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Monday, May 22, 2017

“Easy” Jobs and “Hard” Jobs

Book cover for "Asperger's on the Job."
I recently read the book Asperger's on the Job: Must-Have Advice for People with Asperger's or High Functioning Autism and their Employers, Educators, and Advocates. For the most part, it didn’t really contain any mind-blowing new ideas- it said things like “people with Asperger’s often have a hard time with small talk because it seems pointless,” which, yeah, no kidding? Most of the chapters just gave general statements about an Asperger’s trait and how it can cause problems at work, but didn’t give me any amazing new solutions I didn’t know before.

However, there was one bit that was really really interesting for me. It was a section advising readers with Asperger’s about how to choose a job that’s right for us. There was a chart to fill out, where you can write different areas of interest and then in the next column, write things that could be difficult about working in that type of job. Social things, sensory things, etc. For example, for a lot of people with Asperger’s, interacting with a bunch of different customers every day would be really hard, maybe even unbearable. We’d rather have a quieter job with a lot of alone time. So go ahead and write things like that in the second column.

This was really mind-blowing for me because I’d never thought of my issues with social interaction or sensory stimuli as ACTUAL REAL THINGS that should be treated seriously and taken into account when making big life decisions, like choosing a job for example. I always thought those were just silly little things, just my own personal issues, and I should just “get over” them and learn how to be a regular person who’s not bothered by them.

When I was in school, choosing a job was always related to education. What degree do you need in order to do this job? Bachelors? Masters? Phd? What classes do you need to take? And in society in general, there’s a hierarchy of jobs: jobs that require less education and pay less are seen as “easy”, and jobs that require more education and pay more are seen as “hard.”

I’m an engineer. I write code for robots. And often, when I tell people that, they say, “Wow that’s so hard! I could never do that!” And I don’t know what to think about that. For me, it’s not “hard.” I would hate to be in a job that didn’t involve learning new technology and solving challenging problems. I used to teach English, and actually that was “harder” because it required way more people skills than I have. Basically, as an English teacher, I was an actor. Go into class, put on a smile, make eye contact with the students, try to pay attention to their level of energy and interest, do activities that students will find engaging. Yes, I was an actor, because none of that comes naturally to me. It was exhausting. Being an engineer, talking to computers all day instead of people, wow it’s SO MUCH easier.

(Like, I can do any kind of math you want, but talking to people is way too hard.)

There’s a Burger King that Hendrix and I go to often. Sometimes, after work, there are tons of people waiting in line to order, and the cashiers are taking orders at the same time they’re putting food on trays for people who already ordered, and sometimes they don’t have this or that particular type of hamburger and they have to keep telling customers it’s not available and then sometimes the customers get angry about that, and the cashiers have to deal with that, and also somebody is like “hey you gave me the wrong drink” and it’s noisy, and it’s just chaos. Wow. That sounds like a horrible job.

(This isn't just related to autism- I think for most people who work in fast food jobs like that, it's really stressful and hard and society doesn't give them the credit they deserve.)

I tell people I’m an engineer and they’re like “wow I could never do that.” And then I see the cashiers at Burger King and I think “wow I could never do that.”

There was this one place I used to work, where the doors on the bathroom stalls would slam so damn loud. Every time I came out of the bathroom stall, I would stand there and use my hand to guide the door shut slowly and quietly. But for people who just came out of the stall and walked away without giving it a second thought, the door would accelerate so much as it swung back and it would slam against the door frame so loud. It was so loud. It was inhumanely loud.

Every day at that job, I would avoid going to the bathroom as long as I could. I would time it so that I would only need to use that godawful bathroom with the slamming doors once per day. And when I did, I would try to get in and out as fast as possible. In the stall, I used both hands to plug my ears, and when I heard the sound of someone coming out of a different stall, I would plug my ears even harder and count to 20, waiting for the sound of the door slam.

The worst was when someone would come in, look into the first stall, decide that it wasn’t clean enough, and move on to the next one, leaving the door to slam itself. In that case, there would be no auditory cue (like a flush or door-unlocking sound) to tell me the slam was coming, if I was in a different stall and couldn’t see what was going on. Oh, oh it was terrible. That slamming sound was so inhumanely loud. Hearing it was like getting punched in the head. Like, if I had to choose between getting punched in the head, and hearing that door-slam sound unexpectedly, well it’s hard to choose, they’re pretty much equally terrible. I mean that 100% literally.

But I never saw any of my colleagues using their hand to slow down the stall door so it wouldn’t slam. I was the only one. Even though they worked there and used that bathroom every day, and presumably were aware of how loud those doors would slam. Back then, even though I knew that I hear sounds louder than most other people do, I hadn’t fully thought through what that meant. I didn’t realize that, for other people, that sound was NOT the equivalent of getting punched in the back of the head. Maybe they thought it was a minor annoyance, but not so bad that it’s worth the trouble of spending 5 seconds helping the door shut slowly after using the bathroom. Wow. I mean, wow, as I write this, this is the first time I’ve ever speculated about why other people didn’t seem to be bothered by those godawful bathroom doors. At the time, I just kind of internalized the idea “other people are fine with it, why can’t you be fine with it?”

And I can totally imagine a situation where a problem like that could lead to me quitting my job. Or hating my job, or developing depression and having no idea what was causing it. Because trying to force myself to be okay with loud sounds that don't seem to bother anyone else has always been just a normal part of my life. It wouldn't have even occurred to me to think "oh, THIS is the reason I'm so unhappy." It's just how my life has always been.

As I think about that experience now, I’m imagining what would have happened if I had gone to my manager and told him the work environment is unbearable for me because of the incredible loudness of the bathroom doors. What if I suggested talking with the maintenance people, and maybe putting some sort of padding on the edges of the doors, so they wouldn’t be so loud when they slammed? If people were reluctant to do it, I could even offer to pay for it and do the work of sticking the door pads on all by myself. Of course I would be willing to do that! And pay for it! Like wow, can you imagine, just pay a little bit of money and spend half an hour sticking pads onto the edges of the bathroom doors, and the sound problem would be gone? Wow, can you imagine? I’d be willing to pay a hundred dollars. I’d be willing to pay two hundred dollars. Of course I would. (Instead I'm here blogging about it, years later, because it was THAT BAD.)

Can you imagine, if I had viewed it as a problem that could be solved by communicating about my needs and then maybe doing a bit of work and spending a bit of money? (Though ideally, the company should be the one who pays the money for it.) Instead, I saw it as “this is just the way things are, it’s not going to change, everyone else is fine with it, why can’t you be fine with it?” I remember complaining about it to some of my colleagues a little bit, but I never went to someone who actually had the authority to do something about it and said “This is a serious problem, we need to find a way to solve it.” I didn’t know that was an option. Instead I plugged my ears, tried to get in and out of there as fast as possible, and made very angry faces at people who let the doors slam. Oh it was so awful.

This book, Asperger's on the Job, says that often, the accommodations that aspies need are actually very very easy for employers to implement, and they make a huge difference in the aspie employee’s happiness and productivity. That certainly would have been the case for me and my door problem, if I had seen it as an actual real thing and insisted that other people care about it and help me solve it. Instead, I believed it was my fault for not trying hard enough to “be normal”, it was a silly thing that I should just “get over,” certainly not something serious enough that I should ask other people to care about it. It would be wrong to get other people involved just because I’m such a failure at “being normal.”

That’s why this idea about listing potential Asperger’s-related problems with certain jobs is so mind-blowing to me. (Though obviously, the door thing is not associated with any specific type of job; it’s not something I could have predicted when choosing a job.) The point is, if I know I have problems with sounds or social interaction or whatever, let’s treat that as an actual real problem that we should address and find a solution for, or maybe a legitimate reason not to even try doing a particular job. Wow.

One more fun story: I remember one time, when I was a little kid, I was watching Olympic athletes do gymnastics on TV. My mom said, “Wow, look at all those amazing jumps they do, I could never do that.” And I was like, “They put so much chalk on their hands, I could never do that.” Because oh geez, chalk dust is just the worst, makes me cringe so much. No chance I could be an Olympic gymnast, just because of the chalk. Ewww chalk.

