Poem: A Further Question…

So, our bodies

do not work

the way convention says they should;

But, it means

we can explore

the endless ways love can reveal

the different ways to live

the love we are both

truly worth

And if the place

we leave to make

that life of endless exploration

is not the place convention

might demand;

it matters not

when the place of destination

is still – naturally –

the love and joy

we are both worth

Advertisements

Between A Rock and a Hard Place 2: The Gendered Language of God – Speaking Into The Silenced Pain

Henry_Ossawa_Tanneran_Annunciation

“Or what woman having ten silver coins, is she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” Luke 15: 8-10

God as Mother: She is revealed as such throughout both the Old and New Testament – Her Mother’s love is nurturing and guiding and She is tender in her ministrations as She feeds and comforts Her children. But Her love is not quiet or submissive; indeed it is a love that is roused to ferocious anger in defence of her children, and is as powerfully protective as Mother as it is as Father.

God is She and She is mighty, and she has laboured mightily indeed.

*********

So often, the mark of the abused is silence – silenced imposed, by the abuser; by a society structured to support the abuser, and by the secretive manner in which abuse is perpetrated. Silence is also internalized: when the abuser is the one with the power, the hope of being heard – of being believed – is as fragile as flame in the path of a tornado, and it is easy for the abuser to manipulate that.

Society enables those who abuse, not simply in upholding the patriarchal, colonial, binary structures which controls human beings and denies them autonomy and voice if they do not conform to the norms imposed. There is a powerful undercurrent of arrogance too: we mock cultures and religions that demand of victims that they produce witnesses to their abuse, because we know very well that it is the secret nature of abuse which protects the perpetrators – yet we too quickly dismiss those who speak up, claiming the word of the victim is not evidence enough.

We paint a picture of abusers as cartoon-like monsters, unable (or unwilling) to comprehend that they are ordinary people living otherwise ordinary lives: when these ordinary people are revealed, rationalisations and justifications then abound. Cloak upon cloak is layered over the abuser, silence upon silence is heaped upon the abused. The innocent become the accused, and myth takes the place of truth.

The Church, with its dominant structural patriarchy and language, repeatedly makes the same mistakes: the focus on the abuser and the lazy theologies fall prey to ‘we are all sinners’, giving rise to a culture that blames the victims because the abuser ‘couldn’t control’ themselves; over and over again, the abuse is minimised (or worse, swept under the carpet) as reputations are prioritised before the victims.

Justice, which should roll down like a river, is stoppered at its source, and the communities of those who are already the most vulnerable and marginalized are silenced by the deafness of those who have not ears to listen; their wounds are left untended and their tears left unheeded.

*********

Make no mistake – the inability of the Church to confront the systemic culture that leads to this debilitating and ever decreasing spiral will not, in and of itself, be solved simply by confronting the reality that God is revealed as Mother as well as Father. Culture and attitudes do not change over night.

But changing the language we use – the language of prayer, the liturgical language that dominates the rhythms of the daily life of the Church – will help to create a space in which both the silenced can speak and be heard, and the reflection and prayer can start to move and evolve thoughts and – by consequence – actions.

The voices of straight white men dominate in the Church – a Church which fails to recognise abuse, fails to stop it, fails to protect the abused – but succeeds in protecting the abuser.  But God is not only a straight white man.

God is the terrified child being abused, whose abuse is photographed for the gratification of others; God is the black transgender woman who was murdered for being black and transgender; God is the woman who shakes when you touch her, because her husband or father beat her all the time; God is that gender fluid, bi-sexual person who asks you to respect their pronouns, and are weary to the bone of the endless mocking they get for being themselves. God is the girl with the ‘troubled’ past who wasn’t believed when she said that ‘nice’ man was abusing her, whose past was measured against that ‘nice’ man and found her wanting.

We need a church where a victim can speak up and the church will say ‘I believe you’. We need a faith to which creates a space that will provide the abused and oppressed with the liberation and redemption promised to them. We need a church that remembers that Christ condemned those who abuse children. We need a church that remembers its calling is not to protect the powerful, but the weak.

We need a revolution.

Our Mother in Heaven

Hallowed be your name…..

People As Things – The Excuses We Are Still Making For the Patriarchy And Why They Wont End Rape Culture.

B1SXRQuCcAAn45r

“There’s no greys, only white that’s got grubby. I’m surprised you don’t know that. And sin, young man, is when you treat people as things. Including yourself. That’s what sin is.”

“It’s a lot more complicated than that – “

“No. It ain’t. When people say things are a lot more complicated than that, they means they’re getting worried that they won’t like the truth. People as things, that’s where it starts.”

Exchange between Granny Weatherwax and  the Quite Reverend Oates, Carpe Jugulum, by Terry Pratchett

I love the Discworld series of books- I have done for years and if I had to pick a favourite character, it would be probably be Granny Weatherwax. Sometimes I muse that if any character were most like the author Terry Pratchett, I would like to think it was Granny. She’s not at all cuddly or conventionally lovable, but she’s tough and smart and has a far bigger heart than probably most of her community realise. And whilst she has carefully cultivated a reputation that keeps people respectful (and slightly nervous of her), she’s a true servant to them.  She heals, cares for, and watches carefully over Lancre, the true extent of what she does so often hidden behind peoples assumptions and wild imaginations. She’s practical, doesn’t suffer fools at all (let alone gladly) – and she knows and understands people. And whilst she would probably have little time for my faith (The Omnian religion in the Discworld series is a mirror of the Christian church in it’s medieval fire-and-brimstone-and-now-trying-to-be-more-liberal-Anglican form), I have a sneaky respect for her ‘headology’.

And Granny Weatherwax  is bang on the money about sin – it starts when you treat people as things.

********

The fight to dismantle rape culture is a fight to dismantle the patriarchal power structures which, on the one hand, men created so that men had the power and privilege to shape, grow and rule over much of society – and when they abuse that power, to coddle, excuse, justify and rationalise that abuse in whatever form it has taken. When a man has beaten his partner or wife, raped, molested or abused a woman or child, we are as a society very able (and very well trained) in providing those excuses so that, often, even the man who has abused rarely has to lift a finger to provide them himself. It’s a Pavlovian response.

A woman is killed and the man has been ‘driven’ to it by something she supposedly said or did; a child is molested and abused, but that child had ‘presented as sexually mature’, or wore the wrong clothes, or hung out with the wrong people, or had a ‘record of bad behaviour’. A woman is raped, but she had been out drinking so energy and times is expended arguing about consent because of that somehow means it was ‘too hard’ for the man to know if consent had been given.

The victim becomes both recipient of the violence, the rape, the killing – and the person responsible for it. The man does not need to take responsibility – occasionally, rarely, he might see the inside of a prison but mostly society hands him some rationalisation and offers hope for him to rebuild his life, often with sentiments along the lines of ‘he’s not usually that kind of man’.

The excuses we give the abusers and murderers, the rapists, and the molesters are legion. But the truth is, they made a choice. They chose to rape, molest, kill, abuse, take advantage of, and inflict trauma. They chose it over any number of other choices that could have been made at that time: society has afforded them power – and that is how they have chosen to use that power in that moment. When people are merely things to the person with the power, it is a too-easy choice to abuse that power. And with every rape, every murder of another and trans and cis woman, a choice has been made.

Anything – anything at all – other than a full frontal recognition of rape, abuse and violence against women and children as the choice of the rapist, is simply another excuse that he can use. I have said this before: and I am about to say it again – rape (and sexualised violence and abuse) are abuses of power. They are choices, made by the men who perpetrate them. They are choices made as conscious decisions.

Yes, it is a terrifying truth and one I had to face too, and I recognise the desire which we as women have trained into us: to provide the understanding about why it happened, specifically why the man who raped and abused us, did it. Patriarchy demands that we as women provide the ‘understanding’ because that is part of the toxic nature of our relationship with misogyny. It is part of that Pavlovian response drilled in to us – men do stuff and its our ‘job’ as women to ‘understand’ why they do that stuff. And every time we say, in anyway shape or form, men rape because they have a penis, we do so because we have been conditioned to understand and excuse men’s behaviour.

But we don’t have to understand anymore; it is not our responsibility as women to understand the choices men make, because down that pathway excuses and justifications await.  We have to fight the conditioning that says we are supposed to ‘understand’. Yes, when the man has used his penis to rape with, it is a hard truth: but genitals have absolutely nothing at all to do with the choice to rape. Penises don’t make the choice to rape. MEN do. Penises don’t have brains – MEN DO.

My rapist made a choice. He was not at the whim of ‘uncontrollable’ desires. He didn’t do it because he couldn’t control his penis. He did it because he made a choice. And that’s HIS responsibility to bear not mine.

And not yours either.

I don’t say this for my sake, or to anger people. I know how unpopular my opinion is.  But there are women who are victims of rape and abuse –  Trans women and trans women of colour – who are the victims of the patriarchy, misogyny, transphobia and racism that abuses, rapes and kills them. Their voices are ignored and their right to healing safe spaces made harder because we think in the very terms that patriarchy trains us to think. (And that includes refusing to see or accept them as women). And it means that not only is the fight to end rape and the culture which perpetuates it made harder, but that some women are shut out by other women.

I want gendered violence to end: women and children are dying because of it and I want life in all its fullness for all women. But until we accept that saying men rape because they have a penis is handing men who rape just another excuses, not only we will continue to fail in any efforts to stop rape: we will let down, abandon and isolate whole groups of women and perpetuate victim blaming in to the bargain.

Sin starts when you treat people as things. We have to stop treating people as things.

 

 

 

 

The Problem Is Not With #IBelieveHer: In Defence Of Radical Belief

The Enliven Project - The Saddest Graph You'll See All Day
The Enliven Project – The Saddest Graph You’ll See All Day

In the past few days, there have been some articles which question how valid and valuable the response of #IBelieveHer is when victims of rape and abuse speak up: and whilst we must think seriously and reflectively about our approach to the all too common problem of rape and abuse, there is a difference between reflective analysis and reflexive reaction.

In Sarah Ditum’s article in New Statesman the reflexive reaction focussed on issues around a recent Rolling Stone article, and the actor Shia LaBeouf, who recently disclosed about the attack he suffered during a performance piece in Los Angeles earlier this year.

I don’t entirely disagree with Sarah Ditum in Sabrina Rubin Erdley’s article: the poor standard of journalism in this case does not negate the validity of a victim’s disclosure; we know well enough that the shock and trauma to both the mind a body of someone who has been raped or abused mean that tropes about the ‘perfect victim’ are myths which are damaging and dangerous.

And yet having illustrated this, Sarah Ditum then resorts to using these very tropes to dismiss LaBeouf’s own disclosure (TW):

“..it is very hard to know what LaBeouf is asking us to believe. Rape, generally understood as forcible penetration with a penis or other object (not least under English law), could not have taken place in this instance, and LaBeouf does not specify what did happen[emphasis mine]

When we say on the one hand that the myths and tropes about how a victim reacts to rape are wrong, that there is not ‘perfect’ victim, and when we know that makes it harder for victims to come forward (never mind be believed), we cannot then shift the goal posts and say those tropes are suddenly acceptable simply because a victim does not fit our understanding of who the victim is. Here is the weakness of white western feminist theory to rape: Ditum see’s power imbalance strictly in terms of gender binary, and fails to grasp the nuance in this entirely individual situation, where LaBeouf’s power as a man is temporarily surrendered because he had voluntarily renounced it for the sake of the performance he was committed to.

That very lack of nuance in Ditum’s analysis is the reason why black and coloured women, cis and transgender, find it even harder to be believed, despite being more likely to be the victims of rape than white cis-gendered women.

Power is not binary: such general understandings of rape do not help us to dismantle the very power structures against with Ditum rails. What she refers to as ‘excessive belief’ is in fact radical belief: rape culture is supported by patriarchy, but patriarchy is not just a blanket subordination of women as a class, however easy it is to generalise is that way.

Racism, transphobia, homophobia, ableism, trans-misogyny, along side misogyny and sexism – all contribute towards ways in which humans group together and oppress other groups, and all these things act to support the rape culture.  Radical, victim-centred belief should not be the end of the that discussion, but #IBelieveHer is better understood at the start of that conversation when we don’t misunderstand the need for it. Labelling it as ‘excessive’ simply allows those who are least likely to believed to remain least likely to believed, to dismiss those already struggling to survive. Labelling it as ‘excessive’ means only ever partially dismantling rape culture for the sake of a tiny, white, cis gender minority.

I will continue to believe anyone at all who has the courage to stand up and say ‘I was raped’ because I want to see an end to rape culture. Radical belief is not the problem.

Patriarchy is.

 

 

Your Words are as Dust – My Response to the House of Bishops

I am a Christian and a member of the Church of England, and today saying that is to acquaint myself with people who do not, or will not, or cannot accept that a deep and committed love between two people of the same gender is equal to love shared between a man and a woman.

The St Valentine Day announcement by the House of Bishops, which manages to both diminish and belittle both our LGBTQ clergy, and supposedly ‘welcomed’ LGBTIQ couples, is causing, and will cause, tremendous pain. It will place an impossible burden on our LGBTQ clergy who are single but long for a loving and committed relationship. It will make the lives of those who are in a loving and committed relationship a needless and painful struggle.

To those outside of the Church, it will again be interpreted that the Church of England do not believe that God loves equally, or places as much worth on, the lives and ministry of all its clergy.

That it did so wrapped up in the context of ‘the offer of [the Gospel] life in all its fullness’ and the calling ’ to love one another as Christ has loved us’, and spoken on a day meant to celebrate love, made the life giving and loving words of the Gospel as dust in our mouths and ears.

So now there is hurt and anger. And bewilderment. Life has not been given. Love has not been spoken. The Gospel has again been interpreted to protect man made traditions.

So to my brothers and sisters in Christ this morning who now carry this burden and this struggle, my prayers and love are with you today, tomorrow and through the many days and months to come until your lives and ministries are treated with equal regard and respect by our church.  You have my solidarity.