A Conversation, Lightly Edited

Beta Reader, male:  I hope you and yours are well. I just was curious, how is your book coming? I really enjoyed reading the chapters you sent. Have a wonderful day. 

Me:  My rough draft is done!  I am in revisions now.  Hoping to be ready for a publisher by the end of the year.  Are you interested in reading more?  I always need input!  Thanks for checking in. 

Beta Reader, male:  Yes, I would love to read more!

(Sound of chapters zooming through space)

Beta Reader, male:

Me:  Did you get the chapters I sent?  Just checking, no hurry!

Beta Reader, male:   Hi! I did and read it with great pleasure. I can tell you’ve spent some time tightening up the characters and developing them in more detail.  I found the detail of your relationship with (redacted) interesting. May I ask about the choice to include such erotic detail? Not judging, just curious. I certainly think those details are fascinating and stimulating, just sincerely curious about sharing the details.  I don’t think it is necessarily a bad choice, but it will be interesting when your grandchildren read it.  Who else besides the grandchildren of celebrities and rock stars know the sex life details of their grandparents? Because of my sexual repression earlier in life I probably now tend to have an unhealthy obsession with all things sexual.  To most reading your story it’s probably not a big deal. 

 I want to commend you on your bravery in writing. I grew up in the same religious context as you, although I didn’t nearly suffer as much. I’m sorry you had to endure that. I suspect because I am male and my dad did not attend church I escaped a lot of what many of my peers have endured at the hands of Pentecostals. But in some ways I envy you. I’ve always been a rule keeper of sorts and you knew a certain freedom of rebellion at an early age. I did all the typical teenager things but never had any of the adventures you describe in tantalizing detail. And now I’m at an age where the “What if’s” start to flood the mind. I wish I would have made some different choices earlier in life. But you did and now you are writing about them. Kudos. I want to read more!! Keep me posted. 

(Me, looking in mirror: GRANDCHILDREN?  Shit, I do look old.)

Me:  I appreciate your kind words.  You bring up some interesting points that have me thinking and refining my themes,.  Please allow me to think out loud here…

Regarding explicit detail and why I write it:

Sex and eroticism is and has always been a focus of mine, so I love writing about sex.  Also, everybody knows sex sells and I want to sell some books.  To that end, I also want to pull in male readers because I have something to say to them.  Men rarely read memoirs by women.

This brings me to what I want to say to men.  I am interested in their experience of sex and sexual interaction.  I also deeply believe that rape culture and the end of female oppression comes not only from women rising up but from “good men” listening and giving a shit about the effects of their disinterest.  People in power aren’t going to give it up voluntarily, but all men have a mother and most have sisters, female friends, daughters, etc.  It is important to understand our experience.

Which leads me to our experience.  Most women know what it feels like to be a sex recipient if you know what I mean.  A faceless receptacle.  I am fascinated that you find my experiences erotic as opposed to simply explicit.  They are descriptions of trauma.  Not rape.  Not non-consensual, but a search for belonging and love.  The narrator was not a free spirit out having a good time, but a damaged, sad, lonely girl.  Female readers get this.  I want male readers to get it, too, and I think they will when I’m done with the story, but I have to get them to pick it up first.

Also, no one gets out of fundamentalism without sexual damage, male or female.  You mentioned your own repression and the what-ifs that are coming around now.  I can’t help but notice that there is an assumption of shame associated with sexual experience in your response.  Sex is the best part of life.   People literally die of loneliness.  Lots of people are trapped in sexless marriages.  Many of the mass murderers we see in the news have a history of sexual rejection.  I think it is a worthy talking point.  Who decided sex should be associated with shame and guilt?  There is probably a provable answer to that question.  I am betting it is rooted in controlling women’s sexual behavior, which became a popular thing to do when humans started owning property:

Sex At Dawn

Do you mind if I use your response as part of a blog post?  Anonymously, of course.

Beta Reader, male:  Thank you for the thoughtful response. I suppose I did reveal my ignorance. I agree there shouldn’t be any shame associated with sex, I apologize for missing the point in your expressions of your experience. I was wrong to interpret them so. I confess that I’m still learning and not being a woman or someone who has suffered as you have I’m limited in my ability to fully understand. I’m sincerely sorry if my observations came across insensitively. Not if, they did. Thank you for confronting me on that point. If my ignorance will help inform others feel free to publish it.

ME:  Oh geez.  There’s really no need to apologize.  I appreciate your forthrightness.  You’re helping me form my thoughts on this subject in a very real way.
We are all dealing with this subject from different angles. Thanks for letting me use your thoughts to further the conversation.  I really do have a point to make with the explicitness of my writing and I want to make it thoughtfully and well.

And you know, if readers get turned on, so much the better!

 

Fiance:  If you want male readers to understand why the sex is traumatic you will have to beat them over the head with the point.

Writing Coach:  I agree.  Do it.

 

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Isolation

I’m thinking about isolation.  Not what you do on a Sunday morning? Just me?

Several recent conversations with my sisters and my mother have reminded me how isolated we all were from each other in years past.  The stage was set within our family for absolute obedience and we were a perfect storm of noncommunication.

Firstly, the cult of Pentecostalism required isolation from the world in general, effectively taking away any context for normality.  Intrinsic to that religious culture is the submission of women to men.  Women cannot hold positions of power or have a public voice.  Their submission must be evident in behavior and appearance.

But you know that.

Add in an ambitious, power-hungry, sexually frustrated narcissist on a mission from God with a public persona to protect and we have a family of women who were not allowed to talk to each other.  Not because we didn’t want to, but because we were forbidden and didn’t know how.

