Monthly Archives: March 2017

Paramore, Revisited

Previously published on my Tumblr page, http://a-woman-apart.tumblr.com/

Last week I finally purchased “RIOT!” by Paramore. I believe it was their second album, a.k.a. “sophomore” production. It has a very upbeat theme to it, with even songs like “We are Broken” having a kind of musical enthusiasm to them.

It’s interesting to compare and contrast “All We Know is Falling” (the debut album) with RIOT! “All We Know” kind of had a kind of darker theme to it, with songs like “Emergency” and “Pressure” being the stand-outs on the album. There’s also “Conspiracy” with its plaintive and memorable,

Explain to me / This conspiracy against me / Tell me how / I’ve lost my power

RIOT! is just so much more lighthearted than that as a whole, with songs like “Crushcrushcrush” and the smarmy, tongue-in-cheek vengeful love song “Misery Business” (Misery Business was actually the first song I ever heard from Paramore). RIOT! has a whole “screw everything, we’re headed for the top” kind of message on it with optimistic songs like “Hallelujah” and “We Were Born for This”. You get the impression that Hayley and the band are really happy and comfortable with their identities. All We Know is Falling didn’t have that same kind of feel. In Pressure Hayley croons out,

Can you feel the pressure? / It’s getting closer now / We’re better off without you

In the first verse she says,

Tell me where our time went / And if it was time well spent / Just don’t let me fall asleep / Feeling empty again

There’s that hint of desperation in it that you don’t really find anywhere on RIOT!  A notable lyric from RIOT! can be found in the song “Hallelujah” where during a transition Hayley sings,

We’ve got nothing but time on our hands / Got nothing but, got nothing but / Got nothing but time on our hands

There’s a kind of unbreakable, confident, rebellious spirit to RIOT! that sets it apart not just from All We Know but also from Paramore albums that came later on.

For example in “Brand New Eyes”- which is actually my favorite of all the albums to date- there’s a kind of return to the All We Know days of introspection and desperation, but also deeper levels of questioning and self-doubt. “Feeling Sorry” is a song about a friend of Hayley’s that simply isn’t moving forward in his life (as far as she’s concerned). When she is trying to spur him on to action, she sings this;

And I’m getting bored waitin’ round for you / We’re not getting any younger / And time keeps passing by but you waste it away / It’s time to move forward

So what happened to the Hayley of a couple years back who was singing about “nothing but time on our hands”?

You see these kind of shifts all throughout Paramore’s growth and progression as a band. Personally I think I’m starting to see a theme.

All We Know is Falling (debut)- Darker, instrospective, heavier guitar riffs

RIOT! sophomore) – Very upbeat and punk, tongue-in-cheek lyrics

Brand New Eyes – a return to introspection, varied stylistically, and a point of contention for the band

Paramore (self-titled) – Return to some tongue-in-cheek humor, still varied stylistically with a few notable punk songs, more outward-focused themes

Now you’ll probably be wondering what I mean about “return to some tongue-in-cheek humor” in the self-titled album. I feel like some of the interludes were a good example of this, like “I’m Not Angry Anymore,  which is a ukulele-backed little bit that has lines like this,

I’m not bitter anymore / Yeah I’m syrupy sweet / Rot your teeth down to their cores / If I’m really happy

Also there’s the song that they won a Grammy for- “Ain’t it Fun”. It is kind of a facetious warning for someone who’s suddenly wakes up and finds themselves “livin’ in the real world”.  Quite a bit more lighthearted than “Feeling Sorry” but with a similar kind of message.

Looking back, I kind of do see why Hayley said the album they chose to be self-titled was the 4th one and not an earlier one, because the 4th one really does the best job of comprising a little bit of all of the themes they’d been working towards so far. While it isn’t as raw or introspective as Brand New Eyes it does have its sad and self-reflective moments (Last Hope, Hate to See Your Heart Break, etc). Yes, we do have more silly and stylistically stand-out, ((One of Those) Crazy Girls), as well as the playfully brash (Anklebiters) and the “token” love song (Still Into You). So it is a very well-rounded album. In some ways I find it lacking- like maybe it tried to do too much and isn’t as cohesive as the rest- but overall I think it was brave work.

I also can’t wait to see what they’re bringing out next! Paramore has been a huge inspiration in my life. I feel like I’ve grown up going through so many of the struggles that they confronted on their albums and I can’t wait to keep adding more of their stuff to my collection.

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The Exile

Previously published on my Tumblr page, http://a-woman-apart.tumblr.com/

In my last post, “Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin?” I kind of further expanded on a topic I had touched on in an earlier post- “No Father but God”. In that earlier post I talked about three things- Father’s Day, my hyperreligious upbringing and the Orlando shooting- and whether Christians can denounce homosexuality as a sin and still say that they’re against things like what happened in Pulse. “No Father but God” ended a little abruptly, so in “Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin?” I isolated and discussed just that concept- the idea that you can consider homosexuality to be sinful, vote against LGBTQIA rights and still objectively “love” gay people (the floor is still open for comments on that).

Now I want to isolate and talk more about my hyperreligious upbringing and my tenuous relationship with my dad. I’ll dive right in.

My dad is very convinced that I’m a “prophetess to the nations” because of me supposedly accurately predicting something at 3 years old. Now this may sound like a very strange notion to some of you, but please not that in Evangelical/Pentecostal Christian circles titles like “prophet” and “apostle” are tossed about quite readily. My dad believes that I am going to be a “preach the word of God all over the world”. You could say that that is his vision for my life.

He has never supported the idea of me being educated in a traditional college. I was homeschooled for my entire life because he believed the public school system to be unsafe- but mostly because he considered it to just be totally immoral.

Our Bible studies that we had everyday were about the Bible, but also served as an opportunity for my dad to air his opinions on many subjects. He believed that the “educational system” was completely godless and evil, and that you did not need a college degree to succeed in life. He would cite stories of people like Bill Gates and the founder of Dell- who were both college dropouts- and go on and on about how college didn’t really teach you anything useful, just except to hate God. He would often quote a little-known scripture from Jesus in the New Testament,  “That which is highly esteemed of men is an abomination to God”. In his opinion, getting a college degree was all about the prestige and therefore evil.

I just say most of that to provide a backstory for why he was willing to pay upfront for me to go to cosmetology school- but doesn’t at all support my musical education at community college today (where by the way, I am not taught even one thing that’s at odds with my religious background).

I didn’t finish cosmetology school because I went into a manic episode (at the time I was diagnosed bipolar I with psychotic features) and just did all sorts of crazy things as a result. The manic episode resulted because I abruptly stopped taking my medication.

My mental illness and medicine compliance are another thing that my dad is in total denial about. He hasn’t taken medicine for anything in about thirty years, and whenever any of us were sick he just “prayed the prayer of faith” and, thankfully, we always recovered (a lot of children have died that way). He was actually diagnosed with bipolar I himself when he was in his twenties, but threw away his medicine after he was convinced by scripture that he was healed. I must say that although he’s had what I can consider some serious lapses in judgment, he’s remained mainly high-functioning since that time. He’s never been re-hospitalized and has always been able to hold down a job- including and especially a very well-paying tech job that he still has today.

So really my dad is a series of contradictions. On the one hand, he believes some things that are pretty wacky, but on the other hand he’s extremely intelligent. On the one hand, he seems isolating and anti-social, and on the other hand, he’s very extroverted and gregarious. He can be extremely generous, and on the other hand, very dismissive. Maybe in the end I can attribute his mercurial nature to mental illness, but honestly I don’t know what to think.

So let’s see what we have so far,

1) Dad hates the “educational system”

2) Dad is against medicine

Check and check. On those two topics, I’ve had my dad tell me, “It isn’t the will of God that any of my offspring graduate college” and also, “With you messing with medicine, you put yourself in danger of the lake of fire [hell]”.

When I was still in recovery residence, my dad nearly convinced me to let him buy me an apartment, as long as I “stayed away from [the people I used to live with]”. He also wanted me to leave school and stop taking my medication. I came this close to doing it- even throwing away my medicine and trying to believe I was healed- but when I went to the owner of the house and told her in tears that I was leaving she said, “Are you really sure this is from God?” and she pointed out that if it was really God telling me I wouldn’t look and feel so horrible.

