The Mad and Crip Theology Podcast

Season 2, Episode 13: Heather Morgan on Purity Culture and Autism

February 17, 2023 Amy Panton and Miriam Spies Season 2 Episode 13
Season 2, Episode 13: Heather Morgan on Purity Culture and Autism
The Mad and Crip Theology Podcast
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The Mad and Crip Theology Podcast
Season 2, Episode 13: Heather Morgan on Purity Culture and Autism
Feb 17, 2023 Season 2 Episode 13
Amy Panton and Miriam Spies

In this episode, we talk with Heather Morgan about purity culture and the harm being done to female-presenting autistic people (and others) because of this movement. Heather shares some of her diaries from growing up and talks about the teachings she learned about purity when she was young. She then explains how she feels receiving an autism diagnosis would have helped her make better sense of purity culture. We then talk about helpful ways of talking about sex, faith, and autism. 

Read Heather's commentary piece "Autism and Purity Culture" in the journal here: https://jps.library.utoronto.ca/index.php/cjtmhd/article/view/39544 

Here is a list of some further reading mentioned in the episode:

-Nadia Bolz-Weber, Shameless: A Sexual Reformation, (New York: Convergent Books, 2019).
-Devon Price, Unmasking Autism: Discovering the New Faces of Neurodiversity, (New York: Harmony Books, 2022).
-Danielle Mayfield, God is My Special Interest, (Blog and Cultivated Community), https://dlmayfield.substack.com/
-Heather Renée Morgan, Powered by Love, www.poweredbylove.ca
-Jesus Girls: True Tales of Growing Up Female and Evangelical, Hannah Faith Nottess Ed. (Eugene, OR, Cascade: 2009).

Show Notes Transcript

In this episode, we talk with Heather Morgan about purity culture and the harm being done to female-presenting autistic people (and others) because of this movement. Heather shares some of her diaries from growing up and talks about the teachings she learned about purity when she was young. She then explains how she feels receiving an autism diagnosis would have helped her make better sense of purity culture. We then talk about helpful ways of talking about sex, faith, and autism. 

Read Heather's commentary piece "Autism and Purity Culture" in the journal here: https://jps.library.utoronto.ca/index.php/cjtmhd/article/view/39544 

Here is a list of some further reading mentioned in the episode:

-Nadia Bolz-Weber, Shameless: A Sexual Reformation, (New York: Convergent Books, 2019).
-Devon Price, Unmasking Autism: Discovering the New Faces of Neurodiversity, (New York: Harmony Books, 2022).
-Danielle Mayfield, God is My Special Interest, (Blog and Cultivated Community), https://dlmayfield.substack.com/
-Heather Renée Morgan, Powered by Love, www.poweredbylove.ca
-Jesus Girls: True Tales of Growing Up Female and Evangelical, Hannah Faith Nottess Ed. (Eugene, OR, Cascade: 2009).

Welcome to this episode of the Mad and Crip Theology Podcast with myself, Mariam, and Amy, and today we're delighted to have Heather Morgan with us. So we'll get to her in a minute, but first Amy has some news to share. 

Yeah, thanks so much Miriam, we um, uh, we are-- we use this company called Buzzsprout to host our podcasts online, and they're really awesome, because they-- like we just basically upload to Buzzsprout, we upload our audio files, and then Buzzsprout does an amazing job of like-- putting them on all the different podcasting platforms like Apple, Spotify, or wherever you are listening to us today and, uh, they sent out a-- like a summary of our 2022 year, and we are just so excited and so encouraged to see that our podcast grew by 256% in 2022. So, we are just--  like we cannot believe it-- um, and underneath it, there's like a meme of like somebody clapping, so, we are just so happy, um, with this growth and, um, it also gives us the information of like where our listeners are, which I think is very fascinating, so, it looks like Toronto's our most popular city, which makes sense, because, you know, we have a lot of friends in Toronto, a lot of our friends at Emmanuel College, and also at the Toronto School of Theology, and then it looks like our second most popular city is London, England? So that's kind of cool, and then after that we have friends who are listening from Georgia, we have, um, another city in Ontario, and then the other-- like the fifth most popular city is in Edmonton, Alberta. So if you're listening from any of these cities today, hello to you, and thank you so much for your support. We are just so blessed and in awe that we've been able to do this podcast, Miriam and I were just talking this morning that like, we're going to be heading into our third year of podcasting, so. Thank you so, so, much for all of your support. And, yeah. And that's it, for that so.

And we're delighted again to heave Heather, so Heather, can you remind our listeners who you are, tell us a little bit about yourself. 

Sure. I'm Heather Morgan, I am a third year MDIV student now at Emmanuel College, I'll be graduating-- the plan! at the end of the semester, um, and, uh, I have been ordained since I was on the podcast last, I was ordained in April, so I am now, uh, an ordained minister, and, um, I spend my time thinking about theology through a crip lens, so this is the-- this is definitely the podcast for me.

Awesome, well thank you so much Heather, we're so happy that you're here with us today, and the day that we're recording this episode is Friday the 13th, so we are not gonna-- like think about that at all, it will be a very lucky day, we know it will be. Um, well, we, um, we wanted to ask you Heather, if you could start by reading a little bit of the piece that you wrote for the journal. And we started to do this with a lot of our guests, and we found that it's very-- just so cool to hear authors read their own work, so we're just gonna invite you to do that. 

Absolutely. I was 12 years old, and I had just started grade seven when I walked into Mrs M's Sunday school class at my brethren Bible Chapel. The class was held in an upstairs room of a high school our church was renting. After years of being in co-ed classes, I entered the classroom to find that this year we would be just in a class with the seven grade seven girls. I was one of them, and as far as I know to this day the only undiagnosed autistic in the room. I was two years ahead of my peers when it came to puberty, and desperate for someone to tell me what the rules were so that I could understand how to navigate the turbulent social waters of Middle School. I also deeply loved Jesus, and wanted nothing more than to live in a way that would make God happy. A rural follower by nature, I had spent my life to that point in fundamentalist religious spaces, and was deeply immersed in a world of right and wrong, good and evil, and I desperately wanted to make sure what I did was right to the best of my abilities. Now, here in front of me was Mrs M, a former missionary kid who had grown up in Africa, which somehow counted as high credentials. She told us that we were going to learn about finest Godly femininity together this year. I was immediately hooked. Here was the rule book I had been looking for. Together we drew the outlines of a Greco-Roman temple with seven sturdy ruler-drawn pillars in our duotangs. The pillars stood on a floor above a foundation holding up the lintel and the roof with an altar positioned in front of the building. Over the coming weeks we would slowly fill in each section of the structure with a word and a Bible verse. Pages were added each week to the duotang to fill in what each section was meant to look like in our lives. The foundation was Christianity. The floor, contentment. The pillars bore the names cleanliness, constitution, carriage, countenance, condition, conduct, and character. the lintel was purity. The roof, spirituality. The decoration, individuality. And the altar, our minds and heart, what's important to God. Somewhere amid these lessons, I absorbed the idea that my body held a dangerous power that must be kept under lock and key. Or at least covered from neck to ankles and wrists at all times.

