File 0037-0038: Theo the Knight
In 1999, Theo had found their niche in the Final Fantasy 7 fandom, writing fanfic and creating fanart about the unpopular villain: Hojo. They would rise to some notoriety in this small community, leading them to make dozens of new friends, among them: Aeris and Jack (Hojo). This close-knit community would become a bright point in Theo's life, unfortunately it was also the flame that would attract Jen. Welcome to the next chapter in the Jen Saga
Content Warning: this story contains descriptions of childhood verbal and physical abuse, abusive relationships, self-harm, suicidal ideation and struggles with mental health
"I knew them both unfortunately [...] They got their hooks in me when I was 17 in 1999. By 2003 I was a non-person"
I had been loosely aware of Theo's story for some time, but their story was an elusive one, mentioned only in fragments here and there. I didn't know exactly what happened, but the way that other survivors talked about it (which was barely at all) I could tell that the scars ran deep
I wouldn't learn much more until a friend from the Tattle Crime discord shared a conversation they had with Theo with me. From that I discovered a story of heartbreak and cruelty one that had shaken Theo's very foundations. While Icarus had only known Jen and Jack for little over a year and Eliot, a couple months, Theo on the other hand had known them for years and their relationship with them was far more complicated than I could've ever imagined
This story stuck with me as I continued to do my research and interviews. As I have been trying to trying to cover this saga chronologically, I was faced with a decision: Did I cover Theo's story, knowing that they had tried to stay out of the spotlight as much as possible and knowing a fraction of the trauma they endured? Last thing I wanted to do was retraumatize them or dredge up a past they had tried so hard to escape, but also their story was one of incredible strength and inspiration.
I debated this internally for some time before finally making the decision to reach out. I made it clear that participation was completely voluntary and if they'd rather me not cover anything at all I would respect that
To my surprise Theo got back to me nearly right away. They were clear from the start that they didn't know if this was something they could do. They already had been burned once before when they were asked to open up and tell their story and even if it had been ten years since their escape the world wide web had a history of not being kind to them and other survivors
But Theo was also friends with Icarus, and if Icarus had been willing to talk with me, they decided to at the very least to entertain the idea
The ADHD manic pixie people-pleaser in me wants to sit bolt upright and volunteer every last bit of information I can dredge out, but I'm also very much feeling my age these days, and the cost of what re-traumatization does. I don't know what could trigger me, and I've only just been able to get a grip on how not to retraumatize myself in a general manner in regards to this incident. It still amazes me that I walked away from this somewhat in tact, and the fact that I was able to regain general lucidity enough to be able to return to work in 2005 and onwards.
I would love to be seen as someone other than a victim, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart for being so respectful.
I think people like Jen are multiplying these days and it's important work to call it out to warn people that stuff like this can happen. Warning people about fandom cults is more relevant than it's ever been before, especially during the pandemic.
that, Theo would take me on a 2-month journey
To understand how Jen was able to worm her way into Theo's defenses it's important to understand who Theo was
In the early 1980's, Nanette and Brian gave birth to their first child, Theo. Two years later, Theo's sibling Aidan would follow and the family would spend those early years together in the small Maryland town they called home
From the outside they probably looked like any other lower-middleclass family, but as is the case with many households, things aren't always as they seem. Aidan and Theo never really saw eye to eye, Aidan embracing their more feminine attributes, while Theo was hungry to not be defined that way.
Both of the siblings were assigned female at birth, but Theo knew very early on that they were different from other kids, though it would be quite some time before they really understood what that meant, but it was okay, their parents encouraged them to be their unique self from an early age
Nanette worked a very stable but highly demanding job during the midnight shift, making her mostly unavailable during the day, leaving a lot of the caretaking to Brian
Brian was creative and practical, but control was something he struggled with on a daily basis. Theo and Aidan were like any children, sometimes they made messes, got into stuff they weren't supposed to or were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Most parents, while maybe a little annoyed would take this opportunity to educate, Brian's default became verbal outrage the more he was pushed out of his comfort zone.
We both really loved our father because he was the most entertaining of either of our parents, so he got our attention the most while mom was asleep, but when he got angry, he would yell so much we could see the veins in his forehead, and I think after too many times of him not being able to handle chaotic children, with the intention of the protection of our greater psyches, my mother divorced my father
After The Divorce
Theo was 9 or 10 when their parents divorced, an event that would change the landscape of their childhood dramatically. Nanette would win primary custody, but Brian would have the children on the weekends
Brian took the divorce extremely personally, seemingly have placed all of his self worth and future plans on his marriage. For all his designs and plans, having kids wasn't exactly top of his list, so when Theo and Aidan were born, their father's carefully organized and OCD-esque life came head to head with the natural chaos that is children.
The worst of the yelling stopped when he could just play a dad on the weekends and concentrate on entertaining. Which is why in retrospect, I am glad mom ended up our guardian
I was too busy processing how I felt about the divorce when it happened and was too young to really see, but I'm pretty sure my father suffered a traumatic mental break as a result of it. His worldview was shattered and he turned to trying to make sense of the world through researching alternative belief systems, pseudo-religions and tarot symbology that inspired in me and my sibling a bit of a tendency to try to listen to the rhythm of the universe through synchronicity and a little bit of the occult, which eventually was what allowed Jen to take a strong hold of me when she came into my life. The brand of nihilism he ended up landing on influenced me more than I realized - watching him never strive for anything more than he was given, to have never remarried for fear of having his heart broken again, influenced me to protect myself from heartbreak by not trying anything, which was a dangerous outlook to someone barely 11 years old.
This didn't mean he didn't love his children, but this obsessive need for control and sense of abandonment after his divorce made him a shell of a man with a hair trigger response to stress.
See on the father's side of the family was a long history of depression, OCD, and undiagnosed ADHD
But not every aspect of the divorce was bad
My dad gained an interest in home console video games, so my dad brought home a pre-owned Nintendo with Final Fantasy 1 and Dragon Warrior on it, and the distraction of figuring out how to play through various other titles became a logic puzzle that kept me from getting into messy trouble outside the house.
Of the games I played every weekend at my dad's house, the most notable one that influenced my value system was Final Fantasy 4 (though in 1992 it was called Final Fantasy 2 in the U.S.). I loved the idea of being a noble knight trying to make things right and trying to forgive my best friend after multiple betrayals, and kissing my beloved and also my best friend on the moon.
All of this combined made for a complicated relationship between Theo and their dad.
I used to WORSHIP my dad despite the indelible trauma because he patched it over with apologies and entertainment and essays written after the fact, but the thing about my dad that I realized over time is that he never got anywhere because he was so affected every time he was rejected, and the negativity he carried with him was modeled for me. There were very few other major male role models in my life, so giving up or staying safe became the family standard in my mind.
Brian worked very hard to turn the children on their mother, and a lot of his talking points were true: she was inattentive and neglectful and appeared to choose her job over her family
While Nanette won primary custody of the siblings, she also worked at night, making her largely unavailable to her children and with Brian only getting the kids on the weekend, Theo and Aidan would need to be cared for during the day
I'm not even sure if it was something she did on purpose, but my mother, knowing my grandparents, she took after her father and only ever said anything when it was an emergency, which is why even though we rarely ever saw her, she was a much better and more patient adult while she was asleep than my dad ever was when he was awake
As any parent knows, childcare is not cheap, even in the early 1990s. So to help take care of the siblings Nanette needed to find a regular babysitter, and like many single parents, she turned to the grandparents
While both Nanette's and Brian's parents had raised them with a strict catholic upbringing that they resented, their similarities ended there
Nanette's family was middle-class as opposed to lower-middle class and liked to pretend at being refined, living in a snooty, safe, glaringly white neighborhood. Agnes, the matriarch of the family was strict and cultured and her husband quiet and compliant. If this sounds somewhat familiar, this is exactly the type of behavior that was modeled for Theo and presented as a loving and stable relationship.
My mom's side of the family was much more dour and proper and refined, the sort of people who watched the entertainment and were more likely to be critics and curators, and I distrusted them wholly for it because I thought of myself as an artist at the core for as long as I can remember. They weren't rich, but they had worked hard to get to the point where they could afford to save up and afford a fine thing every now and again, but [Agnes] always played herself up like she was fancier than she actually was.
Meanwhile Brian's family lived in a dangerous, urban neighborhood and didn't have the same means and entertainment at their disposal to care for the kids, but Theo loved them to bits, especially their grandmother Clara.
