Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil: Or How I Divorced Jesus and Learned to Love Sex

I have come into my garden, my sister, my bride;
I have gathered my myrrh along with my balsam.
I have eaten my honeycomb and my honey;
I have drunk my milk and my wine.
– Song of Solomon 5:1

I married my husband when I was 12 years old on a muggy summer night in the church where I grew up. My family had chosen him for me. We’d been introduced. He liked animals, magic tricks, and talking circles around a thing without ever saying what he really meant. My parents said he was my soul mate. My friends said we were a match made in actual heaven. And so I walked down the aisle of The First Baptist Church of Flowery Branch and asked him to live inside my heart for all eternity.

I was in my mid-20s when I divorced him.

When you’re a little girl growing up in an evangelical Christian church, one of the first things you learn is that you are intended to be the Bride of Jesus Christ. The Bible talks about it nonstop.

Your wedding dress will be your glowing good deeds, like a gown made of threaded moonbeams (Revelation 19). Jesus will spend most of his time washing the gunk off of you because it’s his main job to keep you from being so disgusting (Galatians 6). And don’t ever doubt how grimey you are; everybody knows he plucked you out of whoredom (Hosea 1), which is a little weird since you’ve got to be more virginal than fresh-fallen snow to get him to marry you (2 Corinthians 11).

If you begin to feel slighted that your groom has a million other brides, just remember that God one time said King Solomon was “the wisest man to ever live.” That guy had 700 wives and 300 concubines, and everybody involved in that situation liked it just fine. Read The Song of Solomon, if you don’t believe it. Wait, no. Don’t read The Song of Solomon. Too much talk about “climbing palm trees” and “taking hold of fruit” and “going down” to “the garden.” You’re too young to be thinking about “the garden.” Just hush and calm down (1 Corinthians 14) and God will send you a human husband to stand in for Jesus and teach you what you need to know (Ephesians 5).

Unfortunately, by the time I was 14, the garden was pretty much the only thing I thought about. I didn’t know much about gardens, in general, but what I was working with seemed less like the married person’s vegetable patch the church described and more like a Narnian wonderland full of infinite magical possibility.

So I wandered around the wonderland.

And was assaulted by guilt.

But wandered some more anyway.

And was assaulted by even more more guilt.

I wandered and wandered and wandered until I was drowning in shame and then I wandered under water.

One of the hardest things about having Jesus as a husband is he can see through walls and ceilings and even right inside your head. You’re not alone in the shower. You’re not alone in your bed. His laser vision is better even than Santa Claus’, only instead of chancing a lump of coal in your Christmas stocking, you’re chancing sending your soul to the flaming pits of hell to dwell in endless agony. I tried everything to stop masturbating. Sleeping with my bedroom door open. Not watching HBO. Praying for God to actually take away stuff I cared about, like how I lost my Nintendo privileges if I talked back to my mom.

Nothing worked.

And then I grew boobs.

The first time my high school boyfriend got an erection, we prayed over it. We’d been riding mountain bikes and when we were loading up our gear to head home, he sprang a hugely conspicuous boner in his cycling shorts. His eyes were as big as the moon when he said we should pray for it to go away, and they were still bugging out of his face when we decided it was my fault because I also was wearing lycra cycling shorts and my cycling jersey was sleeveless and so from now on he would ride in front and I would wear loose-fitting clothes.

I always wanted to argue, but the Bible was never on my side. Abraham’s uncle Lot impregnated his daughters when he was drunk and God said it was all the daughters’ fault. King David, the guy God called “a man after his own heart,” commanded a married woman named Bathsheba to have sex with him after peeping on her in the bath, so God killed Bathsheba’s baby. I mean, right there in Deuteronomy, God says if a woman gets raped she should be stoned right beside the guy she caused to rape her.

I hated my body and I hated myself and I hadn’t even begun to deal with the fact that I spent all my garden time thinking about other girls.

A couple of years ago, I was lying in bed with my girlfriend on a Sunday morning, laughing softly and talking quietly about I don’t even know what. TV probably. Or books. Politics. Football maybe. I was playing with her hair and she was murmuring against my neck and I started to cry. Little tears at first and then sniffly ones. Before I even knew what was happening, I was shaking and sobbing.

