The Cage of Christianity Leaves No Room For Divergence

In the early hours of December 28, 2014, Leelah Alcorn committed suicide by intentionally walking in front of an oncoming truck. She was a 17-year-old transwoman who had been emotionally and spiritually abused by her conservative Christian parents, and she wrote about it in a suicide note she’d queued to publish on her Tumblr after her death.

In response to her death, many individuals and media sources alike had two vastly different responses, as would be expected. Some did not attempt to conceal their outrage, saying “her parents essentially threw her in front of that truck and they should be ashamed of themselves!” Others claimed “her parents were just doing the best they could, and I’m sure they are heartbroken right now, so they deserve sympathy, not condemnation.”

Middle ground is hard to strive for in a case like this. However, I will say, it’s too harsh to say her parents basically pushed her in front of that truck. There are a lot of factors that contributed to her decision to take her own life.

There was depression, and potentially suicidal thoughts triggered by the Prozac she’d been prescribed. There was the burden of living surrounded by a largely unaccepting society. There were other members of the trans community, who gave her the false impression that if she wasn’t able to transition while she was still young and in the midst of puberty, she’d never be able to pass as female.

In addition, I’m sure her parents are upset about what happened, and I’m sure they are grieving in their own way. After all, she was still their child.

But I would strongly disagree that her parents did the best they could.

Time and time again you will hear about Christian parents treating their children horribly because they don’t fit into their narrowly defined guidelines of acceptability. I don’t want to go into details, because it’s deeply personal, but I can see so much of myself and my situation in what Leelah’s described.

I just can’t comprehend how anyone could be convinced that her parents were trying their best. Just read her words, read the words of the people that knew her.

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Even now, her parents continue to inflict harm, denying reality by calling her death an accident, misgendering her, and referring to her by her birth name. To show you how much her mother cared, she completely forgot the age of her own daughter when she posted about her death on Facebook and only realized her mistake a week later.

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This doesn’t sound like unconditional love. This sounds like essentially writing someone off and not bothering to give a shit because they did not meet your impossible expectations. To her parents, she would never be their daughter, only a disappointment.

They would never even consider her their child. They wanted a son, a boy who would like girls and like church and fall in line with whatever they asked of him. When this didn’t pan out, they did all they could to make her miserable, isolate her from anyone who actually showed her love and acceptance, and make her regret ever trying to be herself.

Sure, gay, lesbian, and bisexual kids living with their Christian parents have it hard. I’ve had it hard. But I would argue that trans kids have it much worse, and that breaks my heart.

Christian parents, I know you fully believe you’re doing what is right, but if your child is driven to self-harm or suicide, in part due to your words or actions, then you need to realize: you’ve fucked up. You don’t mean well. So do us all a favor, stop being assholes and parenting your children to death.

I Won’t Stand for the Silence, and Neither Should You

The handful of feminist blogs I follow cover a lot of territory, from general discussion to current events. I’ve seen tons of articles about Ray Rice, Lena Dunham, and Jian Ghomeshi – and even some about Kim Kardashian’s ass – but in the few months that I have been actively following blogs, I have yet to see an article about being transgender or trans issues.

This is kind of a problem. For a modern day wave of feminism that preaches about wanting to be intersectional and inclusive, so far we’re pretty whitewashed. Though we’re getting better, we’ve been doing a shitty job at addressing the legitimate struggles of women of different racial and ethnic backgrounds, and an even shittier job addressing trans issues.

I’m not transgender. I’m perfectly content with the body I was born in. I have a lot of thoughts about gender as a social construct and the implications of gendering things or personality traits, but that’s a little irrelevant. Basically, this post is not coming from personal experience.

So then, why am I writing about it? Why does it matter?

  • Because gender dysphoria is a real thing.
  • And because the estimates that have been widely circulated as to how many people experience gender dysphoria are ridiculously low so people don’t realize just how prevalent it is.
  • But also because you shouldn’t need scientific evidence of something to be able to sympathize with people that don’t at all feel at home in the bodies they were born in.
  • Because 41% of people who are transgender will attempt suicide sometime in their lives, and I’m sure many more have at least contemplated it.
  • Because people who are transgender are 28% more likely to experience physical violence.
  • Because 64% of people who are transgender have experienced sexual assault in their lifetime.
  • Because the resources for basic things trans people need – anything from makeup application, packing techniques, and binding without harming yourself to dealing with the physical and emotional changes that hormones bring – are not widely available and are largely spread by word of mouth.
  • Because transmen are told that they “just want to be read as men so they can benefit from male privilege.”
  • Because transwomen are asked by cismen “why would you want to be a woman? why would you degrade yourself in that way?” and told by ciswomen “you were still born a male and thus you wanting to be included in female spaces is invasive.”
  • Because people like my mom throw around phrases like “turned into a woman” or “she decided to become a man” like it’s some strange fad instead of a person’s entire identity.
  • Because there is very little trans representation in media, mainstream or otherwise, and what few characters can be found are rarely ever portrayed by transgender actors or authored by transgender writers.
  • Because people toss around slurs as insults and don’t see anything wrong with it. Sure, we’ll argue all day that calling something “gay” is bad, but somehow that same fervor isn’t shown when it comes to trans slurs.
  • Because it is something my friend Dan has to deal with literally every single day. The pervasive transphobia of society, the cissexism of everyday language, constant misgendering, harassment in his workplace, hatred of his body, an abusive household that has threatened to kick him out if he pursues the transitional hormones he needs while under their roof, and much more that most people don’t even realize.

