Stuck in a bind
July 23, 2010 9:00 PM   Subscribe

I need help getting out from my parents' etc. oppressive yoke.

To introduce myself, I'm a 19 years old male and live in one of the New York City boroughs. My parents are both Jehovah's Witnesses and are both highly esteemed people in our congregation (one of them is an elder and the other is a full time publisher). I'm also one of them and am a full time publisher as well.

My Dad is extremely controlling around the house and really likes to know where I'm at at all times. In other words, he asks all the time, "Where were you today?" and other inquisitive questions. At the least when I leave to go somewhere it is difficult not to look suspicious without stating a reason.

As of right now, I have my learner's permit am taking driving lessons. I don't own a car yet (obviously) and don't have a job even though I've applied for a couple or so.

During the Fall and Spring, I go to a CUNY college for a 2 year degree.

Recently my parents have become aware of my sexuality being not so traditional (figure it out what I'm trying to say here). I haven't done anything with another person though it does look tempting.

It would be nice for me to move out, but then I will still have my parents' religion and religious activity holding me as a bind as well as them calling to find out how I'm doing all the time.

How can I escape this all so that way I can make some decisions in my life for myself and not just live my life for other people? And possibly as painlessly or vanishingly as possible?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (19 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Make friends. I'm serious here. Make friends, make all kinds of friends, from every kind of background, age, country, gender, race, etc. that you possibly can. Talk to strangers everywhere, like when you're standing in line waiting for something.

Friends open your mind, they give you information, and even access to opportunities. In short, they give you options.
posted by Theloupgarou at 9:19 PM on July 23, 2010 [10 favorites]

Reading your question, it seems to me like you don't really want to vanish. If you did, you would have abandoned your plans of attending that school in the fall. But that's ok. If you can, try to find housing on or near campus. Going to school is the first step many people take at real independence. Once you get over that hurdle and you're up for it, maybe look into transferring to a school a little bit further than a subway ride from home.

As for right now, you might want to finding a job, which will also help your self-esteem, especially if you get one without your parent's help. And the money you earn will help pay your rent in the fall. And I bet you'll get a certain level of satisfaction and independence from doing that, too, since it'll help make you feel like you're in control of your own destiny.

And if you really and truly are wanting to vanish, and abandoning your current life, then having money in your pocket won't hurt.
posted by crunchland at 9:25 PM on July 23, 2010

> I will still have my parents' religion and religious activity holding me as a bind

It may be helpful to ditch that part of your thinking. You can quit that particular religion any time you want. You have agency. It's really your parents that you're concerned about, and if they weren't JW they'd probably be something else.

The trap here is the feeling of helplessness, like you are stuck and have no agency at all. In fact, you are getting a lot of good advice, enough to get you out of the situation you're in now, perhaps.

You'll have plenty of time later to decide if your church was really somehow at fault.
posted by circular at 9:37 PM on July 23, 2010 [4 favorites]

It didn't get posted for some reason, but I wanted to mention that your college has counseling resources for people in your shoes. That could really help you out.
posted by circular at 9:39 PM on July 23, 2010

It would be nice for me to move out, but then I will still have my parents' religion and religious activity holding me as a bind as well as them calling to find out how I'm doing all the time.

On the one hand I agree that unless you cut off all contact with your parents they are always going to be a part of your life and you'll always have to deal with that, but on the other hand absolutely do not underestimate the effect of moving out. Even if your parents weren't controlling at all, having your own place would make you feel a lot more independent. You're an adult now, if you can take care of yourself then you can make whatever decisions you want in your life and your parents can't stop you. I'm not saying that you should move out and get a job right away necessarily, that's a big decision, but realize that once you start making a life for yourself on your own, your parents can't control what you do unless you let them.
posted by burnmp3s at 9:45 PM on July 23, 2010

It would be nice for me to move out, but then I will still have my parents' religion and religious activity holding me as a bind

How so?
posted by Jaltcoh at 9:51 PM on July 23, 2010

I can see your bind. Deep down you know you aren't the person your parents expect you to be, and you fear the consequences of what could happen if you assert your independence from their viewpoints & morality too quickly and strongly.

Here's the thing - you can't protect your parents from themselves. Yes they have expectations for you, but you're under no obligation to satisfy them all. It's your life to live, not theirs. I don't know that there is any easy or painless way to claim independence from such a sheltered upbringing.

First, Theloupgarou is spot on. You have to widen your circle of friends. Obvious benefits: potential roommates, leads on jobs you might not know about (however menial), a circle of people who will accept you for who you are instead of who they expect you to be. Join school organizations and keep yourself open to friendship.

Next, is there any possibility at all that you can have a mature, adult-to-adult talk with your parents about your feelings regarding religion? I get the hint that they don't really consider you an adult, and don't respect a boundary when it comes to your private life. It's time to start setting that boundary. This can be done respectfully -- I am sure this is not where you want to have a blowout fight. As an adult you don't have any obligation at all to continue practicing your parents' religion if you don't want to. If this is a dealbreaker for them, so be it.