I think that's where you had wanted me to pause. 

Thank you, Heather, for sharing that powerful piece of your commentary. And we wondered, the journal has been out a few months, and we wondered how it felt, how has it felt to put, um, such an intimate story out there in the-- in the journal.

Um, I think it hasn't really felt, um, like it was very intimate, I'm not sure why that is, I think maybe because it's something I have talked about, um, publicly in other spaces, uh, before, um, the-- there's a whole-- whole bunch of folks, um, in-- who grew up in this purity culture world in the 80s and 90s who have spent the naughties and the tens, uh, trying to deconstruct what that did to us, so, um, it's-- it doesn't feel like it's been wildly, uh, vulnerable or a new revelation out there, but I think what was really helpful for me was trying to take something I've talked about in less, um, less specific environments right? Like just conversations with friends and stuff like that, you don't always do the work of-- of trying to carefully line up all the thoughts, and where does this connect to this, connect to this, and so I think what was really helpful for me in writing this piece, was-- was doing that, even though it was a commentary and not a research piece, just trying to bring some of that academic, um, order to the chaos of the thoughts, um, I think has been really helpful for-- for me and I feel like I can articulate it a little bit better, although I've seen the rest of your questions for me today and we'll see how well I can articulate it, actually.

I love Heather that, um, you had-- you still had so many of your journals from when you were a kid. And so, um, if listeners want to go and check it out, you can see some of the pages from Heather's Journal that she's included, and it's so cool, um, I don't know-- probably in my garage or something, I probably have very similar kinds of journals, Heather, because as you know, and Miriam knows, I grew up in a very similar kind of, um, fundamentalist, um, uh, church, and, um, a lot of the stuff you talk about in the article is like, I was like, "Oh my God, this is exactly what it was like for me." Um, so we-- we just want to thank you so much for sharing these images, they were amazing to-- for us to pour over, and look at. 

Yeah, I actually brought one of them with me, this is--

Oh, cool! 

This is the-- this is the duotang! And, uh there's my-- there's my grade seven bubble letters, um, there's lots of-- I love that there's lots of white out, because it had to be like, perfectly written in for me, and you know, all of that personality in there, um, and, uh, I was thinking about-- because I have-- I-- we've moved a bunch of times now, and just before we moved this last time, I did actually get rid of a number of my journals from childhood, because I just-- I've done lots of therapy, I'd worked through lots of things, I didn't feel like I needed all of them, but this one I had held on to, and I think-- I think these things that really have such a, uh, hold on us, uh, as kids, like we do hold on to them because-- because they're a way of us understanding that point in our-- in our lives, whether-- and-- and I think-- I think it's a way of kind of, acknowledging it some-- even subconscious level, the way that that is a traumatic experience, um, that we need to somehow keep trying to make sense of for the rest of our lives because it does so much-- um, has-- has such a power to wound us, uh, in our bodies, and-- and therefore in all of our relationships, and everything else, and so I think-- I think it's always a sign when people still have their journals, I'm like, "Oh! Those were challenging years for you, were they?" because I think that's why we hold on to them, but maybe we just hold on to them because we don't want to clean up, I don't know. 

That's also-- that could be true, if-- Miriam and I were laughing and saying this morning, if you could see our desks and the other side behind the camera, oh no no no! Yes, it's very bad. 

That's not allowed! We're academic, that's not allowed!

Exactly.

Yeah.

Um, In your-- in your paper you offer the readers a brief history of purity culture, and we wondered if you could explain what it is, simply, and why it's especially harmful to female presenting autistic people.

Yeah, that's a-- that's a harder task than it should be, purity culture has this very amorphous, um, equality to it. Nobody sat down and said, "We are now teaching you purity culture, and these are the three rules of purity culture, and this is why we do the three rules of purity culture," because it's not-- it's not like that, it's come out of all of these, I think, react-- very reactive responses to, um, second wave feminism, and civil rights movement, and the ways that those things, uh, felt threatening and challenging to white evangelicals in the 70s and 80s, um, and I think until we acknowledge that that's part of where they're coming from, then we have no chance of understanding it. But I was trying to come up with like, some way of understanding, and I think-- I think what it is at its basic level, is a shame-based means of controlling external behaviors, um, within a particular subculture. Um, and-- and specifically that shame-based, uh, process is-- is situated around the idea of sexuality, and controlling sexuality. Um, it's not just harmful for-- for female presenting individuals, um, and it's not just harmful for autistic individuals, I just want to make sure that I say that so that no one feels like their experience is, uh, is left out of this, but I think that for female presenting, uh, autistics, uh, particularly who have the the form of atypical autism that I was talking about that I have, um, there's this-- there's this awareness that the social world works in a way that we don't quite understand. Um, that, you know, we-- we attempt social interactions, and we get rebuffed, and we attempt them in different ways, and we get rebuffed, and we can't always understand like, why that is, or what's going on there, and so then, when someone comes along and says, "This is how you should do things, these are the rules you should keep, um, and these are the rules that will make God happy," then, I think we are particularly vulnerable to that, and less likely than others perhaps, um, when we are in that rule, keeping side of things to-- to question it, when it doesn't make sense, um, and more likely to experience the harm of the contradictions. Um, because for many, many, people with autism, the the sense of the contradiction between things is-- is extremely anxiety provoking. And so, the combination of shame, and contradictions, and rule keeping, I think just sort of-- it's a trifecta of-- of potential for harm. But that doesn't mean that everyone who was exposed to it wasn't harmed by it.

Thanks so much for that Heather, yeah, and thanks for pointing out that others are harmed, I mean, um, for sure, like our listeners know that I have anxiety and OCD, and so, I mean, I can think about the ways that my anxiety was like so bad growing up because I also wanted to follow the rules and make God happy. And purity culture was a way that, um, at least in my neck of the woods, where I grew up, was a way that female presenting people could like check a box, and make sure that we were doing all the things right, um and like, um, I remember this-- this piece brought back so much for me, um, I remember growing up, like, we weren't supposed to kiss on-- the person that we were going to be-- of course you have to get married, so we weren't supposed to kiss the person that we were going to get married to before we got married, you weren't allowed to hold hands, all of the kind of like, dating and stuff was supposed to be chaperone, like it was very-- I mean, did I follow all the rules? No, right, but at least like-- and then that brings like another layer of shame, and like anxiety, and just like feeling of failure, when it feels like you're not following those rules, um, yeah. 

Yeah, and-- and yet I did follow all those rules, I didn't kiss until the day I got married, um, and that brought a whole heap of other problems into the situation, because I hadn't thought about sex, I hadn't, you know, I had no idea what my sexual wants, or needs, or desires, or preferences, or anything were, I-- I alluded to it a little bit in the piece, but I mean it was-- it set me up for enormous challenges, uh, in my marriage for years, and years, and years, and years. Uh, having been told that this was going to set me up for success. Um, and so the fallout from that was enormous. Um, and I think-- I think this-- is this is how you know the theology is just genuinely toxic, is that if-- if everyone who is exposed to it is harmed whether they keep it or not, then there's-- there's nothing redemptive about this theology, and-- and it really needs to be shelved, at that point, like, I kept it to the letter, couldn't have done it better. Horrible in my life. Everyone I've talked to who hasn't kept it to the letter, horrible in their lives. It's-- it's bad news, at that point.

