Purity culture slut-shame blues: Everything I know about sex I learned from Bob Dylan


Bob Dylan was back in the news again recently for finally accepted his Nobel Prize. And it seemed like a good time to share an article I wrote about Dylan, sex, and growing up evangelical. Hope you enjoy. 


I was 10 years old when I sat through my first abstinence series at church. My parents had discussed its age-appropriateness, but had decided that my relative youth was a good thing. It meant my first introduction to sex would come within the safe, godly confines of our church. So I sat in the church sanctuary dutifully every week as various pastors took turns stressing the dangers of things like necking. I didn’t have any idea what necking was, but I made a mental note to avoid it.

Those first lessons in abstinence were downright confusing. I wondered why the French apparently kissed differently than Americans, and why their methods would be so much more provocative and potentially sin-inducing. [Continue reading over at Salon]

I Brought My Questions to the Sea

I stood at the foam-lace trim of
Mother Earth’s blue gown as her hips
Gently swayed back and forth.

I stood with my toes planted in the
Wet sand as the seagull overhead scoffed
In a language I cannot comprehend.

I stood on the shore as the breeze
Flirtatiously ran his salty fingers through
My hair, tying it into sailor’s knots.

I stood watching an orange starfish as
He was carried along with the tide and the
Waves tickled the souls of my feet.

I stood there offering heavy questions
To the goddess of the sea and she softly
Replied, “Just be, child. Just be.”

The Haunting Wood

I found it in the Haunting Wood.
Fragile, familiar sobs reverberating
In the corner
of my mind

Sent me searching off the trail as
The voice as innocent as childhood
Called me

Running as roots grabbed and
The darkness thickened towards
The voice,
My voice.

I found her in the Haunting Wood.
Leaking hazel eyes staring into mine.
Her eyes,
My eyes.

“We’ve failed,” she says locking eyes,
Hooking my soul as the haunting words
Hang in
The air.

“We were never enough.” Old fears
Beckon as they begin to rise and walk.
Her fears,
My fears.

I found me in the Haunting Wood.
Didn’t notice its oily shadow hovering,
To bite.

As I listened, captive to old fears, the
Child’s shadow rose to its full height until it
Over me.

The darkness seeped in through my pores,
Aggressively choking me out of my body until
I was

You can find me in the Haunting Wood.
Now I’m the haunt that calls you onward,
The voice
That lies.

Halfway Out of the Dark: Candles, Christmas, And the Winter Solstice


Flickr CC Markus Grossalber

It was thirty-two degrees that morning as I stood at my regular bus stop next to 7-Eleven. I’ve never done well with cold temperatures, so I pulled out all my winter gear: down vest, black water-proof jacket (a wardrobe staple in the Seattle region), thick socks, winter hat, and gloves.

Right below the bus stop sign there were glass candle holders with pictures of Jesus and the Virgin Mary. The weather hadn’t been that great that week—lots of wind and rain (it’s Washington, so mostly rain). But the four candles were burning.

There was a balloon on a stick that was stuck into the ground reading, “I love you.” Another read, “Thinking of you.” There were flowers strewn around the ground. The artificial ones were still standing up smartly, still holding their color. But the bouquets of real flowers hadn’t survived all the rain and had turned into a soggy mess of petals, stems, and tissue paper on the concrete.

I’d brought flowers, too. I’d written a card. I’d made a sign reading that the regular riders of our bus route remembered. That I remembered. But now it was all gone, just a part of the water-logged mess.

But the candles burned on.

I hadn’t known the victims—a seventeen-year-old boy and his father. They’d been sitting at the bus stop around five in the afternoon, right at peak when they charge you an extra 25 cents. They’d just been sitting there at their regular stop. At my regular stop. And someone drove by and shot them right there.

The younger brother was there too, but he wasn’t hit. But that’s not true, not really. He wasn’t hit; he was shattered. His world ended at five o’clock in the afternoon as the rush hour traffic was just beginning to form.

Lives were taken. Lives were shattered. Evil left its mark. Darkness entered our bus stop and our neighborhood.

But the candles burned on.

Candles like that don’t keep burning forever. They have to be lit, and relit. It was morning. It was cold. But someone had already been there to light them. Someone made sure that they burned on. There were puddles of wax around the candles. They had obviously tipped over, spilling hot wax onto the cement. But someone had righted them. Someone had relit them.

The candles burned on during the longest nights of the year.

As a small child I didn’t even know when the Winter Solstice was but I’d been warned against it. I imagined pagans dancing around bonfires, casting spells, and playing with tarot cards as The Satanic Bible peeked out of their back pockets. The Winter Solstice was spiritually scandalous. It was the time when all the dark things crept out from under that dusty, cluttered spot under your bed; all the mischief and mayhem that lurked in the shadows, afraid of the light, beckoned to one another to come out and play.

