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Thursday, August 31, 2017

Blogaround

A cat in a box. Image source.
1. What Does It Mean to Say ‘Racism is Sin’? (posted August 21) "This sincere, emphatic insistence on the universality of sinfulness is interesting in light of the claim we’re discussing here. Say, “You’re a sinner, too” to even the most piously devout evangelical and they will wholeheartedly agree. They will almost happily agree — without any trace of offense or indignation."

What does it mean to say ‘racism is sin’? (cont’d.) "We imagine we’re adding a new rule to our ever-growing list of sinful, forbidden deeds — something like “Thou shalt not racism.” OK, then, we think, we’ll try not to do that. And we prepare ourselves for the possibility that at some point we’ll be confronted with a stark, conscious, volitional choice between sin and not-sin, complete with a little devil on one shoulder whispering “Go ahead, commit racism” and a little angel on the other shoulder saying, “No, don’t, just keep on not committing racism.”"

2. How Free Eyeglasses Are Boosting Test Scores in Baltimore (posted August 17)

3. #HoustonFlood Relief Donations Thread (posted August 27) A twitter thread of local Houston charities you can donate to, to help people affected by hurricane Harvey. Please donate if you can! I did~ (For me, I tend to get overwhelmed and feel like the problem is so big I can't do anything, and then I feel like I have to read all the information about all the charities ever and pick the BEST one before I can donate- yeah if you have that tendency too, just do a little bit of reading about charities and then just pick one, don't spend tons and tons of time and then not even make a decision, that doesn't help anybody.)

4. #RainbowManifesto (posted August 30) A response to the Nashville Statement. This is really good.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

How About We Don't Call It "My Sinful Nature"

People playing cards. Image source.
Back in college, there was a Christian cross-cultural training I attended in preparation for a mission trip. At this training, we participated in a bunch of activities to simulate situations where we encounter cultural differences, and see how we react and how we feel about it. (This training turned out to be really useful for me- before, I really knew nothing about cultural differences. I couldn't imagine there could be a society where people all did some very basic mundane thing in a completely different way than anything I had heard of, and it's fine and society still functions and people would think I'm the weird one for thinking it was weird. And now, years later, here I am in China.)

One activity was a card game. The training leaders handed out the instructions for the game, and all of us students took a few minutes to read them. It was very simple, everyone plays a card and then the highest card wins, that sort of thing. (And no talking allowed.) So we read the instructions and then played the game in groups of 4.

After we had played one round, we were instructed to switch to a different table, and play with a different set of 4 people. Now this is where it got interesting. According to the instructions, the person who had won the previous trick should be one who plays a card first on the next trick. But for some reason, this other girl, let's call her Lisa, was playing a card. And I tried to tell her, no, that's wrong, it's supposed to be the one who just won the previous trick. We tried to continue playing the game, but it was difficult because over and over, there was disagreement over whose turn it was, and we argued by means of impassioned pointing at each other, because we weren't allowed to talk. (By this point, all of the papers containing the instructions for the game had mysteriously disappeared.) I felt angry at her for acting like the rules didn't matter. I didn't give up- I kept advocating for the correct way of playing. By pointing and waving a lot.

When the game was over, all of us students gathered around to talk about what had happened and how we felt about it. And at this point it was revealed that actually, each table had received a slightly different set of instructions for the game. Yes, as it turns out, Lisa had come from a table which played by the-next-person-to-the-left-leads, rather than the-person-who-won-leads. The purpose of the activity was to see how we would react when we encounter people who do something in a different way than we're used to.

Basically, there were three possible reactions:
  1. You can tell other people their way is wrong and try to force them to do it your way. (That's what I did.)
  2. You can internalize the idea that your way is wrong, and assimilate and lose your own cultural identity. (Like the people who thought "maybe I'm remembering the rules wrong" and didn't put up any kind of fight over it.)
  3. You can recognize that different cultures do things differently and that's okay, and we should all listen to each other and accept each other. (This is the correct answer, if you're wondering.)
I remember I lay awake that night, thinking about how I had failed. I had tried to force Lisa and the other players to do things my way. I was so sure they were wrong; I didn't listen to them or respect their "culture."

That was back when I was so on-fire-for-Jesus; I devoted myself to Jesus so hard, I woke up early every morning to read the bible, I obsessed over doing everything I possibly could to obey him, I constantly fought against my own "sin". And yet somehow, this behavior had slipped through. Somehow, even though I worked hard all day long to follow Jesus, I had sinfully tried to force people to do things my way, not listening to them or respecting their way.

