Sadly, I now realize that many of these messages came from my parents' attempt to parent with inadequate tools and Dr. James Dobson as a guide. He dared my parents to discipline, and boy did they take that challenge and run with it.
I was disciplined and guilted and shamed into submission for many years. It somehow seems appropriate to me that Focus on the Family is such a partner with Exodus. My parent's treatment of me as a child (using Dobson as their guide) no doubt made me all the more vulnerable to the ex-gay message. I was ready and willing to believe myself a damaged and broken person that needed to be fixed, with my sin nature needing to be beaten down and submerged, subdued, and dominated. I was willing to believe that my homosexuality was a part of my own strong-willed defiance gone horribly wrong and satanically out of control.
I can't even look at Dr. Dobson's book Dare to Discipline without wanting to weep. The way he talks about children makes me shudder. He calls them "tyrants" and "dictators" and seems obsessed with defiance. Here's a quote from the first chapter (link):
"I'll never forget a mother...who asked for my help in handling her defiant three-year-old daughter, Sandy. She realized that her tiny little girl had hopelessly beaten her in a contest of wills, and the child had become a tyrant and a dictator. On the afternoon prior to our conversation, an incident occured which was typical of Sandy's way of doing business. The mother (I'll call her Mrs. Nichols) put the youngster down for a nap, but knew it was unlikely she would stay in bed. Sandy was not accustomed to doing anything she didn't fancy, and naptime was not on her list of fun things to do in the afternoon.
On this occasion, however, the child was more interested in antagonizing her mom than in merely having her own way. Sandy began to scream. She yelled loudly enough to upset the whole neighborhood, fraying Mrs. Nichols' jangled nerves...[snip portion]...
The actual meaning behind this conflict and a hundred others was simply this: Sandy was brazenly rejecting the authority of her mother."
He goes on later to state, "When properly applied, loving discipline works! It stimulates tender affection, made possible by mutual respect between a parent and a child."
Does calling a child a "tyrant" or a "dictator" or "brazen" rejector of authority sound like mutual respect?
For parents like mine, who got almost all of their parenting advice from Dr. Dobson, is it any wonder that everything turned into a battle of wills and they saw their child as a "strong-willed tyrant" that needed to be battled into submission? Dr. Dobson is a man who says that "If discipline begins on the second day of life, you're one day too late." What kind of discipline could a one-day old infant possibly need?!?
I have heard of Dobson-style parents commenting on how "manipulative" a four-month old baby is, because the baby will smile when an adult is playing with them, but cry when it is left alone.
There's also the story of how Dobson treated his own dog, Siggie (yes, after Freud) in a battle of wills between man and beast. Dobson relates this story in The Strong-Willed Child:
"I had seen this defiant mood before [defiant mood being indicated by Siggie not wanting to leave a warm spot in the house and go to his kennel, and subsequently growling at Daddy Dobson], and knew there was only one way to deal with it. The ONLY way to make Siggie obey is to threaten him with destruction. Nothing else works. I turned and went to my closet and got a small belt to help me 'reason' with Mr. Freud."You can read the chilling conclusion here.
This is a book my parents, and many other parents in Christian households, read (and still read to this day) in an attempt to learn how to discipline their defiant, strong-willed children.
Dr. Dobson goes on to say, "Perhaps this tendency toward self-will is the essence of 'original sin' which has infiltrated the human family. It certainly explains why I place such stress on the proper response to willful defiance during childhood, for that rebellion can plant the seeds of personal disaster."
I wonder what my parents think of their child-rearing methods now? I was their "strong-willed," "rebellious" and "defiant" child. I was the one who was told I was like "Israel--who were a stiff-necked people." I was the one who was harshly disciplined in an effort to break my strong will and subdue my defiant nature.
Interestingly, I have not had problems with bosses or others in authority. I'm well liked at work. I don't recall ever having much problem with teachers at school, either (well, except for that first-grade teacher who wrote "Christine talks too much!" on my report card). I was always well-liked by the parents of other children. In fact, one of the problems I had with my own parents was that I felt like I could never stand up to them. I could never say what I had to say -- what I was feeling or thinking. Does that sound like someone who is pathologically strong-willed or defiant?
And yet I wonder if they now believe that my willful, rebellious defiance during childhood was perhaps not properly weeded out, and the seeds of that led to this "personal disaster" of me becoming a lesbian. And the really convenient part (at least for them) is that no matter what, it can always be blamed on Satan, or on original sin.
This brings me to another thing I've wondered of late. In talking with other ex-ex-gays or those who have survived fundamentalist upbringings, many of us have in common parents who are absolutely unable to love unconditionally. These parents do things and say things that most parents would not utter to their children no matter how upset they were with them. Is it the idea of sin or satan somehow controlling our lives that gives them license to think of us this way, or talk to us this way? Is it a lifetime of thinking of us as "defiant tyrants" that gives parents the idea that their child is in league with the devil himself?
My own mother once looked at a 5-year old boy and said out-loud to him "get thee behind me, Satan!" because she was convinced that he'd looked at her in a defiant manner that gave her chills and that she could only attribute to Satan. She told our family about this later, with an air of pride that she'd had the guts to speak out against Satan in this manner (nevermind the poor child who probably still remembers that church lady calling him "satan"). For those of us whose parents see us in this light...could this be an explanation for why they are so willing to throw us away, to denounce us and reject us? Do they truly still see brazen and defiant tyrants controlled by satan when they look at us?
My parents often say that they did the best that they knew how to do. And you know, in many ways, they are right. They used the Bible as their guide, and spoiled not the rod. They turned to the Christian guru of parenting, Dr. Dobson, and put into practice his words. They saw what they were taught to see, and executed his parenting instructions with zeal.
Unfortunately, I'm thirty-four years old now, and it seems they still view me as a conduit of original sin, a vessel of satan and as a defiant and strong-willed overgrown child (again, not unlike how PFOX or Exodus views "homosexual activists" such as myself).
If I'm strong-willed, it's only in my determination to heal from this Christian-sanctioned abuse and to rebuild my self-esteem and my own sense of self and self-worth. If I'm defiant, it's because I will no longer allow others to define me with their harmful words and negative views. I will defy anyone who tries to do that. I reject my own mother's view of me when she sends me the following excerpt from an article she's written: "Father I repent for looking at our friends and coveting what they have. [Our friends who don't have children] will never have heartache from children hurting them. They will also never understand Your deep pain over Your children who run from you, and don't honor You. In some ways they (our friends) will never know the depths of your great love either. That knowing seems to be born out of deep pain and loss. I am so aware of Your unconditional love and compassion for Your children. I share that unconditional love for my children with You."
With unconditional love like that...
Thanks, Dr. Dobson.