January 20, 2014 § Leave a comment
If you have read my recent work on determining a living wage in Uganda, then you know that I am working to launch a manufacturing social enterprise in Uganda. This will be my second social enterprise, after launching the accessories line Nakate at the age of 20.
This month, I’m turning 25. On your birthday, your friends typically buy you drinks. Instead, I’ve asked my friends to donate the equivalent of a beer, cocktail, shot or round of drinks toward the launch of my new facility.
Because our company, Olivia Knox, is going to improve the manufacturing capabilities of Ankole Cattle horn in Kampala, an African city of 1.209 million.
My Co-founder Olivia Byanyima, a Bahima by birth, is passionate about promoting active breeding of Ankole cattle by improving their market value and providing further employment for her people. Our Ankole Cattle horn initiative will do so by lifting the existing ceiling on the country’s export capabilities, and increasing distribution of horn to global
Here’s why that’s important:
Olivia Knox is hiring women.
Within Uganda’s a population of approximately 34.5 million people, 23.1 million are prone to poverty, and 8.4 million are trapped in absolute poverty (United Nations). Women in Uganda bear the brunt of this poverty, earning less than half the usual salary of Ugandan men. Beyond that, 42% of women in Uganda’s labour force are unpaid family workers (Economy Policy Research Center). This gender gap in earning opportunities gravely impacts the overall national output.
● Female artisans have limited access to training for product design, standardization, development, and marketing
● Work frequently takes place in harmful environments due to limited knowledge of the safety hazards
● Women’s multiplicity of roles within the household and workplace leaves them with limited time for career
growth. If the youngest child in the household is under 5 years old, Ugandan women experience a 40-79%
decrease in output
● Ensuring carefully calculated living wages that allow our workers and their families to lift themselves out of
● Providing medical insurance, safe working conditions, and training in marketable skills
● Providing childcare for our workers to optimize their opportunity for career growth
● Investing in women to invest in children: in an economy where 25% of children are child laborers, women invest
90% of wages back into their families
● Creating jobs for 40 women; with an average of six children born to every Ugandan woman, our efforts allow
approximately 200 children to continue their education
As Olivia Knox implements regulated standards and positive working conditions, our work will increase opportunities for
female workers and provide them with the equal payment and benefits that are necessary to their success.
My friends are sharing my goal with their friends, who they have asked, in turn, to share with their friends. We plan to reach our target goal of $2500 through the power of digital community gathered around a common cause.
Together, we hope to begin a year of change in Uganda’s manufacturing industry.
January 3, 2014 § 4 Comments
I ate avocado salad out of a big, wooden bowl this summer in East Village, sitting on Ben’s floor and asking him if I could help clean the floors before I took the train home for the night.
“Have another beer man,” he shrugged. “I’ll get up early.”
That was the night C said, very simply, that we all must come out.
“Come out, come out, come out.”
She said it three times, just like that. Like a call to arms. Get off your ass, man. Declare what you are.
She was talking about all kinds of sexuality, but it was bigger than that. In the context of conversation, it was about the totality of the kind of living we choose to do. The people we love, the ways we express ourselves, the choices we make outside the societal or religious norm surrounding us — it all must come out.
That way, they won’t be able to say “gay” without imaging three of our faces. They won’t be able to say “slut” without thinking of their best girlfriend’s wild, wild year. They won’t be able to say “bi” without thinking of their closest friend.
“I’m so much more than the label, man,” C said. “I’m a lover and a fighter. I cry and I learn and I get angry and I am a god damn girl. They’ve got to SEE US, to picture out faces, when all they want to see are labels and sins. It’s got to become inconvenient. And the only way to do it is with love.”
Step one: Come out, come out, come out.
Step two: Love big.
I hadn’t known that C’s description was what I’d wanted when I left my religious upbringing almost two years ago. I just knew I was tired of accepting an organized group’s labeling system. I knew that the resounding “you are not one of us” that followed was like a clanging gong on the face of my entire, beating heart. The depression of being so totally alone, after growing up in such a controlled community, felt like an unraveling of my whole soul. And it was.
