Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Feminism 101: Toxic Masculinity and Fragile Masculinity

Screenshot from tumblr. The first commenter says, "Some men won't use emojis because they consider it feminine like could you imagine wanting to hold on to masculinity so desperately". The second commenter says, "In high school one of my guy friends said, 'I wish I were a girl so I could use an umbrella.'" Image source.
Feminism 101 is a series in which I define some of the terms that feminists like to throw around. My goal is to help those who are totally new to feminism understand what it's all about.

Today's entries: toxic masculinity and fragile masculinity

"Toxic masculinity" and "fragile masculinity" are terms related to the harmful ideas society promotes about what men are "supposed" to be like.

Apparently, men are supposed to be strong and aggressive. They have a natural interest in fighting and violence. They use their physical strength to protect their families. They like sports that involve a lot of pushing and hitting. In stories, the man is the one who rescues the woman. A woman can't rescue a helpless man- that would be emasculating.

Boys like toy guns and swords, and they pretend to kill each other. They don't play with dolls.

Real men don't cry. They don't show weakness. They don't talk about their feelings. They don't get depression; they don't need to go to therapy.

Real men are heterosexual. And they want sex more than anything- they're not interested in the romantic stuff, they're not interested in talking about their feelings and communicating about what they want. They just take; they don't ask for consent because that kills the mood. And of course they pressure their female partners into sex- men are just like that. Boys will be boys, that's just the way it is.

Men are leaders. They don't want to work under a female boss- that's emasculating. They should be leaders in their family relationships too. When a man wants to marry his female partner, he proposes to her. She can't propose to him- that would be emasculating. And the husband is supposed to make more money than the wife. His role is to go to work and get a good salary to provide for his family. He doesn't do housework and childcare. And his job should be something like business or technology, not something that sounds nurturing like being a nurse or working with children.

And if a man has a teenage daughter, he needs to intimidate her potential boyfriends. They should be scared of him.

Men don't wear pink. They don't wear dresses. They don't ever hold a purse. They don't wear makeup. They don't shave their legs. They are not vegetarians. They don't drink pink alcoholic drinks. They don't sing too high. They don't play the flute. They don't dance ballet. They don't paint their nails. They don't wear high heels. They don't watch chick flicks. They don't like flowers. They don't use soaps that smell nice.

You get the idea. Men are supposed to act a certain way, and if they ever deviate from any of these norms, people will laugh at them for not being "a real man."

We use the term "fragile masculinity" because, apparently, masculinity is something that's so easily threatened. A man can't be seen in public holding a purse, not even for a second, because then people will think he's not manly enough. Really? Masculinity, which is supposedly so strong and tough, can be destroyed by the mere act of holding a purse? SO FRAGILE.

And "toxic masculinity" refers to how these ideas about masculinity are so harmful- to men, to women, to nonbinary people, to society.

Usually when we say "fragile masculinity", we're laughing. Like haha isn't it ridiculous that there's an ad that says men can't buy normal toothpaste, they need to buy MANLY toothpaste. Imagine that, toothpaste can threaten masculinity. Hahahahaha. And when we say "toxic masculinity", we're not laughing, we're talking about the very serious and harmful effects of this ideology.

Toxic masculinity hurts women. It encourages men to treat their female partners with violence. It says women shouldn't have decision-making power over their own relationships and their own lives, because that would "emasculate" their male partner. It believes it's totally reasonable for a man to turn angry and violent if a woman rejects him. It teaches that it's normal for a man to push a female partner's boundaries and even sexually assault her- it's the woman's fault for "leading him on" and "sending mixed signals." It says that women shouldn't have leadership roles in their careers, because come on, you can't expect men to respect a woman as their leader. It says women shouldn't have high salaries, because they don't really need that money anyway, it's their husband's job to earn the money, and also it would be JUST TERRIBLE if a wife earned more money than her husband.

Toxic masculinity hurts men. It tells gay men there's something wrong with them. It encourages fathers to talk about all the ways they would punish their son if, hypothetically, their son came out as gay. It tells little boys they're not allowed to play with certain toys. It limits their interests and their career choices- they can't do a job that's seen as "nurturing" and "gentle" because those jobs are for women. It allows men to suffer from depression and anxiety and doesn't let them talk about their feelings or get support from anybody or go to therapy. It says a man can't talk to his male friends about deep emotional problems, because that would be "gay." It says a husband always has to be the leader of his family; all the responsibility and pressure is on him. It says a man who doesn't earn much money can never be a good husband. It treats male rape victims as a joke instead of giving them the support they need.

And toxic masculinity hurts all of society. Most men who commit mass shootings have a history of domestic violence against women. It's seen as normal and acceptable for a man to express emotions through violence, but "unmanly" to talk about how he feels or go to therapy. And we end up not putting qualified women in positions of power- give that job to a less-qualified man instead, because it would be unrealistic to expect men to respect a woman's leadership.

Feminists often get accused of "hating men" but that's not true at all. We want to challenge these unhealthy ideas about what masculinity means, because they are harmful to everyone. We want men to be free to follow whatever interests they have, rather than being prohibited from doing things that are "girly." We want men to learn healthy ways to deal with emotions, so they don't need to suffer alone, and they don't lash out violently against other people. Challenging these rules about "what real men are like" helps everyone.

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

Related links:
18 Times Tumblr Nailed Fragile Masculinity
21 Of The Greatest Examples Of Fragile Masculinity In 2015
13 times masculinity was so, so fragile
Men Resist Green Behavior as Un-Manly
The role of toxic masculinity in mass shootings
Suicide and silence: why depressed men are dying for somebody to talk to

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Don't Invite Anybody From 'Desiring God' to Your Funeral

Protesters from Westboro Baptist Church hold signs that say "America is doomed" and "You're going to hell." Image source.
[content note: Desiring God, hell, death, abusive theology]

Wowwwwwwww Desiring God just published THE MOST TERRIBLE article:
On the most somber of occasions, he sought to comfort the mourning. The cold casket adorned a chilled body as the eyes of family and friends, swollen from grief, gazed up at the speaker. He wanted to bring whatever consolation he could. And so, he did what many well-meaning pastors have done in his situation: he abandoned the truth.

Many can sympathize with the impulse to do so. The woman before him lived as worldly as they come, blaspheming God and his word whenever the opportunity presented itself. With all her friends and family gathered, it hardly felt like the appropriate time to tell them what God actually said. And so, the pastor proclaimed that — deep down — she was a good person and was with the Lord in heaven.

It was at that moment, when all sat pleased at the pastor’s words, that a young woman spoke up:
It’s a lie! Do not believe him! We will not all be in a better place! That hope is false! Only those who believe in Christ, the Son of God, the one who died and was raised, will be saved! Only those who repent and believe and follow him until the end will be in a better place. Wrath awaits all who die in sin! Please believe! He stands ready to forgive you!
People stared, aghast. A funeral usher approached to invite her to leave. One person furiously told her to shut the hell up — and so she was trying. Hell’s mouth gaped open. Souls were at stake. God’s truth was being butchered. She tried, alone, to warn her loved ones off the path to perdition.

My wife was at that funeral home a decade ago. She witnessed the minister’s sentimental words, saw the usher approach, and heard the crude language addressed to her. She was the young woman who, with trembling voice, offered all who would listen grace at the gates of hell.
I ... wow.

I...

... holy crap.

First of all, I'm shocked at this person in the story, standing up at a funeral to indignantly complain that the speaker didn't say the dead person is in hell. WTF!!!!!! All I could think was, I HOPE TO GOD this isn't a true story. But at the end the writer, Greg Morse, says that woman is his wife. Which leads me to the sickening realization that this may actually be a true story.

And second, I'm horrified at the way Morse tells this story. Like it's about one brave hero standing up for truth, while all these unreasonable worldly people try to silence her. Like the writer doesn't even realize what he's describing- he's describing a heartless person attacking people grieving at a funeral.

(And you could even write an entire blog post exploring his use of the term "crude language" there.)

How can you lack self-awareness THAT MUCH?

LIKE THIS IS LITERALLY WHAT THE "GOD HATES F**S" PEOPLE DO. I thought we were all in agreement that they are terrible?

The writer is so deep in his ideology about "you have to accept Jesus or else you will go to hell" that he can't even see people. He's totally unaware of their pain, and how his own words are causing pain. His belief in hell has rendered him unable to treat people with compassion. Yeah I know he believes he needs to warn people about hell because he loves them, I'm sure that he does genuinely have feelings of love, but he's not able to express it in a way that actually is loving.

And look at the god he believes in:
Even now, the true God holds the unrepentant by the nape of the neck to do them unspeakable injury if they will not bow to his great love and mercy, and take up his terms of peace and eternal joy offered them in the blood of his own Son.
HOLY SHIT.

He's claiming that this god has "great love and mercy"? WTF?!!

