A Deliberate Rebellion
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Writer and poet Jackie Hill Perry reflects on her youth and the circumstances that influenced her to consciously rebel against her upbringing and her God.
A Deliberate Rebellion
Bob: As a teenager, Jackie Hill Perry had given up on church, given up on God, and decided to embrace her feelings/her attraction for members of the same sex. She kept all of this hidden from her parents.
Jackie: My mother actually found out because of—we were in the car one day and there was talk radio on. They were having mothers and parents call in to basically describe: “What were the signs of their children being gay?” and all of the signs were me. That was the most awkward situation I’ve ever been in in my life. I felt like I was being set up by some God figure somewhere.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, July 2nd. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I’m Bob Lepine. What is it that led a gay girl to surrender her same-sex attraction and give her life to a good God? We’ll find out from Jackie Hill Perry today. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us on the Tuesday edition. One of the great things about a holiday week like this—anymore when there’s a holiday, it becomes a holiday week because a lot of people—if you’ve got a 4th of July holiday in the middle of the week—they’re going to take the whole week off and cash in on the holiday but build some vacation around it.
What happens is—you wind up with folks listening to FamilyLife Today, who don’t normally get to hear it, because, normally, they’re not in their car during this time or whatever else. But here, on the holiday, their schedule is a little different; so they’re tuned in. They’re going, “Oh, what’s this new program?”
We thought, this week, we ought to play for our listeners an interview that we did—actually, this aired back in March—with Jackie Hill Perry, who’s the author of a book called Gay Girl, Good God. We have commented since then: “This was a powerful week of radio,” when we aired this.
Dave: It was our first week of radio, as well; I don’t know if you remember that. I don’t know about Ann, but I was scared to death.
Ann: I was, too.
Dave: To have Jackie in the studio—wow!—wow.
Ann: Her story is so compelling and inspiring.
Bob: It is.
Dave: And she’s such a grounded theologian—very, very impressive.
And, you know, one of the coolest people you ever want to meet. I always wanted to be that cool. [Laughter] You know, she’s got the look—
Ann: —she’s super wise.
Dave: Yes; it’s amazing to hear her wisdom at such a young age.
Bob: We’re going to play for you Part 1 of the interview that we did with Jackie Hill Perry. She is the author of the book, Gay Girl, Good God, which should tell you a little bit about where this story is going; because that’s a part of her past and a part of how God’s been at work in her life.
We started the conversation with her by asking about what her family of origin was like and what her childhood was like.
Jackie: The way I phrase it is that my mother loved me well; my dad loved me sometimes. She was very present/very loving—raised me as best as she could by herself. My dad—he was really inconsistent. He would be there for a year, be away for a year. But the weird/confusing thing is that, when he would come back, he would always say, “I love you,”—things like that. That didn’t make sense to me. “I don’t know how you love me and you don’t call me on my birthday. I don’t know how you love me and you don’t come to see me at school. I don’t know how you love me and you don’t even know anything that’s going on in my life.” I think that started to change how I saw men.
Ann: Were you looking for his approval?
Jackie: I’m sure I was. I don’t know if I would’ve used that word, but I think I just wanted his presence, you know; I wanted his nearness. I just wanted to be loved consistently by him—not just in word—but really in deed.
Bob: When you were a little girl, and you’re saying to your mom, “Well, where’s daddy?”—
Jackie: I might have asked that—
Jackie: —but I think for most of my friends—we didn’t have our dads. That was just a normal thing for it to just to be you, your siblings and your mother. I don’t even think I thought it was strange for him not to be present, but I did think it was hurtful for him not to still love me in light of him not being present.
Bob: Where were you growing up?
Jackie: St. Louis.
Bob: Where do you fit in the family order of things?
Jackie: I have a brother who is 16 years older than me. I don’t know what was going on in my mother’s head. It must have been Providence. God was like, “I want her to be here [even though] you have a 16-year-old. Then I showed up, and that was it. My brother—he was almost out of the house when I was [born]; he went into the navy when I was three.
Bob: Wow; so a little like being an only child.
Jackie: Definitely was an only child. He always said that I got Fruit Loops, and he got Corn Flakes. [Laughter] We had our mother in two different seasons of her life.
Dave: Was there a day—or maybe it’s still coming—when you sort of had to deal with the father wound?—absent. I mean, your story is very similar to mine, in terms of a dad—even, siblings older—my dad was never there. But there came a day—and I was a teenager when it really sort of hit me—like: “I don’t even know my dad. He was never there. There’s a wound here.” I never knew it until I was—did that day happen for you?
Jackie: I don’t know. I think it was maybe before he passed away is when I started to really reckon with—because I was older; I was 17—so I started to think about the pain. I wanted—it was interesting—I wanted to reach out to him, and I wanted to talk to him. I wanted to hear him; but I thought to myself—it’s like, “He’s supposed to call me. I’m not supposed to be the initiator of this relationship.” He ended up passing away seven days later. I’ve always wondered if God was trying to somehow reconnect us before he left, but I was just unwilling to do that.
