Thursday, August 30, 2018

Blogaround

An image with a pixelated charmander, and the text, "My love burns for you, like Charmander's tail." Image source.
1. The WORST ADVICE you can give an Autistic person #TakeTheMaskOff (posted July 27) "It's all about finding a socially acceptable version of what 'being myself' looks like." YESSS this guy gets it.

2. ‘Addicts, crooks, thieves’: the campaign to kill Baltimore's light rail (posted August 22) "The Hahns had moved to the working/middle-class suburb seeking a quiet, safe environment away from the crime and strife of Baltimore, 10 miles away. But, like many in the neighbourhood, they say the city’s woes have seeped into the area via public transport. Specifically, they believe criminals are coming into the suburbs by light rail."

3. Same-Sex Attraction, Celibacy, and Jackie Hill Perry (posted August 22) "There is nothing holy about giving up something that God has called good."

4. Veterans Speak Out Against The Militarization Of Sports (posted July 20) "'And, I mean, if you look at kind of the tone of what Memorial Day has become about, it’s pretty gross,' Nick says. 'Even on the teams’ official Twitter accounts — a flame emoji for, like, 'Look how hot these camo hats are.' And it's, like, 'Really, guys? That's the plan?' I mean, you can imagine how some of these Gold Star families reacted to that. They were not remotely amused.'"

5. George Whitefield was worse than Hybels, Swaggart, Haggard, Patterson, Pressler, Bakker, Hinn, Tilton and all the rest put together (posted August 8) "When you create and disseminate an otherworldly, obtuse form of religion that is incapable of opposing the starkest forms of injustice and oppression, then you’re bound to wind up with the kind of religion that elevates “leaders” like these. A bad tree cannot be expected to bear better fruit."

6. It Is Long Past Time for Evangelical Leaders to Condemn Doug Wilson’s Views on Slavery and the South (posted August 27) "I do not understand how Wilson has a platform anywhere but his own personal blog."

7. The ‘feel-good’ horror of late-stage capitalism (posted August 2) "In the feel-good feel-bad story, irrefutable proof of an institutional failure is sold as a celebration of individual triumph."

8. Doctor Strange's Plan Explained | 14,000,605 Infinity War Theory (posted August 28) [content note: spoilers for "Avengers: Infinity War"] Interesting, but you know I'm very wary of Dr. Strange fan theories- they sound too much like theodicy.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Feminism 101: The Bechdel Test

The 6 Avengers at the Battle of New York. One (Black Widow) is a woman and five are men. This movie doesn't pass the Bechdel Test. Image source.
Feminism 101 is a series where I define words related to feminism~

Today's entry: The Bechdel Test

The Bechdel Test is a test we can use when we talk about women in movies. It originally appeared in the comic strip "Dykes to Watch Out For", by Alison Bechdel. To pass the test, a movie must meet these 3 requirements:
  1. There are 2 named female characters
  2. who talk to each other
  3. about something other than a man.
Seems like this is a pretty low bar to meet, right? But a surprisingly high proportion of popular movies don't pass. The site bechdeltest.com has a database of 7760 movies, 57.8% of which pass. 7 of 9 2018 Best Picture Oscar nominees pass, and 5 of 9 2017 nominees pass. 4 of 8 Star Wars episodes pass (the original 3 all fail). 9 of 11 Disney princess movies pass (according to this 2013 post).

Not passing the test means that every single line of dialogue (between named characters) is related to men. Wow. And yet that's the case, for maybe half of our movies. And actually, a lot of the ones that pass did so just barely. When applying the Bechdel Test to a movie, it's common to get into little hair-splitting details like "does this character count as a 'named character'", "if their conversation was mostly about a man but there was a little part that wasn't, does that count", "their 'conversation' consisted of only 1 word, are we counting that or not", and so on. (Like look at all this hair-splitting over "Avengers: Infinity War.")

I want to be clear that the Bechdel Test isn't about whether a movie is feminist or not, whether it portrays women in a good way or a sexist way, or anything like that. It's not about that at all. Passing does NOT mean the movie is a good movie or a feminist movie, and failing does not mean the movie is bad. There are lots of movies that have great female characters but fail the Bechdel Test. And it's possible that a movie can pass on a technicality even though it doesn't treat its female characters well. (Listen, if you ignore the "named character" requirement, the song "Baby Got Back" passes the Bechdel Test.) Like, seriously, passing means that there exists at least 1 line of dialogue that's not about men at all. Let's not go around giving congratulations for this. How on earth could a standard so incredibly low be used to reassure us that the movie is not sexist?

The Bechdel Test should not be used as a way to make judgments about individual movies. Instead, it tells us about our culture's entertainment system as a whole. How is it possible that such a huge proportion of movies can fail such a simple test? Why is a movie with 1 "strong female character" such a big deal, people love it and talk about how great it is, how she's a role model for girls- while no one seems to think it's odd that all the other main characters in her movie are men? Why are movies where the whole cast is male seen as normal and popular for all genders, while movies with all women characters are "chick flicks" rather than serious movies, and men aren't supposed to like them?

It's not about whether "Star Wars: A New Hope" is good or bad; it's about the number of female characters overall, in all movies. There are far too few, and often they are just there to support a story about a man. The Bechdel Test is a simple way to quantify this phenomenon on a society-wide scale, but it doesn't tell us anything about if one specific movie is "feminist" or not. 