I didn’t know where I was running to. I just knew what I was running from. The feeling that I wanted to die. The knowledge that there a million and one things I could never do without losing everyone that cared about me. The audible assurance, from a table of men who had ruled my life by the iron sword of scripture, that I was not, in fact, a “good” kind of girl.
I threw all that off when I moved to New York in 2012. I came out as the girl who believes in love, instead of marriage. I came out as the girl who believes in the spirit of a deity moving in her bones, instead of written scripture. I came out as the girl who doesn’t want to ever go back to a church, and can’t imagine locking it down with anyone who did. I came out as a best friend who loves your daughter, regardless of who she fucked last week.
I came out as the girl that might have encouraged her to do so.
One particular night in Uganda this summer changed everything for me. There was a physical earthquake, a voice, an awakening, and a pull that I couldn’t stop. It confirmed the truth I’d been looking for – the assurance that when I left Evangelical Christianity behind, I made my way out of, instead of into, darkness.
And so, this New Year’s Eve, I toasted to living in the light.
It was a group of six of us that shared gratefulness by the light of candles and fireworks from Grand Army Plaza at midnight. We lifted glasses of champagne and, collectively, we drank to the shining light that had come out of each person’s year.
Mine – with a glass raised high above my head and all that old, aching emptiness falling out of the bottom of my being – was to love. My whole life I’ve been loved in spite of the things I did. I’ve been loved even though I was a sinner, even though I wasn’t quiet enough, even though the elders in the church were battling over me, even though I was promiscuous, even though I was a bad influence on my best friend and not the kind of girl you wanted sitting in church beside your daughter.
I toasted to never going back to that dark place again – to the knowledge that I’m loved for who I am, for the first time. I toasted to living out of my beliefs, instead of a community’s direction. I toasted to never getting married to one of those boys. I toasted to coming out against the college that taught me that hate was okay, if I could justify it with a label for a sinner.
I toasted to the hope that, for the people still living in the darkness, my face is a testimony.
I hope it resounds as a call to come out for the girls that may otherwise be labeled and kept in the dark.
Come out, come out, come out.
Here’s to a brand new year.
October 12, 2012 § 3 Comments
A few months ago, I wrote on the exclusive tendency of religious communities in my blog “Church Deacons, Blue Bras and The Revolutions We’re Writing.” This ended up being a fantastic experience for me, as women from Christian, Catholic, and Muslim communities, among others, reached out to me to speak of their commitment to spiritually and relationship with God, but their rejection of the way their communities were doing it. Their stances had cost them all kinds of things, ranging from familial relationships to their safety – but something they all shared in common was that their communities had labeled them as outsiders – they were no longer considered to be Muslim or Christian or Catholic because they did not conform to certain ideologies.
And, these women were grieving.
These women have found solace in love: for the communities they’ve come from, despite disagreements, for each other and for a God that – fuck what the rest of them say – they still believe in. Strongly.
These woman have become my community, and I have fallen in love with all of them – one by one.
One such woman reached out to me a few weeks ago and asked me to write on her platform about a current issue, and my struggle with it.
Never one to shy away from a challenge, I chose abortion.
I wrote about it from what I believe to be a true “pro-choice” perspective – one that supports not only the women that choose to end pregnancies they do not feel they can rightfully continue, but women that oppose that choice. I believe those women have a right to oppose choice, to feel strongly that abortion is infringing on human rights. And, in the same breath, I believe that women who choose abortion also, deserve the choice to discontinue a pregnancy they feel they cannot continue, in good conscience. And so I come to an impasse – and a request, yet again, for more love.
Kisses to my mother, who is a shining example of, “more love.”
When I was seventeen, and my boyfriend wanted to sleep with me and my father wanted me to break up with him, a friend of mine told me about the time a priest had told her it was a mortal sin to kiss a boy.
“I knew I was fucked,” my friend laughed. “I was headed straight for hell.”
