My God Complex

Monday, 11 April 2016

I read an article a few days ago that hit very hard at home for me. In this online commentary, a man by the name of Josiah Hesse wrote about his journey out of the indoctrinating trenches of Christianity. His words felt so real; reading his story mimicked my very own upbringing in northeast Arkansas almost to perfection. I was trembling reading his account of escaping.

In my adulthood, I've asked various close friends, acquaintances, and strangers throughout if they've been able to recall events or situations vividly at an early age — toddler years to early adolescence, specifically. Most say no. Some talk about faint memories, but they come across as very grey...incapable of describing minute details of a particular point in time.

I'm capable of this. Errr, I have quite the collection of immensely colourful memories strewn about my brain's memory bank. Going back to the topic of this piece, one that I can clearly see internally is of my mother telling me, "God loves you more than I'm capable of doing. Can you comprehend that?"  I was three years old at the time. Yes, three. As a logically-minded human being, you might be asking yourself or those around you how could a parent even utter words like that to their child? How? Why?

Because my mother was indoctrinated by her parents. And thus began indoctrination of me at the ripe ol' age of...three.

That line was repeated again at various other points in my upbringing, too. You see, I was raised in a pentecostal church system. Hell, fire, and brimstone were the topics of order at almost every sermon I was brought in to attend. I always felt uneasy in church as a child — not to mention the already conflicted issues going on internally concerning being transgender. This made it worse. I witnessed sermon after sermon and hate-filled, bigotry infused message after message from all the various pastors I had telling me that people who fall under my LGBT umbrella were sinners. I was labelled an aberration, an abomination, and that my future was going to be an eternity scorched with fire and flame. This is called guilt. It's using fear to undermine one's self to detach you from the real world and draw you into a fantasy realm that believes in talking snakes and a woman being created from a rib.

By age eight, I was pondering the notion that God wasn't even real at all. Every single bit of what I was told, although intensely frightening for me as a child, made me scoff at the actions of my church and of my mother. To count the number of times that my brother and I were proselytised at by our mother in car rides to and from the grocery store...well, I couldn't even possibly give you a number of the amount. It's far, far too many. I was made to feel that my soul was infinitely tortured and that the only way to escape imperfection was to ask some invisible being to save me. "Boys, I'm...REALLY concerned about where your souls are going to go if God raptures us all away one day soon. I want to know that you'll be there with me in heaven. Is your soul right with the Lord? Do we need to pray?"

That's not paraphrasing at all. Those are literally the very words my mother constantly used against my brother and me. I'd get so uncomfortable, that I would just sit there in silence until she finally dropped the subject. I didn't want any part of that nonsense — nonsense, because that's what it is.

And growing up involved in the pentecostal church system, you begin to have all of these fantastical beliefs antagonise all the little aspects of your every day life. For example, as a child, I grew up in a house that set fairly close to train tracks. The bible talks about how "when Jesus returns to take back his children, the trumpets will sound and the clouds will part. Every saved soul will rise into the heavens, and every deceased one will rise from the ground."  This was terrifying. I would be sleeping peacefully in my bedroom, alone, when a train would come rushing through at 3 a.m., blowing its whistle as loud and long as it possibly could, in the small town that I called home. I'd wake up in a sweat, rushing in to my parents' room to see if they had been raptured away. This was constant. It's probably the reason that I currently suffer from small bouts of anxiety when sudden loud noises occur around me.

As I continued into my teenage years and started watching my body begin to take a male shape that was immensely unpleasing and uncomfortable for me, the distance between myself and the church began to draw further and further away. I would sit in church on the back pew next to a good friend of mine at the time. I believe his name was Josh Buchanan (he's since passed away, unfortunately.) I admired Josh. And I would compare my physical development to his. Sitting next to him — completely ignoring the pastor at large — I'd notice how thin my arms and legs were when compared to his. This was another constant mental agony for me, and it increased my uneasiness and dysphoria that began plaguing me more and more as I climbed further into my teenage years. I knew something wasn't right.

Because of this, I'd ask myself constantly, "If this so-called 'God' was real, why would he be so cruel as to put me, a girl, inside of a boy's body? WHY?!" My indoctrination kept pushing and pulling against that very question day after day and week after week. It was excruciating; it was mentally and emotionally painful. So many times I wanted to off myself at such a young age so I wouldn't have to deal with it anymore, but then my indoctrination would kick in again:

" You can't do that. That would be committing suicide, and suicide is a sin. It's confirming entry into hell. Don't do it!!"

This continued throughout my teenage years. I suppose if I have anything to thank religion for, it would be that. I kept myself alive because of fear and guilt; but only because I didn't want to burn. But then my coming of age happened...

