Heavy work week.

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Did I tell you that I have a content development business? God sent me A LOT of stuff to do this week, I’m telling you what. I’ll put up the next bit of the story once I get over the hump. You’ve heard the most interesting part of it anyway – now it’s just mainly how I met the Beast and eventually moved to Maryland, and now here I am living in a little brick row house where I have been for nearly a year. And in less than two weeks we are going to the Wild West, where I will either get proposed to or else I will not, in which case I will have to wait another two months for my birthday.  But I am going to do my nails (read: TRY to do my nails AGAIN) before we leave just in case.

Anyway I hope y’all are having a wonderful Monday.

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Getting my wings back: TW for sexual assault.

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So I saw Maleficent over the weekend. And for me and many other sexual assault survivors, that gut-wrenching scene where Stefan cuts off Maleficent’s wings instantly read as rape. I just sat there staring in shock, like…. “No. He took HER WINGS. This is way worse than if he just stabbed her.”

Maleficent’s wings are her source of power. Stefan takes that power away from her, but in the end SHE GETS IT BACK. I was so, so happy about that. (I love that the idea of rape is so clearly tied to power, rather than sex, throughout the whole film, too. It’s not like “her wings are her virginity, and she lost that, so now she’s broken.” It’s like “Her wings are her power, and he stole them, but she can get them back.” YES, YES, YES.)

But in that scene where she’s slowly limping down the hill afterwards, stunned, leaning on her staff and trying to process what just happened, my heart bled. I know pretty much exactly what she felt like at that moment.

This story is for later, but the guy who assaulted me was much older and he was constantly pushing my boundaries and trying to get me to do things I felt uncomfortable with. (It says something that I thought marrying this dude would be better than living with my parents.) The actual assault was one of those pesky gray areas: it started out as a sort-of-consensual encounter, and then he told me to do something I was uncomfortable with and I said “No,” and then he grabbed me and made me do it anyway. We broke up soon after.

I was really angry at him for a long time, but the older I get and the farther away from it I get, I’ve started to feel like my anger was sort of misdirected. That dude only took up about four months of my life, tops. The homeschool culture spent 20+ years systematically stripping me of my privacy, dignity and autonomy as a human being.

I came to realize I was raised in a culture that stole my wings before I really knew I had them. My No didn’t matter. My Yes didn’t matter. Basically, nothing I said really mattered – so I quit trying to say anything. When Mr. Grîma Wormtongue first met me, he knew I would be a REALLY easy person to abuse, so he took advantage of that.

I don’t have a good way to end this, exactly, but I think it’s sobering that so much of the homeschool subculture is a massive power play. The people in control are determined to stay in control, even if that means systematically destroying the individual souls of individual kids. They’re basically like, “We don’t care about you as a person, about what you think or feel or say. We’re just going to do our thing and be in charge, and we don’t care if you get broken. In fact, it’s easier for us if we can break you.”

Honestly, if rape is about power, homeschooling sometimes looks very, very similar.

I was homeschooled, but I am getting my wings back. Feather by beautiful feather.

My chains fell off, my heart was free!

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You can’t see my heart under the chevrons, but it’s definitely free.

Well, I’ll tell you something. I don’t mean to sound sacrilegious, but most of the hymns we sang when I was growing up made NO sense to me. All this business about you were so wretched and sinful and helpless, and then suddenly Jesus saved you and you saw the light and oh, how happy and free you are now. I used to sing these hymns in our Years of Exile and think to myself, “Well, if this is what the light is like, it’s a pretty low-wattage bulb.”

We always had it explained to us like, of course we were free now! We were free from the law, oh happy condition. We were free from the Jewish law, so thank heaven we didn’t have to put tassels on our garments or be stoned to death for minor infractions. And of course we were free from the error of Catholicism, thanks to famous Baptists like Martin Luther: now we didn’t have to worry about becoming nuns, or about praying to Mary and the saints. All we had to do was follow the homeschool Baptist laws about dress, diet, socialization, reading material and music. Oh, how free and happy we were now!

In other words, “We were free FROM sin, but that did not mean we were free TO sin.”

