Words About Nothing

Content warning: Depression, references to self injury. If you are viewing this page on a desktop, you should be able to see a little worm on a hook to the left (with the current theme, at time of posting). If you continue reading and reach content which you find distressing, clicking the worm will take you back to the top of the page.

I used to write all the time.

I’ve never really been good at it, but sometimes it feels like the only thing keeping me alive.

I feel like writing the most when my depression is at its worst, but the more depressed I am the more I hate what I write. It feels impossible to write anything about being depressed and miserable without sounding completely cliche. What could I possibly have to say that hasn’t already been said a thousand times by the hundreds upon hundreds of depressed writers who have already tried to capture this dark beast and pin it to paper?

I have to remind myself that I’m writing for myself, not an audience. I’m writing because it keeps my mind moving from one line to the next. It keeps me breathing, keeps me from falling into the pit of misery in the back of my mind, keeps me from giving in to the urge to drink myself to sleep or start cutting again. I haven’t cut myself in years, but I think about it from time to time. I’m thinking about it now, and if I’m honest with myself, I never really stopped the behavior entirely. I just replaced with more subtle ways of injuring myself. The behavior that started before the cutting – this frantic scratching, like I’m trying to claw my way out of my own skin, which leaves red oozing patches that turn into scars that look more like birth marks than old wounds – decreased in frequency but never stopped. It was never a controlled behavior; I never quite managed to take control of it enough to make it stop.

I don’t really have anything to say. I don’t have anything to write about. I’m just typing. It’s just words. I’m just moving across the screen because I don’t have the energy to move myself across the room, let alone out of the house. There are things I could be doing to help myself, I know, but I just don’t have the energy. I don’t have the will. It’s better to be writing it out than doing nothing, though. At least it’s something, some kind of thought, some sort of motion. Maybe it will help me build some kind of momentum, get me close enough to the edge of the hole I’ve fallen into to start clawing my way back out.

Depression is a pit. It’s a pit filled with nothingness. I can fill a page with words, I can spell them correctly and arrange them properly and use words that have richness and texture to them but the more substantial my writing is the less true it becomes, because depression isn’t a novel full of heaviness and misery. Depression is a book made of blank page after blank page. It’s less the presence of something awful, and more the absence of every good and beautiful thing. It’s emptiness, and filling a page with words about it isn’t as true as that empty page. It’s nothingness, and all the words for nothingness are less descriptive than no words at all.

Just imagine this is a blank screen that would take you weeks, maybe months, of scrolling to reach its end. That’s all this really is, and that would be a much better depiction of this thing I’m trying to describe. Just imagine all that nothingness, because it would be truer than all these words about nothing.

That’s all this really is. Words about nothing.

Nothing.

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Spirit Day

Today is Spirit Day: a day to stand up against the bullying faced by LGBT youth.

I just went purple on my “real” Facebook. I fully expect some of the remaining homophobes & transphobes on my friends list to either show up and spew their nastiness, or straight up unfriend me, but I’m trying to be optimistic.
And you know, I just don’t care. I feel the anxiety, but I don’t care. I think of my brothers and my cousins growing up hearing the same garbage I heard, living in the same hostile environment I lived in, and they deserve better. I’m willing to deal with a handful of hostile adults, no matter who those adults are, if it means they’ll get the change to grow up knowing they have at least one person in their lives who will still love them and be there for them, regardless of their orientation or gender.

I think I’m going to pop up throughout the day and post links to LGBT resources, information, art, and music. If anyone has any suggestions, leave me a comment and let me know!

First up is going to be “She Keeps Me Warm” by Mary Lambert, because every single time I hear her sing “I’m not crying on Sundays,” I immediately start crying. That one line sums up so much for me: the pain I felt when I was in love with a girl while I was in the church, the anger I felt whenever I heard people saying awful things about “homosexuals,” the raw exhilaration of finally deciding that I was done with all that hatefulness… I hear it all in her voice. And, very close to home, I especially appreciate the Corinthians 13 reference because Cor. 13 has become sort of a focal point for a very close relative of mine who has been questioning their relationship with the church and seems to be reconsidering some of their beliefs (YAY!).

