despair and fury: being a woman in rape culture

anger
[art by Liza]
[content note: rape, sexual assault, depression]

This is an extremely difficult post for me to write. The words have been simmering inside of me for a long time, and I hope that getting them out of me will … help. I wrote a post a little while ago that talked about the depression I’ve been struggling with, and as you can probably tell from my lack of regular posting, the past two weeks have been rough.

I consider myself fortunate in that my depression has always been situational– while it certainly isn’t fun, that it’s been a rather normal reaction to life events means that when life settles down, so can I. I’ve never worried about being depressed because I knew there would be a bend in the road, a light at the end of the tunnel, and I’d come out of it. Eventually. All I had to do was buckle down and muscle through it.

This time, though … I’m not sure how to get around this depression because while it’s still situational, the “situation” isn’t ever going to go away. This time, I’m depressed because rapists get away with it.

I don’t think that’s a fact that’s going to change at any point in my lifetime … and that’s just fucking depressing as shit.

I came to the realization of why I’m depressed shortly before Christmas. I was speaking with my partner about a man we both know to be a sexual predator when I just … snapped. I was remembering all of the times this person had grabbed my ass without my permission or the times I’d watched him drunkenly grope and forcefully kiss his way through a party– and the fact that he was surrounded by a community of men who find this behavior acceptable and will call any woman who complains about it a “bitch.” And, suddenly, I couldn’t handle it anymore. I’d removed myself from that group of people, but the group still exists and that behavior still happens, and nothing is ever going to happen to him.

I hid myself in the closet and beat my head into the wall until everything in my vision was a little fuzzy and dark; I wanted to claw out of my skin, to rip my heart out of my chest so it would stop hurting so badly. My rapist, the last time I heard anything about him, was a youth pastor, and married to the woman he’d cheated on me with– a woman, because of what he told me, I suspect he might have assaulted. By all accounts he’s happy and successful and chances are he will never be brought to justice for all the women he’s harmed. And that … was overwhelming in a way that I can’t put into words. That night, I hated this world and everything about it. I was hysterical with fury and pain.

Since that night I’ve been struggling to deal with this reality that I’ve been able to emotionally ignore for so many years. I can’t escape it now, and the burden of waking up to a world where the men I know to be rapists are happy and hale and will– almost absolutely– never see the inside of a prison makes me want to shrink as far into my bed as I can bury myself.

Today it took me three hours to drag myself out of bed, and all I ended up doing was moving to the couch, cuddling with Elsa, and crying myself to sleep again. I thought I might be getting better, that surrounding myself with tea and good books and good movies and cuddling with Handsome was working.

But, last Wednesday, I was riding the DC metro and I watched a man violate every single one of a woman’s boundaries while she was helplessly trapped on a train with him with no where to go. I stood there, helpless and enraged, not knowing what to do, while I watched him slowly escalate his behavior until he attacked her and she tried to fight him off and I start yelling at him to stop, but he ignored me until Handsome grabbed his shoulder. And then he spends the next five minutes yelling at every single last person on the train about the “dumb bitch” who interfered.

And I stood on that train until he got off, and I sobbed, because I saw that other people had noticed, and I and Handsome had been the only ones to even move when he attacked her. I cried harder when another passenger confronted my partner and told him that he should have “left it alone.”

I don’t know how to live on this planet. I don’t know how to live on a planet where Fifty Shades of Grey is a box-office success and women tell me that I need to take responsibility for being raped because obviously I ignored the many neon-billboard signs that my rapist was an abuser because I thought he was hot. I don’t know how to live in the same country as a woman who tells rape victims that they need to repent. I don’t know how to live in a world where it’s rare and unusual for someone to step in, even when a sexual assault is obviously happening right in front of them.

And while I know this is a bit melodramatic… I feel like Elijah saying “I am the only one left.” And of course that’s objectively ridiculous. There are so many incredible people out there fighting for the same thing I am, who speak up when they see something happening. It’s just difficult to remember that when you’re the only “bitch” at a party telling someone to quit it, or the only person on a train willing to speak up.

It makes me angry, too, because it’s not as though being a feminist takes any of my fear away. I am just as embarrassed and awkward and afraid of rocking the patriarchal party boat as anyone else. I am just as terrified of confronting someone on the train and making myself a target. The difference is that I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I didn’t do something, and it infuriates me that so many know that people around them are being harassed and assaulted, and they care … they just don’t care enough.

In the end, that is what I find truly depressing.

So, I’m throwing this post out there, hoping that it could make someone understand exactly what is at stake when they keep their head down and “mind their own business,” when they are bothered by that guy at a party who just won’t leave that woman alone but don’t want to get harassed for saying something about it. If these words do anything, I hope that it convinces at least one person that taking all the heat and flack and cursing and raging is worth it.

kink 101 for purity culture survivors

blindfolded
[note: links may include NSFW material]

There are many amazing resources out there for people who think they might be kinky or into BDSM, and I’ll link to some at the bottom of this post. However, if you’re anything like me … a lot of what’s out there seems conflicting and confusing, and because I grew up on the rather strict end of purity culture I didn’t have the tools to start sorting any of it out. I didn’t know anything about sex, and many of us don’t. Someone I met in college thought that semen was green because of a joke they’d heard about grass stains, and I thought that “going through the back door” meant doggy.

And that’s just regular sex. If you think  you might be into kink, things are going to be exponentially harder, because while “safe, sane, consensual” seems like a spectacular phrase, purity culture survivors may not have a personal baseline for “safe” and “sane” and heaven knows we’re not given any sort of education about what consent actually is.

So, I’m going to do my best to give people like me the baseline they need to move on and explore BDSM/kink if they’d like to. I only really have my experience to draw upon, so please keep that in mind. I’m coming at this from the perspective of being a sub/bottom, but hopefully what I share here is applicable to both bottoms and tops.

~~~~~~~~~

The Most Very Important Number One Thing You Absolutely Need to Understand is consent. For all forms of sex, I strongly encourage everyone to rely on the idea of enthusiastic consent for a variety of reasons: first of all, the absence of a “no” does not make a “yes,” which is why I disagree with the “no means no” approach to educating people about consent. Second, making sure that your sex partner definitely wants to have sex with you instead of trying to manipulate them into bed means that you’re not a creep. Lastly, when everyone involved enthusiastically wants sex, it just makes it better all around, and I am very much in favor of people having the best sex possible.

However, if you’re going to explore BDSM with someone, you need more than enthusiastic consent– you need informed consent. If you don’t explicitly lay out everything that you’re interested in and what it all means and what all your expectations are, you’re inevitably going to run into something like this:

Person 1: (thinking about spanking) “Hey do you want to have kinky sex with me?”
Person 2: (thinks “kinky” means “oral”) “That sounds like fun. Sure!”

Me and Handsome have this lay-it-out-there conversation all of the time. He’s actually much more interested in the research side of things, so he’ll come to me with an idea, explain everything it would include, and I, especially since I’m almost always the bottom, get to say yay or nay.

A little bit ago,  we were talking about a bunch of different equipment we could experiment with, and possibly using a collar came up. Me, knowing myself and that I’ve been freaked out by high-collared shirts, turtle necks, and choker necklaces since I was a child, didn’t like the idea. Handsome also wasn’t enthused with the visual of me looking like I could be on a leash, so we decided that collars weren’t for us.

But, in that particular situation, I had to know beforehand that I wasn’t going to be ok with collars, and Handsome knows that he’s not interested in the domination aspect that some play with. For other things I’m open to the idea, but I’m not sure how I’ll react to it while we’re in the midst of things, which leads me to …

Very Important Idea Number Two: boundaries and safewords.

Most boundaries should be set before you enter the “scene.” For example, Handsome and I are not, and will never be, ok with using a belt to spank me. However, let’s say for the moment that Handsome is actually really into spanking someone with a belt. If I say “no, I am not comfortable with that,” it should never even come up during a scene. Ever. For any reason. Period. End of story. This could be what us kinksters refer to as a “hard” or “soft limit,” or it could just be “meh, I’m not into that today.” Subs/bottoms aren’t the only one with limits, either, and all boundaries should be respected. If I said “I don’t want to be spanked with a belt,” or “I don’t want to be spanked with a belt today,” Handsome is not allowed to bring it up during the scene. It is not acceptable for anyone to try to manipulate, pressure, or coerce someone– and while that applies to pretty much any human interaction, it especially applies to kinky sex.

Other things can be negotiated during a scene. For example, I knew I was open to the idea of a riding crop, but I wasn’t entirely sure where he could use it, or where I would like it to be used. In this particular case, I consented to exploring it, and was open to it used almost anywhere. When we began using it, I relied on my safe words– which for us, since we don’t usually do any role play, is “ouch,” “no,” and “stop.” Some people use “yellow” and “red,” but there are a variety of things to use safe words for: such as “I like being hit that hard and this often, I just want you to use that thing somewhere else for a while.”

The most amazing thing about BDSM in my opinion is how communication works. It relies upon complete and total honesty at all times, and if you feel as though you cannot be explicitly honest with your partner, you are not with a good partner. If you feel that you’ll be ignored, you are not with a good partner.

This whole “set and respect boundaries” idea isn’t something that conservative Christians are real good about teaching and modeling. In fact, people who come from a purity culture background were probably taught the exact opposite. You have the right to have boundaries, and you have the right to have those boundaries respected. When people cross your boundaries, you absolutely have the right to tell them so and to enforce those boundaries. If you say “you crossed my boundary, don’t do that again,” you are not being mean. You are not being “unkind” or “uncharitable” or “ungracious” or whatever word was the one that got tossed around in your Sunday school room.

I also want to make it very clear that you don’t have to have a “good reason” to say “no” to something, whether it be equipment, an act, or a scenario. Feeling “eh, not really interested or turned on by that” for no particular reason is the only reason you need. I’ve found that women who were brought up in purity culture tend to believe that we have to justify and rationalize every decision we make, and I’ve found that’s actually really sort of ridiculous. “I don’t want to” is the only reason anyone needs. If that’s not a good enough reason for your partner … get a new partner.

And lastly, Very Important Idea Number Three: know thyself.

This is probably going to be the hardest one for purity culture survivors to get used to, because it goes against everything we’ve been taught. The only thing most of us know about sex is “just say no,” until we get married and then we’re supposed to Instant Sex Monkeys/Porn Goddesses.

The reality that we struggle to understand every single day of our lives is that being a person means having to come to terms with our sexuality, and that sexuality is a part of our identity in a way that “SEX OUTSIDE OF CISHET MARRIAGE IS A SIN” doesn’t quite cover. There’s no room for gay people, or bi people, or asexual people in this narrative, firstly, and there’s barely any room for straight people, either.

But, if you want to explore kink, it’s important that you explore yourself first of all, and that doesn’t just mean masturbation. It also means embracing your fantasies, whatever they are and however weird you think they might be. Thanks to the teachings I got about “fantasizing about any person living, dead, or fictional is a sin,” I ended up resorting to … well. Google The Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife when you get a chance and … yup. There’s a whole wide world out there full of people thinking up interesting things, and I think you should go out there and find them. Honestly, most of my sex education came from a website dedicated to Star Wars and Star Gate fan fiction– and through writing a ton of my own.

Fantasy, thankfully, is a safe way to figure out what you think you might like, and the sky is the limit.

There’s also an element of just being comfortable in your own skin. “I want to be tied up and spanked” is something that takes some confidence to say, and of knowing who you are and what you want. Purity culture is dedicated to the idea of abstinence, of denial, of building our lives and our ethics around refusing to do what we want. Because of that, it can be difficult for us to admit that we might want something. BDSM is the opposite of that– it’s built at least partly on knowing and doing exactly what you want exactly the way you want to do it. That can take some getting used to.

~~~~~~~~~~

Anyway, this has gotten long, so I want to stop here. I wish it wasn’t so necessary to talk about such fundamentally basic things, but it is, and we all need the occasional reminder. Feel free to ask me anything you’d like in the comments, or send me an e-mail (my contact information is at the top).

Further reading:

“BDSM” category at Frisky Business
“Stay Safe” category at the Submissive Guide
Clarisse Thorn’s list of BDSM resources
A Submissive’s Initiative “BDSM Basics” archive

Honestly, though, the best stuff is in books. The Ultimate Guide to Kink by Tristan Taormino is a good book to start with.

I dated Christian Grey

ana in front of window

I watched the film adaptation of 50 Shades of Grey last Thursday, and … I could talk about that atrocity of a film for a very long time, but did my best to condense some of my thoughts into an article for The Mary Sue, which you can find here. It’s generated some interesting discussion in the comment section there, but I’m curious to hear your thoughts.

It’s interesting to me that many of the people who supposedly “read” the post somehow think that I’m just anti-BDSM, which y’all know why that is hilarious. But, just to make sure it’s super-duper clear, none of Christian’s actions that I critique in that post have anything to do with sex– surprisingly, I was pretty ok with the actual sex that happened, although there was a shocking lack of orgasms.

And, honestly, if this is where the plot actually ended and we didn’t have two more books to turn into movies, I’d be tentatively thrilled-ish. The last shot of the film before it cuts to the credits has a note of finality to it. She’s given back the laptop, the car, and she’s leaving after she told him to never touch her again. I mean, if that was where we were actually leaving it? I could maybe almost be ok with it.

There’s a bunch of other shit that happened that makes me not ok with it, but a part of me hopes we all collectively forget there were ever books and that the two other movies don’t get made.

#misandry and male tears: in defense of mockery

male tears mug
[content note: discussions of online harassment, threats]

A little while ago, me and some friends created a pantheon out of our group, and each of us got to choose what we would demand as tribute. I declared that I desired the hot, red blood of The Nice Guy. I wasn’t entirely sure what I would do with it once I had it– maybe bathe in it?– but I liked the way it sounded. I enjoyed the dark humor of my disciples beginning quests in search of the fabled Nice Guy in order that they may sacrifice him in my temple.

This isn’t the sort of joke I routinely make. It happens almost exclusively in very private settings, among people I trust and who know that I don’t actually want people to find and kill Nice Guys, no matter how odious and frustrating they can be.

But, on occasion, I do make these sorts of jokes in public. For example, if you’re mansplaining to me in my own comment section, chances are I’m going to respond to you with nothing more than this:

you know nothing

The vast majority of the time I ignore assholes and trolls. I roll my eyes, sigh heavily, delete their comment/email, and take whatever steps are necessary to block them– and report them, if need be. I have a somewhat loose “don’t feed the trolls” personal policy, although I disagree with people who try to tell others that’s the only way to deal with them.

But there are days, like last Monday when I read an article where some dude was screaming about how it just sucks that women enjoy watching football these days. It’s absolutely horrible and we women ruined everything. Football used to be sacrosanct to men. Sunday afternoons was one of the few days when Men could be Manly and not be bothered by those supercilious, greedy women. But not anymore. Now, women are jumping on the bandwagon and buying team jerseys and it’s just the most awful thing that’s ever happened in the history of ever. How dare we.

My reaction was to stomp gleefully in the three-inch-deep puddles created by his “male tears.”

The first couple of times I made that particular joke around Handsome it made him uncomfortable, which I understand. Things like “can I get a refill of your male tears, please? thanks” are very much feminist inside jokes, and I can understand that if you’re not a woman writing about feminism on the Internet you might not really understand why we cackle about male tears as we scroll through the #misandry tag. I’ve even cultivated a very nice Morgana-from-The Sword in the Stone-esque cackle for this express purpose.

A friend asked me recently why I thought it’s ok to make jokes like this. Aren’t I just engaging in the same sort of dehumanizing and belittling behavior that I fight against when it happens to women? Why am I ok with mockery when it’s directed at men, but be offended if it happened to a woman?

First of all, when your options are 1) be constantly enraged by everything all the time always, 2) be filled with despair that the world is horrific, devastating place, or 3) laugh at the misogynistic idiots, I think the healthiest option is laughter. It’s not always possible to ignore them, especially when they’re in your inbox or your twitter feed telling you that they’d love to rape you up the ass until your eyes bleed. Sometimes I get angry and do my best to turn that anger into something productive.

