Thursday, November 29, 2018

Blogaround

Baby goat. Image source.
1. Cold Reading, and the Christians Who Told Me All the Things I NEVER Did (posted November 13) "I had a strong reputation for spouting remarkably-accurate cold readings of people. None of us called it that, of course. We called it prophecy."

2. Why Most of America Is Terrible at Making Biscuits (posted November 22) "If you’re on the West Coast, forget it. Displaced southern bakers have been known to stuff a bag in their suitcases when visiting home. You can order the flour for delivery on Amazon, but it’ll cost you anywhere from $10 to $15 for a bag, many times the in-store retail price of around $2.50." Ha this reminds me of living in China and having SO MUCH TROUBLE finding "normal" things like vanilla extract or a meat thermometer.

3. The obsession with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s finances only amplifies her power (posted November 21) "After her win in November, Ocasio-Cortez said she couldn’t pay for a Washington, DC apartment until her congressional salary begins in January."

4. Science Stopped Believing in Porn Addiction, You Should Too (posted August 21) "In fact, they cite numerous studies showing that even feeling like you struggle to control your porn use doesn’t actually predict more porn use. What that means is that the people who report great anguish over controlling their porn use aren’t actually using more porn, they just feel worse about it."

5. 3 Children’s Books about Thanksgiving from Native Perspectives (posted 2017) Cool!

6. Why You Should NOT Choose Operation Christmas Child (posted November 26) Good post- and the point about kids in other cultures literally not knowing how to play with some of the toys blew my mind. I can't believe I never thought about that before. Simple little objects that are so familiar to us and immediately bring up feelings of childhood nostalgia may be completely unknown to people in other cultures.

I'm in China, and recently somebody from the US visited the company where I work and brought candy from the US for everyone. There was a big pile of mini Reese's cups. I wasn't even aware of the steps my mind went through to identify them as Reese's cups- little foil-wrapped things in that certain shape, obviously they are Reese's cups, I didn't even need to think. But then some of my Chinese colleagues came and were looking at them curiously, absolutely no idea what kind of candy they were. I said "it's chocolate and peanut butter" and they were like "ohhhhhhhhhhhh" like this is completely new information for them.

Same thing must happen when kids get their Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes, with little toys we think are so normal that of course everyone understands how to play with them and no explanation is needed. I never realized that before. Back when I lived in the US, I couldn't *really* understand what cultural differences were.

And another thing: Chinese culture doesn't celebrate Christmas. The concept of a huge gift-giving holiday just completely DOES NOT EXIST in Chinese culture. So if Operation Christmas Child is running ads about "isn't it SAD how these kids are too poor to have Christmas gifts", well, no, maybe it's not sad. Maybe they don't feel bad about not having Christmas gifts because there was never any cultural expectation that such things should even exist.

7. Party Rock Anthem = Trading My Sorrows Wow what a fun video!



8. The kingdom of heaven is like: A Dutch church has been conducting religious services for 27 days to protect a refugee family (posted November 21)

9. Unheard, Unimportant, and Untreated: Why We Need to Talk About Vaginismus (posted November 22) "I went to several doctors for help with my problem, feeling stupid, and got palmed off with a number of excuses: that it was normal for first-time penetration to be painful for people with vaginas, that I was probably just inserting the tampon wrong. That the fact that it felt like someone was trying to prop me open with a brick was normal, somehow."

10. The COMPLETE Pixar Theory (posted October 30) Personally, I don't believe in the Pixar theory, but I LOVE it because this is EXACTLY how apologetics works. Take a bunch of different works, produced for different reasons over a long period of time, claim that all of them are happening in the same universe and telling one giant logically-consistent story, spend tons of time and energy making up convoluted explanations for the contradictions, absolutely refuse to abandon your theory no matter what new evidence comes out, and end up with a bizarre understanding of the material that the creators certainly never intended... all the while believing you understand it better than anyone else because you got there by treating every single tiny detail as irrefutable fact.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

So I Watched Josh Harris's Documentary

A sheep outside the fence looks at the group of sheep inside the fence. Image source.
Hi everyone! So, if you've been following news about Joshua Harris, author of "I Kissed Dating Goodbye," you have probably heard that he has apologized for the harm done by his book and has stopped publishing it. Also, he's been "on a journey" to learn about where he went wrong and how his book affected people, and he has made a documentary about it.

I watched his documentary, "I Survived I Kissed Dating Goodbye." On the one hand, I feel like I should blog about it because I'm known for being an ex-purity-culture blogger, but on the other hand, like... I'm over it. So Harris has figured out it's bad that teenagers are terrified of having crushes, and Christian young people won't ask someone out because a first date is basically the same as getting engaged. He realizes that he was wrong to say that dating is always bad. But he still believes unmarried sex is a sin, and he still believes everyone is supposed to be heterosexual. There, I basically just summed up the whole documentary. You don't need to watch it.

Ah geez, should I say more? I'm like, really over it, you guys. I really don't care what Joshua Harris's opinion is about my sex life and my queerness. I'm glad I'm no longer part of a Christian culture that holds him up as a role model. This documentary might actually be really good and helpful for people who buy into "I Kissed Dating Goodbye" ideology. Help them start to take their first steps out of that. But I'm not there any more, and I can't seem to summon up the energy to re-imagine what that's like.

It feels so good to be free from those restrictions. I'm free from the idea that sex before marriage is a sin, and that opens up whole new worlds to explore, learning about myself and my own desires. I'm free from the belief that everybody is only attracted to the "opposite" gender, and only in specific ways, sexual attraction and romantic attraction that connect with the concepts of love and commitment in some correct, God-given, one-size-fits-all way. Leave all that behind, and there's a whole big beautiful rainbow world out here. But Harris is over there discussing the nuances of what specific location he now occupies inside the don't-have-sex-til-straight-marriage fence, and I just... I'm over it.

Maybe I'll just leave a link here, to something else I wrote, and that'll be the final word from Perfect Number: I’m Really Really REALLY Glad I Had Sex Before Marriage. Like, that's the nail in the coffin. There's no more debate about "is premarital sex a sin" for me after this. After years of being completely terrified of sex, I finally had sex, before I got married, and it was extremely GOOD for my mental health. And wow I am SO GLAD I did not "wait" another 2-ish years for my wedding night, only to find out actually sex is fine and not a big deal of life-changing magnitude, and all this time I had been scared for nothing. Oh and also, surprise, I'm asexual.

I'll just share one quote from Harris's documentary, because it perfectly encapsulates how he still wants people to be stuck in this limited space where you're only allowed to be heterosexual. At timestamp 1:01:40, Harris says:
I was really challenged because [author Debra Hirsch is] admitting things will be messy, but don't be so afraid of the messiness that you don't press into relationship and press into community and acknowledge that you're a sexual creature and you have desires and longings. And you're interacting with men and women, and sometimes you're a man or a woman and you have same-sex attraction, and so you have to honestly deal with that before God and deal with that in community. And it's that messiness in which you're actually going to grow.
Wow amazing how he managed to pack it into one little soundbite. "you're a sexual creature"- in other words, you can't be asexual. "sometimes... you have same-sex attraction, and so you have to honestly deal with that before God"- in other words, you can't be LGB. Like, now that I'm no longer in this ideology, I'm astonished at how bizarre it is. These people really believe everyone occupies one little tiny section of the Kinsey scale- you have to have sexual attraction, but only toward the correct gender.

(Also, guess what? Not everybody is "a man or a woman." Nonbinary people exist!)

And on top of that, supposedly the point he's trying to make is that it's okay if things are "messy." Yeah, I guess what he means is you can be "messy" as long as you stay inside one little box.

I can't be bothered with refuting this ideology any more. It just feels so old and tired and unnecessarily restrictive. Come live in the big queer world where you get to have emotions and desires. Learn about yourself and your body and how to handle your feelings in a healthy way.

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

Related: 
I’m Really Really REALLY Glad I Had Sex Before Marriage
Miss me with your "we are all sexually broken" hot takes. I'm asexual.

Monday, November 26, 2018

This Is Exactly the Martyr Fairy Tale We Aspired To

Aerial photo of North Sentinel Island. Image source.
In the Christian culture I was part of in college, there were 2 types of people:
  1. Those who were totally willing to be "martyrs"- to die for Jesus if that's what Jesus wanted. Willing, and maybe even excited about the possibility.
  2. Those who were NOT willing to "follow the call" and die if that's what God wanted, and they felt guilty about that.
Feeling confident in one's unwillingness to die for Jesus was not an option. We couldn't "count the cost" and then decide "no."

Last week, I read the news about John Allen Chau, an American missionary who was killed while trying to "bring the gospel" to an isolated tribe off the coast of India. It's sad, it's terrible, and everything about it feels so familiar to me, as an ex-evangelical. Familiar, but also not. Familiar because what Chau did was exactly what we were encouraged to do, when the church taught us about missions. But not familiar, because I don't know anyone who actually literally went and died like that. It feels surreal and jarring and heartbreaking to see that ideology collide with reality like this.

