Put Your Sins On the Page
Hi and welcome to The B, the new biweekly Friday column made by and for bisexuals, pansexuals, the sexually fluid, queer, and anyone else who is attracted to people of more than one gender
I looked incredulously at the title of Anne Perry’s writing instructional, “Put Your Heart on the Page”. In smaller letters I was informed the slogan was also available as a tote bag, and I burst into laughter. “I suppose what they say is true,” I mused, “comedy really just is tragedy plus time”.
Bless me father for I have sinned, I read too much every day this week
I was a sick, tired kid in middle school. Diagnosed with hypothyroidism, a hormone disorder, activities were exhausting, and conversations were difficult to follow. Rather than engage with a boring and energy sucking world, I withdrew and spent every moment I could reading. I read so much my parents, literature lovers themselves, gave me a time limit on how much I could read per day, two and a half hours, a rule I was seldom successful at following. I devoured everything in a hap hazard mash of genres, styles, and age ranges. One day I was reading the Little House collection, then next plowing through the Epic of Gilgamesh , and then falling in love with the fantasy worlds of Tolkien. Any and every book in my house or the library was free game, yet, when my allowance rolled around there was always one author who deserved the coveted trip to Barnes & Noble, Anne Perry, the Victorian murder mystery novelist. I methodically made my way through the Pitt series as Charlotte, Emily, Thomas and I investigated the most gruesome and mundane of London’s society murders. No deranged minister’s wife or cuckold painter escaped our diligence pursuit of justice. Her books were the perfect mixture of history, feminism, and snappy plotting with a surprising amount of pages dedicated to exploring the effects of murder on everyone, both the loved ones of the murdered and murderer.
By the time I was a sophomore in college it had been years since I’d picked up one of her mysteries, but one late night, on a whim, I googled her name, and in the nature of Wikipedia articles I was greeted with this stunning combination of sentences, “Anne Perry (born 28 October 1938 as Juliet Marion Hulme) is an English author of historical detective fiction, best known for her Thomas Pitt series and William Monk series. She was convicted of participating in the murder of her friend’s mother in 1954. She changed her name after serving her sentence.”
Put your heart on the page.
In 1952 Juliet Hulme a beautiful, hyper-confident, intelligent, lonely thirteen year old started attending Girls’ High in Christchurch, New Zealand after her father received a position as a Rector at the nearby Canterbury University College. Juliet had spent most of her childhood away from her parents and without close friends, as she recovered from lung problems in the Bahamas. Returning to live with her academic father and socially active mother proved a difficult transition for them all and Juliet sought solace from her new school friend, Pauline Reiper. Paul, as she preferred to be called, was a lower class, creative, tomboyish, depressed fourteen year old. She had also spent her childhood dealing with a debilitating and painful illness and had a difficult time connecting with her peers. Their friendship intensified quickly to the surprise of their classmates who could not tell what the glamorous, self assured, posh Juliet had in common with the perpetually angry, frizzy haired fishmonger’s daughter, but two girls had discovered themselves to be kindred spirits under the cosmetic differences. They spent every moment possible together as they developed an intricate fantasy world, wrote novels, made elaborate plans to run off and live in Hollywood as professional screenwriters and actors, and sent long, daily letters to each other while Juliet was in the sanitarium with another round of tuberculosis – her parents went on their scheduled vacation without her. Once the Hulmes returned, Pauline would spend days at a time at the Hulme’s large, beautiful house, her and Juliet sleeping and bathing together while exclusively referring to each other as characters in their stories and demanding others call them by their new names. Dr. Hulme and Mrs. Rieper grew concerned that their friendship was too close, too obsessive, and they worried it had turned physical, that they might be engaged in homosexual activities.
Bless me father, for I today I did not sin.