Also did you catch when he says the pastor at the funeral didn't "tell them what God actually said"? So apparently Morse's view about hell is "what God actually said." This is called taking the Lord's name in vain.

And this part:
Let’s resolve with Charles Spurgeon,
If sinners be damned, at least let them leap to hell over our dead bodies. And if they perish, let them perish with our arms wrapped about their knees, imploring them to stay. If hell must be filled, let it be filled in the teeth of our exertions, and let not one go unwarned and unprayed for.
If our neighbors should perish, if family members should disappear upon the broad road, if co-workers should refuse the Savior, let them do so while leaping over our sober warnings and bursting through our arms of prayer.
Yeah so for anyone who didn't believe me when I said I used to believe in an ideology which says we should harass and coerce people by any means necessary to get them to "accept Jesus" and be saved from hell.... I got the receipts right here.

The whole article is full of violent imagery and threats. It's abusive and exhausting to read. So I'll just point out one last bit. Near the end, it says, "We have good news of great joy for every human."

Really? Good news? You call this "good news"? No- If you think it's a good thing that someone stood up at a funeral and announced that the dead person is in hell, then you are FOREVER DISQUALIFIED from telling us what is or isn't "good news."

(Also I LAUGHED SO HARD at the little disclaimer near the end that said, "We of course use discernment, but we err on the side of boldness instead of caution." In other words, "if you criticize this article, I will point to this one tiny line about 'discernment' and say 'oh you totally misunderstood, of course I didn't ACTUALLY mean you should LITERALLY go to a funeral and do this.'" Yep, throw in one vague buzzword, somewhere amongst the violent imagery and threats, and you're magically immune from criticism.)

Hell completely ruins anything good about Christianity. This ideology teaches good people to become heartless and cruel and to hurt others in the name of "loving them enough to warn them about hell."

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

Related:
It Was Beautiful When Star-Lord Rejected the Gospel 
When it comes to God, I believed Might Makes Right
I knew Desiring God ideology is spiritual abuse, but wow.

Monday, January 29, 2018

We did a dirty thing. We prayed at her wedding.

Bride and groom cake topper. Image source.
Back when I was in college, 2 of my friends- let's call them Angela and Adam- got married. I was there at their wedding, tagging along with another couple, let's call them Harvey and Helen.

Here's what you have to know: This was back when I was a Real True Christian. I was a leader in our campus Christian group, and Harvey and Helen were leaders too. The three of us were good evangelicals who believed the correct things, went to the correct kind of church, and worked really hard at the things that good Christians are supposed to do.

Angela was a Mormon. I had never met any Mormons before, but I knew the correct Christian teaching on it: It's a cult, it's evil, it's not Christian at all, haha let's make fun of Joseph Smith and his magic glasses. (You see, they are not real Christians because they don't use the correct jargon when talking about the Trinity, or something like that.) But then I met Angela, and she said Mormons are Christians.

I was all about evangelism back then- I loved to talk to anyone and everyone about religion. And as I talked with Angela about Christianity, it seemed like she basically believed the same stuff I did. About Jesus, about having a relationship with God... She didn't drink coffee or wear shirts that showed her shoulders, and she often said she was a "daughter of God" which isn't exactly the language my church would have used- but those were just superficial things. It seemed to me like the deeper, more important beliefs- the way she prayed, the way she related to God in general- were more or less the same as me.

I asked other Christians (including Harvey and Helen) about Mormonism. They told me all sorts of bizarre beliefs that Mormons supposedly had- apparently after you die, you become a god and control your own planet and have a bunch of wives, or something. I took this information and went back and asked Angela's Mormon missionary friends about it. Kind of as a way to prove they were wrong and I was right... but my heart wasn't really in it. Sure, maybe they have some weird little beliefs, but did that really matter? They really seemed to be committed to God in pretty much the same way I was.

I didn't know what to think. The correct Christian belief was that Mormonism is a cult and they are not Christians- the other student leaders reminded me of this. I knew it was the "right answer" that a good Christian like me should believe. But Angela was my friend, and she said she was a Christian, and she seemed pretty Christian to me. Eventually, I believed her.

Then she started dating Adam, who wasn't religious. I was immediately negative about it- he was going to be a bad influence, he was going to make her faith weaker, it's bad to be unequally yoked, you know, the standard Christian responses to the idea of dating a non-Christian. Eventually, though, Adam did become a Christian- specifically, he became a Mormon. I was negative about that too- was his faith really genuine, or was it based on his feelings for Angela instead of his relationship with Jesus?

(Please note that Adam never showed any signs of being a bad person or treating Angela badly. My one and only objection to their relationship was that he might not be committed to Jesus enough. Because in the ideology I followed, that's all that mattered. I didn't learn anything about healthy relationships or how to recognize red flags.)

And I told Angela this. I told her I didn't think it was a good idea to date a non-Christian. I remember at some point after Adam became a Christian, I somehow got into a conversation with the two of them about how I didn't approve of their relationship. They didn't seem to share my concern; they said everything was fine. And now I regret what I said, I regret the way I judged other people's personal lives- but that was what I was taught to do, as a good Christian.

Angela told me about how they were making plans for the future, how she decided to change her major so she could graduate earlier and then they would get married. I was carefully neutral in my response. I cared about her as a friend, but I didn't want to ever give the impression that I had any positive feelings about her dating Adam. You know, "hate the sin, love the sinner." When they got engaged, I was also carefully neutral. Saying things like "Wow!" or "That's a big deal!" or even "That's exciting!" but nothing that meant I thought their relationship was a good thing.

So anyway, I ended up at their wedding, along with Harvey and Helen.

And we did a very bad thing.

After we had eaten dinner and danced a little bit, the three of us were just sitting around, and we decided to pray for Angela and Adam. I can't remember any details about who prayed for what- except this one: Helen prayed that someday, Angela and Adam would find Jesus.

Wow, I feel dirty just thinking about that. I was there, I was part of that prayer, ugh, what a dirty thing to pray. Basically, Helen was saying, "God, you and I both know that Mormons aren't real Christians. I hope someday you help Angela and Adam realize that they're wrong and I'm right." Such a nasty nasty prayer. What a low and dirty thing- to claim that Angela and Adam didn't know Jesus, and more than that, to fold your hands and bow your head and come right into the presence of God and say it.

I would never have prayed something like that. I knew it was the "right answer", I knew that as a good Christian, I was supposed to believe Mormons aren't Christians. But I didn't really believe it. I knew Angela. She was a Christian. I had tried to believe the "right answer", I had tried to find huge problems with her beliefs, but I couldn't. All the differences were about superficial things, it seemed. At the time though, it wouldn't have occurred to me to question any of the "correct Christian beliefs"... I guess I basically believed Angela and Adam were Christians, but I wasn't confident enough to say it out loud.

But there was Helen, so totally confident that Angela and Adam weren't Christians- and that God agreed with her that Angela and Adam weren't Christians. It makes me sick.

We did a very bad thing. We prayed at their wedding.

Actually, I do remember one good thing I did at their wedding: I decided not to be negative about their relationship anymore, to stop judging them. I found Angela and told her, "I'm so happy for you guys, you look so happy together!" That was the first time I ever said anything good about their relationship, the first time I ever hinted that maybe it was a good thing that they were together. I decided it wasn't my job to police people's relationships and tell them whether I approved or not. I decided to just accept reality- that they are married and that they're happy and this is a good thing.

I'm telling this story to show you this is what we did, as good Christians. This is what I thought was normal. Judging my friend's relationship choices because her boyfriend wasn't the "right" religion. Insisting that someone's not a real Christian, even when they tell you they're Christian, even when they regularly attend church and bible study, even when they pray, even when they tell you all about their relationship with God. Because we know other people's lives better than they know themselves. And talking to God as if it's obvious that God agrees we're right and they're wrong. Nasty, nasty prayers.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Blogaround

A cat being so warm in front of a heater. Image source.
1. Luke Skywalker Isn’t Supposed to Be “Nice” (posted January 4) [content note: spoilers for "Star Wars: The Last Jedi"] "It’s not merely that heroes can make mistakes or occasionally do the wrong thing; the film is examining heroism as a concept, as a systematic construct that binds the very people it should comfort. “Heroes” come with rules and standards, expectations and meaning. “Legends” are not history, they are the stories we tell to elevate history into doctrine."

2. Of all the posts I've written on this blog, the 2 posts on globophobia have been the hardest to write and hardest to publish. I hope maybe they'll help someone else who's in a similar situation. <3 Globophobia and Globophobia part 2.

3. When Deportation Is a Death Sentence (posted January 15) [content note: murder]

4. not that bad (posted January 15) [content note: sexual assault] "But Grace's story re-zeroes that scale, and suddenly everything in my past that's already beyond fixing is +10 worse."

