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Thursday, August 17, 2017

Blogaround

The kingdom of heaven is like protesters at an alt-right rally, holding a banner that says "VA Students Act Against White Supremacy." Image source.
1. Why Defending “Spanking” Is Dangerous (posted August 9) "You may know what you mean when you say “spank.” But does everyone else?"

2. On the Social Dimension of Disability: “I don’t think of you that way.” (posted August 10) "When my boyfriend points out that this metaphor implies physical disability (such as mine) necessarily means abnormal, negative, or useless, she experiences discomfort. She relieves it by saying, “I don’t think of you that way,” preserving the abnormal, negative, or useless associations in her head with physical disability."

3. Why is "the Decimation of Public Schools" a Bad Thing? (posted 2016) "I fear privatization not because of some mystical devotion to the inefficiencies of government but because I fear the erosion of the idea of education as something that isn’t win-win, that we give to children because they deserve it rather than because we can profit from it."

4. An Atheist Reads The Case for Christ: Chapter 2 (posted 2012) I've been watching this youtube series by Steve Shives, "An Atheist Reads The Case for Christ" (first video is here). I read "The Case for Christ" a really really long time ago, back when I was in high school and read all the apologetics I could and had no idea that atheists had counter arguments. I really like this youtube series so far- Shives focuses questions like "what evidence is there for this belief?" and "what's the best explanation for the evidence we have?" whereas I'm realizing "The Case for Christ" was more about "if we want to believe these things about Jesus, is there a way to put the evidence together so that it'll fit?"

Damn, the video on chapter 6 is also quite good. NSFW language at the end there.

5. White nationalism is a sin. White supremacy is a sin. And I don't mean that in the way Christians talk about sins like lying or gossiping- I mean it in the way Christians talk about "culture war" sins. Indoctrinating children, teaching white people the lie that the United States is a nation built on equality and freedom. Secular media normalizing it. There is an agenda. (And any other culture-war phrases you want to throw at this.)

In white Christian culture, I was taught "racism is a sin" but they meant it like, an individual thinking racist thoughts. As a hypothetical thing that a person might commit and then quickly repent of, no harm done- not a system that truly does exist in reality, throughout every aspect of American society, perpetuating injustice and benefiting white people even though they're not aware of it. Growing up in a white church, I heard more people worried about Harry Potter than about systemic racism.

Incidentally, the existence of systemic racism is one of the big reasons I no longer believe in a personal God. If I really "had a personal relationship with God" all those years, if God and I were so close and talking every day, how come God never mentioned anything to me about the whole giant sinful system that I have benefited from for my entire life?

6. 17 Books On Race Every White Person Needs To Read (posted August 15) "White Americans, on the other hand, have had the luxury of ignoring a dangerous issue that not only doesn't negatively impact them, but rather benefits them."

7. Baltimore removes four Confederate statues in the night (posted August 16)

8. Eccentric Millionaire Probability Paradox (posted 2015) Ooooh this is a really interesting probability problem.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

On Perfect Weddings

Bride wearing a stormtrooper helmet. Image source.
Did I mention I got married?!!! It was awesome. The whole day was so incredibly amazing and happy, and I felt like it was perfect.

It wasn't perfect though, not in a literal sense. I felt like it was perfect- and what I mean by that is, I was so completely happy about everything that I barely even noticed the things that didn't go "perfectly." I didn't have a feeling like "this is pretty good, but it could have been better if this and that had gone differently."

There was only one issue which was serious enough to be a potential crisis: My dress was SO TIGHT. I put it on before the ceremony and it looked AMAZING and I'm thinking, I can't really breathe normally in this dress. After a few minutes I felt light-headed and I'm wondering if I'm going to keel over during the ceremony. My sisters, my mom, and I did some problem-solving and figured out that if we don't zip up the back all the way, it's a lot more comfortable and I would be able to breathe. So that's what we did: I got married in a dress that had the back zipper gaping open. During the ceremony I had a white slip on under it so the hole wasn't noticeable, but then for the reception I took off the slip and my skin was showing. Several days later I'm looking at photos of me dancing and I'm like "oh it was noticeable" and my family is like "lolololol YES of course, it was a giant hole in the back of your dress, yes it was 'noticeable.'"

But the point is, we solved that problem and everything went fine and I didn't feel bad about it at all. Several of the guests reassured me that "it just looks like a keyhole back, some wedding dresses have an open back, people probably just thought it was a keyhole back," which, first of all I had never heard of a "keyhole back" so, okay whatever, and second, it kind of felt like they were trying too hard to reassure me that it wasn't a bad thing. As if they were worried I would be really distressed about it and they needed to help me feel better. (Note: I just googled what a "keyhole back" is. Uh no it didn't look like that. It looked like I forgot to zip the back of my dress.)

So we only had one thing that was a potential crisis. But for the purposes of this blog post about "perfect weddings," I'll list a bunch of other things that happened that weren't "perfect": My veil fell off several times during the ceremony, and one of the bridesmaids kept trying to stick it back on until she just gave up after the third or fourth time (and I thought it was HILARIOUS). There was an edit I made to one of the lines in the vows, a few days before the wedding, that didn't make it into the final version that was read at the ceremony. After the part in the ceremony where the parents stand up, the officiant didn't tell them to sit down, so they just stood there awkwardly for the first bit of the ceremony. Hendrix tried to put his ring on my finger at first, and I had to whisper "that's yours" at him in Chinese. We made some changes to the design of the cake, a few weeks before the wedding, but the cake that showed up was our original design instead. The DJ said our groomsman's name wrong when introducing the toasts. The song "Toxic" was not played at the reception- like how can you have a wedding where you don't dance to "Toxic"? (I gave the DJ a giant list of songs and he wasn't able to get through all of them. Not his fault.)

It feels weird to list all these "imperfect" things though, because they didn't really matter. It wasn't "perfect," but that doesn't mean it was in any way inferior or less enjoyable than a hypothetical wedding where these details had gone "right." Your mileage may vary- everybody's wedding is different, and everybody has different feelings about the importance of each part. And it's totally fine to be unhappy about something that didn't go according to plan. My point is that a wedding isn't going to be "perfect" in a literal sense, and that shouldn't be the goal anyway.

And another thing: Your wedding guests aren't the set of people you love the most in the world. Of course you want to invite all the people you love the most, but then practical things come into play, like deciding which relatives to invite, and if you invite one cousin then you have to invite all of them, and this person lives too far away so they won't realistically be able to come and we don't want them to feel like they're obligated to send a gift, etc etc etc. And then after you send out the invitations, the people who say yes aren't the people who love you the most; they're the people who are able to get themselves to that particular location on that particular date. People who live close to your wedding location, or have the time and money to travel. People who weren't busy with something else that day. Poor Hendrix, he invited a lot of people from China who weren't able to come. We didn't have a "bride's side" and "groom's side" because the groom's side would have been pathetically sparse. As for me, there were some people I wanted to see there who weren't able to come, and some friends that I haven't seen in 5 years who were able to come and I was so happy about that.

There's this ideal that a wedding is a big party with all the people you love the most, but it's really not. Some of them won't be able to come, just for their own personal reasons, and that's okay. And then there could be other people you weren't expecting, but end up making your wedding so fun with their presence. Like my cousin's boyfriend, whom we will call Kyle. He was so much fun on the dance floor, and he took a ton of great photos and gave them to me afterward. Back when we made the guest list, we weren't thinking about him at all; he was just there as a +1 for my cousin. But now I have these fun memories with him and that's great.

We're never going to get that exact group of people all together again. And that's okay. Just enjoy the moment while we can.