Since then I have had my guard up at all times. My dad can be very persuasive- and not just because he’s my dad, but because he has a larger than life personality and tends to just dominate arguments.

Also, I’ve come to see that he uses giving and withholding of finances well as an attempt to obtain control. When I was to move into the apartment that I’m in right now, my dad had to notarize a letter saying that he was willing to pay X amount of dollars so that I would meet the income requirements. He wasn’t even going to help me at first, because I had rejected him on the offer that he made earlier, but he said that God said to give me a chance (more on that later).

Anyway, when I expressed some doubts about whether this was the apartment complex I really wanted to be in- my dad said that unless I moved into this place he wouldn’t help me. Note, that he never came to see any of the places I was moving into. He was basing all his decisions on what he had “heard” from God.

See, that’s another thing about my dad. He prays for hours at a time, and as a result believes that what he says bears the weight of God behind it. Of course, he does put some restrictions on that- he says that if he hears one thing, and I “hear” another, I should go with what I feel that God is telling me first. This would mean that the word I received from him was just “confirmation” (that’s another highly thrown around term in Evangelical/Pentecostal circles). “Confirmation” is when first God tells you something, and then you hear it from someone else as “evidence” that you “heard” correctly.

I am really so glad to be done with all of this “hearing” business. I definitely believe that if God is real that he/she/it speaks but it’s more like a sort of “inward witness” or “intuition”. Sometimes someone tells you something and it’s just not right, and other times you feel in your heart and spirit that it is, or in your “gut” and you’ve just got to go with what that inward feeling is telling you.

That’s why, even though it was very obvious that my dad was trying to exert more control in my life, I agreed to choose these apartments (and thus take his help in the form of the letter). Not because he felt they were right, but because I felt they were. I had had a strong feeling like I should move here- but granted, at least I had seen the place and knew that a relative of a co-worker lived here. (Also, it was closer within my budget.)

I’m very glad that things worked out, but I know I have to be careful because sometimes accepting help from my dad comes at a cost- and really, that’s a terrible thing to say about your own father. Right now the only “cost” is that I’ve agreed to do some small job for him, but he doesn’t have any say in whether I’m med compliant or whether I continue going to school. None of his assistance is contingent on that, otherwise I would’ve never taken his help.

In other words, as far as things with my dad go I have to have boundaries, or I’ll get swallowed up in his “vision” for me. With him being as he is, I think he knows that I have these boundaries, and he’s enacted boundaries of his own, which include not really speaking to me unless I visit. I guess, considering how negatively he’s influenced things in the past, I should consider that to be sweet relief. But it isn’t. It’s not a good thing to not even have your father call you and ask how you’re doing, or encourage you in any way.

Of course, he’s still helping out financially. He’s always done that. I feel like, though, that sometimes he can use that to his advantage. My mom has never done this, but my dad will often go, “I raised you, I changed your diapers” etc.. When he, my mom, and my brother’s helped me move into my apartment, he said “Where are all those people you know helping you move? In the end you can only depend on your family”. He ignores the fact that through my entire life he isolated me from other people- and really that’s an isolating statement that he made- and the fact that one of my friends from the recovery residence -did- help me to move in that very day.

I feel like my dad tries to make me feel guilty. Like when I sort of hesitantly brought up the fact that he doesn’t talk to me he basically said, “Well you don’t listen to me so what is there to talk about? Why should I put myself through that kind of pain?” I think that’s the main thing that I couldn’t put my finger on, but now I see. I guess I feel like he makes me feel like I exist to fulfill his dreams and his agendas. Like, he was very keen on me working for him in his business, and then quite excited about my working in Mary Kay because “this is something you can do when you’re married with children” but he has never ever taken into consideration things I want and need for myself. What if I don’t want to have biological kids? What if I want to be a mother and work a regular job? What if I never get married? What if I want to marry a woman?

That is why he was willing to pour money into Mary Kay, or cosmetology school, or me learning HTML or A+ or becoming a real estate agent. He thought those were good ideas. Also, whether he thinks that’s “God’s will” for me or not, it’s very apparent that his will is the one that’s being best served here.

I think that I literally just realized this in the course of writing this- my dad has never actually supported even one of my dreams. He has been ever-minimalizing, saying things like “Opinions- opinions? Who are you? The only opinion that matters is the one God has” as he proceeds to quote the Bible and use it as a gavel to establish that he is right. I’ve actually heard him say in Bible study, “You should always listen to me because you never know if it’s God talking or if it’s me talking”. I mean to be that level of narcissistic you have to be pretty deeply involved in your own head!

Of course, I won’t criticize my dad too much here, because he isn’t in a position to see this and defend himself. In the mean time, I am often filled with dread at the thought of seeing him, while simultaneously wishing he paid more attention to me. Somehow, he spins things around to make it seem like our broken relationship is my fault only and his withdrawal is only a passive result. That is a hallmark sign of an abuser- even though I hesitate to firmly affix that descriptor to my dad. The more I look back though- the minimalizing, the physical intimidation and aggression, the isolating tactics, etc.- the more I see that he really is abusive in many ways. To me, my mother, and my brothers and sisters.

Of course, no one could fault him as a provider. He made sure we had food to eat, were physically safe, etc. In many cases, however, the abuser can justify their actions just because they’re a good provider and that could be what’s happening in this case. There’s no doubt that he always “took care of us” but there’s also no doubt that we had very little rights or say in anything. Our hobbies were all dictated by him, down to him deciding if the family as a whole was going to go out to eat or play tennis or go for a walk. He let up later on, but for the longest time he was like “If we’re going, you’re all going”, and really that is one of the more benign evidences of his dictatorship. More was seen in him choosing to continue to homeschool me even though at high school I requested to go to public school. I had no say in almost anything in my life.

Of course now I’m “free” but sometimes I still feel like I’m 16, eyes just opened to the world and self just realizing how much it wanted to break free (and not being able to). I just have moments of panic where I sit here wondering if all of the sudden I’ll lose my rights again, or if I really do have the right to choose. I sometimes forget that now, no one is stopping me from going places I want to go, pursuing my education, dating, going on outings etc. It’s a very disconcerting feeling and I think it’s just the trauma talking.

So anyway, to make a long story short, I have limited my exposure to my dad. He’s not all bad- almost no one is- but I don’t want to be lectured for 3 hrs. I am so scared he’ll convince me to throw everything away. I just can’t deal with it anymore. That’s why I called this post “The Exile”. I have been exiled from my faith and in some ways exiled from my family. My mom, well-meaning and loving me even as much as she does, usually just takes my dad’s side. Of course I don’t fault her that, but I would hate to have my dad ganging up on me and then being tag-teamed. The thing is I know my mom loves me, I know she has my best interest at heart, but with my dad I’m just not so sure at all. I feel like he loves me when it’s convenient, whereas my mom loved me when it was very inconvenient so I know of course that she loves me still right now.

I think that’s all I can bear to write.

Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin?

Previously published on my Tumblr page, http://a-woman-apart.tumblr.com/

I know that I ended my last entry abruptly, so I’m going to try and revisit the topics that I discussed in “No Father but God” individually and in greater detail.

I was left feeling a little bit conflicted after I kind of wrote in support of Christians who condemn homosexuality as a sin, but claim to still love gay and lesbian people and want the best for them. My point was that even though the religion as a whole teaches that homosexuality is a sin, doesn’t mean that Christians or Muslims condone the actions of gunmen like Omar Mateen.

Since then, however, I’ve come across a number of posts from people in the LGBTQIA community who came out of Christian or Islamic backgrounds. These posts talked about the psychological burden that repressing their homosexuality placed on them, and the sort of empty well-wishing they received from people who quote the cliche “Love the sinner, hate the sin”. These posts argued against the notion that you could truly love a person while considering their lifestyle “disgusting”. They challenged the Catholic idea that it’s okay to be gay, as long as you don’t act on your feelings. They said that this was tantamount to telling people to love freely, but then forbidding them from expressing that love in any way. They insisted that ultimately, these restrictions and commands fuel a homophobic culture that inevitably results in attacks like those on the Pulse nightclub on Orlando.

