“One man’s trash is another’s man treasure” is a phrase that is used often to explain that not everyone views an object in the same way. We place meaning in certain objects, in people or in words that other people cannot grasp. To them its just a beat up, bent ring missing two stones, not the ring that a grandfather found on the street and gave to his young granddaughter before he passed away.
We do the same thing with words. The world pulchritudinous which somehow has the pleasant definition of “physically beautiful” will always be hilarious to me because of the context upon which my friend and I happened across it one day thinking it must mean something wretched and used it to insult people before we thought perhaps we should look it up. Although you might now look at that word and see how bizarre it is and agree with me that it hardly seems like an appropriate compliment, it will never hold the same meaning to you as it does to me. A memory of youth, of two silly young girls and one overly-talkative, slightly creepy older gentlemen.
The same goes for the word rape. Even among different survivors of sexual assault, the emotions and connotations we place on those four simple letters are hugely different. For me, it was a heavy meaning that almost carried physical weight.
I have always loved words. From the time that I learned to read, books have barely ever been out of my hands, unless of course it was in place of a pen. The computer, instead of the doom prophesied by many, has made me an even more avid reader. I read articles on all sorts of topics I never would have imagined looking up on my own and I write about topics online that I never would have thought to put down on paper. Since elementary school I wanted to be a librarian and I chased that dream through an English degree and then an MLS.
I say this because perhaps words have more meaning to me in general, perhaps I give them too much power.
And those four letters, I gave the most power of all.
I was sexually assaulted in high school. No. I was raped. But it took me so long to use that one in connection with myself. Even though I knew in my mind that what had happened was the very dictionary definition of rape, I didn’t want to use the word. One memory that is permanently etched forever on my mind is the voice of a dear friend that I called a few days after the incident. I started to describe to her what had happened and she cut me off and in a kind of whisper full of weight said, “Jess, did he rape you?”. For some reason I balked. And started to protest, “Oh, no, no, he didn’t do that”, even though my very description said it was so.
For years after I couldn’t bring myself to say the word even once I had accepted that it was an experience I unfortunately could claim. When I saw it in books I panicked. I didn’t like it, I didn’t want it there. I love books. How could they betray me like that? Lead me on with a beautiful story and then seemingly out of nowhere throw that word out before me?
When I was growing up in a Christian school, a lot of our library books were peppered with black boxes, “curse” words crossed out by the librarian with a perfect Sharpie rectangle. Curses like “damn” and “ass” but also any line that contained “Oh my God!” since that was taking the Lord’s name in vain. Slowly, my own books began to look like that. Except I wasn’t crossing out curses, I was trying to cross out the memories and images that word conjured up.
And then I did it to library books. I remembered the first time I whipped out my marker and defaced the page of a book that was no mine. It might not seem like a big deal, after all, people underline and highlight library books all the time. But for me, who wanted more than anything to be a caretaker of such books, who held them up as little temples of knowledge, it was almost a sin. I did it almost before I realized the book was not my own and then spent agonizing minutes trying to convince myself that it was ok, the world was better for not seeing that language, especially when it was printed with so little thought to how it might effect the reader.
I no longer do that. Perhaps I’ve healed enough. Though I think in some ways, that very act helped me to heal. I could control very little about the experience, either while it was happening or how it made me feel after. I couldn’t erase the memories but I could erase that word.
I no longer feel panic, what I feel is anger.
The anger when I hear the word thrown around in nonchalant ways. When sport teams “rape” other sports teams, when people say they were “verbally raped”, even just when armies are casually remarked to have “raped and pillaged” because it divests the word of so much of hurt and pain that i have wrapped up in it.
We use it so often, so unthinkingly, it has become so common place, is it any wonder that some members of our society do not think it is that big of a deal? It’s something you do to an opposing team, it’s something you say as a “compliment” to a hot girl, it’s a one word replacement in textbooks for the devastation brought upon entire communities during atrocious battles and suffering”
We have acknowledge that “I love you” can sometimes be meaningless because of how often it thrown around in casual conversation, the same thing has happened with rape. We joke about how “that is not a good enough reason to use the word penetration” or laughingly say “I feel violated” by a small infraction against our person space or privacy but for me, these are no laughing matters.
Rape is a horrible, atrocious,inhuman, dehumanizing, painful, disgusting, violating act. There aren’t words adequate to describe it and its effects. If the fear of a name increases fear of the thing itself, then we have done ourselves an disservice by allowing the word to creep into pop culture as something to throw around like any other juvenile joke.
We need a word that is horrible, a word you wouldn’t apply lightly, a word that strikes terror into the heart when it is spoken because that is what that jumble of sounds and letters represents, something that is unspeakably horrid.
We have failed ourselves and our descendants by allowing rape to become a joke, both grammatically and physically.
Although we were not intended to be founded on a Judeo-Christian foundation, many fundamentalist Christians believe we were and if they literally apply their Bible, rape is not a sin.