I just used to agonize all the time over not being happy enough to be saved, and wondering whether that meant I wasn’t REALLY saved, or didn’t believe QUITE hard enough and so when the Rapture came my whole family would be caught up together to meet the Lord in the air, and I would be left home alone with the electric razor buzzing in the sink. (We were allowed to watch Thief in the Night, but we had to fast-forward over the 70s Christian rock song at the beginning.) I just worried about this to no end. I certainly didn’t FEEL free, or happy, or like Jesus was anywhere close to me or paying me any attention at all.

I used to lie in bed at night and squinch my whole self up incredibly small so I saw stars, and hold my breath and squeeze as though I were trying to squeeze out a big spiritual bowel movement. “Jesus, please be real. Please show me that You are real. Please let me believe, please let me be happy and contented, show me the light. Lord, I believe, help Thou my unbelief.” Feeling all the time as though I were incredibly constipated.

Nothing happened. It was like pounding on some big old door that no one was ever going to come and open for me. After a while I just got used to feeling fake all the time, and at my homeschool graduation, where I wore a modestly altered bridesmaid’s dress and played the piano and gave a long-winded testimony to let everyone know what a shining product of homeschooling I was, I felt like a big old fat faker who would never ever get into the club.

(By the way, that whole homeschool graduation has basically ruined me for having a wedding forever. I handmade tons of invitations with calligraphy, we got a big cake from Costco (this was after we could have cake again) and all of my parents’ house-church friends came to watch me in my modest bridesmaid’s dress giving a big show of how holy I was. That’s what a homeschool wedding is for, right? So all your parents’ friends can see how holy you are. I’m so over that and I just would rather elope.)

Well, the rest of that story is obviously for later, because there is no point in telling the end right in the middle – but anyway, let me just say this: Homeschool kids who escape can sing those old hymns – Saved, saved! Glory, I’m saved! I’m saved by the blood of the Crucified One! – like NOBODY’S BUSINESS. We know what it feels like to be in a very dark place, and see the light, and go crawling towards it and reaching for it until ALL OF A SUDDEN you come breaking through and there you are, safe, in a warm light place surrounded by God’s love. And you can’t really believe it, and you’re so thankful.

“My chains fell off, my heart was free. I rose, went forth and followed Thee.”

Mom Jeans!

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First of all, I would have been ecstatic to be allowed to wear mom jeans! Jeans were one of the few things that remained consistently sinful throughout my childhood and adolescence, though the reasons varied: either they were “men’s clothing” and not appropriate, or else they were ultra-female and sexy. I would have loved to own a durable pair of pants so I could climb trees properly. BUT ALAS.

Anyway, somebody commented on one of my posts on Homeschoolers Anonymous and said “I would love to contribute Kay – about how moms even need to know it is ok to buy themselves clothes too.” Yes please! Write me a guest post and I will post it! I don’t know what it must be like, trying to balance girly stuff with being a mom, but I know it must be hard. (Side note, I’m as old now as my mom was when she had me. Heavens.)

Speaking as a kid, though, I would have LOVED to see my mom take some time to be pretty and smell nice, rather than descending further and further into the abyss of baggy jumpers and Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap. For that matter I would have loved to see her do just about anything for her – so that she felt like she had some kind of identity outside of homeschooling us. Because, you know, if we don’t turn out like she expected, she feels like she failed as a person.

What’s she going to do when all my siblings are grown and gone and there’s nobody left? I don’t know.

If I have some kids someday, I’ve thought a lot about how to interact with them. (I guess a lot of ex-homeschoolers probably take the thought of eventual parenting pretty seriously.) This is sort of my bucket list.

Maintain a distinct life and identity apart from the kids.

NEVER make your interaction with the kids be about your issues.

Remember that how you behave will have a lot to do with how they think God behaves.

Never be angry around the kids, ever. IT’S NOT THEIR FAULT THAT YOU ARE UPSET, IT’S YOURS. Being upset is *your* problem to deal with, not theirs. If you’re mad at something else, don’t take it out on them, they don’t need to know. If you’re mad at them, don’t take it out on them, they don’t need to know. They should NEVER feel like they are responsible for keeping you happy, or making you not angry.

Don’t punish in anger. If possible, don’t punish.