So was it "the happiest day of my life"? I don't know, I was too busy getting married to think about "so what about the day we got a puppy, back when I was 13, is this happier than that or not?" Why would you need to compare one happy day to another? Why does it matter which day is "the happiest day of your life"? Your wedding doesn't need to be perfect. It doesn't need to be the best in every aspect. There will be other happy days in the future. There will be other fun parties. There will be more memories to be made, and more opportunities to see those loved ones who weren't able to come to the wedding. There will be more chances to dance to "Toxic." (Full disclosure: I do this alone in my apartment on a weekly basis.) It's not like it's your only chance to throw a big fun party. There's not really anything that's exactly the same as a wedding, but that's okay.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Autistic at Disneyland

Old Disney castle logo. Image source.
[content note: this is a post about when I was a little kid with undiagnosed autism and was forced to ride amusement park rides where I didn't feel safe]

It has recently come to my attention that, because I live in Shanghai, I can go to Disneyland any time I want. (Or rather, any time I want to pay 1000 RMB [150 US dollars] for tickets for me and Hendrix.) Shanghai Disneyland opened in 2016. Click here to see my photos from the first time I went.

The most recent time Hendrix and I went to Disney, we watched a pirate-themed stunt show. Right at the beginning, as they opened the doors for all of us to come into the theater, one of the pirates cracked a whip and HOLY SHIT THAT'S LOUD. I guess I've never heard a whip sound in real life, just in movies where there's a limit to the loudness. I was scared, didn't know what the sound was or where it came from, I didn't feel safe, we walked in with the rest of the crowd and found seats and Hendrix kept telling me "we can leave if you want" but I said no.

So we watched the pirate stunt show, and I covered my ears for the whole thing, but I was still able to enjoy it mostly. The stunts were really good and it was cool to hear pirate-y dialogue in Chinese.

Afterward, I was thinking about my needs, and what could have been done to make the experience less overwhelming and stressful. I decided that what I really would have needed is a detailed description of everything that happens in the show, sensory-wise, and maybe even a video to watch. I need information in order to make a decision about whether I'd like to participate or not. And for the first time in my life, I thought, yes it IS reasonable for me to ask for that information. Autistic people really do need that kind of information; if you don't provide it, you are excluding us.

See, I'm coming to the realization that having different needs than other people means that I need to be the one in control of my choices. I need to have the relevant information, and the power to make decisions for myself. Nobody else knows better than I do what I can and can't handle. I always thought being "disabled" meant "you can't do this, you can't do that"- but now I'm starting to think what it really means is, I have different needs than other people, and in order to know whether a certain activity will be safe for me, I'm going to need very very specific information, and I'm the only one who can make that decision. It has to be me, not society-wide rules about what autistic people can or can't do. Before, I thought disabled people should get fewer options- "you can't do this, you can't do that"- but now I think we need more. More information, more ability to stand up for ourselves and communicate clearly about our needs, more decision-making power.

(This is why I wonder whether getting an autism diagnosis as a child would have been helpful for me or not. I was diagnosed around age 23. If I had a diagnosis as a child, would it mean "you have the power to decide whether or not to participate in activities that could be potentially overwhelming for sensory reasons, and adults NEED to respect your decision" or would it mean "we're going to exclude you from things all the other kids are doing, we decided that you can't do it"? If it gave me the power, that would have been an EXTREMELY EXTREMELY helpful thing for me as a child, and I would have avoided a lot of trauma. If it meant adults deciding to exclude me from this or that fun thing, because they decided I can't do it, that would have caused even worse trauma than what I did experience when I was a child.)

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When I was a child, I remember going on the Indiana Jones ride at Disney World or Disneyland. It wasn't a roller coaster, it was a bumpy old car on a track, that drove through various Indiana-Jones-themed scenes. I'm not okay with roller coasters that have big drops, but this ride didn't have any, and there's not really any obvious reason to suspect that it would be too overwhelming for me in terms of sensory stimuli. But still, I remember, I didn't want to go on it. I guess it was because I didn't know what it would be like, and I didn't feel safe. (You can't see any part of the ride without actually riding it.)

But I did ride it, with my dad, because my parents pushed me and I was a good kid who followed the rules and, even though I told them I didn't want to ride it, I didn't feel like I actually had the right to outright refuse. So I rode it, sat in the bumpy car with my head down, eyes closed, ears covered. For the entire thing.

Afterward, my parents asked if I liked it or not, and I said, "I don't even know what happened, I had my eyes closed the whole time."

And I remember, I told that story a few times, afterward. Maybe to a teacher who asked "How was your trip to Disney World?" And that last line there, when I said I actually have no idea what the ride even was, because I had my eyes closed the whole time- it kind of reads like the punch line to a joke. And people laughed when I told the story. Maybe I felt good, a little bit, that people thought I was funny. Or maybe I was confused about how I felt, how I had been pressured into riding this ride when I didn't want to, how it felt normal because that ALWAYS happened to me at amusement parks, how the adults told me it was fun so it was difficult for me to even recognize that I wasn't having fun- that mess of confusing and contradictory emotions, and I told that story to try and find someone who could understand and care about my feelings, but when they didn't understand, I just pretended it was a joke.

That's happened to me on multiple occasions- when I tell the real, honest-to-goodness truth about very deep, personal emotions, and people say "wow you are so funny, you have such a great sense of humor." I don't really know what to say to that.

So I mention the Indiana Jones story here because it's the perfect example of what has been happening to me, my entire life, at amusement parks. How people have always pressured me to go on rides, and then I hated riding them, and nobody understood.

I like amusement parks, really I do, but I'm not okay with big drops or loud sounds. I like going fast- I totally loved Test Track, a ride at Disney World in Florida which takes you through what's supposedly a bunch of tests for a new car, ending with a few laps around a track at over 60 mph according to wikipedia (SO COOL). I like rides that spin. And I'm fine with being high if there's no "falling" feeling when we come back down (ie I like the swings that lift up really high off the ground and spin around a bunch of times). And at Disney especially, it's so cool looking at all the artwork surrounding each ride, how the make the scenery and such. But, as I said, not okay with big drops or loud sounds.

And so, every time I went to any amusement park as a child, there were some rides I didn't want to ride, and there were people who tried to talk me into riding them. Mostly my parents- and I don't really blame them, I'm not mad at them for it, they really did think it would be good for me to just try once and I would have fun.

But here's how it played out in reality: An adult would try to push me into riding a ride that I thought was "too scary." And even though I felt comfortable "talking back," telling them why I didn't want to ride it, I saw the adult as the final decision-maker. It never occurred to me that not riding was an option- I thought I was only allowed to not ride if the adult okayed it. You know, because I was a good kid and wanted to follow the rules, and I wanted the adults to think I was good instead of "strong-willed" and "stubborn." (Indeed, there have been many many occasions when I felt incredible relief, hearing my mom say I don't have to ride this or that roller coaster. Because I always believed it was the adult's decision, not mine.) So then, sometimes I would ride the ride. And not like it. And then when it was over, the adult would say, "see that wasn't so bad, that was fun, wasn't it?" And tell me I was good and "brave."

They always said it was "fun," and it was difficult for me to recognize that I wasn't having fun. I didn't understand that people choose to ride those rides because they like them. I thought that when you go to an amusement park, you are "supposed to" ride certain rides, and my request to be exempt was a bizarre anomaly that went against "the rules", so people didn't have to respect it.

It was like when you go to the doctor and get a shot. Just sit and brace myself and wait for it to be over, and then afterward the adults tell me I am good and "brave." Same thing.

When I talked with Hendrix about this, he said some people might be scared of a roller coaster but they choose to ride it anyway, because afterward they feel a sense of accomplishment, like "it was scary, but I'm glad I did it." Okay, sure, that makes sense, but that's NOT how I felt. When I had survived the scary ride, I was glad because that meant people would STOP BOTHERING ME ABOUT IT. I didn't feel good about myself for achieving something. I would have been happier if nobody had pressured me into it in the first place, followed by a grand finale of me not riding it. When I rode those rides, I did it for other people, not for myself.