Interpreting the Bible is sort of like interpreting the Constitution. Although Justice Scalia might believe in a “dead” Constitution, that what is written is what is written and it should not be interpreted to make it applicable to current events. For instance, the “cruel and unusual punishments” that the Founding Fathers forbid are the same ones we should forbid today. You can’t decide what knew tortures fit under this category. He is giving all the power to some guys who have been dead for hundreds of years and didn’t even agree amongst themselves about what they wrote.
“Look, society may have changed, but the Constitution hasn’t. The Constitution is the Constitution. It doesn’t change in order to meet the assumed needs of a changing society,” Scalia has said. But at the same time he is for the lifetime tenure of judges which is simply an interpretation of the phrase that says “The Judges…shall hold their Office during good Behavior”
This, of course, is the same thing that goes in the fundamentalist Christian arena. They say the Bible is literally true, yet pick and chose what they want to apply to themselves. Usually this is used to detrimental effect, they pick up the verses that they can interpret to mean homosexuality is bad while dismissing those that adulterers should be stoned. And although “adulterers” which has now been interpreted more broadly as not just those who cheat in marriage but also to those who don’t wait till marriage, although they are no longer stoned, the residual animosity against them remains.
It seems though, in the instance of rape, the opposite has occurred. The Bible never condemns rape, but modern day Christianity has interpreted passages to say it does. Although it is of course great that they see the immorality that exists, there is still residual animosity towards the victim that I think could be said to come from the fact that they follow a “moral” creed that does not condemn the practice and instead sees it as a sign of the submissiveness of women.
So where does it talk about rape in the Bible?
There are numerous passages in the Old Testament where God instructs the Israelites to “ravish” and “rape” enemy women in conflict. This is now a war crime but it not only has a long history, it had a long history to even get it declared a war crime. Just one example of many is Deuteronomy 20:10-14:
As you approach a town to attack it, first offer its people terms for peace. If they accept your terms and open the gates to you, then all the people inside will serve you in forced labor. But if they refuse to make peace and prepare to fight, you must attack the town. When the LORD your God hands it over to you, kill every man in the town. But you may keep for yourselves all the women, children, livestock, and other plunder. You may enjoy the spoils of your enemies that the LORD your God has given you.
And if that’s not explicit enough for you. God uses rape as punishment for those of “His Children” that don’t follow his rules.
Lo, a day shall come for the Lord when the spoils shall be divided in your midst. And I will gather all the nations against Jerusalem for battle: the city shall be taken, houses plundered, women ravished; half of the city shall go into exile, but the rest of the people shall not be removed from the city. (Zechariah 14:1-2)
Or Ezekiel 23:43-44
Then I said about the one worn out by adultery, ‘Now let them use her as a prostitute, for that is all she is.’ And they slept with her. As men sleep with a prostitute, so they slept with those lewd women, Oholah and Oholibah.
So its only natural that you get stories like that of Lot who offers his daughters to the townspeople to rape. If that was ever talked about at all in my Bible lessons it was made to seem that Lot was unworthy to be saved yet God saved him anyway. When in reality there is nothing negative about him in the text regarding this action.
But you know one major part of the Bible where rape doesn’t make an entrance? The 10 Commandments. The closest we get is “Thou Shall Not Commit Adultery” which in this context means you should sleep with your neighbor’s wife because she is his property, not yours. This is further enforced in the commandment “Thou Shall Not Covet” where “your neighbor’s wife” is listed alongside “your neighbor’s house” in things you should be lustful after. We are used to seeing the 10 Commandments simplified into 10 lines but there is a lot of commentary right in the passage itself. Deuteronomy also sheds more light on the subject
When I first came across the somewhat infamous passage in Deuteronomy regarding rape after having been raped myself, I sent a message to my pastor, hoping (in vain) that he could help me figure out what the secret meaning was behind the passage. I had been taught that although the Bible was “literally true”, a lot of passages needed to be interpreted. Which is why we had Pastors and Priests, to study those verses and tell us what they meant and how we could apply them.
In it’s nakedness the verses from Deuteronomy 22 read:
If within the city a man comes upon a maiden who is betrothed, and has relations with her, you shall bring them both out of the gate of the city and there stone them to death: the girl because she did not cry out for help though she was in the city, and the man because he violated his neighbors wife.
If a man is caught in the act of raping a young woman who is not engaged, he must pay fifty pieces of silver to her father. Then he must marry the young woman because he violated her, and he will never be allowed to divorce her.
I was appalled thinking these were verses regarding rape. They are not, they are regarding property. The English translators have put in the word rape because that is what is happening but really the first translation is better “have relations with her” because it is not seen as rape in the sense as it being sexual activity without her consent. It is seen as sexual relations with the property of another man without HIS consent.
The woman “who did not cry out for help” is seen as being complicit in the act of devaluing her husband’s property. If she isn’t married, well they don’t need to be stoned because the father was going to give away his property anyway, this man just took it before it was time. He raped himself a wife.
