A real life, savior story in time for Easter. CW- religious abuse, homophobia, racism.
Oftentimes when I am asked about my religious views by white folks I joke that “the last time I discussed religion with a white woman, I ended up in a cult. So as a rule of thumb, I do not discuss religion.”
For Easter today, I want to tell you why.
I found out I was pregnant with my first born while I was in a juvenile detention center. One of the conditions of my early release into house arrest was that I had to go through several social programs for at risk women to make me a ‘more suitable’ mother such as substance abuse classes (because they found THC in my urine) at local churches teaching old rhetoric such as the gateway drug theory. I had to pay to take domestic abuse classes (I was the victim of partner abuse!) and was on my own to find parenting classes.
There wasn’t many options for classes ten years ago nor now in my area so I chose a Christian based class which met locally even though I identified as agnostic at the time. These classes I chose was highly recommended at a pro-life Christian based birthright center, the only place in town that could at the time “verify” a (visible at this point) pregnancy with innovative technologies such as dollar store tests. Only after the center gives you a signed form one can be seen at the local Health Department. These centers peddle tons of pro life propaganda and misinformation. Any service that has to do with teen pregnancy and parenting provided in the City of Fredericksburg (still to this day) and most everywhere in small town USA is evangelical Christian centered or at the very least, powered by churches whom provide volunteers and money in this way.
This is how I met my would be, lowkey abuser and “mentor”: on my first night at Empowered Parenting I was nervous people would notice my ankle bracelet and sat far away from the crowd of other teen moms. That same day was my would be mentor’s first time at the program too. She sat by me and we made small talk, she oftentimes said that God himself told her to sit next to me and talk. And she later request that she be assigned as my mentor. Saying I would likely need someone whom was as structured as no-nonsense as she.
Thinking that this white woman had no idea how to help me I reluctantly agreed to be mentored by her. I was both wrong and right about my initial feelings and moving forward would forever change my life.
She showered me and my unborn child with blessings and gifts.
She helped me find out how to get a GED and then helped me get into Community College (I had never even heard of Community College at the time and in my legal situation I had given up the dreams of college circa eighth grade) she helped me choose a career path that was right for me, took care of my kid while I was at school and scheduled rides to and from classes daily. She helped me find my first place and my first professional job.
She offered me hope in Jesus form and through stories about overcoming and escaping her poor rural life through the military. Her poverty struggle narrative void of nuances inspired me. I thought she had the secret to the American dream and I wanted to be like her.
As a member of a cross cultural church and someone married to a black immigrant I thought she was safe to confide my undocumented status, I had no idea what the words xenophobia or nationalism meant. She was disgusted, not at me but my parents and took my sin up to the pastor for counseling and spiritual direction. We all agreed that I would not burden or cause other Christians to stumble by knowing the truth about my immigration status — it would be unfair to the congregation to have to choose between protecting me as an undocumented person or call authorities and “follow the rules” as the Bible totally condones.
I spent years under her instruction which looking back on it was clean abuse. She had disdain for undocumented immigrants because her experiences as “an inner city hospital nurse in the South West” gave her insight in the issues that border towns face (aka a racist pov) for example, she knew for a fact that people (Mexicans) come across the border illegally just to have babies and abuse our healthcare (completely ignoring that by that time Mexico had universal healthcare for its citizens) or benefits (even though she witnessed me being turned down for food stamps because of my legal status) she would often would watch Anne Coulter with her mixed children and use words like Anchor Babies. Latinx people as a whole as lesser than people to look down upon. That was her attitude toward me and my family and I failed to see it.
She would spend much instruction time telling me all the ways that Latinx people parent wrong (in her professional opinion) and making me feel inadequate in my own maternal instincts and desire. I became cold toward my child, a disciplinarian more concerned about his obedience to my instructions than anything else in our relationship. After my child was first born she loved noting that they took after my mother’s complexion and had fair skin and golden hair. Later she’s coo and laugh anytime people confused her for my own mother and my son’s grandmother or worse, when she was confused as my son’s mother. She ironically adopted the nickname of tia to my child and later was named Godmother when they were baptized at the church.
She loathed gay people excuse me, she hates the sin and not the sinner but was most certainly was shook the first time she came to my home while my sisters and I were watching a messy episode of NEXT on MTV (remember that dumpster fire of a show?) which lead me to ask how she felt about the subject. I was given platitudes and buzzwords like Gay Agenda vs. God’s Plan. Years of misquoted Bible verses later I was hooked on the idea that there was something severely wrong and wordly indeed evil about me and my attraction to other humans. I wonder the type of reaction she’s had when word of me coming out of all shadows as a gender fluid, pansexual person reached her ears because when she found out I was slipping on the slippery slope by sleeping with Justin before wedlock I can tell you she was furious, most of her berating was self-centered, she had done all this for me and I dared embarrass her by being a hoe. I was cussed up and down and side to side for “giving it away for free” the church was not content with my choice of Justin as a partner even after we married and he became a Christian for a short while. The damage was done. I was definitely back on my hoe shit and the church as a whole was not pleased at all with me. When I was repentant enough to be trusted again I was told that they fully expected me to fail anyways. Although it was never said, it was felt: “Once a slut always a slut.” When I began going to church at first the older women from the church blessed my heart and attempted to support me and lead me in the ways of a godly woman (as the only a single teen mom at the church) and once began accepting shopping trips to get “professional clothes” I feel into the Respectability Politics mindset trap:
“Remember the first time you came to church? you were pregnant and you wore a low cut shirt with your breasts all out. I was so embarrassed for you, I thought oh my god we need to take this girl shopping! Look at you now, yay!” We would laugh at my poverty and youthfulness, we would laugh at the crushing weight of internalized misogyny and racism disguised in well intentions and love, I hated myself so much, I loved the idea of god the more.
More alarming, as I continued attending and getting more and more involved in that church, sinking lower and lower, other members of the church would begin to share the same thoughts with me, the same rhetoric as hers repeated to me as instruction akin to the bible. I was like a walking confessional: White people, “brothers and sisters in Christ” confiding in me their disdain for Latinx and other immigrants and their racism, rampant colorist, anti black ways. Oftentimes meeting my stoic looks or eye rolls with a quick ‘compliment’: “well You are not like Them” I was aware even then that I was only tolerated because of my pale skin, a feature that puts me in proximity to whiteness and provides me with certain privileges. No matter how many painful stories you read from me, you need to know that my complexion and even my stepfather’s Sicilian last name (Angelini) have put me in a place of privilege over other folks, especially Latinx folks, documented or not.
I allowed this church to whitewash my identity and brainwash my mind and my heart to the point of denigration. I let white people say all sorts of racist shit because I felt like I could not speak up and only in the past few year I have found my voice and what I have got to say to the world, and that itself is an ongoing, life long process.
I have struggled for years to reclaim my power, decolonize my life and love and accept my body, my transness, my queer identity and my differences in thought. I am grateful for the opportunity and privilege it is to do so.
It is because of this that No thanks, I would not like to talk about your lord and saviour white Jesus Christ with you, friend. Honest to god he seems like a nice enough dude (personally I gotta feeling he was a commie too) and I am truly glad that the thought of him brings joy to so many friends and family… As for me and my house, we good, you see, last time I spoke about god with a white woman, she pulled me into the sunken place for five to six years and honestly I cannot spend another minute trying to get some of those lost years back. I hope you can understand. And really do wish you have a happy Easter!