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Friday, January 20, 2017

The Christianity of GCN Conference

Serving communion at GCN Conference. Image source.
I went to the Gay Christian Network conference because I really want to be in a Christian environment that's not awful for me. I miss going to church, but I don't go because I can't find any kind of church or Christian group that's not awful for my mental health.

I was hoping the Christianity of GCN conference would be the Christianity that I follow. It wasn't. But that's all right- it never tried to force me into believing anything, and there were parts that were really really good, parts that were so exactly what I needed.

First of all, the message of the entire conference, proclaimed over and over again by every speaker, was this: You are loved. God loves you. You are a beloved child of God. Maybe in the past somebody told you you can't have a relationship with God, or you can't be a worship leader or pastor, or you need to change in order for God to accept you- well they're wrong. You are loved and accepted and able to serve in the name of God exactly as you are.

LGBTQ Christians very commonly experience rejection from the church; they are excluded either directly or indirectly. So over and over, GCN conference preached a message of inclusion. At the church-like service on Sunday morning, the choir sang "Draw the Circle Wide" as we all had communion, and wow, that was powerful.
Draw the circle wide
Draw it wider still
Let this be our song
No one stands alone
Standing side by side
Draw the circle, draw the circle wide
Wow. So bizarre to me to hear a worship song with that kind of theme. (Maybe "worship song" isn't even the right term for it.) Over and over, all the speakers at the conference preached inclusion. Everyone is loved. Everyone is worthy. They didn't tell us we had to believe or do certain things in response to God's love. There was no altar call. There was no "God loves you unconditionally, therefore you need to make a decision to commit your life to him." The only thing we were commanded to do was continue to include others and spread the love.

So I'm kind of confused about this. I'm ex-evangelical; the Christianity I learned was always about trying to get people to believe certain things or obey God in specific ways. The pastors I knew would say that GCN's general message about God's love was good and true, but that it was only half of the story- and that when you leave off the other half, you're just preaching some deceptive feel-good nonsense which doesn't actually do any good. "The other half" being the things people are required to believe or do, otherwise their life will suck and/or they go to hell. If you don't warn people and let them know what the requirements are, maybe you're actually doing more harm than good- you're giving them a false sense of security. That's what I was taught; I'm not sure what to make of this "God loves you unconditionally" stuff when it's not followed by "and therefore it's totally reasonable for God to ask you to do the following things."

There are two possibilities:
  1. This message of love and inclusion really is the message that GCN wants us to hear
  2. GCN believes the "God loves you" stuff is only half of it, that the "here are God's requirements" part is also essential, but that many LGBTQ Christians already know it or are not in a place right now where they'll be receptive to it. Now is not the time- if we try to preach that now, it might push them away. Right now we just give them the first half, hopefully that will convince them to stick around with the church and then somebody else will tell them the second half.
I find possibility #2 to be incredibly dishonest, sort of a bait-and-switch thing. I should know, I did so much evangelism back when I was "on fire for Jesus," I know all about how to sugarcoat the idea of hell and condemnation and dress it up like it's good news.

So... could it be #1? Could it really be? I'm having trouble even comprehending that- a form of Christianity whose main message is that God loves you, a form of Christianity which isn't at all interested in forcing people to believe certain things. Wow, could that really exist? That's ... wow. I want a Christianity like that. [Note: It's possible that some of GCN's leaders and the speakers at the conference believe possibility #1 and others believe #2.]

On that note, I'd like to tell you about something that Bishop Gene Robinson said. He was one of the speakers at the conference, and was the first openly gay bishop in the Episcopal church. I remember when he was in the news back in 2003, back when I was a good anti-LGBT evangelical. At the conference 2 weeks ago, there was so much applause for him; he is an important role model for queer Christians who want to become pastors. To me, he had been just a symbol in the culture war, a sign of how the church is "abandoning the bible"... I had never thought about what it would be like to be told you can never be a leader in the church because you're gay, and then to see someone who proved that wrong, how powerful that would be. Anti-LGBTQ Christians don't understand how deeply their "culture war" affects the actual lives of actual people.

Anyway I want to tell you one thing Bishop Robinson said. He was talking about how he had been asked to do a prayer at Obama's inauguration, and he agonized over the words to use to make the prayer inclusive to people of different religions. He finally decided to use the phrase "God of our many understandings." Later, he heard from Jewish and Muslim people who thanked him for saying it that way.

And I just about fell out of my chair.

Did I mention I grew up evangelical? I heard all about how isn't it terrible that people water down their language to make it "inclusive," how they don't proclaim the name of Jesus because someone's going to be "offended," making some weak, meaningless prayer that's so vague it hardly says anything. Isn't it so pathetic and wrong when so-called Christians care about being respectful to other religions? Come on! They need Jesus. Don't act like those false religions are just fine- no, what those people need is to get out of those lies and follow Jesus instead.

I'm stunned, just totally stunned. I've never heard a Christian leader say it's good to be respectful to people of other religions, that it's important that they not feel excluded during a prayer at a public event. I just ... wow. This is just totally unimaginable to me. I like it, sure, but I'm still shocked. Are there churches that regularly preach such things? What would that type of Christianity even look like? Like, I want to be part of it, but it's just so unimaginable that something like that could even exist.

(Bishop Robinson also did not use pronouns for God- he never said God was a "he." I don't remember any of the speakers on the main stage calling God "he." I like that too.)

The message of GCN conference was love and inclusion. And let me tell you, it's one thing to believe that in a theoretical sense, but it's a whole different experience to see hundreds to LGBTQ Christians and allies believing it and preaching it wholeheartedly. It was an amazing thing.

But at the same time, there was a lot of Christian-culture-type language I was really not comfortable with. People talked about "God's calling" or "God's plan" or "a relationship with God." The speakers on stage would talk about something that happened to them and say "that was God"; listening to the other conference attendees, I heard many anecdotes from the "isn't it funny how God works" genre. (For example, I met a gay man whose mother has never accepted him, but now she is old and depends on him to take care of her every day. On hearing this, someone made a comment about how such an ironic situation clearly must have been brought about by God.)

Yeah, that gets all the eye rolls from me. I don't believe God actively does things in our lives. You really think that this world, a world full of systemic injustice, is the result of God intervening over and over in every Christian's life? I don't want anything to do with a God like that.

