(Author’s Note: This is the 4th part of a series on female sexuality, Christianity, and my own journey through them both. This part is particularly difficult to write and to have out there, but it’s a necessary part of my journey to understand and process, so here it is, as raw and open as I can be about it all. It is my hope and prayer that it will touch someone who happens on it and aid in the process of healing, peace and understanding, and ultimately bring glory to the only true Lover of our souls. Also, please note that there are two more parts to the series. Thanks. Please feel free to comment and add any thoughts you may have. I’d love to hear from you.)
I first started writing this series when I was listening to a sermon by my pastor about marriage. I mean what else would he be talking about when using the word *sex* in church! But I was seriously uber impressed with the way he handled the entire topic gracefully in the context of the commandment, Do not commit adultery.
(Author’s note: you can read some more of Pastor Barrett’s sermon notes at http://gracematters.gracecovpca.org/2008/08/fidelity.html and listen to his sermon at gracecovpca.org and follow the links to Resources then sermon player. look for the sermon titled “Fidelity.” i thought it was excellent and well worth a listen. His disclaimer at the beginning was priceless.)
The topic of faithfulness at first blush may be ignorable to a single person. But of course it is highly relevant, maybe even more so. With a married couple it is pretty concrete – you made a vow to this specific person and you need to keep it. With us single folk, there is just a fuzzy silhouette of a person in the future (very distant future for some of us) and it becomes more vague as time passes, perhaps even to the point of vanishing altogether. but as a result of the sermon and my own studies, I began writing down this long winding journey I have been on as a single woman.
And it IS a journey, a process. Everything I have written and will write is a reflection of what I was and am thinking and feeling at the time, not necessarily what I currently believe or perhaps even what I will come to believe in the future. To take any section out of the entire context of the series in order to point out my “errors” would be in error, and I will sue your butt. (unless you’re a professing Christian and then I am not supposed to. But I might write a mean blog about you. haha!)
So being a Christian woman who has led a less than virtuous life so far, the characters I most resonate with in the Bible are of course the harlots, and the woman at the well, and Mary Magdalene, and Hosea’s wife. Incidentally, the harlots have a fairly predominant place in Scripture, so there’s that.
There are times I feel I have no place whatsoever in a church or in ministry. I often find it incredibly difficult to relate to many women who have had that seemingly picturesque life of marrying high school or college sweethearts, wedding night jitters, homemaker and then soccer mom, and now getting their kids through high school and off to college. It’s incredible to me that at my age, my mom had 3 kids at 12, 10 and 5 years old, plus worked part-time and volunteered through as many ministries as she did at church.
I often wonder when I got off track. By all accounts, I started on the same path that many married virtuous Christian women do. Solid God-fearing family, in fact one of the best kind – nonhypocritical and freely communicative for the most part. Went to Christian schools and Bible school. Active in church ministries, college campus clubs and even went on a few short-term missions trips. All in all a recipe for a Jesus freak.
So what happened?
I used to stay up late at night wondering this. I’d take stock of my life right around my teen years to present day and I’d try to make a graph of the relevant life experiences. (I actually graph these things in the form of an Excel spreadsheet because I’m THAT cool.) But there was that missing something in it all. It didn’t add up. There is no quick sum function that makes any sense. I knew better and yet I took the road less travelled. And it did make the difference, but not in the well meaning way of Robert Frost.
I have said earlier that I don’t believe in straight lines from point A to point B, some kind of human equation that you plug your experiences into and get a summary of you so far. Modern psychology likes to dabble in categories which are helpful to discussion and mutual understanding, but in real world activity, they get cumbersome. I suppose something a therapist once said to me could sum it all up – I was running away from God’s design and smudging the paint. Now isn’t that just on the button?
What he really should have said was choices made not by me began the thought patterns that were made by me to take actions also made by me to lead to further choices, in a cause and effect pattern, and subsequent consequences of said choices. Not too confusing really. In other words, I screwed up and blamed other people for it.
I also suppose you could start with fuzzy memories of being a 7 year old girl at a Korean church where I was molested by the really icky janitor. I might add this church was my first real substantial interaction with Koreans, being an adopted Korean in a predominantly Caucasian existence. I could go further into the impact this experience had on me in terms of ethnicity and race and identity, but I’ll leave that for another time. Suffice it to say that it blurred certain aspects of my self-acceptance and further influenced my perception of myself and my role in the world as an adult.