My girlfriend asked me what had happened, but I couldn’t answer. She asked me to please talk to her, but I couldn’t say anything. She said I was scaring her, and I finally choked out that I just really, really wanted to have sex. She held my head in her hands and looked in my eyes like she was trying to read the words inside my mind, like maybe if she could see into my brain she could figure out how in the world I’d come to believe that wanting to have sex with her was such a terrible thing.

The day I divorced Jesus and left church for good, I made a to do list. This is it, verbatim:

Step One: Masturbate with the lights on. If that goes okay, Step Two: Masturbate during the day time. If that goes okay, Step Three: Masturbate on top of the covers.

And that’s where the list stops. I’m not sure what I thought needed to “go okay” to be able to move on to the next step of my plan to throw off the chains of sexual oppression, but apparently the idea of getting off without hiding under a thick comforter was the height of sexual liberation to me. I completed my to do list in record time, but smashing my programming turned out to be a lot harder than I’d expected.

“Wicked,” “filthy,” “unclean,” “wanton” and “harlot” were a few of the words the Bible had used to describe me, just by nature of being born with a vagina, and I heard it so often and starting at such a young age that it felt hardwired inside my brain. I was five years old when I learned I was a whore, 12 years old when I found out having a period made me unclean, and 16 years old when my pastor told me my body was a “stumbling block” to god-fearing men. If grown men were having impure thoughts because the shape of my teenage breast was visible through my t-shirt, that was on me.

It wasn’t bad enough that I couldn’t keep my hand out of my own pants; I was also causing other people to stick their hands in their pants. Goddamn that Eve and her original sin, opening the portal of evil into the world, forcing my body to be a sexual land mine, biding its time until it could explode the limbs off of godly man!

I didn’t actively believe any of that wankshite by the time I was in my 20s, but I couldn’t seem to shake it out of my brain either. Having sex with women helped. I’d beaten my queerness so far down into my psyche when I was growing up that I’d never even allowed myself to look at other girls. Once I started, I couldn’t stop. Women’s bodies were just the best! The curves! The softness! I could barely even tolerate the faces of the dudes I had dated, but even women’s elbows made my heart beat like a brand new poem!

Having sex with women finally helped me understand why my church had always wanted me to stay away from Song of Solomon. It’s not because it is too racy. It’s because it is a song of female worship. The sachets of myrrh, the clusters of henna blossoms, the lilies of the valley, the hills, the ripe figs, the clefts of the rock, the crannies of the cliff, the slopes of Gilead, the orchard of pomegranates, the honey, the oil, the wine!

It’s hard to convince a woman she’s a nasty hellbeast when King Solomon is so drunk off mountain spice and saffron he can hardly see straight.

The morning I cried about wanting to have so much sex with my girlfriend is the morning everything changed for me. I’ve dated other girls, slept with other girls, loved other girls, but nothing prepared me for the way I love my girlfriend. It is enormous and it is relentless, and that morning when she grinned at me I noticed that she had smile-wrinkles. She didn’t have smile-wrinkles when we started dating. Her face had changed over the years, while we’d been going to sleep and waking up beside each other, and it was somehow even more beautiful than when we met.

I said I really, really wanted to have sex. Not just sex, but sex with her. Not just right then, but almost always. Not just because it felt good, but because the way I loved her was too powerful for words and sex was the only way I could think to say it sometimes.

When she kissed me that morning, I realized, for the first time in my life, that I’d never really been married to Jesus. That wasn’t what it felt like to belong to somebody. This was what it felt like to belong to somebody. What mattered wasn’t the story we’d been told by the men in our church who wanted to control the world by controlling our sexuality. What mattered was the story we were telling each other, about ourselves.

The Bible was right about one thing, though: There’s nothing quite like a trip around the garden, especially when you stop sneaking in and trying to find your way around in the dark.

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Heather Hogan

Heather Hogan is an Autostraddle senior editor who lives in New York City with her wife, Stacy, and their cackle of rescued pets. She's a member of the Television Critics Association, GALECA: The Society of LGBTQ Entertainment Critics, and a Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer critic. You can also find her on Twitter and Instagram.

Heather has written 1718 articles for us.


  1. This knocked the breath out of me. Beautiful, absolutely beautiful. Please write more like this because your TV recaps aren’t enough.