Dad's side of the family were [...] entertaining and very Italian. I loved this side of the family a lot because they were open and warm and never withheld affection. His mother was the archetypal sweetheart I wished to base myself on before I threw my arms up about my gender. She was never cross with anyone that I ever saw despite being more performatively catholic than my other grandmother, but her path was always the path of peace. It's worth noting that I had a cousin on my father's side that came out as a lesbian and she wasn't shunned from the family that I saw, so the behavior modeled by [Clara] for me made a large impact on how valuable I feel acceptance should be.
My grandfather was a goofball, always trying to impress and make a snappy joke
Despite a closer relationship with Brian's family, Nanette wanted to do what was best for her family and it was just more economical, safe and enriching for the children to stay with their maternal grandparents
Theo's parents had tried hard to encourage their children to think for themselves and embrace the things that made them unique. But this was challenged by their grandmother, Agnes's strict beliefs and insistence that the two children be "normal"
Agnes took every opportunity to criticize and punish the children for not living up to her expectations. If you asked her, she would blame Theo and Aidan, for being ungrateful, disrespectful and lazy. But looking at this today, we know that this behavior is textbook verbal and physical abuse
While Theo was never pushed into catholic school, they received the full fledged catholic guilt upbringing, complete with lectures and spankings that didn't stop until they obeyed without question. Theo was repeatedly told they was too fat, too different, didn't smile enough, didn't sit straight enough or conform enough, and that it was bad to be a punky art kid despite that being their exact aim.
While the bulk of this abuse came from Agnes, her husband never lifted a finger to come to the defense of either of his grandchildren. Grandpa was quiet and kind, and endured the verbal lashings with the same indifference as he had when they were targeted at Theo and Aidan. This made Theo feel like they had no one to turn to, if the man that was married to their grandmother couldn't stand up for himself, how could Theo?
Theo learned to bow their head and obey, and any friend who exhibited even trace amounts of Agnes-like ire was quickly tagged as "stay safe, must obey." Which became a problem in many of Theo's friendships, not just Jen and Jack's.
Theo thinks Agnes's behavior was inherited. They knew that Agnes's own parents were less than stellar role models. Her father had frequently physically beat her and her mother had been an alcoholic.
I was an unmanageably spoiled brat who got to have toys and eat meat when she had to eat onions so her father could be strong enough to work. My grandfather once stopped my grandmother's father from beating her with a belt in broad daylight in public, so there are people who have some sense of justice in my family. They didn't really have therapy back then, and it was impossible to tell how much of the abuse my grandmother internalized permanently, and was doomed to repeat, even unintentionally.
While at home caring for her grandchildren, she was abusive, but at her job she was a well-regarded and motivated woman who had completed college in her 60s. To the outside world she was "model Clinton-era Democrat, pant-suit and all"
As is the case with nearly all abusive relationships, things weren't always bad. Their grandparents did have a pool and a passion for musicals and cinema.
When she wasn't making me fear for my life, I enjoyed being awash in entertainment with them. This is what set me up to be picked up and groomed by the likes of Jen
She took my sibling and I to Broadway once to see Phantom of the Opera in the late 90's and it was really awesome. I think I still have some of the keepsakes from that trip somewhere, a set of gold-plated paperclips and some rose-colored ink that's definitely beet-based.
Part of what kept me agreeing to go places with my grandmother was if not with her, I wouldn't have gotten to travel at all. My parents had to go through a lot of hoops to allow for travel out of state on their own and my dad's side of the family had no wanderlust, but [Agnes] was very aspirational and wanted things, so when she saved up, she planned and made it happen. She could threaten my sibling and I with "you don't get to go to the ocean with us" or "how dare you, I took you to New York once!" Which wasn't so great and that behavior was echoed by Jen with "we took you to dinner once!", but while I was in these new places far away from home, I was there, you know? I can say I got to be at these places and experienced these things instead of my experience being uninterrupted in my room playing video games.
Theo's mom did the best she could, but they by no means were living in the lap of luxury. Theo remembers the years between 4th and 6th grade they lived in a terrible apartment complex in a bad neighborhood
The kids in the neighborhood seemed to resent the background Theo came from and took every opportunity to pick on them so Theo further retreated into themselves.
When they weren't at school, they were inside playing Sega Genesis, watching Star Wars or working on their stories. Their stories became vitally important to them, a way of escaping the world and telling a different narrative than their isolated and lonely life.
In 1994 Theo's mom would move them into a house in the same neighborhood as Agnes, which would become Theo's home for the next 15 years.
Here, they faced similar dejection from the neighborhood kids, but instead of being resented for a more fruitful upbringing, they were looked down upon for their less wealthy background. Theo struggled really hard to make friends and to complicate matters it was around this time they began to realize they were attracted to girls as well.
I also think it was around this time that a character on a popular show came out as gay and I watched in horror as Agnes threw a tirade at the TV for showing lesbians on-screen. The pitch at which she screamed "Lesbians?!" still sits in my heart as one of the many things that made me feel unaccepted by her and her side of the family, even if it wasn't directed at me, it was very painful and just drove home how unsupported I would be if I were to even so much as tell someone, much less act on any of the stuff I was feeling at the time.
It was in 7th grade that Theo met Sannah. Sannah was smart, smug and loved to read and the two became fast friends
We were inseparable goofballs who were obsessed with satire, Final Fantasy and cartoons, and sometimes I feel very bad for growing up from that. We just orbited each other on lollerskates 90's Tiny Toons level manic serotonin despite not letting anyone else in.
She was very well-read, well-spoken, didn't have dyslexia, spelled and pronounced everything correctly, and keeping up with her intellectually actually made me a better person, but her elitist attitude really got grating the closer to reality we both got.
When Theo was 16, they entered the workforce and Sannah really struggled with this. Theo could no longer devote all their free time to her and Sannah had serious misgivings about retail work, preventing her from also gaining that bit of independence, but this isn't the only thing that would begin to drive them apart
Around 8th grade Theo began a 6 month relationship with Matt, a boy from school. Sannah had never expressed romantic interest with anyone at that point and became further miffed at the fact that something else was dividing her best friend's time
And it wasn't just Sannah that seemed to struggle with Theo's relationship. Matt's female friends admonished Theo for "taking Matt off the market" not giving "more worthy girls" a chance with him, which cut into Theo's already shaky self-worth immensely.
It's not like things with Matt were all sunshine and rainbows. Theo had a difficult time with physical intimacy due to other childhood trauma and this wasn't made easier by Matt's perpetually chapped lips and lackluster kissing skills. But this constant idea that Theo wasn't good enough for Matt wore at them.
The final nail in the coffin happened when Theo walked in on Aidan kissing Matt. Theo doesn't remember who ended the relationship, but it didn't last much longer after that. Theo's trust in Matt was broken with that act and it didn't matter who initiated it if Matt allowed it to happen.
The fact that the next person Matt dated was a very popular girl only further drove home the idea that Theo hadn't been worthy to date anyone to begin with
Despite this being for the better, it all hit Theo quite hard, leaving them heart broken and Sannah wasn't quite sure how to deal with this
She wasn't mad at me for getting a boyfriend, but when the dumping happened, I changed from being a simpering goofball Animaniacs character into an increasingly edgy depressed mess, and therefore less fun to be around.
Theo and Sannah remained good friends but this marked the beginning of a change in their relationship
We coasted for a few years, and me getting on the internet kind of put even more of a rift between Sannah and I, but things didn't get unkind until 10th grade, when we both got our greasy little mitts on FF7.
Final Fantasy 7
1997 saw the release of FF7 and it would take the world by storm, so naturally, Sannah and Theo already being big fans of the series couldn't wait to play the new game
I think the origin of things with Sannah all getting worse was because I was out ahead of Sannah in playing and beating FF7, and took to the internet instead of the RP journal [we shared] to talk about it. Sannah would have ended up enjoying FF7 a lot more if I hadn't been so hyper focused on it. My obsession went to a level that was annoying to her, and I didn't want to pivot or move backwards or forwards, so we just stayed annoyed at each other without directly discussing it or attempting to resolve things because we had just always only ever automatically gotten along with each other.
Theo fell head first into the online FF7 fandom and found themselves not only participating in discussions but also creating fanart and writing fanfic. But there was one particular character they found themselves focusing on: Hojo
Hojo was a villain, a mad scientist responsible for experimenting on soldiers and making Sephiroth. Not the typical character you would expect someone to relate to, but for Theo, they picked up on the sparse information of Hojo's past and saw someone that had seen true tragedy and this was something Theo could relate to
Last thing they expected though, was Sannah's reaction
I can't speak to how she processed reacting to Hojo, but I thought I was the smartest and most empathetic person alive because I sensed some pain in Hojo's past and was absolutely convinced he was just as smitten with Lucrecia as Vincent Valentine was. It was an important time in my life because in disagreeing with Sannah, it was the first time I had ever really pushed back on anyone I was in a long term friendship with.
