What about the “B” in “LGBT”?!

As a bisexual, I’m pretty used to being erased in the queer movement, and to some extent I think I’ve felt I almost deserve to be because I am in a hetero-passing relationship. However, the erasure has been vexing me more and more recently, peaking last week during the Exodus fiasco when bisexuality never came up in the whole discussion of ex-gay reparative therapy.

That’s a big gap to miss when trying to discuss whether someone’s orientation can change. A bisexual person can be easily convinced that they did change if they happen to fall happily in love with someone of the opposite sex. I grew up thinking I had narrowly escaped the whole “gay” thing. I had never heard of bisexuality and thought my attractions to women and men were an indication of how close I had come to being a reprobate—“but for the grace of God.” Outside of the very obvious ways that mindset could hurt lesbians and gays (and did when I used my own experiences as evidence that being gay was a “choice”), it can cause pretty significant problems for bisexuals as they struggle with their attractions, which I discovered aren’t going to go away any more than gay or lesbian attractions will.

don't assume straight or gay

Enter Shiri Eisner’s book Bi: Notes for a Bisexual Revolution

I hadn’t realized how erased I felt until I experienced what it was like to be recognized. Here was a book that didn’t deal with bisexuality as a subsection. My identity wasn’t a footnote or an endnote. I wasn’t a passing term. I started crying before I was even through the introduction. I was holding in my hands over three hundred pages dedicated to my sexual orientation.

More importantly, there were terms to describe how others react to me.

I’ve never felt comfortable describing the little snide remarks or actions that I experience as “homophobia.” What’s to be homophobic about? There’s nothing in my relationship to raise ire. For all intents and purposes, people feel pretty comfortable assuming I’m straight even when I tell them I’m bi.

But biphobia and monosexism—“the social system according to which everyone is, or should be, [attracted to one gender]” (Eisner, p. 321) —yeah, those I’ve experienced.

exterminate-mono1

No one ever walks up to me and says, “You’re just going through a phase.” But I’ve had both straight and gay friends tell me to just get it out of my system by finding a girl to ______ (fill in the blank because the suggestions range as far as you can imagine). Perhaps they think they’re being supportive; nevertheless, the implication is that if I can just have an experience with a girl, I’ll suddenly realize that I’m content with my male partner. It’s almost as if having capability to be attracted to multiple genders must mean that everyone is the same; therefore, when I experience one, I experience them all.

Others have suggested that I might be happier with a girl because I’m so attracted to them—that maybe I don’t really want to be with my male partner, which is really just a way to say that I’m a lesbian in denial even if they deny that they’re trying to say that.

Then there’s the “concerned” ones who grill me about how many sexual partners I have and, on the flip side, the ones who give me flak for being married.

Still others have dared to challenge my coming out, asking me what I hope to gain from it since I’m already married.

When I get these reactions, they bother me, but I’ve never been very good at pinpointing why. Usually I end up giving the pat explanation, “Being bi doesn’t mean I’m promiscuous. I am happy in my relationship and am not looking for anything else. It’s just really important to identify this part of myself right now.”

Sometimes I launch into it before anyone asks a question, which is an indication that I have some internalized biphobia myself.

Reading the beginning of Shiri’s book I began to realize how these prejudices play out. These aren’t necessarily the same prejudices that gay or lesbian people experience. Perhaps I would get some of that if I had a female partner, but for the most part I don’t find too many negative reactions when people mistakenly assume “partner” means “girl.”

But the prejudice is there.

It’s there when I need to explain why I’m marching in a gay pride parade with my husband or when I have to correct someone who assumes that because I’m married I have no vested interest in queer activism and gay rights. It’s there when someone tells me I “already have the right to marriage.” It’s there when people think they can define my identity and my relationships based on expectations of how I should or shouldn’t behave. It’s there when people assume they can ask any question they want about my love life simply because I told them I’m bi.

identity redefine

I wasn’t aware of them because bi-erasure was just part of the way things were. It took a book to tell me it shouldn’t have to be that way. From now on, rather than trying to convince people that I’m not promiscuous or unsure of what I want, I’m going to own the right that I am allowed to live my life on my terms. My identity doesn’t get to be defined by someone else’s prejudice or stereotypes.

Back when I started my blog, I described myself as a bi-feminist. Up until now, I’ve couched my bisexual activism in a broader activism for lgbt. Today, I’m giving myself permission to emphasize the bi part of my feminism. I’m no longer content to be railroaded and erased. I might make people uncomfortable, but it’s time to challenge the cultural lens. It’s time to make the “b” in “lgbt” visible.