But now, as an adult, I’m beginning to find a tremendous amount of comfort in the Winter Solstice. It’s a time of darkness, but not dark doings. It’s a time for light to shine. It’s a time for the candles to burn on when we need them most.

Every time I stand at my bus stop I’m reminded that somewhere, very nearby, a family is mourning. For them this festive time of year is undoubtedly a time of anguish. Their hearts are grieving, hurting. If the Wise Men showed up at their home, they’d bring myrrh.

Myrrh is mine, its bitter perfume
Breathes of life of gathering gloom
Sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying
Sealed in the stone-cold tomb

I have two friends whose fathers passed away recently. They’re living in the shadow of death as Jingle Bells pays on the radio; living in the isolated valley of grief and loss.

There were four warm, friendly white-haired women who sat in front of the husband and me at church—I think of them as our Lutheran grandmothers. These adorable older women have helped their church to feel safe to me despite my Post-Traumatic Church Syndrome. And I found out this Sunday that one of them passed away. Her funeral service will be three days before Christmas, on the longest night of the year.

I had to call 911 last week because of a domestic disturbance across the street. I looked out the window when I heard scared children screaming, “No, Dad! No!” to see an angry man waving a large kitchen knife aggressively as his children jumped into a car that quickly pulled out of the parking lot, driving them to safety. I feel like I haven’t even recovered from the scene, so I know the children haven’t.

So much darkness. So much hurt. And that’s only looking at the small sliver of humanity that I have access to. When I turn on the news or read articles online I’m greeted with more darkness, more bleakness. So much violence. So much pain. So much sorrow. So many people in need of shelter and safety. So many people who are afraid, and rightfully so.

I don’t know how to handle it, this darkness. So much death and grief and brokenness, so much pain. The darkness is so thick that sometimes it makes me feel like I’m chocking. And December, despite all of the holiday lights and super sales, has a way of making that worse.

December is a time of year that can bring with it great joy and also great sadness. It’s like the Great Multiplier. Whatever feelings you’ve been experiencing already are multiplied, accentuated, and accelerated. When you’re already feeling an ache in your chest, tears are already threatening you at gun point, it makes it even worse. So much worse.

One of the most comforting moments in this month for me is on Christmas Eve. The nativity, whether it’s history or myth, brings comfort in the middle of these cold, dark nights as I hold my red pew hymnal and my candle while singing Joy to the World. It’s a joyful, beautiful, precious, light-filled moment.

The candle burns on.

I have a thing about candles. They can be symbolic or spiritual or sentimental or sensual or scented (and I’m sure all sorts of other alliterations I can’t currently think of). A little bit of light in a very dark time.

This little bit of light doesn’t fix everything. Or anything, for that matter. It doesn’t mean death hasn’t touched our lives; it doesn’t mean that existential crises have come to a close; it doesn’t mean healing has finally been achieved; it doesn’t that we’re feeling all sappy and sentimental every time we hear Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Last Christmas playing over the noise of people shopping. It doesn’t mean things are fixed. It doesn’t even mean things are okay. It doesn’t mean we like the holidays or any of this.

Candles don’t fix things. They don’t heal things. But they provide just a little bit of light.

To me the light—symbolic and literal—this week of the Winter Solstice and Christmas reminds me that I did it. It reminds me of a line from my favorite Doctor Who Christmas special, a sci-fi retelling of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol: “On every world, wherever people are, in the deepest part of the winter, at the exact mid-point, everybody stops and turns and hugs. As if to say, ‘Well done. Well done, everyone! We’re halfway out of the dark.’ Back on Earth we call this Christmas. Or the Winter Solstice.”

The holidays can be an extremely hard time of year for a lot of people. And if you’re feeling that way, may the longest night of the year, the Winter Solstice, remind you that you’re halfway out of the dark.

In a few days the holidays will be over. In a few days we’ll be changing out the calendars. In a few days you take down the holiday wreath, burn the tree, and never be forced to say merry fucking Christmas for an entire year. In a few days the sun will begin to resurface. In just a few days.

Well done. Well done, everyone. We’re halfway out of the dark.

Pike Place Market: A Love Story

Flickr CC Travis Wise

Flickr CC Travis Wise

It was fall 2010 and it was raining — a light misting rain. The tourists pulled out their umbrellas undoubtedly feeling as if they were getting the full Seattle experience, while the locals pulled their hoods up and hunched their backs to protect their newly purchased treasures and others walked on completely unfazed. We strolled down the street, a busy and tangled mess of cars and tourists darting into traffic in an attempt to get the perfect iconic shot in front of the glowing red Pike Place Market sign. Just below the sign a gathering watched the men in white aprons at the seafood stall tossing fresh salmon the way a street performer tosses juggling pins.