When crises came around, we were already in a state of silence.  By the time my teenage fallopian tube exploded (see Close Call for the story) and I was near death, we were all perfectly trained. All Dad had to say was do not speak and we didn’t.  Our silence went far beyond lying to church people who would judge him for having a wayward daughter.  He didn’t have to tell me not to speak.  I hadn’t spoken out loud in my family for years and was not about to start.

Mom knew I was sick but was not allowed to visit me in the hospital, nor to comfort me afterward.  Dad told my sister that Mom didn’t know what happened to me and not to tell her, so she didn’t.  My sister was the only person who spoke to me during my six weeks of recovery following surgery.  I sat home alone with no one to blame but myself. My other sister was told nothing at all.

Silence filled our home, the air too thick to breathe. Not one word was spoken between mother and daughters nor sister to sister about the fact that one of us had a tragic, terrifying, near-death experience.

Thirty-ish years later, with the threat of Dad’s wrath long gone, we talk.  Now we know what we were forced to deny.  Now we say the words.  Now we are free to love each other.  And breathe.

Dear Neglected Blog…

My book, The Uncomfortable Confessions of a Preacher’s Kid, is coming along, slowly but surely.  Turns out I had to learn how to write a book first.  Thanks to Cami Ostman and the writers of Memory to Memoir I have gained  invaluable support and feedback on this strange trip.

The recent surge of online truth telling, specifically the #MeToo, #ChurchToo, #RaptureAnxiety and #EmptythePews threads on Twitter have astounded me.  There are so many of us.  PTSD, anxiety and depression abound in the ex-evangelical community.  Seems like a good time to tell my story, even if it’s just another voice in the crowd.

If you have one, please tell yours, too.  One thing I have learned is to give myself permission to write it all down.  Edit later.  But get it out.  There isn’t anything that can’t be faced on the page.  Trauma, like evil, loses its power in the light.

Joy, Love, Peace and Merry Christmas,

Ronna

Tony says…

Public Service Announcement

A reader kindly sent me the link below.  If you think you or someone you love might be involved in a cult, this website will break it down for you.  It lists, in plain English and straightforward detail, the warning signs of both leadership and followers.  As an added bonus, there is also a list of healthy leadership indicators.

Warning Signs

If I encounter any good advice for extricating a loved one, I will pass it on.  If you need extricating, there is help available.  Unfortunately, you will need to be prepared for the abuse and ostracism that will come.  Please feel free to contact me if you need resources or click on Resources in the menu.

Ode to Broken Commitments

I came across this blog post on good ol’ Facebook and it stopped me in my tracks.  So many of my own experiences and those I grew up around are piercingly described here, as is the truth their effect on young lives.  Please take a few minutes to follow the link below and read.

http://stuffapostolicslike.blogspot.com/2015/08/285-nayc2015-ode-to-broken-commitments.html

Yes To Hope

Yesterday while driving around town I spotted a sign outside a business that said, “There is no hope in logic.”

This sentence jumped into my brain and ran around in circles. What the heck does that even mean?  I wondered.  In the interest of full disclosure, this business’ sign often has clearly christian perspective.  But this I pondered.

The belief that there is no hope in logic is a perspective I find remarkably sad and, let me just say it, wrong.  Logic gives us a path to follow, clear actions to take. Logic gives us power and direction.  When we can see connections between our own actions and their effects or, on a larger scale, between public policies and statistics, then we can make positive changes.  Changes can be made immediately and with intent, no waiting.  The ability to make changes gives us every reason to hope for a better future whether we are talking about our own life or the future of our country or our planet. Reliance on hope, also known as wishing, gives us an excuse to sit back and let things happen.

Life can be overwhelming at times, with stresses and worries that are difficult to shoulder.  Sometimes there is no fix.  It is necessary to take the time to listen to the still, small voice, to let go of the things that are out of our control.  It is also necessary to get up again, put one foot in front of the other, do the work before us according to the logic of our abilities and priorities.  It is possible that is where true hope lies, in our own efforts to make things better and in knowing we have worked hard and done all we can do.  Then sit back, have a beer and hope for the best.

There is no hope without logic.

 

But I WANT It…

As a child raised in the extreme isolationism and clamped-down atmosphere of the United Pentecostal Church, I had a deep, insatiable desire for worldly things.  The state of females’ appearance was rigidly controlled:  dress length to the knees (even for children), no pants or jeans, no sleeveless shirts, uncut hair (not even trimmed), no make-up or jewelry and I lusted for it all.  My most prized possession as a little kid was a big fat gold ring with rhinestones that I was allowed to wear only when playing “house” in the basement.  Once, some poor soul got saved and turned over her entire collection of costume jewelry to my dad; three boxes full.  I was momentarily ecstatic, envisioning hours of fabulous dress-up play.  My sisters and I got to keep the empty boxes.  I have no idea where the jewelry went; probably into the garbage.  Oh, that just made me feel a little bit sick to my stomach.

As I grew towards adolescence, my cravings grew: a plastic Oreo cookie necklace with a bite taken out of it on a leather cord, a Donnie and Marie Osmond lunchbox.  I didn’t know who they were, but it sure looked cool.  The short flippy haircut of a girl at the mall, a Barry Manilow poster.  I had a plan, though.   When I was old enough, maybe 18, I intended to backslide temporarily.  I was going to have permanent eyeliner put on (it hadn’t been invented yet, I think I fantasized it).  I was also going to get my hair cut, all very quickly and then come back to church.  I would take a chance that the rapture wouldn’t happen and I could slide back in fast enough.  All that straggly hair would be gone, at least for a while and I wouldn’t be able to take the make-up off.  Even after my hair grew back out, it would still have that cool, straight edge across the bottom and the Farrah bangs would last for a little while.

This was my nefarious plan to look hot and still go to heaven.  I had it all worked out.