Be a safe person for them to be around. If they have a question, they need to feel safe asking you. They shouldn’t be scared of you, or your reactions, about anything EVER.

Avoid knee-jerk reactions like the plague. Don’t do ANYTHING unless you have a reason that makes actual sense. ALWAYS be prepared to explain reasoning, if asked.

Expect NOT to be the center of their world. They’re not there to make you feel good about yourself.

And that is the end.

Chevrons! And mind control.

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May I say that I am very excited about this skirt, which I hope JCPenney is sending me sometime this week. (That thing on top isn’t part of the skirt, it’s just some random shirt they decided the model was going to wear. I think.)

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I believe this is going to go nicely with a whole bunch of different  colored tank tops and necklaces AND LITTLE BLACK SANDALS, and will be oh, so comfortable on the long road trip I’m taking in July. I just hate wearing pants in the car. Ugh.

Anyway, I was thinking about whether it’s better to be a boy or a girl in fundamentalism, and I came to the conclusion that – surprise – it’s really better to be a girl. Even with all the ridiculous things girls had to wear. Because that’s the whole point – it was all about controlling our appearance and actions. Nobody cared what we thought. AT ALL.

And this was good because we could think about whatever we wanted! Nobody was policing our thought lives 24/7, like they did with the boys, to see if we were having lustful or unapproved ideas. It didn’t matter what we thought – it just mattered how we looked. So our bodies were stuffed into constricting sports bras and smothered under waterfalls of denim, but our minds were perfectly free.

And HA. That was the most important part of us.

Long necklaces and maxi dresses: Coding feminine without apology

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When I was little, I wished I were a boy. In the fundamentalism of my childhood, boys had it so easy! They could wear the same jeans, shorts and T-shirts as all the other boys in the world, and they didn’t have to stick out or look weird (though their extra-high, extra-tight haircuts did sometimes give them away). Fundamentalist girls weren’t so lucky. All our clothes seemed to be designed especially to harass and humiliate us. We had big, baggy jumpers, long jean skirts and nightmarish “culottes” (sort of the bastard child of skirts and men’s shorts). They were hard to play in, they were cold in the winter, and they were terribly, terribly awkward. I just hated every minute of it. In my mind, “looking like a girl” meant “looking like a doofus.”

Sometime in my mid-teens, these rules changed a bit (we weren’t friends with the Orc family any more, for one thing) and baggy sweat suits and long boy shorts became okay to wear, as long as they were “modest” (nothing that showed off your girl shape). I gladly leaped on the “boy clothes” bandwagon. Boy clothes felt like heaven! I could be warm in the winter and cooler in the summer, with no unwieldy layering of culottes + tights or skirts + shorts. Compared to my old wardrobe, this was incredible.

As the years go on, I look at other conservative homeschooling families and I see this trend continuing: culottes and jumpers are gradually vanishing in favor of a more homogeneous, gender-neutral style of dress. The new norm, for all ages and genders, seems to be the type of nondescript “play clothes” you usually see on pre-adolescent children, male and female. I recently saw a picture of all my teenage siblings sitting on a log at a park. They’re all dressed similarly, boys and girls: long boy shorts or loose pants, roomy T-shirts. Some of the girls’ T-shirts were “girl colors,” but that was the main difference.

In some ways, this is a big improvement. My sisters can go hiking, ride bikes and be active young ladies without worrying about flapping culottes or bizarre jumper + bloomer ensembles. But they can’t be teenage tomboys all their lives. I suspect my parents are trying to put off the issue of their inevitable sexual development by keeping them dressed like eight-year-olds forever. My sisters don’t have to deal with the humiliating “girl clothes” I remember, but they’re also being denied the privilege of experimenting with real girl clothes: finding out what it’s like to try on cute maxi skirts, play with shoes and nail polish, discover flattering lines and cuts and colors that work for them.

I’ve been told that my input into my sisters’ lives is not welcome, and that I’m not allowed to “corrupt” them. I wish that I could take them shopping and do girly things with them. Maybe someday.

In the meantime, I will wear long silver necklaces and maxi dresses because it turns out, I like looking like a girl.

no more boy shorts and big white Keds.