I was a good evangelical, so there was only one way I could explain it: my sinful nature. I believed that, at the deepest core of who I am, I am horribly sinful and that's never going to change. All of this devotion to God was about covering up my true identity, putting on layers and layers of prayer and bible verses and obsessive devotion and repentance. I was training myself to be the kind of person who didn't sin in the ways that my sinful nature would want me to sin. I'd done such a good job that I was able to fool people- and even myself- into thinking I was a pretty good person and didn't have the capacity for such evil things. But the sinful nature would always be there. It would always be who I really am.

What was going to happen, I wondered, when I went on this mission trip and met people who actually did come from a different culture than me? I worked so hard for God, worked so hard doing evangelism and loving people, and I imagined that somehow, at some point in the future, this sinful tendency to force my ideas on people would come out, and all of my hard work would be ruined. Surely it was inevitable, because I have a sinful nature and I'll always be this way, no matter how much I devote myself to Jesus. It'll always be there, somewhere, deep under the surface, and someday it will break out in an ugly way. I wondered if maybe I shouldn't even do mission trips.

(For those of you who are like "no no no, that's not what 'sinful nature' means, you misunderstood it": I challenge you to find a well-known evangelical leader or organization that teaches "after you become a Christian, you will no longer have a sinful nature. You can relax; you don't have to scrutinize every action and thought, worrying that somehow you're going to accidentally commit a huge terrible sin." Yeah, you're not going to find one. So if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don't fall, and all that.)

I had sinned, and I knew I would sin again in the future, because that's just the kind of person I am. No matter how I try to get away from it, no matter how much I read the bible and devote myself to God, I'll always have a sinful nature. It was very discouraging, as you can imagine.

Now how about we try looking at this in a different way, without using the concept of "sin" or "sinful nature." Here's the deal: I'm kind of stubborn. That's just part of my personality. I've always been very focused on right and wrong, and standing up for what I believe is right.

Sometimes this is a bad thing- like when I think my ideas are so much better than everyone else's, and I don't listen to or respect other people's ideas. Or when I'm so focused on following the rules and "standing up for what's right" that I don't realize that people and relationships are sometimes more important than the truth. (I've gotten in arguments while playing board games- somebody did something that breaks the rules [probably because they weren't aware of some tiny nuance of the rules], and I won't let them get away with it, and it becomes a huge thing and other people tell me, "let it go, it's just a game," but in church they told me to stand up for what's right, even if no one else is, so no I won't "let it go." I've since figured out that the purpose of a board game is for everyone to have fun, and that's more important than following the rules. It's better to just let someone believe that they're allowed to move their piece here or there than to spend half an hour yelling at each other about it. This was never explained to me when I was introduced to the concept of games.) My parents have always said I'm "stubborn." I often have very strong opinions on what's "right" and what's "wrong" and I will fight for them- sometimes out of proportion to the importance of the actual "right" or "wrong" in question. (Because how can you attach a price to The Truth? Truth should be defended, regardless of the cost. Right?)

But it can be a good thing too. It means morality is extremely important to me, and I want to do what's right even if it costs me. It means I will stand up for what's right.

So it's part of my personality, this stubbornly-trying-to-force-my-ideas-of-right-and-wrong-on-people thing. That's never going to change, and I need to make sure I remind myself to notice the human cost of insisting that people follow The Rules and The Truth- to remember that sometimes there are things which are more important than The Rules and The Truth.

I'll always have that weakness, but it's okay, everyone has weaknesses and personality flaws. But let's call it a "weakness," okay? Instead of "my sinful nature."

If it's "my sinful nature" that means I can never really be a good person- all my seemingly godly qualities are just me putting on an act. That's "sanctification", the pastors all said, it means God is in the process of making us into perfect sinless people, and we're always improving but we'll never actually get there. It means no matter how hard I work to be devoted to Jesus, I will inevitably hurt him infinitely (because every sin is an infinite offense against a holy God, right?). It means I should always feel bad about myself, and feel bad for the terrible things I do to Jesus.

But if it's a "weakness", a perfectly normal, human flaw, then it's okay. I should be aware of it and try not to treat other people badly because of it, but if I mess up sometimes it's not the end of the world. It's just a small part of my life, not some kind of big dramatic moment where it's revealed that I've been thoroughly evil and sinful all along. It doesn't have any bearing on whether or not I deserve love and happiness, on whether or not I should go to hell.

