Take Me Away! Or, Why I’m Live-Tweeting The #Rapture

I’ll be live-tweeting the #rapture this Saturday. Or for part of the day, at least. We’ll also have a house to clean, because hey, life goes on.

I do want to make clear, though, that I’m not mocking all Christians or all people of faith. I respect the person of Jesus as the ultimate altruist (and socialist, no matter how much corporate conservatives might try to turn a message of compassion and being community-conscious into “let them pay their own goddamned way”), and respect affirming and mutually-respectful people of faith who honor that one top commandment, to love one another. What I’m mocking is a kind of elitism that takes on the air of the ultimate revenge fantasy, when the elite chosen relish the thought of cheering on their ascent into bliss and our descent into damnation. The kind of elitism that destroyed my traditional family.

Jesus first left my mom standing at the altar in 1976.  Morris Cerullo had passed through Edmonton with his euphoric faith-healing traveling show.  My mother and I switched from Catholicism to radical Pentecostalism that day (my dad remained Catholic), and yup, that was supposed to be the year.  It was the “Spirit of ’76” — an evangelist branding campaign which capitalized on the anniversary of US independence, which was somehow significant to Canadians, and also supposedly tied to the date of the rapture.  Jimmy Carter was supposed to be the antichrist, and his ascent to the Presidency only reaffirmed to mom that the end was near.

It always boggles my mind about how the far right talks about “traditional families” as though nothing can go wrong.  I had that traditional mother and a father, my dad was the classic stoic tough guy, faith was a rigid structure in our family, nobody spared the rod, and I still turned out different.  The “empty vessel” theory of childhood development failed.  But at least I figured out from the earliest moments of childhood that I couldn’t let on that I felt I was supposed to be a girl — I hid it well and kept telling myself that I was obviously the one in the wrong.

By 1977, it was strangely out of vogue to put a date on Jesus’ return, and there was a lot of “no man knoweth the hour” to carry us through the embarrassment of being wrong about the second coming of Christ.  “Star Wars” came out and although she hadn’t realized the need to protect me from it soon enough to keep me from seeing the movie during the first couple weeks of its release, it soon became clear to her that “Star Wars” was demonic, and all the toys were demon-possessed, and couldn’t be in our home.  Darth Vader was supposed to be the antichrist, and the success of the movie only reaffirmed to mom that the end was near.  That little puke Johnny Rotten was just an impostor.

Meanwhile, the Ex-Gay Jesus-Fix-It Perpetual Emotion Machine started into motion, 24/7, for a decade and a half.  What a way to mindfuck an 8-year-old kid.  If growing up trans has its risks of post-traumatic stress, this was that much worse:

And now, you’re on the bus. This is one of those moments your anxiety level spikes. So many things could go wrong. You’re so scared that you’re breathing heavy, and the fear that someone will notice makes you all that much more afraid. You have to hold your breath for moments, to try to disrupt the impulse to hyperventilate. Your sweat is deathly cold.

You pray that God will deliver you from it. No, you beg God to deliver you from it.

And then there he is. He’s gorgeous (no, you didn’t just think that, you filth). You look away. There’s so many things wrong with that thought. He’s a boy. You’re a boy. Or that’s how you’re supposed to think of yourself, anyway. Sometimes you think otherwise, but that’s wrong too. Okay, it’s all getting muddled, and that consciousness stream is ribboning everywhere and tripping over itself and you’re hyperventilating. You’ve induced an anxiety attack.

You pray that God will deliver you from it. No, you beg God to deliver you from it.

You get off the bus a stop early and have to walk the rest of the way to school. That was close. It’s never been completely clear where something stops being temptation and becomes sinning in your heart, but you know it must be around the moment you choose not to look away, so that was really close.

You thank God for delivering you from it.

You fall in behind someone you’ve seen around the hallways at school. She’s really cute. You’re jealous (no, you didn’t just think that, you filth). You look away. You’re attracted to her, which is good, you suppose, but again, you don’t really know when it becomes something sinful, so you try to control that thought. The consciousness stream is flipping around, but you’re able to calm it down by looking at the pigeons.

You pray that God will deliver you from it. No, you beg God to deliver you from it.