Ann: What were your views of God when you were growing up?
Jackie: I went to Sunday school a lot, so I remember the pictures of Jesus with a bunch of sheep around Him. [Laughter] I figured He was good.
Jackie: He was a theoretical figure, you know. He was someone that they—people told me about it. I knew some people believed and followed. I didn’t have any beef with Him per se. It was just I wasn’t willing to make Him my Lord. He seemed to require way too much for me to give.
Bob: You were conscious of that, even as a young person—
Bob: —that, “This is serious. This is not just something you do to please your mom, but this is serious business.”
Jackie: Yes. My rebellion was deliberate. One, when you go to church, you hear so much truth that it really is a decision to, I think, rebel; but I was intrigued by Jesus and Christianity. I was reading books about hell; I was reading books about heaven; I was reading books about Jesus being a Jew—at 11, you know. I’m a reader, so I was reading all of this information, but it was just like, “Ah, I’m cool on that, though.”
I think a lot of it was because I didn’t know what Christianity was. I really thought that Christians were people who had amazing self-control and never wore jeans. [Laughter] I didn’t know—I had no idea that it was people who loved Jesus because God had did something in their hearts to give them an affection for Him. I didn’t know that.
Bob: You said you rebelled consciously.
Bob: Were you a strong-willed, push-back girl from the get-go?
Jackie: Yes. I still am. [Laughter]
Bob: I know you are.
Jackie: Yes; I was. I just didn’t like authority. I was just not a fan of anybody telling me what to do. [Laughter] In school and in whatever it was, I didn’t want to. To me the commands of God seemed ridiculous. “Why would I die to myself? That sounds dumb! I enjoy sinning.” That was my argument with my cousin, who was a believer—it was, “I’m enjoying myself. I understand that God wants me to repent and believe. I don’t want to. I don’t know why everyone else is.”
Ann: Oh, I love that you don’t play games.
Ann: I love that you speak the truth of what you’re feeling.
Bob: Yes; but you love that because you’re not her mother. [Laughter] I’m just thinking of your poor mom.
Jackie: She had a rough time. She didn’t like me for a long time. She said, “I don’t like you, because you don’t know who you’re talking to.” She was like, “You treat me like I’m not your momma. I don’t know what to do about it.”
Bob: I’m guessing it was a rough decade or more?
Jackie: I didn’t outwardly rebel until freshman year; then I became a believer a year after I was a senior—so four years.
Bob: Okay! [Laughter]
Dave: In your book, you sort of divide your life up that way—you know: “Who I was”—talk about that—2006-2008, the first several chapters of your book. Who were you?
Jackie: I think 2006, I was 17. I had concluded that the desires that I had noticed in myself, when I was four, was something that I wanted to pursue. I said: “Hey, you
know, let me start talking to girls. I know God doesn’t like this, but I’m just going to try it.” So I tried it; I enjoyed it—felt like it was the most natural thing for me to do. I did that on top of working hard to graduate. Then, when I graduated, that’s when my dad passed away. I just did me—whatever doing me was—is what I did.
Dave: Now, was this undercover?
Jackie: —as far as my sexuality?
Dave: Yes; I mean, you’re still going to church with your mom; right?
Jackie: Oh, no! I stopped going to church when I didn’t have to go anymore.
Jackie: No; I was outed because of Myspace. I forgot that adults get on it. Myspace was very gay, if you will. My brother’s friend saw it, and he told my brother and all of that.
But my mother actually found out because of a—we were in the car one day, and there was talk radio on. The topic was—they were having mothers and parents call in to basically describe, “What were the signs of their children being gay?” And all of the signs were me. That was the most awkward situation I’ve ever been in in my life. I felt like I was being set up by some God figure somewhere. [Laughter]
Dave: I mean, you’re in the car with your mom.
Jackie: I’m in the car—
Jackie: —and the topic is: “Call in and let us know, ‘How did you know your child was gay and what were the signs?’” I’m like, “Why am I here at the same time?
Bob: What were the signs?
Jackie: The signs were—like a random—your child has a random best friend that you never met before but now they’re extremely close. I think that was the main one that stuck out because my girlfriend at the time, I said was my best friend. She was over at my house every day; she spent the night all the time.
Bob: When you look back on that now, and try to dissect what was going on in you, what were you feeling?—where did that come from? What conclusions do you draw today about that?
Jackie: Well, I noticed that I liked girls in kindergarten—that was before the sexual abuse; that was before me being cognizant of my father’s absence. I think it can be common that people will blame abuse and blame fatherlessness on our sexual preferences.
