The Angst of Freedom

Pause: If you haven’t read my post about The Point of No Return, maybe hop over and do so now because it ties heavily into this post.

It’s the paradox of existential philosophy: No one can take away the freedom you have within yourself. But you are not necessarily free. People can and do exert a tremendous amount of influence and sometimes direct control over your decisions, consciously and unconsciously.

Those who have been at the point of no return know that there is a place in your soul that you can reach where you will do what your heart tells you to do, regardless of the consequences. In my case, it was breaking free of a cult. I was free and not free to do so in many different ways. It was only when I decided that the reasons that made me not free weren’t strong enough to prevent me from exercising my freedom that I was able to shake off the invisible binds that tied me down.

I’m well familiar with that place of desperation. It’s terrifying, but on some levels exhilarating because I’ve found there is more freedom in a moment of desperation than in maintaining balance.

It’s as much the problem as it is the solution.

I’m not of the Buddhist opinion that attachment is bad. I think attachment can be a beautiful motivator and protector. Attachment drives us to make something work. Within a relationship, attachment makes two people try to work through the difference of their first fight rather than walking away from each other. It’s worth it to sit through that discomfort and do that messy work because of the attachment.

Attachment becomes unhealthy, though, when it detaches us from ourselves—when we become powerless to our own attachment and thus powerless to the one to whom we are attached.

In relationship this might look like suppressing one’s own needs in pursuit of making someone else happy or (hear me out on this) submitting to abusive behavior.

I am not trying to say that those who are survivors or victims of abuse have allowed that to happen to themselves or that they have knowingly or willingly given up their power.

I am trying to say that attachment is often what keeps people in toxic situations, hoping beyond hope that things will get better. The fear of losing that attachment can be as strong as an iron cage, and toxic people exploit that attachment to undermine an individual’s autonomy.

The oft asked question, “Why didn’t she just leave?” has a complicated answer, but part of the answer, I think, comes down to “She didn’t feel free to.”

The same is true on a larger scale for groups. The process of leaving a cultic or toxic group often involves a process of recognizing that things aren’t well, trying to ignore that things aren’t well, attempting to influence change from within, experiencing the backlash of trying to change things from within, and exiting–not always in a linear order, and sometimes often repeated because leaving isn’t easy. Toxic or abusive relationships or environments hook themselves into your soul—into your hopes and dreams and ideals. That’s how they keep you there. Leaving ends up feeling like leaving yourself.

Physical restraint is certainly one way of removing someone’s freedom, but there are other ways, more subtle and more insidious. The only thing necessary to capture someone is to convince them they are captive–or worse yet, to convince them they aren’t captive but “loved.”

On the flip side, even in the most captive spaces, no one can forcefully capture a person’s mind.

And that is where the truth of the opening paradox lies.

Eleanor Roosevelt is famous for saying, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”

I don’t think she was talking about conscious consent. Few of us who have ever been insulted have sat down and thought, “Gee, I think I will consent to this barb, but next time I won’t.”

What she was talking about was the power that comes with being grounded in who you are and in owning your freedoms (which comes hand in hand with owning your limitations). When you know that your mind is your own, no one can infiltrate it no matter what they might be able to do outside your body.

Freedom is not always about being able to do whatever you want. Although ideally we should all be free to conduct our lives how we see fit, even when that is not the reality—when the reality is that there are limitations on our choices—we can still have freedom in making the choice from the options before us in full clarity and autonomy.

At my point of no return, my choices were severely limited. I could stay, try to force myself to submit to more abuse. I could kill myself and exit the scene entirely. Or I could escape and try to rebuild a new life. All three were a death on one level or another.

I won’t rehash the ways in which facing suicide helped me make the hardest decision of my life. You can read about that in the other post. But I will say that owning the power I had to leave was directly tied to realizing that the things that held me back weren’t worth the price I was paying in sacrificing myself—my freedom.

I’ve learned since that the world is hard to navigate when every decision isn’t as catastrophically big, but the process repeats itself on smaller levels. I find myself going through cycles where I get attached to something—a relationship, a dream, an ideal. I throw myself into it. I either find a way of being authentic within it or I find myself becoming increasingly disempowered and controlled by it. I struggle with how to regain my power.

At some point, I realize that my power and freedom are just waiting for me to step back into myself again, which often involves letting go of my attachment, which in turn involves grieving my own hopes as much as the attachment object itself.

I don’t go all the way to the point of confronting death each time…but I think because I’ve been there, I can recognize the confrontation with symbolic death in each cycle. In a metaphorical sense, attachment is life; freedom is death. The existential concept that we are free but not free isn’t actually a paradox—it’s the life-death-life cycle. It is the cosmic balance.

 

Guest Post: Don’t Forget Ferguson

This weekend’s post was written by my partner, outlining some of the things he thinks we can learn from the situation in Ferguson. 

The world’s eye is on Ferguson, Missouri following the police shooting of an unarmed black teen. Questions of racism, mass civilian protests, and para-military reactionary violence hold the nation’s social media spotlight, in spite of reluctant media coverage.

The news has made a point of selectively reporting on the rioters who loot and destroy property, as if that justified the presence of snipers aiming their guns at civilians. Never mind that people go on crimes sprees all the time without prompting law enforcement to resort to armored tanks and riot gear. They ask us to believe that it’s necessary to shut down schools, enact a curfew, and bring out the arsenals over a few Molotov cocktails and broken storefronts.

But when the police are taking cameras away from reporters and citizens and arresting individuals just for protesting, the claim that police response is focused on rioters and looters rings hollow. There is a fundamental difference.

Protesters raise their hands in front of police atop an armored vehicle on Wednesday in Ferguson. St. Louis Post-Dispatch, J.B. Forbes/AP

The scene in Ferguson is not just some small number of criminals who hate and oppose police. Thousands of ordinary citizens congregated to employ one of the dearest human rights in the history of humanity: the right to protest and petition the government for a redress of grievances.

And the police retaliated with teargas, smoke bombs, and rubber bullets. Ferguson PD came out with helicopters, armored vehicles, and military-grade assault weapons, essentially enacting martial law.

And we rightly recognize that this is unacceptable.

The nation responded with a wave of outrage, and following public demonstrations all across the U.S. in solidarity with Ferguson, things seem to be settling down. Yet this shouldn’t be the end of our action.

We must ask difficult questions. Why did these abuses occur? How did the country arrive at a place where it was possible? Who is responsible?

For when police fail to limit their response to the actual criminals and criminal actions, instead removing all constitutionally guaranteed freedoms from every single citizen in an entire city, they have not simply failed as a police organization. They have sunk to the level of the criminals they supposedly despise and fight. And this is more than disturbing.

Yet the near-unanimous social opposition to the police’s actions is slightly surprising. An even more stringent martial law was enacted in the Boston manhunt for the bombers, and the nation’s response this time is fundamentally different. Instead of largely supporting the removal of every citizen’s rights, an entire city (and the nation with them) is protesting the injustices.

This objective contradiction leaves us to wonder what impetus and justification caused these police-state actions. The police do not wake up one day and shoot an unarmed black teenager. A government cannot suddenly seize the power to attack its own citizens, punish them for exercising 1stAmendment rights, indefinitely detain them without probable cause, or suppress them.

Everyone wants to identify different culprits. The nation points at the Ferguson Police department. Some point at Presidents they didn’t/don’t like. Others raise their voices against an oligarchy run by corporations. Still others blame Congresses for passing bad bills or being generally inept.

We decry racism where we find it. We can castigate a media that kowtows to their owners. We throw our hands up in despair.

But to find the nearest complicity, we need look no further than the mirror.

You. Me.

We have turned blind eyes to comparatively minor violations of freedom that paved the way for incrementally larger ones. These have occurred piecemeal over decades, sometimes in secret, but usually, largely with America’s approval as citizens exchanged freedom for a sense of safety.