So who is right? Can you still say that you “love” LGBTQIA people if you vote against them having the right to marry or create families? Can you say that you have their best interests in mind, but don’t want them to share your churches, classrooms, or restrooms? Can you say that you really support them when you don’t want to see them portrayed on television, but are totally unaffected by depictions of gratuitous violence or extramarital heterosexual affairs?

I still think that the question is a difficult one to answer. If you truly believe that the Bible or Quaran is divinely inspired, and that God in His holiness cannot abide homosexuality, I can see where you would be stuck. You’re left to choose between following the dictates of your God versus being accommodating to another person, and if God trumps all, I can see why you might be having trouble. Or, if you think that homosexuality is a disease that can somehow be “cured” by conversion therapy, I can see why you are aghast that anyone would “choose” to stay that way.

Your situation might be further complicated if you’re gay and you’re Christian, and you’re left to scour the scriptures for evidence that you really can be both, to the chagrin of Fundamentalist Christians and your fellow LGBTQIAs. You may be demonized and told to just “pick a side”. For you, it isn’t that simple. Jesus is your Savior. You still believe He died for your sins, and even though He himself didn’t mention homosexuality, you’re left to wonder if millions of Bible-quoting Christians could be wrong in saying that your very existence is sinful.

I don’t think there’s an easy answer to the argument. On the one hand, I could just come out and say, “Christians, you’re wrong. Science has shown us that homosexuality isn’t a choice. In fact, it’s present in plenty of other mammals. So if it’s something that you’re born with, how can God punish someone for making them in the way that He made them?”

Fundamentalist Christians: “Well God gave each of us the power of choice, and sin entered the world when Adam and Eve took the fruit in the garden of Eden. He doesn’t make us sin and He doesn’t tempt us. James said ‘each of us is tempted by sin when he is taken into his own lusts and enticed’. Jesus came to save people from sin, not encourage them in it.”

Then of course, I could argue that there is no evidence that there ever was a Garden of Eden, lesser evidence still about the existence of Satan, and the idea of what is “sin” varies from culture to culture. Then we’d just have this,

“Well the Bible is God’s word. Everything in it is true.”

That is what we’re up against. So while I cannot support or defend mainstream Christianity’s views of homosexuality, I can almost identify with their stubborn insistence of ignoring “logic” and facts and just insisting on their own way. “God says homosexuality is wrong, so it is, because God is sovereign” and “His ways are higher than our ways” and so on, so forth. It’s pretty much like talking to a brick wall, because no matter how cunning the arguments we bring in favor of acceptance of the LGBTQIA “God’s logic” trumps all.

Sure, there are some good arguments that LGBTQIA people who remain Christian bring up in defense of their lifestyle. One is that the story of Sodom and Gomorrha is misinterpreted. Christian LGBTQIA people often point out that God didn’t destroy the city specifically because of homosexuality, but because of their violence, sexual assault, and greediness. I think they also point out that “Man shall not lie with man; it is an abomination” was a command given to the early Jews under the Law and doesn’t necessarily cross over into Christianity- especially since Jesus never mentioned this passage in all of his ministry. I’m not aware of how they handle the Pauline epistles; Paul basically tells the Romans that God actually inflicts homosexuality on people that disobey Him/refuse to serve Him. (Maybe that was just considered so absurd that it’s considered not to be canon)

Anyway, I am kind of diverging from the point. Can you really “love the sinner, hate the sin?” or is the very idea that homosexuality is inherently immoral toxic enough that we must stamp all residues of it from our society in order to have a healthy future? Do Christians who believe and teach that being LGBTQIA is wrong bear responsibility for the actions of people who carry out physical acts of violence against LGBTQIA people? Are the two interrelated, or can Christians that vote for anti-LGBTQIA laws and cringe at the sight of two men kissing on television wash their hands of any blame for the murder and continued abuse of LGBTQIA people?

Not everyone has a religious justification for being anti-LGBTQIA, just like not everyone has a religious justification for being racist. On the other hand though I do find it alarming that when people are prejudiced against someone based on gender expression or sexuality that they can so easily find a religious justification, and the religious right are sometimes slow to denounce the actions of people who commit overt crimes against the LGBTQIA community. Maybe saying, “I don’t believe it’s okay to be gay, but I don’t think that we should kill gay people” isn’t really enough, when your words and teachings are being used to justify the persecution of LGBTQIA people around the world. Maybe you do bear some responsibility after all.

That being said, it isn’t going to be an easy road going forward. A lot of Christians feel like they’re being marginalized and backed into a corner where they either have to submit to the so-called “gay agenda” and renounce their “rights” as Christians or they have to “stand for truth”. They see this as some kind of a “battle” that they’re fighting and that the LGBTQIA community gaining visibility is just another sign of the “perilous” times we live in.

As happy as I am to no longer be caught up in all of that whirlwind, as I continue to examine those beliefs- which are based very much on fear- the sorrier I feel for everyone who is still involved. Of course, there are many good things that come with having faith, but if your religion is at war with your identity as a person then that can become increasingly difficult. I’m still trying to make sense of it all myself. It’s a little bit easier for me, since I don’t accept the idea of a fallen, sinful world, but some people do and as frustrating as it is we have to recognize that those are their religious beliefs and they are close to their hearts. That being said, it’s never okay to use your religion as an excuse to marginalize and oppress someone else.

Love the sinner, hate the sin? Maybe it’s possible, maybe it’s not. (Please post a comment, if you can.)

No Father But God: Hyperreligious Upbringing, the Orlando Shooting, and Picking Up the Pieces

Previously published on my Tumblr page, http://a-woman-apart.tumblr.com/

As you all know, today is Father’s day. It is also one week since the shootings in Orlando. I didn’t expect to be talking about either Father’s Day or the Orlando shooting but the two are in some ways interrelated subjects for me.

I didn’t intentionally visit church on Father’s Day, even though my custom has been to attend church mainly on the holidays now, and I always have something to write about when I come home. As far as the sermon goes, however, there were less controversies for me to pick at than there usually are, and I actually quite enjoyed the service. I was moved to tears at the end when men gave their testimonies about how fellowship with God and people had changed their lives for the better.

Father’s Day hasn’t meant a lot to me, except this time around it’s made me quite aware of my father’s absence in my life. My father does not celebrate holidays- in response to  verses in Galatians that say that those who “regard days, months, times, and years” are in a kind of bondage. I guess that’s the same verse that the Jehovah’s Witnesses must use to support their rejection of holiday celebrations, but I’ve never been too sure.

Father’s Day has a unique “double rejection” for my dad, because of yet another Biblical passage- Matthew 23:9;

“And call no man your father upon the earth, for one is your Father, which is in heaven.”

So for all of my life, I have literally been unable to call my dad “Father” or “Dad” or “Daddy” and have instead called him by his last name. My dad has stated more than once that he doesn’t want anything to do with Father’s day, because he isn’t my father- God is.

Of course, that didn’t stop him from doing any of the things that a father would do, such as disciplining us or making decisions on our behalf. It didn’t stop him from quoting “children obey your parents” if he thought we’d be disobedient.

I also can’t neglect to mention that my childhood wasn’t all seriousness- my dad also did the “fun” or “nurturing” things too, cooking for us, taking care of us, taking us to the park, on vacations, etc. Regardless of whether he allowed himself to be a father in title didn’t stop him from being a father in deeds, and I think that matters so much more when it all comes down to it. I knew he was my father, I just knew that God was my father too and on a higher level of importance.

Now my ideas about my “heavenly Father” have definitely shifted, and in the mean time my relationship with my “earthly father” is on the rocks. To be honest, I find it incredibly distressing to be around him. Whenever I do communicate with him things are formal and strained. I know of course that in some way or another he does care about me very much- without his help I wouldn’t be living on my own right now- but on the other hand he doesn’t have any respect for my emotional needs and tends to minimize the things that I am interested in. His philosophy seems to be, “We can talk- when you see things my way” and really any conversation “we” have is dominated by him.

Honestly, one of the first things I did when I heard about the Orlando shooting was pictured my dad sitting in his seat passing judgment on those people, saying that God was responsible for their destruction. I guess there’s nothing really that shocking about any of that, when he thinks that God wields total and complete control over every event that happens on earth. So basically anyone who dies young like that has their own sin- or some familial sin- as the root cause of it. Honestly I am sickened when I think about that.

