Religious Abuse

I’ve tried to write this post many,many times and I never manage it because there are parts of my past I still find too desperately painful to write about. But right now I’m seeing both atheists blaming Christianity (or more often “religion”) as a whole for the tragic and avoidable death of Leelah Alcorn and Christians insisting Leelah and others like her could be saved if they only found a different (but still Christian) church or community to be part of, that they ones they are in aren’t “real” Christians and real Christians will love and accept trans youth for who they are… And I need to say something.

I need to say something because I and other trans people, from children to old people and every age in between, have been subjected to religiously motivated abuse from people who “disagree” with our lived realities as trans people. I need to say something because responding to that abuse is NOT as simple as “find another Church” or “stop believing in God”. BOTH of those reactions – and others – can be good decisions for a particular person experiencing religiously-motivated abuse but neither is as easy or as likely to help as those suggesting them as a general solution appear to think.

To those suggesting to hurt and vulnerable people that they just stop going to church or find a different church or stop believing in God, I want you to know:

With very, very few exceptions, anyone who recognises that they are being harmed in the name of a religion is *already aware* that there are multiple branches of their religion. With even fewer exceptions, they are likely already aware that atheism/ agnosticism exists.

Telling someone to just leave an abusive community – whether or not you suggest an alternative community to leave to – is pretty much *exactly* like telling someone to leave an abusive relationship or family. The person in the abusive situation likely knows better than you what harmful consequences would occur if they tried to leave and what they would need to have in place in order to leave – if you’re not offering practical and *unconditional* support to leave saying “There are other options” is close to useless.

Going to reiterate that on UNCONDITIONAL support. If you only plan on being there for someone *after* they take the leap out of an abusive religious community and not while they are still in it and trying to figure out what to do, your support is not really support. Same goes if you only intend to support someone if they make the choice *you* think is best – that’s not support, it’s paternalism. If you want to help people in these kinds of situations, you have to show that you care about them no matter what and you trust them to try their best to do what’s best for them.

Religion often isn’t “just” a belief system – it can be a huge part of a person’s life and identity. It can be their main or only community and family. Leaving one particular Church could potentially mean never seeing almost all your friends and family again – it’s not up to you to decide whether or not that risk is “worth it” for someone else.

You can’t look at a person and see how strongly they feel about their religion or what it means to them or what parts are and aren’t important to them. Telling a Catholic that Unitarians exist and welcome LGBT people is not helpful if the Trinity is spiritually meaningful to that Catholic. Telling an agnostic Jew to give up Jewish rituals that are important to her because her family refuses to accept her gender wouldn’t be helpful either.

Don’t argue scripture with people uninvited. THIS IS IMPORTANT. Don’t argue about scriptural interpretation or different ways of looking at certain passages or practices without explicit consent to do so. More likely than not, they are getting plenty enough of this within their community / family. Make sure they know that YOU will respect their boundaries and won’t try to force them into discussion.

To those who find themselves experiencing a conflict between who they are and what their religious community teaches, I want you to know:

 

First, you’re not alone. Lots of people all over the world, of many different faiths (and occasionally atheists brought up within the moral codes of a religion) are in the same position as you. It’s difficult and there are tough choices to be made but whatever you choose, someone else is doing the same – and maybe with the help of the internet you can find them.

Second: it’s okay if you don’t want to call what’s happening to you “abuse” – and it’s okay if you do want to. Trying to rationalise what’s happening to you by telling yourself that people are just trying to help you or that they don’t know that what they’re doing / saying is harmful is okay too. If it helps you survive, think and feel anything about the people hurting you – they can’t control what you think or feel even if they want to.

The position you are in – seemingly forced to make a choice between your*self* and your religion – is an extremely difficult and complex situation to be in. It’s unfair and it’s wrong and it’s NOT your fault this is happening to you. Anything you can do to keep your self safe and alive is an okay response to this situation.

Staying closeted or going back into the closet can hurt you but as a short to medium term response it can be a good choice.
Being out only with or around particular people and not in general or in specific places can be a good choice.
Keeping your own beliefs in your head and performing the religious practices of the community you are in until you can safely get out can be a good choice.
Losing your belief in God or changing religion can be very scary – it can also be the right thing for you to do.
Finding a way to stay in your religion and still be open about who you are is also likely an option. It might be the best option for you. It also might not.
Leaving and then going back is okay. Leaving and never going back is okay. Drifting in and out of belief in God is okay.
Griefing over losing a religion or belief in God is okay. Not feeling grief at all is okay.
Staying and trying to change things is okay. Burning bridges is also okay.
Wishing you could go back is okay. Being glad to never go back is okay.
There is NO one right way to deal with this.

You are going to need friends. Friends within *and* outside of your religion. Look for groups for people of your religion who are trans / LGBT, look for groups for people who *used to* belong to your religion but left. Make friends that have nothing to do with your religion. Make friends outside of your community so you know that if you do decide to leave, you won’t lose all your friends.