We trusted President Obama not to use his new power – to execute or detain US citizens without probable cause – against us. We believed the TSA’s promises that their disregard for due process is necessary for our protection.

We allowed the NSA to surveil and record innocent US citizens as long as they kept the terrorists at bay. We turn blind eyes to the FCC as they censor public speech. We were convinced by our leaders that curfews and martial law were the only way to catch the Boston Marathon bomber.

We’ve been lulled into complacency over the violations of our rights and privacy for years…until we get a glimpse of the repercussions of letting go of the Bill of Rights. We watch in horror as a fundamental shift occurs, from our government and its citizens together facing an outside enemy—to our government facing its citizens, who have become its enemy.

And it was inevitable. For when people voluntarily relinquish their human rights, abuses naturally follow.

Let Fergusun be a lesson. We must be vigilant. We must be active. Freedom is not something to take for granted. Let this tragedy be the wakeup call for us to protect each other’s rights from the ever-reaching arm of power. The government can only be of the people, by the people, and for the people if the people maintain that balance.

Guest Post: Sometimes Fuckin’ Magical: An Enlightened-ish Post about “The Freedom to Cuss”

Today’s Guest Post is from Gail Dickert, author of Coming Out of the Closet Without Coming Apart at the Seams and Enlightened-ish.

It’s time we put the ‘F’ word back in fundamentalism. For those of us who have survived “Christian” Fundamentalism specifically, the inability to embrace our inner sailor has been detrimental to our spiritual and psychological well-being. However, as I discuss in Enlightened-ish, fundamentalism is an equal opportunity oppressor. There are New Age fundamentalists, Buddhist fundamentalists and probably Muslim fundamentalists. These fundies of our faith experience have a way of taking something quite natural and turning it into a process of self-suppression that divorces us from valuable parts of our human condition. Consider this excerpt from a chapter called “The Freedom to Cuss,” which is the very first freedom in Enlightened-ish.

~~

“… organized religion is far from being the only possible obstacle to enlightenment. Industrialized societies have been isolating themselves from the spirit-body connection for decades. Our behavior reveals that the body can be separated from the soul. We can take our bodies to the spa and treat it with essential oils and gentle touches and yet continue to harbor old feelings from being ill-treated by a co-worker or spoken harshly to by a parent. Conversely, we can take our souls to the church pews and saturate them with creative, understanding and compassionate communities only to return to our homes where we barely know how to function and our souls become neglected in mindless attempts at intimacy.

We try to do everything and accomplish next to nothing every single hour of those precious 24 that we are given each day.

We cannot blame our governments. We cannot blame religion. We cannot blame family.

                        Damnit, who can we blame?

                        Politics may tell you to blame a party or leader. Religious leaders may tell you to blame a devil or karma. Society may tell you to blame a parent or the economy.

Politicians may say you can find salvation in their new campaign perspective. Religious leaders may say you can find respite in eternal life. Society may say you can beat the odds by applying yourself and working harder to get what you want, can what you get and then sit on your can but no!

The sacred journey to enlightenment is about personal responsibility.

                        Go ahead.

                        Cuss about it.

            If you are looking outside of yourself for any answers, you are going to get increasingly frustrated by the lack of answers that I will offer you.

                        I am not you.

            I will only suggest that you go inward and you find out what the Sacred has to say to you individually, to your body, in your mind, for your heart, about your soul.” (Freedom to Cuss, Enlightened-ish: A Grief Memoir about Spiritual Awakening)

~~

Well, fuck, Gail,” you exclaim. “Part of doing a guest post is delivering some easy-to-follow Five Step program so I can heal myself, awaken, forgive my oppressors or let go of my past. You suck.”

Hey, be nice to the guest blogger. There’s a good chance that we can be sometimes fuckin’ magical here.

How about I create for us The 3 Tenants of the Freedom to Cuss, so we can really stay in touch with our fundamentalist roots here? I mean, what’s freedom without a few rules, right? (See how I did that? I made a point and then I prepare to contradict my own point and proceed anyway… that’s the Freedom to Guest Blog However You Want, bitches).

