A Boy (?) born Into a Sect: A True Story – Part 1

Some time ago, Hazel put pen to paper to tell us about the things trans people do. After reading the post Ultra-Orthodox and trans she wanted to tell us about being born into a Sect.  This was first published in the Beaumont magazine.

This is a story I have long wanted to write but had no idea where to start, so I suppose the best place to start is the beginning.

I was born in January 1947, the third male child to a family that were part of a religious sect. My grandfather was bought into it during the first world war. Quite why or how, I never managed to find out because his family were all publicans, and my grandmothers family were never part of it, but it happened. During my early years  I was not aware that my father was strongly involved. At that time he was one of nine children, and only one of his brothers and two of his sisters had joined and became part of the sect.

I suppose at this point I should mention that I learnt many years later that my mother was convinced I was going to be a girl, everything about me was apparently different, but I will talk about that later.

When I was four, it would appear that father was asked by the Brethren”to move to a town in Essex to help sort out a problem in a meeting” there. I will not go any further with that as it will appear far-fetched. But there it was; we went and my father became, with another brother, the elders responsible to clean things up. Looking back I can see how my father came under the spell of the other person; he was a domineering character who rose to be a leading light within the sect while my father was content to play second fiddle. I only mention this to give some idea how things were.

My sister would have been born before we moved, so Mother had the girl she wanted. Several years later my baby sister was born, so I was now the middle child of five. This is probably the time to mention my birth. I am convinced my mother wanted a girl so badly that, until the arrival of my sister, I was that girl. I can remember being given a doll with a china head, when at the same time my two brothers were given cars, this dolly was my constant companion until I was about six. I loved her. When I wasn’t playing with her she stayed tucked up in my bed. This was until I was about six, when my mother asked me to hand her over and she was put in the dustbin because “boys do not play with dolls”. Needless to say as soon as Mother’s back was turned I rescued her and hid her under the bed. But, of course, mothers find everything, and once again dolly ended up in the bin, only this time I was told to get a hammer and her head was smashed. I can only think that she took such drastic action because she wanted to exorcise some inner guilt feeling she had about the way I was bought up at the very beginning because, lets face it, she could have insisted I give the doll to my sister. In those days children had only a few toys and I am sure my sister would have been delighted.

So I grew up and arrived at the age when I would be expected to become interested in becoming a “Brother”, learning about the bible and listening to my elders, because I needed to be saved* so I could become a fully fledged member of the meeting. I could give at this point a history of what this sect was about but that would be for another time and place, as this article is about how I coped with it but, suffice to say, it was full on. This is how a week would go:

Monday 7.30 pm: prayer meeting.

Tuesday  – 7.30 pm: ministry meeting (once a month “Care” meeting to discuss  the running of things).

Wednesday – 7.30 pm: mid week reading meeting at the main meeting room.

Thursday  – 7.30 pm: reading meeting where we would visit nearby gatherings.

Friday  – 7. 30 pm: same as above.

Saturday – 9.00 / 10.00 am: Fellowship meeting in nearby towns. Usually they would hire a school and brethren from surrounding areas would meet up and invite a“Ministering brother” to conduct the proceedings. This would have three main meeting with intervals where food would be served, and would finish at 3 or 4 pm. These gatherings would have 100 or more members. They hired Westminster Central Hall / Alexandra Palace for special occasions and these would be filled.

Going back in time here, I was beginning to feel different to others. At around the age of 6 or 7,  I was aware of my mothers stockings hanging up in the bathroom and, after a lot of longing, I had to touch them and then I plucked up courage and tried them on. The exhilaration I experienced was soon followed by a fear of what was happening. I was also aware of the girls in the gathering who wore wonderful full skirts with layered petticoats or, alternatively, short skirts. I would keep looking and longing to be one of them. The attraction was not sexual as I had no idea what sex was, I just wanted to be a girl and sit with them. I wanted to join in with them and talk with them. But no, I was a brother and had to pretend to be different and spiritual. I had also found a corset that had belonged to an aunt who used to live with us. I wore that a lot, hidden away in the bathroom, on the odd occasion I managed to find an excuse to stay behind in the evening looking after my sisters.

I started to have feelings of disgust with myself. We were constantly told about evil thoughts and feelings and I knew how God would punish me. One day all my family would be taken up to heaven with all the brethren, and I would be left behind with everybody else and end up in Hell. But I could not stop; I so wanted to be a girl.

I thought one of the girls, Rachel was special, really beautiful. When I was seven she slipped a note in my pocket that read, “I love you and I am going to marry you.“ I was taken aback and so happy. I put it in my pocket but my mother found it a few days later when she was checking my “go to the meeting best suit”.  She informed me she had talked to Rachel’s mother to make sure no more notes were sent, because I was not to think about such things for years.