Treating these Asperger’s-related problems as negligible little things that nobody needs to take seriously leads to stress and even unemployment for aspies (even though, in general, we are very intelligent and hard-working). The book Asperger's on the Job introduced me to the concept of “here, write down potential problems in this table and we will figure out what to do about them,” which is so much better than my previous strategy of “just get over it and be a normal person.”

Saturday, May 20, 2017

I knew Desiring God ideology is spiritual abuse, but wow.

The topic of this post is pretty horrifying, so please enjoy this photo of a big walrus and baby walrus. Much like us, this baby walrus is good and does not deserve to go to hell. Image source.
[content note: abusive Christian theology, Desiring God]

Wow. I know Desiring God preaches all that nasty abusive theology that I used to believe, but I never expected this. It's an article from 2016 called Hope for the Unhappy Christian, and dang, it's mind-boggling how much abuse is packed into one little article.

Let's start at the beginning:
On the outside, Chloe appears to have it all together. She is single, has a career, and is fairly active in her local church. But she’s lonely, disenchanted by her career, and feels detached from her church. The shell that her peers admire conceals her discontentment and joyless Christianity.

Chloe had envisioned a different life for herself. By now, she thought she’d be in her prime, but she’s found herself in a pit of misery. She thought she’d be married, still connected to her college friends, raising a family, and mentoring younger Christian women. But her present reality disappointed her expectations. Her discontentment has led her down a dark path of sin, searching for relief, but only finding death.
All right, this sounds like depression. General unhappiness with one's life. Yeah. This is an actual medical condition. I recommend talking to a doctor, because you deserve better. You deserve happiness and a good life.

But no, the writer doesn't identify this as a health problem that should be taken seriously and treated. Instead, he says it's "discontentment" caused by having a wrong view of God. This is what I used to believe about depression- at church, they didn't use the word "depression," but the way they described the supposedly-universal "God-shaped hole" sounds exactly like the symptoms of depression to me. Yes, occasionally I heard Christians criticize the church for not believing depression is a real thing, but I never heard them question the "God-shaped hole" teaching. I never heard anyone challenge the teaching "for people who don't have a relationship with God, even when everything in their life seems to be going so well, they feel empty inside and they don't know why- it's because the only thing that satisfies is God."

It's incredibly harmful to describe symptoms of depression and then call it a spiritual problem which can only be fixed by having the correct view of God. I plan to never stop talking about this.

Anyway, next the Desiring God article tells us that people often think they can improve their mood by making big life changes- "I hate being single, so I should settle", "My spouse doesn’t satisfy me, so I should get a new one", "My job isn’t fulfilling, so I should quit", etc. The writer tells us that this way of thinking is all wrong. He says that no matter what situation people are in, they'll always find something to complain about, so the key to becoming happier is NOT changing your situation, but in changing your view of God (we'll get to that in a minute).

Okay, this is just patently ridiculous. Let me tell you something: If you're in a bad job, and you leave that job and get a new job that's way better, you will probably feel like "Wow everything is so much better now, I'm so glad I'm not in that old job anymore." If you're in a bad relationship and you get out, things will get so much better. If you feel lonely but then you make an effort to go out and find hobbies where you can meet new friends, that can also make your life significantly happier. If you are single and wish you had a romantic/sexual partner, and then you find a good one, that can make life so much better too. If you live in a tiny little crappy apartment and can't sleep because of the traffic outside your window, and then you move to a nicer home where you can relax, that can also change your life for the better. If you always think "you know, I should exercise" and then you get in the habit of exercising and you feel confident and strong, your life will be happier because of that too.

All those things may seem obvious, but I'm spelling it out because I literally used to believe that my circumstances didn't matter- only my relationship with God matters, and so I should always be able to be "content" no matter what. Just like this Desiring God article, I was extremely suspicious of any thought along the lines of "if only I had xyz, then my life would be so much better." I considered it idolatry- seeking happiness in my life circumstances rather than in God.

(When you think like this, it's very difficult to set long-term goals for your life, and you find yourself hoping that other people will fail in their own goals. Your friend says "ah I need to find a new job, then things will be so much better" but you "know" they need God and they won't *really* be happy with a new job, and really it would be better for them to stay in their sucky job because then they'll end up hitting rock bottom faster and finding God faster.)

There have been many times in my life where I thought, "Wow I'm so glad I'm doing ABC now and I'm no longer doing XYZ, wow things are SO MUCH BETTER now." Yes, that is a thing that CAN REALLY happen in people's lives. Quite often, actually. It's absurd that I actually have to make an argument for this- isn't is OBVIOUS? Isn't it OBVIOUS that if you're in a bad situation, and then things change and you get into a better situation, you'll be much happier overall? But back when I was a good evangelical, I truly believed that if I have God, I can be content in any situation, and if I don't have God, then I'll never be content, no matter the situation- so any thoughts along the lines of "if I make this big life change, I will be happier" was dangerous, borderline idolatry. And that's what this Desiring God article is arguing here.

After the article tells us that we can't find contentment by making big changes in our lives, it presents its solution: We need to adopt the correct view of God. Warning: This next part is shocking in how blatantly abusive it is:
The Christian’s unhappiness, discontentment, and view of God are directly linked. Discontentment screams, “You deserve better!” and whispers, “God is not giving you what you deserve.” The former screams are blatantly false, but the latter whispers are profoundly true. Satan is the master of mixing lies with truths.

It’s a lie that you deserve better. The statement also assumes that you know what’s best and that God’s gifts aren’t best for you. The lie leads you to believe that you’re wiser than God and interprets his direction for your life as an attack rather than a mercy and gift.

It’s true that God is not giving you what you deserve. We deserve God’s wrath, yet daily we receive new mercies. How can sickness, suffering, and other tragedies be considered mercy? By realizing that every morning we don’t wake up in hell is an example of God’s mercy toward us. Even when we’re feeling our worst, God is showing us more mercy than we deserve. There is no calamity or tragedy that we can face that is worse than the holy wrath of God. At the same time, there is no earthly pleasure that can compare to the glory that is to be revealed. This is how the apostle Paul faced suffering: “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18).
HOLY HELL.

To be clear: This is EXACTLY what I used to believe, and I'm very aware that this is what Desiring God teaches. But HOLY SHIT I didn't expect them to actually lay it out here so explicitly. I mean, y'all know God called me to write blog posts speaking out against the harmful theology of John Piper and Desiring God, but it's like they did my job for me. "... every morning we don’t wake up in hell is an example of God’s mercy toward us." I mean, HOLY CRAP. Yes, of course this is the logical consequence of the belief "we all deserve to go to hell," which I was explicitly taught in church. Yes, that belief leads to incredible heartlessness toward victims of tragedy. They're getting better than they deserve anyway, so they should quit complaining. This is spiritual abuse.

I mean, what can I even say? Just look at that excerpt from the article. Marvel at how completely terrible it is, recoil in horror at the realization that there are people who actually believe this crap- that there are nice Sunday school teachers who teach it to children and call it "the gospel."

It's exactly the ideology I used to hold, but I'm honestly shocked to see Desiring God state it so directly. Usually when I blog about why believing in hell completely ruins Christianity, I have to connect the dots and explain why that's so harmful, how it leads to abuse, depression, and heartlessness. Wow. They really published this. I just... wow.

So let's review: The article starts out by describing symptoms of depression but not calling it "depression"- claiming that "discontentment" is caused by having an incorrect view of God. Then it claims that our happiness is based more on our view of God than on our actual circumstances- so people who try to make changes and improve their lives are totally misguided and they'll never find contentment that way. And finally, it says that you can develop the correct view of God and learn to be content by accepting the claim that you don't deserve anything good anyway. You deserve to go to hell, and anything that happens to you in this life- no matter how bad it is- is a merciful gift from God. Isn't God so nice for not sending you to hell? Be grateful and stop feeling bad about yourself.