Again and again, people talked about having a relationship with God, communicating with God, how God is doing this or that in their life. There was one conversation I was part of, where this woman was talking about her job and about the kind of company she wants to work for in the future, which is sort of in a different area than her job now, but she wants to work in that area because she'll be able to make a difference in the world. She used language about how it's totally "God's plan" that she does this in the future. And then she told us about how excited she is about how some high-up person in that industry just followed her on twitter. Wow! How exciting! She only had 9 followers before that! Clearly this is GOD WORKING! God is OPENING A DOOR!

Come on. It's just a twitter follower. It doesn't mean anything.

I'm not trying to mock. I'm sad because I used to live that way. I believed I was constantly in communication with God, and I looked for meaning in every little tiny thing that happened to me. Everything is a super-huge big deal, everything is a sign that "God is working." It's so stressful to live that way.

What happens when we make a big deal out of some little thing, when we go on and on about how it's God's plan, we thank and worship God because of it, and then nothing ever comes of it? Back in college I sent out an email to a big mailing list about a bible study I was starting, and somebody called me and said she wanted to come. And I worshiped. I took it as a sign that God was totally working, God was going to do great things in this new bible study, that I was a devoted follower of Jesus right there on the front lines, that God saw all my hard work and valued it. I emailed my evangelism friends to tell them the good news. And then that girl never actually came.

What do you do with that?

(Well, the only thing you really can do is decide- with absolutely no evidence- that even though she never came to the bible study, her reading my email and calling me on the phone was a big, important step in her spiritual life, and God used it for great things even though I will never personally see those results. Yeah okay.)

It was so much stress, living that way, looking for "God working" in every little thing, constantly speculating about the meaning behind the mundane things in my day-to-day life. And sometimes it required a bit of memory loss. You know how Christians say you should keep a prayer journal so you can look back on all the prayers God has answered? I've never done that. (I kept a journal, but never organized it like a "prayer journal.") But it wouldn't have been good. What would it be like, to read back through all the things I was so excited about, where I was so sure I saw God working, so overflowing with awe and worship that I would literally bow down on the floor and pray... what would it be like to read those things, maybe a year later, with the knowledge that they never amounted to anything? (Maybe the whole "prayer journal" concept is more for "look at all the things you were so worried about, and then they never happened and you've actually forgotten about them now" rather than "look at all the things you were so excited about, how you were totally sure God was going to do certain things in the future, and then they never happened and you've actually forgotten about them now.")

All this excitement over one twitter follower in the industry "God called" her to work in... I feel sad about that. I really do.

I didn't say anything to her. I don't go around telling people that God's not actually intervening in their lives or that their "relationship with God" is bad for them. If those beliefs make them feel better, then okay fine whatever. And actually, for LGBTQ people who have been told that they're not able to have a relationship with God, it can be really good and healing for them to say they do have one. For me though, it's the opposite- I was totally devoted, followed all the rules, people admired my "relationship with God." It controlled and consumed my whole life, drove me to squash down my whole identity, my needs, and my emotions. I'm so glad I'm out of that relationship. The whole concept is really unhealthy for me now, and kind of triggering.

There was another part in the conference, where I was having a conversation about the concept of "God's calling," because one of the speakers in a breakout session had said "your calling might change" and I have no idea what they mean by that- if God wants you to do something, how on earth could that change? God changes God's mind?

Anyway, I happened to be asking this question to another random attendee, who said maybe at first God calls you to something, and then later on, God gives you a more specific direction to go in. Or maybe God calls you to do something and then later calls you to do something different in order to THROW THE DEVIL OFF.

And I was like "... I don't really believe in that."

And she said, "You don't believe in spiritual warfare?"

And, wow it would take a long time for me to answer that question. (I covered it a little bit in this post.) But wow, THANK GOD I never believed that God might "call" me to do something that God wasn't planning on me actually doing, just because God wanted to confuse the devil. Like, CAN YOU IMAGINE? That adds a whole new layer of second-guessing "God's calling." Like how's this supposed to work, I'm going to start doing all this stuff in obedience to what God said, and then satan's gonna make a bunch of plans to combat it, and then suddenly God will be like "NOPE LET'S DO THIS DIFFERENT THING INSTEAD" and satan will be all "NO ALL MY PLANS HAVE BEEN FOILED"? Like, really? That sounds like it would inconvenience me way more than it would inconvenience satan.

I'm ... wow. Still can't get over how absurd that whole idea is.

Anyway, yeah, my point is, at the conference there was a lot of talk about "God's plan" and how God did this or that specific thing in someone's life. I'm not a fan of that kind of language. But it's important to point out that, when I mentioned to people that I don't believe in "having a relationship with God", nobody tried to convince me I was wrong. Instead they asked questions and sympathized with the way I've been hurt by evangelical Christianity.

The worship time was also an interesting experience for me. When we walked in to the big "auditorium" on that first night, the song "My Savior My God" was playing. Uh. Yeah. Okay, the song itself is fine, the lyrics are fine, I don't have anything bad to say about the song itself, but ... for me, that song has the feeling of "back in 2010 when I was on fire for God" and, just, ugh.

Then the worship time started, and after a few songs, the worship leader (Darren Calhoun) said something to the effect of "I know for some of you, these songs aren't good for you. That's okay. If you need to leave for a little bit, it's okay. You can do your self-care." And that was really really good. First of all, I don't think I've ever heard a church say it's okay if you don't want to participate in this or that part of the service. I've never heard a church acknowledge that some of the songs they use might have bad associations for some people, and it's fine for those people to leave because they know their own needs. And he used the term "self-care"! That's a word I learned from the feminist blog-o-sphere, a word that goes against the whole entire ideology I learned in the evangelical church. Self-care. No, instead the church taught me to sacrifice my own needs and desires. If there was a sermon about the need to rest and take care of ourselves, it was "you need to take care of yourself or else you won't be able to serve others", not "you matter and you deserve to have your needs met."

So wow. That was really good.

