Cleveland High School is located in Reseda, a working-class Latinx neighborhood that’s a bit more developed than Van Nuys. The magnet school’s humanities program is centered on social justice; Patrisse studies apartheid, communism, Audre Lorde, and more. She learns to challenge racism, sexism, classism, and heteronormativity. She also starts to question the Jehovah’s Witness world she grew up in, asking probing questions of the all-male Elders who guide Kingdom Hall, like how they can believe Earth is only 2,000 years old and why a religion would encourage family members to shun one another.
Patrisse’s new school is centered on social justice, and she learns new language that describes various forms of oppression. Heteronormativity is the socially accepted attitude that monogamous, heterosexual relationships are normal and natural, and that any other sexual orientation or type of relationship is abnormal. Classism is discrimination against poor and low-income people. All that Patrisse learns reinforces the idea that oppression is intersectional, meaning that people who have multiple marginalized identities (someone who is both non-heterosexual and poor, for instance) are oppressed in unique ways.
The Elders start to say that Satan has gotten Patrisse, which doesn’t bother her since she has lived her whole life as a partial exile within the religion. Cherice was, after all, dissociated from the religion (and thrown out of the house) when her parents found out she was pregnant at 16. Cherice stayed in the community, though, and she and her children are allowed to pray at services but not allowed to speak to anyone except the Elders—not even her own family.
Cherice’s experience of being thrown out of the house as a pregnant teenager is another example of intersectionality, as she was punished based on both her age and her gender (since a young man likely would not have been punished in the same way). Patrisse has alluded to being called a terrorist as the result of her activism as an adult, and the fact that she’s not bothered by the Elders saying Satan has gotten her is a testament to her resilience in the face of insults.
Twenty years after disavowal, Cherice argues for her reinstatement, and the Elders say yes. She is excited, but Patrisse feels anger and disgust after all the years of being treated as dirty. Gabriel showed her a different way to relate to religion, centered on community and love rather than shame. It seems to Patrisse that her mother was never granted this kind of freedom from judgment. Patrisse wants a place of worship that feels honest, that doesn’t take the Bible so literally, and that doesn’t shame women for their sexuality.
Patrisse is angered by how the Jehovah’s Witness tradition treats women’s sexuality as sinful or disgusting, an example of how sexism intersects with her experience as a Black woman. She reflects on Gabriel’s teachings about what it means to center community and love, and this lesson that will be at the center of her activism in future years.
Patrisse wants a liberatory and purposeful spiritual path—she wants to feel connected like she does when she reads Audre Lorde (whose books she now carries everywhere). She is going through big changes and feels scared but also excited about finding her truest self. Patrisse learns of Cherice’s reinstatement mere moments before it happens and feels sick, deciding to hide in the bathroom rather than watch it happen. She can’t stand the hypocrisy of men judging her hardworking mother after all they’ve done. Being a Jehovah’s Witness suddenly becomes part of her past, and she sets out to find her own spirituality.
This moment is significant in that Patrisse is taking her first steps toward charting her own direction in life—she wants to prioritize love and acceptance, and Jehovah’s Witness does not offer her that. She wants to be free from the sexism she’s experienced and witnessed in the community, and to move toward a more liberatory form of spirituality instead.