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Related:
"The Authority of Scripture" is One Hell of a Drug
Accepting Myself (or, I'm Great, and It Doesn't Matter What God Thinks)
I Deserve God's Love

Remember, everyone, you're great and you deserve love and happiness. Desiring God is taking the Lord's name in vain.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Blogaround

A few deer standing around in a field. There is a tree in the background, which makes it look like this one deer has the most gigantic set of antlers ever. Image source.
1. Star Wars: The Last Jedi / Moana "You're Welcome" Parody Song (posted April 23) This is great.

2. Jeff Sessions Rolls Back Obama-Era Drug Sentencing Reforms (posted May 12) "The policies, Holder said, amounted to an 'ideologically motivated, cookie-cutter approach that has only been proven to generate unfairly long sentences that are often applied indiscriminately and do little to achieve long-term public safety.'"

3. Nobody Catcalls The Woman In The Wheelchair (posted 2016) "Despite the best of intentions, the way feminists tend to discuss street harassment as a given reinforces ableist ideas of womanhood, because it’s only a given if your body is seen by the patriarchy as a sexual object. Mine isn’t."

4. You say you’re pro-life, but then you want to limit health care for my disabled son (posted May 9) "On a practical level, the church has not found the $40 an hour for PDN. It has not found the money for ASL classes. It has not found the money for therapies, breathing treatments, for stays in the pediatric intensive care unit. The state had found that money."

5. Christian Mother Mourns Loss of Son She Abandoned for Being Gay (On His Wedding Day) (posted May 15) [content note: parent disowns gay child] "As Tim Rymel points out at HuffPost, what’s especially disturbing about this article is how many Christian commenters aren’t responding with, 'What the hell is wrong with you?' Instead, they’re saying things like 'I am sorry for your loss' and 'We will continue to pray for a change of heart.'"

6. Do you all know there exists a cover of the Ghostbusters theme song by Fall Out Boy and Missy Elliot? Because, you need to know. Because it's THE BEST THING EVER.

Monday, May 15, 2017

I Can't Write Wedding Vows Without Thinking About Divorce

Two brides saying wedding vows. Image source.
Did I mention I'm getting married this summer? Hooray!

So I've been thinking about the vows. What exactly do they mean? What exactly am I promising here?

Some people include "joke" vows in their wedding ceremony, like "I promise that, when you are listening to the same song for the HUNDREDTH time in ONE DAY, I will not complain." I honestly have no idea what this is even supposed to mean. I mean, it's a joke, okay it's funny because their partner listens to the same song over and over again, isn't that annoying, haha, but what on earth is it doing in a wedding vow? Like, it's clearly not meant to be taken literally- could you imagine how horrifying that would be if this was actually meant literally? That would mean that, for the whole rest of your life, if you ever complain about your partner's odd habit of listening to the same song over and over, YOU'VE JUST BROKEN YOUR WEDDING VOWS. Why would you elevate some tiny minor conflict like that to the level of BREAKING YOUR WEDDING VOWS, as if it's an insult so serious that the whole marriage is in trouble?

I guess what they are actually saying is "I promise I will still love you and live with you, even though you always listen to the same music over and over and it's really annoying." If it's put in this way, yes it's still intended to be humorous, but this actually makes sense as a wedding vow. This is something that can totally be taken completely literally without calling into question the entire concept of a vow.

So I ask myself, what do I actually want to promise to Hendrix? And I'll only make a promise I truly believe I can keep. And so, of course, that means if I'm promising to be married to him for my whole life, I have to think about if I can actually do that. I have to think about the possibility of divorce.

Right? I mean, how could I not? But am I weird for thinking that way? It's certainly not part of the cultural narrative around weddings- apparently, the couple is supposed to be so high on their love for each other that they effortlessly make bold promises of eternal love as if it's no big deal, and divorce never even crosses their mind. But how can that be? I take my wedding vows very seriously, and that means I am going to really consider carefully what I'm promising. Damn, this IS a big deal. (In purity culture, I never realized what a BIG HUGE DEAL marriage is- it's just the obvious next step when you're dating, it's God's plan for everyone's life, it's the hoop you have to jump through to have sex.)

As an ex-evangelical, I'm a little bit wary of promises in general. I read the bible stories about Jephthah's daughter, and Herod and John the Baptist. Church people said the lesson in these stories was "if you make a promise that turns out to be a really bad idea, you're stuck in it, it's a sin to break a promise." (The Slacktivist has a really good post on this.) So I worry about making a promise and then breaking it- then I'm a bad person, even if the promise turns out to be something really really unhealthy and evil.

I talked to Hendrix about this, and we agreed the reason we are getting married is because we want to and it will make both of us happy. (Please note that, for good evangelicals, this is a sinful, selfish reason and is therefore invalid.) The purpose of the marriage is the happiness and health of the two of us. And those things- our health and happiness- are more important than the marriage itself. If, at some point in the future, somehow the marriage ends up making us unhappy or unhealthy, and it looks like it's not going to get better in the long term, then of course divorce is an option. (And of course we would have to consider the health and happiness of everyone who is affected- ie, our children if we have them.) Why would you stay in a situation that's harmful to you just for the sake of "breaking a promise is bad"? (*cough* legalism *cough*)

All right, but if I think it's okay to just disregard a promise I made if later I decide it was a bad idea, then what's the point of making vows anyway?

No, I'm going to think about it carefully and vow something that I truly believe I will keep. I promise to love and support him for the rest of our lives- but I'm not promising to never complain, I'm not promising to always be nice, I'm not promising that we'll never make each other mad. We'll probably fight occasionally and have feelings that aren't the most lovey-dovey, but overall, in a general sense, we will always love each other. Well. Wait, let me clarify. This love and support isn't necessarily absolute and unconditional. If one of us starts being terrible to the other, and refuses to work on their behavior or recognize how bad it is, then the other is totally within their rights to get a divorce. I wouldn't count that as "breaking the vows," because Hendrix and I discussed this and I said I understand the vows to come with some assumptions, some "fine print", things that we're not going to actually say out loud at the wedding, like "if somehow you become a terrible person, I am totally leaving you, I ain't promising ANYTHING if that happens."

(Okay if you're all worried that I'm going to get divorced for some silly little reason: Actually I'm terrified of being single and I would totally stay in a bad relationship way longer than I should. [Thanks, purity culture.] Does that make you feel better? It really shouldn't.)

Also, an important point of clarification: I'm young and naive and don't have a clue what divorce is actually like or why it happens. But I have to think about it because I take my wedding vows very seriously, and I really do intend to keep them for my whole life. But I'm not promising I'll stay in the marriage no matter what. There are assumptions and caveats, which we've communicated about and agreed on together. There are things that are more important than the marriage itself.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Blogaround

Adorable fluffy kitty flopped down on top of an open book, looking for belly rubs. Image source.
1. Franklin Graham To Kate Middleton: Don’t Want Your Topless Photos To Leak? Then “Keep Your Top On” (posted May 3) Franklin Graham is grosssssssssss.

2. God did not create the cosmos with “apparent age”—3 reasons (posted April 14)

3. China’s New Jetliner, the Comac C919, Takes Flight for First Time (posted May 5) "For a country that only 40 years ago was one of the poorest in the world, the C919 symbolized the industrial might of an emerging superpower — and its dream to dominate a new technological era." This is a really big deal here. Typically, high-tech stuff we use in China is made by foreign companies, but there is a big push by the government, called "Made in China 2025," to advance the technological ability of Chinese companies. Congrats to China for a successful first flight of the C919.

4. In a Beijing ballroom, Kushner family pushes $500,000 ‘investor visa’ to wealthy Chinese (posted May 6) Yeah that is suspicious.

5. Evangelicalism and the Semantics of Religion (posted May 9) "Although Islam has a religious component, it is much more than a simple religious ideology. It is a complete geo-political structure and, as such, does not deserve First Amendment protection." It sounds like they're describing evangelicalism...

