Monthly Archives: August 2013

Adventures in Therapy: A Relatively Incoherent Update

“Good lord.  Did I really just weigh my comfort and safety against how good a beer special is?  What the fuck else is wrong with me?!?”

That’s how this all started and, my friends, it has been a bumpy ride.  I am not alright and I find humor and happiness where I can.  I will be alright though, and that’s what matters.

This whole thing has really dredged up some nastiness from deep inside of me and has set off some gladiator style contests between okayness and AHHHHHHHHHHH in the arena that is my brain.  Except it’s not really Russell Crowe style gladiator stuff, but more like American Gladiator with Hulk Hogan as the host.  Instead of lions and cool helmets, there’s a lot of kind of hilarious stunts involving bungee cords and human sized hamster balls and, of course, a bunch of beefed up gladiators with stupid names trying to push me into a pit or something.  We’ll call them Insecurity, Anger, Fear, and…Nitro.

Ok, I don’t know how far I can really take this particular metaphor, but it amuses me greatly and IT SHOULD AMUSE YOU AS WELL, DAMN IT.  Really, it’s that I like the idea of my mental health being a show hosted by Hulk Hogan.

Hulk Hogan: Well, Brother, you took a pretty big fall off of that skybike.  You only managed to get 3 foam balls into the basket!

Me: Heh, yeah, it’s a pretty tough course. *pant pant* Insecurity really got in my way.

Hulk Hogan: Yeah, I know, Brother.  Insecurity is one tough mofo.  But you fought hard.  That’s something to be proud of.

Me: Yeah.  Yeah, I guess.

Hulk Hogan: YEAH! *rips shirt in half and throws a chair at the audience*

hulk hogan

So yeah, I’ve been having a tough and somewhat unpredictable time emotionally and at this point I feel depleted and ill and weak.  I’ve been eating really healthy and drinking a lot of water, so I’m doing what I can, but trauma and horse shit take a toll on you.

I started with a new therapist this week and I am looking forward to working with her.  She is a trauma specialist and diagnosed me with PTSD.  We will be doing EMDR therapy and brain spotting.  Look it up.  I don’t really understand yet what we’re going to be doing but it sounds like actual treatment and I hope it’s not bullshit.

I have been describing my current struggles as the Boss Fight of my mental health issues.  I feel like I have dug down to the source of pretty much all my firmly entrenched issues.  As such, my brain is doubling down and torturing me in an effort to save its idiotic and wrong beliefs about why people love me and my worth as a human being.  But thanks to all the work I have done over the last several years, I am finally willing and able to face these things and I am surrounded by a support system of people who will act as healers and melee attackers.

Yes, I have switched my brain metaphor from American Gladiators to Final Fantasy.  Deal with it.

Today the win is that I dragged my ass out of bed, got dressed and didn’t stop at Dunkin’ Donuts for 2 donuts and an iced coffee, and arrived at work on time.  This is how we have to look at things when we are struggling.  Take the wins where you can find them and don’t dwell on the failures.  Crying at my desk is a thing that happens.  Getting Vanilla Ice songs stuck in my head is another thing that happens, apparently, on days like these.

So yes, this is just an update for those of you following my story.  I hope to be more coherent in the coming weeks as the therapy takes shape and effect.  I should understand more about what these particular methods are and how they work and I am hoping beyond all hope that I start to really release the hold I have on myself.  It is time to really start living.

No take-backsies.

Can We Please Stop Using “Mens Rights Activist” as an Insult?

So, stop me if you’ve heard this one. Someone (usually a woman) makes a Facebook update, blog post, or forum comment discussing an idea which has something to do with feminism. Next, some Privileged Man make one of the many typical derailing comments in response. The Privileged Man is then derided and dismissed as a mens’ rights activist, or “MRA.”

The mens’ rights movement is a social movement seemingly committed to little more than denying male privilege and opposing feminism. The movement is basically a wasteland of straw men and privilege blinders.

ImageSo what’s the problem? It’s the “A” part of MRA. Being a supporter of the mens’ rights movement is shameful, but it doesn’t make you an activist. Activism is a title that is earned through hard work, commitment to a cause, and passion. “Activist” is not an insult. It’s a term of respect. Activism is something I admire. Making privileged comments online is not. It takes a lot more than that to be an activist.

Faith, not Religion, is the Problem

Have you seen this video?

It’s a poem called “Why I Hate Religion, but Love Jesus.” It points out a lot of the hypocrisy that pervades organized Christianity and concludes that faith in Christ is the way to salvation. No religion necessary. You may have heard it expressed as “I’m not religious, I just have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ,” or its shorter, less defined version – “spiritual, but not religious.”

This is not a new idea. It’s very common in liberal circles, and I can see the appeal. It’s not the bible that causes the oppression of women and gays, restricts abortion, dominates our politics, and generally makes people miserable. It’s religion that does those things. Free from the organization and power structure of Big Church, people are free to develop their own spirituality and channel it into inclusive and positive avenues. Without the dogma and evangelism of traditional religion, all of the problems associated with religion can be solved.

