When Freedom of Speech Doesn’t Exist: In Memory of the Dante Papers

Before I left the Independent Fundamental Baptist cult, I went through a phase of trying to “fix” fundamentalism. It was a time when I could recognize the discrepancies, cognitive dissonance, and abuse, but I wasn’t quite ready to recognize the cult as a whole. I was a student at Bob Jones University, three years into my degree, when I got involved with a small group of students who were writing newsletters under the name of Dante and distributing them anonymously throughout the campus. We weren’t ashamed of what we were doing, and we believed we had every right to write those papers. But we also knew that if the administration found out, we’d be in pretty severe trouble.

“The Voice of Truth” had three good runs. Then one of the group members got caught and kicked out. He refused to turn in the rest of us, so we were able to return to the university if we chose to. I was torn. A year away from graduation—practically speaking, I could have just kept my head down, gotten my degree, and gotten out. It seemed like the smarter move at the time . . . before I found out that the degree was bogus and worth about as much as a non-degree anyway.

But I couldn’t overlook the complete disregard for freedom of speech. How could a school that practically worshipped the Constitution as inspired by God violate other people’s Constitutional rights so blatantly? I wrestled up until a couple weeks before I was supposed to return. As I began trying to pack, I realized that I wasn’t going to finish packing. I simply couldn’t go back and be silent about what had happened. I withdrew from the school, explaining my protest to the admissions office.

I don’t think any of the group actually returned that semester, and the school had a quiet fall. When spring came around, two of us collaborated one last paper to send out to let the students know what had happened.

I’ve been out of the IFB for several years now, and I still value freedom of speech as the cornerstone of freedom. Wherever there is power, I suppose people will always have to fight to protect their freedoms, but lately with Obama’s expansion on the Patriot Act (as if it weren’t bad enough initially) and the recent revelations we’ve seen regarding privacy right violations, the punishment of whistle blowers, and the silencing of protesters, it seems an especially timely year to remember what freedom of speech means to me—what I sacrificed for it, what it was like without it.

With Banned Book Week starting Sunday, I wanted to post the last of the Dante papers that ever went out. It’s a bit cheesy in some places and still carries cultic influences in others, but for the most part, the core of the message is one that I think is vitally important even outside of the IFB. Don’t ever take freedom for granted. Guard and protect it. Treasure it. Use it.

Voice Of Truth Issue 4

Last year, a student [editor’s note: we let the university think it was a single student to protect the others involved] began writing anonymous papers in an effort to spur the students and administration to think critically. He was not attacking the school, although some of the people who read the papers felt the need to defend themselves. He was not, as some have asserted, complaining or trying to gather a following and incite rebellion like Absolom, or he wouldn’t have written anonymously. He wanted to help and improve the school, not tear it down. For that, he was “denied re-enrollment,” which is the same treatment BJU gives those who engage in extra-marital sex during the summer.

First of all, there was nothing wrong in what he did. The administration, when pressed for an answer, admitted that he broke no rule in the handbook. To be quite honest, we all get stuck in our ways, and from time to time, we need someone to challenge our beliefs. Why? If our beliefs cannot stand up on their own merit, we must re-evaluate what we believe. Questioning a belief is not wrong, even if the belief itself is correct. Unfortunately, in fundamental circles, the very idea of questioning what you’ve been taught is not permitted and asking “why?” often brings both rejection and accusations of heresy. Have we forgotten who our God is? God can handle our questions. He is not afraid to let His people question Him. Many in the Bible have done so, including Job, David, Elijah, Noah, and Moses. In fact, questioning what you believe can be very good because it makes you stronger. Each of us will have to defend himself at some point. We should be sure of what we believe so that we can be ready to give an answer to any man who asks.

Secondly, the school was very wrong in expelling the writer. Such an act was cowardly and tyrannical. By kicking him out, the school blatantly infringed upon his constitutional rights. He broke no rule; he broke no law; he told no lie. He merely expressed his opinion in writing, protected by the First Amendment rights of the freedom of speech and the freedom of the press. In the words of Harry S. Truman, “We punish men for crimes they commit, but never for the opinions [that] they have.” The previous writer committed no crime. What made the administration so angry and so defensive? Was it that he expressed his opinion, because he expressed it in writing, or because he expressed a differing opinion from the one held by the school? The freedom to express what we believe without punishment or suppression is one of the fundamental freedoms our founding fathers fought so hard to win for us.

