The Way Out — A Recollection of My Life as a Bisexual Jehovah’s Witness
I will be performing this piece this Saturday, Nov 18 in Hamilton for PussyCat Lounge.
A creative non-fiction work with a present recontexualization of my bisexuality from when I was a Jehovah’s Witness and did not have the language of queerness to have an understanding of my identity at that time. Names have been changed and characters have been collapsed for simplification and narrative expediency. Theocratic language, unfamiliar to non-Jehovah’s Witness readers, has been capitalized for ease of reading over adherence to convention.
An abridged version was read at the Biphoria Hamilton: Voices of Resistance festival on September 22, 2017 at Park St. Gasworks in Hamilton, Ontario. Read the abridged version here:
The decade-old Honda Accord was a humble harbinger of The Good News to the West-End of the City; rolling out its balding tires on weekend mornings when most residents would rather sleep-in than hear how ‘they too could accept the invitation to enter God’s promised land.’ The few rust spots that had marred the otherwise polished red surface were hand-patched with roughly-sanded Bondo, denoting that its owner, Charles, an Elder in the congregation, was as responsible, as dependable, and as modest as his car. Unlike that other Brother who had been seduced into the trap of materialism by finding himself behind the wheel of a shiny new Ford Taurus.
That is how Satan gets ya…
The red handle was searing hot when I opened the door to the back seat. I plopped my Service Bag to my right, squishing it beside Cindy, the young ‘Sister’ who was dressed as modestly as the car. Her natural makeup, betrayed by the heat, was melting, sliding her features down along the sweat of her skin. Her dark hair, frizzed by the humidity, was tugged back into a severe ponytail tied at the nape of her neck. Her long skirt clung to the sweat of her ankles.
I pulled the folds of my long skirt carefully inside before tugging the door closed with lethargic energy.
Charles sat ahead in the driver’s seat and, on my arrival, pulled out a small clipboard with the Ministry Sheets for the Territory Card embedded inside. He poised his pen above it and clicked its end in anticipation. I watched as beads of sweat ran down the back of his ruddy neck under his crisp white starched shirt collar.
“Not-at-Homes,” I prefaced in announcement before commencing with the address numbers: “Eighteen, twenty-two, twenty-six, thirty-two to thirty-eight, and forty-four.”
I was lying of course. They were almost all ‘Not-at-Homes,’ or potentially all at homes. I wouldn’t have known as I had taken full advantage there were only three of us going Door-to-Door in this Assigned Territory this morning, and Charles had wanted a chance to work with Cindy, whom he was doing his best to hide his intentions for.
Cindy’s Service Hours in the Ministry averaged above the rest of the Congregation, and she had an affable, submissive personality worthy of the wife of an Elder. I wondered with a slight prick to the heart if Cindy felt the same about Charles. Marrying an Elder would certainly add to her spiritual cache.
I hadn’t minded that Charles had stolen my Service Partner away from me. Cindy made me giddy, and then I acted silly around her, bombastic and tittering with nervous energy. And then I would often spend the afternoon in regret, questioning why I had acted so dumb around her. Again.
Left to my own devices that morning, I had gone by myself to the doors on this side of the street, the even numbers. On hearing any life inside a house, I would pretend to knock and then ‘wait’ for a suitable length of time before giving up to go to the next house. If the mailbox was stuffed overfull or there was a week’s worth of newspapers piled on the stoop, I would make a point of knocking loudly for the benefit of Cindy and Charles working across the street over at the odds, confident that the absence of occupants had been thus proven.
It was too hot to preach, and I did not want to risk the ire of those who came to the door to complain of my sweaty intrusion.
“You’re letting all the air conditioning out,” a masculine voice from the bowels of the house called out towards his wife at the door at one house that had anticipated my arrival from the living room. The wafting of fresh cold air had only served as a reminder of my godly duty suffering in the burning sun while I had pivoted away from the door.