Every detail I read about this feels like "yep, that rings true with my experience of Christian missions ideology" but also I cringe so hard seeing how completely wrong and destructive the outcome is when that ideology is applied to the actual real world.

So... Chau was killed by Sentinelese people- who are they? All right, a bit of history: This is a group of people completely isolated from the rest of the world. They live on an island that is part of India. Historically, when people on other islands in that area have been visited by outsiders, it hasn't gone well. Survival International says, "The tribe have made it clear that they do not want contact. It is a wise choice. Neighboring tribes were wiped out after the British colonized their islands, and they lack immunity to common diseases like flu or measles, which would decimate their population." Decades ago, the Indian government used to periodically send gifts and attempt to contact them, but they stopped because the Sentinelese seem fine on their own and don't want to be contacted.

It's an uncontacted tribe, that doesn't want anything to do with the rest of the world, but do you think that matters in American evangelical missions ideology? HA. Hahaha. No. Nope, evangelicals know what everybody else needs. Evangelicals know that if a group of people have never heard about Jesus, well that's a PROBLEM that needs to be SOLVED.

It just makes me sick, remembering how we took it for granted back then... the idea that it's so SAD that people somewhere far away have never "heard the gospel" and somebody needs to go tell them. Oh god, I feel disgusting thinking about it... the term "unreached people group." Uh, yeah let me define "unreached people group." So the idea is that people typically only have close interactions with other members of their own culture, their own "people group." So it's not necessarily useful to talk about being a missionary to a certain place, because you might go to a place and only interact with people from one certain subculture- one "people group"- and even if people from that group "get saved" that doesn't necessarily help the other "people groups" living in that area because they aren't likely to interact closely enough that "the gospel" would be transmitted from members of one group to another.

Take a look at what Chau wrote: "I DON'T WANT TO DIE. Would it be wiser to leave and let someone else to continue. No I don't think so." He's thinking along these exact lines. Somebody needs to "reach" the Sentinelese people. He's willing to do it, even if it costs him his life. This is exactly what I was taught in church.

The Joshua Project is a Christian missions group that keeps track of all the "people groups" in the world, and the "progress" that has been made with "reaching" each group with "the gospel." (This isn't directly connected to Chau's story; I have no idea if he was influenced by the Joshua Project or not. I am talking about it here to show how normal this way of thinking is for American evangelical Christians.) Oh god, it's gross, it's so gross. Using terminology like "progress" to indicate what percentage of each "people group" are evangelical Christians. "Progress"- as if changing the religious beliefs of strangers around the world is a project we are working on, an objectively good goal to work toward. Ewww. Actually, the Joshua Project has this phrase written right across the top of their website: "Bringing definition to the unfinished task." See that? "The unfinished task", ie, making sure every person in the world has an opportunity to hear about Jesus, which is realistically only going to happen if a good enough percentage of each people group is evangelical. (I love the trying-to-be-subtle language on the Joshua Project website, basically saying that real Christians are evangelical- even if a large percentage of the population identifies as Christian, well, that doesn't necessarily count. BARF.)

The Joshua Project... yep, back when I was a good evangelical, I had heard of them, and definitely believed they were doing a good thing. I remember I was at a Christian conference and representatives from the Joshua Project were giving out fliers with little descriptions of specific "unreached people groups", to prompt us to pray for them every day. Look at their website- there's even an app you can get that will tell you a different "unreached people group" to pray for every day. Predatory Christian-supremacist bullshit. Grossssssss.

Take a look at the Joshua Project's page about the Sentinelese. Look at this disgusting bit:
What Are Their Needs?
Sentinelese people need to know that Creator God exists, and that He loves them and paid the price for their sins.

They need basic medical care.

Prayer Points
* Pray that the Indian Government will allow Christians to earn the trust of the Sentinelese people, and that they will be permitted to live among them.
* Pray that God will open doors to Sentinelese people to receive the gospel message.
I am angry, because this is crap. "Sentinelese people need to know that Creator God exists-" no, stop right there. Who the **** are you, person writing this page. How can you claim you know what they need? They do not need our help, they do not want our help, leave them the **** alone.

Furthermore, it is DISGUSTING to pray that God would violate these people's wishes. What is this crap- pray that the Indian government would allow Christians to go live among them. Pray that God would force people to do things they don't want to do. Because CLEARLY God agrees with us- God's going to side with us, American Christians, and do what we want instead of what the Sentinelese want.

When ex-evangelicals tell you that in church we never learned about consent and boundaries, this is the kind of shit we're talking about.

Yeah, I used to participate in that. I used to pray that God would manipulate people into changing religions. Gross.

I remember back then, sometimes we would express concern over how "arrogant" we seemed, like we were just barging into other people's personal lives and telling them they had to change. We felt a little weird about that, like it wasn't right. But... we believed in hell. We believed that everyone who didn't believe in Jesus was going to hell. (Maybe if someone has really never heard of Jesus they might get a free pass, maybe, but let's not bet on it.) So yes, I understood that I might come across as arrogant for my belief that I knew the correct things that everyone else needed to believe, but... if it's the truth, if I REALLY DO know the correct things that everyone else needs to believe... or else they go to hell, well... then I'm not wrong to barge into people's personal lives and tell them what to do.

And we called that "love."

In an Instagram post from Chau's family after his death, they wrote that he "had nothing but love for the Sentinelese people." I believe it... or rather, I believe he "loved" them in the way that Christians "love" their evangelism targets. The way Christians talk about "having a heart for [whatever place]." Seriously, this is language that missionaries (including kids who just go on short-term mission trips) use- they "have a heart for Japan" or "have a heart for Africa" or whatever. It means they see that place as needing help, and they love those people so much that they simply must go and help them.

For what it's worth, I very much rejected this kind of language back when I went on a mission trip to China and then ended up obsessed with it and wanting nothing more than to move there. (Ahem, here. I live in China now.) I did NOT say "I have a heart for China." I was evangelical, and people all around me used that language, it was the normal thing that you say about Christians who travel to non-western countries, but to me it always felt objectifying. Viewing a country with one billion people as if it's some kind of little hobby of mine, some special interest I have... eww, nope, I never liked that.

Chau "loved" the Sentinelese people... but how can you love someone you've never met or communicated with at all? If they don't want you to be there, but you go there anyway... how is that "love"? No, he "loved" them in the sense that he really believed they were in danger of going to hell because they didn't believe in Jesus, and he wanted to help them escape that fate. But it wasn't love in any sense that applies to the actual real world.

Over here in the actual real world, it's dangerous for isolated island people to come into contact with outsiders. Because of disease. But does that matter, in this evangelical missions ideology? Ha, do you even have to ask? No, of course it doesn't matter. If God "calls" you to go to some certain place, if God "gives you a heart for" that place, then you just go. You don't worry about those details, silly little details like diseases which have, historically, wiped out significant proportions of island societies. God will handle that. God will make sure that doesn't happen.

I'm serious, that's what I really believed back then. That's what Christians taught me. God might call you to do something risky. God might call you to do something that "the world" will think is a bad idea. But if God called you, then you have to do it. There were stories told in church, of people being told by God to do all sorts of things that seemed doomed to fail, but they just obeyed God and had amazing success and everything was great. That's what faith is, they said- doing stuff that God tells you to do, even if by all accounts it seems like a really bad idea. That's what Christians are supposed to do.

Another extremely familiar part of Chau's story is this, a statement from Dependra Pathak, director general of police of the Andaman and Nicobar islands:
"We refuse to call him a tourist. Yes, he came on a tourist visa but he came with a specific purpose to preach on a prohibited island," Pathak said.
Ah yes, the missionary on a tourist visa. That's the oldest trick in the book. When you go on a mission trip and you apply for your visa, you don't tell them the purpose of your trip is missions. You say you're a tourist, or whatever. When I came to China on a short-term mission trip, years ago, I was on a tourist visa. My whole group was. We made sure to never ever use Christian language in public, so that if we were being watched in China they wouldn't know we were there on a mission trip. Even in our emails, we avoided certain words- instead of "pray", we said "talk to Dad."

I've heard of long-term missionaries in China playing the tourist-visa game. They get a multiple-entry tourist visa, which means you can enter China as many times as you want, but each time you can only stay 90 days. So they live in China long-term, but they make sure that once every 90 days they go down to Hong Kong for the weekend. (Easiest way to do something that will count as "leaving the country.") That's how the game is played.

Oldest trick in the book.

Does it matter to Christians that it's sort of dishonest to hide one's real purpose in entering the country? LOLLLLL nope of course it doesn't matter. We are saving people from hell! God told us to come here! So what if some *earthly* government has *rules* against what we're doing? We follow God's rules instead.