…or so the thinking goes. But this overlooks the biggest problem (and quite possibly my only problem) with religion: faith. By faith, I’m using the second definition here – that is, “belief that is not based on proof.” Faith, in this sense, is what people use as an alternative to reason.

Faith is the real problem. All of the problems with religion are due to the fact that religions promote faith and suppress reason. Dogma is merely a suppression of reason. Bigotry thrives on a lack of rational thinking. Conservative politics rely on people voting against their self interest. All of these issues could be solved by reasonable thinking.

The religious are often quick to point out that the worst leaders of the 20th century – Hitler, Pol Pot, Mussolini, Mao Zedong, Stalin, etc. – were all atheists, and established atheistic societies. While some of these claims are doubtful, the idea is largely irrelevant anyway. Even if these leaders established atheistic societies, the societies in question looked awfully theistic in terms of encouraging faith. Except that instead of worshiping a god, they worshiped a charismatic leader. The belief systems of these societies were just as faith-based (if not moreso) than a religion. Like Sam Harris says, “no society in human history ever suffered because its people became too desirous of evidence in support of their core beliefs.” The problem isn’t religion – it’s faith.

This is the reason why I often feel like I have more in common with fundamentalists than I do with moderate believers. In my experience, fundamentalists tend to care deeply that their beliefs are true. While fundamentalists have faith, it often seems that their beliefs take less faith than those of religious moderates. Fundamentalists have faith in a book, faith in a leader, or faith in their parents. Many fundamentalists are very rational, once you recognize their assumptions. Moderates tend to make up their own religion, which means that each belief is its own separate article of faith. I actually find myself in agreement with Mike Tudoreaunu (arguing in favor of organized religion),  when he says:

[n]ow let me be absolutely clear: abandoning organized religion to embrace an ill-defined “spirituality” is a rejection of logic and reason, not an affirmation of it.

The other thing to remember is that not all religions involve faith. Several forms of Judaism are only concerned with ritual and tradition, with no false beliefs. Certain forms of Buddhism are about practices and lifestyle rather than an actual belief system. Unitarianism can basically be anything, including merely a community.

Skeptics are now forming communities that resemble religions in several respects. Some skeptics have an issue with this, as anything resembling religion is generally mistrusted. It’s a good impulse, but I think it’s misguided in this sense. It’s not organization that we need to be avoiding – it’s faith. So long as these organizations aren’t promoting dogma or authority (and to my knowledge, they are not), there is no problem.

This is why I think my identity as a skeptic is more important than my identity as an atheist. Atheism is just one byproduct of skepticism. Polyamory (for the right people) is another. Ditto for feminism, humanism, and left-wing politics. Skepticism informs my entire worldview, not just my views on religion. Skepticism is much bigger than that.

Opposing religion is a worthwhile endeavor, but religion is only one way in which faith-based thinking infects our societies. It’s important to remember that.

The Other Reason Why Your Beliefs Affect Me

Earlier this week, I wrote a post regarding some of the reasons why even “harmless” religious beliefs affect nonbelievers. The basic idea was because being an atheist is considered weird and being religious is considered normal, all non-private expressions of faith reinforce the status quo, which is bad for atheists (like me).

I think those are good, real, concrete reasons why even moderate, non-hateful, non-proselytizing religion is bad for atheists and bad for society, but it’s not the whole story, as far as I am concerned. The other reason that I am bothered by so-called “harmless” religious beliefs is that I have a strong emotional reaction to bad ideas.

Emotionally, I am usually rather stoic in the face of suffering. While I am affected by injustice and pain inflicted on others, I am generally able to look at it in a relatively detached manner. Peta commercials don’t stir my heartstrings. Photos of starving children don’t send me running to my computer to donate. I can usually discuss any topic, even topics that are of personal importance to me, in a dispassionate manner. I can watch a loved one cry and still think clearly about how to solve whatever problem is inspiring the tears.

I consider this a weakness. Part of being a good person, to me, is caring about things that do not affect you directly. I struggle with this. I often see people that I respect fly into righteous fury over injustices suffered by people that they have never met. I see people I love feel deep compassion for total strangers. I see people of very little means give all that they can because Some Things Are That Important. I do not do any of these things, and it often causes me, much to my shame, to doubt whether I truly care about anyone but myself.

That being said, there is one area where I become passionate about injustice that has little effect on me directly. I am very strongly emotionally affected by the existence of bad ideas. By “bad ideas,” I am referring specifically to false beliefs held by a person who does not care (or cares very little) whether such beliefs are true. The reasons why this affects me so much are not terribly important, and I’m not even sure I know what they are. Bad ideas, like injustice, like poverty, like bigotry, are all around us and will never go away. My reaction to them is just as irrational as the most bloody of bleeding hearts’ reactions to war, police brutality, or the death of Jerry Garcia. I know this. 

But I treasure my reaction. When I experience it, I am reminded that there are things outside of myself that I care about. That my life is not limited merely to a selfish, egocentric existence.* I love this about myself, and I would never change it, regardless of the pain it causes me.