I wonder, why, though, that it matters to me so much. I’m reminded of a time shortly after the death of Heath Ledger, when my mom and I were watching the news and we saw how Westboro church was protesting at his funeral and the funerals of gay soldiers. I told my mom, “I think that’s highly inappropriate” and my dad came down to stand at the top of the stairs and demanded,

“Who said that?”

I looked him straight in the eye and said, “I said it.”

He said,

“Take that back right now!”

I said, “I will not.”

So my dad came until he was looking me straight in the face and said that he was going to hit me if I didn’t take it back. He said,

“I said several things that would be called inappropriate after about the death of [your brother]- take it back.” I stared him down for a minute. Finally, not wanting to test him any further, I said in disgust, “Fine, I take it back.”

I think I complained to my mom and she just told me,

“If he told you to take it back, you should’ve taken it back. You might not think it’s okay what they’re doing, but it’s not alright how the gay people are making a shrine out there (Heath Ledger’s hotel room).”

I remained in a sour mood for a while and then couldn’t concentrate on anything I was doing for hours.

A few days later after battling back and forth about it, I actually told my dad that I was sorry for disagreeing with him. He told me,

“I was trying to protect you. If you say things like that that displease God, you might be putting yourself in danger and I would be in danger too if I didn’t stop you.”

I just said, “Oh” but something felt off.

Well now I know what that “something” was. I was just being told from someone who was being abusive and intimidating that he was really doing a kind thing to protect me from the wrath of God. That’s a typical justification for abuse from angry, controlling men- they’re supposedly concerned with the greater good of the women they’re abusing, when really their main concern is about maintaining control and having their own way.

Anyway, back to the events of Orlando. You have some people- like my dad- who say that the gay people deserved what they got or were being punished. Then on the one hand you have so-called “religious hypocrites” who with one breath denounce the events in Orlando and in the other breath push for legislation that limits the rights of LGBTQIA people. Then finally you have the religious (and nonreligious) people who accept the LGBTQIA community, fight for their rights and continue their longstanding tradition of support for the community by denouncing acts of hate like the shooting in Orlando. I’m going to shift focus to the “middle” group we’re talking about here- the ones who are being denounced as “hypocrites”.

As a former Christian, I’m going to be the first to say that just because I feel that my religion does not condone a particular lifestyle, does not mean that I think that any human being deserves to be murdered in cold blood. The Bible as a whole teaches that homosexuality is a sin (and don’t forget, so does the Quaran). People that argue that “Well, Jesus didn’t condemn the adulteress” also fail to mention that he told her “sin no more.”

As for the “that was the old testament, Jesus brought the new covenant” then don’t forget that He said, “I did not come to destroy the law, but to fulfill it”. He was said to have kept every letter of the law perfectly.

Now, even with that being said, it’s important to note that Jesus taught absolutely nothing about homosexuality. All that we know about it we know from the books of Moses and the Pauline epistles. None of us is totally sure how Jesus would’ve handled the subject if he was approached with it. We also know that despite the Bible saying that Jesus was “without fault” He seemed to have circumvented one of the ten commandments- the one regarding “Remember the Sabbath day, keep it holy” almost dismissively saying “The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath”. He was a revolutionary in every sense of the word and enraged and puzzled the religious authorities of his time. I think he would’ve had that very same effect on the world religious leaders of the current time had he been born and lived in our modern century.

So I’m not saying that you can’t be a Christian if you support homosexuality, or you’re not a true Christian if you don’t. I think the issue is a lot more complicated and multi-faceted than that. I do feel however that putting aside my religious constraints has opened me up to being more accepting of LGBTQIA people and of myself as a bisexual female. I no longer concern myself with whether or not homosexuality is sinful. Instead I just ask,

1) Is this something we’re born with?

2) Is this something we can change?

3) Is this something we should change or treat as a mental illness?

My research has determined that, yes, it is something we’re born with, no, it’s not something we can change, and no, we should not attempt to alter it or treat it like a mental illnesss. That being said, sexuality is something you “discover” so it makes sense if it would seem to shift or change over time, or it would be expressed in different ways in different circumstances.

Most us agree that what happened in Orlando was a horrible thing, but most people have very opposing viewpoints on why it happened. Was Omar Mateen radicalized by ISIS over the internet? Was he conflicted about his own sexuality and therefore overly hostile to gay people? Was he simply a confused, deranged individual who suffered from some kind of mental illness?

I have my own theories, but I don’t feel any need to divulge them here. The bottom line is that most of us- regardless of religious orientation- are upset about what happened there. Young people had their lives snuffed out prematurely by a murderer who claimed allegiance to terrorism abroad- but never displayed any consistency in his accounts of who he was supposedly working for. Hezbollah and ISIS are enemies- he claimed them both. His wife- who had been on the receiving end of some of his violent outbursts- says that even she didn’t see this coming. People thought they saw him fraternizing at the Pulse before the shooting, but maybe he was really just scoping the place out in preparation for the attack?

We may never know the truth, which makes it that much harder for the families of the victims to experience closure. However, the only thing we can do now is look ahead to the future. I know that’s what I’m going to be doing.

“Ma’am, I thought you were a white woman”

A few months ago I was pulling up to Wendy’s to order my usual order; it was a number one which is a Dave’s Single w/ Cheese. A lot of the times I just get the sandwich, but I think this time I ordered the combo. When I pulled up to the window, the young black guy at the front told me.

“Ma’am, I thought you were a white woman.”

It was funny that he used the polite term “ma’am” right before what could’ve been termed an impolite statement. I think I just laughed awkwardly, paid him, got my food and then drove away. This wouldn’t be the first time that someone thought I “sounded white” and it wouldn’t be the last.

My dad is from Nigeria, and my mom is an African American- with some Native American ancestry- and was born in South Carolina.

I spent part of my childhood in a northern state where very few black people lived. People would smile at me and tell me that I sounded like my dad. I guess when I was smaller I took on some of his accent (I’ve only had one person tell me that I sounded Nigerian now that I’m an adult). They would ask if I spoke the language, and I would always have to tell them that I didn’t because my dad didn’t teach it to us.

To be honest my dad taught us very little about Nigeria. He would talk about the negative things, like the poverty, corruption, and the lack of reliable electricity. He talked about having to walk miles just to get water, and bathing with water from a bucket. He said the country was better off when it was under British occupation. So I always got the sense that he wasn’t very proud about having come from Nigeria- and so I didn’t get any sense of African pride either.

When I tell people that I have Nigerian ancestry, they say a number of things, including but not limited to:

“It’s no wonder you have that ‘Africa’ in your hair”

“At least you know where you came from”

“What tribe was your dad from?”

“Have you ever been to Africa?” and if I say no “You should go”

“Are you going to have an arranged marriage?”

I remember one time I went to Walgreen’s very late at night to pick up a prescription. The pharmacist on duty noticed my last name and asked if I was a Nigerian. When I told him my dad was from Nigeria he said that he too was from Nigeria and asked what tribe I was from. He said it was possible that I was from a particular tribe, and if I was from that tribe then I might have a tribal name that was unique to me. I told him that my dad had selected my first name from a verse in the Bible (but that I didn’t think I had a tribal name).

To make a long story short he actually had me there talking to him for like twenty minutes. He said that I shouldn’t be afraid to go to Africa, because that was where my roots were and it was up to me to find out about it. It was an interesting conversation but I felt a little like I was being lectured. Really, this man was a stranger, but he felt like he needed to give me personal advice.

See, that’s the thing about being black. Black people sometimes get overly familiar with you just because you’re black too, feeling like they have a right to give advice about your hair, appearance, or cultural expression. If you’re one of the only black people in the room, they might say something like “I’m so glad I found you, because I was thinking that I/we was/were the only black person/people here!”

Also, I can’t count how many times a black person in this city has looked at me a little suspiciously and said something like, “You’re not from around here, are you?” or “Where are you from?” or “You talk so proper”.

To be fair I’m sure that people of other cultures experience this as well. Maybe if you’re Hispanic someone will look at you and start speaking Spanish to you, and you may be embarrassed if you don’t know it. It’s like that with us, too. Sometimes I have to smile awkwardly when someone of the same race as me makes assumptions about me just because I’m black.