And because people like me have contributed to the problem. I used to be uninformed and – even worse – without compassion about anything related to trans issues. But then I learned more and I grew as a person, and I believe that people would benefit from greater awareness and starting necessary conversations such as this.

It’s a small step – it by no means will fix the problem, heal the wound – but it’s something.

The Effect of Celebrity Depends On Your Gender

On the drive home from work the other night, I got to thinking about how – in general – fame treats men and women very differently.

More often than not, men become egocentric douchebags and women self-destruct.

Which isn’t a surprise, considering the obscene level of scrutiny that women are subjected to. It makes sense that they would start to crumble from the pressure.

I mean, after all…

They can’t wear unflattering or baggy clothing, workout attire or sweatpants. But they also can’t look too sexy or show too much skin.

They can’t be seen in the same outfit more than once, but it’s also wrong to wear multiple outfits in one day.

They can’t be too heavy, but they can’t be too thin. Even pregnancy weight is shameful, and after the baby is born they need to work to lose it ASAP.

Their boobs can’t be too small, but their butts can’t be too big. Really, nothing on their body can be disproportionate.

They can’t look too old. But if they get plastic surgery because they are insecure about their age, they’re also criticized.

Actually, they shouldn’t get cosmetic surgery for any reason. Nor should they have mastectomies for their own health, because think about how disappointing it is to lose a perfect pair of breasts.

They need to smile more often. They can’t look too tan. They should do everything they can to maintain their appearance.

And don’t even think about leaving the house without makeup on.

Even though they earn awards and make good money, they somehow still suck at their jobs. But if they try something new – even just for fun – they’re slammed for that as well.

In interviews, instead of hard-hitting or interesting questions, they are asked about their diets or their wardrobes.

They can’t write lyrics that are too personal, but they also can’t sing songs that are too superficial or generic.

When they get into an unexpected relationship, it must be for the attention. But when they choose to stay single, they have to explain themselves.

And even if they make incredible contributions to society or are protofeminist badasses, the world remembers them for being a pretty face.

As soon as a woman makes it big, everyone in the world feels entitled to dissect everything about her. And if you don’t measure up to that impossible standard, you’re trash.

That’s why part of me is scared to get recognition on even a small scale – because who would wish for any of that?

Shame On You

Shame on you for asking what she was wearing.

Shame on you for blaming bared shoulders, big boobs, or a short skirt.

Shame on you for accusing her of teasing him or leading him on.

Shame on you for saying she was asking for it.

Shame on you for telling her that she should be grateful, for implying that she enjoyed it.

Shame on you for saying she’s only speaking up because she regrets having sex with him. Because she wants to ruin his life. Because she wants attention.

Shame on you for chiding that she shouldn’t have been out at that time of night, shouldn’t have been walking alone.

Shame on you for saying she should have fought back harder, should have screamed louder.

Shame on you for declaring that a woman loses her autonomy when she dares to be born pretty.

Shame on you for calling flirting a “yes.”

Shame on you for calling nakedness a “yes.”

Shame on you for calling her choice to drink a “yes.”

Shame on you for saying “no” could be a “yes” in disguise.

Shame on you for saying her title – girlfriend, significant other, partner, wife – is a “yes” by default.

Shame on you for calling anything but a “yes” a “yes.”

 

Domestic Abuse Is Not Funny

Lately, my newsfeeds have been plastered with articles and commentary about Ray Rice. I have my own opinions on the manner, so I would like to dissect what’s been going on here.

A Bit of Background Information

On February 15, Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice was at the Revel Hotel and Casino with his then-fianceé Janay Palmer. According to video footage from the hotel cameras, the two began arguing in the hallway and continued to do so once they’d stepped into an elevator.

However, the fight quickly escalated from an exchange of words to a physical altercation. Rice swung first, and when Palmer lunged toward him in an attempt to counter, he hit her again, so forcefully that she slammed into the elevator wall and dropped, unconscious, to the floor.

Later, when the elevator doors opened, Rice gathered her limp body in his arms and began dragging her out. He encountered some hotel staff members, who reportedly asked if she was drunk, but Rice did not give them an answer.