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The Place of Apology in the Cycle of Abuse

Have you heard about Exodus International yet?

They pretty much did what every survivor dreams their abusers would do (in between the dreams where boulders fall on the abuser). They apologized and have announced that they are shutting down . . . you know, in case you live under a rock and only read my blog.

Great news, right? Now we can all hug and “move on.”

Wrong.

As with most apologies that come from abusers, there’s fine print. They’re starting another organization under a different name.

Forgive me while I vomit.

Let’s review a little something about abuse, something that we tend to forget when faced with apologies from abusers . . . they all do this! They all pull out an apology from time to time.

“I’m so sorry! It will never, ever happen again!”

And it doesn’t, until the next time.

It’s such a common pattern of abuse that it’s made its way into a pretty little flow chart that you will come across in most basic psychology classes: Tension, Incident, Reconciliation, Calm.

“This is the song that never ends. Yes it goes on and on my friends…”

cycle of abuse

It takes a while for victims to learn that apologies don’t necessarily mean things are going to change, but sooner or later, we catch on. In the context of abuse, apologies mean nothing. They’re one of the more underhanded ways of catching victims off their guard and making way for more abuse.

That’s true, even if it’s a sincere apology.

Does that mean that abusers can never truly change?

Not at all. Everyone can change, including abusive people/organizations. But it’s going to take a hell of a lot of work to prove that the promised change is real. Too often apologies have been used by abusers to get charges dropped, prevent victims from leaving, make themselves look better, or even get themselves into a position for abusing new victims.

Not so surprising then that I found this sudden apology from Exodus a little questionable (especially since it came out the right before a program aired in which survivors of the ex-gay movement confronted Alan Chambers and Exodus’ practices).

I was willing to give them a chance, but I needed to see some proof before I started celebrating.

Shutting down was a good start for an abusive organization. For abusive individuals, that would be the equivalent of quitting a job that puts them in a position to abuse or relinquishing authority within the home. Perhaps if Exodus had stopped with the shut-down, they would seem more believable in their contrition.

Unfortunately, they made the mistake of thinking they could just start up again. Kind of like a priest getting caught abusing a child and starting a new ministry in a different parish.

BAD!

Acknowledging abuse means acknowledging that they abused that position of power. Pretending they can just pick up and start anew is the biggest indication I’ve seen that they don’t understand the full gravity of what they’ve done. It shows little concern for their victims and how their victims might be feeling. It shows no concern for protecting other people. It’s a completely ego-centric approach.

This is exactly the kind of crap that made me write my “Forgiveness is Bullshit” post a while back. 

More importantly, with an apology comes the responsibility to shut up and listen. Abuse is about power. It’s about silencing victims and stealing their voices. When abusers apologize and truly want to change, they need to accept full responsibility for their actions, which means zipping their mouths for once and letting the victims speak. The victims need a chance to voice their pain. Apologizing doesn’t erase the victim’s need to be heard, and an apology that is used to try to coax a victim into more silence is just another form of abuse.

Exodus isn’t listening right now. They’re barreling ahead with their own ideas and agendas. They’ve spent years teaching that homosexuals are sinful and need to be cured. They’ve spent years torturing innocent people and convincing them it’s “for their own good.” Now, they want to say sorry, kiss and make up, and go back to loudly declaring their beliefs. And the worst part?! I don’t see any change in their message. From what I understand from TWO, ex-gay has rebranded as Restored Hope Network. The “About” section of their new Restored Hope Network still condemns homosexuality as a sin that will keep people out of heaven and even steal their salvation away.

So . . . what the hell is the point of shutting down then?

The only ones they’re speaking for are themselves, trying to do damage control because their victims are getting vocal. Where is the desire to understand their victims’ experiences? Where is the desire to educate themselves on the truth after so many years of believing lies?

This isn’t like a company suddenly deciding that a product isn’t selling. Exodus doesn’t get to pull the “consumers have spoken” line. This is about an organization that survived on the exploitation of the pain of a group of people.

Change has to happen for this apology to mean anything, and I’m not talking about a change in the direction of their marketing. There has to be a change in behavior. Exodus needs to completely close its doors, back away from the homosexuality arena, take responsibility for their actions, and let their victims speak out. They need to show humility and understanding over what they’ve done and the impact their actions have had.

Sorry just isn’t enough, and in this case, I’m convinced it’s not even sincere. Thankfully, I’m not seeing many people who are buying their b.s. right now, but in case anyone is confused by the smoke and mirrors, Exodus isn’t shutting down. They’re just apologizing and changing their name so they can continue to do the same thing all over again.