In the post with my purple-ized profile picture, I also shared a link from Violence Prevention Works and highlighted these points as examples of why #SpiritDay is important and worth participating in:

  • As many as 93 percent of teenagers hear derogatory words about sexual orientation at least once in a while, with more than half of teens surveyed hearing such words every day at school and in the community.1
  • Negative name-calling and harassment about sexual orientation can be harmful to all students. Three out of four students who are bullied with such remarks are not identified as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or questioning (GLBTQ).2 These derogatory comments are often used broadly to inflict harm in a school setting.
  • Seventy-eight percent of gay (or believed to be gay) teens are teased or bullied in their schools and communities, a percentage significantly higher than for heterosexual youth.

 

 

Why I avoid social media after tragedies

I avoid my personal social media every time a mass murder happens, because the response of many people I know (and would prefer not to remove from my life, at least for now) is to widely blame mental illness, and being a person with mental health conditions, that reaction is very upsetting to me.

Do mental health problems play a role in things like this? Sure. Do we need better, more accessible mental health care? Absolutely. Do mental health conditions cause these things?
No, they do not.

Mental illness is not defined by singular actions. Somebody who violently harms another person is probably not psychologically well, but that does not necessarily mean they have a mental illness. To say that any psychological issue = mental illness is as inaccurate as saying any tumor = cancer.
Mental illnesses are actual real illnesses, caused by biochemical and neurological complications. We still need to do a lot more research to understand them, but we know that they are real, like any other illness. We can observe them in neurochemical processes. We can see them on brain scans. They are tangibly, physically real and are not just behaviors or thoughts – and not everyone who commits a terrible atrocity has one of these illnesses, and the overwhelming majority of people with mental health conditions are not violent and are statistically not any more likely than anyone else to commit a violent act.

Words like “psychopathic,” “psychotic,” “insane,” or even “crazy” mean things and have long, ugly histories of being used (or abused) to hurt and ignore people. It is hurtful to people who experience these things to use these words thoughtlessly, casually, and inaccurately. If you are not a mental health professional, you should not be armchair diagnosing people, because you are likely contributing to common misconceptions about these words and participating in stigmatizing these people.

There are things about myself that I am afraid to admit to people I know, especially online, because of the way these words are used. Some of the words that get thrown around are applicable to me and my health conditions. It makes me wonder what you think of me. It makes me wonder if you actually care about me. It makes me wonder if you actually see me as fully human, or if you respect me less just because I have an illness.

And when I try to explain this to people, I get spoken down to. I get ignored. I get told that I’m being too sensitive. It doesn’t matter if I explain why these things are inaccurate or I provide evidence of what I’m saying – I get dismissed and told that I simply have to accept these horrible generalizations. And I wonder if I would get ignored or spoken to the same way if people didn’t know that I have mental health issues.

People with mental health conditions are often vulnerable, and we are much, MUCH more likely to the victim of a crime than a perpetrator, as well as being more likely to be the victim of a crime than people without mental illnesses (especially since predatory people are generally aware that mentally ill people are exceptionally vulnerable and are generally distrusted and disbelieved by the wider population).
Some illnesses make people more sensitive to the subtle messages society feeds us. Some illnesses cause people to feel threatened at times when they are not actually in danger. Some illnesses make it very difficult for people to control their impulses. However, illnesses are not the sole cause for behaviors. Mental health problems do not exist in a vacuum, and mentally ill people are not defined solely by their illnesses. There are reasons a mentally ill person may feel endangered, there are reasons a mentally ill person may have a particular impulse, and there are reasons that some people with a given illness may behave in particular ways while another person with the same illness may not. For the most part, it’s no different than the way you will have different reactions and impulses and behaviors from the people around you.
We have agency and make choices, just like everyone else – for some people, those choices are just influenced in a different way. If the illness were to blame, we would expect these behaviors to be the same across the board for all people with the illness – but that’s not what happens; behaviors like violence follow the same patterns in mentally ill people that they do in people without mental illnesses.

