Grief and Other Hideous Effects

Every morning I go to the French doors at the back of my house and I look upon the wide expanse of desert that surrounds me. I look down at the patio, and I don’t see Ella so my gaze runs out to the East, where my mom and I set a cat trap with salmon. I lost my cat two weeks ago, and although I know her likely destiny was prey to a California desert predator, I keep looking for her to show up.

Grief does funny things to people. It’s an emotion that I didn’t clearly recognize I was going through the years after leaving the cult I was involved in. Some people said they thought I felt rejected and that was why I became depressed. Of course there was rejection upon leaving.  Upon disagreeing with the senior pastor, he cut me off from communication (like he’d done to so many others in his past). Why?  He became disappointed in me because I was unwilling to come back to Louisiana and I was unwilling to live my life according to his rules. Fragments of conversation trickle down the chain of command there in Louisiana, where eavesdroppers at household conversations and bystanders at after-church discussions mix truth with lies with assumptions about why people leave the church. Eventually, the game of telephone dilutes any truth of why anyone left and people are left to their own assumptions mixed with he-said, she-said which is never generous to the person who leaves the “place of blessing” or “out of the anointing” or “House of God.” Negative assumptions breed rejection, and what I felt was rejection from people I’d grown close to for much of the history of my young adult life.

More powerfully than rejection, though, was the grief I experienced from an amalgamation of losing my friends, people I considered close (like family), and discarding and deconstructing the teachings I now disagreed with.

During a journey of grieving and depression, I allowed myself to be expressive, angry, searching and honest.

I began to grieve and mourn the loss of people I’d considered friends for many years of my life, and I began to grieve the loss of what I thought was my “faith” and what turned out to be a need for people’s approval. As I began to intersect the faith I’d been taught in the cult with the faith I’d felt in my heart was right my entire life, I began to see a great chasm that needed to be reconciled. So, I set out to find my own truth—the things I believed about love, people, dreams—without placing pressure on myself to meet someone else’s approval.

I felt that to become a blank slate was something that would help me ascertain what my own beliefs were, as opposed to what I was taught in the cult.

I deconstructed the idea of Christianity completely.

I took it all apart, piece-by-piece and was left with a sort of artists table with a clean canvas and materials to construct with. I had paints of all colors and tones, magazine cut-outs, fragments of books I’d read, pictures I’d seen, people I’d known, and experiences I’d had. With a clean slate in front of me, I took my old materials and examined them. I turned them to the right and the left and looked at them from the back, and the front with a critical eye. I read from experts in the field of religion, feminism, humanitarianism, literature. I compared them with human beings in history and the present time who were models of exceptional citizenship, who treated people fairly and respectfully.

Many of my old materials needed to be discarded. They came from a long line of historical violence, a present day close-minded manner and an anti-intellectual path that I no longer wanted to walk on.

As I felt more liberated, I acted more liberated.

The years of grief were mixed with years of feeling buoyant, vibrant.

There were years I’d sit at a writing desk and feel like a dried out old pen, because I was worried what the people from my past would think. How would they judge me? What gossip sessions would occur because of what I was about to write? What prayers of concern would go up to God from them on behalf of my soul, because I was now changed from the Lisa they knew? I had no voice to speak—only fear, yet I had words that were jamming up in my head and twisting like pretzels to get out. When I would begin to write, the nightmares would come. The mornings I’d wake up with fear that they were real. I was back there. The women were coming for me—ensuring I didn’t escape.

Grief isn’t something you navigate out of like short river boat ride. Grief is complex and misunderstood: the outer shell of humans experiencing it often not showing signs and other times causing people to fall apart, lose their ability to reason and calculate and concentrate.

Grief can also be like a painting:

grey,

black and hazy,

with a few strokes

of white

and blue

lighting up

the picture.

“Grief, when it comes, is nothing we expect it to

be…Grief is different.

Grief has no difference.

Grief comes in waves, paroxysms, sudden

apprehensions that weaken the knees

and blind the eyes and obliterate the dailiness of life.”

Joan Didion, The Year of Magical Thinking

Feminism is Changing

During my college years (which are almost over!), I met a variety of feminist men and women. Coming from a religious background, I never thought I’d meet a man who was feminist. The men in my religious community were loyal to patriarchy and the strictly traditional gender roles. As my life outside of religion began evolving, I began meeting new types of people. I was surprised to meet men who weren’t macho or the supposed leaders of everything they did.

