Encouraging other women, especially special needs and adoptive/foster mamas, sexual assault survivors, and those on the margins. Listening well to those with different lived experiences than mine. A blog by Shannon Dingle.
I like symptoms that can be independently measured, outside of my own testimony. I like blood pressure and pulse and even weight in our fatphobic culture. I like obvious damage in x-rays and MRIs. I like mammograms because they are looking for something others will verify as they review the scans. My thyroid levels, my blood sugar, and range of motion measurements are numbers that make sense.
Pain levels aren’t clear. Cognitive functioning is hard to quantify. You have to take my word for it when I talk about fatigue, about my body feeling heavy, about heat intolerance.
For a survivor of sexual assault, I’ve learned my word isn’t enough for some.
Why would my testimony be proof of health but not sufficient evidence of crimes? If I wait a while with symptoms, will I be asked why I didn’t report my concerns sooner?
Women aren’t believed, and I’m not talking about rape here. No, women are less likely to receive pain medication, more likely to wait longer for treatment, and more likely to be misdiagnosed with a mental health condition when they have physical symptoms than men under the same circumstances. (Side note: the research generally assumes a gender binary, so I’ll be using the men/women dichotomy here.) Even after major heart surgery, men were twice more likely to be offered opioid pain medications than women… even though women feel pain more acutely than men. This powerful essay describes the incredulity of a husband through his wife’s - in her own words - “trauma of not being seen” when she was ignored for hours in an emergency situation. When they have brain or renal tumors, women are more likely to have to go through more appointments before their diagnosis than men with the same tumors.
Knowing what I know about women being (dis)believed, I want to measure my complaints with precision. That’s not always possible. I’m going into an appointment tomorrow (Monday) morning during which a CT scan will likely be ordered. But that unbelieved little girl within me worries that my word for my symptoms isn’t enough for the next test to be deemed necessary.
I know I’m a powerful self advocate. I know I can push for what I need. I know how to fight for myself and my health.
But I’m tired. I don’t want to have to fight. I don’t want to be mindful of every word so that my doctor understands the point, so that my symptoms will be taken seriously, so that I can get the care I need.
I want my pain, my malaise, my intolerance to heat to be graphed like my cortisol levels can be. I want to be able to give an undeniable number for my fatigue. I want to be able to show my symptoms in a way that no one can minimize.
But it doesn’t work that way. I’m learning to trust my body, my word, my resilience. I can’t ask doctors to do that, after all, until I can.
(Well, as better as I get, for a woman with a handful of chronic health conditions.)
I want to be at the end of the story. I want happily ever after. I want to feel good.
But I want to be real more than anything, though, so I’m not going to bullshit you. I’m sick. I fought like hell to live as a kid, and now I’m doing the same.
My arms are too weak to push myself up from bed. Ten minutes in any heat makes me feel as hot and wiped out as a day at the beach. I’ve gained 65 pounds in the past couple years in ways that are symptomatic of a problem. My mind gets all tangled from time to time. I am exhausted all. the. time. My body feels like it weighs two tons whenever I try to stand up. My stamina is nonexistent.
(Side note: here is what we are not going to do, though: we are not going to assume we know each other better than we do. Unless you’re my doctor, my bestie, or my husband, you don’t get to prescribe “have you tried…” or “maybe it’s…” That is not helpful. I have a top-notch team of medical professionals, and they are not you, and we are making progress, so no thanks.
Also, someday I’ll write a post about how exploitative it is to friendships for you to show up in DMs - especially when you’ve never DMed before - to sell me some miracle cure/shake/oil/program when you’ll financially benefit from my purchase.
Again, not helpful and so many assumptions.
Also, implies that your friend is not doing enough to be healthy.
And? I miss the friends some of you used to be before you wanted to cash in on my struggles. So, please, no.)
I can’t tell you how my last speaking engagement went, because I got hot and anxious and jumbled almost immediately. People who were in the room had never heard me before, so they had no clue that i was so disoriented the whole time, but that was the last straw for me. I took a four hour nap immediately after I spoke. I knew I needed help. Something wasn’t right.
That’s what health self-advocacy is all about, after all. It’s knowing your body and making it known to medical professionals. It’s not returning to doctors who don’t respect your self awareness or don’t treat you like an equal partner in your own wellbeing.
For me, it’s extra scary. I have PTSD. Touching me is something earned, and doctors aren’t friends who’ve proven themselves to be safe. Yet to be healthy, I have to let these lab-coat-wearing folks touch me.
(Reminder: I am not seeking advice with this post. This is a good opportunity to show empathy to a person without trying to fix them.)
Sometimes self care - real genuine care for oneself - is no fun at all. I’m the mom of six, and I can absolutely tell you that caring for others isn’t always fun either. I remember caring for Zoe in Taiwan by force-feeding her with a syringe until we got to where we could access the medication she needed to eat without pain. That care was needed, but it was not fun.
Yet we too often talk about self care in terms of massages and bubble baths. Sure, it can be those things, but that’s the polished and privileged form of self care. Real care isn’t always pretty.
I don’t know what is coming next. I don’t know if I’ll be better like I hope. I’m not sure I remember what better even feels like.
I do know one thing, though: we often wait to share stories until they’re resolved, and this means we' don’t know how to live through the messy middles and we don’t know what to do when we’re invited into someone else’s. But we can learn. I’ve shared this before, but my husband - when words fail and nothing else seems right - will say, “empathy,” to me. Just the one word. Empathy.
It’s his way of saying, “I know this is a big deal, and there’s nothing I can do to fix it, but I’m here and I’m with you in it.” It’s his way of making sure I know I’m not alone. It’s his way of reflecting Christ to me.
I think we all can use more empathy, because more of us are in the “not yet” part of our stories than we’d like to admit.
So here's what we are going to do:
If you aren't sure what to say but you want to leave a comment, simply reply with the word empathy. I don't need fixing or pity or advice.
I need people. I need empathy. I need you.
None of us are meant to struggle alone, after all.
Usually when white people say that nowadays, they’re talking about politics. They’re talking about their discovery of the inequities always known by those outside of majority culture. They’re talking about the process of now knowing after not knowing.
Sure, there’s been some of that for me too. That’s not what has made the past few years weird for me though having so many friends weather the weird because of public shifts has made me feel less alone as I did so with personal shifts.
My personal shifts haven’t been completely private, so some of what I am about to share will be old news while some might surprise. I’m going to tell it through the story of my knees, but you’ll find that this is much more than that story. It’s much more than my story, I’m realizing too. It’s a story of how drowning doesn’t look like drowning until it does.
My knees looked fine, as far as knees go. I’m not sure they’re anyone’s favorite body part. The function is helpful, but otherwise, they’re just there, waiting to be skinned or to fail.
When my knees first failed, I was at an age at which they still wore childhood scabs. It wasn’t supposed to be like that, but it was, all at the same time. By my father and my older brother, my body had not been my own for a long time, maybe ever, so nothing felt incongruous to me about my kneecaps being forcibly dislocated as my legs were spread against my will.
I was 11.