I finally arrived as an adult. I was 18, and I knew that the possibilities of transitioning into who I am today were more probable. But there was a catch. I had no money and zero means of financially supporting myself through such an ordeal. And I knew my parents would never help or understand my plea. So I began to try to scheme a way of immediately becoming successful to finally begin becoming my real self — even though I had zero sense of how that would be accomplished. I hadn't read anything yet about transitioning.

Enter music. I began songwriting at age 16. And I honed my craft in, yes, a church. I would sing and play guitar on stage during regular service hymnals, and I would occasionally get up and do a special song before the sermon least, that's what Pentecostals called it. I'd stand there and play, and I'd watch the crowd react to my music via their indoctrination. They'd sway about, lifting their hands into the air toward an invisible being, and even crying tears of indoctrinated joy. Yes, me, proselytising through music. Shame on me. It was all too interesting. But I wanted to improve my craft. This continued all throughout my twenties.

I threw myself a curveball, however, nearing my mid-20s. The shame, the guilt, the all began building up once more. I convinced myself that I could, indeed, live as a male human being in a very stringent black and white society in this country we call America. Failed relationships, awkward socialising, and regressed feelings of hatred toward my body once again proved otherwise. But you know, I kept playing and singing music in church.

My doubts of a god existing during this time of my life were still present, however. In my 20s, I became an adamant "Christian" fundamentalist despite knowing who and what I was internally. It was painfully conflicting. And this all built up to a moment I've discussed elsewhere on my social media accounts, too. Throughout this period of my life, I did everything I could possibly do to make others happy — especially my family. I cast aside who and what I was, so that I could tend to creating joy in others' lives. At the same time, my internal stability (of what little I even had) was beginning to crumble.

Torment and rage kept building. Entering the last couple of years of my 20s, I became very heated and hateful toward society. I began going to church with my parents and brother less often. My mother especially knew something was odd about me during this time. My fundamentalist, conservative ideals were dying, but I kept getting angrier. This anger was building because a realisation had occurred that I had utterly and truly been lied to through the use of religion. I stopped singing and playing music in church. I became distant with friends and other family members that I knew were religious. Christians, overall, started becoming very off-putting for me. I didn't like being around them.

So, as I became 30 years old and still tending to try to make others happy over myself, I knew one final event the following year after would be the nail in the proverbial coffin. It would be the absolute last time I would put off tending to my internal happiness.

Three years ago, my brother and his wife announced they would be getting married later that year in October. Around my birthday of that same year, turning 31 years of age, I said enough is enough. I finally told myself that there is no such thing as a god, and I lamented over the reality that Christianity is a hoax and that I had been lied to for so long. I also began planning how I would go about transitioning properly. Yes, my aspirations for becoming a successful musical artist to fund my transitioning had died. It was time to get real. My last service toward my family would be that of being my brother's best man at his wedding. In a southern baptist church. Typical for the area of the country I live in.

2013 was the year I became an atheist. I stopped believing the lies. I stopped caring about a theology that hinders societal growth and prosperity, and I began living for the "now." And it felt so incredible to be free of that bond. But I still had my brother's wedding and the lie of standing there as a "best man." But I loved my brother, and I wanted nothing more than to see him happy. It's who I was, and it's who I am today. Love always wins. But I was completely ready for the charade to be over and done.

I'm not going to lie, however, and tell you that it was easy after coming to this realisation. There were that of a mental mini-bomb...exploding inside of my mind. Fear is very gripping, and the theological form of it is especially difficult to unhinge.

I stood there on that stage at my brother's wedding during prayers looking out into the church sanctuary. Seeing all of those bowing heads created immense sadness within me — to know that so many others are still bound by chains of deceit and lies. I was happy when his wedding finally came to a close. The next year was dark and dreary. Not because of losing religion, but because of trying to figure out how to come out to my family and friends about being transgender. I studied more...researched more about hormone therapy. Reading about all of the positives that HRT can create in a trans human being's growth gave me life. It gave me hope. You see, I had spent so many years as a child and a teenager (and even as an adult) hoping and praying, crying myself to sleep at night, asking an invisible, omnipotent being to make things right — to change me and allow me to wake up in the morning as a girl. But that never happened.

Losing my theological beliefs enabled me to transition. It created within me the strength to push and create a new, honest reality for myself. It created confidence that I had never experienced before. Because I finally figured out that in order for things to get accomplished, prayer or praying isn't the answer — your actions are what create solutions. Gone was religiosity from my mind. Guilt no longer existed, and I was free to discover the real being that is me, Anna Claire Foster.

Be good, and do good to and for others. It's far more powerful than the lies that religion guilts you into believing.