I don’t blog anymore because I can’t react to things at the appropriate times.
I can’t be a journalist.
I can’t be clickbait.
See, these days, I live up in a little top story of a Nashville cottage-mansion with two little souls who haven’t quite learned how to respond when I say things just yet. I could talk at them all day about women’s rights & evangelicalism & purity culture & they’d just blink. Maybe scream. (Prolly scream.) I play mama now, & let me tell you WHAT, is it ever an exercise in rejoicing-with-those-who-rejoice & mourning-with-those-who-mourn. Our tear duct cycles are all in sync, the three of us, in our little Rapunzel tower on our quaint, fiery autumn Nashville street.
I’m not gonna blog about blogging, although I probably should. I should probably tell you why I’ve been absent. I should probably wax verbose on the subject of blog “vision”. Maybe I should care about branding or making this little corner of the internet look less like shit. Maybe I should tell you that this site is UNDER CONSTRUCTION & will shortly be streamlined & professional – all the punk-kid shined off & looking semi-respectable. Maybe someday all my blouses will get hung again after that one bedbug outbreak & maybe someday that little ring of grime around the faucet I can’t quite get to will miraculously disappear.
Maybe someday! *insert cheery shrug*
TODAY IS NOT THAT DAY.
Today, I’m just going to write like we are the oldest & dearest of friends, because I have a little story to share. I made almond icing for these scones in the oven, and boy, I’ve never made anything this fancy so you’d better get it while you can. Pull up a mug of cream tea. I have an announcement.
Today, after 10 months of bathroom-floor tears & planted roots of bitterness & playing the outsider, today I told myself: I FIT.
I choose to fit. I choose a community that is broken & shabby & kind of looks like grandma’s quilt after 30 yrs & moths.
Truth is, by most accounts, I kinda don’t – or so I’ve always believed. “You’re a missionary kid,” the voice that sounded sorta like me would say disdainfully. “You’ll never meet anyone’s expectations. You’re just a punk kid with weird lipstick who loves foreign alphabets and calligraphy and solving Agatha Christie novels and you don’t even look like a good minister’s kid with those sunset-colored PICTURES on your arms! Who would want you?”
(Turns out that voice wasn’t me after all.)
I sat across from my pastor’s wife, a woman in whom I had seen a fierceness, a twinkle, strength & wisdom & humor gathering pooled behind her eyes. She was a deep well. I could tell. She’s a pastor and a therapist, a mama and a leader, and I asked her to meet me so she could tell me I was OKAY. That I fit. I wanted validation, see. I wanted recognition. I wanted her to pat me on the back & say, “Well done.” I wanted her to be the Spirit.
Then, the strangest thing happened.
Turns out – the SPIRIT was inside ME.
& I heard, in my heart’s ear, the whispered truth about my self & how I mattered & without knowing what she thought of me really, I told her I fit anyway. I spoke it into existence.
AND IT WAS THERE, SUDDENLY, IT WAS THERE. IT WAS REAL.
I FIT BECAUSE I SAID SO.
& then, just like that, we were in the thick of it, talking about our dreams for God’s strange, beautiful women in our little city. We are a ragamuffin lot, we are, failed artists & aspiring singers & single moms & boy, do a lot of us have purple hair. A lot of us left other places because we didn’t fit those places & we are all HERE, NOW, not-fitting together. Most of us have probably heard a voice that sounds much like ourselves tell us that we don’t belong where we came from & it had sent us like aimless, doubting Hagars to search for a hometown & answers from heaven.
She told me that the Spirit had given her a dream – a dream about women – and my breath caught. She’d had an inkling of equipping the women of our little body with PERSONHOOD – dismantling the power differentials that kept us from preaching & standing tall & forging ahead with our respective visions. In her dream, that strength & purpose had gone forth through the city, passed on from sister to sister until it spread far outside our four old brick walls & took root in the hearts of this city.
She said, “That’s kinda my thing.” & I said, “That’s MY thing!” & together we soaked in that joyful, pregnant silence just a minute.
The conversation turned to books, & she said, “Have you read N.T. Wright?!” & I said, “Have you read Jesus Feminist?!” & she took down a little note to herself that out there in the world was a lady named Sarah Bes – no, two S’s – ey who thought that being a Jesus feminist was a real thing.
She hadn’t had the words for it, you know?
She didn’t have the language.
But she had the Spirit, & the Spirit had spoken anyway.
It was then, I think, that my little abstract dreams of feminism in the way of Christ took flesh & blood.
They had a name.
They were April.
It’s taken a long time for my dreams & theories about feminism in the way of Christ to take any sort of tangible form. Praxis is not my strong suit. Tonight was a tiptoe in the right direction, though, and in the name of the Spirit who speaks to us even when we don’t know all the fancy words & in the name of Ruth, who declared Naomi her home & Boaz her kinsman-redeemer I say, with all the clarion tones my timid voice can muster,
I say to you
& you & you & you –
I FIT, & so do you.