And during the worship songs, I didn't really know what to do. I don't pray, and I don't sing to God, and I'm not interested in trying. I felt like the music was kind of nice though, and I wished I could be part of it somehow. So I came up with the brilliant idea of singing some kind of "harmony" part higher or lower than the melody of the song. Yeah I basically know nothing about music, but I was in a choir in college, and we had different groups (sopranos, altos, tenors, etc) and usually one group would "have the melody" and then the other groups would be singing the same words except higher or lower in such a way that they all sounded good together. (There are probably actual terms use to describe this concept. Idk. I don't know anything about music, but if you ever want to learn matlab or something, talk to me.) Yeah. So, for these worship songs at GCN, sometimes I sang the same words but either higher or lower than the melody.

I did that so I would be concentrating on how the music sounded, instead of on the words or how I feel about the song itself. Or, in evangelical-speak, I was singing but "didn't really mean it" and therefore my "worship" doesn't count. Whatever. If I was just singing the normal way, those songs would have been unbearable.

Communion was really good. I don't go to church (and I don't feel bad about it), so I hadn't been able to do communion for a long time. I know that within Christianity there are lots of different interpretations on the meaning of communion; the one I grew up with was "this is about you feeling really really guilty for your sins and sad about Jesus' death." Currently, though, my view is more like "you have a physical body that needs food, and God cares about that- your physical needs are real needs that matter." (And also a bit of "if anybody tries to tell me I can't have communion because I'm 'not a real Christian', or that my interpretation is wrong, well **** you, I'm a Christian, I have a right to be here.")

Anyway, that was the first time in a long time that I've gotten the little bread and grape juice without thinking the person serving them to me would probably not accept me if they knew what I really believe. They always say "this is the body of Christ, broken for you," but do they actually mean it's for me, or for the good-Christian-with-all-the-correct-evangelical-beliefs that they assume I am? But at GCN, I really believed they accepted me. And I may have cried a little bit. I also may have cried during the song "For Those Tears I Died."

A few other small things I want to mention: I had forgotten how American Christians have such huge misconceptions about "persecution in China." Had to set some of those myths straight. Also, I heard somebody asking people to pray for his husband to become a Christian. Ugh. (Background: My fiance is not a Christian, and I'm not okay with anyone treating that like a problem that needs to be solved.) And one of the speakers, Ling Lam, said we all have a God-shaped hole, and, well, you all know how I feel about that. (The rest of Ling Lam's talk was really really good though- it was about Jacob trying to get Isaac's blessing and how we pretend to be something we're not in order to gain approval.)

It was an environment where I could be honest about what I believed and what I didn't believe, and people wouldn't try to force me to change that. Even if they didn't agree with me, they understood what it is to be hurt and rejected by the church. And throughout the entire conference, the message of unconditional love and acceptance was preached- seriously, LGBTQ people know how to preach a better gospel than anything I've ever heard in church. But still, the Christianity of GCN Conference wasn't the Christianity I follow. There was way WAY too much talk of how God caused this or that thing to happen in someone's life, about how God "called" someone to do something, and just generally the kind of language people use when they believe in "a personal relationship with God." That's a concept that has caused me a lot of emotional trauma- honestly, I see it as all tied up with the anti-LGBTQ ideology I was taught, so it was a little jarring to hear LGBTQ Christians using those exact same words and concepts. Their experiences are different than mine (even though I'm also queer) so for them, it's possible to reject some of those teachings while keeping some others. And it can even be really healthy and good for them to say "no, I DO have a relationship with God" because of all the anti-LGBTQ Christians who told them they couldn't.

I wish I could go to church, I really do. If there was a church like GCN, I would totally go.

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Related: GCN Conference Was My First Time Not Being "Just An Ally"

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Blogaround

The kingdom of heaven is like a queer dance party in front of Mike Pence's house.
1. Congratulations Anti-Trafficking Activists, You Just Put The People You “Care” About In Danger (posted January 10) "No one impacted by this is celebrating."

2. If God Is So Pro-Death Penalty, What About Cain and Abel? (posted January 11) "Conservative Evangelicals have long told me that if we want to see God’s best, God’s original intent, than we need to go back to Genesis and use that as our standard."

3. Zhou Youguang, Who Made Writing Chinese as Simple as ABC, Dies at 111 (posted January 14) "Since then, Pinyin (the name can be translated as “spelled sounds”) has vastly increased literacy throughout the country; eased the classroom agonies of foreigners studying Chinese; afforded the blind a way to read the language in Braille; and, in a development Mr. Zhou could scarcely have foreseen, facilitated the rapid entry of Chinese on computer keyboards and cellphones."

4. The Evangelical Social Construction of Virginity (posted January 13) "In using virginity as a test of value, we perpetuate the notion that women in the church are not valuable because they are active agents leading in the Kingdom, but because they are sexual objects meant to be saved for and used by men."

5. Bob Jones U., a School That Banned Interracial Dating Until 2000, Is Finally Observing MLK Day (posted January 16)

6. The Pinkification of Girls’ Toys (posted January 18) "the Barbie Dream House [from the 1970s] is red and yellow."

7. This Former Evangelical Became an Atheist After Seeing Fellow Christians Fight Against Obamacare (posted January 18) "I began to realize that others around me despised the thought of allowing people like me the benefit of affordable health insurance."

8. Which Martin Luther King Are We Celebrating Today? (posted January 16) "It is easy to forget that, until fairly recently, many white Americans loathed Dr. King."

Monday, January 16, 2017

GCN Conference Was My First Time Not Being "Just An Ally"

Justin Lee (GCN Executive Director) on stage at GCN Conference.
The 2017 Gay Christian Network Conference was my first time attending an LGBTQ event as a queer person instead of "just an ally." See, I recently figured out I'm asexual (also called "ace"). And I'm wondering how exactly that fits in with LGBTQ.

First let me tell you all about the conference. The were about 1000 people there- including LGBTQ people, a lot of parents, and other allies. People of all different ages. But almost all of them were white. And (as far as I know) all the speakers I saw were either gay, trans, or allies; none of them said "I'm bisexual" or any of the other letters. (Which is weird because, in the world in general, there are probably more bisexual people than gay people.)

The conference had speakers on the main stage who talked to the whole huge group, and tons of smaller "breakout sessions" where speakers gave talks to smaller subsets of us. The breakout sessions seemed to cover more practical things or more in-depth things, like the biblical case for same-sex marriage, or LGBTQ identities in worship, or what it's like for a trans person and cis person to be in a relationship. The speakers on the main stage proclaimed, over and over, using many different bible passages and anecdotes from their lives, that God loves us and nothing can change that. God loves us just as we are. We don't need to earn it.

