The VHS popped in. My elementary school classmates and I watched the movie, sitting in the position that’s now known as “criss-cross applesauce” on the tile floor. I knew the uncomfortable part of the movie was coming, and the rock weighing down my heart made sure I wouldn’t forget it. And then it happened. Aladdin’s friend, Genie, turned himself into a bee and gave the vaguely sexy pauper this advice: “bee yourself”.
In my community, we didn’t talk that way. We viewed Disney movies and their positive, believe-in-yourself messages as Propaganda Lit™. Hell, I remember which families from my church boycotted Disney. In addition to “replacing the need of God” with mentally-healthy messages, they supported gays, empowered women, and drew penises on the cover of Little Mermaid (I guess I could understand that motivation the most). At the heart of all of this was a suppression of nearly any message that brought confidence because it appeared prideful; self-esteem because it felt like idolatry; recognition because it would take away glory reserved for God.
I grew up thinking shameless, healthy confidence was among a long list of things that were just for other kids – kids that didn’t know the truth about God. Pop music was also on that list. I’ve recently discovered the cathartic power of wearing headphones (noise-cancelling if possible, with big puffy earpieces where nothing gets in and nothing gets out). But I remember standing by the speakers at worship concerts with my eyes closed, soaking it all in. I refused then to believe it was the music I was experiencing. I chose to believe the Holy Spirit was surfing to me on those sounds waves. That was the point of music, I believed: just to bring him to my shore. Even simple snapshots of pleasure had to have a spiritualized filter. There are plenty of churches that realize the magical quality of music and suppress it, forbidding it from their meetings or only allowing non-flashy, no-frills hymns with a piano and voice only. But they still get high off it because they mix in another drug. The ego loves feeling different, enlightened, and set apart. Disney boycotters and silent worshippers are hooked up on the same syringe pushing out self-righteousness, and their eyes would dilate as their souls would get the hit it craves. It’s clear what sources of self-righteousness people get the most pleasure in by seeing what disgusts them.
I remember hearing about the family vacations that were hilariously ruined because they didn’t look up when Disney World’s “Gay Day” landed on the calendar before planning their family vacation. Their turned-up noses and disgust said it all. I grew up an ashamed, secret gay in the Christian Church, and I had no doubt what they would think about me if they found out. I didn’t fit the description I was taught regarding gay people. I wasn’t a heathen, I repented, cared about pleasing God, prayed, read the Bible, believed the Holy Spirit was in me, confessed my sins, begged for help, let my pastor have access over my internet history, and more. When I finally allowed myself to be me, I was relieved. It was like I had finally focused the lens of my life.
At times, I’m sad to think of what I missed out on when I thought nearly every joy I consume now was evil. Open-mindedness, acting on being gay, and plenty of other ways to cut loose. They were for other kids and not for me to experience. I unknowingly longed for self-love and confidence, but instead, I breathed in shame and self-righteousness and exhaled prayers for help.
When confidence, music, and being my true gay self lacked, feeling loved by others and myself lacked even more. I used to think of falling in love like the “Wizard of Oz.” You start off alone in a field, forest, or jungle, obsessed that you’re lacking in something big within yourself and left to reflect on it. “I don’t have a heart/brain/courage and no one can find me attractive.” That is until someone comes along, has you join their life, trusts you, loves you, and accepts you despite lacking whatever it is you need. The next step would be for you to test the love and see that you had the lovability inside of you the whole time; thank goodness for the ones that loved you first so you could discover it.
I don’t buy that anymore.
By listening to others’ experiences and not dismissing them, I see that there’s a better way. Influences from books, therapy, and my friends (definitely including the words from Jamie Lee Finch while we visited her in Nashville) have won my heart. I’m not waiting for someone to come along and prove myself to me. Now, I can love myself freely. I chose to trust myself and view those moments in movies that encourage me to trust myself, dream for more, and believe in my future as invitations to a better relationship with myself. A relationship that doesn’t need a Holy Spirit filter or to somehow divert the love to him. I can just love me for me.
Confidence, music, and self-love are in my sights. These things are for me now. I’m not going to let them go.