post by contributor elizabeth mcmanus
When Erin Lane, co-editor extraordinaire, asked me to submit an essay for the Talking Taboo collection, my first reaction was to leap-dance around my room to Whitney Houston.
My second reaction was spine-curling panic.
Panic, for two reasons. One: i had to choose a single taboo to write about, when the options before me filled a book three times over. And two: whatever i wrote about was going to go public. Something everyone from my favorite professor to my future in-laws could peruse.
I felt like i was about to do a strip tease for everyone i knew, and for everyone i didn’t. Rationally, i realized that the possibility of everyone i knew reading my essay was slim, but rationality isn’t my strong suit when Whitney Houston is at a decibal-shattering volume.
So i met with Erin. Armed with a plate full of Daisy Cakes cupcakes, she assured me that courage is required to say the things that most need saying. I pleaded for a pseudonym. She gave a thinking-pause, and before i could stop myself the words were tumbling:
“I guess i wouldn’t want to disrespect my sisters, though. We’re all in this together. It’s not like i’m the only one baring my soul on paper.”
And thus, the I-Thought-It-Was-Just-Me moment was birthed. I realized i wasn’t the only one taking my top off (so to speak). Seeing my essay cozied up with 39 other breathtakingly bold pieces was enough validation for taking the naked plunge. All of us had something to get off our chests, to stomp about, to weep over, to demand change for. Clambering over my fear and writing my piece ended up being tremendously therapeutic. A washing away of a burden that had sat heavy on my shoulders since high school.
But Talking Taboo, as an idea, was more than that. The opportunity to participate in a community of women standing up and speaking out against the silence was the gift i’d left off my Christmas list, only to realize it was what i really wanted all along. This gift was in the collective of individual voices, each one singing her own song but together making a harmony that refused to sit complacent any longer. I’m ecstatic for people to read the book. But if i’m honest, writing for the book was the best part. Writing in the knowledge that all 40 of us were in it together, how unknown and known we may have been to each other. Strangers uniting as sisters.
And i wasn’t content to let that conversation remain bound in book volume (as incredibly awesome as that book is). So with the wisdom and guidance of Erin and the Resource Center for Women & Ministry in the South, i began hatching a plan. A plan that would carry the conversations i had over cupcakes further.
Thus, Courageous Conversations was born. You may have read about its beginnings here, and now four weeks later i’m thrilled to say it was a success. Every week, 6 to 10 women gathered to dismantle the tensions we felt between our gender and our faith. We wrote love letters to the church, we railed against patriarchal appropriations of our bodies, we laughed at the incredulity of double-standards. I can only speak for myself, of course, but it was the encouragement i needed to keep both feet planted in my Christian and feminist identity.
And people have already started to take notice. We’re thrilled to share an article written by Dawn Vaughan at the Herald Sun wherein a few members of the group shared a part of their story. On August 10th, we’re hosting a reading of our work in conjunction with a community-wide conversation in Durham, NC on what remains taboo for people of any gender or age. It’s a small way to, as fellow contributor Pilar Timpane articulated to “begin in conversation.” An invitation for our friends and family to step into the taboo space with us.
We intend to make the curriculum for this group widely available soon, so that other communities can utilize it as a resource to begin engaging in their own taboo dialogues, or the “I-Thought-It-Was-Just-Me” sigh of relief to be less of an anomaly and more of an anthem among women in the church.