Tuesday, July 30, 2019

The Bible and the Pixar Theory

Andy and Woody, from the "Toy Story" movies. Image source.
I watched Jon Carlin's video How Toy Story 4 Fits Into The Pixar Theory and so now I want to talk about the bible and the Pixar Theory. I stand by what I said in my 11/29/18 blogaround:
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.

(And on a related note, the Super Carlin Brothers' youtube channel is one of my favorites. Highly recommend if you like fan videos about Disney, Pixar, Marvel, Harry Potter, and Star Wars.)

For those of you who don't know what the Pixar Theory is: It's a fan theory that says all Pixar movies take place in the same universe. Yes, everything from "Toy Story" to "A Bug's Life" to "The Incredibles" to "The Good Dinosaur" to "Inside Out" to "Monsters Inc" to "Brave" to "Coco" to "Cars" and so on and so on. "Wow," you may be thinking, "that is quite a diverse group of movies, how on earth could they possibly all exist in the same universe? Like, in 'Cars' there are no people, there are just cars that act like people, which is completely different from, say, 'The Incredibles', which is basically normal modern society but with superheroes." WELL YOU SEE, all of these happened over a very long timespan, where humans were dominant for a while but eventually went extinct and sentient cars took over. Obviously.

Yep, you start from the very simple idea "all Pixar movies take place in the same universe" and then you develop more and more complicated explanations for how that would work.

Let's look at Jon Carlin's "Toy Story 4" video. Here's a part from about the 1:00 mark:
On that timeline though, all the "Toy Story" movies take place roughly during the year they actually came out to the public. Which would put them after "The Incredibles" but before "Up." During this time period, on the timeline, humans are at their peak, and BNL (the mega corporation run by machines and artificial intelligence) are on the rise after the invention of the Omnidroid. You can see Buzz's batteries in "Toy Story 3" are produced by BNL, and they're also the company responsible for evicting Carl in "Up."
Oh my god, this is FASCINATING. He's stating some of the doctrines held by people who follow the Pixar Theory, and backing them up with sort-of-loosely-related bits from the canon. Yes, for people who believe in the Pixar Theory, it's quite obvious that the Pixar movies tell a story of humans becoming more and more advanced, until artificial intelligence starts to develop and eventually takes over, I mean this is OBVIOUS because look, in "The Incredibles" we see super-powered humans fighting against the newly-invented Omnidroid, a machine which can learn. From there, the machines get more and more powerful until we see in "WALL-E" the AI made by BNL literally controls every part of people's lives and the earth is a trash dump. See, OBVIOUSLY what happened in between was that BNL got more and more powerful- indeed, look at these little Easter eggs alluding to BNL in "Toy Story 3" and "Up." The source material is clear.

(Oh, and later in the video, Jon Carlin talks about how, after humans left the earth, cars [as seen in the "Cars" movies] then came alive because of the memories from the people who once owned them.)

This is EXACTLY THE SAME THING as Christians who say "I believe marriage is between one man and one woman. That's the biblical definition of marriage. See, look, in Matthew 19 Jesus says so. The bible is clear."

Or how about this: "Christians have to be pro-life because the bible says life begins at conception, see, look at Psalm 139:13 which says 'for you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb" and in verse 16 'your eyes saw my unformed body.'"

Or this: "The bible teaches that being a Christian means having a PERSONAL RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD. That's what it means to be saved and that's how you go to heaven."

And: "The bible teaches that non-Christians go to hell. See, look, here are a bunch of verses with the word 'hell' in them, therefore the bible is clear on this."

In every one of these cases, if you already believe in that ideology, then you look at the given references to the source material and you say "yep, that's what the source material teaches." But if you just let the canon stand on its own, just take it for what it is, if you consider the time period when it was produced, and the reasons, and the intended audience ... then wow it doesn't say that AT ALL.

Humans keep advancing, to the point where some of them are superheroes, but then AI starts to take over, and then eventually cars come alive because of human memories ... no, none of the Pixar movies say this. None. Not a one. Not a single one. If you just watched all the Pixar movies, knowing that they were created over a span of 20-some years and the creators didn't intend to make them fit together (but do enjoy putting in little Easter eggs that reference other Pixar movies), then no, you would NEVER come away with the idea that "Pixar is telling a story where human society reaches a superhero peak but then gets taken over by machines- like sentient cars."

It requires this weird artificial construct that you superimpose on top of the movies, in a way that the producers never intended. And then, after you do that, after you say "well they MUST be in the same universe" and you come up with a giant fan theory to make them fit- after you've spent a lot of time and energy on this, then you start to believe that it's "clear", that this actually *is* the story that Pixar is telling.

A weird artificial construct, where the books of the bible are infallible and essentially handed to us directly from God, rather than being products of the place and time they were each written, over a span of thousands of years, heavily influenced by the writers' and audiences' own political biases. A very weird construct that says this is God's love letter to us, that every part is valuable to our lives in the 21st century, and being a good Christian means you have to spend time every day reading it. If you superimpose that idea on top of the bible and try to make everything fit, then yes, you might end up with an ideology that says the most important thing is "getting saved" at an individual level, and society-wide injustice doesn't matter that much, and God is very concerned about everyone's sex lives, and God loves Americans the most. And you might think that's what the bible "clearly" teaches.

Ohh, the Pixar Theory is just ABSOLUTELY DELIGHTFUL. People go on and on making these videos hashing out the specific details of what this or that movie teaches us about the Pixar universe- as if there is such a thing as "the Pixar universe." And Christians go on and on about how "the bible says" this or "God says this" or "this is the biblical view" as if there is such a thing as "the biblical view." ... Yeah, the bible doesn't actually say any of those things, just like "Toy Story 4" doesn't tell us how the cars from "Cars" come to life (even though Jon Carlin's video is all about how "Toy Story 4" totally answers the question of how toys AND CARS come to life).

What a fun fan theory. But let's not fool ourselves into thinking that's what the canon actually says. Then we would miss the entire point.


The Bible Stories As I Read Them Were Never Actually In The Bible
This Star Wars Fan Theory Is EXACTLY How Apologetics Works

Friday, July 26, 2019


A cat reaches into a pond, trying to catch fish. Image source.
1. The Silence of Peggy Carter (posted May 6) [content note: spoilers for "Avengers: Endgame", "Captain America: The First Avenger", and other Captain America movies] "Would a photo of Peggy’s life progressing without Steve have forced him and the audience to remember that she is her own person, and not a prize for a job well done?"

2. Impurity Culture: Learning to Support Reproductive Rights When Your Religion Doesn't (posted July 18) "I felt angry and disillusioned, too, when I began to realize that what I had been told about abortion was a lie."

3. All fives (ready or not, here I come) (posted June 25) "This confuses customers. They’re usually accustomed to real math, and in real math, different numbers mean different things. In real math, 4 is higher than 1."

4. In High School I was the Victim of a Christian Anti-Masturbation Cult #ChurchToo [content note: I guess this counts as child sexual abuse] Umm so this is about an "accountability group" for high school boys... this is really creeping me out because in my experience in church it was seen as good to "confess" your very deep, personal, shameful "sins"... so what's described here sounds very normal and there's nothing that's a clear "red flag"... BUT WOW this is creepy and abusive.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

"Waiting On God" - But Like, Why Though?