But, recently, it’s extremely difficult for me to fight off the despair.

And so, instead, I choose to laugh.

I think it’s important to point out that mockery isn’t always acceptable– it can be used as a bullying tactic, for example, and I don’t think that anyone should be bullied. However, while mockery isn’t nice, or gracious, or kind, and certainly not enjoyable when you’re the target of it, it can be an extremely effective way to communicate.

Mockery, like satire and other comedic tools, has its place.

I don’t think it should be directed primarily at an individual person, or for their identity that are parts of kyriarchal oppression. Mocking someone for being “overweight”? Not ever cool. Mocking a blind person? You deserve to get sucker punched for that. Gender-based mockery, like “get in the kitchen and make me a sandwich” should be obviously wrong. Likewise, I’m not going to mock my partner for having freckles, or a friend for having a “small” cup size, or anyone else for not being funny, etc.

However, when mockery is primarily directed at an idea, it can be useful. Mockery is saying “The emperor has no clothes,” and when I laugh at someone for complaining about women enjoying football, I’m not exclusively laughing at the male writer who penned that argument– although I partly am. Mostly I’m mocking the very idea that anyone considers “football is for men, no girls allowed, WAAAAAAHHHH!!1!” to be a legitimate argument.

Mockery says, quite simply, your argument is not even worth a rebuttal.

That, I believe, can be a powerful statement.

how in the world did I change my mind?

King James Bible

If you’ve been here for any length of time you should be pretty well aware of that fact that I grew up in Christian fundamentalism. It was everything, my entire world, for the bulk of the aware-of-Jesus-and-could-understand-sermons portion of my life. And then I grew up and decided that I didn’t agree with … well, pretty much all of it. Except for the God and Jesus part, which even believing in he/she/they was a struggle for a few years. A while after I’d decided well, I think I’m still a Christian but what does that even mean I started a blog to sort it all out and here we are.

Handsome and I have had a few conversations about this, because there’s a not-insignificant part of me that wonders how is anyone still a fundamentalist? It makes no sense, and is based on a lot of claims that are … well, in retrospect, I find it more than baffling that I ever accepted those claims as true, although I give myself a little wiggle room because I was a child and the second I was exposed to real information I started investigating and bam I wasn’t a fundamentalist anymore.

And that’s when I sort of stumbled into the answer to the question “how did I ever manage to change my mind?” After all, it’s not something that everyone easily does, especially when it comes to politics and religion. I was explaining my thought process to my partner and realized that I had some things going for me that a lot of grew-up-in-fundamentalist-Christianity people don’t have, and it wasn’t actually a “BAM! YOU’RE NO LONGER A FUNDAMENTALIST!” it was more “well, hello piece of information that seems to contradict something I’ve been taught, let’s look into thi– … whoah.” It has been, as the subtitle of this blog suggests, an ongoing journey.

Thing I had going for me #1: I was not a man.

I’ve casually mentioned this in a few things that I’ve written over the past few years, and talked about it in my BBC radio interview a few weeks ago– as a woman, I faced a lot of things that a man didn’t have to face. I was forbidden from doing things I deeply loved. I was shamed and mocked and belittled for being the sort of woman I am– feminine, but rambunctious. Introverted, but outgoing and occasionally loud. Ambitious in directions that no one approved of. I was told no an awful lot.

If I had been a boy and then a man, I wouldn’t have faced any of that. My rampant curiosity, my deep interest in theological discussions, my ability to stand up in front of people and shout about things– all of that would have been directed toward turning me into a “preacher boy.” I would have been one of the most amazingly privileged people in the fundamentalist community, and everything about who I am would have been nurtured and praised. Leaving behind a system that affords you a lot of power and opportunity is a lot harder to abandon than a system that is hell-bent on squashing you.

Thing I had going for me #2: I was not straight.

I was doggone terrified during high school because I thought I might be a lesbian. I thought the boys around me were repulsive (I was right: they were all, without exception, horrific misogynists and would have been controlling husbands) and combine that with the passing fanciful thoughts I had about kissing my best friend and I was in serious trouble. I rarely ever let myself think about it and when I inevitably did, I forced all those thoughts under the bannerhead of “I AM NOT A LESBIAN WOMEN ARE JUST PRETTY THAT’S IT.”

But that whole not-being-straight thing compounded with the not-a-man thing and by the time I got to college I was more likely than my straight male peers to think that this whole fundamentalist Christianity thing was total bunk.

Thing I had going for me #3: I was curious.

This isn’t to say that fundamentalists can’t be curious. Of course they can be. But their curiosity is … restrained. It has limits. The nature of fundamentalism means that there are some answers that they’re indoctrinated to reject out of hand, without investigation. But, because I was a bisexual woman and less averse to some answers than they were, I was predisposed to ask more meaningful questions and more willing to accept answers that disagreed with what I’d been taught.

I was also lucky.

During my sophomore year I had to take an Old Testament Survey class, and one of the assignments was to write a review of this book that was dedicated to how the King James Version is the Only True Bible blah blah blah. I’d grown up in this movement. Every church I attended or even visited until I was 23 was a strict King James Only church. One of the assigned textbooks I had to read every year since fourth grade was about the topic, and it was something that I was pretty interested in. It was a sticking point between me and some of my friends, and I even got into some late-night fights with roommates at summer camp about how it’s impossible to become a Christian if you read a different version of the Bible. Yeah, I know, I was that person.

Anyway, the book they assigned us was ridiculous– and that was coming from me, a staunch KJV-Only Supporter. At the time I was writing that paper, I stumbled across God’s Secretaries: The Making of the King James Bible by Adam Nicolson and … well, nothing was ever quite the same. I’d picked it up at Barnes & Noble because the back copy made it sound extremely favorable toward my position (“It is the greatest work of English prose ever written”), and in fact, Nicolson is rather enamored with the Authorized Version and its history. But he approached it not as a theologian invested in defending the Textus Receptus, and was completely uninterested in proving that the KJV is superior to all other translations, or that the Sinaiticus was worthy of the trash heap and nothing more. That perspective allowed him to tell the story of how the Authorized Version was compiled and translated and it was … eye opening, especially since some of the verifiable facts he related blatantly contradicted several fundamentalist positions concerning Scripture and its interpretation.

That single book is what started this whole deconverting-from-fundamentalism process, because once you’ve opened your world to the idea that maybe some of the things you’ve been taught are wrong, Christian fundamentalism will inevitably collapse. It can’t stand up to rigorous questioning.

But, you have to get to the place where you’re willing to question it, and in a sense I’m rather fortunate. If the circumstances of my life had been different– if I hadn’t belonged to an abusive cult, if I’d had male privilege, if I’d been straight, if any one of a number of things had been different, I might have been happy in my ignorance and unwilling to rock my own boat.

the post about masturbation

Unmade bed with white bed linen

As a woman who grew up in the Deep South, in an Independent Fundamental Baptist church, in “purity culture”– you can imagine that I have some pretty intense hang-ups about masturbation. Like most women, I think, my experiences with it go back a long time and I have extremely conflicted feelings and memories about it. Throughout my teenage years I battled with it constantly. I don’t even know how many hours I spent on my knees at the altar begging God to help me “stop doing It” (I could only ever refer to masturbation as It) until I finally gave up and refused to go forward to the altar anymore.

It was the first thing I ever really felt betrayed by God about. He promised that there wouldn’t be any temptation we couldn’t face, didn’t he? He said that his strength was made perfect in our weakness, right? He said that we could cast all our burdens on him and he would take care of them? I don’t even know how old I was when I decided that I was done dealing with all the agony and pain– I was convinced that if I could dedicate that much time and energy into “quitting,” into countless promises and bargains and vows, that no matter how much I tried it just wasn’t going to go away … then either masturbation wasn’t a sin, or it was and God didn’t really give a rat’s ass about helping me with it so neither did I.

But, out of curiosity I did some research into the arguments for and against it. The ones “in favor” of Christians masturbating were mostly still under the rules and constraints of purity culture, and went something like “how can you expect someone to make it to their late twenties and not have sex if they can’t masturbate?” The arguments that were definitely against it were pretty standard fare– it’s having sex with yourself, which is basically cheating. One forum poster somewhere had a somewhat more developed argument– the symbol of marriage for Christians is about Christ and the Church and how the Church needs Jesus, and sex is only really an extension of this metaphor, so masturbation is basically giving a big middle finger to God and Salvation and saying we don’t need Jesus to get to heaven, which is heresy.

I actually applauded that guy. Making masturbation into a salvation issue was impressive.

But the one argument I heard that stuck with me and bothered me the longest actually came through a friend when we were having a conversation about our “sexual struggles.” I asked her for her opinion on masturbation, and she explained that women shouldn’t masturbate because we’ll figure out how to give ourselves better orgasms than our husbands can with just their penis, and that will hurt his feelings and make him feel like less of a man, then handed me a book that explained how masturbation was a form of “defrauding our spouse.”

Yes. You read that right.

Women shouldn’t masturbate because all men supposedly really suck at sex. Also, the corollary: women should give up having their best possible orgasms so that they don’t damage the fragile male ego.

That one bothered me up until I had sex with Handsome and had the rather magnificent revelation that I enjoy pretty much any form of sex with him more than I enjoy masturbating by myself. By, like, a lot. At that point that I’d ever believed that I’d never be able to enjoy sex with a partner because it wouldn’t be as good as flicking my own bean just seemed hilarious, but I was convinced of that for a good six years.

I’ve grown in my views a little more since then, and now I don’t think it even matters whether or not you can achieve a better orgasm on your own or with your partner. Hopefully your partner cares enough about your orgasm that they’ll listen and learn, but honestly? That I can manipulate my clitoris just a little bit better than my partner can doesn’t really say anything about him or us or our relationship or about the sort of sex we have. It’s difficult to explain in the heat of the moment exactly what I need, and doing it myself shouldn’t be a problem. If your partner gets his panties in a twist that you got yourself to an orgasm, then your partner has some stuff they need to work out on their own.

But, looking back, it disturbs me that I internalized the message of “sex with your future partner is going to suck.” Obviously, it wasn’t enough to convince me to stop masturbating, but I did it believing that my responsibility as a wife was to make sure my husband felt like a stud and that my own pleasure wouldn’t matter, that achieving orgasm wasn’t nearly as important as taking care of his fee-fees. And I wasn’t supposed to even let him know that I could have a better orgasm. Communicating my sexual needs to my spouse was, apparently, forbidden.

A little while ago I was having a conversation with someone about the sex advice in Cosmo, and how one of their mainstays is “masturbate masturbate masturbate. Figure out what you like and then tell them.” This person thought of that advice as so ridiculously obvious as to be useless, and I had a hard time articulating why the whole concept was revolutionary for me. I literally come from a world where the sentence “communicate with your spouse? Who would DO such a thing?!” isn’t sarcasm.

there’s a difference between criticism and bullying

bullying

Tone policing is wrong. Respectability politics is wrong. Telling victims that they shouldn’t respond with anger to someone participating in abuse apologetics (inadvertently or not) is wrong. Anyone, anyone at all, is and should be open to criticism, even vociferous criticism. When I read Captivating and watch John and Stasi go on for pages about white supremacy I’m going to call it like I see it, and I’m going to say what the fuck. Out loud. When Grace Driscoll perpetuates the extremely damaging teaching that victims should repent, I’m going to talk about it, and I’m going to be harsh.

When Matthew Paul Turner uses a gendered slur to complain about criticism, I’m going to say “hey, not cool,” no matter how much I appreciate the past work he’s done for people like one of my closest friends. When Rachel Held Evans repeats the same tired lines abuse victims have been hearing for centuries, I’m also going to point out that it’s not ok.

I’ve been on the receiving end of some pretty pointed criticism. I do my best to always listen to it, even if I have to walk away and leave it for a bit. Eventually I always come back and ask myself is this criticism valid? Where do I think they have a point? If what they’ve said makes sense to me, I do my best to incorporate it and move on. Some criticism has radically changed the way I do things on here. Some criticism has helped only in that it helps me avoid certain pot holes in the future– like writing “I know, not all men” ad nauseum when I talk about rape, no matter how ridiculous I think it is to include it.