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You asked and I answered~ In my 2018 Reader Survey, one of the top 5 topics you voted for was "feminism." Hence this post. :)

Monday, August 27, 2018

"You Don't Want Justice": Here Are the Receipts

Scene from "The Lion King" where Scar tells a mouse he caught "Life's not fair, is it?" Image source.
[content note: abusive Christian theology, hypothetical discussion of child death]

The "gospel" that I learned in evangelical Christianity said "you don't want justice." It said we are all sinners and therefore deserve to die and go to hell and never ever experience anything good- we don't even deserve to be alive right now, but God lets us be alive and occasionally happy because his mercy is just so huge and illogical. "Justice" means every single person in the world should die right now and go to hell, and wow, wouldn't that be terrible, no we don't want "justice." "Mercy" means everyone gets to at least experience some pleasure in their earthly life, and some of us get to go to heaven when we die (if we "accept Jesus") and wow isn't that just WILD how God would allow such good things for us when we all deserve death? The struggle between God's "justice" and God's "mercy"- that was the message of the "gospel" I used to believe.

And I got your receipts right here. Last week, I happened across two different articles teaching this abusive theology: If Your Kids Say This Phrase, They’re More Entitled Than You Realize (by Daniel Darling) and He Lets Us Live (by Trevin Wax). Let's take a look.

In Darling's article, the "entitled" phrase that kids say is "that's not fair."
The #1 Entitled Phrase Kids Say: “That’s not fair.”

It sounds innocent enough. Everybody wants life to be fair, right?

But this is an insidious phrase, revealing a sin so bankrupt it goes back to the very beginning, back to the Fall of Man. It’s essentially what Eve was told by the serpent. “You’re getting a raw deal. You’re entitled to more. God is holding out on you.”
Wowwwww THAT ESCALATED QUICKLY.

He gives 3 reasons why "that's not fair" is not a good thing to say. First:
First, you are right in saying that life isn’t fair.

Because it’s not fair that little children go to bed hungry this very night, having eaten nothing but a handful of rice, and here you’ve just had seconds on french fries. It’s not fair that some boys and girls grow up without a mother and father, orphaned by a war they didn’t start. It’s not fair that some children won’t even see many birthdays, succumbing to diseases we treat with immunizations and routine trips to the doctor.
Okay, this is called oppression olympics. It's when someone says you're not allowed to complain or advocate for justice on some issue when there are other issues in the world that are worse. Apparently, we need to imagine the worst possible suffering that someone in the world is experiencing, and ONLY THAT PERSON is allowed to speak up about how badly they are suffering. Everyone else doesn't get to complain; they should be grateful that their life isn't as bad.

Oppression olympics is just RIDICULOUS. I believe that everyone deserves to have a happy and healthy life- I believe that's how it is in the kingdom of God, and we want the kingdom of God to come on earth as it is in heaven. So that's the standard we should use to measure someone's suffering- if something is hurting you or damaging your mental health, etc, then it shouldn't be that way and it's right to speak up and advocate for yourself and take steps to correct it. For practical reasons, we can't always fix those problems, but that's the ideal we should try for.

But in oppression olympics, we use the worst example of poverty as the "standard", and everyone whose life is above that "standard" has no right to complain.

(I'd also like to point out: He says "you and me and all of us in prosperous, free America" have it so good compared to those poor kids elsewhere in the world- and I don't like this. Because there is poverty in the US too. When I was little, I was taught "well when people talk about 'poverty' in the US, it's not really that bad, like they have TVs and stuff so it's not like it's *real* poverty." Drawing a big contrast between the US and "third world countries" and then being heartless toward poor people in the US. Darling's article doesn't say anything like that, but I am very uncomfortable with his assumption that everyone in the US is just fine in terms of getting their basic needs met.)

Note, however, that unlike me, Darling very much does NOT believe "everyone deserves to have a happy and healthy life." In the second point of his argument, he says:
Second, you really don’t want life to be fair.
...
Listen to the words of the prophet, Jeremiah, “It is of his mercies we are not consumed” (Lamentations 3:22).

In other words, because of our sin against Him, it is overwhelming mercy that we are not immediate targets of His judgement. Instead, we are beneficiaries of His grace. We really don’t want God to be fair, but to be just.

What’s unfair is Jesus’ assuming our wrath and guilt on the cross on our behalf so we could be restored to a right relationship with God.
Yep, there it is. The idea that since we're all sinners, we deserve to die and go to hell, so nobody should ever complain about anything bad that happens, because really we deserve so much worse. I used to believe that.

This is spiritual abuse. How can a person cope, when bad things happen, when they believe they're not allowed to feel "this isn't right and I deserve better"? How can a victim stand up for themself when they're treated unfairly, if they believe they actually deserve worse?

