I was younger than ten years old.
Back then, my clothes consisted of basic t-shirts, floral blouses, and the occasional Ibiza–a brand of clothing that at my age, was considered risque because of the spaghetti straps, above-the-knee skirts, and halter necklines. My sister and I wore our Ibizas on special occasions (i.e. mall, family parties).
However, one day, Momc decided to dress me up in a flowy lavender spaghetti strap top and shorts to Sunday mass. It wasn’t even a regular spaghetti strap. The strap was made of faux diamonds or sparkly beads. It was pretty, but even then I felt like it was inappropriate for church (or chapel, as it technically was).
I was right.
We were seated in one of the front pews as usual. During the holy communion, one of the very old, very devout women stalked over to me and pulled on my strap. She had a scandalized look on her face as she stared daggers at me. I don’t think my parents or my sister noticed.
I was scared. I was a little girl, and here was this ancient being with a piece of white cloth on her head and rosary beads around one hand trying to shame me for what I was wearing. She was trying to tell me that I had sinned for stepping into the house of God wearing unacceptable clothing, which I had no choice at that time.
I don’t remember what happened next. There wasn’t a big scene. I guess another church goer pulled her away.
But that experience stuck with me throughout my entire life.
I thought everyone was welcome to church, no matter their circumstance. Expensive, sleeveless, sparkly clothes shouldn’t have been an issue. But it was, and I bet it still is. In the Philippines, you were discouraged from going to church wearing sleeveless shirts, shorts, skirts that revealed your knees, flip flops, and headgear. I get that it would be nice if you dressed up, since it is your day with the Lord. But what if you had no choice? What if you were a straggler, or a beggar, and all you had on you were the “unacceptable” clothes on your back. Are you not welcome into the house of God, just as I was an abomination for wearing Ibiza?
Then I realized it wasn’t my fault. Never was. Some people take their beliefs too seriously. To that old woman, my clothes were a sign of disrespect. I didn’t mean any disrespect, and I’m sure neither did Momc, who picked my outfit that day. That old woman chose to discriminate because of archaic traditions and whatever the fuck Bible verse she must’ve misunderstood. She chose to terrorize a little girl to protect her God.
I think deep down that experience was a catalyst–a tiny one–to my aversion for organized religion. Too many limits, restrictions to human nature, and outdated systems still being revered. It took one old woman and nearly two decades to help me realize that no deity shall make me feel embarrassed for dressing (or undressing) however I want.