Yes Mean Yes – Why Cis Is Not a Slur

Very often I talk about feminism in terms that are critical of other feminists, most particularly of feminism that does not recognise it’s own colonial, transphobic structural flaws.  There are good reasons for that – feminism (at least for me) is about addressing complex systems of hierarchy within a patriarchal society, and is at it’s best when it can celebrate the victories of other women over some part of that system without fear or favour, cherishing women who value their hard won autonomy over their bodies and lives.

So when that doesn’t happen it is important to speak up and say – no, wait, hang on a minute.  Of course the reasons why that encouragement and support hasn’t been offered might vary: in the case of Sarah Ditum, who did not celebrate Laverne Cox on the cover of Time  because she wore sexy clothes, I suspect that it was very simple. (And I have a huge problem with this, but more on that in another post because the thoughts I have on this whole gatekeeping thing will need it!).

Having been brought up in the gender binary world – that the patriarchy requires us to live in because it supports the power structures – and having been so conditioned by that gender binary, I suppose the idea that gender is fluid, that gender exists on a spectrum, should have been anathema to me.  But once I had reconnected with my feminism, and begun to develop a broader and more nuanced faith and political language for it, one thing seemed so strikingly obvious that I wondered how I had not seen it before: the political, social, economic and physical dominance that the patriarchy has would lose at the very least a good deal of it’s power if the binary ‘male’ and ‘female’ were not pre-eminent – i.e., if the binary poles of gender were simply part of the rich tapestry of the gender spectrum.

I cannot (nor should not) try and speak about the experiences of those who are transgender, or gender fluid: there are some excellent blogs, articles and books by writers who live this reality and experience. Some of them, like Roz Kaveny or Janet Mock might be names you know: others like this list of transgender writers might be less well known to you, but you should acquaint yourself with them if the idea of fluidity of gender is new or strange to you.

What I can talk about however are some of the words or ideas which feminists might resist or find offensive,  which brings me to ‘Cis’ gender, why I use it to describe myself and why I disagree utterly with feminists who insist it’s a slur. Because it isn’t.

Having just spoken about gender fluidity and how that would affect the power balance of the patriarchy, you might wonder why I am happy to claim a term that is applied to the very binary I increasingly reject. I think it’s important in the first instance to say that I am a cisgender woman because other women are trans* gender. Or as it states here:

Because, referring to cisgender people as ‘non trans’ implies that cisgender people are the default and that being trans is abnormal.  Many people have said ‘transgender people’ and ‘normal people’, but when we say ‘cisgender’ and ‘transgender’ neither is implied as more normal than the other.

In other words, not all women are simply called women. Until all of my sisters are simply my sisters, one way (but not the only way) that I can support them and value them for who they are is by using such a simple descriptive.

Because that’s all it is – a descriptive word. On the rich tapestry that is gender, it is one thread within a multiplicity of threads; one colour amongst many within that tapestry.

But also this: I say that I believe transgender women to be women and my faith reminds me that my ‘yes has to mean yes’ – that my actions must support my words or my words would not be truthful.  So I would ask my fellow feminists  who say that they accept transgender women as women but who reject the descriptive term ‘cis’ as a slur – step back. Think again.  Are your words of acceptance for transgender women entirely truthful?

I am not suggesting that you have to use the term cis to recognise your transgender sisters as full sisters – it is only one way of showing that you do. But if you cannot celebrate Laverne Cox’s victories without accusing her of being a tool of the patriarchy (which was shockingly disrespectful!) then do not be surprised if the truth of your words are questioned.

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Twitter Death Threats are Tasteful and Decent

Okay, so this is shit. I mean seriously – what the hell? How come some women like Caroline Criado-Perez actually have the people who threaten them taken to court but Sam Ambreen gets nothing? Of course this is about race. Solidarity x

Left at the Lights

Kill all men. 3 words that erased all the times I was raped, sexually assaulted and beaten by men. These 3 words justify the death threats against me. In saying these words, I have confirmed that I am just as bad as the entitled men and any report I make of abusive behaviour against me is invalid.