A picture of a clock, with the text "God's timing is always perfect." Image source.
I came across this article on Desiring God: When We Want to Give Up Waiting. It's written by Vaneetha Rendall Risner, and it's about the concept of "waiting on God." I was inspired to blog about this because yes, back when I was a good evangelical I bought into the whole "waiting on God" thing, but now it just reads as ... odd.

Let's take a look:
I am an impatient person. I don’t like waiting. I get annoyed by slow drivers in fast lanes. I audibly sigh when I get into a long checkout line. I am quick to remind wait staff in restaurants that I’m waiting to be seated or served.
That seems ... fine? Like, it's totally reasonable to not like wasting one's time waiting. It would only become a problem if you treat other people rudely because of your impatience. Or if it's making you so angry/stressed that it's really taking a toll on your mental health. But in this article there's no indication that Risner's impatience is that bad, so... this doesn't seem like a problem at all to me.

Like, I would advise you to look at the whole situation. See that you are not the only person affected by a slow-moving line; everyone else is just trying to do the same thing you're trying to do, so you should treat them with the respect you would want them to show you. And especially be kind to the customer service employee, because they have to deal with annoyed customers all day. And pay attention to your own mental health and emotions- if you're getting disproportionately angry, then it's time to take a step back and figure out why that is, and how to handle it.
Those are trivial situations, yet I still find it hard to wait. There are bigger, much more important issues that I’ve waited for as well. I’ve waited an agonizingly long time for healing from my post-polio. For clarity on which path to take in an important decision. For restoration of a difficult relationship. For a dear friend to return to faith. For each, I have waited long past the time when I thought my requests should have been answered. For many serious requests, I’m still waiting.
Umm. Okay these examples are ... odd. "Healing from my post-polio"- well, how long did your doctor say it was supposed to take? (I'll admit I don't know anything about post-polio.) Maybe the doctor's estimate was wrong and it's actually taking longer than that- yeah that sucks. But I wouldn't really use the term "waiting" to describe that situation. I would call it, trying to figure out how to live a good life when your health isn't what you would want it to be. And the other examples- "For clarity on which path to take in an important decision. For restoration of a difficult relationship. For a dear friend to return to faith."- umm these strike me as extremely weird because there's not necessarily any reason to believe these things will actually happen. Doesn't the term "waiting" mean that you're sure the thing is going to happen, sometime in the future?

And also, "for a dear friend to return to faith" is extremely creepy. People are in charge of their own lives, and they're not going to "return to faith" just because *you* want them to. That's their own decision. Very very creepy to pray for God to force someone to change their personal religious beliefs.

Anyway, maybe Risner is "waiting" for these things because she prayed for them to happen and believes they are "in God's will" so God should do them sooner or later. I guess? Her article doesn't say. (Though later on she does mention that it's possible the things we "wait" for will never have "fulfillment on earth" ... so ... yeah I'm still confused. How is your "dear friend" going to "return to faith" in the afterlife? Isn't it too late by then? Or ... does "fulfillment" not necessarily mean that the thing will happen, but that you will stop feeling bad about the thing not happening?)

Okay moving right along. Risner presents the story of Abraham, Sarah, Hagar, and Ishmael, to teach us about how we should "wait on God."
God promised Abraham that he would be the father of many nations. And then there was silence. Nothing happened for eleven long years (imagine where you were eleven years ago). Abraham’s wife, Sarah, was barren and well past her childbearing years.

After more than a decade of waiting, they both assumed that perhaps they needed to act on their own to fulfill the promise of God. So, Abraham took Hagar, Sarah’s servant, and had Ishmael. For a while, they thought the promises would now come true through Ishmael.

Thirteen years later, God told them Sarah would bear a son, Isaac. They had waited so long, neither of them believed God was going to do it now. Abraham was decidedly unenthusiastic at the proclamation. After he audibly laughed and inwardly doubted, Abraham said to God, “Oh that Ishmael might live before you!” (Genesis 17:18).

Abraham had figured out a way to have heirs on his own. The thought of waiting, being wholly dependent on God, wasn’t part of his plan. He wanted God to bless what he had done, rather than wait for what only God could do.
Umm. Wait. So, it was bad for Abraham to impregnate Hagar, but why was it bad, exactly? Risner seems to be saying it was bad because that's not the way God wanted things to go.

Umm. Okay let's think about this though. First of all, Hagar was a slave. Kind of f***ed-up that Abraham owned slaves. Kind of f***ed-up that the biblical writer was totally fine with that. Kind of f***ed-up that, in my experience in the white American evangelical church, Christians don't seem to notice the slavery part of the story.

Oh, what's that you say? She wasn't a slave, she was a servant? Okay, sure, call it what you want, but the fact is, it's extremely f***ed-up that Abraham and Sarah believed they had the right to order her to have sex with Abraham and give birth to his child.

Yeah let's talk about the sex part. The biblical story gives no indication that anyone cared about asking Hagar for consent. (And neither does Risner's article... And what's more, throughout the article, she keeps using Ishmael as simply a symbol of doing things your own way instead of God's way- she doesn't treat Ishmael like a real person. Which would be fine if she believed this is a fictional story rather than a thing that really happened, but lololololol this is Desiring God we're talking about here.) Indeed, the power dynamics between a slave and master make it impossible that consent can actually exist at all. The correct term for this is rape. Abraham raped Hagar.

Oh and it's worse than that, actually. He forced her to get pregnant and give birth to a child. Abraham seemed to think he "owned" Hagar so completely that he had the right to use her body as a vessel for growing his child for 9 months. Eww. (How will I explain this to my children?)

So why was it wrong for Abraham to impregnate Hagar? In reality-land, the reason it was wrong was because of the slavery, rape, and forced pregnancy. But Risner doesn't mention any of that. She seems to think it was wrong because ... like ... it wasn't God's plan, or something?

Moving along...
That’s what I often do. I don’t like waiting. I want to act, to figure it out, to know with certainty what’s going to happen. And then I want to move ahead. Abraham wanted God to bless Ishmael so he could have descendants through him. God had something different in mind, something that unfolded to Abraham over time — something impossible in the eyes of man.

Honestly, often I want Ishmael too. I want the thing I can figure out, that I have control over, that doesn’t require waiting and trusting.
Umm. What.

Okay, first she says "I want to act, to figure it out, to know with certainty what's going to happen." That seems totally fine to me. Those are perfectly fine things to want. What's the problem?

I guess, in Risner's worldview, the problem is that it's WRONG to take action and find your own solution when God told you that's not how the plan is supposed to go. But in practical terms, how would you know that God told you that? Sure, in the story of Abraham, God speaks with a real voice, but that's not how things work in our lives. And what if actually God wants you to take action to accomplish the thing, and that's God's way of answering your prayers? I just can't see any scenario where one could actually be sure that "Option A is waiting and praying and not taking action, and that is what God wants me to do. Option B is taking things into my own hands to solve the problem, which is BAD because it's NOT what God wants me to do."

Unless, of course, option B is bad for other reasons. (For example, if it involves slavery, rape, or forced pregnancy.) But in that case, you shouldn't do option B because of those other reasons. The reason you shouldn't choose option B has nothing to do with "waiting on God."

So, if option B is bad for other reasons- like it's immoral or just a bad idea- then why introduce the concept of "waiting on God" at all? And if there's nothing inherently wrong with option B, then how can you be so sure God wouldn't want you to do it? Sure, maybe "God told you" that A is right and B is wrong- but a lot of us ex-evangelicals have testimonies about things that we were sure "God told us" that turned out to be really bad ideas. I know I do. (And from where I'm sitting, if God tells you "don't solve this problem using the obvious solution that's right in front of you; instead you should wait and do nothing and maybe the problem will magically solve itself at some unknown time in the future", that sure sounds like an example of a bad idea.)

