Sharing the Struggle: Relocation, New Starts, and Therapy

Hello blog-viewers! It’s been a good long while since I’ve posted anything, and now that I’m over a hellish week of due dates, I finally feel like updating the ol’ blog.

The last month(ish) has been a whirlwind of a time. I moved across the province to Ottawa, started at a new university, and jumped right into my new church home. School is a lot of fun and my program is delightful. I get to see my partner every day and no longer have to rely on poor Skype connections to spend quality time with him. I’m leading a Bible study. I had the privilege to see my friend Eliot have their gender and name change affirmed by our church and diocese (check out their awesome blogpost on the service here) and on the SAME Sunday, had the privilege to sponsor my partner for baptism. I also started therapy last week.

Although there are a great many wonderful things happening in my life, I still feel pretty shitty. In fact, I’ve felt shitty for the last three years (give or take a few consecutive weeks where I was sort of feeling pleasant). I struggle with feelings of anxiety and inferiority. I’ve forgotten completely periods of time that were my darkest. I’ve made regrettable decisions that have harmed my relationship with my partner and feel grateful every day that he is still a part of my life. These feelings compounded while I was a Bible college and caused huge personal setbacks in my growth as a person and my faith in God. And I was rather content to ignore these things until a scary incident this summer.

This is painfully accurate.
This is painfully accurate.

I’m grateful this Thanksgiving for many things, but mostly for a new school environment that values and goes out of its way to meet the emotional and psychological needs of its students. This was grossly lacking at Bible college, where there seemed to be more in the student guidebook about disciplinary action than about student health services. Despite my own stubbornness and with great encouragement from Davis, I’ve scheduled appointments to meet with a registered psychotherapist to help start down the road of progress and recovery. I’ve decided to share this information with the internet and track along in my progress (surely without sharing the gory details of sessions with my therapist) because I have this nasty little habit of internalizing every single emotion I feel. Regardless if people read or pay attention, this is really more of a cathartic exercise to help me clear out my headspace and feel better. So if you follow this blog/this interests you, thank you for being a part of my process and allowing me this platform. If anyone wants to discuss or whatever, I’m almost always available to chat.

So yeah. This is the return of the Bible College Dropout. I hope to update more frequently again now that I have my feet on the ground in my new home. Stay tuned for next week, when I address the really, really f***ed up plus size fashion industry!

Reclaiming Fat

The first time someone called me fat with the intention to hurt me was probably around second grade. As a small child, it became clear to my parents that I had inherited the stocky, knock-kneed frame of my Newfoundlander grandmother’s side of the family. My big sister’s hand-me-downs stopped fitting when I was around five and buying pants was an eternal struggle. But I didn’t know I was fat until the boys in my elementary school started taunting and teasing me for how my body looked. It didn’t occur to me that my body was bad or ugly, but once the idea was planted that fat was something to be mocked for, I couldn’t shake it.

Simpler times, when I was a happy lil' chunk.
Simpler times, when I was a happy lil’ chunk.

The word ‘fat’ has followed me around for the majority of my life, tugging on the hems of my self-esteem and often altogether displacing it. As a preteen, I had rampant body image issues as a result from school bullying that prevented me from flourishing socially. I constantly felt uncomfortable in my skin and would pray to God at night, begging to know why He couldn’t have made me thin. I felt utterly out of place with my petite and pretty friends. Things began to improve in high school in terms of acceptance and forming good, positive friendships, yet I still felt an element of isolation because of my body. My crushes and romantic interests were one-sided. Going shopping with friends meant not buying a thing in the stores they enjoyed frequenting and receiving silent judgment from salespeople while holding their purses in the changing areas. When I began dating my partner (who is thin), I felt an extreme amount of insufficiency and unworthiness. I had been conditioned to believe that I was undeserving of his love because I was fat. While most of this was imagined, we have received open criticism because of this.

We are so good looking.
We are so good looking.

The reclamation of the word ‘fat’ is an ongoing process. When I was around 17, I started channeling my body negativity into my art. Body politics and my self-love struggle have featured in my spoken word writings, both shared publicly and kept privately. I get pierced and tattooed not to hide my body, but to decorate it and cherish it. I understand that I am worthy of my partner and that his love for me is not in spite of my body, but encompasses every part of who I am. I only sometimes want to die when I step foot in a shopping mall, instead of every time. I am on a journey of viewing the word that has haunted me since childhood as what it is; an adjective. Some people have fat bodies, some people have skinny bodies, many are somewhere in between. Fatness does not negate a person’s worth or beauty or merit. This is not a matter of discussing an individual’s health or fitness, it is a matter of affirming their dignity regardless of body. Inherent in all people is the right to love and value the skin they’re in.

