Editor’s Note: content warning for child abuse, self-harm
Moving to Spokane after third grade mark one and before third grade mark two was, in some ways a blessing, but at the cost of me losing the woods.
I didn’t have to publicly deal with the stigma of having been held back, and it gave me a respite from bullying for a short while. That is, until I again was playing the role of “odd kid out.” Due to the trauma I was carrying from my home life and my last school, I didn’t want to deal with anyone for quite a while. I sort of fell in with a group of nerdy dweebs, but I kept everyone at arm’s length. It was around this time that a lot of people, especially those that only dealt with me occasionally, started calling me by my last name. I was perfectly okay with this.
Most of the time, however, was spent with my nose in a book. I didn’t just push away people, but the world itself. I began to realize that I was different, not just gender-wise, but in many ways. The most telling for me was that a majority of the kids around me were just themselves. For good or ill. If they were cruel, if they were kind, if they were just going through the motions. What you saw was what you got. I’m not sure what they made of me. Layer upon layer of lies and misdirection. The next couple years are really a blur for me. They say that telling the truth is easier than lying because you have to remember your lies. Perhaps there is something to that. My whole life at that time was a lie and I find it hard now, years later, to dredge up details.
I remember Pokemon and Beastwars on TV each morning before school. I remember when I worked up the courage to dial the Boys Town Hotline that was advertised each morning at that time. I remember the conversation being really awkward because I didn’t know what I was or what to do, I only knew I was in pain and didn’t have the words to articulate it. I, with the 12th grade reading level in 3rd grade, didn’t know how to say anything more concrete than “my life is wrong and I don’t know what it was supposed to look like, but it’s not this.” I was dismissed because I wouldn’t give my name, and couldn’t be entirely honest because I was scared of what they would do if I admitted I wanted to die and I had repeated the lie of “I deserve to be beaten by my parents because I am bad” so many times out of self-preservation that I had come to believe it. In short, my fear and my inexperience silenced me even as I reached out for help.
It was thanks to changing schools that I was finally able to start understanding who and what I was even though I didn’t have words for any of the various parts of my identity.
At HLCA, the religious trappings and conservative fervor made it so that I could not understand where I fit. However, Brentwood Elementary was a public school and thus didn’t have the religious overtones, though it was still largely conservative. I was able to compare and contrast my experiences at the two schools and began to realize that I had far more in common with the girls than the boys.
In fourth grade I got one of the very few good teachers I had in my entire elementary career, Ms. Lani. She actually treated her students with respect. About once every 2 weeks we would push all the desks out of the way and circle up our chairs and talk about problems in the classroom and resolve any differences. This was my first introduction to the circle process and I had no idea how radical and revolutionary an idea it was, or that 20 years later I would think fondly of her every time I am a part of a circle. I wish I still had a copy of our group agreements as a memento.
I began to open up to some of the other students and had friends, well sort of. The mask I wore had friends. I didn’t. But the illusion of friendship was better than nothing.
While I wasn’t able to just hang out with the girls like I wanted to, I was usually able to and welcome to sit with them at social functions like church potlucks or the school assemblies. I only occasionally sat with them at school because of the bullying I would get from the boys.
By the time 5th grade rolled around, I was able to hang out with the girls after school on occasion and quite a bit that summer at the community pool. I would forget myself and begin talking with the same cadence and intonation as them, which went unnoticed by the girls, but got weird fast if there were any boys around because it made me a target that they simply couldn’t resist. The bullying at school and beatings at home got worse. When someone at the pool pointed out the scars on my back from being whipped by my parents, I claimed they were from having a willow tree “get me” when it was being cut down because I was standing too close. I still don’t know why I lied. The best I can conclude is that I had developed some form of Stockholm syndrome in relation to my parents. Just change “captors” to “abusers” and it fits.