I watched the entire series of Misadventures of an Awkward Black Girl and read the book as well. In the book, Issa Rae writes that being “Awkward and Black” is among one of the absolute worst things that you can be, and I can 100% relate. I feel like I don’t fit into “black culture”, even though when you ask someone what black culture really is they don’t even seem to know what it is themselves. It’s kind of like there are some secret rules and I’m totally out of the loop.

It isn’t just in person that my apparent blackness has surprised people. My closest friends that I originally met online were all shocked when I sent pictures and they found out that I was black. It’s like there’s this unspoken assumption that if you are into anime, pop music, reading, and writing that you can’t possibly be black, but the rise of “black nerdom” and other black “classes” has led to the creation of lists of “categories” of blacks like the one found in Issa Rae’s book.

The list is as follows;

The 10% Black

The Ambitious Black

The Awkward Black

The Basic Black

The Hustling Black

The Insecure Black

The Know-it-all About Blacks Black

The LGBT Black

The Militant Black

The Nerdy Black

The Not-Black Black

The Position-of-Power Black

The Ratchet Black

The Strong Black

The Woe-is-Me Black

You’ll have to actually purchase and read Issa’s book if you want to see how she really broke it down for you. I think her point- and it’s dealt with with lots of cheeky humor- that there are so many different ways to “be black”, even though we are all aware that black is just a skin tone and it says nothing about a person’s inward character. Also, I don’t want to just turn this into a huge “woe is me, I’m black and misunderstood” type of thing.

I think some of my problems fitting in have as much to do with being a person of color as with being a child of an immigrant. If you were raised American and go home to your foreign relatives, it’s pretty obvious that they’re going to be comparing and contrasting between you and them (it’s another thing that makes me nervous about going). So you really don’t fit in with your immigrant parent’s family, and then you don’t fully fit in with American culture because you were still raised differently, even in cases where your parent kept the culture from you. I was homeschooled and raised in a strict, isolated, religious environment.

In some ways I feel like I’m almost doubly marginalized. I’m a minority, I’m bisexual, and I’m the child of an immigrant. I behave and speak different than a lot of my peers. I’ve never experienced blatant racism, but I have experienced some colorism- a thing that was totally foreign to me growing up. I’ve been called a “yellow bone” which I think is a compliment, but I had never even heard that term before I moved to where I live now.

For a lot of my black friends who went to public school and grew up in the South race is like a huge issue for them, whereas I’ve spent most of my life ambivalent about it. My parents have seemed to support the notion that modern blacks have brought a lot of their own problems on themselves. We didn’t have any “black pride” we were just raised to believe that all people were equal and that if you served God and did the right thing you could succeed in life. After all, my dad is a foreigner of all things and managed to rise up in his work field to making around six figures. He never blamed white people for hindering his success.

Even though I can see how this upbringing was good, it did leave me feeling like something was missing. When I recently gave up my religion- which was the main way in which I was taught to identify myself as a person- I felt like I didn’t have any culture left. I didn’t fit in with blacks, but here I was black. So right when I needed to I found my Moorish friends, and they began to educate me on the fact that racism was very much alive in America and that Islam was actually a big part of black history. Without blaming their hardships on anyone, they pointed out how unfair things really were, and they welcomed me, an awkward black Christian girl, into their fold. They never made fun of the way I talked- maybe because a lot of them spoke the same way.

So, have I, the awkward, bisexual, formerly-Christian black girl found my tribe? Not yet, but I’m starting to be more open and expanding my little circle.

There’s Gotta Be More to Life (and I think I’ve found it)

Previously published on my Tumblr page, http://a-woman-apart.tumblr.com/

All through my teenage years I lamented the daily events of life. I hated waking up- especially late- but I stayed up so late every night that it was almost inevitable. I was homeschooled, but hated that too and could never concentrate on my studies. I was emotionally out of control.

My parents always told me that things wouldn’t stay the same forever. They knew that I felt “trapped in four walls” but they tried to encourage me. I vacillated between having grandiose schemes for things and being wracked with hopelessness. Even when things were going well, i was always waiting for the inevitable return to mediocrity. On my worst days, I would watch the clock tick down and just pray for nightfall. When nightfall finally came and I was in bed, I would toss and turn restlessly, both dreading and wishing for morning. I was dissatisfied in the very truest sense of the word.

Those hormonal, bipolar days are now far behind me. The hopelessness is gone, but a lot of the restlessness remains. I notice how strangely time seems to pass, with the seasons seeming to change overnight and days blurring together like the landscape on a train ride. Sometimes I look around and wonder just how I got here. I know it was through a series of choices, some seemingly insignificant at the time. Applying for financial aid, enrolling in a class, showing up, studying, going to work everyday, a little exercise here and there, maybe cooking today instead of eating fast food. If you take each day of work done and compare it to the whole, it doesn’t seem very significant, but when you add everything together, you have years and years of acquiring knowledge, building relationships, and self-discovery. Every action taken today brings you closer to some point in the future. You may not be at the place where you envisioned- in fact, you may be some place better.

So yes, there’s more to life than “chasing down every temporary high” because those highs that seem temporary could be a part of a greater picture of overall growth. We are told to “never underestimate small beginnings”. As for the lows, those are important too- they force us to look at ourselves, reflect on our actions, and make important changes. We often don’t work on fixing things until they actually break down, and after they break down we learn how to take better care of them so they’ll hold up a little better in the future.

In the end I see that my parents were right. Absolutely nothing is permanent. This also means that nothing is really guaranteed, either. We could do everything we can to maintain our health and security and still be faced with a terrible crisis in the future. Alternatively, we could be in the midst of a terrible crisis and a sudden solution arises. In my experience, things are a little less sudden and a little more gradual than that, but the bottom line is that “change gon’ come”.

So what is the meaning of life? I think it has a lot more to do with “rolling with the punches” than it has to do with arriving at some sort of set plateau of knowledge and understanding. The meaning of life is doing what you love, and sticking to it through the highs and the lows. It’s about being flexible, but not flaky. It’s about having principles and standing by them. It’s about loving other people and being loved in return. It’s about “knowing myself even as I am known.” It’s about discovering so much but always knowing there’s more to be discovered.

I realized that part of the reason that I’ve been so happy lately- despite the exhaustion- is that I am really doing something that I love. Studying music really brings me joy. I couldn’t see the point of all the drills and exercises that we were doing before, but now when I dream I see notes dancing around sometimes. I still can’t quite “hear what I see, see what I hear” but now this musical language is really starting to take hold for me. So no matter how hard it is, no matter how much I may struggle, despite migraines and staying up late with the homework swimming before my eyes, I know I’m doing the right thing. That’s so important. The point isn’t having an easy life, it’s overcoming challenges and feeling like my struggle serves a purpose.

There’s a video on the Youtube channel “Vsauce” about boredom. The host goes into talking about how when boredom often coincides with moments of great creativity. It requires us to think deeply about things and innovate to alleviate the boredom. Also, he showed evidence from a scientific experiment that people whose brains were deprived of stimulation (sight, smell, taste, sound) began to display hallucinations to make up for the lack of stimulation. We weren’t meant to do the same lifeless, boring stuff over and over again.

There’s a proverb in the Bible that’s as follows;

“Hope deferred makes the heart sick; but when the desire comes it is a tree of life.” -Proverbs 13:12

I think my heart was “sick” for many years and now I’m starting to come into my own life: my own religion, my own career, my own education, my own friendships.

I used to wonder for the longest time if some of my bad habits were from an addictive personality. Now, as I look back, I can see that each habit serves as a crutch for aid with one problem or another.

For example, at one point I was very “addicted” to caffeine. I would drink coffee in the morning and then have sodas in the afternoon to stay functional. Then I wouldn’t be able to sleep well because of drinking caffeine so late, and the cycle would repeat over again. When I finally got put on the right sleeping medication, I slept like a baby and started to forego even my morning caffeine. Problem = solved.

Before, I spent so much time on the internet as a teenager that I fell behind in school. I’m in college and concentrating just fine now, and that all happened when I began to get treatment for my mental illness. Problem = solved.

Now I guess my main thing is overeating, which I’m pretty sure is a combination of hormones, the side effects of sleep medication, and stress. If I can somehow regulate those things, I’m pretty sure that that problem will too go away. Also if I feel better, I’ll incorporate exercise into my day better. In the mean time, my “self control quota” is being fully utilized in just my day to day existence as an employee and a student. Does this make me a bad person? No. It just means that I only have so many spoons and they’re otherwise occupied.

