Some Truths are Facts, And Some Facts are True. But The Earth Is Not Flat And Wishing Won’t Make It So.

Now, just curve it round a little this way...
Now, just curve it round a little this way…

Some truths are facts, certain as far as anything can be, supportable by empirical, statistical and observational evidence. Gravity, for example – the presence of oxygen and the process of osmosis. These are facts, which are true, and would be factually true with or without anyone believing it.

Of course some people will argue that the facts are different and provide other evidence – often terribly dubious in their origin and spun, nay twisted, like so much hot glass or woven sugar on a cake – in to something which looks like a fact, but isn’t.

Flat Earth believers, for example. Despite all evidence to the contrary, they believe that the earth is flat. Does it impact on the lives of the people we love and care about that they believe this? No, not really. It doesn’t stop them being kind to their neighbours (at least I would hope not), or paying their taxes. It’s a foolish myth, but not a dangerous one. It doesn’t perpetuate oppression to believe it, or make the lives of vulnerable people more difficult to share such a belief with others. They believe it to be true, and believe the evidence to be factual.

But some truths are not facts.

Some truths are personal – they might be an individuals lived experience of something that many others have not shared; a personal realisation or awakening, a message decoded through a dream which leads to a better understanding. These are not less true by being only personally true to one or a few people. Something does not have to be universally true to be valid. Much of human experience is like this: there are common themes and threads, and yet also distinctive incidents. Grief, for example. Most people have the experience of losing a friend or loved one, but every person experiences grief differently and may find that every experience of grief is different than before.

Some truths are real then, but not true for you – or me.

I am a Christian – this a personal truth, a fact about me, and an act of faith and hope. My personal truths inform me about the existence of God, facts inform me about the existence of Jesus. Faith teaches me that Jesus was the Divine Incarnate. I will share this belief, appropriately within the given conversation, and I will share this belief in how I behave – after all, I believe that God created us all in Her image and so, even when it might be hard to, I will try and find some way to reflect that.  No, I am not terribly holy: I am human and imperfect so sometimes I will lose patience, or feel less than charitable, or find that the kindest thing to do for myself is to walk away. And yes, I swear – sometimes a lot, especially if I shut my thumb in a car door, like I did last year.

And sometimes the most faithful and true thing I can do is not walk away but speak up: because sometimes a fact is a fact that is true – sometimes the Earth is not flat now matter how much you believe it to be.

Rape myths are ideas which are not based in empirical, statistical evidence. Rape myths are not based on facts. A myth is defined in the following manner:

An ancient story or set of stories. A commonly believed – but false – idea. A popular belief that is not true.

Rape myths fall under this descriptor: despite the statistical evidence which clearly shows that deliberate false claims of rape are in the tiny minority of cases, there are some who truly believe most claims are false. Despite the clear statistical and empirical evidence that the majority of those raped and abused are the victims of people known to them, there are still those who only believe it is real rape if the rapist is a stranger who drags his victims down a darkened alley. And whilst so much evidence proves otherwise, there are those who believe that rape is only violent if the rapist threatens his victim with a knife.

In other words, some people are like those who believe in a Flat Earth – they believe these things to be true, and some who believe it passionately will even have ‘evidence’ which looks factual, but is neither fact, or truth. And it doesn’t mean that those people can’t be kind to their dogs, or nice to their elderly neighbours, and you can’t make laws for the weird things that people think.

But we do have to consider how those beliefs impact on the most vulnerable group of people, in the context of what they think and believe: the rape victims. The ones who almost never see justice in the courts; the ones who probably will never report because they are terrified of never being believed; those whose voices are silenced by fear and the pervasive myths which, despite being wrong, heap further scars on already scarred and wounded hearts.

For those who bear that cross, for those who carry that burden, for those who are imprisoned in the fear that such harmful, dangerous and toxic myths perpetuate, voices must be raised and must be heard. Because one day, those who believe in those rape myths will be like those who believe in a Flat Earth: a harmless minority, with odd ideas that the rest of us don’t understand, but who will, by their diminishing, become harmless.

And that might not be a fact, yet – and it is certainly an article of faith. But it will be true, one day, because the earth is not flat and it never has been.

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Dear Fellow Cisters – It Wasn’t A Penis What Did It, It Was A Man (CN/TW)

This post is one of the most personal I have written, and yet at the same time is not really about me. Nevertheless it discusses rape so I urge you first and foremost to take care of yourselves.

I am cis-gendered. When gender and genitals, or gender and sex, are conflated, it is not I who is hurt by it. By sharing this, my small hope is that I can help and support – not hinder or speak for or over – the transgender sisters, gender queer and gender fluid folk whose identities are too often questioned . (If  I fail to get that balance right, please tell me.) There is another woman I want particularly to stand in solidarity with today too…

Although I don’t follow the writer Sarah Ditum on twitter, I saw this tweet a little while after she had sent it, and for some time now it has been on my mind – or rather, how to frame a response to it has been on my mind. Whilst I had been aware of a feminism that framed rape in such a context I had rarely seen it put so bluntly. However I wasn’t sure if I could find the language for how it troubled me, without either attacking Ditum (which would be counter productive and needless given that we had almost no previous interaction), or talking over the transgender women whose narrative is their own to frame.

Tacking rape culture – calling it out, speaking up, joining my voices with other women’s to challenge it and break it down to help work toward a society where everyone can live more safely – is something I have been doing more and more recently. There are many reasons why I have become more engaged in that conversation, not the least of them being that I was raped repeatedly by a former boyfriend during an abusive relationship. More accurately, it was less to do with the fact of being raped than it was about not being believed, and the attitudes which I (like so many other women) have faced as we struggle to process when they try and deal with what has happened to them.

I chose not to report what happened. We weren’t living together, and it was harder even than now for women raped by their partners to get justice: marital rape had only just become illegal following the 1991 R v R ruling, and the prevailing attitude within law enforcement to domestic abuse and rape not exactly encouraging. Yet whilst I knew that the chances of a conviction were remote, this was not the prevailing reason why I chose not to report.

***

One of the things which I am most grateful to twitter for is how it has helped me both re-engage with my feminism, and helped to confront within myself both how white and cis-normative it had been. My relationship with feminism (not unlike many women) has been complicated, and it was my Christian faith which also played a big part in helping to re-frame it. Like many women of faith, we find no contradiction at all between the call of Christ and our feminism. And like Christ, the call of standing with and for ‘the least of these’ sharpens both our praxis and narrative as feminists.

And whilst I struggle to understand why some people want to define women in conservative ways, and deny to women who they are because of being assigned male at birth, I have to be honest and say that it was not for that reason initially that Ditum’s tweet bothered me so much. Nor was it the fact that my ex-boyfriend also used numerous objects to rape me with, although memories reared their head when I read it. It was because it was so entirely at odds with what I thought even the most ardent anti-trans feminist understood: that rape is not a crime of sex, but a crime based of the abuse of power.

My ex raped me. He could have chosen not to. He could have chosen to walk away, to sod off somewhere and find a more constructive channel for his never-ending quest for control; he chose instead to manipulate me and demonstrate power over me. He could have chosen to question why he wanted those things, he could have chosen to explore within himself why he wanted my humiliation through repeated violations, rather than my comfort and happiness.

Instead he made a choice to hurt me because that was what he wanted. His penis didn’t make that decision. He did. Reducing men’s decision to rape to the random behaviour of a set of genitalia diminishes what rape is, and makes it harder for its victims to name the problem and reclaim the agency and autonomy being raped has taken from them.

But I am not the only woman who has been raped, for whom such penis-orientated attitudes have made the ability to find comfort and community so much harder, even amongst other women. In a sense, Ditum’s comment was just the visible tip of the iceberg of dangerous and bad assumptions which make it harder for women to be believed, even by other women.

Some of you reading this may be aware of a trans*gender woman, a twitter engineer called Dana McCullum who was recently convicted of raping her wife. McCullum raped and violated her wife, not because she has a penis, but because she chose to exercise power and control in an abusive manner.

But the truly appalling aspect of this is not that McCullum is transgender. It is that that focus on this aspect (which happened because feminists forgot what rape is truly about), took away the support that should have been accorded to her wife.

So now I want you to read her story, the one she has had to tell because we helped to make it harder for her. I want you to listen to her, to her story, to the struggle she has had to find agency and identity. I stand in solidarity with her.

When we think that rape is about genitals and sex, we don’t just make stopping it harder. We make it harder for the victim, for the one person we are supposed to be there for. I know that we all want rape to stop. We all want rape culture dismantled so that the women and children on the receiving end of rape and abuse to be safer than we were. We want rapes victims to have all the support they deserve so that they can heal.

But we won’t do that if we are not honest, with ourselves and with each other. If we want to ‘name the problem’ then we actually have to understand it so that we can name it correctly: it was a man who raped me, not a penis;  and it was a woman who raped M, not a penis. The name of the problem is not ‘penis’.

It’s name is patriarchy.

When 140 Characters Just Wont Do…

There are some days, as a Christian, where I can only take a very *very* deep breath and pray for the patience of Job when it comes to some of my fellow Christians, and most usually it is on those well pressed, hot button issues of women bishops and equal marriage.

It is not, of course, that I don’t understand their argument (although when conversation with them is ventured I am frequently left with the impression that I should, in fact, consider myself completely dumb when it comes to scripture).

I am not going to pick through the well-worn scriptural argument here – at least not in this post. I will say briefly that I know the passages concerned but I do not believe that, when taken with the whole context of God’s Grace and Christ’s life, death and re-birth, that it is either accurate or even ‘scriptural’ to suggest that the staunch ‘gay is sin’ is anywhere close to the representations of God’s love and view on the matter.  And it is not as though all conservative Christians remain opposed to things like equal marriage for the LGBT community.  Steve Chalke has –  (and rather bravely). Earlier this year he came out in favour of gay marriage. You can read the article on the Oasis UK website here: http://www.oasisuk.org/inclusionresources/Articles/MOIabridged – it’s the abridged version, but the longer version is also available there.

I try to patient when some conservative Christians proclaim their position so loudly that all anyone else can hear is hate, because we are all struggling after God – because nobody is perfect and because we all screw up.  *But* none of that can allow me to look the other way when people are being hurt, because we are not called by Christ to hurt people but to love them; and it saddens me deeply when people are condemned by other Christians, using the God I believe loves us all.

I struggle with that. I want to shout and scream in righteous indignation to get them to understand the hurt being done… but ideologues are entrenched for a reason. And I wonder if my time is not better spent giving my energy and my love to the people who welcome it, rather than those who patronise me and put me down.

So to all those lovely twitter folk I follow who do not share my beliefs, but have gone out of their way to include me and love me anyway – I want to thank you. I am sorry that not all those who share my faith cannot see the hurt and anger they sow. Forgive us – for sometimes we know not what we do.

*I have updated this post to include a link to Steve Chalke’s article, which may not yet have much popular support amongst conservative Evangelicals, but which I pray paves the way for a more prayerful, thoughtful and loving approach. 09.03.2013