EDIT: There’s also rumors of Chambers starting a “reduce fear” organization, but even if he has good intentions at this point (doubt it), he has yet to prove he has even changed himself. We’ve got the same problems as above. He’s not leaving his position of power, he’s shifting it. He’s not listening, he’s restarting under a different name. And though I can’t find any information yet about his Reduce Fear idea, even if its goal is to preach acceptance, he doesn’t get to switch from being the head of the abusive organization to the lgbt church advocate overnight like that. I wouldn’t trust him any more than I trust this “Restored Hope Network” crap.

When the Fight Against Slut-Shaming Overlooks Victim-Blaming

Although I’m thrilled that so many people are fighting back against slut-shaming, I’ve been disturbed to see a significant gap in the discussion. When some asshole says something typically misogynist like, “She’s dressed like a prostitute; she can’t expect men to respect her,” there are plenty of feminists willing to step up to defend a woman’s right to wear whatever the hell she wants without becoming “fair game.”

But where are the people taking issue with that tiny little phrase “like a prostitute”?

Nobody, at least no one I’ve seen, ever brings up the whore-shaming, which is what I’m going to call the “permissible” slut-shaming of sex workers. No one even bats an eye at it. We take issue with sexually active women being called whores, but no one ever tries to defend the “whore” herself.

That bothers me—a lot!

Over the weekend, I made the mistake of paying attention to a discussion amongst some Christians. Normally I try to stay away from things like that because my stupid-tolerance meter quickly overloads, but I hung around and watched for a while. The topic was on lying, so it made some sense to bring up Rahab, the prostitute in the Old Testament who helped two Jewish spies escape from Jericho before that famous non-battle where they knocked down the walls of the city by blowing trumpets (why did that sound so much more believable when I was locked away in funderland?). However, just as quickly as she was brought up, someone else dismissed her as “a whore who did God’s will.”

Just like that everything about her was summed up—she was a whore, aka a piece of filth not worthy of anyone’s attention, who redeemed herself by doing a really good deed. And her life revolved around her whoredom/shame and her obedience/redemption.

I was the only one who pointed out that it was offensive.

Other people tried to defend her with suggestions like maybe she wasn’t a prostitute or she was one but then she stopped. But the attitude that she, as a sex-worker, was somehow “less than” was accepted silently.

It’s not so different from Mary Magdalene, the prostitute who became a disciple of Jesus—except that there is no indication that she was ever a prostitute in any of the gospels. The rumor that she was a prostitute was completely fabricated to discredit her and remove some of her power as a close female follower of Jesus . . . because somehow spreading a rumor about her selling sex is the worst insult you can give to this feminist Christian icon. As a prostitute, everything in her life suddenly becomes shameful and tainted except for the part about Jesus taking her under his wing. (Notice it defames her, but Jesus’ purity never comes into question for hanging out with a prostitute.)

But it’s not just Bible characters who are being whore-shamed. Real people are experiencing this. Just this past week, a court in Texas ruled that a man was not guilty of murder after fatally shooting a call girl who refused to have sex with him. The reason? He was just trying to get what he paid for.

And if you thought the victim-blaming was bad for “promiscuous” rape victims, it’s nothing compared to what sex workers go through. They’re much less likely to be believed if they report that they’ve been sexually assaulted or raped because, as a society, we have this idea in our heads that being a sex worker means you don’t get to say “no.” (Which is stupid and a little bit like saying a store owner can’t get robbed because he has stuff for sale.)

But why? Why do we view sex workers as the scum of the earth? Why are they the most insulting thing to compare other women to? Why is their entire life defined by their work? Why are their choices revoked because of their day–er–night job?

As far as historical judgment, Rahab making a living by getting money for sex isn’t all that different from the other form of “making a living” that was open to women at the time—you know, getting married and having sex with a man so he would put a roof over her head and feed her. Marriage wasn’t about love in the past. It was about ownership of women—kind of like buying a permanent prostitute for the home. If anything Rahab should be a feminist hero for choosing a slightly more independent life!

For that matter, you never see David or Solomon dismissed as “womanizers who did God’s will.” No, they’re biblical heroes who “messed up.” The fact that David’s mess-up was murder and sexual coercion seems to be largely overlooked. The “good” far outweighs the “bad” . . . as long as you’re a man.