In the Christianity I was taught, it's not okay to just be a human. In our default state, we sin sometimes, and that means we deserve to go to hell, and we don't deserve anything good ever. And so, according to the "gospel" I learned, I need to constantly put all my energy into serving God and fighting against my "sinful nature"- I need to "take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ."

The Christian leaders were very adamant that we don't earn our salvation- it's a "free gift" and besides, we suck so much, there's no way we could earn it by doing good deeds. So all this fighting against "my sinful nature" isn't how I get salvation. But. They said if you're truly saved, then you will really really love God, and therefore you will fight with all your strength against anything that could hurt him (ie, any and all little mundane sinful thoughts). So all the "real Christians" will of course fight this battle against their "sinful nature." But remember, even when you do, even when you do it with all your heart, even when your love and obsession for God consumes every part of your life, you still won't be good enough. You'll still mess up and sin sometimes, and hurt God so bad. But God still loves and forgives you, even though there's no logical reason he should, and you should feel lucky he still loves you since you're such a worthless sinful human. (This is what it means when church people say "we are saved by grace through faith, not works." And also when they say "isn't it great that we don't have to do good deeds to earn our salvation- because we could never meet that standard." And "love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind.")

But thank God I don't believe that anymore. I believe I am a good person. I have weaknesses and sometimes I don't treat people right- and that's bad, I should work on that- but it's okay, everyone makes mistakes sometimes. I'm basically a good person. And I say that, knowing it's the highest form of heresy. The very foundation of the "gospel" I used to believe and dedicated my life to was "there's no such thing as a good person."

Monday, August 28, 2017

Worth the Wait?

Bride and groom. Image source.
DID I MENTION I GOT MARRIED? Such a good decision. Being married to Hendrix is great.

And now I have some opinions about "worth the wait."

"Worth the wait" is a phrase used in purity culture. It means that if you wait and don't ever have sex until your wedding day, it will be, apparently, "worth the wait."

Now let's examine this concept and see if makes any sense. First of all, it's only meaningful to say something is "worth the wait" if one also had the option to not wait, and waiting and not waiting yield two different outcomes which can be compared.

For example, let's say you are looking forward to "Star Wars: The Last Jedi", which will be released in the US on December 15, 2017. Suppose you wait and wait until that day, and you go see the movie, and you love it- would it be correct to say it was "worth the wait"? NO. Because, assuming you don't work for Disney, you had no control over when the movie was released. You had no other option besides waiting until December 15, and your ability to see the movie on that day is not dependent on anything you did during that waiting time. "Worth the wait" means the decision to wait was a good one- it makes no sense if there was no decision.

If, on the other hand, you work at Disney and you ask yourself "should we just throw together a crappy movie, or should we spend enough time on it so it's actually good?" then the concept of "worth the wait" is meaningful. You are making the CHOICE to have the fans wait longer, but you believe the final product will be so good that it's "worth the wait."

Continuing with this example, suppose you are a devoted Star Wars fan who dresses up as an Ewok and camps out at the movie theater 24 hours in advance so you can be the first one in to the midnight showing. Then you are making the choice to wait there for 24 hours, and the result is different than if you hadn't made that choice. (Maybe if you hadn't come and waited in line for hours, you wouldn't be able to get a seat at the first midnight showing and you'd have to watch it the next day instead.) For some people, it's worth the wait, and others are more like "ain't nobody got time for that, I'll just see it on a different day, it doesn't matter."

My point is, it only makes sense to say something is "worth the wait" if you also had the option of NOT waiting, and the result from not waiting is different than the result from waiting. It only makes sense to discuss whether something is "worth" some cost if you can compare it to the result if you hadn't chosen to pay that cost.

All right, so when we talk about if sex is "worth the wait," let me first say this: I believe I never even had the option of having sex until after I started dating Hendrix. I was sheltered and clueless and scared of the idea of sex- it was described by purity-culture teachers as something that just *happened* suddenly when people lose control of their bodies. And I was asexual and didn't know it. I dated other boys before Hendrix, but back then I viewed sex as a horrific sin that OF COURSE was not a normal thing to do with one's boyfriend. In that mindset, there was no chance I could have consented to sex.

So to me it doesn't make sense to talk about the concept of "worth the wait" as it applies to the period of my life before I met Hendrix, because back then I WASN'T choosing to not have sex. There were so many mental and emotional barriers that it's just not realistic to say that sex is a thing I could have chosen back then.

