I am my own. I know that now, but I didn’t always.
Fuck purity culture. Fuck being shamed out of wearing shorts, tank tops, and two piece bathing suits because apparently having knees, shoulders, and a torso is ok for men but not for women.
Fuck innocent friendly gestures being sexualized. Fuck the pastor freaking out at me for accidentally letting the office door swing shut for a millisecond. Fuck getting in trouble for giving a male student a ride to church.
Fuck those church bros leaping away when I try to give them a platonic side hug, as if I’m a walking disease, like my body is toxic and will contaminate them.
Fuck always being on edge, waiting for the next unwritten rule I might break.
Fuck being fed a male-centric view of sex – being brainwashed to believe every time I had sex I was being consumed by a man.
Fuck being injected with the nagging fear that I lost something and he took something – the idea that I was losing a part of my personhood, my identity, my soul; something too deep and ambiguous to pinpoint or define and therefore impossible to determine if it was actually happening or not. Fuck the intentionality behind that confusing chaos.
Fuck being told over and over and over again that I’m an object to be utilized, a product that could be spoiled – that I don’t have any agency over my own life and body, that I belong to my future husband, someone who may or may not even exist. But he could somehow own me and was entitled to a certain lifestyle from me, just because he had a penis and I didn’t.
Fuck having no where to turn when I was sexually assaulted because all anyone wanted to know was “what were you doing alone with him?” Not even realizing for years what happened wasn’t okay, that it wasn’t actually my fault for existing in a space near a man who wanted me.
Fuck all the fear and the shame and the missed opportunities and the dampened experiences and the panic attacks and the nightmares and the insecurities with my loving and committed partner. Fuck it all.
Purity Culture can die and go to hell.
I am not the problem. I know that now.
Contrary to popular opinion, God did not make a mistake when creating my body.
I am not a temptation or a stumbling block. I am a human being.
I am good. My body is good. My identity and value aren’t in how or with whom I choose to share my sexuality. I’m not forever tied to past decisions or still connected to anyone I don’t want to be.
Fuck purity culture and fuck purity rings; those little finger-sized handcuffs.
And for the biggest “fuck you” of all – I’m happy. I’ve struggled free. I’ve learned to manage the residual effects. My life is my own. I make my own decisions without the smallest consideration for what the oppressors think.
I know now that my body is a temple for the light inside of me. I am my own. I bought back my life at a price. Therefore I honor my needs, my authenticity and my divinity with my body.
I am my own. I know that now.
I didn’t know what freedom was
But I sure loved the feeling
I didn’t realize it then, but I had found my escape
Let goodness lure you in, you can trust it
Listen to your body and you will be free
Those who can make you feel flawed have the power
Suddenly you need them
To fix you and tell you how to be
Journey alone and your voice gets louder
The cacophony fades away
I’m not finding myself, but finding my worth
I’m not lost, just unseen so frequently – by even my own soul
They gave me blinders – “wear these to fit in”
Now I couldn’t see where I ended, and they began
What would feel real if truth could speak for itself?
Hundreds of little shards of glass
Broken bits of me
Arranging them together as a sparkling mosaic
Each one reflecting my spirit
I’m joining the resistance by not hiding
Sharp and bright – this art is dangerous
Drawing attention is a threat to the weak
They protect themselves by rattling the strong
They cower at authenticity
Celebrating myself is my chosen act of rebellion
Two decades of stained glass and steeples, pastors and preachers but never a therapist. Surrounded by Bibles and hymnals; prayer requests welcome, but never a “negative” emotion.
A Good Christian girl counts her blessings and remembers God has a plan. She always practices etiquette and good manners; she only says nice things, she’s never a downer.
Christian mothers wagged their fingers at my furrowed brow, “You really would look so much prettier if you smiled more”.
Sunday School classes centered on seeking the joy of the Lord, having a good attitude and never complaining. Questions were allowed if they had “easy” answers; anything else was backsliding. A Good Christian Girl doesn’t rock the boat.