You’re in class. The teacher is conducting a lesson on calculus, but you don’t really hear him. The kid in front of you was out playing football during his spare, and you can smell the fresh scent of musk on him. It’s playing in your head. You’re busy thinking about trying not to think about it. But he’d have strong arms. They’d probably make you feel really small wrapped in them….

Damndamndamndamndamn. You excuse yourself to go to the washroom.

Damndamndamndamndamn. It’s a good thing you’ll have homework this evening to try to get this calculus stuff, because you totally can’t think right now. In the washroom stall, you’re beating yourself on the head with your fists. Damndamndamndamndamn. “I’m the worst in the world. I’m the worst in the world.” It’s not some tongue-in-cheek Keith Olbermann schtick, it’s the mantra of an eleven-year-old boy. Or girl.

Damndamndamndamndamn. You’ve never figured that part out, so you assume that what everyone tells you must be correct. All your instincts are wrong. It’s a character flaw. You’re wicked. You pray that God will deliver you from it. No, you beg God to deliver you from it….

1980 was the next projected date, as mom immersed herself in Hal Lindsey’s The Late, Great Planet Earth and writings that evolved from that.  There was a 1978 prediction of some sort involving a nuclear disaster that was supposed to precipitate a war, but it never materialized.  The Ayatollah Khomeini was supposed to be the antichrist, and the Iranian hostage crisis only reaffirmed to mom that the end was near.

Mom started to think that the reason that Jesus never seemed to show up for his dates had to do with the fact that people weren’t good enough.  She had always been a bit obsessive-compulsive — something I ended up inheriting or learning (I’m not sure which) — and so she slipped into critical and blaming stages, pick-pick-picking at everyone around her.  This wasn’t right.  That wasn’t good enough.  Mom developed some mantras designed to erode the confidence of everyone around her, all with the idea that if we could be more perfect than perfect and still feel no sense of pride about who we were and no sense of accomplishment about anything we’d done, then maybe then, Jesus would keep the next date.

Pat Robertson was on a roll leading up to 1982.  He predicted a November cataclysm, and that “there will be earthquakes in diverse places” — which, of course, was true as always.  Suddenly, we started taking more notice when there was a tsunami or an earthquake or a volcanic eruption, because suddenly there was some kind of personal connection.  Anwar Sadat was supposed to be the antichrist, and his assassination only reaffirmed to mom that the end was near (something to do with the “deadly wound that was healed” scripture in Revelations).

In some ways, I realize I’m being unfair to my mom.  But I’m communicating the way it felt at the time.  The environment had become erosive; destructive.  Mom tried to compensate for the fact that I started to stray from becoming the preacher she hoped I would become; to compensate for dad’s Catholicism; to compensate for everything she felt she did wrong when trying to raise my sister and I.  I left home, and although I still loved my family, I was bitter. 

Edgar Whisenant came up with 88 reasons why the rapture would be in 1988.  Then, 89 reasons why it would be in 1989.  Then it was 1992.  Billy Graham was supposed to be the antichrist, and the fact that he had turned soft on some issue that the preachers mom listened to didn’t appreciate only reaffirmed to mom that the end was near.

Through it all, mom was at least consistent.  If her tone was endlessly critical and destructive toward my sister, my dad and myself, it was doubly so when she turned it on herself. Mom had become bitter, distrustful of everything but what her scaremongering faith leaders told her, broken, world-weary, and impoverished for the benefit of a god who would stand her up at the altar again and again.  She blamed herself for what she saw as my failings.  She heard abundant life teachings, and came to believe that the reason she hadn’t been abundantly rewarded by Jesus was because she was unworthy.  The reasons aren’t relevant, but she and my dad were not a good fit for each other — she blamed herself for not being able to make a bad marriage work; for wanting to leave.

Though not a sole cause, radicalized religion destroyed my traditional family.

1993 was a big year for countdowns, because the belief by then was that there would be a 7-year tribulation period culminating in the battle of Armageddon and the destruction of the world by nuclear firepower in the year 2000.  Jesus was planning on rapturing away the faithful seven years prior, so 1993 was the year.  Mom begged me to “get right with god,” because it was almost here.  Bill Clinton was supposed to be the antichrist, and his ascent to the Presidency only reaffirmed to mom that the end was near.