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Jewish Refugees Museum (Shanghai, China)

Sign that says "上海犹太难民纪念馆 Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum". 
During World War II, about 20,000 Jewish refugees came from Europe to Shanghai to escape the Holocaust. There is a museum called the Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum, which commemorates this. Here are some of my photos from when I went there.

Statue of a Jewish refugee family.

Wall plaque with text in both English and Chinese. The English text says, "'No consulate or embassy in Vienna was prepared to grant us immigration visas until, by luck and by perseverance I went to the Chinese Consulate where, wonders of wonder, I was granted visas for me and my extended family. On the basis of these visas we were able to obtain shipping accomodation on the Bianco Mano from an Italian Shipping Line expected to leave in early December 1938 from Genoa, Italy to Shanghai, China - a journey of approximately thirty days.' Eric Goldstaub"

This wall has the names of about 13,000 of the refugees who came to Shanghai.

Plaque with text in English, Chinese, and a third language (German maybe?). English text says, "In memory of the Hungarian Paul Komor (1886-1973), former Shanghai resident. As Honorary Secretary of the International Committee for the Organization of European Immigrants in China, he and his colleagues issued identity cards and offered all possible help to European Jews who had fled to Shanghai from Nazism. May their memory live forever."

Plaque with text in English, Chinese, and Hebrew. English text says, "Ho Feng Shan 1901-1997 Born in Henan Province, he became a diplomat in the service of China. Between 1938 and 1940, while Consul General in Vienna, Austria, Dr. Ho rescued thousands of Jews from the Holocaust by issuing visas to Shanghai and other documents. Ignoring the orders of his superiors and at risk to his career and personal safety, he acted with steadfast courage when most would not. United States Commission for the Preservation of America's Heritage Abroad"

Here's a bust of Ho Feng Shan 何凤山

White text on a black background, in Chinese and English. English text says, "The past is in the present, but the future is still in our hands. -- Ellie Wiesel, Writer & the Winner of the 1986 Nobel Peace Prize"
There were exhibits about how they traveled from Europe to Shanghai, and how they lived in Shanghai.

Map that showed routes that the refugees took from Europe to China. Basically some of them took a train through Russia and some took ships down around Egypt.

A menorah, with handwritten text in Hebrew (I think?) and English on the wall behind it. English text says, "To the people of Shanghai for unique humanitarian act of saving thousands of Jews during the Second World War. Thanks in the name of the Government of Israel." A quote from Yitzhak Rabin, Premier of Israel, in 1993.
Next, there was an exhibit about what happened to the Jewish refugees during the Japanese occupation of Shanghai. It wasn't good- the Japanese imposed restrictions on them, and they had to live in crowded, impoverished conditions.

Sign that says "Stateless Refugees are Prohibited to pass Here Without Permission." From when the Japanese occupied Shanghai.

Exhibit about the Jewish refugees basically all leaving Shanghai at the end of WWII. “从1946年到1951年,离沪犹太人总数约为22000-24000人 From 1946 to 1951, about 22,000 to 24,000 Jews left Shanghai.”

Here's the entrance to the Ohel Moishe Synagogue.

Exhibit which shows a photo of Anne Frank, along with her name in both English and Chinese (安妮 弗兰克).
There was also an exhibit about Anne Frank and her family, inside the synagogue.

Looking at everything in this museum (especially the Anne Frank exhibit, which described how Germany gradually became more and more horrible to Jews, leading up to the Holocaust), I was really overwhelmed, like "how could this happen?" It's hard to even believe that people could do that to people, but it's real. And there have always been refugees forced to leave their countries because of violence, and we need to help them like Shanghai did during WWII. It's so important that we learn about this history.

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

If you want to see more posts like this, consider supporting me on patreon~ When I reach my goal of $20/month, I'll do a series of blog posts about various aspects of life in Shanghai. With lots of photos. ^_^

Monday, January 22, 2018

Globophobia part 2: God Didn't Help

Photo of a mountain. Image text: "If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move. NIV Matthew 17:20." Image source.
[content note: this is a post about the intersection of autism/phobias/mental health with the Christian teaching of "dying to self"]

"From my point of view, telling someone "I'm afraid of balloons" made as much sense as saying "I don't like it when people kick me." Like, isn't that obvious? If you really believe that it's something you need to actually say out loud, that means you accept that your preference not to be kicked is something unusual. As a little kid, I refused to accept that. On some level, even though I didn't have the words for it, I truly believed my reactions were right, completely justified and reasonable based on the incredible pain caused by a balloon pop. (And please note: I was right, even though none of the adults understood.)"
(from last week's post, Globophobia)

I was right. When I was a little kid, I knew I was right- I stubbornly refused to believe that I was the weird one for reacting the way I did to balloons. The sound is overwhelmingly scary and bad, and I am the only one whose reaction makes any sense.

What I didn't know was that other people are actually hearing the sound in a different way than I was. But I was right about myself, when none of the adults were.

So this is the story of how I accepted that I was wrong about myself.

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

When I was a little kid, maybe in middle school, I remember going to a family reunion or some kind of party like that. Somebody had bought a package of balloons- and I took it and hid it. Then when it was time to set up for the party, people were all looking around like "where are those balloons?"

My mom knew it was me that had taken it. She tried to get me to tell where it was. But I didn't. I refused. I never told anyone.

I look back on that story, and my first thought is, "Wow, that was definitely before I devoted my life to Jesus." Because if that had taken place after I made the decision to devote every single bit of everything 100% to God, then I would have told them where the balloons were. Because stealing is a sin and because I need to put others first- if other people want to have balloons and I don't, the correct Christian thing to do is to submit and die to self and let them have the balloons without saying anything about it.

If this was after I devoted my life to Jesus, then I could have been guilted into "doing the right thing" with a bit of talk about sin and selfishness and trusting God and obeying even when it's scary. It would have been framed as a choice between the "sinful" thing (hiding the balloons) and the "Christian" thing (submitting to other people's choice to have balloons at the party).

In that ideology, there's no way to recognize what's really going on: That loud sounds are unbearably painful for me and so I have a 100% legitimate NEED to not be at a party with balloons. I was never taught to get to know myself and my needs, I was never taught that it's okay if my needs are different from other people's, I was never taught that I should insist that my needs be respected even if other people didn't think that was important.

It was wrong to take the balloons and hide them (ideally I should communicate my needs to other people and be free to not attend the party if those needs aren't met) but I don't regret it one bit. It was the only way I had to protect myself back then. It would be another 10 to 15 years before I had access to concepts like "sensory pain" and "advocating for myself." (And autism.)

I don't think my parents ever punished me for that. Then again, I can't imagine any punishments that would be worse than enduring a party where people are touching balloons.

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

When I was a freshman in college, I devoted my life 100% to Jesus. Before this, I was a Christian of course, but, as I used to say in my testimony, "God was the most important thing in my life, overall, but in certain parts of my life or certain situations, it wasn't always clear if God was the most important thing or not." But this all changed- I devoted every single part of my life to Jesus, 100%. When I woke up early every day to read the bible, it wasn't because that's what good Christians are supposed to do- it was because I loved God so much, I was so overwhelmed by how amazing God is, that I wanted to sacrifice my sleep time for God. I prayed constantly. I was so full of God's love that I just wanted to share it with everyone. I was so happy all the time, full of energy, loving my life, so free because of God.

And then one day, I went to a party, walked in the door, saw balloons on the floor, and turned around and left.

And I felt so bad. So terrible. Because I had been living so completely happy and free, like I can do anything through Christ, and then suddenly I couldn't go to that fun party which I wanted to go to, because of balloons. I decided that night that God didn't want me to live like that, with the phobia- God wanted me to be free; "I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full."

I was so committed to God, and this was what God wanted me to do. I believed it was possible; God would work a miracle and cure my phobia. And then I would react- or rather, not react- to balloons like a "normal person."

So I got to work. I told a bunch of friends I was planning to go through the steps to get myself "desensitized"- the same idea that the doctor had taught me all those years before. I got a group of friends to support me ("accountability"), and I wrote emails to them on a weekly basis about the progress I was making. I made a list of scary balloon-related things, in order of scariness, and scheduled when I would do them- the plan was to get "desensitized" to each one, and work up to the scariest ones.

I had so much faith. The idea that I could be "like a normal person" seemed impossible, but this time I believed God would do it.

See, when I was a little kid, I was "stubborn." I resisted the term "phobia." I was a good kid who followed the rules, so I probably never said this out loud, but I was very much NOT in agreement that my avoidance of balloons was an "irrational fear." I believed that balloons were just self-evidently terrible, and I hated how people wanted me to explain what the problem was, as if it wasn't OBVIOUS that the sound was unbearably, inhumanely loud. My mom took me to therapy for globophobia, and I went along with it like a good kid, obeyed what the doctor said, but on a big-picture level, I wasn't really on board with it. I didn't truly believe there was anything wrong with me avoiding balloons; I was baffled about why everyone else wasn't reacting the same way I did.