It's totally bad news, and I think, um, it's-- it makes me really sad that purity culture hasn't gone away. So we may have been living through the 80s and 90s and been harmed by it, and it's still out there wreaking havoc, um, in people's lives. 

Yeah. 

Yeah. So, um, Heather, we were curious to hear about, um, you talk on page 80 about how you feel receiving an autism diagnosis would have helped you make better sense of purity culture. So can you unpack this a little bit more for our listeners? 

So I think what I should have said is, receiving an Autism diagnosis and the supports that, uh-- good-- good autism supports that I now advocate for for other people, um, in this position, would have helped, because-- because it's those-- it's that aware-- the combination of the awareness, and the supports, that allows you to start to, um, ask important questions of what you're being told. Instead of simply assuming that the reason you're failing at doing things, is because you haven't studied hard enough, and you haven't followed the rules carefully enough. So, once you realize, "Oh! Actually, I'm on the autism spectrum. Well, okay, so that makes sense, like if I'm struggling socially, and my brain is wired differently than other people's, it would make sense that people might not always understand my jokes, it would make sense that the way that I dress might have more to do with, um, comfort or executive functioning, or sensory processing disorder, or all of those things," um, and so, even just understanding that piece can take some of the stress out of the experience of social interactions, in a way that even that lowers-- lowers the vulnerability a little bit. But then, once you start to develop some of the, um, self-awareness skills, some of the self-soothing skills, some of the things that are not, um, maybe naturally, uh, as quick to develop in the autistic brain, um, that-- that then helps you again, to-- to get to the point where you can develop skills like, um, to evaluate what social, uh, inputs you're getting, and to figure out, "well, how would I know whether to listen to this person, or to this person. Uh, how would I determine, um, what priority to give different pieces of information." Um, and it's-- it's not uncommon, across the autism spectrum, regardless of religious upbringing, for folks with autism to be vulnerable in a sexual space. Because they're looking for other people to tell them what it is they're supposed to do, um, and-- and anytime you're in that position, you can't give full meaningful consent. Um, if you're expecting other people to explain how it's supposed to work, and so, I think that-- that the work that I now see in the work that I now get to participate in sometimes to help, uh, folks on the spectrum make better sense of their own minds, a big part of that is helping them to develop a real, uh, authentic sense of themselves. And from that space, then they can evaluate, "well what do I think of this, how does this feel in my body," because they've now turned down enough of the alarms that I can listen to my body. And I can learn to trust my body. And I think all of those things would have made it easier, um, but they were not available, and they're still really, really, really, sadly they are still not available for many people on the spectrum. Not just people my age, but people who are kids, and teenagers today. So, just like purity culture, we have a long way to go when it comes to autism, and especially this atypical female presenting autism, they just so off so often gets missed in the, um, in the mix, because-- because we're not usually the disruptive kids.

Definitely a long way to go. I hope, anyways, that by sharing your story you have-- you have made an impact on others and given hope. 

That's the hope.

Thank you. Um, you talk a little bit about you doing work to resolve  the childhood trauma. So, can you speak a little bit about that to our audience?  

Yeah. Um, so I-- I love these, um, these big journal books. Well, they're art books, that they sell at, uh, at the dollar store, they're my-- they're my favorite go-to, uh, and I have shelf-- couple shelves full of them now, um, of-- of-- pages, and pages, and pages, that I have used to work through, um, you know, sort of, what identify-- what were those messages that I figured out intuitively, um, as a kid, what-- like, finding words for those unspoken things, especially, became really, really, important, because-- because until you can articulate, "well, this is-- this is what I got from that moment. This was how that moment got interpreted in my brain, got stored as, sort of, social software in my head," then, is very difficult to address how that is continuing to perpetuate harm in our lives today. So I think that's step one, is being able to articulate what those messages are, but I'm-- I'm like a lot of people on the autism spectrum, uh, I don't find CBT to be a particularly helpful modality, um, for my brain, um, so I can't just say, "well that's a stupid message, get rid of it," um, because it feels like, well, like, who says? Who says that this authority figure is smarter than this authority figure, like, I don't-- I don't get how you get to win this argument over this one, right? Um, but, uh, what I have been learning over the last seven or eight years, is that I can-- I can get to the point where I understand myself to be an authority. And where I can give myself authoritative status, and for that authoritative status to be, uh, to rest in my body, and to rest in my own values. And, um, so that process of-- of developing that authoritative status for myself, and then using that to look at the messages, um, that are there, and say, "well, okay. The message says this, what is my embodied authoritative self think of that?" And usually my body's like, ew, that's gross, that's stupid, and can then proceed to tell me all the reasons why it's gross and stupid, "I'm like, oh! You're smart, you know things," and that sounds-- I don't know, that sounds like a really weird process to a lot of people, it's not the typical process um, I-- I reference a little bit in the piece, I-- this is something I have developed, and I use with a lot of folks, um, who are on the autism spectrum, uh, and it-- it seems to work really well for us. Uh, and that's great because a lot of things don't, um, but I think it's been this process of-- of figuring out a much more grounded sense of self. Um, purity culture talks a lot about, um, boundaries. It's all about keeping boundaries, and, um, I-- I think in-- in pictures sometimes and I-- I remember thinking of myself as like, you know, surrounded by by all the walls of a Maximum Security Prison, you know? Like-- like, uh, like a really, really, heavy guarded, you know, wires, uh, barbed wire fencing, an electrical.. stuff, and all the rest of it, and layer upon layer of fences, and-- and I feel like Purity culture, for me, created that sort of world. Um, and, and what I have been shifting to, is, uh, uh, a sense of grounding. Um, I live, uh, in a city near-- that has a very beautiful waterfront, and gets nasty winter storms, and that means that, um, you know, and-- and wind, all the time, it's always windy here, um, and so we've got these big old willow trees around the waterfront, they planted them 100 years ago, um, and-- and so they're-- they're old, and they're huge, um but because they are so well grounded, because their roots are so massive under the ground, it doesn't matter how much wind we get, it doesn't matter what storms come, they are solid, and their branches can sway, and everything can move, but they don't go anywhere. Sometimes, you have to, you know, lop off a few branches after an ice storm, or something, but the the tree is there, and it's staying there, and there's nothing wrong with it, and so I've been trying to make this move from from a boundaried self, to this grounded self, and doing that has-- has given me so much freedom from the harms of purity culture, because-- because now I'm in a place where I can listen to my body, now I'm in a place where I can give real consent, now I'm in a place where I-- where I know what I want, and I can therefore articulate what I want to my partner, and I can-- you know, we can actually have conversations about these things, and, yeah. That's-- I think where I'm at with the process, but I think I'm also at the point of realizing that, um, there was enough harm done that I will probably always need to continue to be mindful of the process, because it's-- it's not-- it's not over and fixed.