It’s a great feeling to have all of your lifelong fears and discomforts finally validated;
when a whole community of writers and bloggers starts speaking up and tearing down the cultural constructs that have so oppressed and depressed you throughout the entirety of your childhood and early adulthood;
when all of the opinions that used to make you a rebel – a pariah, of sorts – are finally not only your own and the burden of the truth, the whole truth, no longer seems to rest on your shoulders alone.
One Sarah Bessey I’d never heard of or read before out of nowhere writes an article about her experience with something called “purity culture” and all of a sudden I’m in a heap in front of the gate to my preschool,
ugly crying as I pull a torn notebook page out of my back pocket and just as suddenly start writing again. I had really sworn off writing, you see, after two arrogant sorts in my college poetry club wore me down until I couldn’t hear my voice over their imagined critiques every time I set pen to paper. But there it was, that nagging voice that I just can never quite squelch, the one that starts whispering in my ears whenever my soul rubs up against any kind of injustice or injury towards the outsiders of society. I have always liked the borderliners,
the people of the outskirts,
the ones who liked to dance to their own beat right on the fringes of society and orthodoxy.
I considered myself quite one of their own.
Little did I know that I was dancing right behind that Pied Purity Piper all along.
See, here’s the thing:
I’m a virgin.
Emily says that I should define my terms which, whatever, but what I mean is my hymen is firmly intact. Not only that, there’s never been any danger of that changing.
So there’s all my cards out on the table. Yikes.
Oh yeah, see, I followed the purity culture rules to a tee. I am its angry, sulking poster child. I snarled and seethed and bathed in red lipstick but I never did quite get off my high horse. In fact, I did purity culture one better and I kept my kiss-ginity too. (yeah, that’s a thing.) I avoided boys like the plague and kept romantic moments quite out of the question and I ran as far away from that hypothetical ledge as I could and dear lord if you could get medals for self-control I WOULD HAVE THEM. Oh, I compromised alright, but I made sure that any rules I broke were the ones not quite black and white enough to find their way into the verbose, exacting purity culture handbook.
I was not about to be sullied!
I was not about to become pee water!
I was not about to give any Christian boy any further reason to discredit my viability as a spouse, seeing as how they already found plenty.
I was like those people who don’t believe in God but say a few rosaries & light a few candles every now & then, just in case of Apocalypse.
Now I’m 22 years old and I feel like I may still actually be a prepubescent teenager, unsure of myself or how to appropriately interact with the opposite sex and you know, how to hold a boy’s hand and stuff.( Are the fingers supposed to lock? Is that a thing? That is not pleasant. Am I just supposed to get used to that?) Sigh.
While my friends were getting labeled and shamed for engaging in sexual behavior, I was busy trying to convince everyone around me that I had no interest in and desire for sex at all.
While others were abused physically, I was abused emotionally by men who were so indoctrinated into purity culture that as long as they never kissed me on the mouth or slept with me, they earnestly believed they’d done right by me.
It’s strange to me that we seem to have the same triggers now – those of us who experienced physical abuse and those of us who suffered emotional heartache and physical neglect by men who thought they could divorce our hearts from our bodies. I do not claim that these two kinds of wounds are equal in destructive repercussions, but it seems that they are more similar in kind than they are often given credit for.
And I’m afraid I find myself at a crossroads.
Emily and I are two months into our Purity Culture Rehab Project and all of a sudden I realize that tearing down purity culture will have to involve constructing something inside the void that it left. But what? What goes there now? Do I start mercilessly sleeping with every boy I come into contact with? Do I throw caution to the wind?
I discovered this week that quite a few of the writers I admire most seem to vary rather widely when it comes to the whole “Is Extramarital Sex Still a Sin” thing, which I naively didn’t know was a question anyone was asking. Anyone who ascribes to any semblance of a Christian philosophy, that is. For me that’s not a question, based on what I believe about the Bible and stuff, but I’m learning how not to shame people for having choices that differ from mine.
I’m learning how not to shame myself for making choices that I can’t carefully, methodically defend.
I’m still a little ashamed though.
I’m a little ashamed of my inexperience.
I’m a little ashamed of my stupidity.
What is an ignorant virgin trying to combat purity culture for, anyway?
Isn’t it a little superfluous to try and rehabilitate myself from purity culture fully intending to stay a virgin at the end of it?
I’m still not sure it isn’t an exercise in futility.
My conclusion is this:
my virginity – or lack thereof – is the property of my personhood.
I am not less a person for losing it.
I am not less a person for keeping it.
