This website is intended to be a resource for anyone who has recently left the Bruderhof or other restrictive religious community. The journey to living in the real world can be long and painful. We hope to ease that transition. On Facebook you will find a public page also called Afterhof that is a bulletin board for anyone to communicate or post about Bruderhof related topics. https://www.facebook.com/groups/996164867093059/?ref=share
Growing up Gay on the Hof
Posted for a friend:
Anyone who grew up on the hof will probably know the things they tell you about what gay people are – pedophiles, prostitutes, family destroyers, and they all get AIDS. I heard it all. I was told that it was easier to understand a murderer than a homosexual.
The servants often preached about being genuine (just like Hans im Gluck!) but when their main issue is anti-LGBT rights (excuse me, “family values”), it makes being yourself impossible for queer people.
I hated myself for a long time and was incredibly homophobic for a good part of high school partly because I didn’t want to be gay at first and partly as a cover. It was my dad who figured out what was “wrong” with me in my junior year of high school. When he asked me if I was “struggling with homosexual thoughts” I said yes. I didn’t think it through at all. All I knew was that I needed to change something about my life because I was spiraling into darker and darker places in my mind.
I stayed in the community for a year and a half more, pretending to want to “fight the desires” and meeting regularly with the servants to convince them that I was trying to become straight. That didn’t help at all with the depression, in fact it made it worse. I ended up asking to get a job outside the community and disengaging from communal life until I turned 18. Instead, I got to leave and start my life out here.
So far living in the big bad world has been a great experience. Therapy has helped me peel back the layers of repressive thought that hindered my happiness both on the hof and in the years since I left. There have been ups, there have been downs. I have dated some wonderful men and my life has flourished in many other ways as well. I have kept making changes here and there and bit by bit I have come to better understand myself, my position in the world, my ambitions, as well as what it takes to be happy.
Despite sounding like a poster-boy for some gay rights organization I’ll end by saying it gets better.
Posted for a friend:
LGBTQ , speaking those letters will always leave a very bitter taste in my mouth yet I’m a part of that community. I am bi-sexual, THERE, I’ve said it. I’ve been bullied, judged, and harassed over this to the point it makes me scared and sick to even admit the truth. Growing up this way in the community wasn’t easy because you felt you were different from all the other kids around you but you didn’t know why and you didn’t know what to do about it. You weren’t taught about sexuality in a healthy way and even what most people considered “normal sex” was made secretive and dirty by my parents and by the elders. “Gay” meant that you were happy and that was it. . . but then why all these different strong feelings and urges? Am I mentally ill because I’m feeling this way? How can I ask questions when I’m not given the vocabulary to voice my true feelings? Why are people looking at me like I’m strange, weird, an alien in their world of lies. Why do you preach that Jesus came to lift up the down-trodden yet you are the very ones who are treading on me and making my life a living hell. You are NOT Christians! I’m fragile, beautiful. loving, caring, sensitive, yet you treat me like a plague.Tears flow freely as I write this post for the pain still lingers.
Growing up queer
Posted for a friend:
My journey of self discovery as a queer person has been slow and arduous, hobbled by the shame and guilt drilled into all of us who grew up on the Hof. Bodies, sexual interest, exploring one’s self, I remember all of those things being taboo. Either completely ignored, or villainized. It took me years of mentally and physically punishing myself for having urges, or daring to act on them, before I could outrun all of that guilt, all of that shame. And I only experienced it for a relative few years of my life. But now that I’ve left all of that behind me, now that my brain has developed, now that I’ve left any semblance of organized religion in my past, I’ve been able, over the past 5 years, to figure out who I actually am. And wonderfully, I’ve learned that who I am is who I’m made to be, and that I’m worth loving.
I think I came to this place by very deliberately and very thoroughly pruning away what I grew up believing, one poisonous branch at a time. First went the belief that sexuality is something to fear. Then went the conviction that only married people should share their bodies. Then off came the gnarly, prickly branch that said that anything other than man and woman was abhorrent. I spent several years exploring my gender identity and expression, and finally managed to unwind the binary vine that was choking me to death. Ultimately, I established for myself that my body reflects my mind, but I freed myself in that process to grow and develop and evolve, which is what people do all through their lives.
Here I am, now, nearly 20 years gone from the Bruderhof, and finally able to love and accept myself for who I am: a queer woman, capable of loving people of any and all gender identities and expressions, choosing to share my life with a wonderful woman, leaving ourselves open to loving others as well. Here I am, able to demonstrate to my child that there is no “normal,” there is no “right way” to be a person, there is no “good” way to love. I don’t believe in God or gods. I don’t believe in souls. I don’t believe in any myths or mysticism. But love, in every expression, is sacred to me. Love is holy to me. Sharing your life, your heart, your hopes and fears and flaws and failures, cherishing those of others, that is love, and that is more powerful and meaningful to me than any sermon or scripture. So I’ve crawled out of a place of shame and self-loathing, and discovered that I can love myself, and out of that, I can love others infinitely.
It is painful, it is a huge challenge, it is exhausting to escape what was inflicted on us as children. It takes years, or decades, or a lifetime to leave those burdens behind, and to replace them with the things that you want to carry. But it is possible, and it is so worth the struggle.