  2. Thank you for writing about this. It is so freeing to read that you, bit by bit, gave yourself permission to become yourself, and learn about yourself, with your girlfriend. This a really beautiful story of self love and acceptance. Thank you for writing this.

  3. I feel so much of this. Thank you for writing it. And thank you, dear Autostraddle, for continuously shattering my heart (in the best way) by publishing writing such as this.

  4. I am crying and I’m sitting here with a lost puppy who is licking the tears off of my face and just seriously this is a beautiful moment and beautiful writing. Thank you, Heather, and thank you Autostraddle for being the best and for giving people a place to share these stories.

  5. I do so adore your tv recaps and posts on tv and pop culture but I have always loved and have missed more personal posts like this. You continue to uplift, inform, shine a light in dark corners to sweep out the monsters lurking there. You’re a wonder, you are.

  6. This. This is absolutely beautiful and honest. Thank you for sharing that. I can relate to a majority of it.
    Also, thank you for leading the way to Autostraddle. I live for your writing! I just never comment!

  7. I really, really love this. I love how your word choice gives this texture. I don’t know how to explain what I mean by texture, other than to say I feel this, I feel the crunchy and the jagged and the smooth as it draws itself roughly across my soul. I love how honest you are. I love how I could feel what you were feeling as I read this. I was angry. I was frustrated. I giggled. I blushed. I felt my heart warm as you allowed me, voyeur-like, to sneak a peak at your relationship with the one you love. Thank you for always being willing to share your words.

  8. I identify with this so fucking hard.

    I went through the same guilt over spending time in the garden. Prayed for the same things.

    When I lost my virginity to the pastor’s son and we later broke up, I prayed God would kill me because I knew how worthless I was now that I wasn’t a virgin anymore. It was only kind of okay before that because we were going to get married and that would make it ok.

    Honestly being queer is what helped to cure my mind of all this thinking.

    You are so totally awesome for writing this. And just for being.

  9. This tore at my heart. I got really lucky and was raised in a family that taught me loving Jesus was in no way an impediment to me loving women. I hate what the church has done to a message of love and mercy — turning it into yet one more way to destroy souls.

    I am so glad for your journey and for where you are now. Keep having that beautiful sex. :)

  10. So beautiful and so many tears over here. I feel like this and the Mister Rodgers piece go together for me today and make me feel very positive and loving. Like he would say, I love you just the way you are.

  11. “It’s hard to convince a woman she’s a nasty hellbeast when King Solomon is so drunk off mountain spice and saffron he can hardly see straight.”

    Amazing writing.

  12. This is gorgeous, and I feel so so lucky that you are here at Autostraddle now — reading the comments makes me cry even more (I was already crying from reading the piece, obviously; that goes without saying). I just want the whole internet to gather you into the biggest hug and treasure you and thank the Internet Gods for bringing you to us.

  13. Sitting here, crying so hard. My (atheist) girlfriend and I had a pretty in depth talk about religion recently. She didn’t grow up with anything, and I grew up with this – so much of what you wrote is so effing relatable.

    After I got married (to a guy), I remember thinking “I’m safe” – then (and only then) could I actually start to come out to myself. It was a brief marriage, cause after realizing I was gay it was really hard to go back, but actually realizing that divorce was an option was one of the most difficult decisions I have ever made. It felt like I was dying in that relationship, but for a while, death honestly seemed preferable – and more pleasing to God. Cause marriage is til death do you part, right? *shakes head* It is so crazy how twisted up and internalized it all gets, even when you get older, even when you’re educated and should “know better.”

    I just want to say thank you for writing this. You wrote it beautifully, but to those of us who came out of this – and for those who are still there – it means everything.

  14. You have such a beautiful way of telling your story..thanks for sharing! I’d also like to echo the sentiment of you writing things forever.

  15. I teared up and feel like bawling…I don’t believe this is a terrible thing. Beautiful, powerful and it’s because I feel like I have been in a similar position in my life maybe several times.

    Heather this move to Autostraddle was absolutely the best move for you and your followers/readers I think. I’m not sure if everyone has a “calling” or has a specific reason to be on this planet but I do believe we make our mark no matter the size. Yours is big and will continue to grow. Thank you.