My fifth grade summer I discovered porn. I had tried to search for “boys that feel like girls” using Yahoo on our 28.8k modem. Let’s just say my quest to figure out what I was got delayed for a bit. Caught all kinds of hell for it too. Even today I struggle with how badly I was punished for that one. I mean, my parents were conservative Christians and I really should have known better than to get into that stuff in their house, but that doesn’t justify locking me in my completely empty room for months on end and only letting me out for school, meals, restroom, and the odd obligatory beating. I’ve now spent 11 years in prison and I still say, that was worse.
It was an odd twist of fate that had me finish the letter “T” in our encyclopedia set after that grounding was over. I was armed with a new word, “transsexual.”
I now knew what I was, I just didn’t know what to do about it. It explained why my parents were so gung-ho to have me do sports and Boy Scouts and all kinds of other “manly” activities. I could finally see the gender divide, and that I was on the wrong side of it. I had no idea how to “switch teams,” but at least I knew who I was rooting for.
It was shortly after that grounding that I found I couldn’t hide my contempt for my parents. Something about puberty. I had gotten sent to a group home called “the CRC” (an acronym that has popped up in my life many times since and has, thus far, always been used by fascists). They sent me there because the ADHD meds that had been prescribed by the same family doctor that failed to catch my year and a half of deafness wasn’t making me a good little boy like he had promised it would. Not surprising when you consider I wasn’t a boy and I didn’t have ADHD.
The CRC was just more of the same. Bullied by a couple boys that were bigger than me, bonded with a couple of the girls there for what little emotional support we could give each other and marked time till the next piece of bad news hit. The CRC had me and my parents do a roleplaying exercise. My father was playing me, and I was supposed to be playing him. I couldn’t do it. As soon as it got to the point where he would have taken a leather belt to my backside for asking “what’s the point?”, I broke down into tears and had to leave the room. I just couldn’t comprehend why he would take that action and thus couldn’t do it while roleplaying him even though I knew that’s what he would do next. I was given a fail on the activity, but my parents “let me” (made me?) go back to live with them. After that, my mother would look at me with such superiority. Like the whole thing had just been a small mildly entertaining diversion for her. My father didn’t care as long as my mother was happy.
In sixth grade, I began to plot. I made friends with a group of girls that had no connection of any sort to my “normal” life and especially my patents. With them I was Victoria, in reference to the movie “Victor/Victoria”. They guessed I was trans before I attempted to tell them I was transsexual. They taught me how to pass as a girl, rather than just be girly. That whole “socialized as a” thing. None of them knew my real name, or the name I called myself at midnight. I approached it like a spy always in enemy territory. I didn’t want them to stumble into my parents and say something that could get me discovered. I didn’t want my parents to find out what I was up to and kill me for it. And to be perfectly blunt, that is exactly the stakes I was playing for. A couple of times when I had an overwhelming need to wear the correct clothes I had snuck some of my sister’s clothing while home alone. They later found the skirt, bra, and top hidden in the bathroom where I had hastily changed back. They assumed it was for some form of sexual gratification.
During the following lecture and beating, my father actually said that he knew how to deal with that sin, but if I was confused about what I was he would just shoot me and be done with it. This was one of the three times in my life he threatened to kill me and all three times I believed him.
I continued to sneak out and be a girl with the girls, even with that hanging over my head.
Time moved forward slowly. My sixth grade winter break was spent at the CRC. I was explosively angry and having more and more trouble keeping it contained. The ADHD drugs made things worse, pharmaceutical speed sapping me of my self-control. I ended up getting in a screaming match with my sister, who could do no wrong as far as my parents were concerned, and began packing a bag to leave. To this day I regret what I said that night.
