My Body Was Not My Own

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Growing up in the Evangelical Purity Culture movement, I was always aware that my body was not my own. My body belonged to my future husband, and he would be devastated if I let another man see it or touch it. My body belonged to my family, my church, even my friends, and they would experience the fallout if I dared to sully my purity.

It was shame that kept me trapped inside this environment for so long. Shame that if I “went too far” before I got married, no man would want me to be his wife. Shame that if I messed up, everyone around me would be hurt by what I chose to do with my body. Shame that my actions would damage the reputation of the church, of my religion.

Now that I’m out of this culture, I can see that it wasn’t about reputation. It wasn’t even about purity. It was about control. Controlling our actions, our thoughts, and most importantly, our bodies.

Unsurprisingly, the majority of purity culture literature is aimed at women, not men. Sure, there are books for men on the dangers of porn, and marriage manuals on how to treat your wife with respect. But the books on keeping your mind and body pure, on not kissing anyone until your wedding day, on covering up your body so you don’t tempt anyone into sin? Obviously, they’re written for women.

It’s our responsibility to stay pure for our husbands—although few women expect that the man they marry will be a virgin on their wedding night. It’s our responsibility to not tempt men into sin by showing a smidgen of cleavage. It’s our responsibility to uphold the reputation of the church as the bastion of morality in modern society.

It’s all on us. Not just women, but teenage girls.

I was fifteen the first time that I was told that my body had made a man feel uncomfortable. Unbeknownst to me, the way that my shirt revealed a flash of my stomach when I moved was just too much for one of the elderly men in our church. Obviously, it was my body that was the problem—not the creepy guy gawking at teenage girls when he was supposed to be worshipping God.

I didn’t argue or complain. It made sense to me, within the Evangelical framework in which I’d been raised, that my body was a distraction that was preventing men from focusing on God. This was my responsibility. I needed to dress differently, and then my body would be less of a problem.

It wasn’t my body, really. It was a weapon that I could unwittingly use to cause men to lust, to steal them away from their wives, to make them stumble and fall away from God’s path. If they sinned, it was my fault because of the way I’d dressed. The lines between the so-called purity culture and rape culture blurred in the most horrible manner.

I went away to university a couple of years after this incident, and it wasn’t long before my mind was (thankfully) corrupted by the worldly ideas in my liberal arts degree. I began recognising how toxic the purity culture aspect of my upbringing had been, and started the process of shedding all the shame I’d been hanging on to.

It’s probably taken me the better part of ten years to fully unlearn this mindset. To acknowledge that my body is mine—it doesn’t belong to my partner or my child, and certainly not my church. It is mine, and I finally feel like I can dress it and move it and use it however I please.

My body is finally mine, and I could not feel more free.

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It’s Really Not Necessary to Gender Strangers

Another day, another stranger assuming my kid is a girl. This happens a lot. It’s November, and I can literally count on one hand the number of times in 2017 that a stranger has correctly assumed my child is a boy. Even if he’s wearing a blue shirt with a car on it, someone at the library will croon about him being “such a cute little girl!”

I get it: it’s the hair. By the age of three, most British parents have lopped their sons’ curls off. There’s a big deal made about boys’ first haircuts and treasuring their first curls, but I’ve done that annoying hippy thing of letting my son have bodily autonomy and choose when he wants his hair cut. So far, the answer has been never. Apparently this is causing problems, because three year old boys in the UK just don’t have long blonde curly hair. I actually get told this on a regular basis. People defend mistaking my son for a girl by saying “But the hair! It’s so long, and blonde, and curly!”

That’s right, folks: boys do not have long hair, blonde hair, or curls. Who knew girls had such a monopoly on these attributes? At least, this is what I’ve heard from grandparents at multiple parks, various pensioners on the number 2 bus, and a random person I met outside the Methodist church three months ago. My child is an anomaly. There are no other boys on the planet who have long, blonde, curly hair. 

As it turns out, he’s starting to get really fed up with being misgendered. Not so much that he’s clued on to the fact that his hair is “wrong” and wants it cut (although I know this is the case for a lot of my friends’ sons, who prove that my kid’s hairstyle is actually pretty common if you have a hippy feminist for a mother). But he has made it clear that he finds it annoying when people think he’s a boy.

In his words, “Some people think I’m a girl, but not all people. But I’m not a girl, I’m a boy.” 

We actually haven’t talked all that much about gender with him, but he’s always been pretty adamant that he’s a boy. He hasn’t offered any explanation for why people think he’s a girl, since we’ve never told him that there are clothes or hairstyles or activities that belong to one gender or another. It appears that no one has taken it upon themselves to educate him about this matter, which I’m grateful. I know that the moment will come that a peer or some random stranger on the tram will tell him that boys can’t wear X or do Y, and if I’m there, you know that I will immediately shut them down. If it’s some kid at playgroup, I hope that Quinn stands up for himself when one of his peers tries to destroy his love for the colour pink or My Little Pony.

Today’s announcement today was prompted by a stranger on the bus who repeatedly referred to my son as a girl, saying he was a “lovely girl” with “lovely hair” and even calling him “Mrs” at one point. Literally every statement they made about him involved gendered language. I could tell he was uncomfortable, but I wasn’t sure if it was because a stranger kept trying to talk to him, or because my repeated attempts to correct them with comments like “Yes, HE is a lovely child” and “HE does have beautiful hair” were to no avail.

When we got home, I asked him, and he told me outright that he doesn’t like it when people call him a girl. I don’t think he realised he could correct people before now, so I made it clear that he can tell people that, actually, he’s a boy. He practised saying “I’m not a girl, I’m a boy” a few times, as if to assure himself that he was able to say the words.

Since my child gets misgendered so damn often, I’ve made a conscious effort to stop assuming the gender of other kids. Yes, even I, with the long-haired child in the Frozen hat and clothes that are blatantly out of the “girls” section of the store, sometimes assume the gender of random kids at the park. I entirely understand why people do it with my son. It’s hard to unlearn the assumption that if a kid is in pink they’re a girl, and if it’s blue they’re a boy. But it can be unlearned, and it is possible to refer to people without using gendered language.

This is what I’ve been trying to substitute:

“That girl wants a turn on the slide” could be “That child wants a turn on the slide” or just generically “Someone else wants a turn now”

“Did you ask him if you could have that toy?” could be “Did you ask them if you could have that toy?”

“Can you move out of the way? That man needs to get past” could be “Can you move out of the way? That person needs to get past”

I have found it a little awkward saying “that child” instead of “that girl/boy”, so sometimes I just say “that person”. Since, well, children are people. Switching from referring to people as he/him or she/her to they/them has taken more of an effort, but I’ve made a few friends this year who prefer to use gender neutral pronouns, and it’s starting to become more natural to just refer to people as “they”, especially if I’m recounting a story about someone we ran into at the park and their gender genuinely has no baring on the story.

It felt a little weird to begin with, since I was used to only using “they” when referring to the plural of something. I also had this preconceived notion that saying “they” was impersonal, but now it feels a bit more respectful, especially since I’m aware of how uncomfortable Quinn gets when people get his gender wrong. It’s a whole lot more offensive to use the wrong pronouns with someone than to use gender-neutral ones. 

I know that out-right asking someone you’ve just met what their preferred pronouns are might feel super weird to a lot of people, and I’ve only done it a few times myself. Obviously, I’m not suggesting that you ask the toddler your kid is playing with in the sandbox what pronouns they use, but you could just…not use gendered language when talking about them? Switch “Please give that girl back her toy” for “Please give that person/child back their toy”. It feels clunky to begin with, but after a while it becomes automatic.

Another option, when it comes to children, is just to ask their parent whether their child is a boy or a girl. I get the impression that a lot of people don’t want to ask, because it might suggest that they think your child is too androgynous or something like that? People are always super hesitant to ask, as if I’ll be offended that they can’t tell. As the parent of a child who is misgendered 95% of the time, it is so much less offensive to just say “Is [name] a girl or a boy?” I know I’ve complicated matters by giving him a gender-neutral name (which I genuinely didn’t realise was also used for girls until a few weeks after his birth), so really, just ask. Or, even better, ask him! He’s three, he can tell you himself.

I know a lot of people are going to scoff at this article. Some of you are going to say that I’m destroying the God-created order of the world by trying to remove gender, or something to that effect. But this article isn’t about smashing the patriarchy or deconstructing gender roles. I’m literally just asking you not to assume someone’s gender based on their appearance. And, more specifically in my case, proceed to act as if my fault you got my child’s gender wrong, because I haven’t forced him to look more masculine. People get incredibly defensive when I correct them about my child’s gender, which is one of the reasons I sometimes don’t correct random people in the supermarket queue. I don’t really want to have to defend my son’s choice of hairstyle or clothing to someone I’ve just met and will probably never see again.

If you don’t want to be one of those annoying people exclaiming “Oh, but the pink shirt! With the glitter! Of course I thought he was a girl!” and upsetting a child by making them feel like there’s something wrong with the way they look, you have two options: don’t gender them, or just ask if they’re a boy or a girl. You don’t need to apologise for not being able to immediately guess from the three seconds you’ve spent in the cereal aisle together. I know that a lot of people are uncomfortable with the idea of using gender-neutral language, so if that’s the case, asking outright is really the best thing you can do.

Alright, I’m done. Now you can tell me that I’m destroying the world by trying to get rid of gender.

NaNoWriMo is Ridiculous But You Should Totally Do It

Are you trying to decide whether or not to participate in National Novel Writing Month this year? Then listen to the excellent, definitely entirely trustworthy advice of this veteran NaNoer who has been attempting to write novels every year since 2005 (possibly 2004, if the NaNo website is correct? But if I did write something that year I have deleted it in utter embarrassment because I cannot find it) except for the year that I had a three month old baby who nursed non-stop and never napped. If you have succeeded in writing a novel in a month while nursing a non-sleeping infant, please let me know so that I can buy you a beer, because that is seriously impressive.

Before 2017, I didn’t used to plot my novels at all. I would generally have a premise, which could be anything from a paragraph of notes scrawled on a piece of paper, to maybe an entire A4 document of random ideas that kind of linked up together. I have actually started plotting my stories this year (like five-thousand words of plot with an entire story arc before I even start writing the novel, eek), but this is a very, very recent development. The years that I actually finished NaNoWriMo were produced off summaries like this one, which I’m going to guess I wrote on something like the 28th of October when I was like “Oh, crap, I should decide what I’m going to write” (there’s also a chance that this started out as a Tumblr message to one of my writing buddies who dared to ask “Hey, what are you writing about next month?”).

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1. At the time of writing this summary my characters did not have names. I probably decided upon their names at 8am on the 1st of November while I attended to start my novel during the half an hour in which my toddler was eating cheerios and mesmerised by My Neighbour Totoro.
2. I did not know whether my novel would be set in a sci-fi or steampunk setting until I actually started writing. Genres? Settings? Ha, who needs them?
3. Thus, as you can tell, I had done zero research.
4. Hot Pirate Captain was supposed to be a secondary character but he kind of took over the entire book and got his own point of view and oh god
5. I wrote a love triangle. A LOVE TRIANGLE. I swore I would never do that.
6. Nevermind sci-fi vs. steampunk, I decided to write about an engineer despite having no knowledge of engineering? Again, I had researched none of this. 
7. Why is an engineer tending some guy’s wounds? I don’t know. I don’t know why this was one of the few plot points I had in mind, and I’m 90% certain I threw a “she trained to be a nurse!” backstory info-dump into my novel in order to account one of the few parts of the story I had decided on in advance.
8. Despite the fact that I mention in my summary that the heroine is “one of only three employees”, it is revealed in the first chapter of the novel that there are four. Apparently I can’t even follow a tiny three-paragraph plot summary. I am ridic.

But, I wrote 70K in one month and it’s an entire draft and it might be riddled with plot holes and inconsistencies and have some truly hilariously awful action scenes, but it’s a draft. It’s a starting point. And once you have the words on the page, you can rewrite them and edit them and turn them into something you’d actually let other people read.

The thing I love about NaNoWriMo is that it encourages me to keep writing. I’m surrounded by people who are also furiously trying to get their ideas on to the page. There’s something about knowing that other people are writing messy first drafts that motivates me to keep going. It tests my ideas, and allows me to see if there’s enough there to turn into an entire novel that I’ll actually care about enough to rewrite and improve.

Sometimes I have to stop writing in November because life happens, sometimes I hit a decent number at the end of the month but it takes me a couple of months to actually finish that draft of the novel because my momentum runs out after November. I go from writing every day to every second day to sometimes just twice a week, but I do keep writing.

Honestly, I feel like I need the exercise of daily writing in November just to get me back on track again, even if I know that by February my motivation will have gone right down. My inspiration always peaks in October when I get excited over starting something new and fresh–and it also motivates me to finish whatever project I’m working on, because I’m not allowed to do NaNo unless I’m done with that.

I love the experience of being immersed in my characters lives and just living with them for a month while I write an absurd amount of words in a short space of time. I make playlists and listen to them before I start writing in order to get myself into the right mood for those specific characters, and then I sit down in some coffee shop or library or just our living room and leap into the world of my novel and bash out a couple of thousand words.

A lot of those words might get cut or rewritten, but the world is there. The characters are there. It’s something to build on. It doesn’t have to be perfect the first time, and I’m definitely not as quick at rewrites and edits as I am first-drafting.  I procrastinate when I’m editing, I spend ages focusing on one sentence or paragraph here and making it perfect and by the end of it I hate the entire novel and never want to look at it again, so I drag out whatever mess I wrote during NaNoWriMo the previous year and discover that

…actually, it’s not as awful as I remembered. I mean, clearly I need to learn how grenades actually work and the heroine’s hair colour changes in every chapter and I should probably make the setting more clear, but there’s an actual story here. One that’s worth salvaging and improving and maybe one day showing to my critique group.

In the eleven years I’ve been doing NaNoWriMo, I’ve abandoned several novels, and written a couple that will never see the light of day. But I’ve also produced three full-length novels that I wouldn’t be too terrified to show people, one of which I even submitted to an editor who advised me on how to improve it and encouraged me to resubmit. I can chart just how much my writing has improved and what I’ve learned in the somewhat ridiculous first-drafting process that I go through every year.

I do write novels outside of November, but I do it in the same way–frantically bashing out the first draft before taking a break and diving in to edit it into something more readable. That’s the way my brain works, the way I work best–fully immersing myself into the world of my characters and residing there until their stories are completed. I’m entirely aware that this first-drafting technique might not work for everyone, but once I was able to push through the fear of “I need to get this right the first time” I was able to write so much more freely and actually finish what I started.

If you think this technique might work for you, give NaNoWriMo a try. Being surrounded by other writers who are also writing wonderfully messy new creations is a great motivation. We’re all going to have plot holes and disappearing secondary characters and timelines that are horribly inconsistent and unexpected love triangles complete and action scenes that will definitely need to be entirely rewritten and never shown to anyone, ever–or whatever the thing is that we discover in November that we really need to get better at. (For me, it’s definitely action scenes. Haha. Seriously. You’re not getting to read any of them).

No one’s first draft is publishable. It’s not supposed to be. It’s a first draft. And getting that first draft on the page is a massive feat. You might end up with half a dozen unfinished drafts before you hit the novel that you finally finish and turn into something you want to share with the world.

 

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Keep trying. Keep writing. And if you’ve brave/ridiculous enough, attempt to bash out an entire first draft in a month and see where it takes you.

Why ChurchClarity is Necessary, not Divisive

Hello, it’s me, that person who used to post bigoted memes on Facebook five years ago, and is now bombarding you with articles on LGBT+ inclusion in the church. I know, it’s freaking weird for me too. But maybe the lingering memory of that former me, the crappy one who told gay people that they were sinning with their “lifestyle choices”, will be what convinces you to keep reading. Even just out of intrigue at what could possibly have caused me to have such a massive shift in opinions on this subject.

Earlier this year, my husband and I decided that we needed to find a new church. There were a number of reasons for this, and it was a difficult decision as we deeply cared about the church we’d been attending. Looking for a new church was tough as well. There are so many churches in our city, and it was exhausting just looking at all of them and trying to figure out what they actually believed. After a while, a lot of the statements of faith began to look the same. We get it, you think Jesus is awesome and you want to reach out to people in the city and build authentic community. Cool. But, like, do you hate gay people?

I was supportive of LGBT+ rights before this year, but not actively and loudly and (sometimes) obnoxiously. Then I had three friends come out to me in the space of a month. All of them were Christians. Two weren’t supported by their families, or the churches they’d grown up in. This drove me to be more intentional about my support, to be aware of just how important it can be for LGBT+ Christians to know who their allies are, and where they will be safe to express themselves. The selves they might be forced to hide in churches who are ambiguous about just what they believe about sexuality and gender.

I get it. Being ambiguous might seem like the best option. If you don’t speak against LGBT+ people, you don’t upset people who fall  into any of those categories. And if you don’t speak in support of LGBT+ people, then you don’t offend the people who are on the “Homosexuality is a sin, the biggest sin, the worst sin, there’s a Gay Agenda!” train and cause them to leave your church in a huff because you won’t condemn the gays. Because there are a lot of straight cisgender Christians who genuinely believe that churches who support the LGBT+ community are unbiblical and not real Christians. Even though I grew up in that environment, I still can’t figure out why this was our Big Issue that we had to talk about all the damn time. I really wish I could provide some insight, but I’ve got none.

Anyway, ChurchClarity launched this week and I was super excited because this is the resource I needed when we began looking into churches in June. There were so many churches that we were intrigued by but didn’t actually visit because they didn’t mention anything about their views on LGBT+ matters on their website. We basically assumed that unless they had an openly inclusive stance, they were non-LGBT-affirming. And I’m sure there were some churches that were actually inclusive, they just didn’t mention it. Sure, we could have asked when we visited, but there’s nothing more awkward than turning up at a new church with your noisy three year old who won’t attend the kids’ ministry because he doesn’t know anyone so you have to attempt to keep him quiet in a strange location with toys that are supposed to be quiet but a three year old can somehow turn a colouring book into the noisiest thing ever, oh and you missed the memo about the dress code so you’re all in jeans and look super out of place, plus you don’t know the format of the service or any of the standard prayers, THEN you go up the minister and say “Hey, nice service, what are your views on gay people?” Then repeat that scenario at the next church on your list. And the next. Looking for a new church is hard enough without having to quiz unknown pastors about their stance on LGBT+ people. And let’s be honest, some people won’t outright admit that they believe that being LGBT+ is sinful. They’ll talk around the subject and give you vague non-answers. So you might actually like the church and end up sticking around, only to be stunned six months later by a sermon on how marriage is absolutely, unequivocally, only between one man and one woman.

Now imagine that you’re not just someone who wants to support your LGBT+ friends, but someone is LGBT+. How much worse would it be to have attended a church for months or even years and suddenly discover that your church doesn’t affirm your sexuality and/or identity? Or to  not know if they’re affirming and feel like you have to hide this part of yourself in order to remain part of the church? No one should have to experience that. People should not be forced to hide a crucial part of who they are in order to participate in a church. It’s not healthy. 

If LGBT+ Christians want to attend churches that affirm their sexuality and gender identity, they should be able to find them. And know which churches to steer clear of.

Some people seem to have this idea that ChurchClarity has been created in order to draw attention to non-affirming churches so that they can be attacked and persecuted. Because it’s not like LGBT+ people are the ones constantly experiencing persecution? Like, can straight cisgender (and white, it’s generally white people who do this) Christians stop acting like they’re the ones under attack all the time? You’re really, really not. Donald Trumps is the President of the United States and his second in comand is Mike Freaking Pence and he’s made it very clear that he’s eager to strip rights off LGBT+ people, so yeah, the government is not going to crack down on non-affirming churches and strip them of their tax-exempt statuses. You guys have more support than ever before.

Stop making this into a conspiracy theory about how “Real Christians” are being attacked. This is a resource for LGBT+ people to find churches where they are safe to be themselves. Where their rights are supported and their marriages are recognised. Where they are able to participate in all facets of church life–Communion, Baptism, Church Membership. Where they can be pastors and worship leaders and utilise whatever skills they bring to their community. Where they are recognised as human beings with just as many rights as the the straight cisgender members of their church family. 

I keep seeing people arguing that it’s unfair for non-affirming churches to announce their views. That they don’t want to be seen as unwelcoming and bigoted. That they’ll look like the bad guys. Maybe…maybe people think you’re the bad guys because refusing to affirm someone’s sexuality or gender identity is just a really crappy thing to do? I say this as someone who used to be like that. I used to be one of those crappy people. I fully recognise that. I was highly homophobic and transphobic. I hurt a lot of people. It took me a long time to realise that my views were actually incredibly unkind and unloving. Despite all of my activism of late, I’m aware that I still have a lot of learning to do. 

Some women are attracted to other women. Some men are attracted to other men. Some people are attracted to people of some genders, or all genders. Some people aren’t attracted to anyone, or they aren’t interested in sexual or romantic relationships. Some people deeply feel that they are not the gender they were assigned at birth, and take steps to change this. Some people feel that their gender identity changes from day to day, that it’s fluid. There are so many different options along the spectrums of gender and sexuality, and I get it, it can be super overwhelming when you’ve been raised to believe that everyone is cisgender (a word I didn’t know existed until last year) and straight. But these people exist.  You probably know a whole bunch of them without even realising it. Because let’s be honest–if you’re not affirming of non-cisgender, non-straight people, people might not be entirely comfortable revealing their true selves to you.

This is why ChurchClarity is so entirely essential. People deserve to be able to express their true selves within their communities. And, dare I say it? Churches can not be true communities if they don’t allow people to express their full identities. And it’s clear from the many LGBT+ people who have spoken out in support of ChurchClarity that LGBT+ Christians want a resource like this that will enable them to find churches where they will be safe, supported, and affirmed.

It’s not divisive to ask churches to declare whether or not they are LGBT+ affirming. It’s helpful. If you can’t see how entirely necessary this project is, you’re probably unaffected by the kind of policies ChurchClarity is asking churches to disclose. Which means that this really isn’t your issue to shout about. Pipe down, and listen to the many, many people telling you why this is something they genuinely need. 

In the end, my family found a church that’s openly, actively and intentional supportive of the LGBT+ people. They have rainbow banners on the wall, are part of the Inclusive Church network, host an LGBT+ support group, and have their own booth at Pride. It’s really hard to miss their stance on the issue. I would have no qualms about inviting my LGBT+ friends along to this church, which was one of the things that mattered the most to us when finding a new community. I wish all churches were as open about their policies as this church. It would make life a lot easier for LGBT+ Christians and their allies. That’s literally all this is about–helping people find churches where they feel safe. How can you argue against that?

Stop Being Shocked, Start Being Enraged

Back in November, I got kind of obsessed with the repercussions of Trump being elected. The US election coincided with my toddler refusing to nap anywhere but on me, and I often found myself trapped underneath a 30lb kid, with nothing but my phone, scrolling endlessly through Twitter and reading articles on obscure websites by historians and journalists that the mainstream media had shunned. I read a lot about the ways in which a Trump presidency would lead to a rise in the legitimacy of white supremacy, but whenever I mentioned this to fellow Trump-haters, this view was seen as a little too ridiculous. Like, yeah, Trump is awful, but chill with the fascism rants, please. It’s a bit much.

Gradually, most people I knew began to think that the connection between Trump and the alt-right wasn’t utterly ludicrous, and we started debating whether or not it was okay to punch Nazis. Everyone is allowed to voice their opinion, right? And even with all of the flipping of tables, Jesus was nonviolent. I know you’re angry, but take less joy from seeing Richard Spencer being punched, really.

And now we have Charlottesville. White supremacists were given the right to have a freaking rally because, hey, free speech. We’ve got to the point when someone says “Huh, there’s a massive Nazi rally happening in Virginia” and I’m not shocked. None of us should be shocked. We know white supremacists still exist. They never went away. We probably know people who share their views–I know, I know, it’s horrible to consider, but it’s true. We like to “other” them and make them seem like some little fringe group, but there are a lot of them, and they’re incredibly mainstream. They’re holding a freaking march, without wearing masks. They’re not scared about being recognised. They’re proud to promote their beliefs.

We need to stop being shocked, and start being enraged, and start acting upon that rage. Sure, calm it enough to actually do something productive (punch a Nazi, rather than wasting your energy on a wall, etc) but stay angry enough to be motivated.

We’ve got past the point where anyone can conceivably suggest that we should just talk to white supremacists as if they’re rational human beings who might change their minds if we engage them in a debate. Like, really? They’re not advocating for more wind farms or higher bus fares, they literally think that people of other races are less equal. That they don’t deserve the same rights as us. That they don’t deserve to live. They’re advocating for freaking genocide. You don’t debate people like that. You don’t give them a voice and a platform and an opportunity for even more people to hear their ideas. You shut them down, and stop them from spreading actual hate speech.

You’re not going to change their minds by having a calm debate. Making them feel like equals, allowing them to have the opportunity to talk about the ideology they love so much, just gives them more legitimacy. We can’t educate kids about the Holocaust and talk about how we’re never going to let this happen again, and then let Nazis hold rallies. The whole “never again” slogan loses its meaning when we talk about the rights of fascists to put forth their ideas. We’re setting ourselves up for “again” to become a horrifying reality in the not too distant future.

I mean, if a group were speaking out about how terrible white people are, how they’re sub-human and should have less rights, how we should ship them all of to another country, would we really be having this conversation? If this were an anti-Christian rally, would it even have been allowed to even happen in the first place?

I get it, it’s hard to actually call these people fascists or white supremacists when they look like you, when they claim to share similar religious beliefs. Because then that makes you wonder just how similar you actually are, and if there are some problematic things that you believe too. You start to wonder just how complicit you or your political party or your faith has been in allowing this to happen. In allowing this movement to build momentum, to become legitimate enough to hold mass rallies, to literally mow someone down with a car and have it called a “tragic wreck” in the mainstream media.

It’s so much easier to say “This isn’t what our country/our faith stands for” and condemn it. It’s much harder to admit that, yeah, racial inequality has always been part of the history of your country, and Christianity played a big part in legitimising that inequality. The Bible has been used to justify slavery, the idea that women are the “weaker vessel”, and the discrimination of LGBT+ people. It’s been used to hurt a lot of people. We can’t ignore this.

Any time we say “This isn’t us”, we’re complicit. Any time we refuse to acknowledge the racism deep in our heritage and faith, we’re complicit. Any time we suggest engage literal Nazis in dialogue, we’re complicit. Any time we suggest allowing them the right to free speech and hold rallies, we’re complicit. Any time we equate fascists and those fighting them, we’re complicit. Any time we dismiss Nazis as a little fringe group that just needs to be ignored, we’re complicit. Any time we pretend that this is a US problem and it doesn’t matter in our country, we’re complicit. Any time we act like there can’t be white supremacists in our families, our streets, our workplaces, our churches, we’re complicit. Any time we don’t call someone out on a racist joke, we’re complicit. Any time we insist that nonviolence is the only acceptable way to deal with this issue, we’re complicit.

We can’t pretend this isn’t a big damn problem any longer. These fascists didn’t just pop out of nowhere this weekend. They’ve always existed. They feel safe enough to walk in public, faces uncovered, because of all of this talk about free speech and engaging in dialogue. They’ve been feeling safe for quite a while, to be honest. People were reporting on the hatred growing at Trump rallies, of the white supremacists who attended these meetings, and we dismissed their concerns. And then people freaking voted for Trump because, hey, he was the pro-life option, right? Whenever I called people out for voting for a massive racist, I was told he was the lesser of two evils. I mean, like, yeah, he’s empowering fascists, but AT LEAST HE DOESN’T KILL BABIES.

I need a freaking drink.

You cannot defend your decision to vote for Trump any longer. Wrap it up in a neat little bow and explain why he’s not that bad, why he’s pro-life, why he represents Christian values, or whatever other crap. You can even throw “It’s about economics!” in there, whatever the freaking heck that means. You can’t take back what you did. You freaking did it. You empowered white supremacists because you couldn’t bare to vote for someone who was pro-choice.

Well, I’m your friendly pro-choice pro-anarchy pro-punching-nazis Christian, and I’m here to tell you what you can do to improve things now that you’ve realised that you’ve enabled fascists to feel safe enough to murder and beat people.

  • Freaking call people out when they say racist stuff. Just do it. Colleague tells a racist joke? Shut it down. Report them if you have to. Grumpy old relative? Shut it down. Let them know that they can’t speak that way in your presence, in your home, in front of your kids. (Obviously not if your racist relatives are also abusive).
  • Is your church not talking about white supremacy? Call them out. Why the heck aren’t they? Nag them until something happens. Hold them accountable.
  • What are the hiring guidelines for your workplace or school? Is one of them “Don’t hire actual Nazis”? No? Argue until it is.
  • Support organisations who actively fight white supremacy and aid minorities. Here are some in Charlottesville. There will be some near you. Find them. If you can’t volunteer, donate. If you can’t donate, tell people about them. Make sure other people know they exist.
  • Is someone proposing something like this in your area? Lobby for the event to be cancelled. If that fails, show up in counter-protest.
  • Tear down fascist stickers from lampposts and bus shelters. They’re there. You’re just not seeing them. Look for them.
  • Talk to your kids about racism. The whole “kids don’t see race” thing is a load of rubbish. Of course they notice differences in appearance.
  • Talk to people who aren’t fascists. The kind of people who are still arguing that fascists have free speech and crap like that. Point out how utterly ludicrous those suggestions are. Remind them about Hitler and the Holocaust. A lot of people seem to be missing the similarities, so maybe they just need reminding. I don’t know. I’m not sure how people can’t see it? But it’s worth a try. Be that boring person who won’t shut up about fascism.
  • If all else fails, just rant on the internet, because maybe you have a relative or colleague or old school friend who somehow hasn’t heard about all of this stuff, and maybe you’ll encourage/inspire/enrage them to do something useful. Who knows?
  • Just make it clear that white supremacy is not okay. Anyone supporting it or encouraging it? Also not okay. So, yeah, probably denounce Trump, if you’re American? I don’t know, write to people, turn up at the White House and refuse to leave until he’s impeached.
  • Deconstruct the oppressive capitalist patriarchy that allows this kind of stuff to fester.

Just stop normalising white supremacy. Stop being polite to Nazis. Stop being shocked, start being enraged enough to fight this. Stop apologising for your privilege and start using it. Stop pretending you weren’t complicit and just do this.

I could edit this to make it more polite and less angry, but I’m done censoring myself so white Evangelicals aren’t offended by the suggestion that they elected a fascist. I get it, you preferred it when I was the sweet SAHM who blogged about Amish romance novels and posted recipes and pictures of my kid. I’m still that person, just with bonus rage about the normalisation of white supremacy. I’m not sorry if it makes you uncomfortable, or challenges your worldview or voting choices. That’s kind of the point.

Writing About Faith Without Actually Saying What I Believe

The other day, someone I’ve met all of twice asked me a very specific question about my faith on a mutual friend’s Facebook page, and I was amazed that I was actually able to write a somewhat coherent answer. But I know the answer I gave would not have satisfied a lot of Christians, because what I wrote was basically just, “Actually, I don’t know what I think about that. I used to think X, but now I have my doubts. My views might change, but for now I’m honestly not sure.” It was surprisingly freeing to actually be able to just say “I don’t know”, but for the longest part of my life, I thought that not having a concrete answer to trot out when someone asked my opinion on something faith-related was, well, a failure of my faith.

It’s called Apologetics, and it’s an branch of Christian theology that many people—especially those in their 20s and 30s—will be familiar with. As a child and a teenager, I wasn’t very good at memorising Bible verses, but I could repeat the arguments for what Christians believed on X, Y and Z. I guess they were my opinions, but now that I’m questioning, well, everything, I can’t tell if I really ever formed an opinion or if I just parroted stuff. I do remember feeling incredibly conflicted because I just didn’t care about the issue of evolution. I was never one of those kids who was particularly into science, so I hadn’t learned a lot about evolution. I know it was a contentious issue, but I didn’t care enough to research it and form an opinion. Maybe it was real, maybe it wasn’t, but did I really have to have an opinion on it? Multiple people told me I did. I needed to have a defence in case a non-Christian questioned me about it. It would be a sign of weak faith to not have an answer prepared.

I call bullshit.

* * *

These days, I don’t do apologetics. Well, I do apologise for a lot of aspects of Christianity. I apologise for purity culture and climate change deniers and Donald Trump and a whole bunch of other stuff. Name a crappy thing, and people claiming to share my faith were probably involved. But I no longer have a defence prepared for every question I receive about my faith. Sometimes I’m not even sure what I believe, aside from “Jesus is pretty rad”. (I wrote this without even thinking about “rad” being short for radical and thus implying that Jesus is an anarchist, but hey, it works). And since becoming less certain about my faith, I’ve actually had some of the best, most open conversations about religion. People are way more interested in talking to you when you admit that you don’t have definitive answers about things, that you’re still figuring things out, and that you’re aware that some pretty awful stuff has been done under the banner of your religion.

For the longest time, I actively avoided discussing my criticisms of Christianity with one of my best friends, because you’re not supposed to talk about things like that in case it “puts people off” your faith. Then I had an all-out crisis and realised this wasn’t something I could hide from them, and it all spilled out, and it was absolutely fine. More than fine, in fact. I’d been hiding my uncertainties because you’re only supposed to talk about your faith when you can defend it with concrete statements, when actually my uncertainties where what made me human and relatable and someone worthy of having a friendship with. We’ve had some fantastic conversations about what my faith means to me, how it’s changed, and what I’m looking for in a faith community. The friend I thought I shouldn’t talk to about these things has been one of my biggest supporters during my faith deconstruction. We’ve even visited a church together. I guess technically this is unintentional evangelism? I don’t really do evangelism—in fact, this started out as a post about my issues with the way most Christians approach evangelism, but it went off in an entirely different direction, so this is something I’m going to write about another day. Maybe. Possibly.

* * *

There’s a lot of vulnerability in being uncertain, and being open and honest about how little you actually know about something so huge as faith and religion and the existence of God. And the people who can be the most harsh about uncertainty are often those who are supposed to be part of your faith community. While I do write publicly about a lot of aspects of my faith, there are some things I’ve only revealed in in-person, in private Facebook groups, on websites where few people from “real life” know my username, on discussions on a friend’s profile where we don’t have enough mutuals for the news of my heresy to spread, because I’m not sure if I’m ready for the potential backlash. Admitting that you’ve changed your mind about crucial aspects of your faith, that you’re no longer certain what you believe, that you’re now critical of things that were once major parts of your belief system, can be terrifying.

This uncertainty has led to many fantastic conversations with fellow Christians who are also revisiting and questioning their beliefs. I’ve had people I don’t know all that well contact me specifically to discuss something I’ve hinted at in a more public forum, because they’re relieved that someone else is also reconsidering these aspects of their faith. It’s opened up conversations with non-Christians who are intrigued and obviously find me non-threatening and reasonable enough to converse with—which probably wouldn’t be how I’d describe myself ten or even five years ago. My uncertainties have put me in a position where I’m thinking about and talking about my faith a whole lot more.

It’s no longer something concrete, something fixed, something that I can take for granted. It’s constantly evolving and changing, and sometimes I wish it would just settle in one place and life could go back to normal. But I know it’s not going to do that. Once you open up the door to rethinking something that’s always been part of you, it’s impossible to shut it. It’s so much a part of me that I can’t just discard it, but I need to reconcile it with what I used to believe, and what I’m now feeling pulled towards. I need to figure out how I’m going to move forward with this part of me.

* * *

I recently read an essay by Rebecca Solnit that described despair as being a form of certainty, while uncertainty is a ground for hope. This explanation has stuck with me. Back in November, I definitely found myself dwelling in despair. The religion that I’d aligned myself with for my entire life had been responsible for something that caused a lot of people—myself included—to fall into despair. I know at least one friend who abandoned their faith altogether—despite the fact that they had degrees and qualifications in theology and had been working in the same industry as me for far longer. It was the breaking point for them, but not quite for me.

