Recovering from the Gods of Higher Education (to retrieve your soul)

Tanya Taylor Rubinstein
4 min readAug 30, 2021


I always said that education was God in my family. Despite the fact that I was pathologized and labeled as having ADHD (the “wrong” kind of learning style, according to the system), and despite my mother and other family members revering academia and having advanced degrees, it was my failure in those educational systems, not my success, that moved our family story forward.

As a child with a brain that didn’t sync up with academic systems designed to force my wild genius and creative, systemic, connection-based expression into crisp, tight, clean boxes which harmed me, and where I did not want to live, my life has been devoted to unlearning. I have spent a lifetime unlearning patriarchal conditioning; unlearning theocracy; unlearning white supremacy, inner and outer; and unlearning everything that tried to take me away from my indigenous being, my innate queerness, or the homeland of my own body.

Honoring those that lived on the land before us, and the bones of the dead crackling under our feet, happens naturally if we are able to remember our authentic sexuality, our authentic spiritual nature, and our authentic, inherent, aliveness through our bodies. Alive, radical connection to everything everywhere is available to us, including a deep connection to the land within which we find ourselves today. Even those of us whose ancestors have not lived in their actual homeland for generations still have access to our full somatic intelligence. To access our truth in this way requires a commitment to turning our backs and walking away from every family system, educational system, and institution that would make us feel less than whole.

When I was 19, I got kicked out of the most prestigious acting school in the country not because there was a fault with my acting or any kind of lacking in my creative gifts, but because I had misogynistic teachers. There was an older woman in particular who hated many of the young women; those of us who she couldn’t break within the system, she tried to break by exiling from the system. The burning shame of that exclusion caused me suffering for years. But in retrospect, I have nothing but gratitude for my release from that prison and the hoops I’d been jumping through to prove my worth.

Eight years later at age 27, I was kicked out of New York City by the city itself. I was flailing, barely keeping my head above water in survival mode, and overwhelmed by life, including the AIDS crisis. As much as I tried, I couldn’t function. I’d dreamed of flying high over desert highways, and one day, sitting in a friend’s backyard in Queens, I heard a whisper, “Go to Santa Fe.” I whispered back, “I trust you, whisper, more than I trust anyone in my life.” And off I went, to a place I had never been but whose name I recognized. As far as I could tell, my leaving didn’t make sense to anyone, but I didn’t need it to. I left because of a longing in my soul.

The rules are different in New Mexico. It’s as close to living in another country as you can get in America. Many neurodivergents and exiles from families and other countries end up there; the land itself calls to people. The story I walked out in New Mexico was gritty, hard, dusty, long, depth-embracing, beautiful, and sublime — a magical return and remembrance. It gave me everything, including a sense of homeland within myself. Although my genetic bloodline was originally from Northern Europe, Ireland, Scotland, England, France, my liveliness and my connection to kin was activated on indigenous land, where native people have survived, in the high desert.

I spent 30 years in the desert remembering who I am, including my sexuality, my queerness, and my own indigenous nature unto itself, all of which had been erased over hundreds of years of colonization. An indigenous queer nature of loving trans people and my nonbinary sexuality matching with a nonbinary gender were a deeply personal remembrance of authenticity. I developed an unwillingness to settle for less than the truth of everything.

My ability to be wrong and to unlearn on deeper and deeper levels was also present, as was my ability to meet trauma and my ability to be relevant to this moment on Earth as all the poisons of all the systems bubble up to the surface for reconciliation and release. Catholicism and the filth of the church robbing us of our true divine nature are global systems that allow for sexual abuse, violence, rape, and hatred of all things feminine. Destruction of the earth herself comes from these culturally approved and culturally sanctioned systems.

I want to close with this: if you are against anti-Semitism and the protection of Jewish children but do not have the same love in your heart for Palestinian children and their right to belong on their portion of the earth, you have not yet unraveled your queer nature. If you do not have the same feeling of warmth for indigenous lives as you do for black lives, you have not yet unspooled your indigenous nature. If you are joyfully living as a gay man or lesbian, happy to have your rights for marriage, but do not extend that same warmth and feeling for transgender women, you have not yet lived into your authentic nature.

I cannot imagine what life would be like had I tried to make myself fit into systems that hated me. If it does not elicit feelings of wholeness, and if there is not a place for everyone in a system, I’m not interested.

This may exile me from religions of all kinds, cultural identities, and familial acceptance, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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