Modernly, we seem to be capable of making strides towards allowing women the same sexual freedom as men, but we’re still hung up on the idea of them making money that way (even though we don’t seem to have a problem with men hiring prostitutes–again typical double standard).

Who cares if a woman is a sex worker? If she thinks being a prostitute or a stripper is the best job ever, that’s her free choice. I will fight for her right to do as she pleases with her body. I will fight for her right to be viewed as a human being, treated with respect, given access to health care and protection under the law. No matter what her profession is (no matter whether I like her profession or not), it doesn’t diminish her humanity.

I wish I could end my piece there, with the whole “stop being so judgmental” bit, except that there’s a far greater problem with whore-shaming than just judging someone else’s free choices.

Sometimes, there is no choice.

According to Somaly Mam’s website (and some fancy math on my part), approximately 10 million women and girls are sex slaves. In some countries, children as young as three are sold into prostitution. The sex trade here in the United States is devastatingly successful. Since I can’t summarize it better than this handy little bullet list from The Covering House, I’m posting their list here:

  • Human trafficking generates $9.5 billion yearly in the United States. (United Nations)
  • Approximately 300,000 children are at risk of being prostituted in the United States. (U.S. Department of Justice)
  • The average age of entry into prostitution for a child victim in the United States is 13-14 years old. (U.S. Department of Justice)
  • A pimp can make $150,000-$200,000 per child each year and the average pimp has 4 to 6 girls. (U.S. Justice Department, National Center for Missing and Exploited Children)
  • The average victim may be forced to have sex up to 20-48 times a day.(Polaris Project)
  • Fewer than 100 beds are available in the United States for underage victims.(Health and Human Services)
  • Department Of Justice has identified the top twenty human trafficking jurisdictions in the country:” Houston
• El Paso
• Los Angeles
• Atlanta
• Chicago
• Charlotte
• Miami
• Las Vegas
• New York
• Long Island
• New Orleans
• Washington, D.C.
• Philadelphia
• Phoenix
• Richmond
• San Diego• San Francisco
• St Louis
• Seattle
• Tampa  (Department of Justice)
  • A pimp can make $150,000-$200,000 per child each year and the average pimp has 4 to 6 girls. (U.S. Justice Department, National Center for Missing and Exploited Children)
  • One in three teens on the street will be lured toward prostitution within 48 hours of leaving home. (National Runaway Hotline)

This is where my biggest beef with whore-shaming lies. NO ONE ever wonders if the prostitutes they are dismissing, devaluing, and dehumanizing even want to be doing what they are doing. No one wonders if they are there of their own free will or if they’ve been forced into this life and don’t see a way out. People are so caught up with what prostitutes symbolize that they can’t even see the human being behind the label; with the numbers of sex slaves out there, consent should be the first question anyone asks.

It’s bad enough that we dehumanize someone for their consensual sexual activity. Victim blaming and slut shaming are never okay. Sex workers deserve as much respect, safety, and protection as any other person. But when dealing with people who don’t even have a choice, the whore-shaming is that much more sinister! Whore-shaming reinforces the sex trafficker’s power over his victims—telling them that they are worthless, they don’t have the right to safety, they don’t have the right to say “no,” they don’t have the right to be treated as a human being. We need to get over the stupid false dichotomies between the virgin vs. whore and sex-for-pleasure vs. sex-for-money and start worrying about the very real difference between consent and rape.

prostittution meme

Tales from the Lesloom: Episode Five “Coming Out is Hard to Do.”

Welcome to the fifth episode of the Lesbian Heirloom Tales. If you haven’t been following along with this silly little series, I’d recommend going back to the beginning to get your bearings. Enjoy the break from the more serious topics with these imaginative accounts of the wonderful highs and terrible lows of a girl growing up and the loving futon that was sent to help her.

COMING OUT IS HARD TO DO

After Emma discovered that she was lesbian, she couldn’t wait to tell Rebecca. She constructed elaborate daydreams of their excited squeals as they read over the information together, and as such daydreams do, they quickly morphed into fantasies about dates, telling parents, and beautiful weddings.

“I’m so lucky,” she whispered to the futon. “I’ve found out who I am by falling in love with my best friend! It’s so romantic!”

The futon rejoiced with Emma as she discovered her identity, but it quivered in fear at the memory of how it had been inspired with its mission in the first place. It knew from its maker’s experience that accepting yourself is not the same thing as being accepted—and how much a young heart needed both.

Take it slow, it tried to warn Emma.

But she wouldn’t listen. She was far too excited to have discovered a way to explain her disinterest in boys. The next time Rebecca came over, Emma was practically bursting from the effort to keep her mouth shut long enough to get her mother out of the room.

