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Flesh and Blood

The first time I remember hating my body, I was nine.

Oh, I don’t think I put it exactly in those terms.  It was more the certainty that I didn’t look like other girls.  I was short, for one thing, even at that age.  I was rounder, too, than my classmates.  I’ve seen pictures of myself in fourth grade, and I wasn’t even what adults would have semi-affectionately termed “chubby.”  But I wasn’t skinny, and for whatever reason, my peers latched onto that insecurity and spent the next several years calling me fat.  Taunting me about my hips and thighs.  Pinching me to show where I could “lose a few pounds.”

People say that girls today learn those lessons earlier than in previous generations.  No, they don’t.

When I reached high school and chose to reinvent myself through conservative evangelical religiosity, I thought I’d found a place where I wouldn’t be judged on my body.  How very wrong I was.

Instead of using beauty as the standard by which  I was judged, it became “godliness.”  I lost track of the number of times some well-meaning person asked me if I “really needed to eat that.”  It didn’t actually matter what I was eating; I could have eaten anything and I still would’ve been asked.  No one said it to my skinny friends under any circumstances.

As shaming as that was, that wasn’t the worst of it.  It was the way in which preaching spoke of “the flesh” as a dirty, evil thing that must be overcome.  I learned that my body was bad—not bad merely for being the wrong shape but bad because it wanted things.

In that graceless spiritual bubble, the mind, the body, and the spirit were disconnected.  The body had sinful desires to overcome.  The mind had sinful thoughts to overcome.  But the spirit was of God and trumped all of our sinful nature if we prayed and asked Jesus in to fix our broken humanity.

I’m sure some of my conservative evangelical peers must be saying, “It’s not like that!”  Perhaps it isn’t, for them.  Maybe they didn’t already go into faith believing they were broken simply by virtue of existence.  Or maybe they just can’t see it even though it’s right there in front of them.

It never occurred to me to medicate my shame.  Food, substance use, sex, even suicide—none of those were options because they were all “temptations” to be deal with through prayer and reading the Bible.  I didn’t touch drugs or alcohol or cigarettes because that would have been fleshly sin.  Eating the wrong things or in the wrong way was sin, too.  I stayed away from boys just in case my body betrayed my spirit and wanted more than hand-holding and innocent pecks on the cheek.

None of that stopped my body from wanting things, of course.  I used to hide my Easter chocolate in my room and make it last for six months by eating just a tiny bit at a time.  I would nibble, and then I would feel guilty—both for hiding and for eating.  Chocolate was sinful for bodies like mine.  I wasn’t disciplined enough.

I made sure I was covered, not out of modesty, but out of hiding.  It functioned both ways, though, and I was safe from the bodily sin of “causing my brother to stumble” in lust.  Not that I believed for even a moment that any boys were looking at me that way; I knew they all liked pretty girls with skinny waists and big boobs.  Privately, I could barely admit to myself that I wanted someone to look at me that way.

My language was clean, at least on the outside.  I pretended to be outraged once on a trip with some other Christian teens.  A boy from another city said “shit.”  I joined the others in telling him that wasn’t God’s best.  Secretly, it gave me a thrill to hear such a word on the lips of the faithful.  I wished I were that brave, but I felt ashamed for it.

I monitored my thoughts to make sure I wasn’t harboring resentment, anger, or lust.  There was a boy I liked.  I imagined what it would feel like to kiss him, maybe to have his hands on me.  But I remembered that I wasn’t supposed to be thinking about that.  I never asked him out because I was afraid both my body and my mind would betray me.

Alone at night, sometimes, I touched myself, all the time trying not to think about anything so I wouldn’t be guilty of lusting.  Except the very act of giving myself pleasure seemed to fall into that category—not to mention the impossibility of keeping my mind blank, separate from my body.  Orgasm and guilt became inextricably linked.

Everything was about overcoming the “desires of the flesh,” emptying myself of me so that I could be filled with the Holy Spirit.  The more Spirit-filled I was, the closer to God.  If I just let Jesus in far enough, he could make all the things my body—and my mind—wanted go away, replaced only by the desire to love and serve God in near-perfect holiness.

It didn’t work.

Instead, it left a gaping, dripping wound, a hole in the place where I should have been.  I tried harder and harder to not sin, convinced I was broken somehow for not having the faith in God to keep me from doing the things a Good Girl doesn’t do.  So I prayed harder, confessed more, and begged God to make me just not feel.

