I Am Survivor of Fundamentalist Religious Abuse
I have written about my trauma history before. However, I have only briefly mentioned or written about the abuse that took place in my home, in the name of God and Catholicism. This abuse shaped the ideas I had about myself growing up, my views of the world and inherently my development as a queer person. I am breaking silence about the religious abuse that is also a part of my story and history because so many queers, are still very much impacted by the RCC and have experienced abuse themselves. Religious and spiritual abuse needs to be seen and treated as a valid and very real trauma. In my experience, it is downplayed or not spoken about. This is why I wrote this essay, to demonstrate the very real impact being raised in a fundamentalist household had on me and has on other queers around the world.
Religious abuse (otherwise known as spiritual abuse) was an every day experience in my life growing up and well into my teen years. I grew up in a family with seven children and was the oldest. We were raised Roman Catholic and attended Sunday mass every week, as well as, prayed the rosary daily, sometimes twice. The girls were raised to be modest, meaning everything we wore fit the criteria of below the knee and three finger width wide straps. We weren’t able to dye or cut our hair, wear makeup, wear funky clothes or play sports that weren’t “girly”. We were told that our purpose was to have children and to become wives. We were told we should go to school only for jobs we could easily leave if we became pregnant (after marriage, of course). We were not allowed to date men who were not white. We grew up being told that gay people were “F*gs* and that the nazi’s were right for killing them.
I asked my mother what a condom was after reading about them in a christian pamphlet about sex. She responded by throwing out the books in a rage. I never learned what a condom was until high school. Not because of health class, I got pulled out of that class for that day. Birth control was a sin, as well as, any sexual activity before marriage.
I grew up confessing my “sins” to creepy, older, white men. Telling them when I had dirty thoughts or swore in my head. Penance was mostly the same. Three Hail Mary's on my knees. My mother performed exorcisms on me. She would call me possessed and splash me with holy water, water she had brought to a priest to bless. We had bottles of it in one closet in the home. I sang in church choir and was an alter “boy”. I was taken to prayer groups and youth groups. I was prayed over by strangers and would faint (fall) “under the power of the Holy Spirit”. We went to prayer group every week and would also accompany our mom to take part in the Blessed Sacrament, where we would spend time praying in front of the eucharist. I was given rosaries as gifts and each room of our home had pictures or statues of saints or Jesus and Mary.
I was Baptized, had my First Communion and was Confirmed at 12. The name I chose as my saints name, was Joan, after Joan of Arc.
My parents took me to a convent once and had me sit in front of a priest I had never met and listen to him tell me that I would go to hell for being gay. My parents, left me in a room with a complete stranger, and let him tell me I was going to Hell. I was fourteen.
My mother told us that she saw demons and that God had spoken to her before. She told us about a black demon that crept across the floor in her bedroom. She would leave and attend retreats at convents, but it never helped anything long term.
Once, my brother had a night terror. I heard him and my mother screaming. I was about ten at the time. I went to his bedroom and asked what was wrong. I remember his legs and toes pointed out straight as his facial muscles froze in terror. My mother looked at me as she shouted, “This is your fault - you are bringing evil into this house!”. From the age of ten until my twenties, I did not sleep without making sure my feet were not in a pointed position.
It took me several years to stop praying every night before bed. It was instilled in my every bone that if I did not pray, that I would go to Hell. I was terrified of Hell and what I was told it would be like. I would have ruminating thoughts in my head, spiralling, believing that I was evil and not normal. I would spin thinking and trying to un-think thoughts that were “evil”.
My father “disciplined me” once by making me watch the exorcist. It took years of work to be able to watch a horror movie today.
I was unable to masturbate until almost my 30s because of the amount of shame I felt when I would try to give myself pleasure. I would get sick to my stomach when I put on a bra or lingerie. Communicating about sex was challenging and my body would react intensely to new partners.
Gay marriage set off a bomb in my home. My dad yelled “Fag*ots” at the TV.
My parents believed that their faith provided them with the permission to cause harm and abuse their children. At fifteen I was on the streets after they discovered I was queer.
Fifteen years after being removed from my spiritual abusers, I had unlearned much of the religious trauma my nervous system and brain had stored. I had done enough work to be able to have a photo taken of me and a queer partner, kissing in front of a statue of the Virgin Mary.
I continue to heal the impacts of the religious abuse I experienced. I continue to question the validity of things I was told to fear. I have learned about cults and religious/ spiritual abuse. I have learned about the darker roots of Catholicism. I learned about death and established my own values about the afterlife. I established my own beliefs about spirits, evil “dark magic” and the devil. This took years of unlearning, reading, podcasts and informative conversations with people who criticized organized religion from an educated stance.
The photo represents a revolt and rebellion against the harm caused to 2SLGTBQIA humans by the structure of institutionalized religion.
It represents my rejection of the fear based beliefs that were forced upon me as a child and youth.
It represents pride, strength and queerness and that I am no longer afraid.