Thank you so much for sharing that Heather, and I was-- when you were, um, talking I was just, um, thinking about something my therapist always says to me, which is, healing isn't linear. So, this idea that like, we're gonna, a lot of the times be circling back and stuff, and that's okay. Um, that's something that I've had to learn too, because sometimes I'm like, "God, why isn't this-- why am I not healed yet! I don't want to deal with this anymore," you know, but we have to keep, you know, sometimes we cycle back, so, um. Yeah, it was interesting when you said that CBT is unhelpful, um, and I think CBT can be unhelpful for a lot of people, there's-- I don't know, I-- I'm-- this may be controversial, but I think um CBT is sometimes-- can make it seem like, "oh, here's your six sessions we're gonna do this in the six sessions, and by the time we're done we hope that it will be resolved," and it's not always that simple. Um, yeah, and I think, one other thing you were just talking about, um, women thinking about, um, their authority of self, and finding that self-authority is so important in these conversations around purity culture, and-- and survivors of purity culture, so thank you so much for articulating that.

Um, so the last question we have for you today, is can you talk to us about some helpful ways of talking about sex, faith, and autism together? What are some helpful ways, or do you have any ideas about that? 

Just a little question to end us off, right!

Yeah, that's right.

Nothing-- nothing big! Um, so, I think-- this is-- because you asked for this to be, uh, off the cuff, and not written down, it's-- it's going to be a little off the cuff and not necessarily linear, um, but I think there's a few things, one is, um, I think it's been really helpful for me to, uh, become aware of, and listen to, and learn from, um, the queer world. In terms of understanding sexuality and gender as spectrums, um, understanding, you know, dynamics like ace and aro, understanding, um, you know, what it-- what it means to think about, um, attraction, all of those things, uh, the LGBT world has done an enormous amount of work on thinking very carefully about sexuality, um, and that's something that I appreciate even when I come to different conclusions for myself than other people do. Um, but I just think they've-- of necessity, had to think very, very, carefully about these things, um, and so-- so realizing the range of what sexuality can be, um, has been a huge and very valuable eye-opener for me, um, and I think-- I think I've come to realize that-- like, out of that, and out of other theological thinking and stuff, that-- that sexuality, regardless of whether we're on the ace end, or on the other end, or anywhere in between, um, is an intrinsic part of us as human beings. Um, there's there's something about us, that is is sexual, and-- and, regardless of what that is sexually, to deny that is to deny something of who we are. Um, and I don't have that drawing with me right now, but I, um-- I shared a second drawing from one of my, uh, journals that has these four interlocking circles, um, and I talked about the fact that you know, Jesus says we're supposed to love God with our heart, and our soul, and our mind, and our strength, with our whole selves, we can't do that if we take part of ourselves, part of our strength, part of our bodies, and say you're not welcome. That's not going to work, and so we have to bring that part of ourselves into the equation. But, equally it's not the only part of ourselves. And I think, um, especially when we're trying to recover from spaces that have excluded our sexuality, it can be really easy to like, pendulum swing, and then, like, only think about our sexuality, and so I'm trying to find ways of-- of bringing the pendulum into the middle of incorporating sexuality as part of the broader picture of who I am as a human being. And then, a third piece is, um, recognizing that sexuality on its own, isn't inherently good or bad, it's not helpful or dangerous just because it exists, um, but-- but there are definitely ways of-- of approaching it, of using it, that are helpful, and definitely ways that are dangerous, and it's not just like, yes, there-- there is sexual abuse, and there is sexual assault, and those are horrible, horrible, things that are awful and evil, but also, sexual shame is a horrible, horrible, thing that is awful and evil, and-- and we're not-- I think it's-- it's so important to recognize that-- that we can we can deviate from what is best and what is good in both directions, and cause harm in both directions, um, but equally, there are things we can do that can make it a life-giving force. It can be something that is good, it can be something that is generative, it can be something that that helps us to be more whole as human beings, that helps us to more wholly follow God in our lives, um, that helps us to care better for the world around us, for our partners, for our families, for ourselves, and all of that matters. Um, and then finally, um, that I--

I do not have the responsibility of controlling other people's sexuality. And if you have ever had encounters with purity culture world, this is, uh, a huge thing that I think needs to be said over, and over, and over, again, because a big part of what that world tries to do is control. And I think control, um, is a form of fear, it's a form of force, um, and-- and the Bible tells us that perfect love drives out fear, so those are opposites, they're-- they're magnetic opposites and they can't have anything to do with each other, and so if I want to be in loving relationships, I have to be willing to lay down my need for control, and, uh, instead be a grounded-- my need for control of other people, sorry, that needs to be said very clearly, um, I can't control another person's behavior, but I can very clearly ground myself in what I need, and what feels safe for me, and I can articulate that for myself. And articulating that is is a good thing, it is a helpful thing, um, and that is something that can, um, be really important in relationship dynamics, um, to kind of, shift that balance away from controlling everybody else to taking ownership for myself and, um, speaking up for what I need, and articulating that clearly, um, and repeatedly, as long as I need to, um. So, I think those are the things that I've been thinking about-- very broad brush strokes-- about sex, and-- and I think that that they intersect with, um, what I've been thinking about in terms of autism because I think autism also has that, like, kind of, fear leading to control, leading to all of those things, and so I think we-- we really gravitate to those pieces of purity culture, and so that's something that I think we really need to un-- unravel, and I think the faith piece for me is those those two things that-- that perfect love casts out fear, so they're-- they're-- I-- I can choose only one at a given point, and that-- that love, if I want to love God, I have to do so with the wholeness of my being, that I have to do the work, and keep on showing up to do the work, to bring all of myself before God, and all of myself into my relationships, in ways that are healthy, and loving. Um that that's-- I think as I've grounded myself in that truth, it has really helped with the, um, with finding balance in the rest of it.

That's a really beautiful vision and, um, grounding to-- to talk about holy and unholy sexuality in our life for all people and for people who are autistic, people who are crip, people who are mad, and so, so important to have this church of conversation so thank you. We just wondered if there was anything else that we haven't touched on that you-- you want to get in there today? 

Well, I think because-- because this is the Mad and Crip Podcast, um, I think it's important to just expand that last answer to-- to include all of our mad and crip bodies, I am also a wheel-- power wheelchair user, to those listening to the podcast, um, instead of watching the video, you won't see my head rest, but also, people don't notice our head rests, uh, and don't automatically assume we're in wheelchairs, they just think we have fancy desk chairs, um, and-- and pain has been part of my embodied experience, and limitations in, um, you know, positions and all of the rest of those things, and-- and, you know, if-- if purity culture was-- was really bad for, uh, my autistic brain, it was just really useless, uh, for my disabled body, but it turns out, so is most stuff on sexuality,

Yes!