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Pearl’s story on Homeschoolers Anonymous  really resonated with me, and I know I’m not alone. I’m sure lots of you have had the same experience I had: after years of getting told that the “girly” outfits you wanted to wear were “immodest,” “revealing,” and “inappropriate”, you just gave up and went butch, with lots of baggy boy shorts and shapeless sweatsuits. (Which is fine if that’s what you’re into – but I know that look wasn’t me.) Wireless cloth bras, hand-me-down underwear and a ban on perfume, makeup and hair products probably played a part in your systematic de-feminization. Eventually – if your experience was like mine – you became so disconnected from your body that you hardly felt like a person anymore, let alone a girl.

It took some cataclysmic life events – a failed courtship, starting a business, moving out of my parents’ house and eventually out of state, and meeting a supportive partner – to give me some distance and perspective on my homeschool years. Along the way, by trial and error, I’ve slowly been figuring out how to become a girl again. At 26, I finally feel more at home in my skin. Here are some of the things that helped me – maybe they’ll help somebody else, too.

Read drag websites. I’m not even kidding. They’re full of helpful information on how to walk, talk, dress and act in order to “pass” as a female. Granted, some of it’s a little over the top – skip their make-up tips, for instance. But I remember how astonished I was when I discovered that somebody had actually written reams of detailed instructions for presenting as a lady. It felt like Christmas.

Reclaim the skirt. It took me the longest time to figure out that dresses are not a badge of shame! Big jean jumpers and long khaki skirts are not the only option. Skirts are supposed to make you feel pretty and sexy, and if they’re not doing that, then they’re not doing their job. Swishy maxi dresses, cute cocktail dresses and tailored pencil skirts are incredibly fun to wear. So are heels. They are designed to make your legs longer and that’s a GOOD thing!

Have some little signature “girly” thing that you do or wear all the time. Or more than one! For me, it was getting my ears pierced and always wearing earrings. Having a little pair of sparkly studs in your ears all the time really does make you feel more feminine. I gradually added in other things and now I always have on earrings, toenail polish, a silver ankle bracelet and a little bit of perfume. It makes me feel pretty.

Practice showing a different bit of skin at a time. I remember the first time I tried to walk outside my apartment in shorts and a tank top, “cold turkey.” Bad idea – I felt completely naked. After a while, I figured out that I could ease into it if I only uncovered one area at a time. If I had on shorts, I wore a big, loose t-shirt. I paired tank tops with long cargo shorts or capris. Eventually, I just got used to having various parts of me out in the sunshine and I didn’t mind anymore. (Shocker – nobody ogled me and drooled with lust, either.)

Go and get an actual bra fitting at Victoria’s Secret. And then get some lovely lingerie that fits. I am ashamed to say that I could not actually make myself do this until I was 25 years old. They’re totally nice. All you do is lift your arms, and they run a tape around your bust and tell you what size you are, and then give you some sample bras to go try on in the fitting room. It’s not embarrassing at all… nothing like bra shopping for “appropriate” underwear with your mother. (P.S.: You may be surprised by your bra size! For years and years, I assumed I was an A or a B cup, and figured bras were supposed to squash me in and feel uncomfortable. Guess what? I’m a D.)

Have bottles of nice stuff in your shower, and use them. I wish someone had told me that I needed to put SHAMPOO and CONDITIONER in my hair, and use SHOWER GEL and BODY BUTTER on the rest of me. (When I was a kid, we used this weird organic shampoo/soap called “Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap” where every square inch of the label was covered with manic stream-of-consciousness meanderings in TINY print. It was an entertaining reading experience but as far as soap went, it wasn’t awesome.) The Warm Vanilla Sugar stuff from Bath and Body Works is awesome, though. So is the Moonlight Path (lavender) and the Japanese Cherry Blossom.

Drink wine in the bathtub and listen to jazz. It completely makes you feel like a movie star.

Dance all by yourself. Put on your favorite music and move with it. Learn to feel the evil jungle beat that kills all the plants. Feel how your body is all connected together, how it’s a physical, material being, how it moves through space, how it responds so beautifully to touch and sound. You are designed to be a beautiful, corporeal being, not a disconnected intelligence trapped in a useless body.

That’s really the most important thing: You are beautiful. You just need to know it, and feel it, and own it. 🙂