Speaking of governments and rules: it is illegal to go within 5 nautical miles of North Sentinel Island, where the Sentinelese live. Am I shocked that Chau was willing to break the law in order to "bring the gospel to them"? Ha. Silly little things like laws- nope, Christian missionaries don't have to follow those. Obeying God is more important, no question about that. Like, of course it's a risk, of course we don't want to get arrested, but if you're a good enough Christian, then you're willing to take that risk for God.

Seven local Indian people who helped Chau get a boat and get to the island have been arrested, because yes, what they did was illegal. See, over here in the real world, breaking the law is a very serious thing and people get arrested and it's not pretty. I don't know if Chau thought about how his actions would affect them. But I can easily imagine a Christian believing that God's "mission" was more important, so it's okay to get other people to help you break the law.

You know what else isn't glamorous, here in the real world? Death. See back then, in church, Christians talked about dying for God like it was so cool. Obviously we don't want to die, but those stories about martyrs amazed us. Those people were the best Christians. Obeying God so much that they even died for it.

When I was at Urbana (InterVarsity's huge student missions conference), there was a speaker who told us it was worth it to die because of obedience to God's "call." I wrote about this in a post last year:
I remember one speaker at Urbana who talked about how her husband was murdered while working as a missionary in the Middle East. And she said even though it's very tragic that he lost his life, it would have been even worse if he hadn't obeyed God's call and hadn't become a missionary. He was living according to God's amazing plan for his life, and that's better than any alternative.
And we all nodded along and "amen"ed and wished we could be courageous enough to die for God. I didn't even question it- I totally believed her claim that it's better to die while obeying God's call than to live a long life and miss out on God's plan for your life. Thinking about this now, I feel sick. I can't believe I have to say this, but: Death is bad. Death is serious. It's not something we should just casually throw around, or aspire to... but oh god, we did aspire to it, back then. We wanted to be martyrs. (Well, we either wanted to be martyrs, or we felt guilty for not wanting to...)

This is a tragedy, and I really feel bad for Chau. And disgusted at the Christian missions ideology that caused this. It's not glamorous to suffer and die "for God." It's just ... heartbreaking.

What really bothers me is how perfect Chau's story is, from an evangelical perspective. This is the perfect fairy-tale martyr story. We all know that it's more godly to be a missionary than just a "regular" Christian, and being a missionary to an unreached people group is even better. And wow, the Sentinelese people are basically as "unreached" as you can possibly get. That is the very very best way to be a missionary! And he broke the law to get to their island, ooooh how exciting! (Chau wrote "God sheltered me" when he was able to get to the island without being stopped by Indian authorities.) He finally got there, and told them, "My name is John, I love you and Jesus loves you." And then they killed him. Seriously, you could not make up a martyr story that sounds better than this.

From an evangelical perspective, it's perfect. But I'm not evangelical anymore, so I'm looking at this from a new angle and I'm horrified. The belief that a group of strangers on some faraway island need us to come and teach them our religion. WTF? Contacting an uncontacted tribe that wants to stay uncontacted. Breaking the law. The risk of infecting them with deadly diseases. The idea that it's fine to do dangerous and illegal things if that's what "God called" you to.

Chau is going to be seen as a hero and a role model. There is absolutely no part of this story that will come across as a cautionary tale for evangelicals, nothing that will serve as a warning that other people should NOT do what he did. It's perfect, and that scares me.

Do y'all remember Jim Elliot? Okay, here is the story of Jim Elliot- or at least, here's the story I heard in the evangelical church: Jim Elliot was a missionary who wanted to "share the gospel" with a remote tribe in South America, back in the 50's. But they killed him. He is a martyr! Then, years later, other missionaries went back to that same tribe and were able to "share the gospel", and some of them accepted Jesus! Hooray, it's a happy ending! Because of what Elliot did, those people were more "open" to "the gospel" and isn't that just great.

Christians LOVE this story. There was a movie about it in 2005, "The End of the Spear."

But now that I'm reading the news about Chau and seeing what this actually looks like in reality, how much of a mess and a nightmare it is, I'm starting to suspect maybe the story of Jim Elliot wasn't actually so perfect and wonderful either. Hmmmmmmmm...

So that's the sum of my thoughts on this. As far as I can tell, Chau was following the exact same evangelical missions ideology that I was taught. Back then, we talked excitedly about God "calling" each of us to some specific faraway place. We prayed for "unreached people groups"- prayed that God would send a good evangelical Christian to coerce them into changing their beliefs. What those "unreached people groups" actually wanted didn't matter- of course it didn't! We talked about giving everything for Jesus, and the most ultimate way to do that was to go get killed while obeying God's "call." Everything that Chau said or did feels so normal and familiar to me, like a perfect role-model missionary that everyone at church would admire. As if the only reason the rest of us Christians aren't doing the same thing is that God didn't "call" us- not because it's dangerous and illegal and a bad idea and does more harm than good. If God "calls" you then none of those other concerns matter.

It's the perfect martyr story. But now that I'm not evangelical anymore, now that I no longer see "God's plan" as more real than the actual reality of the actual real world, I'm horrified. This whole thing is just bad.

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

Related:
Evangelicals Agree With What Chau Did (And It Makes Me Angry): Here Are The Receipts 
Because of an Idea
Runaway Radical: Radical Christian Missions 
Runaway Radical: The Stories You Can't Tell In Church
On Zebedee's Sons and Counting the Cost 
Renee Bach, who had no medical training, opened a clinic in Africa. Just like missionaries are supposed to.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Blogaround

Image text: "When trans lives are lost, Christ is crucified again. Trans Day of Remembrance. Remember the dead, fight like hell for the living. queertheology.com/tdor" Image source.
1. Mississippi Senator In Runoff Jokes About Sitting In ‘Front Row’ Of ‘Public Hanging’ (posted November 11)

2. Don't Ask Your Pastor These Questions (posted November 9) "If there is a “women’s retreat,” specifically ask if trans women can attend or if it’s only for cis women. Clarify if the policies differ for gay, celibate folks as opposed to non-celibate, gay folks."

3. Sex-Positive Christianity (posted November 15) "Though my ethic regarded these things as sin, I’d convinced myself they weren’t really that bad because they had to do with men–not women."

4. There’s More Evidence That Welfare Work Requirements Don’t Lift People Out of Poverty (posted November 13)

5. Dear @BrianZahnd, Let's get clear about something |theKevinGarcia (posted November 17) "And that's when our queer spidey-senses started to tingle..."

6. The Husband Hunt: An Evangelical Horror Story (posted October 23) "In this case, Christians live in a culture full of people pretending that there’s some vast spiritual component to their spouse hunts." This post is so spot-on, about how Christian women buy into this mythology about God magically bringing them a husband. I'm sharing it even though I don't agree with Cassidy's claim that ACTUALLY Christian men marry women that are conventionally attractive and that's all there is to it.

7. Brian Kemp’s Lead in Georgia Needs an Asterisk (posted November 7) "If the governor’s race had taken place in another country, the State Department would have questioned its legitimacy."

8. We try to control forgiveness because we know we need it (posted November 5) "The miracle of forgiveness is that it inverts — it corrects — the prior power dynamic. The process of forgiveness acknowledges that the wronged party, the victim of an injustice, now has a kind of power over those who wronged them — the power to grant or to withhold forgiveness. This inversion of power is intolerable for The Powers That Be." Wowwww I've never heard anyone connecting forgiveness to power in this way.

9. The Voluntary Damsel in Distress (posted November 15) HOLYYYY SHIT, World Magazine posted a vile, misogynistic, rage-inducing trashfire of an article, and Libby Anne has ALL THE RECEIPTS. Wow. World Magazine- my family subscribed to this when I was growing up. I saw it as a good Christian resource. I was about to say "I just lost all respect for World", but hey, does anyone remember this blog post I wrote back in 2015, in response to another disgusting hateful World article (from the same writer!!!)? Grosssssss gross gross gross, how will I explain this to my hypothetical children.

10. Is Crimes of Grindelwald Awesome Or Awful? | SPOILER REVIEW (posted November 20) [content note: spoilers for "Fantastic Beasts 2: The Crimes of Grindelwald"] "At this point, if you think about it, you're two movies into a spinoff series based on a fictional author of a fictional book inside of a fictional universe. You're pretty deep."

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Gotta Love That Full-Blown Atheism

Fruit growing on a tree. Image source.
All right, I want to talk about this bad article from The Gospel Coalition: 3 Beliefs Some Progressive Christians and Atheists Share. The writer, Alisa Childers, says that it's common for ex-evangelicals to go through a progressive Christian phase and eventually become atheists, and therefore progressive Christianity is verrrrry suspicious and bad.