Finding a guide
It is important that you find people to talk with early on. Your entire life has been packed with people and things to do and all of a sudden your built-in 1000 friends are gone.
“I have a lot of family outside the Hof. People who don’t may have no one to actually turn to. Obviously this website is a help and I also found non-family, non-former-Bruders to help as well.”
If you don’t have a good family member on the outside to turn to, consider asking for a mentor. “Talking to an ex-Hofer and comparing your story is not only therapeutic but also helps organise your own thoughts. You start actually seeing how ludicrous the whole thing is and move on slowly. Also when kids start figuring out college,etc they will have someone to advise them. And no one is better at doing this drill than those who did it before.”
Reach out any time to firstname.lastname@example.org
“The hardest thing for me to deal with was the emotional part of being alone and having so little to do with my time that was constructive. I was really lonely and although I quickly developed a routine of going to the gym and hanging out with coworkers or walking by the river, I honestly had no idea how I would possibly move on from that. I cried every night for a month. I got really good advice from outside family to basically cut out all the sentimental bull shit and move on. The sooner you can move on the better and stop thinking about it”
That’s from a very recent leaver. Old timers will say that decades later you will likely still be dealing with it and that at some point processing it with other people who have left the hof is very useful. You can’t just bury a problem like this. Like Jack’s magic beans it can lead to a whole heap of trouble! (maybe that is what that story was about!) But in the short run, make yourself get up and do something useful. Look forward, not backwards for the most part.
If you think it would be useful to have a mentor/friend who has been through this just write to us and ask. email@example.com
On Social Life
Be wary of people’s motives! The community didn’t teach me much about stranger danger or how to advocate for myself. I found myself in uncomfortable and even dangerous sexual situations throughout my first year of college because I didn’t know how to say no to people. I had to teach myself to be assertive. Being selfless and self-effacing might work in the Shalom group but it has no place in the social sphere of today. It will only make you look like prey to unscrupulous men. Own your weaknesses and strengths and learn to use them. I no longer worry about feeling rude when I am uncomfortable with a situation. I speak my mind and make an exit. I’d much rather be known as a bitch than a pushover.
With regard to friendships – some people may want to accessorize you when they hear your story – i.e. “This is my cult friend!” That type of behavior makes me uneasy. I do not like to be reduced to my background, especially when that is such a small part of who I am today. Friendships should be supportive and uplifting, and involve a mutual give and take. Don’t feel bad about being selective with whom you give your time to. You don’t need negativity to bog you down while you are building your new life. Say adios to the haters and don’t look back.
Staying safe: women
There are good genuine people out there, and I hope you find them all. But there are a lot of terrible things that can happen if you don’t look out for yourself. Don’t go to unfamiliar places by yourself and at night. If you must travel alone at night text a friend or family member that you are en route or keep them on the phone with you. Do not listen to music while you walk, put your hair up or wear your hood/hat, and adopt a masculine gate. Keep your head up and your vision wide. There is no shame in crossing the street if you are scared and maybe speed walk if you can.
Contraceptive (avoiding pregnancy) is on you. Get on the pill or get an implant and carry condoms with you. It’s your body, so don’t trust its health to anyone else but you. If your sexual preference is to go out and sleep over with people you recently met, have a survival kit in your bag: The morning after pill, condoms, vaginal wipes, comfy shoes, toothbrush, portable phone charger, and emergency cash.
Learn to trust your gut! If something doesn’t feel right, get out of there and put a stop to it. The worst thing that can happen is you are wrong. There is no shame when it comes to protecting yourself. Be aware that in this culture it’s better to watch out for yourself first and be vocal about your opinions. Subtle sexism is a thing, and when you’re programmed to be seen and not heard it’s difficult to get respect.
Think what you – YOU – want, like, feel etc. You do not have to ‘fit in’ by going into bars, clubs, etc. That might be too harsh a learning ground. You can look at joining an athletics club, yoga, swimming etc. There are ALL SORTS of ways to begin to integrate into the outside world without compromising your own good judgement and taste.
Loving a leaver
For any significant other of a recent leaver, you should understand that they will be in the middle of a major culture change for many years. Try to learn as much as you can about where they come from and stay in close touch with how they are feeling. You may be close to your family and be confused about why they have limited contact. They often have conflicted feelings about relationships, sex, marriage. Rushing into a commitment in the middle of this process may be problematic. At least have your eyes wide open. Many have found it problematic entering a serious relationship with a recent leaver. Others have done it well.
Raising a family
There is no right or wrong way to raise a family. There are strategies that are more toxic or unhealthy than others, but it’s your family, your life, and you need to learn what your way is. There are parenting books and websites/articles out there that may match exactly how you want to make your journey, or the books will describe exactly what you don’t want. Pick and choose, create your own way. Once you and your significant other decide you are ready to add to your family you should discuss your personal dos and don’ts and must haves. The promotion of communication is vital in all parts of life.
Try to avoid having children before you intend to. It is shockingly easy to become a parent. And shockingly hard to be one.