I grew up in a fundie household in the 50s and 60s: parents, two brothers and myself. I quickly started to decode the things I was told. My mother said “we” when she meant herself and my father, my brothers said “we” when they meant “boys only”, and when my father said it, he meant himself, backed up by his god. It soon became clear that I was alone in my group. I couldn’t be in a group with the girls at school because they belonged to the wrong churches. I couldn’t be with the girls in the street, because my mother came out to interrogate them about their religion and after that they wouldn’t talk to me. Everything was divided into categories, and nothing was what it promised to be. “People” meant “grown-up men only”. In church there were more things to decode. “Love thy fellow men.” was a tricky one - when I asked my mother if that included the neighbours, she was really shocked: ”No! They’re Catholics!” and she didn’t know the word for the neighbours at the other side, but those people never even went to church. Horrible! I was forbidden to acknowledge them. After more questioning I was told that my fellows were the people of my parents’ church. I hardly ever talked to them. I only saw girls of my age during service, and afterwards they walked home behind their parents, in obedient silence, like I had to. The flock lived far apart. From that time the segregation began to show up everywhere, keeping people and even animals in separate categories, all apart and never to be mixed.
My parents told me animals didn’t count: they were given by god to do as pleases man with. Disquieting to a girl that is happily forming a friendship with her first cat (they sold her behind my back a week later). The news was also rather disturbing, I heard items about accidents somewhere in Africa that said: ”Casualties, three white men, total sixteen.” When I asked, they told me that the other thirteen were probably coloured people, but those didn’t count or they would have been mentioned. “Why!?” Answer: because the bible said so. Racism? Discrimination against women? Poverty? No justice? Inequality? Same answer. And when the bible said something it was time to shut up. Other news items gave rise to questions by the people I eavesdropped on: ”Any Dutch casualties?” “No? Oh, that’s OK then. ” They never asked about other casualties; foreigners were suspect anyway and it was almost a duty to misdirect a German who wanted to know where to go to, for Germans had to be punished for WWII. No casualties at all? What about the sheep in the overturned lorry, did they feel as lucky as the driver said he was? In these ways I learnt about the everyday patriotism and speciesism, the petty narrow-mindedness of my surroundings. It went on like this all the weary years I spent in my parents’ house. I was deliberately kept apart from the people and the animals I needed. Impossible to guess how many kind faces and how much happiness I missed because of forced isolation. I was very lucky to find a partner from a family my parents wouldn’t touch with a tent pole, and to start a life of belonging somewhere at last. What I learnt from my parents’ policy of segregation and isolation? I could only conclude that segregation turns into a cage for each of us, to be cold and lonely in. And I still get attacks of nausea when people start to compare and to categorize and when they show their prejudice for or against whatever subject. Many people choose to stay in their cages and I pity them, but I can do no more than invite them to taste freedom.
I escaped my cage of segregation and let go of everything that made me stand out as belonging to a select group, because I won’t be hampered when I meet my fellows. I know who they are: everyone who wants to meet me as an equal, people, cats or any other being. They bring me much happiness.