All right, I'm a progressive Christian. (I don't typically use that label for myself, but okay, sure. I actually prefer "Christian feminist.") I'm not an atheist. Let's take a look at Childers's 3 beliefs here, and see if I have them:
  1. They May Adopt a Belief That the Bible Is Unreliable
  2. They May Have an Unresolved Answer to the Problem of Evil
  3. They May Affirm a Culture-Adapting Morality
Well for #1, yes there is stuff in the bible that's just not true. For #2, umm well I think Christians who have a resolved answer to the problem of evil are SHADY AS HELL. Because I used to be like that, and my answer was "we all deserve to die and go to hell and suffer torture forever and never experience anything good, so when bad things happen on earth, well we deserve worse anyway" which is heartless and terrible. Like if you think it's 100% fine and dandy that God is all-powerful and all-loving but horrible tragedies happen in the world... ewwwww not really okay with that. For #3, umm sure I have what they call a "culture-adapting morality" but I very much DO NOT call it that. That's sort of a straw man. And I think it's quite hypocritical that Childers claims her brand of Christianity is just plainly following what the bible says rather than "picking and choosing." LOLOLOL yeah right.

But that's not really what I want to talk about in this post. I want to talk about how she seems to think atheism is some horrific thing we should all be scared of. She uses the phrase "full-blown atheism." Ohhhhhhhhkayyyyyyyy. (Ahem, this is Christian supremacy.)

Like... atheism is fine. Like I really don't care what people believe; I care about their actions. By their fruit you will know them. If there's good fruit, then I'm cool with whatever their underlying beliefs are.

I would say that's an important part of progressive Christianity: the concept that IT'S FINE for people to not be Christians. So this "oh noes, what if people become ... *GASP* ... atheists!!!!" fearmongering is a bit lost on me.

Whatever. I'm over it. Yep, TGC is over here claiming they are doing Christianity the correct way and they're the ones who are *really* following the bible, and us progressive Christians are just following morally-suspect ideas from "the culture." It's not true, but that's old news. Evangelicalism is all about bearing false witness against one's neighbor, misrepresenting and demonizing other people's beliefs. I'm over it.

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Longtime readers of my blog may know that God has laid a burden on my heart to respond to bad theology from The Gospel Coalition. You can find all my posts about them here.

Monday, November 19, 2018

I'm Not a Baby Ace Anymore

A small airplane (looks like only 1 seat) that says "Baby Ace" on the side. Idk, I searched google images for "baby ace" and this is what popped up. Image source.
So. It's been almost 2 years since I announced I'm asexual. And I'd like to tell you, I feel so good and comfortable IDing as ace. ("Ace" is another word for asexual.) At the beginning, as a baby ace, I was unsure; I actually questioned for about a year and a half before coming out. But over these two years, as I've blogged more about asexuality and my experiences, as I've participated in the Carnival of Aces and read posts from a huge variety of ace bloggers, as I've participated in the queer community here in China, I've felt better and better. I feel very happy about being ace. Really proud.

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Back when I was first wondering if I could be asexual, I imagined that everything hinged on this definition- "'asexual' means someone who never experiences sexual attraction." And so there were 2 big problems for me as I tried to figure out my sexuality:
  1. But, what is "sexual attraction"? Like if I really have never experienced it, then how could I understand what it is? And if I don't know what it is, then how can I know whether I've ever experienced it?
  2. Asexual means I've never experienced sexual attraction. Never. But... what if I did experience it one time and I didn't realize it, or I forgot? How can anyone ever be sure that they've never EVER EVER had a certain feeling? (I reassured myself that gray aces are also on the ace spectrum- so even if I can't say "never", I can still get a label to help me understand myself and understand why having sex with my husband isn't the transcendent, life-changing experience I always was told it would be.)
Eventually I decided yes I am ace. Because the ace community is the only place I found answers to why sex is so weird and confusing for me. Yes, I asked several doctors to help me figure out what I'm doing wrong with sex, and they weren't any help at all. (They were like "just relax"- wtf does that mean? Spoiler: the ACTUAL problem was that I didn't know what arousal was and I was trying to do penetrative sex when my body wasn't actually aroused at all. Oww.) But the online ace community, that was the only place I found people talking about sex in a way that made sense.

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I really wanted to have sex with my husband, and enjoy it. I didn't see IDing as ace as something that would work against that goal; I saw it as extremely helpful information. Because if I'm not asexual, that would mean I'm heterosexual, which would mean I'm supposed to already understand this. I'm supposed to already desire sex, and just kind of follow along those desires in obvious and natural ways, and it will work. And then when it doesn't work, as a heterosexual I would have no clues, no indications, no idea of where to start in my quest to figure out why it doesn't work.

But if I ID as ace, then I know why it doesn't work. It's because even though I love my husband and intellectually I want to have sex with him, I don't actually experience sexual attraction. Sex isn't something that will come naturally to me; it's something I have to learn. Start with nothing and build on top of that, one step at a time, to learn how to have sex.

See, that means I have a starting point, and a basic idea of what to do to solve this "why is sex so confusing" problem.

I need to be free from the expectation that I'm supposed to already understand this. Otherwise everything would be so much harder.

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At first, I guess I subconsciously thought that being ace meant I would only enjoy the emotional or romantic parts of sex, and it wouldn't feel good in a physical way. And being ace meant my stance on masturbation had to be "yeah, I tried masturbating, but, eh, I don't really get the point, I didn't really like it." I limited myself, didn't want to be honest with myself when I actually did enjoy something. But when I realized I was thinking along those lines, it was a giant red flag. No, we should never be limited by our labels. I should never try to convince myself I don't feel things I really do feel.

And so I try stuff. Masturbate. Use sex toys. Read sexy fanfiction. Think of different options I can try with my husband so it's not painful. I feel like I'm making progress and things are getting better and better.

I let myself feel my feelings, without analyzing every little one to make sure it's not sexual attraction. I don't carefully classify all my feelings like "okay that was sensual attraction, that was romantic attraction, see everything can be explained away and I'm still ace." That's just... not the point.

I'm very comfortable identifying as ace. I'm very happy with it. But for me, it's no longer primarily about that definition I read so long ago- "'asexual' means someone who never experiences sexual attraction." I'm not so focused on that part anymore.

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So what is it about then? Yes, I still will tell you I don't ever experience sexual attraction. I'm still fairly sure that none of these feelings I have are sexual attraction. But... for me that's not the point anymore. Maybe it's more complicated than that.

So here's what it's about. Here's what "asexual" means to me now: It means I don't have to pretend I *get* sex. I don't have to smile and nod and hide my confusion when someone makes a sex joke and I don't understand it. (Or when I understand, intellectually, that the joke is about implying some relation between sex and whatever mundane topic we are talking about... but like why is that funny though? It's like sex is this big fandom that people love to reference. Whyyyyy?) I'm allowed to not understand. I'm allowed to come across as way too naive. I don't have to participate in this mythology that says sex is the best thing ever. I don't have to pretend to be something I'm not.

I'm thankful to the ace community for showing me there are so many different ways to be ace. I've met ace people from different backgrounds online- some are straight, married, and do have sex, like me, but that's only one way to be ace and there are tons of other ways out there. I'm really glad to have the Carnival of Aces to gather blog posts from such a diverse bunch of aces. I'm glad I found so many asexual blogs. I really appreciate all those posts I read when I was a baby ace, posts that said "aces who have sex are still ace, aces who don't have sex are still ace, aces who enjoy sex are still ace, aces who masturbate are still ace" and so on and so on. About not policing the label, about how it's valid for people to identify with it if it helps them, how it's not necessarily about fitting a strict definition.

When I first IDed as ace, I was worried about words like "sexual attraction" and "never." I wondered if I was really allowed to claim the label. I subconsciously wanted to police my own emotions to make sure I never felt sexual attraction, make sure I had an answer to "but how could you be asexual if you like [xyz]?" But it's not like that anymore. I've gotten more and more comfortable with myself and my own desires and attractions, and more and more comfortable with IDing as asexual.

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This post is part of the November 2018 Carnival of Aces. This month's topic is the Carnival of Aces (so meta).

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Blogaround

Stan Lee's cameo as a bus driver in "Avengers: Infinity War." Image text: "What's the matter with you kids, you've never seen a spaceship before?" Image source.
1. 'Respond to evil with good’: Muslim community raises money for victims of synagogue shooting (posted October 28) "A crowdfunding campaign organized by the Muslim American community has raised more than $150,000 for the victims of the mass shooting at Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh."

2. Have all our short-term mission trips to Latin America shaped our response to the migrant ‘caravan’? (posted November 6) "That leads me to wonder what this says about the role of STM trips in helping to change lives and produce disciples who care about the plight of those whom they served. And what it says about the state of the Church in America."

3. Christine Blasey Ford Is Still Being Put Through Hell (posted November 8) "As of last month, Ford has had to move four times due to harassment, NPR reports."

4. Pediatricians strengthen stance against spanking kids (posted November 5) "'In the 20 years since that policy was first published, there's been a great deal of additional research, and we're now much stronger in saying that parents should never hit their child and never use verbal insults that would humiliate or shame the child,' said Dr. Robert Sege, first author of the policy statement and a pediatrician at the Floating Hospital for Children at Tufts Medical Center in Boston."

