A couple weeks ago, on St. Patrick’s Day, I went to visit a friend of mine (also a trans woman) for lunch. It was a rather long bus ride, so we had a nice long chat. I mentioned the fact that actually, we’d met once before (I’m all super good at remembering faces and names), really briefly, at the Trans Alliance Christmas Party.
She asked me, “So how long did you last there anyway?” assuming that I too would have found the party awful. I had no idea why, so I quizzically said I’d stayed a few hours, and asked why she asked. She mentioned something about the table she’d been at. And some stuff about what she took to have been an insidiously concealed motive behind the entire event.
You see, my table was way way way at the back, with a small group of people I already knew and trusted. This friend of mine was not so lucky, and ended up seated with some of the party’s hosts, and noticed some very spooky things.
The thing is, some kind of a Christian church had some fairly heavy involvement with the party and dinner. One of the LGBT friendly ones, I’m not sure. I’d already known about that, but my understanding had been that the church’s role was simply in financing and preparing the meal, and possibly helping rent the space, and that they’d made an agreement to be respectful of people’s beliefs and not do any God-bothering. Though it turns out that was not the case. Apparently the meal had been provided by Kaitlyn Borgas (who I’ve mentioned before). Apparently the money stuff had all come from the Trans Alliance Society and private donation.
So what the hell had the church been doing there?
Apparently simply “reaching out”. My friend described the conversation at the table where she was seated as being centered entirely on how open, trans-friendly, understanding and wonderful this church is, and how accepted, welcome and loved she would be there. She was told all about how she really ought to come and join, or at least come see what it’s like, and know that it’s totally possible to be a trans Christian. All her subtle and overt statements of discomfort with the conversation were ignored until she finally excused herself and left the party entirely. It was all layered with significant, oozing expressions of love. And heavy symbolism of the possibility of finding family there.
The flyer for event specifically called out to those members of the Vancouver trans community who were not able to go home to their families at Christmas, or who were no longer welcome there.
That’s where it started seeming really, really, really creepy.
One of the most common practices of cults is to target people who are particularly emotionally vulnerable. Teenagers who are in the midst of crises, runaways, sex workers, people going through divorce, people who’ve been disowned from their families, etc. This kind of strategy is common also to more mainstream organizations that don’t necessarily carry around the weighted term “cult”. 12-Step, for instance, specifically indoctrinates people at extremely vulnerable points in their lives where they’re desperate to accept anything that promises a way out, salvation, sobriety, no matter what tenets or principles it requires be accepted as the one true path.
In times of emotional vulnerability, fear, stress, loss, uncertainty, we’re all much more eager to turn to faith for answers and comfort. Even the most hardcore skeptics and atheists may still mutter a prayer, or cross their fingers, when under enough stress. Faith, religion and superstition all have their origins in such basic psychological needs, comfort in times of stress, certainty in times of uncertainty, courage in times of fear, etc. The beliefs that survive, and pass down through the ages, are the ones that offer the most psychological rewards for accepting (and exact the highest psychological costs for rejecting). They allow us to feel forgiven, loved, attended to, comfort us in our fear of mortality, provide structure to our existential uncertainty, give us a sense that things happen for a reason, give us hope for a better something- in the next world, even if this one is beyond hope. When we’re scared, weak, alone, anxious, vulnerable, those messages become so appealing that rejecting them is almost unbearable. Faith is all about what we want to believe, and there are times where that want becomes strong enough to almost become a need. Where what you believe stops really being your choice.
That leaves us very unprotected. There’s a reason psychic surgeons, faith healers, and practitioners of alt-med are as successful as they are, despite their patently absurd claims and transparent gimmicks. The people who come to them desperately want their claims to be true.
Religious organizations like Christian churches are aware of this as well. They know the times at which people are most likely to convert are when people are vulnerable. Unlike charlatans or cult-leaders though, priests and evangelists don’t know they’re manipulating a terrible situation to their advantage. What they know is simply that in times of great need people want and seek God, and in such times they’re more likely to find him. They’re furthermore bolstered in considering what they do a moral action by the sense that bringing such people to God is a moral action, that helping these people find God in their hour of need is helping them (rather than taking advantage of their desperation to sell them a pack of comforting lies).
But the degree to which it can become so explicit… that you advertise to a community who are in an extremely uncertain and difficult point in their lives, specifically remind them of their loss of family in the flyer, use that as a pull, then build your dialogue in speaking to them upon the concept of offering them family? … taking advantage of the fact that this is a group of people you know experience significant rejection and hostility, and feel perpetually not accepted as who they are, to trump up the wonderful “unconditional” acceptance offered by your church? … to go to people who at Christmas are likely feeling an intense sting of loneliness and being unloved, and then lovebomb the fuck out of them at a dinner table despite their clear and unambiguous statement that it was making them uncomfortable?
It’s amazing the kind of horribly dodgy, unethical things people will do when they believe both that what they are doing is in someone’s best interest, and that the will of God is behind them. Amazing the degree to which faith can shut down the internal process of questioning the ethics of your actions.
Consent offered under duress is not consent. Assuming it is is rape. Conversion offered in a situation of extreme emotional vulnerability, in the wake of extreme emotional manipulation, is not conversation. Assuming it is is exploitation.
It’s bad enough to be subjected to their aggressive hatred, do we need to be subjected to aggressive “acceptance” as well? Respecting and supporting us would mean things like leaving well enough alone, and allowing us a little peace and comfort, when we’re simply trying to do things like have a little Christmas dinner amongst people who’ve shared our experiences and understand where we’re coming from. Not to enter a supposedly safe space and suddenly be attacked by a secret recruitment drive when you’re at your most unguarded.
“Love” and “acceptance” can be violence too.
Lovebombing the vulnerable… reason #9366 that religion creeps me out.