When my friend took her distressed self to a nun, she told her, “what he meant was that it was a mortal sin to kiss a boy if you didn’t want to.”
I didn’t understand “want to” for four years.
I was raised in a closed environment with half opened doors. And what I mean by that is that my church community dictated a role of strict submission for me, but my mom told me I was born to be a CEO.
It was those half opened doors that vaulted me into the New York sky from Northern California – running, running, running for people like me, and running, running, running from the judgment of a past that broke me wide open.
I am a winding way. My mother is a linear line running straight to expected results from calculated decisions: abstinence, marriage, children.
Mom’s the evangelical residue spread on my insides – like years of gum on my bones.
Mom’s a Pepsi drinker and a lap swimmer, a river baby and a lover of american literature. Mom loves Vivaldi. Mom loves to dance in the kitchen with me. Mom doesn’t get how anyone could feel sad to be a mom – confined? Struggling? She gardened and cooked and taught my childhood away, happy, more than anything else, to be a mom.
Mom loves to call me her Pearl.
Mom also feels strongly about women’s issues – things like sex outside of marriage, abortion, planned parenthood. Mom believes abortion shouldn’t be necessary since nobody should be having intercourse outside of marriage.
Mom believes in a God that gives enough grace and love to wrap around you after rape, and any pregnancy that might ensue thereafter.
May 20, 2012 § 1 Comment
The woman at my nail salon calls me “California.” She shakes my hand, “thank you, California.” When I go, she yells – “Bye California! Bye!”
Anna is from South Korea. She’s lived here for 23 years – 11 of them working 6:30 am to 8:00 pm at her salon on 1st street. She was quick to tell me how hard she works, ringing out her long hours like a gong of her success over the heavy smell of polish remover.
It took me half a schlack manicure to get that all the yelling and slapping and pointing and smiling and shaking her head at me was about communication. She didn’t have the words she needed.
This morning, someone called “intersectionality” the “pivotal point where reproductive justice starts.” I’m sitting at my desk typing and sipping my overly strong french pressed Trader Joes dark brew and then someone tells me about intersectionality and my world just got wider. Can I use this word for that perfect place when a black and tan is made just right? Can I use it for the way I feel when there’s a perfect storm between my past and my future and my present is a wildfire?
That’s the thing about the intersectionality between the right words you need and the writing you’re doing about your life. They expand your ability to call out what’s going on in and around and above and behind and inside you.
Last night it was all going on around me in a spot I was planning on leaving once I peed. But then I was dancing – four, five, six people around me all spilling my beer and laughing and welcoming me to the wild, raging city – and I stayed, and I danced and I danced and I danced, because Forbes said this week that the new charisma is chutzpah, and I have plenty of that.
I was hyped up on being called “Some of the best feminist writing I’ve ever read,” an “honest manifesto of the righteously pissed off modern woman.” Che GueVagina! I was stoked on this comment on twitter that someone hadn’t, “read anything that fundamentally revolutionary since the ’70s.” The intersectionality of that, and the words on the grapevine from people that are close to my heart, was killing me inside. And I had to go, go, go. This city was blazing into the night without me, and I was a righteously pissed off modern women.
There are corners in this city where people are finding the meaning of things while the dark brews are flowing. I wanted that corner. I found it at 10th and Willow. It was 10:30 – still early, on drinking time. I pulled up a seat in the quiet backroom of the bar.
The bar tender was blonde, and she was talking about her son. Her name is Pam. There was a man in a blue shirt, sitting in the far corner. He was the only one in the room, and they were talking the way old friends do. I needed that kind of humanity in my life.
If our bodies are a reflection of God, the transcendence that one friend’s soul has with another’s – the genderless, bodiless, comfortable, meeting in the middle – has to be another side of divine nature that we’re just barely on the cusp of.
I pulled up a chair and talked Zodiacs with Pam and her friend, which led to the way the Capricorn in me came out on the internet this week. I told them my angst over revealing my struggle was the reason I left a bottle of wine sitting on my kitchen counter, and came to catch the spirit of the city instead. The judgement had started coming in, and I just didn’t want to be alone.