Wax's article, "He Lets Us Live" is all about this, so we'll just go ahead and take a little break from looking at Darling's article and switch over to Wax's. He tells about when his 10-year-old daughter prayed, "Thank you, Lord, for letting David live another year" on her brother David's 5th birthday. Wax writes about how using the word "letting" there feels very strange because David hadn't been in any life-threatening situations that past year. Wax hadn't been thinking about the possibility that David might not survive to reach his 5th birthday. But, he says in his post, he should have been thinking that way. He should have been like his daughter, thinking in terms of God "letting" them live.
The assumption undergirding my daughter’s prayer was that David’s life wasn’t necessary. Things didn’t have to be the way they had turned out. David didn’t deserve another year of life, and neither did we deserve another year of that little boy lighting up our home. The fact he lived to see his fifth birthday was just as much a gift of God’s grace as the day we brought him home from the hospital.
Now, it's one thing to say "hmm, a few hundred years ago, most children didn't even survive to adulthood, and now isn't it great we have vaccines and modern medicine, we should be thankful for those things," but that's not the angle Wax is taking in his post. This is not a post about advances in medical technology. It's about how, apparently, his 5-year-old son doesn't deserve to be alive, and we should all be thankful that God performs acts of amazing mercy, day after day, in not just letting the boy die.

Like, holy hell that is abusive.

The next part of Wax's article says this:
Who knows how many accidents were averted in David’s fifth year? Who knows how close death was to our door? Who could count how many times God rearranged the flow of cells in the body to ensure that our son wasn’t struck by an illness that could take his life? Who knows how many accidents could have upended our family’s life and health? Every day, we zoom past hundreds or thousands of cars. Every day, our bodies could degenerate and die. Every day, we take our safety for granted. And every day, we are sustained by the hand of a good and sovereign God. Grace, when we deserve judgment.
All right, yeah I've heard Christians talking along these lines before. Imagining all sorts of hypothetical dangers that God "saved" us from and therefore we never ever realized we were in danger. In my opinion, it's absurd and meaningless because none of this is real. It's just our imagination making stuff up, and there's no evidence. There could never be any evidence, by definition, because these are things God prevented from happening. What's the point? You wanna make up a bunch of imaginary disaster scenarios and then thank God for stopping them all from happening? Okay, that's just a silly game in your head. None of it is real.

And then this, which is extremely bad advice in terms of mental health:
In my mind, I know these truths. I know my breaths are undeserved. I know that every moment I get with my kids is a gift and that their lives, like mine, are sustained by the sovereign ruler of the universe. Oh, but too often there is a gap between our theological knowledge and the assumptions we live with! Our theoretical knowledge doesn’t seep down deep into our hearts and then find expression in our prayers and in our words and in our gratitude for existence.
...
Why not say something so beautiful every night? Thank you, Lord, for letting me live to see another day!
He's talking about how Christians say they believe this or that, but they don't follow those things to their logical conclusions. If we say we believe we don't deserve good things, we deserve to go to hell... well if you take that to its logical conclusion, you will literally end up thanking God every day, almost surprised you didn't die, on an intense roller coaster between fear and overwhelming joy. Living in a constant state of anxiety because you truly do believe that God would be well within their rights to just kill you at any moment.

Wowwww. And here is Trevin Wax telling us that's what we should strive for.

(Note: I would like to point out that Wax never actually gives a reason to support his assertion that we don't deserve to live. I assume it's because he believes we are sinners that deserve to die and go to hell, but he doesn't say it explicitly in this particular post.)

All right, let's get back to Darling's article, because he still has a bunch more to say:
And on a more personal, pragmatic, earthly level, we should ask ourselves: Do we really want God to even out the score? For us in wealthy, rich America, that might mean taking some things away from us and giving them to the less fortunate. Or someone more appreciative.
Uhhhh... wait.

Isn't this what we should be doing, though? Those of us with more money and privilege should use that to help other people. We should give what we're able to give- counting the cost, of course. I find it extremely weird that Darling says it like it's a threat. As if we should be properly grateful while we hold on tight to the money and privilege we were born into, and that's just fine because we have the correct feelings of gratitude toward God.

Also, God taking away things from the rich and giving to the poor is literally what the kingdom of God is- at least in my understanding. Like, has Darling read the bible? There's A LOT in there about how rich people who hoard their wealth should WATCH OUT because God is going to come and set things right some day. In Darling's post, he writes it like a threat that we can avoid by not ever saying "that's not fair", like something that's not real, just a thought experiment to prove that we don't *really* want things to be fair- but, umm, this is what is ACTUALLY GOING TO HAPPEN AT THE RESURRECTION.

Like... have you read the bible?

(To be fair, later in the article he does say we should have "a healthy sense of justice" where we take action to help those who have less than us.)

On to Darling's third point:
Third, an ungrateful and entitled heart is evidence of a deeper problem with God.

This is what worries me most about entitlement. It is saying to God: I do not trust you to be my Father, to take care of my needs, to love me and care for me.

Worse, it elevates self to a god-like position. Ingratitude says: I know better what is good for me. I’m a better god than God.
Umm. So no matter what's happening to you, you're not allowed to point out "hey, this isn't right"? You're not allowed to ever be unhappy, because that would be telling God that you don't like the way they're supposedly taking care of you? In this ideology, there's really no such thing as "bad things happening" because all of it is in "God's plan" and if you don't like it, you're saying "I'm a better god than God."

Policing emotions- yes, this is spiritual abuse.

Let me back up a bit and talk about children saying "that's not fair", which is the specific situation Darling's article addresses. Usually if children are saying this, it's because they see another child- maybe their sibling or friend- getting something that (they believe) is better than what they got.