This girl was special. As I grew older I worshipped her, but I was too shy and embarrassed to talk to her. I had this terrible secret which I was carrying. I knew I was not worthy of her. I was struggling to be a good member of the sect. I tried hard to be good and function as a brother, but all the while I was longing to be one of the girls or  sisters as they were known. I did manage to cope and passed muster. I asked to be accepted into “fellowship” at about the age of twelve, which meant I had to try really hard to participate, which for the most part I did. looking back now, did I understand what I was saying? Did it make sense? I doubt it, but I wanted to put behind me all those wicked evil thoughts. I did not want to go to hell. I also wanted to be worthy of Rachel. She was also attracting the attention of other boys. I was very jealous, but I thought they were better for her than I could be. One of these boy’s family was later excommunicated and became “worldly” and she was stopped  from having anything to do with them.

All this time I was at school, which was difficult because at home we did not have television or radio. We were not allowed to go to the cinema. I no idea about any of these things, and hated it when I was questioned by teachers and pupils. I did not know what to say. We would be asked to write about programmes or films that other children had seen. I had to admit I did not have such worldly things. I had to reply with the answer that the brethren told us to give: “We love Jesus and he says these things are not good.”

During my secondary school we had to be asked to be excused from school weekly assembly and religious instruction lessons because in these activities we were being taught things that the sect did not agree with. This made me personally feel isolated and different. I tried to get involved in other things at school, and I was so proud to be asked to play for the school rugby team as the master felt I was a natural “hooker” in the scrum, but when I got home late from school, because I stayed for practise, I was in deep trouble. It was explained in no uncertain terms that all my spare time was to be spent at the meetings, so there would be no time on Saturdays or after school. I was told to tell the master the “I love Jesus” line.  A similar thing happened with the cricket and athletics teams. I was told I was a good bowler but I made sure I bowled overs of wides  and no-balls, and when it came to the semi-final of the hurdles, where I was told I was going to be asked to represent my house at sports day,  I made sure I knocked half of them down. Otherwise I would have had to explain why I could not take part on Saturdays and after school. At the same time as having to deal with this, I was still agonising with my inner feelings. I wanted to be a girl, I longed to wear pretty things, and I was struggling so hard to be the opposite. I did not want to pray out loud and make comments about any passage of the bible we would happen to be studying.

To be continued….

Hazel x

Glossary of terms

Brethren:- Was the name they went by and also referred to each group as.

Meeting :- Was a gathering of Brethren they did not use the term church, also it referred to service i.e. prayer meeting etc.

In Fellowship:- you had to be “in fellowship” to be able to partake and participate

Saved:- you had to be saved and ask to be taken into fellowship before you could participate, believe you me they gave you no rest until you got there.

6 thoughts on “A Boy (?) born Into a Sect: A True Story – Part 1

  1. Your story resonates with me. As a head teacher of a primary school just outside King’s Lynn, I had seven Bretheren pupils in my school. They were kept apart from the other pupils as much as possible. They were not allowed to eat in the school. They did not attend assemblies (despite many being secular rather than religious). They were not permitted to represent the school at sport (despite my pleading on behalf of one very talented boy). If we used videos as a teaching aid, they were not allowed to watch. When they went to secondary school, they were bussed daily to Peterborough. Now the Bretheren have their own through school in Swaffham. On the day of the Twin Towers attack, because they have no TV or radio, several mothers came to the office window to ask what was happening. Though tempted to tell them to go away and buy a radio, I was, of course, polite and informed them of the horrendous situation that had arisen as a result of religious fundamentalism.

    1. Hi Serena
      Some of those children would have been my relations, my eldest brother lives in Watlington out side Kings Lynn, I’m in touch with three of his sons who like me were excommunicated and shunned, the youngest was one of the reasons they set up their own schools, he was caught going to a cinema with a girlfriend ! And worse he was listening to music on a Walkman, so they decided to keep their children separate from the “world”
      they have come under scrutiny with their schools as they don’t accept the National Curriculum, yet get round this now by using books allocated to them and glue up any pages that have anything that the leaders don’t agree with, Evolution, Sex Education and pretty much everting else.
      My purpose in submitting my story was not for sympathy, but I want to be understood and accepted, not only am I transgender, I’m Ex exclusive / Plymouth Brethren.

  2. Hi Serena
    Some of those children would have been my relations my eldest brother lives outside Kings Lynn, I am in contact with three of his boys who like me were excommunicated and therefore shunned, the youngest was part of the reason they set up their own schools, he was seen with a girl going into a cinema, worse still he was listening to music an a Walkman.
    Their schools have come under scrutiny as they refuse to accept the Nation Curriculum, so to get around this they allow books provided by the Education department, but glue up pages that deal, with anything the leaders don’t accept, Evolution, Sex education, and pretty much everything else.
    I only submitted my story, not for sympathy but to be understood and accepted, not only am I transgender, but Ex Exclusive / Plymouth brethren,
    Hazel x

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