A debut memoir charts conflicts of sexuality and faith and the longing for companionship.
The book opens in 1975 with Worsham rereading a letter she wrote to her mother confessing to a romantic relationship with another woman: “Mama, I have been in touch with Ellen again.” Dealing with an unfulfilling marriage to her husband, Harvill, the author experienced a sexual and psychic revelation when she started a surreptitious affair with another female teacher at her high school. But to her husband and mother, “I was a sick person with something disgusting, something like leprosy, something with sores that eat away at your body, something that eats you from the inside out.” Once their relationship was discovered, Worsham was threatened with institutionalization and forced to break it off. She divorced Harvill and began pursuing platonic friendships with other women. One was with an older woman who offered copies of Proust’s books and shared exotic tales from abroad, helping to expand Worsham’s worldview beyond her conservative Georgia town. But after her friend self-destructed (due to alcoholism), Worsham turned to her church choir and teaching life to guide her. Later, another woman, named Teeny, provided a meaningful platonic bond, one that made Worsham realize that her sexual orientation need not solely define her. Given the two friends’ closeness, many townsfolk suspected that they were lovers. Eventually, after enjoying several nonsexual bonds with other women, Worsham came out, finding solidarity in a lesbian group that met at a local restaurant called Wings. The memoir proves to be a rich and insightful account into the struggles that many members of the LGBT community face in navigating the heavy emotional terrain of faith, loneliness, and self-acceptance (“I thought that I, not other people, should be the one to decide my own sexual orientation,” Worsham writes). This is mostly owed to the way the author so deeply mines her own emotional history while simultaneously weaving religious references—such as “the Telling” for when she outs herself to her mother, as though the experience is a kind of biblical parable—to signal the many momentous rites of passage LGBT community members experience in their own journeys of self-discovery. Vividly interrogating these themes, this lesbian-specific memoir is a very welcome addition to the genre.
A palpable and invigorating book mapping one woman’s lifelong efforts to discover her own sexual identity through Christianity and friendship.