Now, when I was a kid, I thought a lot of things "weren't fair", but now that I'm an adult I realize parents are flawed human beings who sometimes don't really know what to do and are just making it up as they go along, so that's why the rules end up being inconsistent from one sibling to another. As a child, I imagined my parents were always confident in their parenting approach, like they had decided on firm rules and were applying those rules differently to me and my siblings. But it wasn't like that.

When I was treated differently than my siblings, it was because the situation was different, or what I needed was different, or my parents realized that some rule they used to have wasn't actually a good rule so they changed it, etc. They weren't trying to making things "unfair." And I think that's what little kids need to understand when they say "that's not fair." Instead of having adults just dismiss it and tell them it's wrong for them to speak up when things are "not fair."

Because, even if kids don't realize that their situation differs from their siblings' and nobody is actually trying to treat them worse, their natural drive to stand up for themselves is a GOOD THING. But Darling is saying we should teach our kids that it's wrong for them to speak up when somebody mistreats them.

You should be glad that your kid is strong and confident and won't accept it when they're being treated unfairly. Even though sometimes that righteous anger is misdirected because the kid doesn't understand you're in a situation where it doesn't make practical sense to give every kid the exact same treatment.

I'm only learning now, as an adult, to advocate for myself. How to have boundaries. How to know my own needs, communicate about them, and take steps to make sure those needs are met. Because as a child I learned in church "Jesus first, others second, myself last." And that it's "selfish" and sinful to focus too much on getting what I want. That I could be "making it an idol." I shouldn't care about my own needs; I should just "put God first" and it will all work out.

And it feels like teaching your kid "it's wrong to say 'that's not fair'" is setting them up for this same I-only-just-now-realized-my-mental-health-actually-matters process I went through.

So. To sum up: As a kid, I learned in church that "you don't want justice" because "justice" means we all die and go to hell- that's what we deserve because we're sinners who don't deserve anything good. And look, I got the receipts, I got two articles on it. Conservative Christians really do literally teach this. It's spiritual abuse, and I'm so glad I don't believe it any more and I can see it for how harmful it is. Now I believe in the kingdom of God instead. In the kingdom of God, everyone deserves happiness.

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Related:
I Deserve God's Love

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Blogaround

Baby walrus. Image source.
1. This AI is bad at drawing but will try anyways. (posted August 17) "It draws the sheep, and then just to be safe it fills the entire planet with wool too."

2. Catholic Priests Abused 1,000 Children in Pennsylvania, Report Says (posted August 14) [content note: child sexual abuse]

3. sin is not just a "heart issue" (posted August 6) "If we actually want to address plastic waste in our oceans, we need to change the behaviors of industries and entire economies, not whether or not Deborah gets a straw in her mocha frappuccino."

4. ICE Detains Man Driving Pregnant Wife To Deliver Baby, Says He Is Wanted For Homicide In Mexico (posted August 18)

5. Infinity War Director Confirms Shuri is the Smartest MCU Character (posted August 14)

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

I know I mask, I don't know when - #TakeTheMaskOff

A person wearing a fluffy black mask. Image source.
During the months of July, August, and September, autistic bloggers are writing and tweeting about masking, with the hashtag #TakeTheMaskOff. This campaign was started by The Autistic Advocate, Neurodivergent Rebel, Agony Autie, and Do I Look Austistic Yet?

What is masking? Basically it's when autistic people pretend to not be autistic, in order to fit in. So in a sense it's necessary, we need to do it for survival, because if people notice we are autistic they might exclude/mistreat/abuse/bully us. But masking isn't really *good*- it means we're hiding our true selves, and it's exhausting to keep doing that all the time.

Here are some of the articles people have posted about #TakeTheMaskOff:

An Autistic Perspective - What is Autistic Masking? #TakeTheMaskOff

Autistic Burnout, “Regression,” and Identity Crisis – #TaketheMaskOff Week 4

#TakeTheMaskOff Week 1: What Is Masking?

When Masking Leads to Mental Health Misdiagnoses. #TakeTheMaskOff

So... I'm autistic, and I mask... Or rather, I know that I mask, but it's hard to think of examples, or estimate the extent of it, because it's just a thing I do subconsciously, I guess. I was diagnosed in my early 20's so I already had a whole 20 years of acting like a "normal person" and not knowing I was autistic. When I read about the concept of masking, intuitively it sounds like something I can very much relate to, but I'm not really able to specify exactly how.

So I'll go ahead and share a bunch of anecdotes from my life, which may or may not be examples of autistic masking. I don't know.

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From a young age, I was aware that the things my family talked about at home were "weird" and I couldn't talk like that to kids at school, or play with kids at school the same way I played with my sister. For example, one time when I was in elementary school, my sister and I cut open an empty cereal box so it was one big flat piece of cardboard, and drew a map on it. Then we pretended we were traveling around the different places on the map. I remember there was a mountain and some other different kinds of geography.

My parents said it was so great how creative we were, and I should take the map to school for show-and-tell. But I didn't want to; I thought the other kids would think it was "weird." Like that's not a "normal" game that kids play. But I did end up taking it to show-and-tell, and it went fine.

