The Anatomy of Innocence

Before we dive into the meat of this post there are a few stories you should know.

1986. Lake Erie. A study in personalities: my newly-mobile baby brother, Jesse, tries to crawl into the middle of the lake. I stand before the largest body of water I’ve ever seen and ask where the drain is and how and when it will be pulled. I wonder, but do not ask, where the drained water will go, how loud it will gurgle and how long it will take to refill the lake tomorrow morning.

1995. Ohio. I’m 7/10th a little girl. For now. Every Sunday after church I absorb Xena: Warrior Princess in my newly-decorated, mint-green bedroom, still adjusting to these things called cable television and puberty. The ripple of Xena’s muscles as she fights off the bad guys and her connection with Gabrielle nudges something deep inside of me that I won’t noun for years to come.

The Difference Between Men and Women

In the 1990s I heard the same story about sexuality over and over again at church, in abstinence-only sex education classes at public school, and from the mouths of about a dozen different special speakers overtly and covertly at assemblies and special church functions over the years:

As a young woman it is your job to monitor how you dress, act and behave so that men don’t become too distracted around you. Men aren’t like women. They have needs.

Once I heard a speaker, one of the few women who I ever saw speak in front of a large church group, acknowledge that men needed to be careful not to play around with the emotions of women. That, apparently, was our achilles heel.

As a Christian, especially as a Christian who was also female and a preacher’s kid, I wasn’t suppose to think about sex. Even being attracted to other people was morally dubious. I never did figure out how to avoid that.

Not only did I have sexual thoughts and feelings…only some of them were about the opposite sex. In a culture that said gay or lesbian in hushed tones (and bisexual not even once), in a world in which everyone knew that these things were caused by mothers who loved their sons too much and fathers who loved their daughters too little I had a lot of stuff to figure out.

The pieces I’d collected didn’t fit together. I’d always had a father who adored his kids, who would do anything to protect and provide for them and I couldn’t wedge into the sharp corners of straight any more than I could into the term lesbian.

How can I carry your bag when I already have my own?

As each youth group rally, sex ed class and special speaker layered their ideas about gender roles and sexuality on top of one another the question of carrying two bags weighed more and more heavily on my mind. Even before I knew how my puzzle fit together I thought it was insane to ask me – or any other teenage girl –  to assume responsibility for someone else’s sexuality. Carrying our own was work enough. I didn’t know how to carry two and had no interest in trying.

No one else I knew was asking these questions and if they had their own puzzles pieces to sort out I never caught a glimpse of them. In these ways I felt anything but innocent.

Over time, a very long time, I began to sort out the pieces. There was always a part of me that felt worldly for having these tasks, though. It wasn’t that I was ashamed so much as it was that I didn’t know how to reconcile my life. Asking a metric ton of tough questions was one thing. Bisexuality was another. But I didn’t know how either of these could or should intersect with my spirituality.

I know this is a long post. I have one more story for you.

Toronto. 2009. In the middle of a conversation during a big project a coworker turns to me, tilts his head and says “you’re so good, Lydia.” I’d adjectived myself many times before then. Good was one of the slipperiest modifiers of them all. Between my jumbled up puzzle and the Calvinistic undertones of my (former) faith it felt weird as hell to use that word to describe anyone other than God.

What is innocence? What is worldly?

I don’t know any longer. Those aren’t even the right questions to be asking. All I know is that I’m me. You are you. There is nothing else either of us can be.

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  2. Anonymous

    I love your last paragraph!! And especially the last three sentences! Thanks!

  3. This is a beautifully written, and beautiful post.

  4. 'Seph

    “What is worldly?”

    …odd question. It’s a question that only has an answer if we presume that the world is divinded in two: Secular (Worldly), and Sacred (Godly).

    I don’t believe that is the nature of the world, just as I don’t believe g0d is supernatural and separate from the world.

    …so from my perspective, this question is a moot question.

    I think “worldly” is purely a man-made and Christianese term. Little more.


    What a strange and somewhat haunting post.
    Seems to be more not spoken than spoken…

  5. Twyseschoch

    i’m thinking about how your first story about your questions about the water inform the rest of your post … you were asking questions from an early age … great post, Lydia Mae.

    • It’s amazing how early our basic personalities shine through, eh?

      • Twyseschoch

        it is very interesting to me, yes, which I think is why i love little kids so much. I am equally enthralled with the personalities of those with mental illness. i love my work for this reason. come to think of it, i am simply enthralled with personalities of any living thing, including animals.

  6. Lydia this is a seriously beautifully written post. The honesty shines

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