My dating life improved tremendously as I started meeting men who were feminist. It became sort of an unwritten requirement for dating: feminist, atheist and not macho.

The more feminist a guy was the more often he may have deviated from traditional masculinity–at least in a few distinct ways. I’ve dated men who were nervous about approaching women, men who liked sewing and cleaning, and men who ranted about equality for women as much as I did. In meeting these men who weren’t hyper-masculine, I’d finally reached a point where I was truly happy with the types of people I was dating. In part, that was because I’d begun to find myself outside of religious definitions and was becoming happier as a result. But that wasn’t the only reason. I’d grown up knowing one type of man, the hyper masculine, adventurous man; yet, I knew I didn’t want to settle down with that type of man. I’d finally begun meeting men who I could see myself with for life, rather than men who would fit the “role” of what I should look for in a husband–a provider, a protector, etc.

So those men who love to cook and clean and sew need our support as much as women who despise cooking and cleaning and sewing and feel oppressed by such duties and resent them. The world around us tells males they should be interested in certain activities and not interested in others that are “girly.” And they get attacked for diverting from hyper masculine activities.

Feminism is changing; maybe just in my eyes and maybe because I was confined to patriarchy for years and missed some of the major changes that occurred while I was “gone.” Regardless, this isn’t your mother’s feminism. This is your feminism and your boyfriend’s feminism. And as much as feminism still does and should fight the oppression of females, it fights the oppressive gender roles for women and men.

Redefining Sex and Sexuality

I’m in my last semester of my Bachelor’s degree in English, which essentially means I spend a lot of time analyzing works of literature from what’s called the Canon. The Canon is essentially a group of books that literary elites have chosen as important for students to study. We study them in light of theory (Poetics, Marxism, Feminism, Historicism, etc.) which can get extremely boring, in my opinion. It’s easy though. A lot of it is common sense.

I’m taking one class that examines American Literature and we’re studying literature with from an African American perspective, which is a nice diversion from the mostly white male literature in the Canon.

Yesterday’s novel was Giovanni’s Room, by James Baldwin–an African American gay male author who was  very popular in the 60’s. Giovanni’s Room is a novel that explores sex and sexuality–particularly homosexuality and heteronormative behavior. Heteronormative? Yes. Basically the concept that society thinks we should act a certain way to be considered “normal” and this is usually from a straight perspective.

But I digress.

The novel’s protagonist, David, is a typical white male American who’s goal is to be married and have a family. He asks his fiance, Hella, to marry him and she goes off to Spain to “think about it.” While she’s in Spain, David has a sexual relationship with Giovanni, another man.

Throughout the entire novel, David is afraid of people’s bodies. He’s disgusted by both male and female bodies, and particularly disgusted by his desires for men. He associates being gay with death and decay.

When the novel was written, homosexuality was thought to be a mental illness and gays were “treated” for this “mental illness.” President Eisenhower even signed a bill that said “sexual perverts” (aka, gays) could be fired from their jobs.

It’s no wonder David things being gay is disgusting–white male America thought being gay was disgusting, perverted, and dirty.

Baldwin, however, criticized Americans (especially white male Americans) for this “fear of the body” and “sexual shame.” He thought racism stemmed from a white male American hatred for the body and a fear of sexuality. That’s why in literature and movies we saw African Americans portrayed as lustful, sexual beings. Baldwin said that white America’s portrayal of African Americans as out of control sexual people reflected OUR fear of sex and our shame of being sexual.

Baldwin said, “You really feel that sex is dirty–that the body is vile–you really do.”

I feel like things in America haven’t changed all that much. We really feel like the body is vile and that sex is dirty. We hide it. We don’t bring it into public discourse and if we do, it’s talked about as dirty or immoral. We’re not comfortable seeing gays and lesbians be affectionate and religious people call them “sinners.”

Why do we feel the body is vile and that sex is dirty? Why do we hide our sexuality or our thoughts about sex? Why are we ashamed?

Do you agree with Baldwin?