Um, and-- and there are very few places, and spaces where we can find good, healthy, conversations around sexuality and disabled bodies, and there are even fewer spaces where that conversation is happening in faith-based spaces, um, and we're not going to finish that before, you know, the end of this podcast, but I wanted to articulate it for those who are listening, and who are like, "yeah, but what about--" I'm-- yeah, I see you, I hear you, our-- our disabled bodies are not seen and recognized on the top of sexuality isn't well tended to, and so, I'm so glad that, uh, we-- that you guys did this, uh, issue for the journal, and I really hope it's not the last one, because I think that there is a lot of work that needs to be done on this, um, and you know, maybe at some point you need to actually publish a book on-- on disability and sexuality, and-- and madness and sexuality, and, you know, actually get into some of these things from a theological perspective I think there's a lot of, uh, need for this conversation, so, um, you know, in a in a good old Emmanuel tradition, let's pull out extra questions in the last five minutes and then leave everybody hanging, right? 

Yeah, we definitely need to do more podcasts and more issues.

Well, thank you so much Heather for being with us today, we-- we so appreciate all the work you're doing in the autism community, and we just want to celebrate your ordination today, as well with you, and for our listeners, if you want to read a little bit more about autism, or some, um, some stuff about sexuality, you can check out, uh, Heather's article or commentary, because there's a list of some really good resources at the bottom there. And if I remember, I will link it at the base of the podcast, so you can check those out easily. So, thank you so much everyone for listening, and thank you so much Heather for being here today. 

Thank you.Welcome to this episode of the Mad and Crip Theology Podcast with myself, Mariam, and Amy, and today we're delighted to have Heather Morgan with us. So we'll get to her in a minute, but first Amy has some news to share. 

Yeah, thanks so much Miriam, we um, uh, we are-- we use this company called Buzzsprout to host our podcasts online, and they're really awesome, because they-- like we just basically upload to Buzzsprout, we upload our audio files, and then Buzzsprout does an amazing job of like-- putting them on all the different podcasting platforms like Apple, Spotify, or wherever you are listening to us today and, uh, they sent out a-- like a summary of our 2022 year, and we are just so excited and so encouraged to see that our podcast grew by 256% in 2022. So, we are just--  like we cannot believe it-- um, and underneath it, there's like a meme of like somebody clapping, so, we are just so happy, um, with this growth and, um, it also gives us the information of like where our listeners are, which I think is very fascinating, so, it looks like Toronto's our most popular city, which makes sense, because, you know, we have a lot of friends in Toronto, a lot of our friends at Emmanuel College, and also at the Toronto School of Theology, and then it looks like our second most popular city is London, England? So that's kind of cool, and then after that we have friends who are listening from Georgia, we have, um, another city in Ontario, and then the other-- like the fifth most popular city is in Edmonton, Alberta. So if you're listening from any of these cities today, hello to you, and thank you so much for your support. We are just so blessed and in awe that we've been able to do this podcast, Miriam and I were just talking this morning that like, we're going to be heading into our third year of podcasting, so. Thank you so, so, much for all of your support. And, yeah. And that's it, for that so.

And we're delighted again to heave Heather, so Heather, can you remind our listeners who you are, tell us a little bit about yourself. 

Sure. I'm Heather Morgan, I am a third year MDIV student now at Emmanuel College, I'll be graduating-- the plan! at the end of the semester, um, and, uh, I have been ordained since I was on the podcast last, I was ordained in April, so I am now, uh, an ordained minister, and, um, I spend my time thinking about theology through a crip lens, so this is the-- this is definitely the podcast for me.

Awesome, well thank you so much Heather, we're so happy that you're here with us today, and the day that we're recording this episode is Friday the 13th, so we are not gonna-- like think about that at all, it will be a very lucky day, we know it will be. Um, well, we, um, we wanted to ask you Heather, if you could start by reading a little bit of the piece that you wrote for the journal. And we started to do this with a lot of our guests, and we found that it's very-- just so cool to hear authors read their own work, so we're just gonna invite you to do that. 

Absolutely. I was 12 years old, and I had just started grade seven when I walked into Mrs M's Sunday school class at my brethren Bible Chapel. The class was held in an upstairs room of a high school our church was renting. After years of being in co-ed classes, I entered the classroom to find that this year we would be just in a class with the seven grade seven girls. I was one of them, and as far as I know to this day the only undiagnosed autistic in the room. I was two years ahead of my peers when it came to puberty, and desperate for someone to tell me what the rules were so that I could understand how to navigate the turbulent social waters of Middle School. I also deeply loved Jesus, and wanted nothing more than to live in a way that would make God happy. A rural follower by nature, I had spent my life to that point in fundamentalist religious spaces, and was deeply immersed in a world of right and wrong, good and evil, and I desperately wanted to make sure what I did was right to the best of my abilities. Now, here in front of me was Mrs M, a former missionary kid who had grown up in Africa, which somehow counted as high credentials. She told us that we were going to learn about finest Godly femininity together this year. I was immediately hooked. Here was the rule book I had been looking for. Together we drew the outlines of a Greco-Roman temple with seven sturdy ruler-drawn pillars in our duotangs. The pillars stood on a floor above a foundation holding up the lintel and the roof with an altar positioned in front of the building. Over the coming weeks we would slowly fill in each section of the structure with a word and a Bible verse. Pages were added each week to the duotang to fill in what each section was meant to look like in our lives. The foundation was Christianity. The floor, contentment. The pillars bore the names cleanliness, constitution, carriage, countenance, condition, conduct, and character. the lintel was purity. The roof, spirituality. The decoration, individuality. And the altar, our minds and heart, what's important to God. Somewhere amid these lessons, I absorbed the idea that my body held a dangerous power that must be kept under lock and key. Or at least covered from neck to ankles and wrists at all times.

I think that's where you had wanted me to pause. 

Thank you, Heather, for sharing that powerful piece of your commentary. And we wondered, the journal has been out a few months, and we wondered how it felt, how has it felt to put, um, such an intimate story out there in the-- in the journal.

Um, I think it hasn't really felt, um, like it was very intimate, I'm not sure why that is, I think maybe because it's something I have talked about, um, publicly in other spaces, uh, before, um, the-- there's a whole-- whole bunch of folks, um, in-- who grew up in this purity culture world in the 80s and 90s who have spent the naughties and the tens, uh, trying to deconstruct what that did to us, so, um, it's-- it doesn't feel like it's been wildly, uh, vulnerable or a new revelation out there, but I think what was really helpful for me was trying to take something I've talked about in less, um, less specific environments right? Like just conversations with friends and stuff like that, you don't always do the work of-- of trying to carefully line up all the thoughts, and where does this connect to this, connect to this, and so I think what was really helpful for me in writing this piece, was-- was doing that, even though it was a commentary and not a research piece, just trying to bring some of that academic, um, order to the chaos of the thoughts, um, I think has been really helpful for-- for me and I feel like I can articulate it a little bit better, although I've seen the rest of your questions for me today and we'll see how well I can articulate it, actually.