I emoted about the backlash. My name’s hot on the grapevine.
I was drinking Blue Moon. Pam’s friend was drinking Coors.
“All these people from all over the world are telling me how they relate to me,” I told them. “And, these aren’t people who are anti-religion. These are people dying to explore the religion they grew up with in an arena that’s free of judgment and shaming. They want the freedom to get it right – for them.”
The old friend beside me was nodding. He looked at me and said, “I don’t know you very well, but I’m much older than you. So, here’s a piece of wisdom from someone who’s down the road a bit. I want to tell you that you’re on it. You’re right on it. Keep going.”
Pam nodded at me and quietly said, “drink’s on me baby girl.”
He put one finger down on the counter, and pressed down and said, “this” – meaning my life right now, my life signified in that one bit of black counter he had his pointer finger on. “This is going to take courage,” he said. “And it’s going to hurt.”
I nodded. “I’m here because it hurts, man.”
What hurts is the fear that honesty about your process is punishable. What hurts is the panic that everything could be taken from you if you were to get real – not just with god – but with the people that have always defined God for you.
My heart dives with that panic. My heart dives when my name’s on the grapevine. Then it rises like a bat out of hell to my throat and I get teary because humanity in all its goodwill came at me like a fire hydrant, this week. I could check off a list of men and women I can call now – people from my background, editors I’ve written for, women in international development – women in East Africa, in New York, in Northern California, in Egypt and from India and Europe and Los Angeles and the Middle East, all telling me that they felt it too. But that wasn’t all. There were men calling and tweeting and writing – men working in development in Haiti with fundamentalist backgrounds and men I knew as boys when I was little. There were Ugandan journalists and gay men who experienced sexism living in Malawi and scholars and pastors and doctors and writers. Perhaps one of the most tender responses came from a friend I haven’t spoken to in months. He called laughing last night, telling me I had balls and I was setting our background on fire.
“You fucking okay you crazy feminist bitch? How are ya?” He chuckled. “I just want you to know I love you, and when they start railing on you, you call me. I’m here.”
I’ll say it again. It wasn’t the freedom to “come out against” something I was expressing. No, that would be against the whole point.
I was expressing my desire for wide open space as I search for authentic truth – for love of mankind instead of his religious systems. I have been sitting at my desk for many hours now, trying to find the words for the difficulty in searching for solidarity and integrity in the midst of acute judgment.
“Did I tell you about the year I studied Buddhism?” my friend asked me.
“Yeah, well, I had to keep it quiet.”
Had to. I hate those words more and more.
They won’t let me.
These phrases are pouring into my inbox and they’re about families and friends – the closest people in all these peoples lives – the women who raised them, the men who taught them how to ride bikes, the people who helped them wash their hands in the church foyer bathroom when they were four. There’s a stark terror present in the face of consequence for being honest about their struggle. Shaming. Blaming. Getting after! Punishment.
I wanted solidarity bad. I had to, because I know there’s a loss that comes in breaking out – admitting you don’t have it together. Have you read C.S. Lewis? He talks about Eustace the dragon having his skin torn off deep so he could be human again. He talks about how the salt water he entered into as a new, baby skinned human hurt him like hell.
Maybe I’m a new human, too, and the dragon skin has just barely gone. Perhaps that’s why it hurts. I sat on a stairway near Washington Square last night and I stared at all the people. I let the struggle sit inside me. I let it breathe. I gave some girls directions to a liquor store. I told two old, overweight men that the bar beneath us was worth checking out. I’d had good nights there.
Within the struggle, I’ve found there’s a need for new words, new terms, new ways of coming at this beast in our communication with our background. Someone told me that guilt can be redefined as powerlesness. She told me that my image of God had to get bigger.