Tenant One: Thou shalt cuss because it frees your mind.

With a little En Vogue attitude, let your hair down and let the words flow from the foul-mouthed freedom-fighter within your brain. Our minds, while sometimes our greatest ally, often censor us and play tapes in our heads about what is “right” or “proper.” Free your mind and I have no doubt that the rest will follow! This has certainly been the case for our “Bi-feminist Apostate” who hosts this blog. Just look at her writings and how she continues to bloom in the pile of spiritual manure that her family of origin chose for her. I mean, it’s about as badass as you get – when you let your mind wander into leslooms and yoni rituals. The shit is made good, when we choose to outshine the stink, ya know?

Tenant Two: Thou shalt cuss because it saves your heart.

I’m not a medical doctor, but as an intuitive healer, I’ve seen more than once, how people who block their “uncomfortable” emotions end up choosing unhealthy behaviors that prevent the flow of love to and from their hearts. Not cussing is like a big, cholesterol-packed McDonald’s cheeseburger for your energetic health. Ironically, with every cuss word that you utter, you pump authenticity and pure, raw blood through your arteries… and when it comes back to your heart through your veins, the vulgarity is full of life-giving oxygen.

Tenant Three: Thou shalt cuss because it’s fucking hysterical.

Let’s be honest. In the proper setting (and with the right amount of dessert wine), dropping a few inappropriate F bombs is incredibly entertaining. The first time I heard someone say “un-be-fucking-lievable,” I think my inner grade school kid punched a bully in the face. I thought, “Yes! I wanna cuss like that!” One of my favorite memes on Facebook is the one where the Buddhist children are meditating and one shouts, “First to Enlightenment… eat my dust, bitches!”

enlightenment bitches

Now, as the Executive Director of an Early Learning Center, I’m not suggesting that this is quite so entertaining in all settings, but honestly, people of faith take themselves way too seriously sometimes. Nothing breaks the ice better than knowing that I can laugh with someone about how the sacred and the silly converge… and a hearty, “Hells Yeah” in response to finding a good parking space is really appreciated sometimes. Why not act like you won the World Series when you manage to get through the day without (ironically) screaming profanities at your boss? “Way to fuckin’ go, yo! You did it!”

Honestly, in the end, The Freedom to Cuss has less do with actual cussing, or even fundamentalism and more to do with the grief that I felt when my father died. On that day and every day since, I don’t kindly dress up my grief with happy words about pious platitudes related to life after death or everything happening for a reason.

Nope, every time I consider that he will not be at my wedding…

When I consider that he will never hold a grandchild…

When I consider that he doesn’t call on Saturdays anymore to annoy me with his crossword puzzle answers…

When I consider that the leaders at the church I was attending right before he died responded poorly to my need to grieve freely…

When I consider that my ex made my grief all about her and I was too heartbroken to get out of that relationship…

When I consider that I was only 33 years old when the man who brought me into the world died…

I get fucking sad.

I even get fucking mad.

And in that way… I learn to be free.

Damnit! So this is awakening?

fuck you

Well then…

Namaste, my friends.

Let your badassery begin today!

P.S. Fundamentalism: The Equal Opportunity Oppressor – stay tuned this week for my full discussion of the topic at For Gail So Loved the World.

The Point of No Return: When Survival and Freedom Are At Odds

Spoiler Alert: The Awakening and Crewel
Trigger alert: suicide

I finished reading The Awakening for the first time about four weeks ago. I think when I started it, I was expecting feminist erotica—titillating, empowered romance.

While it was certainly titillating and empowering in its own metaphoric way (I don’t think I’ve ever read more vague yet obvious references to a sexual awakening without there even being a kiss in the first three-quarters of the book), what I found was that it was less about sex and more about autonomy. I’ll admit, I wasn’t expecting the suicide at the end. And part of me wanted desperately to cry and to see in her death the tragedy of a life lost . . .

But I couldn’t.

All I could see was the freedom that she had found—both the freedom of life and the freedom of death.