6. Letter to a Pastor Butting Into a Woman’s Engagement to a Nonbeliever (posted May 7) "And I have noticed several common ways pastors justify sticking their noses where they don’t belong. I want to address them in hope that you might stop offering this unwanted advice."

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Yep, That's Exactly What a Perfect, Godly, Pure Relationship Would Look Like

"When We Were on Fire" book cover.
If you are ex-evangelical, I very much recommend the book When We Were on Fire, by Addie Zierman. It's her memoir of growing up evangelical, getting out of that ideology, and her struggle to find a place in Christianity after that.

It's an engaging story, with just the right amount of specific little details so the reader feels like they are truly there, watching it happen. And I relate to so much of this- the little cultural markers of evangelicalism, the way that I continually sacrificed myself "for God" and didn't know how much damage I was doing to myself, the ignorant and totally-wrong reactions from Christians who can't understand why we no longer agree with this or that bit of ideology.

In this blog post, I'll focus on just the beginning third of the book, which is about Addie's relationship with her high-school boyfriend, Chris. Chris was so completely obsessed with following Jesus; everything he did, his entire identity, was consumed with a drive to obey God, no matter the cost. And so, of course, that meant he was the best Christian. That's the way we are supposed to live, according to what I was taught in church.

Also, of course, that meant he was planning to be a missionary. Because yes, in that ideology, the very very best Christians are the ones who become missionaries and go live in a some poor country with no white people.

Addie and Chris dated, off and on, for two and a half years. And every time they were "off", it was because "God told him" he couldn't date, and she waited for him until God okayed it again. Here's one example, from page 37:
The gist was that he would be leaving for Teen Mania to become a full-time intern in August, and he didn't want to get tangled up in the sticky web of a relationship. He didn't want it to keep him from following the Lord with his full, devoted heart. He didn't think we should talk anymore, didn't think we should spend Sunday afternoons driving around in his Toyota, didn't think we should be friends. The gist was that even though we weren't really, truly, officially "dating," we should break up, and the reason for this was God.

...

I was unsure how to cope with this sudden loss, the normal language of break-ups inaccessible to me because mine was for lofty purposes: it was God's idea, this parting, this emptiness. It was as though God and Chris had talked it over, and I was left alone to cope with the decision they had reached without me.

There was no place for anger, for the stages of teenage grief to unfurl in all their grandiose agony. Instead, I worked to bear up under it. So when, months later, Chris came back with a great wide smile and a new word from God on the matter- our relationship was okay now, a gift from the Father rather than a liability- all I felt was a deep surge of relief. The only thing I knew was that I had to do whatever I could to make sure he never left again.
About a year or two later, Chris did another internship with Teen Mania, this time for a whole year. Here's what happened after Christmas break (page 74):
But a few days later, the phone rings, and it is Chris calling from Texas, his voice crackly in the long distance. "I just called to tell you that I can't talk anymore," he says.

"What?" you say, pressing the plastic receiver to your ear. "Wait ... what?"

"I've sinned," he sighs. "I've been sinning. Teen Mania interns are supposed to break ties with all romantic relationships...and...all that time we spent together at Christmas..."

"Wait." You stop him, pulling the kitchen telephone away from your mom's curious gaze and the sound of garlic toast frying on the stove. You slide into the basement stairwell and shut the door behind you. "I don't understand. I mean... we saw each other... but we weren't like...together..." You replay his time home in your mind in fast-motion, trying to riddle out what he's saying.

"I've already talked to my team leader about it," Chris says. "He says I need to make a clean break of it... that I can't fully pursue God's will and stay connected to you at the same time." He pauses. "He says that you're causing me to stumble."

"I'm sorry," you say breathlessly.

"I'm sorry too," he says. You hear voices behind him, faraway Texas voices. The voices of the men who know about you, about your relationship, who believe you are a stone that is causing him to fall.

"Look," Chris says, "I have to go."

"Yeah," you say. "Sure, yeah." He hangs up before you can say good-bye.
It was so heartless, the way he treated her- and yet, this is exactly how I was taught dating is supposed to work. Back when I was a good purity-culture Christian, I never ended up getting approval from God to date any of the guys I had crushes on, so I didn't date. But if I had, if I was dating a guy who bought into the same ideology I did, then yes, oh yes, it would have been EXACTLY what Zierman describes here. (Please note, though, that the book focuses more on the "don't let anything, including romance, distract you from all-consuming devotion to God" aspect rather than the "purity" aspect. Their relationship definitely was a purity-culture relationship though. Chris made a contract about the rules and "boundaries" of their relationship, and Addie, Chris, their parents, and their pastor had to sign it. It doesn't get much more purity-culture than that.)

When Sunday school teachers talked to us about the qualities girls should look for in a husband, the #1 right answer was always "he loves Jesus more than he loves me." Find a man like that, that is the perfect Christian husband. And that's what I see, when I read about how Chris treated Addie, treating her like a temptation that he needed to reject in order to obey God fully. He probably didn't want to break up with her, over and over- it must have hurt him too- but he was always willing to do it if that's what God said. Decisions about dating and breaking up must be based on the possibly-random whims of a God, rather than considering how it affects your partner. In this ideology, there's no room for compassion and empathy toward the partner whom God decided needs to be dumped. (I've heard many testimonies about how "God told me to break up with my boyfriend, and it was so hard but I obeyed God and now everything is so much better" and not one acknowledged the pain that said boyfriend must have felt.)

Find a man who loves God more than he loves you. That's what I wanted, back then. That was the correct answer. And if that plays out in reality, of course it will look like how Chris treated Addie. Ready to break up at a moment's notice if that's what "God" said. It's incompatible with love.

---------------------

One more thing I want to share. This is my favorite part of the entire book. From page 75:
You're a little bit weepy on the night that you sit with Felix in the dark of his parked car. It's been a bad time for you. The letters from Chris have stopped coming, just as he said they would. When the phone rings, it is no longer him, standing in the hallway of his dorm, telling you his stories. You have caused him to stumble, so he has kicked you out of the way. You are lonely. Felix is dabbing at the tears on your face with his long fingers. He swallows, and you are close enough to his neck to see the way it makes his Adam's apple more along his threat.

He's a senior, a friend from youth group. He is handsome. He knows that he is handsome. He has good hair and perfect lips and a tall, built body. The girls like Felix and Felix likes the girls and because of this, he has gotten himself into trouble more than once. So in a renewed commitement to personal purity, he has taken his devotion to abstinence to the next level: a dating sabbatical. A break from girls altogether. He is dating Jesus.

Sort of.

Right now, it feels as if he is dating you.

You can't see anything outside of the car, though you know you are in a housing development, one of the rich ones with lots of big trees, lots of little empty turnabouts like the one where you are currently parked. Inside, the numbers on the clock cast a green glow on Felix's sharp features. He leans toward you so that you are forehead to forehead, and you can feel your heart lurching erratically. He stares at you. You stare at him. He moves so close that you can feel the five o'clock shadow poke against your breathless cheeks.

You inhale sharply and back away, and the magic breaks. You put your two small fingers against his lips. "You're dating Jesus, remember?" you say.

That is the truth in this moment- not the beating of your heart against the darkness, but the unbreakable promise to God that forms the context behind it. Felix has vowed not to date girls, and you know what happens when you come between boys and their vows.

Besides, you are supposed to be waiting. Waiting for Chris, who is in Garden Valley, Texas, also dating Jesus, and consequently, not speaking to you. He is fighting the forces of evil and doing great things for the Lord. You are supposed to be quiet, reserved, watching over the horizon for the beginning of happily ever after. Not alone in a dark car with Felix and his perfect lips.

You should have let him kiss you.

If you had, maybe this would not be your story, your journey, your burden. If you had done what you wanted to do instead of watching over the boys and their vows... if you had allowed yourself to be hurt the usual way that teenage boys hurt teenage girls instead of falling so nobly on the sword of the Spirit, a constant sacrifice, dying again and again to your own desires, then maybe it would not have gone like this.
Damn. Yes. "You should have let him kiss you."

