Vice – 22nd August 2018
The fascinating story of former Jehovah’s Witness turned barber
Steeve tells us about his journey, where masses, drugs, door-to-door and raves meet with Jehovah’s Witnesses.
In an indoor truck tagged with graffiti, Emeric sits on a used chair, while Steeve hangs a mirror half to the plywood wall. He pulls out an electric razor, a comb, covers his friend with a cloak, sprinkles it with a little water and shaves his hair, cuts his beard.
With the stifling heat of summer falling on Montreal, the buzz of the razor blends into the song of the cicadas.
With shoulder-length hair, a full beard, a cap and skateboarding, a look away from Sunday’s preacher’s preacher, Steeve has nothing from Jehovah’s Witness until he was 28 years old.
Now 35 years old, he puts friends and friends of friends in his vehicle, organizing himself through a secret Facebook group. Everything is a bit clandestine: there is no indication that the bourgogne truck parked in Saint-Henri serves as a barber’s salon; even less house.
Yet this is where Steeve now lives, himself inhabited by an insatiable desire for freedom.
He spent his childhood under the yoke of a religion that prevented him from being fulfilled, and all his life he tried to combine his ideal of perfection and his deep spirit of rebellion.
Today he bears the stigma of a stifling life, but he manages to quietly heal his wounds on the margins of society – albeit surrounded by friends – aboard his “rolling bunker”.
Religion full time
Steeve’s parents are religious fervents “who do not have their high school two”. One is a housewife, the other is a worker in a bolt and nut factory. Formerly Catholics, they made the choice to become Jehovah’s Witnesses when their son was only three years old.
Growing up, life was religion, always religion. Sunday, the mass. Tuesday, a mini-mass at home with about thirty Witnesses. Thursday was the Bible study with the family, then the quick toilet to go to a higher mass, impeccable. Door to door, it was twice a week, Wednesday and Saturday. Zealous Witnesses imposed an extra session on Sunday, “for show off “.
“I always hated that,” says Steeve. He recounts with a laugh – and his head – all the terror he felt at the idea of ringing at the girl who interested him. Or, worse, one of his bully .
He went to school like other children, but could not participate in extracurricular activities and had to go home for dinner. Witness friends could come to visit him, and they had the right to ride a bike, but around the house, or skateboard, in the yard.
Listen to the Simpsons when coming home from school? Do not even think about it. Bart Simpson, the very figure of the rebellion, was demonized during Masses. Steeve says listening to the show was his biggest fantasy, but even hiding in the basement with the sound of TV at the bottom, he was always caught by his mother.
The guitar, he had the right to play, “as long as you do not stand out too much.” All English-language scores were to be read and approved by the priests. Bryan Adams, it goes, Pink Floyd, refused. Genesis, no to the prog period, but yes to the Phil Collins period.
When her older cousins came to visit the house, they secretly taught her forbidden tunes, like those of Nirvana.
Steeve wanted above all else his parents to notice that he stood out. “I wanted my parents to realize that I could do something other than talk ahead [during Masses] and go preaching. All I wanted was for my mother to say, “Heille, you’re good.” “Which was not obvious, he testified bitterly, in a community where humility is forced.
“My parents could not emphasize my blows,” he says, because it would encourage him to turn away from the right path. “The more activities you do, the less you read the Bible, the less you will preach, the more you become vulnerable to bad influences. ”
Adult age, age of rebellion
The rebellion began in adolescence.
The young Steeve had only one desire: to be like everyone else. At school, he was forced back into the garbage cans, ridiculed, treated as a virgin because he was a Witness. There was only one solution: to become the best in everything – skateboarding, music, snowboarding – to gain the respect of his peers.
At age 15, stronger with a newly acquired social recognition, he became “anti-authority”. He slammed the door and fled to go skate despite the objections of the parents. On his skateboard, he was purging his rage against them. Returning to blood hours later, it was a way of saying to her mother, “Look, you do not care about me. ”
After high school, Steeve enrolled in a DEP of industrial design, not far from home. And, returned to his internship, everything has messed up. Steeve has an ADHD: in a professional environment, planted in front of a computer, it’s gone in a ball.
