“Why is my reflection someone I don’t know?” (or Mulan, Fundamentalism, and Me)

MulanReflection1

It was 1999 and I was twelve-years-old as I sat on my bed listening to Christina Aguilera’s self-titled debut album on my Walkman to prevent the parental units from hearing some of the racier lines that weren’t exactly church-sanctioned—“Hormones racing at the speed of light / But that don’t mean it’s gotta be tonight … I’m a genie in a bottle baby / Gotta rub me the right way honey.”

I was an extremely sheltered Christian homeschool kid whose only real friends were other Christian homeschool kids at our church. The closest thing I ever got to sex ed., even while in high school, was when I was assigned to read I Kissed Dating Goodbye and Passion and Purity. The basic premise of the books when it came to sex: Just say no. We never even talked about anatomy, that was the Forbidden Zone.

But despite being so isolated even I knew that some of Christina’s songs could get her added to the ever-growing Banned List—the list that included things like Pokémon, almost all fantasy worlds besides Narnia, some Disney movies, computer and video games and movies that had magical components, and anything and everything that seemed to be going against my parents’ conservative Christian beliefs. Even I knew “rub me the right way” didn’t exactly fit with my family’s abstinence-only and no-dating/courting-until-you’re-old-enough-to-get-married rules.

Christina was my little secret. But what that album showed me as I sat in bed listening to her sing through my crappy Walkman headset was just how many secrets I had hidden. I cried every time I heard her sing Reflection from the movie Mulan.

I will never pass for a perfect bride, or a perfect daughter.
Can it be,
I’m not meant to play this part?
Now I see, that if I were truly to be myself,
I would break my family’s heart.

I was hiding so much more than some sexy lyrics on a Christian Aguilera CD.

Earlier that year my mother had confronted me regarding my clothes. The modesty teachings at church and home were already underway. I’d already began to feel like my body was wrong because it had the power to cause men to sin, so it needed to be covered up and hidden. However, when crop-tops are in it’s extremely hard to find anything in the Juniors’ Department that meets the modesty guidelines, and middle-school femininity felt so foreign and uncomfortable to me (lip gloss, glitter, and the works—although I did make an exception for butterfly hairclips because, after all, it was the 1990s). So I’d started dressing more androgynously, buying unisex t-shirts and cargo pants.

But it turned out that wasn’t okay, either.

“If you didn’t have long hair you’d look like a boy,” my mother said one Sunday afternoon once we were home from church.

My frizzy hair was nearly to my elbow. But I would’ve chopped it off if it’d really been an option. I was told I’d have to wear a hat to church as sign of my submission to God, but it had felt more like it would have been a sign of shame. And I was instructed that I would have  to carry a hat everywhere I went because otherwise I wouldn’t be able to pray. Getting a haircut had sounded like a lot of work and a lot of guilt, so I kept it long. But I hated it every time I looked at my reflection.

After the comment about my clothes my mother asked: “Are you a lesbian?” In our world lesbian wasn’t a word used in polite company.

She asked if I’d been sexually assaulted, to which I responded no. I’d been taught homosexuality was a form of sexual perversion. There were degrees of perversion, but having a crush on another girl was just one step away from making love to a cow. At home I’d been taught that homosexuals had become perverted as the result of trauma; their sexuality was broken. Perverted. My mother thought I was perverted. Broken. My mother thought I was broken.

She said my clothes were ugly and that I looked like a dyke, a word I’d never heard.

I began to cry. “I’m not a lesbian! I’m not a lesbian!” I didn’t know if what I was saying was true but it didn’t matter.

My mind raced and the world felt swimmy as I thought of the time earlier that year when Misty, a girl from church, had grabbed my journal, refusing to give it back. Terror had surged through my whole body at the thought of her seeing the page of doodles I’d dedicated to brunette at church’s name.

I was terrified Misty would know what I couldn’t even put into words; what I didn’t even know yet, myself. I was terrified she would tell people what I couldn’t find the words for. But as she held my diary out of reach she flipped right past the incriminating evidence without knowing what it meant.

But can you be a lesbian if you still like boys? I’d only learned that “gay” could mean more than happy the year before, so “bi” was nowhere in my vocabulary.

“I’m not a lesbian!” I cried again, unsure if I was telling the truth. But it didn’t matter. I couldn’t be one. I couldn’t be that word.

My mother began to get angry. She said I was lying.

“I’m not lying! I’m not a lesbian.” I wasn’t sure if what I was saying was true. But it didn’t matter because I planned to make it true. Or at least I would make everyone believe it was true.

She called me butch, an unfamiliar term I could tell was intended as an insult so it stung even without a definition. She called me an ugly lesbian.

Ugly. Lesbian.

And at that moment I decided that if this is what happens when you’re a lesbian, then I would never be one. I would do whatever I needed to do, say whatever needed to be said to avoid ever being called that word again.

She said I disgusted her. She said I made her physically sick.

I needed to get away from the accusations so I pushed past my mother, throwing my bedroom door open so quickly that it shatters the mirror behind it with a crash.

I ran down the hallway and out the front door.

I didn’t even notice that I’ve forgotten my shoes until I was already halfway down our street.

Now I see, that if I were truly to be myself,
I would break my family’s heart.

