the bible is a romance novel

by sydney hatmaker

Knees on bathroom tile.

Door locked.

Hands shaking with fear and desire. Young eyes glued to illicit pages. Heart jumping guiltily at every little sound. My first encounter with queer love was shrouded in shadow and shame.

Once I found the books, I devoured them. I illegally downloaded them. I stole them from bookstores. I remember crouching between dusty shelves in the library, gripping the thick paperbacks with sweaty hands, trying to absorb as many lines as I could before my mother started calling. I’d test out the characters’ names late at night. Whimsical names, forbidden names rolled off my tongue in whispers. I don’t remember what they were. Maybe Claudine or Serenity or Eden. I didn’t understand what I was reading. I didn’t understand the relief I felt at those pages, the hunger. But I knew enough to keep them a secret.

My young sexuality became entwined with shame, nipped even before budding. Chopped off at the stem.

I would pray to God to help me stop reading but I couldn’t. I started begging for forgiveness for my own body, still only dimly aware of what I was apologizing for. Year twelve was heartache.

I don’t remember the first time I heard the word “gay,” but I do remember the first time I heard my mother say it. We were in the kitchen; I think I was thirteen. She was talking about God’s design for humanity, and it’s safe to assume that homosexuals weren’t included in His vision. I froze, and the vines of shame grew tighter around me.

I don’t remember the first time I could say the word “gay,” but it had been after years of coded language and thinly veiled love poems. “Lesbian” and “queer” came much later. Those ones are still hard sometimes.

I didn’t learn until I was older to treat my body with reverence. No one taught me that I was holy ground. But those books planted the seed. Trashy romances, cheap paperbacks, self-published novels became sacred texts. They were all I had. They were the only voice in my isolated world telling me that I wasn’t alone. That I wasn’t wrong.

Sydney Hatmaker is a first year Communication Studies major (until she changes her mind again) from Austin, Texas. She enjoys historical fiction and her favorite temperature is 65 degrees. Ask her about Beto O'Rourke or queer films.