“You look excited,” Rebecca ventured as she pulled out some DVDs she’d rented, tossing them on the bed.

Emma peaked out her door once more to make sure her mom was really gone and turned back to her friend. “You’ll never believe what I found!” she squealed, rushing over to her computer. She popped up one of the websites she’d been reading earlier and swung the screen toward Rebecca. “It explains everything!”

Rebecca glanced at the screen, her face unreadable. “What explains everything?”

The futon groaned slightly as it felt Rebecca stiffen.

Take it slow, it tried to whisper again, but Emma was too far into her own world to notice the changes in either of her friends.

“We’re lesbians.” She pointed to a paragraph about halfway down, wondering how Rebecca hadn’t seen it as clearly as she had.

Rebecca dutifully read what Emma had pointed to.

“I don’t think that’s me,” she finally said.

“What are you talking about? Of course it is! It’s why we like each other instead of boys.”

“I’m not lesbian,” Rebecca said again, more firmly.

“But you said you thought about kissing girls!”

“Uh, no, I didn’t! I said I didn’t always think about kissing boys.”

“But what about . . .”

“Ugh!” Rebecca groaned, flopping her head onto a pillow. “Emma.” she mumbled into the fabric. Sitting back up, she pulled the pillow into her lap. “It was something we tried to see how it made us feel. It wasn’t supposed to be an engagement!”

The words stung. Emma pulled the computer back to herself, creating a wall of screen between them so Rebecca couldn’t see her face. Tears pricked the edges of her eyes, but she refused to cry.

“Why are you so afraid of this?” Emma snapped. “I thought your mom was all feminist and stuff, but you’re acting like a complete . . . homophobe.” She barely knew what the word meant, but she knew it was bad—and bad fit her feelings.

Rebecca glowered. The futon did its best to intervene, with one girl trembling in despair and the other in anger.

“I’m not a homophobe!” Rebecca tossed the pillow at Emma. “You can be whatever you want!”

“Apparently not. My best friend can’t handle it.”

“Oh, that’s rich! You’re the one trying to force a label on me that I don’t think fits.” Rebecca grabbed the DVDs off the futon and shoved them back into her bag.

“What are you doing?”

“I want to go home.”

“You’re such a traitor!” Emma screamed as Rebecca yanked open the door. “You’re . . . you’re a tramp!”

She regretted the words as soon as she said them, but the pain and confusion felt as though they would suffocate her.

They’d had fights before. The one who left always came back. It was like a rule between them to always come back, so Emma waited for Rebecca. She didn’t cry. She just sat on the edge of the futon, holding her laptop, and watching the door.

But Rebecca didn’t come back.

A half hour later, Emma’s mom came up and knocked on the already open door. “Can I come in?”

Emma closed out her browser and shrugged. “I guess.”

“Rebecca’s mom just picked her up,” her mother stated as she joined Emma on the edge of the mattress.

“So,” Emma snarled, tossing her computer aside and flopping down on her back.

“Do you want to talk about it?”

Emma’s hands flew to cover the tears leaking onto her cheek. “No. Leave me alone, please.”

It was meant to sound defiant, but it came out as more of a whimper.

“Alright.” Her mom gently rubbed Emma’s arm. “I’ll leave you alone for a while.” She stood to leave, but hesitated. “Don’t throw your friendship away over a fight, sweetie. You don’t find many friends like Rebecca. Promise me you’ll try to work it out.”

“Okay,” Emma muttered through her hands, but inside she was screaming, I think I threw away my friendship over a kiss!

After her mother left, Emma curled into her pillows and let the tears go. She cried for all she was worth over the unfairness of love, life, and growing up. She cried in anger at Rebecca and at herself. She cried in sorrow at the loss of something in their friendship. And she cried for the sake of crying because sometimes it’s the only way to get the tension of a horrible day out.

At some point her mother brought in a cup of tea and left it. She didn’t interrupt even though the futon could see it tortured her to watch her daughter in pain like that.

Don’t worry, it assured her, I’ll stay here with her.

Although her mother hadn’t consciously heard what the futon said, she felt the assurance of the words. Nodding her head sadly, she left her daughter to cry alone as she had asked.

The futon cradled Emma as gently as it could, hugging her to its chest in the way only a good piece of furniture can. To her, it felt like the end of the world. But the futon felt sure that things would look better when they got to the other side of the night.

It didn’t say that, of course, because heartbreak cannot be cured by promises of the future, but it tried to let hope silently seep  into Emma’s tears.

