This is Part 1 of a 2 Part Series in which I focus on Religion. This first part is basically a historically biography of my religious experience focusing on how my views were changed over the years.
Currently I am in the midst of deconstruction of my Christian faith. And for a while now I have been thinking about putting my thoughts and epiphanies about religion and how it shaped me in the past and how I want it to shape me in the future. So this article is going to be an exploration of many of those key thoughts and religious ideals that I now hold or have let go of during this deconstruction process. I will say that my end goal in deconstructing my faith, is not one in which I abandon religion but one where I remove the bad and negative aspects of toxic religion and replaced it with a Spirituality that is comforting and supportive of me as I travel through this journey we call life.
But before I reveal the key thoughts and the new maxims that are shaping my new world view. I thought I would give you a little background on what my family life and school upbringing was like.
My Religious Journey
I grew up in a very strict rules-based religious family. My Dad was a store-front Baptist preacher in the inner city at a black church named Elijah Rock Baptist Church for over 20 years. He and my Mom did many things in the name of religion that still haunt me today. Probably the worst thing that my Dad and Mom did was play their little game of physical and emotional abuse in front of us day in and day out and then dealing with the abuse in the name of some kind of warped “forgiveness”.
Religious Family Filled With Abuse
Some of my most traumatic memories of my Mom and Dad fighting are when we would travel to see my relatives who live in Indiana. On more than one occasion I can remember my Mom and Dad starting to fight and my Mom asking, nearly begging my Dad to hit her and he would. My Mom would also threaten to jump out of the car and on more than one occasion she did. (To be fair, my Dad would slow down and pull over, but to a 4 and 5 year old this shit was terrifying!)
And on more than one occasion, I unknowingly mimicked the example of my Mom and tried to jump out of a moving car and my Mom would tell me the story of how she got out of the car at a gas station screaming for trucks and cars not to hit me.
Although never diagnosed my Mom was more than likely bi-polar and my Dad more than likely was dealing with an O C D disorder among other things. I can remember my Mom threatening to leave my Dad several times but always bowing under the religious pressure that my Dad would scream to her about the evils of divorce. Which resulted in an endless pattern of abuse.
This abusive pattern would usually trickle down in the following manner. Although I identify as a woman now. I grew up as a boy with 3 other brothers. So what would happen is my Mom and Dad would verbally and physically abuse each other.
Then my Mom would abuse 1 or more of her 4 sons. Often, I literally remember being strangle-choked by my Mom thinking I was going to die. Then not surprisingly my brothers and I would have violent physical fights. I can remember plenty of times where I nearly choked my younger brother to death.
My parents moved to Kansas City in the late 70’s in order to find better jobs. When we moved to Kansas City my parents decided to send us to Tri-City Christian School. To say that Tri-City was legalistic would truly be an understatement. It was basically like combining the disciplinarian rules of the military with a toxic Biblical world view.
My first year at the school was in the 4th grade. And at a very early age I knew that I was attracted to both men and women. During the height of the AIDS scare, I heard about the sins of homosexuality and how homosexuals were going to hell if they did not repent. I was constantly going up to the altar rededicating my life in tears almost every time hoping that this time I would say the prayer right and my gayness would go away. It never did.
I quickly picked up on the emotional benefit that my Mom gained on my Dad after she was beaten. Often my Mom would egg my Dad to beat her because she knew that if my Dad did hit her, that he would wind up feeling guilty. And in the end she would get her way or at least the attention she wanted.
I learned how to use this abusive pattern to my advantage. By Junior High, I was proudly telling people and my fellow male classmates that I felt no pain and I egged them on to hit me and beat me up. I remember in a warped macho way, this ability to take abuse often garnered me the respect of others in both high school and college.
So where does my Dad fit into all of this. In many ways he did not fit in and that was the problem. Although my Dad made sure to instill the necessity of reading the Bible and Bible study, he was detached to us emotionally and often physically because he started working the night shift as a postal clerk. He did not see the signs that I was a troubled child and failed to do something about it.