However, in the examples Risner gave earlier in the article, I don't understand what the "option B" would be. About her health problems, or repairing a relationship, or creepily wanting someone to change their religious beliefs, umm how exactly would one go about taking matters into their own hands and finding a workaround that's not "God's way"? Like, does she mean getting really discouraged/angry and then letting those emotions come out in unhealthy ways? I can't really think of what else she might mean- what obvious solution is sitting there staring her in the face but she can't do it because she has to "wait on God"? I don't see any quick fix for those problems, so I guess maybe "taking it into your own hands" would mean giving up in frustration and handling those emotions badly, in terms of how you treat other people and your own mental health. I guess?

Which, as I said, would be a bad idea because it's inherently a bad idea. Not because of any nonsense about "waiting on God."

And the rest of her article pretty much goes along those same lines. About how we're supposed to "wait on God" so don't "settle for Ishmael" and so on. Without explaining how one could know that God wants you to do option A instead of option B, and without talking about option B being unhealthy or immoral anyway so that's why you shouldn't choose it. All in all, I'm left feeling quite confused about the whole concept of "waiting on God."

Like, why don't we just look at the reality of our situation, look at our options, evaluate each one, predict possible outcomes, and make a decision that way? Why do we need to add this extra layer of vagueness about "waiting on God" and pretend it's actually about that?

This is the problem I have with the stuff I learned in church about morality and how to make decisions. They didn't say "look at the actual reality of the situation and go from there"- instead it was about praying and listening to God, and we very much believed it was possible that God would tell you something that made no sense at all (ahem, Risner uses the term "impossible in the eyes of man"). And "faith" means you should obey and do that thing that makes no sense. Don't pay attention to reality. In this system, there's no way to say "no that is clearly a bad idea, so obviously I shouldn't do it." Lean not on your own understanding. Christians think Abraham was right to obey God's command to sacrifice Isaac. That Joshua was right to obey God's command to kill entire populations and take their land. If God tells you to do something that's clearly a terrible idea, well, just trust that God has a reason and actually it's somehow a good idea.

I've also talked about this a lot in my VeggieTales reviews. Instead of just teaching kids to look at the actual reality of the situation, understand the consequences of one's actions (particularly how they affect other people), and use that to inform their decision-making, VeggieTales introduces completely unnecessary concepts like thankfulness ("Madame Blueberry"), selfishness ("King George and the Ducky"), and temptation ("LarryBoy and the Bad Apple"), and teaches that we should strive to embody/avoid these abstract concepts. (And in "Josh and the Big Wall", they teach that you should always obey God, like Joshua did when he drove the inhabitants of Jericho out and stole their land, what a great role model.)

Yes, I also believe in abstract concepts. But mine are things that are directly tied to reality and the actual real-world results of one's choices. Boundaries. Mental and emotional health. Communication. Consent. Standing up for yourself. For example, instead of "selfishness is bad", I believe "it's good and healthy to put yourself first, but obviously we have compassion for other people- so 'selfishness' becomes a bad thing ONLY if it's causing you to mistreat other people."

And now "waiting on God" feels like such a bizarre, nonsensical idea to me. Why on earth would you "wait" instead of trying to solve your problem if you're able? And if the only potential solutions are actually really terrible ideas because they are immoral, make no sense, etc, then don't do them because they are immoral, make no sense, etc- not because they're not "waiting on God." The whole "waiting on God" idea is completely unnecessary.

Maybe it's just a Christianese way of saying "don't respond to uncertainty about the future by doing something that's a really bad idea"- okay, fine, then it's possible that you can hold that belief in a non-unhealthy way. But why? Why even introduce it? At best, it's a distraction. At worst, if people actually buy into it, if they think that God is actually telling them to do things that make no sense and that's what "faith" means, well that's harmful.


From "Virtues Morality" To "Boundaries Morality"
Honest Lent: Abraham's Slaves
I Wish I Was This Angry About Slavery in the Bible
The Bible Lied About Lot's Daughters

Monday, July 22, 2019

Wishing the Best to Josh Harris and His Ex

Book covers for "I Kissed Dating Goodbye" and "Boy Meets Girl" by Joshua Harris. Image source.
Last week Josh and Shannon Harris announced that they are separating. Yes, this is Josh Harris as in "I Kissed Dating Goodbye", as in, here are God's rules you have to follow when "courting", don't kiss before the wedding, don't fall in love, don't have sex before marriage, and this will guarantee you have a perfect marriage that lasts forever. He literally wrote the book on purity culture. And now he is getting divorced.

All of us ex-purity-culture people have a lot of feelings about this. Here are some things I want to say:

First of all, divorce isn't necessarily bad. Sometimes it is the healthiest choice that one can make, in their situation. I hope Josh and Shannon's decision to separate will turn out to be a healthy thing for them, and life gets better.

In purity culture, though, divorce is The End of the World. It's The Worst Thing Ever. The whole entire goal of purity culture- which Josh Harris promoted in his books- is to make sure that no one ever gets their heart broken because they fell in love/ had sex/ "gave their heart" to another person, and then didn't stay together with that person forever.

Harris's books "I Kissed Dating Goodbye" and "Boy Meets Girl" are about how to make sure you never ever go through a devastating breakup. While dating. While not married. All these rules to follow to avoid ever experiencing a breakup, because that would just be The Worst Thing Ever. And, in purity culture, if breaking up with someone you've only dated for a month or so is The Worst Thing Ever, then divorce is simply unimaginable.

It was all about a guarantee, about avoiding risk. Just follow "God's rules"- ie, do what Josh and Shannon did- and then you'll DEFINITELY have a perfect godly marriage that lasts FOREVER, just like God wants.

Well real life isn't like that. In real life there are no guarantees. Life happens, and we all just do our best, and sometimes you end up in a situation where the healthiest option is to divorce. It sucks; nobody wants to be in a situation like that. It's painful for them, and it's painful for their kids.

But... yeah that's reality. All those Christian leaders who gave us a list of rules to follow and promised that if we were good enough Christians, God would reward us with a perfect marriage- well, they were wrong.

And another thing: Society says a marriage "failed" if it ends in divorce, and it is "successful" if it doesn't. That's nonsense. What actually matters is whether or not the partners involved are happy and healthy. If you're in a bad situation, admitting that fact and making the decision to separate is not "failure." It can make things much better, in the long run.

There are ex-purity-culture-followers who have gone through the pain of divorce as a direct result of Josh Harris's teachings. They followed "the rules" but had no clue what actually makes a relationship healthy, and a while after getting married, it fell apart. That's not my situation, but I understand how you might have a lot more feelings about this if that happened to you.

But now Josh and Shannon are going through that too. I can't help but think they're in the same situation as us- he was only 21 when he wrote "I Kissed Dating Goodbye"; he didn't know any better, just like we all didn't know any better when we accepted those teachings.

And they must have felt enormous pressure to stay married, just because he is such a huge symbol within Christian purity ideology. If purity culture says divorce is "failure" then imagine how much more of a failure they'd think you were if your entire claim to fame was telling people how to acquire a "perfect" marriage. So good for Josh and Shannon, having the courage to make the decision that's best for them and announce it publicly.