So what have these things taught me? For one, I need to experiment with positive reinforcement. Shaming and guilting myself for my shortcomings has never resulted in my improvement. Maybe saying things like, “I deserve to feed my body healthy things” or “Let me exercise and get my blood flowing” and things like that work better than, “You pig” or “You’re eating so fast, you slob” and other things. Maybe I need to work on the issue itself and think of the “bad behavior” as more of a symptom. Once I get my anxiety under control, I’m sure I’ll be healthier overall.

Thinking like this, is just another of the ways that I feel like I’ve improved. I used to use caustic, critical self-talk at all times. Somehow, now, due to medication and to lifestyle changes my brain is calm enough to where I can actually reason with myself- my quality of life has improved. Life is about turning “oh no, it’s ruined!” into “how can we fix this?”

Trust me, life gets better- it really does.

it’s really cheesy, but whenever I get overwhelmed I think of these lines from Paramore’s “Careful”;

You can’t be too careful anymore / When all that is waiting for you / Won’t come any closer / You’ve got to reach out a little more

Just keep reaching.

Are We Out of the Woods Yet?

Previously published on my Tumblr page, http://a-woman-apart.tumblr.com/

When I was looking at my Pandora, it told me that I hadn’t listened to a particular station in 2 weeks. With that, I had something to write about on here.

Sometimes, the passage of time amazes me. Sometimes my childhood seems like just yesterday. I can remember playing outside with my younger brothers in the northern state where we used to live. I can remember the sweet smell of the great outdoors in spring, the dry heat of summer, the buzzing bees that we were so scared of, the rustling wind of fall, and the snowy chill of winter. I was so carefree back then.

Sure, I cried easily and hard about many things, earning me the reproachable nickname “crybaby” by one of my younger brothers, but I don’t remember feeling the deep hurt inside that I would harbor inwardly only a few years later.

Now that I think about it, the onset of my childhood depression started when we left the place where my best friend had taught me to rollerblade, where we’d play with the inedible apples that fell from the tree in the front yard, and where I watched my younger sister be born into the world. That uprooting would result in me being more sheltered and isolated than I’d ever been.

When I look back, though, my depression really can’t be solely blamed on any one thing. Bipolar was already a part of my brain chemistry, it was just waiting for the right conditions under which to reveal itself. There were so many subtle signs of trouble though, all misunderstood or ignored.

Anyway, let’s get back on to how strangely time seems to pass by. It’s hard for me to believe that around 8 years have passed since I lost my brother, that I spent almost 5 years in and out of mental institutions, that I lived in a recovery residence for 3 years, and that I’ve already been at my current job for a little over a year. I’ve paid rent in my “new” apartment since December 2015.

It’s hard to imagine that despite the fact that I can hardly stand to be unoccupied for any length of time now, that before I used to literally spend hours staring at the walls, feeling and thinking nothing. I used to just gaze at the clock, watching time tick by, waiting for predictable events like dinner being served. After dinner I would hurry back upstairs and continue my inactivity. Next, would be the family Bible study where I would just mechanically go through the rituals. Finally, bed, where I would toss and turn for half of the night before falling asleep. (It wasn’t like I’d been doing anything that would make me tired enough to enjoy slumber.)

When I wasn’t a zombie, I was erratic, absurd; an unnatural flurry of speech and activity. Of course, it made no sense, but that’s what bipolar is- meteoric highs and devastating lows. That was my life.

I never thought I would get out. To their credit, my parents tried everything to help me, but none of their actions seemed to have any effect on either one of my extreme states. It would take me moving out entirely before I was able to get the right footing.

Even when I moved out, I really didn’t expect too much positive to happen. I was empty of any goals or dreams, I was really just into the act of survival. I was very emotionally flat and pretty much just did what I could to follow the rules at the recovery residence. Slowly though, as I became more active I was able to come out of the shell that I had formed for myself. I started laughing, feeling feelings, and being more comfortable around people.

Of course, all good things must come to the end. Now that I’ve moved, in some ways, it feels like I was never there. No more “financial consequences” no more “signing in and out” no more “meetings”. My introverted self quickly felt quite at home with my solitude. I’ve managed to maintain some relationships that I had from before, but I really don’t feel a strong connection to the place anymore.

i still see a caseworker because of how high-risk I’d been before, and she’s absolutely fantastic. In many ways, though, I feel like I’m really starting to become a lot more independent. I’m “on my hustle” trying to stretch my resources as far as they’ll go. I’m working hard at class and making a lot of sacrifices so I can devote as much time as possible to it. I’m sticking to my job and trying to give it 100%.

On top of that, I’m just trying to realize who I am. I’ve fully accepted my illness; I’m not going to let anyone convince me not to be med-compliant, especially not if it’s for religious reasons. I know what my body needs and I’m trying to nourish it. I’m trying to eat better and I do yoga stretches multiple times a week.

Sure, sometimes being all about work and school can cause someone to be very lonely. Also, since most of my social outlets have to do with church, and I’m becoming quite “unchurched” I have to summon the courage to check out new groups and whatnot (still working on it). I do have people though that I can reach out and talk to. I’m learning to value the friendships that I do have, and my family (siblings especially, and my nephew). I really do have a great support network.

I guess what the “weird” passage of time has taught me is that my parents were actually right about something- no situation is permanent. A friend from Al-Anon also told me, “You won’t stay on the mountaintop forever, and you won’t be forever in the valley. Everything changes.” I think that’s the most encouraging thing that I really have to hold unto. It’s the thing that’s made the most difference in my life. I might spend literal years in a certain situation, and then what seems like overnight it just changes.

It’s taken a lot to get used to. Just like the happy reminiscences, I have “flashbacks” about some particularly depressing incidents that have occurred in my life. I’ll think of things I’ve done that seemed so totally foreign to my core identity, and I’ll wonder how or why that could’ve happened to me. Sometimes I forget that I’m safe right now, that the past is behind me, that I have a much better handle on my negative impulses than I’ve ever had before.

I think some of the best moments are when I just take it for granted, that I just live life as though I’ve never had any constraints. Those are the moments when I’m just totally focused and enjoying what I do.

So yeah, I think I am “out of the woods” but we’ll just have to see what happens next.

I Believe…

Previously published on my Tumblr page, http://a-woman-apart.tumblr.com/

I was just lying my on my couch a little while ago trying to recover from a week of finals, running around, and work. Even though I’ve been on the fence about faith I decided to toss up a prayer to God for my brother and his family, for the rest of my immediate family, and for a ton of other things in general.

Somewhere in the middle of my praying- and this was pretty much out loud talking to the ceiling- I had an epiphany. I don’t choose to worship Yahweh/Jehovah/Allah/JudeoChristian deity but that doesn’t mean that I don’t believe in God.

I know, I’ve mentioned before that “recovering from religion” didn’t have to mean a total loss of faith but I think I was just trying to say it just to make myself believe it. Now, it’s real to me. I’m not a Christian anymore. I don’t believe in a seven day creation, partings of the Red Sea, an Israeli Exodus from Egypt, the virgin birth, the deity of Christ, the Resurrection, the Final Judgment or the Second Coming but I sure as heck do believe in a god. I believe that some Benevolent Force has intervened in my life for the better. I believe that Something gave me strength when I had totally given up. I also believe that this “something” isn’t going to let me down.

So, I repeat- I’m not a Christian anymore. And it’s okay.

I kind of thought that my deconversion would be some kind of huge deal. I would need to shout it from the mountaintops, tell the whole world that I was now a “proud unbeliever”.  In the end, though it was a lot more like my “conversion” than I would’ve expected. There was no bright light, no audible voice, no burning bush; it just sort of “happened”. My faith in Christianity just became more and more eroded until there was pretty much none left.

That being said, I still consider myself a part of Christian culture. I still like Christian music, tend to dress with a certain bit of modesty, try to live by the golden rule, and am a little bit prudish about sex. Of course, none of those things makes me a Christian, and all of those things are subject to changing.