Another time in elementary school, our class did a "secret Santa", where we each were assigned a random classmate and at some point we had to secretly sneak a gift into their desk. Then at the end of the week, we had to make a card that revealed our identity to our secret gift recipient. My parents were like "you're so creative! you should make a card with a puzzle in it" because I actually did use to make cards with puzzles for my cousins or other family members- people I felt safe sharing my "weirdness" with. But I didn't want to bring a puzzle card to school- the other kids would think it was weird.

But I did end up making a pop-up card with a puzzle in it. As I recall, there were several different flaps you could lift, and under one of them was my name, revealing my identity to my secret-Santa target. I assumed we would be secretly, anonymously giving the cards to our classmates, but instead the teacher had us hand them to them in person, so it didn't work like I expected- my target would know it was me because I handed him the card, instead of by solving the puzzle and lifting the flaps in the card. And also when I gave it to him, one of the flaps ended up folded in the wrong direction, so the front of the card wasn't facing outward, and so it wasn't clear to him how he was supposed to read the card, and I was trying to show him and everyone was looking at me and I tried to explain it really fast because I felt embarrassed, why couldn't I just make a boring card like a normal person.

Now I have the confidence to pull that off and not be flustered by little minor things not going according to plan. I could totally make a pop-up card now and give it to any of my friends and be so proud of how cool it was. But back then, at 9 years old, I worried so much about being good and following the rules, and I was so scared of people looking at me like they didn't know what I was talking about.

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I remember one time, probably in my early 20's, when I was talking to my family, I mentioned how "some things we're not allowed to do because they're too awesome." And somebody was like, wait wait wait what do you mean by that? But that's how I really felt, and I assumed other people felt the same way- as if there was some Law of the Universe that says we really shouldn't do things that are really really awesome.

Maybe because all my life I felt like I had to hide my obsessive nerdy interests. Maybe because there were a lot of times where I suggested some INCREDIBLY COOL idea and people responded with, uh, not the enthusiasm one would expect for such a cool idea... and I assumed they were hesitant over the fact that it would just be too much fun. Like, it was easier to believe there was a rule against things that are too awesome, than to believe people were actually legitimately not interested in my AWESOME suggestions.

At any rate, I learned that it's not socially acceptable for me to show that much enthusiasm for those things.

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In high school I made the decision to stop trying to be a "normal person" and identify as a nerd instead. This was a really really big important decision, and it was really good for me. Before this, I was trying to walk a fine line... feeling like I should wear makeup and shave my legs because that's what high school girls are supposed to do, even though it all seemed like a giant waste of time... showing off that I was the best in math class but feeling uncomfortable when my classmates looked at me like a genius freak... I decided I didn't have to do any of that any more, because there was a social category called "nerd" and I could be that and it would be acceptable.

It was really good for me, but at the same time, it put limits on how femme my gender expression could be. I thought nerd girls shouldn't look too feminine. If I wore pretty things, people would think I wasn't a nerd. (This is internalized sexism.)

In college I decided that since everybody knew I was an engineering major, I could dress more feminine without hurting my nerd cred. And a few years later, I quit believing in "modesty" so now I want to wear all sorts of "immodest" clothes to make up for lost time. Basically I'm now confident in my identity as a nerd and as a woman and I wear whatever I want.

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In middle school I bought orange pants. At the store I was so happy with them because I love bright colors. But then, at home, reality set in- I can't wear these to school. Because nobody else wears orange pants. Everyone is going to look at me and think I'm weird.

I think that happened to me several times- where I would pick out something so cool at the store, forgetting that I "couldn't" wear it to school because it was, ahem, too awesome.

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Normally, I have to filter what I say so it fits the format of what the person I'm talking to would expect to hear. But sometimes, when someone asks me a very open question about how I really feel about something... I fall for it. I tell them how I really feel, without first curating it into the kind of answer they were expecting. And they take it the wrong way.

Like the first year of middle school, when each of us students had to meet with the school guidance counselors so they could see how we're doing with the transition from elementary school to middle school. He asked me what I've noticed that's different from elementary school.

Such an open question, right? About how I feel. You'd think there's no "wrong answer." And actually, I did have an answer. See, in the first week of classes, I had noticed that every single one of my teachers said they don't accept late homework. Wow, interesting, right- every single one! Whereas in elementary school, the teachers generally had a policy about how if it's late 1 day you lose 10% of the grade, etc. What a fascinating pattern middle-school Perfect Number discovered! Let us speculate as to the reasons why this might be the case. Like, I can understand in general they want us to be more responsible in middle school, but would that really account for LITERALLY ONE HUNDRED PERCENT of my teachers saying they don't accept late work? Is there some other factor at play besides a vague sense of "kids are old enough to take responsibility for their homework"? What a cool thing to wonder about.

So I told the guidance counselor, "teachers here don't accept late work" and he was like ".................... do you .... usually hand in late work?" He took it completely the wrong way. Because, see here's the thing: He asked what is different about middle school and elementary school, but that's not what he actually wanted to know. He wanted to know what was different and affected my life. Ugh, but I thought since he asked such a broad open question about how I felt, I thought I could really tell him how I felt. I thought it meant he was willing to indulge with my esoteric wonderings about the reasons behind trends in homework policies, so that's what I answered. Instead of the usual filtering I do so it's an answer in the genre that the other person would expect to hear. I always fall for that.