I had left my Sunday School class to go to the bathroom and on the way back, ran into him. He began talking to me in Korean and hugging me. I quickly ran off. I don’t remember how long after that Sunday it happened, but on another Sunday, I had been walking somewhere between my classroom and wherever my parents were, when he was there again. I have often wondered if he was just hanging out in the hallways waiting for little girls to walk by. I distinctly remember him smelling of kimchi and garlic, kissing me on the lips, babbling at me saying things that, though I didn’t have a clue what the words were, made me incredibly uncomfortable. I also remember, on some other day, standing in the church foyer with my parents, and having this man say in his broken english that I was pretty and my mom telling me to say thank you.
It would be several years later that I would even admit all this happening to me, having pushed it back in my head thinking it was my fault somehow. I would be sitting with my best friend Matthew, now deceased, crying about a boy who was awfully grabby with me on the bus, putting his hands where they were not invited and trying to stick his tongue down my throat. I was smaller than this boy of course, and had noticed he would get more aggressive if I fought him off. To add to my humiliation, he was younger than me, though all the girls in my class thought he was hot for his age. Matthew and I talked about my horror at being so defenseless against these predators who robbed me of the only thing we really have that’s rightfully ours in this physical world. It had become so clear to me that I had so little say in my own body any more. So much happens to a girl at 13 and so little of it is truly understood at the time.
These secrets had died with Matthew, the only other person who knew until very recently. (Added to all this came the pain of my best friend’s suicide, a separate but equal influence on the shape my life would take. You can read more about that here, https://robinwootton.wordpress.com/2008/11/02/these-twenty-years/)
I have gone back to those days in my memory many times, trying to break the cycle of blaming myself for whatever it was I did to deserve it. Those thoughts are like hovering crows, cawing at me – maybe you wanted it. maybe you asked for it. maybe you made them do it. maybe you liked it.
By the time I was in college, I had mostly mentally shut down. I was a robot going through motions and felt really very little at all. My first year of college was in a very unique environment which really exists in few other places in the world – namely Word of Life Bible Institute. It was there that I first really truly discovered that I was considered attractive by a boy! It was startling and frightening and appalling and yet very interesting.
To say that I didn’t think I was physically appealing up until that year would be an understatement. As I’ve said before, I spent most of my life thinking I was some kind of freak of nature, just a hairy face away from being Quasimodo. So the prospect of some human being of the male persuasion looking at me and finding himself thinking anything other than, “Sanctuary!” was rather new to me. (Sidenote: the irony of course is that the point of the tale of The Hunchback is that true beauty is in the person’s soul and Q turned out to be the most beautiful of all.)
Unfortunately this new knowledge set up a rather distressing chain of events for me and influenced decisions I would make years later. By the time I graduated from college, I had become more aware of my physical appearance and less and less concerned with the strength of my soul and the purpose for which I was made. My relationships were kept fairly shallow and I was even able to hide in the shell of Christianity, never really being open or sharing much of myself, or the increasing worthlessness I felt. Soon my identity was taken over almost completely by how attractive I could be to others and how many males I could get pining after me. Even with my first real boyfriend (at the age of 23) I found myself flirting with others mercilessly and getting great, albeit twisted, pleasure from reeling them in and throwing them back.
There is a twisting of truth that happens in a person’s mind who allows sexuality to define her. I knew in my heart that the act of sex was created by a God who is loving and giving and wanted us to feel pleasure and intimacy in the context of a committed relationship. In my soul, deep down where I had buried it, the fear that I was worthless, even despicable to some, was satiated, however fleetingly, by the knowledge that I had the power of sex on my side.
I found myself living a dark lie. On the surface you might have seen a strong willed, confident young woman claiming total independence and wearing t-shirts that said Girl Power. You might have met friends who marvelled at my ability to live what seemed a have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too lifestyle. Some even would say, in a complimentary way, that I was more like a guy when it came to my free for all love life and laissez faire attitude toward commitment. But in reality, I was the one who wept while watching episodes of Sex and the City, seeing myself, and the emptiness which swallowed up my life, played out in the characters.