All of this time, I have been so terrified of how I would answer if someone asked, “Do you believe that Jesus is the Son of God?” like saying “no” would somehow bring the wrath of God down directly on my head. Like I’ve said before, I believe that we are all as much children of God as Jesus was/is. I don’t, however, believe that he’s up there looking down at us, watching what we do, defending us, etc. I don’t believe that literal physical resurrection is really possible in the kind of circumstances that Jesus died under.

Sure, I’ve also said that if God is God he/she/it can do anything- supposedly. Due to the problems that the idea of an omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent God makes, I choose not to believe that my God is all of these things. I believe he/she/it has influence over creation, was ultimately responsible for bringing life into the universe, but isn’t the overreaching ruler of it.

I also choose not to invalidate anyone’s personal spiritual experiences. Iyanla saw the spirit of her dead mother in the mirror once, encouraging her and telling her she was beautiful. She also heard an audible voice telling her to leave her husband before her husband could kill her. She also had a dream about her son- at the same time that her daughter had a similar dream- and they went looking for him and it saved him from death. She is a yoruba priestess. I believe that God can speak to anyone, regardless of culture or beliefs, and that there are fragments of him/her/it in every religion. (Of course I’m not sure I’m too cool with the Aztecs and their human sacrifice, but I guess if you’re going to be sacrificing animals to the gods why not people, too?)

I know that I felt God- my god– in my house today when I prayed, for the first time in a long time. I believe he/she/it has always been with me, watching over me, guiding my actions and influencing people in my favor.

Of course, I acknowledge that maybe God isn’t the reason behind people’s intuition or their clairvoyant and spiritual experiences, that maybe there is something weird or metaphysical going on that science hasn’t really gotten a hold of yet. Maybe we are all causing these in ourselves somehow, but I’m really not confident enough in that hypothesis to turn it into a theory yet. UK performer Derren Brown was able to convincingly imitate a seance, interpreting people’s dreams, reading minds, and causing people to “be slain in the spirit” all through “mind tricks”. He was an atheist at the time and remains one to this day. His documentary “Messiah” that showed him doing these things gave me a lot to think about, but it didn’t convince me totally that all supernatural phenomenon are just man-made.

One of the things that I prayed for was the strength to just be able to stand in my own truth, to be totally honest with myself first before I worry about being honest with other people. I don’t want to ever forget who I am again, to go back to being the confused and divided person that I was before. I don’t want to ever embrace hyperreligiosity again as a defense when things happen that I don’t understand- like when we received news of my brother’s death.

I remember having doubts about Christianity for years and years now, but I could never form those doubts into a cohesive statement of- ironically- belief. Now I never want to ever look back again. I don’t see how I could.

Born This Way

Previously published on my Tumblr page, http://a-woman-apart.tumblr.com/

I attended church this morning. I just felt like going for some reason, even though I knew that it would be a Mother’s Day celebration and my own mother was miles away. I felt a little sad not to have had her there. Honestly, since I had Saturday off I could’ve traveled up there, but exhaustion and other circumstances kind of caused things to fall apart a little bit.

The service consisted of worship as usual, a series of baby dedications and gifts for the newest and oldest mothers. The sermon was about the woman at the well. The pastor admitted that the woman at the well might not have actually been a mother, but she was a good representation of a woman who was ostracized, suffered from broken relationships, and yet still cared about God and wanted to be seen as something other than her circumstances. Jesus reached out to her on her level, and that’s pretty significant.

Of course, though, a sermon about Mother’s Day wouldn’t be complete without some kind of contrast being drawn between women and men as caretakers and separate members of society. The pastor made reference to the biblical myth of Adam and Eve. God is said to have created everything and called it all “good”, including man, but then he observes “that it is not good for man to be alone. We must create a helper for him”. He puts Adam to sleep, and takes a rib out of his body and out of that rib forms Eve.

The pastor of course put in a disclaimer about this story. He knew that women would be groaning and thinking, “So I’m just created to help a man” and so he says that that same word “help” was used by King David to describe divine help from God. He called God his “help” so according to the pastor we as women are being honored by this divine distinction. We are God’s expression of divine assistance to all people (nice save, Pastor).

Surprisingly, this wasn’t the only seemingly sexist verse/story that he would convert into something more euphemistic. He quoted from 1 Peter 3, the passage about women needing to be submissive to their husbands, and not to treasure outward beauty over the inner beauty of a “quiet, peaceable spirit”. He placed emphasis on the part of the passage that tells women that their unbelieving/stubborn husbands can be won “without a word” by the gentle reverence of their wives. The pastor joked that “men don’t respond to words, they respond to beauty”, only, it was part serious as well, because it was a reference to that “inner beauty” that Peter was talking quite seriously about.

Finally, he quoted the verse that says that men/husbands should “give honor to the wife, [she] being the weaker vessel” so that “their prayers would not be hindered” (1 Peter 3:7). This verse, while seeming to be positive (in that it ostentatiously encourages men to take care of their wives) also has some negative connotations, the chief one being that this enforces stereotypes that women are “fragile” or “weak” as compared to their male counterparts. The pastor tried to save this from its negative implications by stating that God had actually designed us [women] to be more “vulnerable” or “weak” because “his strength is made perfect in our weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). He said that when we as women try to be “strong” and “macho” then we are actually acting adversely and contrary to our design, and we cannot experience the presence of God as deeply because we are refusing to be vulnerable and just open ourselves to him.

I’ll say this before I go on. I really admire my pastor. I think he actually did a pretty great job, considering the material he has to work with. That being said, I know some things now that I didn’t before, namely about intersex people and non-gender-conforming individuals, who are totally erased and ignored by these gender stereotypes.

If God really just made them “male” and “female”, and he is the all-powerful, all-encompassing God that he is constantly made out to be, then what about people who are born into bodies that don’t fit fully into either biological box?

Now I don’t know about all of the science behind how/why people are born intersex, but I will discuss one phenomenon here. It is that of the “chimera”, which is a word for some person or animal that is a conglomeration of other types.

Most people are aware about the differences between identical and fraternal twins. With identical twins, the twins were actually at one point a single embryo that split into two. Therefore, these twins have the same DNA. In the case of fraternal twins, each of the eggs that originated them was fertilized separately, and for some reason each off these fertilized eggs was implanted in the womb. These embryos each have different DNA and will display different physical characteristics.

A “chimera” is formed, when two separate human embryos- or fraternal twins- are fused together into one single embryo. These individuals will have two different sets of DNA that manifest in different ways.

Sometimes, the original embryos are either both male or both female. In these cases, changes to genitalia might not be present. However, one thing that can happen is that certain parts of the person’s body have one DNA, and the other parts of the bodies have others. In the case of one woman, her ovaries actually had the DNA of her “lost” twin, making it appear that her own biological children did not share her DNA at all. This nearly resulted in her children being taken away, under the presumption that she had stolen them from someone else.

Finally, if the two embryos were different genders- one biologically male and one biologically female- it is very likely that the person will have physical characteristics of both of them, such as someone having both ovaries and testes, etc.

Now, the church can’t have it both ways. You can’t say that people are “born for a purpose” and then just totally ignore a whole subset of people who are born. Though, that is why it maybe wouldn’t surprise me if the majority of doctors who do “corrective surgery” on intersex patients, many times under false pretenses, were somehow motivated by a religious conviction (though I cannot prove this at all). The idea of “fixing” a person so they fit neatly into the gender binary smacks of bigotry in all the “right” ways.

Finally, lets assume that it’s true that God did create people “male” and “female”. The idea that man was created first kind of goes against some new scientific discoveries, and here is why.

There are numerous scientists that have come to the conclusion that all fetuses actually start of as-

Wait for it-

FEMALE.

Apparently, as a fetus is developing in the womb, during the early stages it is biologically female, and only begins to develop the characteristics that are indicated by the “Y” chromosome- male characteristics- later on. This was considered the reason why males also have nipples, and also a possible reason for gender dysphoria in men, which ultimately leads many of them to transition to a female identity (we still don’t know a lot about what causes female gender dysphoria or even about female sexuality).

Actually, I balked at the idea of fetuses starting out female, but then I realized that the very nature of how the chromosomes work tends to lend itself to that conclusion. Women are XX. Men are XY. Why isn’t it the other way around, with men being YY and women being XY?

(See what I did right there?)