Another time, I was at a job interview for a summer internship during college... yeah, interviewers always come across like they just want to get to know me, like they're so open and ready to listen to whatever I say- so I have fallen for this problem A LOT during job interviews. (It took me A LONG TIME to realize job interviews aren't about answering the questions correctly; they're about presenting myself as a person that one would want to offer a job to.)

Anyway, the interviewer asked me to tell about one of my strengths and, as it happened, I had recently been thinking about how I'm really really good at picking just the right word when I'm writing something. Like, uh, I don't even know how to describe this ability that I'm SO PROUD OF- it's not being good at communicating, it's more like, I have such a good grasp of English vocabulary and, like... using a word... I ... haha well it's quite funny how I'm not even able to really describe what I mean about my supposed ability to perfectly describe what I mean... uhhhh I'll just say it doesn't work 100% of the time... But anyway, you know how job interviewers look at you like they genuinely want to listen and understand you- it made me feel like I could really tell him whatever bizarre thing came to my mind. And there I am, trying to explain my uh, ability to choose the exact right English word... ugh yeah I wish somebody had told me that's not what you're supposed to do in a job interview. You're not supposed to just answer the questions; you're supposed to tell them why you are the kind of person they want for that particular job.

And another example: A few years ago I was seeing a psychologist for depression, and I later I ended up needing a copy of my medical records, so the psychologist sent me the notes he had taken during our appointments. And I read some of them, and ... a lot of things he wrote down were like, a slight misinterpretation of what I said. Like... you know, you're at a therapy appointment and it's all about you, the doctor just wants to ask you about how you feel and they're so open and ready to listen and, ugh, I fell for it. I told him how I really felt, unfiltered, and he misunderstood a bunch of things because I skipped the adaptation processes I usually do to get my thoughts into a format that other people will *get*.

The therapy was still really good and helped me get rid of depression; I don't think the slight misunderstandings led to any problems. But it made me realize, ah crap, in the future I'm gonna have to filter myself when I'm talking to doctors.

Gotta make sure I remind myself of that; otherwise I'll fall for it again.

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And, related to that, there have been times when I told someone something really deep and emotional, but when they didn't get it, I just passed it off as a joke. Usually related to sensory pain. Something along the lines of "isn't it terrible how people [something that causes me extreme sensory pain]?"

And then people tell me I have a great sense of humor. And I don't know what to do with that.

Well, back then I didn't know that other people experience sensory stimuli different from me, and what I'm feeling is ACTUAL PAIN and it's RIGHT for me to take steps to protect myself even if no one else is bothered.

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Back when I was in grad school, I got sick, and I ended up having surgery to have my gall bladder removed. Even though the surgery helped me feel a lot better, I still felt nauseous every day, and it was hard to find food I could eat that wouldn't make me feel sick.

Pretty soon after that, I was diagnosed with autism. And I remember back then, how my health problems made me feel so autistic, if that makes sense. Because suddenly, because of my stomach problems, I knew that "regular people" rules didn't apply to me and I would have to make my own decisions about what I needed, and I just had no idea how to do that. Like if I was out somewhere and felt really nauseous, I could make the decision to leave and go home and lay down- even if it wasn't really "socially acceptable", it was an okay thing to do because I was sick and wouldn't it be much more "socially unacceptable" to throw up in public. If people gave me food, I didn't have to eat it- even though the rules of politeness dictate that you must at least eat a little bit, if someone gives you food. But because I was having stomach problems, I was free to break those rules, and it was all my decision, nobody else is able to tell me how nauseous I feel.

Basically, I realized that my whole life I had always tried to do what other people do and trust that I would be okay, instead of actually paying attention to my needs. A lot of times, I didn't feel safe- like when I was in an environment with bad sensory stimuli. Or I didn't understand how to talk to people, so I just tried to learn the rules and fit in. But when I had stomach problems, I knew that I couldn't do that- couldn't just do what other people do and trust that I would be okay. I had to know my own needs and make my own decisions about what I could or couldn't handle. Maybe it was the first time I ever thought in those terms.

But I say "I felt so autistic" because without the "normal people rules" I had no idea how to act, and I felt so lost. I remember at one point I went to an amusement park with some friends and I didn't ride most of the rides, which is fine, except for that bit where I was just stuck there, just staring at a ride and totally unable to make a decision, just NO IDEA if it would make me feel sick or not, and feeling so lost and confused and anxious because I didn't know how to make a decision.

I didn't know how to take care of myself. My whole life I just copied other people, even when that meant I had to tolerate things that hurt me because I'm autistic.

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I'm white and I live in China now, and maybe that means I don't have to mask as much because if I come across as "weird", people will just assume it's a cultural difference.

Maybe it's been good for me to be in a situation where it's obvious that I'm learning a foreign culture, so people help me out when I'm confused and don't really judge me for it. Whereas, in the US, as an autistic person I was also "learning a foreign culture", in a sense- trying to figure out the social rules for how to interact with people. In my own country, I'm expected to just *get* it automatically, but here I'm not.

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Last week at work there was a loud sound- I think someone dropped a heavy box on the floor or something. And I didn't cover my ears, because the first thought that went through my mind was "I don't want them to know I'm autistic."