In fact, I always used to wonder what people meant when they said "it's so hard to stay pure." That statement has 2 possible meanings:
  1. "Because I don't have a sexual partner, I feel lonely, and I don't like living this way."
  2. "I have many opportunities to have sex, but I know I must say no to all of them, even though I wish I could say yes."
I could very much relate to Statement 1 (though, as it turns out, I don't actually have sexual attraction, though I have strong romantic and sensual attraction). Statement 2 was... sometimes it seemed like that's what people meant, when they said "it's so hard to stay pure." Like when they would talk about how very few people are able to successfully get to their wedding day as virgins. But it didn't make any sense to me. I wasn't choosing not to have sex; I couldn't imagine any circumstance in my day-to-day life where the opportunity to have sex would present itself. (I was, however, very much CHOOSING to stomp down my romantic desires and "guard my heart." But that's a subject for another post.)

I remember one time, in high school, I overheard some gossip about how so-and-so's boyfriend is cheating on her. And I was very confused- did they mean "cheating" as in "having sex with someone else"? Because, we're just high school kids, surely nobody is having sex. (As an asexual, I have to ask: Were people having sex in high school? But... how? Like I know the statistics that say yes, a lot of people in high school are having sex. But I just... can't imagine ... I'm not judging or anything, I'm just ... sex was the farthest thing from my mind back then- I only thought about it in the context of "don't do it." And not because any part of me desired to do it, but because church people made such a big deal about "don't do it.")

(No joke y'all, when I first heard the song, "Let's Talk About Sex," I was baffled at what on earth there could be to talk about. Just "we're not going to do it"- what else could there possibly be, on the topic of sex, to discuss with your boyfriend or girlfriend? I seriously could not think of anything.)

(And then when I started reading feminist blogs, many of them talked about how it's important to have sex ed in school, and I was all "yes I agree, it's good to be educated about health and your own body, we don't have to be scared of information like I was in purity culture." And then, much later, I discovered that many of these feminist bloggers believed that it was important to have good sex ed for students AS A PRACTICAL THING BECAUSE MANY OF THOSE STUDENTS WILL BE HAVING SEX. And I was just TOTALLY ASTONISHED. I had NO IDEA that one of the main concerns in the sex-ed debate was "a lot of kids will be having sex, we need to teach them how to be healthy when they do." I had NO IDEA. My opinion was more along the lines of "purity culture taught me to be scared of my own body- how about we don't teach kids that".)

(I did not mean to make this a blog post about "All the Times Perfect Number Didn't Realize She Was Asexual" but it seems that's what's happened.)

ALL RIGHT MOVING ON. For the term "worth the wait" to be meaningful, there must be 2 different outcomes being compared: one where you chose to wait, and one where you didn't. But is there a difference in your married sex if you had sex before marriage vs if you didn't?

Purity culture claims that there IS a difference. They say that if you had sex with an ex and broke up, you'll never get over it, and it will haunt you for the whole entire future of your marriage. They said when you have sex with your spouse, you'll be comparing them to your ex, and you won't be able to really give all your love to your spouse.

I can't speak from experience on this- I've only had sex with Hendrix, who is now my husband, but I have heard from people who have had sex with more than one person during their lifetime, and they laugh at the absurdity of "it will haunt you forever and you'll never get over it and you'll always be comparing."

And another thing: Sometimes purity-culture proponents phrase it as, "you're worth the wait." Like in the "Purity Bear" video. I cannot find the original (if anybody can find the original, PLEASE send me a link, that thing is a masterpiece of creepiness) but here is a remake, and believe me, the original is pretty much exactly as bizarre and awkward. (Update: Thanks so much to the reader who found a link to the original!) "You're worth the wait." Instead of "sex is worth the wait", it's "you're worth the wait"- essentially equating "you" with "having sex with you." Creepy as hell, but yes, this is totally consistent with all the f***ed-up language about "giving yourself away" as a euphemism for sex. Purity culture is full of that kind of crap. (And then they turn around and tell queer people "don't define yourself by your sexuality." Yeah, okay.)

"You're worth the wait" makes no sense. Because there aren't two different possible versions of you, one that's the result of waiting and one that isn't. Purity-culture proponents present it like it's about respecting and valuing someone, when you refuse to have sex with them- but this can't be what is meant by "you're worth the wait." If your partner doesn't have sex with you now, and then they do have sex with you on your wedding day, are they getting a better "you" than if they did have sex with you before and also on the wedding day? Isn't the "you" on the wedding night the same "you"?

"You're worth the wait" is only a meaningful statement if premarital sex literally damages a person and makes them less valuable. Not just damages their sex life, but actually DAMAGES and REDUCES THEIR VALUE AS A PERSON. (Which, yeah, actually that is exactly what purity culture teaches.)

