Interview with Heretic author Jeanna Kadlec

We recently reviewed Heretic for Divorcist reads. In it, author Jeanna Kadlec shares her evangelical upbringing, the marriage that was supposed to be the right thing for her, and the fallout and rebuilding that happens after she decides to choose herself.

Jeanna was good enough to answer some questions about the book and give advice for those of us deciding to leave our marriages–or our religions.

Q: Many of us who are now happily divorced either had a friend or loved one express doubts about the marriage before it took place or admit after the dissolution of said marriage that they were never wholly sold on it. Because of your evangelical upbringing, marrying young and within the community seems to have been a foregone conclusion. At any point did any of your peers or mentors try to tell you there was another way? DId your pre-wedding panic attack give your family any doubts that it should happen?

A: Phrases like “pre-wedding jitters” and “cold feet” exist for a reason. Pretty much everyone around me chalked up what I was feeling to purportedly “normal” anxiety, when it clearly was so much more. But that’s also part of normalizing how awful heteronormative marriage is for so many straight women, and people, generally — how many memes and stand-up sets have we seen about people “hating” and resenting their spouse? 

My sister was the only person in my life to voice any doubt and concern about my relationship, well in advance of that panic attack. She never liked my ex-husband, didn’t think he actually treated me well, and had the guts to say so to my face. But she was even younger than I was at the time, and she wasn’t a devout believer, so I, unfortunately, readily dismissed her concerns. I was so convinced that what was happening was God’s will. It’s very hard to see the truth until you’re ready to see it.

Author Jeanna Kadlec talks on evangelicalism and divorce.
Author photo copyright Meg Jones Wall

Q: A lot of our readers are in the “contemplation” stage of divorce. Nothing has been said or done, they’re just thinking about taking the leap. What advice would you give to someone struggling with the decision? 

A: Don’t be afraid to reach out to the people in your life who you trust for emotional support. There’s so much shame around divorce, and around relationship difficulties in general. Admitting that things aren’t great. But sometimes they aren’t, you know? And it’s okay to see a therapist about that. It’s okay to talk to your best friends about that, to not try to rough it on your own. 

Q: My favorite parts of your book are the cultural and historical context you bring to so many of the issues that made it extra complicated for you to be you, e.g. purity culture, evangelicalism, and the hot mess that is the overlap of (some) religion and politics in the US. Were these topics always of interest or did writing this book and healing from your past cause you to dive deeper?

A: They were always of interest. I have an abandoned career as an academic, so integrating research and historical context is just naturally how I write. It’s making how I’m thinking about something legible for the reader. It’s putting my life and my choices in the context of what’s happening all around me — all around us. 

Q: What advice would you give a young woman or queer person or anyone else who can’t or won’t fit in their evangelical community? 

A: It’s okay to just leave, even if you’re only leaving for a short time because you need to figure some shit out, even if you’ll eventually find your way back to a different church or a different kind of faith. 

But for queer people, in particular, evangelical Christianity is not affirming of us or our very humanity, and I do think it’s important to give ourselves permission to come to terms with that very fundamental schism. For queer people, to try to continue to force ourselves into conformity with evangelicalism’s core tenets is to deny and break ourselves apart for their approval. It is okay and, in fact, necessary to prioritize your own health, your own wellbeing, your own life, above what the church tells you. You deserve pleasure. You deserve joy. You deserve a full and fulfilling life with people who love and accept every part of you. That goes for everyone questioning the church — and God.

Q: Divorce sucks for just about everyone. But yours had a lot more going on than most. What were some rituals/mantras/habits/anything that helped get you through during a time when you didn’t have a lot of support?

A: I have a lifelong journaling practice, which was absolutely vital to help me process what was happening to me and through me. Very Joan Didion, “I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking.” And I also developed a tarot practice, which I discuss extensively in the latter half of the book. Tarot really helped me find my way back to myself — or create a new self, rather — in the wake of that dissolution of faith. 

Q: Going from a straight marriage into the queer community, it must be hard to feel like you belong and aren’t an impostor. What advice would you give to people who may have been in a heterosexual marriage for years who are now entering the world as a single, queer person? Becoming single again after many years is hard for anyone, but becoming single and entering a new dating world must be even scarier. 

A: This is a great question, because it does really get at how things are the same, but different for queers who are coming out of the closet a little later in life, after seemingly straight relationships. 

My answer is definitely colored by the fact that I got married and divorced by 25, and so I was dating a lot of people whose biggest long-term relationship may have been with a college sweetheart, who typically had never even so much as lived with someone else — let alone been through the life wreckage of a divorce. This is also colored by the fact that, while I got married in the Midwest — where it was so common to get married after college graduation, whether you were religious or not — I was in grad school and getting divorced in Boston, where folks emphatically, absolutely did not do that. 

Buy the book!

The culture around relationships was very different, so when it came to dating women, I was just a huge outlier. And initially, I really struggled with my confidence, as is so common, I think, among baby queers. I felt like I had this enormous previous relationship I had to explain. Why had I been with men for so long. Why had I got married. Then there was the religion. I felt like I came with so much baggage, who could ever want me? There was a lot of unpacking to do. 

So my advice is really just to affirm folks. You’re doing great. There is no such thing as coming out “too late,” because we all come out on our own time, when we’re ready. And there will ALWAYS be people who will accept you and, if you’re into sex, who will want to have sex with you. I PROMISE. 

Q: What’s one thing you wish you’d known when you were getting divorced? 

That getting divorced isn’t a failure, doesn’t mean the relationship was a failure, doesn’t mean that you, personally, are a failure. It actually is a really courageous thing to do. 

Heretic is on sale now. Buy it here or from your favorite independent bookstore.