There was also a very detached sense of identity I found writing as an unpopular character (Hojo) that had some in-universe power that was on the level with or over with the popular character (Vincent). I was also very secretly but not so secretly crushy on Lucrecia because I thought she was pretty, but because I couldn't identify with or as Vincent Valentine (I was rebuffed by his popularity and associated him with the girl Matt replaced me with), and I was canon-sueing as Hojo, my ship was Hojo x Lucrecia, and that both fascinated and disgusted a lot of people I came across.
Hojo was much less a character from a video game to me than he was a symbol of my personal freedom before he became associated with Jen's otherkin trap. He was also a symbol of my introductory journey into maturity. He was a crazy font of inspiration and a way to kind of wiggle my way into thought spaces where I could briefly imagine myself as a man who didn't have to care about the feelings of others, which was diametrically the opposite of my experience IRL of having to play a femme people pleaser whether it was healthy or not.
What I got out of it was I was able to balance out how absolutely powerless the real world always left me feeling
Theo had changed, even their writing and art showed drastic differences in style and subjects. The tone became darker and they grew more and more interested in exploring this complex character. And with this they found their own niche.
Hojo wasn't a popular character by any means. It's natural for teenagers especially to be drawn to villains, the idea of them being misunderstood and the often immense power they tended to wield was a common fantasy for many a young person that was a little different. But where Sephiroth was incredibly popular with his classic badass-ery, conventional attractiveness and long, flowing silver hair, Hojo had a much smaller fanbase
Because of this, Theo's work stood out. They were a prolific writer and artist and was always posting and interacting with the community, so it wasn't long before other Hojo fans were drawn to them
The pieces of fanfiction I wrote about Hojo were about me expressing my emotions through a character I cared about even though it was a fantasy directed in a solitary manner. They were a way of screaming about how much pain I was in as a teenager, influenced by all the other dramatic stories I absorbed on [Agnes's] couch. But despite the feeling of power this gave me, it was fleeting because I was alone and feeling the crushing weight of loneliness the closer I got to age 18.
Theo would end up writing a very popular fanfiction centered around Hojo. One wherein Hojo was given a second chance and a new body. Around this time as well they had begun learning how to make websites, to make a place to host their stories. And people loved it!
It was like night and day. Not only was I getting the level of attention I'd always hoped for since I was 5, it was also backfilling the years of doing without. It also made me want to be very, very online, which Sannah also didn't really like. This completely broke the pure unbroken chain of me and maybe like 10 IRL friends orbiting around Sannah that was my entire friend circle. My level of connection with people went from living in a cave and visiting the village every now and then to feeling like a rockstar for saying things people thought were brave, crazy or different.
It would be around this time that Theo would meet Jack. While Jack had never played FF7, he really appreciated Theo's writing
When I first met Jack, I thought he was amazing. Even though he was only one year older than me, he seemed to have so much of his shit together. His parents had gotten them to go to a for-real college, he was much more open about his non-standard sexuality and gender expression, and I really admired that about him and wanted to be more like him. I leaned very, very hard into the "senpai!" gig with him.
I adored Jack, and I was looking very badly to fill the gap in my heart Sannah had left when I stopped being friends with her. Jack respected me and I loved listening to him. He was very cool and knew a lot of cool stuff I wanted to know, too.
Through Jack, Theo would also meet Aeris.
I respected her a lot at the time. She liked FF4 more than I did, which was saying something in the year 1999. I read enough about her old essays about soulbonding enough to be polite about it, but internally I kind of hand-waved it. I was a writer, of course the characters I write with live in my head.
The three became friends, despite Theo living all the way in Maryland while the other two lived in Pennsylvania, the internet made the distance negligible.
Like Theo, Aeris was also a big fan of FF7,
At the time, Jack was more of a general fandom person, and between me and Aeris, we both kind of drummed up enough hype for FF7 that Jack finally bit, though with begrudging amusement.
Jack would play FF7 and would become hooked, also finding the same appreciation that Theo had for the villain, Hojo. Jack ran a webhosting service and did freelance webdesign at the time and would offer to host Theo's fanfiction and art. It wouldn't be long after that Jack would make Hojo.org, a webshrine dedicated to Hojo
This would be the flame that would draw Jen into their lives
It would be late 1999/early 2000 when Jack would receive an email
Apparently Jen thought that every beat of that particular Hojo fic synced up with her personal life perfectly, and it was like I knew her. She reached out to Jack thinking he was me, and I got an email forwarded to me from Jen dripping in such high praise that my burned out and untrusting emotional senses refused to think of it as genuine, but I wanted to believe. I thanked her in a professional way for the praise and sort of filed the information on Jen as, "fan of mine, a bit too enthusiastic." Little did I know what was about to hit me.
Jen would respond, quickly going into a story about her ex and her feelings. Theo didn't know how to respond to this sudden outpour of emotions and personal information, so they ignored the email for a bit, before eventually responding.
I felt uncomfortable with Jen, this stranger, dumping her dirty laundry on me out of the blue [...]. Before she left California, she was always talking about suicide and about self-harm and about how things were bad for her.
As if disappointed that Theo didn't immediately engage with her or respond with the same enthusiasm, Jen's interest drifted to Jack. The two began to communicate on a regular basis and before anyone knew it, Jen had wormed her way into their small corner of the fandom and Theo's friend group which included Aeris and Jack
Aeris was much more critical of Jen than anyone in that friend group at the time. Jack had been her friend at first and Jen had just moved in on them out of nowhere and made a lot of room for herself there. Jack was not used to being engaged and flattered in the way Jen was with them, so they were magnetized. Aeris saw it before really anyone else did.
Despite Theo's suspicions and Aeris's wariness, Jen became a fixture in the community, making friends and enemies wherever she went
Jen has a way of being able to garner peoples' attention whether it's functionally positive or negative. Just as long as she's the one engaged and entertained by it. At first I was willing to give her the benefit of the doubt because she too grew up in a way that made it hard for her to make friends and truly like herself
Jen also brought something else with her: the idea of being the reincarnation of a fictional character. While Aeris had coined the concept of soulbonding in the group, it wasn't a belief system she had ever tried to force on anyone else. But that wasn't the case with Jen
The more the thought of "okay but seriously this character is you and you're a reincarnation of someone important who is also your favorite character" was pushed on me, the more I was conflicted about it. It interrupted the ability to be brutal in my writing, because that shifted the narrative from "I'm writing about intense things to assuage the lack of power in my real life" to "If I write like how I used to write, it's going to look like I willingly hurt these people who live in my head, and I'm not an unkind person, so I must stop writing the way I used to so I remain that good person."
Jen quickly assigned characters from her favorite media to all her friends, the most prominent one being FF7. Jen became Jenova, Aeris became Aeris and Jack became Hojo. Since Jen was vehemently against the idea of "doubles" Theo couldn't be Hojo anymore, which created some tension, as Jen was insistent that Theo was someone else and they just needed to figure out who
At the time, even though I was a little bit jealous that Jack got to be Hojo, I still cared a lot more about him than I did Jen, and it showed, and that infuriated her
And that wasn't it
So here's the thing about Aeris. I respected her theories and never blunt-force trauma went to refute them.
Jen pulled a lot of Aeris's soulbonding stuff into her own way of doing things, but it was very derivative and used in a way to further ensnare Jack, so even before the account detailed on the warning site happened, Aeris was angry.
The way Jen copied Aeris's soulbonding stuff and retrofit it to fit her needs was the thing that Jen pushed on me. Jen convinced me, at least for a little while, that because I didn't acknowledge the characters who were in my head were going through pain, that I was some kind of abuser myself, and I didn't want to be seen as an abuser, so I stopped writing for myself while I was under the sway the most. But since I derived personal power and a small measure of internet clout and a friend network from my writing, what she really did was disable one of my ways of self-healing [...]
Meanwhile, things with Sannah were not improving and this was tearing Theo apart
[Jack] encouraged me to take care of my own needs and they were clearly not being met as they were with Sannah's reactions to what I was doing, and that meant a lot to me in the year 2000, and became part of the reason why I cared so much about following him, even if it also meant Jen was going to be there, even if Jen was varying degrees of garbage.
