Let Them Eat

January 04, 2022

Monica Roberts Essay Contest 2021 Runner Up
By: Jordan

I had never interacted with a doctor or taken Advil before I was 22, and now I self-inject my testosterone medication every week. Raised by devout Christian Scientists, I’ve spent most of my life rejecting any belief in the existence of the material world. The church thoroughly convinced me that all that exists is God, the one Mind, and we are just compound ideas in His likeness. So it goes, to be healed of pain and sickness, one must believe whole-heartedly that the physical world we live in is an illusion and not to be feared, that broken arms and cancer are just in our heads. In a way, this might be the most elaborate and roundabout solution to gender dysphoria yet. Bodies? Nope, cancelled. But I don’t recommend cult membership as the hours of morning prayer necessary to warm up your ligaments for the mental backflips and contortions needed throughout the day to maintain this worldview are just a little much. Oh, and because you die. And if you’re unlucky like my mom, what a slow and painful death it can be. 

“Yeah, so it turns out cancer is real. Let’s move that one over to the ‘Real’ column, yep right there that’s perfect. Apparently no amount of faith or willpower can save you from a watermelon-sized tumor, because we need our bodies and organs to live. Let’s not do this again, because this really sucks, agreed?.” I was expecting to have some variant of this conversation with my surviving family members but was met with silence, denial, and secrecy. I pleaded with my father to see my mom’s death certificate, to hold it in my hands and know for myself that I was having a reasonable reaction. That Christian Science betrayed me and took away my favorite person. That there was a cause of death and a medical treatment for it. That there was a diagnosis to give a big Fuck You to, and a justification for my anger at Christian Science for not healing it like it promised. 

Rewiring my brain to reject Christian Science and embrace the material world was less of an instant switch as it was a slow and painful discovery that I had been moving through the world with a prominent stalactite of a booger poking out. Oh my god has everyone this whole time been watching me delude myself into thinking I could heal my own illnesses? They all knew I was brainwashed and not just incredibly wise? Fuck, I can’t heal myself? But mostly, especially as I embarked on the journey of exploring my gender and sexuality, I just felt bitter anger. A rage that I dutifully fueled, finding more and more arrows to add to my quiver, but that ultimately left me exhausted from holding the bow taut with nowhere to shoot. 

How would I stomach the cruel irony in being told that transitioning would essentially be throwing my life away, mutilating my body, or almost killing myself after watching my mom and her untreated cancer do just that? How could my parents watch me wince in pain from countless injuries and characterize them as dramatic attention-seeking performances when the real act was wearing dresses to Sunday School and suffering in silence? How will I heal from a religion where pain is your own fault when I’m now constantly told that my struggles as a trans person are self-inflicted? Why would my father still to this day declare he has no intention of seeking medical care for his many health issues, even if it kills him? Et tu, Brute? 

I sought comfort in a new god, science, and savored the act of asking questions and finding “Truth”. I entered an astrophysics PhD program critical of religion, spirituality, and what I deemed “blind faith”, unaware that I was merely following new prophets. The scientists I encountered were unaware of their biases, both in their academic work and in their perception of other scientists, and I found myself burned yet again by fervent followers of a school of thought. Further, I carried the black-and-white, all-or-nothing thinking of Christian Science into nearly every aspect of my life and relegated my own career, spiritual, and gender transitions to binaries. 

I’m hardly alone in this. Unlike Christian Science, indoctrination by Secular Science is ubiquitous and far-reaching. Despite projecting itself as an objective approach to solving complex problems with care, STEM and its products are prone to abuse and facilitate oversimplification. I’m only beginning to see how algorithms and automation encourage us to stop thinking about the work that they do for us. It shows everyday when we implicitly trust the first page of Google Search results despite it often spewing racist garbage [1]. And science is wielded as an infallible weapon both by academics who perpetuate the myth of race as a biological concept [2] and laymen who believe that their middle school biology classes have made them experts on sex and chromosomes. My brain is further riddled with harmful falsehoods that I have yet to discover or forget to question. Every day, I need to consciously choose to break from white solidarity else my quest for personal growth is hollow. I thought my exit from Christian Science and a church of thought that demanded strict allegiance was complete, but critically inspecting all of my internal belief systems will be a daily practice for the rest of my life. 

That’s also how healing works. It’s a habit of unlearning without judgement or defensiveness, and deepening your compassion for yourself and others by making room for nuance. I feel most at peace when I continually explore myself regardless of what I might find, and explore the world beyond myself content with not always finding digestible answers. I’m allowing myself to revisit previous identities I once longed to forget by making room for a new take on spirituality and exploring a range of gender feelings. 

And I’m finally able to welcome anger into the room and let it sit next to the gratitude I have for the lessons Christian Science taught me, especially the irrelevance of being palatable to and understood by others. And I’m making room for disappointment and confusion next to the love I have for the people who raised me. Compassion and deep hurt are frequent visitors and pull up their own chairs.

In all of my lessons, I am deeply humbled by the universality of my experience, despite often feeling as though my strange childhood and young adult life makes me unique beyond connection. There are countless people doing work to remind us all that community care and showing up for others requires dutiful self-inspection and dismantling of our ideologies. And everyone is sitting in their respective rooms hosting dinner for any number of conflicting feelings, often wondering if it’s okay to have them stay. I say, let them eat. 

[1] Algorithms of Oppression: How Search Engines Reinforce Racism by Safiya Umoja Noble [2] Fatal Invention: How Science, Politics, and Big Business Re-create Race in the Twenty-First Century by Dorothy Roberts

View other Monica Roberts Essay Contest Winners from 2021.

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