The answer I received from my Pastor was that this no longer applies to use, we are living in the Age of Grace. A term many Christian Leaders use to say, we can pick and chose what rules to follow, because although we can’t say it out loud we recognize that the laws set down in the Old Testament are not really based on moral precepts but on outmoded cultural traditions.
If that were to be said, then one would have to acknowledge that such things as discrimination against homosexuals are outmoded, sexual relations outside of marriage where it does not hurt a third party are outmoded, the Bible itself is outmoded.
But somehow this “Age of Grace” where we can be forgiven for not following all the laws circumscribed in the Old Testament lets us straddle this strange line like Scalia does of interpreting what we also hold to be unalterable text.
I suffer from Onychophagia.
It’s not as bad as it sounds.
Honestly, suffer isn’t even the right word. I make the people around me suffer more from it than I do myself. It doesn’t really bother me at all. It used to bother me from the standpoint of my own vanity, but if I’m going to worry about how I look, there are far more noticeable things. Or is there?
Onychophagia is just a fancy scientific term for the obsessive picking and biting of your finger nails and cuticles. Nail biting seems to be quite common, lots of guys I know and some females have stubs for fingernails and though people cringe, it’s common enough. I mess with my fingernails plenty but never have I bitten them down to the point where they bleed, I’ve left that to my cuticles.
I don’t know when it started. I know I was doing it in 4th or 5th grade, perhaps earlier. It started out as a nervous habit I think. When I stressed or just plain antsy. Now though, it’s almost constant. As I’m typing this I find myself realizing that after every sentence I unconsciously stop and run a fingertip over another finger’s cuticles or run a nail under another nail. Teasing parts of my body that I’m surprised even have any feeling left at this point.
They used to bleed a lot, they rarely do so anymore. I’m not sure if it’s because I’ve done something to the circulation or if I really don’t tear them up as deep. Maybe my subconscious has kicked in and told me that bleeding fingertips are not the greatest thing for an archivist to have…
I drove teachers crazy asking for band-aids. But they bled so often that I gave up. The thumbs bled most often so I’d simply wrap my middle finger around it and apply pressure. I’d look down at my fingers during a class and notice a red spot creeping up and non-nonchalantly pop the finger in my mouth until it stopped. My friends joked I was a vampire, or a cannibal or worse yet, a self-cannibalistic vampire.
Therapists tried to explain it away as a by-product of my PTSD but I was doing it long before the triggering trauma entered my life. A friend’s mother told me it was just like cutting and that I was a “disturbed” person but no, it was not like cutting. It was done automatically, absentmindedly, without any real feeling or goal. I’ve purposefully made myself bleed but never via my cuticles. Though it has become almost a comfort if only because trying to stop is so stressful.
When I was younger I tried everything to stop it. I wanted beautiful hands. I wanted the beautiful painted, long nails that I could wave around when I talked and drum on the desk while I waited impatiently for something. The years of picking at my finger tips had left them a shade darker than the rest of my finger, a red of perpetual irritation.
I tried foul tasting creams meant for nail biters, but i pick with my nails as much as with my teeth. I tried fake nails but I pulled them off too. I tried band-aids on each finger but they got nasty looking and got in the way, I tried gloves but that only worked for the winter and I had to take them off in gym class, which being my least favorite class was probably where I picked at them the most.
Why do I do it? It’s disgusting. The skin has no resistance anymore, it comes off in ribbons. No matter how short my nails are, they still look long because the skin is pushed back so far. I sit on the train and cock my head to place the finger in my mouth as my boyfriend swats my hand to stop me.
I know he means well but sometimes I just want to tell him to fuck off and let me do what I want with my own body. Yet I know it grosses him out at times, just like it grosses me out to see him bite his toenails, though they are similar actions.
But what I find most strange of all is that I find myself messing with my cuticles and nails, tearing them apart almost, while telling myself, well if I can just push this piece back, my nails will look so much better.
I am the bringer of my own destruction, telling myself I’m bringing beauty.
Ten years of being a vegetarian who wasn’t very good at getting the proper amounts of protein left most of my nails bumpy and pitted as well. They would tear off in layers no matter how many times I put some special “hard as diamonds” strengthening nail polish on them. Six months back eating meat and they still aren’t great. The nail polish gets stuck in the pits.
I look at them and see the slight difference in color that marks where the nail has split, like an air bubble and I cannot rest until I tear it apart, until that mismatched part is gone, until they are uniform in color once again even though it means I have just torn off part of my body.
I have no other such compulsions.
Why? Why can I not get them as rounded as I would like despite wearing the nail file down to nothing. Why is the skin attached more on one side of the nail and yet not the other?
Do you begin to see how much I must look at them, stare at them, mess with them? I don’t do it in a critical way, I don’t think to myself “God, I’m so ugly. These nails are atrocious.” Somewhere in my sub-conscious mind maybe that is the thought but consciously its just determination to get it right.
As if the day I have enough control over the small little things that are my finger nails is the day the rest of my life falls into place.