“You’ll feel better if you look on the bright side.” “You should volunteer, you’ll see others have it much worse than you.” “Follow God and you’ll be blessed.” “Everything happens for a reason” “God works in mysterious ways.”
Church leaders promised if I trusted God I would be okay. After all, I was a Good Christian Girl and God was on my side. So I trusted and prayed, volunteered and obeyed, but the truth is, their promises turned up empty.
With a cheery face and a scream trapped in my lungs, I was drowning. For far too long I was silenced with a smile.
Living in a box too small for me, there comes a breaking point. So much was stolen from me in the name of Goodness, but I’m surviving and finding my strength.
Now on the other side, I don’t need to find a silver lining. I’ve been learning a few lessons of my own. My innocence, my health, my happiness weren’t obstacles to my virtue. Suffering isn’t always refining.
There doesn’t have to be a greater purpose to a loved one’s death, or abuse, or a diagnosis. Hardships don’t have to be lessons and trials aren’t signs I need my faith tested.
Not everything is worked out for my good. I wonder where I would be if trauma hadn’t held me down? Sometimes evil injustice wins, and it’s not because of my hidden sins.
I don’t have to be okay with it and I don’t have to get over it. I don’t have to believe this was all part of the plan. I can be angry, I can doubt, I can wrestle. And it’s not a crisis of faith.
Now I let my experiences shape my beliefs and not the other way around. There is no magic wand waving in the sky. I choose to trust myself.
Gone are the days of silent submission, fake smiles and shallow answers, and to hell with linear religious narratives!
I’ve found love in all the wrong places,and encountered peace where it wasn’t supposed to be.
I’ve discovered a sense of purpose in what I was told would be meaningless,experienced joy in situations I was warned would bring pain.
Healing has come from the very things I was taught would damage me, I even felt the safest from decisions that were supposedly dangerous.
The truth I was looking for turned out to be unorthodox and the saints I’ve met have all been sinners.
I’ve encountered God among the ungodly and I have come face to face with goodness in perhaps the most surprising of places – I have found it in myself.
Now I really have to wonder – what exactly did they try so hard to keep me from?
I’m learning to find my voice again and the more I unravel the indoctrination, the more sacredness I find.
Sometimes when I let myself sit in the darkness, I see the Light inside of me and I realize that maybe God is more like me than I was taught…
Maybe She is angry too.
~~~ ~~~ ~~~
This is a version of a piece I wrote for the deconstruction magazine Hyssop & Laurel. For those of you who have been following for a while, you might recognize it as a reimagination of two of my past works “Silenced with a Smile” and “Finding Love in all the Wrong Places”. It also includes brand new content. This piece I’m sharing now is very similar to my published version, with a few edits.
This writing was an attempt at describing my mental health journey while living through religion and coming out the other side. There is a lot of darkness, but also so much light and healing to be found.
Just the latest in a long line of labels Christians have given me.
Cheap Woman? Alrighty then, if that’s the game we’re playing. I would rather be a cheap woman known for my love, than an abusive man touting religious superiority.
Cheap woman? I didn’t know I was for sale. But I would prefer being a cheap woman instead of a man who costs people their sanity and safety in the name of Christ.
Cheap woman? That’s a fascinating claim made by a Christian who preaches finding self-worth in God alone – a God who valued me enough to die for me, apparently.
Cheap woman? Your accusations speak volumes about your character and nothing about mine. Oppressor, abuser, liar, thief – ringing in the air.
Cheap woman? Your effort spent defaming me says otherwise. You’re willing to pay a high price, your very life – exchanging time and peace of mind for the bitterness slowly poisoning you.
Cheap woman? Hating me is expensive. You save space for me in so many of your thoughts and ways.
Cheap woman? At least it doesn’t cost enormous levels of perseverance just to withstand my presence. I’ll take “cheap” any day over “costly to be around”.
