You Must Have Sex Every 72 Hours!

“Ladies, I mean this with every ounce of seriousness I can muster, do not let your husbands go more than 72 hours without sex. Ever. Do you understand me?” Those were the words spoken by our Dean of Women at the tiny baptist college I was attending. I was still living as a woman, and completely in denial about who I was or who I was attracted to. So I took copious notes and listened intently. Honestly I was looking for more information about this whole sex thing. At 21 years old I knew what sex was, but I didn’t really know what to expect. I had never seen an adult male penis and I had only just had my first real make out session a few months earlier.

The make out had been quite a disappointment, and I had a sneaking suspicion that sex with a man would be the same. But then what did I know? My friend *Trish shifted in her seat and suddenly her arm was resting firmly against mine. I quickly readjusted my own position to make sure we weren’t touching. I was always careful to keep physical contact between my female friends to a minimum. It was the fear and shame in the pit of my stomach that kept me on my toes. The DOW continued her lecture on a woman’s duty to satisfy her man and I brought my attention back to front of the auditorium.

“If your man isn’t satisfied in the bedroom then that’s your fault. If he goes looking for more outside the home because he’s not getting what he needs, that’s on the wife. The Bible says we are to be a helpmeet to our husbands. That is our purpose on this earth.”

I kept scribbling notes even though none of this was new to me. I had heard these same teachings my entire life. I had read the multiple books our church sold about “A Wife’s Purpose”, “Created to be his Helpmeet”, “Woman The Completer” and more. I had also read our current speaker’s two volume series against the liberal feminist movement, and which reminded women that their place was in the home. The teachings of my fundamentalist upbringing were lodged deep in my brain.

Sitting in a school chapel service each day, going to church services three times a week, attending countless revivals and conferences and seminars, I guess I was foolish to think I’d simply break away from those teachings. At 23 years old I finally had the courage to announce I was attracted to women, split with my husband, and leave my church. I expected that these rebellions had broken the spell of submission wrought on by decades of misogyny and abuse. However it would be many years later before I would realize I still didn’t believe that my body was my own.

There were men after my husband. Men I had no desire to sleep with, yet still I found myself in their beds fulfilling my duties as a woman. There was the man I had said no to who refused to hear my answer. And I never reported the rape because it was my own fault after all. I shouldn’t have let him into my house. I shouldn’t have worn a low cut top. I shouldn’t have lead him on by simply existing as a feminine body in his presence. If I had followed the rules then he would have never been forced to take what he wanted.

And there were women. Beautiful, wonderful women I could escape into. But I was shocked and angry when they said no. How dare they! Sex is expected, didn’t they know that? Of course I knew I couldn’t force them to sleep with me. I wasn’t like the pig who just took what he wanted. But I could manipulate, and lie, and pressure, and coerce until I got the answer I sought. I can remember the time I looked at a young woman after a date and said “Well now we’ve reached that moment where we make out”. And I wasn’t saying it playfully, in a teasing question. I stated it as if I were due access to a body that wasn’t mine. Because when it comes to sex we don’t have rights over our bodies. And in relationships the expectations grew. Because now you’re mine and that means I can have what I want when I want it. And vice versa, I have no say on whether my partner can use my body.

It seems incredulous now, but that’s how I lived. That’s how I saw myself. I did not wear what I wanted or look how I wanted or give what I wanted. From my youngest memories my body belonged to everybody else. I belonged to my church, my pastor, my parents, my faith, my husband, my past. Until one day I had enough. I couldn’t drag around this carcass that didn’t belong to me so I took it back. I said no. I said stop. I walked away. I refused to give in. And this body became mine.

And once it was mine I could make it what it was always meant to be. I could cut my hair, and change my clothes, and fix the maladjusted features. I could be the man I wanted in this perfectly imperfect body. I took it back, and I reveled in the empowerment. And then I saw what I had done to other bodies. How I had tried to own them, and break them, and use them like I had been used. And I was ashamed. Today this body will not hurt other bodies anymore. Today this body believes in the power of ownership. Today this body is proud, and warm, and good, and mine.

– Evan

The Day I Rallied Against Gay Marriage

Trigger Warning: This post contains abusive and hateful language about the LGBTQ community, as well as an account of events that could be traumatic for some.

I just left the Philadelphia Transgender Wellness Conference. It was a wonderful three days packed full of information, resources, connections, and new friendships. The conference wraps up each year around 6:30pm on Saturday; but my fiancé and I had finished our last session at 5, and decided to try and beat the crowd to grab dinner. Our early departure caused us to miss the commotion that happened roughly around 6 o’clock. A few men with signs and bullhorns stood outside of the convention center and harassed conference goers as they exited the building. Ranting and raving against the evils of the queer community, they drew a large group of counter protesters. I was able to watch all of this through my Instagram as new friends posted updates. After about 20 minutes the agitators were dismissed from the property.

I have a strange relationship with these types of encounters. On the one hand, as a queer transgender man, I’m deeply offended by the hateful rhetoric spewed from the mouths of anti-LGBTQ bigots. And on the other hand, I’m reminded of the part I played myself almost a decade ago. On my social media I am very open about the fact that I grew up in a fundamentalist cult; however, I don’t think people truly absorb what that all means. Yes I’ve dealt with years of spiritual trauma, religious abuse, internalized homophobia and transphobia, PTSD, decades of intense misogyny, and more. But on the flip side, I must always remember and admit that I was also a perpetrator of these abuses.