It wasn't long before it was revealed that Jen and Jack had entered a relationship. Which only made untangling Jen's narrative all the more complicated
When I looked at Jen and Jack back then, I saw what I thought was true love, and I thought it was beautiful, but I was only looking in from the outside. Jen created interest in herself based on her very loud overtures of interacting very publicly with Jack online. I really just wanted to be able to spend more time with Jack, but Jen took up so much space.
By the time Jen had him by the everything, he was repeating her words like gospel. There was even this really weird thread where Jen called herself God in a kind of Dogma the Movie way, which signified to me that Jen had Jack by some core pre-existing religious beliefs
Jen's insistence that Jack was Hojo and that I put my own perception of Hojo away or on the back burner or behind me nearly broke me, and my stubborn insistence in not surrendering my house god to her made her change tactics in a way I don't think anyone saw coming, but it also outlined very clearly that she was a manipulator.
Looking back, Theo can't help but wonder, if they had engaged with Jen in those early emails the way that Jen had expected, was it possible that it would've been them that wound up trapped in a relationship with her?
I remember a bunch of sleepless nights over AIM where Jen was talking about self-harming. I put a lot of energy into talking her down, and she told me herself that she was going to go and live with Jack. I was both simultaneously jealous that Jen got to live with Jack and relieved that this would mark the end of having to talk her down. It also made me think that living with Jack would be very cool. (It would not be!) It was remarked upon several times that "it could have been me" that Jen ended up with if I "had just pushed harder in the beginning for it" But I never really wanted it, and Jen only responds to direct and sustained interest in her.
Jen's Home Life
Cayla's Side Note
The way Jen phrased things, her home life in California/Oregon was horrible, her mother was some sort of controlling monster. But whether that was true or not is heavily debated. Having spoken with someone that knew her while she lived with her mom in Oregon at this time and even met her, her mother sounded like a lovely woman that really just wanted the best for her daughter. But perception is a tricky thing
Knowing Jen's penchant for portraying her life as tragic for sympathy, it's highly probable that things at home were really not bad. She likely just wanted to be free of parental guidance and to live with someone that was going to worship her and seek to fulfill her every need
Jen Moves to Pennsylvania
Sure enough in 2001, Jen would get a bus ticket, taking her from her mom's place to State College Pennsylvania
I was relieved that Jen got out of her bad situation and that it meant the end of the late night suicide IMs. At first, Jen and Jack seemed to have found a perfect space for each other and had entered a loving relationship, and seeing what I thought I saw as a loving relationship from afar, I do admit I was jealous of both of them. [...] Of course, this view was only from the outside, and I had no way to know what was actually going on.
That winter, someone new would join the little fandom group
Around this time is when I also made acquaintances with Icarus and Zar. At the time, Jack, Zar and Icarus were people I held in very high regard and got along with almost effortlessly. Zar's and Icarus's energy reminded me of the zany cartoony fun times I used to have with Sannah and I'm really glad I've stayed friends with Zar and Icarus, distant as things may have become.
The following summer, Icarus would move in with Jen and Jack. Around this time Theo had pulled away somewhat from Jen and Jack and wasn't aware of what was happening while Icarus was there
Around this time Aeris would leave the group and not long after Icarus would escape. Once on the outside Icarus eventually contacted Theo and began to let them in on what had happened
Theo believed it, and it made them all the more concerned about Jack and wanting to get him out. So Theo waded back into the pool
I knew Icarus was badly affected by his time living with Jen and Jack. I think I was roped a little too deep and determined to try to stick close to Jack, but I didn't air my suspicions about Jen too loudly. Hearing the small parts of what I'd heard from Icarus also increased my suspicions about Jen, but in order to get close enough to Jack, going in guns blazing was not something I had the guts for, and unfortunately Jen had me confused and ensnared before I could do anything. Jen had me thinking moment to moment in brain-meltdown mode and I never really gave myself a chance to cool down, check facts or check in with people.
Getting Jack out wasn't the only thing on Theo's mind though, as things with Sannah had escalated to a head
The Falling Out with Sannah
Things with Sannah had continued to only grow rockier the deeper into the fandom that Theo got and Jen saw this weakness
Jen was convinced that Sannah was abusive despite the fact that I was in love with her (I didn't think of myself as romantically in love with my high school best friend until Jen suggested it, and I was angry enough at Sannah that I was inclined to believe Jen instead of my own instincts). After a particularly terse set of interactions with Sannah, I exploded and begged her to stop being mean to me because I loved her.
it was a full-on anime love confession! It was so cringe, looking back on it. She was very offended and freaked out and said that it was weird and awful to be thought of romantically by me. I needed to be separated from Sannah one way or another for the pain to end between us, but in retrospect, the way I did it was needless, and I wish I had not listened to Jen at all.
The resulting fight with Sannah ended in me stopping talking to her for a while, and with me coming out to my parents that I was at least bisexual. Both of them were very accepting of it because it was abstract, but I didn't bother trying to out myself to the rest of my family because the memory of [Agnes] screaming "lesbians?!" was seared into the back of my subconscious.
Effectively removing Theo's main anchor to the real world, Jen had Theo exactly where she wanted him: vulnerable, desperate and alone
Around winter 2002 Theo would begin to make trips out to State College to visit Jack and Jen. Things with Jen had been tense for a long time, but there was no relationship with Jack if Jen wasn't involved, so Theo had to do their best to deal with her
The first trip from Maryland to Pennsylvania was with another of Theo's high school friends, Lydia. During this trip, Jen tried to pretend to be the Lucrecia from Theo's story so they could be their own Hojo
In the game, about 30 years before the start of the game, Lucrecia is a scientist that ends up working on the Jenova Project with Hojo. With this being a highly valued and somewhat dangerous project, Shinra assigns someone to protect the scientists, Vincent Valentine, one of the characters that can join your party.
It is strongly implied that Vincent and Lucrecia had some form of a romantic relationship, until Vincent finds out that she was culpable in his father's death. She's overcome with guilt and turns to Hojo and Vincent leaves, only wanting her to be happy. But it's implied that she becomes depressed after this, never really returning to her old self
She ends up marrying Hojo and becomes pregnant. She and Hojo agree to put Jenova cells into their unborn child. This had unexpected side effects, making Lucrecia experience great pain and hallucinations
She would have the baby only to have it immediately taken away from her. This child would grow up to be Sephiroth. After losing her child she would attempt to kill herself
In Theo's story, Hojo had dearly loved Lucrecia, but Lucrecia had not-so-secretly truly loved Vincent Valentine. So Lucrecia haunts Hojo, criticizing him and calling him a monster
So when Jen initiated this roleplay it took Theo by surprise, but their interaction ended abruptly due to a car accident that occurred while Lydia was driving. No one was hurt, but the trip was cut short, and Theo was left wanting more of the kind of interaction that got cut short.
During the second trip is when Jen got more serious about trying to integrate Theo into her sphere. Theo had proven to be trustworthy, so Jen revealed her narrative to them.
In this narrative, where Jenova had actually been an alien princess that crash-landed to the FF7 planet during the age of the Cetra (a powerful previous civilization that existed thousands of years prior to the game) and that Hojo's past self was King of the Cetra and married to Jenova, making Jack this King. Not sure what to do with Theo (assigning him Vincent was right out because of Theo's extreme disdain for that character, and they had already used Vincent on Zar), Jen had Jack do a past-life regression on Theo to "find out who he was". The character that came out of this was a character that doesn't exist in the canon, that was the king's personal guard and best friend
The character that emerged from this was close in the vein of Lancelot of Arthurian Legend, but if he were in love with King Arthur and not Guinevere. He was conveniently suspicious of "Princess Jenova." Jen's Cetra story was clearly ripped from Escaflowne, and I could see right through it. She was an outsider trying to command respect without earning it, and playing innocent to lure people into a false sense of security, and through thinking I was this character for a short time, I was able to say just that to her in real time and apologize right after. I wanted to be by Jack's side, but I also distrusted Jen to an extreme degree, so even in Jen's little spiderweb, I was being a malcontent and a thorn in her side. I didn't really get to real-time roleplay as that character except for that night, but I've kept him in my back pocket.
Jen had been assaulting them for months with every possible manipulation and head trick she could think of, trying to break through and win Theo's undying devotion the same way she had Jack. But Jen's tactics were messy and haphazard at best and her clumsy stumbling just wasn't very effective at seducing Theo to her side
But being on guard all the time is exhausting. Jen always needed attention when she needed it, everything was on her schedule and her terms. For Theo to continue his friendship with Jack he had to play Jen's game and he had to get in to be able to try and get Jack out
It was incredibly common when the group would hang out for Jen to slip in and out of characters, very rarely being Jen. So real life roleplaying could happen at any time and Jen would want everyone around her to follow suit.