I didn’t tell anyone until I was 15, because I didn’t know how to say what happened without feeling like I was telling on myself. I knew what happened was wrong, but I didn’t know I wasn’t wrong along with it. I didn’t know how to tell the story of my knees without confessing something primally disorienting. Daddies are meant to protect their young, but mine should have been a protector by trade too. He wore a badge, a uniform, and an officer’s rank. Both our large metropolitan county’s sheriff’s office and our country’s Green Berets in Vietnam knew him well.
So did my body.
At 15, my kneecaps finally dislocated in a public place, in the ordinary act of climbing in a van. Other people saw. They asked if it had ever happened before, and I said no. I still didn’t know how to say yes. I still didn’t know saying yes wouldn’t be the same as saying I was a whore. I still didn’t know if I could tell the truth that incestual abuse had evolved into other men being invited into our home and my body without my consent, because I still didn’t know that I wasn’t complicit in my trafficking. I still didn’t know the truth that none of it was my fault. My knees knew, though, and they told some of the story before my words could.
A condescending doctor dismissed me as my mother spoke over me, telling him this was a one-time incident when she and I both knew it wasn’t. I went to physical therapy. I learned how to strengthen muscles to compensate for my injuries, which seemed about right. I had been compensating for injuries in secret my whole life, with my earliest memory being one of terror as I ran from physical danger in the form of a family member. I don’t remember what happened after I got caught, and I think that’s probably merciful.
I started to tell parts of the story, bit by bit. I earned a scholarship with an essay I had to recant once my mom found out I had written about the abuse. While the committee couldn’t prove my original story was the truth without my cooperation, they still awarded me the honor. I imagine they thought they were helping, hoping to be guardian angels for a young woman in need of a legion; and they were.
In high school, I told my story by extreme perfectionism, not just trying to be perfect but needing to be to earn love and belonging. (I didn’t know those were my birthright.) In college, I told my story with binge drinking and bulimia. Going back to age 11, I told my story with thin lines carved into my forearms and upper thighs.
It was socially acceptable to be a perfectionist, a problem drinker, a sickly thin girl, and even a cutter. Being a teenager who had a decade of sexual and physical and emotional trauma behind her, while walking on knees that told a story that my lips couldn’t? That wasn’t anything anyone wanted to hear. It was socially acceptable to talk about the horrors of sex trafficking but I noticed it was not socially acceptable to be a survivor of it. I knew no one who told that story.
If they did tell it, it never included happy endings. It never included love. I never expected mine to include that either.
I didn’t mean to fall in love. Lee was an accident. If I had seen him coming, I would have tried to protect myself by pushing him away.
Because he loved me, I started to believe that maybe I had never been wrong after all. I started telling more pieces of my story. I started to see doctors who could hear parts of my story and treat injuries that should have been treated years before, injuries that shouldn’t have ever happened to need to be treated.
I knew how to do, so I kept doing. I didn’t know how to be. I didn’t know how to breathe. I didn’t know how to rest. I didn’t know how to care for a body that had only known neglect before him.
I don’t talk about my love story with Lee often, because I like to play a cynic but can’t keep that up as I acknowledge how much of a fairy tale I entered when I met him. He isn’t perfect. I’m not perfect. Life isn’t perfect.
But somehow that doesn’t matter with him. It never has. But I have always mattered to him, in a way I never knew I could matter before he happened to me.
He happened to me eighteen years and four months ago. Our fairy tale has looked picturesque on the outside, as our stories weaved together into the lives of our children through birth and adoption in ways we hadn’t expected. People fell in love with the idea of our family, and they couldn’t see my gasps for air because they had placed me on a pedestal too far away to check my vitals. Oddly enough, I was better than ever before, but being better meant I could finally see the cracks, not that they were gone.
Even as I saw therapists and specialists and had a few corrective surgeries early in our marriage, I was still drowning on dry land. My knees had looked mostly fine. I knew how to compensate, still, and I used that to downplay the increasing erosion of joint and spine function, as the years of violence stopped hiding below the surface, as my history met my present, as my body revealed it had been keeping score all along.
That’s the story of unbecoming and becoming, not linearly but cyclically, that ushered me into the weirdness of these past few years. That’s how I ended up having seven major surgeries in less than two years, the last one in September. That’s how I ended up here, in such a different space than I used to be. My personal weirdness happened to coincide with America’s political farce of fact and fiction, and it was nice to collide with my internal reckoning while the rest of the world watched - and continues to watch – our country’s collective external one. That’s how I felt less alone.
Yes, politics plays a role in my unraveling from chaos into something still taking form today but not quite there yet. For me, it hasn’t been the catalyst it has for so many others. Sure, I’ve written about the impact of this administration, but for me, that’s been the side story not the central one.
Sometimes the sideshow distracts from the larger story. It has for many who have been following along with mine. And it reminds me of something I learned in my lifeguard training, not long after Lee and I met.
Drowning doesn’t look like drowning until it does. The splashing and struggling isn’t the danger. No, I blew my whistle for that to prevent injury, not because it was already there. Drowning - real drowning - looks like almost nothing at all. It isn’t splashy. It is a slow slipping under, a gradual burial that isn’t obvious until it’s too late unless you know what to look for.
I’ve been un-drowning for a few years now, and breathing deeply without gulping down waves of misplaced blame, shame, and guilt still feels foreign. My knees are as fixed as they can be, but they had to be literally taken apart and reassembled through four surgeries. That part of the story, the surgeries and recoveries, has been visible. The part of the story in which my soul has done the same has been harder to see, mainly because it was never meant to be seen until now. It was reserved apart from those who aren’t intricately woven into my private world, at least not while the story’s words were still being intimately crafted from wounds into scars.
Some of you met me when I was drowning but looking dry. All the transition that’s been happening in public and private has been cohesive in my larger narrative but probably confusing from the outside. Even questions like, “wait, another surgery? what in the world?” are ones that have been completely logical while also being heavier questions than they seem on the surface.
The heaviness of them, the years of unpacked griefcases underwater, were my iceberg, while the world only saw the exposed tip. As I’ve thawed and began un-drowning, the unpacking has made me seem different from before.
And I am.
I used to think that was wrong. I valued consistency in viewpoints as if that were a sign of integrity. I’ve learned now that real integrity includes room for growth and change and learning and unpacking, of being somehow the same and yet completely different all at once.
I know, though our stories aren’t identical, my words resonate with you. I’m not the only one experiencing this state of sameness to and difference from the person I once was. I know, too, that many others are drowning, just like I was, but it isn’t looking like drowning, not yet. Because drowning never looks like it’s drowning until it does.
I am not alone. You are not alone. Those who are drowning imperceptibly aren’t alone either. We were each made not only to be human but also to be bound to one another in our shared humanity.
The world seems like it’s at least half ruined, but it felt that way when I was 11 too. Some of the ruin is still ruin, yes, but some of it has been redeemed into something like hope. If you’re disoriented by all the differences or drowning in them, I’m here to let you know that the beautiful and horrible reality of life is that it always changes.
That change is inescapable, but the drowning doesn’t have to be. We can figure out how to swim, not on our own but by learning from each other. It’s been a weird few years, yes, but our griefcases don’t have to anchor us in sameness.
Drowning doesn’t look like drowning until it does, after all, but drowning doesn’t have to be inevitable.
Yesterday would have been 15 years sober for me. It is, and it isn’t, all at once.