“My God is swirly and in nature. My God doesn’t have a lot of words, because I have a hard time with that. Oh, and my God lives in music,” she said. “God doesn’t want to be quantified and made to be so narrow – no, I don’t think God wants that at all.”
She told me her God was light, airy, cheerful. She gave me the phrase “gender abuse.”
Re-identification – new language. New ways of seeing. If religion is sushi, I’m taking great big bites of sliced ginger. I need a new palette. I need it bad.
There’s a theme ringing out like Anna’s voice does at the salon. It’s coming from Pam’s friend at the bar, and several old friends who have called to cheer me on. I think it’s key to this disidentification, re-identification, healing, crazy, wild process I just started. I think it’s the key to a new kind of communication, and finding better words.
“To get room, you have to give room,” they say to me. They’re using words like gracious, loving, kind, understanding. They’re telling me to to create a barrier of understanding with people. They told me to have love that gives freedom.
Kahlil Gibran said something about that too. He said,
Let there be spaces in your togetherness, And let the winds of the heavens dance between you. Love one another but make not a bond of love: Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls. Fill each other’s cup but drink not from one cup. Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf. Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone, Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music. Give your hearts, but not into each other’s keeping. For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts. And stand together, yet not too near together: For the pillars of the temple stand apart, And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.
Just as my schlack manicure was drying under the uv-rays this week, a girl came in asking for a pamphlet – a card, telling her pricing. A price list? We were all trying to help think of new phrases to help Anna understand she needed something in her hands that told her how much her pedi would cost.
When she left, frustrated, Anna pointed towards my vagina and said – “wax?”
Where did she get THAT idea? If this woman is hurting my arms, I can’t even imagine what my poor v-jay would look like. Scorched earth wouldn’t begin to describe it. I was horrified. I crossed my legs.
“WHAT? No! No. I don’t want you to wax me.”
She shook her head and pointed at the door where her potential customer had just stood. She said, “she want Brazilian wax?”
God, I laughed and I laughed and I laughed. I couldn’t even respond. I laughed and finally I said, “No. Anna. She didn’t want that. But I love this color on my fingers.”
Anna smiled then, and she laughed with me – big, loud laughter – laughter as loud as the commands she barked. We had a moment of honest human exchange both of us understood. Then she slapped her file against the counter, and started haggling about pricing with me.
I thought of Anna last night, when I got a letter from someone I used to know that hurt me deeply. I felt the guilt coming in like a hooded spirit, taking over my heart and beating me down. That’s how I’ve always responded.
I called a friend. And, he laughed. He laughed and he laughed at the idea of my old friend’s accusations being true. And, so, in the quietness of my own bedroom, I started laughing with him.
Mid cackle – I thought of Anna, price lists and Brazilian waxes. And, in that moment, I remembered that it was powerlessness I was feeling, not guilt.
That made all the difference.
May 17, 2012 § 25 Comments
I’m having this struggle. Burning, churning, making my gut wrench struggle. I walk down 1st street with my heart on fire. The separation of church and state – it’s going on between my temples in the worst way. No, it’s not that. It’s bigger than that. I’m a woman, now. I buy my own things. I feed myself. I put a roof over my head. I go out when I want. I come in when I want. I cuss when I want to. And, when I know I shouldn’t – not because I believe there’s any kind of negativity in the words themselves – but because I’ll lose my audience, I try not to. I’m a woman working in the field of woman’s development. I get on planes by myself. I started a company. Along with it, I’m learning to ask for what I want out of a relationship.
That’s something they tell you you can’t do, at a Christian University. I went to one. They told me I needed to wait for men to want me. They told me I couldn’t want them first. They told me to wait to be wanted.