For those not familiar with the TV series, there were 4 characters each representing stereotypical single women in their 30s. The show was mostly about women just like me, who placed emphasis equally on career and love life, and success in and out of the bedroom. This was the path the 60s and 70s feminists brought us down and we celebrated our victories over martinis at sex toy parties. I most related to the character of Samantha, the self-proclaimed slut of the group who bounced from one man to the next more often than they all changed outfits in one episode. She felt strong and triumphant in her choices, like it was all a game to get as many men after you as possible and moving on before they could say Manolo Blahniks. (Those are shoes named after their designer, often referenced in the show.)
To the religious right, these women were no better than whores and in fact were worse because they enjoyed being so. What passed as confidence and empowerment on the show was a disgrace and a mockery of womanhood to conservatives across the country. Their lifestyles were horrific and appalling and the flaunting of such was /is beyond comprehension.
And compassion. What many fail to see is the journey a woman goes through to arrive at any place close to peace with herself and her actions. Whatever amount of judgment and disdain you hold for that woman, it will never be near as much as what she holds for herself. And the vicious cycle her lifestyle and choices creates – needing validation – getting it from false intimacy – declaring a kind of preemptive triumph over needing validation from anyone or anything – then feeling so empty that real intimacy means nothing any more – and subsequently seeking validation from all the wrong ways again. This cycle quickly forms a habit, an addiction.
Sexual addiction was only recently studied as a valid biochemical reliance. Like alcohol or narcotics, sexually related actions causes certain responses, obviously, in a person which can cause addictive behaviors. This is certainly debated among many groups. I have to point out that I personally would not say this is any kind of excuse for behaviors, just like I would not make easy concessions for alcoholics or crack addicts because of their biochemical makeup. We give in to the behaviors and mindsets that allow for the dependencies and there are proven ways of defeating these. But what I am saying is that like any addiction, sexual addiction becomes a monster engulfing you with all the inherent psychological and physical issues it entails.
What was most poignant to me about the character of Samantha was that she in the end just desperately wanted total acceptance, unconditional love, and freedom to come to the table with all she had and nothing more nothing less. This is the hope of every woman, but my life was not so far from the desperation that came across the television set. In fact, it had taken a few steps further down a path of self-destruction and pain, in the guise of feminism and strength. My life turned into a whirlwind of parties and drugs and drunkenness. I had even gotten so low as to start taking money for sex and letting married men pamper me, taking me on vacations and giving me gifts, many of which I would sell for the cash to buy drugs and booze. There are situations I couldn’t remember clearly and would constantly doubt myself and my actions, never quite sure just how much control I really had.
By the time I started admitting to the pattern I had created for myself, things started to really go wrong. I had run-ins with stalkers and former lovers, and often found myself in dangerous and frightening situations. I was raped by a so-called friend, and later by a drunken stranger, neither time being reported or even discussed with anyone until very recently. Paralyzed by the prospect of having my life taken into question by police officers and lawyers, not to mention the legal battle that would inevitably ensue dragging family and who knows who else along, I quickly deluded myself into thinking once again I was to blame. After all, I was probably so high I must have agreed to it and just forgot.
I became so resentful of myself while battling in my soul the thought that everything I was doing was so wrong and breaking the heart of God, not to mention my family and church friends. If any of them were to see even snippets of what my life had become, they would have been horrified, I’m sure, as I was. But I quickly dismissed such thoughts since, in the moment, I felt God had dismissed me a long time before, letting so many things happen to me and countless others like me. Instead I fought with all my might to take back control of my own life and my body, and hurting as many as I could along the way.
They can’t steal something from you if you gave it willingly. This is the mantra victims of sexual abuse repeat to themselves in the midst of their pain. We pretend it didn’t happen or that it wasn’t how we remember it. We look for ways to shift blame around, from us in our weakest moments, to them in our strongest. Through my own pain, I used to feel I was taking the high road, not blaming any one but myself, thinking that in some way I deserved it all. Those damned crows cawing in my head again. So something in me snapped and I hurled myself head on into the dark.
What this doesn’t look like is a process of healing. But it was. All along it was the motions of working out a peaceable coexistence between me and my past. It was the high pressure storm clearing the atmosphere. The father letting the son run away from home to burn out and fall on his face. The water boiling over the side of the pot. The God moving quietly all around me calling me home. I never could have seen it then. And only now do I even catch the faintest glimpse in shadows of how God brought me back.