But why? Why do I care so much about how my nails and fingers look? One of my professors, who had recently stopped working in the archival profession in order to teach told us how happy she was when she realized she could finally grow out her nails. That they didn’t have to be confined to the short practical style better suited for rustling in dusty boxes of all papers. Why are they so important to us? This little piece of cartilage that covers the part of fingers? Why are our fingers even soft right there anyway? Why did the first person in Ancient Egypt or Ancient China think that part of the body would look cool with color on it?
And why have I chosen it to be the one part of my body that I obsess over?
This is really just a selfish rant but I’m posting it anyway. 🙂
When I graduated college, I felt like I was staring into an abyss. Although I was graduating with a 4.0 in a double major with honors and awards, I had just been let go from my job and facing a move across country from the suburbs of Philadelphia to the Rio Grande Valley in the southernmost point of Texas.
I wasn’t moving there because I particularly wanted to but my apartment lease was up and I had no job so I did what so many college kids are doing, I moved back in with my parents.
However, I grew up in the suburbs of Philadelphia where I had just finished college, not South Texas. My parents had moved there while I was in college. I didn’t know anyone or anything about the region but I figured, hey, I just got a double major degree in English and History, I’ll be fine. A few months in my parents house and then I’ll have my own place.
It didn’t work out. I’m book smart, not very street smart and South Texas is not a very scholarly based region. It’s practical, its logical, its hardworking but it’s not “Let’s sit here and discuss varying interpretations of Joyce”. Most of the country isn’t, but down there, it’s forty five minutes on the highway to the closest book store.
I was prideful. I thought that since I had a college degree I deserved more than a Walmart job. My work experience was in childcare, retail and monitoring customer service at a bank but I viewed those all as stepping stone jobs. At that point I really didn’t know what I wanted to do. I just wanted a job that I felt was worthy of me. I was, and am, a privileged white kid.
The job never came. I told myself that’s because I was overqualified. I was looking for a job where people didn’t finish high school and had a double major. But in reality, I was under-qualifed, I didn’t have the necessary technical skills and I wasn’t bilingual. I wanted to get out, fast. I wanted to be back where I felt appreciated for my vast knowledge and intelligence (of pretty worthless things….)
So I started applying for grad schools. I was privileged enough to have had a full academic scholarship for undergrad so I didn’t put much thought into wracking up grad school loans. I was ahead of the game, ahead of those who had undergrad loans. I’d be fine. If the market was flooded by Bachelor’s degrees, I’d get a Master’s. Heck, I’d get two Master’s! So I enrolled in a dual-degree program studying Library Science/Archives and History.
No, its not a field that makes big money but it’s something that interests me and my ticket back to the East Coast.
Now here I am three years later, 6 months out of grad school, staring into an abyss again.
The world doesn’t owe me anything. In fact, it’s already given me more than I should have simply based on the color of my skin, birth place and socioeconomic class of my parents. Yet knowing that doesn’t take away much of the fear when I look down at my calculations for the zillioneth time and realize that I have more due in bills this month than I have money.
And I want to curse and yell at the sky because I feel like I’ve done everything right, done everything I was supposed to do. I’ve felt this way before, particularly when I stayed away from drugs, sex and alcohol as my church and parents told me and still was raped. I felt like I had kept up my half of the bargain, shouldn’t the universe keep up the other?
I never said I wanted to be rich. I knew when I chose the line of work that I did that I would never be, but I wanted to have a job. And yet somehow it eludes me. The less money I make, the more money I seem to require. The month I lost my last job I turned 26 as well – no more healthcare from my parents. And though I haven’t used it since, I have to pay 78 bucks of money I don’t really have in order to protect myself from bigger fees later. I almost decided to gamble with it and no pay that money and see if when the fines came around I would be employed again and have the cash, but I chickened out.
I had just moved into a new apartment, three hundred more dollars a month than what I was spending and suddenly I was making 400 dollars less. 6 months out from graduation and all the school loans suddenly become active. One can be deferred, but after 4 tries, they still can’t seem to get the proof of unemployment paperwork I’ve sent them. The other one can be put on forbearance but only if I pay a cash fee up front.
“Yes, we know you have no money. We would be happy to stall your payments, just pay us for that privilege.”
It’s as if they think I WANT to not pay them. My friends and I sit around and imagine winning the lottery if only to pay them off.
I have healthcare but not money enough for co-pays so my PTSD is going untreated at the moment anyway. I used to have meds and therapy for it, back when I had a job. Now I’m trying to get a job almost solely so I can have my meds back it seems.
And really, all this because I thought two more degrees would make me more employable. And of course the schools agree. They tell you that you can’t get a fulltime job in this field without a degree. Perhaps, but all that anyone is offering is part-time job and student internships but I am no longer a student and who is going to give a part-time job to someone who now holds two associate’s, a double major bachelor’s and two master’s.
This post is written by Jessi
I am a cis-female so I can only sympathize, not empathize, with the trials our trans brothers and sisters go through. But upon reading the suicide note of Leelah Alcorn this past week, there was one thing she wrote that gave me a special pang of pain. Leelah wrote that the Christian therapists her parents took her to only told her that she was “selfish and wrong and that [she] should look to God for help.” 