Please note: Little-kid Perfect Number was right. Right about myself, wrong about everyone else being unfeeling and heartless. But right about myself. The missing piece of the puzzle was the concept that different people can experience the same sensory input in extremely different ways. (Like the age-old question: When I look at something and say it's "red", and you look at the same thing and say it's "red", are we actually both seeing the same color? There's no way to ever know.)

But college-student-totally-devoted-to-Jesus Perfect Number decided that little-kid Perfect Number was wrong. I looked for information about phobias online; everything I read said they can be completely cured through therapy. And even though it felt impossible, I chose to have faith. I decided that the reason therapy hadn't "worked" back in middle school was that I was never truly committed to it on a big-picture level. But this time, I decided to believe it.

To believe that I was the one being unreasonable. To believe that the way "normal people" acted around balloons was the right way, and that God would make me that way too. To say the words "I'm afraid of balloons"- labelling myself as the weird one, rather than insisting that my response was appropriate to the reality I experience.

My whole life, everyone told me- either directly or indirectly- that I "overreacted" to balloons and to loud sounds, that it's "not that bad", that my reaction is unreasonable and wrong. But I never believed them. I knew- even though I couldn't put it in words- that I wasn't "overreacting." That all changed when I totally devoted my life to Jesus. Now I was 100% surrendered to God, and I couldn't go on insisting that my reaction was right when everybody else said it was wrong. That was my stubbornness, my selfishness, my sinful nature. It was a belief I would need to "let go of" so God could do amazing things in my life. All this time, I had been so sure of what I needed (ie to avoid balloons), but it was time to give that up and trust that God would take care of me.

Surrender. Die to self. Take up my cross.

I followed a Christianity which very much did NOT believe that people are experts on their own lives and their own needs. Instead, I believed we are fundamentally selfish and sinful, and we will have all sorts of desires for things that are actually bad for us. We think we need them, but we really don't- and giving them up and realizing God is all we need is the only way to be truly free.

So I did. I swallowed my pride. I surrendered. I told people "I am afraid of balloons." And then I told people, "Jesus said, if you have faith, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move."

I really believed God would heal me. I believed God would make me like a "normal person." I believed- even though it made no sense to me- that my reaction to loud sounds was wrong and that God would teach me to react in the "correct" way. I told one of my best friends, "Someday I'll be able to say, 'I used to be afraid of balloons.'" And she said, "Maybe you'll be the balloon-animal expert in our group!" We had so much faith.

Little-kid Perfect Number knew she was being reasonable, even when everyone else said she wasn't. She was stubborn; when the whole world reacted in a completely different way than she did, she still refused to believe her reaction was wrong. But totally-devoted-to-Jesus Perfect Number died to self and accepted what all those other people said.

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

Even as I write this, it's mind-blowing to remind myself of the fact that other people hear sounds so much differently than I do. Other people experience the sound of a balloon popping not as overwhelming, unbearable sensory pain, but as a minor annoyance, maybe like being poked or hearing the sound of fingers snapping. (I guess?) All these years, this has been one giant miscommunication. I thought they were telling me I needed to learn to be okay with suffering massive sensory pain. They thought they were telling me I should calm down because it's not a big deal when something makes me a tiny bit startled. 

They were wrong about me. But back then, I thought the first step to healing was to accept that they were all right about me.

It made no sense to me. How could other people have so little reaction to something so monstrously loud? But I "had faith"- I accepted the premise that other people's reaction (or lack thereof) was right, and I need to learn to be like them. (Gaslighting.)

The rationalization I came up with was that the sound only lasts for a moment, then it's gone, so no matter how bad the sound is, it doesn't really justify the amount of anxiety I felt and the lengths I went to to avoid balloons. Which is partly true- to a certain extent, this is a phobia- but that doesn't mean the solution is to "be like a normal person" and pretend the pain doesn't exist at all. (The solution is to recognize the very real pain that loud sounds cause me, to treat it as a serious thing that people need to care about, and decide on appropriate measures to take to protect myself from the pain. It's the same as a food allergy.)

Because I was willing to surrender everything to God, I accepted that my reaction to balloons was wrong. To use analogy about physical pain, I understood it in this way: "Everybody else is fine with it if someone just comes up out of the blue and whacks them- and refuses to apologize or acknowledge that the whacking even happened. The pain only lasts for a second, so it's not a big deal. Why can't you be fine with it too?"

I believed God would teach me to be fine with it.

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

So I had faith. I believed God would heal me, even though it seemed impossible. I believed that God would help me have the same (lack of) reaction to balloons as a "normal person" did, even though for my entire life I had been completely, utterly unable to fathom what the heck is wrong with people to make them (not) react the way they do. Again, please note: I was right about myself. My inability to understand why everyone else didn't hate balloons in the same way I did meant that there was some crucial piece of information I was missing, NOT that I'm being selfish and God wants me to just give up my sinful desire to have people notice and care about my pain.

I started my DIY desensitization. I watched videos of balloons, inflated balloons and hung them in my dorm room, and watched other people (who had promised to be very careful and not pop any) inflate balloons. These are all things I actually can become desensitized too; these are things totally in the realm of the phobia- no sensory pain at all. While experiencing these things, I listened to Christian music and read bible verses. I told myself over and over to trust God and that God would heal me.

Meanwhile, I began encountering balloons at an astonishingly high frequency as I went about my regular life. Saw them hanging as decorations in various places. There was even a physics class where we were talking about how the fabric of spacetime expands, and the professor gave everyone a balloon we were supposed to inflate as a hands-on way to understand the concept. Another time, I was at a restaurant, and a guy came around from table to table making balloon animals for customers- and I was so shaky and nervous, and my friends wanted to help me but I said no we can't tell him not to come to our table, I can't go out of my way to avoid balloons, that's how the phobia becomes worse (the "pretend to be a normal person" strategy that I had learned from the therapist all those years before). But one of my friends went and told the balloon man not to come to our table anyway.

I believed that God was causing all these balloons to appear in my life unexpectedly- maybe God was trying to help me with my therapy, or God was showing me how important it is that I do the work to get "healed" because "you can't avoid them forever."

Seriously, I swear to you, from the time I started "working on" my phobia and trying to get "desensitized," I encountered balloons at an abnormally high rate, and I was sure it was God's doing. (It was maybe about once per day.) It's okay if you don't believe me- I probably wouldn't believe someone who said that. I'm a math nerd, I know what confirmation bias is. You guys, I made graphs. I sorted the balloons encounters into different categories- an offhand mention of balloons gets less weight than an actual sighting- and made graphs of the frequency at which they occurred. It was a lot.

But it's okay if you don't believe me. I no longer believe in a God who would do something like that anyway. If God really wanted to help me, maybe God could have caused the words, "Some people experience loud sounds (like balloons popping or fireworks) as intense pain- if you think that hearing a balloon pop and getting slapped hard are about equally bad, maybe this describes you, and in that case, your pain is a real thing and it's totally reasonable to avoid balloons" to appear somewhere, perhaps in an article I read as I researched globophobia online. (Followed by "Also maybe check into getting an autism diagnosis." Yeah that would have been nice.)

(And actually, there was an awards dinner I was invited to, for having a high GPA or something, and I was SO SURE there would be balloons there. Because God was causing balloons to be in all sorts of unexpected places, so surely the awards dinner would also be decorated with balloons, right? I told people, "I'm going to this thing, I'm sure there will be balloons there, pray for me." And then no balloons there. Make of that what you will.)

Anyway, I got desensitized to all the things that don't involve popping. Because, wow, it makes so much sense now- of course I can get desensitized to those. The popping sound will always be unbearable pain for me, but in addition to that I have globophobia, where I associate balloons with "people don't care about me", which is indeed an irrational association. (But very understandable how it came about- over and over again experiencing overwhelming sensory pain, and having everyone tell me "you're overreacting, it's not that bad.") That part truly is a phobia, and it can be completely cured. But the part where loud sounds are painful isn't going to change. So of course I can get desensitized to everything about balloons except for the popping sound.

So I worked my way up the list of scary things, and became desensitized to all the items on the list that did not involve loud sounds. All that was left was hearing real-life popping. At that point, my DIY therapy kind of lost momentum and stopped. And now it's obvious why, but at the time I didn't really understand. Of course, to me it felt obvious that anything involving popping sounds would be orders of magnitude harder to get "desensitized" to, but remember, I had "died to self" and accepted other people's opinions on what should and shouldn't be hard.