Just a few shops farther down on the right side of the street a women’s-restroom-sized line waited to set foot inside the original Starbucks, money for lattes and coffee-themed memorabilia likely already in hand.

As we continued swimming upstream, pausing to listen to a busker here and there, some of the people we passed were carrying brown paper bags in various sizes containing home-made jewelry, fresh Washington apples, expensive kitchen gadgets, and previously loved books; many of them juggled bouquets of freshly cut flowers, some of which sported bright, chubby sunflowers.

We stopped at some of the shops long enough to really admire their wares, but mostly we just breathed in the scent of hand-made soap mixed with the smell of leather journals and overpriced organic produce. We breathed in the relaxed yet upbeat rhythm of the city. We breathed in the colors and the sounds. We breathed in every moment together as if we were savoring the fresh, fleeting smell of rain.

We found an often completely overlooked alcove just outside the market, sandwiched between a Tully’s Coffee and something I can’t recall. The aesthetics mainly consisted of concrete and a few potted trees. But when we stood right up next to the fence, peering over a manicured bush, we could see the freeway and, beyond that, the Seattle skyline — complete with the Space Needle and a ferry on its way in. You wrapped your arms around me, and we stood together — for the first time that close together — breathing in the moment.

I fell in love with you there, standing in the rain.

As the cars on the freeway below us hurdled by and tourists hurried for shelter from the rain, as no one watched or cared, you and I became us. It happened slowly and then, when I wasn’t expecting it, all at once.

As we left our spot, forever that will be our spot, you reached for my hand as we walked towards the pier. Only a few minutes before my hand had been empty but now it was laced with yours.

Telling Myself I’m Beautiful

Flickr CC Emily

Flickr CC Emily

I drip some cold body lotion on to my hand and rub in gently on my upper arms and elbows — the part of my body that no matter how many times I drench it in lotion probably hasn’t been hydrated a day in my life. When I was a kid the dry bumps embarrassed me so much that I’d sometimes try to pick them off (this never ended well). And eventually I swore off tank tops in order to keep the dry bumps under wraps. Rubbing the lotion into my arm I take a moment to whisper, “You’re beautiful.”  Yes, you. With your super dry skin and not-exactly toned arms. You. Yes, you.

I squirt some more lotion onto my knees and work it up to my thighs. I used to refuse to wear shorts in the summer because I thought this region of my body was too knobby, too dry and bumpy, too flabby and cellulite-y to be allowed out in public. It was too ugly to be allowed to run free and wild about town; it might frighten the children or the old ladies. But I work the lotion in, gently, and whisper kindly, softly, “You’re beautiful.” Yes, you. You don’t need to be hidden and kept out of sight.

Rubbing the lotion into my stomach feels like a silent apology. I’ve said so many unkind, hurtful things about it. I’ve called it ugly, called it flabby and fat, and declared it the most embarrassing region of all. I realize as I work in the lotion that I’ve never been gentle, loving with it before; I’ve tried to suck it into jeans that were too tight, grabbed at the bits of loose skin in disgust, and I’ve put it on several diets. But never been gentle. I rub it with lotion and whisper softly as before, “You’re beautiful.” Yes, you. I’m sorry. I love.

I nearly, accidentally, skip my breasts completely. I’m so used to trying to ignore and conceal them. The goal for years was to minimize and hide them because breasts, I was told, caused men to stumble. They were the part of my body, more than any other, that could cause sin. When puberty hit, I hoped they’d barely be visible when they were done growing because that would make the goal of hiding them easier. Every time I had to go up a bra size I nearly cried. “Please, stop growing,” I remember silently pleading. Curvy. That’s never seemed like a good thing. But I said it to them as well: “You’re beautiful.” Yes, you.

I rub the leftover lotion that’s on my hands on my neck and under my ears. The skin under my left ear is bumpy, scared from an old surgery. I’ve tried every type of scar-be-gone cream from the drugstore on it. But it’s still there, hiding just under my ear and jawline. I’ve always planned my hairstyles and haircuts around hiding it; I’ve never wanted people to know it’s there. But I tell it, for the very first time, “You’re beautiful.” Yes, you.

I pull out my face lotion and squirt some in my hand, starting by rubbing it into my cheeks and then working outwards. I’ve spent so much time analyzing that face in the mirror. The scar from an old pimple I shouldn’t have picked at; the large pores around my nose; those hairs out of place; the dark lines under my eyes; the uneven patches of skin. I’ve spent so much money and time on trying to fix it or at least hide it. But I gently rub in the lotion and say, “You’re beautiful.” Yes, you.

As I put the cap back on the lotion I look over my skin one last time and remind myself, “You’re beautiful.” Yes, you.