Anyway, the Bible isn’t really the first one with crazy creation myths, and I think as long as we realize that these are myths, then we can stop basing our entire lives and identities around them. I don’t believe that women were made out of the first man’s rib anymore than I believe that the Goddess Athena burst out of Zeus’s head, fully developed and fully armored. Even so, because I’ve just been inundated with these ideas and concepts for so long, it’s difficult to imagine anything else. I am so grateful however for NPR, the Discovery Channel (when they’re not showing nonsense) and the Internet because I can actually be exposed to real scientific research that shows that we’ve just been spoon-fed these illogical stories from birth and have been brainwashed to believe in them.

Also, there are a number of studies showing that male and female brains might not be as dissimilar as everyone is saying. I started reading a book that I got from Half Price Books called “Gender: Psychological Perspectives” by Linda Brannon and it seems to support the notion that gender is partially a social construct. How much of a construct it is is open to interpretation.

As feminists we get to talk a lot about “fighting the patriarchy” because that’s what our society is, a patriarchy. However, as Betty Friedman pointed out in her most popular book, some societies are matriarchal. If male dominance was an absolute thing, totally immutable, then we wouldn’t have those matriarchal cultures. In those cultures women rule, and men actually cut their genitals because of “menstruation envy”. If the patriarchy was totally “natural”, we wouldn’t have some cultures where goddesses are central.

So yes, “God doesn’t make mistakes”. If he “forms the bones in the womb of her who is with child” then he must’ve been aware of that when he/she/it created intersex people. Or LGBT/non-gender-conforming individuals, who are also influenced by factors in the womb beyond their control. We are “born this way”. I didn’t used to believe it, but now I’m willing to argue with anyone who says otherwise.

I’ve changed a lot since even 2 years ago. To be honest I’ve always been fascinated with the idea of gender identity though. I am cisgender, but I remember when I was first exposed to a transperson (it was Chaz, Cher’s son) on TV I asked my mom if God was okay with people doing gender reassignment surgery. She said, “No. He doesn’t even want you wearing the other gender’s clothes, much less changing your body” and she also indicated that if some people changed genders and then dated people of their former gender (FTM dating F) then they were homosexuals and that wasn’t allowed either.

Now I realize that that’s not how that works- transgender women are women, transgender men are men. If a transgender man dates only women, he’s straight. If he dates only men- even if his biological gender was female- then he’s gay. Same (but reverse) with transwomen. Also, not everyone fully “transitions” but that doesn’t make them any less a member of the gender that they identify as.

I know it sounds really stupid but watching all the LGBT-ers on YouTube helps a ton with perspective as well. My pastor rightfully pointed out that “the ultimate hope of each person is to be fully known, and fully loved”. I know that my church has a lot of love in it, but we can’t just totally erase a group of people to avoid either having to accept them or to avoid throwing them out. Christianity at its core is not a religion that supports different sexualities and gender diversity.

Sometimes, it feels like you have to choose between being Christian and being LGBT and I think that’s really sad for people who really want to hold on to their faith. I don’t think that the road forward is going to be easy for anybody. Personally I think I  am starting to see Christianity as more of a guideline and not an absolute instruction for my whole life. I can take the parts that I agree with, and then discard the parts that aren’t relevant to me in society today.

I know that sounds a lot like “buffet religion” but then who are you to judge me? Who are you to tell me in what way I can worship and in what way I can practice my faith? Even Paul said that each person “to his own master stands and falls” (Romans 14:4). If there is a God of judgment, then He will judge me at the end but in the end I know I can’t turn my back on people that just need a friend, because they don’t fit into the gender binary, or they are married to someone of the same sex, or they have piercings or tattoos or anything else superficial.

Bigger Than My Body Gives Me Credit For

Previously published on my Tumblr page, http://a-woman-apart.tumblr.com/

Today my co-worker asked me how did I think it was that people came off with the criteria for diagnosing someone as autistic, or placing them on the autistic spectrum. I gave a number of reasons why I had heard that this was said to be done, and our conversation expanded to people who self-diagnose as various things, including (but not limited to) autism or mental illness or disorders. He talked about something called the “forer effect” which results in people considering a certain set of statements to be highly accurate for them, even though the statements could be true of many people. We talked about MBTI assessment, horoscopes/astrology, and a little bit about the New Age (indigo children, etc). He concluded that it wasn’t a good idea to pay too much mind to labels, clinical or otherwise, because we all have characteristics of all of the different diagnoses and personalities in each of us. Attempts at self-diagnosis in particular could prove to be limiting or harmful.

This got me to thinking about how I define myself as an individual. Here on Tumblr, I tend to affix the tags “deconversion” and “ex-Christian” to my posts, but I’m starting to see that it may be possible to just change my definition of what it means to be a Christian so that it fits me better (this is what Bishop John Shelby Spong did). Strangely enough, most of my non-Christian friends and acquaintances, to whom I’ve opened up to about my struggles, tell me that in their eyes I’m still Christian. They see me as a person of “deep faith” that feels strongly about Christian convictions.

I can’t say they’re incorrect about this. When I went to the Moorish Science Temple of America, I reflexively referred to myself as Christian, using sentences like, “Some of us Christians have these preconceived notions about what Islam is like” and so on. It felt natural for me to respond this way at the time.

I guess when choosing to believe- or not to believe- may be considered a matter of life and death, or of heaven or hell, then what I believe is really important. If I can divorce my faith in a Divine Power from these kinds of implications, however, I open myself to new possibilities. It’s definitely true that if I do decide to go along with not believing in the virgin birth, singular deity of Christ, and His literal resurrection, that I am going to alienate myself from some people of a fundamentalist Christian persuasion. On the one hand, I have the affinity of millions of Catholics who agree with the official church stance that the Bible is mostly allegorical (whether they extend that belief to exclude the literal belief in the virgin birth is another matter entirely). On the other hand, I have Evangelicals and Word of Faith-ers who go around saying, “The Bible says it, I believe it, and that settles it” in the face of ever mounting evidence, scientific and otherwise, that disproves the Biblical account.

Really though, it’s not the by and large church that I fear. It’s my parents, my siblings, my close relatives- it’s what they will think of me that gives me the heaviest heart. I can take the cold shoulder of strangers, but the idea of my dad in particular turning his back totally on me is more than I can bear at this time. I live constantly in that shadow of fear. He really hardly speaks to me as it is, and I find it undesirable for him to have even more of a reason to disdain me.

So yes, I have a lot of ways that I could define myself. I could define myself as a person of color, a woman, an artist, or a believer. All of those things are part of me, but they’re not the whole sum of me. Some may say that I don’t really believe, that I’m just a seeker. These are the same people who complain about churches becoming too “seeker sensitive”, too inclusive of society as a whole, too accommodating for people like me who refuse to fit into a “holy mold”. Supposedly the church should be about “being the light”, with the alternative, I suppose, being giving everyone night vision goggles.

I could define myself by my psychiatric diagnosis, throwing around words like “bipolar” or “schizoaffective.” I could talk about the fact that I’m sexually attracted to women, and that the church believes that that’s a sin, and woe is me for being in this kind of idealogical conundrum.

Jesus was recorded as saying, “If you’re not for me, you’re against me. If you’re not with me, you’re scattering.” He was also recorded as saying this;

“Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. / For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. / And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household.” – Matthew 10:34-36

I can see that that separating sword in my own family and I know that I’m not the only one. I fear it. I fear shaking off these false labels of who I really am and embracing my real self.

It’s funny though, that God/the universe/synchronicities keep bringing things into my life exactly when I need them.

I needed someone to give me strong advice and support, and I found my caseworker.

I needed to know more about my heritage, and I found classmates connected with places where I could learn about my African roots.

I wanted to learn more about different religions, and I found the Moors.  (See my post, “More Alike than Different”).

I needed an outlet, and a friend introduced me to Tumblr.

The truth is, that I have everything that I need to be happy and whole. Also, I know that if I just believe in it, good things can happen for me. In the short term, coming out and being who I am could prove to be divisive and difficult. Even as I lose old relationships, though, I open myself up to new ones. Friends come and go. Situations come and go. The one thing that stays the same is the unshakable truth that I am worth it, and there is someone out there who will value the authentic me far more than people I used to know valued what they perceived as my authenticity. Somewhere out there there are people who will love me just for being me.

I have a few, and I’m ready to seek out the rest.