And wow, can I just say, wouldn't it be great if that was what the church was preaching?

It's a message this group needs to hear. I know the statistics about suicide among LGBTQ people, but wow, to hear people mentioning it so many times over the course of those four days- people saying "I attempted suicide but thank goodness it failed" or "GCN literally saved my life" or talking about somebody they know who committed suicide- wow, this is real. As a group, LGBTQ Christians have experienced so much hate and rejection disguised as "love." People talked about being kicked out of church- sometimes explicitly, sometimes in more indirect ways. A gay man leading one of his church's small groups, until rumors started going around other churches in the area that "there's a practicing homosexual leading a bible study" and his pastor said he couldn't lead it anymore. Another man came out as trans- he says he is in the middle of the gender spectrum and is okay with either "he" or "she" pronouns- when she started wearing makeup and a dress to church, most people acted nice, but the pastor said she couldn't volunteer anymore. And people started gossiping, and it was so difficult to continue going to church, and then one day the pastor said in the sermon "everyone is welcome here" and she just got up and left, and cried, and never went back to that church again.

And wow. This is a crisis. And GCN really is saving lives. Preaching that it doesn't matter who told you you're not worthy, that you can't have a relationship with God, that you can't be a pastor- they're wrong. God loves you just as you are and nothing can change that.

A lot of LGBTQ people have also experienced rejection from their families. Some were even kicked out by their parents. Which is why everyone was so happy to see so many parents there at the conference to support their LGBTQ kids. Many of the parents were wearing pins that said "Free Mom Hugs" or "Free Dad Hugs" and hugged anyone who needed it. Jane Clementi, the mother of Tyler Clementi (who committed suicide because of anti-gay bullying), was one of the speakers on the main stage- and she called on the church to evaluate its beliefs and policies, to ask "does this steal, kill, and destroy, or does it give life?" Another woman I talked with, who has a gay son, said "My church wanted me to choose between God and my son, and I'm not going to do that." When a young person comes out and their family supports them, sometimes the whole family is no longer welcome at church.

A mom and dad wearing pins that say "Free Mom Hugs" and "Free Dad Hugs", respectively. Image source.
So it was a little weird for me, being ace, seeing how much hate and rejection gay and trans people often face, and wondering if it's even right for me to say I'm part of the LGBTQ community, since I'm not at risk for anything that bad. In a technical sense, yes I am part of LGBTQ, because it's defined as gender and sexual minorities. But is it even useful to put so many letters together like that? They're each so different. They have different needs, and face different kinds of discrimination or stigma. We keep adding more letters because we want to be "inclusive," but how inclusive is it, really, when there's nothing at the conference specifically for bisexuals, or specifically for asexuals?

Maybe adding more letters is because they want to be the kind of group that includes all those different identities, even if they aren't right now. Add the letters to get those people to come, and when they do, they can educate the rest of the group about identity and their needs.

Unfortunately, though, there was one thing I saw which was NOT very "inclusive" at all. There was a big whiteboard at the conference where people could write messages to be read by everybody- most of the messages were about finding and meeting up with people from the same hometown, or who attended the same college, or have some common interest to talk about. And someone had written something about poly people meeting up. ("Poly" means "polyamorous", which means having several relationships at the same time, but it's not cheating because everybody is honest with each other about it.) It got erased. I saw another message there later about "for 2 years now, the poly message on the whiteboard has been erased" and how they weren't okay with being judged and excluded like that. Later that had been erased too. I find this to be shady as hell. I have no idea who did it, no idea if GCN has any kind of official position about poly people. But geez, you have to accept and include them. How can you not? Isn't that what this whole thing is about?

About pronouns at GCN: there were free pins we could take, which said "My pronouns are" and then you would write your pronouns. (For those unfamiliar with this "your pronouns" terminology: it means you tell people you want to be called "she/her", or "he/him", or "they/them", or whatever.) And actually, this was the first time I've ever heard someone- in the "real world" rather than the internet- use "they" as the pronoun to refer to a non-binary person. ("Non-binary" means someone who is not male or female.) It's very very common to use "they" as a gender-neutral pronoun when you don't really know who exactly you're talking about, so you don't know their gender- I've heard that TONS of times, that's pretty accepted in spoken English. (For example: "If anyone asks where I am, tell them I'm busy." We use "them" because we have no idea who this hypothetical person could be, so we don't know their gender.) But I had never heard someone use "they" when they do know exactly who the person is, and they know that person actually is not a "he" or "she." (For example, "They were sitting really close to me because they were having trouble hearing." This is talking about a specific person, but that person actually is not male or female, so we use "they.")

At one point, someone asked me what my pronouns are. It felt very weird, because I very obviously look like a woman, so I figure it's not necessary to ask. I don't know- is that a thing we should do more often? Is it something you should only ask about when someone doesn't clearly look like a man or woman? Ehhhh no, I saw people at the conference who didn't look very "gender-neutral" at all but wanted people to call them "they." So, obviously we should call people what they want to be called, otherwise that's just mean. But beyond that, I don't know very much about non-binary people, and I'd like to find out more.

Another fun thing that happened was people assumed I was gay. I was like "I'm getting married this year" and people would ask questions like "did you meet her in China?" and I'm like "actually I'm marrying a man." It's fine, I don't have a problem with people assuming I'm gay, because gay people live their ENTIRE LIVES with people assuming they're straight.

I felt pretty good about being ace and telling people I'm ace. (Interestingly, I did not tell people "I'm straight" even though I am...) I even met some other ace people, which was great. It definitely feels different, being at an event like this as an actual member of the LGBTQ community instead of "just an ally"- but at the same time, a lot of the problems that people talked about are things I can't relate to or don't affect me. Maybe I should say I'm an ally for an issue like marriage equality, for example, because that's not something that directly affects my life. Again, I wonder what the usefulness is of just squashing more and more letters together. I'm queer now, but in a totally different way than, say, a trans woman, or a gay man, or a bi woman who's married to a man... I see a lot of talk online about how allies are very much not counted as LGBTQIA, a lot of people very strongly disagreeing with "A is for ally." But as we add more letters, and "queer" becomes more and more diverse, every person in LGBTQ will definitely have some LGBTQ-related issues which affect them and some which don't affect them at all. Maybe we all have to be "just an ally" on some things.