I think, for me, it was, first and foremost, sin—I think I had inherited sin from Adam that was manifesting in a different way. I think my abuse and my fatherlessness made it make more sense for me to choose it because it’s like: “Men aren’t trustworthy. Men don’t keep their word. Men objectify women, but women don’t do that. My mother doesn’t do that; my aunts don’t do that.” I think I was just coming up with subconscious conclusions about men and women in my mind.
Ann: Take us back to when you’re in the car with your mom.
Ann: How did that conversation go, and what happened?
Jackie: She turned the radio down and turned to me and she said, “Is that you?” I said, “Yes,” and she said, “I knew it.” I just started to cry. I cried because I felt exposed. I felt—yes, I just felt out. I knew it was disappointing to her in many ways. She just said, “Alright. Well, we’ll talk about it later.” [Laughter]
When we did talk about it, it wasn’t some deep talk. It was just kind of like, “I’m going to treat you like I treated your brother.” What she meant by that is: “There’s no more girls spending the night over here. There’s no more girls, you know, being in your room by yourself.” I think my mother felt betrayed, and she felt disrespected.
Bob: The circumstances around your abuse—
Bob: —what was that?
Jackie: I don’t remember the age—I know four to six—something like that. I was over at a family friend’s house. There was a guy—he wasn’t an adult—he was maybe 12 or 13 or 14—I’m not sure. At the time, I didn’t know it was molestation—I just was doing what he told me to do—until I was watching Oprah, when I was like 13, and this lady was talking about her abuse. She used the word, “molestation.” What she described was what happened to me. I was like, “Oh, that was sexual abuse.” I had no idea. it made sense why things triggered me like they did.
Bob: As a mom, now, yourself—
Jackie: Yes. I’m very hyper-vigilant, for sure.
Bob: Would you say to moms, “You need to be hyper-vigilant”?
Jackie: I think you do, especially around family.
Bob: What are you doing? What would you recommend to other moms?
Jackie: There’s no spending the night for me. I’m already preparing my daughter in the sense of talking to her about what people can and cannot do—preparing her to be honest with me if anybody does anything that makes her feel uncomfortable. I’m aware of whose home I allow her to be in when I’m not present. I’m praying a lot—you know, “God”—I believe the Holy Spirit will let me know—like, “God, if there’s something off about a person that I think I should trust, let me know.”
Bob: When you say, “No spending the night,” is that going to carry on into junior high/high school?
Jackie: For me, yes; unless there would have to be some type of boundaries or something, because there are some families that I do trust in that they would be present in the room—like I have a friend named Melody. She’s allowed her daughter to have slumber parties, but only in her home; and they are present in the room.
Dave: We used to have fights about this, as we raised our boys.
Dave: Your antennae is like Ann’s antennae. I was the guy; I was the dad, going, “Oh, come on! There’s no big deal. Let them…” Ann was always—because there’s a similar story here—and she knew and she was right—you’re both right; I was wrong.
Ann: I think, because I have—my very earliest memories were of being exposed to pornography, and then, abuse came along with that. At the time, you don’t even know it’s abuse, because it’s just part of your life—
Jackie: Yes, yes.
Ann: —but later, as I became an adult and having children, I would say my kids felt like, “What is her deal?”
Ann: It’s that protective mom’s heart that’s wanting to guard their own hearts.
Ann: Yet, I think sometimes they felt like I was a little extreme. Like our one son said, “I would go into a public restroom and mom would be thinking: ‘Now listen, don’t talk to anybody. Don’t…’”—you know? I’m giving them this whole spiel. So yes, I think that we need to be protective.
Jackie: And it’s the people we know. Most people are hurt and abused by people we know, not random strangers; so that concerns me.
Bob: Do you think there’s any connection between that experience and how you acted out, later on?
Jackie: Honestly, I experienced more of the fruits of the abuse in my marriage, I think, than I did then just because, now, I’m married to a man, who—when I used to believe that men were objectifying. There is a constant disconnect that I have to make between him and my abuser.
Dave: Yes; so how does that play out?—because, again, boom, I’m the husband that’s like, “That was years ago. Come on. It can’t be affecting our relationship.” It is. So how did it affect yours?
Jackie: I think it’s hard, at times, for me to see intimacy as a good thing, as a safe thing and that—to connect to my husband’s words and consistency of character with this moment—because it can feel as if, “You have loved me and you are kind; but in this moment, I still feel like maybe you are not being honest with it.” You know what I’m saying.
I think counselling has been great. Honesty has been great between both of us. He has been extremely patient. My husband has the Holy Spirit; [Laughter] because the things that I have put him through, when it comes to that, would drive many men into sin. I think, for him, he’s been willing to be as consistent as he can because he understands that consistency is my main issue. As he’s been consistent, I’ve been better.
Dave: Yes; it’s interesting to listen to you talk about this because—not kidding—last night, my wife’s reading your book. I look over, and she’s crying.