I love Heather that, um, you had-- you still had so many of your journals from when you were a kid. And so, um, if listeners want to go and check it out, you can see some of the pages from Heather's Journal that she's included, and it's so cool, um, I don't know-- probably in my garage or something, I probably have very similar kinds of journals, Heather, because as you know, and Miriam knows, I grew up in a very similar kind of, um, fundamentalist, um, uh, church, and, um, a lot of the stuff you talk about in the article is like, I was like, "Oh my God, this is exactly what it was like for me." Um, so we-- we just want to thank you so much for sharing these images, they were amazing to-- for us to pour over, and look at. 

Yeah, I actually brought one of them with me, this is--

Oh, cool! 

This is the-- this is the duotang! And, uh there's my-- there's my grade seven bubble letters, um, there's lots of-- I love that there's lots of white out, because it had to be like, perfectly written in for me, and you know, all of that personality in there, um, and, uh, I was thinking about-- because I have-- I-- we've moved a bunch of times now, and just before we moved this last time, I did actually get rid of a number of my journals from childhood, because I just-- I've done lots of therapy, I'd worked through lots of things, I didn't feel like I needed all of them, but this one I had held on to, and I think-- I think these things that really have such a, uh, hold on us, uh, as kids, like we do hold on to them because-- because they're a way of us understanding that point in our-- in our lives, whether-- and-- and I think-- I think it's a way of kind of, acknowledging it some-- even subconscious level, the way that that is a traumatic experience, um, that we need to somehow keep trying to make sense of for the rest of our lives because it does so much-- um, has-- has such a power to wound us, uh, in our bodies, and-- and therefore in all of our relationships, and everything else, and so I think-- I think it's always a sign when people still have their journals, I'm like, "Oh! Those were challenging years for you, were they?" because I think that's why we hold on to them, but maybe we just hold on to them because we don't want to clean up, I don't know. 

That's also-- that could be true, if-- Miriam and I were laughing and saying this morning, if you could see our desks and the other side behind the camera, oh no no no! Yes, it's very bad. 

That's not allowed! We're academic, that's not allowed!

Exactly.

Yeah.

Um, In your-- in your paper you offer the readers a brief history of purity culture, and we wondered if you could explain what it is, simply, and why it's especially harmful to female presenting autistic people.

Yeah, that's a-- that's a harder task than it should be, purity culture has this very amorphous, um, equality to it. Nobody sat down and said, "We are now teaching you purity culture, and these are the three rules of purity culture, and this is why we do the three rules of purity culture," because it's not-- it's not like that, it's come out of all of these, I think, react-- very reactive responses to, um, second wave feminism, and civil rights movement, and the ways that those things, uh, felt threatening and challenging to white evangelicals in the 70s and 80s, um, and I think until we acknowledge that that's part of where they're coming from, then we have no chance of understanding it. But I was trying to come up with like, some way of understanding, and I think-- I think what it is at its basic level, is a shame-based means of controlling external behaviors, um, within a particular subculture. Um, and-- and specifically that shame-based, uh, process is-- is situated around the idea of sexuality, and controlling sexuality. Um, it's not just harmful for-- for female presenting individuals, um, and it's not just harmful for autistic individuals, I just want to make sure that I say that so that no one feels like their experience is, uh, is left out of this, but I think that for female presenting, uh, autistics, uh, particularly who have the the form of atypical autism that I was talking about that I have, um, there's this-- there's this awareness that the social world works in a way that we don't quite understand. Um, that, you know, we-- we attempt social interactions, and we get rebuffed, and we attempt them in different ways, and we get rebuffed, and we can't always understand like, why that is, or what's going on there, and so then, when someone comes along and says, "This is how you should do things, these are the rules you should keep, um, and these are the rules that will make God happy," then, I think we are particularly vulnerable to that, and less likely than others perhaps, um, when we are in that rule, keeping side of things to-- to question it, when it doesn't make sense, um, and more likely to experience the harm of the contradictions. Um, because for many, many, people with autism, the the sense of the contradiction between things is-- is extremely anxiety provoking. And so, the combination of shame, and contradictions, and rule keeping, I think just sort of-- it's a trifecta of-- of potential for harm. But that doesn't mean that everyone who was exposed to it wasn't harmed by it.

Thanks so much for that Heather, yeah, and thanks for pointing out that others are harmed, I mean, um, for sure, like our listeners know that I have anxiety and OCD, and so, I mean, I can think about the ways that my anxiety was like so bad growing up because I also wanted to follow the rules and make God happy. And purity culture was a way that, um, at least in my neck of the woods, where I grew up, was a way that female presenting people could like check a box, and make sure that we were doing all the things right, um and like, um, I remember this-- this piece brought back so much for me, um, I remember growing up, like, we weren't supposed to kiss on-- the person that we were going to be-- of course you have to get married, so we weren't supposed to kiss the person that we were going to get married to before we got married, you weren't allowed to hold hands, all of the kind of like, dating and stuff was supposed to be chaperone, like it was very-- I mean, did I follow all the rules? No, right, but at least like-- and then that brings like another layer of shame, and like anxiety, and just like feeling of failure, when it feels like you're not following those rules, um, yeah. 

Yeah, and-- and yet I did follow all those rules, I didn't kiss until the day I got married, um, and that brought a whole heap of other problems into the situation, because I hadn't thought about sex, I hadn't, you know, I had no idea what my sexual wants, or needs, or desires, or preferences, or anything were, I-- I alluded to it a little bit in the piece, but I mean it was-- it set me up for enormous challenges, uh, in my marriage for years, and years, and years, and years. Uh, having been told that this was going to set me up for success. Um, and so the fallout from that was enormous. Um, and I think-- I think this-- is this is how you know the theology is just genuinely toxic, is that if-- if everyone who is exposed to it is harmed whether they keep it or not, then there's-- there's nothing redemptive about this theology, and-- and it really needs to be shelved, at that point, like, I kept it to the letter, couldn't have done it better. Horrible in my life. Everyone I've talked to who hasn't kept it to the letter, horrible in their lives. It's-- it's bad news, at that point.

It's totally bad news, and I think, um, it's-- it makes me really sad that purity culture hasn't gone away. So we may have been living through the 80s and 90s and been harmed by it, and it's still out there wreaking havoc, um, in people's lives. 

Yeah. 

Yeah. So, um, Heather, we were curious to hear about, um, you talk on page 80 about how you feel receiving an autism diagnosis would have helped you make better sense of purity culture. So can you unpack this a little bit more for our listeners? 