Along with that freedom comes the freedom to read and either accept or reject what we read, which the school effectively took away from the students in expelling Dante. No one forced those who disagreed with him to read his paper. Those who read and agreed did so of their own volition. Another President, John F. Kennedy, said, “A nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people.” What is the school so afraid of? Again, if their beliefs are true, their beliefs should be able to stand the test of one lone voice crying out. And whether or not the school’s beliefs are true, the students have a right to hear both sides and choose for themselves what they believe. BJU stole those rights away by suppressing free speech.

The original writer of The Voice of Truth was not trying to war against BJU. The administration turned it into a war. Obviously, the school, its administration, and its students are not perfect. However, many choose to accept BJU’s rules and regulations without question or thought. So have generations before us. But looking at the history of the school reminds us that BJU has been very wrong before. Most students know that BJU lost its tax-exempt status at some point. Few, however, know why. The school used to prohibit inter-racial dating and inter-racial marriage. In fact, any student who openly disagreed with the school’s stance could be kicked out. Sound somewhat familiar? Of course, such a racist policy could not survive. Dr. Bob III rescinded and apologized for that policy in 2000 on national television. However, I wonder how many who were kicked out for that reason got even so much as an apology letter?

Could it be that just as BJU was wrong with its unconstitutionally racist rules, BJU is just as wrong with its unconstitutionally suppressive rules? Although it’s obvious that, biblically and constitutionally, it was wrong for the school to kick the writer out and to try to suppress the paper, few would say anything. All of you, students and faculty, have a choice. Will we allow this suppression? I still strongly believe that BobJonesUniversity is a good school with many merits and the potential to be a great and shining light for Christ. However, the school’s attitude of stubbornness and tyranny often covers this light in the bushes.

 

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The Different Shades of Rebellion

Who is more rebellious? The girl wearing makeup, a skirt, and high heels? Or the girl with baggy pants, a shaved head, and a dozen piercings?

Stereotype would say the latter is far more rebellious, and not too long ago, I would have agreed.

Not anymore.

I’ve been reading Shiri Eisner’s Bi: Notes for a Bisexual Revolution, and it’s completely shaken my assumptions of what makes up a rebel. (Yes, it’s the same book that I was reading when I wrote this post, and yes, it’s my first reading still. I’m slow with nonfiction books. Don’t judge me!)

I never considered my sexual orientation as an asset to rebellion. As a bisexual female married to a guy, I often feel like I’m the most benign version of “queer” out there. There’s no way to avoid passing as straight unless I stand up and wave a flag in people’s faces (which I’ve enjoyed doing at Pride parades). However, Eisner has helped me see that it’s that very facet of my identity that makes it so much more subversive because it challenges what people think about relationships, sexuality, and identity in general.

Whether I fit into or challenge the stereotypes about bisexuality, either way I challenge stereotypes about what it means to be straight or queer. My very existence undermines the invisible certainty of monosexuality.

In other words, me being a bisexual woman can be seen as an act of rebellion. Yay me!

It was a subtle shift in perspective that had enormous consequences on the way I viewed the rest of the world and my place in the world. Suddenly even mundane activities seemed potentially radical. With the example given at the beginning of the post, both girls could potentially be making a radical feminist statement . . . or a statement about gender . . . or a statement about freedom . . . or a statement about sexual orientation.

I guess it really comes down to two basic ways of rebelling. The first is by abstaining from certain looks, behaviors, or associations. The second is by embracing them.

I’d been taught to view the abstemious method as rebellion, but only because I saw embracing such behavior or associations the same as embracing the norms that society attached to them. How could that be rebellious?

I was faced with that question when I found out about Abercrombie and Fitch’s ridiculous status obsession, from not wanting the homeless to wear their brand to refusing to supply clothes to women larger than they deemed attractive.