He who bet on perfection was overwhelmed by a “mega feeling of failure”, then by a burnout. He was arrested for drinking and driving. Without a license, at the bottom of Marieville, he could not stand it any longer and only wanted to “décâlisser”. On a whim, in half a day, he set sail for Quebec, savoring the vengeance of seeing his father crying his departure.
He settled in the Saint-Roch district, with five roommates Jehovah’s Witnesses. And for the first time in his life, he tasted freedom. His early bullshit was in his early twenties that he started doing them, at the same time he was taking his hairdressing course.
He frequented Witnesses artists, musicians and homosexuals-without the say. In secret, they sinned in gangs, and they sinned solid. At 22, Steeve smoked his first joint and lost his virginity.
Their loft turned into hedonistic omerta, “the” place of party for the Quebec Witnesses, a “small secret society in the sect” for believers like no other.
They remained religious despite everything: they met on Sunday morning at mass, trying to hide that they were completely hangover .
“I will not hide it was fun in este, because you’re always in the thrill to do something forbidden, but, basically, there is nothing really bad,” says Steeve after a long laugh. He says they do not miss a weekend of debauchery.
Throughout his twenties, when it was time to preach from door to door, he and his friends managed to find themselves in a car and listen to good music, doing everything in half, have fun he has to tell. They stopped for a long time at the restaurant, they drove about forty minutes to visit a person who had already accepted a periodical.
“Finally, in two hours, we made four addresses instead of 80. This is the version” double life “to pretend, to accumulate hours at the end of the month, and that no one makes us shit. ”
The only downside: there was always a climate of suspicion between religious, even among sinners. According to Steeve, the Witnesses are always on the lookout for what everyone is doing, always spying on each other. “Your best friend can be your informer. ”
Between rebellion and repentance
It’s not easy to follow the thread of Steeve’s life. Sitting in the truck, where he burned a bat and some cigarettes, it took him an hour (and I, seven pages) only to make the chronology of his career changes, removals and excommunications.
He says that deep down he always knew he wanted to leave the Witnesses. But at the same time he lived a need to excel, to be irreproachable before God. At one point he cried daily because he felt “full of sins”.
Upon his return to Marieville, he himself appeared before a disciplinary committee to atone for the evil in him. He confessed everything: drugs, alcohol, sex and even the strong doubt he had about religion – serious offenses. Everything except his homosexual experiments, which he did not dare to disclose.
“I cried hot tears, completely humiliated. I said everything except what happened with a guy. I was bored for months after, wondering if I should have told them. ”
Because of the recurrence and severity of his sins, he was excommunicated.
Steeve stayed with his parents, determined to reintegrate the community. When his excommunication was announced, the Witnesses stopped speaking to him and met his eyes. He attended masses twice a week, sitting in a chair out of the way. The masquerade lasted six months before Steeve could do more.
He fled, moved into a tiny two and a half in the Gay Village of Montreal, with a couple of former homosexual Witnesses met in Quebec City. He started out in gay bars, enjoying the new Montreal electro scene, taking coke, smoking two grams of weed every day.
He spent less than a year on the party before being fed up with the superficiality of the environment he attended. In search of answers, there was no great philosophy to put in their mouths.
He sank into depression, and seriously thought about suicide.
His mother picked him up, dragged him to the hospital. And his doctor said something that marked him. “He said,” I am an atheist, but I envy people who have faith, because it becomes a buoy in the difficult existence. “I thought, if this guy tells me that, it’s is that he must have no answers anywhere. I was so depressed. ”
Completely lost, Steeve figured that perhaps Jehovah’s Witnesses actually had the answers to his existential crisis. And his sister was about to give birth; as an excommunicated he could not have seen his nieces, and that weighed heavily on him.
He returned to the community at age 24.
