I was raised as a Lutheran and my life growing up was filled with religion; I not only went to church and Sunday school every week, I also went a Lutheran school. This meant that I had religion class every day in school and also that the values my school proclaimed were based in the Lutheran doctrine. The messages I was receiving about people, society, love, acceptance, my body, sexuality and more were coming from this perspective.
You can probably guess that the messages were neither the most positive nor productive. We were taught the sex is bad and if you don't save yourself until marriage, then you is sinning against God. Women were the teachers and men the leaders of the church and we were told that's the way God intended it to be. Christianity was the only way and that if you didn't believe that Jesus died to take away your sins, you were going to hell. It was important to abstain from drugs and alcohol, because otherwise you would die or go to jail. As girls, we had to always be dressed appropriately, because showing too much cleavage or leg would entice the boys to look at us with lust (which was always bad). Jesus loves and accepts everyone, but somehow we don't.
These philosophies were things I had never bothered to question, until I was 13. I remember the exact catalyst that lead me down this journey, all the way to where I am typing now, this on my computer. I was on vacation with my family and it was the start of my absolute insatiable desire to read. Needless to say, I brought an epic amount of books with me and one of them would change my whole perspective on life; Conversations with God for Teens. The book gave a new idea of God and Christianity and emphasized holistic living and love above all else. It took liberal attitudes towards sexuality, politics and education. It opened up this whole world I didn't know even existed, full of radical ideas and a nuanced perspective on the world. I was so fascinated and curious about everything and I suddenly saw myself as a citizen of Earth instead of just one meaningless person. I saw that the world I thought I understood was in reality was completely unknown. I knew I had to keep going and I also knew my relationship to my faith would never again be the same.
During that school year, I engaged in even more exploration. I also lost my faith in the Church completely and felt disconnected from it. I started to read about every religion and form of spirituality under the sun, from Judaism to Buddhism to Islam. I read, asked questions and thought critically about what I was reading. I didn't know what I believed, but I knew that Christianity wasn't it.
My parents forced me to make my confirmation in the Lutheran church, which was incredible ironic. I would be asserting my beliefs in the Church and then I'd disown it. It was incredibly awkward and it felt completely wrong. That service was the last time I would ever attend church as a member and it felt damn good to move forward and never look back.
My journey with religion is really important to my journey to feminism, because if I had never had the courage to rebel and go against what I had been told, I probably would have never found feminism. I never would have been in the right frame of mind to accept radical ideas or to even be interested in them.
This schism from the church really created a fierce intellectual curiosity in me. I wanted to learn about the Universe, how it worked and what my place was in it. I wanted to understand and be an educated member of this planet. If I was ever going to understand what I believed (as shedding my religious beliefs shed a lot of other assumptions I never even realized that I held) I had to explore all of my options.
Throughout high school, I engaged in critical reading of all sorts of texts from every subject under the sun from electrical engineering to philosophy to, you guessed it, feminism. The first feminist book I read was Jessica Valenti's Full Frontal Feminism in ninth grade. I found the book to be very interested in new, a lot like Conversations with God. It opened an inner fascination that that book had and I knew I wanted to learn more. Soon after, I read Inga Muscio's Cunt and really found myself getting excited by how radical and how right all of this information seemed. It felt like my chakra's were aligning and I was doing something right. It was as if the stars were aligning and things that I had never understood were starting to make sense.
I felt this inner magnetism towards feminism and it was something I really wanted to keep exploring and something that I wanted to understand on a deep and complex level. I kept reading, engaging and thinking. It was a bit of a slow start at first, as with religion, as I would still approach every new idea with slight caution and a grain of salt. I wanted to be the best feminist I could and that meant looking at every idea inside and out, providing it a thorough examination.
Fast forward to sophomore year of high school. One day on my way out the door of the school building at the end of the day I saw a poster hanging up that advertised a new youth multimedia program that would give support and resources to teens interested in media production. I had wanted to get more involved in extracurriculars and I thought it sounded like a good opportunity. So, I decided to apply for the program.
I was accepted and was thrilled beyond belief! It was an amazing experience, as I got to learn about video production and editing, article writing, interviewing and journalism. My passion for social justice was coming out of the woodwork and I started to see how all of the principals I had read about could be applied in the real world.
After that program ended, I was invited to take part in even more initiatives, which would eventually lead me to work with Scenarios USA, a non-profit organization that works to amplify youth voice through media and film. They produce three films every year that are written by three young writers from Cleveland, New York and now Chicago that are then produced by Hollywood directors and shown to millions on networks like Showtime. The film they were producing that year in Cleveland dealt with sexual violence and at the time I was a youth educator at the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center and so they invited me to work on producing a social media campaign around the topic that would coincide with the film.
This lead me to work with and meet David Beasley, the communications manager at Scenarios USA. He was in charge of leading the group of young people (including myself) who would put together the social media campaign. He was from New York (where Scenarios is based) and came to Cleveland for three days to work with us on set while the film was being shot.
During our downtime, he and I had a lot of conversation about feminism and social justice. He was the first man who had called himself a feminist that I had ever met in real life and that was very intriguing to me. I think he saw my potential and really encourage me to explore feminism and learn as much as I could about it.
And learn I did. Over the next few months I dug deep into feminism and learned as much as I could about it. It excited me and inspired me. It really led me to want to work for social change as a feminist as much as I could.
This then led me to start blogging. I started my Tumblr blog Fearless Feminism and found the positive response very encouraging and I did more. I started more Tumblrs; Facts About Feminism and Period Positive. I also collaborated with more non-profits, like Stop Street Harassment and Wiser.org on their Women's Day Campaign. I found energy through my work that led me to keep hustling. I want to do as much as I can for feminism and I'm planning on devoting my life to working for feminist causes. But, just think: if I had never picked up Conversations with God, I never would have gone on this journey and probably never would have ended up here.