(I'll throw on a disclaimer, though: When I say Josh and Shannon are a lot like all of us who grew up in purity culture and suffered from it, I realize that there is a huge obvious difference- the fact that Josh profited financially from selling his books. Whereas the rest of us are over here, years later, paying money for therapists to tell us our natural desires aren't evil. So yeah I have compassion for Josh but obviously let's not buy any of his potential future books or documentaries or whatever.)

So. That's all I have to say, I guess. It sucks, but hopefully in the long run it gets better. I wish the best to Josh and Shannon and their kids.


Update: A few days after this announcement, Josh Harris made the statement "I am not a Christian." Some of my thoughts on that are in this post.


So I Watched Josh Harris's Documentary 
I Can't Write Wedding Vows Without Thinking About Divorce
Yep, That's Exactly What a Perfect, Godly, Pure Relationship Would Look Like 


One of the most highly-voted topics in the 2019 Reader Survey was "purity culture"~ so that's the topic for this post.

Thursday, July 18, 2019


Movie posted for "Spider-Man: Far From Home." Image source.
1. The kingdom of heaven is like: Religious Leaders in TX Blessed a Local Abortion Clinic (Like, In a Good Way) (posted July 11)

2. Spider-Man Far From Home REVIEW (posted July 10)

I love this movie so much :)

3. The Closed System Of Evangelicalism "Even if evangelicalism suddenly starts making room for women pastors and LGBTQ folks (which some churches have done) the system itself still remains closed and toxic."

Monday, July 15, 2019

Boundaries and Lunch

Sandwich. Image source.
So I'm an American in China, and almost everyone at my job is Chinese. Every day I eat a sandwich for lunch, and people notice and seem to think that's weird.

I get people constantly making comments like "you are having a sandwich again?" and "going to lunch- sandwich again today, right?" and so on and so on.

And I used to care. I used to feel like I had to explain myself and offer justifications that could satisfy them. Like I had to prove to them why it is okay and not weird for me to eat a sandwich every day.

I would tell them that Chinese people eat rice every day, and this is the same thing. Or tell them I have health reasons that I can't eat anything in the cafeteria because it's too oily, and then get annoyed feeling like I'm divulging this personal medical information that's not really any of their business. Or just tell them I like it, and that's why I eat it every day.

I tried all these things, and people wouldn't stop commenting on my lunch.

And then, sometime within the past few years, I learned about boundaries. See, "boundaries" means that I have the right to make my own choices about my own personal life. That it's not up for public debate. When it comes to things that belong to me and affect me and don't affect other people, I get to decide and nobody else gets a say.

This is so fantastic and freeing! Other people's opinions about my lunch have zero weight. ZERO. They can talk all they want, and I'm not obligated to take it into account, or debate them, or explain myself.

Like, oh my goodness, this is wonderful. People can come up to me every day and be like "you're eating a sandwich again" and I can just say "yes" and move on with my life. It really does not matter what they think. I don't have to care! I can continue to eat sandwiches every day solely because I want to. Nobody else gets a say in it.

I used to get annoyed, and angry, and stressed about this. Sometimes I even wanted to hide somewhere to eat lunch so nobody would come say anything to me about it. But now I know about boundaries, and that means I don't have to get angry at other people, because they can't do anything to me. My lunch is my lunch, and that's true regardless of how many comments people make or how well I'm able to debate them.

I just cannot get over how AMAZING this is. Boundaries! Random members of the public don't get a say in what I eat for lunch. I don't have to defend myself or debate them. I don't have to care what they think, because it's LITERALLY 100% my decision and LITERALLY 0% theirs.

I used to think that if I couldn't convince people and make them stop commenting on it, that meant I wasn't "allowed" to eat a sandwich every day. I didn't understand that some things belong to me, and that means I have the right to make choices about those things; even if my choices are illogical, it is still my right to make those choices. Boundaries.

And I just cannot even tell you how good it feels to know I don't have to get into debates about this every day at work. I don't have to defend myself. They can't do anything to me, because my lunch is my decision and nobody else gets a say.


From "Virtues Morality" To "Boundaries Morality"
Captain Marvel, Boundaries, and Why I Don't Go To Church
A victim who's made mistakes is still a victim

Thursday, July 11, 2019


1. James Dobson: Migrants “Will Soon Overwhelm the Culture” (posted July 8) "Dobson has been saying for ages that Christians have lost the culture. What “culture” is it that Central Americans will overwhelm?"

2. USA's formidable women's soccer team is no accident. It's a product of public policy (posted July 6) "In 1972, when title IX was passed, there were only 700 girls playing soccer at the high-school level in the whole United States. By 1991, the year of the first Women’s World Cup, there were 121,722 high school girl players – a 17,000% increase." Wow, this is astonishing to me- imagine if high schools just *didn't have* sports teams for girls.

3. Why I’m not a Bridge Builder within Evangelicalism (posted July 4) "In other admittedly harsh words, evangelicals only give a limited degree of freedom to one subset of human beings if they can surely throw other human beings under the bus."

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

If A Wife Is Required To Have Sex, That's Not "Intimacy"

Two puzzle pieces that fit together. Image source.
Recently I read this post on Libby Anne's blog: Treat Having Sex with Your Husband like it’s Your Job. Libby Anne is writing in response to a post by Mother Dearest on Lori Alexander's blog, where Mother Dearest says a wife should have sex with her husband whenever the husband wants, that's what God wants wives to do, that's what the bible says, blah blah blah. She goes so far as to say that if people are able to go to work and do their jobs even when they don't feel like it, then OF COURSE a wife should be able to have sex with her husband even when she doesn't feel like it- and she should fake like she's enjoying it.

Mother Dearest gives an example of a flight attendant she met once. The flight attendant was covering someone else's shift and was very tired and stressed, but still did her job well and put on a smile for the customers. Mother Dearest concludes by saying, "Do what it takes to honor God and your husband, after all, if you were employed out there, you would do what it takes to get the job done."

I want to add a bit of a disclaimer here: When I was evangelical, I was certainly taught that women don't really like sex but have a "wifely duty" to have sex with their husbands anyway, but it never went as far as the kind of teaching that Lori Alexander posts on her blog (like this post by Mother Dearest). I was taught that the wife has a responsibility to make sex feel good for her husband- her own pleasure was never mentioned- but I was definitely NOT taught that she should never communicate about how she really feels and just fake it all the time. Yes, she should communicate, but she should do so very very delicately, because supposedly it would be THE WORST THING EVER if her husband felt "rejected." I never heard anyone compare sex in marriage to a customer service job. Like, holy shit. Lori Alexander's blog is wayyyy out there. In my experience, it's normal for evangelicals to teach that wives are required to have sex with their husbands even though [supposedly] women don't really like sex, but it's NOT normal to take it this far.

Anyway, here's what struck me about Mother Dearest's post: Isn't it obvious that customer service jobs are often difficult and soul-crushing precisely because you have to pretend to be happy even when you're not? You have to be friendly and polite and respectful to customers all the time, even when they're acting rude and unreasonable. You can't show how you really feel. Why on earth would anyone say that's how marriage is supposed to be?

There's always that emotional wall between the employee and the customer. The employee certainly can't be honest about how they really feel. They just do their job, and that's all. That's the entire employee-customer relationship. There's no emotional connection. Just do their job, provide a service to the customer, and be polite about it. That's it.

And she's saying that's what sex in marriage is supposed to be like?