Anyway what I want to say is, I didn't wait til my wedding day to have sex, and I'm glad I didn't. After the wedding Hendrix and I came back to the hotel room, and I was in the shower washing off the sweat and makeup and thinking "wow I'm SO GLAD I'm not getting ready to have sex for the first time right now." It would have been one more thing to think about and worry about on an already-busy day. And it would have meant that, at that point, I would have still been living under the weight of worry and fear over the questions "what is sex and will it actually ruin my life?"- thank goodness I got those resolved YEARS before the wedding. And also, turns out sex is just getting together with someone else and stimulating each other's genitals, it's not a mind-blowing amazing thing, it's just, like, exactly as weird as "getting together with someone else and stimulating each other's genitals" sounds. Also, really glad I figured out I'm asexual and, because I had sex way before the wedding day, I didn't have to spend all that time looking forward to and obsessing over something that actually turned out not to be that interesting.

Wow, can you imagine if we "waited" and then had sex on the wedding night- I would have been like "wait, that's what sex is? Yeah there's no reason we couldn't have done that a long time ago. Would have saved me a lot of worrying."

(Perhaps for some people, they choose not to have sex before marriage and it is "worth the wait." It depends on the specifics of your situation. For me, "waiting" would have been terrible for my mental health.)

You know what was worth the wait though? The wedding. We were engaged for a year and a half, and that felt like a really long engagement- but it legitimately did require that much time to plan such a good wedding. We're in China and the wedding was in the US- and I'm only in the US twice a year. I needed to look at venues and get a dress, and those are things that had to be done in the US. And people had to plan for international travel, get visas, all that. And I wanted it to be in the summer instead of at Christmas (those are the only two options for when I would be in the US) because I have a bunch of extended family who are much more able to travel in the summer.

It really had to take that much time to get all this together. And the wedding was so amazing. I'm glad everything went the way it did. If we had tried to throw something together in 6 months or a year, if I had to find a dress in China without my mom and sisters, if we had to just pick a venue without looking at it first, if we had to find a different photographer (because the one we got probably would have been booked already if we were working on a shorter timescale), etc- the wedding wouldn't have been as good.

See, a wedding is the kind of thing you (in theory) only do once, and it takes a huge amount of time, money, and effort- a once-in-a-lifetime thing. Sex, not so much. I'm glad I had sex before marriage. It SO would NOT have been "worth the wait."

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Blogaround

A yellow labrador attempting to eat the spot on the wall where refracted light has created a rainbow pattern. Image source.
1. ACLU Will No Longer Defend Hate Groups Protesting With Firearms (posted August 17) "For decades, the ACLU has defended white supremacists and other hate groups against government efforts to curb their speech, driven by the belief that carve-outs to the First Amendment weaken its protections for everyone."

2. Protesters in Durham “Turned Themselves In” to Show Solidarity with Takiyah Thompson (posted August 17)

3. The coolest checkerboard magic trick (posted 2015) Oooooh this is a really cool math question.

4. Sex Repulsed Aces in Fiction (posted August 17) "I glared at him. 'How is that what makes someone human?'"

5. Harry Potter Theory: Was Hagrid Dumbledore's Secret Weapon? (posted August 17) "...and it is the most, like, Dumbledore thing I can think of to fix Hagrid's wand."

6. An Atheist Reads The Case for Christ: Chapter 9 (posted 2012) "So Jesus kills an entire herd of animals that didn't belong to him. He devastates the livelihood of whichever farmer happened to own those pigs, when he could have just cast the demons out without letting them jump into the pigs. We don't see demons being cast out of people and having to jump into animals or other people any other time. You think Jesus can't be convicted of any sin? Ask the guy who owned the pigs." Wowwwww I have NEVER thought about it in that way before. I'm really glad I'm watching this video series. I'm not saying I 100% believe that Shives's interpretation of that passage is correct- it would require more research before I could form an opinion about it- but what I'm really astonished at is the way I was carefully trained to read the bible so that it would never even occur to me to think such things about Jesus' actions.

Back when I was a "good Christian," I attended many a bible study where we addressed the issue of "what God did in this passage sounds really bad- let's figure out how to convince ourselves that it wasn't actually bad." And it worked. I learned all sorts of clever arguments, ways to call good evil and evil good. And now it's been YEARS since I quit believing that everything God/Jesus did in the bible is by definition right, and I decided it's okay to just say "no, this was bad, and I'm not going to believe any twisted reason you invent about why it wasn't actually bad." (For example, when God commands genocide. In order to believe that everything God did in the bible is good, you have to be heartless.) It's been YEARS, and I watched this video today and this is the first time I've ever thought about "hey, those pigs belonged to someone, and Jesus just killed them all? WTF?"

