It’s a shame he had to be so inconvenienced.

A year ago, I watched my uncle fuming.  My mom and I went to my grandmother’s house to get some of my belongings, and he lost it.  Outside in the garage, he decided to call me a whore.  I was a virgin, so I just thought that he was stupid and shrugged it off.  My mother, on the other hand, felt like he should be asked if it was appropriate to say that to me.  When I saw the look on her face, I knew the “momma bear” was coming out.  I stayed in the garage.

“GET IN THE CAR, NOW!” she screamed with rage as tears dripped down her face.  My purse was inside.  My keys were in it.  I couldn’t get in my car without those.

“Mom, what happened?” I inquired.  She continued to yell at me to get in the car and tried to stop me from going inside.

“He hit me!  He fucking hit me!” she finally shared. “I swore that no one would ever hit me again!”

They grew up with an alcoholic father who beat them.  The only difference between my grandfather and my uncle, is that my grandfather put in the work to get better, became a minister, and is a lovely human being.  My uncle’s vice happens to be drugs instead of alcohol.  He’s made a habit of hitting women.

My grandmother promised he would go to counseling if my mom didn’t press charges.  So my mom listened.

This summer, after an attempted move across the country, I had to come back home without a job or a place to live.  I chose to live at my grandmother’s instead of my mom’s.  My uncle, in his early 50’s, was still living there as well.

I might also add that in the last several months, I’ve slowly been sharing with certain people that I am a lesbian.

My uncle seemed like he was one of my bigger advocates.  He told me about all of the gay friends he had in L.A.  He told me that my grandmother and great-great aunt and uncle were from different generations and that was why they’d never agree with it, but that my grandmother needed to get with the program.  He shared he had been trying to convince her that nothing was wrong with me, “that it isn’t like you are a drug addict, or anything.”

We watched the tornadoes together when they came through in April.  I even had a few deep conversations with him about life and difficult situations.  He even hugged me when I came in crying because of something someone said to me about being gay, and told me that he loved me like the daughter he never had.

When my girlfriend stayed over for the weekend, and she slept in my bed and I slept on the couch downstairs, he asked why we weren’t sleeping together.  I told him that we had boundaries set up that we were following.  His comment was, “Aww, that’s no fun!”

About a month and a half ago, I walked into the house and talked to my grandmother.  She informed me that he was not okay with my girlfriend and I sitting close or holding hands or kissing in front of him, and was not okay with my sexuality at all.

I was really confused.  It’s pretty obvious why.

My step-father also asked us not to display any PDA in front of him.  But, we wanted to be respectful of everyone through this entire thing.

So I went to ask my uncle if what he had told me was true, or if what he told my grandmother was true, so that we could be respectful of whatever he said from that point on.

He said, “No, I’m not okay with it.  It’s fucking disgusting.  You’re disgusting!”  He continued to tell me I looked like a man (I had just been out in the yard doing yard work before I talked to my grandmother), called me a “bull dyke,” yelled at me for “fagging out on the couch with pictures of [his] dead sister on the mantle,” told me that I couldn’t be gay and be a Christian, told me that I was doing disgusting things in my grandmother’s house and that it was God’s house, jumped off of the couch, got in my face, shoved me twice, and then hit me and knocked me into the floor.

I’ve never seen so much hate in someone’s eyes as he hovered over me.

I kicked him to get away and tried to call the police and get my grandmother.  She was in the shower, and he took the phone away from me.

He threw it at me.  I left immediately and drove close to 30 miles through flash flood weather to my mom’s.

The next day I pressed charges and got a police escort to the house so that I could get enough things get me through a week or so.

There has been no hearing yet, and the first subpeona telling me to be there mysteriously disappeared.  We gave my new address to the Sheriff’s Office.

A month passed, and all of my belongings were still at my grandmother’s house.

I still have not received any mail with a new date since the original court date was pushed back.

Finally, when it was arranged for me to come and get my things after living out of a duffle bag for over a month, it rained.  I asked if I could come the next day, and was basically told no until my mom talked to my grandmother.  Once arriving, we were not even there for an hour to actually move me out, and he called 4 times asking how long we would be and if we were still there and yelling and complaining because he needed his textbook and blood pressure medicine.  Not that he knew we might be there for a little more than an hour or anything.

It’s a shame he had to be so inconvenienced.

Tough Like the Lawn Mower Guy

It was a perfect day to go play outside, but my six year old self had to stay inside. It was the day the lawn mower guy came. Grass stains were at their peak, not to mention my parents’ fear that I would be eaten alive by the lawn mower blades. I stood at the window and looked out while he worked the mechanics of the big machine that would create the lawn patterns I found so fascinating.