The log ride is another example that comes to mind. It's not a roller coaster, just a log that bumps along down a little river, culminating in a big drop with a big splash. My parents didn't push me into riding big roller coasters, but the log ride is less "scary" than a roller coaster, so that was one of the ones they totally did push me into. And I liked the "bumping down the river" part but not the big drop at the end. Actually, it would be totally perfect if there was a point where you could get off the ride just before the big drop at the end. As I write this, I'm like, hey why don't they make a ride like that, surely there are a lot of people who would love to get off and skip the worst part, and then I realize, oh wait, most people actually LIKE the big drop, maybe they even think it's the best part. That's mind-blowing.

The log ride. I think now I would like to ride a log ride, now I have a bit higher tolerance for rides that fall, but when I was a little kid I totally hated it. (At the time, though, it never would have occurred to me to use the word "hate"- the adults said it was "fun", so I would have called it "fun" and then felt very confused about what my emotions were.) But as I said, I felt I didn't have the option to say no. Yes, my parents knew I didn't really like it, and sometimes the family would split into 2 groups and my group would do rides I liked, not the log ride- yes, my parents took my feelings into account, but it was always their choice, not mine. (Kind of like a complementarian marriage, yes?) I felt like I was asking for something "weird" and "against the rules." If things worked out so it was convenient for one of my parents to stay with me while the rest of the family rode the log ride, then okay fine, but if not, then tough luck, I have to ride it.

I remember one time in elementary school, in art class I drew a picture of my family riding the log ride together. We were coming down the big drop at the end. And now I wonder, why did I draw that, if it was such a traumatizing thing for me? Maybe the assignment was "draw you and your family doing something fun together" and I knew everyone said the log ride was "fun." Or maybe that part was the part that I remember the clearest, and, just like with the Indiana Jones story, I was trying to work through a lot of confusing emotions. (I remember another time I drew fireworks in the context of "here's something cool we did on the Fourth of July" even though fireworks are way too loud and that sound is literally painful for me and actually it turns out I hate them.) Maybe I was trying to find someone who would care about and understand my feelings, even though I didn't even understand them myself.

"Fun." Throughout my childhood, I experienced things adults described as "fun" as an extremely mixed bag. But I trusted the adults- if they said this ride was "fun", then I would also say it was "fun."

And even now, now that I am okay with a bit of falling and there are some roller coasters I really enjoy, I feel weird about telling my parents that I rode this or that roller coaster. Because if I liked it, it feels like I'm saying it was okay for them to force me into riding stuff like that when I was a little kid.

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So after what happened at the Disneyland pirate stunt show, and after I came up with the idea "they should provide details about all the sensory phenomena on all shows and rides, if they don't want to be excluding autistic people," I started looking around the internet for resources with that kind of information. I found the California Disneyland website has a page about services for guests with autism. But on that page I read about the Disability Access Service, which is like a fastpass- disabled people can get them so they don't have to wait in line. And when I read that, I kind of ... recoiled. No, I'm not like that, I thought. I don't have autism so "bad" that I can't wait in line. (Though, yeah if I'm already stressed for other reasons, I can't stand being in a crowded place with no escape routes, so yeah I can understand how for some people, waiting in line for a long time can be totally unbearable.) And I felt like, I don't want to read this web page anymore, I don't want to be associated with people who are so ... "bad" that they can't even wait in line.

And then I realized, that's ableism, and that ableism has prevented me from looking for resources that actually would be helpful for me. See, I always thought it's "bad" to be disabled, which means that if I can just act like a "normal person" and not ask for special help- if I'm able to do that, then I SHOULD do that. And, you know, I can. Sort of. I go into these situations with overwhelming sensory stimuli, I feel I have no choice, and sometimes I cry and everyone looks at me and I feel embarrassed. And that's just what my life is. That's my "normal." And I saw myself as "weak" and "too emotional" and too easily scared. But I can, I can go into those situations and survive through them. As I said, it's like getting a shot at the doctor's. And I thought, since I can, I should. And I shouldn't ask for any extra help that's different from what a "normal person" would.

I was a good kid that followed the rules. Plus in Sunday school we learned that good Christians deny their own needs and do what others tell them to.

But anyway. Back to the Disneyland autism page. So the part about skipping the line doesn't apply to me. The part about wheelchairs and strollers doesn't apply to me. A lot of it doesn't apply to me. But then there's this bit:
Attraction Information

Attractions at the Disneyland Resort offer a variety of different experiences that may be challenging for Guests with cognitive disabilities. These include scents, high-speed movement, flashing lights, loud noises and periods of darkness.

For more information about what experiences to expect as well as how long each ride lasts, please download Attraction Details for Guests with Cognitive Disabilities.

You can also view general descriptions of the attractions at the Disneyland Resort.
This is the bit about sensory stuff in the attractions. Nothing else on that page applied to me, but this, this is what I need. I really really really need this.

That link there, Attraction Details for Guests with Cognitive Disabilities, is a pdf that lists all the attractions at California Disneyland, in chart form with columns for "Scents/Smells", "Flashing Lights", "Loud Noises", etc, and then a mark in each column to indicate the attraction has or doesn't have those things. Yeah, that's really helpful- but still not enough information for me, actually. First of all, there's no column for big fast drops. There are "Bumps", "Fast", and "Lifts Off Ground", but... none of those are the same thing as "this is a roller coaster with a big drop." Furthermore, this information is all binary- it just tells you whether the ride has or doesn't have those things. It needs to be a lot more specific in order to be useful. I like small roller coasters- it's fun to have small drops, but not big ones- but my definition of "small roller coasters" will be different from other people's, and as an adult I have a higher tolerance for falling than I did as a child. (For reference, the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train is exactly the perfect roller coaster for me.)

Obviously, most roller coasters are outdoors and you can just look at them from a safe distance and get all the necessary information that way. Indoor rides are a different beast because, without riding them, all you have is secondhand accounts, other people's opinions on what's "fast" or "not that bad." I fully intend to never ride an indoor roller coaster, and to live a totally happy life without it. (Like, don't feel bad for me "missing out on a fun experience"- you should feel good about me having the freedom to say no when I don't feel safe.)

Also, the "Loud Noises" column. Not specific enough. In actuality, I'm okay with loud-ish noises in general, but NOT with sudden loud noises. Loud music and crowd noise are generally fine for me (and at Disneyland, the music and announcements played over the speaker system are much louder than average sounds in my regular life, but it doesn't bother me at all), but anything with a sound similar to an explosion (fireworks, whip cracking, etc) is incredibly painful. Or rather, let me clarify that too: It depends if you're indoors or outdoors. Outdoors, a lot of those loud things end up not being painful for me because just the sheer amount of open space allows the sound to spread out and not be as loud (fireworks being the obvious exception to this). So there are a whole lot of variables and it's very difficult to really get enough information to know for sure whether a certain sound will be unbearably painful for me.

BUT ANYWAY. That pdf from Disneyland is a good start. Combine that with my newfound realization that I totally do have the right to ask very specific questions and expect people to take my needs seriously- that I'm NOT being "selfish" or "weak" or "scared" when I insist that I have needs different from "normal people."

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Sometimes I think my sensory problems are getting worse, but that's not true. When I was a little kid, there were a lot of smells, tastes, and textures that were unbearable for me, but now those issues are either totally gone or much less severe. Sound, though, is the thing that hasn't changed- and sometimes I feel that it's gotten worse because I'm unwilling to put myself in situations that I would have allowed myself to be in before. Now, if there's a risk of hearing the kind of sound that's unbearably painful for me, I just leave. I don't force myself to stay there and "be brave."

As a little kid, I did my best to follow the rules and "be good." Instead of communicating that I wasn't okay with a certain situation, I just tried to go along with it and be like the other kids. I didn't realize they weren't all feeling the same way I did- I didn't realize that the adults didn't *get* how overwhelmingly painful some sounds were for me. Asking to sit out of those activities would have felt like asking if I can just not do my homework- like yeah, nobody likes to do homework, but we all have to, that's the rules. I didn't understand that the activities which were "too scary" for me were actually intended to be fun, and if I'm anxious or suffering sensory pain rather than having fun, then YES OF COURSE I should be allowed to skip it.