5. Plot to Smear Mueller Unravels as F.B.I. Is Asked to Investigate (posted October 30) and Why They Thought It Would Work. [content note: rape culture] "They thought that they could easily find women to come forward, accept money, and lie about sexual misconduct on the part of Mueller because THEY DON’T BELIEVE WOMEN WHO HAVE BEEN VICTIMIZED. They think it is all made up."

6. Why Dumbledore Can't Move Against Grindelwald | Fantastic Beasts Theory (posted October 12) [posted before "Fantastic Beasts 2" comes out, so it has no spoilers] "Totally impossible, right? Welcome to Super Carlin Brothers."

7. This artist uses jigsaw puzzles, with the same die cut pattern, to make these terrific mashups (posted November 11) Cool!

8. Stan Lee, Marvel Comics visionary, dead at 95 (posted November 13)

And this video: Stan Lee Cameos in Marvel Movies & Live Action TV Shows. (R.I.P. 1922-2018)



Monday, November 12, 2018

"How Far Is Too Far?" My Story, And What I Wish I'd Known

Hercules and Meg kiss. Image source.
Christian teenagers always want to know "How far is too far?" which means "I know I'm not allowed to have sex before marriage, but, like, what exactly am I allowed to do?" Typically, youth pastors are very vague about answering this- they like to say things like "you shouldn't be asking that question, you shouldn't want to know exactly where 'the line' is just so you can go right up to it. Instead you should be focused on honoring God in your relationships." And I hate that answer. It's not helpful at all. It meant I was constantly terrified whenever I was dating someone and just *had no idea* if holding hands with him was a huge sin that would ruin my life.

I now know that the REAL ANSWER to "How far is too far?" is that you need to be aware of how physical closeness affects you emotionally, and keep the emotional closeness at a level that's consistent with how committed you are to each other and how much you believe you can trust your partner. The connection between physical intimacy and emotional intimacy is going to be different for everyone, so it's important to know yourself and be honest about what you feel, and communicate with your partner- don't assume that they connect physical and emotional intimacy in the same way you do.

Or, to put it another way: If kissing is going to make you fall in love, then make sure you only kiss someone who's worth falling in love with. But of course initially, when you have no experience, you don't know if kissing will make you fall in love or not. It's fine to go ahead and try kissing, and if you realize that it pulls you in to emotions that are way too deep and therefore not fitting to your situation, then you back off. It might hurt, but you'll be okay. No long-term harm done.

See? THAT'S the answer. But I never heard ANYTHING like that from any Christian teaching about relationships. I figured it out my damn self.

So in this post I want to talk about my own experiences with the connection between physical and emotional closeness. To give concrete examples to this principle I've given as the answer to "how far is too far."

All right. Here we go.

So my first romantic relationship was when I was a freshman in college. We will refer to my boyfriend as BF 1. (I'm straight, all the romantic interests in my story are boys.) A bit of background about what brand of purity culture I was in back then: It was a confusing and badly-defined strand of purity culture, influenced by my parents, who believe in "premarital sex is a sin, but dating and kissing are fine, those are normal things that teenagers do", and Brio magazine, which promoted the I-Kissed-Dating-Goodbye, be-terrified-you-are-losing-your-emotional-purity-because-you-have-a-crush strand of purity culture. At the time, I did not realize that they didn't agree- I thought that all Christian role models in my life believed in "the biblical view" of dating [or rather, I thought there was actually such a thing as "the biblical view" of dating], and I was trying to figure out how to reconcile all these different pieces of advice into one consistent ideology. Poor little Perfect Number, she tried so hard, but she couldn't make the pieces fit. And so she was scared. She didn't know if dating was a sin or not. She didn't know if holding hands was a sin or not. She didn't know if kissing was a sin or not. And so she was scared when she did those things with BF 1.

I dated him even though I didn't really think it was a good idea. See, he wasn't a Christian, so I knew that meant we couldn't get married; I knew someday we would have to break up. (Ahem, spoiler: I am now married and my husband is not a Christian.) I dated BF 1 because I was boy-crazy and just FULL of romantic attraction and I needed an outlet for it.

The narrative I'd been given by purity teaching was that people do romantic and sexual things because they "can't control themselves" when under the influence of "temptation." So I thought it was perfectly normal that I was overwhelmed with romantic attraction and choosing to be in a probably-sinful relationship that I didn't really think I should be in. That's how it works, right? Just like how nobody *wants* to have premarital sex, it just kind of *happens* when a couple is alone at night and they "stumble" because of "temptation." What choice did I have? If I wasn't dating BF 1, then I would just be single and boy-crazy with nowhere for all those FEELINGS to go.

And I told him that too. I told him I'm not really sure that our relationship is a good thing, and that someday we'll have to break up because he's not a Christian.

Huh. I guess I didn't treat him right. But I didn't realize it at the time. Yes, of course I learned in church that we should be kind and empathetic towards other people, but apparently when it comes to dating relationships, the rules are totally different. Instead of loving my partner, I'm supposed to view him with suspicion and fight him when he tries to "take" my "purity." I didn't think about how the things I said might hurt him, because purity culture taught me that boys don't really have feelings, they just want to use girls for sex. Especially non-Christian boys.

Anyway, I eventually decided- after a lot of prayer and worrying- that I was going to kiss him. Because I really wanted to. I was very attracted to him. So anyway, then one night we spent a bunch of quality time kissing. He used the term "making out" to refer to what we were doing, and I was terrified. Because one time I read an article in Brio addressing the question "Making out isn't as bad as sex, right?" and it said that making out was bad. I didn't know what making out was though- I assumed it was something that would feel more sexual and sinful. So I was extremely worried when BF 1 informed me that we had been making out.

See? That's the kind of fear I was working with back then. It was all about uncertainty and vaguely-defined terms, so I never really knew if I was sinning or not.

Oh, and when we were kissing, I made sure not to open my mouth at all, so we couldn't poke our tongues at each other. Because years earlier, a good Christian adult told me that was bad. I remember I asked "besides the fact that that's gross, what is the reason that one shouldn't kiss with tongue?" and she said because it "gets him going" and then it would be hard for the boy to stop.

Thinking about it now, I guess she meant it could make the guy get an erection. Ugh, this bothers me so much- if you mean "erection" you should just say "erection", not these vague euphemisms that 13-year-old Perfect Number definitely doesn't understand. She didn't know what an erection was either, back then ... so follow it up with a definition and we're good.

The point is, I made sure our tongues were NOT involved in this kissing at all, because somebody said it was bad. I didn't really know why, but I just knew it was bad.

(Oh also: It wasn't until I started reading feminist blogs that I found out this stuff about "don't kiss with your tongue because then a guy might not be able to stop himself from having sex with you" is total BS. Guys can stop. It's called "consent" and "being a decent human being" and "not being a rapist." Purity culture said that was WAY too high a standard to hold a guy to. Eff that.)

Anyway. So. We were kissing, and it felt AMAZING.

I definitely felt emotionally closer to him because of the kissing. I asked him, "Does kissing make you like me more?" He said, "Well, it makes me like you more in a physical way, but I try to ignore that." I didn't understand what he meant, perhaps something along the lines of temptation to have sex, but I hardly dared to even hypothesize in that direction. Sex was a scary, life-destroying monster that lived far far away from the normal, mundane events of my life. It was unimaginable that something so awful might be in any way associated with my nice sweet relationship with BF 1.

Thinking about it now, I wonder if he meant his genitals were getting aroused. (Ha, we are talking about erections again.) Hmm. Who knows. I certainly never ever thought about his genitals.

On a related note, it turns out I'm asexual. Yeah, the question of whether I would be interested in having sex with BF 1 never crossed my mind. But I still feared it, feared that it would *just happen* if we were alone in his dorm room.

Anyway, he said kissing didn't make him "like me more" in an emotional way, and I chalked it up to boys being heartless. Because how can someone kiss like that and not feel their heart opening up, feel an overwhelming desire to just adore and cherish their partner?

I tried to explain to him about how hugging and cuddling with an attractive boy would make me like that boy more, and BF 1 was pretty much appalled and said "so if some random guy comes up and hugs you, you're suddenly going to be in love with him?" To him, it sounded like I was so shallow, to base such big important feelings on something as superficial as physical contact. To me, it sounded like he was so shallow, to be capable of experiencing physical affection- taking a girl's purity!- without being emotionally affected by it. I wondered what the heck was wrong with him.

I remember one time I told BF 1 about an advice column I read in Brio, where somebody wrote in to say "I was worried my boyfriend would break up with me, so I had sex with him, but he STILL broke up with me, can you believe it" and the answer from the Brio writer was "yeah see this is why you shouldn't have premarital sex, because boys can't be trusted to value it the way they're supposed to." BF 1 was baffled- I think he even laughed- why would this girl think that having sex would make her boyfriend not break up with her? Why would those things be connected at all? Again, I chalked it up to boys being heartless.

