CONTENT NOTE: Mentions of homophobia, religion and spiritual abuse. Reader discretion is advised.
‘I am the sole author of the dictionary that defines me.’ – Zadie Smith.
When looking at this quote by the very talented Zadie Smith, I think a lot about what this means. The last few years have entailed a massive overhaul in being ‘the author of the dictionary that defines me.’ But since the pandemic, and in the last six months, especially so.
How do I define myself? I’ll be honest: I don’t really know. I try my best to be a good person, but like everyone, I’m certainly not perfect. I have certain markers, I suppose. Stuff that’s pretty obvious or a massive part of me. But even then, within some of those I don’t exactly ‘fit in’. I suppose I can define myself like that.
I write erotica, which can be and is demonized, both in writer circles and in wider society. If it’s not demonized on a moral argument (erotica is literally consenting adults enjoying themselves in written form), it’s derided and not taken seriously as a form of writing. It’s either deemed ‘easy’ to write (it’s not) or not a ‘real’ form of writing because it focuses primarily on sex.
Also, to throw in a massive curveball, I’m a Christian. Being a progressive Christian has got me some flack online from more conservative followers, such examples being that I refuse to advocate for forced childbirth, and my supporting LGBTQ rights.
I’m also (But wait! There’s more!) bisexual. So that alone incites discourse and being told people like me don’t fit in, both within the LGBTQ community and religious communities. Exclusion from LGBTQ spaces for being bisexual is sadly a very real thing.
So yeah…Not one for fitting into little pigeonholes!
THE PANDEMIC HAS CHANGED EVERYTHING
Fitting into those boxes folks like to compartmentalise people (which I’m also guilty of doing, admittedly) has never been my forte. Believe me, I’ve tried. But what happens when what used to define you…no longer does?
How do we redefine ourselves? Well, it’s so far, for me anyway, proved to be equally interesting and surprising. I think we can all agree that the COVID19 pandemic has changed everything about life as we’ve always known it.
Since the pandemic started, certain things I used to care a lot about or show interest in, I don’t care much for, if at all now. I realised caring about stuff like wearing certain kinds of clothes or owning certain products, was just yet another attempt for me to ‘fit in’ to something that just isn’t me. It’s a waste of money and time for something I’ll end up not using or enjoying. It might be your cup of tea, and that’s perfectly fine! It’s just not for me anymore. I also don’t have much of a taste for bustling nightlife now. That’s been more of a gradual progression over the years, but especially since the pandemic. I’ve grown so used to the quiet, I’ve found I much prefer living a quieter life, as opposed to the metropolitan high-life in a capital city I felt I ‘should’ be.
FINDING MY FEET IN THE MINEFIELD
Then there’s going the whole nine yards and following a faith. This has been the biggest change for me. I’d be lying if I said I don’t feel apprehensive at times talking about faith on my sex blog. It’s a touchy subject for a lot of people, and there are people who’ve had less-than-ideal experiences to religious trauma. I don’t wish to scare anyone off or trigger anyone in talking about tackling systemic issues in the church, and how it links to sex, sexuality and relationships. Tackling purity culture and confronting weaponizing scripture to justify misogyny and abuse in relationships and marriages. I feel it’s important to talk about as it affects many lives, the good, the bad, and the ugly. PSA: I’m not trying to convert anyone. I just write about whatever’s in my head!
They say when you come to a faith, it changes you. So far, I can confirm this. It does change you. Going from fluctuating agnosticism to following a faith (in my case, Christianity)’, is a big change in your life. You want to dive head first into learning more about the faith you’ve made the decision to follow. So far, I’ve found a lot of joy in building a relationship with the God I believe in.
However, it’s a unique moment, finding one’s faith in the middle of a lockdown during the worst pandemic in 100 years. I’ve wondered at times if that might change when, sooner or later, things return to ‘normal’. I hope not. That being said, finding faith in a form of isolation presents challenges in and of itself. I have only been inside a cathedral very recently, the first time since early 2020. Even then, it wasn’t during a service and I kept my distance from others, masked up, as I prayed. It felt good to be in a church again!
Especially during these times, my go-to for learning resources, like most, has been online. But in an age of polarisation and misinformation, especially so when religion is concerned, finding good sources as a new Christian has been like finding a needle in a haystack. I wanted to learn about Jesus but I fell down a weaponized rabbit hole.
For every one non-dogmatic Christian or moving worship song on YouTube, I found the algorithm barraged me with ten more videos of the toxicity often associated with white conservative Evangelicalism. Videos on how all pornography is evil and masturbation is apparently satanic (it’s not). The horrendous mental gymnastics of purity culture and misogyny in the name of ‘complimentarianism’. The good-looking, white, blonde-haired blue-eyed couples, preaching through fear in an attempt to evangelize their viewers, but all with a great big ‘we just really care about you’ smile. Trumpism, Covid denial, exclusion, you name it. I felt like I’d walked straight into a minefield.
There’s the belief in Christianity that when you commit yourself to Jesus, you leave your old life behind to start a new one in faith. This, in my experience, is true, in the sense that obviously, with a new chapter in your life, I try my best to follow the teachings of Jesus. But like any human, I am not perfect. However, I have seen this used to a degree that is, in my opinion, very harmful. Like in these videos the algorithm threw my way (after a Bethel church song I didn’t realise was Bethel as I zoned in on my writing. I’ve since modified the settings not to have anything from that church recommended to me), one that strips away any sense of individuality, to join the Borg-like collective of conservative, Trump-loving white evangelicals who claim wearing a mask is an attack on their freedom, while simultaneously calling for marriage equality to be overturned.
If you’re gay, forget ever being happy again if you want to get to Heaven! You’re wearing a mask? Communist! If you’ve had sex before marriage, your future husband will have to ‘forgive you for your past sin’. This is just some of the unironic insanity I’ve come across.
Along with the novel-long list of things these people said I could, apparently, no longer do (including Yoga and being friends with LGBTQ people and non-Christians. Yeah…that ain’t gonna happen!) the message online was very clear: Sit down, shut up and do as you’re told.
I didn’t see faith. I didn’t see love. I saw control and spiritual abuse. And I hated it. So I started to have doubts. I didn’t doubt my love for Jesus, but actually being part of the church and finding community. Once again, I didn’t ‘fit in’. Great. So do I try and fit in an unattainable box again? Do I commit myself to fearful rule following? Is that really what it’s all about?
Do I define myself through fear or through love? I wanted to define through love, yet all I saw on my screen was fear.
But then I thought: I know this rhetoric and preaching, reminiscent of the doomsday preachers you see on your local high street on Saturday afternoons, was nothing like the church I’ve attended in the past (and plan to attend once it’s safer to). This was nothing like the wonderful community I found myself knowing before the pandemic, who help their communities regardless of background, religion (or lack of), nationality etc. Yes, like any church, no two members will see the same on certain things. Some are more modern while others are more traditional, but those disagreements are put aside for the common ground we all share: Jesus. Sounds corny, I know, but that’s the truth of it there and that’s what I like about it. You’re not expected to fit in because none of us do. They do everything from love and are not afraid to admit wrong.
The more I read the Bible (something folks in comments sections love to say!), the more I realised what these people online were saying, was nothing like what I read. Unquestioning, robotic obedience to the men in my life and shaming gay friends, thinking yourself above others is not the Jesus I know. So, while this was redefining my view of the faith altogether, it helped me realise: I don’t have to define myself, besides ‘try and be as good a person you can be’. I didn’t have to ‘fit in’.
You just have to come as you are.