I internalized the idea that I am weak and too scared, and I need to "get over it" and stop making trouble. And that was normal for me- that was my normal life. Usually everything was fine and happy, but every now and then I would experience overwhelming sensory pain, and everyone would act like there was something wrong with me, and ... yeah that was just a thing that sometimes happened to me. It was my normal life; it never occurred to me that maybe there are things that we can and should do so I don't have to experience that.

And now I don't put up with that crap anymore. So I avoid a lot of things I would not have avoided as a child. Because now I believe my needs are real and they matter, and that I have the right to not put myself in situations that are likely to cause me anxiety and sensory pain. I never thought I was allowed to do that before. I thought it was "selfish" and "sinful" to put so much effort into caring for my own needs.

I no longer try to "be normal." And while, to an outside observer, it might look like I've "gotten worse," it's actually better, so much better.

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Back then, what would have been helpful is if adults had told me clearly that the choice to ride or not ride a "scary" ride is mine alone. I don't think they realized they were pressuring me into it and I felt I didn't have the option to say no. It would have been helpful if they presented their reasons why I should ride the ride, that's fine, we can talk about it freely, but the final decision is absolutely mine and mine alone. If I had known that I could decide, "They think if I go home today without riding it, I'll regret it- but that's ridiculous, of course I won't regret it, and therefore their reasons don't apply to me so I'm going to go ahead and say no"... wow. Wow. That's mind-blowing, stunning, unimaginable. That would be heaven.

I mean, wow. That would be life-changing. Feels too good to be true.

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I live in Shanghai; I can go to Disneyland anytime I want. I love it, I really do, but there are always some sensory issues. And the first step in addressing those problems is recognizing that yes, I do have real needs, they matter, and it is right for me to take steps to avoid things that will be painful or "scary" for me. Even though, when I was a child, the adults told me I was good and "brave" when I pretended I didn't have those needs.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Blogaround

Cow sitting like a dog. Image source.
1. When the evangelical establishment comes after you (posted July 17) "You have to realize that whatever abuse you are taking from evangelical authorities is nothing compared to the abuse that LGBTQ people have taken from pastors, teachers, parents, and “Christian friends” every day of their lives."

2. When gatekeepers attack (first-century edition) (posted July 17) "It helps, of course, that Peter seems to have corrected himself. There are different ways to place this story into the timeline of the book of Acts, but however that all fits together the end of the story is that Peter got his act together, finding the courage to embrace the Gentile believers in public the same way he had been doing in private."

3. Harry Potter Theory: Why Harry Had To Compete In The Tri-Wizard Tournament (posted August 3) "'Maybe death' is better than 'definite death', is a fact. Seriously why does everyone think this school is so safe?"

4. Theology, history, and context (posted July 23) "One reason has to do with fear. Many Christians have gotten the idea into their heads that their eternal salvation — whether they are destined for Heaven or Hell — is dependent on their having the proper ideas about theology. If one believes the wrong doctrine, one may be damned forever. And thus it is unthinkable and terrifying that one’s understanding of theology might be, in any way, contingent on context, or culture, or any other such accident of personal or national history."

5. Alliance Defending Freedom Through The Years (posted July 24) "The designation [as an anti-LGBT hate group] is a result of ADF’s propagation of known falsehoods about LGBT people over the years (including the conspiracy theory that there is a “homosexual agenda” or “homosexual legal agenda” to undermine “the family” and Christianity), its demonization of LGBT people, its support of criminalization of gay sex in the U.S. and abroad and its continued attempts to create state and local policies and legislation (so-called “religious liberty” laws) that allow Christians to deny goods and services to LGBT people in the public sphere and marginalize LGBT students in schools." Yes, ADF is an anti-queer hate group, 100%. I read their book, "The Homosexual Agenda," back then. I learned all the arguments about how legalizing same-sex marriage will destroy marriage and families. ADF is a propaganda machine which spreads dehumanizing lies about queer people (who, by the way, bear the image of God). ADF is a hate group. Back then, I believed all their bullshit, and I prayed to ask God to stop same-sex marriage from being legal. That memory is one of the main reasons I don't pray now. And I'm angry.

6. Crisis Pregnancy Centers: ‘You May Not Need An Abortion’ Because Maybe God Will Murder Your Baby! (posted July 27) Holy crap this is awful.

7. Bisexual, Not Broken (posted July) "If you try to tell others they are broken and in need of redemption because they experience sexuality outside of your carefully constructed binary box, I will fight you."

8. Medicine's Women Problem (posted July 28) "It takes an average of five years and five doctors for autoimmune patients (75% of whom are women) to get a proper diagnosis. And more than half of those report being labeled as 'chronic complainers.'"

9. The Wicked Problems of Jails and Prisons (posted July 26) "But the trouble in my experience, as Coakley notes in the last sentence of the quote above, is that if a chaplain attempts more than palliative care, and begins to offer theological reflections on the justice of the system, they risk being labeled as politically subversive and kicked out of the jail/prison."

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

"Is it Okay for Christians to Use Sex Toys?" (An Exercise in Missing the Point)

Vibrator. Image source.
[content note: talking about sex in this post, NSFW]

Well I came across this podcast where four married Christian women discuss this question: "Sex Toys: Is it Okay for Christians to Use Them?" Actually, a lot of their advice is good, but the way it's all framed totally misses the point.

First of all, I'll say what they did well: This is a website for married Christian women to actually talk about sex. It's really really important that something like this exists. In Christian culture in general, people don't usually talk about the specifics of sex, and that leads to married people wondering "is there something wrong with me?" when they run into extremely normal problems related to sex. And having a site specifically for Christians is, unfortunately, necessary, because good Christians aren't allowed to go anywhere near those immoral worldly sex-ed sites like Scarleteen that say it's okay to have sex outside of one-man-one-woman marriage.

Also, one of the speakers in the podcast was adament that, if you're a married woman who has never explored your own genitals and experimented to figure out what feels good, you should DEFINITELY try it. I totally totally agree. Oh my goodness this is SO IMPORTANT, and I think it's really great that it was talked about in this podcast so strongly. I was taught that masturbating is a sin, and that when you get married, sex will just work totally fine (or, if it doesn't, you and your spouse can "learn together" and aren't you glad you're learning with a partner who's committed to you for life)- in that ideology, there's no room for getting to know your own body and how to stimulate your genitals so it feels good. Really really good that this was emphasized so strongly in this podcast.

Another good thing was they said if you're a woman who can't orgasm just from vaginal intercourse, "there is absolutely nothing wrong with you." And they recommended getting a vibrator and learning how to orgasm from stimulating the clitoris. Yes, very good advice.

But anyway, the topic they're discussing is "Is it okay for Christians to use sex toys?" and framing the question like this is just all wrong. "Is it okay?" assumes that there's some kind of absolute answer, a "yes" or "no" and we have to search in the bible and get advice from Christian leaders to find out what that answer is. You can't just research the pros and cons of sex toys and make a decision based on your own personal situation, and then give it a try and maybe change your mind later- oh NO NO NO. Because what if it's a SIN? What if GOD is not okay with it? What if it destroys your marriage?

At the beginning of the podcast, one speaker says, "The bible doesn't tell us whether marital aids [sex toys] are prohibited or permissible. So how can a Christian couple decide whether it's okay to incorporate them into their love-making?" And that's the starting point this discussion is coming from. The idea that there's some "Christian answer" out there, that God has an opinion on whether or not you use sex toys, and you have to figure out this "answer" rather than just, you know, trying it and evaluating if the results are good or bad.

So here are a few areas they talked about, in deciding if sex toys are "okay":

1. Couples could become "dependent" on them

They said that sometimes people can become "dependent" on sex toys- and they took for granted that this is a BAD thing. I don't see why needing to use a sex toy every time you have sex is inherently a bad thing. If it works and both partners are cool with it, then what's the problem?