The last time I felt God, I was fifteen years old. I was a sophomore in high school, and I was miserable for all the typical reasons fifteen year olds are miserable. So prayed, as I had done every time I had a problem since I had been taught the words to pray, and as every time before it made feel better. It was a conversation between myself and a friend, and even if nothing was changed, it felt nice to be listened to. Soon enough, things got better. I made new friends, I scored the winning shot in a close game, I got cast in the spring comedy, I had plans on Friday night, and life wasn’t so bad anymore. I didn’t pray quite so much, and when I did it felt more like a check in, like I was doing it for God, rather than doing it for me. Like a friend you used to be close with and still grab lunch with occasionally, but as soon as you get to lunch you keep thinking about all the Netflix you could be watching instead of being at lunch. But I kept doing it, because it was the right thing to do, and I couldn’t abandon a friend who had never left me.
As the girls friendship reached peak obsession, Mrs. Hulme fell in love with a Canadian named Bill Perry, and the Hulmes decided to get a divorce. Mrs. Hulme would stay in New Zealand, Dr. Hulme would return to England, and Juliet would be sent to stay with relatives in South Africa. Pauline was determined to go with her. Juliet was determined she should come, the Hulmes in the midst of trying to keep their scandal quiet were ambivalent. Only Mrs. Rieper voiced her strenuous objections. Pauline, who already had a tempestuous relationship with her mother, and Juliet decided to remove the obstacle in their path to eternal happiness together. The three of them went on a walk, and Pauline and Juliet bludgeoned Mrs.Rieper to death with a brick, hitting her between twenty to thirty times. Their story that she slipped and fell did not fool anyone and the police confiscated Pauline’s diary, which contained the entire plan to “moider mother”, and some suggestive entries about the Juliet and Pauline’s physical relationship. The girls stood trial and, amid a media frenzy, were convicted after their insanity plea fell through – the crown successfully argued homosexuality may be a mental condition but it does not make a person more likely to commit murder as the defense had stated -. They both served five years in separate prisons, and disappeared, separately, once released. Their story was used to prove the moral decay of youth and culture, and was the basis of Dr. Medlicott, a prominent New Zealand psychologist theory that homosexual youths were at risk to develop adolescent megalomania.
Bless me father for I have sinned and I will sin again
Redemption is the core of Christianity. We are all miserable monsters who deserve hell, but Christ died for our sins, and so we are redeemed. I no longer identify as Catholic, but yet, I am. The way I think, the way I write, even my fascination with Anne Perry is shaped by my Catholicism, but I do not believe it. The last time I went to confession was the summer before college. People joke about Catholic guilt, but I’ve always found it lovely. Catholic guilt pushes you to do better but doesn’t overwhelm. Each week you keep a mental scorecard of how you messed up, you confess it, and then it doesn’t matter anymore. The next week, you try to beat the week before, but if you don’t, well there’s always next week. I miss confession. I miss feel guilty for the littlest things, yet the comfort in knowing that each week they would be wiped away. There was a freedom in weekly redemption. I lied, I gossiped, I used God’s name in vain. I’m sorry. Three Hail Marys, one Our Father, restart. The problem of course was, it doesn’t count if you are planning to sin again. You had to make an effort to be better each week, and when I hit college, I was in the mood to explore.
Juliet Hulme disappeared at the age of twenty and became Anne in November 1959, the day she left prison. She moved to America in 1968 to pursue her, and Juliet’s, dream of becoming a professional writer in Hollywood. While in America she converted to Mormonism. After spending several years chasing her dreams without success, she moved to Scotland and continued to write. Unbeknownst to her, Pauline Rieper, now a devout Catholic and a special education teacher named Hilary Nathan, had also moved to Scotland. They both continued to write, live, and work with a few hundred miles of each other, but never met again.
Bless me father for I have sinned, I’m too busy being hungover as hell.
The first time I skipped church was Memorial Day weekend my freshman year of college. I went and drank wine with my friends instead. I hadn’t felt like God was listening in a very long time at this point, but I wasn’t ready to give up. He was my oldest friend. I gave myself a year to figure out what I believed, and if I believed it truly, or I just wanted it to be true.
