Pantyhose and Eyelashes

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SAI (Sweet Adelines International, the women’s barbershop organization I sing with) is more a part of my faith than any god has ever been. I joined when I was 14, which means very soon over half my life will be measured in pantyhose and false eyelashes. Many of us can say we would be completely different people if it weren’t for barbershop, and I’m no different. I can’t imagine my life without it, and I generally don’t want to.

There are moments, though, where I do imagine my life without it. I have doubts. I wonder what it would be like to offer the many hours I spend to another organization, maybe one that helps LGBTQ+ youth, promotes environmental sustainability, supports local individuals with mental health issues, or addresses race relations in my community. In a darker way, I find myself wondering whether offering my time and energy to this craft is frivolous and thoughtless in a time when there are so many other causes that deserve urgent attention.

People say you have to care for yourself before you can care for others, and this is our way of calibrating our own conscience in order to be able to do good in the world. But is it still self-care if I question my priorities more than I devote myself to them?

People say making music together is a unifying act, that it can cross barriers words and actions simply cannot. But is it still unifying if I look around me and see a largely homogeneous group of people, even internationally, and audiences that are only a mirror?

People say rehearsal nights are the ones you can be yourself, let bygones be bygones, and put aside any differences in the interest of learning and harmonizing together. But am I truly myself if I continue to be terrified by views and ideologies that threaten me or people I love?

I’m not going anywhere–at least, not yet–mostly because my reverence for the role models who have helped me feel like I have a place is too great. I hope to be half as inspirational to younger members as those people have unknowingly been to me. But I gotta say, I’m tired.

I’m tired of the language we use highlighting a gender binary and heteronormativity. I’m tired of having to accept defaults like women’s songs about men and vice versa. I’m tired of talking about our bodies in ways that focus on flaws and encourage self-deprecation, instead of in ways that appreciate strength and function. I’m tired of the assumed holiday (read: traditional Christian Christmas) chorus season. I’m tired of fighting tooth and nail to defend a fairly innocuous piece of music for its perceived philosophical undertones while being expected to sing any song that has overt Christian roots. I’m tired of worrying that more inclusion in membership will only highlight people’s differences or create more polarization and ultimate alienation of new members.

Mostly I’m tired of thinking I’m “just too sensitive” for noticing these things and wishing for an atmosphere that does seem to be moving in the direction of greater tolerance and inclusion.

In the church of barbershop, sometimes I wish there were a minister who could offer counsel.

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Pantyhose and Eyelashes

Declaration of Faith

This is an essay I wrote for my senior high school lit class. The prompt was to write our “creed.”

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Man’s mindscape in the dawn of time: questioning everything from his five fingers to why his fish died. From how to balance on his two feet to why plants grow, or even why he’s alive. Questions flood man’s mind–some questions have answers, but some will still remain mysteries thousands of years later. Grappling with potential answers becomes man’s main priority. Answers form the basis for his faiths, because he has the need to believe something.

It’s inevitable that at some point, man will discover new things that nix his original theories. Man will have to reform his beliefs according to these new ideas, because some instinct tells him that it is reasonable for his faith to be at least somewhat based on fact. 

Faith is a very personal topic, unique to every human being. But even so, we use external conflicts and situations to strengthen our beliefs. Our spirituality is shaped by the events and people around us all the time, and therefore it would stand to reason that it is constantly changing. Part of change is the process of doubt. True faith can never exist without doubt.

When someone is able to justify and defend his or her beliefs, it conveys the impression that those beliefs are powerful and well though-out. It also usually heightens the sensation of wanting to agree or disagree, which fuels argumentation and so continues a cycle of conflicts that strengthen one’s faith, as well as one’s doubts.

A period of doubt and questioning will lead to an even stronger feeling of faith. Once a person answers his or her own questions, wouldn’t they feel stronger, like their ideas were more powerful? But each phase of doubt is harder to overcome, because with the maturity of answering questions and even more (and more important) questions and responsibility to answer them. This, I believe, is the natural process of gaining one’s own unique faith. Every person has to go through it personally.

Faith has no reason or strength without a background of doubt. People need the balance of doubt to reason their way to faith. Doubt gives man the least sense of security of any other aspects of faith, so of course men would want to avoid it. But actually, doubt and questioning give and unmatchable power to a man’s faith. Men always have the choise to accept doubt, but most will ignore it, thinking that it weakens them or gives less meaning to their faith. In fact, it’s the opposite. Doubt offers more depth to a man’s understanding or journey to understanding religion or the possibility of a higher being.

It is part of human nature to doubt, argue, and solidify one’s own beliefs by any means possible, with the help of other people and situations. Having faith is part of human nature as well, but I believe that people don’t want to go through the process of questioning to achieve true faith. They feel that questioning would weaken them, or they’re afraid of the answers they may arrive at, or they’re afraid of not finding answers.

Also, I think that Christians play a big part in making questioning taboo. Many Christians believe that when people question their own spirituality or ideals in faith, it’s really the devil trying to tear apart their religious beliefs. This is wrong mostly because questioning is not evil in any way. But even if this is so — if the devil exists and is trying to break people’s faiths — it only makes it more meaningful when people overcome doubt. People might feel like they’ve defeated an inner demon. Regardless, regaining answers and beliefs should lead to an even more powerful level of spirituality.

Questioning never ends, so perhaps the time of strongest faith that humans ever have is at death. Even though there are very few people who claim to understand death, many have ideas about what happens when we die or about the possibility of an afterlife. Though these beliefs are mainly shaped by religious teachings, some are influenced by raw faith, strengthened by doubt.

The most faithful people are characterized by not only their moments of weakness, but also by times of undying love. This could mean love and optimism for mankind, or a vision that includes peace and happiness for the world. These people are also very well-balanced in their journeys through doubt and questioning, and strong in their beliefs and faiths. When people recognize that faith and doubt are inseparable, is becomes much easier to realize their full spiritual potential.

Declaration of Faith