Yes, maybe someone feels like "I really wish I could get an orgasm without using a vibrator" so yes, of course if you have that kind of desire then you would be unhappy about being "dependent" on a sex toy. That desire is perfectly valid and you should totally go ahead and learn how to get an orgasm without a sex toy. But if you don't feel that way, and the sex toy feels good, then why would it be a bad thing to be "dependent" on it?

The assumption is that the "correct" way to have sex is to NOT use a sex toy, and you really should only use them if you have a good excuse for why you can't have sex the "correct" way. They mentioned health problems- and at one point, one of the speakers even said that yes, for some people they really do need a sex toy in order to have sex, and that's fine for them, but the vast majority of couples are physically capable of having sex without one and therefore it would be wrong to use them. It seems that she believes if you are at all able to have sex without a sex toy, then you're morally obligated to. I am really really not okay with this kind of language because it's just like when disabled people have to "prove" that they're disabled "enough" to deserve accomodations, and the idea that it's better to not use any accomodations so if you're at all able to, then you should go without them. I have autism and this kind of thinking has actually hurt me a lot, and some day I'll blog about it.

So anyway, on the topic of being "dependent" on sex toys, I don't see anything intrinsically wrong with that. If you personally prefer to not use sex toys all the time, then yes that is a completely valid preference, so you should do what you need to do in order to not be dependent on them. But in the Christianity I learned, there's no room for personal preferences; it's all about "is this a sin or not?" And as I said, that's the direction this podcast is coming from. They are trying to find a "correct answer" rather than just let people do what works for them.

2. It can be a way to shortcut intimacy

They talked a lot about how sex toys can harm the intimacy in the relationship. I guess if a couple is more focused on using the sex toy to get an orgasm than on each other's needs and helping each other feel good, that could be a problem. Then again, this assumes that the primary purpose of sex in marriage is intimacy. They even said that's what God meant for sex to be.

I mean, I guess for most people, the intimacy in sex is a big deal. But that doesn't necessarily have to be the most important thing. Especially if you're asexual, like me. Like, this should be something that the partners talk about- discuss what's important to them in sex and how to accomplish those goals. I don't think there's anything intrinsically wrong with not really being interested in intimacy in sex specifically. There are lots of other ways to be intimate.

They also mentioned that, for some women, they want to use a vibrator because their husbands don't really make enough effort to help their wife get an orgasm. Yeah, the husband should be working on that. The couple should really communicate about it if that's the case. Nothing wrong with buying a vibrator though.

Basically, yeah I see how it could be really good and intimate for a couple to work hard at making each other feel good, and if you use a sex toy as a "short cut" then you miss out on that. Again, it comes down to how people personally feel about the purpose of having sex. There's no "right answer."

3. Could be very very helpful and increase intimacy if you have trouble getting an orgasm the "natural" way

Continuing on with their point about how OBVIOUSLY the "correct" purpose of sex in marriage is intimacy, they said that sometimes sex toys can be really beneficial and increase a couple's intimacy, if they're having a lot of trouble having sex without them. They mentioned medical issues or women who are really inexperienced and having trouble figuring out what feels good. I would say sure, yeah, in those situations it could be really helpful to use a sex toy. But again, you shouldn't have to prove that your situation is "bad enough" that you're justified in using one.

4. The two partners should communicate and be in agreement about this- don't pressure each other

In the podcast, they said that the 2 partners DEFINITELY need to be in agreement about using a sex toy. It shouldn't be one pressuring the other. Yes, I agree.

5. Be honest with yourself and your partner about why you want to use the sex toy

Also, they talked about how you should think about your motives for wanting to use a sex toy. (And you should pray about it. Ugh, no, I am SO not praying about whether it's "okay" to use a sex toy.) Is it to increase intimacy, or not? And you should be honest with yourself and with your partner about how you feel.

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So yeah, some of their advice is good, but why do they have to frame it like "we are searching for the right answer from God"? Why can't we just teach people how to have healthy relationships and how to understand their own emotions and needs?

Like, all of their good advice could have been drawn from these principles:

1. Your body is your own and there's nothing wrong with desiring sex. (Or not desiring sex.) Go ahead and explore and figure out what feels good, and what your desires are and why.

2. Consent is SUPER IMPORTANT. Don't pressure your partner into doing things.

3. Communication is SUPER IMPORTANT. You should first of all be honest with yourself, and then talk with your partner about how each of you feel about sex and what your needs are, and figure out how best to go about meeting those needs.

4. It's totally fine to try something and then change your mind later. If you know how to care for yourself and your emotions, then you'll notice if the sex toy is damaging the relationship, and you can make necessary adjustments.

Why don't we just teach people what a healthy relationship is, and teach people that their desires matter and their emotions matter and they should do what they need to do to take care of those desires and emotions? Why all this fretting about "oh no, the bible doesn't say anything about sex toys, how will we ever know if we're allowed to use them or not?"

Instead, Christians believe there's some kind of "right answer" from God for all these little details in their lives. "Is it okay to use sex toys?" WHO THE HELL CARES? Like, just go ahead and try and see if you like it or not. It's not a big deal.

This obsession with "is it okay for Christians or not?" is so unhealthy. It teaches people that "sin" is from a list of bible-based rules which may or may not be arbitrary and will by definition be beneficial even if our limited brains can't understand how. It says that we're not capable of knowing what's good for us; instead, we have to figure out what "God's" opinion is.

Just teach people what a healthy relationship is and that their emotions and desires matter, and avoid all this nonsense about "is it okay or not?"

Monday, August 7, 2017

Kiss the Groom

A bride and groom kissing. Image source.
When I was thinking about what I wanted the our wedding ceremony to be like, I decided I did NOT want to include the line "you may now kiss the bride." It portrays the groom as the one who is actively doing something, and the bride as a passive object waiting for it to happen to her. Aren't the bride and groom BOTH making the choice to get married? Don't they BOTH enjoy kissing? Why is this line specifically addressed toward the groom? (Patriarchy, that's why.)

I even remember one wedding I was at, where the officiant said, "David, you may kiss your bride." Yes, he actually said the groom's name right there. As if to make it clear that this was about the groom, and the bride would just passively let it happen to her.

And thinking about it now, it feels gross, but at the time I thought that's just the way it is. The pastor says "you may now kiss the bride" because that's what you say at weddings. I wasn't a feminist yet; I didn't think about the history and the reasons behind wedding traditions. I didn't recognize it as the product of a sexist and patriarchal system. I didn't know that weddings don't have to be that way.

If you had that line at your wedding, I'm not judging you. I'm not concerned about individual people's choices; the real problem is the culture that tells us this is normal. Ever since I was a little girl, I knew that at weddings, they say "you may kiss the bride", and I never heard anyone ask "hey why don't they ever say 'you may kiss the groom'?" Nobody ever questioned it- and that's a problem.

Our officiant was fantastic, and she actually asked us about this during the planning even though I hadn't even mentioned it to her yet. She was like, "So do you want me to say 'you may kiss the bride' or 'you may kiss each other' or what?" We decided on "you may kiss each other."

Such a small thing, just one line out of the entire wedding day, but I'm really glad we kissed "each other."

Related: We're Not Doing the Garter Thing

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Note: In this post I'm specifically talking about weddings with a bride and groom, but don't forget that same-sex weddings exist too! Also some people don't enjoy kissing and that's fine too. You're not required to kiss just because you're married.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

I Have a Patreon!

Patreon logo. Image source.
Hi everyone! So excited to tell you about my new Patreon page. I've been writing this blog for 5 years and I'm really grateful for the support and nice comments from my readers. I love when people tell me "thanks for writing this, I can really relate to it" and I love that I've been able to get to know other people with similar experiences.

So anyway, thank you for being awesome readers for these 5 years, and if you want to also support the blog by giving money, head over to the Patreon page and check it out. I've set up a few different reward tiers. $1/month gets you exclusive access to photos of my cat. Highly recommend.

