People | Arts & Culture | Losing My Religion

My Body Is an Archive

I’ve published articles on examining the archive’s margins and gaps to recover women’s stories, but that won’t help me understand that girl who left her family when she could no longer live in shame.

I broke into my own home on a Sunday afternoon when I was twenty years old, while my family was at church. Technically, it wasn’t my home anymore; my mom had kicked me out two weeks earlier.

When I refused to repent for listening to my body, the male elders of the church excommunicated me, declaring me dead to the congregation. My mother followed suit.

I sat alone looking at one document at a time, under constant observation. The room was odorless, white, and sterile, with a hard wooden chair that I would sit in for hours, searching for signs of women’s work. I wanted to be their archival hero. At one time, a computer was a woman—typically a white, young, middle class professional woman. I imagined her with a bob haircut and red lipstick. All of those descriptors could have applied as easily to me as to Cicely Popplewell, one of the women I searched for.

Those first twenty years of my life mattered