But there’s this revolution, see. It’s hit the streets of New York and it’s calling us out in throngs – into bars and coffee shops and down the nuts and snacks aisle in Trader Joe’s on Sunday afternoons. It’s not generational, and it’s not counter-religious. It’s cultural. It’s spread across the board of age and occupation. It’s called authenticity. Twitter started it for us. Twitter, because twitter taught us to stopped following those girls that bitch about their breakups and to start paying attention to the women that were “fucking angry” the week of the Egyptian woman in the blue bra. We gave up inappropriate drama – the kind you want to unfriend on facebook because it won’t stop updating how it feels about it’s ugly ex – for the kind you’re dying to watch like a firework pealing across the skyline. These girls showing up in our feeds? They were authorities. They were brilliant. They were starting something – the girls who couldn’t stop e-cussing because they were so god damn pissed off about what was happening in the world of women’s rights about them. They didn’t have time for you if you were complaining about their language. They were in the middle of a revolution – a revolution women were being kicked around the street for. There’s language for that. The phrase, I think is fucking brutal. Those bastards. Kicking women in their bras around the street. Being kicked on the ground is fucking brutal. And Mona Eltahawy wasn’t afraid to tell us so – the systematic degradation of Egyptian women needed language.
Instant information has changed everything. Now, we watch this stuff on youtube – and the people you-tubing it with their phones? They’re typing expletives and feelings and developments as they go, and they’re coming right to your phone – live. So, you’re more engaged than ever before with the world around you.
Don’t you get it? It’s about what they’re saying. Don’t get so caught up in the presentation that you can’t see it. It doesn’t matter anymore if girl is cussing while she tells you about it. She’s telling you about it. Look around. No one else is experiencing the way she is.
Pick up your pace. Catch up. We’re professional women. We’re professional woman comfortable with our bodies and our revolutions and our alcohol on Monday nights – and we’re talking about it. We’re saying what we want. We’ve got chutzpah in our veins.
Can you feel it?
We’re the ones changing your world. We’re the women starting our own businesses and clothing lines and starting revolutions in Egypt – the women who say what we think. I’m the bottom of the totem pole. I’m a freshman, a new beginner – the pond scum the big kids push around. I hardly know what I’m doing, except that there’s this raging, pounding, churning revolution around me and it’s telling me to get it out – and to say it how I want to. Censorship is dead. The age of typos and cussing and talking about my sex life being the bane of every company’s existence is over. Now, the lack of authenticity, the stuffiness, the lack of personality – it’s leaving you behind. And me? People are calling me up to come speak because I say what I think. And, that’s what’s next. That’s the future. It’s got me giddy inside. I’m doing a dance in my room.
Honesty. The way I feel it. The way I want to tell it.
Therein lies the gut wrench. The dance stops. The music fades. My glass gets nailed back down to the counter because you’re telling me to stop. You’re telling me to wait again, to listen again, to censor again.
I’m writing things you don’t want to read. They’re coming out of me like big, weekend explosions. Word vomit. They’re not about the revolution in Egypt because I’m not there. I’m here. I wasn’t in Uganda for the women that ripped their shirts off for freedom of expression and got their boobs grabbed by police while they were shoved into taxis but I sure as hell was in Sunday school when they told me I couldn’t buy tank tops because the boys might be distracted. I sure as hell was in Sunday school when they told me “sexy” was sinful, when they told me to keep my legs shut and my mouth closed and to look for a husband to direct the rest of my life – for a man to submit to, lay my life down for. I sure as hell was awake when the damning text messages came in the first time it came out I was supporting a man, instead of being supported by him.
I’ve spent hours on the phone defending my right to choose – to choose my words, my wardrobe, my relationships. I’ve been kicked around in the worst way in a world where autonomy doesn’t make any sense – a world where the women I know stay sexless and quiet until marriage and sometimes afterward. And god damn I tried so hard to be one of them. I tried so hard. I tried not liking boys. I tried not liking beer. I tried hating cigarettes. I tried giving all three up for lent.
I hate lent.
I was a contortionist, changing and shifting and moving to try and fit in this little box someone created for me. And I don’t want it anymore. I like my tank top straps the way they are, my tattoo where it goes – and I like my beer to flow freely.
I shouldn’t even have to be talking about these inalienable rights.