I pulled myself out of my despair by turning it into anger, latching on to the resistance movement, and eventually landing in anarchism. I found hope in something entirely unexpected, something I felt very uncertain about aligning myself with, but it was the only thing that made sense. These people were pissed off, but not despairing. And unlike a lot of Christians, they weren’t spouting platitudes about praying for change and then returning to their normal lives—they were doing stuff. Trying to change things—and not just small things. They weren’t willing to settle for this crappy nightmare world.

I’ve found hope in fighting for change, and surrounding myself with people who are doing stuff when I’m too limited by the whole parent thing to be more active and involved. I’ve stopped feeling guilty about what I can’t do, and I’m committed to supporting and lifting up those who are actually manage to make some progress. To holding each other accountable, to reminding each other why we’re part of this in the first place. To not despair.

* * *

I’m still a bit uncertain about the labels I put upon myself. I haven’t yet taken “Accidental” out from in front of “Anarchist” in my social media bios because, well, I am here kind of accidentally. Sometimes I call myself a Christo-Anarchist rather than just a Christian because I’m incredibly aware of how much my faith has shifted in the last year, and I have doubts about whether I can use the label on its own anymore. I know a lot of people wouldn’t consider my faith to be truly Christian. I mean, I think LGBT+ people are human beings deserving of equal rights, so that’s enough to make some people write me off altogether and condemn me to hell. (Sadly, this isn’t an exaggeration).

I jokingly referred to myself as a Christo-Anarcha-Feminist the other day, but I think it works. All of those labels intermingle pretty well. Patriarchy is a system of oppression, so anarchists should advocate for its destruction, thus all feminists are basically anarchists. And since I’ve already made the argument for Christianity as Anarchism, we might as well make it Anarcha-Feminism. I should really devote an entire article to this rather than an overly simplistic paragraph, but yeah, why shouldn’t God be powerful enough to triumph over capitalism and patriarchy? If we’re really free, why should we suffer under such man-made oppression? Thus: Christo-Anarcha-Feminism.

Sometimes labels are limiting, but right now I’m finding it liberating to realise that I don’t have to be confined to one label or one belief system. I can be anti-patriarchy, anti-capitalism, and pro-Jesus. I can call myself a Christian even if I’m not certain about everything, I can call myself an anarchist when I’ve only known that the word means for less than a year, and I can call myself a feminist even if I took my husband’s name when I got married. I can mesh them all together and make a ridiculous label that most people in my life won’t understand, because it helps me anchor myself, and reminds me that I do have a lot of things that I believe in, even if I have many more that I’m not at all sure about.

* * *

I’ve got to the end of this post without explaining what I believe, and I’m okay with that. I’m still figuring that out, and I don’t need to defend my beliefs in order to call myself a Christian or an Anarchist or a Feminist. I’m at a stage where I’m becoming more comfortable with the idea that I may never again have concrete beliefs that I can explain in a succinct statement, because I’m constantly learning, constantly evolving, constantly admitting that I might have got something wrong. Where there was once arrogance and certainty, there’s now vulnerability and uncertainty, and it makes for much stronger friendships and deeper conversations, for which I’m immensely grateful. I’m glad I’ve found my way here, to this place of uncertainty and hope. I’ve never been more uncomfortable, or more free.

Sometimes Motherhood is My Act of Resistance

Back in May, I wrote about needing to do something outside of caring for a small child. When I get the chance, I write, I read, I attend protests and activist meetings, I make art, I dress up like a thirteen year old goth and go to the pub with friends and talk about something, anything other than-child-rearing. But sometimes I just…don’t. Sometimes it’s been me and my kid for twelve hours straight, and once I’ve finally got him to sleep, I just don’t have the energy to do anything besides watch somewhat problematic TV shows on Netflix. Or it’s the summer holidays and our routine has changed because playgroup isn’t running, and I suddenly have much less childfree time, and I find myself just doing puzzles and drawing chalk rainbows all day.

Sometimes I don’t talk to another adult besides my husband and the postman for twenty-four hours straight (well, in person—I’d go truly crazy without keeping up a constant stream of conversation with various friends via social media, thank you, you guys are wonderful) and it feels like I’m wasting my time, staying at home with the occasional trip to the park or the library. Sure, sometimes I write while my kid watches My Neighbour Totoro for the thirtieth time, but it’s a distracted kind of writing that’s only really good for rough first drafts. My dreams of writing while he played have never really come to fruition, because if I’m home, he wants to play with me. And, hey, sometimes it is kind of awesome being the most demanded person in a preschooler’s life. I’m basically a rockstar.

The other week, I met a friend and her partner for drinks at ten o’clock at night, which is utterly insane as we are all parents and don’t get enough sleep as it is. It was a Friday night and my friend shouted “I’m taking you to the punk pub!” and we had four drinks each and…inevitably ended up talking about parenting, like we always do. We try not to just babble about our kids when we get together, but some there are some topics I actually like to discuss—like how freaking terrifying it is raising a child in this world.

I follow a number of social media accounts about gender-neutral parenting, including ones that call out corporations for unnecessarily gendered children’s toys and clothing. Sometimes it feels a bit pointless to be complaining that I have to go into the girl’s section to buy my son My Little Pony pyjamas when, you know, fascism is on the rise and rape culture permeates every aspect of society. Is it really that big of a deal if kids clothing is split into gendered sections in my local supermarket when there are literally Nazis in power in western governments? I mean, sure, rant about patriarchy and gentrification and colonization and capitalism, but gendered pyjamas for three year olds? Is it worth making a fuss over?

But, as my friend pointed out that night in the punk pub when we were being super boring, super tipsy, super ranty parents: it is far more radical to dress your son in a flowery shirt from the girls’ section, than it is to dress your daughter in a robot one from the boys’ aisle. It’s downright progressive to put girls in boys’ clothing, to teach them to punch back, to encourage them to be interested in science. But to let your son wear a dress or even just a shirt with frills or flowers, to teach him that it’s okay—nay, good—to cry when he’s sad, to entertain an interest in sewing or baking or childcare? Eh. People balk at many of these ideas, especially when your kid isn’t a toddler anymore. They’re going to go to school soon, and what will the other kids think? What if they make fun of him? Some of these things are acceptable to some level—sure, he can wear pink, but not with lace!—and others are justified with a lot of safe, heteronormative assumptions—of course he can play with dolls, he’ll probably get married and have babies of his own someday. Not, you know, maybe just be interested in becoming a nanny or teacher or children’s nurse, in making a career out of being nurturing.