Anyway that's a basic overview of my time at the GCN conference and how I felt about being asexual instead of "just an ally." In the next post, I'll talk about the Christianity I saw there.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Blogaround

Bishop Gene Robinson preaches at the Gay Christian Network Conference (#gcnconf). I will have a post on this soon. ^_^ Image source.
1. This Is What You Get For Reading Murder Magazine (posted January 5) lolololol

2. My Pregnancies Cost Me My Hearing (posted January 11) "After all, why would I connect hearing loss to pregnancy? No one had told me such a thing existed!"

3. Was 2016 especially dangerous for celebrities? An empirical analysis. (posted January 2) A must-read for statistics nerds.

4. ‘Of Asher, Pagiel son of Ocran’ (posted January 4) "And I knew, because I had been taught this, that I was supposed to learn something from these censuses of the 12 tribes of Israel — something that would bring me closer to holiness and purity of devotion, something transformative. But whatever that something was, I just wasn’t seeing it. All I was seeing, instead, was a bunch of questions — questions that none of my teachers or youth ministers seemed happy to hear or willing to answer." DAMN this is a good post.

5. Go and learn what this means — the bad-faith ‘biblical’ defense of injustice (part 1) and part 2 and part 3. "The southern auxiliaries of the Bible society who fought tooth and nail to prevent enslaved persons from acquiring and reading those Bibles held themselves up as champions of the very Bible they were fighting to suppress."

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

There's Something Missing From This Article About Marriage And Sex

Bride and groom standing at the altar. Image source.
Here's a strange article from Relevant: Should Christians Get Married to Have Sex?

It's about the phenomenon of Christians of the "premarital sex is a sin" persuasion getting married just because they want to have sex. The writer, Debra K. Fileta, gives an example of a couple she knew in college who got married incredibly fast- "They just had to get married because they were burning with passion." After they got married, they "were having crazy, hot sex several times a day." A few years later, Fileta found out they had gotten divorced.

She says that, in evangelical culture, many people focus on sex far too much when making the decision to get married. "In fact, at Christian college, I often heard people talk of a couple’s marriage plans in terms of 'how long can they wait to have sex' as though that was the determining point of when to get married, rather than the bigger picture of creating a healthy, nourished, God-honoring relationship that would stand the test of a lifelong commitment."

Yes, I agree. This is definitely a problem in the purity culture I was part of. And yes, I agree, it's very unhealthy for sex to be such a huge factor in your decision to get married.

But. There's something missing.

If you say "Don't get married just to have sex, because marriage is a lifelong commitment and it's a big deal and needs to be based on way more than just your sexual desire," then yes, that's good advice. But we need to go farther than that. We need to ask where such an unhealthy idea- that sex would be the deciding factor in determining whether to get married- comes from in the first place. And if you're familar with purity culture or evangelical church culture at all, you know it's because they teach that having sex outside of marriage is a sin. And not just like a regular sin- no, it's a very dirty thing, it makes you dirty and impure for the rest of your life, it damages you so you are less valuable, it's a betrayal of your future marriage.

If people have a strong desire to have sex (and most people do), and you teach them that sex in any other context besides marriage is COMPLETELY OUT OF THE QUESTION, then OF COURSE people will rush into ill-advised marriages so they can have sex. And pointing out "hey, it's a pretty bad idea to get married just so you can have sex" is useless if you don't challenge the underlying line of reasoning which causes it in the first place.

But this is an article on Relevant. Of course they're not going to question "premarital sex is a sin." This is how Relevant articles on dating go- they think they're so healthy and reasonable and completely different from purity culture, they point out how the teachings of purity culture have really bad consequences, but they never ever ever dare to even suggest that we consider the possibility that premarital sex might not be a sin. And that refusal pretty much negates any good points they may have made.

Here, let me ask you a question. Which is worse: rushing into marriage just so you can have sex, or having sex outside of marriage? If you had to pick one or the other, which is less bad? Obviously, if you ask this question to purity-culture Christians, they will say no no, you should do neither. Right, sure, that's what purity culture teaches- you're supposed to just sit on your sexual and romantic desires and do absolutely nothing, and take enough time to pray and think about your decision, and follow what God wants you to do, with absolutely no pressure from your own body's needs and desires, which must be COMPLETELY IGNORED until God gives you the okay.

That's how it's supposed to work, according to purity culture. But how can someone make a good decision while under that kind of pressure? Isn't it obvious that it will drive people toward one of those two alternatives- having premarital sex or rushing into marriage too fast? And unless you can state outright that rushing into marriage IS WORSE than having premarital sex, you have no business telling people "oh you shouldn't get married just so you can have sex."

For those of us who aren't in purity culture, it's obvious which is worse. Getting married means you're legally tied to that person, and that will have legal consequences that last the rest of your life. And you have to spend a ton of money on the wedding. If you do all that and end up in a marriage that's unhealthy, that is SO MUCH WORSE than having sex a few times with someone you eventually break up with.

But purity culture- and more broadly, any Christianity that teaches "premarital sex is a sin" even if it doesn't teach all the "emotional purity"/"guard your heart" stuff- can't say that being in a bad marriage is worse than not being a virgin. They teach that sex outside of marriage is a horrible horrible sin, that it ruins your life, that it makes you "damaged goods," that you're no longer worthy of having a good marriage, that you'll live with shame and guilt forever. But are there any warnings about the dangers of marrying someone who's bad for you? Certainly there are scare tactics about how much it will ruin your life if you marry a non-Christian, but other than that, not really. They just say marriage is a lot of work, it's about serving the other person instead of caring about your own happiness, and if both parties put God first then they can definitely stay married, even though it might be really hard.

It all comes back to the fact that in purity land, sex is a bigger deal than marriage. They teach us to be terrified of unmarried sex- so much that the idea of two incredibly young people getting into a lifelong legal agreement they barely understand seems much less scary, much less dangerous.

