Anatomical heart with a cross burning.
Design by Evelyne Lee/TMD.

Sweat seeps through my tank top, reaches the back of my dress shirt and crawls down the nape of my neck. It doesn’t slow me down. My feet continue to stomp the devil. The heat is something ferocious, but so is this music. Women in ankle-length skirts and ornate hats sway to the sound of men’s palms on tambourines. Saints run across the church, hollering in a language only God can understand. There is no AC. I know they hot, but hell is hotter. So, we all dance. 

My parents sowed the fear of God into me early. I was raised to shun sinful things – which makes becoming a sinful thing rather complicated. On Sunday, the pastor preached to his congregation that homosexuals will burn. Maybe that’s why I dance so hard and ignore the sweat: I’m practicing for everlasting burning. 

Sunlit stained glass windows illuminate my dysfunctional family. A weathered Bible tells stories of my father and his son. The soprano choir girls are my sisters. The deacons with deep voices and even deeper pockets are my brothers. The woman smiling next to me every Sunday is my mother. 

My mother is in rare form in these four walls. She talks to other churchgoers for hours, even when the pastor himself has already gone home. She wears her best outfits – sparkly long gowns – that I don’t think we can afford. She worships like nobody’s business. Lucifer halts when he hears her coming, for she slays demon-made dragons with a single prayer. A Black momma with something to fight for is more vicious than a black mamba, fangs and all. Her high heels and high-pitched “hallelujahs” shield us from the underworld. 

When I was 15, I told her I was flammable, and she has been trying to save me from hellfire ever since. I don’t think she realizes nothing burns hotter than her rejection. In her mind, religion is a bulletproof vest. Each prayer is a protection. In my eyes, her Bible is the bullet. Each sermon is salt in the wound. I don’t want a warrior for a mother. The only protection I need is her embrace. I want her to believe in me like a higher power. Accept me like I am a Bible verse. God has enough hymns; sing to me instead. 

Being closeted in a church means hiding love from a group that claims to worship a loving God. It means your “family” picking and choosing which parts of you are divine enough to hang on to, and which are demonic enough to be hung. The holy spirit won’t stop haunting me.  

That’s why “sinful” love is so special to me. I am not just choosing to love someone. I am choosing their heartbeat over heaven. I am choosing their full-body smile over my family. I am choosing the erratic butterflies in my stomach over eternal life. I don’t need to worship a man in the sky. There are men on earth who’ve learned how to make music with my heartstrings. I will love them instead.

Sweat seeps through my tank top, reaches the back of my dress shirt, and crawls down the nape of my neck. It doesn’t slow me down. I continue to sway with his head on my chest. I barely even notice the entire room burning around us. The heat is something ferocious, but so is our music. 

MiC Columnist James Scarborough can be reached at