Cult Recruitment: An Insider’s Perspective

Even if you don’t know that much about cults, you’ve probably heard about the famous mind-control of brainwashing. It’s the process whereby new members have their identity broken down and cult values and a cult personality implemented instead. It sounds like a sensational process, requiring torture and weird machines.

Remember this scene from Lost?

Karl being brainwashed in Lost

The truth is, it’s not. If it were that obvious, people would be much less likely to join a cult. Brainwashing is a simple process of manipulation that is so subtle that new members don’t notice the destruction of their sense of self.

I know how the process works, intimately. Recruitment is an essential part of most cults (outside of the handful that stopped recruiting in order to kill themselves off), and the IFB is no different. However, I’m finding a disconnection between some of the scholarly understandings of recruitment and my own experience.

It’s not that the breakdown is wrong, per se. The mechanics are all there—targeting emotionally vulnerable people, bombing them with love, and offering them hope. All of that is entirely true.

So where’s the problem?

It always sounds so sinister. In Cults in our Midst, Margaret Thaler Singer describes the process as “deliberate,” and to some extent it is deliberate, but it’s not intentional-deliberate (“I’m going to brainwash someone”) or malicious-deliberate (“I want to ruin her life”).

In the IFB, we absolutely targeted emotionally vulnerable people (children, military, grieving family and friends, the lonely, etc.). We had any number of programs to reach out to those in difficult places in their lives, those less fortunate, or those simply confused and dissatisfied with where their life was going. We promised them answers and meaning and showered them with love. We had both subtle and blatant ways of worming into their minds and planting the idea that their misery and trials were due to their sin. We were trained on how to approach people, how to gauge their receptiveness to the message, and how to gently push them into accepting our beliefs.

I think I still have a bookmark in my old Bible with my script cues written on it!

But we did it thinking we were doing the right thing. We would have never called it “recruitment,” “brainwashing,” “mind control,” or any of the other clinical terms.

We called it witnessing, sharing our faith, spreading the good news, and sharing the love of God. We saw ourselves as missionaries of good. People were dying and going to hell because of their sins, and we had the cure. It was our duty to offer them a chance for salvation.

“The most sobering reality in the world today,” Bob Jones III would often prompt in chapel.

“Is that people are dying and going to hell today,” the students would chant back to him.

I would have never admitted it because it was horribly taboo, but I never liked witnessing. I hated approaching a complete stranger and trying to find a way to trick them into talking about God. I hated asserting that they were sinful and needed to be saved or else they would go to hell. I even hated knocking on apartment doors and asking parents if I could take their kids to my Bible club when I was at BJU, often wondering what kind of parent would let a complete stranger take a child away simply by claiming to want to tell them about Jesus?

Every time I witnessed, I felt like a pompous jerk.

But I did it because I was led to believe that I was responsible for the lost souls of those I failed to witness to. Choosing not to try to recruit someone was tantamount to murdering that person. How could I possibly bear the guilt of watching them burn in hell for all eternity simply because I was too embarrassed to approach them?

Today, when I watch documentaries like “Jesus Camp,” I shudder to see the brainwashing tactics in play. When I hear about how Missions to Military (which has connections to the IFB, for the record) waits until soldiers are at their most broken point in boot camp before approaching them to witness, I get sick to my stomach to see vulnerable people being targeted.

But not for a single second would I ever think that the people doing the recruiting had bad intentions at heart. They believe in what they are doing 100%. That’s why they’re so seductive. Cults are insidious and destructive because victims believe in them. Brainwashing doesn’t end when you join—it’s just beginning. You can lay out a map of behavior for cult members to look at and point out exactly how they fit into that map, and they still won’t think they’re a cult because they’re convinced they’re doing the loving thing, the right thing, the only thing they can do.

Why am I writing about this?

Because it’s not good enough to just identify the behavior of cults and how they are destructive or even how that behavior is used in the grand scheme of control.

Cults are monsters, and the people in them can be monsters. But if you’re looking for a monster under your bed or hiding in the shadows, you’re not going to find it. All you’re going to find is a smiling face and a human being who desperately believes they are doing the right thing.

If researchers are truly going to expose cults and protect people from them, they need to be able to recognize that the most important part of the recruitment process isn’t the part where they break down the recruit’s identity—it comes long before that, when they lull the recruit into letting his/her guard down. The claws and fangs are there, hiding under the mask, but no one will see them until they try to leave.

Recruitment is a golden road to a physical hell paved with someone else’s good intentions.