I am not required to catch up.
Taking back my personhood means taking back my sexuality. It does not belong to my church or my friends or other people’s opinions or even to my own stubborn stereotypes of what should be; of what’s normal.
I have time to figure this all out, you see. Tearing down purity culture doesn’t necessarily mean that, at the end, I will have built a healthy understanding of my sexuality at the same time. While rehabilitation does require breaking a collection of destructive habits, it also necessitates the beginning of new healthy ones to take their place. So here’s my Rehab Project shifting focus a bit – from dismantling the evils of purity culture to creating something new to replace it.
I wanna talk about how I’m afraid that all of us fighting against purity culture will, by heading towards the other extreme, lose any audience we may have had with the conservative Christian culture that so desperately needs change.
I wanna talk about how sin & shame are two different things.
I wanna talk about how purity culture is as harmful to those who comply with its demands as it is to those who do not.
But right now, I just wanna sit
in the bliss that is knowing
that I am mine.
the six of us were gathered on and around our friend Jacob’s bed,
the very picture of intimate community,
our hearts heavy with the weight of a secret only we knew.
I was acutely aware of my tear ducts that evening, as I had just spent the previous one emptying them in front of this very same group of (mostly) men.
It had been decided the week before that the small community we were in charge of had grown too much too quickly, and now instead of a home for the hurting and a haven of accountability, we were just the new cool hang for everyone in our church under the age of 30. It was time for us to disband, and to start over. As wise as this choice eventually seemed, my heart was with every one of our students in the next room, praying and laughing and catching up, oblivious of the changes we had not yet announced – and I ached to think how little time was left for me to spend with them before new communities & homework & extra night shifts scattered us to the winds.
So here we were, gathered to pray over our little flock, and naturally, we start to reminisce a bit.
“Maybe we can still meet every month or so, ” someone remarked. “Half the reason these kids are here anyway is to hook up.”
I must have scoffed, because suddenly all eyes were on me, and the protagonist of this inane conversation starts in on me. “You know that’s why you’re here, Hannah,” he said, amused at my apparent distaste for his general premise.
“Come on, you at least thought about it.”
Think about it? I mean, I’m sure I did. Who doesn’t? You can read my previous post about how I have trouble not putting people in boxes. But any romantic inclinations I may have worked through for my friends and co-leaders – and work through them I did – were nothing compared to the hours I’d spent praying over, worrying about, and drinking inordinate amounts of coffee with the men and women that had come every Tuesday night seeking love & a home & somewhere they could get their questions answered.
But here we were, trivializing that entire endeavour and pretending that we were all just sorry we hadn’t dated everybody.
“No, I was NOT,” I retorted. (My retorts are usually razor-sharp, I assure you.)
“Oh, good,” he said. “That just means that you are waiting for a man to pursue you, like you should be. Good girl.”
He said it with all of the genuine concern and kindness of someone giving a compliment. “Good job, Hannah, you’re serving God just so that some man will see you and want you! Keep up the good work.”
And that was the end of it.
If I was not a feminist when I walked into that bedroom, I was when I walked out.
Because my sex drive or romance drive or whatever inherently human part of me thinks it would be a good idea to ever marry somebody does not guide my life or ministry choices. I am not sitting around, believing that I somehow have nothing else to do than be loved and rescued by any earthly man.
WHOLE & COMPLETE, NOT LACKING ANYTHING.
(except maybe holiness. we’re working on that. )
I am a full person – a free moral agent – and my individual pursuit of God & any other person is my journey to take.
I was angriest that day because a boy had said out loud what I’m always afraid men are thinking.
That, as a woman in the church, I am by very nature a HALF.
Half a heart. Half a body. Half a purpose.
That I walk through my weekly acts of service – leading songs, stacking chairs, greeting new faces – just to be noticed and found by the puzzle piece that will complete me & make me a whole person, able to live out Proverbs 31 and become an acceptable, respected member of society. Until that day, however, it seems that my every move can be boiled to my one obvious motivation:
FINDING A HUSBAND.
So, why feminism?
I balk even typing that word. I can’t stand to use it in everyday conversation.
Maybe one day I’ll grow into it. Maybe I’ll learn to stretch out under its vast canopy, breathe a little deeper, and own my freedom a little more.
But today, feminism is a gate – and on the other side is an expedition I’m starting on to take back my personhood.
Feminism – because we can’t just keep telling ourselves that we are worthy, cherished daughters of the Most High, and then living like damsels in distress living in towers of inertia waiting for a kiss of true love to awaken us from slumber.
Feminism – because if we are whole people, then we should be doing a lot less waiting and a lot more speaking, singing, preaching, and crusading against injustice, wherever we find it.
Feminism – because I,
will no longer be half the women we were created to be.