In 1979 Anne Perry’s first book Cater Street Hangman was published, she kept publishing, soon hitting bestseller lists around the world. As of today she has sold over 25 million historical fiction murder mystery novels mostly set in 19th century London. She’s been praised for her meticulous attention to historical detail, for creating a world that feels vivid and lived in, for her exploration of redemption. By the time an ambitious New Zealand reporter discovered her secret in 1994, a few months before Peter Jackson’s Heavenly Creatures, a movie focusing on the Juliet and Pauline’s’ friendship before and up to the murder, was released she was a staple in the publishing world. She still lives and writes in a secluded Scottish community. She never married but bought a house to live next door to her long time female friend, Meg. She has denied ever being in a lesbian relationship with Pauline and is in high standing at her local Mormon temple.
Most people I talk to don’t know anything about Anne Perry, perhaps because they are too young. Heavenly Creatures, was released when I and my peers were wee tots. Or perhaps they never shared my passion for historical fiction and strong, independent women solving crime. When they hear her story, they are intrigued, repulsed, and then they forget it. Yet, I have never been able to get her out of my head. I think Anne Perry is the most interesting person I’ve ever heard of, perhaps because no one knows quite what to think about her. She planned and executed the cold blooded murder of an innocent woman. If she had lived today, her story would have been instantly transferred to a CSI or Criminal Minds case of the week. At her trial she was judged by the prosecutors to be “not irredeemably mad, but irredeemably bad”, the psychologist who spoke in her defense later stated that he felt like he was in the presence of pure evil when talking to her. She was one of the bad seeds, the monsters, the humans who have no humanity, a dangerous narcissistic with no respect for the intrinsic value of others. Now she is a respected member of her community. When her identified was revealed, Anne was terrified that she would lose everything, instead her friends, coworkers, fellow Mormons, and neighbors rallied around her, saying she didn’t deserve to be judged by the sins of her youth. By all reports she is a well-liked woman, and an author with a reputation for being remarkably easy and pleasant to work with. Yet there is no denying that there is something instinctively creepy about a murderer who sits alone in a room writing about murder for eight hours a day. At this point in her career she’s devised a hundred ways for victims to die, and hundred reasons for them to be killed. She defies any easy label. Of the two biographies written about her, one claims that she is still a narcissistic mastermind who feels no guilt about her actions, while the other stresses what a great person Anne is and how hard she had worked to put one tragic mistake behind her.
Bless father for I have sinned, I kissed a girl, and I think I love her.
I knew the last time I prayed that it was the last time. There were many reasons that I stopped praying, I always wonder if I hadn’t met that girl at that time would I still be trudging along, a little bit more liberal, a little bit more open-minded than before but still praying. Or would the doubts I’d had for so long have eventually have stopped me either way? I don’t know. But at that moment I saw two friends before me. One was my oldest friendship, probably the longest relationship I had outside of my parents and siblings. He had always been there watching, listening, judging, loving. Yet despite the love, the relationship felt toxic. With him there was only one way to be good, and that was not a way I could be happy. The things that he believed were no longer the things that I believed, and to stay with him was to believe. The other was a girl. She wasn’t particularly beautiful or riotously funny or even very kind, and yet I loved her very much. So I prayed one last time, and I said goodbye to God and I never looked back.
Bless me father for I have sinned, the blood of Christ is on my hands
Yet, the farther from the church I fall, the more Catholic my writing becomes. Redemption, the pursuit of truth, justice and forgiveness, the eternal battle between good and evil and everyone caught in the middle that is the subtext of my every listical. That is where my fascination with Anne Perry comes from, she is the perfect Christian redemption story. She fell in love with a girl, she murdered the woman who stood in her path, she found God and never saw the girl again. My story is her distorted mirror, I fell in love with a girl, I murdered the god who stood in my path, I found a new community, and I don’t see the first girl either.
She is destined for heaven, and I for hell. Yet the further we run from the things we hate, the closer they intertwine themselves with us. She only writes about murder and I only write about God.
We put our sins on the page.