If you can't actually say the words "premarital sex is LESS BAD than rushing into marriage just so you can have sex" then all of your advice on "getting married just to have sex" is meaningless.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Blogaround

A cat sticks its head *just perfectly* through a hole in a drawing of that scene from "The Lion King" where Rafiki holds up Simba. Image source.
1. When I Grow Up, I Want to Be Princess Leia (RIP Carrie Fisher) (posted December 28)

2. Within weeks they’ll be re-opening the shipyards (posted December 19) "You might, for example, convince them that the Death Star’s main reactor required a thermal exhaust port that would leave the entire machine vulnerable to destruction."

3. Years after transatlantic slavery, DNA tests give clarity (posted December 31) "We use 'African-American' synonymously with things like 'Irish-American' or 'Scottish-American', but those are countries, and Africa's a continent, and there's 54 countries on the continent of Africa. And so, to be able to say 'I'm Ghanaian-American, I'm Nigerian-American' is actually a significant difference."

4. The clarity of a dead end (posted December 21) "This is where that road takes you. It’s where you’re bound to end up if you drive long enough using only the segregationists and the wealthy donors as your GPS."

5. No, Jesus Wasn’t Born To Die (The Part of the Christmas Story We Screw Up) (posted December 22) "In the Bible, the birth announcement that the Christ has come is made by the angels to shepherds– and what’s interesting is that there’s no mention of God’s anger, wrath, or anything else."

6. Why I Quit My Job at an Evangelical Missionary School (posted December 29) "In my reply to the superintendent’s request, I stated that it has always been my guiding Christian ethic to stand with the vulnerable and marginalized, and to not do so would be unconscionable to me before God." Every time I read something like this, it makes me SO GLAD I'm not evangelical anymore.

7. The Conviction of Dylann Roof Represents The Very Least We Can Do (posted December 15) "Understand that if the Emanuel Nine had instead been shot by trigger-happy police in individual traffic stops, none of their killers would see a day in prison. Understand that they lived every day knowing that."

8. 8 Things in Rogue One That Drastically Changed Key Scenes in Star Wars A New Hope (posted December 27) [spoilers for Rogue One]

9. Flooded with phone calls from voters, House GOP drops effort to gut ethics panel (posted January 3)

10. Jesus never read ‘The Bible’ (posted December 29) "And, of course, Jesus also didn’t have a nicely bound paper book with the whole thing in one package, neatly divided into chapters and verses to facilitate their quotation out of context."

11. Media bias should be Good News (posted January 2) "Yet the story of local hungry children being fed is not usually reported as a Good News story."

12. I Was Taught That Saint George Fought a Dinosaur (posted January 4) I used to be a young-earth creationist. None of this is the least bit shocking to me.

13. The Many Colors of Rogue One (posted December 27) [don't worry, no "Rogue One" spoilers in this post] "About half an hour into the show I realized that none of our five plucky adventurers were white caucasian males."

14. Reading 66 books in one year (posted January 3) "Say you decide, after recommendations from a couple of good friends, that you’re going to read Gillian Flynn’s popular thriller Gone Girl. It seems unlikely that you would take this 422-page novel and decide to set aside a few minutes each morning every day to read 1.15 pages so as to finish reading the book in a one year. That’s not how the book is supposed to be read. It’s not how any book is supposed to be read."

15. This is what happens when you reply to spam email (2015) LOLOLOLOLOLOLOL

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I'm going to the Gay Christian Network Conference today! Very excited~

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Sex is Like an Inside Joke (Thoughts from an Asexual)

T-shirt showing silhouettes of 3 elephants and an AT-AT. Image source.
[content note: I'm going to mention me having sex. If that's TMI, maybe don't read this one]

Back when I was in Christian purity culture, sex was an intriguing secret. They told us that it's totally the greatest feeling ever and everyone loves it, but that we weren't allowed to know any details. No, information was dangerous. It would be temptation. Penis goes in the vagina- that's all we're gonna tell you. And try not to even think about that too much- if you think about it, you might start to desire it, and if you desire it, you might go watch porn or masturbate or something horrifically sinful like that, and then you'll probably become addicted to sex and it will ruin your life.

The church's message was this: You're not allowed to know what sex is, but it is the most amazing and powerful thing, meant for a husband and a wife, and... yeah it's just THE BEST. And I believed it. I was sure I was going to love sex so much, after I met that godly guy that God had planned for me, and after marriage we would totally have sex every day.

It was a secret, a mystery. I wasn't allowed to know what it was, and therefore I was endlessly curious. But then, finally, after I got out of those purity-culture beliefs, I watched porn for the first time. It was shocking at first- "Oh! That's what a penis looks like! Oh my!"- but after a few minutes, I was like "... what's the point of this?" Okay, I watched porn. Now I know what genitals look like. Now I know what sex looks like. (With the obvious disclaimer that porn isn't realistic at all.) And it wasn't that interesting.

Actually, I continued to stare at the screen, baffled by a completely new and unexpected question: "Why on earth are people so obsessed with this? It's just naked bodies. Whatever."

I don't get it. Turns out sex was only interesting to me because it was a mystery, because it was taboo and I wasn't allowed to know what it was. When I finally found out what it was, I was like "oh, okay" and not really interested any more.

Or maybe I could say sex is like an inside joke. Starting around high school, kids would get kind of giggly every time someone said the word "hard." As I said, I wasn't allowed to know any details about sex, but I tried to put some of the pieces together based on what kind of bizarre things people would inexplicably laugh at. Apparently, "boner" is something sexual. I wonder what "oral sex" is- is it kissing? (Purity culture makes a big deal about how kissing leads to sex, and really it's best to not kiss until the wedding day- in that context, it's totally plausible that "oral sex" might mean kissing. [Note: Ahem. It doesn't.]) Apparently sex has something to do with something that is "wet." Also there are "balls" involved somehow. And apparently people yell each other's names? I guess?

It was like an inside joke that I wasn't part of. Nobody ever explained to me why it was funny when something was "hard" and "wet."

You could say sex is like a fandom. It's like if I said "I sense a disturbance in the Force" and people laughed because, hey, we like Star Wars too. Sex is like some fictional world that everyone is a huge fan of, and they like to make references to it as much as possible. In this fictional world, sex is a magical amazing thing that makes you feel good and solves all your problems. People like to imagine that it's real- just like the Harry Potter fans who go around telling people "I'm a Slytherin." It's not real, but it's fun to pretend. (Or, rather, my feeling that "it's not real" has a lot to do with the fact that I'm asexual.)