I’m drinking again. And? I’m entirely comfortable with that. The only discomfort I have is about telling you.
After all, I’ve been open about my alcohol abuse in the past, having drank heavily from age 11 to 21. I wrote about it for Teen Vogue. Saying I was an alcoholic hasn’t been anonymous for me for years.
I’m concerned some of you will worry. I am okay, truly. I promise.
I’m concerned some of you will feel like I’m extending a license to break your hard-earned sobriety.
Not even a little bit. My choice, made with the full support of my husband, my therapist, and most friends, and the begrudging support of my protective best friend, is my choice. It’s about me and not you.
It’s about me and not you.
I’m concerned some of you will be disappointed in me. If you are, that’s okay. That’s a valid response, as are all other feelings you might have about this. Feel what you feel.
I’m concerned that many of you will be confused. Why risk it? Is this wise? Is it safe? What changed? Am I deceiving myself?
Those questions deserve a hearing, because I choose to write in the public sphere. Not everything needs to be public. But when I’ve shared openly about not drinking, it makes logical sense to share openly about drinking again.
That’s why I’m writing this post. Our first night in Ireland, Lee and I ended up at a pub. A delightful 80s and 90s cover band was playing. We had a couple drinks. After getting the first ones, I snapped the picture below. I could have Instagrammed it., but I knew this was too delicate to just throw at you on social media. I want to take care with what and how I communicate the shift.
So, when did this happen?
In December,Lee and I decided to start an experiment we’d been considering for a while. To see how alcohol impacted me now, at 36 instead of 21, we began to share a glass of wine together after bedtime, no more than once a week.
We didn’t know how it would play out. Possibilities ranged from triggering trauma responses and stirring up emotions from when I abused alcohol to numb the pain of abuse, to risking a return to addictive behaviors and risking also that my explanation would be perceived as a free pass to drink again for those who need to be sober.
Please, don’t. That’s not a permission slip I’m signing for anyone but myself.
Before I took my first sip since March 28, 2004, I had been discussing the idea with my medical and mental health professionals, Lee, and several dear friends who have proven in the past that they are willing to risk out relationship if needed to speak the hard and necessary truth to me. The first of these conversations was in early 2017. I knew it wasn’t the right time then, but I was beginning to realize that it might be, eventually.
I did not do this lightly.
So, why do it?
Because I wanted to. I’ve only learned in recent years that my wants and desires matter. I like alcohol, and I wanted to have the occasional freedom to have a drink in the context of community with others. This wouldn’t be a good enough reason alone, though. While it’s always important to be in touch with what we want, it’s not healthy to pursue every desire.
Because I could do so safely. For me, PTSD is my primary diagnosis. Substance abuse was a symptom of the problem, not the problem itself. Of course, many people with PTSD are addicted to alcohol or drugs (or busy-ness or Twitter or…) or in recovery from those addictions. But as I’ve been intensely processing my childhood trauma, peeling back layer after layer, some of my secondary expressions of PTSD have gotten quieter or gone silent. I couldn’t have safely taken another drink without doing the years of therapy that preceded that first sip in more than a decade.
Because I’m not sure it was really accurate to have said I was an alcoholic. I drank to numb. I drank to forget. I binge drank. I had a host of habits consistent with addiction. I will, without reservation, acknowledge that substance abuse certainly fit for me during the decade I drank regularly from age 11 to 21. But I stopped drinking pretty easily, I never once relapsed, and - most crucial to the story - I decided sobriety was my only option while a member of a fundamentalist church context where any alcohol consumption was vilified. I am confident I struggled with substance abuse then. I’m not confident it was accurate to call it addiction.
Are you sure?
I’m sure enough. I’m as sure as I can be. I’m as sure as I was when I decided not to drink 15 years ago.
My skepticism started with my first AA meeting. I never went to a meeting until I was 12 years sober. I know AA has been a pivotal part of some friends’ recovery, so my expectations were high.
The claims in the Book - which serves as the bible for AA - were bold. The theology veered toward Calvinistic total depravity at times, and it stressed how we are wrong so much more than how we are good. The history was mostly accurate. The science, though? It struck me as suspect.
It was then - in 2016 - that I began to research the roots of alcohol abuse treatment in the US. I found, not surprisingly, that AA has strongly influenced how we discuss and treat alcoholism. When I told a doctor that I was newly sober in 2004, she quickly said, “you know, right, that you can never drink again because you’ve struggled with alcohol like this and have a family history of alcoholism?” I nodded, having never considered any other approach.
I’m glad I didn’t consider any other approach at the time. I needed to make a clean break. I needed to learn in action that life doesn’t have to be saturated in liquor. I believe strongly that this is the ideal long-term approach for many, and I believe strongly that it was the ideal path for me at the time.
I don’t doubt the benefit of the Big Book or AA program in reaching a needed sobriety for many. I don’t want to lay out an argument against that. Some people will go to the extreme to dismiss the program altogether, but I’m not an enemy of Bill’s. I also think it’s important to acknowledge that every AA group is different.
Rarely have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our path. Those who do not recover are people who cannot or will not completely give themselves to this simple program, usually men and women who are constitutionally incapable of being honest with themselves. There are such unfortunates. They are not at fault; they seem to have been born that way. They are naturally incapable of grasping and developing a manner of living which demands rigorous honesty. Their chances are less than average. There are those, too, who suffer from grave emotional and mental disorders, but many of them do recover if they have the capacity to be honest.
Sure, AA can work, but so can other approaches. For me, intensive therapy - which I recognize as a privilege afforded by insurance and income - has been the best approach, both early in my sobriety and now. (One reason AA is so popular is because it’s free, it’s available, and it’s a community, which I acknowledge is not true for therapy.)
so what now?
Am I giving myself a forever permission slip to drink? No.
When I started drinking, I was little. I got sober when I was 21. I stand by that decision. It was right for me then. When I quit, I needed to do so, because - as I wrote a few years ago on this blog - I had reached a point at which I was drinking excessively every single time I drank. I also did so because of family history with alcohol abuse and because my fundamentalist church was anti-alcohol for anyone.
It wasn’t a bad choice to stop.
This new-ish decision isn’t a bad choice either. I’m a different and healthier person now at 36 than I was at 21. (Hopefully, that’s true for everyone.)
As for me, I’m drinking again. As for you, I have no advice beyond encouraging you to make informed choices within safe community. (That means it’s not wise to drink if you lack safe community or the accountability provided within it if you are willing to be deeply honest, as is necessary with any real accountability.)
I had a problem with alcohol 15 years ago, but as my faith has shifted in recent years, I’ve reevaluated everything. I’ve deconstructed and reconstructed my beliefs about God, using the Bible holistically rather than leaning on someone else’s interpretation and prescription for what I ought to believe. (Far too often, the false Jesus peddled by those who have self-appointed themselves as guards of all things “biblical” is one who is misogynistic, ableist, and somehow blond and blue-eyed, which makes sense only because he is entrenched in rich white supremacist ethics. Thank God that’s not the Jesus of the Bible and of history.) I expect to honestly wrestle with faith for the rest of my life because I consider that fundamental to any worthwhile faith journey.
so is your Insta gonna be boozy now?
