When Spiritual Warfare Is Waged Against a Member of the Family
By Alec Exeter
I’m a 24 year-old gay man, a survivor of religious anti-gay abuse and a recovering C-PTSD patient. This is my personal story.
I grew up in a small farm town, highly conservative and highly fundamentalist in religious belief. I spent four years of my life in the public school system, from kindergarten to the third grade. My behavior, apparently, was interpreted as unusual for a boy. I was harassed daily, with “faggot,” “homo,” and “queer,” the words that I was far all too familiar with for my age. My peers physically assaulted me on a regular basis, while teachers would turn a blind eye. “Kids will be kids,” they would tell me. If I personally defended myself, however, I was punished.
At the start of my third grade year, my parents went through a radical transition in their religious beliefs and my father concluded that he was called to be a minister. I was removed from the public school system and home-schooled throughout high school. They started a cult-like church, and began holding services regularly. It was during this time that my grandfather, a WWII veteran, had a mental break down and I came to see the worst of my family’s religion. He would roll in the floor, tossing and turning, asking me, all of eight years old at the time, to put him out of his misery. My family concluded that this was demonic influence and proceeded to perform violent ritual like acts that badly resembled the portrayal of exorcisms that you see in horror movies. He passed away when I was eleven years old. My family then turned their religious beliefs on me.
From the anxiety that had built over the years, both from these events and coming to terms with my sexuality– I began having severe episodes of anxiety, detachment, and was prone to blacking out. My family, and their cult-like church, interpreted this, any sign of religious disagreement, or any sign of feminine behavior, as demonic possession.
They proceeded to isolate me from all outside contact and proceeded to perform the same acts on me that I had witnessed on my grandfather years earlier. This occurred more than 20 times. I spent the thirteenth year of my life almost completely silent, not speaking unless spoken to. I was not to have friends. I was not to talk about anything that happened, doors were to always remain open if I was in a room. Physical abuse was common, psychological abuse was constant. I was frequently struck, screamed at or degraded in ways that were inhuman.
I had no support and all alone.
I was required to get a job on my sixteenth birthday. Given that I was home-schooled, my employer treated me like an adult and forced me to work full-time with overtime. I was perceived to be gay and often forced to work unpaid overtime, upward of 50 hours a week. I was openly harassed by managers and crew and was threatened with termination should I try to call in sick– regardless of whether or not I possessed a doctor’s note. I was bullied, harassed and for all intents and purposes tortured. All factors that did not apply to my peers, or at least on the same level of severity.
When I suffered a severe back injury, my family would not allow me to pursue medical help. They assumed that the injury was a result of demonic influence. The pain was debilitating and eventually I could barely walk. Once I left home and looked into treatment, neither Vicodin nor morphine would stop the pain. The condition required surgery and I have arthritis in my back because I was forced to neglect treatment for such a long period of time.
On my 18th birthday I met my boyfriend online. (He is now my husband) I had a laptop computer that I had bought with savings from my work and was using wifi from the neighbors and local businesses without the knowledge of my parents. I finally realized through all the secrecy and subterfuge that I couldn’t continue to live a lie. In the middle of the night I gathered my belongings and left.
We met in person after I left home and we quickly fell in love. In the best and perhaps luckiest moment of my life, my partner and I found ourselves living together shortly after.
A “friend” that I had met at work forced me out of the closet. From that day forward, I couldn’t leave work, go grocery shopping or really do much of anything without having bigoted hicks stalking me screaming profanity. My car was repeatedly vandalized and the local police refused to investigate or file reports.
Suffice to say, there was no other option but to leave town. We moved to a metropolitan area and things immediately changed and have been better ever since.
There was a brief period where my family and I began speaking again. But, it was finally time to face the truth and officially come out to my parents. For all the exorcisms and assumptions, I had never clearly told them to their face: “I’m gay.” After years of listening to my father exclaim, “all the fags should be taken and shot,” it was terrifying when I finally came out.
Predictably, my family disowned me. We haven’t spoken in almost three years. I’m not hopeful that any member of my family will fully accept me, but that is the price I’ve paid for my dignity and my self-respect.
I’ve under gone two years of therapy for C-PTSD and a year of physical therapy from the spinal injury. But since then, I’ve made a mostly full recovery. I still have difficult nights, the occasional bad dream or flashback, and that sharp twinge of anxiety from any vivid reminder of my previous life. But it’s gotten better, it gets easier with every day, and with the loving support of my husband, I see nothing but good things in our future.
My husband? He’s the light of my life. To wake up each morning and see him smiling– it’s the strongest living testament that I have to say: “It gets better.” Everything that I went through, it was worth it, having found the happiness that I now have. We recently celebrated our five-year anniversary. We just bought our first home, I’m the owner of a highly successful business, both of our careers are taking off, and we’re both hoping to start a family soon.
Good things are worth fighting for.