---------------------

As I said, I totally recommend this book if you are ex-evangelical. Zierman vividly describes what it's like to internalize evangelical anti-self ideology, to not even realize how angry you are about it until years later, to dodge Christians who want to ask you "how's your walk?" and "hold you accountable" but they just don't get it. Her descriptions of living in China are also spot-on. (She and her husband taught English in China for 1 year.)

And in her relationship with Chris, they were both totally committed to God and followed all the rules like perfect Christians should. And that's why everything went so wrong.

Monday, May 8, 2017

I Don't Expect My Wedding to be "The Happiest Day of My Life"

A bride and groom dance together. Image source.
There's this cultural assumption that your wedding is "the happiest day of your life." People throw that phrase around as if it's by definition true- which is absurd. I'm getting married this summer, and I don't expect the wedding to be "the happiest day of my life."

I mean, maybe it will be. We certainly want it to be a very happy day, and we are doing a lot of planning so everything will go well. But my future will have tons of happy days, and it's meaningless to rank them. Maybe the wedding works out to be the happiest day of my life, maybe not. Who cares?

If you really believe the wedding is "the happiest day of your life", that means afterward, it's all downhill. What a pessimistic way to look at your future! Also, if something goes wrong at the wedding (and it's likely there will be at least a few things that don't go exactly right) then oh no, that was your happiest day, you'll never get a chance to be that happy again, and you screwed it up. You're a failure as a bride (or groom- but let's be real, this is usually directed at women).

Why do we put that kind of pressure on people who are planning their wedding? They feel like everything has to be perfect, and they have to feel the "correct" emotions, or else it doesn't meet "happiest day of your life" standards and that means it was a total failure. Come on. It doesn't have to be "the happiest day of your life." Just enjoy yourself. Maybe some things won't go exactly right, but that's okay.

And even if you hate your wedding, that's okay too. The important part is your marriage with your partner. You have your whole future together with this person, and if they're a good partner for you, that's great. That's what really matters, not how you feel at the wedding itself.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

It Was Beautiful When Star-Lord Rejected the Gospel

Chinese movie poster for "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2." Image source.
[content note: spoilers for "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2"]

In "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2", Peter Quill, otherwise known as Star-Lord, meets Ego, who claims to be Peter's father. (Peter is played by Chris Pratt.) Ego is a "celestial," which means he is like a god, and created his own planet. He says that Peter also has god-like power and immortality, and together they can create amazing new worlds.

Initially Peter is suspicious of Ego and angry at him for abandoning Peter's mother when she was dying of cancer. But as he tries out his newfound power and listens to Ego describing big dreams that they could accomplish together, he is convinced. Meanwhile, Mantis, an empathic woman who lives with Ego, warns the other Guardians of the Galaxy that Ego is lying and they are all in danger.

And then, just when Peter has decided to join Ego, Ego says, "It broke my heart to put that tumor in your mother's brain."

AND HOLY HELL that's when I realized, this character is God.
Specifically, Ego is the God I was taught to believe in, in the evangelical church. The God who causes people he supposedly "loves" to become sick and die.

Immediately, Peter pulls out two guns and shoots Ego, over and over. There is no apologetics discussion. There is no "here's a book you can read about why a good God allows suffering." There is no calm debate about whether God "allows" or "causes" suffering. There's no "everything happens for a reasons." When God kills your mother, you don't give that God a chance to explain himself. It's over. And Peter shoots him again and again and again. (Ego isn't really hurt by being shot though. He regenerates himself pretty quickly.)

And as Ego continues to talk and try to convince Peter again, we find that Ego doesn't actually care about people. He just wants to grow himself bigger and bigger, to take over every planet. I thought of John Piper's ideology, which says everything is about glorifying God. God loves us because it brings glory to God. God created the universe in order to glorify himself. Jesus died because it brings glory to God- and yeah it saves us and all, but that's not the point, the point is glory to God. Ego is a God who focuses on himself, who is interested in other people's lives only to the extent that they bring him amusement. He wants to take over every planet, with complete disregard for the people and aliens who live there.

Furthermore, Ego offers Peter eternal life. The chance to leave everyone else behind- they're all doomed anyway, you don't want to be like them. Become like God and live forever, and stay out of the way while God sends everyone else to hell- for his glory, of course. As Ego and Peter fight each other, Ego warns him that if Ego dies, Peter will lose his god-powers and immortality.

And Peter does the right thing and rejects the gospel.

That was the gospel I was taught in church. Everyone is doomed to hell, and that's so sad but it's right, it's right for God to do that to us. And luckily, God gives us a chance to escape everyone else's fate. We just have to join his side. We get eternal life, and screw everyone else.

They didn't say it in those words, not exactly. Church people talked about God's amazing love and care for each of us individually. And probably a lot of them would disagree with Piper, and say that the primary reason Jesus died was because of love for people. But yes, they did teach that God makes bad things happen on purpose, as part of some big plan. Yes, God gave your mother cancer. And they did teach that we all deserve to go to hell, that God makes the rules and by definition everything he does it good and right, so it's right for him to send everyone to hell. And aren't we lucky that he gives us a chance to escape that fate, we can be special and do amazing things with God, if we just take his side and agree that yes, we all deserve to go to hell.

Star-Lord isn't taking any of this crap. If God killed your mother, having any kind of "loving" "relationship" with that God is completely out of the question- no matter how sad he acts. If God wants to kill all of humanity and save you, the moral thing to do is fight against that God- reject his offer of eternal life. In the movie, it's so obvious that Ego is a "bad guy," but then Christians go to church and worship a God who's just like him.

But if that's who God is, and if that's what the gospel is, don't worship him. Don't thank him for his "mercy." Don't do evangelism, to convince others to join his side. Fight him.

----------------

Related: I Didn't Like the Ocean in "Moana" Because it was Too Much Like God

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Blogaround

Rey with a lightsaber. Happy Star Wars Day, everyone, May the Fourth be with you. Image source.
1. Who’s in Charge of Monks Nailing Theses to Church Doors? (posted April 27) Parody of a Christianity Today article.

2. Man 'healed' as child by televangelist Benny Hinn speaks out (posted April 27)

3. Is Anorexia the Latest Treatment for Obesity? (posted April 27) [TRIGGER WARNING: eating disorder, fat hatred] "This paper perpetuates the myth that fat people can’t be anorexic because weight loss is always healthy, even when it results from starvation."

4. Harry Potter Theory: Is the Sorting Hat ALWAYS right? (posted April 28) "Another character I think they sorted wrong, who isn't really developed much in the movies, is Percy Weasley."

5. Harry Potter Theory: The Truth About Felix Felicis (posted April 25) "But if you're still not convinced, take this under consideration: How did Slughorn have it ready so fast?"

6. The Problem with Gay Conversion Anecdotes (posted April 24) "No matter how gentle or kind the tone, the practical effect of these stories is to equip members of a church congregation with tools to further reject, isolate, and condemn LGBTQ people."

7. Captain Kirk, the Green Woman, and the Bible (posted April 18) "We remember it wrong because we see that green woman in the opening credits through the filter of our idea of James T. Kirk, Womanizer and that filter reshapes what we see, reinforcing the mistake." (The article linked to in that post, Freshly Remember'd: Kirk Drift, is required reading for Trekkies.)

And the follow-up post: Money, Hell, and ‘Kirk Drift’

8. Is Every Speed Limit Too Low? (posted April 25) "This “nationally recognized method” of setting the speed limit as the 85th percentile speed is essentially traffic engineering 101."

9. Estimate of autism’s sex ratio reaches new low (posted April 27) "Researchers find more girls with autism when they actively look for them." NO KIDDING

10. In Christianity, Every Day is Opposite Day. (posted April 29) "The more mismatched a person is to a venture, the less intuitively successful and coherent the idea is, and the more obviously doomed to failure the whole proposal is, then the more Christians find themselves drawn to it and rooting for it–and they only remember the successes."