  16. This was beautiful.

    Song of Solomon was always my very favorite book of the Bible. I remember furtively reading it in the Bibles distributed in the pews of my childhood church.

  17. “What mattered wasn’t the story we’d been told by the men in our church who wanted to control the world by controlling our sexuality.”

    There you have it. CONTROL.

    For years, I’ve had this Guilt inside of me. Guilt inside of me constructed by my teachers, my parents, my elderly, my society, my country. Reading the bible made me want to kill myself because i was bound to enter hell. I’m a girl who is romantically and sexually desiring other girls. Mortal sin told by the bible.
    I even hated GOD for a minute because i hated myself too. I had Question like “How can i feel like this and be told by GOD to feel otherwise?” “Why did i turn out to be an abnormal child but the rest of my siblings are not?” “Why am i the abnormal one?” “Are children like me destined to die young because i’m not living the way GOD told me to live?”. I was on the verge of breaking. Quit life and Quit sinning. It’s the chapter in my life i will not forget. I got over it by getting over the religious teachings from my catholic dictators. I’m not their property. Catholic dictators are not more special than me or my dogs. They’ve brainwashed me at birth to look up to them as supreme beings but i’m no longer that stupid little sunday church girl.

    Bible stories are not the teachings of GOD. It’s the teachings of men who are fantasizing to be GOD. I want to flee out from my country next year because pope francis and his two faced minions are visiting. Their hypocrisy is making my lungs feel icky.

    I’ll proceed to a lighter side of my commentary, Heather as a nun can be cute. *cough, Late night hook ups with other nuns, cough*

    • As another (ex)catholic queer **hugs**
      My parent’s totally wanted me to become a nun after I came out:
      Yeah, it’s a GREAT plan to send the queer women to live with a bunch of women and be celibate. This will totally work, right?!?
      I have to laugh or else I would cry a little

  18. Once I finish crying I am going to go and read everything else you’ve written here. That was so beautiful and real that it hurt.

  19. I must be the only queer girl in the world who’s never read Heather Hogan before, but now I’m a fan for life. This was beautiful. Thank you.

  20. This was amazing.

    I’m very glad that I must have had a short attention span as a child/teenager and never paid that much attention in church, so I happily missed some of the worst stuff. Even when not feeling actively bombarded with the ‘evils of being a woman’, but my experience being more of ‘the silence of not taking about those things’, it still took a long time for me to accept that sexuality was okay.

    Thank you so much for sharing.

  21. Thank you for this beautiful piece of writing, Heather. I read it on the bus and needed to choke back the sobs!

  22. Heather, I grew up a cultural Jew in an extremely liberal household with a mom who bought me my first condoms and basically shrugged and said “well, yeah” when I told her I was gay, and yet that essay just ripped out my soul and fed it back to me in magic and poetry.

    What I’m saying is, I can relate to basically nothing in your childhood, and yet, somehow, your writing gives me more feels than basically anything, ever. I don’t know how you do it, but I’m so grateful that you continuously bare your soul for all us queers on the internet. Thank you.

  23. First off, thank you so much for writing this. You have given a voice to a lot of my own struggles and confusion and hatred, both towards church and myself.

    I, too, have been raised in and around the church. In fact, from second grade through high school I was homeschooled/part of a very involved, church oriented family. As a result, almost all of my social activity was linked to the church in some way (bible camp! bible studies! christian homeschool co-ops! youth group! you get the picture) I experienced shame about my own sexuality (homosexuality, masturbation, etc.) you mentioned.

    A couple of years ago, (around the same time I came out to myself) I dropped out of everything church-related I could. I felt a lot of the same hatred you wrote about. I experienced the same type of “cover up your body is causing boys to stumble” talks.

    When I came out to my parents, they set me up to talk to an abstinent, lesbian christian family friend. My self-hatred and disgust towards the church I grew up in multiplied (bc of their reaction and the reactions of others).

    However, recently my mom has taken steps to understand more of who I am and has verbally let me know that she wants to do everything she can to be an ally to me and other lgbtq youth/members of the church. In return, I have chosen to reexamine my feelings toward said church.

    *disclaimer* I do not currently identify as any member of any religion. I am stating my many and varied feelings.