That did work.  In the wrong way.

A door closed, locked, bolted.  But instead of keeping my spirit safe from my own mind and body, it kept me from feeling much of anything for anyone else.  And it didn’t stop my body or my mind from their natural inclinations; it only served to prove they needed to be separated.

I want to open that door again, but I think I’m afraid that what I unleash will be very much like Elsa in Frozen, setting off an eternal winter.  That’s a bit of an exaggeration, but not much.

Slowly, slowly, I’m unfastening the chains.  I let myself cry with someone from church who was feeling a deep, heavy hurt.  I asked after several friends coping with fresh grief.  It felt good to allow their pain in.

If only I could let mine out.

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A confession

Today, I just feel worn out.  I haven’t been blogging regularly for about five months, and there are a lot of reasons for that.  I hoped that once I began to feel better physically (which I have), I might be ready to blog more.  Instead, I found myself working on other writing projects.  I focused on turning out some short stories, and I currently have two amazing beta readers working on the first draft of a novel.  That left little room for the sort of blogging I used to do.

Another part of the problem was that I felt so burned out from the whole range of people doing any sort of “social justice” blogging.  There are too many tender places where arguments left everyone raw and bleeding.  Because of the type of person I am, I ended up doing a lot of emotional damage control and wound up caught in some of the crossfire.  I only have so much energy, so I had to step away for the sake of my health.

The real issue, though, is that I just don’t feel like I have much to say these days.  I’m not being sucked dry by vampire Christianity (you know, the sort that asks you to give every spare moment to some church-related activity, group or project).  I’m not constantly fed harmful messages about my personhood or my body–or anyone else’s.  I know someone will say that as long as those kinds of churches exist, it’s part of my duty to stand up against it.  I agree, but I’m not sure I agree that blogging is the way for me to do it right now.

Mostly, I just feel burned out from life in general.  Bone-tired.  I’ve been a stay-at-home parent for more than ten years now, and it’s been more than five years since I graduated with my masters.  I can say I’m a writer or a violinist or a Christian or whatever, but the fact is, when you’re a stay-at-home parent, your life becomes defined by the people around you.  I’ve been WifeMommy for so long I don’t know what it’s like to be Not That.  I don’t know where they end and I begin.

The truth is, I have no idea where I want to go or what I want to do.  I know I never want to go back to working as a nurse (though I would if I had to), but that doesn’t mean I have any idea what I want.  Part of the reason for my confusion is having been without any real goals for so long.  I had them once, but they’ve all floated away while I poured myself into taking care of my family.

My words are gone.  I can make up stories; that’s not so hard anymore.  But the words I used to use are gone, dried up and withered.  They are like mist, with no substance behind them as I once had.  I don’t have a good explanation for it other than that I simply ran out of things to say and the desire to say them.  It’s painful to admit, because at one time, that was how I pushed beyond being WifeMommy–I used my words.

I’m sure there are people out there who will now feel free to point their fingers and remind me that I chose both motherhood and staying home, so it’s my own fault.  Or they may say I’m clearly not grateful enough for my children or something; I’ve seen that one before.  That’s not it.  I love my family.  I just don’t love being defined by my relationship to them, and I don’t love being here all the time.

What I want is to have new adventures.  Oh, not the climb-a-mountain or travel the world or go skydiving kind of adventures.  Not even the road-trip-with-the-bestie kind of adventures.  Just something fresh–a different view, a new perspective of the world.  Something that belongs to me apart from my other roles.

In the meantime, I need a break.  I need to put my ordinary life on pause and simply be away from having to take care of everyone else’s needs for a bit, even if it’s only a day or two.  I’m going to find a way to make that happen.

I don’t know what that means for my writing, or at least for this blog.  I suppose if I’m struck with inspiration, I’ll post something.  I just can’t right now.  I can’t force words that won’t come or ideas that have no substance.  I’m not giving up, but I’m not willing to keep pushing something that isn’t working.

So that’s where I am.  I’m glad I can share my journey with you all, and I hope that you don’t give up on me.  I promise that when I find what I’m looking for, I will share it with the world.  For now, thank you for being part of this phase of my life and may hope follow you wherever you go.

Unnatural selection*

Well, color me surprised:  Matt Walsh is at it again.**  I never know where to begin with this guy–should I start with his imaginary friends that write him letters and emails?  Or maybe with the fact that he’s created caricatures of people for the sake of taking them down?  Actually, I might go with just shaking my head at how many people seem to like and follow this guy.

This week’s installment is “stereotypes of liberal college professors.”  Oh, nice one, Matt.  Let’s take on academia!  Because no one has ever done that before and done it better than Matt Walsh!  I think it’s hilarious that Matt tries to sell us on his being the subject of conversation in high schools and colleges (remember the one about health class?).  No, dude, you are just not that important.

I’m pretty sure my favorite part of the fake email is where, since he couldn’t actually think of something to write, Matt says,

[Five more sentences of insults and pretentious self-aggrandizement]

Oh, okay.  We get to hear all about how “worried” this fictional professor is that Matt is a topic of conversation, thus stroking Matt’s ego, but we don’t get to read about the “self-aggrandizement” of the professor.

The gist of the email is that the fictional professor believes monogamy is not natural to humans (particularly men) and is no longer necessary.  He then goes on to personalize it, suggesting that Matt will inevitably cheat on his wife.  I will admit that I’ve met people who believe this and who are unkind about the way that some people choose to live their lives.  However, none of them fall into the stereotypes Matt has suggested here (well-educated atheist in academia), and none of them have had the misogynistic overlays Matt has used in his fictional scenario (that is, only men cheat, only men believe monogamy is unnatural, etc.).

After making a couple of snide remarks about the “professor,” Matt goes on to say:

A married person who doesn’t believe in monogamy seems an awful lot like a Satanist in a church choir, or an existential nihilist performing lifesaving heart surgery. There’s a bit of a philosophical conflict of interest at work, wouldn’t you agree?

No, Matt, I don’t agree, and you’re an ass who doesn’t understand any of the things your conflating here.  Matt is equating non-monogamy with cheating.  Those are not the same thing.  We can have a conversation about whether it’s moral or a good idea or whatever, but we need to do it on the terms of what the concepts actually are.  A person can be non-monogamous in a marriage without sneaking around and having illicit affairs.

Matt tells us why he bothers answering these fake emails:

In fact, I wouldn’t even bother to address such absurdity if it wasn’t becoming so widespread. What you people — you socially “progressive” academics — have realized is that you can not launch a salient attack against the ideals behind marriage, or abstinence for that matter, so instead you’ve decided to make the bizarre case that these things are somehow mythological.

“Widespread”?  Really?  I’m not seeing it.  Also, this is not a new thing.  People who believe humans are not wired for monogamy have been around for a long, long time.  Goodness, I remember reading this stuff back when I was in high school in the ’80s, and it wasn’t new even then (though as a high schooler I thought I’d stumbled on some terrifying new philosophy).  Matt needs to catch up a little.

As for not being able to “launch a salient attack against the ideals behind marriage,” Matt needs to catch up there, too.  In so many ways, marriage and family have changed.  I don’t mean in the last half-century with the changes in divorce laws or in the last ten years with more states legalizing marriage equality.  I mean over the course of human existence.  The purpose, function, and practice of marriage are ever-shifting, and that isn’t a bad thing at all.  I, for one, am happy that I’m not still considered property, for example.  The ideal behind marriage–which I would argue is a mutual expression of love, trust, and commitment–can still be present no matter how a couple decides to live that out.

The more you say it, the more people believe it, and the more they believe it the more true it becomes. It’s a clever trick. You’ve succeeded, at least partially, in shouting at a reality until it disappears.

But conservatives never, ever do this.  Nope.  And it’s never been used to bully, shame, and abuse people.  Ever.

Monogamy is not natural. You’re right about that.

It’s supernatural.

I honestly don’t even know what he means by this.  He also goes on to talk about “rationality” and a whole bunch of other stuff that generally makes very little sense to me.  Maybe I just don’t have Matt’s incredible intellectual powers of debate.  At no point does he bother explaining how monogamy is supernatural.  I was expecting some stuff about, you know, God somewhere in there, but he never gets around to that.

It’s above our nature. It might not be realistic. Space flight isn’t realistic, either.

I think Matt and I have vastly different definitions of “realistic.”  Does he mean “naturalistic”?  Because realism, by definition, is something that is real.  Space flight has been real for over 40 years.