I never actually purchased anything from Abercrombie, but I did have a shirt with their brand on it that my partner had found in a thrift store. Normally I couldn’t give a rat’s ass about brands, but I did get a small thrill whenever I wore Abercrombie. It was the only brand that was outright forbidden in the IFB because, as the Bob Jones University student handbook from 2011 states, “Abercrombie & Fitch and its subsidiary Hollister have shown an unusual degree of antagonism to biblical morality (page 32).”

I was more than a little miffed when the CEO turned into the king of snobs. Most of the people I knew wanted to boycott the company (abstinence rebellion). For a while, I felt pressured to stop wearing my thrift-store purchased shirt in solidarity.

Then this guy starts a movement of giving Abercrombie shirts to the homeless to “taint” the brand’s “pristine” reputation. An exploitative move on the part of privilege by using the homeless in status wars? Perhaps. Charitable activist choosing to make a political statement while helping those in need? Perhaps.

Regardless of whether his move was particularly wise or not, the larger idea—claiming something “forbidden”—is a valid though often overlooked form of rebellion. He wasn’t the only one doing the whole “you can’t stop me” act with Abercrombie, but he was the only one I saw that actually got attention. Such a form of rebellion raises a valid question. Would a rebellion be more successful by people boycotting Abercrombie (fiscal punishment) or by “unacceptable” people wearing their brand (reclamation of the forbidden)?

Several years ago, I saw rebellion as an action against an authority or a system of rule. It was a choice akin to standing up when you’ve already been sitting down. It was the radical, in-your-face moments of movies and books. And I’ve had my fair share of those and am proud of them.

But that’s not where rebellion has to end.

Now I’m starting to see that rebellion can be more “passive” than that. It can be as simple as refusing to submit to a false dilemma—refusing to box in your identity.

In this way, my agnostic spiritual life becomes a form of rebellion against fundamentalist Christians and fundamentalist atheists alike who want the world to be a choice between each other. My nudity-affirming feminism becomes a form of rebellion against both modesty culture and objectification culture that wants women’s bodies to be all about male arousal.

There is a time and place for marches, protests, petitions, and attention-grabbing speech. By all means we should be making use of those to effect change in society. But in the times when those are not appropriate or simply not feasible, it’s the quiet rebellion, the passive rebellion, that erodes the lines of societal norms. It’s the every-day, mundane kind of rebellion that shifts paradigms.

So, join me this week by going out there and living a rebellious life—a life that says that you can challenge or embrace stereotypes and still be kicking ass and taking names.

 

Reaching Out to Christian Allies: An Apology and a Challenge

I talk a lot about my dislike for Christianity.

As a survivor of an abusive Christian cult, I think I’ve earned that right.

But I also recognize and appreciate that not all Christians are abusive sociopaths. I have some friends who identify as Christian who are wonderful people. I’m so proud of them for finding a way to turn Christianity into a positive faith experience (not that it’s my place to feel proud of them, but I have to give them credit and respect for doing what I could not).

I thought that my disdain and criticism of Christianity were clearly not something they would perceive as directed at them.

I was wrong.

Within most systems of oppression, there is a way to differentiate between individuals within the privileged group and the system that grants them privilege and oppresses others. Patriarchy and male privilege delineate a system that oppresses women and gives men power without implying that men are all horrible, misogynistic asses. The same goes for White privilege and racism and for homophobia, heterosexism, and straight privilege (or biphobia and monosexism for that matter).

I’ve never heard a differentiation made between religious oppression and religious people.

It might be clear in my mind when I rail against Christianity that I’m not railing against all individuals who identify as Christians, but someone else may only hear a word that identifies them personally.

I don’t want to make Christians feel targeted as individuals by my hatred.

Some have tried to argue that what I dislike about Christianity “isn’t really Christian.” But you can’t say that someone who identifies as Christian isn’t Christian because you dislike the way they act. It’s a logical fallacy, commonly known as “No true Scotsman.” It should be an obvious logical fallacy. No one ever tries to argue, “That’s not really a White person. They’re racist, and I’m not. Since I’m White, they can’t be.” It doesn’t make sense, and it’s not a valid differentiation method.