“Can I please mow the lawn,” I asked, like I always did.
“No.” replied my mom.

So, I did the usual and set out to see if I could convince Dad.
“Dad, can I please help mow the lawn?” I asked as if I was not guilty of already asking.
He replied light heartedly. “Why would you want to? That’s not a job for little girls. You might cut your toes off. Then you can’t dance!”
Rolling my eyes I begged, “PLEASE! I’m a big girl! I will be careful.” I always felt more capable of doing adult things than my parents allowed. Maybe it was the additional height I had that made me feel like more than a mere six.
“No. That’s a man’s job anyway. Go find something else to do” replied Dad more sternly.
His mind was made up and my ego was hurt. “I can do a man’s job,” I thought. “Watch me.”

It wasn’t only the patterns in the grass I envied. The lawn mower guy would take his shirt off and tuck it in his back pocket after mowing awhile—a sign of hard labor. How tough. I wanted to be that tough. Taking matters into my own hands, I decided to prove them wrong.

Catching him take a break to change the bag, I ran out to the lawn mower man with a glass of water. “Would you like some water?” I offered, holding out the glass to him. “I came to help.”
Our lawn mower guy was shocked.
Ready and willing to help, I had come prepared with my T-shirt already in my back pocket. Chest puffed out. I had to look as big as him. The shirt had drug the ground as I raced across the yard, but it was a decent attempt to play the part. I looked like a lawn mower guy, and this was going to be awesome.

“I think we need to go inside and see your mom” he answered after and taking the water from me. He knew the rules and liked to play by them. I was going to be in trouble.

I will never forget the mixed emotions I had while trying to understand.
“You can’t take your shirt off in the yard, Andi B,” my mom explained. “Girls can’t do that.”
“But the lawn mower guy does it,” I said quietly. “He gets hot.”
“He can do that because he’s a boy,” she responded.
“I just wanted to learn how to mow the lawn.”
“I know, but that’s not a job for you. That’s why we hire him” She said.
“BUT I CAN DO IT! You never let me do anything.”

My plan to play the part was a failure. If only I could have shown them I could do it—prove I wouldn’t get hurt—they would see I was capable and that it could be a job for me. I may have been a girl that liked tu-tus and dolls, but I could mow a lawn too. Probably, in a tu-tu while having a tea party with my dolls.

They didn’t know what they were talking about. 

Maybe I should have skipped the water and just started helping.

There’s always next time.

Body Image

f0325a47d4ea6014c542c0edb3cad747This article, and the courageous project of the woman behind the story, came to our attention this week. It seems like an age-old problem of humanity—accepting ourselves as we are, seeking our the way for inner cease fire as we vacillate between pride and shame. This gets particularly difficult in arena of women’s bodies, as we’re bombarded with millions of images of, and products to enhance, our beauty. The ideas of two wise women come to mind on this topic.
The first is Anne Lammott, novelist and spiritual writer. She describes and claims her own body self-consciousness area as her thighs; she writes about the anxiety of summer clothing and magazine models with humility and humor. She calls her legs “the aunties,” as if they are the unruly pair who can be regarded with either frustration and embarrassment or loving, good humor. Instead of leaving them at home because they are unpresentable, she says, it’s much nicer to show them some kindness. Gently rub some sun tan lotion on and take them proudly out to the beach.
The other insight comes from Amy-Jill Levine, who teaches New Testament and Jewish-Christian relations at Vanderbilt University. She connects body shame into biblical theology in a simple and profound way. In Genesis, when the man and woman have sinned and feel shame, they hide their bodies from one another and God. Levine says that if we can stand in the mirror stark naked and truly see ourselves with acceptance, not hiding, perhaps we are tapping into a bit of Eden again.
As we navigate healthy relationships to ourselves in body and spirit, how might this insight heal or encourage us? What if healthy body image was not one more elusive achievement, which seems to rise insistently to the front of our minds in the same narrative of inadequacy? Rather, coming to peace with our embodied female selves in whatever shape, color, tone, or presentation might be a bit of heaven on earth, a bit of restoration between women and our Creator. Whatever our aunties are, whichever part of our bodies, faces, or presentation we’ve cringed at in the mirror, what would it mean to just offer kindness and openness?

 

Again, I am betrayed by my naivety about my own body.

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We are sitting in my aqua Oldsmobile Achieva. We are parked in front of his house. I wonder who is inside the house. His dad isn’t home very often. His sister may be inside though. He doesn’t seem to care.

He is leaning over the middle of the car. His hand is behind my head, in my hair, and his lips are on mine. I really like kissing.