Because purity culture taught me that the correct way to connect sex and love is this: Sex means lifelong love and lifelong commitment- ie, marriage. That's what sex is. That's what sex means. And if anyone disagrees with that- like, for example, if they are fine with having sex with someone they don't intend to stay with forever- then they are a BAD PERSON.

But I now see it doesn't have to be that way. Sex can mean different things to different people. You can't assume anything about how it will make your partner feel or what it will mean to them, and that's why YOU HAVE TO COMMUNICATE. TALK. Nobody is a "bad person" because of the emotions their body does or doesn't produce during sex. (Or kissing, or cuddling, or whatever.) COMMUNICATE. Keep your emotions and expectations grounded in reality.

Anyway, back to my story about me and BF 1 and our kissing. So, the kissing felt so sweet and perfect to me, and it felt like we would be together forever. It really felt like that. But my mind said whoa whoa whoa whoa, this is not right, we can't be together forever because he's not a Christian.

So a few days after our first kiss, I put a stop to it. I knew it wasn't right. It made me feel things that weren't true.

And that was a good decision. See, this is what I mean about "the answer to 'how far is too far' is to keep your emotions matching the reality of the situation."

But let me tell you something. If it weren't for the "I can't marry a non-Christian" issue, I would have 100% believed that, because of the way we kissed, it meant we were going to get married.

Wow, how naive and ridiculous, right? Like, over here in reality, marriage is a HUGE BIG DEAL, a huge decision that will affect you for the entire rest of your life, and you have to spend time thinking about it rationally before you make that kind of decision. But in purity culture, marriage is always the next logical step after any romantic or sexual closeness. The alternative would be breaking up and losing part of your heart, and that's too scary to think about. So if it weren't for the "I can't marry a non-Christian" thing, it would have felt perfectly logical to me that kissing would so easily indicate that this is "the one", my "future husband."

So anyway, I told BF 1 we can't kiss anymore. So we didn't. A few weeks later (for unrelated reasons) he broke up with me. The relationship had lasted about 3 months.

So what do I wish I had known back then? I wish I knew how to handle my attractions better- surely there must have been something else I could have done besides getting into a relationship I didn't really think I should be in. I wish I knew that boys have feelings- I saw him as a leech trying to steal my "purity" and therefore I didn't care if I hurt him. Well, I did care, I am a human with empathy and if someone is right in front of me looking sad, my heart cares about them. But on an abstract, theoretical level, nope I definitely did NOT believe I should care about my boyfriend's feelings. (Or rather, I believed that complementarian nonsense about "men need respect, women need love" so I suppose I did care about "respecting" him. But that's all.)

I wish I wasn't so scared about everything. I wish I could have just tried those things- dating, holding hands, kissing- and evaluated my emotional reaction to decide if they were right for my situation or not. I wish I knew that it won't be the end of the world if I accidentally do something that's a bit more physically close than what I'm really ready for. If it's too much, I can just back off, no harm done.

I wish I knew that you can't communicate "we're going to be together forever" with only a makeout session. It has to be in actual words. I wish I knew it's okay if the two partners don't have the same emotional response to their physical intimacy.

I wish I'd had good enough sex-ed that I could have figured out I was asexual, but haha, I don't think that even exists. Well, we can dream.

But when I stopped kissing him because I knew my emotions didn't match reality- that was the right decision.

Moving along with the story. After that relationship ended, I re-dedicated my life to Jesus and went looking for answers about how dating is supposed to work. No more of this wishy-washy "I don't know if it's a sin or not so I'm just scared" stuff. I read purity-culture books and listened to Mark Driscoll sermons, oh god. And I was so happy because I got my answers. (Extremely conservative answers...) I built up a logically-sound purity-based ideology. It said I can't date until God says so. And if I'm dating, I need to show as little affection as possible, only the bare minimum required to gain enough information to decide if I can marry this person or not.

That's where I was for several years, but then thank Lady God for bloggers, I found some people on the internet saying "hey do you think maybe it's kind of harmful that we are teaching kids they are chewed-up gum if they have sex?" And I started to take small steps out of purity culture.

I started dating a guy we will call BF 2. I started dating him even though I did NOT get explicit approval from God. I decided I don't believe in that anymore. I decided that even though I don't have God giving me a guarantee that this guy is "my future husband", he was a good enough guy that it would be worth it to at least try it out. No longer was I letting baseless fears about "but what if we break up someday" stop me. Because yeah, I had realized my whole purity ideology was about fear.

And yes, I stand by that. It WAS a good decision to start dating him. Based on the information I had at the time, it totally was worth it to try it out.

I remember how much of a big deal it was to do tiny little affectionate things that brought me no closer to making a decision about marriage. I remember I used to text him every night to say goodnight, and he would text back to tell me how cute I was. It made me happy. I no longer thought of it in terms of "I am losing emotional purity" and "my purity is the currency I used to buy information on whether or not I should marry him." I just did sweet things for him just because I liked it.

But we didn't kiss. We never kissed. Because I was terrified- what if kissing is bad? What if purity culture was right about that? What if it ruins my life?

We never kissed. And I was so scared, so worried as I agonized over that choice. I wasn't overwhelmed by "temptation" or unable to "control myself"- so that meant we shouldn't kiss, right? Better safe than sorry? If we can avoid it, we should, right? Just in case it's bad.

When I moved to China, I was a little bit relieved that I no longer had the option of kissing him. I no longer had to think about maybe making a different choice.

So our relationship lasted about 1 year. At the beginning it was good, but at the end it wasn't. He didn't treat me right, but I didn't really have the tools to recognize that. I tried everything to fix the relationship. I tried to manipulate him into being a better partner. Occasionally he would kinda-sorta act like a good boyfriend, and it made me so happy, but it never lasted.

I didn't know that if one partner is no longer interested in being in the relationship, it's not really possible for the other partner to fix it. That's just not going to work in the long term. Maybe it was because of all that church teaching about how a wife can get her husband to change- submit more, pray for him, and so on, and he'll magically turn into a good husband. Or church teaching about how we should build friendships with people so we can "share the gospel." How we should pray for God to change other people so they give up their beliefs and agree with ours instead. Basically a lot of teaching about how to manipulate and pray for people so they start acting the way we think they should act. I didn't know about boundaries.

And I was taught in church that, when people divorce, there is sin on both sides. Which makes it sound like, if one side does the right thing, they can singlehandedly change it into a healthy marriage and stop the divorce.

Basically, BF 2 was acting like he didn't want to be in the relationship anymore, but he never actually said that out loud. I didn't *get* that a problem like this is not really fixable. Sure, maybe I can get him to at least act nice occasionally, but is that what I really want, in the long term?

I wish I knew more about breaking up, so I could recognize when it was the right time to do it. I wish I had some healthier teaching about breaking up. Not that purity-culture stuff about how it's the Worst Thing Ever and will Ruin Your Life. Or testimonies about "God is telling me I need to break up with my boyfriend" after a Christian conference. I want actual practical tips about how to tell if the relationship is not going to get better.

I didn't think of it in terms of "he's not treating me right." The only narrative I had about "not treating her right" was when "a boy is having sex with a girl but he doesn't love her." Our relationship was so pure though- we didn't even kiss! That meant it was a healthy relationship, right?

I also wish I had known that just because the beginning of a relationship was good, and your partner is really great and supportive during a hard time in your life, that doesn't mean it's right to stick with them FOREVER. It might be good for a while, but then at some point it's time to break up, and that's not a bad thing.

Towards the end of my relationship with BF 2, I was taking more and more steps out of purity culture, and embracing my desires. Sensual attraction, in this case. I was like, I like boys, I want to touch boys, I want to kiss boys- and for the first time in my life, I didn't repress it. I knew I couldn't, like, actually go kiss someone, because I was still in a long-distance relationship with BF 2. But in my own mind, I was honest about how I felt and what I wanted. And that felt good.

There was this guy, let's call him Creepy Guy. I was very attracted to him. He knew I had a boyfriend. He kissed me, without my consent, and oh god I wanted so much to kiss him back, wow I wanted it so much, but I told him no, because I had a boyfriend. We were alone in his apartment, but it never even crossed my mind to worry that he might rape me. Because he was hot, and I thought rapists were unattractive. FORTUNATELY, he was not a rapist. I told him to stop kissing me so he stopped. But then we sat around for a while and talked. And I think about that now, and I'm like, ugh he was so creepy, why didn't I just leave immediately... but when you're in the situation, it's hard to recognize what's happening.

That actually happened twice- two separate occasions, with two different guys, so we will call them Creepy Guy 1 and Creepy Guy 2. Forcing kisses on me, when they KNEW I had a boyfriend. And also when I texted with them, the way they talked to me was creepy too- as if I owed them something. Creepy Guy 1 kept asking me if I was having sex with any guys. I knew it was none of his business (no thanks to Christian accountability groups where it's completely normal to pry into people's sex lives...) but he just seemed so sad about it, so I told him the truth, which was that no, I was not having sex with any guys. I didn't tell him I had NEVER had sex. I didn't tell him I never even kissed BF 2.

