i like watching porn

A few months ago I was at Powell’s, a goliath bookstore that takes up a whole city block here in Portland (it’s half the reason I moved here), and I walked past the young adult LGBT endcap as I have a hundred times before, when I suddenly paused. I realized: I’m allowed to look. I touched a cover with two girls holding hands and almost expected to feel something other than paper — electricity? hellfire? glorious springy rainbows? I read the first couple pages of a few books. It struck me again how … normal? gay stories and experiences are. I thought they’d be salaciously wicked, all salt and fire, but it’s just… more life. I took We Are Okay by Nina LaCour home and read it with cups of tea all night and couldn’t stop crying tears of absolute relief.

Sexual shame is such a powerful tool of control because it works on almost anyone. Most of us have “sinned” sexually according to the limitations of the Bible, and because we in the western world already have a cultural taboo about discussing sex, our shame rots in the dark. Even when you confess your struggle to God and to spiritual mentors or friends, there’s still this feeling that you are especially weak and especially alone in your weakness. And because many of us have consistent sexual appetites (because that’s just how a lot of bodies work), we constantly reinforce our sinfulness to ourselves. I mean, you’re not even allowed to look at someone lustfully. There’s no more effective way to make someone think “I’m a sinner” every day of their lives.

When I was a Christian I thought, “What would I do with all this sin and shame if I couldn’t leave it at the cross?” I felt so much relief every time I got on my knees. I needed Jesus to feel whole and happy and okay. Prayer and worship was like a blood transfusion, it kept me alive. What I didn’t realize was that maybe the thing that was curing me was the same thing that was making me sick.

I hold all this with such a light touch today. Sexual desire isn’t mounting evidence in the case that my life is an epic battle between good and evil, proof that if I don’t pay very close attention, I’ll dissolve into wickedness and pain. It’s just desire. Sometimes I get hungry, so I make myself a sandwich. It’s as simple as that.

So let’s all masturbate! Watch porn! And have sex!

(if you want to)

(there’s also no shame in not wanting sex stuff)

(what you want and don’t want is all okay. let’s keep those things and get rid of shame)

A couple quick asides: Once porn stops being shameful, and you don’t have to sneak it in rushed handfuls in the middle of the night, you have space to seek out content that supports your values. There’s lots of delicious feminist porn out there. If you’re new to considering porn as a good thing, I’d check out pornastherapy.com. Another recommendation: masturbate in front of a mirror! It’s fine, Ilana does it in Broad City. Or buy a new toy! (SheBop is a great local, women-owned sex shop here in pdx). If you’ve ritually shamed yourself under the sheets, masturbating in a different way is a great chance to change the scenery and say: Yep. I’m doing this. 100% in the open. No shame, no hiding, just play. One more link: omgyes.com is a great resource for exploring ways to make a vagina happy, whether you’re learning for yourself or a partner. Lastly: enthusiastic consent! enthusiastic consent! enthusiastic consent!

Image: Cedric Lange

why i left christianity: part one

I feel the loss of God under the left side of my sternum. It’s like a bad breakup, a hundred ordinary things reopen my grief every day. The smell of eucalyptus, like the salve my mom would rub on my chest when I was tiny and sick before reading aloud books about wild-hearted girls who found God across the world. The figs and walnuts that drop to the sidewalks as summer ends in Portland, because I used to walk through my neighborhood talking to God about everything and nothing. Sometimes when I wake up from a late afternoon nap, I see hymns like dust particles in a slant of sunlight. I wasn’t a Christian because it was logical. I was a Christian because I was in love.

Then I got sick. Depression hit the light switch, nothing new to you, nothing new to me. But this time, for the first time, I asked for help.

Maybe I lost God in a doctor’s office. With my sweet friend Anna sitting on a plastic folding chair next to me, I told a doctor things I’d barely confided even to her as he stared at his screen and typed notes about me like: “grooming, hygiene appropriate to the situation” and “slowed psychomotor activity; eyes downcast; gait normal.” Reading the notes later, I wondered how a depressed person should walk. He diagnosed me with depression, prescribed me Lexapro, and shook my hand goodbye. 

A few pills into that first bottle, my head was suddenly violently clear. My calling hit me like a bolt of lighting. I was going to be a circus performer.

