“Don’t move, Stacey. Smile. You’re purtier when you smile!”
You told me this a lot because I was your favourite Precious Moments doll; purer and more virtuous than the goddamn Virgin Mary. But ‘the Sin’ was rising itself from the dead, sitting in my throat like last night’s tequila. Like last year’s tequila. Like the last nineteen years of my life’s tequila. Layers upon layers, years upon years of suffocation—discussions of modesty, discussions of side hugs (as opposed to frontal hugs, which encouraged promiscuity), discussions of purity rings, discussions of saving myself for my husband, the subtleties of an I Kissed Dating Goodbye book you slipped underneath my bedroom door, a quick change of channel during a Victoria Secret commercial, the return of a two-piece bathing suit you discovered in the wash. Discussions of saving, discussions of refraining, saving, refraining, saving, refraining, saving, refraining, all for someone else. All for something and someone other than myself. I am the Way, the Truth, and the Light, we’d say it every week, sitting in a nice little row, smiling and nodding. Straight, shiny and white. It was all the same. They were all the same. Like a straight, string of pearls. But mom, if this was the truth, then was I a lie?
“Oh, Stacey you are such a WOMAN!”
You told me, and I was back in my reality. I swallowed. The tequila I hid to numb me through my day helped. I held onto our stair rail like a tightly wrapped CHRISTmas present. CHRISTmas in protest against the X-mas you had seen people write in their CHRISTmas cards. We were going to our church’s CHRISTmas Eve candlelight service, and I had to dress the part. My neckline was a proper four-finger width distance between collarbones and cleavage to ensure I wouldn’t tempt men with their impure thoughts. Their incapability of helping themselves with this, I learned, was God’s only glitch in creation. Oh, how great thou art, Lord. I had checked the snap-back test, and my dress successfully didn’t bounce back when I pinched it away from my body. The length sat well below my kneecap, and to your delight, the strap width was unnecessary to fuss over since it was full-sleeved. I was perfect. Exactly everything I wasn’t. Exactly the way I was supposed to be. I don’t know what it was about the way you said ‘woman’ that made me feel like I was cheating on myself. Even though, all I ever wanted to do was embrace all things ‘woman’. In fact, I was so much ‘all woman’ I had no desire for anything else outside of that. But I was the kind of woman that showed up as a bird to a fish party.
When I was 13, I saw a book in Barnes and Noble titled Shakti: The Divine Feminine. Our whole world was filled with ‘divines’ and ‘holies’ and ‘righteousness-es’, but divine and feminine? I’d never heard that before. It rose up something within myself I didn’t recognise but felt familiar. There was this goddess, or I thought she was, sitting cross-legged, open, emerging rays of spectacular energy exploding from a lotus cradled at her vagina. Her head tilted back in full expression, in full ecstasy, in full embodiment of herself. I’d never seen a woman portrayed like that. I wanted her. But I knew that was the worst abomination, worse than wearing a bikini, or taking birth control, or drinking tequila, or voting for Obama, or having s-e-x with a boy before marriage.
I learned that ‘the Sin’, being gay, was the worst of all when I was eight; and I made those two girl dollies kiss at Sunday School. Before that event, I didn’t think too much about being gay. I didn’t know it existed because you never spoke about it with me. I just knew I liked girls better. The other girls in Sunday School made the girl and boy dollies kiss behind Mrs. Shaw’s back, so I didn’t understand what was so extra-bad about doing it with two girl dollies, until she told you.
“Rhonda, I’m real concerned about your daughter’s walk with the Lord.”
“What’d she do?” You asked.
“Well, this mornin’ I caught her in the act of promiscuity.”
Promiscuity—the worst sin for a woman. At eight years old, I could feel the floor open beneath me, singeing my feet with the fires of hell.
“Promiscuity? She’s eight.”
“She made two dollies kiss this mornin’ at Sunday School—two girl dollies, Rhonda.”