(Please, out of respect to Palmer, do not watch the actual video. Relying on the textual account should be enough to get the gist of the story.)

The NFL’s Response

This incident was not even addressed by the NFL until months later in May, when a partial video of Rice pulling an unconscious Palmer out of an elevator surfaced. Even then, when they publicly recognized that he was guilty of domestic violence, their only punishment was a paltry two-game suspension, handed to him on July 24.

The footage from the video tape that shows the assault was released by TMZ on September 8. Very shortly afterward, it was announced that the Ravens terminated Rice’s contract.

One of the major issues that has been discussed in relation to this incident is whether influential parties in the NFL, such as Commissioner Roger Goodell and Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh, actually saw this video footage before it was released to the public.

There are a couple of things wrong with this. First, many sources have claimed that the NFL did not have access to this footage until now, but the Revel Hotel disagrees. Though the hotel closed its doors on September 2, they claimed that if the NFL had asked for the tape at any time, it would have been handed over gladly.

But regardless of whether they were able to view the actual footage, the NFL was fully aware of what took place, and they were still prepared to give him a slap on the wrist and move on. However, the video going viral after being posted on TMZ forced them to have some form of accountability, and I am convinced that that’s the only reason they banned him indefinitely.

Let The Victim-Blaming Begin

Of course, as people often do following incidents like this, many voices rose up to blame Janay Palmer. She has been framed as the instigator, and a popular opinion – most notably expressed by ESPN commentator Stephen A. Smith – is that she should be held responsible for provoking him to anger.

On May 23, the Ravens’ Twitter account posted that Palmer – not Rice – “deeply regrets” the role that she played in the incident. (The tweet in question has since been deleted.)

Fox News hosts made several tasteless comments about Palmer, saying she is “sending a terrible message” by remaining married to Rice. They also quipped, “I think the message is, take the stairs,” in response to the cameras located in the elevator capturing the footage.

Not only that, but official NFL spokesmen were also quick to absolve Rice of any guilt. Ravens’ General Manager Ozzie Newsome was quoted as saying, “We respect the efforts Ray has made to become the best partner and father he can be. That night was not typical of the Ray Rice we know and respect. We believe that he will not let that one night define who he is, and he is determined to make sure something like this never happens again.”

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Even now, people still say Palmer is at fault. It hurt my heart when one of my good friends overheard me discussing the situation and said, “Wait, this happened back in February? Why did she marry the guy?” As if their matrimony was an atonement for his sins, proof that he’d either changed his ways or she was willingly digging her own grave.

And really, it sounds so simple. “Just leave the guy!” But I can confidently say, both from research and my own personal experience, that often in abusive relationships, the victim feels like they have no choice in the matter.

In recognition of this reality, the grassroots hashtag campaign #WhyIStayed has roared to life on Twitter in the past couple of days. It was initiated by author Beverly Gooden, and since then thousands of women – and men – have added to the conversation by sharing their stories.

The Harm This Has Done to Palmer

The damage that this woman has suffered goes far deeper than the assault that February night. While many activists cheer that the footage was released, hoping it will be eye-opening about the severity of domestic abuse, it is not at all a reason to celebrate.

The video was posted without Palmer’s consent, forcing her to relive this traumatic moment that I’m sure she’d rather block out. By now, millions of people have gotten a voyeuristic view of her private pain and think nothing of it. They’ve clicked the “play” button when the video appeared on their newsfeeds, they gave their obligatory gasps at the horror of it all, but then they were able to move on with their days. Palmer was not granted that luxury.

Not to mention, Rice had already lost over $500,000 in pay for the two games he didn’t play, and he reportedly stood to make $4 million this year.

Recently, Palmer broke her silence regarding the incident and made a post to her Instagram account, calling the entire situation – the publicizing of the footage, the media coverage, Rice’s suspension – “a horrible nightmare.”

Is this because she is grieving with her husband, or because she is scared about what the repercussions might be? Who’s to say his act of physical violence against his partner was an isolated incident? What if he holds her responsible for the demolition of his career and the loss of the bulk of their income? Right now, there still seem to be a lot of unknowns.

Moving Forward

Rice released a statement calling his actions “inexcusable,” and the couple has reportedly been in counseling. In addition, Goodell has enacted a new NFL personal conduct policy. A player’s first domestic violence incident earns them a six-game unpaid suspension, and a second offense means a lifetime ban from the league.

These all seem to be steps in the right direction. Even though I am saddened that it took this incident to spur the NFL to action in terms of ramping up the consequences of domestic abuse, there was an action nonetheless.

While Rice seems to be remorseful on the surface, I still remain concerned about Palmer’s safety and personal well-being. I am ever-hopeful that either the health and stability of her marriage improve, or that she is able to find the strength to leave.