some fashion notes for returning to church
By Kristin Perkins
Does the outfit properly convey that you are deeply conflicted about being here?
Does the skirt — somber, drab, funereal even — say you’re no longer sure whether you should associate with an organization that is not sure it wants to associate with you?
Does the cheap acrylic fabric of the skirt say as much? Does it say too that you would have left years ago but you were applying for schools at the same time your family was drowning in debt and selling your house? And BYU was cheap. And BYU gave you a scholarship. And BYU felt like the only option for a liquid middle-child used to figuring out how to fill the available space and not ask for more. And BYU showed you other ways to be Mormon, gave you role-models, temple-covenanted mentors, who cared about you and made you think, “well, maybe.”
Does the double earlobe piercing prove that for your two years in Texas you didn’t go to church at all except for one panicky three-minute venture into a foyer with bad fluorescent lights and a floral-printed couch? The floral-printed couch.
And speaking of patterns, does the diamond-patterned turtleneck with the choking collar maybe evince that at a dark point in your life you decided you needed Jesus the way some people decide they need scented candles and bath bombs? Does the comfortable cardigan say that at a less dark, but still fairly dim, point in your life, you decided you needed Jesus the way some people decide they need queer theory and a book of poetry (and you needed those things too)?
Do the clunky practical boots warn that in a year or so you’re going to beg the ward to help you move this thousand-pound couch you found on Craigslist and that you barely managed to drag into your new apartment? In exchange, you’ll haul other people’s (lighter) furniture and bake casseroles for the sick and the needy and the pregnant because you have a testimony in potato dishes and other people’s moving vans in a way you’ll never have a testimony in papyri scrolls and Brigham Young.
Does the ponytail, austere hairstyle that it is, suggest that at some point you told yourself that you didn’t want to quit — you wanted to be important enough to get fired? (And it’s a harder feat now after, just to throw out a date, oh, September 1993.) “Excommunicate me, you bastards. I dare you,” you say facing the mirror in the cheery yellow bathroom. Because you like to imagine you are this kind of a person — brash, brazen, brassy, bold, an A+ bitch. You are not actually this kind of a person, and you keep burning yourself while pretending you are.
Does the lack of makeup convey that you’re not always sure you believe in god but that you are ready for the big cosmic reveal? That on Sundays before church, you woke up early to avoid your roommates, drove into the mountains, read a book (only sometimes the bible), and smoked exactly one cigarette in a half-hearted attempt to get the ball rolling on this whole dying business. Years ago, tapping ash out the window with Provo quilted in neat square blocks beneath you, it wasn’t that you wanted to die exactly, but you were willing to chemically fast-forward things to get to the salving, the saving, the redemption. Because you needed god like you needed the solution to a magic trick. In the end, you’re not an A+ bitch, and beneath the cool veneer you were — you are — a raw nerve of wonder, tenderly bruised from awe striking, waiting for the curtain to be whisked away.
And now you are here. Dressed to impress or not. Go on. Open Zoom church. See all the little boxes with faces blinking blearily into computer cameras, trying to tap their living rooms into digital extinction, hushing microphones or hilariously failing to hush microphones. There they are, fifty or so faces/black boxes/white letters willing to give a good-faith effort to love you. Does the lump in your throat, accessory of so many church meetings, mean anything at all?
Are you ready to introduce yourself?
2 Responses to “some fashion notes for returning to church”
“Excommunicate me, you bastards…” Goddamn put this on my tombstone.
Beautiful piece! Thank you for helping me explore the complicated connection between how we look and how we feel at church. Crossing that divide is one way to consider my own journey in and out of the church. You helped me feel less alone.
I felt like this was written about me. I’m glad to be in good company.