I’m already bored with Matt’s not-really-a-rebuttal.  There’s no direction here.  He’s basically saying that the “professor” is wrong because he’s wrong.  Or because of space flight.  He finally tells us what he really thinks:

If you won 600 million dollars in the lottery, would you go out the next day and break into cars to steal the change from the cup holders? That’s what sleeping around is like when you’ve already found a woman who will pledge her life and her entire being to you for the remainder of her existence.

Ah.  So there we have it–he sees non-monogamy as “sleeping around.”  Because in Matt’s world, there are only two kinds of sexual expression:  Man-Woman-Marriage sex and Get-It-On-With-Anyone sex.  On, off.  Black and white.  He cannot imagine anything outside of those options.  (This is, of course, how we know the “professor” doesn’t exist, by the way–he’s created as the anti-Matt.)

You tell me that you are in an “open marriage.” I will probably be lambasted for “judging” you for it, but, sorry Professor, an “open marriage” makes about as much sense as a plane without wings or a boat that doesn’t float.

Matt means it doesn’t make sense to him.  I’m willing to bet it makes sense to the people who choose something different.  My concern is less about Matt judging a fictional character for a scenario that, in this case, doesn’t actually exist than about the fact that Matt just doesn’t know what the hell he’s talking about and isn’t arguing his case particularly well.

Marriages, by definition, are supposed to be closed.

By whose definition?  In the Bible, marriages certainly weren’t “closed.”  Multiple wives?  Check.  Concubines?  Check.  Song of Solomon may even be referring to an unmarried couple.  Human history and culture is full of a wide variety of configurations, all of which were considered acceptable.  The fact that we’ve now caught up with ourselves socially (to an extent) and can embrace marriage as a choice rather than as a business deal is wonderfully freeing.

If you aren’t strong enough to stay committed to one person, that’s your business. Walk down that path of loneliness and confusion, but you can’t drag the entire institution of marriage along with you. Personally, I like circles but I hate squares. Can I subvert the laws of geometry and suddenly decide that all squares shall henceforth be circles? No, because geometry is geometry, despite my strange square-hating quirks. Similarly, marriage is marriage, no matter how many college professors insist otherwise.

Oh, Matt.  You poor soul.  Though I now see exactly where he’s gone with this.  He seems to think that this one fictional character can single-handedly take down marriage.  I don’t think this fake letter is about non-monogamy at all.  I think it’s a disguise for Matt’s frustration with the trajectory of marriage equality.  I’ve heard that argument before, that marriage is on its way out.  You know what’s really shooting down marriage?  It’s not people who live happily in open marriages.  It’s not same-sex couples.  It’s not polys.  Heck, it’s not even divorce (I can’t imagine telling someone who has escaped an abuser that s/he has ripped the fabric of society).  No, it’s people like Matt who want to cling to a very narrow definition of what marriage is or should be (which is fine, if that’s what the couple wants) and then enforce it so everyone else must follow suit.

Matt seems content to blame crumbling marriages on nebulous philosophies and the relatively small number of people who are honest about their non-monogamy.  But that denies abuse, addiction, actual cheating (vs. non-monogamy), religious oppression, misogyny, and homophobia as far bigger contributors.  It’s important to open the conversation about how people can live moral, healthy lives.  That’s not what Matt’s done here.  Perhaps that’s because it’s easier to hide behind imaginary academics than it is to engage with live human beings.

____________________

*I think that was actually the title of a Far Side book.  Man, I miss Far Side.

**If you get the chance, check out this page.  The Five Drunk Rednecks (I love it) posted a couple of comments on my previous posts about Matt Walsh (it’s so gratifying that I have that much reach with my tiny little blog).  So I ventured over to their page.  I would call it a treasure trove, except “treasure” isn’t the word I want and I’m not sure what its antithesis is.  Anyway, read up on it over there.  Matt Walsh has been saying douchey things for ages.

It has a name…and I am not you

I’ve mentioned in a couple of my posts over the last few weeks that I’m not blogging as much as before for a number of reasons.  Today, I’ll share one of them.

On Friday, I went to see a rheumatologist.  It turns out that all the pain and fatigue I’ve had over (mostly) the last year is fibromyalgia.  Surprisingly, just having it named has given me a sense of peace.  When you don’t know exactly what something is, you can’t really manage it.  This means I can have a plan for how to restructure my life.

