This is the fifth in a series of posts called “Testimony.” For an introduction to the series, see this post.
After that special night at camp, I threw myself into church involvement and built my life around the youth group. I became a student leader to the junior high group. I went to every youth group event that I could. I learned, slowly, how to overcome my shyness and build relationships with new students in order to draw them into regular attendance. Because I don’t naturally have the knack for navigating social situations, I became a student of my peers and leaders, learning from them how to be a good teenaged evangelical girl. I listened to what was called out as ideal and then tried to become it. I wanted nothing more or less than to be the best Christian I could be.
Yet, even in the time of my deepest devotion, I had some misgivings about the messages I was receiving. For example, it was pretty much assumed that after college, we would get married and start having kids; this pressure was especially strong on us girls, who also carried the responsibility of quitting work to stay home and raise the kids once they started coming. I did want very much to get married, but I’ve pretty much always known that I never want to have kids. Was it really so selfish to feel that way? And what was the point of going to college only to end up as a stay-at-home mother soon after? (I later learned that the purpose of Christian women going to college was to find a husband.)
I also found myself frustrated with the teachings on lust and modesty. The skinny, pretty girls pulled off the latest trends with ease, but whenever I tried, I seemed to fail every modesty test (the fingertip test, the bent-over test, the arms-above-head test, the does-this-draw-attention test). It’s not like I asked to be so curvaceous! Why was it my fault when guys looked at me? Why didn’t boys have modesty rules, too, and why didn’t we get to blame them for making us “stumble”? I was told that men are visually stimulated whereas women just want the romance; I actually believed this because, while I had my fair share of crushes on guys, I never felt any sexual desire for one.
Rather than allow myself to follow those questions to their logical conclusions, I just internalized it all. I was supposed to be small and pretty and well put-together like the popular Christian girls, but not seductive or attention-seeking. I was supposed to be conscious about avoiding anything that could potentially make a male lust after me. I was also supposed to be conscious of my own thoughts, so that I didn’t impugn my purity. As a woman, purity was my greatest asset; if I blew it, I was damaged goods. Someday, I would have to confess to my husband about my shameful masturbation and dirty sexual thoughts. Until then, God was watching me with silent condemnation.
Secretly, I was assaulted by guilt at the fact that I was madly in love with my best friend, who was a girl, and couldn’t stop the sexual desires that I felt for her. I prayed almost constantly for God to take it away, but he never did. My love for her consumed me like nothing I had ever experienced before. This was no mere crush or phase, and I knew in the deepest parts of me that I had never possessed a more pure love for anyone than what I had for her; oh, how I wished I could show her the love and respect that none of her asshole boyfriends gave to her. At the same time, I also knew that my desire was the ultimate shame to God and that, somehow, I had to choose to get rid of it. I just didn’t know how to un-choose something I had never really chosen in the first place.
I compensated for this sin by bringing her to youth group with me so she could get some Jesus. Another coping mechanism was convincing myself that what I felt for her was just lust from Satan, and that my best guy friend from youth group was the one I truly loved. But, oh, how I loathed myself.
My world fell apart when the youth pastor to whom I had become so attached suddenly resigned his post. His replacement only made life worse; he was, young, inexperienced, cocky, unsympathetic, and a bit of a misogynist. But, goddamn, could that man teach some hardcore theology. Being a recent Bible college grad, he took it upon himself to bring theology classes to our level so that we could be theologians in our own right. Thanks to him, I sank my teeth into the juiciest meat I had ever tasted, and I knew that I was supposed to dedicate my whole life to God, his word, and his work. When I asked about doing youth ministry, though, he told me I couldn’t really do anything because I was a woman. He said I could either marry a youth pastor or write Christian books for teen girls and become a girls speaker.
After that, I started shopping more out of the men’s section and trying harder to become “one of the guys.” I was haunted by one of my earliest memories–myself, as a very young child, standing in front of the full-length mirror in the bathroom, staring at myself hard, convinced that my parents had lied to me and that I was actually a boy. Eventually, after being subjected to gay-bullying sexual harassment and assault at school (courtesy of the jock boys), I dated a male friend I knew from work just because I found out he liked me and I wanted to know what it was like to have a boyfriend. The girl I loved had left her knife in my back, my best guy friend was into another girl, and I was growing weary of the “I Kissed Dating Good-Bye” scene. At 17, no one had ever bothered to ask me out before, and I wasn’t allowed to initiate relationships because God wanted men to be the leaders. But, the longer I stayed with my boyfriend, the more he started to irritate me. I took as many hours at work as I could. I had to put myself through college, after all. In the end, he dumped me just before my birthday because he had started messing around with a friend of mine from school.
After graduation, I poured myself into leading my first girls-only summer-long Bible study, and then was hastily kicked out of the youth group by the youth minister once that summer ended, even though I didn’t have any friends my own age or older. I still got to see my friends a lot since we all took classes at the same junior college, but I suddenly found myself outside of their inside jokes and youth group gossip. The one family I had found, the one thing I had centered the last four years of my life on, was no longer open to me.
I didn’t belong anymore.