(cw’s for transphobia, abuse)
when i was a kid in like late middle school/early high school i went through an exorcism which involved me lying down on a picnic table and having a group of adults surround me, pray over me, and forcibly lay their hands on me in painful ways.
i believed in exorcism. at the time i was immersed in the casting out of demons in the charismatic-protestant christian tradition, and i’d agreed to have this done to me by what i don’t hesitate to call a cult. i’d had demons cast out of me before—although in those previous cases it was just had just a couple people bow their heads with me. this time, i understood, would be more intense. i’d picked out from a big binder a list of demonic influences which i believed i suffered from—both personal and “generational,” as a result of the actions of parents or grandparents. i was so obsessed with getting rid of demons inside of me in part because of an intense negative feeling about myself which i now understand to have been my dysphoria, especially around my sexuality—the sort of self-hatred in queer kids that christian culture loves to latch onto and make one feel dirty and polluted and ashamed.
and in the theater of that moment, in the dingy back room of a fucking RV store, believing in demons and angels and god and the devil and a struggle between heaven and hell, and being painfully pressed on and podded and prayed over by a group of adults standing above me in a circle, i came to believe and behave as if i actually was a demon — i began to hiss like a snake at the exorcists around me, which caused them only to press on my body more and more, which, turn, caused even more hissing and writhing and gnashing of teeth…
…with the recent kavanaugh news, i couldn’t understand why the whole ordeal was causing me so much stress and anxiety and pain. it was a pain that i’m realizing is deeper than the empathy i was feeling for my friends who were re-experiencing and dealing with their own trauma. i’d been feeling anxious, on edge, as if i was going to slip off the face of the earth. like i was reliving my own pain.
for me, a trans girl who grew up in a conservative household, growing up with gender was like growing up with an eldritch evil infesting your culture. there would be rituals, sacrifices to the evil, and each of those sacrifices, i now only understand, having escaped, as inscribing suffering—i don’t want to admit it, but, yes, trauma—onto my body and mind. i’ve refused to call all that trauma, to call it abuse, but that is what it was.
having a group of fucking 30+-year-olds surround a 13- or 14-year-old kid lying on a picnic table and press painfully on her body while trying to scream and pray the demon spirit of pornography out of her is assault. it’s abuse. and i’m realizing that, of course, trying to legislate the sexual habits of a young teen like that is an abuse of sexual character or dimension. furthermore, the demons they were trying to cast out of me – that of pornography, depression, feelings of self-disgust – were also functioning a proxy for my own latent and obvious queerness, and the system of ritual i was involved in was a kind of cultural conversion therapy, an attempt to force me to stay in the closet.
i think this story is the most extreme example of the kind of abuse i suffered at the hands of conversion therapy culture. but conversion therapy culture also was going to endless christian conferences, was night after night of praying to make me feel normal, praying to make me feel like gender wasn’t an evil force caught in my body, was feeling profound shame each moment i would try to explore my sexual and gender identity, was the nonsensical horror of being separated into boys and girls to be told that girls’ brains were more like spaghetti than men’s waffle-brains, of teenage boys claiming you have tits because you’re a fat sissy or making fun of you for being ashamed to undress in front of them at summer camp or in the gym locker room. the exorcism was the most literalized form of what i experienced all through middle and high school—the continual inflicting of shame and abuse upon the sexual identity of a fucking child. i probably would have understood myself a lot better and came out a lot earlier if i wasn’t immersed in a culture that hated what i am, if i didn’t believe them when they told me that simply trusting in god would make the horror i felt in my own body ever day simply go away.
but i believed them, and i participated in their rituals, and i “consented” to their abuse. i believed every fucking thing they said to me, because i was a kid. for so long i couldn’t accept what had happened to me really was abuse because i had agreed to it, because i was a participant in my own trauma. but i realize now a 13- or 14-year-old couldn’t ever really consent to what was done to me, and that whatever “consent” i could have given only arose out a of a system of shame and abuse which had already been inflicted upon me.
because i felt like all of what had happened to me was my fault, i’d turned this story into a merely interesting anecdote, a half-joke, emphasizing the ridiculous elements (back room of an RV store, picnic table, demons) and de-emphasizing the pain this event and all the others like it have caused me for a decade. instead i buried my trauma in the empathy i was feeling for others. the first draft of a poem i wrote in college read “kill your abuser”, which i rewrote to “kill your rapist” in a shallow attempt to pretend that the poem was about the empathy i felt for my friends rather than a pain hidden in me i was not yet ready to accept. the current draft of that poem reads “kill your […]”, because even though i really, really wish I could kill or blame someone for what happened to me, the blame falls at the feet of “powers and principalities”, of cultures and institutions with the names scratched out.
maybe all this i’ve been feeling is silly and ridiculous. i feel like all the suffering of the people i love and care about seems so much worse, and if the worst i suffer through during my time on earth is just all this trans stuff and trans trauma, then i feel like i’ve lived a charmed life. i don’t wanna speak for the pain of anyone else. but i guess i just want to say, to myself and everyone else:
it wasn’t your fault.
i believe you.
i will stand with you.