I’ve had my own experiences with Christian therapy/therapists and its only now about six years later that I can start to try to parse it out. The long background story made short is that while I was raped in highschool, I really didn’t start to show signs of depression and PTSD until a few years later. In a strange occurrence, I had opted to commute to college but my parents had to move for my dad’s job so I suddenly found myself living with a roommate in the town I grew up in.
I feel like the sudden departure of my family and perhaps the strange living conditions I found myself in (that’s another story entirely, seriously I could write a book on it, people tell me I should) were kind of the final straw that broke through the denial I had been living in and all of the sudden I was extremely mentally ill and alone.
I finally found the courage to go to my university’s health center and spent a year with a therapist there. This took courage in and of itself because the environment I had grown up with did not really seen mental illness as an issue apart from not “living right with God”. You weren’t so much depressed as not having a joyful relationship with Christ. So from that context I had taken that therapists, psychiatrists and psychologists to be bad. And at first I thought maybe they were right because I did not feel better, I felt worse. As the therapist and I started to talk about the past trauma, it all came back, I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t function, I was completely obsessed with getting through the week to the next session like it was an addiction. (That was more because I had an unhealthy attachment to that therapist than anything else).
But for reasons too long to get into for this post, I found myself about a year later in the hospital psych ward without a therapist. Since my parents now lived 2500 miles away, my two female cousins had stayed with me in the hospital and their mother, the church secretary of the church I grew up in, was now alerted to my situation. She provided the name of a therapist who other members of the church used and that the church recommended. I later ran into other church members in the waiting room, we all hung our heads in shame and pretended we didn’t see each other.
Right off one unhealthy obsessive attachment, I went to another one. I just wanted someone to love me and cuddle me and tell me everything was going to be ok. This woman’s office was full of big comfy floral couches, pillows and blankets. More than once I faked falling asleep on her couch because I found joy in having her shake me gently awake. I trusted her completely. She let me borrow her vacuum to clean my apartment and draped blankets over my shoulders when I was cold.
And that’s the hardest part about this, because I think she genuinely cared. I know she genuinely believed she was helping the people who came to her. I don’t think her kindness was an act to get me to swallow untruths, I think she wanted me to get better. It’s hard to criticize an institution/group when we care about the individuals but although she was a nice person, she ended up doing more harm than good.
It was almost a good cop/bad cop routine wrapped up in one person. Each session would start with a prayer, which did not seem out of place to me who had spent 9 years in Christian schools and almost every day of my then 19 years at some church related function. But then the accusations would start, they weren’t angry though they were aggressive and generally ran along the lines of,
- Have you read your Bible lately?
- Have you asked God for help?
- Have you forgiven [your attacker]?
- Have you told your parents everything?
I can’t really remember what I talked about. I can only recall what I did. I know I spent most of the time curled up on the couch, feet tucked under me, nervously playing with my fingers. I wanted so much to please her but I knew I wasn’t going to read my Bible regularly. I had never been good with my devotions although I knew more Bible knowledge than most of the other kids put together. And when I read my Bible I came across verses like Deuteronomy 22:28-29 which talks about the penalty for raping a virgin is having to marry her and never being able to divorce her. I emailed my Pastor about that one and got some answer about how Old Testament laws don’t apply to us because we “live in the Age of Grace” but nothing about what I really wanted to know, “How could God have ever thought that was ok?”
She urged me to go out and socialize but most of the friends I grew up with had gone away for college and my school was all commuters so there wasn’t much of a community. I went out with a friend who had also stayed home for college and ended up bringing a guy home to my apartment. It was horrible. I wasn’t ready, I ended up lying on my bed sobbing and re-traumatized. I called her, I was told (in nice, calm terms) that I really shouldn’t have expected anything less, I had sinned.
But I kept doing it. Looking back, I think I was trying to prove to myself that sex didn’t have to be the awful thing I thought having never had sex before being raped, but of course the situations I found myself in didn’t help prove that point….
Every time I did though I was “walking further away from God”. Perhaps God had allowed the first rape to happen because I hadn’t been right with him. So I tried and tried to scrutinize the type of person I had been during that period of my life and I could only come back with a typical conservative, naive and closeted teenage girl living in a bubble of fundamentalist upbringing. If anything, it seemed that those teachings to be kind, caring and submissive was what had gotten me into the horrible situation in the first place.
One guy i had over had started to finger me, only to find blood on his finger tips. My period has always been irregular and I had no idea it had started. He was disgusted and physically and verbally attacked me before leaving. I didn’t tell anyone, not even my therapist because I was mortified. I knew I shouldn’t have been having sex with him to begin with, I thought I had gotten what I deserved. If God thought I deserved that, then I didn’t think he would argue if though I deserved to die as well.
And yet, for some reason that I can’t explain, I know I called the guy a week or so after, left him a voicemail, told him I was “clean”, told him I was sorry, asked him to come over…but I got no reply.
A few weeks later still he texted me during a class. He said he wanted to come over. I was so thrilled, so happy that he wasn’t still mad at me that I left the class early to be there when he got to my place. He had the same interests in books that I did and I thought great, a second chance. I should have closed the door as soon as I opened it and saw him, sweaty, still in his gym clothes.
I don’t need to go into the details but he told me he was going to “teach me a lesson.” And when he was done and left I sat there in a daze. I had no anger towards him, my only thought, fueled by the teachings of my church and therapist was, “What kind of person am I that I let this happen twice?”
I called my therapist. I don’t know what I told her. I don’t know if I told her if it was consensual or not (It was definitely not) and though I remember someone I talked to that night told me to call the police, I think it was a friend not my therapist. The police were never called. Instead, we started on another round of how can I make this right. How can I make myself right with God so he will stop punishing me?
I was getting worse and worse. I lost my job. I have no idea how I managed to graduate.
I have a scar on my chest from the first rape, and in some disassociate moment, I caused the spot to bleed again. When I went into therapy the next day and explained about it, she asked to see. I still cling to the hope that she was sincerely only trying to gauge how bad it was to see if I needed medical attention but when I couldn’t pull my shirt down far enough to show her, she told me to take of my shirt AND bra.
I didn’t think about. I just did it. But once I did, sitting there with my top naked I thought to myself, “Why?”. When I told a later therapist about this episode she went berserk and wanted to call the former one out on it. That’s where I ended up eventually, talking to a therapist about my former therapist.
Because in the end, although the rapes and mental illness were terrifying what haunts me most now are the people who were supposed to be there to guide me through it all and weren’t. The people I paid money out of my own very shallow pockets to help, somehow screwed me up more.
Just like every institution there are good individuals and bad individuals but the structure of Christian therapy far too often plays out as victim-blaming and only leaves the attendee with feelings of self-pity or worse, self-hatred. How can you heal from trauma when you don’t feel like you are worth saving?
1.Though her tumblr has since been deleted, you can read Leelah Alcorn’s message here.
Everyone wants to protect those that they love, it’s human nature. But sometimes there is a fine line where over-protection does not help anyone and instead harms many. An officer of the law promises to not only protect but to “protect and serve” and perhaps its something that we should all keep in mind while standing up for those we love.
I happen to have many female friends whose husbands or boyfriends are police officers. I have stood mutely by as they have posted articles and statuses exalting their partners and their job. It’s more than just a job, it’s a culture. No one exalts the lifestyle of a plumber. They do this all year round and I silently snicker because I can’t believe that these men are as perfect as they sound. Not because they are police officers, but because they are humans. Perhaps I am overly cynical but I believe that what makes us endearing beings are that we multi-dimensional. When you read the over-the-top exaggerations of how perfect Kim Jong Il is, you know you cannot love such a being, he isn’t real.
To place anyone on such a pedestal is to do them a disservice, to view them as one-dimensional, to not admit they are human with the capacity to fail. To pretend someone is such a demigod on an individual level is worrisome enough but the culture of law enforcement takes it to the next level.
The whole profession seems to have created a bubble for itself that when one tries to point out bad policing practice, or a departmental failure, or god forbid, a flaw in the system itself , then you are perceived by the spouses and partners of any police officer, and officers themselves, to be attacking every single officer. This in turn leads to the offended cries of “Not me!”, ultimately feeding into the “Not all …” trope gripping other societal and cultural conflicts.
“Not all police officers!” “Not all white people!” “Not all slave owners!” “Not all men!” “Not all gamers!”
No one is arguing that all police officers are bad cops. The argument is, they are working in a system that has made it far too easy to jump to the wrong conclusions. I’m sure at times the police officers who have gunned down unarmed men of color seriously thought that they were in danger. But that is the very issue, this built-in, hardly perceptible, idea that because the figure in front of them is black that the chances that object they are reaching for is a gun is higher than if it was a white man. It is, dare I say it?, yes, it is racism. It is ingrown and subconscious but it is a legacy that has been instilled into our culture and society and especially into our policing structure.
Now I am white, and I do not have any police officers as close relations. The closest I have is an uncle that is a General and Doctor in the Army Reserves. Yet I cannot say I am unbiased because I chose the side of the protesters long ago. I reject the idea that police officers generally work in ways that protect my interest. I cannot vote on their actions and I do not commend their work in most arenas. So I’m sure this invalidates my opinions in many of your eyes because I “have it out” for your loved ones. But hear me out. They chose that work knowing full well the risks it could entail. That does not mean they deserve any danger that comes to them while on the clock and I do not wish it upon them. And I cannot fully comprehend how you feel waiting for him to come back from his shift but I do know that many mothers, sisters, aunts, grandmothers, girlfriends, and wives are feeling the same way every time their loved one walks out the door to go anywhere. Men who did not chose to put themselves in harm’s way, men who could not control the color of their skin.