My body is strong and soft and beautiful. It is fat. And that is okay.

The Bridal College “Myth”

The week that I received my acceptance to Bible college, I had two bizarre encounters with women from my home church. The first was in my dining room. When I proudly announced my plans to go to school and jump into ministry, a visiting church lady knowingly patted my hand and said “Or you’ll marry a handsome upperclassman and dropout to get married.” Barf. Later that week, I was chatting with a youth group parent who genuinely asked if I was going to get my “MRS” degree. Barf again. I had been aware of the stories and reputation of Bible colleges as nothing more than a matchmaking service for young women who were seeking to become ministry wives and had been reassured by alumni that my institution of choice wasn’t like that anymore. But these casual suggestions from the ladies at my church made me distinctly uncomfortable.

As a chubby and consistently socially panicked individual, a combination of poor self esteem and unnamed asexuality kept me out of the highly competitive Pentecostal dating scene. I have also been privileged to have met the love of my life outside of that particular cultural orb and have felt free to defy the grossly sexist practices that, while absent in secular dating culture, are normative and celebrated in churches. The kids in my youth group dated each other, frequently swapping partners (due to a shortage in the dating pool), and starting drama with each other while group leadership remained oddly passive. The whole thing gave me the heebie-jeebies.

I thought college would be alright and I chose not to believe the myth. I thought that bridal college was a thing of the past and that while many romances would blossom, the “ring by spring” race was more comical than literal. As it turned out, that was not the case. During orientation week, my classmates were already sizing each other up and evaluating who would be the best spouse material. It was told to me that the young men got together to “call dibs” on the various pretty girls. I myself was a part of more than one conversation about who would be a good husband. First years coupled off with each other and with upperclasspeople within weeks. A wise fourth year who became a guide and friend explained the closed, small student body was like a romantic microwave. People moved and heated up too fast, often with dissatisfying results. The engagements started rolling in around October of 2013 and haven’t stopped since. Couples were getting engaged after just months of knowing one another at the encouragement of faculty and peers. The women’s dorm was full of Pinterest wedding board comparisons, ring flashes, and excited/nervous chatter with brides-to-be and newlyweds about sex. I used to keep a tally of the number of engagements but lost track in second year at around 15 (total, from when I started at the school). No one wanted to admit that it was a competition, but it was.

It would be hypocritical of me to frame this post as a condemnation of early marriage or the choices of others. My partner and I are also taking steps towards our future, despite being very young. The real issue lies behind what I believe has become the idolization of marriage as the highest form of Christian living. I heard it repeated to me on multiple occasions that the best way to serve God is with a spouse by your side. That the true fulfillment of God’s image in a person only happens when they are united in marriage (and sex) with their spouse. There was also the given understanding that sex and most forms of physical intimacy (even cuddling! because oxytocin) were strictly for marriage purposes, and that as soon as a couple is married, sex will be perfect and great. Early marriage was endorsed to ensure the most fulfilling marriage and family planning experience.The reinforcement of these ideals, combined with post-pubescent hormones is what I believe is responsible for generating the culture I observed at school.

While there is some validity in the theological ideals that I just outlined, they are incredibly problematic. Not only do they ignore the examples of famous Christian singles (ie. Paul…JESUS Himself), the highly admirable calling to celibacy, and the experiences of asexual and aromantic people, they produced massive quantities of shame and pressure. Christian singles who have not married by the time they reach 30 often feel ineligible and wrong, placing blame on their own perceived lack of faith that God has not placed His “chosen person” for them in their life yet. For dating couples, as soon as there is any inclination that marriage is a possible outcome of the relationship, it must be discussed and planned for. Prohibitions on intimate expression heighten the appeal of marriage without addressing the intricacies and complications of sexuality. As the number of engagements and weddings rose, the more I began to wonder how many of them were pursuing marriage for any or all of these reasons.

I acknowledge that the people making these choices are adults and know themselves best, but I’ve had some troubling conversations with some dear friends on the subject. One person felt a great obligation to marry their partner, despite doubts after several years of dating. Another felt shame for feeling physically attracted to another person and that their relationship was on a set course for marriage, with no flexibility to discuss or rearrange future plans. This makes me feel sad and concerned and that there needs to be a serious reprioritization of goals. Yes, I’m sure marriage is wonderful and great and holy and pure. But I’ll bet it’s also hard and messy and infuriating. I can’t say for sure because I’m not married yet. To paraphrase a former classmate on the subject; “If you think the goal of Christian living is marriage and that your wedding night is going to be more glorious than the return of Christ, then I don’t know what to say to you.” I know it’s easier said, but why don’t we promote companionship with Christ and with the Church as the epitome of Christian living, rather than perpetuate a hurtful culture of child brides and competition? I’m not entirely sure what I wanted to accomplish with this post, other than to plead and implore with you; if you identify with this experience, please use wisdom and discernment with this sort of life decision. Whatever it may be.