    Please understand, I mean no judgement in my comments. As I said, I relate to most if not all of the experiences you mentioned. That being said, I was saddened reading parts of your article, for a couple of reasons.

    In my experience, dismissal or otherwise misunderstanding of the motivations and desires of any group (whether church or lgbt+ or anything else) leads to social stagnation and unnecessary anger, tension, and hatred.

    sidenote kinda: I talked to my mom after I finished reading this article. She is equally saddened to hear about your experience with church. She believes that at the core, every one of us is guilty of missteps and poor decisions that have the potential to hurt others (sin, in other words). In her eyes, grace and unconditional love are the remedy to this issue. The church you described sounded very judgement based, and I am so very sorry you and others have to endure this. Please understand that not all religious organizations feel this way. I strongly feel that judgement of “other” is one of the greatest mistakes any organization can make.

    In my own experience of church and my own lgbt+ family, these communities do not need to be at odds. Growth occurs when we are stretched beyond our comfort (in this case, belief systems). Lives are changed when we offer grace and acceptance to those different than us.

    Not trying to discount any of your experiences. Judgement within community you are part of is terrifying and devastating at times. Believe me, I know.

    Just something I’ve been thinking about.

    TL;DR: Major props to all of you. The junction between RELIGION and LGBT COMMUNITY is often harsh and spiteful. Remember, it doesn’t need to be this way. It may be better for all of us to work on loving one another no matter what affiliated community they belong in. Not either/or. All.

    • I totally agree that spirituality/christianity and queerness aren’t mutually exclusive. My heart always goes out to the brave souls within conservative churches that are pushing for change.

      I couldn’t handle it.

      My parents wanted me to become a nun, and seriously said that God had spoken to each of them.
      No possible way that they had just internalized Catholic orthodoxy.
      Yup, definitely the Holy Spirit.


    • The churches (and mosques, synagogues etc) of the world are filled with some lovely people, yes. My friends and family among them. But when the scripture itself is so heavily flawed (and I’m talking about the Bible’s horrific treatment and erasure of women in addition to gay/queer people, among a whole lot of other highly questionable paradigms- I mean let’s start with the concept of a single male creator deity who can probably be traced to a random monotheistic cult within Bronze Age Caananite polytheism, whose widespread popularity is largely accounted for by the fact that the newly Christian Roman Empire imposed his worship on Europe via coersion and torture of the unconverted, and thence to the New Worlds via colonialism and further torture, etc) then isn’t it time to find a better system? I’m not saying we blame Christian individuals, or demonize the church in some Manichean way. (My dad is a minister). But I honestly don’t think that nursing this patriarchal, anti-woman, anti-queer scripture is healthy. Look at all these comments, look at the people whose lives have been torn apart by it.

      I heavily applaud the good people of the church for making a stand for justice and compassion. But I can’t help but feel they are acting IN SPITE of their religion, as church radicals have done for many centuries when no alternative systems were available (for example: Saints Francis and Clare), but not on its behalf. Christ’s love is great, and all that, and I think that is in large part what they look to for guidance. Unfortunatly the nice bits of the New Testament are wedded to some very, very messed up other philosophies, some of which are also in the New Testament (see for example: Saint Paul)

      I guess the question is, how do you separate compassion and respect for Christian individuals (which I do have) from a conscious personal rejection of the religion’s underlying, deeply damaging philosophies?

      • I was having almost this same conversation today.

        I feel there is something so damaging in a philosophy that at it’s root says:
        -1. Humanity is intrinsically flawed, because a woman (Eve) was curious and didn’t do as she was told by God. Even if it is just told as a ‘story’, that story has had very violent and (self) destructive consequences.
        -2. The only way to be redeemed from this history of sin is to submit to the ultimate wisdom, love, and authority of God. This “unworthiness” plays out in so many peoples’ lives, especially those on the receiving end of discrimination who believe that God has given them suffering in order to teach them humility and forgiveness.

        Your point about the good people of churches standing up in spite of their religion has definitely given me food for thought.

  24. Wow, Im so glad I waited til I got home to read this so I could really take it in. You write beautifully.

  25. Holy fuck. This was incredible. It’s true – queer conflict with Christianity goes so much deeper than the 7 clobber passages.

