"In the weeks that followed, my mom used all kinds of emotional abuse to get me to stop criticizing her. [...]
One evening, when I was exhausted from arguing with her, I collapsed on the couch. She sat next to me and stroked my head, and told me I could trust her, and that she loved me, and that she hoped I’d get better, and said how she thinks I’m an awesome person.
It was like being cuddled after a nonconsensual BDSM session, as I told a friend a few days later. Had I not read a post on tumblr criticizing the lack of consent in Fifty Shades of Grey, I would not have recognized what my mom was doing that night.
Then I realized she’d done this all my life: attack, threaten, comfort. Hurt, and then flatter."
—How a Logical Girl Talked Herself into Fundamentalism, Part 3
From a lovely blog that is probably well outside of the filter bubble of the rolequeer discussion. For a little context, there’s an initially shocking amount of kink/BDSM among the survivors of Fundamentalist homeschooling.
There has not been much criticism of the BDSM scene from the exhomeschoolers, although I don’t currently feel like that’s on their heads so much.
So let me start it now.
With the context of ubiquitous physical punishment and emotional abuse, it is perhaps not surprising that for many of the people who grew up in these environments gravitated to the BDSM subculture when they left. After all, we were used to a male dominated, seniority based authoritarian structure, with physical punishment, normalized abuse and so on. The right to chose our own jailers felt like freedom.
But the BDSM Scene is the exact same lie as the Fundimentalist homeschooler subculture we walked away from.
cool-yubari, you were homeschooled, right? Was it anything like this? If not, why not?
No. There’s overlap, but no.
I’ll try to summarize the personal parts, but this is going to get long.
-I was a secular unschooler, and my family was not religious or particularly authoritarian. I was never forced to do stereotypically “women’s work” chores, or so many chores that they interfered with my learning. My mother took me out of school because the schools were oppressive and abusive, and I hated them and the person I was becoming in relation to them. However, leaving school did not undo the psychological scarring I underwent in school, nor did it erase my new-found awareness of hierarchy, cruelty, and my own vulnerable position in relation to most adults.
-Homeschooling exists in the context of abuse culture, which does its best to punish defectors and sabotage all alternatives to compulsory schooling. This puts a lot of unnecessary pressure and stress on homeschoolers, on the adults who are facilitating their not being in school, and on their relationships with everyone. Conversations about homeschooling exist in the same context, with the ever-present specter of “let’s put this weird thing that mainstream society wants to demonize on trial again!” I’ve been in school and out, and my experience with school was consistently a lot worse than my experience of homeschooling. My experience with fundamentalists is also a lot worse than my experience with less religious people. I’m aware that giving them more room to be tyrants makes them worse tyrants. But I’m convinced that the answer is giving children more power over their own lives.
-Also related: parents who don’t subscribe to oppressive ideologies can still be hijacked by their own fears, past trauma, and so on. There isn’t any philosophy or community that can claim to be entirely free of domination, coercion, or other social ickyness; there are just individuals who care enough about treating their loved ones well to change when they realize they are inflicting harm and perpetuating patterns of violence.
Onwards to the parts that are explicitly about BDSM.
-I have some kinks that I attribute directly to school, and others that have to do with family trauma (emotional abuse). School made BDSM personally relevant to me. It made hierarchy and force visible, tangible presences in my life, and made me aware of who I was expected to be and where I was expected to fit. But I already found the ways that people played with power and could react in ways that you wouldn’t expect fascinating. I’ve always been drawn to emotional intensity, and turned on by aberrations - things that made me feel “something’s wrong.” D/s used to be my only means of access to my sexuality. And if Christians have to hide it because it’s kinky, I can tell you that people who are committed to equality and feminism and stuff are just as embarrassed by it. There was no room in my life for kinking hard on abuse dynamics. I just worked around it because I didn’t know how to change it.
-I think any authoritarian culture tries to condition submissive responses for its benefit and future use. Isaacsapphire's saying “the right to choose our own jailers felt like freedom” resonates, but I think of that more as a transition stage. When you're coming to terms with having had a control mechanism hammered into you, the first power you recover is having a choice about who to serve. You don't immediately stop feeling like there's an invisible leash coming out of your chest. But you do start to have a distinct preference about whose reach you want to extend; what sort of person you want to empower. At that point, there's a lot of “not you, society. I'll find someone I can respect and I'll support and defend them.”
-Trusting yourself again is hard, because your insides are basically like “dear self, it was your job to KEEP me from being screwed over, and you failed at it.” And also because submitting all the time is a kind of specialization … it leaves you really good at some things (endurance, anybody?) and really bad at others (expecting anyone to care what you want, frex). Ignoring your strengths in favor of working on your weak spots can make you feel like you don’t have anything but weak spots. And it’s nice - for at least some definitions of that word - to retreat into a context where your reactions make sense. Where you can get out noxious social programming, old hurts, coping strategies, all the damage you’re carrying around, and do creative, playful things with it. I think there are ways to express feelings and re-live experiences that are about abuse without causing new harm. Or necessarily exacerbating old harms. Rewiring yourself and your responses into something less hospitable to authority and abuse culture is win. And by win, I definitely mean rolequeer.