I won’t post much about alcohol beyond this essay, unless there’s a noteworthy update to offer. I know how challenging and disorienting the overabundance of alcohol-saturated posts could be when I wasn’t drinking. I felt left out, like I didn’t belong, far too often. I don’t want to create that feeling for anyone else.
Yesterday would have marked 15 years sober for me. In a sense, it doesn’t - no 15 year AA chip this year! - but in a sense, it does. In the fullest sense of what it means to live soberly - to be steady, to not habitually or heavily drink alcohol, to have a clear head, to give pause to myself and thought to anything related to numbing emotions, including but not limited to alcohol - I still consider yesterday a soberversary of sorts.
When my best friend - for whom this is not breaking news - texted me yesterday to ask, “so, are you still celebrating your sobriety anniversary?”, the answer was an easy yes. My relationship with alcohol changed significantly 15 years ago. It remains forever changed, even as a healthy choice for me (for now) might include a glass of Riesling or a whiskey sour from time to time.
Maybe it will stay this way.
Maybe it won’t.
But this is where I am today.
(All pictures in this post are from our first 24 hours in Ireland)
Carrie Ann Lucas was killed by our failed healthcare system a week ago.
I know that lede sounds extreme or exaggerated, but it isn’t. She wasn’t an infant - I will get to infanticide in a moment - but she was a beloved activist, adoptive mother, ordained minister, and disabled woman. She was 47. Her death was not premeditated but it was entirely preventable.
The picture above came from her Facebook page. In a post there, this explanation is offered for her death:
Carrie Ann Lucas, a disability rights attorney who pioneered representation for parents with disabilities, died after an arbitrary denial from an insurance company caused a plethora of health problems, exacerbating her disabilities and eventually leading to her premature death.
A follow-up story by Forbes and an obituary in the Denver Post explore her life and legacy further, but the sad reality is that Carrie Ann didn’t have to die last week. She got a cold in January of last year. That led to a trach and lung infection. She was prescribed a specific inhaled antibiotic expected to be effective for treating the infection while avoiding complications due to her muscular dystrophy. Her insurance company refused to pay for it, covering a less effective antibiotic instead, knowing that she has a history of drug allergies. She had a bad reaction to the alternate medication, spent the past year in and out of the hospital, and died of septic shock a week ago.
Carrie Ann spoke out against physician assisted suicide, declaring that her disability did not make her unworthy of life. She aligned with the pro-life movement on that. While I am not familiar with her stance on abortion, I can confidently say that she would have opposed any concept of a child being born alive and then killed by doctors.
Last week, the Senate voted down a procedural motion to move forward with debate on the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act, introduced by Ben Sasse (R-NE). Sasse is best known, along with Jeff Flake (R-AZ), for speaking boldly against Trump’s poor decisions but ultimately voting in favor of them. Sasse argued that babies who survive an abortion be treated rather than killed.
the term `born alive', with respect to a member of the species homo sapiens, means the complete expulsion or extraction from his or her mother of that member, at any stage of development, who after such expulsion or extraction breathes or has a beating heart, pulsation of the umbilical cord, or definite movement of voluntary muscles, regardless of whether the umbilical cord has been cut, and regardless of whether the expulsion or extraction occurs as a result of natural or induced labor, cesarean section, or induced abortion
As made clear in the excerpt above, born alive includes babies who have survived abortions.
The legislation introduced by Sasse was political theater. The substance of it was already made law seventeen years ago. Why introduce a redundant bill then?
First, redundant legislation is nothing new. To put their position on the record, members of Congress have sponsored or introduced would-be laws that were already passed, on a range of issues from gun control to airline regulations. Not only does it make their position clear, but also it makes the position clear of anyone who opposes the measure.
Why does this matter? Well, I’m not sure if you’ve heard, but there’s an election in 2020. It’s kind of a big deal. When campaigning, it’s a lot easier to say, “my opponent wants to kill babies,” if there’s a recorded vote you can cite. Voting against something called the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act sounds pretty damning if you don’t know what it is.
Except the Democrats in the Senate - all but three - didn’t vote in favor of killing babies.
The vote last week was procedural. Procedural votes are part of the legislative process, determining if a proposal gets voted up or down. Given the way I saw conservatives spin the issue last week, though, you might have understood the yes votes to be in favor of babies’ lives (and against infanticide) and the no votes to be against babies’ lives (and for infanticide). That’s the way it will be told by Republicans during the 2020 election cycle.
But it’s not true.
A no on a procedural vote can, of course, mean the legislator opposes the intent or content of the proposal. But it can also mean that they don’t consider the bill worthy of congressional attention because another act - in this case, the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act of 2002 - already exists to do what the proposed legislation would do.
Likewise, a yes on a procedural vote doesn’t mean the legislator supports the intent or content of the proposal. In the dramatic healthcare vote in July 2017, McCain voted no on Obamacare repeal, casting the deciding vote. The reason the moment was so uncertain, though, was that he voted yes on the procedural vote. He considered it worthy of discussion and consideration but not of passing. That’s one notable example of a procedural vote being just that, procedure, and nothing else.
If it could have electoral repercussions, though, why did only three Democrats vote for it? Wouldn’t it have been easier to let it sail through if it wouldn’t change anything?
The problem here is that the proposed Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act was unclear. For babies born alive after an abortion attempt - babies already protected under law by the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act of 2002 - doctors would have been required to offer identical care to the survivor of a failed abortion as they would to “any other child born alive at the same gestational age,” under the measure discussed last week.
At first glance, that sounds good, but it gets tricky because this provision could be interpreted two different ways. The first way is that the full range of interventions - from comfort care (that is, keeping a baby with a fatal condition comfortable without other medical intervention) to heroic attempts to sustain life no matter what. The second way is that if any other child born at that age without any complications would survive, then doctors must take all possible action for the abortion-surviving baby to survive, even if comfort care is in the best interests of the child and family.
I’ve seen well-reasoned op-eds arguing each interpretation in the past week. The interpretations generally fall along party lines, with Republicans arguing the first and Democrats the second. Whenever any issue is this strictly partisan, the facts are usually somewhere in the middle of the two stances.
In this case, neither interpretation is a given. But let’s review the branches of government real fast:
The legislative branch makes laws.
The executive branch enforces laws.
The judicial branch interpets laws.
The legislative branch should craft and pass clear laws that take all foreseeable outcomes into mind. But none of us can play out every move to the ultimate end, right? That’s where the judicial branch shows up. They don’t make the laws; they interpret them.
Right now, many courts are shifting to be more aligned with Republicans, given Trump’s nominations. I wish nothing partisan factored into judicial decisions, but we all know that’s not true. That’s why you’ll see Republicans at the state and federal level pushing laws that wouldn’t have made it through the courts before but that they hope will now. Even if the courts functioned perfectly, though, the ideal situation is one in which the law has such indisputable clarity that no judicial interpretation is needed.
In other words, legislators aren’t doing their jobs when they pass murky material into law (or, in this case, into the process of debating the actual content, as this was a procedural vote). The judicial branch is needed, but it’s meant for those issues that aren’t caught and addressed in the actual writing of the law itself.
