I discovered “Rapture Practice: A True Story About Growing Up Gay in an Evangelical Family” at Barnes & Noble and was drawn to it because so many of my friends have shared how they felt hurt and emotionally abused by their family’s religious upbringing. “Rapture Practice” starts when author Aaron Hartzler is four years old, being coached by his dad on how to play dead in a church play. Hartzler’s life revolved around church: his earliest memories are of attending church activities at least three times a week, and helping his mom teach a neighborhood Sunday School.
Early in the book, Hartzler shares a story of parent-inflicted trauma that many of my friends can relate with. Eight-year-old Hartzler is wearing boat shoes that he loves and is proud of. They tie his whole outfit together. It’s an adorable scene, and you can feel his joy, until this happens. Hartzler writes (I’ve removed some of the excerpt for length):
Dad calls my name.
“Aaron, where are your socks?”
“These are Top-Siders,” I say. “You don’t wear socks with boat shoes.”
“Well, we’re headed to church, son, so go put your socks on.”
“Dad.” I am struggling to keep my voice from betraying my complete dismay. “You don’t wear socks with Top-Siders. It isn’t stylish. It’s dorky.”
A look of genuine confusion passes over his face. “Aaron, it looks dorky not to have your socks on,” he says. “We’re going to worship the Lord. Go do it right now or we’re going to be late.”
I cannot believe this is happening. “Fine,” I say. “I’ll change shoes.”
“Don’t change shoes. We don’t have time. Just grab some socks.”
My frustration spills over. “But, Dad! No one wears socks with boat shoes.” I feel tears welling up in my eyes. Mom appears.
“What’s the problem?” she asks.
“I asked Aaron to put on his socks, and he’s being disobedient.”
“Honey, we wear socks to church,” Mom says. “Obey your dad. Hurry so we aren’t late.” She heads out the door.
“I’m not wearing these shoes with socks,” I say. “It’s not cool.”
“Son, you’re more concerned with following the fashion trends of a sinful world than you are with obeying your father.”
This seems like a gross mischaracterization of the situation to me. It makes me angry.
“It’s just socks,” I try to reason, but it comes out as more of a yell.
“Aaron, it isn’t just socks. It’s rebellion. God gave me the responsibility of training you. Your job is to obey me. When I ask you to do something and you disobey and talk back, you’re being rebellious. You’re being like Satan. Before God cast him out of heaven, he was Lucifer who said ‘I will be like the Most High.’ You’re saying you’ll decide what’s best for you.”
“Dad,” I plead as the tears run down my face. “I am not acting like Lucifer. I will change shoes. Please don’t make me wear socks with my Top-Siders.”
“Son, I want you to prove that you can submit to me by wearing socks with those shoes.”
Whew. I had a visceral, sick-to-my-stomach reaction after reading this part of the book, because I remember exactly what this kind of religiously fueled shame culture was like. What is your reaction to it? If you’ve never known this particular subculture like that of Hartzler’s parents, this exchange might sound hyperbolic. I can assure you it’s not.
This early in the book, I haven’t yet gotten to Hartzler’s coming out. I am fascinated and terrified to know what happens next.