Since I’ve de-converted from Christianity, I’ve thought a lot about sex and sexuality and my sexuality has ranged from heteroflexible to bisexual. I find that people are still very closeted; they still obey the heteronormative rules in society. Men are afraid to admit (or admit with caution) that they wouldn’t mind sexually experimenting with a man. Women are often displeased with men, but instead of trying things with women, they just accept their “normal” role as a woman. To be “normal” is to be a wife of a male, a mother, etc. The normative roles in society for women require a male (marriage, kids).

Part of what I consider self-growth has included reexamining the social norms revolving sexuality, primarily because sexuality (and our ideas of what is normal) is imposed on us from patriarchal religion. If religion says it must be so, then I say I must question it and redefine it for myself.

I’m advocating for a more open, flexible idea about sex and sexuality and bodies, particularly among those of us who’ve been highly religious at one time. If the church says sex is dirty and sex is shameful and we can’t control our “wicked desires” then I say the church is wrong and we should redefine sex and sexuality in a more progressive way.

What do you say?

  • Can we change our dialogue about sex in the world?
  • Can we embrace sex as something enjoyable (with or without procreation) instead of something vile?
  • Can we embrace sexuality as something that may be flexible instead of rigid?

(Author’s Note: I’d like to give credit to Professor Mills at CSUN for his lecture being the impetus to this post. Many of the ideas presented here were inspired by his lecture on James Baldwin)

Bullshit of the Day

“Feminism is completely irrelevant and silly to most well-adjusted women.”

Carol Platt Liebau, author of Prude: How the Sex-Obsessed Culture Damaged Girls (And America, Too!)

Irrelevant and silly? Who are the well-adjusted women she Liebau is speaking of?

According to Jessica Valenti in her book The Purity Myth,

Feminism is responsible not only for the decline in violence against women over the last decade, but also for equal pay and rights legislation, reproductive justice, and the list goes on. So I’m more than a little suspicious of those who see women’s advancement as a bad thing. Besides, the regressive messages the virginity movement pushes through these books and the media is clue enough about what it really wants from women: not independence and adulthood, but submissiveness, “modesty,” and adherence to traditional gender roles. Focusing on our sexuality is just one piece, and a tool, of the larger agenda. After all, there’s a reason why the assumed goal for women in virginity-movement screeds is marriage and motherhood only: The movement believes that’s the only thing women are meant for.

Lighten Up, Everyone

My friend wrote this article about Daniel Tosh/Rape Jokes/Feminists who can’t laugh. I feel I should link it here because a) I’m quoted it in it (yay!) and b) I got a bit critical of feminism over the past few weeks and found that people were assholes about it.

Here’s my official statement about the whole issue:

There’s been a LOT of communication breakdown between myself and the feminists who reside as my ‘friends’ on Facebook and many of them have become very reactionary and angry when I started
questioning parts of the feminist movement/ideology. Please understand some things: If feminism, like any other theory or ideology, can’t be critiqued by feminists or non-feminists or the logic or illogic of our weaker arguments can’t be sliced and diced and torn apart so they can become stronger, then I will continue my critiques. Being critical of parts of feminism doesn’t make one a “neo-con”, or unsupportive. To reject women like me and others is to tragically bring truth to the argument that we are exclusionary or irrational or angry.

I do remain “feminist” but some of you have questioned that, which oddly, feels like the fundamentalist Christians response to people who call themselves Christian. “You are only Christian if you do X, or believe in X.” Please recognize that theories and movements have a long line of historical criticism behind them-critics who have bashed arguments and theories and sometimes new theories emerge. I’m a humanities major and we spent years studying theories are arguing them. This is how you learn, but it’s also how you become a critical thinker. For those of you who don’t KNOW my background, I was in a fundamentalist Christian cult for seven years. To say that critical thinking (or the ability to think for myself) and rejecting lumped ideology is important to me would be a gross understatement. Part of my habit is to dissect that which I find weak or unsupportable or flawed. It’s important to me-because no one can take away your ability to think for yourself. YOU give it up. You relinquish it.

Also “random” commented on the Street Carnage article above and I liked what they had to say:

“Good article. This is really all a result of people taking certain academic theories about language too seriously. No one but the bloggers actually believe this shit.”

