On top of going off the fundamentalist deep-end and realizing that Christians all have some basic things in common, I also started looking into some of the things I’d been told all my life were so horrifically sinful a good Christian girl would never consider even touching them.
I purchased Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone on audiobook for the 13-hour cross-country road trip I had to take to get to grad school. And instead of hearing a frightfully woven tale full of Satan-loving, demon-worshiping witchcraft, I was enthralled by a story that taught courage, loyalty, friendship, honesty, integrity, intelligence, and sacrifice. I went and bought the rest of books, and realized that if I’d read Harry Potter when I was growing up, I might have made Hermione Granger my role model– and learned to value myself because of my geeky, know-it-all awkwardness instead of in spite of it. I might have valued intelligence, knowledge, and learning even when nearly everyone I knew told me that those things were silly, inconsequential rubbish–for a girl.
One of the friends I made in grad school, right off the bat, was Morgan*. We hit it off right away over a shared love of all things geek– and coffee. She took me in hand and led me to Mecca– well, the Honors Office, where there was free coffee. At the time. Now its 25c for a cup. Not bad, even then. She also introduced me to that most wicked, most foul, of all television: Buffy the Vampire Slayer (also, just so this is clear: Joss Whedon is a god among men). Anyhoo, when she suggested one late, late night after we’d watched Twelfth Night that we watch Buffy, I was wary. I knew that show was of the devil– literally. There were vampires. But, I nodded, tentatively, and settled in with a cup of late-night coffee and watched episode one. It was cheesy, corny, and absolutely brilliant. If you watch it and don’t like Spike, you don’t have a soul (pun intended, for you Buffy fans).
I also fell in love with comedy. This is true of conservative evangelicals at large, but, as par for the course, more especially true of IFBs. Things can be funny– as long as they are also squeaky-clean. And I do mean sparkling clean. No swears, no body humor, nothing even skimming the surface of innuendo. And IFBs jump at mere shadows of innuendo– they see it everywhere, even where “normal” people wouldn’t. Everything has been corrupted by “free love,” and our morally bankrupt, debauched society has ruined comedy and humor for everyone everywhere. Sometimes I wonder if they’ve read Shakespeare, who is absolutely ribald, but then I remember . . . no, my fundamentalist college edited all of that out. Literally. They re-wrote Shakespeare’s comedies to make him less funny. It’s a crime against literature.
Morgan also went through some of her favorite YouTube funnies. Like Eddie Izzard. Now, if you don’t know who Eddie Izzard is– he drops the f-bomb. This is a word that was not tolerated at all at home. My parents used Kids-in-Mind to see if a movie would be appropriate for family viewing. We still watched things like James Bond– with a lot of fast-forwarding. Mom and dad never particularly objected to violence– I watched The Patriot, Gladiator, Saving Private Ryan and all the zombie movies I could stomach. Which is a lot. I love zombie movies (double tap!). But if a movie had swearing– oooh buddy. Nope. Eddie Izzard also does a touch of drag. He wears makeup and heeled boots. And he’s hysterical. As is Craig Ferguson. How I Met your Mother, and the character of Barney Stinson, represents everything I was taught to despise and assiduously avoid. Turns out, despising him is part of the hilarity. I had been told that if I filled my mind with these, that I would be ruined for all good, godly company. Also, IFB types rarely had a sense of humor, in my experience. When I first started stretching my boundaries, I was called a prude more than once. At one point in my life, I would have worn “prude” as a badge of honor, as a mark of high distinction. I aspired to be as prudish as possible. But . . . when someone calls you a “prude,” I discovered, it’s not a compliment. It means they know you’re judging them.
I became even more daring, if you can believe it. I invited a boy over– when no one else was home– and we sat on my couch and watched TV. That was it. Just because we were alone didn’t mean we were suddenly completely unbridled by our raging hormones. I had grown up being terrified of myself. Of what I could be capable of doing. In one of the great moments in sci-fi movie magic, Forbidden Planet, Morbius explains how the monsters from the id (Freud’s term for the subconscious) destroyed a planet and wiped out an entire civilization. This was what I was taught about my fallen human nature. It is wholly untrustworthy. My heart is “deceitfully wicked.” Given even the slightest opportunity, my sinful nature will overwhelm my common sense and my conscience and force me into unspeakable acts.
When I started making friends and “hanging out”– a new concept to me, I’d never done that before– I initially resisted alcohol. Like most Baptists, IFBs see all alcohol as a sin. The only things I knew about “the devil’s water” were related to the radio program Unshackled, and how alcohol always led men to their doom, caused them to beat their wives, and destroyed their families and their lives. I was told once that if I ever touched alcohol, I would probably be a “mean drunk.” I was terrified that if I ever let it cross my lips that I would be enslaved by an instant addiction. Whenever someone offered me a drink at any of these “parties” (not the drunken frat-boy keggers I’d assumed they would all be), I turned it down, and learned to walk around with a Solo cup in my hand, just so I wouldn’t have to say “no thanks” every five minutes.
One night, I decided– to hell with it. I wasn’t going to be so afraid. I knew I wasn’t secretly some deviant that would go against everything I believed the instant my inhibitions were a little looser. So, I tried it. Decided that beer is terrible, whiskey is like drinking gasoline, and that the only thing I liked was a white Russian. And the only thing that happened? I asked a guy friend if I could touch his hair — which, if you know me, is not out of the ordinary. I’d do that completely sober. And I learned that there is a difference between drinking alcohol because it tastes good (white Russians are like a frapuccino, only better) and getting wasted and being an ass. And no, I didn’t turn into a jerk. I stayed up all night, laughing with my friend at his birthday party, listening to Squirrelex and Pink Floyd, playing video games and having– yes, oh yes– innocent fun. I crashed on his sofa, ate breakfast with his roommate’s girlfriend, and went home. And I was, shockingly, just fine.
And the best lesson I learned through all of this exploring was that hardly anything of what I’d been taught were the visible “hallmarks” of being a Christian mattered. I’d been so paralyzed by fear, by the unending agony of wondering what would they think if they knew? And I realized that most of my “friends,” for most of my life, were not really my friends at all. They were just another system of confinement. Friends, in IFB circles, are people who “sharpen” you. They exist not to support you, or care about you, but to make sure you stay on the straight and narrow. They monitor you, and “challenge” you when they think you’re slipping. Their only purpose in your life is to judge you. To condemn, not to love.
What I discovered when I branched out into “lasciviousness,” was, instead of a deep black pit of despair where I would be broken and alone, I found a place where no one could freaking care less about what I did. If I wanted to laugh at a fart joke, I could. If I wanted to shake it to “Twist and Shout” like Ferris Beuller, I could. In fact, my girlfriends would join in, and we’d dance and laugh until we couldn’t dance and laugh no more. I could stand on top of a clothing display in Wal-Mart and sing The Christmas Song at the top of my lungs. I could strut my stuff playing air guitar a la Marty McFly’s Johnny B Goode, in the middle of Aéropastale, if I wanted. I could be happy, and show it in any way that struck my fancy. Living life with abandon wasn’t going to kill me, or lead me into fiery damnation. I learned to embrace impulse and spontaneity, to drink in wonder, happiness, and contentment in a way I never could before.