I was 22 and a senior in college. I’d just committed (...again) to remaining abstinent until marriage, went through True Love Waits for College Students and was ready to get it right this time. I’d cut off my ex-boyfriend back home, distanced myself from my on-campus situationship, had an internship with the women’s ministry at my church and was doing really well.
God laid it on our co-pastor’s heart to call the women’s ministry to a time of consecration. We fasted for a week and, on Friday night, brought an item of sacrifice. Instructed to wear white, I brought credit cards, pictures and my ex’s letterman jacket to lay on the altar. One by one, we placed our strongholds at Jesus’ feet and prayed he’d take whatever the weight away from us. The Spirit was high; we were open. There is something indescribable about women worshipping together- believing God for corporate and individual freedom. At the height of that moment of worship, our co-pastor spoke into the microphone.
“Let the virgins come.”
She instructed the virgins to come to the altar, where we’d all just laid our sacrifices, and dance. I watched sisters worship God through dance to make our sacrifices acceptable. Whatever freedom I experienced in that moment was immediately replaced with shame. Because I didn’t wait until I was married before I had sex, I couldn’t even present my own sacrifice to God without assistance. I was embarrassed. I was humiliated. I was disappointed in myself. It didn’t matter that I’d made the commitment to wait for my husband now; my previous actions carried consequences and one of them was this moment.
Other things didn’t seem to matter, either. As I watched the virgins dance for me and the other women who couldn’t dance for themselves, I saw sisters who were some of the meanest people I’d encountered in my life. They were a part of the favorites- the “in crowd”. Always celebrated for being pure and virginal, they were held up as the standard of womanhood. It didn’t matter if they turned up their noses and looked down at the rest of us. It didn’t matter if they talked about us behind our backs. It didn’t matter that many of them were straight up bitches. They were virgins and they were better.
Fifteen years removed from that moment, I am much different than I was then and so are they. Many of us have reconciled, had honest conversations about what kept us apart all those years ago and shared with each other how life has forced us to reckon with the fool’s gold we’d been sold by the church. While many of them still hold to more of the doctrines from that time than I now do, we are not the same young women we were back then. We grew up and, in growing up, we learned that what we saw through those rose colored glasses was never real.
Here’s the thing: Every time I see her, Ayesha Curry reminds me of that moment and those virgins.
Nope, she wasn’t there. Nope, I’ve never met her. But something about her reminds me of those who got to dance (and gloat) and be held up as the epitome of young Black Christian womanhood.
For some reason, Ayesha triggers a visceral reaction in many of us. Whenever she does anything, she is sure to become a Black Twitter trending topic. When we encounter Ayesha, there’s a lot going on:
- She is light skinned.
- She is married to a wealthy Black man.
- She got married before having children.
- She has established her own successful career.
- Black men consistently hold her up as the kind of woman, wife and mother other Black women should be.
- She is relentless in her expression of her faith.
…and, then, there’s that tweet.
All of this is a recipe that would grate the best of nerves. And, whether she admits it or not, Ayesha has leaned into the elevated status of being an esteemed “good girl” on more than one occasion.
Most infamously, that tweet caused many of us to side eye her and relive what it is like to be viewed as inferior by judgy church folks. Long before it became clear that Ayesha, social media and NBA Finals don’t mix, she was beloved as a pretty, godly Black girl who did everything right and was rewarded for it. And she knows it. And because she knows it (and never walked back that tweet), it’s difficult for many to have any sympathy for her.
So, when she became a trending topic as the Princess of “Pick Me” yet again yesterday, I assumed that she’d leaned right back into her pretty good girl privilege and said something else crazy. This time, she and the women of the Curry Family appeared on Red Table Talk to discuss their family dynamics. In ways we’d never seen, we saw an honest and vulnerable Ayesha detail her struggles with insecurities as a wife/mother/businesswoman, how she manages and navigates her anxiety disorder and her fight to create and maintain necessary boundaries.
As I watched Red Table Talk for myself, what I saw Ayesha say didn’t necessarily match the criticisms being lobbed at her on social media. Somehow, her saying that it matters to her that women disrespect the boundaries of her marriage and she’s had to check her husband about how he’s allowed it to happen became a problem. Her insistence that she be introduced as his wife and respected in spaces where they are together was read as a deep emotional insecurity and not as a boundary people within a relationship are well within their right to make. Words were put into her mouth to suggest that she said her anxiety disorder is rooted in her “groupie insecurities” and, somehow, her desire for attention could only be read through the lens of a four year old tweet and not through the lens of a woman leaning into the very human desire of feeling desirable after back-to-back pregnancies.