But I understand what these people are getting at . . . I also want to be able to differentiate between Christianity as a faith identity and Christianity as an oppression/prejudice.

What we need is a word, like sexism, to identify Christianity as a system of power. Whether Christianity was meant to be a system of power is beside the point. We have to deal with what Christianity is, not lament what it should have been. Being a Christian is not bad, but just because an individual Christian doesn’t want to participate in oppression doesn’t mean that the religion suddenly loses its oppressive elements.

I came across something on Urban Dictionary the other day that feels like a solution. “Religism” hasn’t come into wide usage yet (I’m hoping to change that), but it exists to identify prejudice against those of a different religion.

Voila! Just like that, I have a word to describe the prejudice and oppression that comes from the Christian religion as a whole that doesn’t target individuals!

I feel it’s important to say that I’m truly sorry for the allies that I’ve inadvertently hurt. I should have done my Google search far before now. I want to work with Christian allies.

But in return, Christian allies need to also do work to recognize where they have privileges because of their faith identity. Just as I have hurt Christian friends without meaning to, many Christians unintentionally contribute to the oppression of others, even with the best of intentions. This article has a great beginning list of privileges Christians often enjoy without realizing it. I’ve added some of my own additions below.

  • If a person who shares your religion commits a violent crime, your neighbors, co-workers, and acquaintances aren’t likely to view you as an imminent threat.
  • If a person who shares your religion commits a violent crime, the media and law enforcement aren’t likely to see your religion as the root of that violence.
  • If being questioned by the police, you have reasonable expectation that stating your religious faith will be an asset rather than a liability.
  • If arrested, you have reasonable expectation of a speedy trial without excessive detainment.
  • If you talk about your faith on the phone, you can feel relatively secure that the NSA won’t monitor you for simply mentioning your religion.
  • Lawmakers and judges who oppose laws on religious reasons refer to your religion.
  • In cases of civil rights violations, your religion is likely to be favored.
  • The morals of your religion are so commonly accepted that they are represented even in media and entertainment that claims to be from a different religious perspective (e.g. Charmed, a supposedly Pagan show, featuring Christian-esque demons despite the fact that most Pagans do not believe in the Christian version of the Devil or good and evil.)
  • Accepted alternatives to scientific theory reference your religion’s mythology.
  • Despite a violent past, your religion is not considered violent.
  • TV shows that portray your religion favorably aren’t likely to be boycotted or recalled because of public outrage.
  • History often favors your religion’s perspective and portrays the work of those from your religion as beneficial.
  • Even non-religious people are likely to use your religious buildings for special occasions unless they have cultural ties to other religions.
  • If neighbors or acquaintances find out about your faith, they are likely to assume you are a safe person for their children to be around.

I could go on, but I hope that my point has been made. It’s hard to see all the ways that Christianity is favored above other religions in the U.S. until you step out of Christianity. It doesn’t mean that these privileges are always present for all Christians, nor does it only refer to rights acknowledged by the government. Privilege is about societal structure that favors one group above another.

And I’m not saying that having privilege automatically makes someone a bad person. Privilege, by its very definition, is something that is given to a group of people whether they want it or not. It’s not necessarily something they have a choice about, and those who are aware of their privilege are limited in their ability to decline to participate.

However, being aware of privilege and taking steps to counter it can pave the way for healing and change.

I’m taking the first step to acknowledging how I’ve hurt the conversation by failing to differentiate between people who have a Christian faith identity and the Christian religism that pervades society. I’m changing my language in order to open the door for that conversation to begin again. We can work together to address the oppression within Christianity but only when Christian allies are willing to acknowledge that it exists.

