Warning: I do share about an assault in this post, but I do not go into much detail.
Things said to me as a female raised in a complementarian, fundamentalist church:
You look like a whore.
I can see your cleavage. Change your shirt.
No one will believe you anyway.
Boys are more visually stimulated and that’s why girls need to wear tee shirts when they wear swimsuits.
Women are like crock-pots and men are like microwaves.
Good Christian girls don’t go to places like that.
Men want virgins.
Masturbation is wrong because it takes pleasure from your partner.
Always be available to your husband in any way he wants.
Don’t share your sexual fantasies with your husband so you don’t make him feel like he isn’t a good lover or manly enough.
Sexual intimacy before your wedding night will shame your marriage.
Virgins make better wives.
Your future husband needs you to be pure. Saving yourself is showing him how much you love him.
It’s better to wear dresses and skirts because it is more feminine and makes guys feel in charge. Be comfortable, but dress in ways that make your husband proud to be seen with you.
What did she do to make him cheat on her?
Sex is a beautiful thing, after you’re married.
She’s gonna get raped wearing that.
I have more. There is so much more, but it is painful to go to those memories and those places. Hands touching without permission. Slut-shaming. Being taught that my body was never my own in the first place, but made for another—that this was God’s will for me and for my life. I no longer belong to a church that promotes these kinds of ideas, but the damage done prior permeates my life. It seeps into everything, suggesting that I exist for others to use and I fight those thoughts daily. I have been objectified more in church by other Christians than outside of it, by men, women, boys, and other girls. Even my baptism is tainted by an assault. There was a time when my baptism was an innocent, exciting memory that evoked feelings of hope and joy. I genuinely believed he wanted to show me something unique about the architecture of his church’s most sacred space. I remember afterwards knowing that no one would believe me and being grateful that the same purity culture that raised me to believe it was my fault also raised him to believe that he had to be a little “pure” for his future wife. I promised not to say anything, knowing I’d be the one at fault anyway, and he promised to keep my clothes on. It took me over five years to realize I had been assaulted. I knew what he did was wrong, but he was taught it was no big deal and I was taught not to make it one. It took about another five years for me to begin to process that he and I were both victims and those really at fault were the adults in our lives. We were both groomed.
Looking back now, I wonder how many of us stayed quiet so we could wear white to our weddings, believing this one color alone to be what determined our worth. My wedding dress was intricately covered in lavender and pink glass beads. It’s truly tragic that one of the reasons I chose that particular dress was because those colored beads allowed me to be honest. It is the most beautiful garment I have ever owned, and even it is tarnished, because it wasn’t all white. There are days when I wish for a vow renewal. I want to say those words again with no shame, in a dress I pick because I love it and am happy in it, with no one else present. I want to say those words without the eyes of others telling me my value and who I should be and what is expected of me as wife. I’d like to hear my husband make those promises without the understanding that I forfeit my name and my identity outside of him. When I’m honest with myself, I know I might not even be married right now had I not been raised in a church that told me my worth was contingent on being a wife and mother. I might have dated women had this been allowed. After all, my first real kiss was amazing and with a girl. I have no idea who I’d be had my church upbringing been different, and I feel a tinge of sadness realizing what was stolen from me. Of course, I chose my husband and I chose this life, but I think my story matches the stories of many others like myself. At what point does choice cease to exist when even your choices are so tightly controlled? Ask any kid who has to eat off the children’s menu, it doesn’t feel like much of a choice. If you only ever see the children’s menu, you have no idea and believe you’ve picked what you really wanted. There are some raised in churches like mine that don’t feel harmed, and their stories are real too. Their experiences are not more valid and they do not deserve more weight. My story and others like mine may make you uncomfortable and make you question your own church’s teachings, but that doesn’t mean our stories aren’t true and worth hearing. I realize that talking about sex and love and marriage and life like they’re items on a menu is in poor taste, but I was once told that the difference between virginity and sex before marriage was like prime rib versus a sirloin steak. I’m just using the vocabulary I was given to further prove my point. If it makes you feel icky inside, it should. Also, I was fourteen when I first heard that comparison. If this truth makes you hurt inside, it’s because it should.