While she was favored, she was not my enemy. And I pray that all these years later she is not my enemy. She is the only person on the face of this planet that I fear because if she were to tell me she wants me to die, I am unsure of whether or not I would kill myself in an attempt to make her happy. It is probably for the best that we are estranged, otherwise I am certain that I would quickly become enslaved to my own sense of guilt and duty. But I digress…
She immediately called my parents, who called the police. I was out the door before they arrived, but somehow they were able to pull some strings and had a K9 unit tracking me only an hour after I had left. I decided to try an pull off a loop that would hopefully confuse the dog long enough for me to make a plan to lose them. I hoped that the snow and the smell of car tires would help cover my scent as I walked and jogged down the road. As the hours dragged on I was able to make parallel tracks and see how far behind me they were at two points. For as hard as I was pressing, they were still gaining on me and I realized I wouldn’t be able to finish the loop back with enough time to spare to change my scent by giving my boots a chemical bath then breaking off in another direction. So instead I hid at the beginning. I wanted to make it into the rafters of the garage, but by the time I got back to the house and snuck past the county sheriff deputies that were still there for whatever reason, I had thoroughly run out of time. I did my best to hide in one of the cars and actually did manage to trick the dog. But one of the cops was a thorough and detail-oriented person. He checked both cars and moved the blanket that I had hidden under in the back of the Jeep Cherokee.
I had left at around 5 pm and it was nearly midnight when they took me out of the car, sat me down at our old kitchen table and interrogated me for the next hour. They knew what narrative they wanted and ignored any answer that didn’t fit. They yelled and interrupted my answers until they had satisfied themselves that they could misconstrue my answers to mean that my home life was fine and that I was running away from school.
Like I said, my parents knew some of the cops and it was easy enough for them to get special treatment. I didn’t get arrested that time, but after that the police became another weapon that my parents used to make me suffer.
That spring, or maybe it was the one after, was when I finally understood that my parents loved my sister, but not me. My sister’s birthday comes before mine by roughly 3 years. She’s May 1st, I’m May 9th. And as an aside, yes. Most years my birthday was so thoroughly overshadowed by Mother’s Day that that I eventually gave up and started planing my own party at the end of May.
So my sister turned 16 and I was set to turn 13. She got her driver’s licence the day after her birthday. If I remember right, that year my birthday was the day after Mother’s Day. So we fast forward a week to the morning of Mother’s Day. My sister and I are making the mandatory Mother’s Day breakfast, but we’re out of eggs. So she decides to jump in our mother’s Oldsmobile and drive to Albertson’s to get some. She backed out of the driveway just fine. Took a right out of the cul-de-sac, and pulled up to the exit of our neighborhood, no problem. Meanwhile back at the ranch (ya, it was a ranch-style house painted an ugly dark green), I’m preheating the oven for biscuits from a can and doing all the prep work for omelettes. So back to my sister, she was planning on taking a left onto the 4 lane main thoroughfare, but kinda sorta totaled our mother’s Oldsmobile on mother’s day by T-boning a minivan.
Literally, that’s all she had to say for herself. “Oops.” Now remember me, back in the kitchen dicing sausage, cheese, and veggies? The next day I got slapped around for having stayed back and kept cooking! I had ridden in the back seat while our father gave her driving lessons while she had her learner’s permit, if they though I was gonna just jump into any car with her driving at that point they were nucking futz. I was suicidal, not stupid.
Now, I will grant me having taken my “I told you so” for telling her that driving while sleepy a week after getting her license is a bad idea, may have been in poor taste.
In any case, the real insult to injury was my sister getting a Ford Ranchero and my mother a Lexus out of the deal, and me being told in no uncertain terms that I wouldn’t be driving until I was 18 and maybe not even then.
I still to this day have no clue how my parents managed to say “we don’t have favorites” with a straight face.
After that, I just didn’t care any more. The conflict got worse, I started fighting back any time they beat me, and when they called the cops I would try and claim self defense. Didn’t work.