A quick explanation of what Patreon is: It is a website where fans can give money to creators (bloggers, YouTubers, artists, etc) to support their work. You sign up to be a patron and give a monthly pledge, and often there are rewards like special posts that are only accessible to patrons. (My blog will stay the same, still totally free, don't worry. But if you want to see cat photos, go over there and pledge a dollar. ^_^ )

Click here to see the Patreon page~ Thanks everyone~

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Blogaround

Six foxes looking up at you. Image source.
1. The Bible Says Canaanites Were Killed, But New DNA Evidence Suggests Otherwise (posted July 29) [content note: photo of a skeleton]

2. There is No Justification for the Media's Hierarchy of Victims (posted July 24) "People think that reading the news is a good way to stay “informed.” But it isn’t at all, because it is biased toward paying excessive attention to things that happen the least often. The entire concept of “newsworthiness” is in tension with giving people an accurate impression of the world, and journalists should ditch it and focus on trying to educate people on what matters in the world, “newsworthy” or not."

3. Democrats want to stop Trump's trans ban before it starts (posted July 27) "Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) is working on legislation to block President Trump’s proposed ban on transgender people serving in the military, part of an effort to move fellow lawmakers from bashing the controversial White House announcement to actually trying to find concrete ways of reversing it."

4. We’ll build a wall — and yeast infections will pay for it (posted July 12) "Since Planned Parenthood “funding” is reimbursement for health-services provided, redirecting that funding to the construction and maintenance of the border wall will mean that the wall will have to provide those same health services — check-ups, family planning, STD-testing, cancer-screenings, treatment of yeast infections, blood-pressure/diabetes consultation, smoking cessation, etc."

5. "Anxiety" is one of the most misused concepts in conversations about disabled kids. Let's have a thread about it. (posted August 1) OH MY GOD you guys, this twitter thread is my ENTIRE CHILDHOOD with undiagnosed autism.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Giving Candy to All My Coworkers Because I'm Getting Married

A week before I went back to the US for the wedding, I spent some quality time putting a bunch of candy into little boxes.

See in China there's a tradition: When you get married, you buy adorable little boxes and put maybe 4 to 6 pieces of candy in each one, and bring them to work and give one to each of your coworkers. (And if you have a baby, you bring in little boxes of candy for everyone at work for that too.) You know, as a way to celebrate.

They sell these boxes specifically for wedding candy, in sets of 50 on taobao (which is like Amazon but for China). I've gathered a bunch of pictures of different types to show you:

Red metal heart-shaped container. Image source.
Little red paper bags of various sizes, with 囍 [xǐ], the "double happiness" character for weddings. Image source.
This one even includes data on how many of various types of candy you can fit in.
Round red boxes. Image source.
Intricate red wooden box. Image source.
A bunch of triangle-shaped pink boxes (with ribbons and flowers) arranged all together as if they are slices of one big pie. Image source.
Red boxes which have the word "Love" or a drawing of a bride and groom on the sides. Image source.
Round pink metal tins with ribbons and flowers. Image source.
Same pink metal tins as above, but they are open so you can see how much candy fits in (there are 2 sizes available). 
In China, red is the color for weddings, so most of the boxes are red, but it's easy to find other colors too. Also, in my experience they usually have less candy than these photos show. Usually there's 1 of those round Ferrero Rocher chocolates or maybe 2 little Dove chocolates, and several pieces of non-chocolate candy.

So. Yep. Did that. Gave candy to everyone at work, and they all told me "恭喜 [gōng xǐ]" which means "congratulations." It was pretty cool. ^_^

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Blogaround

Protesters under a banner that says "Homosexuality is Sin! Return to Jesus!" In front of them, a man dressed as white Jesus holds a rainbow sign that says "I'm cool with it." Image source.
1. These Powerful Photos Will Challenge All Your Notions of Black Fatherhood (posted 2016) "A higher percentage of black fathers — 40.6 percent — help with homework or check homework than white fathers."

2. Why I’m Concerned about Josh Harris’ New Documentary (posted July 17) "After all, nothing in these materials—either the email or the kickstarter—promises more than a twenty-years-on revisiting of the ideas, with a response to critics."

3. My Gynecologist Wouldn’t Give Me an Elective Abortion—So I Broke Up With Her (posted June 20) "If a woman does not want to be pregnant—for any reason—abortion is automatically a medical need."

4. Literally every one of the bullet points in this piece is insulting and/or inaccurate. So let’s correct them! (posted July 20) Twitter thread about autism.

5. Women seeking abortions in Arkansas now need permission from men (posted July 11) Grossssssssss.

6. A Beloved Former Pastor Retracted His Support of Same-Sex Marriage. It Will Harm LGBTQ People More Than He May Know (posted July 14) "By stating his support for same-sex marriage and then retracting it a day after it was published, he confirmed the sense of so many LGBTQ people that we cannot trust church leaders and that the church is not a place where we can ever let down our guard. By not letting his “yes” be “yes,” he contributed to the feeling among LGBTQ Christians that we are disposable."

7. Eugene Peterson: the Christian Right’s Newest Messy Object Lesson. (posted July 15) Here's a roundup of Christian blog posts farewell-ing Eugene Peterson, and it's pretty horrifying. Makes me so glad I'm not an evangelical anymore.

8. why Christians can't trust psychology (posted July 5) "However, many Christians are willing to speak at length about why they don’t trust psychology, and most of it revolves around how they think it’s impossible to treat spiritual problems — because all mental health issues are of course really spiritual problems– without recognizing the Truth. Psychology, they say, tries to tell us that we’re fine and good and we just need to talk things out, while the Truth of the matter is that we’re not fine and we’re most definitely not good and we need repentance, not therapy."

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Blogaround

Edgar Allen Poe Dameron cosplay. Image source.
1. Karen Handel and the spurious Christian case against LGBT adoption (posted June 23) "Most conservative leaders I know who vocally oppose LGBT adoption are not lining up to register as foster parents."

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Blogaround

Cat sitting on a couch, with its back toward you. Image source.
1. I'm Tired Of My Queer Identity Being Ignored & Erased On TV (posted June 28) "The TV shows I watched certainly never suggested that someone like me could exist."

2. The virginity fraud (posted May 18) "The absurdity of virgin-testing is illustrated in a study done on 36 pregnant teenagers. When doctors examined their hymens, they could only find clear signs of penetration in 2 out of the 36 girls."

3. All the Ways Christian Education and the Church Have Failed Me (posted May 4) "If God could see me, hear me and read my thoughts, I would give Him fake things to read. If anyone asked me a question, I would give them answers I thought God wanted to hear. I was extra nice to people because I thought God would want me to be nice. He would never know what I actually thought of everyone, what I actually wanted to say or anything else."

4. I Can't Be Your Gay Friend (posted June 27) "And I’ll be honest, you almost won me over with the promise of paying for coffee when we sit down so you can “hear my story.” However, I have some concerns."

5. I Don’t Accommodate Uncontrolled Men (posted June 26) "So I’m going to be that woman. I’m going to stand up and look that man in the eye and tell him that his inability to control himself is not normal, healthy, or God-given, and I have no sympathy for his struggles." Well amen to all of this.

6. I'm Intersex, And It's WAY More Common Than You Think (posted July 2) "If you had surgeries that... you've never felt completely believed that the reasons they gave you were the real reasons. Those are some of the things you can look back at and help you discover if you might be intersex or not."

Monday, July 3, 2017

I Know We'll Have a Good Marriage, BECAUSE We're Not Pure

A man and woman kissing. Image source.
Youuuuuuuuuuuuuuu guyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyys the wedding is just a few weeks away! Oh my goodness I am so ready to be married to Hendrix. (I'm not ready to have a wedding, there are still a ton of details to figure out. Oh my.) Really really excited about being married to him.

It's overwhelming to think how different this all feels than what I expected when I was in purity culture.