N has been my boyfriend for several months. Several of my friends are flabbergasted by the amount of things I haven’t done. I don’t really know what else could be happening. The idea of his finger in my body sounds gross. The idea of touching him, touching “it”, sounds gross. Kissing is fun. He is good at it. I think I am good at it, too.

Other girls have done other things. They use their mouths. They touch themselves. They touch their boyfriends, or boys they’d like to make their boyfriends. I don’t find that appealing. Why would you want to share your private parts with other people? They are private for a reason. I should probably be focusing on the making out that is happening in my car. I can’t help but wonder about the things I can’t fathom.

His hand has left my hair and has found my knee. He is slowly moving his hand up from my knee towards my lady parts. What is he doing? I keep kissing him.

His hand grazes over my pants, over my panties. What the hell? There is a feeling buzzing from deep down, up my abdomen. I push his hand away.

“Just let me,” he says.

“Why?” I reply.

“Let me show you.”

I am really unsure what he could possibly be showing me. I liked it when he touched me. I am not sure that I should.

His hand again finds its way between my thighs, outside of my clothes. He rubs a bit. It feels good. It feels strange.

I hear myself breathing deeply. He is kissing me, and touching me. I am kissing him, and grasping the driver’s chair.

The buzzing is building. It is getting stronger. I am confused. What is this? It feels like spilling over, and the feeling courses through my body. My body is twitching, and he has a look of smug pleasure on his face. He is proud of what he has done.

What has he done? I feel strange. Vulnerable. Confused.

“What just happened?” I ask him sheepishly.

“That was an orgasm,” he replies.

“How did that happen?”

“It happened because I rubbed your clit.”

“My what?”

“You should go home and try that on yourself.”

“Do you do that to yourself?”

“Yes. Well, it’s not the same. But, yes, I masturbate.”

“I didn’t know this existed. I am not sure I want you to do that again.”

He kisses me. “I won’t do anything you don’t want to do.”

I believe him. I guess.

He gets out of the car, tells me he’ll call me soon, and closes the door.

I drive the half-a-minute drive back home. I fear the look my parents will give me. They will know what happened. Why didn’t they tell me that happens? I pull into the driveway, try to look less embarrassed, and get out of the car. I walk around back, and let myself in. Mom is in the kitchen. She tells me to take a shower and go to bed. Does she know?

I stand in front of the mirror. I look at myself. I wonder what all I don’t know about myself, my body. What does God think about what I have done? I will never let that happen again.

Then, my prayers were answered.

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I run across the street back home. Time had gotten away from me. Alyssia and I were choreographing dances in her bedroom. I hadn’t realized it was almost time for ballet.

“Sorry Mom! I am here now!” I yell through the house as I climb the stairs to my little room. I open my drawers, grab my navy leotard, my pink tights, my navy elastic belt, and my navy wrap skirt. I have to get moving or I will be late. Ms. Carol hates it when people are late. I hate to be the person who gets there last.

I pull off my shirt. Pull down my pants. I am moving with so much speed I almost miss it. As I pull up my tights I look down at the bundle of clothes on the floor. “What is that!?” I think. I only know to do one thing. “MOM!!!!!!!!!” I scream as loud as I can.

I hear her running up the stairs. I hope she doesn’t bring baby Kate in here. I don’t what anyone to see what I am seeing. I might be dying.

“What’s wrong?” Mom asks as she opens the door.

“Look,” I hold up my panties for her to see.

“I thought that might be what was happening,” she says calmly and with love. She has a big smile on her face. I am confused by her happiness. She is holding a yellow colored square pillow in her hands. She hands it to me. I have no idea what to do with it.

“Is THIS my period?” I ask. It is the most disgusting thing I have ever seen. This is not at all “beautiful and natural.” I feel like those stupid movies completely lied about what was going to happen. I feel gross.

“Yes, that’s your period. Let’s go to the bathroom, and I will show you how to put that pad on. Grab a pair of clean panties,” she says as she walks towards the bathroom. I hope Nick and Jeff are still outside. I don’t want them to see me. Being a woman is not what I expected and my brothers will be able to see me for the freak that I am.

“Do I have to go to ballet? I don’t want to go anymore,” I ask my mom as she unfolds the yellow pillow to reveal the white thing that is to go in my underwear. It’s thick and looks uncomfortable. I really don’t want to put that in my clothes. “I can’t wear panties during ballet,” I remind my mom. I imagine what that would look like. A 12 year old with panties bunched up under my tights, giving myself a mega wedgie with a pad and my small leotard. I am years younger than the other girls in class. Think of the ridicule. Ugh. I already get in trouble for my butt sticking out, what would they say to my pillow butt panty problem.