When people ask me “why do my beliefs matter to you?” I will probably direct them to my other post, because what I’ve said there is true, and is a very big part of why I struggle against religion and other forces of unreason. But if you’re reading this, then you know that there is more to it than that, and I hope that you will not hold it against me.



*metaphysically, I belief that all consciousness is entirely selfish, but in a way that is irrelevant to what I am discussing here.

Now for Something Completely Different

When I am having a tough day emotionally, I try to do something nice for myself at lunch.  Because I work in a relatively boring area, the options of what I can do at lunch are relatively limited.  It usually means getting some kind of food that is bad for me and wandering around a big box store.

So today was a trip to Taco Bell followed by a wander around the neighboring Target.

I know, I know, you’re all sitting there wishing you were me right now. “She got to get Grade F quality Mexican food AND walk around Target?!? What have I been doing with my life?”

Well, I don’t know fictional reader, but maybe it’s time to start reevaluating your priorities.

So, yes, I went to Taco Bell and ate something that I found absolutely delicious, all the while amusing myself watching the workers apply the sour cream to people’s meals with a restaurant grade caulking gun.  The important ridiculousness to note here is that I already had to start my personal self improvement project.  The place was relatively empty.  The only tables taken were the booths.  So when I got my food, I had the pick of the free standing tables around.  There were two top tables and four top tables.   So I thought, “OK, well, there’s only one of me, so I should take a two top table in case a bunch of theoretical larger parties come in.  I don’t want to be that jerk who is taking up four seats when there’s only one of me!”

Yes, I said this to myself and actually sat down at the tiny two top table and was uncomfortable, having nowhere to actually put anything.  And then I noticed that I had done that, got annoyed at myself and thought, “Jesus Christ, who are these people you are sacrificing for, you jackass?  There’s no one here! IF THEY WANTED A BIGGER TABLE THEY SHOULD’VE GOTTEN HERE EARLIER.  Why on Earth are you evening thinking about this? MOVE.”  So I did.  Happy, Me?

Then I walked outside and it was raining, so,  like a proper suburbanite, I drove over to Target. While I would usually walk, I figured walking around a parking lot in the pouring rain was just setting myself up to be in my own melodramatic music video, with my face all wet.  “Is the the rain, or TEARS?!?  This video is so moving!” -said no one.  So yeah, I drove.  So sue me.

Don’t actually.  What are you, some kind of asshole?  Don’t answer that.

Full disclosure, I went in there with the main purpose of buying some sort of gummy candy.  I love gummy candy, especially gummy candy filled with stuff.  I decided that fine, I might have uncovered some sort of awful truth about my own sense of self-worth and motivations for all things in my life, but that doesn’t mean I can’t still enjoy a god damn juice-filled gummy bear.  I did allow for the possibility that something brightly colored and plastic would catch my eye and I might want to buy it because why the hell not.  Target specializes in brightly colored plastic crap, so why don’t I just amend my reason for going to “I wanted gummy bears and brightly colored plastic impulse buys.”  FINE.

I found my gummy bears and then started to wander through the kitchen section whereupon I saw these magnets for sale:

periodic magnets


That’s right, people! PERIODIC TABLE REFRIGERATOR MAGNETS!  It’s like Target KNEW I was depressed and asked their cheap plastic crap supplier to make these just for me AT A DISCOUNT!  The set only cost $2.84.  WHAT A BARGAIN!

So, since my gummy bears were only a buck I figured I must have them for my desk at work.  I grabbed a set without looking at it very closely and went my merry way.

I got back to work and took a closer look at my magnets and what I saw upon second inspection was several hilarious inaccuracies that made me laugh out loud, making Target the hero of the hour in my quest to not be quite so pissed off today.

So, for my science loving readers, I give you the following:

1. The magnets have element letters on them so that you can spell things, apparently.  They also list the name and the atomic number.  Notice that the first element is D, for Dabnium, atomic number 153.

So…there’s no element D.  I have a periodic table above my computer monitor and I see no D.  There is Db, which stands for DUbnium.  Not Dabnium.  Also, according to my outdated Periodic Table, there are only 112 elements.  Now there might be a few more by now, but certainly not over 150.  So…everything about this is made up and it’s awesome.  They just really wanted a D to spell Drink apparently.

2. Next to the first D, there is element R.  Under the R they say that it is Radon, atomic number 154.

Well, the first problem is that Radon is NOT made up, but it has the symbol Rn and is atomic number 86.  Why would they even do that?  Don’t they know only nerds buy this crap?  Hmm, more likely they are marketing to parents who hope their kids will be nerds.

3. Finally, there is element T, Theorem, atomic number 151.  WUT? This is not an element. Obviously.

So yeah, I laughed and then showed my dork boss because I knew he’d appreciate it, which he did, because NERD POWER.  Best 284 cents I’ve ever spent. *snort*

Perhaps the problem lies with me.  Maybe if I didn’t have a periodic table in front of my face all day long I wouldn’t have thought these dubious.  Why can’t I just be content to live in ignorance while licking a nice frozen Theorem-sicle?

Anyway, thanks Target.  It’s good to know you’ve always got my back.