Now, the ball is in the court of the allies. Are you willing to do your part to address and raise awareness of the system? Can you meet me in this place of differentiation? It won’t be easy. It may challenge you to examine your own life and faith a bit closer. It may challenge you to change perspectives, which is going to be extremely difficult when society is designed to validate your perspective. It may require you to bite your tongue when a wounded person is writhing under the agony of what Christian religism has done to them and to practice patience, love, and space-holding for those too hurt to recognize yet that you are not the same as the system. It may require stepping back from the conversation and listening instead of talking, following instead of leading, acknowledging instead of defending.

The good news is that if you’re a Christian ally, you’ve probably already had to do these things in other areas. You’ve probably already done some work to address white privilege if you’re white, male privilege if you’re a man, and straight privilege if you’re straight. This is nothing new to those who love equality. The trick is to take what you’ve already learned to do and apply it to a new aspect of your life.

As a Feminist, I Believe in Men

It would be appallingly easy to hate men. I honestly can’t blame women who do. With the amount of sexism, objectification, and misogyny women face on a daily basis, it would be easy to think that all men are like that.

And when a guy comes onto my Facebook wall declaring that he needs women to be sex objects and is only concerned about seeing boobs—and then generalizes that and says that all men are like that, it’s tempting to believe him.

But even though real life experience and statistics both show that sexism and misogyny are thriving to one extent or another, I’m not buying the whole “it’s just the way we are” tripe.

I have faith that men are better than that!

You see, as a feminist, it’s not just that I believe that women are just as capable as men. It’s not just that I believe that women should be given equal opportunities, that they should have the rights to their bodies, or that they should be able to live like human beings.

I also don’t think women have to take over the world in order to achieve that, which means . . .

I believe that men are capable of being humane. I believe that men are able to recognize inequality and fight with women to change the system. I believe that men aren’t driven by their penises and that they are capable of emotional processing and empathy. I believe many of them want to be set free from the hypermasculine expectations. I believe they don’t inherently want to rape and that, if we give them the resources and education they need to learn respect and understand consent, the majority of them wouldn’t rape. I believe that men can get offended by objectification too and that they can want to see women in active, equal roles. I believe that men can appreciate beauty without dehumanizing someone . . . or that they can keep it in their pants when it’s not really appropriate to take it out.

“What guys do you know?” I was asked when I expressed my belief that men aren’t all chauvinists.

And the lucky thing is that I know a lot of guys who fit that model of a man. I know they can exist because they do exist.

I’ve heard a lot of feminists say that men don’t deserve to be thanked for being feminists. And perhaps in an ideal world, it wouldn’t be necessary to praise people for refusing to partake in oppression, but in this world, where rape threats and hateful comments are directed at women for little other reason than being visible online, I think it is appropriate to give a shout out to the male feminists and allies of the world—not because we should find it so extraordinary to find someone who isn’t an ass, but because it takes a lot of courage to stand up to the status quo and say, “I’m not having it.”

We as feminists should know that.

So . . . my dear male feminists and male allies,

Thank you for giving me something to hold onto and hope for while we struggle to change the world together. I know it’s not easy for you, just as it’s not easy for me. I know you face your own brand of backlash, and I am sorry that standing for equality is such a shitty experience for both of us right now.

Thank you for standing up to your friends, not buying that product because there’s a sexualized woman in the ad, getting angry when you see the news, and even apologizing when you yourself find latent sexism slipping out from time to time. Thank you for being beautiful, equality-loving human beings who are willing to try to recognize and change the patriarchal culture that other men are content to just assume is the way things should be.

As a feminist, I admire you. I believe in the future that you represent—where respect and equality are things that all of humanity can strive for and achieve.

****Note: Due to an unusual schedule this week, I will not be interacting as much online. I love your comments. Feel free to leave them, but forgive me if you don’t get a detailed or personal response to yours right away.****

Facebook Turned Red and Heterosexism Came Out to Play

When Facebook turned red for marriage equality, I had a lot of friends change their profiles in solidarity to LGBT rights. Many of them shocked conservative friends and family members with their stance, which isn’t surprising since, even as an out and vocal bisexual woman, I still shock people with my support of marriage equality.

It was a little annoying to hear about some of the rude questions my friends faced as a result of their stand. I don’t really know what it is that makes people feel like they have the right to nose into your personal life or judge you simply because they disagree with you, but I thought I might take a moment and remind others of a few general tips of politeness with regard to the sudden awareness of those who support marriage equality.

First of all, the fact that someone reveals their personal stance on marriage equality is not an invitation to ask them, “Are you gay?” If they haven’t made a point to inform you of their sexual orientation, it’s none of your business. You are not entitled to additional personal information about someone else based on the publicity of their political views.

I’m not saying we should all assume everyone is straight until told otherwise. There is a polite and respectful way to ask about someone’s orientation. If you’re meeting a new acquaintance, it’s actually nicer to ask if they have a partner as opposed to a boyfriend/girlfriend. You’re opening the door for them to talk about themselves without making a heterosexist assumption or (as I’ll talk about below) stereotyping them as gay.

However, politely giving someone the space to reveal something about themselves as you get to know them is not the same thing as accosting someone you already know to question them about their sexual orientation because they revealed a political position of which you were previously ignorant. The former is a courtesy; the latter is just the opposite.

Secondly, if they feel comfortable answering such an obviously rude question, it doesn’t give you the right to shove your more conservative beliefs in their face. Again, if you’re not close enough to them to know their sexual orientation, you’re probably not close enough to them to tell them how to live their lives. If someone feels comfortable asking for your opinion on an aspect of their life, THEY WILL ASK YOU. If they don’t ask you, keep your mouth shut. Simple as that—and that goes for parents too!

Thirdly, don’t assume someone’s orientation based on how they look or who they’re with. If your “gaydar” is based on stereotypes, you’re going to make a lot of mistakes. There is no such thing as a “gay look” or a “dyke look.” Femininity or masculinity are not clear-cut indicators of someone’s orientation. Saying someone looks or doesn’t look gay shows you up as a bigot who can’t think outside of clichés.

Furthermore, just because someone is dating or married to a member of the opposite sex doesn’t mean they are straight. Many people feel trapped in a false identity out of fear or have been sucked into unfulfilling relationships under the lie that marriage can “fix” their same-sex attractions. And if you’re the type of person who would break any of the above courtesy rules, you can’t expect a closeted person to feel like trusting you. In fact, you’re probably contributing to them feeling like they need to stay closeted.

Also, don’t forget about the middle. Sexual orientation is not black and white. Most people fall somewhere along a continuum, and a good number of them fall close to the middle, meaning they are attracted to multiple gender expressions. That also means that there are a good number of people in heterosexual, monogamous relationships who do not consider themselves strictly straight. I’m one of them. Just because I don’t happen to be in a relationship with a woman right now doesn’t mean my attraction to women ceases to exist. In the end, judging someone’s sexual orientation based on their relationship status is just another form of heterosexism.

Lastly (for now), supporting marriage equality DOES NOT mean that you are gay. Straight allies exist, and they can be as vocal for marriage equality as any LGBT person. It’s not a hard concept. White people have been allies in the fight for racial equality. Men have been allies in the fight for women’s rights. Christians have been allies in the fight for religious freedom. Pretty much for any struggle, you’ll find members of the power group lending their support to the oppressed. Stop assuming that only gay people support gay rights.

I’m here. I’m a feminist. Get used to it.

I only just discovered feminism a few years ago. It may be an old movement, but it is entirely new to me.

Okay, that’s not entirely true. I “knew” about it, but only from the narrow perspective of fundamentalism, which basically taught that it was akin to homosexuality in its destruction of family values and ruination of marriages.

When I got a real does of feminism, the straw men—er women—fell easily away. I was a big fan of their early victories, such as getting the right to vote, establishing that wives are not property to their husbands, fighting for education, etc. I looked at real feminist’s lives and was impressed by how sane they seemed to be. They stood for things that I already felt were important. In my mind, once I was exposed to the truth, it was a no-brainer to be a feminist. I already was one!

Adopting the label of “feminist” was empowering and scary at the same time, kind of like adopting the label of “bisexual.” I knew there would be people who made false assumptions about me based on negative stereotypes. I knew that there might be a handful of people who would be turned off by the rhetoric and antagonistic towards the “agendas” of *gasp* equal rights.