Everyone's making references and jokes about it, and I feel like I never saw the movie. Like if you'd never seen Star Wars, but you can figure out it has something to do with a "force," though you're not really sure what that is. Spend enough time in the fandom, and you're able to make those same references and other people will love it- even though you yourself don't get it at all. You have no idea what you're actually talking about, but other people seem to enjoy your jokes. So okay.

Then I finally did have sex, and sure, it's good, but it's not like... that good. Not really good enough to explain why everyone seems so obsessed with it. I don't see why sex has the biggest fandom. It's certainly not as good as Star Wars.

And now I see sex as a hobby. You know how, if you're dating someone who's really into board games, and they always want you to play board games with them, so you do, and it seems weird at first but after a while you end up liking board games too. It's like that. My partner is into having sex, so I've gotten into it too, and it's enjoyable, though if it were totally up to me, I would choose to spend my time on a different hobby instead.

And I find it very weird that sex is such a popular hobby. Sure, I guess it feels good, but, really? It's not like, that good.

A mystery, an inside joke, a fandom that I'm not part of, a hobby- that's what sex is to me, as an asexual. But other people describe it as a "need," as an essential part of a romantic relationship, as the highest expression of love. I really don't get it.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Asexual

A cake colored with the asexual flag colors. Image text: "I'd rather be eating cake." Image source.
So. I'm asexual. Let me tell you about it.

First of all, definitions. Asexuality is a sexual orientation where people do not experience sexual attraction. However, they may experience romantic attraction- there are various romantic orientations, just like there are sexual orientations. Heteroromantic, homoromantic, biromantic, aromantic, etc. I am a heteroromantic asexual woman- this means I don't have sexual desire, but I am romantically attracted to men, can fall in love, want to get married, etc. (I'm getting married this year, hooray!)

Asexuality is not the same thing as celibacy. Celibacy means you make a choice to not have sex. Maybe you desire sex, but you decide not to do it. Asexual people don't have a natural desire for sex, but they could still choose to do it. They also may or may not masturbate. They are often capable of being sexually aroused [but possibly in a different way than non-asexual people?]. Sometimes asexual people may choose to have sex because they're curious about it, or they want to make their partner happy, or they want to have children, or it feels good, or whatever reason. Being asexual isn't about behavior, it's about whether or not a person experiences sexual attraction in the first place.

[content note: okay, so next I'm going to talk about me... specifically, me having sex. if that's TMI maybe don't read it]

I grew up in purity culture- which not only teaches that no one should have sex before marriage, but also that all sexual desires are dangerous temptation and it would be better if we had no sexual desire at all. They taught us that we all have sexual desires- men more so than women, but still, we're all sinners so we all experience temptation to lust. And I had crushes on boys, and I was certain that if I didn't work hard to keep those feelings under control ("guard my heart"), then the desires would grow and grow into an overwhelming temptation to do the dirtiest sexual things imaginable. Purity culture said that's how it works. First you stay and hang out after bible study because you want to chat with a cute guy, and the next thing you know, you've had sex, your purity is ruined, you don't even know what happened. It's a slippery slope. And because I wanted so badly to be in a romantic relationship, and I had to work so hard to stamp down those desires, I was sure I had the biggest sex drive. I desired so so so much more than what purity culture permitted me to have- so I assumed that of course I also desired sex.

And then, after years of slowly working my way out of purity culture, I decided I believe premarital sex is not a sin. So Hendrix and I had sex. And ... yep, never ever had a desire for that before.

It wasn't like I thought it would be at all. I didn't know sex would be ... like ... just a guy poking his penis around between my legs. Like, that's it. I mean, I had sex ed class, I knew that in a scientific sense, that's what sex is, but ... no really, that's all it is.

Purity culture teaches that sex is THE MOST AMAZING FEELING EVER, but also very powerful and dangerous- so dangerous, in fact, that those of us who are unmarried aren't allowed to know any concrete details about it. Leaders in purity culture talk a lot about how great sex is in marriage, but they never actually give any information about what it's actually physically like. Not a word about genitals, about penises, about arousal, about erections, about orgasms, about clits, about semen, nope, nothing. They talked about it in such abstract terms, how it's about two people's hearts coming together in the most intimate way possible, how it's life-changing, how it creates a bond that lasts forever, how it's a beautiful gift from God.

So that's what I thought it would be. I thought sex would be a transcendent emotional experience, where you just get lost in your love for the other person and you forget that you even have a body, and the next day you still daydream about it because it was so amazing and romantic and you're so in love. And yes, I have had experiences sort of like that- for example, back in college, sitting on the couch next to the guy I was dating, feeling like everything is perfect and I could just stay there forever, and then when I leave him and go home and wake up the next morning, the first thing I think about is how it felt so good to sit there with him, so in love. That's happened to me. I thought sex would be like that, but even more.

Ha. Nope.

Instead, it's like, here we are, in this bed, and I feel a little cold, and we have to decide what position to try, and it's kind of a lot of work to move around because I'm really tired and I just want to lay down, and my legs are bending in a weird way and that's uncomfortable, and also there is a penis here. And the whole time, I'm totally 100% aware of what's going on, completely in control, nothing happens automatically, instead, we have to do the work of choosing a position and then physically moving our bodies... It's not what I expected at all.

Yeah, I've heard people say that the first time is often awkward, and that purity culture gives really unrealistic expections about the first time ... but ... For me, it felt like "oh, okay, that's what sex is. Well now that we've done it once and found out what it's like, we don't really need to do it again." Which, I think, is probably not what non-asexual people feel the first time they have sex. Even though it may be awkward or painful, it's probably at least good enough that they still want to do it again. (... right?) For me, though, I was motivated by curiosity more than anything. My whole life, I wasn't allowed to know what sex was- to have any information of an explicit nature would be "temptation." It was like this big mystery- and it was interesting because it was a mystery. But then I watched porn for the first time, and I was like "... what's the point of this, why does the church act like porn is the most tantalizing and dangerous thing ever, it's just naked people bumping their bodies together for no reason, it's not that interesting." And then I had sex and... yeah, turns out sex is just people getting together to stimulate their genitals. That's it. It's not that interesting. Yeah, it can be romantic- but a lot of things are romantic.