It was the same feeling I got at the end of “Thelma and Louise,” when I wanted to scream as much from horror as from joy.

"Something's, like, crossed over in me and I can't go back, I mean I just couldn't live."

“Something’s, like, crossed over in me and I can’t go back, I mean I just couldn’t live.”

I know that feeling oh so well. I don’t often talk about my views of suicide because they tend to be hugely unpopular. I’m not even sure I’m prepared to get into all the nuances of my thinking here. Suicide is a deep topic, complex no matter how you approach is. But suffice it to say that I don’t always see suicide as a tragedy, as weakness, or as giving up.

Sometimes it can be exquisite. Sometimes it can be noble. Sometimes it can be a victory.

I can picture the reactions of some who are reading this, the horror and disgust they feel at my words. I’m sure some are going to accuse me of saying various things that I haven’t said. Others may attack me out of their own pain. And that’s okay. Those who don’t want to hear what I’m trying to say won’t be able to hear what I’m saying. I know they don’t understand—they can’t understand. And I accept them where they are.

But for some, their hearts are whispering, “I know what you mean.” They, like me, have experienced what Edna experienced and what Thelma and Louise experienced—even what the unnamed character in the Yellow Wallpaper experienced (although she didn’t technically die).

People can live a long time in a stifling environment, whether it be an abusive relationship, a totalitarian regime, a controlling community, or a hateful culture. The ability of the human spirit to adapt to such stressors and even rise above them is well-known and inspiring.

But I’m not here to talk about the endurance of the soul.

I’m here to talk about when the soul is no longer satisfied with merely existing.

For some, there comes a moment when they get a taste of hope and freedom, and they know they can never go back. That moment when they know that conformity doesn’t cut it, that treading water isn’t worth it, and that anything is better than what they have. That moment when the soul whispers, “Give me liberty, or give me death.”

It’s a brilliant moment and a beautiful one!

It’s the point of no return.

To the rest of the world Edna, Thelma, and Louise may look like horrible, senseless tragedies, but those women understood what it meant to value their identity, autonomy, and freedom more than anything else.

Once you have that kind of awakening, it’s irrevocable.

I can remember the moment that I realized I couldn’t stay in the IFB. I’d been suicidal for most of high school, but I always felt ashamed of my desire to die. Then one day I knew that if I couldn’t get out, I would kill myself—and I would do it with relish–because it was far worse to be trapped in that life.

It was my point of no return, and I still think suicide would have been a victory for me if there were no other options.

But this post isn’t just about death . . . or well, it kind of is, but not the kind that we think of. In Tarot, the Death card is a special card. It rarely signifies a physical death. Rather it serves as a symbol for a transition that is so complete that it feels like you are dying in the process.

From the Traditional Rider-Waite illustrations.

From the Traditional Rider-Waite illustrations.

I think in our society’s fear of death, we’ve lost the ability to see it as a symbol. The point of no return is as much about the death of inhibition and the death of your old identity, relational ties, security, and place in society as it is about the willingness to die physically.

And that’s where I find Edna, Thelma, and Louise become symbols for an entirely different action—embracing the unknown. Hurdling off a cliff, surrendering to the vast, endless ocean—choosing to let go of everything you’ve known in order to pursue freedom and autonomy.

I was finishing Crewel around the same time that I was finishing The Awakening. Two books with vastly different plots and vastly different endings, but they felt like they were mirroring each other in a way that not even an English professor could orchestrate. The day after I cried my happy tears as Edna gave herself over to the pull of the tide, I was reading about Adelice ripping open the fabric of her society and contemplating her chances of escaping into the void beyond.

And I saw myself staring into the blackness of leaving my religion.

The point of no return is terrifying, but enlivening. You don’t know whether you’re going to be annihilated or break through to a new world, but in that moment of leaping, it doesn’t even matter.

