Joy Edwards

Joy Edwards is a senior double-majoring in Religion and Creative Writing (Poetry Capstone), with a minor in Publishing and Printing Arts. Joy is rather melancholy in nature and may have been ironically named.

Dear everyone who might love me, 

An apology, I suppose. 

Queer was a slur when I heard it in childhood—a death threat shouted at someone who wasn’t me. Queer, books told me, was a gentle old strangeness before it got ugly. Queer was a purple-bruised memory; time was no painkiller. On June 12, 2016, I realized that I was not just a person with same-sex attraction: I was queer. As I saw the names of forty-nine people who were killed at a gay nightclub because someone hated them, I heard a sentence on repeat in my mind. These are my people and I hurt when they hurt. 

I have never been to a nightclub. I have never attended a Pride parade. In September of 2018, during my first week at PLU, the girls from the wing of Hinderlie where I roomed asked me if I wanted to go to a queer meetup. I remember they called it a queer meetup. I didn’t want them to think I was homophobic. I awkwardly agreed to attend. I awkwardly attended. I don’t remember meeting the people I grew to love, but I remember taking a pin: a rainbow with PLU’s rose window symbol. I kept it in an inner purse pocket and never wore it. I think it’s still there. 

Tuesday, October 13, 2020, I came out to you, loved ones, as a lesbian. I’m realizing, as you match me hurt for hurt, that it might have been cruel of me to contaminate your peace with so little explanation. Here are the eggshells I’ve walked on since I was a kid—yours now, not mine. All the difficulty in saying what is meant—all that I’d felt for years, I shared with you. 

I’m pretty fed up with myself, to be honest. One of you texted me: “Even though you’ve made a decision I don’t agree with, we love you and would never treat you differently ^_^”. I replied, “I’m very glad to know I’m loved.” That isn’t why I’m upset. I’m upset because I was about to reply with “I’m very glad to know how loved I am,” much more ambiguous in meaning. How loved I am—who would want to know that? Do I think you wouldn’t notice the knives in my words? 

I need to respect the power of words. I’ve gotten so used to not being heard that I’m shocked to remember that you have ears, that you do in fact sometimes comprehend the things I say. You hear, and you might even understand. That frightens me, but it should give me hope. 

Coming out is like dying: even resurrection won’t undo it. The second half of the Gospel of John is called the Book of Glory. In it, Jesus spends his time not instructing huge multitudes, but speaking deep, intimate things to his disciples. In the Book of Glory, Jesus is glorified. He endures mockery, torture, and an excruciating, utterly shameful death. Glory. Jesus is buried in a stranger’s tomb: glory. Jesus gets up and goes to see his friends and they’re terrified of him—glory—Jesus presses the hands of his friend Thomas into the bloody evidence of nails and a spear. His divine body is resurrected with open wounds. That’s glory. 

I memorized from John in 2014, but now as I witness the fallout from my own words, I’m seeing this story in a different light. Before, I loved Thomas—because he doubted without being disloyal, because Jesus loved him, because Jesus appeared again, not angry at him for doubting. I had my doubt, oh me of little faith, and I found hope in thinking a little doubt could be forgivable, a doubter could still be loved. 

Now what strikes me is not the lovingkindness of Jesus’s second visit, but the viscera of it. Thomas says he won’t believe unless he touches the wounds in Jesus’s wrists unless he thrusts his hand into the place where Jesus’s body was pierced by a spear. Big words from Thomas—do they give him comfort as his fingers are pressed into the still-bleeding flesh? Does Thomas, willing in John 11:16 to die with Jesus, reconsider or renew his devotion? Does he wonder, closer to Jesus than any human has been, how a resurrected body feels pain? 

Even if you’re not the one bleeding, maybe it’s traumatic just to see the blood. When my dad lost the top digit of his left middle finger this September, I heard him shout. Lower and louder than he shouts when he’s angry. I called 911 and made him sit down instead of searching through piles of sawdust for his missing finger. At the 911 operator’s instruction, I found a towel to cover the wound—the one my sister painted in Sunday school to say I WILL SERVE. Before the paramedics took him away and I spent a frantic hour and a half searching for the severed digit, I got a good look at his hand. It was cartoonish: just a circle of blood, at its center a small circle of bone. 

Afterwards I sat, arms around my knees, and shook for hours. I cradled myself, thinking it wasn’t my hand, my blood, my bone. I didn’t wish I could give up my finger instead. How intimate a wound is. How painful, to press another’s finger into the place where you were bleeding three days ago. I yearn and pine when I read the Gospel of John. I am not bleeding from wrists, abdomen, and ankles. I am not blameless, nor am I saving anyone, but I am hurting. How can I have taken your hands and pressed them into my wounds? Has my blood-stained you? 

I hear your unhappiness at what I’ve done. 

You need my patience as much as I need yours. I am years deep into a theology of sexuality and gender—it is not a philosophical puzzle but my very life. When I say lesbian you hear sinner. This wounds you, you who have made it your lives’ work to get me into heaven. You don’t want me to be a sinner, only to have been a sinner before I changed. But I haven’t changed, and to me lesbian does not carry the shame of the words adulterer and murderer.

Lesbian is not a scar from before Christ found me—it is my ongoing reality. I believe there is wide enough meaning in the word Christian and the word lesbian for me to exist in their intersection. This isn’t enough—I’m very frustrated that I cannot give you my words with the meanings I intend for my words. When you hear them they become your words, with the meanings you recognize for these words. Here is loneliness in a question: Are your colors the same as my colors? 

I want to say that if you only know lesbians as willful degenerates, you don’t know enough lesbians. I know a good number of lesbians. I know lesbian ministers—I even know a lesbian nun. I know Christian lesbians who have married women; I know Christian lesbians who have chosen to live celibate. And I know myself. I’ve never kissed a girl or gone on a date. At twenty, I’m cheerfully calling myself a spinster. To date, my most scandalous act of lesbianism was calling myself a lesbian. 

But I don’t want you to think me good where you think lesbians are wicked, so for all of you and for myself, I accept the wounds that come with this word.