And that's when I realized that, growing up in the evangelical church, I was taught 2 very contradictory things about sex and intimacy:
  1. Sex is the most intimate thing you can ever do with another person. It's a perfect, beautiful connection where all your emotions and vulnerabilities are there for your spouse to see. It's the deepest level of trust you can ever have with another person. The highest form of communication. You give your self to your partner. Two become one flesh.
  2. You have to say "yes" to sex with your husband even when you don't want to. You can't be honest about how you really feel.
Like, wow, these 2 things were definitely explicitly taught to me in Christian books about marriage. Wow. I never realized how they so blatantly contradict each other.

Let's talk about "intimacy" for a second. This word is often used (both by Christians and by society in general) as a euphemism for sex. And I don't like that. Maybe because I'm asexual- but at the same time, I think even for people who aren't asexual, it's not necessarily true that they feel most intimately connected with another person during sex.

For me personally, there have been a few times when sex with my husband felt extremely intimate, and it made me really happy to feel so emotionally close to him. But usually, sex doesn't really feel intimate to me. It feels the same as any other activity we do together. We're in love, so any time we spend together is enjoyable. Sex isn't really "special" in that sense.

And if you asked me when I have felt the most intimate with my husband, sex isn't anywhere near the top of the list. Instead it's things like taking care of each other when we're sick, or how I can tell him things about my mental health that I haven't told anyone else.

(I would offer that as a thought experiment for other people too: When have you felt the most intimate with another person? During sex, or some other time? If it's some other time, then maybe don't use "intimate" as a euphemism for sex.)

But anyway, back when I was in Christian purity culture and didn't know ANYTHING about sex, I definitely believed it would always, automatically feel like a deep, emotional experience, and of course if I was in love with someone then I would want that. (It took me a long time to realize I'm asexual because I was like "yes! I do want sex! Definitely! ...oh wait what do you mean by 'sex' though, do you mean the deepest, most intimate connection 2 people can possibly have, or are we just talking about messing around with another person's genitals?")

Lololololol, quite a surprise when I found out sex is just the genital thing, and is IN NO WAY a shortcut to emotional intimacy. In fact, in my experience there is A WHOLE LOT of emotional analysis required. Figuring out how I feel and what I want, and communicating that with my partner, and understanding what he wants- there's a whole lot of work to do if you want sex to lead to emotional intimacy.

And as I said, Christian purity culture also teaches that wives often don't feel like having sex when their husband wants to, but the wife is supposed to say yes anyway. Umm... where's the intimacy in that?

I was taught that communication is super super important- which seems to be the OPPOSITE of what Lori Alexander and Mother Dearest believe. They seem to be saying that a wife should just totally fake it during sex and never let her husband know if there's some part she doesn't enjoy. That's not what I believed; I was taught communication is essential in marriage. But I was also taught that sex is really important for a man's self-confidence, and he'll just constantly feel terrible if he feels like his wife is "disrespecting" or "rejecting" him. It's something I do for him, and I have a responsibility to make sure it's good enough for him. Yes, I can communicate about if I don't like something, but only if I can do it in a way that doesn't lessen the experience for him.

Where's the intimacy in that?

So when I started having sex with Hendrix (who is now my husband) it was SO DIFFICULT for me to SAY SOMETHING if I didn't like the way he was touching me. And that's been the case even with non-sexual touch from other boyfriends in the past- I felt so worried about *how* to tell them not to touch in certain ways. Wow, I remember one guy I dated a long time ago, how he sometimes rubbed the ends of my fingers and I didn't like that but I tried to just politely tolerate it ... I spent a long time thinking about how to tell him to stop. And eventually I did tell him, and he stopped, and actually it wasn't anywhere near as big a deal as I had made it in my head.

Certainly if boyfriend-from-the-past had tried to do something against the purity rules, like *gasp* kiss me or something, I would have told him NO. But for something that's not a sin, and the reason I don't want to do it is I just don't want to do it, I had no idea how to say those words. We wouldn't want a boy to "feel rejected." My own preferences don't matter because they're just preferences, not about something that's actually a sin.

... Where's the "intimacy" in that?

So... I work very hard to communicate with Hendrix about sex, but wow it's so difficult. I have all this internalized purity-culture crap about how I *need* to have sex with him frequently or else I'm a bad wife, and how I can't just SAY what feels good or not during the actual having of the sex. My responsibility is to make sure it's a good experience for him; I shouldn't care about my own pleasure. Or pain.

Actually, Hendrix and I always have a discussion afterward about how we felt and what we liked or didn't like. I very much recommend having discussions like that with your partner. But it's still hard. We've been working on this for several years (and I am very proud to say we started having sex BEFORE we got married) and it's still hard.

It's hard because purity culture taught me 2 completely opposite things: That sex is intrinsically, automatically the most intimate you can possibly be with someone, and that I shouldn't just communicate how I feel during sex if it might affect my husband's enjoyment of it. 

Turns out both parts are nonsense. Sex isn't necessarily emotionally intimate. Maybe that's because I'm asexual- but, no, I really don't think that's it; I think people who aren't asexual aren't automatically on some kind of magical deep level of intimacy with any and all sexual partners either. And actually, the only way that kind of intimacy could even potentially be possible is if both of us are able to honestly communicate.


Conservative Christians Teach That Wives Are REQUIRED To Have Sex Even When They Don't Want To. Here Are The Receipts.
What Sex Is Like (According to Purity Culture) 
I Wanna Preach the Good News of Masturbation


One of the topics that readers voted for in the 2019 Reader Survey was "sex", so I wrote this post for y'all. ^_^

Monday, July 8, 2019

Doctors (part 3 of Autism & Teaching Kids to Protect Themselves)

A doctor listens to a child's heart using a stethoscope. Image source.
Blog series on Autism & Teaching Kids to Protect Themselves

Part 1: Strangers
Part 2: Touch
Part 3: Doctors


As a little kid, I believed doctors were authority figures who knew everything. But I now realize that, even though they're experts on the human body, that doesn't mean they know my body. Sometimes they way they typically do some medical procedure won't work for me, and I should communicate with them about that. Instead of just "trusting" that they automatically understand what my needs are, just because they're a doctor.

Actually, now that I think about it, medical procedures occupy a very very strange place in our lives. They are physically "intimate" in a way that's different from everything else in one's daily life. What I mean is, a medical procedure like getting blood drawn with a needle is a completely different experience from anything that happens in one's normal life; we don't really have any kind of benchmark to compare it to. And we don't observe other people as they experience these medical procedures, so we don't know what kind of reaction would be considered "normal."

And on top of that, when I was a little kid I assumed that everything a doctor or nurse did to me, that caused pain, was medically necessary. That they knew it was painful, but there was no way around it. Yes, it's true that that's often the case- getting vaccines or taking medicine is painful and/or unpleasant, but it's necessary. But it's only recently, as an adult, that I've realized not everything they did, that was painful to me, was actually necessary. In some cases, they didn't realize it was painful to me. If I had told them, they would have been able to figure out a less-painful way to do it.

For example, when I was around 20 or so, I was going to a lot of doctor's appointments because of a medical problem I had, and every single time when you get there, the first thing that happens is the nurse takes your temperature and blood pressure. They used that blood pressure machine, and oh I hated it. Every single time. The blood pressure machine squeezes my arm way too tight and it hurts. And I had to go to so many doctor's appointments, so I had to endure this blood pressure machine every single time. It was awful.

Until one time, somehow, I don't know if it was me or the nurse who suggested it, but it turns out it's not necessary to use the electrically-powered blood pressure machine. Nurses can take a patient's blood pressure using that one they just pump with their hand, while listening to the patient's pulse with a stethoscope. This is 100 times better for me. It squeezes, but not so bad that it's painful, like the machine.

So after that, every time I came to the doctor, I would ask the nurse if they can use the hand pump one to get my blood pressure, instead of the machine. See, just ask politely. Usually they can, and it's no problem at all.

But it was a totally new revelation for me. I had always believed that the things that happen at the doctor, that cause me pain, are medically necessary. That's why the doctors and nurses do them, even though they're painful. So, actually that's not true. Maybe they don't know how painful it is for me, and so I need to tell them, and it turns out it's not actually necessary to do it that way.

Or another time, when a nurse was trying to put a needle in for an IV before I had surgery. She was having a lot of trouble finding my vein, I guess because my veins are too small. Eventually she checked with the doctor about what exactly I needed the IV for, and it turned out I didn't actually need one with the standard needle size they usually use; I could have a smaller needle. So she put a smaller needle in instead, and everything was fine.

See, I guess they have a standard way they always do things, because for the majority of patients, doing it that way carries the least risk. Or is most convenient for the doctor. But sometimes there might be some reason why the standard way doesn't work for me as an individual, and they can find a workaround and do it a different way. They're experts in people's bodies, and they're good at their job, but that doesn't mean they know my body and what I need.

Another story, about a dentist appointment this time. I was maybe 11 years old, and the dental hygienist was trying to do an x-ray or a fluoride treatment or something. Something that required shoving a bunch of stuff into my mouth. And she tried a bunch of times, tried over and over to put it in my mouth, but it wasn't working, and oh it was awful. Then she changed to a smaller size of whatever it was- she said she was trying the children's size... and that was horrible too. Trying and trying to get it shoved into my mouth and then I had to sit there for a minute with that in my mouth, eww blah.

I don't remember whether she ended up successfully getting the procedure done, in the end. But on the way home, my mom asked me, "Why were you not cooperating? The hygienist said you weren't cooperating with the [x-ray or fluoride treatment or whatever it was]." And I was SHOCKED. I was totally SHOCKED. I had ABSOLUTELY NO IDEA that, throughout this whole ordeal of trying over and over to stick these massive uncomfortable things into my mouth, the hygienist believed I was being difficult about it on purpose. WHAT? My reaction was the normal reaction that any person would have when they're trying to let somebody stuff a huge uncomfortable thing into their mouth. I was trying my best to let her do the procedure, but man, just the nature of the thing, it just wasn't possible for me to do it any better than I did.

This is what I mean about how medical procedures are different than anything from my day-to-day life, and there's no way to know what the average's person's reaction is. I just react the way I naturally do... the way that, I thought, ANYONE would react to such an extreme demand being put on their sensory system... but apparently I was wrong? Apparently my reaction wasn't normal?

For my next anecdote... I want to mention gynecologists. I've seen many different gynecologists, and most of those appointments were bad experiences. Recently I happened to be reading an article on Planned Parenthood's website, about pelvic exams at the gynecologist, and it said it's not supposed to be painful. And I cried.

I didn't know it wasn't supposed to be painful. And, I think, that's a certain kind of trauma, when you endure pain because you believe it's normal and necessary, and then a long time later you find out it wasn't. And you didn't deserve to be treated that way.

And... I guess that's all I'm willing to say right now about gynecologists.

My point is, for me as an autistic person (undiagnosed until my 20's), going to the doctor has been more difficult and painful than it is for other people. I guess? Like I said, I have no way of knowing what a "normal" reaction is to a given medical procedure. It's harder because of my sensory issues- things can be painful for me in a way they're not painful for other people. And because of how adults (not in the context of doctor visits, but everywhere else in my life) didn't take my sensory pain seriously- treating me like I was just complaining for no reason, and I should stop... so then I didn't know I should communicate with medical professionals if something is painful. And because of my naive trust of authority figures- assuming that doctors and nurses magically knew everything about my body and what I was feeling, assuming that they knew it was painful for me and only continued causing me pain because it was really medically necessary.

Kind of an intersection of a lot of things that resulted in me enduring more pain than was necessary.

So now I'm trying to change that. Communicate more and stand up for myself. Ask for more information about medical procedures, whether or not they're expected to be painful, whether or not they're truly necessary.

Recently I was at the dentist, getting a cavity filled, and I decided to try this. Just practice a little bit about communication in the context of a medical appointment. I asked the dentist some questions about how the dental filling process would happen, how long it would take, can I look at it with the mirror when we're done, etc. I don't know why I was so nervous! I was just asking polite questions which were very easy for the dentist to answer, so of course it was no problem at all. But I was standing up for myself in a way I never had before. Instead of just quietly submitting to whatever extremely physically invasive thing a medical professional wanted to do to me, I was being proactive. Believing that I'm a part of this, and my feelings and choices matter.

And another positive example: Recently I went to a psychologist because of some emotional trauma related to, uh, you know, a lifetime of people not caring about my sensory pain. When she asked me for the reason I came to see her, I gave her an explanation along the lines of "I'm autistic, and so this and that sensory thing is painful to me, and X happened recently and I had Y feelings about it, which was surprising to me because even though I know X is traumatic for me because of A, B, and C which have happened many times throughout my life, I didn't expect I would still feel Y about it, and it makes me feel like D is true but actually I also know it's not, and I only *feel* like it's true because of E, so I don't understand why I had such a strong emotional reaction when it happened recently." Like, the way I explained my situation to her was based on conclusions I've drawn from years of analyzing myself and my thoughts and emotions. I've spent years learning what it means to understand myself as autistic, looking at trends and drawing conclusions, applying labels like "sensory pain" and "trauma", and those high-level conclusions were what I told this psychologist (along with a brief explanation of a recent event that had brought up some of the associated emotions and trauma). And also I sort of told her what I was hoping to get out of the therapy- that I was basically trying to understand the reason I felt a certain way, and how to make it less traumatic in the future.

I'd never done that before. I've been to lots of therapy, but I've never explained things to a therapist like that. I'd always just told them the basic facts of some situation that happened to me, and that's it. I thought, they're the expert, not me... they're going to magically understand everything about how I feel and what I should do- that's their job, right? And they would ask questions, and I would simply answer whatever they asked, rather than bringing up points that I thought might be relevant. I shouldn't do their job for them, right? If they want to ask me about some topic that I think is completely unrelated to my situation, well, I just trust that somehow it actually is useful and important for me. They're the expert, right?

I always felt like I wasn't allowed to draw these conclusions about my own life. No authority figure gave me permission to use words like "sensory pain" and "trauma" when I talk about my experiences. I figured that out myself... is that allowed? Maybe it's allowed when I'm writing about it on my blog, but like, not in front of a real doctor, right?

No, I guess I don't believe that anymore. Psychologists are educated and intelligent and good at their job, but that doesn't mean they know my life. I'm the expert on my life.

So anyway, I told this psychologist my high-level summary of my emotional history, not just the raw data about a recent thing that happened to me. I feel like it went really well. Unfortunately I haven't been back to see her again yet, because some other stuff came up in my life that ended up being a higher priority. But I am hoping I will have time soon to go back and see her again. See if my new strategy of treating therapy as a tool that's useful for me, that I'm in control of, is helpful. Instead of just helplessly flopping into the doctor's office and letting them ask me whatever questions they want to ask.

To summarize, I want to consider this question: What do I wish I had been taught about doctors, as a child? I guess I wish I had been taught to ask questions so I understand what's happening and how it's supposed to feel for me, rather than just quietly submitting to painful, physically intimate procedures I didn't understand. At the same time, though, I wonder if it's even realistic to think I could have done that, as a child- I was so shy and so scared of talking to anyone. But... it's necessary... as an adult I'm only now seeing how necessary it is for me. When someone touches you in a way that's so extremely physically intimate, there needs to be communication so both parties understand what's happening.

And... I want to use the word "consent", but I'm not even sure how it would work here. A child literally doesn't have the option of saying no to something their parents and doctor believe is medically necessary. There's a huge power difference- no, consent isn't possible. And even as an adult, even though I have the option to refuse medical treatment, that would mean I have to suffer the medical problem instead, so it's still not a free choice. Is it "consent" to choose the lesser of two evils?

But my point is, society focuses on warning kids about how to protect themselves from sexual predators. For autistic kids, that's not enough, because we are often hurt by good people who are not trying to hurt us at all, and that requires a completely different response than something like sexual abuse requires.

Thursday, July 4, 2019


1. My Son "Fixed" 'The Giving Tree' (posted June 22) "We want them to understand that kindness doesn’t mean giving yourself away to make someone else happy until you are nothing but a stump. ... We want them to know that when you love yourself, you set boundaries that allow for authentic relationships built on mutual respect and honor."

2. Is Toy Story 4 the Best Toy Story Movie? | Spoiler Review (posted June 25) I agree with the Super Carlin Brothers' thoughts on Toy Story 4.

3. Dr. Dobson's July Newsletter What the f***?! This is James Dobson's account of his visit to the border patrol facilities on the US southern border. Parts of it show concern for the refugees who are suffering, but overall it's about how we need to close the border, we need to support the orange antichrist building his damn wall, isn't it terrible that these poor and possibly-violent people are allowed to enter the US, etc.

I'm posting this here because I always saw Dobson as a good Christian role model, when I was growing up. My family bought books and magazines from Focus on the Family, and I read and accepted what they said, never doubting that Focus on the Family taught The Correct Things That Christians Should Believe.

And now he's writing this blatantly unbiblical anti-immigrant crap. The bible is clear: we need to welcome the immigrant, the refugee, the stranger. (And usually I don't use the term "unbiblical" and I don't say "the bible is clear" but I'm angry and it's ****in' clear on this.) Look at the last paragraph from Dobson's post:
What I've told you is only a glimpse of what is occurring on the nation's border. I don't know what it will take to change the circumstances. I can only report that without an overhaul of the law and the allocation of resources, millions of illegal immigrants will continue flooding to this great land from around the world. Many of them have no marketable skills. They are illiterate and unhealthy. Some are violent criminals. Their numbers will soon overwhelm the culture as we have known it, and it could bankrupt the nation. America has been a wonderfully generous and caring country since its founding. That is our Christian nature. But in this instance, we have met a worldwide wave of poverty that will take us down if we don't deal with it. And it won't take long for the inevitable consequences to happen.
Ewww, disgusting, how will I explain this to my children.

See also: Sarahbeth Caplin's post on this.
And Libby Anne's post.

And this tweet:

4. An Amazon employee made an AI-powered cat flap to stop his cat from bringing home dead animals (posted June 30) Cool!

5. Researchers eliminated HIV from the DNA of infected mice. It's the first step toward a cure for humans, they say (posted July 2)

6. So the President F*cking Hates My Girlfriend (posted July 2) "She’s going to do her thing, at her own damn speed, to her own damn rhythm, and she’s going to apologize to exactly NO ONE for it."

Monday, July 1, 2019

Touch (part 2 of Autism & Teaching Kids to Protect Themselves)

An image of a brain, along with 5 icons that represent the 5 senses. Image source.
Blog series on Autism & Teaching Kids to Protect Themselves

Part 1: Strangers
Part 2: Touch
Part 3: Doctors


So. This is a post about how, to protect me from sexual abuse, adults warned me about people touching me "in a way I didn't like", but then because I am autistic and was undiagnosed for my whole childhood, people were always touching me in [non-sexual] ways that I didn't like, and everyone told me my discomfort didn't matter.

When I was in elementary school, the school nurse came to talk to our class about "swell secrets and tell secrets." In other words, there are 2 different types of secrets:
  1. Swell secrets: this is something that actually you should keep secret. Like for example, what birthday gift you are buying for someone.
  2. Tell secrets: this is something you should not keep secret; you should tell your parents or a trusted adult. Like for example, some adult touched your genitals and then told you "don't tell your parents."
This seemed simple enough to me, and I was never worried about it as a kid. I assumed that if someone touched me in the "bad" way, I would know it was bad because they would then say "don't tell your parents" and then I would tell my parents and that would be the end of that.

But, umm, now that I'm an adult and I've read articles about how child abuse works, I am thinking maybe abusers don't always say the words "don't tell anyone." Probably it's more likely that they make the victim feel too ashamed to tell anyone, maybe by making the victim think it's their own fault. Or the abuser acts like what they're doing is totally normal, and the victim assumes any trusted adult would also think it was fine and normal, so there's no point in telling.

So, uh, maybe it wasn't good that the main message I got to protect me from sexual abuse was "watch out when people tell you to keep a secret for them- you have to check which kind of secret it is" because if I was abused I would probably not read the situation as "this person wants me to keep a secret for them."

And I'm not really sure if "swell secrets and tell secrets" truly was the thing the adults emphasized the most, or if that's just the one aspect that my brain latched onto because it's very straightforward and easy to understand.

I don't know. I was never sexually abused, thank goodness, so this is all hypothetical. I just want to say it feels to me that this advice wasn't all that useful.

The other aspect related to warnings about touch was that I should tell my parents if "someone touches you in a way that is inappropriate." Or "in a way you don't like." Or "in a way that makes you feel uncomfortable." I understood that all 3 of these were awkward euphemisms for touching "private parts." I actually remember feeling a little amused at these long cumbersome phrases that adults used; they sounded so awkward and unnatural- "someone touches you in a way that is inappropriate"- like, what in the world, surely there's a less-weird-sounding way to phrase that, right?

It has only just recently occurred to me, though, that I very much was NOT taught that it's wrong if someone touches me "in a way I don't like" or "in a way that makes me uncomfortable." As in, taking those literal words at face value. As in, if someone touches me and I don't like it, I have the right to tell them to stop- no, certainly I was never taught that, certainly I never believed that. I understood that "in a way I don't like" had nothing to do with whether or not I liked it; it was simply a euphemism for touching "private parts."

In middle school I was seeing a therapist, and at one of the first appointments she said, "I'm just asking this because I have to ask everyone, I know it's not related to why you're coming here, but ... has anyone ever touched you in a way you didn't like?"

And I hesitated. The first thing I thought of is when I used to fight with my sister and we hit each other- certainly I didn't like that. But ... when adults say "touched you in a way you didn't like" they don't actually mean someone touched me in a way I didn't like; they mean touching "private parts." So I kind of awkwardly asked her to clarify the question... I'm not comfortable with saying "no" to this particular wording of the question, when I KNOW that there have been times my sister hit me and I didn't like that. And when I answered that yeah sure my sister has hit me before but I've never been sexually molested (or however a shy 11-year-old would phrase that), then the therapist was satisfied with that and moved on to other things.