How I learned to cope in this family of dysfunction was to play the role of “good kid” and I did this by mimicking my Mom and getting under her good graces. So, when I did this. I was less likely to get beat because my Mom would not allow it. And one thing my Dad always wanted to do was to make sure my Mom’s anger bomb did not go off. And when I was a teenager I was beginning to exhibit the same bi-polar pattern of my Mom. I would have “purple spasms” just like my Mom and I would bite on my right index finger so hard that it began to blister and get callous. And throughout all of this my Dad did very little or nothing at all.
Finally, though one time my mood swings got so bad that my Dad was so frustrated that he really did not know what to do. So, my Dad went to the administrators of Tri-City and told them that I needed help. And being the legalistic Dad that he was he told the leaders that he thought the root of the problem was that I listened to rock music. Of course unhealthy family patterns had nothing to do with it. It had to be Rock music’s fault.
At this time, I believe I was a Sophomore in 1985. I was in Algebra class and was sent to go speak to the principal and assistant principal. And right away, I knew this was a setup. They both asked me if I listened to rock music. I was not stupid. I knew I was in trouble. At 150 demerits you were kicked out of school. I believe I already had 50 demerits and I knew that rock music was 50 more demerits and lying was another 50. So I decided to tell the truth and at that time they told me that my Dad had told them that I was listening to rock music. They later would tell me that if I would not have admitted to listening to it that I would have been kicked out for lying. And that was how they handled the situation. They set me up and gave me 50 demerits. No counseling, no probing into what was really going on at home, just the legalistic need to bust a student for not complying with the out of whack religious rules.
I do remember though that after that, they did recommend that my Dad send me to counseling. So, I was forced to go to counseling against my will. I basically lost trust in my Dad since the last time he tried to “help me” I got 50 demerits for it. I saw what my Dad did back then as a family betrayal. Now I see it for what it was worth – he was basically a man at his wits end on how to deal with me.
So I went to see a counselor and I was very shut down because in my mind the greatest guilt and hidden sin in my life was my homosexual desires that I was dealing with. Instinctively, I knew that if I shared with my counselor about my gay leanings my world would have been turned upside down. I know without a doubt I would have been sent to a gay conversion therapy camp or some variation of it.
Keeping the Beachball Submerged
Now that I have come out as a trans-woman I have heard the time one spends prior to transitioning in comparison to that of a submerge ball or beach ball. You can suppress your true gender identity for a while but eventually it will burst out of the water violently. Not only did I hide my gender identity, but I also got very good at hiding my sexual orientation and submerging that identity under the water as well. The next few paragraphs detail some of the ways I kept the proverbial beach balls of “gayness” and “transness” underwater.
As I got older I continued to live my closeted gay life and decided to attend the Christian College of Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia. (The only way my Dad would agree to help any of his 4 boys out financially for school was if we went to a Christian school.)
In college I did find some more healthy ways to deal with my pent-up frustrations and anger. One of the primary ways I did this was by starting to run cross country. I was using my mantra of “I Feel No Pain.” in an athletic way and a way that gave me some feeling of being a man. In our household everything was a competition. There was never any lose in my Dad’s vocabulary. When he played with us he would never just let us win. He would try to beat as at Candy Land, Monopoly and Basketball. And this culture of competitiveness was continued among the 4 of us. And even though I was not the youngest, I was the third of 4 boys. I was born with the least amount of athletic ability. Early in grade school I went to a Learning Specialist to work on my fine motor skills because I was quite behind other kids my age.
I bring this up because I equated manhood to performing. And since I was already “gay” in my mind I was even much more of a wimp because I was a miserable athlete. But in cross country, I finally found something I was good at and so my self-worth grew. But once again, my Dad let me down in that he never felt the need to see me run or compete because I was not as good at cross country as my older brother Russell (who almost made it to the Olympic trials). So his lack of attendance did prove to me that once again I was not good enough or man enough to earn my Dad’s respect. Because the truth is that probably more than anything, – what a son wants to hear from their Dad is “I am proud of you.” This means much, much more to a young teenager than “I love you.”