One old lady had glared at me from her living room, so I had skipped knocking at that door and counted her as Disinterested, and was careful to leave her address out of those I had provided Charles to mark on the Territory Card.
A Response to Praying in Reflection of My Own Journey through Rape Culturemedium.com
Charles noted my fictionalized Not-at-Homes on the Ministry Sheet and then carefully tucked it into his Service Case beside his pristine gold leaf bible — the one dedicated to the Door-to-Door work, and not his dog-eared study bible rife with highlights and marginalia that he employed on the stage to emphasize what a careful student of The Word he was when giving talks to the Congregation.
“Who has Return Visits?” Charles asked while starting up the car. I prayed the A.C. would act quickly, and then regretted I had been so shallow with my prayers when a blast of hot engine heat filled the car. Flipping through the empty pages in my Return Visits booklet, I pretended to think of whom I could call on even though I had no one. I was bad at proselytizing, always had been bad at it; even as a child, I had lacked the appropriate amount of zeal.
I could feel Charles’s growing impatience when neither Cindy or I spoke.
“Hey, why don’t we call on Sister Heinrich. She could use some encouragement,” I suggested with effort against the dry engine heat smacking my skin. With seventy-two years of faithful Service, Sister Heinrich was now housebound, and always offered visitors fresh homemade biscuits with jam. Sometimes the tea was salty instead of sweet, as she now often mixed the sugar with salt due to her failing eyesight. But at least her place was air conditioned.
Technically, visiting elderly Brothers and Sisters of the Faith counted towards our ‘Time’, which I then remembered I was behind on. It was the last weekend of the month and I had only managed six hours, four hours shy of the requisite proof I was serious about my spirituality and dedication to God as a Baptized Minister of Jehovah’s Witnesses — a vow I had made under immense social pressure at the age of seventeen.
I hated to fudge again but would wager it was only a little sinful that I rounded up generously each month — my reasoning being I was bad at math — rather than risk being perceived as Spiritually Weak, and have an Elder call upon me in chastisement and gentle disapproval.
I was just saving everyone a buttload of time.
Charles wordlessly began to drive towards Sister Heinrich’s, even though he likely had several Interested Ones he could have called upon. Charles was a “Pioneer” in the Field, and that meant he required ninety hours of Dedicated Service each month, although now I hear the bar of hours has been lowered since I left the religious organization of my youth and young adulthood.
But I supposed Charles needed to fudge sometimes too like the rest of us, so off to Sister Heinrich’s we went.
I faded back in my seat as Charles and Cindy droned on about topics of no consequence, but soon I felt my ears burning:
“I was really disturbed by what a co-worker said,” Cindy addressed Charles’ ruddy sweaty neck. “He was telling us that there is gay porn for Mormons. Can you imagine that?” she said, sucking her teeth in with all the appropriate abhorrence.
We both felt Charles stiffen awkwardly in the front seat, and I could only imagine his pained expression as the back of his neck grew redder than before.
“Not that I associate with him,” Cindy breathlessly covered. “I only overheard it while heating up my food in the break room. I was so shocked, I left my food right there in the microwave.”
Cindy squirmed in her seat while waiting for Charles to say something.
Then finally, “Oh, there is Jehovah’s Witness porn too,” he said dryly. I didn’t overthink how Charles would have known about porn for ‘Jehovah’s Witnesses’. As an Elder, he was privy to all the secret confessions of the Congregation. Who knew what depravity he had been alerted to over the years? I said a small prayer to protect his heart from such evil.
“Ew,” Cindy cried dutifully, “Who would watch something like that?”
“Apostates,” Charles said with conviction.