  26. Heather this is so freaking incredible and beautifully and powerfully written. Like, I don’t even know what to say. This is just amazing and thank you for writing it.

  27. Thank you. This was lovely. And empowering. I don’t have a religious background myself, but this thinking is ingrained in our whole western culture.

    Thank you.

    And so beautifully written about love.

  28. This resonated with me so hard it made me write angsty poetry:

    raised Catholic
    Mom wanted to be a movie star or a nun
    that’s the tone of my family

    i masturbated; didn’t know what it was called besides sin, besides shame
    didn’t know folks even could be queer

    Entrenched in orthodoxy
    it took five years with a lovely patient man to see myself as a sexual being
    i thought i would get used to his smell

    Dad had always said “All women are beautiful”
    I had agreed for years without a second thought

    That drunken make out- with a gorgeous femme- to make me think
    maybe I could like girls

    like-like girls, I mean
    I was 27

    shedding a layer
    revealing another layer

  29. Wow! This is my first comment since I entered the Staddlersphere. My heart is beating way too fast & my hands are shaking.If I could let myself cry, I would be crying infinetly for the lost & damaged beautiful souls recovering from the godless pervaers of god. I would be able to cry for you, and cry for me.
    First, thank you so much for putting yourself out there about this kind of spiritual rape. My biggest secret is not that I am a queer or a recovering drug addict /alcoholic. My fear, my shame, my guilt is that I got caught up in the sick web of a homophobic & misogynistic cult a few years ago I am only starting to come to & come out again.
    I am a soft Butch lesbian. Living in the cult almost destroyed my soul. Sober Lesbian friends helped me ‘escape’. First. I was I was in fear that the ‘others’ would shun me, later I was terrified that they would come for me.
    If there are any other survivors of this sort of abomination,I would like to hear from you. My feet have been on the path of healing for about four years, I have been getting help but still feeling so disconnected from the lesbian community – my heart is broken.
    Thank you again for this. I am grateful to believe at least there is hope & love & healing again.

  30. As others have said beautifully written, although I doubt anyone who followed you on AE will be surprised by that This however had more. You once wrote (in a Coronation Street recap) that the best writing gives words to those that have none. I think this meets that criteria.

  31. I am so happy you are here with us writing for AS now Heather, because we get to read amazing and brilliant and poignant stuff like this all the time now.

  32. Growing up queer in a rural Catholic town gave me my own perspective on guilt, shame, and being cast out. Thank you for so eloquently giving me a window into the world of my evangelical friends. There’s so much that we share, but it’s great to glimpse the nuances of one another’s experiences.

  33. It’s been days since I first read this and I’m still thinking about it. Lovely and inspiring.

  34. this is great. i love the idea of jesus as someone who “like[s] animals, magic tricks, and talking circles around a thing without ever saying what he really meant.”

  35. Had to read the last paragraph through tears. Thank you. I am a former pastor’s daughter and I understand the

  36. Looks like I’m a little late to this party, but I absolutely love your writing!

    I grew up in a non-religious family but a very Christian town. I can relate to the feelings of guilt. Oh, so much guilt! I believed in a god at certain points in my life and I used to pray for forgiveness but I wouldn’t stop. I felt like I was committing a crime. The guilt didn’t stop until after I had been in college for a bit and was in a relationship. Finally I realized it was okay to be a sexual person.

  37. I found my baby dedication New Testament recently, and I saved my purity pin. I talked to the pastor many times and even had a church-led intervention. Even today, my mother reminds me I can always “call the preacher.” The internalized self-loathing that can grow out of this when you’re surrounded by it constantly is indescribably intense. Thank you for this piece.

  38. One thing really bugs me about this.

    Lot’s Daughters Raped him, he didn’t get Drunk they got him Drunk.

    so I’m offended as a Feminist to see someone take the attitude that Lot should be blamed for that situation.

  39. I really enjoyed this article. I cant totally relate having not being raised in such a religious household but I feel it. This was my favorite part “It is enormous and it is relentless, and that morning when she grinned at me I noticed that she had smile-wrinkles. She didn’t have smile-wrinkles when we started dating. Her face had changed over the years, while we’d been going to sleep and waking up beside each other, and it was somehow even more beautiful than when we met.” What a beautiful revelation.

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