But in the world I grew up in – you do. You’ve got to fight your ass off for an ounce of respect after you sleep with a man outside of marriage, let alone a woman. You’ve got to pound your damn head against the wall to get anyone to hear you when you say you’ve found a balance in your relationship with god almighty and vodka crans on Friday. Nobody believes you. They don’t think that balance is possible. They think it looks one way, it goes one way. And they read about your honest writing and your tweets and your coming out of the closet – no matter what sex your partner happens to be – and they label you as one of the sad ones, the ones gone astray.
You’ve left the fold.
They make you choose. They make you decide. Religious. Not religious. Like you can check it off in a box the way they expect you to check off your orientation, your drinking, your marijuana use.
And, it’s not really about whether they think you should or shouldn’t. It’s about your right to express it. Your right to process. It’s about they way they’ll string you up for the word you chose to use, the partner you chose to have. Was everyone listening when that brief for conservative fundamentalists got sent out last week?
“As people who promote personal responsibility, family values, commitment and stability and emphasize freedom and limited government we have to recognize that freedom means freedom for everyone.”
I’ve got my inalienable rights. What I’d like is the respect I need to explore them without a label.
Well, what if I smoke a cigarette every two weeks? What if I’m not a smoker, but I smoke when I’m drinking jack? What if I had sixteen drinks last week, and three this one? What if I’m a really healthy individual – I drink my carrot juice, I eat my apples, and I like two beers every night. Damn, that means 14 drinks a week, checking a box in the doctor’s office. That’s high on the doctor’s scale. He’s giving me funny looks now. He’s checking my heart. Do your math, doc! It’s not a big deal.
We’ve been cringing. Or, I’ve been cringing. You know, I tried to talk about my experience with a deacon who chased me around my parent’s church with a figurative Bible held over his head writing letters about me and taking surveys on my modesty. I was 19. He took me down fighting, and he ruined my reputation for wearing bikinis on the weekend. When I tried to blog about it, the phone-calls shut me down. All these well meaning busy bodies calling to help me deal with my situation in humility and submission.
Inalienable rights. I needed to blog. Does the church understand? That would have been healing. That would have brought me back.
I need healing. So, years later, in New York city with the clothes I love and the shoes I can finally afford – sitting with a great big sigh coming out of me for the autonomy I’ve never had – I’m starting to write about all the things I’ve been told not to.
And I’m walking down first with my heart pounding because of the disappointment I feel when I think that maybe I don’t get to be honest. I don’t get to let it out. I don’t get to be real – not me. All those girls that grew up and rejected their faith – they do. Those people that came out of the closet and said they didn’t want faith anymore – it was clean for them. My friend Caleb calls it a burden I’ve got to figure out if I’ll shake or not, this “faith thing.” He tells me it’s still inside me, tying me to a background I disagree with on a fundamental level.
I had a roommate that told me she liked to live in the pink and blue and green and grey shades of life.
“I like it all,” she smiled at me. “It all teaches me something.”
Then she told me she loved Jesus. And Hillary Clinton.
That was the week Obama got elected. I pasted a poster of his beautiful red, white and blue face above my desk where I could look and see the sun go down behind the capitol building every night.
I didn’t tell my family. Obama didn’t fit in the box – I was un-contorting secretly.
But is that freedom at all, the kind where you uncross your legs and get your head out from under your armpit where no one can see?
I live in pink and grey and green and blue – but can I write about it? Can I talk about it? Man, that’s the kind of writing I ride google for. I’m all over this laptop trying to find people pouring all the ugly, beautiful, horrific things out of their souls so I can find myself in it – get a piece to rip out of it and scribble into my journal.
So, if I talk about the real stuff – the desires and events and people and places that are boiling up inside me and asking for words – the kinds of things I’m starting to tell my editor I need an alias before he publishes – will they make me choose? Do I have to check the box? Faith, not faith. You don’t get to be complicated here. It’s black and it’s white.
I need a god damn sharpie to scribble all over this chart.
That’s what my heart looks like.
I moaned about all this to a friend turned mentor over breakfast a few years ago on the corner of First and Adams today.