I learned how to read the bible like a good evangelical. And I'm angry.

7. I'm a black Southerner. I had to go abroad to see a statue celebrating black liberation. (posted August 16) "But the fact that the national debate still centers on whether pro-slavery monuments should be taken down, not on how many anti-racist monuments should be built, speaks volumes."

8. The U.S. Capitol has at least three times as many statues of Confederate figures as it does of black people (posted August 16)

9. On the Vandalism at the Boston Holocaust Memorial (posted August 16)

10. Cover Story: Facing Our Legacy of Lynching (posted August 18) [content note: description of lynching] "But in America, he says, 'We don’t talk about lynching. Worse, we’ve created the counter-narrative that says we have nothing about which we should be ashamed. Our past is romantic and glorious.'"

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

OF COURSE Martyrs Don't Work That Way

Artwork showing the apostle Peter. Image source.
[content note: religious persecution/ martyrdom]

I've been watching a YouTube series called "An Atheist Reads The Case for Christ", by Steve Shives (which I very much recommend to anyone who used to be an apologetics nerd, like me). In his video on chapter 14, Shives is talking about the apologetics argument that says the Resurrection must have happened because if the disciples were lying about witnessing the risen Jesus, they wouldn't have held on to that belief to the point of being martyrs- they wouldn't have "died for a lie." He says:
Well, the website "Debunking Christianity" has a really excellent article on this subject, on the "die for a lie" argument. ... And it brings up a very important question that Strobel and Moreland of course don't address here at all, and that is: What if the disciples were killed because of their Christianity, but they weren't given the opportunity to save themselves by recanting? This whole argument presupposes this choice that the disciples were given, that they were killed for their beliefs and that if they had only renounced Jesus, they would have been allowed to live. There's no reason to make that assumption, even if we go far enough to assume that their martyrdoms actually took place as believed by Christians. There's no reason to assume that they could have saved themselves by recanting or renouncing their testimony. 
And the article specifically mentions the execution of Peter, which according to tradition took place in the aftermath of the burning of Rome in the year AD 64. Emperor Nero blamed the fires on Christians and made them the fall guys, the scapegoats if you will, for the fire, and set into motion a campaign of persecution against Christians and it's during this persecution that it's traditionally believed that Peter was executed. 
But here's the key point: Peter was killed because he was a Christian, but he was killed because his Christian sect had been identified as a threat, not because of his beliefs. Whether Peter recanted his belief in Jesus or not would have made no difference, which means that the "die for a lie" argument does not apply at all to the martyrdom of Peter, who was the most celebrated of the disciples and whose supposed death via that inverted crucifixion is by far the best-known among Christians to this day.
And here's a section from that article he referenced, "Die for a Lie" won't Fly:
Imagine Peter leading a church service at that time, and Roman Soldiers bust in:

Soldier: All right. Who is in charge here?
*Everyone points to Peter*
Soldier: You, and your entire group here are charged with the crime of arson. You will be tried, found guilty, and executed, and not necessarily in that order.
Peter: But it is all a hoax. Jesus wasn’t physically resurrected. I don’t want to die for a lie.

Now, is the Soldier going to apologize for bothering Peter, and then leave, chuckling how he single-handedly eliminated Christianity? Of course not. He will proceed with his orders, and, regardless what Peter says, Peter will die. Yes, he is a martyr. Yes, he died for being a Christian.
This was basically what I always heard in church about being a martyr. You get arrested and the bad guys try to force you to deny Jesus. You refuse, and they torture you a little bit, and give you another chance to deny Jesus. And so on, until they finally kill you.

But why on earth would it be that way? This whole narrative assumes that the bad guys hold the same beliefs about what it means to be a Christian as you do. Christians are supposed to remain loyal to Jesus regardless of the cost*, and therefore the bad guys are going to try to get you to be disloyal to Jesus, apparently. Did the bad guys attend all the same Sunday School classes that you did and learn what it really means to be a Christian, and that's how they know what test to set up before your martyrdom? Seriously?

Of course it doesn't work that way. While there may be some minority of bad guys out there who are just really really bothered by people stubbornly believing in Jesus, don't you think most of the persecution is motivated by other things? Like power, or money, or us-vs-them hatred and fear? Do you think anybody burns down a church and then is horrified to realize that some of their victims weren't actually super-religious and would have totally renounced Jesus if given the opportunity? Do they care what the individual Christians believe specifically, or is it a case where they see Christians as a threat just because their culture is different?

