Dogma, Darth Vader and My Sexual Awakening

As it originally appeared in
Issue Five, Spring 2009
make/shift magazine

When I was six, my parents converted from the Greek Orthodox church to Judaism. They’d heard the church was giving money to transsexuals. Or was it terrorists? My father was Greek. My mother was Scottish. They converted as if that’s what one does: When the going gets nutty, the nutty goes Jewish. Little did I suspect how our slide through the vast realm of shalts and shalt nots would mold my sexuality.

The only temple that would take us was a Reformed one near our cramped apartment in Reseda. I never knew the difference. My younger sister and I gladly traded pepperoni for netted bags of chocolate coins. I danced with grownups at temple on Friday nights, where bemused rabbis asked loudmouthed kids like me what we thought of Old Testament stories. And the $5 for finding the hidden matzos on Passover was far greater than a basket of bunny junk.

For the record, my mother hated Easter baskets. She ranted that the eggs and bunnies were symbols of the goddess Ostara, the pagan deity of streetwalkers. Pagan equaled sex equaled not-in-this-apartment-you-don’t. With this taboo, the black leather gauntlet began to close over my sexuality.

Despite their newfound conversion, my parents held onto their Christian beliefs — and then some. Thanks to Hal Lindsey’s The Late, Great Planet Earth, they talked nonstop about how the Anti-Christ from the Book of Revelations was coming to destroy Israel, take over the world and make us wear barcodes on our foreheads. I took this to heart and convinced my Jewish friends that, if they celebrated Halloween, the Anti-Christ would “get” them. They cried and stuffed their store-bought costumes in the garbage. It was the Late, Great Halloween Costume Massacre.

That Christmas, my parents surprisingly succumbed to our pleas for a tree — another “pagan” symbol — which they wrapped with silver and blue tinsel. As our menorah burned on the mantel beside it, we had the best of both worlds.

Shifting fortunes then moved us to a house in the suburbs, which is where I saw Star Wars. As Darth Vader strode through the Death Star with his magnificent black cloak flowing behind him, I felt funny in my panties. I liked Darth Vader. A lot. While my girlfriends drooled over Luke Skywalker and Han Solo, I was gaga over Dada Vader. The most exciting scene was when Darth Vader took Princess Leia into a room for interrogation about the rebel base. My pre-adolescent body quaked as I wondered what happened next with the android and his menacing needles.

I immediately thereafter started tying up my Barbie dolls — with rubber bands, black twine, even bathrobe belts. I never tortured them, but kept them stripped and restrained. I turned my Barbie Townhouse into a Barbie Brothel, which Ken visited regularly. I didn’t know what sex was — something to do with Easter and being naked — but I rested Ken on top of a Barbie in her plastic bed like I’d seen couples do on TV.

Whatever sex was, the tied up Barbies got to watch.

After a lull in religious services, my mother announced one morning, “We’re going to temple!”

“Temple? On a Sunday?” I asked.

“Just get ready,” my father ordered.

We dressed and drove to a part of town where a building towered before us like the Ark of Noah had run aground at Hollywood Boulevard instead of Everest. There were no Stars of David, no Hebrew letters or stone torahs hanging over the front door. Just sparkling glass walls, a peaked roof,and a dizzying spire topped by a trumpeting angel.

It was temple, all right. The Mormon Temple.

Instead of reading the Torah, we drank watery grape juice for communion and talked about Joseph Smith. Two Mormon missionaries came to our house twice a week to tutor my family, since we hadn’t been raised in the theology. I had crushes on them both as their white shirts and black pants reminded me of Storm Troopers. The rich stories they told captured my imagination and I became the Hermione Granger of Mormonism as I gorged on their mythological smorgasbord.

Eventually we were baptized in a pool at the temple. My parents dried and deposited me in a chair outside the Bishop’s office. I was to be tested on Mormonism as they conferred with Elders. After a bit, I heard a clatter down the hallway. My mother had scooped my sister under one arm as she ran towards me, my sister’s legs wagging behind her. My father trailed.

