From my friend (and mentor and fellow reader-scholar-retired teacher) Alan McCornick at his Hepzibah site, a review of Del Shores' Southern Baptist Sissies:
There's good religion, not so good religion, really toxic religion, and then there's the Southern Baptist fundamentalist type of religion. Pure poison, if you’re gay.
To people whose lives are fused with religion, who think about it, talk about it all day every day, who go around praising Jesus and thanking him for every meal and every business success, religion is not simply a guiding light. It can become a pathology.
I've been there. And I know Alan's right, since I have the scars to prove so. I grew up Southern Baptist, and as I told Alan when he first circulated a link to this wonderful review by email, when a friend in Charlotte, North Carolina, introduced Steve and me to the film version of Southern Baptist Sissies last year, we all watched it twice in a row.
Could not get enough of it. Story of my life and all that. Literally so. My two closest friends from grade school through high school were, like me, Southern Baptist sissies. We were all in the same Sunday School class (a class taught on more than one occasion by a much older Southern Baptist sissy), sang in the church youth choir together, and all grew up gay together.
Except that we did not know this. Except that we really had no word at all for who we were and who we were growing up to be. We certainly did not encounter this word in church. We did not encounter any word there that would help us understand who we were, what made us different, why the three of us gravitated to each other.
What we encountered, instead, was the command of the mother of one of these three boys, whose husband was a deacon and a leading light in our church, not to color the clothes of our elves purple during Vacation Bible School. Well, to be more precise, it was I who decided that my elves would wear resplendent purple clothes as they reclined against a yellow crescent moon on the lap boards we were crafting and painting in Vacation Bible School.
"Little boys do not paint their elves' clothes purple," Mabel Ruth M. informed me. "But why?," Ms. M., I asked, having always been, to my own parents' consternation, a "but why" kind of child.
"Because. Because they paint their elves' clothes blue or red. Not purple."
I painted my elves' clothes purple, Mabel Ruth or no Mabel Ruth. And like her son, I grew up to be gay.
Unlike her son, I did not die of AIDS in the early 1990s, have my body shipped back from New York to Arkansas for a funeral in the church in which my father was a deacon, and have my parents choose, as the text for my funeral program, "The wages of sin is death." In big black letters across the front of the program . . . .
Being a Southern Baptist sissy can be more than a little sad. Growing up in any oppressive religious context can, as Alan says, be more than a little poisonous — especially for young gay folks seeking to make their way in a frightening and incomprehensible world, where there's lots and lots of talk and more talk about love and joy and peace and welcome . . .
But very little of that is offered to some little boys and some little girls who insist on painting their elves' clothes purple.