Well, What Do I Do Now?

You know, self-introspection is great any everything, but sometimes I wish I would give myself a god damned break already.  Every week I keep having revelations about what’s wrong with me and my list keeps getting longer and longer.  Further, I keep digging deeper and deeper, chiseling away at the superficial issues always managing to find the more underlying ones…the ones that dictate everything I do and cause me the most pain and stress.  They are buried and excavating them results in anger and sadness equivalent to unearthing a mummy with a nasty curse attached to it.

My present conscious brain is a lot like that rich asshole who bankrolls the expedition.  The local guide that she paid next to nothing to get her and flunkies to the pyramid warns of the curse and she’s all, “Curse, shmurse.  I’ll worry about the curse AFTER I pry off these rubies from the sarcophagus.”   And then there are locusts…or something.

I’m trying here, people.  I think I can still be funny sometimes, but fuck if I can muster it much at the moment.  What I’m saying here is that I’m really angry.  I don’t know how to deal with anger. I don’t really get angry about things.  I get sad.  I get anxious.  I feel guilt and all that.  I don’t get mad.  And more to the point, the person I am angriest with is myself.

In our last episode of “Gina Thinks About Things that Have Happened and Cries About Them at Her Desk,” we see our hero realizing that she never actually dealt with the sexual assault she went through two and a half years ago.

I hadn’t it called it assault before this past Friday.  Not really.  After writing the post, I decided that torturing myself about the whole thing was a great idea, so I went back and read the email I wrote the asshole that I called “scathing” and, because of the magic of Google and archiving, I even still had the gchat I had with this guy during which I forgave him and let him off the fucking hook.  I read all that and felt sick to my stomach.

Here’s what I did.  Yes, I told him that he’s a creep and a prick (in more eloquent terms that that, but that was the underlying message), and then I said all the things that I did wrong to bring this about on myself.  And then I told him that he wasn’t a bad guy and we just had a misunderstanding, but I just wanted him to know that he hurt me physically and emotionally so that he could treat others better in the future.

ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME, GINA? Really? You want to make sure he knows that he hurt you NOT because you want him to feel some damn pain himself and get some retribution for having a wrong committed against you, but because you want to make sure his future relationships are fulfilling and healthy for all parties involved?!?  REALLY?  What the hell is wrong with you?

I know this is kind of bizarre, me yelling at myself in blog form, but this is part of the process people.  The thing I realized is that no, what happened to me was not my fault.  What WAS my fault was that I completely minimized it for everyone else, especially him, so that I wouldn’t be an inconvenience and I wouldn’t ruin anyone’s life with my trauma.  Why?  And here’s the terrible realization: I don’t matter to myself.

Self worth is an important thing.  Being able to recognize it for yourself is an important thing. I have articulated this many a time when talking about things like jealousy and general insecurity.  If you don’t think you are worth anything to anyone except for something you can physically provide (something tangible), then of course you will be afraid of losing everything eventually.  Perfection is the only way to keep people close to you if you subscribe to this philosophy (how hard I work and how much I give of myself is equivalent to my value in other people’s lives) and obviously, we can not achieve perfection so people who think like this are pretty much screwed.

I am one of those people!  But I have figured out a much harder thing!  I KNOW that I matter immensely to the people who love me.  The problem is that I don’t matter at all to me.

And this shouldn’t really be that much of a realization.  I think I’ve generally known this, but I have used different words.  I put everyone else first without even thinking about it.  The thing that is surprising is how deeply engrained this attitude is.

But it shouldn’t be surprising. Growing up, I was rarely asked for my preference. I was taught that kids don’t really have preferences, or at least, if they do, they don’t matter.  The only people’s preferences that matter are the adults (and in my case, really only one adult’s preferences mattered).  If I disagreed about something and tried to engage with my parents about it, I was told to stop copping an attitude and was barred from expressing my opinion.  It’s not that I wasn’t getting an attitude, but I was never engaged, only quashed.  I am a really docile and obedient person.  I always have been.  I still don’t like walking on grass unless I know that’s absolutely OK.  It was easy (and still is often) to manipulate me into giving people what they wanted.  I want to be liked.  I want to be loved.  And I learned very early that it was easiest to like and love me if I didn’t have opinions or preferences.

This continued into my teens.  My peers were strong minded and self-absorbed (you know, like teenagers).  I found that my having no preferences and no standards for how I should be treated made being friends with them a lot easier.  I barely even thought about it.  It didn’t matter anymore if I was at home or at school or anywhere: What I want or need does not factor into any equation.  I am a multiplicative factor of 1.  Whatever you want, I echo, because, well, I’m not important.  It was not until I was in my late twenties and Wes had had a few years to start breaking through all this that I started to state preferences.  And it’s not easy.  It takes a huge amount of effort for me to say, “Well, if I had my choice I would do Y.”  It is a script I make myself say in the hopes that some day it won’t feel like I’m in a stupid play.

I am shaking with rage thinking about this.  How dare I let this seep into me so deeply!  How dare I allow this to become the most defining factor of my fucking identity!

And I talk about this and know that people reading it probably don’t get it because I’m such a weirdo.  I have odd interests and hobbies.  I’m creative and have a good sense of humor.  I like public speaking and am generally outgoing and confident (about certain things).  I project a personality of one who is “her own person”.  But the tragedy is that I know now that I would change it all at the drop of a hat if someone I loved told me that they didn’t want me to be any of those things anymore.

Luckily, I’m not completely useless and worked to find people to love who inspire me and appreciate me for the many different things that I am, given my druthers.  But I wait anxiously for them to disapprove.  Since I don’t matter much to me, my defining characteristics can become unimportant to me too.

That is absolutely infuriating and terrifying.  It means that I have an underlying fear of interacting with new people because I can’t trust myself to value myself enough to not change or conform to their ideal vision of me.  I can’t trust myself to think I’m worth feeling safe.  I won’t feel that way because I’m not worth anything to me.  The only thing that makes me responsible for my safety and my individuality is that I have a handful of people who would be very sad if I were a different person or if I got hurt.  It is for them, not for me.

So, I have some major work to do and I have no idea how to do it.  This realization explains so clearly why I am fundamentally unhappy.  Not a bad thing to figure out at the young age of 32.  But I don’t know what I need to do now.  Over the last several years, I have learned a lot of useful skills for dealing with my emotions.  Much of these skills are related to identifying the underlying problem, articulating it to myself and others in a clear and definitive way, and then solutions come easier because I know the problem to solve.  But here, I am filled with anger and sadness at knowing that I have spent 25 years or so simply not caring about my well-being for my own sake.  I have minimized my worth and needs and desires for my entire life.  It’s the dreaded “Who I Am” that I have to dismantle and I don’t know what to replace it with.

I want to truly love myself.  I want to see myself the way that the people close to me see me.  But I have no real concept of what this means to me personally.  I don’t know what wiring needs to be redone.  How deep does this go?

This is what real freedom means to me.  I want to be free from the cage I have built for myself since I was a tiny kid.  Freedom to me has nothing to do with not having a 9-5 job or doing music and theater and art full time.  Freedom is feeling comfortable in my own skin, being everything that I can be without fear.

Other things that equal freedom to me (and this is sad, but also an amusing exercise):

  1. Cooking mushrooms with dinner even if no one else I’m cooking for at the time likes them.
  2. Picking the flavor of ice cream I like because I’m the one that went to the store.
  3. Finding funny what I find funny and not justifying it to the people who don’t laugh.
  4. Turning people down who want to make out with me at a party.

There are many other ridiculous things that I worry about.  My neuroses run deep.  But the first step is admitting it.

Hi, I’m Gina and I don’t matter to myself.

Hi, I’m Gina and I have run out of patience with myself.

Hi, I’m Gina and I want to be truly happy and healthy.

Hi, I’m Gina and I just don’t know what to do.

Unfortunately, due to Real Life, I can’t now just sign off and go on some kind of walkabout or anything.  My job might dislike that and I’d run out of money FAST.  So the journey is going to have to be more local…like…in my head or something.  I need to figure out how to strip all this away and be done with it finally.

Thanks for reading.  I am hoping to be inspired soon to write about less heavy things, but we write what we know, ey?

Descriptive Norms, or Why Your Beliefs Affect Me

Scientific American has an article up discussing the difference between descriptive norms and prescriptive norms. The gist is that descriptive norms describe how things are and prescriptive norms describe how things ought to be. When it comes to affecting people’s behavior, descriptive norms tend to work much better:

In a classic study, Cialdini and colleagues manipulated the signs that were displayed in Arizona’s Petrified Forest National Park, a site often plagued by tourists who end up grabbing some of the petrified wood to take home as a souvenir. In situations like this, the first inclination of well-meaning environmentalists might be to set a strong prescriptive norm — perhaps by saying something like, “Many past visitors have removed the petrified wood from the park, changing the state of the Petrified Forest. This is bad, don’t do this.” The idea here would be to invoke a sense of shame and severity before asking visitors to refrain from taking the wood. But read that prescriptive message once again. Is there anything descriptive in there? Yes, of course there is. That message is not just telling you that you shouldn’t take the wood — it’s also telling you that most other people do. In fact, people were actually more likely to steal wood from the forest when they saw the sign telling them how many people tend to do it themselves, even though the very next sentence was asking them to refrain. But when the researchers simply tweaked the message to read that “the vast majority of past visitors have left the petrified wood in the park, helping to preserve the natural state of the Petrified Forest,” the thievery plummeted.

We don’t really care so much about what we should do. We care about what other people do. And then we really, really care about not being different.

The article suggests that making your support of marriage equality public on Facebook may actually make more of a difference than a lot of people think. I agree. When we make our positions publicly known, often that can be more convincing than anything else we can do.

This relates to the main issue with moderate religion. There are a number of religions out there (and other faith traditions that may or may not be classified as “religions”) that do no real direct harm on society. I was raised by a Quaker mother, and attended meeting up until I was allowed to make choices for myself. I have Unitarian Universalist friends. I know several pagans, and other religious moderates who practice non-mainstream, non-coercive religions.

These religions aren’t causing any direct harm that can be easily identified. However, that does not mean that they are not causing harm. I live in a country positively saturated in religion. Religion pervades public life in America in ways that are unheard of in other developed countries, and it leads to all sorts of horrible outcomes.

All public expressions of faith exacerbate the issue through the power of descriptive norms. The more people who identify as religious, the more it encourages other people to be religious also. Even the most non-proselytizing expression of faith reinforces the cultural message that religion is normal, and a lack of religion is weird. Nobody wants to be weird! So people are encouraged to overlook their doubts about religion in order to fit in, even if nobody is explicitly sending that message.

American Cross

People often ask me why I care that people hold religious beliefs. This is often coupled with a spoken or unspoken assertion that their religious beliefs do not affect me in a negative way. Often, I will attempt to explain that beliefs inform actions, an in any society, and especially in a democracy, everyone’s actions affect everyone else. But there is also the problem of descriptive norms.

I believe that, all other things being equal,  a more secular society is a better society. Religion, even moderate, “harmless” religion, impedes that goal. Of course, moderate religion does less harm than fundamentalist religion, but it’s still making it more difficult for our society to move in a more secular direction. It still encourages the general population to value faith above reason. It still contributes to the social stigma of atheism.

This is, of course, not to justify being a dick about it.* The fact that moderate religion is a problem doesn’t mean that it’s ok to be rude. It doesn’t mean that religion doesn’t serve useful purposes in people’s lives. It doesn’t mean that people are justified in attempting to impose their lack of religion on other people. It just means that as an atheist, I have a stake in the beliefs of my fellow members of society. This is not meant to discuss tactics at all.

This is another reason why coming out is so important. When we proudly identify as atheist (or polyamorous for that matter), that declaration speaks louder than any argument we can make. When we create a society in which it’s no longer weird to be an atheist, then we create a society where there’s one less reason to turn to religion.


*I sincerely wish that this disclaimer didn’t need to accompany every post discussing this topic, but such is life.

Some Things are Hard to Say

[Content Note: Sexual Assault]

I struggled about whether I was going to write about this.  I have written a bit about it before, but the subject has come up again in fuller force than usual and I find myself doing some major processing.  I am going to be talking about a traumatic event in my life, so feel free not to read it.  As Ginny suggested the other day, doing a google search about cute animals might be a better choice.  I figured, fuck it.  It’s therapeutic for me and maybe someone else will find it helpful.  Or something.  I don’t know. I apologize in advance.  I’m kind of pissed and sad.

Two and a half years ago I was feeling like a new woman.  I had successfully plowed through a number of issues that were keeping me from embracing polyamory for myself.  I had my jealousy issues under control.  I felt confident and datable.  Soon after my 30th birthday I had my first real dates as a poly person.  The first one went well and I dated that guy for a month.  It ended stupidly, because he was a jackass in lot of ways, but it was good because it showed me that I could enjoy other relationships in a healthy way. That was awesome news!

Near the end of this relationship, I had a couple of dates with another guy…we’ll call him Dude.  I had known Dude for a few years, mainly through our interactions at a local karaoke night.  I thought he was funny and cute and entertainingly kooky.  Once I felt ok about dating, I talked to him and we expressed mutual interest.  We went on a date and it was cool.  I thought I could trust him.  He seemed harmless.  So when we decided that the second date would be at his house, I wasn’t particularly worried.

At the time, he was on crutches nursing a badly sprained ankle, so I decided that it made the most sense for me to make dinner for him at his place and then watch movies, since moving around was a laborious task for him.  And that’s what we did.  Until a while later, I found that I had drifted to sleep.  I woke up to him rubbing my arms and some kissing happened.  One thing led to another, as the kids say, and I went upstairs with him, even though I didn’t really want to.

This is where the “I should haves” start.  They’re so useful, right?  I mean, I didn’t think I needed to worry, but in hindsight, obviously I should have just said, “You know, it’s getting late.  I think I’m going to head home,” instead of going upstairs.  But I figured there would be more communication.

So there I was upstairs.  Things progressed quickly.  I went with the flow, still not really wanting to but at this point I was thinking the other really helpful thing, “Well, you let it get this far, didn’t you? What are you going to do, stop???” The rational answer is YES, but I wasn’t thinking rationally.  I figured that as a newly liberated poly person that I was supposed to be “slutty” and to do any less was somehow betraying my new lifestyle.

That’s completely embarrassing to write, by the way, but there it is.  Not to sound like a fucking public service announcement, but there’s not wrong with slutty behavior.  But there’s also REALLY nothing wrong with wanting to feel safe with partners.  If something doesn’t feel right, you do not owe it to ANYONE to go through with it.