Except…unfortunately people do take this shit way too seriously–not just bloggers. Let’s lighten up.

The Feminist Yawn-A More Heartfelt Response

I wrote The Feminist Yawn and received enough responses to realize I’d offended some of the feminist community, but what I didn’t expect was my broad generalizations would hurt someone I’d grown close with while collaborating for months on feminist projects. And for that, I’m sorry.

The response I wrote to feminism was mainly over two issues: UniteWomen.org and Daniel Tosh. When I blogged, “I’d been a moderator on one of the larger groups on Facebook for women’s rights (and enjoyed it) and had been involved in a growing women’s group, which I later found to be full of growing scandal/greed,” the latter part of that statement is directed at UniteWomen.org. I’d read a really powerful response by a woman of color who attended the UniteWomen rally and left disappointed. Although her post had to do explicitly with race, I felt utterly disappointed by UniteWomen, as well. For months, I felt women had so much momentum politically and UW came in and dismantled it all with their desire to be the lead group for the moment. They wanted to build a grass-roots movement and be the front-runner, and they did. However, they immediately proved to be utterly disorganized, to make excuses for not uniting women, and they treated individual state groups with disrespect. I became infuriated with UniteWomen and how they had selfishly redirected all of the energy some of us had worked so hard in gaining within the movement toward their personal agendas.

I know this because I was collaborating for months with women doing our own grass-roots movement online. I’d gotten a lot of friends politically charged and we were all moving forward. I’m not quite sure what happened to me, but I felt I needed to take a back seat, despite enjoying the work. There were too many other groups who needed help and wanted me to join in a leadership position and to be honest, I was getting pulled by a few of them very strongly. I’d enjoyed working with my friend J. and we’d become very close, but I had a difficult time saying no to other groups and requests for my leadership skills. I became overwhelmed.

I joined a UniteWomen group in Southern California before UW started pissing me off. The stateside leadership was wonderful but were not directly related to UW. I loved working with them and they transitioned away from UW and into their own group–a group I like very much. They are hard-working women who put their money where their mouth is, so to speak.

And then another group came along around the same time to ask me to be on leadership, which I don’t want to get into personally before speaking with the leader of the group; however, I was a bit taken aback by the personal agenda that steamrolled this group into the mainstream. I was also kind of offended, because I take pride in not using my platform for instances like that, although I could. I don’t believe in exploiting the masses and with UniteWomen’s ability to do that, I was wary of any new group. I was also protective, like an angry mother protecting her brood. I felt like some of us had worked so hard at uniting women and a few opportunists, who hadn’t lifted a finger the whole time, wanted to come scoop them up for their own agendas. That’s NOT why we worked so hard and I felt very frustrated.

My second issue with the feminist community was how quickly we attacked Daniel Tosh. Women writers I respect immediately took to their platform. I was confused over the fact that I personally didn’t agree with Roxanne, because I usually really like her writing. However, I’d been feeling a bit of a disconnect from some of the academic community, and her response seemed very high-tower academic instead of human. The human in me was upset at Roxanne’s response because I felt that she was taking a stance for all of us and leading the feminist community into an army of Tosh.0 haters-as if he were a rapist. Years before this incident, Daniel Tosh had been one of the many comedians I would watch weekly, in my attempt to re-enter the world of pop culture after being isolated from it when I lived in a cult. However base my taste is, I felt personally insulted at everyone’s attacks. Objectivity and rational thinking seemed to go out the window after Roxanne’s article went up and feminists I knew started personally attacking me over my taste in Daniel Tosh’s comedy.

All of a sudden, the community I’d been part of for so many months turned their back on me and attacked me. It wasn’t a good feeling. I suppose that’s when I realized how fickle mobs can be. One minute they love you. The next minute they’re stoning you.

For what it’s worth, I’m still feminist. I’m not feminist in the way my friend Marty is feminist, though. When we were discussing his post, he shared why he was a feminist: “I consider myself a feminist, but that’s just part of being a humanist. It’s okay to be seen as a feminist in my eyes. Just not hysterical, or ranty or attention seeking…”

I’m not a feminist because I’m atheist or humanist nor do I feel it’s fair or accurate to call the feminist community “hysterical” or ranty or attention seeking.

