Some of you may have wondered why I’m not on the Homeschoolers Anonymous editorial board anymore and no longer listed as an blog contributor.
I’ve blogged less in the past two years for several reasons—being unsure how to navigate between my personal writing and my work as a journalist, saving ideas for freelance pitches to more well-known publications, and fear of what the members I once called my community might do to me if I wrote something they didn’t like.
But then Ryan explained why he’s not with HARO anymore, and I had to say something.
I think Ryan’s experiences are reflective of how the survivor community often eats its own.
I first found Homeschoolers Anonymous a month after the site launched. It played a major role in my deconstruction process because it went live just six months after I escaped my parents’ house. The blog became my main lifeline and helped me feel like I wasn’t crazy or the only one who’d been cast out of their entire subculture.
In 2014, I stopped lurking and started speaking my truth online. Other homeschool ex-fundie survivors like Ryan and many others being unafraid to say something was why I was even able to do that.
When Ryan needed a break in early 2015, I gladly volunteered to be part of the newly formed editorial board. I wanted to give back to a group that helped me so much.
But something in the community started to shift, although it didn’t affect me until 2016.
There was increased emphasis beyond healing from the religion we were raised in and becoming aware of its dangerous political influence to something like “we only accept people who believe all of the things we do” or “you must only be friends with survivors that we decide are safe people.”
This doesn’t feel all that different than “you must have only the Right Theology to be a Real Christian (TM)” or “you can only associate with True Believers” but anytime someone tried to compare the two, they were immediately shut down and blacklisted from the community.
Several members raised concerns that the group didn’t hold space for new escapees to process and deconstruct their beliefs (including toxic ideas) without being yelled at by those who got out years ago and were on the other side of that process. There was discussion about creating a separate group to help people just now leaving fundamentalism, which never happened.
This wasn’t about “let’s recognize the humanity in all people so don’t do or say this because it’s harmful,” which is how social justice is supposed to work.
In January 2016, I invited someone to a private online survivor group who had been following ex-fundie blogs and talking to my friends and I for over a year. He started sending friend requests only to female survivors and after we found his misogynist blog posts, we felt like he was not someone we trusted anymore. The moderator board asked me to be more cautious about who I invited into our space, and I apologized and said I would.
In March 2016, one of my friends asked a question about a community guidelines update: is the use of slurs allowed for journalistic purposes? They phrased their question awkwardly, so people decided they were not a safe person and therefore I was not a safe person by proxy.
In March or April 2016, a homeschool alum from Colorado reached out to me about starting a podcast. I invited anyone I thought would be interested to their podcast brainstorming group, asking permission from those who asked me to ask before adding them. I wanted to be sensitive to whether or not the community thought this guy was an okay person to do this kind of project and sought input, trying to learn from previous experiences. But the group generated so much controversy. Discussion threads blew up, causing stress and anxiety.
A few weeks later, I crossposted a post from a mom of two autistic kids about how she discovered that public school gave her sons more resources than homeschooling even though she herself had been homeschooled and why she chose differently for her children. Another person on the board didn’t like the post and said any posts regarding autism must go through their approval first. I was questioning if I might be autistic around the same time. I was exhausted and asked for a leave of absence from the editorial board. The organizers told me they understood I needed a break. They offered a different role with less responsibility when I was ready.
When I asked to return in August, the organizer said yes and then asked the other board members, who said no. This was jarring and confusing, but I accepted it.
I continued to receive messages from board members who said I needed to apologize and ask all the other editorial board members why they believed I was unsafe. I did what I was told, which confused those outside the situation who didn’t know what was happening and then I was told asking was not appropriate.
I finally asked to be removed as a blog contributor, hoping that would end it.
Several months later, after these people blocked me on social media, I was still receiving messages through friends from these same people telling me to stop talking about them or the experience and threatening legal action against me. When I asked the board to stop these people, they all blocked me and ignored my requests.
This wasn’t the only time this happened.
The organizers used to go around asking me and others if we’d been in communication with people who disagreed and left the group. They said they wanted to be sure she wasn’t spreading information, but it felt like damage control.
One of my friends described their behavior as insisting on taking social justice concepts and terminology to absurd lengths to excuse bullying.
My friend Julia says that social justice is based on the idea of good faith. This isn’t a perfect system, but generally you try to assume that someone isn’t trying to be awful unless you have evidence otherwise so that honest, productive dialogue is possible.
I’m not saying that we shouldn’t own up to our mistakes because we’re all very, deeply human. I’m just asking please listen before posting an angry comment.
This April, I was diagnosed with low support / high functioning autism. Unsurprising, since I discovered in college that I was misdiagnosed with ADHD in childhood.
This explains why I took people’s demands for me to apologize to people outside the situation at face value. Because I don’t get social cues the same way, I didn’t interpret people’s behavior as predatory as quickly as others did.
It’s likely that I accidentally invited predatory people into the community that I shouldn’t have trusted, and I am sorry for unwittingly causing danger to others. I’m not demanding that you trust me or excuse the past, but I do believe both sides of the story are needed.
I’m also not convinced that all of those people we deemed “unsafe” were actually bad people because we weren’t operating in good faith to begin with.
I don’t want to hurt the blog or make people stop reading it.
This is not about the work itself, it’s about the quest for ideological purity and a human being who is 100 percent safe all the time, which we should have learned through growing up fundamentalist is an endless, turbulent cycle.
I just want the survivor community to be more understanding of our humanness and imperfections. Not to justify bad behavior, but so that we can thrive and heal.
For the last six years, I’ve been working towards more stability and finding a way to heal from what happened in my childhood. I’ve worked on recognizing predators because I help other escapees and I need to be able to protect them. My friends say I’m getting better at this every day.
I’ve been in therapy to work through PTSD and dissociation issues so that my daily functioning and relationships are less impacted. I stopped self-medicating to get through the emotional ups and downs and I’ve been learning new coping skills with my counselor. I’ve been sober for just over a year now.
I know my emotional instability was sometimes too much for other people to handle, and that’s okay. Sometimes I hurt people I never meant to, and I am so very sorry. Especially for some relationships that couldn’t be fixed because one or both of us was overwhelmed.
No one is obligated to maintain a relationship with me, but I do wish we could have communicated better. I’ve tried very hard to become more balanced for the other people around me.
Here’s some essays explaining problems inside activism communities very well: