Sunday, June 28, 2020

Yes, I Want Justice (A post about white evangelicals and #BlackLivesMatter)

A protest sign that says "No justice no peace." Image source.

I just noticed something about the way the Black Lives Matter movement uses the word "justice", and how it's COMPLETELY DIFFERENT than the definition of "justice" I learned in church.

For the past few weeks, protesters have been demanding "Justice for George Floyd" and "Justice for Breonna Taylor" and for other black people killed by police and/or white supremacists. So, what do we mean by "justice" here? What do we want? Basically, we want the killers to be arrested, tried, convicted, and punished (and I don't mean a "slap on the wrist", I mean a punishment that's reasonable for the crime of murder). Also we want to change the system so this does not happen again.

In other words, justice for a victim means the murderer is punished and society does not allow similar murders to happen in the future.

But in church I was taught "you don't want justice." Yes, those exact words. "You don't want justice."

See, for evangelicals, "justice" means everyone goes to hell. Because we are all sinners and we don't deserve anything good ever. If the world was "just", then everyone would just immediately die and go to hell. Oh thank God that the world is not just! Thank God that people are able to live happy lives, and people who believe the correct things about Jesus can go to heaven. None of that is just, I was taught. Any time you've ever been happy, that was unjust. You don't deserve to be happy, ever. You deserve to go to hell. 

I was taught that God's mercy pushes back against God's justice. God's mercy means we don't get the punishment we deserve. Even though all people deserve to just die right now and go to hell, mercy doesn't allow that to happen.

Under this white evangelical definition of "justice", demands for "Justice for George Floyd" make no sense. Oh god, it's horrible to put this into words, but the "you don't want justice" ideology says that Floyd already got better than he deserved. Look, we all deserve to be tortured in hell. We don't deserve to ever experience any happiness at all. If Floyd ever experienced any happiness, well that's already better than he deserved. Oh my god what a terrible thing to believe. I feel gross just putting it into words here.

That's what we really believed though. This ideology can excuse any kind of injustice or atrocity. It's awful.

But now I believe in the biblical definition of justice. (My use of the term "biblical definition" is a bit tongue-in-cheek; I'm making fun of the Christians who apparently believe the bible is a dictionary and there's such a thing as "the biblical definition of marriage.) Here it is, in Luke 1:52-53. "He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty."

My understanding of justice has 3 parts:
  1. Punish the people who did wrong
  2. Help the victims
  3. Prevent similar things from happening again
But in church I learned that justice is only the punishment part. And that we all deserve it. We all deserve the same punishment, which is being tortured in hell forever. In this ideology, the idea of "helping the victims" makes no sense- the so-called victims are sinners too and deserve to go to hell just as much as those who hurt them.

What a terrible, terrible thing to believe. (I used to believe it with all my heart.)

The Black Lives Matter movement is about creating a world where people of all races truly are equal. Where society provides help to people who are doing something frowned-upon- like using drugs or being homeless- rather than criminalizing it. Where nobody posts hot takes on the internet about "this person deserved to be shot down in the street because they were suspected of a minor non-violent crime." Where black lives matter.


And I agree with the demands for justice. Yes, yes I want justice. 

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On the subject of the incompatibility between white evangelical ideology and Black Lives Matter, I'd like to share a few excerpts here from posts I've written in the past:

Read the Old Testament, and it seems like God's always killing people. And for Christians who have been taught that we must believe that everything the God said or did (according to the writers of the bible) was perfect and right and good and just, this means coming up with baseless embellishments to make God's victims sound especially evil.

Take the story of Nadab and Abihu (Leviticus 10:1-3), for example. All it says is they "offered unauthorized fire." So uh, what does that even mean? WELL WE DON'T KNOW WHAT IT MEANS BUT WE KNOW IT MUST HAVE BEEN BAD. I mean, of course when God kills someone, they deserve to die, we know that with 100% certainty, right? So in all the sermons or bible studies about this passage, people add to the story with creative fan fiction to help us understand why Nadab and Abihu had to die. OH CLEARLY the reason they did it was deliberate rebellion against God. OH CLEARLY they were selfish and thought they knew better than God did- so this story teaches us that when God gives rules, God is dead serious. OR PERHAPS this was not an isolated event; those guys must have had a history of being sinful and abusing their power as priests, and God finally put a stop to it.

And we sit there speechless, with our bibles open to Leviticus, and someone reassures us, don't worry, they were bad people. It's okay. Move on.

...

In every example, we can find (or imagine) some kind of mistake or sin that the victim made, before God zapped them. Usually it's a small sin and doesn't seem worthy of death. But we believe everything the bible says God did is just, so we have to believe it was worthy of death.

Hey what's it called when we pick apart someone's life and choices and search for some small sins or things they could have done differently, and point to these as proof that they deserved whatever violence happened to them, and therefore declare the case closed and justice done...?

What's that called? Blaming the victim.


...

An unarmed black man was shot? Well I mean, he did get arrested for doing drugs that one time. Sounds like he was a bad person and there's no need to fight for justice here.

Someone was killed by God in the Old Testament? Oh come on, God CLEARLY told everyone what the laws were. He should have known. This is what justice looks like. Yep, what a nice and tidy bible story that teaches us the importance of obedience.

Or perhaps I should have given those examples in the opposite order. Perhaps placing blame on God's victims in the bible trains us to blame the victims when violence happens in our own society.
Seriously, I am SO NOT HERE for this biblical victim-blaming crap. "Oh, surely this person that God killed for some seemingly illogical reason MUST HAVE BEEN terribly sinful and bad, somehow, even though the bible doesn't really say how, because we KNOW that SURELY God could not have done something BAD." We learn in church to do apologetics this way, and then we go out and argue on facebook "Oh surely this unarmed black man must have been dangerous and threatening somehow, because surely a police officer wouldn't have just murdered him for no good reason, here let's search through his past and invent reasons that he was a bad person." It's the same damn thing. How are white Christians going to believe #BlackLivesMatter when they believe it was right for God to kill Uzzah for touching the damn ark? How can we recognize police brutality for the injustice that it is when we're taught from childhood to excuse divine brutality?
And if you believe God speaks to you and guides you every day, but God has never said anything about how you benefit from centuries of white supremacy and you need to repent... well then, it must not matter to God, huh? Must not be true.

And if you ask all your friends to pray about your job interview, and then you credit God with getting you the job, then how can you acknowledge the reality of employment discrimination- that people with black-sounding names are significantly less likely to get called for job interviews? You believe God helped you get the job as part of his perfect plan- that God controlled every part of the process and blessed you with a new job. If you believe that, you can't believe in systemic racism, can you?

Overall, white evangelicalism's obsession with "having a personal relationship with God" is a convenient way to ignore our sinful complicity in society-wide injustice. It's all about your own relationship with God. Everyone is equal spiritually- and that's all that matters. Sin is bad because it breaks your own personal relationship with God. Maybe your sin hurts people too, but that's not really the point. Completely absent is the idea that the sins of the privileged disproportionately affect those in marginalized groups.

And then somebody comes along and says, American culture trains white people to have subconscious racial biases. It's not white people's fault, but they have the responsibility to fight back against the casual racism and to challenge their own prejudices. And when a white evangelical hears this for the first time, it doesn't sound anything like what they've been taught about sin. "No, that's not what sin is. How can it be a sin if it's not my fault? How can it be a sin if I've never felt guilty about it? How can it be a sin if I've never noticed it causing damage to my personal relationship with God?"

In that context, of course it would be baffling that InterVarsity would take a stand in support of #BlackLivesMatter. Of course Christians would be confused about the connection between racial justice in this world- right here, right now- and the gospel.
They said the bible was good and perfect and inerrant and inspired by God. Then I went and read the bible and there were a lot of foreskins and God killing people and graphic scary prophecies about war and destruction. And I had to believe that was all fine and didn't in any way affect the bible's status as good and perfect. As a good church kid who read the bible a lot, I developed the habit of not noticing or questioning those things. Or, I did notice them, but I saw them as fun bits of trivia that would show off my bible knowledge. I trusted God so much, so I was sure there was a good reason he did all those shady genocidal things. In fact, I was so confident, I would laugh about the atrocities God committed in the bible.

They said the United States is a Christian nation, the best country in the world, and that the founders were good Christians who prayed and were guided by God to write the Constitution. Then I went to history class and learned about slavery and segregation and violence. And just as I had trained myself to read about the Canaanite genocide without ever thinking "hey, maybe this was a bad thing that God commanded here", I read about the kidnapping, sale, torture, beating, and murder of African people without ever thinking "hey, maybe it's actually NOT true that this country was founded on principles of liberty and justice for all." Sure, those things were awful, and there were times that I cried when I read about families being split up when they were sold into slavery. But I saw these horrific events as exceptions that didn't have any bearing on the United States's identity as "a Christian nation, the greatest nation in the world because we have freedom." It was just an isolated thing, a bad thing some racist white people did back then. Just like God can command an army to "kill everything that breathes" and still be perfectly good and worthy of worship.

So I learned all the facts about racism in US history, but I wasn't able to really *get* it. There was no way I could get it, when all the adults said "this is the greatest nation in the world." And I read the bible from cover to cover and believed it all really happened, but the thought that maybe God is a monster never crossed my mind. There was no way I could get it.

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Blogaround

1. Holy Post - Race in America (posted June 14) Wow, the VeggieTales guy made an extremely informative video about the history of systemic racism in the US, explaining the many factors that result in the average black household today having one-tenth of the wealth of the average white household.

2. Confessions of a Former Bastard Cop (posted June 7) "I knew cops that pulled women over to flirt with them. I knew cops who would pepper spray sleeping bags so that homeless people would have to throw them away. I knew cops that intentionally provoked anger in suspects so they could claim they were assaulted. I was particularly good at winding people up verbally until they lashed out so I could fight them. Nobody spoke out. Nobody stood up. Nobody betrayed the code."

3. Vast Federal Aid Has Capped Rise in Poverty, Studies Find (posted June 21) "Still, the evidence suggests that the programs Congress hastily authorized in March have done much to protect the needy, a finding likely to shape the debate over next steps at a time when 13.3 percent of Americans remain unemployed."

4. All your questions answered (posted June 17) "Q: How many legs does a horse have? A: 4. The other leg is attached to the ground."

5. Depixellation? Or hallucination? (posted June 26) "Given a pixellated image of anything, it’ll invent a human face to go with it, like some kind of dystopian computer system that sees a suspect’s image everywhere."

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And a few reminders of things I've already posted about:

1. Americans living abroad: Request your absentee ballot! VOTE VOTE VOTE! VoteFromAbroad.org 

2. The 2020 Reader Survey will be open until July 20. Go over and take it if you haven't already.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Taking My Kid To Church (Blog Series)

Children in a church pew. Image source.
I recently became a mommy. <3 <3 <3 My little son, Square Root, is just totally perfect and wonderful. He's such a good baby, such a little sweetheart. <3 <3 <3

So now I find myself with all sorts of thoughts about religion and parenting.

A bit of background: I grew up as an evangelical Christian, and now I am an ex-evangelical Christian feminist, and my husband is not religious. My parents are evangelicals and I'll be taking little Square Root to their church whenever I visit. And my parents will probably want to read Christian books to him. And in school he'll have friends of various religions. And maybe someone will invite him to their church. And so on.

I don't want to isolate him from evangelical ideology. I can't go to church for mental health reasons, but my kid doesn't have any of that "baggage" and I really believe that if I give him a good foundation of healthy beliefs about morality, he will know to automatically reject any harmful religious ideology he encounters, and so occasionally going to church won't be an unhealthy thing for him.

My opinion about other people's religious beliefs is: I really don't care what you believe about God and religion, I care about how you treat people. For my kid, it's fine if he's a Christian (like me), or if he doesn't believe in God (like his dad), or if he believes any other religion. But it's ABSOLUTELY ESSENTIAL that I teach him how to take care of his emotional health, and to respect other people.

I want to make a distinction between religion and morality. (And maybe these aren't the right terms to use, but I currently don't have better ones.) By "religion" I mean things like whether gods exist, the nature of God, whether the miracles in the bible really happened or not- things where there's not enough evidence one way or another, and so good people have come to different conclusions and that's fine. By "morality" I mean things like how important mental health is, how we need to respect people's boundaries, people have the right to make their own decisions about their personal lives, and so on. Things where we can know what's healthy or unhealthy because we can see the results when people live that way. We have real-life experience interacting with people, and so we can really know these things are true in a way we can't for religious beliefs.

For example, maybe someone believes "God thinks all humans deserve to go to hell." I would categorize that under religion. We can't prove one way or the other what "God thinks" or even if God exists. But how about this statement, which I would categorize as morality: "A God who thinks all humans deserve to go to hell is worthy of worship." Oooh, no. No, that is not true, and we can KNOW that's not true because we interact with humans every day, and our emotions and conscience tell us that people are good and it is good when people feel pleasure rather than suffering. And that anyone who believes otherwise is a monster who is very much NOT worthy of worship.

My kid can believe whatever he wants about religion, but I want him to agree with me on issues of morality.

Also, I don't want to be all negative when I talk to him about church. I don't want the first thing he knows about evangelicalism to be "this church is bad because they will tell you you are worthless and deserve to go to hell." People at church are good. They are just doing their best, even though they have some ****ed up beliefs that ruin the whole thing, FOR ME. That doesn't mean the whole thing is ruined for Square Root. There is still a lot of good he can learn from church people. And if I teach him a good foundation in morality, he will be able to reject the harmful beliefs when he encounters them.

In other words, I don't want to approach this from the negative side, "warning" him about religion. I want to teach him positive things about morality. Instead of "oooh it's so terrible that good evangelicals believe we all deserve to go to hell" I want to tell him "you deserve good things and happiness! all people do! now this doesn't mean other people owe it to you to always give you what you want, and for practical reasons we're not always able to have the happy life we all deserve, but in general, yeah maximizing everyone's pleasure should be our goal, because people deserve good things." I won't talk about hell, but if he knows that people deserve good things, then if anyone ever tells him that he deserves to go to hell, he'll know that OBVIOUSLY he should reject that.

So I'll be writing a bunch of blog posts in this "Taking My Kid To Church" series, about how I plan to handle teaching Square Root about religion and morality so he doesn't internalize harmful ideology like I did.

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Posts in the "Taking My Kid To Church" series:

If My Kid Is Worried About Hell 

Thursday, June 18, 2020

US Citizens Abroad: Time to Request Your Absentee Ballot

A button that says "VOTE". Image source.

For those of you who are US citizens not living in the US (like me, I live in China):

You still have the right to vote. However, it requires some extra work, so get going on it now. This year, because of COVID-19, there will be way more people voting by absentee ballot, so there could be delays in the system. So you should get started on this now.

VoteFromAbroad.org tells you everything you need to know. It will walk you through the steps of filling out the form to request your ballot. (The website was created by Democrats Abroad, but it is nonpartisan. But if you're not comfortable with that and you want to use a different site, search "Federal Post Card Application" to find more information.)

Every state has slightly different requirements about how to request your ballot and how to send in your completed ballot. Some states do everything electronically and some states require you to mail or fax things. (If your state requires you to fax your form, and you're like "well where am I gonna find a fax machine" you're in luck- you can actually just email your form to fax@fvap.gov and they'll do the faxing for you. More details on that here, here, and here.)

Request your ballot now. Vote vote vote. If you have friends who are Americans living abroad, send them the link: VoteFromAbroad.org 

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Blogaround

1. Biff and the Mormons: Scrubbing Toilets in Heaven (posted May 24) "Either way, nothing these missionaries offered was actually worth the risk to us to pursue."

2. Video evidence increasingly disproves police narratives (posted June 10) "Defense lawyers say the inaccurate statements are encouraged by a culture of silence in which officers protect misbehaving colleagues, a court system that rarely holds officers accountable and a public that has given police the benefit of the doubt."

3. Police: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO) (posted June 7) "And look, for any viewers sitting at home shocked by the scenes of police brutality, I get it. I'm white too."

4. And if you haven't done it yet, take the 2020 Reader Survey~

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Take the 2020 Reader Survey!

Clip-art showing taking a survey on a tablet. Image source.

Wow can you believe it, Tell Me Why the World is Weird is now 8 years old! 

I'd like to thank all my readers for reading, commenting, sharing, and just generally supporting the blog. I've met great people through blogging, and I've learned a lot.

Here's the link to the 2020 Reader Survey~ I really love seeing the feedback from these surveys every year. Thank you to all the nice readers who participate. :) (The survey will be open until July 20, 2020.)

Thanks everyone!

Saturday, June 13, 2020

I'm SO HAPPY I Won't Be Praying During Childbirth

A street sign that seems like it's trying to show the layout of an upcoming intersection, but there are squiggly arrows pointing in all kinds of confusing directions. The sign also has the text "Good luck" and "45 mph." Image source.

I recently announced the birth of my little son. <3 Here's something I wrote when I was 22 weeks pregnant.

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So I'm 22 weeks pregnant (on average, you give birth at 40 weeks), and I started watching some youtube videos where women talk about their experiences giving birth. A few of them mentioned God helping them, or mentioned praying while in pain during labor, and honestly I was a bit startled because I haven't thought about prayer in a really long time.

And actually, as an ex-evangelical I feel really proud of myself for being surprised at the mention of prayer. I used to pray constantly. Look how far I've come.

As a disclaimer, I want to say that yes, prayer can be good and healthy for some people. If you want to pray while giving birth, or for any other reason, that is totally fine. But for me, it's so incredibly good to live without prayer, and in this post I'm explaining why.

Back when I was a good evangelical, I prayed all the time, and it was because I believed in an all-powerful God who was extremely personally involved in my life. I believed he was constantly working, in everything, all around me, that he had a grand plan involving all kinds of tiny details in my life.

I believed God could work miracles, just like in the bible. So much power, and always right there with me, ready to move mountains, if only God would choose to do so.

I prayed so much, and I believed he listened to me all the time, and loved me.

God was right there, and there were so many things I wanted him to do. Mostly it was about evangelism- I wanted SO MUCH for my non-Christian friends to "get saved." I don't believe in that anymore- I don't believe in a God who sends people to hell for having incorrect religious beliefs. Instead, the kingdom of heaven is one where people have the freedom to make their own choices about their personal lives and their religious beliefs and all that, and that's a beautiful thing. But back then, I prayed so hard that God would "work in their lives" by giving them little signs that would convince them that Christianity was true.

And there were other things I prayed for- like when I read the news and learned about some horrible situation happening... I had all sorts of ideas for how God should intervene and fix it, and I prayed so hard. About poverty, disease, human trafficking... about people dying in humanitarian crises, and I believed God was right there, sitting there all-powerful in the midst of these tragedies, and it would be so easy for God to DO SOMETHING and save people.

God was right there, all-loving and all-powerful, hearing every single word that I prayed. It would be so easy for God to intervene and do all the things I prayed for, perform all the miracles I asked, but for some reason he didn't. So I begged. I begged and begged, because there was always a crisis- my friends were in danger of going to hell, people are dying in tragedies all over the world every day- if there really is a God who is all-powerful and intervenes in the world in response to prayer, then it's logical that I should spend TONS AND TONS OF TIME every day begging and begging for him to DO SOMETHING.

Why wasn't he "saving" my friends? Why wasn't he preventing whatever disease epidemic was in the news? [note: oh ... wow ... I wrote this draft before COVID-19 was a thing...] Why? Why didn't he answer my prayers? And yes, Christians have all sorts of answers for this. Jesus promises "if you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer," but in the real world we see that that doesn't happen, and so Christians come up with all sorts of disclaimers to explain why your prayer didn't "work."

Maybe what you prayed for wasn't in "God's will." God's only going to do things that are consistent with his "will." Well then, one might ask, why should I pray anyway? Sounds like if God's only going to do things that are in his "will", then my prayers don't make a difference. Either it doesn't happen because it's not "God's will", or it does happen because God already planned to do it anyway. Ah, but when I was a good evangelical I knew the answer to this question: As you get to know God better and better, you will be more aligned with his will, and end up naturally praying for things in "God's will" anyway, and wow isn't that cool? Isn't it cool how God lets us get to know him, and we can start to get an intuitive sense of what his "will" is?

Well then, is God not answering my prayers because I'm actually praying for all the wrong things, the things that aren't "God's will", and that's because I'm not as close to God as I thought? Why? How could that be- I read my bible every morning, and I pray over and over all day. What am I doing wrong? I try so hard to "know God", "have a personal relationship with God", but apparently it's not good enough, apparently I don't know "God's will" and that's why my prayers aren't "working."

Is there some sin in my life that's damaging my relationship with God? What could it be? What did I do? Is it because I felt angry at someone? Is it because I downloaded a textbook instead of buying it? Is it because I have interests and desires that I care about, and that's "selfish" and those things are becoming "idols" and distracting me from God?

All these questions, and all of them impossible to definitively answer. Always stress and uncertainty about the status of my relationship with God.

And I haven't even gotten into the whole concept of "listening to God." See, a lot of times I prayed to ask God what I should do, when I was trying to make a decision. I prayed, and I sat quietly listening to God, and I analyzed all the little thoughts that ran through my head to try to figure out if they were from God, if any of them held the answer to "what should I do?" I looked for little signs everywhere- maybe my bible reading for that day contained some situation that sort-of maybe related to my situation, and God is trying to tell me I should do what the character in the bible story did.

Looking for signs everywhere, trying to figure out what God was telling me to do. Maybe a friend mentioned something, maybe I saw something in a movie, heard something in a song, remembered some random thing that happened to me years ago.

Because God was RIGHT THERE. All the time. All-powerful and all-loving, and he knew all the answers to all the questions I asked. And I begged so hard, and he loved me and was working in all the little details of my life... surely he was telling me what to do, and the problem was my inability to recognize it.

And that was how I lived back then. It was constant stress, praying, trying to figure out if I was praying correctly, trying to figure out "God's will", trying to figure out what God wanted me to do.

Imagine the stress of childbirth, and then adding the stress of prayer on top of that. There are choices I need to make, and I don't have the information I need to be certain about them. When should I start maternity leave? We don't know because we don't know the exact date I'll go into labor. When labor starts, when should we go to the hospital? What should we pack, to take to the hospital? Should I get an epidural? And probably a whole bunch of other decisions I haven't even thought about yet.

Oh I'm so glad I don't live that way. What if I thought God was standing right there and could totally help me, if only I knew how to pray the correct way and was aligned with "God's will"? What if I thought there really were absolute, certain answers available for all these questions, if only I analyzed every little thing to check if it was "God speaking to me"?

What if something went wrong, and I thought it was my fault because I didn't pray the right way?

It just feels SO GOOD to know that I won't have to deal with any of that. When I am giving birth to my baby, all I'll have is the reality of the situation right there in front of me. I'll have all the knowledge I've learned from researching reliable sources of medical information about pregnancy. I'll have the expertise from doctors and nurses that have years of experience.

I won't have certainty. I won't have answers about what will happen in the future. I won't have any way to be 100% sure that the choices I'm making are the best choices. I won't have the things that I used to believe I'd be able to get through prayer.

But I also won't have to speculate and worry and try to decode secret messages that God may or may not be sending me. I won't have to wonder if I'm praying right or "hearing God" right. I won't have to think what if God is telling me to make a certain decision but my "selfishness" or "pride" leads me to pretend I can't hear God, and so I end up doing the wrong thing.

Just reality. That's all. What a relief.

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Related:

Saturday, June 6, 2020

Blogaround

A drawing of George Floyd with the text "Justice for George Floyd #SayHisName". Image source.

1. Shockingly lifelike dinosaur fossil makes public debut (posted 2017) Holy crap, this is amazing. This was published in 2017 and I'm only hearing about it now???!!! It's a dinosaur that's so well-preserved they're using the word "mummified." Wow.

2. Our Nation Has Lost Its Witness (posted June 3) "What set us apart from China was that we were not like that. We did not put tanks on the street. We did not crack down on peaceful protests calling for freedom or the redress of grievances."

3. Ah, I guess I should let you all know the new blogging schedule:


4. Black Lives Matter. Keep protesting. And register to vote.

5. The kingdom of heaven is like Rahul Dubey sheltering 70 protesters in his home. (Found that link via Slactivist's post, Redeeming the Nasty 19s, which is also very good.)

Friday, June 5, 2020

When the Teacher Says, "Don't Look at Your Report Card"

Little kids taking a test in school. Image source.
One time, when I was in elementary school, maybe 8 years old, our teacher gave us our report cards and told us we weren't allowed to open the envelopes and look at them. We had to go home and give them to our parents; our parents should look at them first.

And I was a good kid, so that's what I did.

(I guess I'll give a definition of "report card" here, because maybe other school systems around the world don't use the same terminology: A report card is the thing each student gets, 4 times a year, to tell them what grades they got in their classes. ... Umm, also I think in British English, "grades" are called "marks"?)

Then the next time we got report cards, the teacher didn't say we couldn't look at them. So all the kids opened theirs and looked at them. Except me. See, I felt like, even though the teacher didn't specifically say we should let our parents see our report cards first, that's still what a good kid should do.

I seem to recall even in high school, when the report card wasn't in an envelope but was just a single sheet of paper, I very carefully kept it facedown so I wouldn't look at it. Did I? Maybe I'm not remembering that correctly; it was a long time ago. Even in high school, did I feel like the "right thing to do" was wait until I got home and then let my parents see it first?

I look back on that now, and I cringe. Because I believed that being a good kid meant giving up something that belonged to me... And even though I didn't feel like it was required, even though I didn't feel like it was something I had to do, I still felt like it was better to do it than not to. I felt like, sure, a good kid can look at their report card right when they get it, but an even better kid will wait and let their parents see it first.

Ohhh, cringe cringe cringe. That is NOT good.

I believed it was good to give up my rights. I believed it was good to take something that was mine and hand it over to an authority figure- to let them own it to an even greater extent than I had ever owned it. To hand over something that I myself don't even have knowledge of- I don't even know what I'm handing over. To let them know my grades before I did. Sure, it wasn't required, but it was a good and godly thing to do.

Now I have a son, and if he tells me (several years from now when he's old enough to talk and go to school and understand what a report card is) that he didn't look at his report card because the teacher said I should see it first... I'll tell him actually, it belongs to him and it's his right to look at it first, and it wouldn't be right for me to take that from him. I'll tell him that since the teacher said the kids should let their parents see the report cards first, we will interpret that to mean the kids aren't allowed to open them at school- but once you're home from school, the teacher's rules don't apply, and it's your right to look at your report card before anyone else. It belongs to you. It is right and good for you to see it first.

Sure, there might be some special circumstances where the parent should see the report card before the kid does. Maybe the kid is irresponsible and if we let them open the envelope, they'll lose whatever's inside. Maybe the kid is scared to look at their grades and wants someone else to look first, for emotional support reasons. Sure, there could be valid reasons. But "it's good to hand control of my life over to an authority figure" is very much NOT one of them.

As a college student and young adult, I felt the same way about my medical records. Authority figures like doctors and insurance companies could see them, but I'm not supposed to see them. And now I'm writing this blog post and trying to put into words why I thought I shouldn't see my own medical records. Why indeed? Why? I guess because I thought authority figures know what's best for me, and I don't. I'm not qualified to look at my medical records. Maybe they use some medical jargon and I won't understand them anyway- I should just let authority figures read them and tell me what they think I need to know.

One time I was applying for health insurance, and they wanted to see medical records so they could make a list of my pre-existing conditions. After I sent the records and they replied with their list of pre-existing conditions that wouldn't be covered, I noticed that one of the "pre-existing conditions" was something I'd never actually had. It was suspected I might have it, this one time when I was sick and didn't have a diagnosis yet, but it turned out I didn't. Yet there it was, on my list of "pre-existing conditions."

And I didn't want to tell them "this is wrong, could you remove it?" Why not? Thinking about it now, trying to write this blog post, I'm asking myself why not? Like, clearly it was incorrect and so it should be changed- why didn't I want to tell them to change it?

I guess I didn't want to make trouble. I didn't know if it would turn into a big argument, if it would end up causing a lot of trouble for me to not "submit" to an authority figure. I imagined what if I later did have that medical problem, imagined myself in the future trying to make the case "I knew this was wrong when I signed the contract, but I didn't say anything because I was being nice, so now they should be nice to me in return, and cover the costs for this."

I really did think that way- think that if I didn't agree with something but I signed it anyway, that would benefit me in the future. Let them win this round, and it'll be my turn to win in the next round. Sometimes I still catch myself thinking like that. To be clear, NO, this is NOT HOW THE REAL WORLD WORKS. Whatever it says in the contract you sign, that's the way it is, and nobody cares about "here are the complex feelings I was having when I signed this."

To be clear, if you sign something, that means you are saying you're okay with it. It means you agreed with it, and things will proceed accordingly. It does NOT mean "I'm not really okay with this, but I am being so nice to you and signing it anyway, so that means you should be nice to me too and not really enforce it."

Why do I think that way? Why? Is it because of Sunday School lessons about "submission" and "obedience"?

I wish that, as a little kid, I'd also had lessons about standing up for myself. I wish I'd been taught that if you don't agree with something, then you don't sign the contract. Because yes, I have signed things I didn't totally agree with. I felt like I had no other option- the authority figures say "here is the contract, you need to sign it" and I was always a good kid, so... what else is there to do? I wish I'd known that just because an authority figure says "here are your options" that doesn't mean those are my options. There are other options. And negotiating is about figuring out what's important to them and what's important to me, and how to find a solution that's good enough for both of us. And that's how it works in the real world. You don't sign things because you're "supposed to"; you sign things only if they benefit you.

But I learned in church that it's selfish and sinful to ask "what's in it for me?" We should do something because it's the right thing to do, from an objective, outside standpoint. Not out of a biased desire to benefit our own selves. And yes, I still agree with that, to an extent- as an abstract ideal, the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few or the one- but the problem was that my understanding of "this is the right thing to do" was tangled up with "an authority figure said this is what I'm supposed to do". And I still find myself thinking that way.

In reality, just because someone is "an authority figure" doesn't mean they're more moral than me, more objective than me, more competent than me, more intelligent than me, more trustworthy than me. They're human too, and they're looking out for their own biased interests. Yeah, when I was a kid I thought authority figures used "this is the right thing to do" as the inspiration for the rules they put on us, but nope, they're just as "selfish" and "biased" as anyone else.

There's a happy ending to this "pre-existing conditions" story: I did email them to say it was wrong, and then they changed it, and it wasn't a big deal.

Another health insurance story: They wanted to see medical records from when I was seeing a psychologist for depression. I asked the doctor, and he emailed me his notes. (And I was a bit shocked, because I had always felt like I wasn't supposed to see my own medical records. It was quite surprising how he just emailed them to me like it wasn't a big deal at all.) I read them, and was very surprised to discover that the things he wrote were actually a slight misrepresentation of the things I had said in our sessions. All this time, I had assumed that, since he was a doctor, he understood everything- but it turns out he had misunderstood some things in the normal ways that people typically misunderstand some things.

That's when I learned that I should treat doctors as a useful resource that I can use as I take responsibility for my own health, not as infallible authorities who tell me what I need. They're good at their job, but they don't know my specific situation. And so I need to be there, be active and involved and stand up for myself, rather than just passively accepting everything.

So yes, of course I should be allowed to see my own medical records. They are mine, and my life is mine. And at the end of the day, the responsibility for my health is mine. There's nothing good or godly about leaving that in the hands of an authority figure. It's mine.

And nowadays, I don't feel weird at all asking for my own medical records. Sometimes I want them for myself- for myself, not because some other authority figure tells me I need to get them from the doctor and pass them along. I ask for them simply because I want them, as part of my understanding of myself as being in charge of my own health. And the hospital just gives them to me, like it's not a big deal at all, like it's totally business as usual. I have to sign a consent form to give them permission to send them by email- see, a consent form, because they are mine and I get to say where they get sent or don't get sent. That's consent- we usually talk about "consent" as it relates to sex, but it's so much more than that. It has to be.

I thought there were things about myself that I shouldn't know, but that other people- people more qualified than me- should know. That's bullshit.

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[content note: in the next section I talk about my vagina. If you don't want to read it, skip down to after the picture of a queen of diamonds playing card]

To put it bluntly: The first time I went to the gynecologist, I did not understand what a vagina was.

She stuck some kind of tool (a speculum?) in my vagina, when I had never even stuck my own finger in there. Never. I had never- of course I had never! I was a good and pure girl, and good and pure girls did not touch their vulvas. Because that is like masturbating, and masturbating is bad and sinful. (Lol, I would like to point out that ACTUALLY, that is NOT like masturbating, and ACTUALLY masturbating is NOT bad or sinful- it's GOOD and ESSENTIAL for learning about my body.)

So no, I had never touched it. And no, I didn't even understand what my vulva was. Not a clue. Had never looked at it. Not a damn clue. I had used tampons before, but that always felt like a grand mystery- I poked the tampon around "down there" for a while, and then sometimes eventually it went in *somewhere* and sometimes it didn't so I just gave up. I don't think I ever considered using my fingers to feel around and get a better sense of how to put the tampon in. No, of course not. Pure girls would never do that.

The doctor stuck something in, and it hurt, and I didn't have the knowledge to understand what was happening, what was hurting, and why. I couldn't stand up for myself- of course I couldn't! I had no idea what was going on, and she was a doctor so surely she knew everything and she was doing everything right. Right?

And also, I had no sexual experience or anything that anyone might think might possibly be kinda sorta somewhat related to something like sexual experience, and that meant my genitals were perfect and pure, right? That's what Christians had taught me- the best-case scenario is having no experience whatsoever. That's how you have awesome sex. And the more experience you have had with other partners, the worse the sex is.

I had no experience or knowledge, and that meant I was all good. I never could have imagined that there might be something not-normal about my genitals. Fast-forward 10 years and it turns out I'm asexual and might have vaginismus.

Another time, I had to have a transvaginal ultrasound. Not when I was pregnant- this was years before I was pregnant. Before I had ever had sex. When I was completely and utterly HORRIFIED by the very idea of me having sex. (And that feeling with completely unaffected by and unrelated to the fact that I had a boyfriend. It never crossed my mind that it would make sense for me to be interested in having sex with my boyfriend. ...Yeah, turns out I'm asexual.) Before I'd ever put anything in my vagina besides tampons. (I was in my mid-20s.) And the ultrasound technician couldn't get the tool to go in, and she was asking me why, why is it not going in, what about my sex life. And eventually we gave up on the ultrasound.

Honestly, I felt betrayed. Perfect and pure and inexperienced, and doctors acted like there was something wrong with me. Doctors expected me to know how my own vagina worked. Doctors hurt me by accident because I didn't understand what was happening. And I was so confident that my body was pure and therefore perfect, it never crossed my mind that maybe there's something not-normal about my body and maybe that's the reason these doctor visits aren't going well. It would be years before I even started to wonder if maybe actually a pelvic exam isn't supposed to hurt like hell. If it hurts for me, and I'm pure, then surely for everyone else it must be at least just as bad. It must be normal that it hurts like this.

So. Anyway. Now my advice is this: Before you go to the gynecologist for the first time, try putting 2 of your own fingers into your vagina. (For bests results, use lube or do it when your vagina is naturally wet. Ah, yeah that's another thing to mention: you'll want to get an understanding of when your vagina is naturally wet and when it's dry.)

Wow, this blog post has really veered off from what I thought I was going to write about. Honestly, I don't like blogging about this- but I feel like I should, because I wish I had read something like this, way back when.

But... let's be real. If I had read "before your first gynecologist appointment, try putting your own fingers in your vagina" back then, I definitely would have thought "no way." Good and pure girls don't do that. I wouldn't have even considered it for a single moment; it was just completely out of the question. But let's imagine a hypothetical alternate universe where I did consider it. I would have tried 1 time, without success, and then thought "no, this is too weird, I'm not doing this." So what I'm trying to say is, my advice cannot be "in preparation for your first gynecologist appointment, try putting your own fingers in your vagina." Instead, it has to be this: As a general life principle, you own your own body, and therefore it is right and good that you have looked at every part and have touched every part. Know every part. Your body is yours, and so of course you should know every part of your body. That's the way it should be.

And same for partnered sex: If you've never attempted to masturbate before, then you should NOT try to have sex with another person. Don't view your partner as an "authority figure" who has more of a right to access your body than you do. That's bullshit. No one deserves that kind of ownership over another person's body. You belong to you.

(Okay but also I hope I am not scaring people off from going to the gynecologist. Take care of your health! Get regular checkups and pap smears! Probably your experience won't be as bad as mine.)

Queen of diamonds playing card. Image source.
So. It's all the same thing- from elementary school report cards to medical records to sex ed. It's about boundaries and consent and autonomy. I am in charge of my own life. And I didn't know that before. I really and truly believed that there existed authority figures who deserved access to my information and my personal life and my body in ways that I didn't deserve. Here's the truth: No. No, there is no such thing. And I wish someone had told me that when I was a child, so I didn't have to stumble into it as an adult.

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