I hope that I represent one feminist well, but I also hope to be seen as an individual. As a former cult member it’s very important for me to have freedom to have my own opinions and taste, even if that means I’m not “part of the group.” I do also hope we can all work together on being objective when we need to be and to think critically instead of jumping onto a bandwagon because it’s popular. Despite our differences of opinion (of which I’m sure there are many), there are a great number of people within the feminist community I admire and enjoy working with. Thanks to one in particular who helped me see that.

The Feminist Yawn

For the past few years I’ve been a self-proclaimed radical feminist. I’ve read Bitch magazine, Ms. magazine, Jessica Valenti books and I’ve drawn pictures of pussies eating pussies.

It all started with the introduction to Mary Daly’s book “Beyond God the Father: Toward a Philosophy of Women’s Liberation” where I first heard this: “If God is male, then male is God” and it blew my mind. I’d just left a fundamentalist Christian cult where I’d been a reverend for seven years, but my entire role there was based on when and who I was going to marry and how quickly. So, of course, realizing that the male God was the centralized issue wrong with the world sort of blew my mind. She essentially summed up what I’d been thinking was wrong with the church for years.

After blogging about the loss of my faith and my feminist views, some women I knew looked up to me as a leader in the feminist community. I have written articles about reproductive health and religion and been asked to take leadership roles in state and nationwide feminist groups. Some of these groups, honestly, seemed to be driving one woman’s agenda or attempting to enlarge one or two people’s reputation not an overall goal of liberating oppressed people or increasing diversity within the movement, so I wasn’t interested in feeding that. The feminist circle just wasn’t doing it for me lately. I’d been a moderator on one of the larger groups on Facebook for women’s rights (and enjoyed it) and had been involved in a growing women’s group, which I later found to be full of growing scandal/greed. Some women had already written some powerful critiques of the movement, and as I read threads online, I realized this group and feminist leadership/followers were far from enlightened and wouldn’t change. In fact, most of the movement seemed to be ran by materially privileged white women and none of them listened to the women from other cultures. It seemed like the same old disunity of race, class and privileged that feminism had been fighting over for years…and still, no one was listening.

This is the feminism I see today.

It was time for me to start moving away because as I saw it, the amplified voices were only pushing their personal and political agendas.

I’ve recently identified myself as post-human, which I would explain quite simply as a theory based on sci-fi/futurology in which a person admits they are in disunity within him or herself (thus why humans act hypocritical, and why even my writing this is “disunified” or hypocritical) but continues to pursue intellectual knowledge and maintains objectivity as much as possible.
Our feminist dialogue isn’t objective and it’s not intellectually rigorous. (More on this later by a friend of mine who is doing fantastic research on the bias within feminist journalism.)

This has been illustrated by the internet gang bang that occurred recently with the Daniel Tosh he said/she said fiasco which erupted into a full scale tirade against men everywhere. bell hooks criticized “rape culture” and ample information can be found online that the rape culture is over exaggerated by misused or wrong statistics. Put that in your pipe and smoke it. Rape culture may be exaggerated…

Although I do not condone rape, no one was raped by Daniel Tosh…’s joke. End of argument for me. I like Tosh.0.

Some people, though, are very unhappy with my post-feminist rants. They think I should feel their disappointment. To which I say, fuck off.

Biblical Women Who Behaved Badly

I liked the women who behaved badly, and I liked the women who made men behave badly. I liked Jael, the warrior woman, who in the book of Judges lured the enemy commander Sisera into her lair, fed him a soporific potion and then hammered a peg through his temple and left him for dead. Jael was a heroine, a seductress in the service of God, but that makes her a minority of one: all the other self-actuating, sexually compelling Bible women were presented as Satan’s spawn.

Bitch: In Praise of Difficult Women by Elizabeth Wurtzel (author of Prozac Nation)

*Emphasis my own

Sexual Energy Cannot Be Contained

So Delilah was instantly heroic to me–perhaps this was misguided, perhaps this was just an attempt to find a God who looked like me–but the rabbis were all telling me that she was a witch, a bitch, a termagant, a whore. There were other problem women in the Bible, the main problem being that their sexual existence could not be denied, and while everything about a woman can be controlled and regulated–right down to whom she is or isn’t allowed to sleep with–her elusive, effulgent sexual anima, her ability to project lust and allure, cannot be contained by any set of rules. It just is. Sexual energy, like the warmth of the sunshine or the green color of grass, is an indigenous characteristic with exogenous manifestations that can’t be stopped, can’t be helped, and should not be blamed…Nothing the rabbis said had any real impact, but certainly I later noticed that even at this late date, women perceived to be sexual–never mind sexually powerful–are scary.