In reality I have countless moments where I brought harm to the LGBTQ community through my words and actions. There are bills that I supported which stripped or further denied my queer family their rights. There are hateful slurs I cast at individuals who crossed my path. There are pamphlets I passed out that warned of the dangers of the LGBTQ uprising. The times I exclaimed with such intensity and ferocity, “I HATE f******. They’re disgusting!” No, I am not innocent and my ignorance does not excuse my hate. But one thing has come from this past, I realize that these anti-queer demonstrators are human. Possibly just as lost and broken as I was when I was drowning each day and hoping I would find salvation. Not the salvation of my church or my soul, but the salvation of my truth and who I was at my core. The following is a story from the most prominent anti-gay rally in which I took part.

**************

The air was crisp and chilled as a winter wind swept through Baptist City, the name given to the land which held the Church’s school grounds. Roughly 300 high school teenagers stood huddled in groups, fidgeting back and forth attempting to stay warm as a blistering, February day in Northwest Indiana dawned bright. “I need homerooms 11A and 11B on bus 40! 11C you’re going to join 12C over on bus 53” A groan passed through the crowd of those of us who would be forced to join the seniors. The only person excited to ride with the older and rowdy classmen was Hannah who had a boyfriend in 12C. We shuffled over to our transport still trying to block the wind. Climbing on board we felt a relief from the harsh chill, yet knew that there would be no heat on the 3 hour ride and this was as warm as things would get.

Two of my friends and I crammed ourselves into a seat hoping the overcrowding would provide some warmth. Snow began to fall outside and I shifted closer to the window, trying to give Kat* some room as she hung off the edge of the bench. “Can’t someone else protest against these homos” Kat grumbled in frustration. “Wow, we haven’t even started yet and you’re already complaining” Monica* quipped, as Kat flashed her a razor sharp look. “Personally I’m happy to get rid of these f***,” I said, pulling my hat lower and my scarf tighter, “Would you rather freeze or have a bunch of sodomites ruining our country?” Kat rolled her eyes “I’d RATHER not have my butt cheeks frozen to a bus seat. Besides, who cares? I mean I don’t like gay people either but just let them do their thing”.

I let out a sarcastic laugh “Pretty soon “their thing” will be to persecute us every time we try to preach the truth. I heard about a pastor in California who went to prison because he was preaching against sodomy” I hadn’t heard that, but I needed my friends to understand the urgency of the situation. And anyway, I’m sure it would be true one day. That’s what Preacher had said. Preacher was our current leader, Jack Schaap. He liked that we call him Preacher instead of pastor or reverend or Brother Schaap, a term we used to refer to all other male leaders in the church. He told us that one day Christians would face a persecution like never before simply for standing for God’s word. He warned that the homosexuals were fighting to take over our government and schools. And he explained that eventually we would be forced to attend classes taught by pedophiles because Christian schools would be closed down and homeschooling would be eliminated. And of course it wouldn’t be long before Men of God would be imprisoned for even speaking negatively against sodomy.

One of Preachers good friends was a man named Eric Miller. He had spoken at our church many times and lead a group called Advance America which was fighting to preserve marriage and protect Christians from discrimination. In fact, he was the one who had organized this rally down at the Indianapolis statehouse. Thousands of Christians across the state would be coming to the rally today to support Senate Joint Resolution No. 7, which clearly stated that marriage was between a man and a woman. The hope was to further insure that same-sex marriage could not be legalized in the state. A year earlier the state of Massachusetts had legalized gay marriage and word was that other states planned to follow soon; we must stop this poison from spreading.

As the buses rolled down the highway we sang songs, chatted among ourselves, and drove the bus supervisors crazy as students repeatedly attempted to cross the imaginary line that divided the boys from the girls. “Steven I won’t tell you again, sit down and do not come past the emergency door. Next time its demerits!” Mr. Williams screamed to the back of the bus. I laughed and quickly covered my mouth. The man was tall, lanky and pale white from head to toe. When he got upset his face turned a bright red and contrasted sharply with his light blonde hair. We continued on our way and the minutes ticked by slowly, I wondered if I should eat the bag of chips I had packed in my lunch. The overcrowding in the seat didn’t seem like such a good idea now. Between the multiple layers of clothing and a bus crammed with excited teenagers the temperature was rising. Monica struggled to pull off her coat as Kat and I ducked a flying fist. Finally the city came into view and we all cheered when a supervisor confirmed it was Indianapolis.

Hurrying off the bus I looked around taking in the view as best I could. There were thousands of people surrounding the Statehouse. Most of them were people from our church or similar churches marching into the magnificent building or holding signs that read  Marriage = One Man and One Woman, and, Support SJR 7 , and also, Protect the Sanctity of Marriage.  Across the wide platform that stretched out before the Statehouse steps, another group of people rallied. There were far fewer of them than us but they were just as passionate. They held signs that read Gay Okay, and, Equal Rights for All, and, Jesus Loved Us Too. Dozens of small rainbow flags were being waved with a much larger one held by several protesters in the center.For a moment I think I felt compassion, or maybe it was a connection. I’m not sure, I just remember pausing and seeing real people feeling real pain that I was helping to cause. But I had to, it’s what God wanted. At least that what Preacher said and he knew God better than anyone.

As we entered the building a teacher filed us up a set of stairs to a balcony that overlooked the lobby below. I made sure I was right against the banister so that I could get a clear view over the railing. Once the high schooler’s were in, young adults from our Churches College lined the walls of the lobby and finally, pastors, teachers, church members and more filled in the center, many sitting on the floor so that those behind them could see. There were only a few hundred people allowed in the senate chambers and we hadn’t arrived in time to get in there anyway. But that wasn’t our purpose, we were just here to show support in numbers. Later we would find out what was said by those who supported SJR 7 to keep marriage between a man and a woman.

Senator Waterman, a blowhard and therefore a favorite of Preacher’s, would go on his “Homosexuals can’t reproduce therefore they must recruit!” tangent. He was notorious for that phrase and convinced that gays only wanted to marry so they could adopt children and convert them to homosexuality. Eric Miller would make an impassioned plea for the amendment, point to Massachusetts as a warning, and state clearly “Traditional marriage is the foundation of every society. Banning same-sex marriages and civil unions will prove to be the greatest moral battle of this generation.” Several more people would come forward in support of the bill. Only one Senator opposed it, Anita Bowser, but no one seemed to pay her much mind.

Outside the chambers we waited and listened to our own speakers. Pastors urging us to stay vigilant in the fight, House Representative’s that thanked us for coming and assured us we would see victory, a trio of men who were apparently brought in to sing to us. And finally Eric Miller walked out and prayed with us, then we all sang God Bless America and felt like good Christians protecting ourselves by denying others the same rights we enjoyed. It was all pretty anti-climatic in my opinion. From the way homosexuals had been described in our church services I had expected them to attack us. I thought we’d have a riot and maybe I’d get to throw some rocks at some homos, all in self-defense….of course. Yet none of that happened; we did see a few protesters and anti-protesters getting into a heated debate as we exited the Statehouse, but nothing physical. Some of the guys in our group yelled slurs at the gathering of queers and were met with a wall of middle fingers in response. Nothing too exciting and I was disappointed, especially when I realized I had to climb back on the bus and ride 3 hours back home. I much preferred harassing people in my own area thank you very much. Some of us talked about protesting at the Chicago Gay Pride Parade that summer and that sounded like fun. Maybe then we’d get some real action.

As for amendment SJR 7, it never passed but continued to come back again and again in various forms over the next several years. Every time it seemed the bill would pass, we prepared to celebrate, and every time it would drop in the last moment. Of course all of this constant opposition to gay marriage made it hard for any support of same-sex couples to get through. Finally in October of 2014, nine years after I had boarded a bus and ridden three hours to protest, gay marriage was legalized in Indiana. Some saw it as a victory, other’s saw it as simply reading the writing on the wall. Just eight months later on June 26, 2015 same-sex marriage was legalized in all 50 states. By that time I was living as an open lesbian and already beginning to look into how I could come out as a transgender man. I guess I fit the tired stereotype of the angry oppressor who secretly wants to be with the oppressed. While I am happy to be free today, I am always aware of the pain I brought to others in many ways at various times. My hope is to be better and to help others to be better as well. Before you write off the demonstrator you’re angrily staring down from across a tense line of protest, remember that many of us were once on the other side.

-Evan

*These names were kept anonymous. I did not keep “Preacher’s” name anonymous. Google him. Wonderful chap 😉

I sat in a circle of queer atheists today and it was everything

I just finished my time at the Philly Transgender Wellness Conference. The final session my fiancé and I attended was for non-theists, atheists and humanists, and a seminar I had been greatly anticipating. As we arrived in the room, the chairs were set up in a circle rather than the typical class style rows. I saw people of all ethnicities, gender expressions, and preferred appearances sitting next to one another completely filling the circle. We began to talk and share our experiences and regardless of background or current location we all had a desire to connect to our community.

Religion and faith are tricky topics in the queer world. There are those who adamantly cling to their faith and insist on fighting for LGBTQ inclusion in all religions. And I certainly can’t deny that queer individuals are entitled to the right to worship if they so choose. But what about those who don’t choose religion? What about those who feel no connection to religion or even spirituality? In this fight for inclusion into religious spaces, I feel there is often a misconception that queer individuals reject religion solely because of discrimination. And while it certainly hasn’t helped, I think the issue often lies much deeper.

Queer people defy everything that most religions teach. Religion teaches that our existence is a sin and can be cured, yet we know that not to be true. More accepting religions teach that we’re “fearfully and wonderfully made”. That’s cute, but then why do I need weekly hormone injections and surgeries and voice coaching and more just to fit into this fearfully and wonderfully made body? I certainly don’t want to invalidate the comfort religion has brought to many POFs (people of faith). But I also don’t want to invalidate queer people, or any people, who simply don’t find comfort and solace in religion.

Often when I’ve stated that I don’t believe in a god I’m met with the response that I’m either angry at god (the god I JUST said I don’t believe in), or that I just need to find a religion that fits. Why? I find no need for god or religion. I do find a need for community, and I find a need for some “spiritual” practices such as meditation and introspection. But today I sat in a circle of atheists and humanists and received everything I needed and wanted. A place to go and unload the burdens of this world with people who accepted me and looked to encourage me. There was no supposed idea of what I should be doing, or how I would be judged, or what ways I could take outdated and misogynistic texts and pretend they were something else.

At the conference, I heard a statistic that those who don’t belong to communities of faith are more likely to die earlier than those who do belong to those communities. I don’t know how true this is, but I do think community is important. So if you’re queer and non-theistic I encourage you to look for support groups, or even start one if you can. Don’t let the bastards drag you down. And don’t sacrifice your beliefs for a sham community. We queer non-believers are out there, and I believe it’s important we start connecting face to face.

-Evan

It Was PECKING Awful

*Disclaimer – forgive the format and punctuation. Typing this from and app*

My phone buzzed loudly in the cup holder, rumbling in circular motions as I tried to grasp it with fumbling fingers. One hand gripped the steering wheel as the other fought to flip the contraption open. Instead the phone slipped through my fist and fell back into the cup holder.

BZZZZZ!!

BZZZZZ!!

“You’re phone’s ringin Header” Tiffany said from the back seat. It wasn’t a comment made with sarcasm. My sister was genuinely concerned that I answer the phone. A 25 year old with severe developmental disabilities, Tiffany had the mind and skill set of a 4 year old and often acted like one. Which was mostly adorable and only occasionally irritating as all 4 year olds tend to be.

“Thanks Tif!” I said finally managing to get a firm hold of the phone and flipping it open. “You gonna get that?” Tif said with a laugh.

I got it. Hello?” My hand shook slightly as I held the phone to my ear and tried not to breathe heavily into the receiver. My nerves were jumbled with excitement and fear. “Hey” his voice was calm and relaxed, a smile hanging on the words. “You almost here?”

“I’m just up the street. Where do you want to go?”

“Just pull onto Langley, it’s a side street off of Main that’s just past the school”

“I know where it is!” My voice pitched with anxiety as I said the words. “There’s a ton of church people in that neighborhood. Someone will catch us!”

Alex* laughed on the other end of the line “Relaxxx, it’s late at night, half these people are still at church and half didn’t go. No ones going to find us. Besides we’ll be quick. I just want to give you a good night kiss.” I blushed and was grateful he couldn’t see me. “Im turning in now”

I see you” He stood on the right side of the road, still in his tan church suit, tie and all. I pulled up next to him and he quickly climbed in.

“Hey who’s dis boy? Hey, hey can I ask you a question?” Tiffany reached out and grabbed Alex’s arm pulling at his suit coat. Social skills definitely weren’t her strong point. Alex’s eyes grew wide and he was clearly perplexed on how to respond to my sister. “Tiffany let go!” I said firmly prying her fingers of his sleeve. “Tif…Tif…look at me.” She stared at Alex and he stared back almost afraid. I wanted to roll my eyes. People always get irrationally nervous around folks with disabilities. “Tiffany Dawn” she finally looked at me with a lazy smile. “I’m going to play your favorite CD ok? I’m going to play Barbra Burke-” Tif leaned back in her seat squealing and clapping her hands excitedly “What!”

“You have to be quiet though ok?””

“Ok!”

“You have to give Alex and me some privacy. If you don’t I’ll turn the CD off.”

“Ok, ok. I got it. I’ll be quiet so you have rivacy” she clapped her hands again as I turned the CD on and looked at Alex. He was laughing. “This is so weird”

“I know!” I sat back frustrated and embarrassed. “I wasn’t supposed to have her tonight but my mom decided to stay late with my dad and no one else could take Tif home and I didn’t have a good reason not to take her.” He smiled and reached out to grab my hand. “It’s fine. Honestly.” He peered back hesitantly and glanced at my sister. “As long as you’re sure she won’t say anything.” I laughed “Even if she did no one would believe her”.  He relaxed again then reached out, cupped my chin, and pulled me into him. For a moment our foreheads rested against each other, our breath one, until finally our lips met.

I guess I should take this moment to tell the reader that this was my first kiss. My first “real” kiss, aside from childish pecks on the playground. As a young wildling I was known for my kisses. I kissed everyone, boys and girls. But then around age 7 my parents had finally had enough; and, after several harsh beatings with a leather belt, I started keeping my kisses and my lips to myself. That was the way in the IFB, the extreme religious branch in which I grew up. Kisses and hugs and really touching, especially of the opposite sex, were not to be tolerated or allowed.

Not even among older dating or engaged couples. It was considered the highest honor for a woman to go to the marriage altar not just a virgin in sex, but a virgin in all intimacy and that included kissing. Of course few made it to their wedding day IFB pure. Many lied and said that they were virgins. Some managed to at least save sex for the wedding day. And a few, I do mean a slim few, actually did keep the ridiculous standards and proudly planted their first kiss on their new spouse upon saying “I do”.

It was impossible to know who was a real virgin and who wasn’t. I know a couple who dated 6 years and claimed to never have fooled around once. All of our leaders harshly condemned anyone, but mostly women, who broke these sacred vows of purity. And yet most of our leaders did admit that they hadn’t been able to keel these standards themselves, yet still expected the rest of us to do so. That was life in the IFB, Independent Fundamental Baptists, a prison of double standards and hypocrisies. Of course I wouldn’t realize that for quite a bit longer. I wouldn’t realize a lot of things for quite a bit longer. Like the fact that I reallllly like girls and that I could actually live as the man I felt myself to be. No at this time I was still a naive, straight, little, Baptist girl, having my first make out session in my parents red mini van with my special needs sister in the backseat.

Despite my sheltered knowledge and extreme lack of experience I knew he was an awful kisser. I was nearly pecked to death that night. It felt like it was making out with a rooster. Just open your stupid mouth! I thought in frustration. Part your lips! Use your tongue! Anything! For a brief moment I thought it could be my breath. But I have good hygiene and I had chewed half a pack of gum on the way over. Is this HIS first time? The thought surprised me. Alex was a few years older than me and fancied himself a ladies man. I couldn’t believe I’d be his first. Not with the smooth way he’d suggested we meet up and swap spit. We weren’t even dating. In fact, he was practically dating someone else. I felt a twinge of guilt as she flashed through my mind and pulled back for a moment. Maybe that’s why he was hesitant. “Ooohhh I know what you’re doin Header” Tiffany teased from the backseat. Or maybe his mood was killed by the grown ass 4 year old staring at us from 3 feet away. God do I know how to show a guy a good time or what?

Alex smiled a wide toothy smile then pulled me back in. “You’re kissin. I can see you kissin that boy!” We both laughed with our lips locked together and our mouths shook. “I think we should probably call it a night” he said leaning back with a chuckle.

Yeah that’s probably best” I agreed. He leaned in again for one more quick peck then hopped out of the car. “I’ll see ya”. I pulled out onto the street and headed home. A mixture of emotions flooded my being. Elation at finally having my first kiss at 21 years old. Fear that someone from the church might have seen us. And guilt that she, Claire*, his almost girlfriend had no idea. Finally, I felt confusion.

What did this mean for him and I? In the world, as we referred to everyone outside our faith, a kiss probably didn’t mean much. But in our realm it meant a lot, or at least it was supposed to mean a lot.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The next morning I hurried through the halls towards Liberty Square, the college cafe, ducking in to grab a 32 oz code red Mountain Dew. Something had to keep a full time student/full time employee running. Glancing to my right I nearly stepped back when I noticed Alex standing at the counter. Don’t be weird. I muttered to myself. I had no reason to be ashamed and honestly I really wasn’t, yet the experience still felt odd. I turned on my widest, church girl smile and approached him.

Hey!!” my enthusiasm radiated a little too strongly. Turn it down Wolfe. Don’t. Be. Weird!!

“Hey.” He responded, hardly looking at me as he finished paying for his muffin. “See ya around” his head jerked up in a “what’s up” nod before he brushed past me and out the door. I stood dumbfounded for a moment.

It’s not that I had expected us to lock eyes, and look away shyly before blushing into a grin. It’s just that I had expected that exact scenario or at the very least some acknowledgement that I was more than a mere classmate. I wasn’t broken-hearted. My feelings for Alex didn’t run that deep. But my pride was hurt and for a brief moment, I felt like the girl my preachers had warned me about. The one the boys used before finally settling on the girl they really wanted to marry.

A favorite illustration during purity talks included two roses. One was kept next to the speaker, often in a vase of water, and blooming beautifully for the crowd to see.  The other was passed around for everyone to feel and admire. At the end of the lecture, the speaker would place both roses in the vase and ask an audience member to pick which one they would like to take home. Of course the spectator always chose the rose that hadn’t been wilted by the fingers of dozens of attendees as it passed through the rows. And that was the message; be the rose who keeps herself for one man, not the rose who lets herself be used. Was I now a wilted rose?

Sighing in frustration I paid for my drink and hurried to the restroom. I needed to add a little something before heading to my first class. Once alone in my stall I quietly removed a small bottle of Dimitri vodka from my purse and poured a good amount into the soda, stirring it with my straw. This vodka wasn’t for Alex, it was simply a bit of a habit I was already creating. However I did look forward to the fact that in a few minutes I wouldn’t care about stupid Alex and his stupid head nods and my wasted time.

Taking a sip I closed my eyes and savored the taste. God I love vodka, I thought before once again hiding the bottle in the bottom of my purse and gathering my belongings. I had to practically run to make it to my 8 am class, Christian Womanhood. Yes an entire class about how to be a good, Christian lady complete with the book “A Meek and Quiet Spirit” as one of our study guides. The class was a requirement to graduate and this was my final semester to take it. In a few weeks I would be on to my last semester, which was student teaching, before finally earning my four year, unaccredited, Bachelors in Education. I’d never make it though.

After confiding in a good friend about my trist with Alex and my new hobby of drinking, she turned me in. I was expelled and told to take a year to “get my life together” before returning to graduate. My parents were furious at me for refusing to give up the name of my mystery man.

“Its not fair for you to be punished and for him to get off scot-free” my mother exclaimed across our dining room table.

I just want to know who he is so I can protect you from him” my step-father insisted.

At the time their intentions seems genuine, but years later I would come to realize it was never about protecting me or justice in general. My parents only concern has always been their reputation in the IFB. If their child was going down in a scandal then you better believe they were looking for someone else to blame.

Eventually though Alex’s name would come out and I felt bad because I never intended for either of us to get in trouble. A few months later I attempted to apologize through text message. He responded, “lol no worries! I jst got a lecture. ;)”

Just a lecture! Anger flared for a moment. I was expelled one semester shy of completing my degree and told to take an entire year off. He got a lecture?! I breathed deeply and let it go. This was never about spite or equal punishments. I’d take this year to find myself.

~~~~~~~~~~~

I don’t know that i found myself that year; in fact, I think I got a little more lost. But I did make some changes. I went to rehab that summer, got out and married an old friend, settled down to continue working for the church, and made my plans to complete my final year of college. A few weeks after my honeymoon one of my friends, Beth* who was still in school, reached out and asked if we could grab coffee.

I pulled into the front entrance of my assumed, soon to be Alma Mater Hyles-Anderson College and picked Beth up before heading to Starbucks. We chatted and laughed and caught up. I hadn’t seen many of my school pals in the last year and Beth and I always had a good time together. “I’m so glad we could do this!” She said smiling as we headed back to campus. “I’m going to miss you next year. I’m going to miss all of this”

“What?! You have a year left. What are you talking about?” I exclaimed looking over at her in disbelief as if she were teasing me. She paused, and I knew she wasn’t joking. I could also see there was something more, something she wanted to tell me. The campus was coming into view but instead I pulled off onto a side street and parked the car.

“Beth, what’s going on?”

“I think I’m going to complete my degree down at Champion”

“In a Arizona? Who the heck do you know in Arizona. Is it a boy?” My lips spread into a grin as I prepared to tease her. Yet her eyes suddenly filled with tears.

I’ve-” she choked at the words “I’ve been asked to leave, told to-to transfer down to Champion”.

I couldn’t really comprehend what I was hearing. Beth was a model student and a model independent fundamental baptist in my opinion. How could the college possibly be trying to get rid of her? The tears ran down her cheeks now “It’s my fault. I got caught up with a guy. We fooled around and then I felt guilty and turned myself in. I was an idiot”

I was confused “I didn’t know you were even dating-”

She cut me off, “we’re not! That’s what’s so wrong with the whole thing! He’s dating someone else and I just….I got sucked in”.

Now I was furious. What kind of scumbag would take advantage of poor, innocent Beth? “Who is he?” I demanded before I could even think to realize it was none of my business. She paused a long moment. I knew she was doing that inner IFB girl dialogue. Should she tell me and bring shame to his name? But she wasn’t trying to be vindictive or spiteful; she simply wanted to confide in a friend. “Alex… Alex Moore*”

The words nearly rocked me off my seat. My Alex? The Alex I was expelled over? The Alex who head nodded me the next morning like I was nothing? I stared at her and couldn’t speak. But I had to, I had to know. “Is he still with Claire?” She nodded and continued to cry. “Does the administration know it was him?” She nodded again and cried harder. Finally I asked the real question, “Did he get in trouble?”

She wiped her tears, sniffed, and wiped her nose “Not really – He said he just got a lecture”.

-E

*pseudonym

Courage – A Nightmare

Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things that I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.I was on the second row of our church auditorium, just under the pulpit and gracing the edge of the altar. The room was packed with rambunctious teens singing, giggling and whispering as our supervisors tried desperately to muffle the noise. I looked down at my clothing, a light pink floral dress that fell nearly to the floor covering my matching tights and white shoes. Ew! I thought, what is happening? Why am I back here? I reached up to touch my hair. It was long again, filled with curls and flowered pins trying to hold some kind of updo style in place. I panicked for a moment then caught a flash of blue on the floor. It was my Cubs baseball cap. I snatched it up and quickly covered my head, pulling the hat low over my eyes and slinking down into my seat.The girl next to me turned to speak and I nearly shot out of the pew. “Hey Heath what do you think-” she began, but I have no idea what else she said. I couldn’t stop staring at her, it was Ashley. One of my best friends from high school but she had left after the 10th grade and I only ever saw her once again. What the hell is going on here! I could feel my anxiety rising, my palms sweating, my breath coming in short spats. Why am I back here? I can’t be back here?! Then a face filled the pulpit and my panic attack went into full mode.The face started as that of my first youth pastor, he said a few jokes to get the kids attention. Then he started full on into a sermon about the evils of the world. Music, movies, Hollywood, pants on women, physical contact before marriage, skirts too short, tops too low, hair too long on men and not long enough on women. And with each offense I waited for the big one, I waited for those ultimate sins to be named and the place to erupt in a torrent of outraged agreement. And just as we approached the inevitable climax the face changed. And it was Jack. Jack the second, the current leader and final authority in all our lives for so many years. His face was that crimson red it turned when he got heated and his eyes burned with fire as he gripped the pulpit and screamed into the mic mounting each word into a fever pitched frenzy “and don’t get me started on the sodomites and the queers and the men who think they’re women and women who wanna be men, and all that disgusting, abhorrent GARBAGE THAT IS FROM SATAN! LUCIFER! THE PRINCE OF DARKNESS!!” And the room exploded.Men were standing up in their seats, some standing on the pews themselves, while others ran up and down the aisles, all waving their bibles above their heads and screaming “that’s right preacher!” “Tell those queers preacher!!” “Amen Brother!” Women in the pews sat with hands folded, nodding their heads, some praying as others wept in grief for the lost souls. A few whispered an amen under their breath, but not loud enough for any man to hear. Women were to keep silent in the church. Not that any man or anyone for that matter would have noticed a woman say a word or even scream at the top of her lungs as the place was now a zoo of excitement. And Jack continued to feed the frenzy and his ego as began to pace up and down the platform shouting out his prophecies and condemning the sodomites to hell. “God will judge them!! Like he did Sodom and Gomorrah! Burning them to ashes. If he doesn’t get them in this life, he’ll get them in the next. Hell is no place you want to be. People say I want to go to hell, that’s where all the fun people go! Let me tell you something my friends, Hell is no party. It is an everlasting pit of fire. You hear that! An everlasting pit. You will fall for eternity as fire consumes you and yet death never comes. The Bible says it is a place where the worm dieth not, that means termites and scorpions will eat you alive as you’re falling and writhing in agony. Demons will mock you and you’re only company will be the most vile people from Earth. Do you want to spend eternity with the homos? Do you want to spend eternity in pain and agony? Then you’ve got to get right with God my friend!!”I was nearly as frantic as the crowd now, only I wanted to leave. I wanted to get out! But the girl on the end of my row was blocking me and the guy on the other end was shaking the pew in front of us; sweat pouring down his face, spit spewing from his mouth as his voice cracked in a hoarse cry echoing the word Amen! Amen! over and over again. Then the face in the pulpit changed again, this time to the face of my second youth pastor. He was a sleezy guy with the smile of a Cheshire Cat when he thought he had someone caught. “You know all this talk of queers and we have one here today who fits that category” I froze, I didn’t want to look up, my heart was racing as I forced myself to look into his eyes. Cool and grey, void of the wide smile plastered on his face. “Cross your legs like a lady Heather”. He snapped loudly into the microphone. I looked down and hadn’t even realized I had been sitting in a masculine pose. For a moment I slipped one knee neatly over the other and then stopped. Looking back at him I put my right leg back into a more comfortable and manly position. Now his smile was gone and he paused before leaning in to say “On second thought, why don’t you come up here and we can show you how to act like the girl that you are”. Then hands were grabbing me and I was struggling and wondering over and over again, what am I doing here? What the FUCK am I doing back here??!! And suddenly I woke up, and the nightmare was over. But the shame and the guilt were there all over again and I knew today I’d have to confront them again.I knew I’d have to stand strong in my truth even though it was rattled. I knew I’d have to face those same demons that were so familiar. I knew the doubt would tell me I was wrong. I’d wonder if acceptance was really courage even though I know that it’s not. For a moment the thought would cross my mind that I wanted those people’s approval again. That if I could be “normal” then maybe I could fit in. I’d forget that I don’t want to live a life of hate and intolerance. Perhaps for a little while I’d forget that in fact that life was the most inauthentic life I ever lived. Courage is not easy, it is terrifying. And the nightmares poise themselves to drive us away from our goals. But today I have the courage to change the things that I can. And no person, not my family, not my former friends, not even Jack the Second is going to drive me away from being true to myself.-Evan.

Two Years Sober

“Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things that I can, and the wisdom to know the difference”

Two years ago today I woke up and told myself, as I did every morning, “Today I won’t drink, today I’ll be sober, today I can make it through”. I was 9 days sober and shaking from withdrawals. I hadn’t slept the night before and didn’t expect I’d sleep tonight or for several more weeks for that matter. This wasn’t the first time I’d quit, I already knew what lay ahead. My pillow was stained with sweat and my head was throbbing. I grabbed the bottle of ibuprofen next to my bed and knocked back 4 using my flavored propel water to wash them down. The room was spinning slightly when I stood up but it wasn’t spinning as bad as it usually did.

After years of drinking every day, I had grown accustomed to waking up with a hangover and beginning the morning ritual of making myself functional. Three-four ibuprofen for the instant headache, two chewable tums or pepto tablets for the stomach ache, followed by a shower to clear my eyes and mind. On the way to work down a 16oz bottle of electrolyte infused water to rehydrate my thirst quenched body and then turn into Cumberland Farms or Dunkin Donuts for my first caffeine boost of the day. Usually by the time I pulled into the parking lot at work the nausea had settled and a quick spritz of axe body spray along with a few tictacs to cover up any lingering smells of alcohol had me ready to go. It was quite an ordeal but I didn’t realize that at the time. In fact I once bragged about my daily routine to my therapist who quickly pointed out that if I was putting in that much work to function then I might have a problem. I fired her the following week.

But today I didn’t need pepto or the tic tacs and my mind was much clearer than it had been in months. Over a week sober and I was starting to feel better physically. However the craving was strong and screaming in the back of my mind. I could almost taste bourbon whiskey on my tongue and quickly reached for a piece of candy because something sweet always seemed to take the edge off a little. I’d never been a smoker but I could finally see the appeal. I was crawling out of my skin and just trying to get through the first half of the day until I could make it to the noontime meeting.

AA was never a program I had been interested in attending. First, it was for real drunks and I was just a kid with a problem. Except I wasn’t a kid, I was 27, and my problem was wrecking my life. And second the program talked about god and some days reminded me of church and I was over them both. Unfortunately I couldn’t seem to get sober on my own and the other programs and resources I had used hadn’t helped either. Finally I walked into a meeting and decided to just listen. I’d gone every day for the last 6 days and today would be my 7th day of AA, 9th day of sobriety and I was going absolutely insane. “Just make it until noon, 4 more hours” I whispered to myself as I opened the store I managed and began the work day.

“Hey! Why won’t this guy take my coupon?! Sir… I mean Miss, are you the manager?” An angry customer was looking at me as I walked towards the register. His face a mass of rage and confusion as he struggled to make sure he had been correct to change his “sir” to “Miss”. My short hair, flat chest and neutral clothing threw people off all the time. “How can I help you sir?” I asked as I drew near the front. “I gotta coupon here for 5 bucks off and your employee won’t let me use it!” The man seemed to be in his late 60’s with graying hair and thick glasses that slid slightly down his nose. “May I see the coupon?” I said as I felt my patience already leaving me. He thrust the coupon in my face and since I already knew exactly what the problem was I quickly turned the paper back around so he could read the writing. “This coupon is only for Saturday’s Sir, we have $5 off $25 every Saturday. Unfortunately today is Sunday.” Large bold lettering in the center of the slip read Saturday Only but the gentleman stared at the coupling for several long moments as if willing it to change the day to Sunday. “Hmmmp!” he finally grumped and threw some money on the counter. “All these tricks and fine print, I don’t know why I even bother” continuing to mumble to no one he gathered his items and stalked out of the store. I rolled my eyes at the cashier before checking my phone for the time, 11:45. “Alright I’m running out for lunch, let Tammy know I’m gone ok?” Glenn, the young man who’d just had the pleasure of dealing with our grumpy customer, nodded and bid me a good lunch as I hurried out of the building.