But at the time I didn't really realize they were creepy because they were both SO HOT and I was really attracted to them, and I was having a lot of problems with BF 2 so I was kind of starved for attention, and also discovering my own desires and no longer bound by the rules of purity culture but not really sure how to construct an alternative. (Well, actually I had read a lot of feminist stuff about rape culture so I was able to see some of the signs of creepiness, but I had no idea what to do about it.) It was a confusing time.

Anyway. I'm including Creepy Guys 1 and 2 in this post about "how far is too far" because they did kiss me, and in purity-culture ideology, that's important. Over here in reality, it was non-consensual, so it's not my fault, it doesn't "damage" my "purity", it doesn't really have anything to do with me, it's just them making a decision to be creepy.

In both cases, I really wanted to kiss them back, but I made the right choice and said no, because I was loyal to BF 2. He didn't deserve my loyalty, but we were still technically in a relationship, so there ya go.

I guess what I want to say is, this is a post about my experiences with the connections between physical and emotional intimacy. The kisses did not deepen my romantic/emotional attractions toward Creepy Guys 1 or 2. I remember afterwards, both times, thinking about how I wished so hard I could have kissed him back, but I was sure I had made the right decision. Because I had a boyfriend. If I didn't have a boyfriend, I totally would have kissed whatever hot guy wanted to kiss me, because I was working my way out of purity culture and that's what I wanted.

I just wanted to kiss boys but not really be in a relationship. And I now believe that's a completely valid thing to want. We'll see in a minute that it wasn't really suitable for me personally, but it's totally fine if that's what someone wants and does.

So I finally sent BF 2 an email to say we were broken up. I knew he wasn't going to reply to it, because he hadn't replied to anything I'd sent him in a long time. And indeed, he didn't reply.

Looking back on it now, did it matter that I never kissed him? What if I had? Do I regret not kissing him? Well my first thought is "he didn't DESERVE my kisses" which is 100% true... but he didn't deserve a lot of the attention and affection and love I gave him. Kissing wouldn't have been different. Or, let me put it this way: Purity culture would see it in terms of things we did (holding hands, hugging on the couch in a sitting position, saying "I love you") and things we didn't do (kiss, do anything sexual) as if those two lists tell us everything we need to know about the relationship. As if moving "kiss" from Category B to Category A would be a HUGE CHANGE in the nature of the relationship. But it wasn't like that. There were other issues that were way more important.

So I really don't think it would have made a difference if I had kissed BF 2. I was already very emotionally attached to him, and kissing wouldn't have deepened that; it was already deep. And I don't regret not kissing him either, because, as I said, I now see that he didn't deserve it.

I wonder if it would have made a difference in my reaction and feelings about Creepy Guy 1 kissing me. When that happened, it had been 5 years since I'd kissed a boy. 5 years is a long time... Would it have been different, if I had kissed BF 2 fairly close to when that happened? Would it have made it easier or harder to say no?

Eh, it's been 5 years since I broke up with BF 2, and 10 years since BF 1. Whatever the status of my "purity" back then, how much of my "self" I "gave" to them, it just doesn't matter now. Purity ideology made me so terrified of all those "how far is too far" decisions- terrified because I really believed it was going to follow me for the rest of my life and it would mean I couldn't *fully* love my husband... I'm here to tell you that's a load of bullshit. I kissed BF 1 10 years ago. Who the hell cares? It doesn't affect my marriage at all. Why would it? It's ridiculous that I even have to say that.

Let's get back to the story. I told BF 2 we were broken up. The next day, another guy told me "I want to kiss you" and I let him.

We spent a bunch of quality time making out on my couch. (And used our tongues. Because we wanted to.) Then I went to work the next day and I missed him. And I was like, oh no, I wasn't supposed to miss him. I just wanted to make out with boys for fun. I didn't want to like, actually date any of these hot guys.

Ugh, I kissed him and I caught feelings from it.

He was SO into me. He SO wanted to be in a relationship. We had known each other for about 1-2 months. I definitely thought he was hot, but there were a lot of hot boys in my life. I wasn't really planning on getting into a relationship again, until after we made out and I suddenly, unexpectedly wanted to date him. I told him I would need some time to think about it.

So I spent maybe 1-2 weeks thinking about it. He was living in a different city, so we just talked online during that time and did NOT kiss or anything.

See? That was a good decision. It turns out I'm not able to just make out with a hot boy without developing romantic feelings for him. Some people are, and that's totally fine, but it turns out I am not. But it was fine to kiss him because I didn't yet know that about myself. It's fine to try it out and see what my emotional reaction would be. And then when my emotions were much different than I expected, I took a step back to think about "is this actually a person that's good enough for me to date?" Sure, I was sort of biased at that point, but I was still able think about it in a healthy way and make a good decision.

I decided, yes, he was good enough. So he became BF 3.

Or... maybe you know him as Hendrix. Reader, I married him. <3

So I told him yes we are now boyfriend and girlfriend. We immediately started sleeping together whenever he came to visit. By "sleeping together" I mean literally just sleeping together; I never use the term "sleep together" as a euphemism for sex because that's just ridiculous. Sleeping and having sex are such incredibly different things, it BOTHERS ME SO MUCH how people use language that implies they are the same. As an asexual, I have A BUNCH OF OPINIONS about this.

So right from the beginning of our relationship, whenever he visited me, we slept together. With clothes on and not doing anything sexual.

I chose to sleep with him because it was sweet and warm and comfortable. When I was in purity culture, of course I believed it was a sin to sleep with one's romantic partner- even with clothes on and not doing anything sexual. It was a sin because, as I was told, "don't be so naive, everyone who's sleeping together is having sex." Apparently, if you sleep in the same bed, the temptation will be too strong, so you'll definitely end up having sex, even if you don't intend to. Again, as an asexual I have Some Opinions about this.

I wanted to sleep with him, and it felt good, and he wanted it too, so we did. As simple as that. Just doing things because I want to do them, not overthinking it, not spending all my time and emotional energy trying to puzzle out "is this a sin or not?"

Well, I say "simple as that" but the reality was not simple. Intellectually, I believed [unmarried] penis-in-vagina sex was a sin but everything else was not a sin... but I still had so much shame and guilt because of all the internalized purity beliefs. We very gradually started doing more physical things- touching genitals through a layer of clothes, then seeing each other's genitals, then touching directly, then stimulating them, then stimulating enough to get an orgasm. But at every point along this progression, I felt so much shame. While I didn't count any of that as "sex" (I only counted penis-in-vagina as "sex", which is, uh, a bit silly) it was still definitely "impure" and "sinful" under the rules of purity culture. It was sexual even though it wasn't sex, and so for my entire life I had believed it was dirty and should only happen after one gets married.

So I would feel so bad, and I would tell Hendrix "no we can't do X anymore", where X was whatever new sort-of-sexual thing I was experiencing for the first time in my life, so we would stop doing X for a day or so. But I would feel like "okay, this is ridiculous, I no longer believe X is a sin. I like X, so why should I let this shame hold me back?" So then we would do X again.

We cycled through that a bunch of times, with different values of X. It was hard. I loved being with him and I loved everything we did together [though I now realize that I loved it for reasons that had nothing to do with sexual attraction], but the shame was overpowering. Those of you who are longtime readers of my blog know about how that shame caused me to have depression back then.

So coming back to our question of "how far is too far": Sometimes I would choose to stop, because of the shame, and sometimes I would choose to say yes, because it felt good. And all of those were good decisions. Even though I felt that logically I shouldn't feel shame because I don't believe any of this is sinful, that emotion was still real, and so it was worth taking into account when I made those decisions.

Basically, see how the physical intimacy affects you emotionally, and make changes if necessary.

As far as the connection between physical and emotional intimacy with one's partner, I don't remember any times in my relationship with Hendrix where I felt like "I feel very emotionally close to him and this might be a problem because the actual reality of our relationship isn't really at that level." Except, of course, right at the beginning when we kissed before we were dating and I caught feelings from it. I guess from the beginning of our relationship, we were very committed to each other, and it just kind of grew in a gradual and healthy way and everything worked out. (Or, I was just winging it and doing what felt good in the absence of any actual rules...?) There weren't any moments where I discovered some huge character flaw of his and thought "ohhh that's quite a red flag, am I sure I want to be so emotionally close with somebody like that?"

And then eventually I decided I no longer believe unmarried sex is a sin. But I was still terrified and decided we weren't going to do it, just in case purity culture was right and it would ruin my life. And then eventually I decided nope, I am done living terrified of this decision over whether to have sex, it's time to just face my fear and do it and prove that it doesn't ruin my life.

