Not Your Prodigal
“The story of the prodigal son comes to my mind. It is the only way I will be able to deal with this. I’ll wait for you with open arms when you come back home… until then, I’ll pray for you to have your eyes opened by the only true God that you have put on the back burner…“
These words, sent to me by my father, may seem innocuous. Maybe they even seem loving or kind. But make no mistake — these words, and the others that accompanied them, are manipulative, abusive, and deeply hurtful.
What prompted this message? I came out as bisexual.
Of course, this was death by a thousand cuts. Our relationship, if you could call it that, was deeply damaged well before this happened. My coming out simply angered him enough that he finally said what he had been thinking for a while — that I “made [him] sick to [his] stomach and about to throw up,” that he is “absolutely disgusted” with me, that I am “completely deceived by the devil,” that my decisions are a result of “mental illness,” and that there is “not a chance” of “even one scintilla of acceptance” (and yes, these are all direct quotes from other portions of the message above).
To be fair, I did deconstruct my entire belief system and turn into a queer, sex-positive, leftist feminist who regularly critiques my former belief system on the internet.
But I still tried to show up at family gatherings despite the Fox News playing in the background. Despite the racist commentary on, well, everything. Despite the misogyny behind every remark on what I’m wearing. Despite the prodding “jokes” meant to provoke me to argue or fight back. It was tense; oh, it was so tense. But I still showed up, for over two years, despite a distinct lack of evidence that my family was ever going to meet me in the middle and at least turn off the conservative talk radio while I was around.
So when I came out and received that message in response? I stopped showing up. I stopped responding. I stopped accepting my role as the familial black sheep relegated to shameful silence at the dinner table.
I refuse to accept the position of prodigal child. I am not your prodigal.
I am not a wayward daughter making poor decisions that harm others or myself. I am not experiencing deep inner sadness or turmoil due to my life decisions. I am not secretly unhappy or trying to fill a void in my soul.
By calling me your prodigal child, you are telling me that you hope my life becomes so unbearably awful that I have no choice but to return to your way of life and belief. By asserting that you are praying for my eyes to be opened, you are praying for catastrophe in my life to break me.
It is neither healthy nor loving to wish harm on a person with the hope that they will convert to a specific religious belief under duress.
You claim to pray for my destruction because you love me, but you don’t love me. You love the idea of me. The idea of having a daughter who grew up to birth your grandbabies and be a stay at home mom and vote Republican. The idea of a meek, submissive wife who cooks for her husband and teaches Sunday school every few months at church.
But my refusal to meet your expectations does not make me your prodigal child. I am not sinning by discarding the beliefs you hold dear (the very beliefs leading you to say such hurtful things to me).
Until you are ready to respect me as an independent human being with critical thinking skills and the ability to make autonomous decisions, we will never have a relationship. Until you stop viewing me as a project, a lost object to retrieve from the depths of sin, we will never have a relationship. Until you are ready to apologize for the harmful things you have said and done in the name of love, we will never have a relationship.
I am not coming back to the queerphobia, patriarchy, and racism of evangelicalism. There will be no reunion where I tearfully admit my sins. I will not grovel at your feet, begging for your forgiveness.
Because I am not your prodigal.