In His Image: Trinitarian Theology and Gender Diversity

“So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” – Genesis 1:27

If I had a quarter for every time I’ve read/heard of this verse being used as biblical support for the gender binary, I would have a few hours worth of pinball jangling merrily in my pockets. My two humble years of biblical scholarship with a personal focus on gender and gender roles have drawn me back to Genesis 1:27, Genesis 2:22-24, and Galatians 3:28 (among many others) over and over again. I know that God created the male and female sexes for a reason, I know what the Bible has to say about gender roles, and I believe that the book is the inspired word of God. I also know that the Bible was recorded by at least 40 authors, across two millennia, containing errors, inconsistencies, and incongruous cultural concepts. This doesn’t detract from the holiness or authority of the message of Scripture, but rather bolsters the idea that God is deeply involved with the messy and disjointed human experience. I also happen to believe that God transcends Scripture, human understanding, and even the gender binary.

Despite my recent departure from most things evangelical, I am still enthusiastically Trinitarian. For most of my life, the Trinity was this grand concept that I was vaguely aware of, but never fully understood. I knew that God was Father, Jesus was Son, and Holy Spirit was the one with the neat byproducts, but wasn’t quite sure how they were interrelated. My lacklustre Bible college career aided greatly in broadening my understanding of trinitarian theology in both the macro, cosmic sense and in relation to my own life. I won’t attempt to dazzle you with my knowledge of the former, but will instead relay my feelings about the latter.

In previous posts, I’ve touched on my experiences as a Christian, non-binary person. Because of closed interpretations of Bible verses like the one previously quoted, I used to believe that the term “*insert LGBTQ label* Christian” was an oxymoron and squashed down my own queerness into the tidy, “biblically” prescribed box marked “lady”. I’d heard repeatedly in discussions and sermons on gender on Sunday mornings and Thursday youth nights that I was made in God’s image. According to my mentors and influences, being made in God’s image means that there are precisely two, clearly defined options and anything that deviates is a slap in God’s face/a rejection of God’s image/unnatural. This is an uncomfortable way to think about God, especially when you consider how diverse a being the Trinity actually is. I think that if God is as big and powerful as we want to believe Him to be, then claiming that male and female are the completion of His image in man is a little bit underwhelming.

We are made in the image of a God who is Three and One. The Father (or Mother, depending on who you’re talking to) who possesses and exceeds the characteristics that define masculinity and femininity. Holy Spirit, who is the prime creative force, the comforter and friend, the intercessor between God and people. And Jesus, the historical and eternal, interacting with humanity as a radical teacher of love and acceptance who gave all of Himself on our behalf. When I look at the Trinity, I don’t see a gender binary that is evident or must be adhered to. Only truth, goodness, grace, and love. The only dichotomy is that of the realm of the divine colliding with the realm of the human. In fact, the more I try to understand God, the less I feel that gender has any relevance in His kingdom. Paul said it himself in Galatians 3:28.

I find great comfort knowing that I am made in the image of this God and that He loves me as I am. It is what propels me to know Him more, to embrace myself, and to make room for others. The world is too diverse and beautiful a place to force each other into boxes. Maybe it wouldn’t kill us to reconsider why we do it in the first place.

Have a listen to this delightful tune. Pretty well sums up my feelings on the topic.

White Christian Apathy is No Longer Acceptable

The news in the last week has been a little surreal. From the discovery of Rachel Dolezal’s flagrant misappropriation of black culture and the term “transracial” to the mildly humorous hack of the Canadian government’s web presence in response to the totalitarian Bill C-51, the world has felt a little unbelievable. In the wee hours this morning, I got a news notification on my phone while I was at work about the shooting at Charleston’s Emmanuel A.M.E. Church. My heart sunk deep when I got home this morning and checked the news, but given the latest in racialized violence against black lives, I was appallingly unsurprised to learn the details of last night’s events.