The really fun (okay, more annoying than fun) thing is how people’s responses when they find out are pretty predictable.  My family and close friends, of course, reacted as I had expected–with empathy and offers for help and with simply listening to me without saying much at all.  Of course, that’s generally been a two-way street, so I wasn’t at all surprised.  Much love to you all.  M’wah!

Strangers and acquaintances have also had pretty predictable reactions: Everything from “Have you tried…” to weirdly personal questions to asking me for advice for family or friends.  Seriously–I just found out three days ago.  I don’t have any answers for you!  (Note: This is not everyone.  If you’re all worried I’m talking about you, the answer is, “I dunno.  Maybe?  Have you said one of those things to me?  If not, then no, I’m not talking about you.)

I’ve always been a bit resistant to people telling me what to do.  I’m sure that comes as a total shock to anyone who knows me (or has read my blog).  Well-intentioned people often (mistakenly) believe that everyone wants the benefit of their wisdom, especially if they consider themselves to have knowledge or experience on a subject.  The thing is, we can talk together about what has worked for us, but none of us should believe that translates to having it work for anyone else.

The biggest reason for that: I am not you.  You are not me.  Even our differing philosophies factor into what works and doesn’t.  You may think I should try a particular strategy, but what if that’s not what my doctor recommends?  Or what if your solution isn’t practical for my life?  We should never try to be Pez dispensers of fibro wisdom for anyone else.

The truth about dealing with something chronic is that it doesn’t go away.  Sometimes, I have a series of pretty good days–I’m productive, I feel pretty good, and no one would ever guess.  Other times, I have a string of lousy days where my only goal is not to spend all day crying because it hurts so much.  Most of the time, I’m somewhere in the middle.  And for me, that’s okay.  I’m surprisingly content to enjoy my good days, manage my less good days, and give myself permission to do absolutely nothing on my worst days.  I’m fortunate to have people around me who give me that flexibility.

Because of the fatigue and mental fogginess that accompany fibro, I simply don’t have the physical or mental energy to write the way I did before.  One of the things that triggers my symptoms is stress.  Unfortunately, because I’m highly tuned into the emotions of others, I pick up their distress and add it to my own.  That means that things that I once had fiery energy to write about literally make me sick.  I can’t do constant anger, and that’s a struggle because every day, I see injustices that make my blood boil.  I’m working on what that means to my writing.  Some things are absolutely worth fighting for, and I need to make sure I’m not pouring unnecessary energy into things that are best left to someone else.  Sadly, that means I might also not be able to read some of what others write due to their style of expression.

In the meantime, one of the things that has lifted me greatly while I’ve been working this out is writing fiction.  If you’d like to, you can check out my other blog, where I post flash fiction, serial short stories, and bits of the novel I’ve been working on.  I would also love to have guest posts on either blog, so feel free to drop me a message.

Thanks for all your patience with me as I sort this out.  The single biggest thing that has helped me is knowing how much love and support I have.  I really do have some pretty amazing people in my life, by chance and by choice.

 

How Plato ruined everything

All right, maybe “everything” is a bit of an exaggeration.  Still, I’m convinced that Platonic notions color so much of our culture (not just Christian religion) that it’s hard to know where to start.

I suppose a word of explanation as to why I’m thinking about this is in order.  I haven’t blogged much this fall; there are several reasons why not that I won’t go into here.  One of the reasons, though, has to do with online politics and the constant pressure to get it right.  It was a crisis of correctness, I suppose, that led to my on-and-off writing over the last three months.  I blame Plato for that, too.

In an ideal world, life would work like this: No one would ever be distracted by the appearance of another person; every act of justice would take into account every possible situation and person; and no one would ever get off on picturing themselves licking whipped cream off a naked celebrity.

We don’t live in that world.

The problem with that world is that it doesn’t exist anywhere except in the heads of would-be online philosophers.  In all things, there’s some imaginary line that Must Not Be Crossed when it comes to behavior.  It might not have overtly religious overtones, but there’s still the same message:  If you don’t do things right, you are flawed.  Broken.  Damaged.

Instead of learning respect and consideration, we end up with the same fears often instilled by our religious communities–that we are not good enough and must seek to work towards this imaginary standard to which no human can measure up.  How many seconds is too long to stare at someone’s half-undressed body?  Which fantasies are okay to have when masturbating?  How carefully do we have to phrase things to make sure someone disagrees with our views and not our word choice or tone?