I watched your face pale over the news of Satan’s foothold in my life. My eight-year-old struggle with sexual promiscuity—lesbian promiscuity. She might as well have told you I was diagnosed with cancer. From there, your diagnosis was a series of gay conversion therapies at Living Waters Christian Camp, weekly Sunday revivals and pressured testimonials over how I prayed the gay away—my testimony’s tag line. You knew the ‘modern’ Evangelical Wednesday night youth groups ate those catchy lines up. When held up next to bates of free pizza and Christian punk-rock bands, proving church was still ‘cool’ when in competition with the secular, outside world, we made your First Assembly of God youth group a small-town sensation. I was the shining example of what it meant to be born again; born from a life living in ‘the Sin’, heading into eternal damnation, and into a life of righteous pretending. My testimony really hit box office when I was fifteen and you told me to go forward during a Sunday morning alter call. My chosen prayer partner was Sister Edna Kitchens, the miniature, chunky, least-intimidating looking elderly woman.
“Mrs. Sister Kitchens, uhm, I need to ask God’s forgiveness for something—”
“Darlin’ don’t forget Psalms 103:12 says that ‘As far as the East is from the West, so far has He removeth our transgressions from us!’ Ain’t nothin’ our Heavenly Father cain’t handle. Amen?”
“Amen. But I’ve, uhm, I’ve asked for prayer over this before and nothing seems to have changed—”
Her head whiplashed back and her size-five, hooves began to stomp.
“Dear JESUS, hear your daughter’s cry for RIGHTEOUSNESS!”
I bowed my head and closed my eyes with her same intensity, hoping she would just keep going and I wouldn’t have to confess. But just as suddenly as she started, she stopped, looking back at me with unblinking eyes to prove to me she was really listening—and I really needed to get to confessing. She was ready for something juicy.
“Uhm, the Devil,” it was always easier starting off that way, “has been tempting me to want to be with uhm, other women, like in the same way a woman is supposed to be with uhm, a man and—”
She had all she needed. The heel of her hand hit my forehead, like a reflex, sending my body convulsing back into a physically enforced exorcism.
“Heavenly Father I come before you RIGHT NOW!”
As if on cue, you and all the other prayer warriors rushed to surround me—anticipating me to fall in the spirit any minute.
“DEAR LORD JESUS, I come before you RIGHT NOW! Askin’ you, DEAR GOD, to rescue your daughter from the grips of her sin in LESBIANISM!”
With that, Pastor Larson’s ears perked up like a starved hunting dog, and began to part the sea of people, holding his microphone, ready for the kill — the proof that his weekly promised revival was today after all.
“SISTER STACEY, I want you to repeat after me! I, STACEY!”
I felt the spray of his every consonant and the pressure of his sweaty belly pressed up against my crotch. I was terrified. Like a near dead duck, my body paralysed between you and your group’s efforts to shake the gay demons out of my soul.
“Confess to CHRIST!”
“Confess to Christ.”
“That I have been tempted in the wayward acts of HOMOSEXUALITY.”
“That I have been tempted in the wayward acts of homosexuality.”
“But my Heavenly Father hath FORGIVEN ME!”
“But my Heavenly Father hath—”
And just like that, I was First Assembly of God’s greatest success story. Your success story. Proof that ‘the Sin’ was just a result of homosexual demonic activity, a test from the Lord of my faithfulness to him, a lesson to all that no one can be born outside of God’s natural design of heterosexuality, that ‘the Sin’ was a choice—a lie. To you, ‘the Sin’ was just a phase. ‘The Sin’ was probably just a result of my tense relationship with dad. The important thing to you was that ‘the Sin’ was losing its heartbeat. Just as God designed.
“Honey, I am just SO proud of the Godly woman you’re becomin’.”
And just like that, I was snapped back to the stair rail, in my born-again CHRISTmas Eve costume—back to swallowing back my soul, like another dutiful, righteous pawn in the purity game.