So after college, I eventually got a job working as a Communication Coordinator for an Insurance Company in the Kansas City area. I do not know if it was attraction or a desire to fit in, but I eventually started to date women and eventually got married and once again appear normal on the outside in the Christian community. But the entire time I was married it never felt right and I was filled with guilt and remorse on the inside. I was married in 1994, and in 2001 I was divorced. And one of the biggest culprits in my marriage was that I continued to feel “less than a man” because of my gay thoughts and failure to live up to my own standard of what a man is supposed to be. So every little thing my wife would say, I would often take it as a personal assault on my manhood. And at times my behavior was very similar to the abusive behavior of my Dad.
The Beachball Explodes
One of the key events that happened in this time-frame of my marriage from 1994 to 2001 was my Mom’s death. On July 31, 1997 my Mom passed away due to kidney cancer. And this event was the beginning of several years of counseling for me. At the urging of my younger brother. I went to see a counselor and eventually me and two of my three brothers confronted my Dad with many of the offences he did to us growing up. It was during this counseling session that for the first time ever I told my Dad that I had gay encounters. Even though my Dad knew that hearing all of these things would be painful my Dad agreed to do it because he was in desperate need of friendship and family kinship after my Mom past away.
My Experience With Gay to Straight Ministries
This counseling led me into another life changing event that molded my view of religion. The counselor that our family saw recommended that I attend a gay to straight ministry called Living Waters which is part of Andy Comiskey’s Desert Stream ministry. Initially, I saw Living Waters as a life jacket that would rescue my marriage and finally give me victory of the evil “gayness’ that was inside of me. One of the comforting things about the Living Waters experience for me is that I finally opened up about my “secret” gay desires and found out there were others like me and I was not immediately rejected. I went through several different Living Waters or Living Waters-like programs that were designed to fix me. I would have periods of “sobriety”, but what I found was that basically the Living Waters experience would just make my highs, a little higher and but my lows much lower than before.
I will say that I did meet a few people that were able to be “cured” from their “homosexualness”, but they were/are not people that I would like to be like. Living Waters tried to emphasize “true masculinity” and “true femininity”. But what I found was that the people who were examples of “cured” actually turned from people with empathy and care in their hearts to people who saw “true masculinity” as a way to bully their viewpoints, not allow open dialogue and diverse opinions and found ways to propagate a misogynistic point of view that men with “true masculinity” were the true believers and a male with a “femininity” issue was less value and important in God’s eyes.
My experience with these gay-to-straight programs was really the final nail in the coffin to my marriage (which lasted just 7 years). My ex-wife never truly bought into the notion that there was something wrong with “gay people” because one of her best friends in high school was gay and she was accepting of gay people even more than I was of myself. Deep down I hated myself.
Coming Out As a Gay Man The Beginning of My Deconstruction
Around 2008 after having yet another round of failed experience attending a “gay to straight” ministry. I finally had enough and decided to out myself as a gay man. In 2008, I outed myself loudly and proudly on Facebook as a gay man. Because of this incident, I dealt with a lot of backlash from my family regarding coming out. It was difficult, but what I found was a new family. A family that was accepting and unconditionally loving. Most of these friends were from my workplace. I also found that as I learned to live authentically, I still had ups and downs of depression but they were less frequent and less dramatic.
Slowly, I was healing and my religious mindset and worldview was altering.
A couple of years ago, I was on Facebook and I was interacting with former classmates from my high school Tri-City Christian School. Somehow the topic got around to some of the crazy rules and things that happened at Tri-City. And I asked the question, “Can you believe that Tri-City actually had a day in school called Slave Day, where Seniors were auctioned off during chapel service on stage to the highest bidder. And the winning bidder then would be the master over the “Senior Slave” the next day requiring the Senior to carry books to class, clean their locker and feed them during lunch. Well, the moderator of the Facebook group did not like what I had to say so she banned me from the group even though there were others who wanted to hear more about this and discuss it.