Find someone to talk to about your feelings. Get an outsider viewpoint if you can. Find someone sympathetic who won’t push their own solutions on you – a helpline for people in distress might be a good place to start.

If you are a child / teen, remember that you soon won’t be and you’ll be able to choose your own place to live, study, worship and your own therapists and support when you’re an adult. If your parents or school *aren’t* religious / are supportive of trans and LGB people, they might be able to help you find a supportive adult to listen to you now.

Talk scripture if you want to, don’t if you don’t. I can happily discuss why Judaism is a good religion for me but I still feel terrified and ashamed if people try to discuss Christian responses to trans and LGB issues with me because of stuff that happened to me when I thought I was Christian. You don’t owe ANYONE an explanation of why you do or don’t attend certain services or do or don’t believe certain things.

And finally:
Whatever you feel about and however you experience your gender and/or sexuality is real. Nothing and nobody can take it from you. I and thousands like me will believe you instantly and completely if you say “I am trans” or “I am a woman” or “I have no gender”. No one else can tell you how you feel about yourself, only you know and only you can say. Nobody can make you become someone you aren’t – not even you. Whether it will be easy or difficult for you to find a way to live as your self, there are thousands of us who want to help and support you to do it – whatever you think and feel about God or religion and whether you want to stay in a particular faith or not.

You deserve to be happy and to live your life authentically. Yes, you.

Emergency Information to prevent more Issy Stapletons

Trigger warnings for murder, child abuse, violence, hate crime and suicide. None described graphically but all mentioned repeatedly.

***IF YOU OR SOMEONE YOU KNOW IS IN IMMEDIATE DANGER CALL 999 FOR THE POLICE AND/OR AMBULANCE. IF YOU FEEL LIKE YOU ARE LIKELY TO BE A DANGER TO ANOTHER PERSON, CALL 999 OR GO TO A POLICE STATION OR ACCIDENT AND EMERGENCY***

This blog post will be pretty different from my usual posts. This one is born out of a need to do something constructive in the wake of yet another terrible tragedy befalling my community. Issy Stapleton’s mother tried to kill her.
And even though I’ve never met Issy or talked to her online, that tragedy affects me because I, like Issy, am autistic. Us autistics look out for our own and when one of us suffers violence, the rest of us want to help. We are here for you, Issy. What happened to you was monstrous and abusive and wrong and I am praying that you survive it and come to learn that even if your mother could not be trusted to love you and protect you, you still have a family in us. We love you and we will try our best to keep you safe. My friend Bridget wrote this for you and here is a whole blog dedicated to telling you how precious and loved you are. How much we want you to live, how great a loss it would be to our community and to the world if you died. We are here for you Issy, and we always will be. That’s a promise.

One way to help though is to try to stop this ever happening again. Parents and carers killing or trying to kill their autistic or disabled family members happens so frequently that we have Vigils and days of mourning  planned throughout the year, we know the names on the growing list of those murdered. We pledge, again and again, to “Mourn the dead and fight like hell for the living“. This what I’m going to try to do here.

Paula C. Durbin Westby compiled this list of resources for US-based autism families where either an autistic person felt unsafe or a parent/carer felt they were likely to harm their child. I am going to try to compile a similar resource for autistics and families in the UK.

FOR AUTISTIC / DISABLED / ANY CHILDREN AND AUTISTIC / DISABLED ADULTS

If you are in danger, for example if someone is hurting you or talking about hurting you and you can get to a phone call 999. Even if you can’t talk, yelling or screaming into the phone may still cause help to arrive. If you have a mobile phone, register it with the 999 text service by following these instructions NOW in case you ever need to call for the police or ambulance when you cannot talk or need to call for help without your parent / carer knowing what you’re doing.
If you are a child (under 18) in the UK and you are unhappy or scared because of ANYTHING that is going on in your life, contact Childline  by phoning 0800 1111 or chatting online with a counsellor through the childline website (good if you’re nonverbal). If you’ve no access to the internet at home, see if you can go online at a friend’s house, at school or at your local library or youth centre.
If you are over 18 and you are scared or unhappy but not currently in danger, you can call The Samaritans on 08475 909090 or email jo@samaritans.org. They will listen to you and talk through whatever is upsetting you. They won’t tell you what to do and may be able to give you details of other organisations who can help you.
Learning disabled people who are scared of someone at home hurting them or who are scared that they might hurt someone can get in touch with RESPOND. At the time of writing, RESPOND’s helpline is down and they suggest calling Mencap on 0808 808 1111 (Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm).
If you are a girl or woman and you are being hurt, threatened or are scared of someone you live with, call Womens Aid on 0808 2000 247 (24 hours a day, every day).
If you are a boy or man and you are being hurt, threatened or are scared of someone you live with, call the Men’s Advice Line on 0808 801 0327 (Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm) or email info@mensadviceline.org.uk.