And at this point I would like to address the objection "maybe you're doing it wrong," which is something people often say to asexuals. Yes, at the beginning, I was "doing it wrong," and I've found that with time, things have gotten better. It's not like we just tried once and then I decided I'm asexual. And I'm super-curious so I read a lot of sex-ed stuff online- I like Oh Joy Sex Toy (a webcomic that is very NSFW) and Laci Green (NSFW). And I've talked with doctors and a few other people about why I don't seem to "get" sex. (And everybody says "just relax" which is completely RIDICULOUS; if I were trying to relax, I would just fall asleep hugging Hendrix, not climb on top of him while trying to get my vagina to open, okay? There's nothing "relaxing" about that.) So no, I don't need you to give me advice about how to do it better.

Anyway. Yeah. I'm asexual. Back in my purity culture days, I thought I REALLY REALLY REALLY wanted sex, but it turns out that sex is about getting together with another person to stimulate each other's genitals, and I have DEFINITELY never wanted that. I want romance, I want the feeling of being in love, being comfortable and warm together, touching each other, having a partner that I share my whole life with- but I personally don't see any reason anybody's genitals would need to be involved in that. Like if my partner wants to involve our genitals, then sure okay we can do that, but ... why ...

Purity culture makes it hard for everyone to figure out their sexuality- even those of us who are asexual. We're not allowed to actually ask ourselves what desires we do or do not have; we just live in fear of the desires we could have.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Top 11 Posts from 2016

Happy New Year everyone! Hopefully 2017 will be great~ Hendrix and I are getting married in 2017, so we're excited about that.

I'm proud of a lot of my posts from 2016. Here are the top 5 that got the most page views:

1. I speak evangelical. The Babylon Bee is NOT all fun and games.  "What this 'humor' article is really saying is this: 'How dare anyone think about Jesus in ways other than those that have been approved by the church.'"

2. Purity Baggage "People who date ex-purity-culture girls are taking on a very hard task. Those of us who have rejected purity culture need to unlearn everything we ever knew about dating. We are starting from square 1, with no real understanding of what a healthy relationship is, what consent is, what a vulva is. "

3. Zootopia, an Adorable Disney Cartoon about Systemic Racism "But the animals in Zootopia already believe that predators' ancestry means they are more likely to be violent, so they totally accept the whole 'they are going back to the way they lived thousands of years ago, because of their biology' explanation- even though it's not consistent with the facts. (And whenever one of the characters in the movie said the word 'biology', it was a sure sign they were about to say something really racist.)"

4. In Purity Land, a First Date is a Bigger Decision Than Marriage "Because breaking up is THE WORST THING EVER, you really should decide if you want to marry someone before you ever have a first date."

5. "God has one perfect guy for you!" Yeah, that's not biblical. "Are there ANY women in the bible who followed the purity rules and had good marriages?"

And here are a few others I really like, even though they didn't get the most page views:

1. Accepting Myself (or, I'm Great, and It Doesn't Matter What God Thinks) "Everything was great as long as I held all the correct beliefs which agreed with the beliefs of that version of God."

2. John Piper Said "There Are No Innocent Children" and I am Not the Least Bit Surprised "In short, believing that everyone deserves to go to hell completely warps one's understanding of justice."

3. Noah's Evangelism "That's why there needs to be a flood. That's why God sent an ark. When he looks at us, he sees the ark, covering our sin."

4. Boundaries in Dating: #stillpurityculture "But there is absolutely no justification for extrapolating from there to the very extreme idea that everyone shouldn't have sex before marriage."

5. In Purity Land, Only Straight Men Are Allowed To Have A Sexuality "No one else is allowed to indicate they even have a sexuality, but straight men's sexuality should dictate women's clothing choices."

6. Why I Am Pro-Choice "The pro-life movement is built on the idea that people who get abortions are either evil or clueless, and must be stopped."

Thanks for being wonderful blog readers~

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Blogaround

Leia orders Han, "Into the garbage chute, flyboy!" as she tosses her blaster away. Image source.
1. White Feminism & The School To Prison Pipeline (posted 2015) "If you are a school-aged black girl, and unexamined internalized racism makes your teacher perceive you as a threat when you act out in the same way as a white classmate, what is your recourse?"

2. How Christians overcome the scandal of a baby God (posted December 24) "What becomes uncomfortably messy is if Jesus is somehow actually revealing God’s true nature when he’s covered in undignified filth."

3. She Killed Her Abuser Before He Could Kill Her-- Then Served 17 Years. Now She's Taking on the System. (posted December 16) [content note: domestic violence]

4. In the Beginning… Shit (posted December 24) "God’s whisper was lost in the roar of humanity gone mad, the long scream of pain from the beginning of time till now, the endless cry of almost-hopelessness against the dark."

5. This is not leaked footage from the Mulan remake. It's better. (posted December 23) Nice!

6. The Toxic-Masculinity-Destroying Magic Movie We Need Right Now (posted December 6) "Men cry a lot in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them."

7. Germany moves to atone for 'forgotten genocide' in Namibia (posted December 25) [content note: descriptions of genocide]

8. Wall-E and the Meaning of Christmas (posted December 25) Biblical allusions in "Wall-E." Cool!

9. America's Holocaust (posted November 21) "Why don't Americans see the Confederate flag the same way the Germans view the Nazi flag?"

10. How Christianity Stunted My Relational Growth (posted December 26) "I did what Jesus taught us to do and I learned to hate my own life, giving it up for the needs of everyone else, even to the point of ignoring and squelching my own needs in my marriage. It didn’t do what he said it would do, though. It didn’t bring life, it brought death."

11. Interlude: Farewell to a Princess. (posted December 28) "Without Princess Leia, perhaps there wouldn’t have been a Marion Ravenwood, an Ellen Ripley, a Sarah Connor, even perhaps a Katniss Everdeen. She paved the way for unconventional heroines who were capable in their own right."

12. North Carolina is no longer classified as a democracy (posted December 22)

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HEY I THINK I FIXED THE COMMENT SECTION! For the past month, the comment box has not been visible, but I reset some settings today and it seems to be working again. (Please send me a tweet and tell me if the comment box is not visible for you.) I've really missed reading comments from readers in the past month. If you have things to say about any of my recent posts, please go ahead and comment on them. ^_^

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