Don’t get left behind! Catch up on the Devangelical 11-Step Survival Guide first:
Step #5: We share the inventory with somebody who understands.
Author Tyler Stoddard Smith recently published a book called Whore Stories: A Revealing History of the World’s Oldest Profession.
Now, I love whores—not prostitutes, hookers, or call girls—whores.
I love the word. The proper “hw” sound at the beginning conjures images of English teachers and librarians and is followed a little too closely by the obscene shape it forces your lips into, before twisting into an untamed American ‘R’ and ending in a rattlesnake hiss.
When I hear the word “whore” I think of the saloon variety. I think of chummy, soft, occasionally bawdy women—a cross somewhere between a lover, a sister and a barista. She’s nurturing, if not a little needy, and fully in touch with her own power even as her fragility peeks out from the creases of her day-old eyeliner. I think of Ethel and Faye in East of Eden. Gertie in West of Here. Inara in Firefly. Any of the whores in Shanghai Noon.
In Whore Stories, Tyler Stoddard Smith starts off with a discussion of several modern-day whores. More than that, the whores he chooses are ones who we all know today as upright members of society. Nancy Reagan, Maya Angelou, and James Lipton all grace the list, in addition to others. They have all doubtlessly transcended their whore-dom.
How I would love to sit down with any one of them on a plush, gaudy floral couch and ply them with questions. What was it like? How did they get from where they were to where they are? Did they ever send someone away for smelling too bad? It would be an amazing conversation…and it would be a conversation I am not likely to ever have.
I suppose it’s possible that someday I may find myself in the position to interview one of these. Maybe a well-known magazine will take me on somewhere and send me in on a special project. It’s unlikely, but it could happen. Even so, would I be able to get to the heart of the matter? And sure, I might be fascinated, but would it mean anything to them? Would we connect?
Now, put Nancy, Maya and James together, however, and there you have a conversation. You could put the three of them in a closed room with a few bottles of wine and package of Little Debbies and before you knew what had happened the temperature of that room would raise about 15 degrees.
Why? Because they would actually understand each other. What’s more, there is so much that they would not have to say. All it would take would be a single raise of the eyebrow or clearing of the throat and it would be as if the others heard volumes of back story. They each have their own individual experience, of course, but at the same time, it’s the oldest story in the world. And they all know it. Intricately.
Being a Devangelical isn’t all that different, sans the actual whoring, of course, and arguably on the opposite ends of the spectrum. And still, both pasts are extremes and carry some similarities. There is the uncomfortable factor when people find out how very fundamentalist you used to be, there is the regret about having been a certain way that may have negatively influenced or caused you to unwittingly judge others around you, and there is the sense that only people who went through it will ever understand.
I first realized this camaraderie with other former fundies when I had a bunch of friends over one night to watch the film Saved. In the film, we are given a glimpse into a conservative Christian school where some of the students are bathing in their own self-righteousness (Mandy Moore) while others are on the fringes and trying to stir the pot (Jena Malone). Say what you will about the film itself, but watching that brought about a lively discussion among us afterwards. With the exception of one or two of us, we had all been raised in that environment: in a Christian school with an administration trying with futility to bottle our eau de teen spirit.
Interestingly, at the time we watched Saved, we were all in different places in relation to where we were then. Some of us had left completely. Some of us remained. Some of us retained our flag of faith. Some of us held onto its shredded tatters.
Even so, we could ALL relate and laugh about those days where we had such certainty and behaved so radically at the expense of actually making the difference we were trying to effect.
For me, the experience was healing. Maybe that sounds a little overblown, but it’s true. To be able to talk and laugh about some of the things that I felt uneasy about with people who understood was an immense help to me psychologically. They were my people. My Nancy, my Maya, my James. It didn’t even matter where we stood on that day, except that we were all people who had come through a door of extreme fundamentalism and were able to laugh at it together with a little grace from the other side.
So, for Step 5, your job is to seek out your people. Find them. Take somebody out to coffee that you knew from back then or who was raised similarly and see if you can rehash some of that craziness. Ask the question, “What was all that about?” Find somebody who seems to actually be a functioning member of society. Better yet, find three and take them to a bar. Start off the conversation with something along the lines of, “Wow, it’s been a long time. Hey, remember that exorcism we did at Youth Camp?” or “Say, ever work at Chick-fil-A?”
It’ll feel good. I promise.
Almost as good as saying the word “whores”.