The more I write, research and share my cult experiment, the more parallels I see to other societal blights and diseases: abusive relationships and domestic violence employ the same seduction to destruction social engineering; drug addictions mirror dependence on high-demand groups; racism mirrors the paranoia and fear cultivated (cough, unintentional pun, sorry) in “school’s” petri dish.
Homophobia attacks identity in a way that rings familiar to me — its message to the gay, lesbian and transgender population: as you are, you are wrong; thus, you can’t be who you are.
Transgender people probably experience the most extreme in heinous attitudes and violent behavior — imagine living a life in which your innate identity does not match your outer shell; imagine that the very foundation of who you are is so threatening to cultural norms that some would be willing to resort to violence to silence you. If you have trouble imagining this plight, an Indian woman calling herself Arena — born into a male body — writes beautifully about her experiences in this new blog: Diary of a Muslim Transgendergirl
A dear friend of mine, a classically trained vocalist, is building Butterfly Music, a non-profit that creates choirs to give voice to marginalized groups — those whom societal forces try to silence, or sweep away, including transgender folks. She is helping Arena publicize her story through this blog to expose the cruelty innate in efforts to suppress a human being’s essential identity.
The only common denominator between Arena’s life and my little 5-year cult adventure is the fundamental issue of identity — pesky esoteric questions of who am I? and why am I here? made me vulnerable to a group that offered answers. Though I often say my “school” days were more ridiculous than damaging, recently an un-“schooled” witness, and dear friend, said to me,” ‘school’ was killing you.”
Sounds dramatic, yes? Truth be told, the longer my tenure, the more dead I felt; I was evolving into an empty shell, my days metamorphosing into the “school”-dictated “life I never wanted”. The group compiled the sum total of my weaknesses into my cult identity, the woman I never wanted to be: unemployable, entitled and helpless Jewish American Princess.
The “ideas”, the constant inner monitoring through “self observations” and the fear of displeasing upper echelons ate away at my psyche. Constant analysis of every, thought, feeling and movement parsed out, flattened and shoved aside all personal nuances for this one-dimensional, cult-defined, person-hood. And “school” called all of this naval gazing “evolution”. Like any good cult, it put the magnifying glass on my faults until those faults identified me and that’s what “school” does to most of its students — although I suspect those with a lot of money get more slack.
I call these types of practices cultic identity theft and it is a form of psychological violence. Arena’s case goes far beyond what I’ve experienced; her world sends her a constant message: your identity threatens our existence, therefore you cannot be who you are. I am grateful that my cult days are over — I am grateful for the choice to walk away, embrace my fundamental identity, and start a new, feeling stronger than I ever have — thanks for the lesson “school” — as Tom Waits says in his classic, San Diego Serenade, I never saw the morning, ’til I stayed up all night. But that’s another topic for another post.
In the meantime, I hope this young woman gets the same chance, somehow, someday, to be fully embraced and loved for who she is; she longs to move to the states — I hope someday she can. I think the parallel attack on her identity is worth sharing on cult confessions, if for no other reason than to shed light on how damaging these attacks on identity are and in hopes that someday the world at large will find the practices completely unacceptable, perhaps even criminal.