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

With God, Everything is a Battle and You Can't Just Leave

Person dressed in armor with a shield and sword. Image text: "Put on the full armor of God." Image source.
Here's a post that's worth reading: The Dark Side of Grace. It's about how the whole "Jesus saved us when we were so unworthy" thing looks a lot like an abusive relationship. The abuser wants to make the victim believe they are bad and unlovable, that they are "lucky" to have the abuser, that "no one else will love you like I do," that any small bit of kindness from the abuser is an amazing gift that the victim does not deserve.

And, yes, that is TOTALLY how good evangelicals talk about our relationship with God. (Do go and read the whole thing.)

The part I want to talk about is this, from the end of the post:
I suggest you try getting out from under that narrative for a time to see if the way you see yourself changes for the better. Take a break from this possessive “Lover of your soul” and find out for yourself if maybe there’s another way, a kinder way, to see yourself. One that doesn’t require constantly lowering your own opinion of yourself in order to magnify his glory.

I think you’ll find the world outside of that relationship a more natural fit, if you’ll give it a chance. But I don’t expect you to take my word for it. You’ll have to decide for yourself what you’re ready to do.
The writer, Neil Carter, suggests that Christians take a temporary break from their relationship with God, just to see if maybe they'd be better off without it. And while I understand where this suggestion is coming from, there was no way it would have been helpful to me, back when I was "on fire for Jesus."

First of all, I believed that I couldn't live without Jesus- and this plays out as a self-fulfilling prophecy. Pastors and Christian leaders explicitly preach that humans are all incompetent at even the most basic things when we try to do them without God's help. There are many worship songs about how "I am nothing without you." And if a Christian of this type tries to "live without God" for a short period of time, any difficulties they encounter will be seen as EVIDENCE that it was a terrible idea, that it's true they can't live without God. I have heard a lot of testimonies along these lines, actually. "I was trying to do XYZ and it wasn't working, then I realized I hadn't prayed about it/ wasn't relying on God/ was doing it for the wrong reasons. I was trying to do it without God, and that's why it failed."

So if you "try to live without God" but don't change any of the surrounding ideology, then it's only going to confirm "it's true, I can't do anything without God."

But more importantly, the reason it would have been unthinkable for me to step away from my relatinoship with God is that I believed life was a constant spiritual battle. Everything was a big deal, everything was urgent, and I had to submit myself to Jesus every moment. To stop for a second and do anything other than "put God first" would be sin- and remember, any sin, no matter how tiny, is a huge, infinite crime against God. It's a slap in the face of the one who loves me more than anyone else. It's a disease that leaves long-lasting damage in my life.

If you're a soldier in the middle of a battle, can you say, "I'm going to try not fighting for a little while and see how I feel about that"? There's no TIME for that!!! We're trying to save people from hell!!! If you get off track for a second, do you know how much that could set us back, how it could reverse the progress we've worked so hard for?

That's exactly what satan would want you to do. To be deceived into thinking "obeying God isn't that urgent, it's okay to take a break from some of these things and reconsider if it's really good for me or not."

Back then, I was under so much stress because of my devotion to Jesus. Everything was a battle, everything was a big deal. Take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. I didn't realize it was stress; I was very happy because I believed what I was doing was extremely important and that God cared about it.

And the problem is, there's not really anything logically inconsistent in that ideology. Back then, I believed that mundane, everyday actions and feelings were all part of a huge spiritual battle- and if it seemed like that wasn't true, well, that's just what satan would want me to think, obviously he has a better chance of winning if he can convince Christians that it's actually not a spiritual battle, and it's fine for them to relax a bit instead of being constantly focused on devotion to God. There's no way to disprove this- it's all logically consistent.

All I can say is this: Do you really think a loving God intends for their followers to be in a constant state of stress like that? Do you believe in a God who doesn't care at all about mental health? That's all I got, the only way I know to argue against this ideology. Because it is logically consistent; perhaps God thinks mental health doesn't matter, and intends for us to live like we are in a contant battle, with every thought and emotion conquered and submitted to them. It's logically consistent, but heartless.

You can advise Christians of this type to "take a break." Actually, I've heard from many atheists that leaving their relationship with God was such a good decision and things are so much better without God. That's good. But for a Christian in the middle of that, who buys into all the "we can't live without God" ideology, who sees every day as a huge battle against sin, this advice isn't meaningful at all.

Monday, May 1, 2017

5 Years and the World is Still Weird

The word "BLOG". Image source.
This blog is 5 years old now! Wow, hard to believe this started all the way back in 2012. I've changed a lot in the past 5 years, and my blog has changed a lot.

The biggest change was that I moved to China in 2013. Before this, I wrote posts about how much I wanted to move here, how I was thinking about coming with a missions organization but very much questioning the prevailing views of missions in the US chuch. I didn't end up doing the missionary thing. At first I worked as an English teacher, but now I'm an engineer doing robot stuff at a Chinese company, talking about sensors and code in Chinese every day at work. Which is totally awesome. I've been in China almost 4 years now. Living the dream here.

Also I met Hendrix and we are engaged now. Our wedding is this summer. Hooray! I'm planning to write a bunch more posts about how I feel about weddings and getting married. So stay tuned for those. ^_^

In terms of Christianity: When I started this blog, I was questioning a lot of evangelical teaching. Not questioning like "maybe I don't believe in God" but questioning like "maybe people don't all 'have a God-shaped hole.'" I had only recently decided I'm a feminist. Though I had begun to question purity culture, I still very firmly believed that it was unspeakably, terrifyingly bad to have sex outside of marriage. And on the issue of queer rights, I was in the "let's listen to both sides, there's nuance" camp (blah).

Soon after starting the blog, I needed to have surgery to get my gall bladder removed. And that experience really changed a lot of my beliefs about God. Before, I thought God wouldn't let bad things happen to me. I no longer believe in a personal God who intervenes in our day-to-day lives- because of that experience and because I realized I was victim-blaming when I heard about bad things happening to other people.

And I went through depression which was directly caused by purity culture- where I was sure God thought I was dirty and bad because I live with Hendrix without being married (*gasp*) and that's obviously the dirtiest, most sinful thing a person could do. Healing from that depression meant believing that I am amazing, by myself, not because of God. And I don't need anybody to tell me I'm a real Christian- in fact, I need to avoid Christian culture because it's awful for my mental health.

Also, I quit believing everything purity culture taught me. I finally even stopped believing that unmarried sex is inherently sinful- though it took a very vey long time to come to that conclusion, and then even longer after that before I actually had sex. And after that, I realized I'm asexual.

Another thing that happened was about a year after I started the blog, I was diagnosed/ figured out I have autism. And I've mentioned it in a few blog posts, but I haven't really developed a big-picture view of what it means, particularly as it relates to my needs, what a disability is, and what rights I should demand from society. So hopefully there will be more blog posts about that.

Readers, I'd like to thank you all for reading~ I've met a lot of cool people from blogging. It's especially great when I find someone who's had similar experiences, and we can relate to each other.

In the near future, expect a bunch of posts about weddings. Thanks everyone for reading and supporting this blog for the past 5 years~ I have a lot more things to write about, so keep reading. ^_^

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Blogaround

A small dog stands with its front feet on top of a pot. Also, for some reason, the dog is wearing a knitted hat that looks exactly like the pot. Image source.
1. Remembering Anarcha, Lucy, and Betsey: The Mothers of Modern Gynecology (posted February 7) "[The surgeries] were performed without anesthesia. There was a belief at the time that black people did not feel pain in the same way. They were not vulnerable to pain- especially black women."

2. After Columbine, martyrdom became a powerful fantasy for Christian teenagers (posted April 20) [content note: gun violence] "A teenager named Tina Leonard, Rosin reported, told a Southern Baptist news service that “God has laid it on my heart that I'm going to be martyred. When I told one of my friends, he said, 'That's awesome. I wish it could happen to me.’”"