One of the reasons that Theo never really bonded with Jen's fan-narrative of FF7 is that she perceived events and characters in a different way than Theo did. Jen's Hojo was different than Theo's, he was even different than Jack's, though Jack's had slowly absorbed the traits of Jen's Hojo.
Hojo was still a very important character to Theo and something that they had held on to throughout everything that happened. They credits this for allowing them to keep his sanity as long as he did around Jen. But no matter how strong something is, if you keep beating on it long enough cracks will form and you will find a weak spot
It was during this 2nd trip, Jen would try to roleplay Theo's fanfiction again, adopting the identity of Lucrecia and encouraging Theo to be their Hojo. Jen began acting out scenes and dialogue from Theo's fanfiction. Luring Theo in with something they loved dearly, causing them to let his guard down. Jen took advantage of this, savoring the power this dynamic had over Theo, before dropping it and making Theo realize how easy that they too could fall into her trap if she really tried. It shook him
I wanted to let Jack know that I cared about him, and give him a friend he could rely on to maybe try to climb out of the swirl a bit and see Jen for the charlatan that she was. Unfortunately, I got pulled down into that swirl with Jack, so I had jumped into the ocean to save a drowning man without knowing how to swim myself, and I was also drowning.
It was during another visit when a new idea was proposed
Eventually, the question of Jack and Jen opening up their relationship to include me came up, and at first I was excited, but I was also scared, because Jen and I weren't good to each other, Jen and Jack weren't good to each other, but Jack and I were good to each other, but I was also scared of physically moving out of my home, being shunned by my family, or ending up like Aeris and Icarus.
It wasn't something Theo had ever really considered before. A lifetime of absorbing mainline cishet programming had taught them that interfering in the relationships of others was dishonorable, but they did have strong feelings for both of them, though the more positive strong feelings at the time were for Jack. While it's hard to admit, they were lonely and the friends they cared the most about were out in Pennsylvania now that they and Sannah had went their separate ways. And maybe from the inside he could help Jack see a way out? Or maybe if he was there, he could make things better?
The next morning, while Jen and Jack thought Theo was asleep, they overheard Jen tell Jack that she wasn't ready to be poly. This hurt Theo deeply. They didn't know what they had done that had caused Jen to change her mind, but whatever it was this feeling of being unwanted washed over them in a cold wave. Looking back, Theo can tell that Jen knew that Theo wasn't ever going to be as subservient to her as Jack was, and her going back on overpromising at that point was the most honest thing for her to have done.
Theo got up and got their stuff together and got in their car to make the long drive home, fighting back tears the whole way. It was a betrayal unlike any they had ever known, and while sure, it was completely within Jen's right to change her mind, Theo couldn't help but feel led on and overwhelmed by the crushing sense of abandonment that had been ingrained in them since childhood
Theo tried to forget about it and just continue their friendship with the couple, still hoping to extract Jack, but that rejection hung there, the elephant in the room
Just when things seemed to be getting back to normal, someone new joined the group, a woman named Angel. Jen had met her in a Hellsing roleplay forum.
Theo couldn't help but feel jealous, even though Jen insisted nothing had changed and was trying to involve Theo in the group roleplay, even assigning them a character that was one of the main protagonists this time! But it wasn't something Theo had asked for, and they were not motivated to play along. Theo wanted to stay in FF7 Land, especially since the character they got assigned was extremely female, and that pinged on nascent feelings of dysphoria. It also is worth mentioning that the character Jen assigned to Theo was obedient to the character Jen chose for herself.
It still felt like a punch to the gut when Jen announced that Angel was coming to visit and asked if Theo could make the 200 mile drive to State College to meet her and chauffer the group around
gosh I was so lucky to be treated with so much mercy!
Angel lived in Arizona with her husband and the two were poly. This set Theo on edge, a sense of dread hanging over their head
This was the test trip, and they wanted me to meet them, and I wanted to meet them to, to suss them out, even though I really should have ghosted them after Jen turned me down. I did meet Angel in person then, and I don't think we interacted much more than just exchanging pleasant greetings and partings. I had the feeling I was going to be replaced, and kinda thought Angel would be that replacement, I just didn't know when or how. I didn't stay the entire time Angel was there. I drove back home after the jealousy drove me insane.
this was the last time I saw [Jack] in person.
Sure enough this test trip ended up being more than a short visit. We know that Angel ended up staying there for a couple weeks, to the dismay of her husband. It was likely around this time that Eliot had come to spend his month with the group
Angel was older than all of us and had been poly to begin with. She was mature and kind (to Jen) and of COURSE Jen was miraculously ready to be poly for Angel, and it made me see red. Jen had figured out how to make me want something by proxy of making me jealous, and that's essentially how she "won."
Angel had moved in and all of Theo's fears were confirmed. To them, it wasn't that Jen just wasn't ready for poly, she just wasn't ready to be poly with Theo, which made the rejection sting even further. Which only made them angrier, as they hadn't even wanted to be in a relationship with Jen in the first place, but she had got her claws in them and made them think for a moment that maybe... Just maybe
When I was replaced and I broke contact, I had an incomplete meltdown. Jen had managed to absolutely thwart my attempt to pull Jack away from her by distracting me thoroughly, and now Jack was stuck 2-1 with Angel on Jen's side. Also despite the group having moved to Hellsing as an IP, Hojo.org belonged to Jack, and when I broke contact, my content was scraped off the site. Everything that I had been using to artificially enhance my self worth was absolutely gone.
Breaking contact wasn't as simple as that, Jack tried to maintain their friendship and where Jack went, so could Jen, so Jen too kept trying to draw Theo back in. Eventually Theo had to go completely dark to lose them, which neither liked. Jen because she hated being ignored and Jack because he truly did care for Theo, and was worried about them.
Theo had to change their whole online social sphere. Like I said, the Hojo fandom was very small and everyone was connected. Theo slowly pulled away from everything, becoming very paranoid that if they left some trace Jen would find it and come hunt them down
Theo tried to move on with their life, but so much of it had orbited around Jen and FF7 for the last couple years they didn't even know where to start, or who he even was anymore. He'd lost so much of himself and more was to come
My father's mother [Clara], was diagnosed with brain cancer and the foundations of my father's family cracked irreparably, so I lost two big ties of my social support network. My father turned in on himself with grief and ceased being a person I could look to for stability, and I was still kinda stuck in a tiny dead-end job at a gas station trying to pay off my car and taking one course at a time paying out of pocket at my local community college. I took to working the night shift like my mom and spent a lot of my time crying on Livejournal about how hurt I was and about how scared I was of my reputation if Jen, Jack or Angel were to call me out within the Hojo fandom. This attracted sympathy to me, and someone who had admired me for a long time.
Karlen would become a presence in Theo's life and pillar of strength he could cling to
Karlen is someone I'd known off and on for a while before I knew Jack. He took pity on me and learned almost everything that had happened to me before we started dating, but there was a lot of stuff I just couldn't vocalize at all because I was so damaged.
[This] was my first openly queer relationship. I was attention and touch-starved and Karlen fixed both of those in an instant, but the unfortunate thing was that it was a long-distance relationship, and my mother despite me telling her years ago that I was not straight, did not like Karlen, but my father and sibling DID like Karlen and encouraged us to continue together.
I visited Karlen twice and he visited me once, and during my second visit sometime in May-ish 2004, my father's mother passed away and everyone on my dad's side kind of crawled into the coffin with her. Any plans I had to move in with Karlen evaporated
The death of Clara dealt a heavy blow to Theo, who had already been struggling. See, one method of control that Jen loved to used was to draw lines between events and coincident to prove that things were meant to be and that everything happened for a reason.
I saw my grandmother's cancer as a direct punishment from the universe. Of course, outside my head, cancer is a thing that happens to anyone based on a lot of scientific factors and environment and body chemistry and has nothing to do with anything anyone owes to the universe. But in that state, I absolutely could not see it any other way. I was inconsolable and hyper fixated on my own guilt so much I couldn't grow out of it.
This fixation only worsened when his grandmother passed, the final stressor that broke his relationship with Karlen who ended things in November 2004
Theo's grip on reality further loosened, they had lost everything that had kept them grounded over the last couple years
While I still had local friends, I felt that I had lost the friends that understood and accepted me the most. I both hated and needed someone to talk to about soulbonding because I was still thinking about stuff like synchronicity, destiny, the people that lived inside my head. But since I'd gone in with Jen and Jack for so long, I felt like I couldn't go to Aeris, and I felt like talking about soulbonding and past lives in the open was still admitting to the crowd that I still believed in and obeyed the things Jen was into and still doing.
