In ‘This Is My Body,’ first-time author Cameron Dezen Hammon reconciles feminism with faith and family.
Houston has its fair share of churches — mega ones, hipster ones, ones held in coffee shops or at schools. Cameron Dezen Hammon knows the scene all too well, and this month, the writer releases her memoir on the subject, This Is My Body. She’ll appear on Oct. 22 at Brazos Bookstore for a launch party and Q&A led by her friend, Rice professor and author Lacy Johnson.
In the page-turning memoir, Hammon presents her personal experiences with faith, feminism and family to challenge the reader and shed light on an antiquated system that has produced what she describes as present-day oppression: being female in the church. Hammon, a professional singer and pianist and a creative-writing teacher, grew up in New York. It was her early days as a born-again Christian, having been baptized during a lightning storm off Coney Island in 2001, that inspired Hammon to pen This Is My Body. “I had to keep tricking myself into [writing it],” explains Hammon, who resides in the Heights with her husband and 13-year old daughter, “and telling myself that it didn’t have to be very good, it just had to exist.”
Explaining how she was made to feel lesser than and dependent upon male leaders in the church, Hammon describes how her feminist ideals were suppressed to serve the God she loved. “As a feminist inside an institution that has traditionally repressed women, I felt like I was alone on the face of the moon sometimes,” she explains, with strength and an attention-grabbing matter-of-factness in her voice. “So I read memoirs by people who felt like outsiders in their own lives, and those books helped and guided me.” She devoured the pages of such acclaimed books as The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan, and Are You My Mother? by Alison Bechdel.
In one chapter of This Is My Body, Hammon explains her disappointment when a church leader, with whom she and her husband had traveled on a mission trip to Budapest, urged her into the kitchen to make sandwiches for the men who were meeting in the living room. And woven throughout the book are explanations of marital struggles between she and her husband. A particularly difficult season: The author describes a relationship with a visual artist, a painter, that she pursued outside of her marriage. It is heart-wrenching to read, but necessary to include, according to Hammon. “I knew that if I held back, This Is My Body wouldn’t be as strong as it could be, and I would be disappointed in myself,” she explains, noting that her husband was and remains supportive, empathetic and gracious.
Ultimately, at the root of Hammon’s debut is the strength she finds in her womanhood, fighting for her marriage, her family, her body, and her seat at the same table as the men. “I hope women see that we need each other. My friendships with women … have sustained me through the hardest parts of my life. I needed women around me to remind me that I wasn’t crazy. That wanting equality isn’t crazy. It’s human, and it’s right.”