By Elizabeth, an Ex-Christian Scientist Group contributor.
“What would you do if you broke your leg?” The question every Christian Scientist kid has had to answer numerous times. My Sunday School teachers and my family gave me the script for it: “Well, I’ve never had that happen, but if we ever had a problem we couldn’t address with prayer, then we would go to the hospital.” The Christian Science brand of denial is enormously powerful; I was still giving this speech when I was eighteen years old and had never had a menstrual period or completed puberty, and had never been taken to a doctor for a diagnosis.
I was told that, “whatever is going on, we know” that I was “born perfect.” Every year at my birthday, there would be some Christian Scientist relative mumbling about “oh, well, dear, you know your mother didn’t get it ’til she was fourteen,” and then the next year, “the neighbor’s granddaughter didn’t get it ’til she was fifteen,” and then, “well, my friend knew someone who didn’t get it ’til she was sixteen.” I was sent to Principia Upper School when I was fifteen, which was a neat way to end the debate, as medical intervention was not allowed there. Then there were just the school breaks to negotiate; I never knew when a shame bomb would be dropped. At a holiday, chatting in groups in the living room after a family dinner, a relative would question me about my period and give some Christianly Scientific advice.
The theology I was held to account to was grindingly inconsistent, although having been raised in it I was rarely able to detect this fact, only able to feel the emotional upset and frustration caused by it. One grandmother made frequent oblique departures from Christian Science doctrine to hypothesize about how perhaps I’d never gotten my period because I was overweight. Once in a while my dad would ask if I wanted him to “do some work” for me, which always led me to uncontrollably wonder how long it had been since the last time he’d offered, and at what point that previous round of “work” had just dropped from his consciousness, the state of denial resumed. My internal state was that of private torment and prayer.
I was very occasionally told that, “It’s your choice if you want to go to a doctor,” regarding my ‘problem’—mostly after I was eighteen and I was expected to take care of myself—but it didn’t feel as though that was an option, really. It took me years away from the Christian Science church before I found going to a doctor comprehensible, and still, then, it was terrifying. I finally went to a doctor on my own when I was 25 and found out that I was born without ovaries. An “infantile uterus” seen on the ultrasound, the fallopian tubes just trailing off, two different lengths.
This is not a Christian Science tragedy. No one lost their child or their limb or the last thirty years of their life. But it’s ridiculous, is what it is. This is what’s ridiculous about Christian Science: for thirteen years, from about age twelve to twenty-five, I waited and prayed for my period to start. I waited and prayed for puberty to finish. I wondered if I was going to be able to have children. And I was sometimes made to feel that I was not doing enough, was not deserving enough, was not diligent enough in my studies or something, for my body to ovulate, when in fact there were no ovaries in my body.
If my parents had taken me to a gynecologist around the age of thirteen, or maybe fifteen, which is about the latest I think a non-Christian Scientist family would have waited under the circumstances, we would have been given the diagnosis: ovarian agenesis with accompanying primary amenorrhea; infertility. We would have been told that I had not been “born perfect.” I would have appreciated having that information very much. Because ages 12-25 were no goddamn picnic for me, I have to tell you.
Everything about my sexuality was frozen in early adolescence. Puberty seemed to have begun around age ten, and then ground to a strange halt. The more time passed, the more the dynamic became that of my adult woman’s body not belonging to me, for it stubbornly refused to develop. Instead it belonged to God, or Christian Science, perhaps. My developed body and adult sexuality would be released into my possession only if I was pure enough. It could be obtained by studying those two leather-bound books marked with blue chalk each week. I genuinely do not think my parents realized how messed up it is to put a teenager in this position.
As a decade passed, and I grew up without growing up hormonally, or entirely physically, this sense of my sexuality being on hold and not belonging to me became conflated with my perceptions of dating and relationships and the fact of my lesbianism. I find it very hard to put into words what it was like to be a gay Christian Scientist. There weren’t any words, for as long as I was a Christian Scientist. No one told me that I had to be this way instead of that way, or defined morality as exclusive to heterosexuality. I understand that must sound like a positive, but it might have possibly been more helpful than the complete silence, because I would at least have had a definition; something to react against is at least something.
Until I was able to break through the denial system of Christian Science and go in search of my diagnosis, I felt that nothing of the world of adult sexuality was meant for me—not dating, not intimacy, not being straight, not being gay, and of course not being a woman with boobs and a period. I remained almost completely divorced from my own sexuality and very out of touch with my own body until I began my relationship with my wife-to-be, within a few months of that first doctor’s appointment. We have been together for sixteen years now, and our union has led both of us steadily away from dysfunction in our relationships and in our lives, and me away from Christian Science.