Portland being Portland, I had plenty of circus gyms to choose from. I spent all my time and money beating my body against aerial silks, lyra hoops, and trapeze. My dreams were full of spinning circus tops and applause, and my thoughts spun faster and faster and faster until the friction caught me on fire. My skin was burning, it was about to bubble and peel and I’d rake it off with my fingernails. 

It turns out that if you give antidepressants to a person with bipolar, they go manic.

Sitting across from another typing doctor, I realized I’d felt that all-consuming intensity many times before. Mania, not God, had led me to abandon academic ship and enroll into a non-accredited christian college in the middle of Idaho, where I studied latin and dusty old tomes with only a handful of other students, and where I took a little too long to realize I’d landed in the middle of a cult. Mania, not God, had turned in my two week notices and bought me a one way ticket to NYC where I volunteered some for Cru but mostly just walked and walked and walked until the only shoes I’d brought wore down to the sole. Mania, not God, rode the bus with me to the International Hostel at Seaside where I stayed who knows how long wearing clothes from the lost & found and eating stale bags of chips other travelers had left behind. It made the trees talk, the sky weep prophecies, the streets shake with visions. Mania. Not God.

Driving home from that doctor’s appointment, bipolar written in red on my forehead, I wondered that if my brain had invented all that, what else could it have made up?

I didn’t immediately dismiss my relationship with God. I still had other people’s stories of their spiritual experiences. The task before me was to separate the real God from the electric illness crackling through my synapses.

So I prayed. “God, I can’t distinguish your voice from mine right now, but I want to hear you. Please speak to me in a way that I can understand.” I stopped leaning into our conversations, letting my brain autofill his responses. I repented of my imagination. I expected the real God to show up. I trusted He would. I had faith that He would.

In the songs I wrote over the year or so of unmaking my faith, the same lines came up over and over again:

Don’t you want me?

Why haven’t you come for me?

There was nothing for me to do but wait.

(continued in part two)

Images: 1 (Guttorm Flatabø), 2.

i choose desire

It took me a while to take my apostasy seriously. I’d spent so many Sunday afternoons arming myself with logical arrows in apologetics classes, but it wasn’t logic that first made me look up from my bible. I lost my faith to exactly the things I’d been warned about: moving to a liberal city, making all the wrong friends, and really wanting to have sex.

In the end, I didn’t leave Christianity because of scientific skepticism or frustration with biblical inconsistencies or the struggle to reconcile the wrathful baby-slaughtering old testament God with Jesus, or even because of the pain I saw it cause others. I left Christianity because I wanted to.

Desire leads to sin, sin leads to death. 1

It’s a tidy theology. An anorexic spirituality that starves out desire makes it easy to behave and to control the behavior of others. The goal is to train yourself to remove your heart from your physical body — the soft animal of your body who loves what it loves — and transplant it into a future spiritual plane. Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them2

I was constantly uprooting desires, terrified I would be the seed choked out by weeds in Jesus’ parable. I longed for the day when my greedy consciousness would melt away into pure submissive worship at heaven’s gates. That didn’t just extend to “sinful” desires. Anything I began to enjoy a little too much, writing, music, movies, friends, could become an idol I’d have to give up. Every single impulse had to be surrendered to the cross.

Because you outsource every decision to the holy spirit, you lose your innate sense of direction. What you want and don’t want doesn’t matter, so as time goes on, you’re less and less able to access those feelings. It’s like an eating disorder, you override your hunger and fullness cues so often that you stop experiencing them altogether. Not only does this isolate you from yourself, but it primes you for abuse and codependency.

So leaving Christianity because I wanted to wasn’t just lightly shrugging off something I wasn’t feeling anymore. It took an active force of will. It took the incredible risk of asking myself what I wanted and the rebellious compassion it took to answer.

Instead of straining to hear a still small voice, I am beginning to claim my own. That is as clear an indictment of Christianity as any discussion about historical accuracy or the origin of the universe.

If I had to sum it up, I’d say this: “I am allowed to be happy.”

I’ll leave you with this excerpt from Mary Oliver’s beautiful poem, “Wild Geese.

You do not have to be good.

You do not have to walk on your knees

for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.

You only have to let the soft animal of your body

love what it loves.

1 James 1:15, my paraphrase but true to the text

2 1 John 2:15, NIV

Image from DLG Images