Dave: I’m thinking, “How many people are being touched that deeply by your words?”
Ann: —“and your truth.”
Dave: I know she was.
Ann: Well, I was going to say, too—I think, as you’re in a marriage, it’s very intimate and it feels very vulnerable. For Dave to attempt to even hug me or pursue me, intimately, it would trigger me.
Ann: I think, for all those years—especially, when I was growing up, before I was married—I became very controlling of men in the relationship. I thought, “You’re not going to hurt me; but I will hurt you; and I will control you.”
Dave: Tell them how you controlled them—with sexuality—that was your control.
Ann: Yes; the way I would dress—that you can’t touch; the way I would pursue, and I would be the pursuer. I think it looks different in a lot of ways and, yet, it’s coming from the same source—from pain.
Jackie: For sure; yes.
Bob: We’re talking to a lot of abuse victims. They’re listening to this conversation, and they’re hearing their story.
Bob: We’re also talking to a lot of married couples, where this has been a challenge in their marriage. My thesis has always been that: “When there is sexual abuse of a child, at an early age, that there is an inherent sense of guilt and shame attached to that; but there’s also a sense of pleasure that’s attached to that, and those get fused together in the heart and soul of a child.”
I have seen, particularly women, who are acting out, later in life—I’ve seen them either try to drown out the guilt and the shame by becoming promiscuous, or to try to drown out the pleasure by becoming repressed and even, in marriage, pulling back. They’re trying to uncouple what’s been fused together. Again, this is my armchair psychology.
Dave: I was going to say, “You’re going deep, Bob.” [Laughter]
Bob: I’ve talked to enough people, where I’ve seen these two things coming together. I think the question in all of this: “How are you at a point where you are trying to tell yourself what’s true and have the truth change what you feel and how you behave?”
Jackie: Yes; I’m so young as a person; I’m still new in my marriage, but I think a lot of it is—again, counselling has done some crazy stuff for me—to have someone talk through my memories in my psyche in a safe way, but also in a challenging way, where I can’t stay comfortable with thinking the same things. I think counselling, for me, has just really been, “This is a person that God is using to help renew my mind,”—that’s one.
I think, also, dialoguing with my husband has been one of the ways we can work through stuff. It’s like: “When I do this, how does it make you feel? What thought comes to your head?” Or me telling him, “Sometimes, when you say things like this, it does this to me,” instead of me just having all of these things in my mind, and him not knowing anything; and he’s wondering why I’m mad at him, and angry, and not washing any dishes or cooking him any food. [Laughter]
Bob: Ann, you were crying, last night, reading the book. It’s been decades—
Ann: I think that I was crying, not only about my own abuse, but crying for the brokenness and pain we struggle through, but also, the joy of redemption of what Jesus can do—that’s what I see in your story. It’s miraculous and—
Ann: —something only God can do.
Dave: That’s a beautiful part of your book—it’s just the beginning of the story; it doesn’t end there.
Dave: Even as I’m looking at my wife, last night, crying, I’m thinking: “There’s a lot of people, whose story does end there—they’re stuck there.” Yet, you met a God, that we’re going to talk about—we just started. Man, I’m so glad you’re so honest in that book.
Ann: Me, too.
Dave: There are people, all over the world, going to be weeping; but they need the next part, you know: “What does Jesus do? How does Jesus transform?” That’s what I can’t wait to talk about.
Bob: Well, we’ve been listening to a conversation with Jackie Hill Perry—Part 1 of that conversation. In fact, we’re going to hear the rest of it this week—just reflecting back on what is a remarkable story—and one that I think needs to be repeated in our culture today; because this is a culture that’s confused and a culture that is hurting because of that confusion. I think Jackie brings remarkable clarity into this moment.
Ann: I think it’s really important, too, for parents to listen to this and to be inspired by her story; because we, as parents in this culture, can be very fearful. There’s always hope that God is working at all times.
Dave: And I would add—the honesty of her story is inspiring—because it shows the brokenness; it shows the darkness, and yet we’re just starting to see the light in our conversation with her. There’s a beautiful redemption. She has both sides of that. I think that’s why God has given her a voice in our culture.
Bob: She tells her story in a book she’s written called Gay Girl, Good God, which is a book that we’ve got in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. I’d, again, encourage our listeners—this is a beautifully written book—a compelling story. Get a copy of Jackie Hill Perry’s book, Gay Girl, Good God. Go to FamilyLIfeToday.com to order, or call 1-800-FL-TODAY. Again, our website is FamilyLifeToday.com. The number to call is 1-800-358-6329—1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
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I hope you can be back with us, again, tomorrow. Jackie Hill Perry will be here again. We’ll hear how she got to a point where she had to reexamine how she was going to respond to her same-sex attraction. I hope you can tune in for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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