The following is an excerpt of my book-in-progress. If this resonates with you or you find it interesting, please do let me know. I’m working hard to craft a memoir that is vulnerable and evocative and it’s helpful to have affirmation along the way. For context, a fairly finished draft of the first chapter is available here.
The Body I Did Not Touch
But before this window into how shape intersects with power, I learned the pain and pleasure of amorphism at the small evangelical university where I majored in Biblical Studies. Before meeting Maggie and the Oxford study-abroad program therapist who helped me unearth my childhood, my first lessons in forms came from my Bible professor, Mr. Andrews, whose body I never touched.
The Philadelphia campus in summer is quiet, but restless. Its ghost town aura forges a reticent bond between the few students taking summer classes and the skeleton crew of faculty and staff. The din of the Spring semester dissipated, members of the dwindled populace start to examine each other more closely.
I’m not even sure if I like my classmates and they’re not sure what they think of me. But we’re in class together 4-5 hours a day for 3-6 weeks of the summer semester. These are the faces I live with half the day before being sequestered in the library for the other half.
But I don’t need these surreal summer conditions to look at Mr. Andrews. I don’t need to be stranded in this sliver of time between my parents’ announcement of their pending divorce and the studies I will begin at Oxford at summer’s end. I have been looking at Mr. Andrews for some time, though I will not let myself so much as think this.
I am in love, not with flesh and blood, but with the Bible and the deity that haunts its pages. I have found a place exploring the contours of the divine body, my fingers tracing the nail marks in his palms, my hands caressing the scar on his side.
I can navigate this body with a modicum of confidence now. I am no master, but I have learned the techniques, how to read this body and interpret its curves. It has many secret passages and hidden doorways; I feel my way to each orifice.
I move gingerly in the beginning. My freshman year at Bible college is an orientation to the hallowed halls of learning and how to wield unfamiliar tools. But by the start of my second year, I am gaining steam and attracting attention. I win first place in a university-wide student essay contest. My professors give me perfect grades, but more importantly, they write affirming comments on my papers.
Here at the university, I am a Platonic ideal. I am eager to learn and awash with impressionable innocence. I am attentive, a good writer, and ready to please.
On top of all this, I am a true and breathless believer, a devoted worshipper. I hunger and thirst for knowledge. I am ready to be drawn past the temple’s outer courts and into its holiest inner room, where the invisible god of the cosmos straddles the million-eyed cherubim as night and day they let out their euphoric screams, “Holy, holy! Holy, oh! God almighty!”
In this conservative Christian world where it is a sin for women’s bodies to be seen, I have at last found a way to get attention: the astounding spectacle of my mind. With my hand, I am tucking unruly bra straps back under my shirt and, with my writing, exposing my brain.
I do not verbalize any of these thoughts this summer, not to anyone else, and most especially not to myself. I cannot give them shape. I know the truth of words and their permanence: Mental transgression is synonymous with transgression of the body. To think about having sex, even to name an attraction, is the same as doing the deed.
And so, as I sit in Mr. Andrews’ summer class--the fourth or fifth Bible course I’ve had with him thus far--I do what I’ve always done since adolescence. I pull these sensations apart and place them in manageable categories.
I put Mr. Andrews in the father figure box where he’ll stay shiny and clean. The logic is simple: in the absence of an accepting biological father, I want a spiritual father. My affection is daughterly, pure and holy.
But this doesn’t work and I know it in the dark waters of my heart where wild sea snakes twist and writhe just below the surface of my consciousness.
I tell myself that I am enamored of the Bible, the deity’s word, and this is why I skip lunch and head straight for the library after class to submerge myself in commentaries and articles on the literary structure of the Book of Jeremiah. And it’s true enough: These texts rivet me. The writings of this dead prophet fill me with the ecstasy of a school boy from the Dead Poets Society.
True, but not all the facts. I bracket out the pull I feel toward those shocking emerald eyes and the sharp, angular face that is one moment still, pensive, and drawn and then abruptly contorted with laughter, puzzlement, scorn, or rebellion. I ignore the way I craft my papers to play with metaphors in all the ways Mr. Andrews has taught me to do. I pretend not to worry about his sporadic eating habits.
And most of all, I push away the thought that I want to keep him forever, that I have very carefully laid plans for the future. I will go off and get a PhD in Biblical Studies, make him proud. Then I will return to my alma mater and make history by being the first woman at this conservative Christian school to teach in the Bible department. I will have an office down the hall from Mr. Andrews and we will spend our days sparring, debating, and learning together in the chastity and sobriety that befits teachers of holy scripture.
There are still no women teaching Bible at my old school, ten years later. Mr. Andrews is long gone, sacked at last for a thousand small transgressions that culminated in the ultimate sin: The denial that the Bible is without error. I don’t know for certain, but I suspect he may have also started to let on that he was queer-affirming.
I knew it would happen one day, that the school was too small and ordered for minds like Mr. Andrews that glittered with provocative energy and a taste for tumult and inversion. But I clung to the hope that the school--where I first learned to question my presuppositions and remain open to transformation and fresh vision--would be flexible and generous enough to accommodate Mr. Andrews’ shifting shape.
It was as much a dream for myself as it was for him. I told myself that he was more of a loose canon than I, which was true, but dishonest.
I was certainly more self-controlled than he. I’d been taught the womanly art of self-suppression since birth. But I knew that if Mr. Andrews was ever exorcised from the community, it was only a matter of time before I would be, too. If his unruly body felt like a threat, the increasing fear of mine would only escalate.
I would let myself out quietly by the back door before it all came to a head.