There are some writers online who disagree with the way I do things, with the way I express myself and my opinions. I’m not overly concerned with being perceived as “nice,” and the whole tone of my blog is about the furthest thing that anyone would describe as “gentle.” A Sarah Bessey or Preston Yancey, I am most definitely not.

I also think it’s egregiously wrong to expect survivors to be a “well-behaved victim” or a “model survivor,” which happens sometimes. A lot of the time, our hurting is going to be messy and loud and obnoxious and I don’t fucking care if you’re ok with that or not. I have the right to stomp on things and rage, and so does anyone else. How we heal shouldn’t be policed or managed. Everyone’s journey is going to look different, and just because someone managed to recover while appearing placid and calm and tranquil doesn’t mean the person scream-sobbing is doing it wrong.

But. There is a difference between being angry and loud when you criticize someone’s actions or words and making it your mission for weeks on end to harass a person. Abuse survivors can also be bullies. Just because we’ve survived spiritual abuse, or sexual abuse, or domestic violence, does not mean that we are ourselves immune from engaging in the same behaviors that were used to control and manipulate us.

I am not interested in roaming the internet and telling people that I think the way they’re responding to X situation isn’t what I would do. This is something you have to evaluate on your own and decide for yourself if you’re comfortable with it. There’s lots of things that I don’t personally do because it isn’t the right avenue for me that plenty of other people do on the regular. For example, I don’t really do online debates. Not even in my own comment section. I don’t argue with people on Twitter. Sometimes I’ll respond, but it’s going to be a single comment or tweet most of the time. I’ll engage people in conversation, but the second it takes on that “debate” tone I whistle for a cab. That doesn’t mean that I think getting into it on Twitter is a “wrong” way to be an activist. I appreciate the people who are willing to do that because I’m not.

I’ve learned that, for myself, engaging in extended online debates isn’t healthy and is almost always unproductive in the ways that I’d like a conversation to be productive. Doesn’t mean that another person finds it extremely productive for a variety of reasons that don’t apply to me.

But I have seen whole groups, whole movements of people who identify as abuse survivors, who seem to wander around the internet frothing at the mouth for a good knock-down drag-out fight with pretty much anyone and I don’t agree with that. I left Stuff Christian Culture Likes because the community as a whole engaged in bullying en masse. I’ve seen relative unkowns, people with less than a hundred followers on Twitter, get ripped to shreds by hundreds of people all at once and it is disturbing.

To me, some of the things I see on happen on Survivor!Twitter don’t seem any different than the 4Chan trolls who organized to harass and threaten Anita Sarkeesian and Brianna Wu.

I also don’t think it’s ok to do the this to “public figures.” I will shout about how Mark Driscoll and Tony Jones are sexist bullies until the cows come home, and while I’ll join a protest– I’m not going to join a mob. I think leaders like Tony Jones and Matthew Paul Turner tend to see pitchforks and torches where none actually exist and misinterpret many people criticizing them all at once as a “lynch mob” (note: fellow white people, please do not use the term lynch mob to describe anything that happens to you until you’ve been an oppressed racial minority for centuries and a crowd of people show up at your house with a noose), but I have to admit that I am terrified of becoming a “public figure” like Rachel Held Evans and Nadia Bolz-Weber.

The platform I have right now is small and intimate and lovely and cozy and I think it’s pretty much the best thing ever. But, hopefully, someday, I’ll write a New York Times best-seller and have a blog where every post gets a 100+ comments, and while that will also be awesome… I’m still going to be a human being, and I am going to fuck up. I am going to do something pretty bad, and it is going to upset an awful lot of people. I hope that when that day comes that I’ll realize how badly I fucked up and be able to make amends, but I also hope that when I do, eventually, fuck up that someone doesn’t make a parody account of me and that my inbox isn’t flooded with people telling me that I’m a worthless human being and that I’m no better than an abuser.