Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Let's Get Virginal!: Evangelical Traumatic Flashback Corner

Angie's Story:
Unlike Alissa and her trampy teen years spent rolling around on the beach with wild surfers, I was a stalwart example of purity in high school for the same reason I was extremely drug free—nobody asked. On the few occasions when I caught a fellow’s eye, I employed the “Shhh! I’m asleep” method. In cars, in movie theaters, in the middle of a mini golf game. Whenever things started to take a potentially carnal turn, Bam! Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep. I’m surprised people didn’t try to do a narcolepsy intervention on me.
Angie, flirting.

There were a handful of girls at my evangelical school who, let’s say, dabbled with their boyfriends, as many normal, red-blooded American teenagers do. But when you add an aggressive True Love Waits campaign to the equation, logic gets a little murky. Christianity is all about second chances, and third chances, and 1,375th chances. Unlike Catholicism with an expectation of penance when a person effs up, evangelical Christianity is all about forgiveness, which can be a really wonderful, freeing concept. But it also can create some confusion in practical application, especially for something like virginity, which you would think would be a black-or-white, you have it or you don’t type of concept.

Virginity pledges were a big deal at my school. True Love Waits came a-pimping their bracelets, rings, and devotional books. Girls had elaborate ceremonies involving contracts signed by them and their fathers. (I’ll wait right here until you’re done throwing up.) But here’s my favorite twist on the virginity pledge: secondary virginity ceremonies. Daddy’s still there, pen in hand to sign this new, better contract. But now he knows, your mother knows, everybody knows, you are no longer a blessed virgin, but you have “resealed” yourself as a blessed secondary virgin. Are there tertiary virgins? Quaternary virgins? At what point do you stop reading your parents in on your sex life?
"Pastor Dave, we need 300% more promise rings
for these old gum wads in the youth group!"

It’s an easy evangelical subcultural trait to mock, but the reasoning behind these types of ceremonies is actually kind of heartbreaking. We’re telling our girls that their value is tied to their virginity. And so you have teens desperate to regain their value in their parents’ eyes and in the church’s eyes, desperate enough to sign another contract and get that purity bling back on their ring finger until a husband comes along. There’s nothing wrong with being a virgin, especially when you’re a youngster. But when we tell our girls that they are a dirty piece of chocolate passed around a chapel audience, that they’re a piece of gum that’s already been chewed up and spit out, we end up with a damning narrative for girls like Alissa who might regret her choices but shouldn’t be made to feel like a lesser person.

Elise's Story:

I don’t have any stories of my own about purity. I mean, I remember talks in school about not dressing immodestly and not making “men stumble” which I thought was gross. Even at the age of 12 I realized that was a fundamentally unfair argument. “Keep your eyes to yourselves, pastors!” is what I thought. But honestly no one ever talked to me one-on-one about purity or dressing modestly. In fact, all of the serious talks I remember went in the other direction. People saying things like “You need to buy your jean shorts in the girls department” or “They don’t even make one-piece bathing suits for girls your age anymore” or “Can you please go on a date before you graduate college?” Youth pastors would talk to all the girls about being sexual stop lights and keeping the petals on our flowers, but it was always implied “except you, Elise, you don’t have to worry.” My understanding is that many girls who had boobs had a very different experience growing up in the church, so I acknowledge my privilege in flying under the slut-shaming radar there.
"Why can't you be more feminine like
that nice girl, The Icebox?"

I remember one time at youth group getting a purity pledge card I was supposed to fill out and turn back in, but I don’t think I ever did. The weird thing is, I wanted to wait to have sex until after I was married, but I remember thinking it was super gross that my youth pastor would have an index card with my future sexual plans on it. I guess a Ron Swanson-like commitment to privacy was a big value of mine back in the day.
Me at prom.

So anyway, I don’t remember ever taking a purity pledge but I was a big fan of this Christian singer Jaci Velasquez in middle school and she was all aboard the abstinence train.  My best friend “Brawndo” and I went to see her live for our first concert and she was AMAZING. I remember being shocked that she wore a tank top and leather pants. (Do you guys remember when all the pop stars wore leather pants? What a chafing-centric time!) I don’t remember what Jaci’s big purity song was, probably “My Vagina Gift for My Husband.” (I’m just kidding, I googled it and it’s called “I Promise.”) At the merch table she had a TON of virginity-themed merchandise.

Brawndo got a genuine Jaci Valasquez purity ring that said “I Promise.” It was so cool, but the best part was all the jokes you could make. If Brawndo forgot to wear her ring, I would be like, “Hey Brawndo, did you lose your purity?” Eventually she accidentally dropped it in the toilet. One could say she “flushed her purity down the crapper.” Not really, I’m pretty sure she stayed a virgin until she was married, but also I never asked because what  a creepy thing to ask someone.