So I think what I should have said is, receiving an Autism diagnosis and the supports that, uh-- good-- good autism supports that I now advocate for for other people, um, in this position, would have helped, because-- because it's those-- it's that aware-- the combination of the awareness, and the supports, that allows you to start to, um, ask important questions of what you're being told. Instead of simply assuming that the reason you're failing at doing things, is because you haven't studied hard enough, and you haven't followed the rules carefully enough. So, once you realize, "Oh! Actually, I'm on the autism spectrum. Well, okay, so that makes sense, like if I'm struggling socially, and my brain is wired differently than other people's, it would make sense that people might not always understand my jokes, it would make sense that the way that I dress might have more to do with, um, comfort or executive functioning, or sensory processing disorder, or all of those things," um, and so, even just understanding that piece can take some of the stress out of the experience of social interactions, in a way that even that lowers-- lowers the vulnerability a little bit. But then, once you start to develop some of the, um, self-awareness skills, some of the self-soothing skills, some of the things that are not, um, maybe naturally, uh, as quick to develop in the autistic brain, um, that-- that then helps you again, to-- to get to the point where you can develop skills like, um, to evaluate what social, uh, inputs you're getting, and to figure out, "well, how would I know whether to listen to this person, or to this person. Uh, how would I determine, um, what priority to give different pieces of information." Um, and it's-- it's not uncommon, across the autism spectrum, regardless of religious upbringing, for folks with autism to be vulnerable in a sexual space. Because they're looking for other people to tell them what it is they're supposed to do, um, and-- and anytime you're in that position, you can't give full meaningful consent. Um, if you're expecting other people to explain how it's supposed to work, and so, I think that-- that the work that I now see in the work that I now get to participate in sometimes to help, uh, folks on the spectrum make better sense of their own minds, a big part of that is helping them to develop a real, uh, authentic sense of themselves. And from that space, then they can evaluate, "well what do I think of this, how does this feel in my body," because they've now turned down enough of the alarms that I can listen to my body. And I can learn to trust my body. And I think all of those things would have made it easier, um, but they were not available, and they're still really, really, really, sadly they are still not available for many people on the spectrum. Not just people my age, but people who are kids, and teenagers today. So, just like purity culture, we have a long way to go when it comes to autism, and especially this atypical female presenting autism, they just so off so often gets missed in the, um, in the mix, because-- because we're not usually the disruptive kids.

Definitely a long way to go. I hope, anyways, that by sharing your story you have-- you have made an impact on others and given hope. 

That's the hope.

Thank you. Um, you talk a little bit about you doing work to resolve  the childhood trauma. So, can you speak a little bit about that to our audience?  

Yeah. Um, so I-- I love these, um, these big journal books. Well, they're art books, that they sell at, uh, at the dollar store, they're my-- they're my favorite go-to, uh, and I have shelf-- couple shelves full of them now, um, of-- of-- pages, and pages, and pages, that I have used to work through, um, you know, sort of, what identify-- what were those messages that I figured out intuitively, um, as a kid, what-- like, finding words for those unspoken things, especially, became really, really, important, because-- because until you can articulate, "well, this is-- this is what I got from that moment. This was how that moment got interpreted in my brain, got stored as, sort of, social software in my head," then, is very difficult to address how that is continuing to perpetuate harm in our lives today. So I think that's step one, is being able to articulate what those messages are, but I'm-- I'm like a lot of people on the autism spectrum, uh, I don't find CBT to be a particularly helpful modality, um, for my brain, um, so I can't just say, "well that's a stupid message, get rid of it," um, because it feels like, well, like, who says? Who says that this authority figure is smarter than this authority figure, like, I don't-- I don't get how you get to win this argument over this one, right? Um, but, uh, what I have been learning over the last seven or eight years, is that I can-- I can get to the point where I understand myself to be an authority. And where I can give myself authoritative status, and for that authoritative status to be, uh, to rest in my body, and to rest in my own values. And, um, so that process of-- of developing that authoritative status for myself, and then using that to look at the messages, um, that are there, and say, "well, okay. The message says this, what is my embodied authoritative self think of that?" And usually my body's like, ew, that's gross, that's stupid, and can then proceed to tell me all the reasons why it's gross and stupid, "I'm like, oh! You're smart, you know things," and that sounds-- I don't know, that sounds like a really weird process to a lot of people, it's not the typical process um, I-- I reference a little bit in the piece, I-- this is something I have developed, and I use with a lot of folks, um, who are on the autism spectrum, uh, and it-- it seems to work really well for us. Uh, and that's great because a lot of things don't, um, but I think it's been this process of-- of figuring out a much more grounded sense of self. Um, purity culture talks a lot about, um, boundaries. It's all about keeping boundaries, and, um, I-- I think in-- in pictures sometimes and I-- I remember thinking of myself as like, you know, surrounded by by all the walls of a Maximum Security Prison, you know? Like-- like, uh, like a really, really, heavy guarded, you know, wires, uh, barbed wire fencing, an electrical.. stuff, and all the rest of it, and layer upon layer of fences, and-- and I feel like Purity culture, for me, created that sort of world. Um, and, and what I have been shifting to, is, uh, uh, a sense of grounding. Um, I live, uh, in a city near-- that has a very beautiful waterfront, and gets nasty winter storms, and that means that, um, you know, and-- and wind, all the time, it's always windy here, um, and so we've got these big old willow trees around the waterfront, they planted them 100 years ago, um, and-- and so they're-- they're old, and they're huge, um but because they are so well grounded, because their roots are so massive under the ground, it doesn't matter how much wind we get, it doesn't matter what storms come, they are solid, and their branches can sway, and everything can move, but they don't go anywhere. Sometimes, you have to, you know, lop off a few branches after an ice storm, or something, but the the tree is there, and it's staying there, and there's nothing wrong with it, and so I've been trying to make this move from from a boundaried self, to this grounded self, and doing that has-- has given me so much freedom from the harms of purity culture, because-- because now I'm in a place where I can listen to my body, now I'm in a place where I can give real consent, now I'm in a place where I-- where I know what I want, and I can therefore articulate what I want to my partner, and I can-- you know, we can actually have conversations about these things, and, yeah. That's-- I think where I'm at with the process, but I think I'm also at the point of realizing that, um, there was enough harm done that I will probably always need to continue to be mindful of the process, because it's-- it's not-- it's not over and fixed.

Thank you so much for sharing that Heather, and I was-- when you were, um, talking I was just, um, thinking about something my therapist always says to me, which is, healing isn't linear. So, this idea that like, we're gonna, a lot of the times be circling back and stuff, and that's okay. Um, that's something that I've had to learn too, because sometimes I'm like, "God, why isn't this-- why am I not healed yet! I don't want to deal with this anymore," you know, but we have to keep, you know, sometimes we cycle back, so, um. Yeah, it was interesting when you said that CBT is unhelpful, um, and I think CBT can be unhelpful for a lot of people, there's-- I don't know, I-- I'm-- this may be controversial, but I think um CBT is sometimes-- can make it seem like, "oh, here's your six sessions we're gonna do this in the six sessions, and by the time we're done we hope that it will be resolved," and it's not always that simple. Um, yeah, and I think, one other thing you were just talking about, um, women thinking about, um, their authority of self, and finding that self-authority is so important in these conversations around purity culture, and-- and survivors of purity culture, so thank you so much for articulating that.

Um, so the last question we have for you today, is can you talk to us about some helpful ways of talking about sex, faith, and autism together? What are some helpful ways, or do you have any ideas about that? 

Just a little question to end us off, right!

Yeah, that's right.