I don't even remember noticing that I had stopped doing the therapy. I thought I had made a lot of progress, and I felt good about it- at one point I literally did say the words, "I used to be afraid of balloons." And I guess I didn't encounter any balloons for a while after that. Until this one time, I was at a party, and somebody starting making balloons, and I suddenly felt really guilty because the previous few weeks I had been thinking a lot about attractive boys, and I prayed, "Oh God I'm so sorry I've been so interested in boys and I'm acting like I don't need you but oh help, you gotta help me, you gotta take me back, you gotta help me be brave and be okay with these balloons." And I believed God had sent the balloons like the famine in the story of the prodigal son. So. In case you were interested in examples of the intersection of purity culture and autism.

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

I want you to know that I believed in a God who thought it was wrong for me to advocate for myself. From the time I was a little kid, I believed that the sound of balloons popping is unbearable and it's reasonable for me to avoid it, and everybody told me- directly or indirectly- that I was wrong. When I finally devoted my life 100% to Jesus, I knew that it meant I would have to swallow my pride and accept that I was wrong and everyone else was right about me. Die to self. Even though the concept of not really reacting much to balloons popping had always been an unfathomable mystery to me, I put my faith in it. Because of God. Because it was sinful to keep insisting that I had a need that everyone else said wasn't real. I had to accept that they were right about me.

I remember how my mom decided to take me to therapy, all those years ago when I was in middle school, because of an incident at a school carnival. There were tons of carnival games in the school gymnasium, and I was with my family, playing games and having fun. Except that whoever was in charge of the helium balloon tank was really really bad at it, and over and over balloons exploded. You know how sound gets trapped in a school gym? It was loud, overwhelmingly loud. It happened again and again, and I ended up outside the school refusing to go in. And apparently my mom thought, "this phobia has gotten so bad, now she can't even participate in fun things like the carnival" and that's when she decided I really need to go to therapy.

And now I think back on that, and I'm struck by how incredibly reasonable my behavior was. It wasn't safe for me in the gym. Over and over, with no warning, there were moments of huge, unbearable pain. How can you expect anyone to stay and play ring toss in that kind of environment? I couldn't put it into words back then, but my behavior was right, even though everyone else thought it was wrong.

And through all those therapy appointments when I was in middle school, I did what the adults said, but I never really accepted their claim that there was something wrong with the way I protected myself from balloons. I don't even know if I was fully aware that the adults all believed my behavior- refusing to go in the gym- was wrong and that they were trying to "help" me change. To the extent that I was aware, I COMPLETELY DISAGREED. Because I'm "stubborn."

But in college I finally surrendered all to Jesus, and I accepted what everyone else had been telling me for my whole life: It's wrong for me to protect myself. It's wrong for me to expect people to care about my pain. It's wrong for me to claim I have needs different from those of a "normal person."

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

Related: "Seek First God's Kingdom" Doesn't Work If You Have Autism

Comment policy: I don't really have any patience for any comments along the lines of "oh you misunderstood the verse about faith moving mountains, here let me explain it to you" or "I've never met you, but here is my baseless speculation about what God was actually doing in your life."

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Finding My (Asexual, Straight, Married) Place in the Queer Community

A pillow that says "Queer Enough" with the colors of the asexual flag. Image source.
So I've been identifying as ace for about a year, and I've found this really good group of queer people here in Shanghai. That's great, but I still find myself unsure of where exactly I'm supposed to fit in, in the queer community. And whether or not it's useful or meaningful for a group to "be inclusive."

Long before I realized I was ace, I was very interested in queer issues and supporting queer people and being an ally (and before that, I was very interested in queer issues because I wanted to "hate the sin, love the sinner" and be Andrew Marin). Coming out as ace means my relationship to the queer community has changed. I'm no longer "just an ally"- I actually am queer. But what does that really mean? I feel like I don't have much in common with my queer friends.

Let's go through all the reasons this is confusing:

Being an ally is a totally different role than being queer.
When I was "just an ally," my role, in the context of a queer space, was to listen to queer people. But now that I actually am queer, that means I have a right to do more than just listen- to actually take up space and have my opinions be heard. Right? But should I really do that? A lot of queer people have it much harder than I do- I'm lucky in that I don't need to be "out"; all my acquaintances and random strangers in public can just assume I'm heterosexual and it doesn't matter to me. In queer discussions, I don't want to take up space that should belong to those who experience more discrimination than I do. Right?

But aren't we all allies on some issues?
I wonder if it's even useful to be so "inclusive"- to try to bring together all the letters, L, G, B, T, Q, I, A, and any other letters, and put them all in one big group as if they all have something in common. For every queer issue, there will be some people in the queer community that aren't affected by it at all. For example, legalizing same-sex marriage doesn't affect me. I'm married to a man, and nobody ever said I shouldn't legally be allowed to get married, or any crap like that. So on that specific issue, I'm "just an ally." And every queer person is "just an ally" sometimes. Nobody is L, G, B, T, Q, I, and A.

I feel like I have to be the asexual representative, so I downplay other aspects of my identity.
A lot of people, even in the queer community, don't know very much about asexuality. In this Shanghai queer group I'm in, people are very nice and "inclusive" and interested in learning more, and any time some topic comes up which affects aces in a unique way that other people may not know about, I feel like I should give the "ace perspective" on it. It's so important to me to be visible as an ace in this group, and educate them about ace things. But that means I emphasize my ace identity over other aspects- like the fact that I'm straight, I'm married, and I do have sex. As if those aspects are "not queer" and therefore I shouldn't take up space talking about them in the queer community. (Same-sex marriage isn't legal in China. Should I really be talking about my marriage, when most people in this group don't even have the right to get married?)

And I don't really tell them I identify as straight.
In queer spaces, I make such a big deal about being asexual, sometimes I forget I'm also straight. (I experience romantic attraction and sensual attraction. A LOT.) I tell them I'm married to a man, but I don't usually say the word "straight." Why? Maybe because there's this assumption "the straight people in our group are allies" as if people can't be both queer and straight. Maybe because we all roll our eyes when some ignorant person is like "but what about straight pride?" I feel like I actually do need to embrace my straight identity more- but that's not something I'm going to bring up in a group of mainly LGB people.

Which has more of an effect on my life- being straight or being ace?
Being straight. Like, I'm married to a man, I love him so much, occasionally I discover some male character in a movie is super attractive and I want to look at him, occasionally I have crushes on men who are not my husband. I'm straight. (I just don't get why, of all the activities one could do with an attractive person, stimulating each other's genitals is assumed to be at the top of everyone's list. Like, why that, specifically? So arbitrary.) And if society believed it was completely normal to be gay, bi, ace, aro, straight, whatever, that all orientations (both sexual and romantic) were completely fine and normal and you shouldn't assume you know someone's orientation unless they've explicitly told you, then I guess I would be more vocal about being straight than ace. But that's not the world we live in, and I have to put more emphasis on the ace aspect of my identity because it's so hard to find the support and resources I need for that, and because other people don't even know it's a thing and I want to educate them. Because heterosexual heteroromantic is seen as the default, and it's only worth mentioning the ways that I differ from that standard.

But really there's no reason I should imagine there's a conflict between being asexual, straight, and married.
It's almost like I have this subconscious belief that aro aces are "more asexual" than me, or that aces are "supposed to" not date at all, or that "real" aces don't have sex. Which is just ridiculous. It makes no sense to say one person is "more asexual" than another, or that my asexuality is not valid because I'm married and I do have sex, or any nonsense like that. And maybe I feel that way because probably some members of this queer group, who don't know much about asexuality, would assume those things are true, and I'm trying to "prove" my aceness to them. Which, again, is ridiculous- I shouldn't concern myself with making sure every single person in the group understands exactly what my identity is. It's enough to have a few close friends in this group who get it. I don't have to prove myself to everybody.

This queer group isn't really able to give me support with the ace-specific problems I have.
So my biggest problem, as an asexual, is that I want to have sex with my husband but it's confusing as hell. I really would like advice from other aces about how to have sex, and how to know when I should say no because it won't be good for our marriage if I try to force myself to do it when I don't want to. I know of two other aces in this group, but I'm pretty sure they are both single. So nobody in the group is in a situation similar to mine.

But statistically, a lot of aces are in similar situations. They just wouldn't necessarily seek out a queer group.
Statistically, a lot of people are straight, and a lot of people are married. And so, (assuming the variables are independent) it must be very common for aces to be married to a partner of the opposite gender. Most people don't even know that asexuality exists- so probably a lot of these straight married aces don't even know they're ace. And even if they did know, why would they join an LGBTQIA group? The vast majority of queer issues discussed in the group don't affect them at all.

So the point is this: If I hadn't already been an ally to the queer community, I wouldn't have any reason to attend this group.
I've been interested in queer issues and queer rights for a LONG time, though I have only been identifying as queer for a year. I've spent a lot of time learning about things that affect gay people, bi people, trans people, etc. It's really important to me to support them. And so, I like this local queer group because I can meet more queer people and learn about the queer community in China, and I can help others understand what asexuality is. But if I just wanted to meet other asexuals and get support for the specific issues I have as an asexual, well... the group doesn't really do that. (Which isn't their fault, but when you're trying to be "inclusive" of so many letters, you can't spend too much time focusing on something that only affects one letter, right?)