“Blue” lives matter, certainly, but we do not need to be reminded of that constantly because they are not being targeted on a mass scale. One of the most common issues I run into while discussing the relationships between men and women is the ignoring of the systematic power structure set in place. The Civil Rights Movement and Women’s Movement have been compared endlessly and there are many, many differences but the primary similarities is the existence of a power structure. It comes into play in many ways. Some white people don’t understand why they can be called “cracker” and yet cannot call blacks the n-word. There is no history of oppression in the word cracker. A woman can’t catcall a man in the same way a man can a woman because there isn’t a history of violence and statistical evidence that makes a man fear for his safety when a strange woman talks to him on the street.
Lindy West from Jezebel, in a recent article I read, put it nicely,
Being cognizant of and careful with the historic trauma of others is what “political correctness” means. It means that the powerful should never attack the disempowered—not because it “offends” them or hurts their “feelings,” but because it perpetuates toxic, oppressive systems. Or, in plainer language, because it makes people’s lives worse. In tangible ways. For generations.
Think of it as a ladder with #BlackLivesMatter currently on a lower rung and #BlueLivesMatter on a higher. #BlueLivesMatter is already higher, we know that the policeman’s life is valued more than blacks, more than most non-policemen in general. When a police officer dies, especially on a job, there are grand funerals with processions attended by whole unions, politicians, and community members. When a black man is shot and killed by police officer, or anyone for that matter, the narrative jumps to accusations, drugs, and violence. #BlackLivesMatter as a movement exists to push that knowledge into the open, it isn’t saying that Blue Lives Don’t Matter, it is just saying, that they exist too, don’t assume that every time one black man or woman is killed by the the police that they are always in the wrong.
The police aren’t infallible.
The #BlackLivesMatter movement is not striving to take the police down, they just want to be heard, understood, and given the opportunity to stand on equal footing in a dialogue for change. But the #BlueLivesMatter takes that sentiment and by saying that their lives matter too, they are only make the distance greater. Of course their lives matter, of course, they can breathe. Pushing that knowledge back into the faces of those fighting for their rights is adding lemon juice to a cut. They have taken the focus away from the needs of the oppressed and placed it back on themselves. They say the want a dialogue yet literally turn their backs on a mayor trying to balance his duties to his town’s officers and the worries he has seen first hand as a father of black teenager.
It happens over and over again in movements, the cries of “Not all” or “We matter too” miss the point. They strive to tell tell the protesters, usually the oppressed group, that they are better than most, that they deserve special treatment, that they shouldn’t be protested against. And that is the very reason they are being protested against because they think they are special and that their image is more important than the grievances of the oppressed.
When you post things about how these protesters are ruining your significant other’s profession/life you belittle the things they actually are sworn to protect. These spouses and partners aren’t proving their love and fidelity by belittling the lives and concerns of others. They actually appear callous to many people and tone deaf to the rest. They appear to be unable to think beyond the groupthink that wearing any uniform and badge sets you above the rest.
It’s a fallacy to turn these protests into a dichotomy of Police vs. Protesters. If one side is unequivocally right and one side is unequivocally wrong, it means that either all police officers are good and all protesters are wrong OR all police officers are racist murdering pigs and all protesters are good. By supporting the whole police force without any admission that there might be some wrong doing, you are saying that your significant other is just part of a herd who cannot think for himself, just following orders, that they are all the same, and no one could ever do something wrong.
Police Officers legally carry weapons on the streets, have a whole infrastructure behind them supporting their decisions and are paid to place themselves in danger. If they feel threatened by one unarmed black man, by two black teenagers jay-walking, by one black kid who may or may not have a real gun, if they feel threatened enough to shoot to kill without any further assessment then we need to rethink their training, we need to rethink why white serial killers, school shooters, mass murderers, white passing terrorists, can be brought in alive while a 12 year old black boy playing alone with a toy gun lies on the street without first aid after being shot by a police officer, already called unfit for duty, via his car window.
When you blindly support the whole broken system out of love of your partner and his life work, you add fuel to the fire. You aren’t protecting your husband or boyfriend, you are throwing them under the bus by implicating them as part of overall system damaged by racist practices. I do not believe your partners to be bad men. I would hope that they can help change the system and earn the people’s honor and respect based on their practices but I will not give it to them simply because they wear blue, neither will I condemn a man simply because he is black.
9 times out of 10, middle school “romantic” relationships are pointless. You don’t even know who you are in 8th grade, how are you going to pick a meaningful partner? And if you are like me, you believed whatever your teachers told you. After all, they are adults. They must have something figured out.
I had a unique teacher in middle school. In 8th grade he was my homeroom teacher, Bible teacher and History teacher. As a History teacher, he was one of the best I ever had. He was also the basketball coach and would spend large portions of class yelling at his team members. If someone asked why we weren’t moving onto Bible studies he would often reply, “I’m talking to the basketball team. If your phone isn’t ringing, don’t answer it.”
