When I finished seminary, I took a break from reading Christian books. Not because they were bad, but because I liked the raw, honest, gritty books that felt lacking in the world of Christian publishing. Everything I read seemed to have a clear grasp on God or tied things up too nicely. So I didn’t pick up any theology textbooks or Christian memoirs, and I stayed away from Christian living books at all costs. It’s been about three years.
My first step back into the land of Christian books was Jackie Hill Perry’s new memoir Gay Girl, Good God: The Story of Who I Was, and Who God Has Always Been. And it was a wonderful welcome. Perry is known to most as a rapper and poet under the Humble Beast label. This is her first foray into memoir and the style fits her well. Her memoir writing isn’t so much poetic—what she is known for—as it is solid memoir writing. The last three memoirs I’ve read were Lit by Mary Karr, Born A Crime by Trevor Noah, and The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls, and Perry’s is a serious contender for belonging in their company. You can almost hear the lilt in her voice as she writes.
Gay Girl, Good God is divided up into three sections. The first is titled “Who I Was.” The summary here is obvious, as it covers her life before she became a Christian. The next section, “Who I Am,” talks about the changes she has experienced now that God has changed her life. The third section functions more like a resource library, with a collection of essays dealing with homosexuality and the Christian life.
I’m not going to spend a lot of time summarizing these sections. If you want that, Amazon reviews do a great job of it. I do, however, want to praise Perry for a few things her book accomplished that I found delightfully refreshing.
An Honest Story
The first thing I loved about this memoir was the honesty in it. I am always drawn to writers that have a crystal recollection of their past and write about it in an honest way.
For Christians, it is sometimes difficult to tell our stories in an honest way. We don’t want to glorify our past as some are fond of doing, but we’re also hesitant to reveal the details of what Christ has saved us from. Perry hits a perfect balance with this book. I’ve never read a memoir that focused less on its subject and more on the person who changed her.
In memoirs, it’s all about the author. It’s about their story and recollection of things and Perry writes in a way that shies away from herself and focuses on what Christ has done in her life. It’s as if she is taking the stage only to introduce the main speaker. I admired that.
Sin: Singular vs. Plural
This seems like a main stress of the book. And I loved it. While this specific story is about Perry and her homosexuality, she doesn’t emphasize her sexuality as the only thing God had to confront before he could reel her in. Instead, she offered an all-encompassing view of sin to make the point that it wasn’t just her sexuality that God wanted—it was all of her.
In one of my favorite quotes, she describes God’s pursuit of her heart in the following way: “But God was not a Las Vegas chaplain or an impatient mother, intent on sending a man my way to ‘cure’ me of my homosexuality. He was God. A God after my whole heart, desperate to make it new. Committed to making it like him. In my becoming holy as he is, I would not be miraculously made into a woman that didn’t like women; I’d be made into a woman that loves God more than anything.”
God was in relentless pursuit of her and she kept backing away because of a mistaken view of who he was. Little in this book hints that God focused on her sexuality to finally win her over. It’s easy to bash same-sex attracted people by focusing specifically on their sexuality and telling them that they just need to shed that sin to be right with God. More than an awful and harmful thing to say, it’s also theologically wrong. The holistic nature of sin plays a large part in Perry’s memoir and she emphasizes God’s pursuit of the whole entire person—not just one’s sexuality—which was refreshing. Sin abounds, but grace abounds all the more, I suppose.
All the Single Ladies (and Men)
Perry also takes on the common belief that marriage is the cornerstone of sanctification in this life. She never described her marriage as “fixing” her homosexuality. She simply said her marriage was the way God chose to work his will out in her life. For a different person, God might want them to live a single life. She didn’t elevate either one, but preached that both single and married Christians have a higher calling. And for people who are gay, a heterosexual marriage might not be the best solution.
She never makes her story a catch-all manual for how to go from gay to straight. No doubt, some will promote this as a “cure” for their brothers and sisters who are gay but Perry never preached that. The brilliance of this memoir is in the humility of her approach. She simply shares her life without once insinuating that it is a blueprint for all people who experience same-sex attraction. Humility and wisdom are thorough marks of this book.
The Final Word
Jackie Hill Perry preaches Christ, not morality. She makes it clear that Christ is after all of you, not just small aspects of your life. Gay Girl, Good God is a memoir detailing Perry’s life before and after embracing homosexuality, but more importantly it is about what the Spirit is doing in her life. God is in pursuit of people. He doesn’t just want their sexuality, their pride, their anger. He wants all of them.
My only wish is that the book had more of a detailed version of her life. It left me like all good memoirs do, thinking that the author has heaps of stories left to tell. And just as I look forward to some of my favorite memoirists publishing new work about their lives, so I am looking forward to Jackie Hill Perry’s future writing so I can know not only her life, but also the beauty of a life so wrapped up in what God is doing in them, that it’s a memoir of God’s work in a person's life. I guess that’s called a testimony and I guess you can consider this my foray back into the world of reading more Christian books. Thank you, Jackie.
Cover photo by Alfons Morales.