My son started playgroup in January—a co-operative parent-run playgroup, but a bit jump from being at home with me or a babysitter at all times—and I was worried that someone would finally burst the liberal hippy bubble that we’ve raised him in, and crush his little pink-and-pony-loving spirit. He just finished his first term, and I think we might make it beyond his third birthday before someone tells him that pink is a girl’s colour or that boys can’t play with dolls. I’m hoping we make it long enough that, instead of being upset, he just tells the other kid (or parent or teacher or whoever takes it upon themselves to impose some arbitrary rules of gender on my kid) that they’re wrong, that pink and dolls are for everyone.

There’s this idea that raising your child gender-neutral will utterly collapse as soon as they enter mainstream society, but I’m not sure if it’s true. My aim isn’t to keep my kid in a bubble so he never experiences societal norms of gender, but to provide him with the opportunity to figure out what he likes before anyone attempts to force those norms upon him, and give him the confidence to defend his choices, and challenge the assumption that boys are X and boys are Y.

At the moment, this consists of taking him into both the boys’ and girls’ aisles of stores to let him choose his own clothes, not telling him that there is such a thing as girls’ and boys’ clothing, making sure he has a variety of toys to play with, providing him with a range of male and female protagonists in the books he reads and films he watches, attempting to provide him with male and female playmates. We’ve unintentionally surrounded him with non gender-conforming role models: men with long hair, women with short hair, men who wear jewellery, women with tattoos, men who babysit, women who run businesses, men who cook, women who are doctors. The other day my son wanted to wear a necklace, so I found an old one I don’t wear any longer, and he pulled it over his head asking “This dada’s when he little?” because it made perfect sense to him that his father could have owned a necklace that most adults would have described as feminine.

I’ve heard children described as sponges, and I guess I’m trying to make sure my son soaks up as many positive concepts as he can before he’s properly submerged into the mainstream world and has all of our hippy ideals challenged. We check books out of the library about children from other cultures, we talk to him about how his great-grandfather’s family came from India, we take him to protests about injustice and explain in basic terms that sometimes the people in charge are mean to people just because they’re different, we participate in the “Rainbow Day” parade and discuss how love is for everyone, and I don’t particularly remember bringing up environmentalism but he’s developed a distinct passion for protecting trees, so we’ve got that covered too.

He knows that Dada works in an office writing computer programs, and Mama works at home and in cafes and libraries and supermarkets doing “emails and writing”. I have wonderful friends who make sure that he knows that Mama works too, because it could be awfully easy for him to not realise that I work, since sometimes I’m only out of his sight for a couple of hours every week while Dada works 40-hour weeks away from the house. I’m grateful to the friends who come to my house and watch my child, who proof-read my novels and remind me that I’m a real writer, even if I’m not published yet. But I’m also thankful to these same friends for supporting our parenting choices, for being the fantastic role models my son sees on a regular basis, for reinforcing the ideas we want to raise him with and counteracting any negative remarks he may hear.

The same friends who enable me to write also help me to raise my son to be a force for change, to resist societal norms. Right now, all he’s doing is choosing a lacy shirt from the girls’ section in the supermarket and being carried in his mother’s at a protest, but we’re planting the seeds of resistance. This is his normal. To him, discriminating against someone based on their race or gender doesn’t make sense. Colours are for everyone, love is for everyone, and we’re not mean to people just because they’re different from us. We look after the world around us, we fight for the rights of others, and we celebrate the things that are important to them, because that makes them important to us. Sometimes the people in charge do things that aren’t right, and it’s okay to challenge that. If we can help—if we can give money, or time, or belongings—then we do it.

I never have loose change anymore because one day my son saw me giving a coin to a busker in the park, and now that’s what he wants to do whenever pass a musician or someone sitting on the ground with a hat in front of them. This is his normal: we have more money than we need, so we give it to those who do.

At the end of last year I was feeling really convicted about my privilege, and frustrated that I had so little time to do anything with it. I had things I was passionate about changing, and knew of groups and organisations meeting to affect those changes, but I couldn’t go, because I had a young child who I couldn’t leave for more than a few hours, especially in the evening. I could pay a sitter to watch him, but would that be the best use of my money? Should I just donate it instead? Besides, most of my sitters are passionate at the same issues as myself, so I’d just be preventing them from attending the same events I was interested in.

I’m slowly getting more involved in local groups, but when I’m stuck at home, I talk about the things I’m passionate about to my captive audience. Obviously, I don’t discuss the intimate details of police brutality and sexual assault with my three year olds, but we talk about the things we come across in our daily lives. Sometimes resistance is just telling Peppa Pig that she’s silly, that of course boys and girls can play together. Sometimes I have no idea what I’m doing and wonder that I’m screwing up my kid for life, but yesterday he was wearing fire engine leggings with a pink lacy top while shouting “Not cut down trees!” at someone pruning a hedge, so I figure we’re probably doing okay so far. If his actions and appearance would terrify a right-wing conservative, it’s all good.

I didn’t make it to the activist meeting tonight, I spent too much money at a massive capitalist coffee chain because I’d been up since 4:30 and was in dire need of caffeine and I hate dragging the stroller into tiny independent shops full of childless hipsters, who don’t want their ambience disturbed, and I’ve not finished reading an actual full-length book in weeks. But I’m not failing. I’m resisting every day, and I need to remember this. Motherhood is resistance. Parenting is resistance. Caring for children—related to you or not—in an intentional, thoughtful way is resistance. Let’s raise wonderful human beings, tiny activists who love hard and challenge societal norms, even if all they’re doing right now is wearing clothing from the “wrong” section of the store. It might feel exhausting and sometimes futile, but it will be worth it in the end.