Soooo yeah. I love this Shanghai queer group I've found, but I still don't know how I fit in. I know how to attend queer groups as an ally, but what is my place as an asexual? I'm straight and I'm married, so do I really have anything in common with the other queer members? If aces are queer, then straight married aces are queer. But how can I really count as queer if my straightness has more of a practical effect on my day-to-day life than my aceness?

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

This post is for the January 2018 Carnival of Aces. The topic for this month is identity.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Blogaround

Baby sea lion. Image source.
1. Creationist: We’ll Only Be Impressed If You Find Transitional Fossils in the Precambrian (posted January 9) "If you have to read that a few times to make sense of it, go ahead."

2. Florida Court Permanently Blocks Abortion Restriction (posted January 8) "The forced delay law was an insult to women and imposed medically unnecessary and harmful burdens, particularly on low-income patients. This law’s intention was to stop women from getting abortion care, plain and simple." Good news~

3. If You Can See The Invisible Elephant, Please Describe It (posted 2011) "You end up having to construct your understanding of the elephant from tiny snippets, little bits of information you can coax out of normal people before they get aggravated and change the subject." (a post about asexuality)

4. So here's the YMCA song, sung by minions:



5. The Case Against The Jedi (posted December 31) "Just so we're clear on what that means, according to the Jedi, it's loving relationships with another person that leads men down the path to evil." About toxic masculinity in Star Wars.

Related: Internalized Sexism and Star Wars: My Long-Overdue Apology to Luke Skywalker (posted January 9) "And I know that I’m not the only person to have ever referred to Luke as 'whiny'"

6. White evangelicalism vs. missionaries (posted January 12) "Missionaries have, in a very real sense, converted to a different religion from that of the churches supporting their work."

7. Voice in the Wind: An Anti-Semitic Gospel (posted January 12) Presenting the story of the crucifixion as "the Jews killed Jesus" is anti-Semitic. I remember occasionally hearing about that back when I was an evangelical, but of course I totally dismissed it because, well, the bible says it happened that way, so that's that. I didn't know about the whole history of Christians persecuting and killing Jews because "they killed Jesus." Presenting the bible story as "the Jews killed Jesus" is anti-Semitic because of that history. If it were just a detail in a story, isolated from any real-world effects, then it would be fine- but that's not the world we live in. We need to learn history.

8. The 1969 Easter Mass Incident (posted January 14) [content note: crucifixion] "Dad remembers hearing the bishop through the windows roaring 'THE HOLY BODY OF CHRIST DOES! NOT! CONTAIN! RAINBOW! SPRINKLES!'"

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

The Parable of the Wedding Banquet is Extremely WTF

Photo of a huge group of wedding guests. Image source.
In Matthew 21:28-22:14, Jesus tells 3 parables:
  1. The parable of the two sons
  2. The parable of the tenants
  3. The parable of the wedding banquet
(go over to the link and read them if you haven't)

The basic idea of these 3 stories is the same: At the beginning of the story, there's a certain person or group who is "in" and has the favor of an authority figure, but later in the story they disrespect or disobey the authority figure, so they are rejected/punished and a different/unlikely/underdog group becomes the new "in" group.

Different Christians can interpret these parables in COMPLETELY different ways, depending on their understanding of who the "in" and "out" groups are supposed to represent:
  • In the evangelical church, I learned that the "in" group at the beginning of the story was religious people who worked hard to follow all the rules and believed they were earning God's favor. And they get rejected and in the end there's a new "in" group, which is people who have a personal relationship with Jesus.
  • Currently, my interpretation (as a Christian feminist) would be that the original "in" group is religious people who think they're "in" because they believe all the correct things and have a "personal relationship with Jesus." And then in the end, they are rejected in favor of the new "in" group, which is poor and marginalized people and those who are working to bring the kingdom of God (which I define as equality, justice, etc) regardless of whether they believe the "correct" things about God.
I'm not going to make an argument about which one Jesus "really means" is the "in" group and "out" group, because it comes from one's overall big-picture understanding of what Christianity is. In other words, in order to convince an evangelical that my interpretation is right and theirs is wrong, I'd first have to convince them to stop being evangelical. Both interpretations I mentioned above are totally logically consistent with their corresponding ideologies about what the bible is, what the gospel is, what the point of Christianity is, etc. So no point in trying to argue about this one little parable- I'd have to make an argument that addresses that whole ideology. (Hey actually, that's more or less what my entire blog is. So there.)

But wow, we have to talk about the parable of the wedding banquet. Because, like, these 3 parables are more or less the same story, until the parable of the wedding banquet goes REALLY OFF THE RAILS.

So you have a king sending invitations to his son's wedding. And then this:
“But they [those who were invited] paid no attention and went off—one to his field, another to his business. The rest seized his servants, mistreated them and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his army and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.
Meme that says "Well that escalated quickly." Image source.
o_O

Okay...

And then the timeline is incredibly weird. Like, the king sends messengers to tell people "everything is ready", then they kill the messengers, then the king burns their city, and then he sends more messengers to tell people "the wedding banquet is ready." Like, I don't know how long it takes to attack and burn down a city, but it seems like maybe the food would be cold by then?

I mean, it's not real, it's just a story that Jesus told, so maybe we shouldn't get stuck on the fact that the timeline makes no sense. (Sort of like how it's better not to try to figure out exactly how long Luke was on Dagobah.) But............ like how could Jesus expect his listeners to just overlook such an obvious, giant plot hole?????

But this is the really WTF part:
“But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes. He asked, ‘How did you get in here without wedding clothes, friend?’ The man was speechless.

“Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

“For many are invited, but few are chosen.”
Whatttttttttt

All right this sounds like the worst-nightmare scenario for anyone who's ever worried, "I don't know what I'm supposed to wear to this event... What if I'm overdressed? What if I'm underdressed? What if everyone else stares at me because I'm wearing the wrong thing?" Like why would the king (who apparently represents God) treat this poor embarrassed guest so cruelly just because he didn't know what the dress code was? 

And the part that really gets me is when he says "friend," like he's pretending to be all nice right before he has this guy violently kicked out of the wedding. That's downright creepy.

I've done a bit of googling and most of the interpretations I've found fall into these two groups:
  1. The "wedding clothes" represent living the way a Christian is supposed to live. Yes, God invites everyone, but God still has requirements you have to follow. This isn't "cheap grace"- you have to take God's rules seriously. (This article on Desiring God takes this approach.)
  2. The host of the wedding would have given all the guests wedding clothes. So this guy really has no excuse for not wearing them. (See here and here for articles which take this interpretation.) If we think in terms of modern American weddings, it would NOT be like "why aren't you wearing wedding clothes?" it would be like "why don't you have a card with your table number?"
Here's my issue with option 1: It takes an economic issue and changes it into an entirely-spiritual issue. Some of the guests in the story would have been too poor to afford nice wedding clothes- Jesus makes it clear that the king's servants are just going out on the streets and bringing in anyone they can find. I think Christians often treat parables about poverty and economic issues as if they're only about abstract spiritual things, and that's a HUGE PROBLEM. (See my post The Parable of the Living Wage.) So I'm very much not okay with taking the issue of a guest not having enough money for wedding clothes (which seems, to me, like the most likely explanation for why this character isn't wearing them, even though it's not stated in the story) and then claiming it's not really about that at all, it's actually about living in obedience to God or whatever.

And here's my issue with option 2: It seems too easy. Like, as a reader, I'm shocked that the king would be so cruel to this poor guest who turns up wearing the wrong thing. To explain it away as "the king would have provided wedding clothes" takes my shock and confusion and turns it into... nothing. Like "...oh, okay then" and we just shrug and move on with life because as good Christians who believe everything God does in the bible is automatically good, we were desperate for an explanation to excuse the king's actions, and we got a very nice convenient one here. But... doesn't it seem like Jesus must have included that "shocking" ending for a reason?

(I feel the same way about every explanation I've ever heard for that passage in John 6 where Jesus says his followers must "eat my flesh and drink my blood." Church people have all sorts of ways to explain how it's actually a metaphor for some completely normal spiritual practice that Christians should do. But I don't buy that. Jesus was using very graphic language here- he intended it to be offensive and shocking, and a lot of followers ended up deserting him because of it. If you explain it in a way that completely removes that shock, I think you've missed the point. Personally I don't know what his point was, but it definitely wasn't something as tame as "this is a metaphor for our reliance on God.")