If you are worried about the way mental health problems may impact things like crime and violence, focus on funding research and widening access to care while raising awareness on the needs of mentally ill people and educating people on how to be caring and supportive so that mentally ill people don’t have to be afraid of talking about their struggles and seeking help. Encourage people to listen, and understand, instead of fear and ignore.
Blaming every mass shooting or other atrocity on “the mentally ill” (as if we were a different species – extremely dehumanizing) accomplishes the very opposite of this. We like to pretend fear will motivate people to give money to causes and pass helpful legislation, but that’s not what happens. People aren’t inclined to help the people they fear. People are inclined to hide from and ignore – or worse, eliminate – the people that they fear. History has demonstrated this quite thoroughly. So if your concern is genuinely getting help to vulnerable people, stigmatizing us further by linking our existence with horrific events is not going to help your cause. It just makes the majority of other people feel justified in hating us and wanting to remove us from society.
If it’s more important to you to be able to blame “the mentally ill” than prevent the things you’re blaming us for (which would require BOTH actually doing things to help AND examining the cultural factors that may encourage violence), then I’m inclined to think you’re just scapegoating us so that you don’t have to reflect on other things that might contribute to people doing horrible things and your own role and responsibility in preventing violence, and maybe you should go do some soul searching.

Also, fun fact: Autism spectrum and developmental disorders are not the same thing as mental illnesses. Both relate to the brain, but are distinct. Calling them the same thing is like asthma and emphysema the same thing because they both affect the lungs.

P.S. If you think all mentally ill people should be ‘on a list’ or ‘locked up’ or ‘not allowed to have kids’ – this has been tried before, and fails every time, and is rooted in eugenics – and those are awful terrible horrible things to say and believe.

For information supporting the points made here, please see the links in the related paragraph in my post on #YesAllWomen.

Yes All Women

A couple days ago, I made a Twitter to see how I was getting traffic here from Twitter (thank you for your support, Homeschoolers Anonymous; it genuinely made me feel like my voice actually matters, and I deeply appreciate it).
I had no idea I would be actually using Twitter, let alone that I would be using it so much, so soon, while crying my eyes out the whole time.

I’m not very good at this limited character thing, so I figured I’d take a break to gather my thoughts.
By now, you should have heard about the shooting in Santa Barbara.

Most of what I think needs to be said most has already been said on The Belle Jar. I’d especially like to highlight:

“We don’t know if Elliot Rodger was mentally ill. We don’t know if he was a “madman.” We do know that he was desperately lonely and unhappy, and that the Men’s Rights Movement convinced him that his loneliness and unhappiness was intentionally caused by women. Because this is what the Men’s Rights Movement does: it spreads misogyny, it spreads violence, and most of all it spreads a sense of entitlement towards women’s bodies. Pretending that this is the a rare act perpetrated by a “crazy” person is disingenuous and also does nothing to address the threat of violence that women face every day. We can’t just write this one off – we need to talk about all of the fucked up parts of our culture, especially the movements that teach men that they have the right to dominate and intimidate and violate women, that lead to this, and we need to change things. Because if we don’t, I guarantee that this will happen again. And again. And again.”

I’ve learned over the last year to avoid Facebook in the wake of these tragedies, because an overwhelming amount of people respond by immediately blaming mental illness. You see, according to some of these people, it is only possible to do such a thing if you are mentally ill. Committing violence, according to them, by definition makes you “insane.”
Look, I can’t actually explain how wrong and completely untrue that is right now. I just can’t even.  Maybe in a future post, but for now, I just want to say that it hurts. It hurts so much to see things like that and be left to wonder if these people, people I admire and people I care about and people I thought loved me, think that I am just violent outburst waiting to happen, just because I have an illness. It doesn’t matter how many times I explain that mentally ill people are far more likely to be victims of violent crimes than perpetrators, or that the majority of people with mental illnesses are no more likely to be violent than people without mental illnesses, or that the vast majority of people who are violent do not have a mental illness. It doesn’t seem to matter how much evidence I provide; they still insist that mental illness is blame. Then they suggest that mentally ill people should be locked up, or put on lists, or forbidden from having children (eugenics much?), and I find myself feeling not only emotionally wounded but deeply afraid for my own freedom.