As a white person of privilege, I work as hard as I can to offer support and alliance with the black community. Personal experience and witness to the very real fight against systemic oppression and violence that black people face has burdened me with a passion for change and reconciliation. But what I cannot attest to is the deep, searing pain that is felt whenever a black child is murdered by the police, when a hate crime takes place. I will never be able to fully grasp the anger and sorrow because it is not my experience. And because it is not my experience, I can only use my privilege to amplify the voices and experiences of black lives, standing alongside them in the pursuit of justice.

This post is not about how to be a good ally. This post is not about how to fix the world. This is a rage post, directed at white Christian apathy.

When I was at school last Fall, I watched the Ferguson grand jury hearing coverage with great intent. I repeated the results to many people around me, seeking to have a meaningful discussion about how Christians should respond. The information was met with glassy stares and, on more than one occasion, a sickening question: “Why do you care so much?” As more black people lost their lives to police brutality and racially-motivated violence, I noticed a disturbing trend amongst my peers; a tendency to shrug their shoulders, say “oh well”, and bury their heads in the sands of placid Christian living. Even more upsetting has been the justification of the deaths of innocents through abhorrent stereotyping. The more murdered black people became Twitter hashtags, the less anyone I knew seemed to care.

This apathy contributed largely to my exodus from evangelicalism and lies in a gross misunderstanding of what racism is. Racism is so much more than the KKK and lynch mobs (although those are very real things still). Racism is systemic oppression against other people groups at the belief that one’s own is superior. The whole of Western civilization is built upon the subjugation and slavery of people of colour and 50+ years of civil rights “progress” has had minimal impact on the far reaching impact of racism. It has permeated our economy, social discourse, politics, education, health care, environmental causes, and religion. The fact that Christians rationalize Mike Brown’s death because of his alleged criminal involvement, and in the same breath “forgive and forget” the actions of Josh Duggar means there is something incredibly wrong. The fact that Rachel Dolezal is being defended, but the brutalities against black women are being ignored means there is something incredibly wrong. The fact that we were so quick to condemn the Baltimore riots, but join in when a sports team wins/loses THERE IS SOMETHING FUCKING WRONG. This is more than just ignorance, this is woven into the fabric of North America.

White Christians; we cannot ignore matters of race. We cannot lie to ourselves about this any longer. Nine black believers were killed by a white aggressor in their own church last night. They are our siblings in Christ and they deserve more than your apathy. It is the mandate of the believer and the example of Jesus to work for justice and dignity for all people. It is not the time to retreat, nor is it the time to infringe with our privilege. This isn’t about us, but it deserves our attention and effort. It’s not about #AllLivesMatter, so don’t you dare use this tragic event as a platform for including yourself in a very specific cause. Learn, listen, pray. Weep with those who are weeping and lay yourself down for your siblings of colour. If you have read this and are uncomfortable; good. I hope you stay uncomfortable. I hope that the violence perpetrated against the lives of minorities unsettles you to your core and you are motivated to ask yourself why. And that in doing so, you will be stirred to action.

Or don’t. By all means, keep posting funny Bible memes and articles about guarding your heart.

Christ have mercy.

I Don’t Like Going to Church

My disenfranchisement with church started early. While my parents encouraged individuality, open-mindedness, and balanced enjoyment of secular media, my church exposure was frequent and stereotypically evangelical. Riding on the charismatic surge of the 1990s, my church upbringing stirs up memories of Flannelgraph board Bible stories, “action” songs, purity pledges, and crackling VHS tapes of The Donut Man live show (which I always found disturbing). Easter Sunday flag ministry, Harry Potter Awareness Nights, and the Christy movies were the wholesome pillars of my childhood.

Still traumatized.
Still traumatized.

The sterilized Christian culture attempted to be fun and safe but, even as a young child, left a weird taste in my mouth. I remember very specifically the moment that I started losing interest in church. My Sunday School teacher, a particularly zealous (but well-meaning) congregant, told my class of 6-8 year old girls that because Eve was created out of Adam’s rib, men biologically had one less rib than women. I precociously insisted otherwise and had my medical professional of a mother back me up. As I got a little bit older, I detected an “us and them” mentality that required an arms-length participation in the world surrounding. This unsettled me deeply as a kid, but because this had been my only exposure to church, I was certain that the problem was within me. I didn’t accept or like what was being offered to me in terms of a church community, but it didn’t occur to me to look elsewhere till much later.

To combat my self-perceived bad attitude, I flung myself into the thick of church culture in my teen years with the hope that God would change me. I eagerly attended church camp every year, took a leadership position in my youth group, and committed myself to being above the teen culture. While claiming to be cool and judgment free, I was actually judging folks outside of my safety net. And judging hard. I had become a product of my church environment, despite my parents’ desire to keep the door open to discovering faith for myself. Stuffing down my early childhood intuitions, I dove headlong into the waters of evangelicalism. This saturation of church culture is what largely contributed to my decision to go to Bible college.

