Mattie Jo Cowsert
God and the Gays: Installment 1
Updated: Dec 22, 2022
I know like the whole world thinks everyone would be interested in hearing about their personal life experience because it's so wildly different from everyone else's. I'm sure me writing this would suggest I feel the same. But I don't care if any of this is entertaining, I just want to share my stories in hopes that they might be healing for others. Okay leggooo.
Mattie Jo in Missouri
I grew up the youngest of four children, preacher's daughter. But not like evangelical, slain in the spirit, my father is terrifyingly aggressive about chastity and modesty (although I did go to Pentecostal summer camp once with a friend. They used to keep us in the chapel for so long at night I finally just pretended to pass out for Jesus so I could get some fucking shut eye. I was 9). My parents were and still are very happy, healthy human beings. Their grocery shopping habits are questionable and my mother definitely owns way too many antique sewing machines, but they're sane, very happily married, and incredibly honest: a rare combo in the subculture in which I grew up. Therefore, most of my fuck-upedness about religion, sex, and the gays didn't come from my parents, it came from Jesus culture.
As I mentioned earlier, I wasn't surrounded by Duggar-style Christians; I lived in a subculture of Cool Jesus followers. These Jesus followers were really good at sports, could afford $42 NIKE Tempo shorts as their entire wardrobe (true luxury!), and joined Greek Life at their colleges and called it mission work.
These cool Christian girls were effortlessly pretty. They didn't wear makeup and wore oversized clothes in the name of modesty. It was as if a bare face and clothes 2 sizes 2 big were a non-negotiable with being a true woman of God. That's when I should have known I was just too different to ever belong in that world. I wore the shit out of some Dream Matte Mousse.
Being a Christian was appealing. At my church we held awesome concerts weekly and were like, so non-traditional. We served coffee, had cushioned seats, and mad Powerpoints. To top it off, I lived in Branson, Missouri (the off-brand Nashville sans bachelorette party debauchery) so our worship team was chalk full of performers. All that tithe money from the lower middle class even bought us a sick sound system, that was better than my university musical theatre department's. #priorities
Having a purity ring was pretty standard, and if you didn't have one well, we all knew how you were spending every weekend. Not overeating cupcakes from the local Country Mart and discussing your most recent church crush. Oh no no. You were most likely drinking and having sex with everyone! Ruining any chance at a healthy marriage, obviously.
Okay so now that I've painted my Cool Christian Culture picture pretty clear (I think), let me share how I fit into all of that.
I was always outspoken. Ask my mom stories, she claimed my filter never developed (hence, shameless overshar-er), especially not by high school. I was loud and opinionated, a girl, and therefore disruptive/disagreeable/not Godly.
I was very active in my high school: president of Honors Club, on Student Council, I ran cross country and was a state qualifier, ran track, played volleyball, was a Big Brothers Big Sisters mentor, had a part time job, and graduated Valedictorian. In essence, I was a total badass.
I was also fuller figured from a young age, which always made me feel othered. In addition to my lack of filter, over-achieving, and being holy but horny, my body took up space. I hated standing out because my body had substance. The boys in church didn't seem to like me much either, which was really a total bummer because I LOVED boys.
I was always being told "Sssshhhhh. Like, Mattie. You can't say that stuff. You're so boy crazy (that's the Christian high school version of slut shaming). Can't you talk about anything other than boys?!?!"
Um, OF COURSE I could talk about something else. But I was 18 and not having sex. Or even kissing really. What else did you want me to do with boys? I can't even talk about them? I seriously felt like no matter what I did, I never fit in the Circle of the Cool Christians. But I liked God. And I felt like God liked me. I mean, I wasn't having sex after all. Did he have a reason not to like me at that point?
But the facts remained, nothing about me naturally fit into the pretty, athletic, cutesy cool Christian girl prototype. So I decided to take at least one of those qualifications into my own hands.
I became anorexic, which resulted in rapid weight loss and winning homecoming princess. As my body shrank, so did my "sparkle" as my dad says. I became puny and palatable, but people seemed to like me more because -- as I internalized anyway -- I was finally as pretty as the makeup-less girls in my small group (a reference to groups in churches that sit around and use words to describe their experiences that no other person would ever use. Christians are very good at making everyone feel very weird around them I.e. alienating). I was finally the small woman I needed to be in order to be loved and accepted by God and by men/boys.
My thighs didn't touch, and therefore, God would love me more! Maybe all the cute Christian boys who were really good at sports would finally think I was pretty! Maybe I would look good in NIKE tempos! Was I living the dream?!
I was not living the dream.
