Today, I made an executive life decision – It’s time for me to start cussing.
Like a lot of women, I was trained to exist in the corners of my own life – to never take up too much Space – to always leave room for the opinions and convenience of others. It has served me well, to some extent.
Faith has played a major role in my molding. My grandmother was a pastor, my father and many of my aunts, uncles, cousins and siblings are also ministers. Through this strict upbringing, I learned very early on that there are five things that the Lord doth hate; yea, even 6 are an abomination unto him: 1. Smoking, 2. Drinking, 3. Secular Music, 4. Gambling, 5. Fornicating, and God help us all, 6. Cussing.
Yes, there was no better way to reveal yourself as a sinner in need of God’s grace than to defile your lips and the Saints’ sanctified ears with “bad words.”
On the rare occasion that we could get our father to sit down and watch a movie with us, we nearly held our breath for the duration of the film, hoping and praying that there wouldn’t be any curse words. If we heard more than a couple, you could pretty much be guaranteed that family time was over with. TV off. Pajamas on. In the bed we went.
Amongst my family and the church folks I was raised with, I was always perceived of as a free spirit (to put it kindly) – always the one willing to walk the contrary path – the one that defied conventions and forged her own way – the one that just didn’t care what others thought – the one whose hair and clothes maybe reeked just a bit of Sulphur and brimstone. But the truth is, I’m as repressed as they come.
Now, certain items in the Pentecostal Sinner’s Starter Pack are just plain inadvisable. Take the first item – Smoking. Nope. Naw. Never. Next. But #2 is a little trickier.
I don’t drink. Well, not really. In the beginning, this was due to my grandmother being a pastor and caregiver to the homeless. She was known as a “Mother” to the city, and she took in many destitute people who had lost their way in life. She gave them a place to sleep, clothing, and a hot meal every night for many years. My brothers and sisters and I would serve in her mission quite often with our parents. We would sing to the men, and pray with them and sometimes take them into our home.
I remember the smell that would linger in the church when they would gather at the back of the sanctuary towards the end of our nightly services waiting for their late-night meal. It was so strong that just thinking of it brings it all back – it truly never leaves your memory. Many of these men had problems with drugs and alcohol. The smell of booze commingled with their bodily stench and created such a strong aversion to liquor of any kind that for many years it provoked a pretty visceral response in me. Not to mention, alcohol was very much a ‘taboo’ in our circle.
Fast forward to full-blown adulthood. I’ve traveled the world. I’ve learned that white wine goes with fish, and red wine goes with meat. I’ve had a glass or 2 here and there, and have accepted an occasional glass of champagne if it was offered to me, but I still consider myself to be a non- drinker. Do I have religious convictions against it? No. Am I still repulsed by the smell of a glass of wine? No. As a matter of fact, it sounds like a terrific way to wind down after a particularly stressful day. But I haven’t been able to bring myself to pick up a bottle of the stuff quite yet.
Now, I’m glad to say #3 doesn’t pose a problem at all at this point. I’m a jazz singer based in Nashville (Yes, they have those here), and I’m doing alright for myself. I fought a couple of minor battles in the beginning, but the call to this profession was so strong, I almost didn’t feel that particular surgical separation happening. It’s only in retrospect that I’m starting to recognize the moxie that it took to tell my minister father I was moving to Nashville to sing secular music 12 years ago. He eventually came around and gave me his blessing.
Number 4, Gambling, has never been a big issue with me. Yeah, I cringe every time I drive by a billboard and see that the Powerball or Mega-Millions have dropped back down to double digits – but clearly, I’m not cringing hard enough to feel compelled to buy a lotto ticket more than once every 2 or 3 years. Truthfully, this one has always puzzled me. What church wouldn’t appreciate the tithe from a faithful member’s lotto winnings?
The fact that I am going to completely skip over #5 serves to further solidify the fact that I am indeed, quite repressed.
Which leaves little, old #6 – Cussing. I think the big problem with this one for me is that it’s such an outward sign that you’ve cast your lot with a decidedly ‘Unsanctified’ bunch. That’s not to say they’re ‘unholy’ or even ‘un-Christian’ – just, “Unsanctified.” Now, we’ll leave the discussion of what true sanctification is for another time and place, but the point here is certain – good Christian folks just didn’t cuss.
Now, if you were raised in any other church but a Charismatic or Pentecostal one, you probably heard this rule broken quite often. But the truth was, in our little circle, it truly didn’t happen much – at least not around us. Of course, we were as sheltered as they came – we played Biblical Trivial Pursuit – not the regular kind. We listed to “Do Something Now,” not, “We are the World.” We celebrated “Hallelujah Night,” not Halloween.
Fast forward to full-blown adulthood. I do not curse. Never, ever. Well, that is, in public. I’ve likened it to passing gas. You’re entitled to do what you want in the privacy of your own home, but for goodness’ sake, have some decency about yourself. Nobody wants to hear that!
The problem with this is that I truly don’t have a problem with it. What I do have is a blockage.
Louis CK is one of my favorite comedians – foul-mouthed as they come. My favorite podcast is “WTF” which stands for what you think it stands for. My friends curse plenty, and I live vicariously through them. But I still use fake cuss words in my everyday speech – just like I did when I was 12.
The truth is, this has less to do with a sense of obligation to my upbringing than it has to do with what I feel is, and decidedly is not, appropriate behavior for a woman.
I have a female friend who was brought up much like I was. But somehow, she has found the freedom to express herself exactly as she chooses. She drops f-bombs loudly and often – in private and on social media, for all the world to see. *Gasp* There is something in me that has literally wanted to gasp when I hear her speak. Strangely, I spend lots of time with male friends who curse, and it never hits my ear the same way.
It’s no secret that as women, we’re taught to be pleasing. It’s one of the first and most fundamental lessons I think I learned. “Stay out of the way. Smile. Be likable. Be… a lady. A lady doesn’t curse. At least not in public. Hide that. Tuck that away. People mustn’t feel your indignation. They mustn’t perceive of you as defiant. They don’t want to hear your anger – your frustration – your coarseness.
“Cry if you must, but do that in private too. And while you’re at it, scoot over. You’re crowding everyone. Who told you that you could take up that much Space?”
We soon find that we’ve been edged into a fairly tight corner in our own lives. We scrunch, and we twist and contort ourselves until we’ve made room for all the jackals and the scolders and the well-meaning keepers of the cultural norms. Maybe if we scoot over just a bit more, we can fit in a few more Sadducees and Saints.
Well, to tell you the truth, this room’s getting a little crowded. It’s time to clean house and serve notice to the squatters that they need to find another property to occupy.
In all honesty, cursing is not the issue. The real issue is the tendency of women not to fully occupy The Space in their own lives. That edging-out can take on many forms. For me, as the product of a particularly Puritanical environment, cursing was the harbinger of a sinful life, filled with items 1 through 5 in no small supply.
But as a fully-formed adult, I have begun to understand that it is not only my option, but my obligation to occupy that Space – or at the very least, to determine for myself who and what does occupy it. Granted, I’ll probably never escape the desire to be polite – to offer that throng a little assistance while escorting them out of that room – The Space that is mine alone.
In the coming year, I will be more loving, and I will be kinder. I will also stake a claim in my own life. I am compelled to make room for myself. I will not always be pleasing or appropriate, but I will blossom. If something is deemed inappropriate for my life, let it be me who does the deeming. I will scream when I need to scream. I will shout and be heard. And I will cuss when I feel like cussing.
And when the jackals and the scolders and the nay-sayers attempt to gain re-entry into my sacred Space, I will (politely) escort them back out, and lock the door. They will surely object. And I’ll learn not to give a damn.