I’ve Lived in the Society the Right Wants. It Won’t Keep Their Kids from Voting for the Left.

Vico Whitmore
6 min readMar 30, 2023

When I talk about my religious trauma, most people assume I’m referring to something that happened in my church, and to be fair, that’s at least half right. I spent a lot of my childhood in the church going to Sunday services, Wednesday services, Bible school, choir practices, revivals, you name it. It’s also true that I spent years being sexually abused in my church, and that I watched my pastor force survivors of molestation forgive their father before letting that man walk away free of consequences. I could tell you about how it felt to sit through abstinence only curriculum for years during my teens, sometimes less than an hour after being raped, being told again and again that people like me were irredeemable and worth less than my virginal peers. All of that would be a fine place to start. Ultimately, though, I don’t think that’s what did the most damage, at least not when it comes to religious trauma in particular. No, when unpacking my religious trauma, more often than not I have to start in my school.

My mother used to tell a story about me from preschool. One day, we were running late, and I was incredibly distraught about missing the morning prayer service that my daycare had. When I got there, I asked my daycare teacher if I would go to hell for missing that short form Bible study. Instead of telling me no, that God would understand, that He wouldn’t be mad at me for missing out on one prayer, she ran me through a two minute service of my own. I was three.

In elementary school, my mother enlisted me in one of the high school’s yearly assemblies called True Love Waits. I was put in a frilly white dress and made to perform a song in sign language while the high schoolers did a mime skit about abortion. I was meant to be the aborted child. I was six.

My elementary school also had corporal punishment. While there was an in-school suspension and detention classroom, typically kids were paddled and sent back to class barring major behavioral issues not corrected by being spanked.

The corporal punishment continued into high school, where kids were typically given a choice between being paddled and being given detention. Students who had after school jobs had little choice but to accept being spanked if they didn’t want to be fired. The vice principal who meted out that punishment had a Bible verse on his desk. He forced students to stand with their hands on his desk, leaning over that verse, and made them read it out loud before every swing of the paddle. He also had several paddles to choose from, including fiberglass paddles with holes in them. I never did figure out where he could have gotten them aside from a fetish store.

There were also several teachers to be wary of if you weren’t an especially religious kid, or I suppose, the wrong kind of religious kid. One teacher in particular had what she called a prayer closet. It was an unlit closet that was only accessible from her office where she had two chairs and dozens and dozens of images of Christ hung on the walls. She was known to pull kids out of the hallway and into her office for being sacrilegious. In one incident I know of directly from another teacher, she pulled two middle school boys into her prayer closet to scold them for “obscene sexual acts upon themselves”. They’d been talking about masturbating. I was nearly pulled in once myself for the crime of enjoying Pokémon cards, which she had decided were of the devil. I only escaped because my mother worked nearby and was something of an adversary of that woman’s. Her fear of my mother’s wrath and her sudden appearance in the hallway was the only thing that kept me from the closet.

That same teacher also once refused medical care to a student having a seizure until the girls who were in the Society of Christian Students could lay hands on him. I don’t remember ever hearing what happened to that kid.

Then of course there were the assemblies. More than once an evangelical pastor came to our school to tell us all about Jesus, the sin of lust, and the dangers of believing that protected sex was the answer. Anyone who opted out of those assemblies was put in detention, which was presented as the perfectly legal alternative to forcing kids to go to Christian services without their parent’s consent. With no other good options, most of us chose to sit through being told that we were horrible, sinful animals for wanting to have sex at all. In the meantime, the student population lead the district in teen pregnancies.

There were also the locker raids. One year, presumably because the vice principal had gotten a whiff that there were non-Christians in his midst, the lockers of several students were opened and non-Christian religious books were removed as “inappropriate”. The parent of a kid being raised Neo-Pagan finally stepped in and threatened a lawsuit over that one, but it only put an end to the administrators trying to police what books we read. Everything else remained exactly the same.

That same year a dozen or so students were suspended for wearing rainbow beaded necklaces and participating in the LGBT day of silence. Again the school was threatened with lawsuit and again they reversed that single decision while nothing else changed for the student body.

Meanwhile, every morning there was a prayer around the flagpole. Students, teachers, and administrators alike showed up for a morning prayer before the first bell rang. I went once. They prayed for people like me, people who had been baptized into the church but lost our way would return to the flock. I never did. Most of us didn’t.

The fact is, despite growing up in an environment entirely hostile to queer people, non-Christians, people with disabilities, and frankly anyone who didn’t have a “church home”, I still came out of it a transgender pansexual whose personal politics are so far left they make MSNBC look like Fox and Friends. Going to a repressive school that actively punished students for any outward display of queerness did not make me less queer. Listening to abstinence only education for years on end did not stop me from losing my virginity, nor did it prepare me for the reality of sexual violence. Having my locker raided by my school for having non-Christian books didn’t make me any less Pagan, and didn’t stop me from practicing my religion. Being threatened with a small dark closet covered in crucifixes for any secular act didn’t make me love Pokémon any less. If anything, the only lasting impact was a lot of trauma around religion, and a staunch refusal to be involved with the Christian church or anything like it ever again.

The right wants to believe that if they can control schools, they can control children and stop them from growing up to vote for democrats. That’s the goal. They think they can stem the tide of queer children choosing to exist out loud and create enough shame to keep their peers from supporting them. They think that all they have to do is keep kids from uttering the words transgender, or racism, or sexism and they’ll never know any of it exists. I can tell you first hand, that’s not gonna work.

I’ll grant that I didn’t realize I was trans until after college. I also only barely had access to the internet until I was finishing high school, and I simply didn’t have the language for how I felt. The research I did in my early twenties is now accessible to every kid across the country. Still, even without the internet, I knew I wasn’t straight, and nothing that school had ever done to any of us was enough to stop me from exploring that fact.

While it is desperately important to protect queer kids and teach our newest generations compassion, understanding, and the truth about who we are as a nation, I think the right has missed the point about precisely why it’s so critical. We aren’t worried that if kids aren’t being taught that they’re allowed to exist and deserve love and protection that they’ll never be queer to begin with. We’re worried that they’ll go through what we did. The left isn’t creating queer kids or even more leftists. We’re trying to spare younger generations the nameless, hungry searching for a word that matches who we are and provide them the space to learn to embrace it. We want what every generation before us has wanted, and that’s for our children to have it better than we ever did.

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Vico Whitmore

Trans CSA survivor leaving a trail as I stumble my way toward healing. Support me on ko-fi! https://ko-fi.com/vicowhitmore