Move out as soon as you possibly can. It's likely your parents are paying your school tuition, which theoretically might be keeping you under their watchful gaze. Educate yourself on federal student aid as a means to take care of your own tuition and living expenses. You do NOT have to depend upon your family to get through school, if the idea of them cutting you off is complicating your leap toward freedom.

Best of luck to you.
posted by contessa at 10:08 PM on July 23, 2010

In order to break some of these bonds, you're going to have to move out. It sounds like you know this.

To do that, you need to arm yourself with practical information. Your school should be able to help you with regards to federal and state financial aid and loans. They may be able to help you with jobs. You're going to need to understand the costs of living you'll need to deal with. These are going to include rent in a shared apartment, transportation, groceries, laundry, etc. But basically, to make this possible you will need an income.

The beauty of living independently is that they may call all the time but you don't have to answer. Imagine that!

But what I really wanted to say is that you're not the first young person to make this transition and not the first to question their sexuality vs the morality of their church, either. I read your post and thought of this; there are support groups for ex-JW members if you need them. It's an increadibly complex religion to break from, if indeed that's what you want to do.
posted by DarlingBri at 11:01 PM on July 23, 2010

Make friends outside your usual circle - if that's too difficult with your parents watching then find ex-JW forums online. They aren't the whole answer but they'll at least understand how ridiculously hard it is to distance yourself from an all-encompassing lifestyle when your family is still in it.

Stay friendly with your family if they let you, and don't worry too much if they use threats of cutting you off - this does happen but less than you'd think - they'll do it to save face at first but often stay in contact in case you decide otherwise and out of love.

You don't have to explain to them and if you don't want to leave straight away just bare-minimum it until you decide. You aren't obligated to believe but you also aren't entirely obligated to make a clean cut just because you're unsure. There's no hypocrisy in being apathetic for a while. Drama free drop-outs are less satisfying than a big flounce (which is what I did at first) but maintaining some sort of contact can be important. Of course if they take any gay news badly feel free to react however you need to.

I think in retrospect I would have tried to understand my parent's POV a little bit better. Maybe gone to the memorial once a year to give them some face in front of their friends. Sparing them public embarrassment might have spared us all some private turmoil. On the other hand you have to be you, and pretending otherwise full time is not only crazy-making, it hurts everyone and affects everything.

Jehovah's Witness Recovery
Ex Jehovah's Witnesses Online
Ex JW Reunited
Ex Jehovah's
Beacon for former JWs
Ex Jehovah's Witnesses forum

The important thing is that this does not have to be one step. Lurk around, see how others coped, what mistakes they made, how various people reacted. Do what you're comfortable with morally and financially and otherwise. Any sudden moves could be disastrous unless you're in control as much as you can be. Good luck!
posted by shinybaum at 11:07 PM on July 23, 2010 [3 favorites]

Also, for your particular circumstances:

Gay ex-Jehovah's Witnesses
Facebook group for gay and lesbian ex-Jehovah's Witnesses
posted by shinybaum at 11:13 PM on July 23, 2010

Other people will be what they are. You should be what you are, don't be afraid of it. That's not to say it won't be easy, but then again if life were so easy, psychology would be a lot less interesting. Be as polite as you can, but firm in stating what you want from life.

Be who you want to be. Some people will fall into your life, others will fall out. It's the nature of things. It's sad when it's your family and close friends that might fall out of your life, but that happens too. Don't let that stop you. You can still love them, even if they're not so sure about you.
posted by Heretical at 1:03 AM on July 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

This was one of the hardest things I ever had to learn but it has served me well. On the face of it, it may sound obvious, but it's a hard lesson to learn in practice: you have no control over how people react to your beliefs and actions. The upshot of this, however is that you have complete control over how you react to other people's beliefs and actions.

Staying at your parents house is not making you any happier, and as you try and assert yourself as a gay/bi/trans whatever, your parents are going to do whatever they're going to do whether you're living at their house or in a dorm or on the moon.

But on your own, you will feel less burdened by their oppressive behavior. You will be able to stretch out a bit, and figure out what this sexuality means to you and how you want to express it. You will get to be your own person. You have no control over how they'll react to it. But your staying at home won't help influence their opinion of you in any way.

This may sound harsh, but I don't mean it that way: it's time for you to be an adult, and it's time for them to let you.

Good luck.
posted by orville sash at 3:02 AM on July 24, 2010

I have been in a very similar situation, and it is difficult.

Get counseling, make friends, and move out. THEN evaluate and examine your religious beliefs. Trying to sort out everything at once can be too overwhelming.

Prioritize: Counseling will give you resources for making friends. A CUNY-related counselor will also help you figure out campus housing if necessary. Financial independence is also going to be key. Talk to someone at CUNY to have them explain federal funding and help you apply if you think that it would give you the foundation you need to make a break. In fact, if I were you I would consider enrolling for another two year program or even a four year program in order to extend my eligibility and figure myself out.