In other words, she was ONLY asking about sexual abuse, but she used the words "touched you in a way you didn't like." I think there's something wrong about that. Yes, it's understandable that a therapist might specifically want to ask about sexual abuse rather than other kinds of trauma. But... the idea that something only counts as "in a way you didn't like" if it's sexual- that's messed-up.

And here's another story, a story I don't remember the details of, but piecing things together 20-some years later astonished me. I remember when I was preschool-age (maybe 4?) and my mom would brush my hair every day, and she always told me "stop moving, you need to stop moving or else I'll have to start all over" and it was so hard to sit there and not move, and it always felt like it was taking so long, and I didn't want her to start all over. I don't remember my own actions though. I don't remember how I was moving that made her say "stop moving."

Now I'm married, and there have been a few times I have asked my husband, Hendrix, to brush my hair, because I thought it would be romantic. But nope it wasn't. It always felt like he was doing it all wrong, and I assumed that's because he has never had long hair, so he just doesn't know how to brush hair.

But there have also been times when Hendrix is rubbing my back, and happens to pull on some of my hair ever-so-slightly, and that tiny bit of tension causes a tickling feeling where the strand of hair attaches to my head, and then I have to immediately scratch my head at that spot to get rid of the tickling feeling because OH MY GOODNESS I CANNOT STAND IT.

I remember one time he was rubbing my back, and I said to him "you have to scratch now to get rid of the tickling feeling" and he couldn't figure out what I was talking about, had no idea where I wanted him to scratch or how hard he should scratch.

Actually, this is something I've always had trouble with: realizing that other people don't feel what my body is currently feeling. Like, they have no way of knowing, because it's not their body. It's me who's feeling it, not them. I feel so silly talking about this, because isn't it obvious? I'm the one who feels what my body feels, and other people don't. Even though some sensory input is so overwhelmingly annoying that it's the only thing I can think about, that doesn't mean it's obvious to other people too. I have to tell them, or they won't know. I have to communicate.

So Hendrix rubs my back, and my *feeling* is that it's OBVIOUS that if you happen to put a tiny bit of tension on somebody's long hair, that's going to tickle at the point where the hair meets the head, and it's THE MOST ANNOYING FEELING EVER and therefore you need a good hard scratch to get rid of the feeling. But, umm, no, that's not "obvious." So I had to explain it all to him.

All of this has me thinking back to 20 years ago when my mom used to brush my hair before preschool, and I HATED IT. Wait a minute, did I hate it because it tickled? Was she trying to be more "gentle" because she knew I hated it, and that made it tickle more? Was I constantly scratching at the roots of my hair to get rid of the tickling feeling, and that's why I remember her saying, so many times, that I need to stop moving because if I mess it up she'll need to start over? And was I unable to communicate what the problem was- either because I was too little, or because I assumed the problem was obvious- so we never realized that maybe we could find a different, non-terrible way to brush my hair?

"Has anyone ever touched you in a way that you didn't like?" It never would have occurred to me that Mom brushing my hair was "touching me in a way I didn't like." Yes, of course I knew I didn't like it, but I believed that was my own problem. I was the one who had trouble "being good" and sitting still. I was the one causing problems by "messing up" my hair. Yes, of course I didn't like it, but my not-liking-it wasn't something that anyone should take seriously; it was just me failing to be an obedient child.

And so when the therapist asked that question, I didn't think of Mom brushing my hair, or anything like that. I thought of me and my sister hitting each other. I knew that my not-liking-it was valid in that case, because there were rules, and we got in trouble if we hit each other. I knew that if someone hits me, I'm allowed to "not like it." Not so with the hair-brushing, or all the times someone has touched me *very lightly* and I just COULD NOT STAND IT. Which, I now realize, was for autistic reasons.

I feel quite weird suggesting that Mom brushing my hair was an example of "someone touches you in a way you don't like", because generally "someone touches you in a way you don't like" is a euphemism for sexual abuse. But I'm not talking about anything like that at all- I'm just saying that there was touching and I didn't like it, and that should matter.

The big key difference between my example and sexual abuse is the intent of the person doing the touching. If Person A sexually abused Person B, that means Person A is a bad person. They should go to jail! They should never be allowed to work with kids again! But in my story, nobody is a bad person. But that doesn't mean there's no harm or trauma.

And so I'm not concerned with accusing anyone of being a bad person. My focus is on the person who experiences touch that they don't like, and how they should have the right to make it stop. In practical terms, this means they politely communicate "I don't like when you do that" and then the other person, because they are kind and respectful and hadn't realized it was a problem, stops. And that's that. Problem solved. I'm not interested in "punishing" anyone; I just want to solve the problem.

The focus should be on the person who doesn't like being treated that way. NOT on determining if the other person is or is not a bad person.

I've noticed that, when women talk about their experiences with sexual harassment or sexual assault, it's common that people respond by arguing that it wasn't "really" sexual harassment/assault. Apparently, to be "really" sexual harassment or assault, it has to meet these 3 criteria:
  1. Someone says/does a sexual thing to another person
  2. Intentionally
  3. For creepy, pervert reasons
So you get people making all kinds of excuses, "oh it wasn't really a sexist joke, she just misunderstood" and "oh he didn't realize she didn't like it because there were mixed signals" and so on. And all of this argumentation and excuses revolves around the issue of "Is Person A a bad person, a sexual predator?"

I submit to you that this shouldn't be the point. Because in this perspective, if we come up with enough reasons to doubt that the situation meets the 3 criteria for what's "really" sexual harassment or assault, then apparently that means Person B was wrong to say anything. Move along, nothing to see here, Person B is the one in the wrong. Their "not liking it" is invalid, because Person A didn't actually do anything bad.

Okay, I don't care if Person A is "a bad person" or not. If they should be punished or not. Really, I don't care. And when we talk about consent, and how to teach children about consent, that shouldn't be what it's about. I care about Person B having the right to communicate "I don't like this" and expect that people will then listen to them and stop doing it. The thing that matters is they don't like it. Don't respond to them with "let me explain to you why you are wrong to not like it, because Person A is not a bad person."

Because I'm just realizing now, as a child I definitely was NOT taught that I had the right to tell people to stop if they were touching me in a way I didn't like. Even though adults consistently told me I should tell a trusted adult "if someone touches you in a way you don't like." They only meant it as a euphemism for touching genitals; it had absolutely nothing to do with what I personally liked or didn't like. And so, I'm realizing that no, I never was taught about consent.

I'm realizing that I believed things were wrong because there were rules that said they were wrong. I wasn't taught that people are in charge of their own body and get to set boundaries about the way other people treat them. When I didn't like the way people were touching me, for autistic reasons, adults told me I was the one being unreasonable. (And maybe a lot of that was because I didn't know how to communicate about it, so I would try to endure it as long as I could and then end up snapping at them "STOP IT!") And I treated other kids this way too... sometimes I teased my sister and when my parents told me to stop because she didn't like it, I explained that actually I am making hilarious jokes and therefore she is wrong to not like them and therefore I don't need to stop.

Soooooo. How about this instead: If someone touches you in a way you don't like, you can politely communicate to tell them to stop, and they need to stop because you are in charge of your own body. If they stop, great, no harm done, move on. As an entirely separate issue, children cannot consent to sex, so if an adult touches your genitals, that's bad and you should tell a trusted adult. 


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