(Wow, what an asexual reason to have sex...)

So we finally did have sex- before we were married, before we were even engaged- and that ended the shame and fear once and for all. It didn't "ruin my life"; I didn't feel any different, except that I wasn't afraid anymore. Awesome!

Penis-in-vagina sex didn't make me feel closer to Hendrix. It felt just as intimate as the other stuff we had already been doing. It didn't change our relationship- it just changed my own emotional state by making me not afraid any more. That's all. I guess for other people, sex does make them feel more emotionally connected to their partner. But not for me. Which is fine, everyone is different. Actually in my view, it seems there are some necessary steps that you need to take before it's possible to have sex- like being naked or partially naked together- and it's those things that feel the most intimate to me. Not the actual having of the sex. I mean I could take it or leave it.

(And to be honest, I'm really curious about how other people feel about that- if you compare "being naked with a partner" vs "being naked with a partner AND ALSO having sex with them", which one is better, which is more intimate, etc. And also, having sex with some random hot person sounds good in theory but do you realize that would mean you have to show them your genitals? So like... surely one-night-stands don't actually exist in reality????? I mean I know that they do but like I just can't wrap my ace mind around it...)

What do I wish I had known, when I started dating Hendrix? Ha, well some basic sex ed would have gone a long way. I wish I had known what genitals I had. I wish I had used my hand to feel around "down there" and get a sense of the basic layout of things. But I was far too "pure" for that.

I felt so rebellious when I took a small mirror and looked "down there" for the first time. Was that before or after I showed it to Hendrix? I don't remember. I don't remember if Hendrix saw my vulva before my first time seeing it. Kids, don't do this. Don't be this pure. I wish I was familiar with my own body before I tried to share it with someone else. I regret that.

I wish I believed my body belonged to me. Not "my future husband."

I also felt quite rebellious the first time I bought condoms. I had absolutely no intention of using them for sexual purposes- I just bought them as a way to rebel against purity culture. Just to "be naughty." (Wow, what an asexual way to "be naughty." Buy condoms and then don't have sex. ~Wild~ ) Because I felt that the act of purchasing condoms was dirty and shameful, and I wanted to grab that feeling by the throat and face it head-on and defeat it. Maybe it helped that I was in China... news of my purchases at some random Chinese grocery store is never going to make it back to my nice Christian friends in the US. I wish I wasn't so scared of condoms, so horrified by their mere existence. Over here in reality, condoms are GOOD and IMPORTANT for HEALTH REASONS. I wish I had adult role models who told me that.

I wish I hadn't been so terrified of everything related to sex and genitals. I wish I had friends who just talked about sex like it was a normal part of their unmarried lives and not a big deal, and I wish I could have understood that- while at the same time I would also need to understand myself as asexual. I wish I had known that living with one's [unmarried] partner is totally fine and normal- and some of my friends even saw it as a big relationship milestone and congratulated me, can you believe that? When I felt so much shame and I didn't want to say it out loud.

I wish, when I first went to the doctor for help with depression, I could have just opened my mouth and said I live with my boyfriend and that's why I have depression. I couldn't say it. I couldn't bear to say it to anyone, because surely they would judge me and think I was dirty. Surely the doctor would say, well yeah, you're not supposed to live with your boyfriend, so of course you're feeling the emotional consequences of that *sin*. (Note: Ha. Nope. When I finally said it to my therapist, not only did he not think it was "dirty" at all, but he assumed that when I talked about starting to work my way out of purity culture several years before, he assumed that I started having sex back then, and didn't bat an eye at that. Well LOLOLOLOLOL nope when I told him all that, I was still firmly terrified of the very concept of me having sex.)

I wish that, when I was a child and good Christian adults told me that living together is a sin because every couple who's living together is having sex, and I said "well couldn't they just be living together but not having sex?" and they said "don't be so naive"... I wish somebody had challenged that. I wish that, when a Christian "friend" "confronted me about my sin" of living with Hendrix "and sleeping with him", I could have had some other thought spring to mind besides "I can't try denying that, she'll never believe me and I'll end up looking even more sinful- nobody would ever believe I could be living with my boyfriend and I've never had sex." Yeah, we lived together for a while without having sex. I was dealing with all that purity-culture shame and fear, and also it turns out I'm asexual. If you don't believe me then **** you.

I wish I had known more about my own desires and attractions. But in purity culture I couldn't explore that, couldn't think "so what kind of person do I find hot? and what do I mean by 'hot'- like what specific physical acts would I want to or not want to do with them?" That would be lust. I wish I could have explored that. I wish I wasn't trying to figure out a healthy way to deal with my attraction to boys who are not my husband DURING MY FIRST YEAR OF MARRIAGE- ugh, that should have been a skill I figured out a long time ago, but instead I just repressed it back then (and thought that marriage would magically make all those other attractions go away. Spoiler: it doesn't).

I wish... oof, I don't know if I wish this or not... I wish I had figured out I was asexual... or... do I wish I had known I was asexual before dating Hendrix? What if I thought it meant I wasn't good enough for him, or I wasn't going to enjoy doing sexual things with him? What if I thought it meant I shouldn't even try?

I'm blogging about all of this to show what I mean about the connection between physical intimacy and emotions in a dating context. That connection is going to be unique for each person, and they might even experience it differently at different times in their life or in different situations. So the important thing, the #1 thing, is to know yourself. Check in with your emotions and see how they are affected by the physical closeness with your partner. If your emotions end up in a place that it's not healthy to be in (for example, if you feel like you're totally in love and will definitely marry this person but actually you've only known them for a week) then remind yourself of what the actual reality is and adjust your acts of physical intimacy so they produce emotions that better match that reality.

Yes, I realize this is easier said than done... when you're infatuated with a specific person it's hard to truly convince yourself "no, this is not a healthy thing to do." But there's no alternative. Nobody else is qualified to run your love life. Sure, you need role models and general advice about what healthy relationships look like, but nobody can tell you what your desires are and what's important to you.

It's probably not possible to do this 100% perfectly. Perhaps you'll realize you've gone "too far", like I did when Hendrix and I first kissed and then I had *feelings* for him. But that's FINE. That's not something to fear, it's not something that will ruin your life or damage your "purity." (I don't believe purity exists anyway...) Just make the necessary changes, and it might hurt emotionally, but it's okay. How can you learn your own emotions and desires without some trial and error? Everyone is different, so you can't rely on other people to tell you what you feel.

There was something kinda-sorta like this in purity culture. They said "don't do X because it will make you feel Y" (for various values of X and Y). Yes, I agree that the key is in the way physical actions in a dating context affect one's emotions, BUT you can't tell other people how something is going to make them feel- you can't assume that. Everyone is different. Everyone needs to figure this out for themselves. And so I tell my story here in this blog post to show a concrete example of what it looks like to "figure this out." Perhaps some readers will feel the same way I did about some parts. Perhaps not.

I stand by this answer. This is THE ANSWER to "how far is too far?"

This post focused on just the physical part of those relationships, but I'd like to make it clear that that was DEFINITELY NOT the most important aspect. There were other issues and problems and emotions and happiness and growth going on with each of these relationships. Purity ideology talks as if the most important measure of a relationship is "how far you went" physically. That's ridiculous. That's nonsense. Yes, in my experience the physical part is an important component of the relationship (though that may not be true for everyone) but it's nowhere near being the most important thing.

Like... the idea that I could write you a few lists of all the physical things we did in each of these relationships, and that you could learn anything meaningful from that information alone... that's absurd. It's laughable. But that's the entire focus of purity culture. How far? How far? As if that's the only question that matters. Try to keep the physical aspect as low as you possibly can, and that's the #1 predictor of how good your future marriage will be. How on earth did I use to believe that? WTF?

I focused on all the wrong things, back then.

Any physical things that I did in a dating context in the past, they don't matter now. No, they don't affect my marriage. No, I don't think about BF 1 every time I kiss my husband. Like, WHAT ON EARTH, why would I even need to say that? OF COURSE I don't think about BF 1. Eww, why would I think about him? What an absurd thing to even talk about- but I am writing it out explicitly here because purity culture LITERALLY SAID THAT and purity culture was WRONG. Purity culture told me that if I have any physical/sexual experience with anyone before my husband, then I won't be able to love my husband fully and I'll always have those exes in the back of my mind, always comparing my husband to them. They'll always have a "piece of my heart." Wow, what a load of bullshit.

ALL RIGHT well this post has gotten super-long and I haven't even said all I wanted to say. (I might do a follow-up post, if any of you readers are interested in more on this topic?) Anyway, remember, the answer to "how far is too far" is different for everyone and is based on you knowing your own emotions and desires. You have the ability to make healthy decisions about this. Nobody else can decide "where the line is" for you.

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Related:
I’m Really Really REALLY Glad I Had Sex Before Marriage
For This Asexual, Purity Culture Was All About Fear
They said it was about "valuing our bodies." That was a lie.

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