I chose to be a good Christian girl. I eventually got rid of my secular music, even Christina. I didn’t go on a single date in high school, or even for years after high school. I didn’t go to prom. I said I only liked boys. I said I loved being homeschooled. I read my bible and prayed every day. I was actively involved in my church. I said I was theologically and politically conservative. I tried so hard to squeeze myself into the box that everyone said was mine, but I’m not a contortionist so I got pretty bruised up as my arms and legs knocked against the walls of my prescribed identity.

They want a docile lamb,
No-one knows who I am.
Must there be a secret me,
I’m forced to hide?

I hadn’t listened to Christina’s song Reflection for years, but heard it by chance not that long ago. It brought 1999 back in all its butterfly-hairclip, crop-top, Christian Aguilera glory. It brought back the tears as I remembered the identity question Mulan and I were both so quietly whispering that no one even heard.

Can it be,
I’m not meant to play this part?

16 thoughts on ““Why is my reflection someone I don’t know?” (or Mulan, Fundamentalism, and Me)

  1. I recognize bits of myself in here, though thankfully my Christian upbringing was not nearly so strict. But I was around the home-school, Christian environment enough for the social mores to creep into my every day existence. My mom felt that pressure too, now that I am older and can look back on that time with more adult eyes. It played a lot into my guilt and confusion and struggles with life, and I always struggled with fears of being a disappointment and not sure what it would mean if I was.

    My mother and I had a sometimes verbally combative relationship, not because of religion, but due to other circumstances in her life. I feel your pain, in the shared dialogue of you and your mother, and hear echoes of my own past memories (tenor, rather than content) when my own mom was… not herself or entirely mentally with it.

    This song came to mind to me this past week, so I was surprised to find it popping up in my feed. I really identified with it a lot, myself.

    ~*~*~*~*~

    Why must we all conceal
    What we think, how we feel?
    Must there be a secret me
    I’m forced to hide?
    I won’t pretend that I’m
    Someone else for all time
    When will my reflection show
    Who I am inside?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sometimes when I’m not sure how to respond to a comment and I want to say more than “Thanks” I let it sit for a bit, but I let this one sit too long and only just realized I hadn’t replied. I loved your comment, which is why I’m only just now responding, haha. 🙂

      I feel like I want to say “Yes” to your whole comment. Yes, you get it. Yes. I’m so sorry that you do get so much of it though. Thank you for taking the time to leave such a personal comment. It truly meant a lot to me.

      If you’d like, you can shoot me an email and then I can send you a link to my Facebook. You can email me via the contact page. https://kelseymunger.com/contact/

      Like

  2. Beautiful post, and something I’m sure many, many women and girls can relate to during the identity-forming years. Thanks for sharing boldly with us, Kelsey. I’m curious, does your mom ever read your posts? What is (or would be) her reaction now?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, C. My mother and I are no longer in touch. She knows that I have a blog. And it’s public, so if she wants to read it she can choose to do so.

      Her reaction when I tried to find closer by talking with her about this specific incident and others has always been that I should have gotten over it by now. She’s made excuses about how her behavior was really in my best interest. There’s never been an apology where she took ownership for how she handled things or an acknowledgement of the damage and hurt that was done.

      Like

      • Wow, I’m so sorry to hear that! I have apologized multiple times to my kids, and wish so badly I had the power to take back the multitude of hurtful words that I spoke over the years. While not a proponent of the ‘get over it’ mentality, I do believe that our past (whatever it was, no one’s is even close to perfect) makes us who we are, and we must (for ourselves) forgive and move on to then take responsibility for our own actions. That certainly does not mean glossing over bad behavior and continuing to allow abuse, by any means. But, I think you know what I’m talking about.

        Love you,
        C

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Great post. It’s very brave of you to be so open about something that seemed to cause you so much pain. I completely understand what you went through, I come from a strict family, rather a society of even a whole country. Those around me never stop trying to rob their beliefs on my face.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for being so encouraging. It took a long time to getting to the point of deciding I wanted to write about this. It was scary to push that publish button on this one but healing, too.

      I’m sorry you’re dealing so much with people who aren’t respecting who you and don’t have boundaries. That is so hard.

      Thank you again for taking the time to comment, and for sharing a little about your own story.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. sweetsound

    They want you to accentuate their idea of femininity but cover it up at the same time. It’s such a tiny “perfect” balance they want you to hit, of course it’s confusing. This whole post made me so angry because I felt that growing up too (although not as directly from my parents as the Christian community and culture I was raised in). Also about the homosexuality shaming… shameful. I’m glad you’re out of that environment now 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • “They want you to accentuate their idea of femininity but cover it up at the same time. It’s such a tiny ‘perfect’ balance they want you to hit, of course it’s confusing.”

      YES! Exactly.

      I love getting comments from you because you really get a lot of this (which sucks, I wish you didn’t) and once in a while when I have a post that some of the other commenters don’t seem to have actually ready you’re always right on topic. You always get what I’m actually saying, even when it feels like most people must just be skimming. Thank you for that. ❤

      If you ever want to chat via email or friend me on Facebook, you can shoot me an email on my contact page.
      https://kelseymunger.com/contact/

      Like

  5. Oh Kelsey!! My heart broke reading this – the pain of such a damaging mother, the prison of religion, the agony of not being able to be who we are, the shame we are made to feel, the sexuality we are forced to believe is wrong and dirty and perverted. I hear it all, I feel it all, and I love you all the more for knowing more of your journey and the amazing woman you are.

    Like

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