I did find an article that had a different take on it:
This parable makes no sense to me if attire for the banquet was not included in the invitation. How can a host invite “all the people they could find” so that the hall could be “filled with guests” and then get upset that someone in there was not wearing the proper attire, if such attire was not also provided? Did the host really think that everyone they found on the streets, even the poor and barely-scratching-by artisans, would have fine clothing for a wedding banquet of the wealthy?

I’ll freely admits that this is taking an interpretive liberty, but let’s assume for a moment that attire was provided as an option for those who needed such, so that no matter how poor you were, you had no excuse not to attend. If that’s the case, that gives us an entirely different ending. Who is the parable being told to in Matthew? This cluster of parables is aimed at “the chief priests and Pharisees” (Matthew 21.45) and the political place of privilege they held. In the story, someone refuses to wear clothing appropriate for the event. Whether this is a wealthy person refusing to be associated with the poor, or the poor refusing to be seen along side the exploitative rich, it’s a show of arrogance or separateness. It’s possibly an expression of one’s exceptionalism in protest to the inclusion of those he feels are “Other” or beneath him. For him to don the same attire as everyone else would be to intimate that there was no difference, at least at this banquet, between himself and those he feels should not be present. He is better than the others around him here and he will not be included on their same level. For him this is a rejection of the reality that we are all interconnected, we are part of one another. We are not as separate from one another as we often think. We share each other’s fate. In fact, we are each other’s fate. It could be because of the guest’s desire to be seen as separate, or as reluctantly participating with everyone else, that the host so angrily responds to his lack of attire.

The context is the eschatological banquet that some people in Galilee and Judea believed symbolized the distinction between this age of violence, injustice, and oppression and the coming age where all injustice, violence, and oppression would be put right. But this new age in Jesus’ world view is egalitarian: everyone receives what is distributively just. No one has too much and no one has too little, we all, together have enough. So garments could have been justly distributed, making everyone equal. But if a person has spent their life working to be “first,” few things could be worse than to be faced with a world of equity and equality and being thrown into the same group with everyone else. They believe they are better, chosen, extraordinary, or exceptional. They are not like everyone else and they refuse to embrace our connectedness. But whether we acknowledge the truth of our reality or not, we are already in this together.

Those who choose the path of exclusion are themselves eventually excluded from a world that’s being put right through inclusive egalitarianism. As we discussed previously, exclusionary thinking is a self-fulfilling ethic. Again, when you see who is welcomed and affirmed, when you see how wrong you were about those you thought should be forbidden from attending the same “banquet” with you, it’s going to make you so angry! This is the gnashing of teeth Jesus and Luke describe (cf. Acts 7:54) So if any end up in outer darkness, it will not be because they could not accept their own invitation. It will be because they could not accept the inclusion and equal affirmation of those they feel should be excluded.
I don't take a position on whether or not this is the "right" interpretation, but my initial thought is it makes a lot more sense than the other 2 explanations I mentioned above. So the host provided wedding clothes, but that one guy refused to wear them because he thought he was better than the other guests and didn't want to be seen as the same as them. Now that gets into some interesting territory about how not everyone will see "inclusion" as a good thing, if people they think are "unworthy" end up being included. (And I personally believe there have to be limits to inclusion- you can't "include" dangerous/abusive/violent people who make the environment unsafe for others.)

(Note, though, that this interpretation doesn't really help with the last line of the parable- "For many are invited, but few are chosen." Yeah I'm very NOT OKAY with that line.)

All right those are my thoughts on this section of Matthew. 3 parables which are basically the same, until the parable of the wedding banquet gets REALLY WEIRD at the end. Readers: Any other thoughts or interpretations about it?

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

This post is part of a series on the gospel of Matthew.

Previous post: That Time Jesus Didn't "Stand Up For What's Right" (Matthew 21:23-27)

Next post: Tipping, Fruit, and Jesus (Matthew 22:15-46)

Click here to go to the beginning of the series.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Globophobia

Scared little girl. Image source.
[content note: this is a post about when I was in therapy as a child and it was extremely harmful, for reasons related to undiagnosed autism]

I was planning on never blogging about the time I was in therapy for globophobia. Because I don't want my mom to feel bad. My parents and the doctor really cared about me a lot, and were doing their best to help me, but actually that therapy ended up being very damaging for me. I'm just now realizing the long-term effects. I don't blame my parents at all, because they didn't know, so please don't feel bad. But I want to write about this in case it can help someone else in a similar situation.

So here's the deal: From the time I was a little kid, I have had globophobia, which is a phobia of balloons. When people asked "why is she afraid of balloons?" my mom used to answer "she's sensitive to loud sounds" and eventually that was the answer I too would give when people asked.

But the problem is that that explanation completely misses the point. Here's what's actually going on: I hear sounds much louder than other people do, and sounds like balloons popping, fireworks, explosions, etc cause overwhelming, unbearable sensory pain for me. Saying "she is sensitive to loud sounds" makes it sound like it's just some silly emotional quirk that's not really a real thing, that I'm weak and if I tried harder I could "get over it." No, what's actually happening is the actual reality I am experiencing is different from what other people experience. And my reactions- avoiding balloons, covering my ears- are totally reasonable in the context of that reality.

Back when I was a little kid, we didn't know that I hear the sounds louder than other people. Who would have suspected such a thing was possible? My parents didn't know, and I didn't know. I always hated how I had to tell people what the problem was- like, how was it not obvious? Did they not notice that huge, overwhelming, unbearable sound that had just exploded through the whole room? I spent my whole childhood utterly confused about how seemingly kind and compassionate people could be so unfeeling and unaffected. And I never said the words "I'm afraid of balloons" until I was in college. Because to say "I'm afraid of balloons" implies that my fear was an abnormal thing that other people shouldn't be expected to just know automatically. It would be like admitting that I was the weird one and there was something wrong with the way I reacted. From my point of view, telling someone "I'm afraid of balloons" made as much sense as saying "I don't like it when people kick me." Like, isn't that obvious? If you really believe that it's something you need to actually say out loud, that means you accept that your preference not to be kicked is something unusual. As a little kid, I refused to accept that. On some level, even though I didn't have the words for it, I truly believed my reactions were right, completely justified and reasonable based on the incredible pain caused by a balloon pop. (And please note: I was right, even though none of the adults understood.)

But anyway, when I was in middle school (maybe 12 years old), my mom took me to therapy for globophobia. I read about phobias online, read about how, with therapy, a phobia can be totally 100% cured. So that was the goal of the therapy. The doctor told me to make a list of scary balloon-related things, in increasing order of scariness, and we would slowly work our way up the list, becoming "desensitized" to each one.

And that treatment model was really really bad for me. Because what none of us knew at the time was, this wasn't just a phobia. It was not just in the realm of emotions, which can be totally cured. No, I experience unbearable sensory pain because of those loud sounds, and that's never going to change.

Unfortunately, the goal of the therapy was for me to "become normal." And it didn't really make sense to me, didn't seem possible, but I was a good kid so I went along with what the adults told me to do. But when I saw "normal" people barely react at all to the sound of a balloon popping- as I said, it baffled me. Totally, utterly baffled. (What's wrong with everyone???!!!) Like an unexplainable scientific phemomenon- we can observe it over and over, so it must be real, but it just makes no sense at all. I didn't really believe I could ever become like that. But my mom told me I need to believe it's possible, or else the whole thing is doomed from the start. And in the bible, God did miracles, and the recipients of those miracles probably could have never imagined it beforehand. The walls of Jericho fell down just because the Israelites walked around them- like, how? And so maybe, by following the steps the therapist gave me, trying to "desensitize" myself, I would become "normal."

In reality, the efforts to "desensitize" me to loud sounds communicated to me that my pain didn't matter. That I would just have to accept it when something hurts me, and I shouldn't react or expect other people to care. That's what the therapy was for me- though I'm sure the adults involved didn't know it. It was "sit here, relax, try to act like a normal person, and then absorb and suffer the overwhelming, unbearable sensory pain without bothering anyone else or making any visible attempt to protect yourself."

We didn't know that. I didn't know that, and I didn't have the words to communicate what was gonig on. I never would have thought to use the word "pain" to describe what I was feeling. Because sensory pain doesn't feel anything like the pain you feel when you fall down or hit your head or someone steps on your foot. How can you describe what a sound feels like? A sound feels like a sound; it's completely different from any other sensory input.

It wasn't until I was 23, that I went to a therapist (for a different problem) and mentioned how I'd been in therapy in the past for globophobia, and she said "that doesn't really sound like a phobia, sounds more like a response to pain from sensory overload, possibly related to autism." She was the one who diagnosed me with autism, and she was the first one to ever use the word "pain" to describe how I felt about balloons.

And at first I didn't believe it really was pain- because, as I said, it's different from all the other experiences that I've heard people describe as pain. But then I realized, if I had to choose between getting slapped, hard, in the back of the head, and suddenly hearing fireworks, well gosh, I don't know which is less bad. They are about the same. And it blew my mind to realize that for other people, those wouldn't be the same.