I have just finished speaking to the police who called to update me with regards numerous threats to kill and the reams of racist abuse I have been subjected to on Twitter. They advised that Twitter, being based in California refuse to provide British law enforcement officers with any information even in cases where there are threats to kill because their laws around taste and decency differ from ours. Apparently they only concede for serious crimes like murder (not threats to murder).

I want to know how the Metropolitan police were able to investigate…

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@Leadership_Jnl, #TakeDownThatPost & What You Need to Do so the Apology Means Something

If you’ve been on twitter and seen the hashtag #TakeDownThatPost (started by Tamara Rice) but don’t know the story behind it, then here is a brief summary about what happened:

Earlier this week Leadership Journal (part of Christianity Today) published a piece by a convicted rapist where he was allowed, over several pages, to tell ‘his side’ of the story of what ‘happened to him’ whilst he was a youth pastor. It was stomach churning, vile, triggering stuff. It spoke about his grooming, abuse and rape of a young girl in terms of relationship, mutual consent and ‘their’ mutual temptation. It was, in short, vile.

As I understand it, Leadership Journal felt that this was a ‘cautionary tale’ and therefore important to publish it. (Because of Satan, or something. Yeah. I know).

The backlash was incredible and over the course of the rest of the week, twitter activists – via #TakeDownThatPost – and bloggers voiced their considerable and justifiable hurt, anger and remorse and such an idiotic decision, and the even worse attempts to justify the unjustifiable.  (Links to many of those blogs, which so eloquently and often bravely called out Leadership Journal and Christianity Today can be found at the bottom of this piece. I urge you to read them).

On Friday (the 13th, ironically enough) Leadership Journal then edited the piece and added an editorial that started with the a re-iteration of the reasons for publishing (churches get sued for this stuff you know. Icky, huh?), as well as disclaimer that ‘of course we understand that this was abuse and not mutual’ and ‘he really is sorry about all this’. I am paraphrasing with definite bias because it will give you some idea about the reaction that this decision then generated.  Which was instant and furious. Via twitter, blogs and the Leadership Journal facebook page, people left them and Christianity Today in no doubt at all about where we all stood.

And then late last night the post was removed, and the following apology was printed:

A note from the editors of Leadership Journal:

We should not have published this post, and we deeply regret the decision to do so.

The post, told from the perspective of a sex offender, withheld from readers until the very end a crucial piece of information: that the sexual misconduct being described involved a minor under the youth pastor’s care. Among other failings, this post used language that implied consent and mutuality when in fact there can be no quesiton that in situations of such disproportionate power there is no such thing as consent or mutuality.

The post, intended to dissuade future perpetrators, dwelt at length on the losses this criminal sin caused the author, while displaying little or no empathic engagement with the far greater losses caused to the victim of the crime and the wider community around the author. The post adopted a tone that was not appropriate given its failure to document complete repentance and restoration.

There is no way to remove the piece altogether from the Internet, and we do not want to make it seem that we are trying to make it disappear. That is not journalistically honest. The fact that we published it; its deficiencies; and the way its deficiencies illuminate our own lack of insight and foresight, is a matter of record at The Internet Archive (https://web.archive.org/web/20140613190102/http://christianitytoday.com/le/2014/june-online-only/my-easy-trip-from-youth-minister-to-felon.html).

Any advertising revenues derived from hits to this post will be donated to Christian organizations that work with survivors of sexual abuse. We will be working to regain our readers’ trust and to give greater voice to victims of abuse.

We apologize unreservedly for the hurt we clearly have caused.

/signed/

Marshall Shelley, editor, Leadership Journal

Harold B. Smith, president and CEO, Christianity Today International

(It is interesting to note the president of CT co-signed this as they had spent all week telling everyone that this was nothing to do with them – but that’s a side issue).

The sense of relief as we wake up to this news this morning is being felt widely across the internet.  And there are many to thank for this achievement – as Emily Maynard said:

Peace tonight to Twitter activists, listeners, thinkers, writers, survivors & prophets. You are my leaders. Let’s keep showing a better way. @emelina

So I have some first thoughts on what both Christianity Today and Leadership Journal need to do now if their apology (which is a decent one, I will give them credit for that) is to mean anything. As Jesus said, let your yes mean yes and your no mean no: actions have to back up words.