There’s no answer to that outside the heads of a few people who have styled themselves the Gatekeepers of Blogging.

My husband and I had an interesting conversation the other night.  He’s been taking a philosophy class–don’t ask me the details; I’ve never had much interest in that sort of thing.  I didn’t entirely follow everything he said, but the gist of it was that some people live in the realm of ideas and some people live in the realm of practicality.  About eighty percent of people are in the latter group.  The difficulty I see is that (at least on the Internet), the other twenty percent often see themselves as being at the top, and the rest of us should conform our practical existence to fit into the theories they’ve developed.

Well, screw that.  I can’t live that way.  When I started writing, it was because I was in a religious context in which I felt that there were specific people being marginalized (namely, LGBT people) and that the church had it dead wrong in how to care for them.  I remained anonymous for about a year and a half.  When some of my Christian LGBT offline friends began sharing my writing (not knowing it was me), I told them.  At that point, I decided hiding was a disservice to people I love in my non-bloggy life.  If they were out, why shouldn’t I be public too?

Note that I never said I blogged because I had some Magic Words of Wisdom on the church and LGBT people or any other issue regarding church teachings (which I also covered).  Honestly, I just wanted those I love to know that, and I wanted anyone like me who might be an ally in enemy camp to know they were not alone.  Practical purposes, people.  Nothing philosophical.

I recently stopped blogging as much because I had started to feel the same sense of “not good enough” that I’d had for over twenty years in the church.  I couldn’t blog about LGBT issues and the church because I didn’t know enough about intersectionality.  And other people who needed my support.  And not tagging every post on social justice issues as triggering (because, realistically, every post could trigger someone for something).  And not actually being LGB or T myself.  And not criticizing progressive Christians correctly.  The list goes on.

That, right there, is Platonism at its finest: There’s a right way to blog about these issues, and you’re not doing it.  There’s often a sense that the critic doesn’t actually know what the right way is, just that one must exist.  Well, no.  There is no hypothetical idealized advocacy.  There are some things that get it decidedly wrong (go research Human Rights Campaign, for example;p see also the Good Men Project).  Most of the time, though, it’s a matter of different people wanting or needing different things.

Another serious problem with forcing advocacy into a Platonic ideal is that the vast majority of the time, the people pushing it at the rest of us genuinely believe they have it right and we have it wrong.  There’s no sense that they might also be falling short of an unnamed ideal or that their particular philosophy might not be the best version because it still leaves some people vulnerable.  It’s an unfortunate reality that there are people out there who simply do not care about hurting people they think are in the wrong.  I’ve seen things get pretty ugly when one person gently explains why they need a particular type of ally and another person says the equivalent of, “That’s the wrong thing to want” rather than, “Tell me more.”

I spent several years deconstructing my faith.  I’m now in process of reconstruction, and there are some great people I can trust along the way.  Deconstructing social justice advocacy feels pretty similar.  I’m disappointed with the online community in a lot of the same ways I was disappointed in the church.  Before someone gets all heated about it, I’m not saying that social justice movements are abusive.  But are there abusive, powerful people within them who want to control the rest of us at any cost?  You bet. (“No! I don’t want to control you!  I just want you to get it right, dammit!” is, in fact, controlling–particularly when the person saying it does not belong to the group for which they are advocating.)  Those are the people I’m trying to steer clear of.

There’s no way to know where this will end up.  I don’t want to stop writing, but some days, I think I have no choice, at least when it comes to blogging.  I do know that it won’t change anything in my everyday life; my loved ones will still know they can count on me.  As for the online advocacy police?  There’s no reason I should care about their Platonic ideals.

Love, Marriage, and Happiness

By Musaromana (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

I was displeased to see that this dreadful thing, Marriage Isn’t for You, is making the rounds.  This is one of those overly-chipper-but-somewhat-nebulous posts that’s hard to disagree with on the surface, mostly due to its lack of any depth.  I mean, how many of us haven’t been selfish or been hurt by someone else who was being selfish?  And really, isn’t there some truth to the fact that marriage isn’t a solo pursuit?  So what’s wrong with this article?