So let me make an analogy. Let's say someone steps on your foot, really hard. Everyone sees it happen.

And you say "OWW!!!!"

And then everyone stares at you, and they ask, "What? What happened?"

And you know that they saw this person step on your foot. You can't understand how they can be so dense as to not know the reason you're crying out in pain. But you say, "You stepped on my foot!"

And then everyone continues to stare, with a very confused expression, and they're like "... and? What's the problem?"

And you say, "That hurt!"

And everyone says, "No it didn't. You're overreacting." And they kind of roll their eyes, like "ah she got us all worried that there was an actual problem, but really she's just weird and overreacting to some harmless thing," and go back to whatever they were doing.

That's what it's been like, throughout my entire life, every time a balloon popped. And I haven't been able to put it into words until now.

Let's talk about gaslighting. Gaslighting means telling someone that their actual lived experiences, memories, or emotions aren't real. Like "you think you feel that way, but you're wrong" or "no, that thing that you said you experienced never actually happened." It's a tactic that can be used by abusers to get a victim to doubt their own mind. I wasn't abused; people did this to me because they really thought it would help. But it is gaslighting. My whole life, everyone has been telling me that the pain I feel from loud sounds isn't real. I'm "overreacting." I need to "get over it." It's "not that bad." And I'm just now realizing how much psychological damage this gaslighting caused.

(People with autism are not "overreacting" to sensory stimuli. We experience them much more intensely than other people do, and our reactions are appropriate for what we are experiencing.)

The therapist I saw in middle school asked me, "What's the first time you were afraid of balloons?" I said I didn't remember the first time, but one particularly early example I remembered was at Hannah's birthday party [names have been changed]. I didn't know why the therapist was asking me; it didn't seem like it would matter what the first time was. But I was a good little kid, always obeyed the adults, so I told her the whole story.

But now I know. There were assumptions behind her question. She was thinking about how a phobia is often caused by some traumatic experience involving some certain object, and then the person associates the emotions and the object and develops an irrational fear of the object itself- even though the object is pretty harmless. That's why she was asking- she wanted to find one traumatic thing in my past that had caused me to illogically believe that balloons could hurt me.

Nobody understood that balloons actually do hurt me, and that every single time it happens and nobody seems to care about my pain is a traumatic experience. Every. Single. Time. Is a traumatic experience. Even the "therapy" itself was just more of that- "relax, it can't hurt you" *pop* "see, that wasn't so bad." Gaslighting.

They wanted me to take deep breaths and learn to relax my body- not to cover my ears or brace myself against the pain. If I could hear the pop without covering my ears, that would be success, then I would be "brave." But I covered my ears and hid in the couch cushions, and they said okay that's fine for this time, we'll work up to it. And after I heard it pop, then I relaxed. Of course. Because the danger was gone.

It was just the same as if the doctor had hit me and told me I was "bad" for tensing up, putting my head down, trying to protect myself, and I needed to be "good" by sitting there "relaxed" with barely any reaction.

And then there was one time, where the doctor did pop a balloon in front of me and I reacted in a more "correct" way, probably I just sat there, looked a little startled, didn't say much or try to hide in the couch. And then in the car on the way home, my mom (who had been there too when it happened) really wanted me to tell her about how I felt. I didn't want to talk about it. I didn't want to think about it. At the time, I couldn't understand why. But now I know. My whole life, I've been looking for someone to acknowledge and care about my sensory pain. But "success" in the therapy meant accepting that no one cares, and being okay with that. On some level, I didn't want "success," and I was very uncomfortable with how I had apparently had the "correct" reaction and the adults thought it was so great that I had hid my pain and not asked anyone to care about me. I didn't have the word "pain" back then; there's no way I could have even understood what I was feeling or explained it to anyone. Especially because it sounds really bad to say I don't want to "get better."

(As I write this, it occurs to me that people who have a phobia of heights probably aren't told that they need to "face their fear" by jumping off a building.)

Let me tell you what would have happened if that therapy had "worked." (After a while we stopped the therapy, so it never got to this point.) It would mean me accepting the idea that nobody wants to hear about my pain, that I'm being bad if I scream or run away. My reactions are causing trouble for other people and it would be better if I could just shut up about it and accept that no one cares. Accepting that no one will protect me, and they will think I'm bad if I do what I need to do to protect myself. It would mean withdrawing into myself if I'm in a situation with balloons, not willing to speak- because what's the use of going along with the rules of socialization if none of these people care about me? What's the use of pretending everything is fine- I can't keep up appearances like that when I know they won't protect me, I need to protect myself. It would mean staring at the ground, emotionless, no smile, because the emotional trauma is so great, I'm not able to show it on my face without breaking down- and what does it matter if I follow the social rules about facial expressions and eye contact, it's not worth the trouble, no one cares about me anyway. I'm alone. Like a zombie; shuffle along, follow the rules, don't make trouble, suffer pain and accept the fact that no one cares.

But even though that therapy was just for a short period of time when I was in middle school, it did long-term damage to me. There were many, many occasions after that where I would go to a party, discover there were balloons there, and either leave immediately or leave after people started touching the balloons and I just couldn't handle it anymore. And every time I left, I felt like a failure. I thought, "It's so awful that this phobia has so much control over my life, I miss out on fun things because of it, if I went to therapy and worked on this, I could get better- so it's my fault." Every time, I told myself those things. I'm such a failure, it's my fault, I'm letting the balloons control my life.

And I internalized the idea that it's wrong for me to advocate for myself- to specifically take steps which a "normal person" wouldn't, just because of my sensory issues (for example, letting the host of a birthday party know beforehand that I wouldn't be okay if there were balloons). The whole entire reason behind that therapy was "you can't avoid them forever"- that it was bad for me to be active in protecting myself and communicating about my needs. Avoidance makes a phobia worse, the doctor said. Instead, I was supposed to "face my fear" because "you don't want to have this problem for your whole life, do you?"

If I didn't even make an attempt to "be normal," then I was "letting the phobia control my life." My desire to avoid balloons wasn't seen as a real need that should be taken seriously, but as a sign that I was weak and was inconveniencing other people because I wasn't willing to go to therapy and do the work to "get over it."

So that meant for as long as I could, I would pretend to "be normal." Go to a birthday party, notice that there are balloons there, pretend I'm okay with it, be jumpy and nervous the entire time, constantly looking around to see if anyone is touching the balloons, unable to focus on what's actually happening at the party or people trying to make conversation with me, just waiting for it to be over... until there comes a point where the stress is too great, where I can't keep up the "normal person" facade anymore, and I "freak out", which usually looks like suddenly running from the room. And everyone is confused about what's wrong with me.

What would it have been like, if I had known "loud sounds cause real pain for me, so I am not able to be near balloons" and treat that like an unchangeable fact of the universe? (The same way that people let you know they have a food allergy.) Not to be like "I have a phobia, and it's my fault so it's unreasonable for me to bother or inconvenience anyone because of it." What would it have been like if I could have communicated with people who were throwing parties, if I could have told them "Loud sounds are extremely painful for me, so if the party has balloons I won't be able to come"? But of course I couldn't do that. The doctor said avoiding the object of your phobia only makes the phobia worse.

What would it have been like if I didn't try to "be normal"?

The strategy I use now is to be very clear about what my needs are and communicate them to the people who need to know. And accept that it's okay if people don't know balloons are a problem- because, as it turns out, they are literally hearing the sound in a different way than I do. Tell them I can't be near balloons, use the word "pain" instead of "phobia", and be confident- not apologetic- because I have the right to have my needs respected, and I have the right to leave if I am in a situation that is not safe for me. When Hendrix and I are out in public and I see a balloon, I talk to him and make a plan about what to do. Usually "let's walk past it really fast." And I'm able to stay calm because I have a plan which takes my needs seriously, and because Hendrix supports me 100%.

My globophobia is caused by the unchangeable reality that loud sounds are extremely painful for me. I can never "be a normal person" around balloons. But the phobia part- the irrational fear- is because I associate loud sounds with "people don't care about me." And that's something that's completely in the realm of emotions, and can be completely healed through therapy. But healing doesn't look like "be a normal person." Healing from the phobia component means taking my sensory needs very seriously, and communicating clearly about my needs. It means knowing that I don't need to be afraid because I can rely on people who care about me to help me avoid balloons.

I'll always need to avoid balloons, but that doesn't mean I'll always have globophobia. Maybe someday I can avoid them without thinking "no one cares about me."

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

Related: 
The Sound [strong trigger warning for globophobia]
How Are Autistics Supposed To Know Which of Our Pain is Socially Acceptable To Express?

Next week there will be a post on the intersection of globophobia and evangelical Christianity.

AddThis

ShareThis