Ugh.  Anyway, things continued and in the beginning, I noticed that he wasn’t really making eye contact with me AND he was being pretty rough with me.  I was suddenly terrified.  I began thinking about how I didn’t really know this guy and how we hadn’t talked at all about what we liked/what we were into.  Had I found myself in a situation with a kinky person who failed to communicate this?  I stiffened up immediately, but he didn’t notice.  I was quiet and barely moved and didn’t know what to do.  I figured that there was nothing I could do but continue since, you know, I had let it get this far.  Also I could manage to do before the “main event” was say, “please be careful.  That can be really painful for me.” His response was something about “Oh, I hope I can control myself then.”

Yeah. Awesome.

Well, he didn’t and it hurt like hell and I took it because I believed stupid things.  Eventually, I took what control I thought I could take and tried to steer things to activities that were less awful.

During all this, he never really checked in or seemed to care.  After everything was over, he asked if he managed not to hurt me.  I told him that yes, it hurt.  I recall him being sort of sorry, saying something about how it was hard to control himself since I was so hot.  God.  FUCK YOU.

And then I spent the night.  I don’t really know why.  I wanted to run home and cry, but I also didn’t want the guy to feel like a rapist or anything…for some reason.  I was embarrassed and all night I lay awake thinking about this is what happens to women ALL THE TIME.  I think I stayed over also to attempt to make it feel legitimate somehow.  And then the next morning, I should have just left, but I felt empty and terrible and wanted to own the experience, so I initiated more activity in a stupid attempt to have the experience on my own terms.  It didn’t help. Obviously.

None of these were healthy or good choices.

I got home and felt awful.  It took me a while to admit to Wes and Jessie what had happened.  I feigned okay-ness, but started to fall apart as the evening wore on.  I had an Arcati Crisis show that night and was thankful for the opportunity to rock out some of my stress, but Dude was there and I could barely bring myself to make eye contact with him.

A few days later I wrote Dude a scathing email detailing all the reasons I couldn’t see him anymore.  He was mortified.  And few days after that we had a gchat about it during which he apologized but also told me that he talked to some of his feminist friends and they don’t think he’s aggressive or scary.  Oh! I’m glad your feminist friends don’t think so! That makes this all better.  Again. FUCK YOU.

But, despite thinking that he was full of shit for various things he said, I let him off the hook.  I thought I would be OK eventually and be able to go back to the way things were before all that crap.

But it has been two years and it is clear that I am NOT OK.  Not at all.

This came up recently because we’ve been looking for a place to hold a monthly poly meetup in Philly and he runs a weekly event at a cool venue.  There would be a lot of plus sides about doing it there, but the downside is that he would be there and would be benefitting from us.  Wes, Jessie, and Ginny went to the event to check it out. I declined, wanting a night at home and also not wanting to be around Dude. I felt uneasy about it but thought I was being selfish and stupid for that.  I figured if it was awesome, I would just suck it up and deal.

Of course, it WAS awesome and I had simply made the decision that I was going to handle it because I didn’t want to get in people’s way of having a good time just because I had a bad experience with Dude.  Wes talked to me about it and had to really drag it out of me that no, actually, I wasn’t OK with this.  I would be OK with it for other people’s benefit, but given my choice, I would not support Dude and really, would enjoy never seeing Dude again.  The conversation had me remember all of the incident in annoying detail, and also do all the second guessing again and again.  “Oh, well, I should have left or communicated or something…I should’ve been able to avoid that.  I made dumb choices. I’m being too hard on him.  I can be comfortable enough in the face of really good craft beer specials…”

Yes, folks, I have such a hard time putting my own sanity first that I actually weighed its value against awesome beer specials…and the beer specials were winning, in my view.  WHAT?!?

So, it was a pretty fucking illuminating conversation.  I spoke recently about My List of things I need to work on or be vigilant about.  Knowing and respecting my own value is on there but always kicked to the bottom.  I don’t know what that is.  I guess it’s easy to do?  Who knows.  It’s a hard truth about me.

I am writing this today to affirm a few things.  First, yes, what happened to me was assault.  I don’t care what his intentions were.  I don’t care if he felt bad about it after I called him on it.  I don’t care if his feminist friends think he’s fine and dandy and that he would never hurt anyone.  He hurt me, after I asked him not to.  He can go fuck himself.  It was assault and it wasn’t OK and it’s reasonable for me to want nothing to do with him.  He was unkind and uncaring and we are not friends.

Second, admitting that something is traumatic and that this trauma makes you not want to be around certain people is not weakness or wrong or stupid.  I spend a lot of time analyzing my reactions to things and trying to get past negativity and move on.  But I shouldn’t be so obsessed with this that I make myself hang around with people who have hurt me.

Third, I know I am worth a lot to myself and the people who love me.  The fact that I thought it was better to just deal with this guy and be uncomfortable instead of telling them that it wasn’t ideal for me is baffling and ridiculous.  We’re not talking about having it at a bar that doesn’t sell cheap red wine here.  We’re talking about a bar event sponsored and hosted by someone who sexually assaulted me and I don’t have to be OK with it.

Fourth, some may question why I put all this out into the ether.  Well, I feel foolish and embarrassed and various other self deprecating feelings, but I know they are not original or unique feelings.  Writing them down puts them into reality.  This is what happened and these are the choices I made, for better or for worse.  I am not writing for sympathy.  I am writing because I need to write it down and own the story.  Perhaps next time I can own a story about a unicorn tea party in the clouds or something.