New start, new slip
“The day my re-entry to the community was announced, I knew I would never stay there forever,” says Steeve. The change of attitude towards him was too abrupt. After two years of rejection, in the tears of happiness and the smiles of gratitude that were instantly addressed to him, Steeve saw only the hypocrisy that gnawed the community. He was disgusted.
Quickly, his lifestyle of bum caught up with him.
With his girlfriend, he started drinking a lot, going to see music shows.
With his Witnesses friends, they continued to go to the parties, which went further. His musician friends composed techno for their underground parties . In gangs, they rented the Bizarre Zoo or the Lambi Club to make raves , which brought together between 50 and 100 Jehovah’s Witnesses, in the greatest secrecy.
“They were just Witnesses, with a techno rave . It’s still fucking absurd! Exclaims Steeve, bursting into laughter.
If it was common to drink together, he was not aware that his best friends were taking acid and mush. “Everyone was doing their little business, even from below the” from below “, having the bitch get hit. It’s ridiculous the same. But it was fun in este. It’s the best parties I’ve ever had. ”
He led this way of life for a few years, but the guilt resurfaced. He and his girlfriend were going to get engaged soon, and Steeve did not want to start the marriage in heresy. He wanted to purify himself. “You’re so in there 24 hours a day that, if you do not do it 100%, it sucks your brain,” he explains. I did it, but it was completely against my will. ”
Throughout his life, Steeve denounced himself before eight disciplinary committees. At last, in what he describes as the most humiliating, Steeve was excommunicated for good.
At age 28, he definitely broke ties with his community.
Life after Jehovah’s Witnesses
Steeve launched into the void. With his friend Alex, they launched in 2013 the salon barber Emporium in the Mile-Ex, which still runs at full throttle today.
The instant success of the trade was too much for Steeve, who quickly began to crack under pressure. Everything was booked three weeks in advance, and he felt less and less in control of himself.
At a certain point, between the customers, he was going to take refuge on the rails of the railway near the shop to smoke; according to him, he could grill up to 25 joints a day.
In eight months, he was still burned.
Overwhelmed by his sense of failure, Steeve fled. At 31, he was trying to disappear. He has held a variety of restaurant and retail jobs, wandering here and there, hoping to come across no familiar faces.
Through all this, he began to style his friends on his balcony. At his own pace. He has built a clientele through his network, and has walked in recent years from balcony to stoop, according to his desires.
The truck, both home and hairdresser, is the fruit of these wandering years. After a crowdfunding campaign where he offered cutting packages, Steeve was able to afford his dream vehicle. When he wants to, he finds himself alone, far from the eyes of others or with his family.
It’s quite recent elsewhere: he got his truck in July. He still has some renovations to do: he has to isolate it by the time the cold bit of winter sets in.
And if he works in what he calls “gray areas” for the moment, he is doing his steps to enter the legality.
Today, Steeve is free from religion, but he keeps some marks. He must conjugate with the rejection of his parents, whom he has only seen three times in the last six years. They did not come to see him when he was repairing his truck at his cousin’s garage in Marieville.
His mother always calls him once a month to discuss, but superficially. He knows they will never talk again as before, and he is at peace with this situation. He always tells her I love you; she does not.
He is no longer a Witness, but his education still teases his subconscious. His sexuality is still murky. He is just starting to have no more flashbacks from his mother, his nieces, his guilt that prevents him from reaching orgasm. And often, at night, the nightmares of armageddon come back to haunt him.
At least he is not alone. He has his friends, and his sister and two nieces, who left the Witnesses soon after him.
At the wheel of his “rolling bunker”, he moves forward, and he rebuilds quietly. And he enjoys freedom, even if being free is not always simple.
“There are a lot of people who meet me, who tell me that they have never seen someone as free as me. What I tell them is that freedom has a price – very expensive. When you are not “free”, you have responsibilities, but you have what you build. You have someone who loves you, someone at four o’clock in the morning, when you have a nightmare. I do not have anything of that. I have nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing . I have 25 stacks, and my truck. ”
When I left Steeve, he was about to drop anchor at Verdun, to spend the evening skating.
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