It wasn’t until I got to school that I began to critically assess my surroundings. And when that began, the more uncomfortable I became. During my two years of study, I attended church maybe 10 times. Once removed from my home church experience, I failed to identify any authenticity or sense of community in the churches I was recommended to attend. This is not meant to be a generalization of all evangelical churches, but merely a reflection of my own experience. I respect that there are thriving evangelical churches that step outside of the same quiet judgment and unchanging routine, but I have been hard pressed to find one.

I asked my sister how she felt about our church upbringing and she hit the nail on the head. Paraphrasing her words; she observed that evangelical sermons and church culture feels pretty condemning and awkward to someone who hasn’t been exposed their whole life. Having married a dude who’s more into the quiet tradition of Anglicanism, the feeling she described has guided her to express her faith in a different way. And it’s for this reason that I don’t like going to church.

I don’t like going to a church where only some are welcome to participate. Where there is criteria for discipleship. Where the Gospel is thundered from a pulpit and not found in moments of authenticity and tenderness. Where the only liturgy to be found is in the tired pattern of “welcome message, fast song, handshaking time, announcements, slow song, sermon, altar call”. I don’t want to pretend to enjoy myself and then feel guilty for not being spiritual enough. What I want is community.

Community can be found where God moves in imperfect people and knits them together in mutual love for Christ and others. When we affirm the full humanity and inherent goodness of the people around us. I’m pleased to say that I’ve found a community. When I first visited Ottawa, my partner brought me to his church. An Anglican church. I must admit that I was apprehensive to the idea after years of believing that mainline denominations were heretical and dying. But the moment I walked into St. Alban’s* at the corner of Daly and King Edward, I knew something was different. Good different. My first impression was a culture of love and acceptance. Everyone participated in some way or another, there was incredible diversity, and the Eucharist was celebrated in the most beautiful way. For the first time in months, I’d felt the closeness of God’s presence as I awkwardly fumbled through the liturgy and happily worshipped along to familiar “hymns”. Afterwards, I told Davis that St. Al’s was the first church I’d ever felt truly at home in. And I am so pleased to be making it my home.

I acknowledge that the day the Church reaches perfection is the day that Jesus returns. I also acknowledge that bitterness and criticism is easy. I harbour no bitterness towards my upbringing; there just needs to be a different way.

*Shoutout to any St. Al’s people who are reading this! Y’all are beautiful people.

Demi: Queerness Explained

No, not that one.
No, not that one.

Way back in October 2014, I posted a brief blurb on Facebook about Asexual Awareness Week, mentioning that I identify as demisexual. For those who are unfamiliar, this means that I do not experience sexual attraction of any kind unless there is a well-established emotional connection. After years of not connecting to the budding sexuality of my friends and peers, occasionally developing those kinds of feelings for my close lady friends (and quickly suppressing them), and only ever being sexually attracted to my partner of nearly three years (the effervescent Davis), I was so excited when I found support among other ace-spectrum people.* At the same time, I also felt that there was something else missing from the whole equation of my being.

Being a girl has, from my earliest recollection, been a weird thing. I’ve always had an awareness and comfortability with my body as a female body, but not so much with the social component of femininity. Being a girl in the social sense has always been forced and uncomfortable. I have had persistent difficulty relating to the imposed expectations of womanhood and find myself thinking of myself as separate, as other. The best way to describe my feelings would be as an outside observer that’s trying to blend in.

I’ve recently decided to embrace the otherness and to stop trying to force myself into a gender binary that is both manmade and incompatible with who I am. I am a non-binary person, meaning that I don’t identify with a gender. To clarify further, I identify with aspects of femininity, but not entirely. This is also known as being a demigirl (I’m sorry if this is confusing/difficult).  Feminine and neutral ‘they’ pronouns are both acceptable. The good news is, I’m still Allie. The better news is, I’m happy about it.

To those of you who are my family and feel that I should have told you face to face, you’re allowed to be upset. But please honour this part of me and I’ll do my best to answer any questions that you have. Also, if you know me intimately, you know that I articulate myself the best through words and this was the easiest way for me.

Some may view this as arbitrary, but finding the language that fits who I am are hugely important to me and to representation of queer people in Christian spaces. Please know that I am not the sum of my parts, that I am still Allie, I still love Jesus with all my heart, and this is simply who I am. Don’t be afraid to contact me if you want to discuss more.

*For those of you who were wondering if I’m still “straight”, the answer is no, not really