from average, run-of-the-mill RTC paranoia, into Paranoid Schizophrenia (and, as we found out years later, Bipolar Disorder). I'll skip over the more painful details of that. Most of it went over my head at the time-- I have a lot of memories that had very little meaning for me until I was years older. But suddenly, authority became pretty absurd. My siblings disobeyed because it was the right thing to do-- sneaking my father's ammunition and vital parts to his guns out of the house, to him, because they caught on much faster than I did and realized that my mother should absolutely not
have access to that stuff.
This became a running theme. I was blind to the abuses of authority that were going on around me, because in my mind, authority was never wrong. My siblings, the natural questioners, the rebels, were always on the ball - they grasped that my mother was not in her right mind, and they acted to prevent things from going wrong. I did not. It wasn't until years later that the questions were catalyzed in my mind.
One of my mother's decisions was to enroll us in a private Christian school - she managed, if I recall, to get scholarships for the older three of us. This was a nightmare for all of us; we were the weird kids, the outcasts, the ones who never fit in. Even at eight, the feeling that there was something wrong with me came through loud and clear. But I was good at classes - I could read very quickly, and had excellent reading comprehension, and I grasped concepts pretty well. Even terribly broken ones, like "The world is 6,000 years old, and dinosaur bones/Mesopotamian culture can be used to prove it."
But in fourth grade or so, something changed. When I was much younger, probably six or seven, I'd read The Hiding Place
, a book by Corrie ten Boom about her life, focusing on her family's efforts to hide Jews from the Nazis. I'd read it a few times since, loved it, and had certain parts memorized, so when it was assigned in class, I was ecstatic. There's one passage - one of the ones I'd memorized - about a failed romance in Corrie's life. She falls for a man named Karel, he falls back, they spend days walking in the garden, talking, and then she doesn't see him for a long period of time. The next time they see each other, he's with his fiancee; he tells her, "I can't marry you. My mother would kill me." Corrie is, of course, heartbroken, and her father consoles her not with the 'false words' that 'there will be another,' but with sincerity and love.
When our English teacher reached this passage, she told us that the point of it was that Corrie had gone against God's will by 'dating' a man not approved by their families. The point, she told us, was that courtship was the only Godly means of finding a spouse, and the heartbreak was God's way of punishing Corrie for disobeying him.
This made me unspeakably angry. I sat there, trying not to betray the thoughts in my head, which were screaming at how wrong
that was. I'd been telling stories for years. To entertain my siblings, friends, or myself-- or simply because the story came to me and wanted to be told. To hear this-- to hear an authority
someone who I trusted, lying
about a story... it broke something in me. Worse yet, the story was about her life! This was a woman, brave, accomplished, truly amazing, and this teacher, who I trusted and respected, was lying
about her life story.
I was utterly furious. I never said anything until years later, but it burned in me, and it burned through the walls I'd built up around 'authority.' My mother had been wrong, I knew, because she was sick, somehow, in her head. This made it different. But now, other things showed up. My dad said things that weren't right. He wasn't always fair. My grandparents, in whose house we were living, were not always right. The teachers protected the school bullies, because they were usually their children, even when they were blatantly lying. The teachers lied about stories. What else were they lying about? My father started dating, and he sometimes didn't come back at night. He didn't keep his promises. My grandmother lied to us about some things. Sometimes she was unjust. My grandfather was unjust sometimes. The youth pastors said things that I knew not to be true.
After a lifetime of trusting authority implicitly as an extension of God's Will, something inside of me snapped. I stopped obeying. I stopped submitting. I stopped trusting. Lesson learned: authorities always lie. People in power cannot be trusted. Everybody lies
I intentionally went against the grain in highschool, and middle school. I was smart, and shy, so teachers liked me. And I hated that
. They were liars! They said things that weren't true, they used their power to hurt-- freed from those walls, I now saw that everywhere-- and I didn't want their, or anybody's, favor. There were some exceptions - the music teacher, who talked about his experience playing in bars, and the biblical references in so much music. Our English teacher, who was pretty fair and sparked my continual interest in mythology. In highschool, things got worse. In classes where the teachers were honest with us, I worked hard and tried. In classes where I could tell the teachers didn't really care about questioning, truth, learning-- especially where they were openly dishonest or showed favoritism-- I actively worked to earn their dislike. I snarked openly. I asked questions, usually because I wanted to know the answers, but also because it drove them crazy. I did my work, and did it right, and so couldn't simply be failed. I was just a Problem Student.
In my senior year, for an English class that I loved, with a teacher who taught me, more or less, how to write, I wrote an essay about the role of Guildenstern, in "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead." I called it 'The Questioner,' and drew the conclusion that some of us in life-- such as myself-- could not help questioning, no matter what, even when the answers made no sense, even when there were no answers, even when the answers led to death. We questioned, or we died. We questioned even if we died.
In that respect, the breaking of that trust made me a better person. I like being a Guilenstern. It's important. It's not always fun, and it sometimes gives you a lot of enemies, but it's necessary.
A less enjoyable result of that is the loss of trust, and this is where Fundamentalist subculture seriously messes kids up. If you are raised thinking that all authorities are infallible, if you are trusting enough to believe that, you are screwed
as an adult. Because someday, somehow, you are inevitably going to learn the truth. And it is going to hurt
. And if you're lucky, you recover and realize that people are fallible, not malicious. And if you're unlucky, the lesson you learn is that no one can be trusted, ever, for anything. And no matter how hard you try to rid yourself of that, to be more trusting, it is internalized pretty hard. And no matter how hard you try, you now know that to submit to someone's authority, to obey someone, for any reason
, is a trust. And you can't do it. You can't not
question. Even someone you do trust, which is hard enough to find.
I can't figure out a conclusion to this. It ends on a pretty bleak note. My friends are some of the people I trust most in this world. One of them is a guy I work with, who has been my boss/supervisor for about three years now. He's one of the most trustworthy people I know, in most ways, and among my closest friends. And I still question every mundane thing he asks me to do. And I still find it hard to obey him. He says "We don't have time for that now," I look into the bag anyway, without even realizing what I'm doing. And then reality smacks me upside the head, and I put it aside. My brain's immediate response to 'obedience' is a visceral, snarling rejection. Same with submission.
Yeah, I doubt this is ever going anywhere but into my own journal. Fundamentalist subculture is fucked up
PS: This song
is what originally triggered this memory, some years ago, and that's what eventually helped me connect the dots as to how, with the personality I have, I have become the spiky-haired, defiant, untrusting coyote that I am.