But there have been other times at work when I've communicated about my sensory needs related to sound (ie, loud sounds are painful for me so I need to avoid them). Fortunately it's not that much of an issue, sounds loud enough to be painful are pretty rare, but it is a big deal that I now believe I have the right to take care of my needs related to this, instead of just pretending to be "normal." I don't tell people I'm autistic; I only tell them whatever practical things they need to know about my sensory needs. That's all. The rest of my autistic traits they don't need to know.

But nowadays, I usually do cover my ears if I think there's going to be a loud sound. It makes a huge difference- if I cover my ears, I can still hear pretty much everything, but it won't be painful. And I reassure myself that I'm allowed to do that. Because when I was a little kid, adults told me I shouldn't cover my ears, that I was "overreacting" and the sound "isn't that bad." And I still feel guilt... I feel like I am being bad when I protect myself from sensory pain instead of pretending to be "normal."

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So. There you have it, a bunch of stories from my life that might be examples of autistic masking. Intuitively, I feel like masking is something I do all the time, but it's hard to know how much of an effect it has on me because this is just my normal life and I don't have any other standard to compare with.

I guess I am pretty good at masking and that's why I was undiagnosed for so long. But being good at masking didn't mean I was okay, even though to other people I might seem okay. Finding out I'm autistic and finding people putting words to these experiences has been really really good for me.

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Related:
How Are Autistics Supposed To Know Which of Our Pain is Socially Acceptable To Express?

Monday, August 20, 2018

"Marriage Is Hard"

Two wedding rings. Image source.
Here's a good post from Captain Cassidy's blog: The Unequally Yoked Club: Terrible Christian Marriage Advice, Graded. It's about conservative Christian rules for marriage- things like "don't go to bed angry" and "the husband is the leader"- and why these rules don't actually do any good in the real world. Also, she talks about the teaching that marriage isn't supposed to make you happy, it's supposed to glorify God and all that.
Christian marriage advice-givers often decide that happiness and fulfillment are completely out of reach. Instead, they drill down harder on the idea that marriage isn’t about happiness anyway. I find this attitude suspiciously self-serving.

As we saw last time we met up, many Christians view marriage as an expression of their religion’s ideals rather than a partnership between two people. That viewpoint makes happiness almost a sinful expression of selfishness.

TGC’s writer tells us that if someone wants marriage to make them happy or meet their needs, that’s not even “real love.” Instead, it’s “a respectable form of selfishness.” Couples who seek that kind of fulfillment will destroy not only their own marriage, but society itself. [PN: here is the link to the TGC article]
In another post about Christian teaching on marriage (she is doing a whole series), Captain Cassidy writes this:
It is downright shocking to me now to consider now what I used to think was perfectly normal in marriage relationships. In retrospect, it’s a marvel that my first marriage lasted as long as it did. If I’d realized that healthy relationships don’t involve constant conflict, or that it wasn’t actually healthy to always feel put-upon, taken advantage of, or absolutely beyond enraged, I’d never have married Biff in the first place. I try not to let it bother me.
Wow. Reading this, I think of all the times I heard people in church say "marriage is hard," and I suddenly realize that's an extremely bad thing to teach. Or, I should say, it's extremely bad if that's the primary thing you teach about marriage. Because kids who grow up hearing that will expect that they won't be happy in their marriages- that "happiness and fulfillment are completely out of reach" as Cassidy puts it. And then if they're in a truly bad situation, they will think that's normal, that's just the way marriage is. "Marriage is hard."

They taught us that wives need to "submit", and that's hard. But husbands need to love their wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, so actually that's even harder. They taught us marriage is about "dying to self"- and I remember one of those split-up-the-boys-and-girls talks at the campus Christian group in college, where the married woman role model who came to teach the girls kept saying "dying to self" was the most important thing for a successful marriage- and I am 100% sure it was a euphemism for "you need to have sex with him even when you don't want to." (Note: That's what she meant by it, but typically "dying to self" has a much more broad meaning than that. Could refer to any time you sacrifice your own desires/happiness/needs/etc.)

They said we're all sinners and when you have 2 sinners living so closely together, there's going to be conflict and pain. (TGC says "As stated above, no one’s compatible. Why? Because both spouses are sinners, and sin shreds even the most promising union.") And all of this had me believing that it's not really possible to be happy long-term with one's spouse. I believed marriage would be so hard, all the time, but worth it. Hard but worth it, just like my "personal relationship with God" was back then. When I got up early every morning to pray, worried so much about my "unsaved" friends, constantly looked for opportunities to do evangelism and had no awareness of how it affected my mental health, policed my thoughts and felt bad whenever I "lusted" (spoiler: it wasn't even lust, I'm asexual), forced myself to accept all sorts of horrible theology because it was "what God said." But I believed it was all worth it because I loved God so much and I was doing important work for him. And because the alternative was, supposedly, to be controlled by my sin, to be miserable and helpless.

Yes, my relationship with God was something I definitely would have described as "hard, but so worth it" so I suppose that was my baseline for how I assumed marriage would feel. Yeah probably at the beginning you're so in love and happy all the time, but then that ends and it becomes "hard."

(Note: I am very happy to not be in a "personal relationship with God" anymore.)