“You don’t have to go today. You haven’t been feeling very well today anyway. That’s why I suspected you would need a pad. Sometimes our periods also come with side effects: cramps, moodiness, cravings. You have been pretty sensitive and you have been hurting in your low belly,” she informs me about what has been happening for days in my body. I had no idea that was a part of the bloody mess problem. I feel more disgusting. I feel like I have no control over my body.

“It’s all really natural, Britt. You will get used to the things your body is doing,” she tries to comfort me. I just want to curl up in a ball and cry. I feel betrayed by my body. I wasn’t adequately prepared for this. It’s not at all what I thought it would be.

I walk out of the bathroom. My mom takes my dirty clothes downstairs to wash the blood out of them. I go into my room, and lay down on the floor. I curl up in a ball and cry.

The Child is the Mother of the Woman

There is a good little poem by Wordsworth with the line, “The Child is the father of the Man,” a compelling verse that gives a sense of continuity through life cycles. The reader gets the sense that some of the truest, purest forms of identity were already present in early childhood, and there is a certain integrity of personhood seen in the life trajectory. Author Madeleine L’Engle says that “The great thing about getting older is that you don’t lose all the other ages you’ve been.”

For some of us, this idea is a marvelous comfort. For others, a curse. For all of us, there is something haunting, something that perhaps raises questions around our pesonal narratives and identity formation.

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Claire, dressed as a mummy for nothing other than ninth grade stupidity.

Brittany and I started talking, then grumbling, then writing, and finally throwing up this blog because we discovered that, like other women we’d talked to, we could no longer deny all the ages, all the selves we’ve been, in our spiritual formation and awareness of self and sexuality. It’s so much easier to leave the sweepings under the rug, try to forget, or treat our pasts with judgment or mocking. The thing is, that’s the attitude that seems to have landed us, and many of the women we know, in this painful and isolated place of ignoring the complexity of our sexual, spiritual selves

From our upbringings, heavily saturated by rich and diverse faith in God, we came away with a bit of perfectionism,a strong dose of the ought-to’s. I suspect that mine came from a limited narrative of life’s possibilities, particularly where God and sex were concerned. A handful of voices set the tone for my relationships to others, particularly boys (later, men) and the divine, and I was unaware that alternatives were available, that there is no set script, or that grace abounds in unexpected places.

In this online space, we want to tear up the script, do the spring cleaning, pull off the layers. Think of any freeing metaphor that draws you into life, lightness, and the courage to name and love the child that birthed you. Britt and I aren’t trained therapists or spiritual directors. We haven’t finished the task of human being. We just believe that in making safe spaces for truth telling, and practicing acknowledgement without judgment, healing begins to take place, and that grace will abound in unexpected places.

So we’re listening. Who are you? What happened? What did you learn?

Prayers for Periods

bssI walk into the choir room for sexual education. My mom signed the release form, and it was time to learn about the changes headed my way. As a third grader, the teachers wanted us to learn how to properly handle our horrible body odor. The girls were in one room; the boys in another. Why would we be learning separately? I am not sure what this means.

I reenter reality as my teacher rolls in a TV cart. I guess the TV is going to tell me about my changing body. She pushes in the VHS tape, and I try to focus. I need to make a list of what steps my body will be taking to change, and construct a proper time line to control them.

I watch with wide eyes as the video flashes pictures and diagrams of breasts and vaginas. “That is what my body is going to look like? I can’t wait!” I think to myself. The video tells me about the importance of good hygiene, shows me where hair will begin to grow (mostly in places I didn’t know hair could grow), and convinces me that I will have soon have to have an awkward talk with my mom about getting a training bra for the boobs I do not yet have.

Then a huge bomb was dropped on us: Our vaginas were getting ready to have babies. They would line themselves with food for these fictitious babies, and then that lining was going to come out, a bloody mess, right into our panties. When that happens for the first time, according to the video, you became a woman.

A woman. WOMAN. A grown up. Someone who looks like a supermodel, makes her own decisions, drives in a convertible, owns a dog, and lives in an apartment. If I could get my period, I’d be a woman. And one step closer to my convertible. I need to grow breasts. I need to care for my body. I need to menstruate. These are the things that matter. These are the things that would make me a woman, not a girl. These would be the things that made me valuable and important.

I made up my mind: I was going to become a woman. I want my boobs, my own deodorant, and, above all else, I want my period. I bow my head and clasp my hands together and pray to God for the desires of my heart.

“Dear God, please make me a woman. I’d like to have my period. Amen,” I petition with all of my heart, being, and strength. I immediately run to the restroom, and look in my panties. There was no mess. Nothing happened.