Important considerations that didn’t fit in either of the above categories.
-The hurt/comfort pattern of “verbally abuse, then reassure after sufficient punishment” is very familiar to me. I confronted my mother about it when I saw how much it was destroying my younger sibling’s self esteem. She understood (after a lot of arguing) and stopped doing it. Reevaluating when she gave herself permission to get angry at us, and what it was okay to say and do next, cost her a lot. She’d learned the old pattern from her parents, and who knows how far back it stretched from there. Realizing that she’d really, actually hurt us despite her best efforts depressed her. We’ve since had to build a relational frame where abuse is unacceptable, but at the same time having done abusive things before doesn’t automatically make you an unforgivable person. We’re also on better terms now than we were before I confronted her about it, because it’s easier to have honest conversations.
—subpoint: My mother tried exceptionally hard to parent respectfully and constructively. She consistently prioritized my well being over the opinion other adults had (or might form) of her parenting. She got to know me, instead of creating a ton of expectations about what sort of child she wanted to have and then trying to make me live up to them. She let me get dirty and explore and stay up late and try things that made her worry about me, because my having a life and learning things firsthand was more important to her than being relaxed and sure I was completely safe at all times. She assumed that I did things for my own reasons, and didn’t take my choices personally. She listened to my feelings and wants and treated me like I mattered. Even when she did the wrong thing, she often did it for the right reasons. She loves me fiercely and she’d die for me. I feel like I need to acknowledge all of that, because so many people get automatic credit from society for being “good” parents just by virtue of being parents in the first place, and because here on Tumblr people might default to criticizing her just because the part of my life that’s relevant to this conversation is abuse-related.
-I’m familiar with the site the original article came from, homeschoolersanonymous. I don’t have much to do with them because they’re recovering fundamentalist Christians and they’re associated with other groups that are calling for more government oversight of homeschooling. As Maymay has pointed out, anti-abuse efforts that rely on appeals to authority put the responsibility for regulating bullying in the hands of the worst bullies around. It doesn’t surprise me that people who were raised in authoritarian religions often think the solution to their own corrupt authorities (parents, pastors, equally brainwashed community members) is an even more powerful one. But they’re still far enough in conservative culture that watching them attempt to detox is exasperating for me, because there’s so much they’re not questioning. Intellectually, I get it. Some of these kids were taught that it’s a sin for women to wear pants. I can’t blame them for not challenging, say, the hierarchy ingrained in academia. Or the idea that work is always good and it’s synonymous with Doing Things Your Community Approves Of (which, once they leave their religious social group, becomes Having A White-Collar, Adult Job). But I also can’t stand to be around their process or their opinions very much.
-One of the other reasons my parents homeschooled me was because they wanted me to learn science in depth, and Bible-belt schools are politicized to such an extent that evolution is chronically misrepresented and censored so as to not pose too much of a threat to children’s moral beliefs [sic]. The Christian right has been trying to create a theocracy in the South for I’m not sure how long, and they’ve managed to make it very hostile territory for non-believers. I am a lifelong atheist. I realize fundamentalist parents exploit and indoctrinate their children. But I am also very aware of how hand-in-glove with Christianity most of the Southern government apparatus is. Empowering the representatives of said government to supervise (…and approve of or put a stop to?) my family’s unschooling would have meant allowing more abusers into our life. Specifically, abusers who knew we couldn’t ignore their input or stop having contact with them. And going to school was always an exercise in bending my head to opinionated Christians. I’ve yet to meet a public school teacher in West Texas who isn’t a Christian, and these issues are invisible to most ex-fundamentalist homeschoolers. “Everyone in a position of power is varying degrees of Christian and bigoted, pushy, and inappropriate with people who aren’t” is normal to them.
-Also, let’s talk about intrusive questions for a minute. As a child, I repeatedly handled the in-private “if you’re being abused, you can tell us” conversation with adults I didn’t know well. That can be humiliating and traumatic in its own right. The people asking me had no evidence of anything, except my homeschooling and being relatively “well behaved” by adult standards. Meanwhile, schoolkids whose parents took belts to them weren’t being offered any such support. In third grade, the public elementary schools sent pieces of paper home requesting that parents delegate the authority to beat their eight and nine year old kids with a wooden paddle, as punishment for “serious offenses,” to the school. That is, the schools were actively normalizing, encouraging, and taking part in physical abuse. I consider being forced to hand deliver a note (that had to be returned signed) asking my parents to let them beat me if I’m bad enough emotional mistreatment. For all the kids who had to bring back a sheet with “yes” checked, it was even worse. In short, when people coast on their stereotypes, I know exactly who bears the brunt of their suspicion, and it isn’t the white, gender-conforming, traditional values touting, authoritarian Christians.
-There’s definitely more, but this post is long enough already.
Tags: discourse, youth rights, normalized abuse, learning despite school bdsm, rolequeer