By then, I’d attained some distance from my family, some arm’s length, and began to heal.  And healing is definitely the word for the years of rebuilding that followed.

By 1994, the tribulation belief remained, but the date of the rapture was reassessed.  Maybe it’s supposed to happen halfway through, so midway into 1996.  Prince was supposed to be the antichrist, and the fact that his song 1999 was becoming popular again only reaffirmed to mom that the end was near.

It would take me several years more to finally feel secure enough to stop suffocating, to come out, and to live the life I needed to live.  When I finally did, I never looked back.

1995 meant that the whole tribulation thing needed to be rethought.  At that point, the Left Behind novels started coming out, part of a now-popular tradition of televangelists to release books and made-for-TV VHS dramatizations.  Mom gave me a copy of one by Jack Van Impe.  The fact that Bill Clinton was still the President only reaffirmed to mom that the end was near.

Ultimately, my parents (especially my deeply religious mother) weren’t able to accept what was happening, and it became obvious when years had passed and their pain from and rejection of my transition had only intensified — how the person I was “becoming” (in their eyes) was just so objectionable to them that it simply became the merciful thing to let them mourn and be done with it than to tormenting them by trying to be a part of their lives.

…  By the time I was three years into my transition, I was completely accepted in every other environment I found myself in, to the point where being trans was a non-issue.  But then I’d talk to my family and it was “[old boy name] this” and “[old boy name] that,” and every conversation was about how I was supposedly destroying my life and everyone else’s.  I’d complain that they needed to get used to my name – it had been my legal name for quite some time – and pronouns and my transition, and they’d say, “but [old boy name], you have to realize this is difficult for us” and then go on to fail to get it right even once.  My mother would talk about how dad breaks into tears when he thinks about me, how my sister is petrified of the thought of ever having to tell the kids, how her heart breaks every time she sees me or worries what the neighbours would think if I came to visit.  And detransitioning for family’s benefit was not something I could bear to do: after being able to finally be out and free, stepping back into that strangling, suffocating forgery of a life would not be something I could do without ultimately slitting my throat.  I had become the cause of apparently tremendous pain to my family, so I disowned myself from them.  That would be painful too, but somehow it seemed far more humane than remaining an ever-present source of anguish for them.  They weren’t going to change and I couldn’t reshape my life just for their benefit, so this was the one thing I could give them which would provide any sense of closure from which they could move on, and heal.

If she’s still alive on Saturday, Jesus will again leave mom at the altar.  And I’ll be live-tweeting it, because in the face of the evidence, humour is the best catharsis.  But I’m sure it won’t shake her faith.  Barack Obama is still the President.

6 thoughts on “Take Me Away! Or, Why I’m Live-Tweeting The #Rapture”

  1. By the way, if anyone spots any piles of clothing #LeftBehind, I’ll be happy to retweet your photos with credit. 🙂

  2. Don’t question God? That’s entirely Christians’ prerogative.

    But they absolutely need to question the people speaking for him / her.

  3. Well said!!!! I see this very same story in our family. Yet I believe in God, doing good works, being kind and honest. If I reply to you on Sunday that wasn’t good enough.


  4. Great post, Mercedes. I was raised in a Christian household, and while I’m not trans I am gay and not out to my parents. You touched upon a lot of familiar stuff…even if my family was nowhere as hardline as yours was, I still had a passing familiarity of a lot of the stuff you mentioned, especially the 1990s stuff.

  5. ….and THIS is why it is important for Christians to actually read their Bible and understand what it really is saying, re: the fake faith healer types and those who predict a date that Jesus is coming back. Christians are to TEST what they hear against scripture. Your mom doesn’t appear to be doing that, and that’s not just sad, but DANGEROUS.
    Thought-provoking. Can one be a gay Christian? Can one be an alcoholic Christian? A greedy one? A slothful one? A gluttonous one? Why does homosexuality have to be so focused on, and I wonder how many people attribute that to the gay movement to say “this is WHO I am” instead of leaving it just as a PART of a person. I don’t run around saying “I’m straight”…my sexual preference is just PART of the whole…not the focus of who I am. *sigh* Food for thought.

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