I began to think that [Clara] could talk to me and I freaked out because she was trying to tell me that death was meaningless, and it upset me more than anything I'd ever heard, because I was in the midst of seeing my family deteriorate without her.
The idea that I could talk to people who were dead grew and grew in my head, and soon I was thinking of my grandmother just following me along down the street commenting (often with innocence and kindness) on things she could see both inside my memories and the world around us and it started freaking me out more and more.
I started "hearing her voice" very soon after the funeral, but it wasn't big enough to talk about until after Karlen had dumped me and I was having trouble finding anyone to talk to at all.
I had friends that I could talk to a little, but I couldn't for the life of me at the time explain the entire embarrassing story that led me to believe that my grandmother could speak to me from beyond the grave without people thinking Jen was still under my skin, which she was.
At the time, I was pulled so far away from science and logic that I couldn't think of it as anything other than a paranormal experience.
Theo's support group of friends had shrunk considerably and many of those that remained didn't really understand what was happening with them on a psychological or spiritual level, but they did remain friends with Lydia, who had their back pretty solidly.
Theo did have another friend that had been there through the whole thing, and we're calling him Rhys here. Theo had met Rhys on the internet around the year 2000 and had become their best local friend. He had tried very hard to warn Theo about Jen and had tried to help Theo see that they were a strong, independent person who had far more courage than they gave themselves credit for
Theo's family and their old circle of friends that included Sannah really didn't like Rhys because he had an attitude about him that they didn't like. He was also loud and very visibly queer in a way suburban Marylanders just didn't like, which only encouraged Theo to think about exploring their own gender further
In December 2004, Rhys held a vigil for Dimebag Darrel Abbott of Pantera who had been murdered. Lydia and a friend of Rhys's named Clive were in attendance. Clive was tall and hot, and Theo couldn't help but notice. They all got a little drunk and Theo asked Rhys to give him a mohawk. This was a good night, one of few during that time. Feeling somewhat tipsy, Theo did something impulsive and stole a kiss from Clive. Unlike Matt, Clive was actually a good kisser. This would be a high point before things got really bad
Theo would visit a friend not long after, who would finish the job on Theo's head and shave it completely bald.
I somehow got it in my head that anything Jen had seen of mine was tainted, and I wanted to reduce any connection I had to her to prove that I had nothing to do with her anymore and that she no longer could control me. One of the things that got stuck in my head and was never deprogrammed from me before I left was that because Jack had made a motion with his hand at some point when we'd visited a church, I'd given up a small piece of my soul to him, and I thought because Jen had access to it, she could control me somehow, so my paranoid brain worked itself up into a froth that Jen was going to be able to pilot my body, and I started becoming obsessed with ways of preventing that from happening. Along with agreeing to have my head shaved, I deleted my websites and put my freaking livejournal password out in the open so it could air out and everyone could see what I'd said and that I was finally "clean". I heard about Britney Spears suffering a similar shave-the-head breakdown several years after I'd gone through it and I was awash with Britney Sympathy ever since then. 2021 note: Damn, she still be going through it.
On December 31st 2004, Theo would go to DC with Rhys, Lydia and some other friends to see their favorite band
I was still 100% certain that Jen would take control of my body then because I had also introduced her to their music. That's when I started texting everyone in my phone that I was sorry and that I was deleting their number in order to protect them. And of course I got a bunch of texts back that were like "omg wtf"
Of course, I survived the concert with no possessions and when I got back to my friend's house, I didn't know what to do with myself. I watched some anime with my friends that was very weird. Somewhere around midnight in 2004, I started crying, and I couldn't stop. I don't remember why. I was physically dehydrated and hadn't eaten in 3ish days, so I was probably suffering some physical and mental side effects of preparing for something bad to happen and surviving it and not knowing what to do having survived it.
Theo woke up in the new year in a hospital bed, somewhat confused and trying to remember the events that brought them here
I remember being admitted to the hospital after I arrived. I remember being in the waiting room and still worried about Jen possessing parts of my brain. I had a tube of chapstick that I took the label off of and I showed it to Rhys because I was proud of myself for completely excising what I thought was Jen's influence from me, but since I couldn't explain the context, it was just amusing and somewhat confusing. I was exhausted and they put me on a stretcher and I went to sleep, and apparently I slept for 3 days?
Apparently while I was being admitted, important family members had come out of the woodwork to make sure I was okay and I thought for a few moments that Jen had possessed my body and I was saying the words that I thought she would say if she had. I apologized to my sibling for liking the same things she liked, and I apologized to the man who would become my husband for stealing his karate man, and of course that scared the shit out of both of them
When I woke up in this regular hospital bed, everyone just thought I was dehydrated, but then I started "hearing [Clara] talk to me" again and ended up in the psych unit of the same hospital. It was the same hospital I was born in, and I recognized a lot of the hand-rails on the sides of the walls from when I had made trips to it over the course of my very very early youth.
This psych ward was ill equipped to deal with people that weren't drug-addicts and the doctors really didn't know what to do with them. One doctor saw Theo's hair was shaved short and asked them if he was trans which Theo told him 'no', scared of what would happen if they said anything other than that. Theo was unable to tell them how they came to believe that Jen was going to possess him, so the doctor's worked on patching up what they could
I told them I heard voices and they tried a few different medications out. I was crying a lot so they put me on an antidepressant which made me feel worse. I don't know how they pulled bipolar disorder out of the mess, but that's the label I was given, and the medicine they put me on, with some minor adjustments, worked really well to calm me down. [...]
They had a lady that did art therapy and I reacted well to that but while the staff was not unkind, they really had no idea what to do with me, and neither did I. [...] I was completely incapable of talking about my trauma at all, and the disparaging way the medical doctor came about talking to me made me ashamed to be there in the first place, so I was just the traumatized art kid with the shaved head.
Rhys and Clive came to visit Theo while they were in the hospital, but these stays were short and awkward. It was clear that the hospital's primary goal was to just get Theo to the point that they weren't a threat to themself or others, so soon as they showed signs of calming down, they sent them home after only a week and half.
The hospital hadn't secured Theo a doctor or even provide a referral to a talk therapist and their parents were so shocked they didn't think to ask questions.
Unsurprisingly, Theo had a rebound incident not long after their discharge, after which they got better care
I was on my way up, but I still kept hearing what I thought were thoughts of the dead speaking to me. Not just [Clara] this time, either. I was still hearing the thoughts of the universe too loudly inside my head. This was around the time HBO's Carnivale was airing on TV and during a channel-flip, it ended up on a clip where the words were "this is your house" and it stuck in me that it was my mega-destiny to go through all this pain and then recover for some greater purpose that I couldn't fathom at the time.
After this incident, I started babbling again, and my mother tried to admit me to the hospital closer to where she lived. I had a better experience with a psych triage nurse that kept me from being sent to the local mental health institution because she'd just sent two known sexual predators there, so she prescribed me a talk therapist on top of my psychiatrist so I could talk about my problems. I was able to get a lot better with the combination of both
My first talk therapist was an older Very Religious latino man, and while he was very very kind, I was terrified about talking to him about gender issues no matter how kind he seemed, because I was too afraid he would be disappointed in me, so I completely avoided talking about what caused my breakdown to him. Talking with older non-fandom people about fandom used to be a good avenue to get laughed at, and I got enough of that from [Agnes] that it prevented me from trusting a professional to talk about with. This first therapist was good enough that I was able to get back to thinking about the real world and calming myself enough to get back to work on my own, but the problems were not even scratched. He retired about a year or two into our sessions together.
When I got out of the hospital at the beginning of 2005, my mother put her foot down and forbade me from going on the internet, but that only lasted about a month or two and evaporated when I went back to my job at the gas station. I couldn't stay away from the internet. Almost as soon as I was back on the internet, Jack got back in touch with me and apologized. Oddly enough, I responded to him favorably, just based on the way I had to break things off with him in the first place. I told him I was sorry about the way I acted and the way I went dark, but that I never wanted to talk to Jen again, but of course, that ended up falling through. I didn't have the heart to tell Jack at that time, but it signaled to me that I should not talk or try to be close until Jen was no longer living with him.