This made me quite angry, but instead of just stewing about it, I decided to do something about it and I started a new Facebook group called “Tri-Citians Healing from Spiritual Abuse”. Presently this group has 300 plus members. And something really cool happened with this group. People began to share their individual stories of how teachers, and pastors verbally, physically, spiritually and sexually abused them at the school. We realized that we were not alone. We realized that this extreme example of church legalism was quite abnormal and not typical. We realized how damaging the doctrine that was forced down our throats was in our lives. Several of us shared written stories with each other which we posted on the group pages and the communication brought healing and in some cases forgiveness.
One of the results from this group is that I met a former classmate who directed me to a counselor who later I found out is someone who specializes in dealing with individuals who have been through oppressive religious organizations and helps these individuals re-align their thinking. I started to see this counselor 2 years ago in 2016, and he has enabled me to finally accept myself as who I am. Not only did he encourage me to spread my wings and be comfortable with myself as a gay man and attend gay events and groups, he instilled in me a new found confidence to explore who I really was.
About a year ago (August 2017), I came out as a trans-woman and started presenting myself as a trans-woman at work, home and anywhere I went out. If it was not for my counselor helping me to see that I did not have to follow the “religious norms” set by my upbringing I would have never been able to have the courage to transition. I have since changed my legal name from my birth name of “Tim Sears” to “Paige Sears” and now my drivers’ license reads female instead of male.
You can read the article in full by clicking on the “Tri-City ghosts link”: Tri-City ghosts: School Vouchers Raise the Possibility of Diverting Money into Abusive Faith Communities
After the article was published there was quite of lot of talk about it among the members of the Tri-Citian Facebook group that I started. Some glad for the article and others who thought it showed the school in a negative light and showed Christians in a bad light. And even though the school itself is now defunct the church Tri-City Christian still exists and the article started to have ripple effects at the church.
My Meeting With the Current Pastor of Tri-City Baptist Church
Since I was mentioned in the Tri-City article published by The Pitch I decided to meet with the pastor and see if he could help bring healing to others. And the meeting was both good and bad. I could tell right away that this pastor was well-intentioned. I will give him some kudos because he did not have to meet with me because all of the things that were mentioned in The Pitch article did not occur under his watch but happened under the leadership of a different pastor.
Anyway, we discussed the events mentioned about me in The Pitch article and it did help to bring some closure. But as I was getting ready to leave, he decided that it was his job to pray the gay out of me. I left feeling manipulated and not listened to.
But after this brief encounter with this Pastor we stayed in contact via Facebook. Probably 2 months after I met him, I came out on Facebook as a trans-woman and this pastor sent me a message and basically told me that transitioning would definitely lead to death or suicide and he refused to call me by my new name of “Paige” and called me by my dead name or birth name of “Tim” because according to him to do so would be in his eyes a sin. His exact words were, “God created you as Tim Sears to be an image bearer of His character and His will. You will find satisfaction only in submitting to His desires for you. I will never refer to you as Paige because that would be the most unloving thing I could do to you.”
Now, 9 months into my transition I have found out that his warnings of death, suicide and unhappiness are utter garbage. I have found and met so many new friends who love me as I am. I am not nearly as depressed. I actually find the courage to look at my face in the mirror and love what I see. My religious or spiritual journey is not over but is constantly changing. I have sporadically been visiting Unity churches. One in Lee’s Summit Missouri Unity Village Chapel and one in Kansas City on the Plaza Unity Temple on the Plaza
Unity is accepting of all religions and of a God who presents himself/herself in many different forms. And all 3 times I have visited their church the speaker was a woman which is extremely comforting to me.
So that is a brief history of my spiritual journey which is far from complete and I hope you will now take a moment to read my other article which details some of the ways my belief system has changed and what new paradigms of thought I am now gravitating to and the key maxims that I am trying to live by.
The next part of my 2 Part focus on Spirituality focuses on how my religious beliefs have changed over time and a brief description of my belief system now.