Growing up as a non-denominational Christian, I heard a lot of preaching about the origins of mankind. I liked the story of Creation. It had a wonderful mystique about it and made me feel that God, as the Creator, really loved the world. But I had some issues with the origins of the sexes. You know the story: Adam and Eve were tricked by the serpent, presumably the Devil by most Christians, into eating fruit that they were explicitly forbidden by God. Eve was the first to eat and then she offered it to Adam. (Bad woman!) I always had a real problem with Genesis 3:16, from the King James Version, of course.
“Unto the woman, he [God] said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.”
Before puberty, I didn’t see much of a difference between boys and girls. Sure, boys could pee standing up and I admired that ability. I knew girls weren’t allowed to do some things, like play professional baseball, and that made me sad. But I could run as fast as any boy I knew and I got better grades than the boys in my class, so I didn’t feel inferior in any way.
Then puberty hit.
My dad gave all three of us kids the whole “how babies are made” speech when I was eleven or twelve. He used medical terminology. It was years before I understood what the hell he was talking about. My mom refused to be there for the discussion.
I began wondering if God had something against girls. There were so many differences that seemed inherently unfair. Girls had this embarrassing and painful thing called menstruation. Girls were doomed to go through agonizing childbirth. I felt like it was nothing beautiful or magical because Mom never talked about it. She seemed utterly humiliated by the experience. Dad would only tell us birthing stories that had morals about how doctors were evil and women should have their babies at home.
I decided that I would not have children. I would adopt. Or maybe I would start my own orphanage in some remote country, like the missionary from the movie, The Inn of the Sixth Happiness. I was pretty sure I wouldn’t get married because I couldn’t stand the thought of not being in control of my own life. No way was I going to be “under” the authority of someone else! I counted down the days until I turned eighteen. The magical age when I could legally move out.
I listened to all the negative characteristics that my dad attributed to women: emotionally unstable, delicate, needed protection, weak. I worked hard not to display any of these attributes. I tried to not show emotion. I wanted to be dependable and responsible. I wanted to be intelligent and taken seriously.
When I was twelve, I told my Sunday School teacher’s wife that I didn’t want to be a lady. It totally freaked her out. I didn’t understand why. Why would I want to be helpless and dependent on a man? I wanted to be able to take care of myself.
This might explain why I became obsessed with comic books in high school. The heroines kicked some serious ass. They weren’t delicate at all. They were strong and courageous and smart.
I didn’t have female role models. My mom loved the male characters in movies. She adored Mel Gibson and Bruce Willis. My dad admired Chuck Norris. My brothers were into G.I. Joe and superheroes.
I wasn’t allowed to wear makeup or get my ears pierced. What was the point of trying to look pretty when I had to use the family-sized Pert Plus and wear hand-me-downs? So I adopted the grunge and skater look in the mid/late nineties. I wore my brothers’ huge jeans and borrowed Emily t-shirts from my best friend.
My best friend. I have to mention her. She was my heroine. She chewed up boys on a daily basis. She was a complete smart-ass. She talked back to my dad. She said all the things that I wished I had the guts to say. She was the first feminist I knew. I wanted to be just like her.
When I went to ORU, I became more aware of the social restrictions on women. Male and female students were treated completely different by the administration. I have previously mentioned that women had a curfew and had to wear skirts. I was a student there when the rules changed and women were allowed to wear slacks in the winter because of the cold, Oklahoma winds.
Separate chapel services for men and women happened once a year, but it was always the same message. In the men’s chapel, the speaker always talked about sexual purity and the evils of masturbation.
In the women’s chapel, the speaker always talked about how, as Christian women, it is our duty to dress modestly so that we don’t tantalize men. One year, the speaker went on and on about how wrong it was to wear a purse strap across the chest, accentuating the breasts. I was fuming through the entire service. When I left the chapel building, I about to burst. I turned to my female friends who were walking with me. “God gave me these,” I said as I pointed to my breasts, “and I can’t hide them.” I knew instinctually that it was wrong to be ashamed of my body, but I wasn’t comfortable with it either.
Then I met my gay boys during my sophomore year. I met one boy at ORU in my class about C. S. Lewis and the Inklings. (Yeah, sure, I fell in love with him at first. He was beautiful and paid attention to me. What can I say?) Then we met another boy at the coolest place in Tulsa, Oklahoma for kids under twenty-one. It was a coffee shop/open mic venue. The coffee kicked ass. It was open after midnight. These two guys (and the subsequent gay boys that I met and those that befriended me) were the most wonderful people. They loved and accepted me the way I was. They taught me that my body was a beautiful thing and that there was no need for me to feel ashamed of who I am.
When I moved out to San Francisco, I discovered lesbian literature. Writers like Dorothy Allison, Jeanette Winterson, and Sarah Waters wrote about women I understood. Strong, confused, sexy women who were trying to find their voice.
At the church I was attending in SF, I became friends with strong lesbian women and mothers. My role models for parenthood are middle-aged lesbian mothers, one Jewish and one Christian, who are doing an amazing job raising their adopted daughters. When I started dating David, I met and became bffs with his lesbian bff. She was his best person in our wedding. (I promise to tell that story one day.)
My relationship with gay girls and boys has made me the person I am today. They have shown me love, acceptance, and true friendship.
Thank God for gay boys and girls. I don't know where I would be without you.