3. I Underwent Genital Mutilation as a Child—Right Here in the United States (posted April 21) [content note: descriptions of assault and genital cutting of children]

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Shanghai Botanical Garden (Photos)

Hi everyone, here are my photos from the Shanghai Botanical Garden (上海植物园). Right now the International Flower Show is happening so everything there is really pretty~







You may have grown up evangelical if this is CLEARLY where the friends of the paralyzed man lowered him down to see Jesus.








Monday, April 24, 2017

Here's What We're Doing With Our Last Names

"Mrs" and "Mr" signs at a wedding. Image source.
Traditionally, when a man and woman get married, the woman changes her last name to match her husband's. But nowadays, at least among feminists, it's not always this way. There are lots of other options. I'd like to tell you what Hendrix and I decided to do.

When I was little, I always wanted to change my last name to my future husband's. I didn't know what patriarchy was, or realize that there was something extremely unfair in the idea that wives need to change their names and husbands do not. Instead, I was excited to switch to a cooler-sounding last name. Like, find a guy whose last name sounds like some kind of dinosaur or something. SO COOL, right? As a woman, I have a chance to upgrade to something better, whereas men don't (according to the tradition).

But now I'm engaged, and in a few months, Hendrix and I will get married. And we decided on this together: I'm going to change my Chinese last name, and he's going to change his English last name. See, we actually both have 2 names- a Chinese and an English one- and we use them in different situations. For me, my English name is my "real name," the name on all my IDs and paperwork, the name that most people call me, and I picked a Chinese name for convenience reasons when I'm in China, but it's not officially my name in any sort of legal sense or anything like that. For him, it's the opposite.

Please note that a Chinese name consists of Chinese characters, not letters. Let's use 李雷 (li lei) as an example. In Chinese, the last name goes first. 李 (li) is his last name. It's pronounced "li" (err, if you're not familiar with Chinese pronunciation, it's pronounced "lee"), and when you fill out paperwork in English, you write it as "Li" but his last name isn't actually Li, it's 李. In modern-day mainland China (which uses the pinyin system to write the pronunciation for Chinese characters), "李" gets written as "Li" when you need to change it into an English name, but Chinese-speakers in other places might write it as "Lee" instead. What I'm saying is, he uses "Li" as his last name when he's introducing himself in English, but it's not his real name (though the pronunciation is the same as his real name), and wouldn't it make more sense for him to just use my last name as his English last name?

If he had grown up in an English-speaking environment, things would be different. I am NOT saying that because "Li" comes from Chinese, it's not a "real" last name in English. That would be racist as hell. I'm NOT saying "my last name sounds more European so we're both going to use it as our English name" because, again, that would be racist as hell. Obviously there are people named Li who were born in the US, or spent a lot of time in grad school in the US, or whatever, and Li very much is their real name. (Or perhaps 李 and Li would BOTH be their real name. I'm not making rules about this- each person can decide for themself.) That's not the case for Hendrix and I. I just kind of made up a Chinese name for myself, and he just kind of made up an English name for himself, just to make it easier to communicate with people in both languages. We're both going to change our "made up" last names.

(I'm also not in the business of policing what is and isn't someone's "real name." This is about how Hendrix and I feel about our English and Chinese names and how they relate to our identity. Other people might feel differently about their name(s) and that's fine. You do you.)

So we're not making any changes that involve paperwork and legal stuff. As far as the government is concerned, nothing changes. And I'm glad about that, because in the future when I'm applying for Chinese visas and things, it might be a pain if I suddenly have a different name. (In China, people don't change their last name when they get married. And then kids get their father's last name.)

The last-name question worked out very well for us; we have a perfectly equal and symmetric solution. So there you go- the secret to feminism is marrying a partner who was raised in an environment that doesn't even use the alphabet we use in English. I'm kidding about that; I don't feel like "wow I am more feminist than other women who change their names." No, of course not. If a woman wants to change to her husband's last name, that's fine. There are perfectly valid reasons for doing that. We shouldn't judge other people's choices, but work toward a future where no one is forced to give up their name.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Blogaround

A box with "(cat + cat^box)^box" written on the side, along with two cats arranged as stated. Image source.
1. Are You Demanding Time for Yourself in Your Marriage? Sharing this because I was struck by how there could easily be an article on a site like The Gospel Coalition with the exact same title, but completely opposite meaning. The link here is from the site A Practical Wedding, which has really useful, feminist advice on weddings, marriage, and being an adult, and it's an article about how it's important for everyone to have some time just for themselves but usually women are expected to do everything and they feel like they're not allowed to insist on "me-time." Very very interesting how the words "demanding" and "yourself" have completely different meanings in feminism vs conservative Christianity.

2. The Gaston Song Explained (posted April 11) "He must be spending a fortune on eggs, I mean that other lady can't even afford six. ... And are the six eggs just for her? I mean, I am personally content with three and I'm a pretty big guy. Does anyone in this town eat anything but eggs?"

3. 24 Seriously Annoying Things That Happen In Every Sex Scene (posted April 14) [NSFW] "The main sexual move appears to be rolling around together while seemingly not actually having sex."

4. The Bible and Mental Illness (posted April 9) "What I perceived as a spiritual attack or some sort of separation from God was a medical issue."

5. The Dark Secret at the Heart of AI (posted April 11) I work in robotics, and deep learning is really not as scary as this article makes it sound. Still a good article worth reading, facts are correct but it's a little over-the-top with the whole "oh noes we don't know why the computer made this decision oh the horror" stuff.

6. We tested bots like Siri and Alexa to see who would stand up to sexual harassment (posted February 22) I'm all for programming female robots to not take this crap from anyone.

7. Holy Saturday (posted April 15)

8. The Greatest Story Never Told (posted 2015) "In all my years in church I don’t recall ever once hearing a preacher acknowledge from the pulpit that a bunch of people were raised from the dead and appeared to many on Easter weekend. Have you ever heard one talk about this?"

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

A victim who's made mistakes is still a victim

A raccoon that says, "Yes~ yes~ my evil plan has been set in motion." Image source.
[content note: this is a story about getting coerced into spending a lot of money. And what that experience taught me about victims in other scenarios too, like abuse or rape]

A few years ago, I somehow ended up spending a lot of money at this beauty place that does face-wash stuff and spa-type stuff. Well, not really "somehow"- it was because the sales people coerced me into it. They were deceptive from the very start- I was told "we're having a special event today and doing a face treatment for free!" Yeah, it turned out not to be free. "It will only take 10 minutes!" Yeah, I was there for 2 hours.

They were so nice, and friendly, and polite, that I couldn't see that they just wanted my money and didn't care about me. And I told them, over and over, that I wasn't interested in buying anything, but they refused to accept that answer. And I was operating under the rules of politeness, which say that I'm not allowed to just refuse- I have to give a reason why, and then when they argue that that reason is invalid, I have to respond to that argument. I can't just say "I already said no, seriously what is wrong with you? Leave me alone, okay?" No, that would be "rude." I was following the rules of politeness rather than actual morality.

The rules of politeness say that my money is not actually mine, that my choices are not actually mine. It's all up for public debate. I'm only allowed to refuse to buy something I don't want or need if I can give an answer that satisfies the sales person. They were all so nice and friendly to me, I shouldn't be "rude" to them. I either have to keep playing the game and arguing about why no, I actually don't need to buy this, or give up and just give them the money. Or be "rude" and refuse to play.

(And here's a sign that we live in a rape culture: if your partner wants to do something you're uncomfortable with- come to your home, kiss, spend the night, have sex, whatever- you're expected to provide a reason why you don't want to. Your body is not your own- you're only allowed to make your own choices if you can offer a well-reasoned and convincing argument to support those choices. Yeah, not cool. Your body belongs to you. Maybe in some situations you're willing to hear your partner out, so a little bit of pushback is okay I guess, but if they expect you to issue rebuttals to all of their counterarguments about why you're wrong to feel a certain way, that is NOT OKAY. Your body, your choice, and you don't owe anybody an explanation.)

I kept saying no, and they kept putting more and more pressure on me, and I was so uncomfortable and they seemed so nice, I didn't want to be in conflict with them. The tension was too much, I couldn't stand it, finally I said yes. I thought that would get them to quit badgering me.