This whole debate has turned into a shouting match about whether or not late-term abortions exist. I could weigh in on that (basically the medical definition of late-term is 40-42 weeks pregnant, so it’s not medically accurate language), but the gist is that I see pro-life friends quoting one OB saying that third trimester abortions are never needed while I watch pro-choice friends and doctors citing many more sources to say that they sometimes are. These are rare cases, yes, but given that third trimester abortions make up one percent or less of all abortions, it makes sense that these would be pregnancies that are the exception rather than the rule.
The measure voted down last week, though, wasn’t really about third trimester abortions; it was about what would happen afterward. I do consider it worthy to discuss the wisdom and act of abortion throughout all maternal stages, but this piece isn’t about that and neither was the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act.
The other reason I consider the scenario to be political theater is simple: Mitch McConnell knew they didn’t have the votes. He knew it wasn’t going to pass. He knew no vote was needed. But he sought one anyway, so the record could show who did and didn’t vote for it.
Not only do I suspect those motives, but McConnell acknowledged them in an op-ed he wrote about the act. In his own words,
The American people deserve to know whether their senators stand with vulnerable children struggling for life.
The vote last week wasn’t about last week, and it wasn’t really about vulnerable children, who were already protected under the 2002 legislation.
No, the vote last week was about 2020.
Infanticide was already illegal. Nothing Sasse proposed, even if it had passed, would have offered any needed or lacking protections.
In the midst of Cohen’s testimony and Mueller’s continued process and the seemingly unanswerable questions about what depths of corruption must be reached before change comes, theonereliablebase for Trump - whiteevangelicalChristians, with 68% holding a favorable view of Trump, including 28% with a very favorable view - needed a reminder of why they made a deal with the devil and, in doing so, damaged their own credibility for loving neighbors already born. This redundant bill was presented as necessary and a procedural vote portrayed as positional. It worked. “But baby killing…” has been the chorus in response to anything negative about Trump this week from a certain demographic.
I used to join them. I used to champion the de-legalization and even criminalization of abortion as the best way to save lives. I would have been the first to pull a “butwhatabout abortion?” with a sweet yet patronizing smile, as if I immediately had claimed higher ground.
I did and still do consider a separate life to have begun as soon as unique DNA is created. For me, that moment - conception - is when a new person is formed. I did and still do consider abortion to be ending a life.
So why have my political stances changed? It’s not what you think. It’s not the oft-claimed view of pro-life for me but pro-choice for thee.
I used to roll my eyes hard when Hillary - in 2008 - and others touted that they wanted abortion to be safe, legal, and rare. Not safe for the baby, I would mutter to myself. But now I find myself in agreement, and the death of Carrie Ann Lucas illustrates why.
Medical professionals rather than elected politicians should be the ones who offer guidance when a women is making her choice. Doctors are best equipped to make the best decisions for the person they are treating, particularly in emergency situations and especially in outlier cases. The problem is that typical cases are generally the ones used to encode insurance policy and abortion law. For patients, like Carrie Ann, doctors need to be able to treat the patient in front of them.
When I think of rare instances in pregnancy when hard decisions must be made, I think of my friend Rebecca. She’s a sonographer at a high-risk OB clinic. She scanned her own body through three pregnancies. For two of those pregnancies, she discovered and diagnosed fatal conditions. Because she had access to equipment and knowledge in understanding the black and white images that make no sense to me, her babies - Cora and Layla - received diagnoses incompatible with life far earlier in her pregnancy than other babies would. She had options far earlier in her pregnancy than most mothers have.
And? She chose to carry both Cora and Layla as long as she could. They both were stillborn, one at 29.5 weeks and the other at 36 weeks. Some pro-life folks have tried to tell her story as a model of valuing life, but Rebecca isn’t having that. She wrote:
I chose life for two babies, knowing they would die. I do not believe that should be a choice women are forced into making.
Two of Rebecca’s three pregnancies ended with a small white casket holding a much loved baby girl. I’ve watched her navigate the grief and pain and depression of the aftermath. I hear pro-life folks talk about women grieving after having abortions, but choosing to carry a baby to term who you know will die is unimaginable for most of us.
Sometimes it’s not the baby whose life is in question, though.
When I was pregnant with Robbie, my health was a hot mess. I had raging and untreated PTSD from childhood trauma I tried to hide away in hopes that it would go away. I had been diagnosed with a thyroid disorder that was barely under control when I got pregnant. A week after receiving my diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis, I peed on a stick and watched two lines - a positive result - slowly show up. To manage my symptoms and avoid more bone erosion in my joints, I was on high doses of prednisone for the entire pregnancy.
That was fun.
Then when I was about 30 weeks pregnant, the front of my shin began to swell, redden, and burn up. I have pictures of it somewhere, but you definitely wouldn’t want to see them. (I lived through it, and I hope I never find the images. It was that bad.) My kind and compassionate doctor explained to me, before opening, draining, and packing the infection with gauze, that it would hurt a lot because lidocaine often isn’t as effective when you’re expecting. I remember her saying something about the increased blood volume during pregnancy decreasing the efficacy, but all that is vague recollection. The sharply focused memories came immediately after, as one doctor, one physician’s assistant, and two nurses worked on my leg with sharp instruments.
When they took a swab of the wound to test which kind of bacteria was present, we all expected it to be a formality. We’d wait on the results. I would start a broad spectrum antibiotic safe for us during pregnancy.
I know that was a Friday. Early the next week, maybe Monday or Tuesday, I got a call with results. My doctor tried to sound reassuring as she told me the infection was a highly resistant strain of MRSA, but her voice cracked as she explained they didn’t have a plan yet. She had to confer with other specialists to determine if there was an antibiotic that would be safe for both me and Robbie, and she tried to keep her voice level as she explained that we had to prioritize my health.
She didn’t add “if we have to choose” to the end of that sentence, but the words hung unsaid between us nonetheless.
I had symptoms of the infection being in my bloodstream at that point. Given the positioning so close to my tibia, bone infection was a major risk too. As I started the new antibiotic, one that wasn’t ideal but they hoped would work, I was given strict instructions to come directly to the hospital if we saw any signs of sepsis. If I became septic, I could destabilize quickly, making delivery via vaginal birth or c-section medically dangerous for me but full treatment for the infection dangerous for Robbie.
I’d seen storylines like this on medical dramas, and they seemed much tidier there. I loved my baby. My pain levels were terrifyingly high. Jocie was turning two that weekend. Lee and I had been married only three and a half years. I was only 26. I hated the range of bad choices in front of me.
Thankfully, that antibiotic - the one that wasn’t ideal - worked. I got better. Robbie was fine. I delivered a few months later.
I know the medical rules set by insurance bureaucrats and untrained politicians didn’t work for Carrie Ann. I know I would have been the exception to the rule in treatment if I had become septic. I know I have been the exception to the rules in so many other medical situations.
(After all, you don’t end up as a 36-year-old woman with a spinal fusion and spinal cord stimulator if you check all the boxes for being a paradigm of health.)
Roe v. Wade allows for abortions for the health of the mother. Some cases are clear. Others aren’t.
I’ve heard pro-life friends argue that the health exception is too broad. As someone who has fought hard for my health, I now take regular medications to maintain it. If I became pregnant again, then we would have to make some painful decisions. We would also have to research inpatient psych programs that are equipped for pregnant patients, because coming off some meds could destabilize my mental health.