A month or so later, partially in response to what happened to Theo, Icarus would put up his website warning about Jen, Jack and their website hojo.org. Finally publicly sharing what had happened to him
Jack reached out to me to mitigate the damage, and that's how the transfer of ownership of hojo dot org to me happened. Since I was working very hard to keep my perception of my Hojo in my head separate from Jen's, the idea of associating Hojo permanently with Jen made me so brazenly angry that I took it despite the bad publicity. So even though I really should have let things fall where they were, I took the keys to the brand new convertible full of manure, (as Icarus so aptly put it - ILU MAN) because not doing so would give Jen a moral victory on top of all of her other ones
With Jen and Jack thoroughly distracted by the chaos of the internet learning about the now infamous FF7 house, Theo was able to focus on their own recovery, which was not a straight and narrow path
I started to recover for real, though very slowly for years because what I actually have is PTSD from the incident, and not necessarily bipolar disorder.
My general recovery started on the basis of grounding my thoughts in reality. No more "oh what a coincidence!" no more tarot cards, no more destiny, no more heard-voices, just plain flat science affirmations. The sky is blue because it's reflecting off the blue water in the ocean, the grass is green because of chlorophyll, clouds are made of raindrops.
Clive and Beyond
That summer Theo and some friends were helping Icarus run his table at a convention and at one point it was just Theo and Clive. They had been friends for some time and despite their kiss at the end of 2004, things hadn't been romantic. But that con would be the beginning of things
I think we were at Icarus's table for Otakon 2005 and just started singing dumb shit together and things just clicked.
Our relationship didn't become romantic until 2006 when he asked Rhys if it was ok to date me, and I had earned my place back in the regular world. He first asked me out on December 26th 2005 in front of my dad's house. We went to Olive Garden and just kept going despite Olive Garden. XD
Clive had strong beliefs in science, and these beliefs helped Theo continue to untangle Jen's conditioning and recover, becoming a solid pillar of strength in their life.
Clive and Theo got married in 2009, and Icarus, Rhys and Lydia were some of the many friends that would attend this event. Theo has very fond memories of that night. Since then Theo and Clive have worked together to build a stable life for each other. Clive gave them a safe place to grow, with unconditional love and support, Theo has come a long way since the break in 2005, so much so that they were able to get a job in the game industry.
In 2015 Theo got in an argument with someone who tried to say that everything that happened with Jen had been entirely Theo's fault, and this hit Theo hard
That's when I started to try to dig deeper and more earnestly to get past the anger I had been left with. I was taught by my earlier therapists how to survive and get back to being a worker bee, but not how to accept myself and learn how to defend myself
This would be the same year that Theo would relinquish the keys to Hojo.org to someone else, and has had nothing to do with it since
The Vice Article
In 2015, Icarus had referred Theo to a Vice journalist by the name of Asher Elbein who wanted to do a piece on the FF7 house and Jen. They saw this as an opportunity to really tell their side of the story, but unfortunately that's not what would happen
Theo poured their heart out and was incredibly disappointed that when the article came out it mentioned almost nothing that hadn't already been said on Demon Sushi. All the deeply personal details from Icarus, Theo and a man named Nate (who had dated Jen briefly before Jack) were completely dropped and the article seemed to focus its sympathy on Jen
Not only that, this article would out Icarus as trans, before he had a chance to come out himself
From what I understand, this was the fault of the Editors of Vice at the time. Asher himself was very polite and sympathetic in his responses to me, but the article that went live was terrible.
I was mad enough that I asked to be put in touch with his editor, who said that in the name of balanced journalism, the tone was chosen because Jen couldn't be reached. Asher seemed decently apologetic, but this editor guy's tone really upset and alienated me. I think the best one-liner I remember from that conversation is "I know this is hard to understand, but I hope you never have to understand just how badly this person hurt me."
In 2017, someone close to Theo would have a brush with death and would shake them to their foundations, terrified at the thought of losing someone they cared about, it made them realize that they still had some things to deal with
I emailed around for another therapist and got one in 2018. I had been without from 2010 until then, and I was able to talk to this therapist about EVERYTHING. Agnes, my gender, hearing Clara's voice and my feelings about Rhys and Jack. I held off getting healing for a really long time because I thought no one would understand, so a lot of this healing that's taken place has taken place only very recently. It was this therapist that challenged my bipolar disorder diagnosis and made me think that I could have been suffering from the effects of PTSD the entire time and been able to be functional because the meds I'm on for bipolar disorder also treat PTSD.
Theo credits this therapist for a lot
Theo has had many years to think of about what happened and what made Jen the way she was
At 19, I'm not sure how intentional Jen was about making people feel powerless. It seemed almost animalistic and immediately revengeful how she reacted.
There was a time where she claimed that there was no original Jen existed to talk to. At the time, when she said that, I thought it was convenient that she didn't want to own up to the bullshit she was pulling on me, but after talking to subsequent people who are Multiples, I realize that is a thing that just tends to happen, especially when that Multiple experiences trauma. It's a way of protecting themselves, and though frustrating, I can see how and why they would end up like that.
Multiplicity or how it's known in the DSM: Dissociative Identity Disorder has a complex and controversial history one that I want to cover in much more detail in its own episode, but for now will provide a quick rundown. Previously known as multiple personality disorder, DID is characterized by the maintenance of at least two distinct and enduring personalities. Individuals with this disorder may find themselves alternating between these personalities, often without their awareness, leaving blank spaces in their memory, but presentation can vary dramatically
We have testimonies from a plethora of survivors about Jen's beliefs in soulbonding, kinning and past lives. These concepts are quite prevalent in intense fandom groups, especially those with a lot of younger members. These beliefs often evolve from roleplaying and frequently are just a mostly harmless extension of the fantasy, but in some cases these they can also be an extension of mental illness and or used to perpetrate abuse.
Jen enacted these concepts, often flitting between a myriad of identities or alters as they're called. Jen presented and insisted these changes were thorough changes in personality, true alters, like one would have with DID
The controversial part of DID is around cause and treatment of the disorder. It is commonly believed that DID is a disorder that's onset by severe trauma and that over 90% of cases are brought on by childhood abuse. The psyche can't handle the trauma and thus splits into a handful of different identities as a self defense mechanism. Sometimes these identities are childlike and regressive, other times these personalities are aggressive and work as defenders of their host
The psychology community is divided as to whether these personalities are truly distinct personas with their own memories, thoughts and feelings or are artificially created as a part of the dissociative process
The commonly accepted form of treatment is integration. A process where a therapist works with the individual to undo the dissociative triggers and integrate the personalities all back into one.
There is a very vocal group of people online who claim to be multiples and are vehemently against the idea that a healthy person cannot have alters and that integration is a mandatory process to achieve healing. To them the thought of integration is akin to suggesting killing their family members. They insist that not everyone who has alters suffered trauma or abuse and want desperately to undo this perception
But as this is the internet and there are few official studies that have been done in this vein, it's hard to know what to believe. DID is somewhat rare when it comes to mental disorders and can present drastically different from one person to the next. It's believed that many people that have this disorder may not even know it, so really what we know about this disorder is quite limited and heavily convoluted by decades of media portraying this disorder in the worst light
That all to say, a common question I see asked about Jen, is if she is a true multiple like she claims she is. Of course none of us are psychologists and this is all pure speculation, I did pose this question to Theo.
Since taking my leave of FF7 House permanently, I've met Multiples/Systems completely unaffiliated with anyone that knew Jen, Jack, or Angel. These folks seem to be in varying degrees of being able to manage themselves, and the ones I'm friends with are good many-people-in-trenchcoats. I'm not sure if it's the difference between me wanting to work with these friends and be patient and understanding with them, or if I was never truly close enough to Jen to begin with, but the degree of success Jen has with convincing people to give her things is high enough that I'm inclined to believe it's a clever act.
I don't think I hate anything else in the world more than I hate Jen, but I also can't say that I know enough about this to say yes or no. It was always very convenient that the "alter" I was talking to just didn't want to work with me. And maybe to her, I'm an abuser that made her so scared that she couldn't be her true self around me, to which: that's fine?
I have known more honest multiples, and they're not all bad. For a long time after I took my leave of FF7 House, I was convinced that multiplicity and soulbonding were bad, but they were just wrappers and ways to deal with pain that are sometimes misused - the idea that an individual splits themselves apart in order to avoid pain or become stronger is not bad in of itself, but it can be very difficult to control and be very difficult to find a supportive community around.
What is true of Jen with regards to Multiplicity is that it has put a negative spin on that community as a whole, and pointed fingers at innocent people. Sometimes someone who is struggling will look like nothing but trouble, and bias based on mental status is a huge problem. Multiples are people, too, and I think that all people who are dealing with trauma deserve to be treated with dignity and understanding. Unfortunately, I could not do this with Jen because of what I went through myself, and the commitment to misunderstanding each other caused this gigantic rift to form between us.