Somehow, when it came to Ayesha’s confessions at the red table, she wasn’t seen as a 30 year old woman coming to terms with developing her identity outside of being the wife to a man she’s known for half of her life. She wasn’t regarded as a young woman trying to also find her way after spending a great deal of the last few years pregnant and caring for children. She wasn’t read as someone who’s questioning- like many of us had to- if there’s more to life than what she was told she deserved simply because she was good and did everything right.
And I completely understand why. When it comes to some Black women, Ayesha has done herself no favors. Like me, Ayesha reminds them of all the girls who made coming into their own very difficult and painful. At the same time, Ayesha Curry wasn’t at the altar dancing to make my sacrifice acceptable that Friday night in church. Ayesha isn’t my church bully. She has never done anything to me. And she has never done anything to the sisters who are her fiercest critics because of their experiences in church.
A progressive Black Christian feminist ethic cannot just analyze and articulate the ways Ayesha embodies a politic that has held many a sister back. It also must make room to hold the analyzer and articulator accountable for their own healing. That Ayesha and other successful young Christian Black women who are celebrated as our standard are triggers for me is my own stuff to process and work through. And, though we live in a world where many of us are performing public healing instead of doing the very hard private work to be well and don’t like to be told that we need to let go of some things, I knew that I needed to let go of the trauma I experienced thanks to the church.
Through talk therapy, group counseling, immersion in womanist theology and Black feminist religious thought and engaging with more progressive Christian communities, I understood how antithetical to God’s heart that moment in church was all those years ago. I also found room to be honest that, within my shame was also my desire to have been one of the virgins dancing. Had this same service happened in high school or during my first semester, I would have been right at that altar. Dancing with the rest of them. Glorying in the fact that I am one of the good ones -one of the best ones- and those watching me from the pews were not.
I am churched. Despite how progressive I become, it is very difficult to walk completely away from many of the damaging doctrines and theologies that have shaped me. When life hits, I have to fight to believe that it’s not because of something I did or because I’m “outside of God’s will”. When I experienced the depths of heartbreak and loneliness, I had to constantly tell myself that it was not the consequence of premarital sex. When I saw girls like Ayesha and the virgins getting married and beginning families before me, it took effort to understand that it wasn’t because God loved them more than God loved me. If many are honest, some of the resentment they feel toward Ayesha and the Ayeshas of the world is because they complicate our resistance against the narratives the church gave us because we only view them through that lens. We only see them as the church’s winners and see ourselves as the church’s losers. And while the church may need to hold fast to that dichotomy, we don’t have to support it.
I am not inferior to the sisters who were virgins on their wedding night and Ayesha isn’t superior to the women she was told all of her life never to be. All of us are victims of the same toxic, violent theology that suggests we have to be pitted against each other in order for some ideological holiness to survive. And it’s killing us. Because, when we are vested in those systems, we can’t be honest.
Many of those virgins dancing, at the time, couldn’t be honest about their queerness and sexual identity. There wasn’t room for them to be transparent that their virginity was because they hadn’t been asked on dates and weren’t receiving the kind of attention they really wanted. No space to be vulnerable about how difficult it was for them to transition immediately from a virgin, where all of their identity was placed, to someone who’d had sex- even if it was with their husband. And, for others, it was seemingly impossible to be honest about their anger and grief at the way life withheld some of their deepest desires- the very things they were promised because they were “good girls”.
Life was happening to them just as it was happening to the rest of us.
We were trying to forge new understandings of God and God’s love that weren’t steeped in the toxicity of before. We were struggling to understand why embracing new theologies meant we had to lose dear family members and old friends. We were attempting to come to terms with our sexuality, agency and feminist identities outside of oppressive constructions of the Divine. And we were doing all of that while fighting many of the same internal battles they were.
And yet, because of our rift, we couldn’t see ourselves in each other and still can’t see it. Four years ago, Ayesha couldn’t see the fierceness and independence she craves in the women she maligned. Today, we can’t recognize the independence we embody as rooted in the same vulnerability and transparency Ayesha displayed at the red table. Sadly, on either side of the spectrum, many still can’t bring themselves to admit that they’re slightly envious of the other.
I want all of us to win and space exists for that. The healthiest spaces require that all of us do our part to be honest, whole and safe for each other. For Ayesha, that includes apologizing for and reckoning with that tweet. For some, it includes sliding into DMs and apologizing to some sisters from back in the day who experienced the full weight of your mean girl shenanigans because you thought you were better than them. For others, it means finding a way to heal from the trauma of spiritual abuse and resist the seduction of projecting our pain and anger onto others. For all of us, it means understanding that we are not our enemy and the only way to win is to remember that all we have is each other. It doesn’t mean we have to be best friends. But it does mean that we consistently make room for each other’s truth, healing and ability to thrive.