But that was all part and parcel of taking a stand for something. By the time I decided I wanted to be a vocal feminist, I’d already faced so much backlash for my worldviews that the idea of yet one more person disliking me seemed like another no-brainer. It was worth it to stand for women’s rights.

I hadn’t even been a feminist for a year before I encountered a new enemy to feminism—feminists. I started hearing rumblings about former feminists who declared they were no longer feminists because they wanted to be more “inclusive” or who felt that feminism had become too vitriolic and had lived past its use.

All this while the GOP was doing everything in its power to take us back to the early 1800s, including some who thought women shouldn’t be allowed to vote!

I was confounded, to say the least, and horribly disappointed that feminists seemed to have started believing the anti-feminist propaganda. Seriously, this is the movement that has been demonized from the get-go. Perhaps we’ve forgotten, but there were printed cartoons trying to make feminists look like man-eating monsters to defame the women’s movement. This kind of antagonism is nothing new to feminism.

feminist ad

This past weekend, I overheard part of a conversation at a writer’s event. The New Feminist Agenda by Madeleine Kunin was being featured, so it was natural for feminism to come up in the conversation. Those who have met Madeleine know that she is an incredible feminist and an inspiring woman. Those who have read her book can tell you that the “new” agenda she proposes is one that focuses on family needs like childcare and job flexibility for both men and women—hardly anything “radical” or “family-hating.”

Although I did not have the pleasure of hearing Madeleine speak this time, I did hear a few women discussing a story she told—of a college girl who said she would rather be called a slut than a feminist. The women were saddened, understandably, by this young woman’s attitude towards feminism. While I agree that it’s disheartening that a woman who is benefiting from the hard word of so many feminists would consider it an insult to be associated with women’s rights, the sadder part was the discussion that followed.

One of the “feminists” wondered if the title of Madeleine’s book should have used a different word because “feminist” was just too . . .

I actually didn’t hear the end of that thought, but I can fill in the blank with any number of words that I’ve heard before. “Tainted,” “negative,” “off-putting.”

Oh my heart broke at that moment.

Let me make something clear, I don’t think everyone has to identify as a feminist. I’ve got friends who support equal rights but who do not consider it a big deal to identify as a feminist. That’s fine. If the label doesn’t feel right, don’t wear it.

But if you do identify strongly as a feminist, why the hell would you let someone scare you away from your own identity?

Yes, there are a handful of extremists who trumpet the feminist label while doing horrible things. Does the fact that feminism has some crazies—some truly horrible, mean, bigoted people—involved in it make it an illegitimate movement suddenly?

No!

Because that would mean that the Republican party, the Democratic party, the Catholic church, Islam, Christianity, Mormonism, Atheism, Humanism, Agnosticism, and any other movement or philosophy you can think of are all illegitimate for the same reason.

Every group is going to have extremists within it.

Every group is going to have assholes.

But the majority of feminists don’t actually want to castrate men, take all the power, kill babies, dismantle all of society, destroy the family, force women to stop shaving their legs, or oppress other people based on race, gender, religion, etc.

Do people like that exist?

Yes.

You’ll find them wherever you go, including within feminism. But guess what? It’s not because they’re a feminist that they hold onto their own brand of bigotry. One jerk within a movement doesn’t make every other person in that movement a jerk as well. One flaw in the history of a movement doesn’t make it entirely flawed.

I’m more than willing to denounce anyone who is promoting their own brand of bigotry, but I refuse to let their stupidity take away my identity.

Today, I’m here to tell the world that I’m fucking proud to be a feminist.

If that means I’m called a “slut” because I refuse to conform to the sexual double-standards and taboos of society, then I’m proud to be called that too.

If that means I’m called a “bitch” because I don’t erase my individuality around other people, then I’m proud to be called that too.

If that means I’m called “radical” because I have a voice and use it, then I’m proud to be called that too.

The people who already hate what I stand for DO NOT get to define me. I am a feminist because I believe that women’s rights are as important as racial rights and gay rights—because they’re all part of human rights.