He told me he understood my dilemma. He said it was difficult. Then, he said that his one consolation was, “they can’t take it from you. That – your religious freedom – your freedom of expression and choice within it – is the one thing they can never take.”
He told me it would be difficult – that it would rip me up inside the way I expect for it to. My life would be excruciatingly painful for a bit – a lot like coming out, but less clean, when I came out and told everyone that I loved God a certain way, but it didn’t look like they wanted it to.
Then he told me authenticity was the most important thing – he told me to choose wholeness, whatever that looked like. And, it certainly didn’t look like climbing into an evangelical box or judging myself on a faith meter a sexually frustrated deacon with a pot belly told me I should live out of.
When it comes down to it, I guess that’s the whole point. It looks messy. It looks a little discombobulated. But it certainly doesn’t look like beers on Monday nights and black bras under my white tank tops or the way my navel ring clicks against my high waisted red shorts when I walk.
No. If you can see it – it’s running much deeper that. And, you’re missing the point if you’re going to gasp about where I slept over two weeks ago, or that pack of cigarettes I split with someone in East Village because I was having a particularly stressful day. The fucking point – if you can see it – is that I’m finding my place, as a woman. I’m throwing off all the things they told me – about being defined by a man who knows his direction, and gives me mine, about losing my sexuality in modesty, about losing my soul in obedience and the reality of what I want in the willingness to let go to the wishes of those running this big machine. I’m losing the things that made me never want to darken the door of a church again.
In my soul, my heart, my throbbing head – it’s the getting rid of the old that’s bringing in the new. It’s a re-appropriation, a disidentification. A friend who came out at 20 wrote to me that, “It will be crucial that you continue this ground breaking work inside of you for the full act of disidentity to be successful.” He talked about extracting power from stigmas, challenging preconceived notions and ultimately tearing down walls of oppression.
“No more of this ‘women in bras being kicked around and felt up’ or waiting in humility, covering and denying your steaming natural sexuality bullshit for the sake of a man’s desire for control of your/their body and your/their mind,” he wrote to me. “I love how you’re still writing about balance – between your life and your faith. Because, I can tell, you are and then again you’re not ‘losing your religion.’”
Someone asked me this week what I’d teach my children – if I’d have them go to church, if I’d push them in a certain direction, tell them how to believe. “Will your family be religious?” they asked me.
God. I just sat on their couch and stared and didn’t have an answer. I don’t. I really don’t have an answer. See, I’m discovering truth organically – truth you can’t discover with someone breathing down your neck. And that’s new for me. The hairs on my neck are still raised. I barely got out. But I did get out. And here, where I can breathe, I’m finding that “The old life is gone; a new life burgeons! Look at it!” And I have to believe that, “All this comes from the God who settled the relationship between us and him, and then called us to settle our relationships with each other” (2 Corinthians 5:17).
I’m finding that the whole “settle our relationships with each other” bit is a wildfire.
A friend I parted ways with badly last year is getting on a plane to my city soon because, like James Taylor tells it, he
Got a letter from a dear friend of mine, the story of a spiritual awakening.
She spoke of her love returning in kind, she let me know that she’d be waiting.
And I should be on my way by now.
Walking across the floor, reaching for the door, on my way by now.
That letter was all full of purple and grey and green with sharpie scribbles – spiritual awakening gone rogue, coming out my insides.
I don’t remember when I sent it. But I have a feeling it was right about the time I began to understand that there was something sacred about trading in my secret love of foul language for an open love of people, and my fear of my family’s opinions for reconciliation with the people I had gone head to head with in college. It was the month I lost all recollection of how it felt to be told my sexuality was evil, and found a man to discover – and discuss – it with, instead.
Love of mankind instead of his religious systems. I’m on the front lines – can you feel it? Maybe you don’t like the way it sounds. Maybe you don’t like the way it looks. Maybe you don’t like the way it’s presented – but it’s the real deal. It’s a revolution, no matter how you present it.