Nobody intends to join a cult. One day, you realize you are in one, and then you panic—because now you have to make a choice. Leaving means you are going to have to give up your entire life. You could lose your friends, your support system, and sometimes your family. Everything you knew about the world and how life works is now questionable. Staying means you live every day in a lie, pretending to believe when you know that you don’t, and slowly you start to go crazy. You want to re-enter normal society, but as you do, you realize how much of yourself was given up while you were immersed inside.
I was raised in a community that many people, including myself, would classify as a cult. I remember the sense of community. I remember feeling sure of my purpose in life, safe in the knowledge that there was a road map to happiness. I remember sitting around the campfire in the woods as a teenage girl, surrounded by other girls, singing songs and testifying to the truthfulness of our prophet, who we knew spoke directly to God. One girl would speak, and then another, and another. As the night got darker, every girl was filled with the spirit of the Lord, all of us weeping, and gasping for air as we felt the burning of the Holy Spirit lift us up. I would have died, gladly, if I had been asked to during one of these sessions.
The entire congregation would meet in the Church on Sunday for hours at a time. Adults would stand in front of the congregation, grown men and women, testifying with tears streaming down their faces. They knew the Church was God’s Church. They would tell stories, which proved what they were feeling was God’s Witness. All good feelings were the Holy Spirit. All bad feelings were Satan, leading men astray, away from the Truth.
We raised a lot of money for various causes, all which were funneled through the organization’s coffers. Archeological digs, books, various classes, all of which were purported to be academic pursuits which proved we were right and The World was too stiff-necked and arrogant to admit it and join us. There were very educated and important people in our ranks: PhDs, medical doctors, lawyers, politicians, CEOs and movie stars. We used them as even more proof that we were on the right path, straight up to the Kingdom of Heaven.
And then one day I realized I was in a cult. And I left. It took years to recover. I lost friends, family—my entire life was uprooted. I learned a lot in leaving. Now I knew that my feelings were not an indication of what was real. Now I knew definitively that I could be manipulated. In reaction, I learned how to evaluate evidence. I learned that educated people were not always right. I learned that there are people who are willing to prey on the lonely, and the confused, and those of us that have a deep need to connect with something bigger than ourselves. I learned that people can believe something to the core of their being, and build a life on it and, in the end, turn out to be wrong.
For the past year, I have watched with horror as my own child has descended into a new cult, and I am powerless to stop it. The more I push back, the more he holds on, which is an act that I recognize. One fifth of his grade at his high school has now identified as “trans”, and the school has responded by printing up a new policy on inclusion, and teaching a course called “Trans 101” for the parents. It is taught by the local Trans Resource Center, which is connected to the gender clinic at the nearby university. He has several peers who have started hormones this year, and those of us who have balked have been branded as right-wing, abusive parents. There is a support group at school, and a secret Discord server run by adult activists in our community. Separating the new converts from their skeptical families is also a tactic I recognize. We are trying to lean in with love, but how do we compete with a promise of glitter and no consequences?
This new cult has swept the Western world with its promises of a happy life— a better self — if people would only follow the simple precepts and tenets of the new morality. Gender is the description of who you are, and people need to modify their bodies to match their feelings. Feelings are how you decide how to sculpt yourself, and there is a new set of terminology to describe them. Euphoria means you have found your correct gender and there is a step-by-step guide to salvation. Dysphoria means you are living in falsehood and are on a certain pathway to misery and self-harm, a hell of your own making. The prophets have medicine you can purchase. They have surgeries you can undergo and emerge as a new, better version of your true self. They have articles of faith you can memorize and recite when you are feeling low, or use as weapons against the non-believers. They have sins to which you can confess and repent—new sins that have been constructed to support the gender doctrines: misgendering, dead-naming, ignoring pronouns, referring to a biological binary, the word “woman”. The list is ever growing, and provides a sense of superiority to those on the inside.
“Educate yourself” is the constant refrain of the devout, as they count the angels dancing on the head of their gender pin. The apostates are evil and deserve to suffer, and believers have the right to force them into atonement. The saints can do no wrong, and are guaranteed a spot in heaven, no matter what acts they might perform. Questioning any part of the scriptures they believe makes you an Anti, a transphobe, a TERF, a demon full of the spirit of contention, a cis-het. The apostles live online, preaching the Good Word on Twitter, and Reddit, and Youtube, and every other social media platform, collecting converts and smiting the sinners.
I don’t understand it, but I see it very clearly. The U.S. has always exported its new religions to the rest of the world. Our culture seems to have a deep need for a new type of spirituality, a joining of traditional religious fervor with the hope of exploring new territory and worshipping individuality. It has happened many times before. But why are the liberal politicians supporting a new theocracy? Why are the medical doctors paving a pathway that can only lead to more suffering? Why are the mental health experts jumping on the train that clearly has “Social Contagion” written on the manifest?
When I joined conventional society as an adult, I thought I would be leaving this type of thinking behind. But here it is again—a religion that I have to believe or I will be shunned by my own child, my peers, and my colleagues. I am afraid of what I see forming all around me because I already lived this life… and I know how it ends. It ends in suffering and a wasted life, a malformed sense of self, a world of opportunities left untried. But you cannot logic Believers out of a cult. They do not want to hear why their new knowledge is illogical. They do not want to see evidence of the grift of the leaders and their acolytes. The more you reason with them, the more the ideology entices, burrowing in and taking deeper root. Persecution makes a Testimony burn brighter, to recap a phrase I heard many times from the pulpit.
I don’t know how to protect my child, or yours, when it seems the entire world has gone mad, and joined a religion that no one can clearly articulate, let alone understand. There are only feelings to support this ideology, which I learned is not a way to find Truth. There is no magic medicine. There is no such thing as “Gender” in the way it is preached today. And I will continue believe this until I see hard evidence otherwise. We are all people—complicated and emotional, seeking meaning and connection. We are men and women because our bodies are coded to support the existence of human life in two different ways. One does not have more value than the other—they are compliments to each other—and it has nothing to do with what we wear, what we like, or who we love. We cannot change our sex, and it is our biology that determines it, not our feelings. Anyone who tells you otherwise is trying to sell you a lie, to manipulate you. But until we remove the blinders constructed by the gender cult, which has seemingly overwhelmed rational forces in our society, adherents to the faith, like my son, will never see through to the truth beyond.