Bitch: In Praise of Difficult Women by Elizabeth Wurtzel (author of the bestselling book, Prozac Nation)

Bullshit of the Day

The more [sexual] experiences teens have, the more likely they are to be depressed and commit suicide…this is particularly true of girls.

The above is a quote from Wendy Shalit, author of Girls Gone Mild (an abstinence and modesty book). 

The modesty and abstinence movements are geared towards making young women feel guilty about having sex.They want young women to “lock up their carnal treasure” until marriage and give it as a “gift” to their husband. Why? Because obviously we are men’s property and we owe them a gift when we marry them. [Sarcasm]

I know all about the abstinence movement. I “saved myself for marriage” at one point and I even preached this ideology to young women. After “committing my purity” to God, I didn’t date, kiss or even consider anything sexual for years.

After I left the church, I started questioning the whole abstinence thing–seriously wondering why the hell I was saving myself for marriage. It just didn’t make sense, especially since every man I knew had already “lost their virginity.” What was the point of me being a virgin if they weren’t?

In The Purity Myth, Jessica Valenti explains that the entire abstinence movement is focused on bringing back traditional gender roles and making women feel badly for having sex. Sex isn’t pleasurable when you feel guilty for having it. Sex isn’t pleasurable when you feel like it’s only for procreation, either. Sex also isn’t pleasurable when you think that you’re a “bad girl” for having it, thinking about it, “giving in” to it, as if you’re too weak to say no.

What Valenti argues in her book is that the abstinence movement depends on making sex feel dirty and those who have sex feel immoral. This might scare some youth into not having sex, but what happens when those people get married? They still feel immoral and dirty. Those feelings don’t go away just because you’re “officially” able to seal the deal for most people, especially women.

I’ve talked openly about sex to a lot of women friends of mine–ranging in age from 19 to 40–and I was surprised to hear how many of them don’t experience orgasms ever. A woman’s pleasure can depend on a lot of things, but quite often, it’s mental [Side Note: I’m not a doctor but I have talked to doctors about a woman’s orgasm.]. If a woman doesn’t feel relaxed or comfortable or turned on (for various reasons which don’t necessarily depend on her partner) she can’t come. Many of the women I know who’ve admitted they don’t orgasm have a strong religious background. Could this be part of the reason? Could they feel tense just because they feel sex is dirty or they’re a whore for having sex outside of marriage?

Valenti says, “Sex for pleasure, for fun, or even for building relationships is completely absent from our national conversation. Yet taking the joy out of sexuality is a surefire way to ensure not that young women won’t have sex, but rather that they’ll have it without pleasure.”

My friends who are religious have told me that they sometimes wish they hadn’t had sex because they feel it’s wrong to do before marriage. Regardless, they’re having sex and like Valenti said, they’re having it without pleasure. What’s wrong with this picture? The problem is you’re not immoral if you have sex, for fun or otherwise, but we all lean toward thinking that way and some of us absolutely fear we’re whores or going to hell for having sex. Like my friend Chris says (and I’m paraphrasing), Even the rhetoric in sex talk emphasizes that you’re bad or immoral for having sex. We say things like, ‘You’re a naughty girl.’ Or, ‘You bad boy.which plays off those stereotypes of the virgin/whore models.

Chris is right. In our conversations with each other (in bed or otherwise) we associate dirtiness with sex. Sex is dirty. Sex is harmful. Sex can kill you.

But can it?

I’m going to call bullshit on the purity/abstinence movement. Sex isn’t dirty and a woman isn’t a whore for having sex (with or without pleasure). Purity and abstinence are nothing more than a call to bring back the 1950’s traditional gender roles that tell women to get back in the kitchen and get knocked up as soon as they get married. There are few other options for women in the false world Shalit is trying to create. If you’re not married to a man and pregnant, you’re probably a whore.