Preacher Man: I don’t even know how it works when it comes to preachers. Our town was so small we didn’t have our own homegrown version, so maybe we ordered ours through some Baptist catalog? (If that is a real thing, I hope they call it J.C. Plenty). Roy Little was our preacher’s name. I'm not sure how we got stuck with this dude, but surely we lost some sort of Hunger Games-style lottery. Maybe he was all we could afford. A clergy clearance sale, perhaps. Roy was a part-time pest control man, which made sense to me. He seemed sneaky and slimy and creepy and all the other things one might associate with insects and rodents and varmints. It did not make sense to me that he was a preacher. His sermons packed judgment and lacked character, just like him. Once after church I heard him telling people how he refused to give a dying man CPR because he was afraid he’d get sued. Maybe he thought the saying was "What Would Jesus Do Not Resuscitate."
Praised and Confused: You have a free will. But be careful with that thing, because God knows how you plan on using it. If you do that thing you’re not supposed to do, even though God knows you’re going to do it, you’re gonna get punished. Don’t worry, though, God is totes forgiving. But he will straight up torch your ass for the rest of time if you forget to ask for forgiveness. Be not afraid though, God loves everyone equally and so should we. But we should hate the crap out of their sins. Not only in church and in the privacy of our own homes, but also in legislation. Especially legislation. We need it to keep the devil from controlling the world with his flock of homos, jews, whores, abortion doctors, a-rabs, liberals, and starving kids in China and Africa, bless their hearts. Can you believe they allow sex education in schools? Can you believe scientists try to discover the origin of life when all along the story of Adam and Eve is just spelled out clear as day? Can you believe everyone else in the world is so wrong about religion and we are so lucky to be so right about everything? Blind faith, bi-yotch. Let’s close our eyes and talk about gold streets and pearly gates and paired-off animals and trumpets and choirs and clouds, followed by some good-old fashioned discussion of fear-based eternal damnation. Shh, let’s not talk about science. Or shellfish. Or context. Or history. Or education. Or racism. Or sexism. Or classism. Or violence. Or hypocrisy. Or critical thinking. Don’t ask. Don’t tell. Shh. Praise the Lord ‘cause I said so. Vote yes cause Pat Robertson said so. Glory, gory Hallelujah.
There was the identity that wanted to believe practicing abstinence was the only way I would not be a disappointment to my parents or to God. If I could just keep a penis out of my vagina until I was married, my soul would be saved and my parents would be happy. What’s more, I could gift my vagina to my husband on our wedding night like a brand new X Box, and he would love and respect me even more for doing so. I believed this shit, and it destroyed me for the next, oh I don't know, DECADE AND A HALF.
Believing in the abstinence method didn’t mean I was successful at it. (By the way, I would like to know the number of people who have been successful at it by choice. I bet they could all fit in one single Cheerio). It only served to confuse and shame the part of my identity that was completely controlled by hormones. I didn’t know what the hell was happening inside my body, but I was compelled to find out. This was before kids my age had access to smartphones or tablets or knew what “Clear Browser History” meant. If I wanted to search-engine my sexuality, I would've had to do it on the one family computer sitting in the middle of our living room using AOL on a dial-up connection. That didn’t seem like a very discrete option, so I took matters into my own hands. Check that. I wish I would have taken matters into my own hands. I think a lot of my sexuality problems could have been avoided if I would have discovered masturbation sooner. I thought it was something only boys did. So I turned to my boyfriends for their expertise. I experimented sexually and secretively with all of them, to a point. You know which point. The point of no return. Every single sexual encounter, no matter how innocent or how risqué, was followed by mountains of guilt. I am a horrible person. I am going to hell. What is wrong with me? Why can’t I stop doing this? It's not like I'm even enjoying it that much. God must think I’m the weakest person he’s ever created.
I was 18 years old when I had "real" sex for the first time with my boyfriend on the top bunk of my college dorm room after The Roots performed on our campus. I remember the concert vividly because Questlove threw his drumstick out in the crowd, and I fought some girl off me like a rabid animal so I could keep that splintered piece of wood forever. Maybe I was tired of fighting by the time we got back to my place. Maybe it was the 700 gallons of gin I drank that night. (Who do I think I am, Snoop Dogg? Maybe I do deserve to go to hell for drinking that shit.) I don't really remember the actual act of having sex, but knowing it happened was enough to devastate me for at least two weeks. From that point on, I continued to associate sex with guilt. I continued to believe the reason I wasn’t enjoying sex very much was because it was happening outside of marriage. God was not letting me enjoy it. I continued to lie and not ask my parents questions about sex because I was so afraid they would not be able or willing to field those questions without redirecting me back to the “because-God-said-so” explanation. It took me many years to learn that I am a human mammal whose body is naturally built to have and enjoy sex.
Now I don’t want you to think I endorse the idea that parents should wave from their porches as their kids go skipping down the street with pockets full of condoms and birth control screaming “Who wants to fuck me!?” I can’t imagine how hard it must be to safely guide your child through puberty. If I ever have kids I fully intend on citing the scariest statistics I can find on teenage pregnancy and STDs. I will make Name-That-Disease flash cards using disgusting Google images of crabs and warts and such. I will borrow someone's baby for a week and make my kids change diapers all the livelong day. But just as much as I’ll want to teach them about the risk that comes with sex, I will also want to teach them about the rewards. Mostly, I'll want them to know that the sexuality discussion is allowed to be just that: a discussion. With multiple options, including abstinence as the star of the show. Like an Applebee's sampler platter, where abstinence is the chicken strips. The funny thing is, I really do believe that sex can be spiritual. But sometimes it’s just straight up Olivia Newton-John physical, and we all need to accept that.
Check back next week for "Part 3: The Ugly"