The conversation turned to the hot button topic dominating the news cycle of day: whether homosexuality was a choice or not or if one was born that way, and what this meant for our gay brethren who had “put the former things behind” to live a life of dedicated chastity, or in some instances had found themselves successfully married to a member of the opposite gender to enjoy Christian sanctioned sexual relations: the missionary position while married. Condoms on to protect oneself from the distraction of childbearing that would reduce the Time we had to serve in the Field. But accidents do happen…
And then Charles brought up a ‘scientific’ study about straight men having involuntary responses to gay porn, and for some reason, the image of electrodes wired to dicks to measure erectile activity springs to mind when I think of it. Men identifying as straight haplessly getting boners when chancing upon the image of one man’s dick up another man’s ass.
“How can that be possible?” Cindy demanded. “If a man is straight, really straight, gay porn could not turn him on.”
“Oh, no, it is true,” I chimed in. “It’s totally normal to be straight and find yourself attracted to someone of the same sex.” I left out the fact that I found Cindy particularly fetching this morning, the smell of her perfume made me feel heady. I was married at the time, and liked my husband’s cock inside me. I must be straight because if I was ‘gay’ I wouldn’t have enjoyed it. Right?
“Particularly for men, it can’t be helped,” I continued, “It’s like when they get erections from a stiff breeze. One is either gay or straight, but straight people can also be caught by Satan’s snare.”
“‘No temptation has come upon you except what is common to men,’” Charles quoted scripture in affirmation.
Charles and I were both nodding vigorously now in spiritual contemplation, while both of us kept one eye on Cindy, watching her measured response. She nodded firmly, and appeared to accept ‘Our Reasoning from the Scriptures.’
The basement of the Kingdom Hall was fashioned after hotel conference rooms. The same drab pastel carpeting, the same blah boardroom table and chairs. Only the matching bookcase was lined with spiritual paraphernalia to demarcate the religiosity of the setting. The air conditioning was set to full blast, and I shivered, pulling my sweater around me, even though it was a hot July day outside.
Charles sat across from me his face set in stone. He nervously tapped his wedding band on the table. Conducting a Judicial Committee was serious business. The other two Elders sitting on either side of him both stared at me with carefully hidden visages that calculatingly lacked affect as they watched me sob before them while I confessed all my Wrongdoing in graphic detail. My whole body felt static, and I believed it must be humming louder than the fluorescent lights flickering above. Could they not hear the painful buzz of my soul in this moment?
The Committee had been prompted, a year later, when I had privately confessed to Charles my struggles with staying on the ‘straight and narrow path’.
“And is there any kind of porn you have watched, besides featuring…” Charles choked on the word, “lesbians?”
I only sobbed in response. It was all too humiliating, this excruciating confession in the basement of the Kingdom Hall, graphically detailing all my sexual transgressions before three men: the itemized list of all the illicit materials I had abused my body to, how often, for how long. And then I felt compelled to confess about the handjob I had given my husband a week prior to marriage. Might as well get it all out in one swoop.
“Anything else,” Charles prodded, “Bestiality, or — ”
“No,” I cried in a shocked tone. Why would they think I would watch the depravity of bestiality just because I had watched two women Fornicate? Often. Several times a week in fact. For years. I had even watched lesbian porn on the night of my honeymoon after my husband had fallen asleep. None of this meant I was gay. Only Spiritually Weak.
I only sobbed in response. It was all too humiliating, having to provide an itemized list of all the illicit materials I had watched and abused my body to, describing the details explicitly, how often, for how long.
This was the worst moment.
“We aren’t here to punish you,” Charles said gently. “We are here to bring your spirit in accord with God.” His eyes were pleading. Let me help you, his eyes said. I understand how hard this is, his eyes said.
“Let us share with you some comfort from the scriptures,” Charles said, and began to thumb through his dog-eared, highlighted and annotated bible, seeking the right scripture to bring me back to the Faith. He settled on First Corinthians Ten and Thirteen:
“But God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear, but along with the temptation he will also make the way out so that you may be able to endure it.”
The Committee closed with a prayer to help me resist the wicked machinations of the Devil. And while Charles prayed over my spirit, my shuddering body crumpled face down on the table in abject misery. And I wondered if Cindy understood how hard it was for Charles to also stay on the straight path.