I received your letter a few days ago, and have spent the ensuing period formulating a response in my mind. That response is ready now.
How dare you?
I can confirm, without the faintest glimmer of a shadow of a phantom of a doubt, that you would not, in fact, “love to see [me] there.” I can assure you that I would not, in fact, be “warmly welcomed.” I can also assure you, with indignation thrumming through my core, that if you were as “interested in [your] neighbors” as you claim to be, you would never have sent this letter to us, nor would you be sending similar letters to anyone else.
I know what happens at Kingdom Hall.
I need you to understand that I do not come to this certainty naively. I was raised Catholic. There is a silver coin commemorating my First Communion in a lockbox in my bedroom closet. I attended Sunday school for years, in two languages, in multiple US states. My parents adorn their walls with Christian iconography, from playful paintings of Noah’s Ark to effusive statues of Jesus on the cross to Bible quotes on plaques. I attended Mormon church functions with my high-school girlfriend and listened to classmates and colleagues invoke God’s providence to guide their decisions and buoy their hopes. I have survived dozens upon dozens of holiday dinners prefaced with de facto sermons and with thanks to God for the family’s health, prosperity, and peace. I have watched my parents in mourning over and over, consoling themselves with the thought that my grandfather and great uncles and grandmother were now, after long illnesses, in a better place. There is a shrine in my parents’ bank devoted to La Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre, one of the patron saints of my people. I am intimately, personally acquainted with several varieties of Christianity, and they defined not just my own youth, but my spiraling path through the Christian-dominated societies that have surrounded me ever since.
Those religions abused me. Christianity, in its infinite grace and wisdom, declared my desire for truth and logic a sinful vice. Christianity declared that I was a failure of a child, in need of divine forgiveness, for any moment of defiance or even hesitation between me and my parents. Christianity declared my parents righteous for using a belt, however sparingly, in their quest for my compliance. Christianity told my parents that God smiled on their authoritarian, narcissistic patterns and would reward them for maintaining them. Christianity told my parents that transgender people are fake, broken, tragic, and Satanic and that it is horrible and sad to be associated with them. Christianity told my parents that gay people are not “real” members of their gender and their relationships deserve no acknowledgement or approval. Christianity told my natal country that what other people want for a uterus counts more than what its owner wants. Christianity told my country that anything joyful that isn’t itself Christian is a sinful distraction and aimed us all at endless toil and adulation of the wealthy in the process. Christianity told my country that people who want to make sure their children grow up distrustful, angry, and ignorant of basic science should be respected for their “faith” instead of opposed for their child abuse. Christianity told my country that people who sequester their children in basements, collect them as harem-wives for sect patriarchs, and automatically mistrust anyone who would want to date them, are living out Christ’s (actually Paul’s) vision of Godly order, or maybe trying a little too hard, rather than being obviously, unforgivably wrong. Christianity told my natal country that trans people are worth murdering in enormous numbers and gay people should be denied the right to be at their loved ones’ bedsides as they lay dying.
Christianity sailed across the Atlantic and shattered my people so thoroughly that our old language is lost forever, even to historians, and it has been our trial to grow, rebuild, and remake ever since.
I fled all of that, thousands of kilometers, a lifetime away. I got out, because I knew what my choices were: my life, honest and analytic and scientific and transgender and lesbian, surrounded by people who know and love me and not the Christian lie my parents wanted me to pretend to be, in a place where I have rights and options…or a one-line obituary under a name that isn’t mine.
You say your Kingdom Hall would “love to see [me] there.”
Where I am, that is not a welcome. That is a threat.
You are not the first Jehovah’s Witness to visit yourself upon me. I have encountered your ilk lurking near drug treatment clinics and bus stations, trying to ensnare the desperate and hopeless. I have seen, closely, how your cult pretends at love and acceptance to drag people inside and then tells them to put all trust, every trust, in Jehovah, accepting every bit of abuse the cult can inflict and encourage as something else to escape through faith alone. I have seen your cult demand that children subjected to neglect and violence accept their lot as a trial from God and refuse to cooperate with police to bring their abusive parents and cult-mates to justice. I have seen your cult hide child molestation rather than admit that your God is either totally inadequate or irredeemably evil, to permit such a thing to happen at all. I have seen your cult demand that people devote so much time to evangelism that their careers and family lives disintegrate. I have seen your cult encourage people to sever ties with anyone outside it, until the Kingdom Hall is all they have left, because then you have them forever. I have seen what your cult has to say about gay and transgender people, and it is everything I fled my old home to escape.
Do you still imagine that your Kingdom Hall would welcome me, Gertrude, now that you see who you invited inside? Would you still “love to see” me there as an out, proud, atheist, antitheist, transgender lesbian with an encyclopedic recall of your cult’s crimes against humanity and nothing but rage for how emotional and physical abuse is the only way that it knows how to operate? Do you?
You likely think I hate you, Gertrude. You’ve almost certainly already defaulted to that idea, that what I offer in this letter is merely the persecution your cult leader lovingly promised you to prevent you from seeing the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ detractors for what they are. I don’t hate you, Gertrude.
I pity you.
And I hope you see the den of monsters that has ensnared you for what it is, and make your own escape. I hope you find a supportive, compassionate, understanding place to land when you do make that escape. I hope, in your “genuine interest” in your neighbors, you’ll show some curiosity into our experiences, and come to understand how toxic to us so many of the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ precepts really are. I hope you’ll find yourself saddened by your former involvement with these people, and gratified by being in a position to now, newly informed, do some real good in this world.
That’s what I’ve been trying to do, in my small way: some real good, for real people. Helping friends navigate their way out of their own abusive situations. Passing what little money I can to friends who need it more than I do. Writing for others’ benefit, to share my knowledge and insight with the world. Investigating deep and hard problems with tools unavailable to others, because I can, and because the world benefits when I do. Sharing my experiences with those about to embark on similar journeys, to help them skip my missteps. Making sure the advice I give people is good, useful advice that corresponds to reality, rather than a hideous error like “please attend a Jehovah’s Witness meeting.”
I will not be visiting my abusers. I will not be visiting a group even more emotionally destructive than my abusers even knew how to be. I will not once more pretend to be someone I am not for others’ benefit. I will never, ever imagine that who I am is something I should hide, suppress, or feel shame over, and I will never, ever encourage anyone else toward that sadness. I will not be shutting down the analytic faculties and hard-earned expertise that make my mind what it is in order to secure a place in a group that values conformity with rules over knowledge and exploration of this actual world.
I respect myself too much to destroy what I have spent 29 years building by chasing approval I cannot earn and, if I’m being honest, I don’t actually want.
My future is ahead of me, Gertrude, laid out in pride flags and lab coats and everything else your cult would have me abandon.
And it will not include you contacting me again. I will consider any reply to this letter from you as harassment unless it features an apology for presuming that I could find your cult anything but abhorrent and an invitation to visit it as anything but a request for me to open myself back up to what I upended my entire life to escape.
May the future be kinder to you than people like you have been to me.