If you are thinking of running away or have run away from the place where you usually live, call or text Missing People at 116 000 (24 hours a day, every day) or email 116000@missingpeople.org.uk . If you’re an adult, they can’t make you go back and will talk you through your options which may include sending a message home that you are safe. They will not tell anyone where you are unless you want them to. If you are under 18, the law means your parents / guardians may be told where you are but that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to go back to them if you don’t want to, the number to call is the same as for adults and text messages can still be sent to this number even if you’ve no credit on your phone.

If you are not sure whether or not you are being abused, read this information. If you’re still not sure, get in touch with one of the helplines or websites above anyway. They won’t tell you your problem is too small or not important, they’re there to help. You can even call a helpline just to practice how to do it and say “Hello, everything is okay right now but I wanted to know what it’s like to call a helpline so I won’t panic about it if I ever need to”. They’ll understand.

If you’re an adult now but when you were a child someone did bad things to you and you’re still hurting, call NAPAC on 0800 085 3330 or 0808 801 0331 between 10am and 9pm Monday to Thursday or between 10am and 4pm on Friday or email them at support@napac.org.uk

If you are worried about someone else, call a helpline. If they are a child and you are an adult call the NSPCC on 0808 800 5000 or text them on 88858 or email them at help@nsppc.org.uk. They answer calls 24 hours a day, every day. If you are both under 18, call Childline. If you are both adults, call Women’s Aid or the Men’s Advice Line or their local social services.

REMEMBER IF YOU FEEL YOU OR SOMEONE ELSE IS IN DANGER, CALL 999 AND ASK FOR THE POLICE.

INFORMATION FOR ADULT PARENTS / CARERS WHO ARE WORRIED THAT THEY MAY HURT, ABUSE OR KILL A DISABLED PERSON IN THEIR CARE

***If you feel that the person in your care is in danger of death or injury at your hand, go to a separate room and call 999 and ask for the police. Tell them exactly what it is that you’re afraid you are going to do and ask them to make sure you don’t.***

If you have a more general concern that you may be harming or at risk of harming a child in your care, call the NSPCC on 0808 0800 5000, text them on 88858 or type the name of your town and “child services” into google to find the details to contact your local children’s services directly. Do NOT wait until the worst has already happened, if you feel likely to harm your child, you NEED help and support. Yes, maybe your child will be taken into care, probably temporarily. THIS IS A MUCH BETTER OUTCOME THAN BEING KILLED OR HARMED BY YOU.

If you are thinking of killing yourself, call the Samaritans 08457 90 90 90 or make an appointment to see your GP. If you are worried you might kill yourself in the immediate future, call 999 and ask for an ambulance or take yourself to A&E and tell them you are worried that you might kill yourself. They will get you a psychological assessment and further help.

If you are struggling to cope with caring for a disabled adult family member but no one is in immediate danger, contact Carer’s Direct to find out if more support is available to you and the person you care for – you may be eligible for extra money, support services, discounts and respite care. Their number is 0808 802 0202 and lines are open 9am to 8pm Monday to Friday, and from 11am to 4pm, at weekends, except bank holidays. Calls are free.

The National Autistic Society also has a helpline which may help you to find support and services locally for both yourself and the person you care for, whether they are a child or an adult. Their number is 0808 0800 4104, lines are open 10am to 4pm Monday to Friday except Bank Holidays. This is NOT an emergency number, in an emergency, call 999.

If you think you may be abusing someone in your care and want to stop, call RESPECT on 0808 802 40 40 to get help. Remember, if someone you care for is in danger from you, call 999. If abuse has occurred or is likely to occur, contact your local social services and ask to speak to someone about safe-guarding vulnerable adults. Don’t wait for your situation to get worse, get help as soon as you think you might be a danger to the person in your care.

FOR FRIENDS OF AUTISTIC / DISABLED ADULTS, CHILDREN AND THOSE LOOKING AFTER THEM

Friends don’t let friends get murdered or abused and friends don’t let friends become murderers or abusers. If you see something, say something. If you think someone is in immediate danger, call 999. If a disabled/autistic person tells you they are being hurt by a carer or are afraid of a carer, help them get help by calling a helpline or child or adult services. If you are even a little bit worried that someone you know may hurt their child, call the NSPCC or Child Services. Don’t wait for confirmation that harm has occurred, it’s much, much better to be safe than sorry. Look at the various websites I’ve linked so you know what signs to watch out for and GET HELP if anyone seems like they may be being abused or abusing.

IN AN EMERGENCY, CALL 999.

Whatever you do, whether you’re scared someone might hurt you, scared you’re going to hurt someone or scared for someone you know, please don’t do nothing. Okay? Get help.

We don’t want any more Issy Stapletons. And we don’t want any more Kelli Stapletons either.

This has taken a lot out of me and several days to write but if it helps just one person, it will be worth every ounce of energy I put into it.

If you’ve read this far and you needed any of this info, I just want to say that I love you and I hope you get the help you need.