Technically, we don’t know for sure whether Edna dies at the end of The Awakening. It’s implied that she cannot live, but the moment of death is never actually shown—because it’s the surrender that is the most important part, that moment when she decides she’s not going back. In Crewel however, we do see what happens after the point of no return. Adelice pitches herself over the edge, admitting that the fall could have potentially gone on forever, but nevertheless reaches out in faith, breaking through the unendurable illusion of her former life into an unknown, uncontrollable, but totally authentic world of her own choosing.

“What’s worth doing even if you fail?” Brene Brown asks in her new book Daring Greatly. I know that sacrificing my life for my freedom and autonomy was worth it . . . and that no matter how it ended, I couldn’t fail because I was claiming my freedom.

As Jesus once asked, “What do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul?” In the IFB, I was taught that question was pointing to the waste of worldly possessions in relation to salvation. Now, however, I see it differently. What is the point of surviving–what is the point of safety–if your sense of self and freedom are the price? The point of no return isn’t about death; it’s about freedom being more important than survival.

The Freedom of Uncertainty (Step One to Spiritual Freedom)

I’m not a huge fan of new-year resolutions or of the whole farewell, time-to-assess-my-life thing that tends to dominate this week for others, but I have to admit that this year has been a wild one for growth. It’s been three years coming, but this year in particular has been the one where I even blew myself away.

Looking back on who I used to be, I barely recognize myself—in a good way. These have all been changes that I needed and growth that I wanted, even if I didn’t like the means of growing at the time. I’ve been trying to pin down what has been the most important lesson or change this past year, the one that kick-started all the others. I’ve come to the conclusion that nothing this year would have happened without the less-astounding, more internal lessons of the previous year—learning to sit with uncertainty.

When I first began my baby steps out of the Independent Fundamental Baptist movement, I never intended to go very far. I wanted to get away from the abusive environment that dominated those churches and “schools” and find a church that held onto the “truth” of Christianity without all the bullshit.

For a while, I clung to the core of my religion as my anchor while allowing myself to question the things around it. Some fundamentalists warned me that if I started down that path, I would lose my faith. But I told myself that if my faith couldn’t stand up to questioning, it wasn’t worth having. I felt certain that I would eventually find my answers.

But for every answer I found, another question appeared. They got bigger and bigger until even the core seemed unstable. All the books and scholars I found couldn’t fully reconcile the doubts and contradictions I had; the answers only covered the surface, never getting deep enough to reset the foundation.

I was faced with a choice. I could turn away from my questions, push away those who reminded me of my doubts, shut my mind off, find reassurance in the imperfect answers that had reassured me before, and live the rest of my life in a religion I was too scared to leave.

Or I could let it all go.

I’ve never been very good at ignoring cognitive dissonance, so I let go.

I wanted to start studying other religions and belief systems immediately to find a new one that I could rely on, but I knew that if I did that, I wouldn’t be doing it because I actually believed in that religion. I’d be doing it because I’d needed to fill the vacuum left by Christianity. I made some tentative attempts at engaging other religions, visiting a Buddhist Temple and talking with some Mormons, but my own desperation scared me.

Probably the hardest thing I have ever done in my life was choosing to be “agnostic.” I’m not talking about the softer form of atheism that claims agnosticism or even the agnosticism that finds answers and comfort in not having answers. I’m talking about confronting my doubts and embracing the fear that maybe there really were no answers to my questions. It was an agnosticism that denied myself my need to explore spirituality until I no longer felt the need to run from the possibility that this was all there was.

For almost a year I held myself to this agnosticism, refusing to even attempt to come up with answers to my questions. I started collecting books, attempting to fill my bookcase with at least one major book about every major belief system I could. But I didn’t read them. I merely let them sit there, their presence reminding me that each of these religions or non-religions (atheism/agnosticism) claimed to be “the truth.”

It was torture. There were days when I just sat in my apartment, crying and rocking, trying to pray to a god I didn’t believe in anymore, trying not to pray to that god. I felt like my world might crumble and disappear right in front of my eyes.

But the world didn’t end. I didn’t cease to exist. Life around me continued on exactly as it had before.

And I learned the lesson that set me free: even though my worldview might make me feel like it holds the world together, in the end, it doesn’t do anything.

