A Time to Hate

If I said that I intensely dislike my family, would it make you uncomfortable? If I said I had an aversion to fundamentalism, would it make you cringe? If I said Bob Jones University disgusts me, would you think I was out of line in that emotion?

What if I said I hate my family/fundamentalism/Bob Jones University?

In a conversation with a friend the other day about negative emotions, I was surprised to find myself defending hatred as a valid emotion. Six months ago I would have said that hatred was toxic and dangerous, the antithesis of love and the root of destruction and violence. Even when I was able to reconcile the empowering, positive aspects of anger and reject the unhealthy prescriptions of forgiveness that victims encounter at every turn in our society, I still felt afraid of hatred.

I thought of hatred when I saw Westboro standing on a street corner holding up picket signs or when someone murdered an ex-lover out of spite. I thought of hatred when I saw fighting in the Middle East. I thought of hatred when I saw the callous disregard for human rights.

I thought of hatred when I thought of dysfunction, prejudice, and abuse.

But is that really what hatred is?

I only recently realized that the connotation I had surrounding hatred was so strong that I didn’t even know what hatred was. It was just “bad.” When I looked up the definition, I discovered that it was essentially an emotional gag reflex.

Disgust, aversion, dislike…none of those held negative connotations for me. In fact, it seemed rather healthy to be able to experience them.

So why was hatred so scary in my mind? Why was I afraid to acknowledge that I hated my family, despite having more than plenty of reason to feel an aversion to them? If I operate with just the definition of hatred, rather than the word itself, I think having an aversion to my family is as healthy as heaving when I eat rotten meat. I know they’re going to harm me if I carelessly ingest them. So, why the guilt over such a healthy response?

When I moved away from my religious background, I needed to believe that God was love, and that love was safe, not harmful. Love became my spiritual guiding light (still is to some extent), so I clung to verses like 1 John 4:20 and 3:15:

If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen….Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.

If love was the “greatest commandment” and the whole of spirituality, I assumed hatred was the root of my abuse, overlooking the fact that the majority of my abuse was justified as love. Love couldn’t be the motivation. Love wasn’t supposed to hurt. Love didn’t seek to do harm. Love never failed. Love was the fulfillment of the law; as long as there was love, it was perfect…right?

Yes, but that’s an idealized version of love. It’s a model of love that promotes a healthy expression of love, but it’s not the only way that love can be expressed. Love can be dysfunctional, just like hatred. Love can be destructive. It can motivate callousness to the rights of others or extreme selfishness.

I can recognize that certain expressions of love are unhealthy and reject those particular scripts without rejecting the idea of love entirely because I also have healthy scripts of love on which to draw. Over the last two years I’ve developed the ability to do that with anger too. Now it’s hatred’s turn. How could hatred not get a bad reputation when they only face of it we see are from those embroiled in dysfunction?

This week has been spent with me exploring what a healthy representation of hatred might look like. The first step came with admitting that I do hate, and recognizing that my hatred hasn’t turned me into a sadistic sociopath. I hate, but I do not want to kill those I hate. I hate, but I don’t view those I hate as less human as a result. I hate, but it doesn’t consume my life or interfere with my other relationships. I hate, but it doesn’t prevent me from loving.

Rather, hatred sets me free, just as anger did, to acknowledge where great harm was done. It releases me from familial obligations that tell me I should let an unhealthy person close to me. It strengthens me to set boundaries and stand up for myself. It clarifies where my values lie. On a broader front, because I hate bigotry, homophobia, sexism, racism, transphobia, etc., hate reinforces my love and respect of humanity. On a personal front, because I hate abuse and manipulation, it reinforces my love for myself.

If anything, my fear of embracing the natural emotions to my abuse has kept me disconnected from my own humanity, preventing me from fully embracing love, life, and relationships. My emotions are not my enemy. They are the tools that allow me to heal. Wholeness and balance come with the recognition that every emotion has its purpose and time.

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.
~Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

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Belly Dancing for that Special Someone

I’m spending Valentine’s Day just me and a bottle of wine…and of course the Internet. I feel like I should feel like a loser for that, with all the societal pressure to make this day about romance…or obligation and outlandish gifts, but I actually don’t feel like a loser.

Instead, I’m finding that it’s a great time to unwind from all the head stuff that has been clogging my time lately and get back into my body—which is a part of me, despite what the rest of the world might say (I’m looking at you, patriarchy and modesty culture and feminism.)