Back when I was in purity culture, the one thing I was always trying to figure out was this: How are you supposed to actually get to know a person well enough to decide if it's a good idea to marry them, if every bit of romantic or emotional closeness- even the very simple act of going on a first date- erodes part of your purity you can never restore and makes you less worthy of a good marriage?

How do you go from single and pure, completely inexperienced and therefore a perfect, undamaged potential partner, to actually married to a real live person? Doesn't it seem like in between there must be some period of time where you're dating someone without being 100% confident you're going to marry them, and that's taking a HUGE risk with your priceless purity... how is this supposed to work?

Some purity-culture proponents address this problem by having the parents control the "courting" process. The boy has to ask the girl's dad for permission to date her, and the dad judges if he's worthy or not. And then when they go on dates, they're never alone, they always have a "chaperone." The Duggar family does it like this (and it's CREEPY AS HELL). Basically, in this form of purity culture, the couple isn't actually making the decision to get married- it's the parents making the decision. And therefore there's no need for the couple to risk their purity by really getting to know each other.

But that wasn't the version of purity culture I believed in. Instead, I believed God would tell me which guy I should marry. I believed the decision would be made based on prayer and extensive analysis of a guy's characteristics- rather than by, you know, dating and getting to know him in a relationship setting. Yes, I believed I would have to date "my future husband" for 2 years, just to be sure, but the real decision-making would be happening before even agreeing to the first date.

I believed that, while it would be ideal to never ever date anyone unless he's "my future husband", in reality there's no way to actually be sure about that, and dating is a big risk no matter what. Even if God tells me I should date a certain guy, that's still not a guarantee he's the one I'll marry- it doesn't mean I'm allowed to quit "guarding my heart" and actually love said guy.

It would be a difficult balancing act between purity and information. I need to be as pure and inexperienced as possible in order to have a good marriage. But I need to get enough information about the guy in order to know marrying him is a good idea. Basically, my purity would be the currency used to buy information. And I need to make sure I spend as little as possible on guys I don't end up marrying. Every single action I take with a hypothetical boyfriend must first be carefully weighed to decide if the purity cost is worth the amount of information I would gain.

So whenever I had a crush on a good Christian boy, I would go to my room, kneel on the floor, and pray and pray and pray about it. I would try to find little signs that perhaps God was indicating that this guy was "my future husband." Maybe there was a certain song I kept hearing in my head over and over, and the lyrics reminded me of this guy- was God trying to tell me "yes" by putting that song in my head? I would analyze things that the guy said, try to judge whether he was mature enough, try to determine if he had the correct beliefs and worldview.

One of my friends, let's call her Claire, was asked out by a good Christian guy. She spent weeks praying about it, and finally decided no. Because, she said, she doesn't feel like she can submit to his leadership, because occasionally he seems to make decisions she sees as a bit irresponsible- and if she were his wife, she'd have to just go along with that. And because she's never been on a date before and her first date is a really really big deal and she's not willing to give it to a guy that she's not sure about. That was the kind of purity culture I was in. I saw Claire as a role model in purity. (I, on the other hand, had kissed a boy in the past so I was not pure like Claire was.) She and I talked a lot about how dating was supposed to work. How to always put God first and not lose our purity.

This is all so incredibly different from my decision to marry Hendrix. See, we're not "pure." I don't "guard my heart"- and I haven't "guarded my heart" for a LONG time. Our whole relationship has always been about loving each other, supporting each other, having fun with each other- not about carefully trying to stay as far apart as possible while discreetly gathering intel on whether or not he would be a good husband.

(If you're wondering, NONE of this is a euphemism for sex. [Though for the record, I'm not the least bit ashamed to say that YES, we do have sex.] I'm talking about how purity culture says it's "emotionally impure" to be in love. I'm talking about how the purity-culture version of Perfect Number would have stopped herself after laughing and laughing at some cute little thing Hendrix did, and she would have felt a stab of panic- "oh, I let my guard down, I let myself laugh and just enjoy this moment, he is working his way into my heart and this is DANGEROUS.")

I used to think I couldn't date a guy unless I was pretty sure I was going to marry him- and I worried about how to make a decision like that with so little information. I could investigate what his personality is like and try to imagine whether he and I would be compatible. It would be a lot of guesswork and hypotheticals. It would be a lot of prayer and searching everywhere for little signs that God was saying "yes" or "no." And... that's all. In purity land, breaking up is The Worst Thing Ever, so you pretty much have to decide to marry someone without even dating them at all. Just hypotheticals. Just prayer. (And even after you decide to date them, you still can't fully love- you have to "guard your heart" until you get engaged.)

And it's astonishing how my relationship with Hendrix isn't like that at all. This decision isn't about hypotheticals; it's about years of actual real-world experience being a couple. We haven't been cautious. We haven't held back. We haven't been "pure." We aren't jumpy and scared of being "too attached" and "emotionally impure" and so we've been free to just love each other. Free to just be a couple and support each other through the good and bad that life throws at us. And because of that experience, I have the information I need to make this decision. (And not just information, but a lot of fun and happiness along the way.) I know it's a good decision.

They always said that purity was the #1 most important factor in ensuring a successful marriage. But I've discovered it's not like that at all. It's our experience- the opposite of purity- which tells me we will have a good marriage.

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Makes me want to say "I do"~

"I Do" Colbie Caillat


Thursday, June 29, 2017

Blogaround

A cat laying on a rainbow flag on the street at a Pride parade. Image source.
1. Ancient wisdom from the neural network (posted June 22) "Death when it comes will have no sheep."

2. Toy Story Zero: The True Story Of Andy’s Dad & Woody’s Origin (ft. Mike Mozart) (posted June 22) "Woody doesn't even realize that ... the Andy playing with him now isn't the Andy who wrote his name on his boot."

3. Soap, soup, and support for Supreme Court nominees who will overturn Roe v. Wade (posted June 6) "Every medical missionary commissioned by any white evangelical mission board has had to contend with this Great Commission objection. Every mission agency that built hospitals or schools had to have an answer to it — an explanation for why they were doing that rather than building churches."

4. A groovy relic of the forbidden evangelical past (posted June 8) "In 1975 — two years after Roe — Zondervan Press published a book for white evangelicals in which Norman Geisler wrote: “Abortion is not murder, because the embryo is not fully human — it is an undeveloped person.” And nobody freaked out."

5. Behind Wonder Woman Is a Great Man (posted June 6) [spoilers for "Wonder Woman"] "But if it’s important for girls and women to see a female superhero, it’s also important for boys and men to see a man who becomes heroic by following a woman’s lead."

6. If we confess our sins (posted June 22) "It reinforces the idea that “sin” is a matter of transgression against some capricious and inscrutable list of rules — an idea that the Bible repeatedly rejects, rebuts and mocks".

7. Uber sued over lack of wheelchair-accessible cars in D.C. (posted June 28) "The lawsuit, filed on Wednesday, alleges that Uber is violating both the Americans with Disabilities Act, which requires transportation companies to offer equal access to all riders, and D.C.'s Human Rights Act."

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

For This Asexual, Purity Culture Was All About Fear

Fear, from the movie "Inside Out", with the ace flag as the background. Image sources here and here.
They told us it would be a terrible, dirty sin which would ruin our future if we had sex before marriage. But they also told us that statistically, most people- even if they're Christians, even if they make a purity pledge- do end up having unmarried sex. Somehow, this horrible, ghastly fate is happening even to people who put great effort into avoiding it.

How? How does this happen? Well, they said, temptation. Sometimes you have this feeling like you want to do dirty sexy things, and it's so hard- maybe even impossible- to resist. No, you won't be able to resist, so your only hope is to never even come face-to-face with that kind of temptation.