And it worked for a few minutes, they swiped my credit card and they were so happy and told me what a good deal I was getting, how lucky I was. And then they brought out another thing I didn't want or need and the whole thing started over.

In the end, I spent a lot of money and got a year-long membership. And they were all like, can't wait to see you again next week, we're friends now! And I felt really excited and happy. Also a little guilty and ashamed for spending so much money- but I decided to look on the bright side and make the best of the year-long membership.

I went back again, a week or two later, and one of them- a very friendly and nice woman- did the face-washing service for me, which was very nice. And then a few others came in and told me I totally needed to buy another product, and I said no, and they refused to accept that. On and on and on about all the reasons I needed this product, and how all my reasons for not wanting it were wrong, and I needed to justify myself.

And again, the next week. Got the face treatment, because I'd already paid for that, and I refused to spend money on anything else. But the sales people kept trying. And I had to keep explaining myself, I had to keep thinking of new reasons to refuse, because we were just having a polite and friendly conversation and I couldn't just tell them to STOP IT. And they would say ANYTHING. They completely made up so much bs, and the rules of politeness said I couldn't just point out how much bs it all was. ("I don't need that, I already have one at home." "No, there's no way you have one at home! Our product is completely different from all the other companies'. It's way better! You definitely don't already have this." Seriously?) It was exhausting. (And entirely in Chinese.)

I only ever spent money that first time I went. I was determined that I wouldn't buy anything else from them, I would only make use of the service I had already paid for. Sometimes when I went there, I would leave my credit card at home, so that no matter how much pressure I was under, and how hard it was to keep saying no, I could feel secure in the knowledge that it was literally impossible for me to buy whatever it was they wanted me to buy. Which pretty much shows just how nasty and unhealthy the whole thing was- I knew I was going into a situation where people would try to coerce me into making bad choices, and yet I chose to go there anyway. (At the time though, I thought it was hilarious. "LOLOLOLOL joke's on them, I didn't even bring my credit card!" I never told this to them, of course.)

After each appointment, I had to fill out a card and check a box that said I was "extremely satisfied" and sign my name. And of course I did it. The face-wash service itself was totally fine, and people were so friendly and I wanted them to like me. I didn't like how they tried to sell me stuff, but that was just small talk and politeness and feelings, not something that actually mattered, right?

I didn't know how to care about my own emotions, to be aware of my emotional health. I didn't realize how much stress it was for me- they were all so friendly and happy to see me, and there were a lot of things I liked. It was fun at the beginning! My attitude was like, wow I'm in China, having all these strange new experiences, how exciting! I got a lot of good practice speaking Chinese, and I learned words to describe how great one's boobs would supposedly look if one were to buy this bra.

There were parts that were fun. It was always funny hearing what kind of total bs they would make up to explain why I needed to buy something. And one time, for some reason, they thought they could convince me to buy a bra by cutting out a piece of padding from the bra, and burning the piece of padding. Yes. WTF? Yes. This is a thing that really happened. It was hilarious. And also kind of horrifying. (I think they were trying to demonstrate some chemical property it had? You'll be shocked to learn that it was total bs rather than real science.) And no, I did not buy anything.

But as the weeks went on, I felt worse and worse about going there. It got to the point where I hated it and was only going because I'd already paid for the service. And then I decided it was causing me so much emotional trauma that it would be better to not go. And they were so dishonest about everything, I figured they weren't the kind of people who would give me a refund if I asked, so I just stopped. Blocked their phone calls, cut them out of my life. Never going back.

And then I got really angry.

Once I had given up on the whole "look on the bright side and tell myself this wasn't a huge mistake", I started to realize how much they had lied. All the time, about everything. Constantly. How manipulative they were, how they had been able to bend reality in such a way that it felt like it was a good idea to spend a ton of money on something I didn't really want. How they had never cared about me- they just wanted my money. They were a bunch of vampires. And what the hell was that comment about how if I don't buy their bra, my boobs won't look good and my boyfriend will leave me because "men are like that"?

So angry. And so embarrassed. I didn't want to think about it, I didn't want anyone to know. I felt so bad that I had spent money on that, that I had made such a bad decision with such a huge amount of money.

And I'm blogging about this now because I've come to the realization that I was a victim, and they are the ones who did a bad thing. I don't need to feel bad about this- instead, the focus should be on how wrong it is for them to prey on people and coerce them into spending money.

I made mistakes. But what they did was actually evil.

In feminism, we talk a lot about how victim-blaming is not okay. How when somebody gets raped or abused, there will always be people who want to analyze the victim's choices and judge whether they did something wrong and are "partly to blame." And feminists say "no, if this happened to you, it's not your fault."

But they go too far when they say, "if this happened to you, it's not your fault. There was nothing you could have done differently to prevent it" because that might not be true, and it doesn't matter because the victim's actions are NOT THE POINT. In my case, I see places where I made mistakes. Like when I said something was too expensive, and they asked me what price I think it should be, and badgered me into saying a number- and then once I had said a number, that was the starting point of the bargaining, and the rules of politeness said I had agreed to pay whatever price we come to at the end of the bargaining. I shouldn't have said a number; that was a mistake. I should have known about how to recognize suspicious and dishonest sales techniques. I should have been more aware about how my behavior was being illogically constrained by the rules of politeness. I should have paid attention to my emotions; I should have known that my emotional health matters and it's not okay for people to treat me that way.

I see a lot of places where I made mistakes or I "should have known better." But none of that changes the fact that I was a victim and they took advantage of me. Nobody should be talking about sub-optimal choices a victim made, when another person consciously made a choice to hurt and manipulate someone.

When people talk about abuse, they ask questions like "but why didn't the victim leave?" or "but why didn't you report the rape immediately?" Really? I can think of SO MANY reasons why. My situation was just about money, not anything as serious as rape or abuse- but you could ask why I kept choosing to go back there. So many reasons. My own optimism. I didn't want to believe I had made a bad decision. I didn't want to believe that they were the kind of people who would claim to be my friends but really just want money. I thought maybe someday I would win an argument with them and they'd have to treat me better. I thought I could get them to respect my right to receive the service I had already paid for, without constant harassment. I didn't even realize how badly it was affecting me because I didn't know my feelings mattered- I didn't know that it could be so hurtful and unhealthy to just have a "friendly and polite conversation."

And I totally believe victims when they say at first they didn't realize it was rape or abuse. It took me a long time to realize just how much stress and emotional trauma those manipulative sales people were causing. I was actually happy at the beginning. I always checked the box that said "extremely satisfied"- if, hypothetically, I tried to get my money back, they could use that as evidence. But there were reasons I checked "extremely satisfied." I thought I was. I thought I was happy, but I really wasn't- like I said, I didn't know how to be aware of my own emotions, I didn't know that it mattered that they made me feel so bad. I was trying to make the best of the situation and be kind to them. It wasn't until much later that I realized how badly they had treated me. Then I saw the warning signs that had been there, so obvious, all along. (We're taught to give people the benefit of the doubt, to not jump to conclusions and get all confrontational when somebody treats you in a way you don't like- and then this is used as evidence against abuse victims. If at any point you acted like you were fine or you liked it, then it couldn't have been abuse, could it?)

An essential part of manipulation/ coercion/ abuse is making the victim believe that they actually like it, that they chose it, that it's not manipulation/ coercion/ abuse. So OF COURSE you're going to have victims that don't realize they're victims until much later. I totally believe you if you say that's what happened.

Anyway, I blocked their phone calls, they don't know where I live, I'm pretty sure I never even told them my real (English) name. They will never do anything to me again. All that's left is my own anger and embarrassment about this, figuring out how I feel and why.

The stuff I've learned from feminism about "don't blame the victim" is really helpful for me. I see that I made mistakes, but that's not the point. The point is that they did an evil thing to me. They treated me as nothing more than an obstacle in the way of getting money. I didn't realize it, and maybe I should have realized it, but that doesn't mean it's somehow my fault. It doesn't make what they did any less wrong.

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