Without the preconceived notion that “I’m right,” any worldview had the potential to be right. Some seemed more believable than others, but there was absolutely nothing that was self-evident. There was always room for questions. Always room for other answers. Always room for new discoveries.

Eventually I did get to a place where the doubt felt almost like an answer—not the answer I was looking for. It didn’t solve anything. But learning that it was okay to simply not know freed my mind in a way that nothing else could have. I began to play with ideas, trying them on like clothes, seeing how they fit. I allowed myself to start exploring and creating my own spirituality, choosing what made sense to me rather than what I was too scared to reject. Suddenly the journey to find what I believed was a wondrous, fascinating, and exhilarating journey, rather than one of terror and pain.

It is because of that year of uncertainty that I have been able to sprint through so much internal work this year. It’s because of the year of unidentity that I’ve been able to make so many strides in creating my identity into who I was always meant to be.

Part of me would have liked to return to Christianity, and I admire the friends I have who took a similar journey and found a place for themselves within Christianity. But I honestly don’t think I was meant to be a Christian. My spiritual life now feels so natural and so fulfilling, an expression of the things that have always been inside of me waiting for permission to come out.

As I head into the new year, I’ll ignore the pressure to make new-year resolutions as usual, except perhaps the resolution to continue to live the full breadth of life, facing down fear, embracing uncertainty, and finding myself through it all. And I encourage others to dare to take that journey themselves.

It’s worth it; I promise.

Like a Virgin: Voting

This wasn’t my first time voting, but in many ways it was. In the past, I voted who I was told to vote for. I didn’t dare think outside the box because I was terrified of what might happen. The few people who were brave enough to openly support Obama at Bob Jones University were looked down on and ostracized by their fellow students, and I’ll admit that I was one of the students ostracizing those brave souls. Between the peer pressure and the terror stories told by the preachers about what would happen to America if we didn’t vote her back to fundamentalist principles, there never seemed any other option. I voted blindly. I voted fearfully.

This time around, there was a similar fear, but on the opposite end of the spectrum. As I watched the consistent attempts to whittle down women’s rights and listened to the rhetoric that made me feel like I had entered an alternative universe, I felt like, once again, I had no choice. Even though I was unhappy with Obama for having extended the Patriot Act and concerned with the potential ramifications of H.R. 347—even though I was dumbfounded by the fact that both were almost unanimously passed through Congress—I still felt like I was being forced to vote out of fear of what might happen if a Republican won . . . until I discovered that there were more than two choices.

People told me it was a wasted vote. They told me that “third parties” never won and that the two-party system was just the way it was. They told me their own disappointed stories of having voted for third-parties and nothing coming of it. They said the United States had been that way since its birth and wouldn’t change.

But I decided that I wasn’t comfortable just letting it go and voting what I was told. I looked into each candidate. I thought I would probably come back to Obama because he would still seem like the best choice, but it gave me comfort to feel like I was making an informed choice.

To my consternation, I found myself falling in love with Jill Stein and the Green New Deal. I fell in love with her stand for freedom, her refusal to take corporate money, and her unflinching honesty about topics that the Democrats and Republicans were staying as far away from as possible.

Still, I heard that voice whispering that I needed to vote for Obama . . . or else.

Or else what? Something bad might happen if I step out of the two-party peer-pressure system? Such classic avoidance training! Yes, something bad might happen if I take a chance to express my disapproval with both Democrats and Republicans . . . the candidate I like least might win.

But nothing good could happen if I voted out of fear.

Both Democrats and Republicans have betrayed freedom, in my mind, by passing legislation that attacked various rights. I definitely think Republicans have made more obvious attacks, but they both made attacks. Voting out of fear would just mean I was making a choice between which rights I was willing to forego. Was I willing to overlook my right to privacy in order to vote to have my right to choose? Were my rights as a bisexual worth more than my right to protest, to freedom of speech, or to due process?

I don’t think I should be having to weigh which rights I’m willing to take a hit on. Talk about wasting a vote! Voting for someone I don’t believe in because I am too scared not to is a wasted vote!