I had already had kind of a rough day. You see, I got these text messages – the guy said it was a “wrong number,” but then kept texting because he was “bored, waiting for a friend.” Maybe this is weird, but I’ve actually had quite a few conversations with “wrong numbers,” so I didn’t really think too much of it and kept texting. Unsurprisingly, after revealing my first name (which is an extremely common woman’s name), he asked for “pics.” Not in the mood to attempt to educate a stranger on how this sort of thing can make people extremely uncomfortable, I simply politely declined and expected the conversation to end. Instead, he asked if I “wanted to make some money” and then offered me $700 to go shopping with him.
If you’re familiar with how sex trafficking tends to go down in the U.S., this is a giant bloody red flag. My inner alarm bells were screaming. And it occurred to me that this may not have been a “wrong number” at all – he may have seen my picture somewhere and tracked down my number, or he might simply be texting random numbers until he gets a response that seems promising. I imagined a younger, less informed person getting the same messages – say, an underage girl from a low-income family who knows her parents would never allow her to meet this person, but sees the chance to go on a shopping spree like she couldn’t even imagine, and who thinks this person just sounds friendly and generous. I imagined some girl who has no idea what she’s being lured into falling for this, and ending up in this guy’s car, and never coming home.
I won’t go into all the thoughts I had, all the possible courses of action I considered, from just calling 911 to just doing nothing and praying he was just a lonely guy with a lot of cash. I don’t have the energy at the moment to explain all the reasons why this was a complicated decision for me (maybe in a future post, when I’m not writing primarily for the purpose of processing my own emotions), but in the end I decided to contact the Polaris Project.

Then I wrote a post about it on Facebook, thinking my friends and family near the person’s area code should probably know somebody near them is doing this so they’re prepared if (God forbid) one of them or their friends or family members gets a similar series of messages. So that had been my day so far – my thoughts were already fixed on the particular dangers faced by women and girls and the ways in which we are devalued by society and the complexities of trying to solve this problem, and when I returned to my news feed after posting, the news of the shooting had hit. It felt like those texts had been some sort of sick inverted sort of synchronicity, like the universe was trying to warn me that the ugliness and awfulness was surging and about to hit.
I am shaken to the core of my being by this shooting.

One of the things that got to me most was this quote: “I will slaughter every single spoiled, stuck-up blond slut I see inside there.” When I read that, I thought of one of my best friends from high school. We were roommates for two years, and lived together for a time after graduating. She was in my wedding. When we met in high school, I was welcomed into her family’s home, spent holidays with them, and was shown genuine love and kindness by them that very few people have ever shown me. She has five younger sisters. All six of them are tall, thin, blond-haired, and blue-eyed. I tried not to picture it, I tried so hard, but in my mind’s eye they appeared, all standing in a row like they were at her wedding, and I pictured them in Santa Barbara as Rodger walked up. They are some of the kindest, loveliest people I have ever known – and I can’t bring myself to type what he likely would’ve done if they had been there, just because they were born into female bodies. I just can’t.

This is something I have been afraid was on the horizon for quite a while now, and I desperately wanted to be wrong. I am afraid that this is going to be just the first in a string of many mass shootings motivated by misogyny. I am afraid for my own safety – I will not let that fear silence me or keep me indoors or prevent me from living as I choose, because to do so would be to simply give up and give the people who would hurt me simply because of my gender what they want, and I cannot and will not do that – but I am deeply, deeply afraid. I feel like we are already living in The Handmaid’s Tale, or maybe The Screwfly Solution, or maybe both mixed together.

So I’m going back to Twitter, to read some more #YesAllWomen, because in the wake of this tragedy, in the wake of this violence which was explicitly designed to threaten and harm all of us and to destroy as many of us possible, I don’t know what else to do right now. All I know is that standing together and refusing to be silenced gives me some kind of hope. It gives me hope that we will keep fighting, and that somehow, we will find a way to survive this, and to end it. It gives me the hope that we will find a way to change this, because it must change. It must.

Sex Work and Suicide

Trigger Warning: Suicide, Online harassment, Victim blaming
If you are viewing this page on a desktop, you should be able to see a little worm on a hook to the left (with the current theme, at time of posting). If you continue reading and reach a point which is triggering for you, clicking the worm will take you back to the top of the page.

Perhaps you’ve heard about the death of Alyssa Funke.

It disturbs me that her death was framed as consequence of sex work, and that the harassment she faced is being dismissed by so many as an acceptable consequence of her work (three pages I follow on Facebook have shared this story; in all three threads, which are all on fairly feminist pages, people have commented saying “she could have just blocked them” and “she shouldn’t have been ‘bragging’ about being a porn star online if she didn’t want people to talk about it”).