Doesn't it make more sense that the disciples were persecuted and killed for being leaders in a movement that was seen as a threat to Rome's power, and the bad guys didn't care at all about the disciples' individual relationships with or beliefs about Jesus?

Next time you read an article about Christian persecution or about Christians being targeted and attacked, ask yourself if it reads like they were attacked for being members of a hated cultural demographic, or if the bad guys had carefully researched the beliefs of each victim and were really angry at how none of them could be persuaded to deny Jesus. Obviously in either scenario it's evil and it's persecution. But it turns out that persecution and martyrdom don't really look like what I learned in church.

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* There's a whole separate discussion to be had on whether it's okay to lie and "deny Jesus" to save your own life. In church it's always assumed that OBVIOUSLY the RIGHT thing to do is never deny Jesus. But I think that's absurd. Why play along with the bad guys' rules? Do whatever you have to do to stay safe. Is God going to be mad at you for not obediently following every command and answering every question that a dangerous criminal demands of you?

Related: Christians and Tests

Monday, August 21, 2017

On Marriage and Knowing Each Other

A couple's AT-AT cosplay. Image source.
So I'm married now. And I thought married people totally know each other- but we don't. And I thought being married would mean we're perfect Christians who always sacrifice to serve each other- but we're not.

Purity culture always made a big deal about sex being the ultimate way to know someone and be vulnerable with them and give yourself to them. That was why they said you're only allowed to have sex when you're married- because if you had sex with some ex in the past, then that ex knew you in the deep way that only your spouse was supposed to know you.

And I've heard Christians talk about how if you have sex with someone and then break up with them, it's the most devastating thing ever. I specifically remember one Christian speaker who said "when someone knows every curve of your body, and then they reject you..." But that's ridiculous. As close and intimate as sex is, it's mostly about knowing someone's body. Really knowing a person is so much more than that. By having sex, you know someone in a unique way that maybe nobody else (or very few people) have known them, but that doesn't mean you know what's really important about them. It doesn't mean you know them better than their friends or family.

I can understand why many people would only choose to be known in a sexual way by someone whom they're also very close with in other ways. (That's what I choose too, being asexual and all.) But that doesn't mean having sex is somehow equivalent to being truly known, such that a breakup after having sex is by definition more painful than if you didn't have sex.

(Also I have heard pastors say "sex is the highest form of communication", which, like, what does that even mean? As an asexual, umm, no.)

Anyway my point is, coming from a purity culture background, I basically understood the phrases "you're married", "you're having sex with them", and "you know them fully" to be equivalent. But now I'm married to Hendrix and I don't know everything about him. And how could I? Even though we're married, we'll always be 2 different people, with our own independent minds.

Back when I was in purity culture and dreaming about "my future husband", I imagined that he would read my journals. Because I would be totally okay with him knowing everything, no secrets. And now I don't have a journal anymore; I have a blog, but Hendrix doesn't read my blog. It's all in English, and mostly about a particular subculture of American Christianity that he doesn't have any experience with at all. (Yes, he can read English, but he doesn't really want to spend so much of his spare time reading such a huge amount of text that's not his first language.) But I talk to him about my blog all the time. If I have feelings about something I'm writing about, I tell him and he listens. And that works. I can just tell him the things that I want him to know. He doesn't have to read the whole entire thing.

Here's another example: I've read articles where someone was writing about some childhood trauma she had experienced, and she mentioned in her article about telling her husband about it, because she had never told him before- and I was so confused. Because aren't married people supposed to totally know each other? How could the husband not already know?

But with Hendrix and I, yeah of course there are tons of things that have happened to us in the past that we haven't told each other about. Not because they're secrets, but because we just never happened to mention them to each other. Maybe at some point I'll have a bunch of feelings about something that happened to me a long time ago, and then I'll tell Hendrix, because he is so sweet and caring and I like to tell him how I feel. But otherwise, yeah sure there could be things I've never told him about, just because I don't really think about them.

We know everything about each other's daily habits. I know what kind of food he likes, what kind of clothes he wears, his favorite music and movies and TV shows and websites. All that stuff about each other's day-to-day lives, we know fully. He can often predict what I'm going to say, which is kind of annoying and kind of hilarious.

He doesn't really know what I do at my job though. I'm an engineer, he's not. I tell him about what I do at work, but he doesn't really understand it.