There are a few events that stick in my mind from this. The first was when I had just started fighting back. I was bleeding from the lashings on my back when the cops showed up. My mother claimed that she feared her own child. I got arrested. How’s that work? I still don’t understand. So I spend the weekend in jail. The prosecutor didn’t press charges and my mother comes to pick me up at the county jail. I couldn’t force myself to sit in the car next to her for the 30 or so minutes it would have taken to ride back to their house. I start walking. Thankfully it was a balmy summer evening, because I was wearing pajama bottoms and a tee shirt while I hoofed the 15 to 20 miles barefoot. I walked into the house and was immediately bombarded by screams. I didn’t even pause, I breezed right by them to the kitchen, grabbed a knife and made a small slice on my forearm that looked far worse than it was. “Leave me be.” I screamed right back at them. I have no idea where that came from, but it worked. They backed off and I went to bed. Well, except for the whole thing of, the next time my parents had me arrested they made sure I ended up in the psych ward for a few months. What was that word? Oh ya. Oops.
I have to protect myself from these memories, and a lot of that is done through humor (as you’re seeing in this post) and through a sense of pathos (as seen in the telling of the first part of my story). There’s only so much of memory lane that I can stand at a given time, and even then only so much I can bear while I walk it. I used to be broken, now I am simply damaged. I call this improvement.
The psych ward was an education in deception. Doctors that claim to want to help, but in reality they were paid by my parents to make me docile and tame. My rebellious nature was not but a pathology to be drugged into normalcy. I spent months in there carefully wrapping myself in layers of neurosis that I could later drop and they proclaim me “cured.” I was terrified of them actually seeing through the deception and telling me that they knew I only pretended to be a boy. After about a month I actually did lose it for a bit. I didn’t realize until years later that they programmed me to believe that I was responsible for what my parents did to me. About six or seven years ago I finally under stood that I am not responsible for what my parents did to me. I am only responsible for what I did to them.
I spent all of winter in the psych ward and returned to school that spring stuffed full of Zyprexa and Wellbutrin. I didn’t want to take the meds, but my parents watched me far closer than before, making it impossible to skip. My depression got so much worse. What do you do when not even your own mind is sovereign?
I truly gave up at this point of my life. I did not even care enough to end things, I simply let inertia draw me from one moment to the next. Looking back, I feel like I embraced a form of zen-like anti-enlightenment. Rather than finding peace through contentment and freeing myself of all suffering, I did just the opposite. I found a strange peace through suffering by sacrificing all hope. It is strange how easy it was to just embrace all the negative things they had been telling me was wrong with me for so long.
The reason I was sent to the psych ward was that the next time my parents called the cops on me I ended up in front of a judge. The juvenile court system is a joke. Not only was I not allowed to speak on my own behalf, but nobody explained anything what was going on to me. Plus, the person that was supposed to speak on my behalf, the appointed advocate or whatever, made me sound like some psychotic gambling addict by talking about how I have good luck with dice and cards. Total lie, dice hate me and the only reason I’m good a poker is because I can bluff better than mist and know when to fold. No idea to this day where she came up with that load of tripe.
Anyway, as my stress level increased I found that I would need to dress in women’s clothing more often to be able to cope. I took advantage of the time between getting off school and my parents getting off work to do so. One afternoon my mother came home early and again I was trapped in the bathroom in stolen clothes. I changed back but just could not face her. I barricaded the door and screamed to be left alone. She called the cops and I experienced my first ever cell extraction as the sheriffs department broke down the door with a battering ram and pepper sprayed me. Again, when she picked me up from the juvenile part of county jail I chose to walk back. At least this time I had shoes.
The next event of any real importance was moving once again, this time from the suburbs to Mount Spokane. If I had not realized yet that my sister was the favorite, this would have done in any remaining delusions I may have still harbored.
When I was in third grade we moved to Spokane for my sister’s education. When I finished the eighth grade and my sister graduated high school, there was no reason for us to live in town anymore, so we returned to the country. I lost the connections I had slowly and painfully made over the years. I am naturally slow to make friends, then years of abuse made me even more distrustful of peoples motives. The move was devastating to me. I was again alone, and I no longer had anyone that knew any of my secrets.
I think for now I’ve gone on long enough. I’ll start back up with freshman year at another time.