My destination was just down the road and I pulled in with ten minutes to spare. I was a bit confused that there were only a few cars in the parking lot, but then I’d noticed that alcoholics didn’t tend to arrive until 5 minutes before the meeting. And those were the early birds. Still I could feel a knot forming in my stomach as I approached the door and saw the lights off and no movement inside. “The meetings over!” a voice called out to me and I caught sight of two men standing next to a truck talking. “How is it over?” I asked feeling annoyance and panic rise in my voice “it starts at noon!” “Not on Sundays” the taller man replied and I could see he kept his voice cool and calm even while my agitation grew. “On Sundays we hold the meeting at 10. But come back tomorrow and we’ll be here, I promise”. I didn’t need a meeting tomorrow. I needed something today. Tears stung my eyes and I held a cry of anger tight in my throat as I spun away and practically ran to my car.

The moment I opened the door the cry escaped and tears streamed down my face as I broke down completely. “I can’t do this! I can’t do this! Why would they change the time?! Don’t they know new people won’t be aware of the time change!” I was so angry and distraught as I drowned in my self pity. Suddenly the resentment and blame casting filled me once again and it was everyone else’s fault that I had a problem. Everybody else let me down, everybody else hurt me, everybody else deserved to watch me ruin my life because they did this to me. I had yet to learn the value of self responsibility and self honesty. If I had stopped in that moment I would have realized that these feelings were my own fears, my own lack of confidence, my own failings coming to light. But I didn’t take any ownership of my actions. Instead I drove home and quickly poured a drink.

As it always did, one drink became too many to count and the next morning I awoke passed out in my bed. I was wearing the same clothes from the day before and a cup I had apparently fallen asleep holding had spilled its contents all over my blankets. The room reeked of whiskey, or maybe it was just me. I stumbled up the stairs to our shower and sobbed as the water washed over my heaving shoulders. I was so tired and so broken and so hopeless. I remembered bits and pieces from the night before and upon leaving the bathroom I checked my phone to see that I had indeed called the suicide hotline several times the night before. I had to get help. Pulling on a sweatshirt and a pair of jeans I hurried to make the afternoon meeting. It was November 23, 2015. I sat in the meeting and shared my shattered heart with a room full of strangers. It was the beginning of true hope.

-H

I ran across a photo of you….

I use this blog for several purposes. One reason is to discuss atheism and secularism in our world today. I haven’t posted on this topic in a while and I apologize, I’ve been distracted by my second reason for this blog. The second reason is to tell my story of leaving a fundamentalist environment and use it to encourage others and create awareness for the abuse that abounds in these cultures. However the final reason I have this blog is much more personal and that is to use my writing as a therapy to deal with some of the loss and trauma I’ve faced along my journey. These posts, while published, are never advertised and I never direct anyone to read them. Honestly I’m surprised I publish them at all rather than saving them in my drafts which is much more like me. I guess putting them out there is part of the healing process. For the longest time I couldn’t even talk about my upbringing, and then labeling it for what it was became yet another obstacle to overcome. Today I can be candid about the abuse and experiences I both suffered and witnessed. I do a lot of work on myself and continue to get a little better each day. In fact most of the time, even when discussing the past, I am detached from those feelings and memories. But occasionally I do find myself caught off guard and shaken by emotions I had almost forgotten. Tonight I had one of those moments and this post will be an example of the third reason why I write. A brief but private insight into the process of letting go and moving on.

Tonight I saw a picture of you. I could say I stumbled across it in an old box of tucked away memories; but truthfully I hunted the picture down online after seeing your name tagged in a post. I didn’t expect the rush of feeling. The slightest moment of elation followed by incredible sadness and loss. A familiar face that once brought me such joy and peace and love. The memories of laughing uncontrollably over a stupid joke, or talking after a long day, or crying on your shoulder when my friend died all flooded and overwhelmed me so powerfully. The day that I asked you to understand that I was still the same person even though I was telling you I was gay and the blow to my chest when you said flat out “I’m sorry but I can’t understand, I’ll never understand.”

And it’s not necessarily your fault that I can’t trust people and haven’t had a deep friendship with anyone since leaving, but goddamn I wonder how much of an impact it had on me. You were one of many friends that fell along the way but your falling out hurt more than most. The walls are so high and so thick and the constant affirmation of others seems to do nothing to break them down. In the past I would drink to forget they were there, standing so formidable and seemingly impenetrable. And I have to admit I thought about it for a moment tonight, not wanting to trudge through the feelings I’ve had to relive in the last 2 years of sobriety. But I am not shrinking in shame and guilt anymore because while I have been wrong for many things, you were wrong to leave me. See what I’ve found in sobriety is the phrase “To thine own self be true” which consists of a lot of personal inventory and gut wrenching self honesty. But it also reminds me to stand firm in the truth of the little that I do know and today I KNOW that who I am is not wrong, or disgusting or sinful. I do know that I loved you and you were my friend and I would have wanted to be there for you if things were different.

Instead of running from my emotions or drowning them in liquor I am picking up the sledgehammer and wailing on this wall yet again. Believing that some day I will trust and love and give as freely as I once did. And believing that I will find those who are true to me for who I am and not an idea of what I should be. But most importantly, I’m going to leave my heart open for you, and hope that maybe when the brick and mortar are cleared away that perhaps I can find you on the other side. Until then my friend,

-H