For starters, I don’t really want marriage “advice” from someone more than ten years younger who has a fraction the time put into his marriage that I have.  I mean, I’m certainly willing to listen to people younger and less experienced than I am (provided they aren’t saying utterly stupid things).  Naturally, I do prefer that the person offering their expertise have more knowledge of a subject than I do.  I’m perfectly fine with the fact that my gynecologist, for example, is eight years younger than I am.  She’s been to medical school; I have not.  So when she does an exam, I’m not all like, “Hey, are you sure you’re doing that right?”  If I’m getting marriage advice, I don’t want it second-hand filtered through a guy who’s barely past his honeymoon.  That’s not to say that newlyweds and young adults have nothing to offer.  But if you’re going to tell people what to do, you’d better be able to back that up with some credentials, or people with a lot more experience are going to tell you you’re full of it.

Anyway, aside from Seth Adam Smith’s adorkable lack of real-life experience, I just can’t get behind his words.  In particular, this stood out to me:

No, a true marriage (and true love) is never about you. It’s about the person you love–their wants, their needs, their hopes, and their dreams. Selfishness demands, “What’s in it for me?” while Love asks, “What can I give?”

Right.  Because 1. there’s such a thing as a “true marriage” (as opposed to all those fake ones going on?  I dunno); and 2. it’s not at all co-dependently creepy to fixate entirely on the needs of someone else.  It’s possibly his use of “never” here that strikes me the wrong way, but there’s something deeply obsessive and weird underneath those words.

Seth follows that up nicely with a vague story about how he was being “selfish” and it caused major problems.  I had absolutely no idea what he was talking about.  It could have been anything at all, from not pulling his weight in household chores to spending fifteen hours a week watching Internet porn.  He gives no indication about what made him so utterly, appallingly selfish, nor why his wife had to “soothe his soul.”  He uses strange, vaguely religious terms (his heart was “callous” and “hard”) to not really tell us anything.  He’s not clear on what his wife actually did, either.  We know she was “soothing,” but what is that?  Like ointment?

After this cryptic story, Seth assures us that marriage is about family.  Gee, thanks for that–I wasn’t clear.  I thought maybe marriage was like a corporate merger only with sex.  Actually, I’ll bet some corporate mergers also involve sex, so it’s probably not that different.  Oh, wait . . . I guess a lot of us have been confused about it; thanks, Seth, for clearing that up!

At the end, we get the lovely sentiment that the more we give, the more we receive.  Which is ironic, since Seth just spent a whole page detailing why marriage isn’t about us.  So why should we care if we get anything in return?  I mean, it’s not about meeeeeeee!  He’s not forthcoming on the details of what the payoff is, either.  Do we get the satisfaction of a job well done?  A cookie for effort from the spouse for not being a jerk?  Or is this supposed to be like, “You live for me, I’ll live for you, we’ll both be happy” kind of a thing?  I’m also not getting where the love from “thousands” of other people comes into play here.  It sounds more like Seth just didn’t know how to finish his article so he gave it the Hollywood extended ending treatment–not much to add to the story, but aren’t the special effects cool?

Anyway, it’s not that I want to advocate for being a total ass to your spouse.  Of course being completely self-centered is a terrible way to treat people.  But that seems like common sense, not something to turn into your life’s Guiding Principle or whatever.  It really is okay to want to be happy.  There is nothing wrong with expecting your relationships to be mutually satisfying.  If my husband didn’t make me happy, I wouldn’t have married him.  If I didn’t enjoy my friendships, I wouldn’t hang out with those people.  Do I operate based solely on what’s going to please me?  No, but neither do I operate solely on what’s going to please someone else.

Strangely, in telling us this story, Seth somehow manages to undermine his point–that marriage isn’t about us–by making it entirely about him.  I’m going to give him a few years to figure out that there’s a happy medium between expecting relationships to feed you and expecting to meet others’ needs to the exclusion of your own.  Hopefully by that point, he will have a story or two about what he’s done for his wife, rather than what she’s done for him.

More on NALT and being an ally

Yesterday, I wrote about why I’m not making a NALT video.  I want to expand on that a little.  There are some valid concerns about the project, but from what I’ve seen, a lot of those concerns border on what the project might do rather than what it is doing and on assumptions rather than experiences.

One big issue is whether or not the people making the videos believe that’s all they need to do to be good allies.  First of all, it’s a pretty big assumption to think that those people are not already doing other things.  All we know of most of them is whatever they happen to say in a couple of minutes.  We don’t know whether they think they’ve done their part.  Obviously that could be true, but I find it hard to believe that the majority of people who make the videos are sitting somewhere feeling satisfied that they’ve completed their assignment and can now move on.  It also assumes that all of those people are straight and cisgender (hint: they’re not).