Cheap woman? I’m relieved to hear I don’t have the admiration of a person like you. That would terrify me. I’ll take your disdain over your praise.
Cheap woman? Long have women been labeled as such so men could avoid reckoning with their own shortcomings.
If an Evangelical man can’t control a woman, she is “cheap”. If he can’t destroy her, he must dismiss her. If he can’t use her, he will abuse her – all the while believing God is on his side.
Cheap women are women patriarchal men don’t know what to do with. I’m proud to be counted in those ranks. I must be doing something right.
As we exit Women’s History Month, I wanted to first share an article (linked below) that impacted me greatly when I found it in 2018. At that time I was very hard on myself, pushing myself to be “as good as the guys”, always trying to prove I belonged in male-dominated spaces.
While I’ve never done anything quite as intense as these ladies’ Antarctic expedition, I resonate with every word from their story. Being a woman in the outdoors is truly a different experience. There is greater weight to your limitations culturally and socially: they can get attributed to your entire gender, reinforcing ideas of being “weaker”. Things are changing now, but as an adolescent climbing the bigger mountains I would count the women we passed, because there were so few of them. I could often count them on just one hand.
Even still today, when seeing other women on the trail is common, on long-distance backpack trips I usually only see other women for the first four, maybe five days. Anything beyond that and it’s stepping into a man’s world. Male backpackers sometimes comment on how it’s surprising to see me so far from a trailhead. Even today when I backpack solo, people sometimes stop me in disbelief, asking how I’m so brave.
On one such solo trip, an older man took it upon himself to interrogate me in the parking lot about how much water I was bringing (plenty) and then warned me that I would probably have a difficult time further up the trail in the snow. However, when I got there it was only a small flat patch about 50 feet long, and easy walking. I had been singled out and my competencies grossly underestimated, because of assumptions that were made just by looking at me.
A stranger hit on me during a life-or-death situation ice climbing a treacherously steep glacier at 10,000 feet altitude. I’ve been taught I should feel flattered by this – because apparently the male gaze determines my worth.
Sledding down a steep snowy slope with my male best friend, I was having the time of my life – at first. We were chatting and hooting and hollering from a distance with a couple of men who were there adventuring as well. When we walked up closer however, one of the men’s demeanor suddenly changed. After exclaiming “Oh! You’re a girl!” his tone changed to mimic how you might talk to a child and he called me “sweetheart”. Apparently my bulky snow gear and hat had hidden my womanly figure and long hair, allowing normal human interaction between us until my gender was discovered. When my best friend spoke up saying “She’s not your sweetheart”, the man became irate, cursed at us, and marched away over the crest of the hill, friend in tow. The wilderness should be a place where all is natural and in balance as it was intended to be. But for women this is often not the case.
I’ve heard men I’m close with make hurtful jabs at other women on the trail: “She sure is gutsy to do this alone!” “She’s probably meeting her husband”. “Maybe someday you’ll take up needlepoint instead.” These are actual comments I’ve heard over the years from men who know me well. At a young age it became clear to me the summit could only be reached by breaking through an ice ceiling.
The way I was received as a woman climber and backpacker taught me to view myself as an anomaly. Women were generally weak and helpless but I was somehow an exception. I was still, of course, a class below the men but allowed to be there nonetheless. It became increasingly difficult to love my womanhood while believing the traits I loved most about myself were manly, and rare happenstance for a woman.
There is more equal representation in the backcountry now than ever before, thanks to ground-breaking women who have mountaineered before us. But the fact that I’ve witnessed the shift even just in my own lifetime speaks to how a woman’s experience in the outdoors community is unique from that of a man’s. Eliminating the discrimination we face still has a long ways to go. I’m thrilled by the history-making women in this article and by all women everywhere who are unapologetically blazing trails in whatever form that takes for them. Every day we ascend new heights!