*Trigger warning* This article discusses religious trauma, homophobia, and suicide
I attended my first Pride festival in 2010, marching in the parade with a group of LGBTQIA priests from a church in Colorado. The woman walking next to me, wearing black priest’s robes with a rainbow collar around her neck, held her head high as we passed a group of protestors at the beginning of the parade. We turned a corner and walked down the main strip. Rainbow colors could be seen everywhere, as live music drowned out the protestors. People who lined the street pointed to our “All are Welcome” banner- some with smiles, but many with confusion and skepticism. More than one person broke from the crowd to run down the priest next to me, swallow her in a tight hug, and tearfully tell their stories of religious trauma.
Religious trauma is the backdrop for many people throughout history, and the LGBTQIA community is no exception. Almost all of us have a story of emotional, if not physical, abuse from a religious group. Churches across America preach weekly on the sin of homosexuality, some even going so far as to incite violence. To spread their hateful propaganda churches ignore scientific, biological, psychological, and historical evidence on a regular basis.
When I approached L. M. Archer (Lena) for an interview I wanted to highlight Take me to Church.
“The Take me to Church series is a real depiction of falling in love as a gay teen amidst the rampant homophobia of the south and the mental health issues many people face. It’s explicit in the way that life is. It’s raw, beautiful, and real. Readers will scream in anger and cry in pain, but also laugh in joy and healing as they grow with these characters” – excerpt from L. M. Archer’s official website.
Lena has been a One Direction fan and a Larrie since 2017. She broke into writing through fanfiction, starting with the fic Cool for the Summer on AO3, which led to publishing the original series, Take me to Church.
What took you from fanfiction to publishing an original piece?
“Reader feedback had the biggest effect on my decision to publish. After I published Take me to Church on AO3, I was petrified. I knew I had written something that could be potentially controversial. I also knew that I took to a place that was very dark and that could potentially trigger a lot of readers.
Ultimately, I felt it was a story that needed to be told. I’m glad I did it because I received some amazing feedback about my writing. I had so many people come into my inbox saying that the story resonated with them and made them feel seen. They shared stories about their own religious trauma, some even telling me that they were sent to church camp. They felt healed by it. The story helped them realize that being broken isn’t bad; it’s actually really beautiful.
I also had some amazing friends within the fandom that pushed me to try publishing. If it wasn’t for the readers in the fandom, I don’t think I would have ever published a book.”
Did you have access to queer fiction as you were growing up?
“No. Granted I grew up in a very impoverished area full of conservative Christians. I hadn’t even heard the term gay until I was in high school. I didn’t start reading queer fiction until I was an adult, and it was only within fanfiction. I didn’t start seeing queer fiction on the shelves of bookstores until very recently.”
What is the importance of having queer characters in your stories?
“Representation is sometimes the difference between life and death. We, as humans, want to identify with something or someone. We want to see pieces of ourselves in our favorite characters. So having queer characters in books is showing queer people that it is okay to be queer. It shows young people that what they feel isn’t wrong. Sometimes reading is the only way people are exposed to other cultures are people outside our own very small world. Oftentimes, having these characters humanizes them. It shows cishet readers that queer individuals love the same way that they do. They are human and they deserve basic rights like marriage.”
Was there any part of the Take Me To Church series that made you cry when you wrote it? *spoilers ahead*
“I’m not a big crier. Surprisingly enough, I struggle to show emotions in any way. With that being said, there are three parts of the Take me to Church Series that made me cry.
The first was when Harlan was spiraling and wanted to commit suicide. The line “In the grand scheme of things, what’s one more life being snuffed out? If you blow one candle out, the whole world won’t be in darkness. There are other, brighter candles that will still shine.” always gets me. I drew much of this scene from a personal experience, so it felt as though I was finally letting my inner thoughts spill out onto the page.
The second part was when Luka sang Asher happy birthday. That one made me bawl. I could feel my heart breaking because I knew what Luka was going back to. I knew what was about to happen to him, and even though I was writing it, and I created this story, I felt as though I was helpless to stop it.
The third time I cried was when Luka was in the cell at the camp, right before he was rescued. I mostly held it together until he started praying, and that’s when I knew I finally broke him. I hated breaking him. I also teared up a bit when they were screaming at each other in the church, but I was cheering more than anything.”
What’s the next project you’re working on?
“Right now, I am getting the Saint of the Sinners series ready for publication. This also started off as fanfiction, which can still be found on AO3. It’s a dark, queer, mafia romance. I’m not sure when the first one will be out yet, but if you follow me on social media or subscribe to my newsletter, I give lots of updates. I have also been working on a queer Rockstar romance series. I have written the first several chapters, and have the rest planned. I’m excited to share that one with you all.”
Do you have any book recommendations?
“I do a lot of book reviews on my blog. Lately, I’ve been really enjoying Onley James’ Necessary Evils series. It’s pretty dark and can have many triggering subjects in it. I have reviews for some of the books in the series on my blog. If I don’t do a full review on my blog, I usually at least talk about it in my newsletter which is sent ever every other Sunday. My newsletter always includes current reads and recently finished.
Currently, I’m reading a sapphic romcom called Deliliah Green Doesn’t Care by Ashley Herring Blake. I am LOVING it and definitely plan to do a full-blown review.
Do you have any advice for other writers?
“Anytime I give advice to other writers, it comes across as sounding cliche. My best advice is just to do it. Write. Even if you think it’s shit, keep writing. I have some writing tips on my blog that goes into more details on how to outline, overcome writer’s block, and even how to write smut. Writers oftentimes think their stuff is garbage because it doesn’t sound like their favorite author, but that’s impossible. You can’t sound like another author. Every author has their own unique voice. Yeah, some voices can sound similar (just like with singers) but there are always going to be differences. Your writing isn’t shit. Your voice isn’t shit. You’re just not used to hearing yourself speak. So my advice is to get used to hearing yourself speak through your writing. Learn your voice and your style. Someone will love it.”
During the interview, I received a Twitter notification about a Texas pastor preaching a sermon of hate towards the LGBTQIA community. He stated gay people are dangerous to society, indulge in pedophilia, and spread disease, all while advocating for us to be executed.
Reading over what this pastor in Texas had to say was a fresh reminder of the times we live in. I think L. M. Archer put it best in her response.
*twitter posts used with permission*
Despite the fact that some churches believe that being gay is a sin, the queer community has many allies on their side. In recent years, there has been a shift toward accepting those in the LGBTQ+ community. More and more churches are opening their doors to all genders and sexual orientations.
Love is love and it always has been. Never attend a church that preaches hate or encourages you to live in shame. You are seen in this community, accepted, and valid. Don’t let small minds convince you otherwise.
Books like the Take me to Church Series by L.M. Archer brings a sense of hope to what feels like unsettling times. Keep reading, keep engaging with media when queer representation is good, and keep your head up. As Louis says, “Be proud.”
In parting, I leave you with Lena’s final words from the interview, “We will not let the world move back. We will continue to move forward, toward the rainbow.”
Note- If you need help dealing with this I highly recommend reaching out to The Trevor Project
You can also dm me @altersasidecoac