For the past two years, I claimed my identity as a bisexual and walked down the streets of my home town and of New York City with people holding signs that said “We’re here. We’re queer. Get used to it.” While there are certainly people within the Queer community who hold prejudices against others and against their own or who ascribe to ideas that I’m not comfortable with, I’m not ashamed to identify as LGBT.

Perhaps this is the year, then, that I need attend a  slutwalk topless screaming “No means no” or march on D.C. with a sign that says “My body, my choice.” The world can demonize feminism all it wants, but I’m not giving up.

And if you identify or used to identify as a feminist, I challenge you to claim your right to your own identity. Grab hold of it with both hands and don’t let anyone scare you away from it. There will probably continue to be a negative view of feminists for a long time because we’re nowhere near where we need to be yet. There will always be people who hate you for what you stand for. But that should be all the more reason to stand proudly.

The very fact that feminism is considered a dirty word is exactly why we still need feminists.

Conversion Stories: Happy Eternity in Hell!

I must say, this is one of the more unusual and amusing conversion attempts I’ve ever had! I was “blessed” with the opportunity of having a political conversation turn to the Bible. It never ceases to amaze me how quickly expressing any political opinion outside of a conservative one will bring out the Jesus freaks.

In this case, I was discussing marriage equality. Interestingly, it didn’t start out with the usual pro- versus anti- marriage equality for lgbt. In fact, no one was really disputing the fact that same-sex couples should have the right to marry. The deeper question, instead, was whether polygamy should be legal.

I probably take a more radical approach to marriage equality, believing that the government really doesn’t have any business defining or determining what a legitimate marriage is. If someone wants to marry fifty consenting people, that’s their business. If another person wants to marry as a contractual agreement to get health insurance or gain access to citizenship, also their own business.

We didn’t actually get that far in the conversation though. I had barely expressed my support for marriage equality for polygamists when new guy jumps on, calling me a witch.

I didn’t assume it was serious. I thought it was a joke at first, perhaps a petty attempt to shame me. Since an insult first requires a negative view of the label, I wasn’t insulted. I responded with a light-hearted comment about being proud to be a witch if that meant standing for marriage equality.

After a few more random and incomprehensible comments, this guy asked, “Have you read your Bible lately?”

I love that he assumed I have a Bible (or want one), but I let that go. “No, I’ve had enough of that for one lifetime.”

Then he said, “And you guys will lose . . . Bible prophesy, actually Bible code!”

I can only assume he was talking about the election here. Still trying to keep things light, I joked that I might win if I hexed him. I even pulled out the big guns and dropped a few names of people I know in high places. “I’ve got a pretty good relationship with Santa. We met under the Christmas tree a few times last year, and he owes me some favors.”

By that time, I was practically wetting myself laughing because this guy was taking me seriously! It was like a mouse being handed to a cat. I just couldn’t resist the play.

“I’m not afraid of you!” he cried back.

Seeing an opportunity to end the conversation somewhat amicably, I replied, “Nor I of you. That’s the point.”

But did he take the point? No, or course not. That would have been too boringly easy.

“No,” he admitted, “but you are afraid of my God.”

I suppose he felt he was making one hell of a zinger, but in what universe does my scoffing translate to fear of his god? If I were afraid of his god, I would still be a Christian. I really shouldn’t have had to point out the obvious, but I did.

Then this oh-so-kind-and-godly Christian told me, “Happy eternity in hell!”

Looking back at the exchange now that the election is over, I have to smile at the fact that his predictions proved false. I wonder if he thinks I really did hex him or if he’s still trying to convince himself that his god didn’t somehow fail him. I’m sure he’s able to comfort himself to some extent with the idea that I’m still going to hell for all eternity.

And I can comfort myself with the promise of peace and happiness down there while all the Christians like him are safely contained up in heaven where they can eat each other alive over their doctrinal differences. I get the feeling that God might come down and join us heathens just to get away from the snarling piety. The tolerant Christians are welcome to join us too. But hell doesn’t put up with conversion attempts, so leave the proselytizing at the gate.