Eleanor Roosevelt is famous for saying, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” I’ve been thinking about that statement and the personal power it implies all afternoon, and I think she was onto something much deeper than just feeling bad or good about oneself.

No one can take away my power or my rights without my consent. No one can take away my choice or my autonomy without my consent. No one can take away my voice without my consent.

I hear so many people complaining about the way the elections are functioning and expressing dissatisfaction in the lack of choices, and the infuriating part is that we are the ones locking ourselves into this because we too scared of what might happen if we step outside of the box we’ve put around ourselves.

But isn’t that what I left fundamentalism to escape? A life controlled by fear isn’t what I want. My power is my own. I will not give it up by believing that it can be taken away.

Today, for the first time, I voted for the candidate who I felt represented freedom the most.

For the first time, I feel like my vote actually counted because it wasn’t a tool in someone else’s hands; it was the clear and unequivocal exercise of my right to express how I want government to function.

I can’t even express how excited and proud I was to walk into that booth and know that I was making my own choice. I dream of a day when we can all recognize the tremendous power of change that we possess and stop this silly business of voting the party line out of fear.

Writing Be Banned! A Salute to Banned Book Week

Like many naïve, aspiring writers, I used to think that the greatest honor that I could achieve as a writer would be for my book to become a best-seller. The best-seller list, at least to my high school mind, represented coming close to writing the “great American novel.” If it was a best-seller, it had a better chance of being a classic.

Well, with things like Fifty Shades of Grey gracing the best-seller lists now, I’m no longer so convinced of the magical significance of making that list. It no longer represents the “great literature” of the day (if it ever did) and now represents more of a hodge-podge of people riding a trending wave or selling a well-known name to cover the no-name, no-talent ghost writers that took over the name years ago (Hint: if you see a big name like Robert Ludlum accompanied by “with” and another name, you can bet your mortgage that it was ghost written).

However, there is one list that consistently has books I admire, both for writing finesse and content—the banned book list. Of course, that list also shares space with things like Twilight which is only slightly less appalling than Fifty Shades and slightly more honorable as the original trash instead of the fan-fiction retelling, but I’m willing to overlook the bad writing because the reason it made the banned book list wasn’t because it was atrociously written. As nice as it might sound to ban books for bad craftsmanship, the reason they are banned is because the content ruffles the feathers of those who like to control people’s minds.

I don’t like what Stephanie Meyer has to say in her books. I don’t care for the unhealthy romantic models she presents. But I like censorship much less. Therefore, you will see her books lining my bookshelves as a matter of principle. At least, that’s what I tell myself to avoid the buyer’s remorse of having bought the entire series before finishing them. :/

But let’s not degrade banned book week with any more talk about that. On with what I was saying!

I admire the list of banned books. It ranges from picture books like Green Eggs and Ham or It’s a Book to favorite novels like The Handmaid’s Tale or The Hunger Games to informational and philosophical books like the dictionary, Darwin’s Origin of Species, and Anne Frank’s Diary of a Young Girl. Some of the most socially important books of the previous decades have been on that list from the time they were published until now, and many of my new favorites find their way there at some point or another.

These are books that have social significance, some simply because they get people talking about things they are uncomfortable with (seriously people, you can’t erase the existence of sex by banning books that mention it), many others because they dare to point out social flaws and concerns.

These are books that are timeless if only because they stand as beacons in the ongoing fight to protect freedoms that are more fragile, yet stronger than any of us can fully understand until we are up against the moment of choosing to fight for them.

These are books that speak of the courage to say what you believe, even when that threatens to render you an outcast, or worse.

And if I were to write anything that got noticed, the greatest honor that I could be given outside of the honor of already having told my story to myself is to find my book on the banned book list. Then I’d know that I said something significant enough to scare those who live by the politics of fear and enduring enough to be read by future generations. But more importantly, it would mean that speaking my truth was more important to me than all the fame, praise, and fortune that society could offer—because honoring my voice is really the only worthwhile reason for writing anyway.