What does a girl do on Valentine’s Day to reconnect with her body?

Belly dancing!

That’s right. I’m standing in my room—coin skirt jingling—shimmying, undulating, and bumping to traditional and non-traditional tunes.

It’s pretty damn sexy (with some awkward mixed in to add charm), but it’s not something I started learning to spice up my sex life. Although I might give my partner a show a little bit later, I’m not doing it so I can tantalize him.

I’m doing it for me…because I enjoy feeling sexy, strong, and embodied, even when I’m spending Valentine’s Day alone.

It’s been a while since I’ve been able to take pleasure in my body. I’ve been so swamped with cerebral things like grad school applications, research, and general everyday stress that fitting in time to enjoy the unique abilities and movements of my body has been the last thing on my mind.

And I’m not exactly in the place where I naturally look at myself and thing, “Damn, you and I should have a sexy night in, baby!” With recovering from an injury, my physical activities have been limited. Only recently have I been given the go-ahead from doctors to start a more strenuous work-out routine (omg, I forgot how much fun it is to run!). I’m happy to be active again, but I’m far from feeling like I want to throw on a sequined bra and short skirt and hit the streets.

That’s what is so wonderful about belly dancing! While the rest of the world is trying to convince women that dancing is for others’ pleasure and that looking good is key, belly dancing is there to tell women that dancing is about a sacred moment with yourself. It’s about giving yourself love, acceptance, and sensuality for sensuality’s sake.

What better way to spend Valentine’s Day than by reaffirming that I am an embodied, sensual being who isn’t just here for the relationship and pleasure of another?

Be sure to check out the amazing video I found of a belly dance interpreting the Tarot card “Justice!” I’m lost in the beauty of it right now. 

Is Bob Jones University Covering Up Sexual Abuse…Again?

As I was writing this post, I was thinking of that question about trees falling and sound, then I found this graphic from Naked Pastor that so poignantly illustrates the concept and the emotions that I'm experiencing around this.  Copyright David Hayward. Used with Permission

Copyright David Hayward, nakedpastor.com. Used with Permission.

Apparently Bob Jones University, the kingpin of my former cult, seems to think that ignoring sexual abuse will make it go away. At least, that’s the impression they give through the termination of their contract with the ombudsmen whom they hired last year to do an independent investigation of their past handling of sexual abuse cases.

I have to say that I’m not surprised they would backpedal shortly before the investigative team at G.R.A.C.E. released their findings. It wasn’t a smart PR move for a cult to bring an outsider in for such an in-depth review of their policies and was bound to backfire on one level or another, but I’m sure they didn’t feel they had many other options after the incidents that Dr. Lewis details in her post here, which included the student-led protest to remove a board member who had covered up a rape in his former church fifteen years ago and the vocal concerns of alumni over the questionable sexual abuse policy in BJU’s employee handbook.

Perhaps BJU hoped that a year later people would have forgotten their reasons for wanting an independent investigation…or perhaps the cult just underestimated the amount of shit that the investigation team would be able to uncover…regardless, BJU sent a termination request to G.R.A.C.E. this past week.

As I said, I’m not surprised, but I am outraged and grief-stricken.

I knew so many dear friends who had gone through horrendous pain to tell their story in interviews this past year, reliving their pain in the hopes that they might finally get the acknowledgement of the injustice of the way their trauma was handled. Now, I watch them grapple with the disappointment and devastation of having been silenced once again.

It’s downright heartless to encourage victims to speak of their abuses with promises that they will be heard, only to shut them down again and again—but it’s a tactic that the IFB loves to use.

Because they think they can break victims that way.

Because they think they can control the flow of information.

Because they think they can get away with it.

But they’re wrong.

Once upon a time, Bob Jones University might have been able to keep survivors’ stories under wraps. They might have been able to scatter and divide survivors, as good as erasing them from existence.

But they can’t do that anymore. Survivors have found each other, and through that, they’ve found their voices. They’ve discovered they have power and strength together. They’re not alone. They’re not without hope. And they’re not at the mercy of the cult anymore.

BJU has been allowed to get away with their abuses and control tactics for so long that it’s easy to believe they will continue to be able to get away with them, but the Internet is changing things. Survivors have been figuring out how to speak out over the last few years and finally–FINALLY–people are starting to listen.