Nothing-- nothing big! Um, so, I think-- this is-- because you asked for this to be, uh, off the cuff, and not written down, it's-- it's going to be a little off the cuff and not necessarily linear, um, but I think there's a few things, one is, um, I think it's been really helpful for me to, uh, become aware of, and listen to, and learn from, um, the queer world. In terms of understanding sexuality and gender as spectrums, um, understanding, you know, dynamics like ace and aro, understanding, um, you know, what it-- what it means to think about, um, attraction, all of those things, uh, the LGBT world has done an enormous amount of work on thinking very carefully about sexuality, um, and that's something that I appreciate even when I come to different conclusions for myself than other people do. Um, but I just think they've-- of necessity, had to think very, very, carefully about these things, um, and so-- so realizing the range of what sexuality can be, um, has been a huge and very valuable eye-opener for me, um, and I think-- I think I've come to realize that-- like, out of that, and out of other theological thinking and stuff, that-- that sexuality, regardless of whether we're on the ace end, or on the other end, or anywhere in between, um, is an intrinsic part of us as human beings. Um, there's there's something about us, that is is sexual, and-- and, regardless of what that is sexually, to deny that is to deny something of who we are. Um, and I don't have that drawing with me right now, but I, um-- I shared a second drawing from one of my, uh, journals that has these four interlocking circles, um, and I talked about the fact that you know, Jesus says we're supposed to love God with our heart, and our soul, and our mind, and our strength, with our whole selves, we can't do that if we take part of ourselves, part of our strength, part of our bodies, and say you're not welcome. That's not going to work, and so we have to bring that part of ourselves into the equation. But, equally it's not the only part of ourselves. And I think, um, especially when we're trying to recover from spaces that have excluded our sexuality, it can be really easy to like, pendulum swing, and then, like, only think about our sexuality, and so I'm trying to find ways of-- of bringing the pendulum into the middle of incorporating sexuality as part of the broader picture of who I am as a human being. And then, a third piece is, um, recognizing that sexuality on its own, isn't inherently good or bad, it's not helpful or dangerous just because it exists, um, but-- but there are definitely ways of-- of approaching it, of using it, that are helpful, and definitely ways that are dangerous, and it's not just like, yes, there-- there is sexual abuse, and there is sexual assault, and those are horrible, horrible, things that are awful and evil, but also, sexual shame is a horrible, horrible, thing that is awful and evil, and-- and we're not-- I think it's-- it's so important to recognize that-- that we can we can deviate from what is best and what is good in both directions, and cause harm in both directions, um, but equally, there are things we can do that can make it a life-giving force. It can be something that is good, it can be something that is generative, it can be something that that helps us to be more whole as human beings, that helps us to more wholly follow God in our lives, um, that helps us to care better for the world around us, for our partners, for our families, for ourselves, and all of that matters. Um, and then finally, um, that I--

I do not have the responsibility of controlling other people's sexuality. And if you have ever had encounters with purity culture world, this is, uh, a huge thing that I think needs to be said over, and over, and over, again, because a big part of what that world tries to do is control. And I think control, um, is a form of fear, it's a form of force, um, and-- and the Bible tells us that perfect love drives out fear, so those are opposites, they're-- they're magnetic opposites and they can't have anything to do with each other, and so if I want to be in loving relationships, I have to be willing to lay down my need for control, and, uh, instead be a grounded-- my need for control of other people, sorry, that needs to be said very clearly, um, I can't control another person's behavior, but I can very clearly ground myself in what I need, and what feels safe for me, and I can articulate that for myself. And articulating that is is a good thing, it is a helpful thing, um, and that is something that can, um, be really important in relationship dynamics, um, to kind of, shift that balance away from controlling everybody else to taking ownership for myself and, um, speaking up for what I need, and articulating that clearly, um, and repeatedly, as long as I need to, um. So, I think those are the things that I've been thinking about-- very broad brush strokes-- about sex, and-- and I think that that they intersect with, um, what I've been thinking about in terms of autism because I think autism also has that, like, kind of, fear leading to control, leading to all of those things, and so I think we-- we really gravitate to those pieces of purity culture, and so that's something that I think we really need to un-- unravel, and I think the faith piece for me is those those two things that-- that perfect love casts out fear, so they're-- they're-- I-- I can choose only one at a given point, and that-- that love, if I want to love God, I have to do so with the wholeness of my being, that I have to do the work, and keep on showing up to do the work, to bring all of myself before God, and all of myself into my relationships, in ways that are healthy, and loving. Um that that's-- I think as I've grounded myself in that truth, it has really helped with the, um, with finding balance in the rest of it.

That's a really beautiful vision and, um, grounding to-- to talk about holy and unholy sexuality in our life for all people and for people who are autistic, people who are crip, people who are mad, and so, so important to have this church of conversation so thank you. We just wondered if there was anything else that we haven't touched on that you-- you want to get in there today? 

Well, I think because-- because this is the Mad and Crip Podcast, um, I think it's important to just expand that last answer to-- to include all of our mad and crip bodies, I am also a wheel-- power wheelchair user, to those listening to the podcast, um, instead of watching the video, you won't see my head rest, but also, people don't notice our head rests, uh, and don't automatically assume we're in wheelchairs, they just think we have fancy desk chairs, um, and-- and pain has been part of my embodied experience, and limitations in, um, you know, positions and all of the rest of those things, and-- and, you know, if-- if purity culture was-- was really bad for, uh, my autistic brain, it was just really useless, uh, for my disabled body, but it turns out, so is most stuff on sexuality,

Yes!

Um, and-- and there are very few places, and spaces where we can find good, healthy, conversations around sexuality and disabled bodies, and there are even fewer spaces where that conversation is happening in faith-based spaces, um, and we're not going to finish that before, you know, the end of this podcast, but I wanted to articulate it for those who are listening, and who are like, "yeah, but what about--" I'm-- yeah, I see you, I hear you, our-- our disabled bodies are not seen and recognized on the top of sexuality isn't well tended to, and so, I'm so glad that, uh, we-- that you guys did this, uh, issue for the journal, and I really hope it's not the last one, because I think that there is a lot of work that needs to be done on this, um, and you know, maybe at some point you need to actually publish a book on-- on disability and sexuality, and-- and madness and sexuality, and, you know, actually get into some of these things from a theological perspective I think there's a lot of, uh, need for this conversation, so, um, you know, in a in a good old Emmanuel tradition, let's pull out extra questions in the last five minutes and then leave everybody hanging, right? 

Yeah, we definitely need to do more podcasts and more issues.

Well, thank you so much Heather for being with us today, we-- we so appreciate all the work you're doing in the autism community, and we just want to celebrate your ordination today, as well with you, and for our listeners, if you want to read a little bit more about autism, or some, um, some stuff about sexuality, you can check out, uh, Heather's article or commentary, because there's a list of some really good resources at the bottom there. And if I remember, I will link it at the base of the podcast, so you can check those out easily. So, thank you so much everyone for listening, and thank you so much Heather for being here today. 

Thank you.