But see, they said, here's how it goes: Don't kiss too much, and don't use your tongue, because if you do, then you might feel like you want to have sex, and you won't be able to resist the temptation. Also, probably shouldn't kiss at all, because then you might feel like you want to kiss with tongue, and you won't be able to resist that temptation. Also, better not be alone and cuddling with a romantic partner, because then you might want to kiss, and you won't be able to resist that temptation. Really better not hug a person of the opposite sex at all, because then you might want to cuddle with them. And probably you shouldn't hold hands, because then you might want to hug. And we can keep going, up the slippery slope, to more and more mundane and innocuous actions, which will, apparently, bring unsuspecting victims closer and closer to the horrible, life-destroying black hole that is premarital sex.

They told us stories about good, pure Christian couples who found themselves alone together and "one thing led to another" and they "stumbled" and "gave in to temptation" and sex somehow "just happened."

And there I was, asexual but I didn't know it yet, and completely unable to wrap my head around how sex could possibly "just happen." I thought, hey I'm not an expert, but it seems to me that in order to have sex, you have to take your clothes off first, and let another person see your naked body. And you have to touch their genitals, and let them touch yours. How on earth could those things "just happen"? How? Why? How? How on earth could there be any feeling or desire that would cause me to go against everything I believed in and take off my clothes in front of another person?

But, they said, don't go thinking it can't happen to you. Oh no, don't go thinking you're so pure, that you're not sinful and vulnerable to temptation. Pride comes before a fall, doncha know? And there have been Christian couples- role models in their purity and dedication to God- who were careful not to even kiss, careful to follow all the rules, and then one night they were alone and got carried away and it *happened*. Don't think it can't happen to you. Stay vigilant. Avoid any situation which could maybe lead to temptation. You never know what could happen. You never know what your body is capable of, what sinful desires lurk in your heart.

And so I did. When I was dating my first boyfriend, I made sure to never EVER lay down on his bed in his dorm room. Because what if one thing led to another, and, somehow, we had sex? When I went back to my parents' house for spring break, they said I could bring my boyfriend- and I was terrified. If we both spend the night in the same house, who knows what could happen? (He had no purity-culture background and he didn't understand what I was scared of. "Are you saying... you think I would... try something?"  No, I said, no I didn't think he would do it on purpose, I was scared that both of us would be, somehow, unable to control ourselves.) Another time, I was out really late at night and wondering if I should just sleep on the couch at this fraternity house where a lot of my friends lived, because it was too far to walk all the way back to my dorm. But no, I decided. Because some of the guys who lived there were attractive, and what if one of them showed up in the night and ... somehow, something happened? I wasn't thinking about rape; I was concerned that in the darkness I would be overcome with desire and unable to control myself. (Please note, though, how this ideology makes it impossible to understand the difference between rape and consensual sex. Apparently, if you choose to put yourself in a situation with "temptation", and then sex *happens*, it's your fault.)

In all of these examples, I made decisions based on my fear that sex could "just happen," while completely unable to understand by what mechanism it could possibly "just happen." Wouldn't that require taking off my clothes? Wouldn't that require letting someone touch my genitals? How? How could a slide into "temptation" cause that to happen? Seems like the only way I would take off my clothes is if I chose to take off my clothes, and why on earth would I choose to do that? What kind of "desire" could possibly entice me to "lose control" and do that?

Maybe for people who experience sexual attraction, the warnings about "lust" and "temptation" make more sense. Maybe they intuitively understand what it feels like to desire sex, and balancing that desire against their desire to be good, pure Christians. Maybe they get what's enticing about taking off one's clothes in another person's presence. Maybe they understand their own desires and they know which situations are harmless and which are dangerous "temptation."

For me, though, it was all about fear of the unknown. They told me I had these desires, evil, dirty, sinful desires, deep inside, and I can't ever let my guard down or else "you never know" what could happen. They warned me about things that were dangerous, things that would lead to "temptation," and I believed them even though I never understood how on earth those things could lead to accidentally having sex.

Fear of the unknown. Fear of desires that I had never even experienced, fear that those desires were dirtier than anything I could imagine.

Here's the thing, though: I am attracted to boys. I'm a straight asexual. I experience romantic and sensual attraction- that means I have a desire for a romantic relationship, I can have crushes, I can fall in love, I like hugging a romantic partner, I like kissing and touching and being warm and comfortable together. But as it turns out, I don't have sexual attraction at all.

But they said those desires were all just steps along the slippery slope to sex. They said sexual desire is the same thing as sensual desire, but more intense. If a desire for holding hands gets out of control, it would turn into a desire for sex. And so I believed that, since I had such strong romantic attraction, of course I also really really REALLY want sex- that if I gave up an inch of ground to my romantic desires, then I would start to feel sexual desire too. And we can't let that happen. "You never know" where it could lead.

Anyway, fast forward to me and Hendrix, doing sexy things while not being married. No, we weren't having sex- I still believed it was a sin- but we took off our clothes and touched each other's genitals and such. But none of it happened because of "temptation." I was astonished at how, the entire time, I was fully aware of what I was doing. Every action was a conscious decision that I made. I wasn't "carried away." I wasn't "out of control." I was there, in reality, in the same reality I'm always in. The same laws of physics, the same bed and walls and cold air from the open window. Nobody was being carried away by "temptation." Nothing "just happened." I chose it.

And then, many months after that, when we finally decided to have sex, we couldn't even do it the first time. (By "sex" I mean penis-in-vagina sex, because that's what purity culture counts as the most impure, dirty thing you can do, that is the thing at the very bottom of the slippery slope, you do that and you lose all your purity. Even though in real life there are many other forms of sex and they're not in a heirarchy.) Yes, the first time we tried, I was still not totally clear on what a vulva was, and I had no idea that my body needed to be aroused in order to get the vagina to open. So the first night we tried, we couldn't get the penis to go in, and we gave up.

(Don't worry, we eventually figured it out.)

I look back on all that fear and I'm just amazed at how there was no way it could have ever happened like I feared it would. All those years ago, I was so worried that sex was going to "just happen", that I would "lose control" of my body and somehow do terrible things I would regret for the rest of my life. And then when I finally did try to have sex, when I actually wanted to do it, made a clear-headed decision and applied my problem-solving brainpower, I couldn't even do it then. There's no way it could have ever happened "accidentally."

All that time, I was scared for nothing.

(Really, I think all this "it just happened" language is either 1) blaming a victim for their own rape or 2) making excuses for consensual sex so it sounds less "sinful." Even for people who aren't asexual, I don't think sex can "just happen" with neither party consenting.)

I remember before I decided to have sex, I no longer believed in anything purity culture said, and I no longer believed sex was a sin. But I was still too terrified to try it. Maybe I just shouldn't, I thought, just to stay on the safe side. Just in case they were right and it really does ruin my life.

And there I was, with a partner who loves me so much, so comfortable together, so committed to each other, but with this artificial divide between us, this belief that if his penis goes inside my body, that would be THE WORST THING EVER and it would RUIN MY LIFE. Why? Why would it ruin my life? Why would this one little arbitrarily-chosen action have such devastating effects? Why can't we just try it?

The fear was awful, because there was no answer to "why". There was no reason I could think of that it would be so life-ruiningly terrible to have sex with Hendrix. Just the thought, "what if they were right?" Just fear of the unknown.

And I'm so glad we finally did have sex. It didn't change me into a completely different person. It wasn't an amazing transcendant feeling that totally changed my life. It wasn't really a big deal at all- and so, the fear vanished. All this time, there was nothing to be scared of.

They told me that I had to be on guard against the "slippery slope" so I didn't get "carried away" and have sex somehow. And I believed them even though it made no sense to me- which is a recipe for fear. I was terrified of sex. But now, all these years later, I've discovered that even though I desire other "impure" things- like kissing and being in love- I never had any sexual attraction at all. I was so afraid, but now that I've found out what sex actually is, I see there was NO WAY I ever could have done that without actively choosing to do it. There was never any chance it could have "just happened."

One might think that purity culture is easy for asexuals. For me, it wasn't. I wish I had been allowed to actually explore my own desires and find their limits. Instead, I lived in fear of desires that didn't even exist.

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