Brio was a Focus on the Family-branded Christian magazine for teen girls my mother subscribed us to for a few years in the 90s. She eventually cut off our subscription because my sister and I “weren’t taking it seriously.” It had quizzes like “What kind of babysitter are you?” and useful tips for praying with your friends, an advice column by Susie Shellenberger I always suspected of being sponsored by Coke, because she’d start almost every answer (“My boyfriend wants to make out. How do I avoid this?”/“My best friend bought a Fiona Apple CD and now I’m worried she’s going to start cursing. How can I witness to her?”) with “Oh, kiddo. I wish I could take you out for a Coke and talk to you from the heart.” Like her answers were almost always Coca-Cola themed, suspiciously often, and at 11 in 1997 I’m not sure I knew what a lesbian was yet but I’d keep puzzling over her photo and think, Okay, there’s something going on here that possibly implicates me, and I think we’re both lying to one another, Susie and me, but I’m not sure her. I think there was also a feature that reviewed both Christian and secular music, and I’d always read it anxiously because I really liked listening to secular music but felt terrible about it, and they’d almost always pan the secular music, and I’d end up giving away my Fiona Apple CD again. I did this three times in eighth grade. The process looked like this:
I’d be in Sam Goody and think, God, I want to own Fiona Apple’s “When the pawn…” album. “Paper Bag” speaks to me, and the men I anticipate being disappointed in someday. I must have it. So I’d buy “When the pawn…” with my allowance money.
I’d listen to it endlessly and with great pleasure.
I’d think, Come on, you know better than this. This album is full of swear words. She says fuck all the way. How’s that gonna strengthen your walk?
I’d think, I should give this up. I should sacrifice this album to the Lord.
And then I’d think, But throwing away CDs is wasteful.
And then I’d think of a secular friend, or at least a Christian friend whose own walk I viewed with suspicion, and I’d give the album to them. She already has anger problems, so it won’t compromise her walk any more than it’s already been, plus she’ll like me better if I give her a present. Yeah, the spiritual math checks out here, this is the right thing to do.
A few months later: God, ‘Mistake’ really speaks to me. I should go to Samy Goody…
Every month featured a different “Brio Girl,” a regular reader (just like you!) who embodied the qualities of Brio — homeworkfulness, tidyment, toothbrushery, boyfriend control, projects, social studies, haircut-mindedness, eyes on the prize, gel pens for devotional journals, Bible For Teen Girls, limited field hockey, one hour on the family computer, being on time, dishwasher awareness, college prep. My bitterest regret is that I was never selected as a Brio girl, not least because of the subsequent branding opportunities I’ve missed out on.
Can you imagine? What if I’d come out pre-tipping point? I could have written a book called Not That Kind of Brio Girl and made a million dollars opening weekend. I could have been the transmasculine equivalent of that lady who used to blog about her kids and then married Abby Wambach and wrote a memoir about the spiritual gift of lesbianism. That’s a whole career right there, repackaging evangelical Christianity for religiously-minded queers. I’d make a killing on devotional companions to HRT with folksy little asides about dealing with acne and avoiding pornography if T changes your libido:
Week One on T
2 Corinthians 5:17: Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.
Week Two on T
Romans 12:1: I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.
Week Three on T
Colossians 3:9-10: Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds, and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him.
God’s Plan For Trans Men: Becoming A Man Of God
Chapter One: Honoring Your Trans Sisters
Chapter Two: Building One Another Up
Chapter Three: Spiritual and Physical Disciplines
Chapter Four: Hey, Let’s Talk About Sex
Chapter Five: Hey, Let’s Talk About (Coercively Assigned At Birth) Sex
Chapter Six: Honoring Your Mother And Father Even When They Ask You About Your Genitals
Chapter Seven: Letting Your Light Shine Before All Men
Chapter Eight: Wild At Heart?
Chapter Nine: Rebecca and Eliezer At The Well
Chapter Ten: What Does The Bible Really Say About Eunuchs?
God, the branding is just right there. Position yourself as the slightly-worldlier and more with-it John Eldredge for religious trans guys, are you kidding me? It’s a permanent, full-time career path and a license to print money. I read all my own audiobooks, of course, and get a manly catch in my voice on the last line, which is obviously from Revelations 21,
And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.”
Then He who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.”
I’d make a goddamn killing every Christmas. A Brio Girl would have kept her eye on her branding, that’s all I’m saying.
"My boyfriend wants to make out, how do I prevent this?" The answer's right there on the cover: start YODELING
ahhh I vaguely remember a Goofus and Gallant-like piece, where the good smart girl wore a modest loose crew-neck shirt, and the obvious sinner girl wore a shirt that was low-cut and a little bit see-through. GUESS WHO GOT TO MARRY A YOUTH PASTOR