I’ve lost enough friends to suicide or self-medicating..
You are more than what he tried to make you. He tried take what wasn’t his to take. He tried to make you into an object. He, the subject, tried to conquer you, the object.
Maybe he did more than try.
But you were never meant to be an object.
You are a conqueror not a conquest. You are a survivor though you were once a victim. You are a force with whom to be reckoned, not the dirt to be dug up for someone else’s confirmation hearing.
You are an embodiment of hope.
Hope. Sometimes I hate that word. Sometimes I love it. Hope and I, we have a fraught relationship.
But hope is what makes us different. Hope is why we get out of bed. Hope is why we stay in bed but don’t end it all there, because hope believes there will be another page to the story. Hope is what allows us to not crumble at the weight of the world, and hope is what meets us when we do and feel like nothing but mere crumbs.
Sometimes I hate hope.
I am more comfortable naming the pain, cursing the wicked, fighting the storm, living into whatever fierce meme some random PTSD profile has decided to post that day. Do you see this wreckage? I scream, the violence of my voice making my vocal chords hurt for days afterward. You say you’re starting to smell smoke, but we’ve been burning for ages. Now you start to shout fire, but for what?
There is nothing but ash here anymore.
I weep. I hate crying, but I weep anyway. I don’t know what to do when my activism of a life has been ignored so that by the time those in power feel tepid and then a bit toasty, dental records are all that are left to identify the lost souls.
But then there’s hope. Fucking hope. Hope shows up again, as a breathing tube reinvigorating me to speak, to fight, to care, to hope another day. That throat, sore from screaming, rubs raw as the life-sustaining tube goes in and comes out, breathes in and breathes out, bleeds in and bleeds out.
Our industrial revolutions have made homes tidy and healthcare machine-driven and help outsourced and hygiene widespread… but hope haunts those places. Hope is a comforter to those who need comforting, but she’s a damn ghost to those whose halls have too long hidden away rooms of torture. These are rooms where you can be a justice placing his hand on her mouth, a president boasting of other places his hands can go, a lawmaker whose hands can be tied and silence bought by the highest bidder, and a group of high school boys held unaccountable for decades. These rooms are places where hope is terrifying. Hope haunts those whose horcruxes are embedded in the status quo.
But you, dear one, you have nothing to fear from hope. Hope is a guide, a light, a sustenance, a bridge… for you. Hope is a golden middle finger to those for whom hope paints a future in which they, not we, are the ruined ones, but hope is the thing of miracles for us.
Hope brought us this far. May hope also show them the way out, because their time to ruin us is up.
Sure, I’ve known that for a while, even before my first spine surgery when I was a 23-year-old newlywed. Back then, I was familiar with pain but absolutely terrified about being a wife, given the married model I grew up with was doused in alcohol and gussied up for appearance. I don’t know how to describe my parents. I just know it wasn’t real, what they projected to the world.
My back and my knees were never right. They were broken before they were whole, effed up before they were fully developed. The same could have been said of my soul, but somehow that survived intact.
My therapist says survival of me was a mix of my tenacity and the grace of God. I’m still not sure about that. I think I just did the next thing, until the things I did were my choices rather than their consequences.
I’m still learning to deserve healing, to believe I’m made for more than bruises. I’m still learning that little girls shouldn’t have to earn love from the people meant to give it no matter what. And I’m still learning to recognize the sound of my own voice, the voice they once stifled with as much violence as they quieted the rest of me.
And still they speak.
“Get over it; it was a long time ago.”
I’ve been told this, including by a man who raped me.
Do you understand that an unwanted and unexpected touch from a principal during a meeting to advocate for my daughter can make me jump, yelp, cuss, because my body can’t get over it?
My back is damaged, yet another body scan showed last week, described objectively by a clinician writing out the words of my brokenness with sterile and impartial terms. This scan was meant to take some pictures to help my neurosurgeon properly place the spinal cord stimulating electrodes during my most recent surgery yesterday. It did that.
But it also showed the broken places from the days their consequences reigned while my choices weren’t even a thing yet. Back then, I was the object of the story - the one to be hit, to be thrown, the one to be stripped, raped, sold, lather, rinse, repeat.
I’m the subject now. I do things. I write things. I make choices.
Like the choice to have surgery, surgery, surgery, surgery, surgery, surgery, and yesterday one more surgery over a stretch of 18 months. This is my bodily trauma therapy, the taking apart and putting back together, the reconciling my then with my now, the learning I was never made for broken.
After this recent and hopefully last surgery, my back is damaged. But the neurostimulator we’ll turn on in a week will quiet the pain of it, changing my experience of that damage. It’ll be weird to have electricity coursing through my spine, but it should have been weird for bones and joints to be damaged before they were developed. That was just my normal.
I’ll take this new weird, a weird of my choosing to reject their consequences in me.
Hi. I'm Shannon. My husband Lee and I have six kids, some by birth and some by adoption and all fiercely loved.
Part of how we came to adopt is our belief that every child deserves an advocate. Ideally, that advocate comes from the family or community a child is born into. Given my own experiences with childhood abuse, we knew the ideal isn't always the real.
We don't deserve any kudos for advocating for any of our children. They are all ours. They are all worthy. Growing inside me doesn't make two deserving and the other four charity.
No, I am Mama Bear to each of our six.
Usually, I'm successful. I have an undergrad degree in communication and a graduate one in education (specifically special education, so I know the legal pathways we can take). We've had the gift of passionate, child-focused teachers and administrators.
Until now, unfortunately.
I do think it can be different. I have hope. I think the principal we're facing wants to do the right thing for our child. The issue at hand is both simple and complicated:
We have a child with PTSD.
This WCPSS principal isn't treating PTSD as if it's real.
She treats our kids as if their smiles mean they're not affected by the past. This principal even ends each email with "smiles," followed by her name. But we need her to look beyond the smiles and believe PTSD is real.
Our child's diagnosis is well documented. The story is not mine to share, though. I won't use our child's name or pronouns throughout this piece to protect their identity. Some adoptive parents tell their child's stories, including the deepest trauma and struggles, as if they're the center of the story. We aren't.
Hear. This. Clearly: We never were meant to be the star of our child's show.
What can I share with you the trauma this child survived, though? Here's a story: This is a child who asked, "you no beat me?" whenever caught in trouble in the first two years in our family. Let me say that again: this is a child who asked "you no beat me?" to any adult. Again, this child didn't expect the answer to be "no, sweetheart, I won't beat you" each time because they had received the opposite in the past.
Miraculously, this child knows safety now and trusts us. Beyond us, few are trusted. Our child has known that previous teachers weren't going to physically beat them, but that's as close to trust as they got. Because our child didn't feel safe in those previous classes, academic performance and overall motivation has always been challenging.
Simply put, because of PTSD, this kiddo is below grade level in reading and math.
We were all looking forward to this school year. For the first time ever, our child could have a trusted teacher and an optimal environment for learning. As a child who has shut down in every other classroom, this year would be different. They only trust five adults, including me and my husband. One teacher is on that short list, teaching in the same grade our child should have entered with fellow classmates two weeks ago. We expected our child to flourish in that classroom.