Progressive Christian blogs like Naked Pastor and John Shore are spreading awareness. The media, both local and national (and many more than I can link to. Google it and see), is starting to report. And here’s the real kicker: for once, survivors aren’t going to shut up just because the cult refuses to listen.

They can keep playing the same games they’ve always played, but there’s an audience now. Their own precious image was the cost of this little cover-up. For once, even people within the Independent Fundamental Baptist Cult might think twice about sending their kids to BJU.

You can paint a skunk white, but you can’t hide hide the smell. Sooner or later, the world will see BJU for what it really is, and the survivors will be leading the charge to tear down the gates.

“And whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me; but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.” Matthew 18: 5-6

5 Reasons I Love Being Bisexual

It’s been a rough week, and I don’t have the energy to delve into anything heavy. I wanted to find something to make me smile, so I decided to try to “count my blessings” in a way. Below is a list of reasons why I’m happy to be bisexual. I’m not saying these are universal for all bisexual people or that they are exclusive to bisexual people. These are just some of the ways that I feel my bisexuality enriches my own personal life.

1. Beauty

Although I’m not sexually attracted to everyone who crosses my path, I think every person has a unique beauty which I can see and appreciate even when I don’t like them “in that way.”  A genuine smile is gorgeous to me; a great personality can turn anyone into the most mesmerizing person. I like to think that since I’m not distracted or concerned so much with the outward expression of a person’s gender, I’m able to see their soul.

2. Body Image

Being attracted to multiple gender expressions means that I don’t have to rely on the feedback of others to figure out whether I think I’m attractive. All I have to do is look in the mirror and let my own heart decide…and I think I would probably date myself if I met me at a bar.

I don’t like everything about myself. Some days I don’t like anything about myself. But when I can take my own body image out of the male gaze and the self-hatred it perpetuates, I find that I’m able to acknowledge qualities I would find attractive in another person.

Being able to judge my body based on my own internal preferences rather than the ever-changing, impossible “ideal” of society is incredibly empowering. It highlights just how ridiculous the expectations I put on myself can be. If I wouldn’t want another girl I was dating to go through that, why would I do it to myself?

3. Spirituality.

In many ways, I see my bisexuality as just another expression of my zodiac sign—that living duality, walking-in-both-worlds Gemini.

But in other ways, I also feel I owe my spirituality to my bisexuality. Perhaps one of the reasons why I never saw spirituality and agnosticism as mutually exclusive is because I am already accustomed to the way that socially constructed dichotomies don’t prove true for me.

Even before I was able to name my sexual orientation, I subconsciously knew that I didn’t fit into the monosexist paradigm that one is attracted either to men or to women. When I began questioning my religion and felt that pressure of “either you remain Christian or you become atheist,” I knew that didn’t fit either.

It’s probably impossible to determine whether my bisexuality influenced my soul or whether my soul influenced my bisexuality, but I do know that my bisexuality enhances my spiritual life because it reminds me that I don’t like to color within the lines of convention or social constructs.

4. Entertainment

Two words: character crushes.

I absolutely love being bisexual when I’m watching a movie or reading a book. I can’t lose on the loveable character front. I can fall as much in love with Rose as with the Doctor, with Legolas as with Arwen…and don’t even get me started on Jack Sparrow, Will Turner, and Elizabeth Swan!

5. Flexibility

When you’re bisexual and you have double jointed arms, at some point you have to make the joke:  “I can go both ways.”

This point is more about humor than about actual flexibility, obviously. I don’t think it’s possible to be bisexual without developing some sort of sense of humor. Otherwise the mix of homophobia and biphobia and the erasure of your orientation by the Queer and straight communities alike would just drive you absolutely insane.

Or at least they would me.

Bisexuality has taught me how to laugh—about little things, like a pun about my inordinate physical flexibility or the awkward silence that follows me blurting out “Catherine Zeta Jones!” in a discussion about celebrity crushes, as well as about big things like …I don’t need to name the big things though. If you’re bi, you know what they’re like. Why ruin the fun we’re having by naming them?

I know! I know! This doesn’t do anything to end biphobia, but sometimes I think it’s good for people to take a break from the activism. The cause will still be there tomorrow. There will still be plenty of prejudice and discrimination to call out, lament, and fight about tomorrow. 

But today, let’s just celebrate being who we are. I’ve given you five reasons why I’m happy to be bisexual. What are your reasons?