And actually, there are a lot of areas where my husband doesn't have the necessary background experience to really totally understand me. And that's why I need ex-evangelical friends. I need American friends. I need my family. I need math nerd friends. I need friends who make fan theories about Disney princesses. I need friends who know the appropriate things to yell at the TV while watching football. And it's a good thing that I have friends who can understand those parts of me in a way my husband can't. It's not like some kind of competition where someone is threatening my husband because they understand some particular aspect of me better than he does.

Also, purity culture led me to believe that being married would mean I'm a perfect Christian. How many times have I heard people questioning why God hasn't set them up with their designated future spouse yet, and the answer given by good church people is "God wants you to work on your own character right now. Don't try to find the right person- try to BECOME the right person."

Or that absurd advice about two people both following God so hard and that's how they end up getting together. Here are some completely awful images I've seen promoting this crap:

Image text: "A woman's heart should be so lost in God that a man needs to seek him in order to find her." Image source.
An equilateral triangle with God at the top corner and a boyfriend and girlfriend at the bottom corners. There are arrows that indicate when the boyfriend and girlfriend are moving towards each other on the bottom edge of the triangle, that's the "wrong focus" and when they are both moving up the sides towards God, that's the "right focus". Image source.
This triangle thing is telling us that when both partners are working on moving closer to God, they actually become closer to each other too. Blahhh.

Back when I was on fire for Jesus, I actually hated this kind of stuff, because it presents God as a means to an end. People would ALWAYS talk about these memes in the context of "you are sad that you are single now, but here is what you should work on in order to get God to bring your future husband to you." I always felt like they were saying I need to pretend I only care about God and don't care about getting a boyfriend, in order to fool God into giving me one.

All this advice about "don't focus on finding the right person, focus on being the right person" or "God wants to work on you more first before you meet your future spouse" implies that people who are married have already achieved perfect-Christian status. Like marriage is some kind of reward God gives you when you become a good enough Christian. Ugh. Gross. (And a lot of single people have written about how church often treats single people really badly.)

People don't get married by becoming perfect Christians. The only thing you need in order to get married is a person who wants to marry you (in some places there are restrictions on gender too) and money for a wedding. That's it. It has nothing to do with being "godly." Yes, you can make a case that it's not a good idea to just find someone who's willing to marry you- instead you should spend enough time to get to know them and make sure you're compatible- but some people do get married "too young" or "for the wrong reasons" and God doesn't stop it.

Also I've heard pastors talk about how a husband and wife love each other totally and always serve each other. I remember one Christian speaker who talked about how sometimes in the night, when she wanted a glass of water, she would ask her husband to get up and get one for her, and he has to do it because he is required to love his wife sacrificially. (She added that she probably shouldn't do that to him too much, it's kind of taking advantage of him.) Basically that's what I thought it would be like being married- but Hendrix and I aren't like that at all. Yes, we do a lot of little nice things for each other, but we don't do EVERYTHING, ALL the time. He would probably say "why can't you get your own water?"

(On a related note, I can tell you that right now our sink is full of dishes that have been accumulating for several days, and neither of us has decided to be "self-sacrificing" and "serve" by washing them. Probably when there are no more clean cups, one of us will wash them.)

We're basically the same people we were before we got married. We love each other and do a lot of nice, loving things for each other, but it's not like I'm spending all my spare time asking myself "how can I love and serve him more?" He's fine, he can take care of himself.

(Yeah maybe "good Christians" could argue that the reason Hendrix and I aren't "perfect Christians" even though we're married is we didn't follow the "rules" and do it "God's way." Hendrix isn't even a Christian. So, you can believe that explanation if you want.)

So we don't fully know each other, and we're not in some kind of "sacrificial love" utopia. Now someone might say "well you've only been married for a month, of course you're not there yet, you have no idea what marriage is really like." And yes, that's probably true. But my point is, purity culture didn't teach that this is something that you gradually get to after years and years of being together. They said knowing each other can be accomplished by just having sex one time- they didn't say it in those words exactly, but that's the rationale behind "if you had sex with some ex when you were a teenager, it threatens the entire future of your marriage." (Which is EXPLICITLY TAUGHT by purity culture.) And they taught that marriage is the reward after you become a good enough Christian- which means that at the start of your marriage, you'll already be at that perfect-Christian level.

But it's not like that, and OF COURSE it's not like that. A wedding isn't some kind of magical thing that completely changes who you are. It's a big deal, yes, but not like how they described it in church.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Blogaround

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

On Perfect Weddings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 14, 2017

Autistic at Disneyland

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Related: Autistic at the Aquarium

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Blogaround

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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