We took all the possible steps. We submitted a parent input form on May 11, 2018, asking for this child to be in the trusted teacher's class. I emailed the principal on May 18 to make sure she got it, but because she routinely doesn't reply to emails, I didn't consider it concerning when I didn't hear back.
Then our child was assigned to a different teacher with no explanation.
Unfortunately, now the principal insists that I never turned in a form on May 11, despite two parents being in the office as I did so who remember seeing me turn it in. One parent remembers because we chatted about how this was the first time in a long time that she wouldn't submit an input form for the next year because she wouldn't have any elementary school students in the coming year. The other parent was submitting her input forms at the same time I did.
What happened to my form? I don't know. I won't speculate. I don't know if it was lost or misplaced or discarded, so I am not accusing this principal of anything. Meanwhile, this principal says I'm lying about turning in the form.
We emailed and left phone messages through the two weeks leading up to school starting. The principal only responded once we involved her boss. By then, school was about to start. She offered to meet with us on the first day of school after school had already started; only one of us could attend that meeting because we couldn't put our child in the position of seeing friends enter classrooms while not having no place to go. I was sick, so I was the one who stayed home. I ended up meeting with the principal the next day.
Her second argument emerged in those meetings: "That class is now full. It wouldn't be fair to move a child from that teacher's class because school has already started."
Again, she chose to ignore us until we escalated our communication to her boss. This is a key point. Had she cared to respond before then, in May or even in early to mid-August, our child could have been moved easily. The barrier the principal stands by is one of her own making. She can make the change, but she doesn't. She can even request permission to add one more child to the desired teacher's classroom, as the average class size for each grade is the primary concern. I don't care how she solves the problem she created, but it's up to her to solve it.
But this is about more than a desired teacher. We aren't throwing some fit because we want or prefer something but could accept something else. At this one school, we have had 22 different teacher assignments (including one that was changed right before school started a few years ago). We have accepted 21 of those assignments with no fuss. This one is different.
Our child's diagnosis is not being treated as if it's real. But PTSD is real, WCPSS.
Our child's psychologist is licensed and has her doctorate in psychology. She wrote a supporting letter for our request. I won't share all of it, but here are some pertinent details:
[Child] suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) related to severe trauma experienced during early childhood. [Child’s] current therapy goal is to develop basic trust through relationships with safe adults, which include [their] parents, therapist, and teacher.
In summary, the basic treatment goal is for our child to trust big people. That's why this teacher assignment isn't a mere preference. It's a need, based in a real diagnosis that impacts every facet of life, especially learning.
The letter from the psychologist continues,
In the school setting it is critical that [child] feels psychologically and emotionally safe in order for maximum learning to occur. In other words, when [child] does not feel safe, [child] shuts down and is unable to learn effectively. In school, children without PTSD due to early childhood trauma are able to establish trust bonds quickly with safe teachers and thus focus on the task of learning. [Child] is not that child. Trust takes a very long time for [child] to develop...
... [Through circumstances given in the letter], this child subsequently developed a relationship with [trusted teacher] over [period of time], Since a significant trust bond has already been established, my strong recommendation is that [child] be placed in [trusted teacher’s] class. Instead of wasting time developing trust with a new teacher, [child] can move fully into academic learning with [trusted teacher] , which is paramount. Mrs. Dingle included her parental opinion and my professional opinion on the teacher input form she submitted May 11th to the school. This request was also denied.
Note that May 11 bit? That form, that I completed with psychologist input, is the one our principal says I never submitted. We did. Accusing us of lying, this principal is bold enough to insist confidently that that I didn't submit the form.
(In her last email to us, she claims I didn't turn in the form on time, so I wonder if they found my form after all and have changed their story to say it was submitted late when it was not.)
Placing [child] in another teacher’s class, even an excellent teacher’s class, is likely to be experienced as a personal rejection which will further impair [child’s] fragile self-esteem.
If you don't understand why this principal won't provide a suitable learning environment, you're not alone. It doesn't make sense. It isn't logical.
This principal action's and WCPSS's support of her shows us that they don't consider PTSD to be a real and serious condition. Science says they're wrong. Psychology says they're wrong. Historical reports and research says they're wrong.
In fact, I asked our photographer not to edit out the tombstone in the background of our first family picture. Some things that have died from our pasts live on because trauma's tentacles hang on to us tightly. Trauma - mine. theirs. ours. - is like a ninth member of our family. We have hope, yes, but we also carry trauma. The trick is simply to work toward the hope being greater than the trauma.
We have documented everything painstakingly.
But, in our state, the principal has final say on teacher assignments. So, here we are. WCPSS won't help. Everyone else in the district, other than this principal, has conceded that this is not ideal but repeated the party line that the principal is the only one who can change student placements with teachers.
WCPSS, PTSD is real.
On today of all days - World Suicide Prevention Day - it would make good sense to recognize mental health diagnoses as necessary in educating the child. After all, adoptees are four times more likely to attempt suicide than nonadoptees. Why? It's a toxic combination of trauma, grief, and more. That toxic combo includes schools saying no to reasonable accommodations because they don't think PTSD is real.
I don't want to be writing this. I don't want to be fighting this fight. I don't want to be calling out the principal and school system.
But I'm a Mama Bear. I fiercely love and advocate for each of my children. For my children and for all the families lacking the privileges I have to persevere through this, including the privilege of time to keep our child out of school (and, if necessary, homeschool). But every family isn't able to do that. WCPSS needs to treat PTSD seriously for the sake of all students and ensure schools are trauma-informed.
I survived sex trafficking. The church didn’t help. I still grieve over that.
Recent stories about abuse and misogyny in the church have me thinking about those days when a man sold what wasn’t his to sell and his customers took what wasn’t theirs to take. The product was my body. I don’t write about this often (or ever before now, other than Twitter), but it’s time.
Let's sit, face to face, eye to eye, and talk.
photo by Amy Paulson Photography
Or the closest thing to it possible via a blog post.
With a flood of recent stories covering the allegations against [insert latest pastor/church], I’m hearing a broken record from many conservative Christian leaders (almost all men, from denominations that bar women from being pastors). If only he had followed the Billy Graham Rule, also called the Pence Rule for the vice president’s adherence to it, then nothing would have happened.
This rule was set as a personal one for Graham, who traveled often in his crusade work. Many male leaders have adopted it as a prescriptive law for the church. If you are blessedly unaware of this rule, then I’m a bit jealous. Here’s the gist: a man is never alone with a woman who isn’t his wife. Period.
When I was trafficked, my body wasn’t treated with respect. (Obviously.) It wasn’t even treated like it was mine. No, men owned it, took it, exploited it, and dehumanized themselves in how they used any part of me they could touch.
Meanwhile, the Billy Graham Rule, especially when dictated as a best practice, tells men that it’s okay to assume any woman might be a seductress or false accuser and/or it’s a given that men sometimes lack control of their own sexual desires but, at the same time, possess the self-control to follow this rule strictly. They don’t have to be their own keepers. If they own, take, or exploit a woman in a one-on-one setting (which is statistically far more likely than the seductress or liar trope that blames the woman), then it’s because they didn’t follow the Rule.