I was depressed, miserable, and isolated. My period had stopped, my hair was falling out, and I had no friends because I was too afraid of food at social events. I pushed myself way too hard in sports and cleaned the house non-stop because I was afraid to ever sit down and not be burning calories.
My parents were at a total loss and just wanted me to have "zest for life" again. So they encouraged me to do something totally crazy -- attend a theatre camp in the Catskills of New York.
Mattie Jo Goes To Theatre Camp
Getting to theatre camp in the Catskills took a lot of faith and Midwestern work ethic. Turns out, theatre camp upstate is for the 1%, not for rural preacher's kids. I worked diligently to raise the money to attend that camp. I held car washes at Walmart, contacted local business to donate to a raffle, babysat. more kids than I should have been able to at 15 years old. But I raised that money, damnit. And to (Upstate) New York I went.
My life was forever changed at that theatre camp. I learned lessons that altered my entire trajectory. For example, there are actually families in the world who pay more than my four years of state college tuition to send their 11 year old to camp for the Summer. Meeting these kids foreshadowed the work I would go on to do as professional nanny for millionaire and billionaire kids across Manhattan upon pursuing my professional acting career. These rich people are now woven into every part of my life's story.
Most importantly I learned that I wasn't weird at all! Oh joy! There were other people in the world who were boisterous, curious, performative. Who sing lyrics to songs whenever inspired to do so and like to wear other clothes besides NIKE tempos. People who were also very boy crazy and didn't make me feel ashamed for it. People who weren't boring as shit.
I had finally found my home in my weirdo theatre kid compadres.
But...but a lot of them are...gay? Gay. GAY? Gayeee.
I'd always been taught being gay was wrong, sinful, and a certain degree away from bestiality before God floods us all or some shit. The gays trying to get married was the decline of our civilization! Not all the evil human exploitation involved in Wal-Mart or other corporations the Midwest loves so much. Nope. The gays. Man on man action. Because like, ew.
Well, I liked my gay friends a whole lot so I was nice to them. It kind of bothered me that they had to be gay. Wouldn't they be happier if they just chose to be straight? Then I went to college. For Musical Theatre. And dated a Catholic.
Mattie Jo Gets her BFA In Musical Theatre and Falls In Love with a Catholic
YES FREEDOOOOOOM!!!! I was finally in theatre camp for always! My home. These outspoken weirdos were my forever comrades. I didn't have to hang with the cool Christians anymore! Although my heart still had a pull towards them because, as I mentioned earlier, I liked God and wanted to hang with Him still. Could I do that outside of Cool Christian-ville?
I mostly hung out with the theatre weirdos in college and most of them -- the best of them -- were total homos.
One of my closest friends was my 6'7 ballerin-o, Emile. He treated me better than any straight man ever had at that point, and still does. He was hard working, intelligent, talented, considerate, and just plain wonderful. With him I felt seen and understood and supported. Was he really going to hell?
He cried to me one night, cried a lot. He told me he prayed so hard to not be gay. And then in the midst of all the trying not to be gay and wanting so badly not to be gay, his father died. If he wanted so badly to not be gay, why didn't God do that for him? And did God take his father from him because he wasn't succeeding very well at not being gay? If God made me this way, why is he punishing me like this?
My. heart. Emile was right. This God who hated him, who would punish him for something he did not choose. That was not the God I knew. That was not the God I loved
Emile and many of my theatre camp to theatre major gay dude friends made and still make my life so colorful; so much better. They made me feel loved instead of othered. They hugged me instead of judged me. These people were Jesus on Earth.
Maybe the Christians had gotten this whole " the path to Heaven is straight and narrow (and that straight and narrow is path is really basic white people gender and sexuality roles and modesty rules)" wrong. I started believing that God made gay people just like he made African people and dyslexic people. They're just people. He made people to color life's pages with their stories, experiences, and joy. We were made intentionally and correctly.
In my first year of college I started seeing how dangerous growing up in such a homogenous culture and mindset can be. It limited my ability to connect and learn from this amazing WORLD God created. I never wanted to isolate myself so as not to experience that world (And at this point, I hadn't even met a Jew. Now thanks to living in New York City, I accidentally date them all the time). I wanted to experience people to the fullest and realized I couldn't do that in the culture in which I grew up.I began to see that sexuality was/is not an identifier. It did/does not define a person. Their heart and intentions and character do. It would be a few more years before I found that to be true about my own sexuality. But we'll get there...
Then I met a Catholic.
This is Mattie Jo's very first blog post for God, Sex, & Rich People written in 2015 and released the day marriage equality was passed. Mattie Jo would like you to know her writing as heavily improved since this was written but context for the rest of her posts is important so she still keeps it visible on the internet.