“We’ve to get out of here!” she howled.

“But why?” I asked.

She narrowed her eyes. “These people believe you can become gods!”

I guess we all have our limits.

My parents then ricocheted between orthodox and heterodox Christian denominations. They explored the Lutherans, Seventh Day Adventists — and more. They kept whatever they liked of each, no matter how contradictory. They still believed Native Americans were a lost tribe of Israel and didn’t eat pork.

Dada Vader returned when I was 16.

NPR was playing a radio series adaptation of Star Wars that included the scene alluded to in the movie — where Darth Vader tortures Princess Leia for information about the rebel base. While Leia shrieked in agony under the sadistic interrogation of Darth Vader, I saw something other than God in my burning bush…

I decided that this dark sexual response could promptly get out of control and ruin my life. I needed to shove it as deep into Beelzebub’s gullet as it could go. I knew of only one way to do that:

I became a born-again Christian.

And not just an evangelical, but a Pentecostal who sang, cried hard and clapped her hands in church services. I “danced in the spirit” and spoke in tongues — a bizarre, nonsensical language that has to be “interpreted” by another member of the church.

I was, in short, nutty.

My parents followed suit, but continued their syncretism. Me, I shunned anything that didn’t come from The Bible. Because, you see, The Bible was consistent. Sort of. At any rate, Jesus was Somebody Seriously Important, and if you believed in Him, you were Right. Plus Jesus was an effective chastity belt. That crazy Darth Vader stuff had no chance of getting out now, no sir!

But the more I tried to control these impulses, the stronger they became. They fed on each other — control and denial breeding more fantasies of control and denial.

In all this madness, I found a boyfriend. Unfortunately, he was a calm and sensible Methodist. He disliked Pentecostal churches because they were too emotional. We settled on the Covenant Church, a via media denomination that sang the Pentecostal songs, but with butts planted in the pews. And that wasn’t the only compromise. Instead of vaginal sex, we dry humped and felt each other up. The control and denial was profoundly exciting; I could orgasm at the slightest touch. But when I saw his genitals for the first time on our wedding night, I thought they looked alien and squamous, like a horror from a Lovecraft story. The “real” sex that night proved profoundly disappointing.

Five years into the marriage, my religiosity peeling away, I wound up as an extra at a shoot for a werewolf film in San Francisco. I met an attractive guy there with long blond hair, dressed like a 19th-century vampire. After the shoot, I followed him to a tame S&M club crowded with leering frat boys and their doe-eyed girlfriends. I watched him do a “scene” with a girl who was handcuffed to a bar suspended from the ceiling. He stroked and tickled her bare skin with various implements as she struggled against steel bonds — a ritual more intense than any I’d seen in churches.

And I’d been in a lot of churches.

This ignited the firecracker between my legs and the Darth Vader business broke loose. I stopped trying to unravel the knots my life had snarled up between power and sex. The marriage didn’t survive for many reasons, but my powerful sexuality flowered like a Venus flytrap as I pursued the lifestyle of a full-fledged pervert. I soon realized I was ruthlessly dominant, wielding the Anti-Christ cane with anyone who wanted to play. I dressed in historical drag, whipping the asses of sissy men. Inspired by Darth Vader’s cloak, my coat fetish still has no limits.

Early on, I met a professional dominatrix. As we shared a cab ride, she asked me what I considered my sexual awakening.

“Darth Vader,” I responded.

“Me, too!” she laughed.

I sent her a copy of the now cheesy-sounding episode of Leia’s torture session. It was strange to meet someone who lacked the oddball religious background yet who was just as perverted as I was. I realized then that perhaps the religious roller coaster didn’t so much create me as it merely shaped me, helping me appreciate who I truly was.

But my new friend understood. Darth Vader was the man.