Man, this post is depressing.  Maybe a little empowering, but mostly angry and depressing.  Not great for a Friday but that’s the way it goes.  You should probably go listen to the podcast because I’m much funnier on there and didn’t talk about sexual assault AT ALL.

Anyway, I’m OK.  It’s just hard to see in real time how self destructive I can be.  Luckily, Wes is good at getting me to be real, so in the end it was a good conversation to have.  I kind of want a liquid lunch now, but instead, I’ll go get a sandwich and chill the fuck out.

The Physical Touch Spectrum

Ace, at The Thinking Asexual has a great post up discussing a concept which Ace calls “the physical touch escalator”

The physical touch escalator is based on the premise that each form or level of touch on the spectrum automatically and undoubtedly implies a progression to the next form or level, usually beginning somewhere after “nonromantic/casual hugs.” Therefore, if you enthusiastically engage in one type of nonsexual, affectionate touch with someone, you are expected to eventually engage in whatever physical act comes after it on the spectrum—and keep going until you eventually reach penetrative sex.

If you don’t want to share Touch C with a person, then you better not agree to share Touch B, and if you go through with Touch C, you’re implying that you’re interested in Touch D, etc. The nonsexual forms of physical affection are only means to a sexual end, their main value the potential for sex that they carry by default.

It’s a fantastic post, and an important idea. I don’t really have anything to add to it. It reminded me, however, of a different concept. Ace began the post by saying:

I look at physical touch between two people via a spectrum model: on one end of the spectrum (of positive touch only) is the handshake and on the other end is full-blown penetrative sex. What falls in between progresses from that most casual and non-intimate/nonsensual type of touch to more intimate, more sensual, and ultimately sexual.

The nonsexual/nongenital forms of touch include: unemotional hugs, emotional hugs, holding hands, nonromantic kissing, romantic/erotic kissing (that breaks down further into “on the mouth, close-lipped,” “on the mouth, with tongue,” “on the body, close mouthed”, “on the body, open-mouthed”), cuddling (clothed or partially unclothed), caressing or petting the body affectionately, intimate paired dancing.

The erotic and/or sexual forms of touch include: mutual masturbation, sexual groping of the body with particular attention to the breasts or buttocks, dry humping, oral sex, anal sex, sex with toys, and penile-vaginal sex.

The “sexuality as a spectrum” model is very ingrained in our culture. The “correct” progression of a sexual relationships starts at one end of the spectrum, goes through each intermediate step, and ends at penetrative sex. This is why baseball is such a common metaphor to describe sex acts. You can’t go straight to second base without tagging first! It’s against the rules! Even if you hit a home run, you have to take a ceremonial lap around the bases or it doesn’t count. 

I do not look at physical touch as a spectrum in that way, where there are “levels,” and each “step” progresses to a more intimate/sensual/sexual (hereafter abbreviated as “intimate”) level. In fact, I actively resist this model.

I resist it because I do not believe that any physical act is inherently more intimate or “more sexual” than any other. Certainly, there are acts which will mean more to us as individuals (for instance, cuddling tends to be more intimate to me than groping), more stimulating (genital touching is more stimulating to me than touching elsewhere), or more dangerous – and thus, requiring a higher level of trust (intercourse vs. outercourse), but these things are not universal. Some people consider kissing more intimate than sex, and some don’t. Some people consider anal sex to be more intimate than vaginal sex, and some don’t. Some people think oral sex “doesn’t count” as sex, and some emphatically argue that it does. This is, of course, not even getting into the endless variety and ranking of activities within the BDSM community. There is a world of variety is what is considered intimate to someone and meaningless to someone else. The dominant narrative encourages people to feel shameful or broken if certain steps don’t fit in to their proper place on the escalator. It’s uncool, and we should encourage people to experiment and make their own choices about what is intimate and what is not.

The other reason why I resist the spectrum model is that I don’t see anything wrong with consensually skipping steps if you don’t like them. Each physical touch is a completely different thing to me. Some people are very compatible kissers with me, but not compatible in terms of sexual groping. Sometimes, it’s the exact opposite. What if I’d like to engage in sexual groping (or something “higher” in the spectrum) with someone, but not kiss? I feel as though our society doesn’t have a narrative for that, and I wouldn’t know how to bring it up in a way that doesn’t result in offense and hurt feelings. 

Another side effect of this view is that it encourages people to judge their compatibility on “higher level” activities by their compatibility on “lower level” activities. A few weeks ago, I had a conversation with a few friends whereby they all agreed that an incompatible kisser would almost certainly be incompatible sexually. I reject this view, mostly from experience than anything else. While I think that the emotional component of physical intimacy tends to remain largely unchanged from activity to activity, a person’s physical compatibility can be much different. Even changes as small as what part of my body a person is touching can result in vastly different amounts of pleasure. 

The physical touch spectrum, though widely accepted, seems to be yet another socially-created norm that shortchanges everyone who doesn’t conform. Your thoughts?