Well. I have been married 1 year, and my marriage is not "hard." It's good and fun and I often think about how happy I am that I decided to marry him, and how lucky we are. This isn't what I expected. I thought once our status changed from "engaged" to "married", it would stop being fun and start being hard.

Yes, we fight sometimes, and sometimes I'm angry with him and don't want to look at him or talk to him, but it only lasts 1 day at the most. And then one of us will apologize- usually if we're mad at each other, it's because one of us accidentally did something hurtful because we weren't thinking about how it would affect the other. We haven't really fought about anything where the problem went deeper than that- maybe once or twice? And I feel lucky, like wow we're so much more compatible than I expected. Lucky like we must be in the top 1% of happy marriages or something, because surely it isn't normal to feel so good about our marriage. It was supposed to be hard. Right?

It's still so romantic and sweet. I come home from work every day and I'm just so happy to see his cute little face- I didn't think I would still feel like this after we got married. Isn't this supposed to stop being romantic and start being "hard"?

Some astute readers may point out, I've only been married 1 year so what do I know? And yeah, that's true. But that's exactly the problem- I don't know. I don't know what a normal marriage looks like, what a healthy marriage looks like, what a happy or bad or unhealthy marriage looks like. Just that "marriage is hard but it's worth it." But does that mean "my husband doesn't put a new trash bag in the trash can when he takes out the trash and it's so annoying, marriage is hard" or does it mean "my husband is always spending all our money on useless things and I'm just so stressed out all the time, worrying about how we're going to survive and pay our rent and buy food, but I know I just have to trust him and submit to him and it's worth it because I love him, marriage is hard"?

How are we supposed to know what level of "hard" is "yeah it's normal that when people live together they have little minor disagreements" and what's "no it's not okay that someone is treating you that way, this is a terrible situation and you deserve better"?

Yes, of course in some situations, marriage is hard. And in some situations, it's hard but it's worth it, and in some it's hard and it's not worth it. And sometimes, marriage is not hard- like for me right now. Is it only not hard when we're young and naïve and have only been married 1 year? Is there some kind of cutoff point, like everyone who's been married longer than 5 years or 10 years is in a marriage that's "hard"?

I guess I just kind of assumed that all marriages eventually get to a point where you're like "well I kind of wish I wasn't married to this person, but it's okay, it's not that bad." Isn't that why we make wedding vows? To keep you there when that inevitable time comes when you don't want to be there any more? I thought that's what I was signing up for, with Hendrix, and I chose to do it anyway because I weighed the amount of time and effort it would take to find someone better against the amount of "hard" the marriage would be. (Though actually, in this ideology there's no reason to think there even exists someone "better"- no matter who your spouse is, "marriage is hard." But, ahem, obviously I broke the rule about "you have to marry a Christian" which supposedly makes a big difference in how "hard" marriage is.)

But I'm still in love with him. I wasn't expecting that- not when they literally used metaphors about death to describe married life. Am I the one who's not "normal" because I still feel so happy I married my husband? Or was it the "die to self" idea that's suspect?

I just don't think it's good how much the "hardness" of marriage was emphasized, in the Christianity I was taught. And right along with that was the idea that typically people get divorced because they didn't know marriage was going to be "hard"; they expected to just be happy all the time, and so they divorced at the first sign of trouble. Which is a terrible, heartless lie to tell about divorced people. We don't know someone's reasons for divorce- we can't judge them and say they must not have tried hard enough or they must have been too selfish. They are already going through a really painful situation- they need love and support, not a bunch of church people to tell them what they did wrong.

I actually believe divorce can sometimes be a good thing. I no longer believe a marriage is inherently valuable in and of itself- it's not something you should sacrifice your health and happiness for in order to "save" it. Put people before marriage.

When "marriage is hard" is one of the primary things you're teaching about marriage- as it was in the Christianity I was taught- that's a problem. People will expect that they can't really be happy in marriage; if they're in a really bad, unhealthy marriage they'll have no way of knowing that's not "normal." I'm really happy to be with my husband- and I didn't expect I would still have so many romantic feelings for him after 1 year. I just have no idea what "normal" is.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Blogaround

Image of Inigo Montoya, with the text "Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die." Below that, this text: "Remember Inigo Montoya: 1. Polite greeting. 2. Name. 3. Relevant personal link. 4. Manage expectations." Image source.
1. Purity Culture & Weight: Jesus Loves Skinny People​ (posted August 8) "I still have to bite my tongue when it wants to apologize to my husband for not losing the baby weight."

2. The reporter was six weeks too late to write about the dilemma facing that white Alabama church (posted July 25) "Anybody who imagines that the moral atrocities of Trump and Trumpism begin and end with adultery is not someone who’s going to let his adultery worry them either."

3. ‘This is it for you. You’re fu**ed.’: Inside Trump’s abuse of migrant kids at an old Walmart (posted July 19) This is bad.

4. Journey Through Scripture: Colonization in the Bible (posted July 25) Austen Hartke's review of the book of Joshua. I really like this whole series he's doing~

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Perfect Number Watches VeggieTales "The Wonderful World of Autotainment" (2003)










































































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To see all my VeggieTales reviews: Perfect Number Watches VeggieTales (Master Post)

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