He had a myriad of such quips, one-liners that we heard several times a day. Everytime someone forgot to close the door it would be, “Were you born in a barn?” If you looked at the clock, “Do you have a date?” He named each table in the classroom and gave most students nicknames. (Which occasionally backfired when he nicknamed a girl who had a temper, Kong, and her parents become involved, at the time I thought they overreacted but perhaps more parents should have intervened). I was nicknamed Buffy. I still have no idea why and sat in the backrow which were “The Backrow Baptists” and you supposedly were only allowed to sit back there if you were smart and well-behaved bc it was easy to get away with things back there.
He was a practical joker, once pretending to throw a cup of coffee at a student only to have it rain down paper confetti. As you might guess, our classes were dictated by his whims. And one strange one he once conjured up was to play “The Dating Game”.
Everyone’s name, out of a class of twenty-five, went into two cups. One male, one female. Three girls were going to be picked and then paired up by responses to questions. They would then “date” for a week. Were qualifications put on this “dating”? I don’t recall. There was no opting-out, a teacher is lord, even more so in a private school. But there was general excitement among the girls for the most part, this might give them a chance to sit next to their crush for a week’s worth of lunches.
The girls were picked first so they could be sent out to the hallway so they wouldn’t know which boys were chosen. First Julieann, then Rachel, then me…
One stereotype of private schools that I found to be true in my childhood is that they are very cliquish. There wasn’t a lot of us and most of us had been going to the same school together for nine years. You pair off into groups, there is very little added variety, you become set in your ways. Of the three girls, none of us were “popular”. Maybe I imagined it, but I recall feeling an aura of disappointment. No one cared much about our love lives.
I didn’t want to do this. I immediately panicked. There seemed to be some kind of stipulation that you had to eat lunch with your “date”. And I never went to lunch. My lunch period was the same time as Flan’s (the teacher I was obsessed with) free period and I always spent it in her room. But I was never one to question authority and didn’t have a voice to speak up for myself in those days, so I followed the other two girls out of the classroom.
We huddled at the door trying to hear what was going on inside. Trying to figure out what questions the guys were being asked to answer. I can’t recall a single one of them. But my choices led me to be paired with a guy named Jake. Jake wasn’t all that bad. In fact during seventh grade, I sat between him and another guy during science class and got in trouble for talking and laughing, which is something that I rarely did.
I never “dated” or as we said, “went out” with anyone in middle school. I thought myself above that. Or at least that’s what I told myself, truth is, I was probably too much of a teacher’s pet for anyone to want to date at the point. When I look back now I think I was gorgeous since I was uber skinny but I had short hair and braces…
In a cultural atmosphere trying to be so devoid of anything “sexual”, boy-girl relationships weren’t really discussed. Except for the eternal reminder not to have sex before marriage, no one knew what a relationship entailed. I knew not to have sex but didn’t really know what sex was. What did one do “dating” for a week? Especially when we had assigned seats and classes all day.
So I sacrificed my two periods with Flan for a week. I sat on the edge of the stage and watched Jake play basketball at recess. I sat next to him at lunch period and he bought me Reese’s from the vending machine. I can only imagine our teacher must have been looking at these little matchmaking efforts with some enthusiasm but neither of us wanted much to do with it.
After we graduated from 8th grade, most of my classmates went to the Christian high school as well. Both Jake and I however, went to public school. We lived in the same town but the town was big enough to have two high schools. I was at East, he was at West. I can only guess he experienced a lot of the same shell shock that I did, going from a class of 50 to a class of 500. We had grown up being told that public school was where people got shot. Where people did drugs and where kids got pregnant and/or committed suicide. Of course that does happen, but we were made to think that it was inevitable. In a way, there was really no hope for us. Our parents had moved us to a place where we were sure to be tempted and fail.
I worked so hard not “fall”. Most of my friends were conservative Jews who held much of the same moral outlook as I did. Even in a large, multi-cultural, multi-racial community, I managed to carve out an isolated bubble. I didn’t try to fit-in, to run the risk of being turned to “evil”. But then, I had experience not really fitting in.
At some point during freshman or sophomore year, Jake popped up on my AIM. I probably talked to him a few times but I can’t recall any conversations but the last. I don’t even think he said anything horribly inappropriate besides saying he was horny. And did I remember that week in 8th grade when we had “dated”. Here he was, finally able to talk about things that had been hidden from us to the point of absurdity, he probably figured he would approach the one other person he had some kind of attachment to who understood his upbringing and his current position.
But I was having none of it. I don’t know what I told him but I remembered my find reeling. Here it was, proof of how public schools can contaminate a man! What had I done to make him think that I was that “kind of girl”? Yes, I remembered that week. I hadn’t wanted to date him. What had we done? What had we talked about? I remembered letting him buy me candy…Was that it? Did that signal that I was “easy”? That I would take whatever he offered me? What had I done?
I was so concerned that I had somehow caused a man to fail. Because this is what happens, it’s always the women’s fault. Years of dress-code policing had taught me that if nothing else. I blocked him and figuratively ran away.
I’m not sure what he’s up to now. I do know that he did end up with a drug problem at one point. And in a way I do feel like I failed him, but in the exact opposite way than I thought at the time. I “churched” him. I shunned him for having emotions, feelings, a physical body. Life is funny.