LT clearly have no understanding about the issues of sexual abuse, rape, rape culture and how their understandings of scripture and theology are woefully inadequate. They need to take serious prayerful time to truly grasp how they made the mistake that  they made, not just in the thought process that led to the decision to publish, but the reasons (the honest reasons) why they then tried to edit the piece and why they tried to persuade people that the anonymous rapist was genuinely repentant, where he clearly was not – and as they do so they need that process to be made public.

They need to be honest with themselves – and us – about their need to educate themselves about what abuse and rape are. They need to listen to the victims and those who specialise in helping them.

And they need to continue to be transparent throughout that process.

They need to give space and voice to victims and those who support them, and space and voice to those who are working so hard to counter the culture in the Christian church that gives space to predators to abuse – and who then receive such cheap and worthless forgiveness.

Most fundamentally of all, they need to understand that the victim of the rapist they gave a platform to (and all those who have endured the abuse metered out but a trusted pastor) was re-traumatized by what they did, and they need to prayerfully consider what they can do to make recompense for that.

Samantha Field 

Elizabeth Ester

Suzannah Paul

Libby Ann

Tamara Rice

Dianna Anderson

#SurvivorPrivilege, Fairies, Unicorns and Other Myths: A Response to @georgewillf

(Note: The hashtag #survivorprivilege was started by @wagatwe – for more information on that read here).

 

Washington Post pundit George Will  has finally blown the whistle on the big secret – those of us who have been lucky enough not to be killed by our attackers and rapists have privilege and status.  It’s even possible that we lied to get it.

Funnily enough, just recently I was discussing this with a friend of mine (who always insists to her therapist that there honestly is no need for her to roll out an actual red carpet, and that feeding her grapes whilst she reclines on the therapist’s couch is actually quite embarrassing); we were marvelling at how it has turned out to be such a benefit to us, and how society falls over itself to treat us like royalty.

Both of us are amazed that the media now focus on the behaviour of the attacker who chose to rape us, and that girls no longer have to be told to adjust their behaviour; that nobody ever tells a rape joke anymore, and that it is great that we can feel confident that we (and every other rape victim everywhere) will see justice for the crimes committed against us.

We then flew to lunch on the back of our dragons and had a splendid time with the aliens who popped over from the neighbouring galaxy in their UFO. Sorry you missed them, but they have promised that they will be back next month.

Like many men who don’t want the status quo to be challenged, Will has a ‘women-who-do-not-endlessly-kick-and-scream-against-their-attackers-are-not-real-victims’ kind of mentality. And he cannot get his head around the fact that being educated about rape awareness only unearths more pesky ‘not-really-victims’ victims . To Will, these women (whom he comes within a hairs breadth of calling liars suggests in a less than subtle manner are of dubious morality) are simply exerting their feminine wiles because the Obama administration seeks to address the situation of college rape, and sees them as akin to getting a man to pick up the hankie you just accidently-dropped-on-purpose because – well, they’re women and they want the men [i.e., government] to come riding to their rescue.  (Just pass me another grape will you? And please pick up my lavender scented hankie whilst I recline on my chaise longue).

It’s not that this man has a view point that is grotesque in its rape apology: it is the prominence that both the Washington Times and New York Post give to this privileged white man who belittles the violence of rape in such a casually dismissive manner. (“Consider the supposed campus epidemic of rape, aka “sexual assault,” he writes, as though rape is some prankster-with-good-intentions hiding behind a mask and doesn’t really mean it when it frightens the crap out of you, violates you and leaves you unable to function emotionally or psychologically).

The world George Will lives in is the one where the patriarchy gets to do exactly as they please – to whomever it pleases them to do it – without ever having to be held even remotely accountable.

The world in which every woman deserves to live is very different – it is nowhere near to reality yet, but it’s not a myth and we will continue to fight for it.