Soulbonding and kinning, where the power is seated in having been someone great once upon a time, but aren't so great now, I still find a little more uncomfortable just because the idea of focusing on being someone else and looking to the past got and kept me in so much trouble and pain and ruminating thoughts. However, the idea of pretending that you're someone else, someone stronger, or someone who isn't so traumatized to get something done, even if it's just for a few seconds of the day, that itself is an idea that is a positive one. My therapist has a saying that, if you yourself are the hardest on yourself, you'll be your own enemy. But thinking of your younger self as a friend who is going through shit and treating them as if you'd treat a friend is a good way to force yourself to have empathy for yourself. Though I think Jen may represent someone who has taken this concept to its absolute extreme.
We do know that Jen did endure some trauma in her late teens, which is a story that we will tell at another time, but we also know that prior to that she had struggles. It becomes a question of "chicken before the egg" when it comes to trying to determine the origins of Jen's inclination toward abuse and manipulation
If I knew when her folks' divorce was, I think I've forgotten it, but her self-esteem issues made me think it was early enough in her life that it wrecked her up a bit in the same way I did..
I myself in my solitude in the apartment complex I had no friends in, built my own stability with my imagination, and even though I struggled at first, I was able to integrate okay-ish with society by 10th grade. I don't think Jen really got that same life experience or character building. She seemed to be able to buy or pry her way out instead of actually sitting down to think about things herself and fix the problem on her own. She attracts attention to herself by seeming helpless, and works over people who very often see themselves as honorable for helping someone in pain. And at first, she certainly appealed to the very honorable Luke Skywalker kind of easily duped not-female person I am inside.
I heard a little bit that she went to some kind of correctional school, and when I was planning to move in with her and Jack, she kept lording over us, "I'm going to get money from this lawsuit against this place I was in" as a reason to stay. Of course, it never came. I think that lawsuit did eventually come, but the reparations were very small, or delayed enough that it didn't matter.
Money was always a big deal with her. She didn't want to physically work for it, but she wanted to have it because having it meant spending it, but I think since she came from money, she had a hard time grokking the value of it. To further coin a continually re-appropriated phrase, her vain pursuit of random "shinies" generally left her broke, and by association anyone else who lived with her, which sucks.
I have trouble thinking that Jen sees other people as real sometimes. I think at the point where she and I were fighting, my feelings were the last thing on her mind. They may never have ever been on her mind at all, ever since she first emailed me
Jen really doesn't come off seeming to have a purposeful overall plan. She seems to be a garden-writer and having some semblance of plan destroys the magic a little. I think she's empathy hungry, or empathy-starved and just jumps from point to point like an addict. As stated in Icarus and Eliot's cases, she has a favorite "food" which is questioning trans-masc folk who aren't sure of themselves.
Anyway, Jen gets herself a lot of people who want to be taken care of. A lot of submissives that she just feeds on and orders around. I think now that her "original power rangers" have moved on, she just goes to feed in whatever fandom she can, if she can. As kinning culture has popularized itself, there's a lot more infrastructure than there used to be, so you can likely go to your friends and tell them that an abuser is telling them they can't be whatever double they're trying to restrict is.
As long as there will be fandom, there will be predators within that fandom. Some of them won't even know it and do similar damage without even realizing it until after it happens. I haven't allowed anyone else as close to me as Jen and Jack got, and believe it or not, I never even let Jack as close as I let Sannah, so my experience has made me very aloof to keep from repeating the pain. Sometimes I'll find myself in a small trap, but never of the same design and I never let myself fall so far. Sometimes someone will move in emotionally similar patterns to Jen and I'll fucking yeet for seemingly no reason at all.
I'm glad other people can look back and laugh, but I'm not there yet. I can hear about trouble Jen gets herself into and guffaw like the fucking devil at that, but anything else is just, I experienced it too intensely and earnestly, so I try to tread carefully around people who don't fully understand what I've been through. There are very few people who are willing to listen to such a long story and come out sympathetic enough to be actionable with the respect I expect, so I keep my barriers way way up about it. I don't want to hurt or lash out at anyone who doesn't fully understand. JK Rowling can fall down a hole and never return, but the idea of being able to see Thestrals really resonates with me. Some people are lucky enough never to be able to understand, and it's better that they don't. Being able to laugh about FF7 House is a privilege I aspire to have one day, but it's out of my reach thus far. The anger that propelled me forward gave me so much strength that I'm afraid of letting it go.
Final Fantasy 7
I asked Theo about their relationship with FF7 now
I've needed to take several steps back from FF7 as an IP in order to still be able to enjoy it, and I would love nothing more than to unhook my favorite villain from FF7 from Jen's black hole of drama. Hojo the character was important to me personally for a long time, and this was true before I ever met Jen.
Oddly enough, the character I ended up being unable to handle in FF7's remake was Sephiroth due to one incident where Jen was LARPing as Sephiroth and she had a real-fake samurai sword she was pretend-sword-fighting me with. I asked her to stop, but she wouldn't, and she got up in my face, and there were enough similar shots of Sephiroth in the opening of FF7R that it triggered that dumb repressed little memory that made me very scared, and stop being able to enjoy it.
For a long time Jack was lost in the black pit of Jen, one where any contact Theo made would be seen and controlled by Jen, but in 2009 when Jack said he and Angel were leaving, Theo tentatively opened that window again
The two follow each other's private journals these days and stay in touch at arms length.
Theo doesn't know if they could ever fully recover the friendship they once had, they both have suffered so much trauma at the hands of Jen and the events that occurred.
Theo appreciates the fact, that for many other Jen survivors, Jack and Angel are just as, if not even more culpable in their trauma than Jen. But for Theo, it's a little different
Jack had been someone that had been so incredibly important in their life at the time. A vital part of their coming of age and discovering the seeds of their identity. And someone that Theo had to watch disappear into dark waters and had to leave behind after nearly drowning themselves trying to save him
And while once upon a time Theo held resentment against Angel, it never had anything to do with her as a person
While Theo knows they likely could never be fully involved in their lives now, it's enough to know that they're doing alright
I asked Theo some questions, which serve as a good conclusion to their story
If you could go back and give yourself advice before this all started, what would you say?
Find someone else to pine for, saving Jack is not your responsibility, I don't care if you started his interest in FF7 or not!
If you had the opportunity to talk to someone that was currently under Jen's thrall, what would you say?
I know you probably think you're someone who's defending your queen - you're her knight in shining armor, but keep an eye on your own hit points. Think about yourself and your needs. Think about science, think about logic. I know she's probably pulled you out of something bad, but also be cognizant of the bad that could occur now. You are not alone. Maybe your previous friends or family didn't understand you, but if she is hurting you, you don't deserve that. Jen is just as human as you are. She is not God. She is not your queen, she doesn't have your best interests at heart. She is an expert con-man, but her game is much less about logic and more about emotion. She may not even mean to hurt you, but if she is asking you to stay and it hurts, you can leave. You can go. You can get better!!! She is not as unique as she says she is, and you can talk to a lot of people who have gone through just as much as you have. Your honor may be damaged, but Jen herself has no honor. She is the one in the wrong. She may not ever be made to be brought to justice, and it's not your job to do so. Focus on getting revenge by living well and showing her up and being the person she can never be.
Any advice for anyone that might be recovering from a
You are not alone. You are not a traitor, you do not deserve to be in pain. Anyone laughing at you can go to hell. You deserve to heal. You deserve to be talked to and listened to. You deserve to use resources made available to you. Remember to breathe. Take small things for yourself. Rid the old strings, but keep what you need that you love. You don't need to go back to prove your honor.
What is something that you're looking forward to?
I'm looking forward to FFXIV's next big expansion, on working on more art projects, and working on more cool games. Also looking forward to saving up enough to travel the world with my husband a lot more, maybe taking up math or science again.
Today, Theo lives their best life with their husband and their two cats, working at their dream job.
Getting revenge on the FF7 House cult has been complicated [..] Revenge can carry you to do a lot of impressive things, and only ends when the evil you seek to defeat is either defeated in some satisfying physical way or you're pulled back off onto the path of peace with the self, and I think I've found a small sense of peace after being so worked up about what Jen did to me for so long.
I'm at a point now where I just want to Jen to find something that will make her stop taking from others. I don't care or care to know who or what that would be just that it stops. I know other FF7 house survivors might think of this as a cop-out answer but I see her as a force of nature rather than a person. I can't know her and I don't want to (and I never wanted to) I want her out of my life and beyond the ability to control it and I have done that by living well