We’re preaching lies when we teach the Rule, whether it be from the pulpit or in a tweet or by a Hogwarts owl. When women are victimized, not adhering to the Billy Graham Rule isn’t the problem. Not adhering to the Golden Rule is.
We don’t end sex trafficking with the Graham/Pence Rule. It’s not designed for that, clearly. So why in the world would we expect to end any other kind of sexual predation that way, as some have suggested it could have in the case of crimes or harassment of women by pastors? In the Southern Baptist church where I spent my first decade of adulthood, daytime women’s Bible study leaders were required to wear skirts, no pants. That was rooted in Southern definitions of gender roles rather than anything in scripture, much like the Rule.
Men, if you want to honor the women in your life, practice dominion over year own body. Period. You don’t own anyone else’s. No other body than your own was designed for your control.
I’ve been in rooms alone with men who were sex traffickers and rapists. They trafficked and raped me. I’ve been in rooms alone with men who were colleagues, friends, or acquaintances. They did no sexual harm to me. The difference isn’t the environment. It’s the type of man.
You can keep your rules, the ones that strip men of responsibility and women of humanity, but #churchtoo will persist. The path to flourishing isn’t in these arbitrary and extrabiblical laws but rather in the practice of love, giving and receiving it.
This summer, the scandal of Patterson’s recording and recent statements reminded me of another recording. (Don't know what I'm talking about here? Check out my piece in SKEW a couple months ago for the backstory.) Before Omarosa wrote that he did this in the White House, the then-candidate Trump said, on 2005 tapes from Access Hollywood and released less than a month prior to the election,
You know I’m automatically attracted to beautiful—I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab ‘em by the pussy. You can do anything.
Christians of all genders shouted together, “This is not okay.” But then 81% of white evangelical voters decided that the value of unborn babies mattered more than the lives of women and, given his previous comments, the lives of immigrants, black people, and those living with disabilities, to offer a few. (Nevermind that providing greater supports for women lowers the abortion rate more than any restrictions have.)
I’ve seen women speaking out against entertainment icons and being heard. I’ve seen others speaking out against political figures and sometimes being heard. But then I see who is in the White House, review the list of credible accusations against him, recall own words about grabbing women’s genitals, and remember that my white evangelicals still support him in droves. The most recent poll shows approval ratings of Trump by white evangelicals to have held strong at 75%. This is why I’m not sure the church is ready for the reckoning we need. I pray I’m wrong, but it’s hard not to be concerned by continued support for an openly misogynistic politician.
The Patterson statements, the Access Hollywood recording, and the Graham/Pence Rule are all related, as are the ridiculous comments trying to link pedophilia and being gay in the wake of Catholic church cover-ups. The voices, input, and establishment of each were created in a bubble where only white, straight, cisgender, American-born men had input. I’m married to a white, straight, cisgender, American-born man, so I’m not hating on anyone who fits those categories. I’m simply acknowledging that women are often harmed when the only voices factoring in to a stance are from men who seem more dismayed about assaults against boys in another church than assaults against women in their own.
This isn't a new story. Women of color are harmed when those at the decision table are all white feminists. Same song, different verse.
Only a few years ago, I was a card-carrying member of the white evangelical club. We didn’t actually have cards, of course, but I have a speaker name tag for an event cosponsored by Focus on the Family and the Southern Baptists’ Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, so I figure that’s close enough. I’m speaking as an outsider of that subculture now, but I was an insider and am still dear friends with some who still are (thought more ditched me than stood by me when my words stepped out of the party line).
The day before the 2016 election, I sat across from my therapist and said, “this is it, and I really think Trump might win.” She didn’t think so, but she didn’t know white evangelical culture from the inside like I do. There’s so much beauty there, so much worth fighting for, so many rich souls who I am better for knowing. But just like the most delicious pancakes can be ruined if covered in poisoned syrup, the best theological intentions are dangerous when soaked in only one perspective, especially a toxic one. I knew that dog shit was mixed in with the batter, and I didn’t want to eat those brownies.
I didn’t make up that gross analogy but borrowed it from purity culture, which is simply rape culture wearing its Sunday best. Yes, the original metaphor is that sex before marriage was the manure ruining all the ingredients in the person. Yes, I heard this taught in church. And, yes, the poo isn’t the only reason I call the analogy gross.
I knew that a culture so entrenched in protecting white supremacy and patriarchy wouldn’t reject it on the ballot. That’s what those 81% of votes were, not cast contrary to church teachings but entirely in line with them. Trump was never the disease of the white church. We’ve always known who he was. He’s simply a symptom of a larger cancer, one that infected some of us and woke up the theological immune systems of others. Fellow white Christians, none of the racism and ableism and xenophobia and misogyny, with a side of homophobia and transphobia from one accompanying Trump on the ticket, is new.
Yet with article after article by white people who experienced an awakening about all the -isms during the campaign or after the election, we are Columbusing racism: “Look,” we shouted, “we just discovered this new thing,” while everyone not white are like, “hi, we’ve known this all along. If you’re serious, let’s talk and act.” So far, I see the editorials about white awakening coming steadily, each author covering the same old song, but not the actual dialogue or needed action.
Religious groups were instrumental both in the hope of Christ’s rising and the horror of his death. Why are we surprised when they’re instrumental in both hope for and subjugation of women or any other marginalized group? If you regard women in the church as sisters in Christ, like you claim, then it’s time to be a brother who cares if we’re bruised or not.
Let’s stop overlooking the bull(dog)shit and instead break bread – or brownies – together, all of us who love our just and loving God. For those who can’t partake in that community, like domestic violence offenders, let’s go restore them lovingly to justice, which should include law enforcement officers because their assaults aren’t character flaws but actual crimes.
Finally, for the men who don’t think any man should come to the table one on one with a woman, because that might seem too improper to others or too tempting for him, let’s focus on the breaker of the bread on the Thursday before the next day’s crucifixion. Jesus met one-on-one with the Samaritan woman at the well, not only female but also known to have multiple sexual partners, without following the rule that would later be set by Graham and affirmed by Pence. He also was left alone with the woman caught in adultery, once again a setting in which the rule’s excuse of avoiding the appearance of impropriety wouldn’t hold up. And post-resurrection Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene alone in the garden. (Note: she, unlike the last two women, is never presented as having sin sexually, despite persistent and baseless patriarchal teachings that she was.)
How do we change? I don’t know, but trusting women like Jesus did is the place to start. I spent a week last fall on the #RubyWooPilgrimage, riding a bus and revisiting history with 35 other Christian women leaders, speakers, and writers, many women of color. The wisdom of our small group was astounding. Men have led our country and our churches long enough and made many of those spaces sexually unsafe for the rest of us. Maybe it’s time listen well to women.
Maybe it’s time to remember that both the stories of Christmas and Easter hold women as key players worthy of great honor. Mary carried Christ. God first revealed his rising from the dead to women via an angel at the tomb, sending them out with the good news while his male followers were hiding. The risen Jesus appeared first to a woman, the same Mary Magdalene cast by male scholars as a whore with no biblical justification.
In the kingdom of God, there is no hierarchy of those created with more or less of the image of God in them. No, “there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).
What would our churches (and our politics) look like if we all - especially those who have historically held more power than the rest of us - actually treated one another like fellow image bearers with dignity and worth bestowed by God?