Memail me if you'd like. I won't compromise your anonymity. I was raised in a fundamental religion, then scandalized my family and friends with a divorce predicated by circumstances similar to yours. I'd be happy to help talk you through things.
posted by motsque at 3:29 AM on July 24, 2010

Move out, move out, move out. The only way you can become who you are is to claim the freedom to explore yourself.

Move out.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 7:04 AM on July 24, 2010

I'm really sorry you are going through all of this right now. It's hard enough living in a super religious household. It's hard enough being gay. It's way hard enough to be gay in a super religious household and then you throw in controlling parents.

I grew up in the Southern Baptist church and was a very active member - a leader of my youth group - and when I was 16 I was planning on going away for the summer to be a camp counselor at one of the church camps. I already knew I was gay and some of my closest friends did as well. Long story shorter - word got up to our pastor and he gave me the option of telling my parents I was gay. I thought I my life would pretty much be over.

It's scary. You have your whole life ahead of you, but when you are 19 it just looks like a big ? . I know I was scared of being kicked out, of not being supported in college - I didn't know what parts of my questionable future were not going to be there anymore.

After coming out they wouldn't let me go anywhere and said if I were a drug addict then they would treat me this way and that being gay was no different.

It's really hard when you are young and still dependent on your parents. You can get there.
I think what helped me was when they would get down on me - I would start repeating to myself, "I'm just as important as they are." Finally, I started saying it out loud to them.

At this point you need to plan your exit strategy.
Get your license. Make alllll kinds of friends. Join a gay group on campus.
The more people you know the more likely you can find a group of people to rent a place with - find people who can help you on your job search. You start developing a family of friends who love you.

I'm 30 now, after being repeatedly hurt by my folks, have just now completely cut my parents out of my life. That might not be the case 10 years from now, but for now it is what I need to live my life. I have a large family of friends and we treat each other like the family we always wanted.

Your life won't be like this forever. You'll move ahead and away from their control one step at a time - just start walking down your path with strength and purpose.
posted by likesuchasand at 7:29 AM on July 24, 2010 [3 favorites]

This may be a little poetic and shit, but one of the things that always struck me about New York is that it's a city where you can walk five blocks (or take two stops) and be in a different world. Being there, once you get out of the house, you can create a different and separate life for yourself and still stay connected to your parent's world, if that's what you want. It doesn't have to be either/or. But it starts with you getting out of the house.

I don't know what you're going to school for or what field you think you might want to get into. But if I were you I might start there, in the sense that financially, given your situation, you might have to suck it up and live at home until you graduate (but hey, you're in the middle of two year degree; a year would suck but it ain't forever).

But getting an internship of some kind in whatever you're looking at doing would a) give you someplace to be that ain't home and that your parents can't flip out about you going to, b) hook you up with people in the work world that can maybe help you get a job next year that will enable you to afford to move out, and c) hopefully, depending on what you're planning on doing, help you meet some people your own age who aren't part of your JV circle and might help you find a roommate or even become friends. It won't guarantee these things, but one step you could take that would have positive effects on several fronts.

It's do-able. It's entirely possible to do the work now that means maybe a year from now you're sleeping in late on Saturday after clubbing with friends and still making it to church on Sunday to stay in your parent's good graces.
posted by Diablevert at 9:53 AM on July 24, 2010

To everyone suggesting "get a job" "earn your own money" etc. -- keep in mind that the unemployment rate for young people is currently through the roof. So the OP might not be able to get a job. :(
posted by Jacqueline at 6:15 PM on July 24, 2010


It sounds like you might be concerned about your ongoing spiritual health if you're cut off from your religious community. I suggest speaking to a Unitarian Universalist minister or pastoral counselor. They have training in counseling people who cannot remain members of the religion they were raised in (often because of your specific situation). They are GLBT friendly (do you need kink friendly? if so contact me to talk more about that). They might also have ideas for remaining a part of the Jehovah's Witnesses but limiting contact with your parents.

I know a few NYC-area UU ministers personally and a few by reputation, and would be more than happy to recommend one to you and introduce you, if you'd like that.
You can say that you have to meet with your CUNY advisor or clear something up with your registration (this is pretty much always true with CUNY).

Say you do find a way to move out, but don't like them calling all the time. Here are some practical options:

1) Don't answer the phone, ignore messages, call when you feel like it
2) Change your phone number, don't tell them
3) Change your number then get a pre-paid, cheap phone and use it just for their calls (keeping another phone for everyday use)
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 10:24 AM on July 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

Also, ignore the "practical:" part. I was going to split my response into a few parts but I didn't. It's not to imply that the advice above is impractical.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 10:25 AM on July 26, 2010

« Older Purchasing items internationally on   |   Meaning of "pochée" in context of japanese pattern... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.