I think one of the things that frustrates me is the belief that it’s “easier” to be an ally online.  That has not been my experience at all.  I find it far easier to be an ally in real life; it doesn’t take a whole lot of effort.  It mostly consists of being a good friend–which isn’t usually about someone else’s sexuality anyway.  Sure, there are times when I need to take action.  Sometimes I vote for legislation that extends the same rights I enjoy.  Sometimes I have to ask people not to say stupid, hateful, or hurtful things.  More often, though, it’s about getting a cup of coffee together or chatting while our kids play or having our sons baptized on the same day or attending a wedding celebration.  It’s about sharing together the things that are important to us, including our identities.  It’s not complicated.

When I first started to blog, I stayed anonymous for a long time.  I didn’t do it out of fear.  I’m hardly a person who cares that some church official might decide that I shouldn’t be involved in ministry.  I did it to protect the people whom I was serving.  I wanted to stay web-silent so that I could be a safe person for youth and their families.  I know people who have been threatened and bullied for supporting their gay children, and I believed they and their children needed someone safe to talk to.  If I had been public, I would have been removed from ministry and therefore have been less available for people who needed me.*

When the time was right, I began using my real name.  It was mildly risky on my part, but that was at a point when I knew that I wasn’t putting anyone else at risk.  When people make these videos, they may be doing the same thing.  It may be a first step in being public after a time of flying under the radar.  They may be risking much more than I was in making a statement.

When I named myself, I discovered something: It’s a lot harder to be a good ally online.  It’s tricky to navigate the wide range of needs among people I don’t know anywhere but the Internet. I’ve learned a lot, including that sometimes people’s needs are completely opposite.  The NALT campaign is a good example–some people feel hopeful and encouraged while others feel angry and hurt.**  I’m an incredibly sensitive person, and I tend to absorb other people’s feelings.  That’s a good thing, except when people are expressing such vastly different emotions.  It puts me in a place where I feel like I have to choose between people I care about and respect.  It makes me want to quit the Internet and run back to the safety of doing this only offline.

Here’s the thing, though.  I think that’s as it should be.  It is hard.  If it were easy, everyone would do it.  Everyone would know all the right words and there would never be a question.  Everyone would be able to be a good ally offline and on the Internet.  We would never have to work at listening, caring, speaking, or writing.  Taking on the challenge–whether one finds it harder online or off–is important, necessary work if we ever expect social change.

Not everyone can do it on the Internet.  Maybe passing on blogging, videos, and tweets is the best option for some people.  Those who resent having to walk such a fine line are probably better off concentrating on other things.  Those who are so tenderhearted that they are slowly sucked dry by conflicting views might need to back off in order to have the emotional reserve to care for people in their own lives.

For the rest of us, though, it’s worth staying in.  It’s okay that we’re hearing different answers to the same question, because no two people are identical in their experiences.  There is no Hypothetical Idealized Ally.  There’s no perfect way of writing or talking about these things.  I think my first rule of being an ally needs to be, “Don’t tell other allies how to do it correctly.”  I don’t have everything right.  All I can do is point back at those to whom I’m an ally and say, “Ask them.”  Even then, it’s going to depend on the individual.  My default is to individually ask, “What do you prefer?”  and act accordingly when communicating with that person.

Even though I find it difficult at times, I’m not going to be silent on the Internet.  I may get pushed from different directions at times, and that has to be okay with me.  I have to go with it because it’s not about me.  When I make decisions about what I write or whether I’ll make a video, I have to go with what feels right in my heart because sometimes there’s no way to do both of two opposing actions.  I can’t both make a video and not make one.  What feels right to me at this time is not to make one, even though I know there are people who may be disappointed.  If people care so little about me as a human being that they reduce me to being bad or good depending on whether I agree with them or I’ve done exactly as they wanted me to, then those aren’t people I want to spend much time with.

Where have you found it harder to be an ally?  Online or offline?  Where have you found it harder to find allies?  What advice would you give to those who want to be allies online?

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*I know I’m being vague.  I simply can’t be more specific in order to protect people I care about.

**Or some other combination–say, hurt but hopeful.  All those feelings are valid.  The difficulty is in how to proceed when pulled in opposite directions.