Sex workers of any kind do not deserve to be harassed. If you don’t like what sex workers do, don’t use their services (no porn for you!) and leave them alone. It’s that simple. This victim blaming crap is garbage. Saying awful things about people is an awful thing to do, and if you say awful things about someone, you are being an awful person. What the person you are talking about has or has not done is irrelevant. Taking the time and expending the effort to bombard the person with your awfulness on social media makes you not just a normal awful person, but a consciously malicious and hurtful awful person.

It disturbs me further that the story of her death is being used as a platform by some people to condemn sex work and sex workers at large. Had Funke expressed a problem with the work she had done, this might be relevant – but to the best of our knowledge, she didn’t. She expressed a problem with the harassment she was subjected to, and further stigmatizing the field encourages this harassment. Don’t use her death to encourage the people who seemed to want her dead.
If you believe that sex work exists exclusively as the result of coercion, work to end that coercion and hold the people doing it responsible, and leave the workers alone. Don’t yell over them, don’t patronize them, don’t accuse the sex workers who speak out to say they love their work of lying or being unable to think for themselves – just focus on solving the problem you see, and leave them alone. Meanwhile, that’s not what this story as about, and derailing conversation about this tragedy to condemn the world of sex work does nothing for the deceased young woman and the people who love her.

What disturbs me most, and gets to me on a deeply personal level, is the willingness of people to dismiss all other aspects of Funke’s situation to focus solely on the fact that she suffered from depression. It’s as if suicide is seen as the expected outcome for people with depression, and worse, as if this outcome is simply accepted. Depression absolutely can lead to suicide – but the overwhelming majority of the time it doesn’t, so why are people (including the Stillwater PD) so quick to point at her depression as the singular explanation in this case, despite her parents insisting otherwise?
Depression alone does not automatically cause suicide. Depression feeds on all of the ugliness in your life and the world around you and fixes your attention on it until it feels like there is no goodness left and it feels certain that things will never change, and that hopelessness drives some people to suicide – but not everyone who commits suicide is depressed, and not everyone with depression commits suicide. Whatever other reasons Funke may have had to feel suicidal do not absolve the people who contributed to that feeling of their responsibility for causing her emotional harm.
It would be different if people were using the story of her death to highlight the importance of accessible mental health care and using this tragedy as an example of what can happen without access to adequate care, or to emphasize the importance of being considerate of the invisible illnesses that anyone around us could be suffering from at any time, but that’s not what I’m seeing. I’m seeing very little empathy for the suffering that Alyssa must have been going through, and very little discussion of what can be done to help those still living among us who are experiencing the pain of depression and other suicideality-inducing illnesses. I’m seeing a lot of people attempting to use her illness as a means of dismissing important discussion about the harm caused by online harassment or the harm caused by the stigma against sex workers. If these people actually cared about the suffering caused by depression and other mental illnesses, they would be talking about that suffering and those illnesses and the people like me dealing with them and the stigma that we face – but for the most part, they’re not. Because most of them don’t actually care. They’re just making excuses, and justifying the horrible behavior of a bunch of young people who apparently lack empathy and have a problem with women who embrace their bodies and sexuality, and avoiding their own responsibility for doing nothing to help her and all of the people like her who are still out there.
If you’re just going to yell “DEPRESSION!” without offering any help to the millions of people struggling with this illness or any comfort to the family and friends of this young woman, and then attempt to shut down our conversation and interrupt the process of mourning the loss of this beautiful life, please just go away. Just go back to ignoring us like you usually do. Meanwhile, we have stigma to fight and care to provide and lots of other important work to do. If anything, her having depression aught to make the torment she suffered at the hands of online harassers even more despicable. Emotionally beating on someone who cannot emotionally protect themselves due to an illness is essentially the same as physically beating someone who cannot physically defend themselves due to a physical disability. It’s despicable, and awful, and to use her illness to excuse the people who psychologically tormented her is disgusting.

Some stories about “immodest” clothing

Another reason I wanted to start a blog was to join the blogosphere of people who survived Christian fundamentalist upbringings. My childhood church wasn’t strictly fundamentalist, but has many beliefs and cultural traits commonly found in fundamentalism. A good collection of these blogs is here: The Spiritual Abuse Survivor Blogs Network.

One of the current topics of conversation in this circle is Clare’s Story, about being kicked out of prom for her dress, despite her dress being within the rules set by the dress code.
A rallying cry of sorts has risen surrounding this issue in the article Here’s To Girls Who Have Been Made Ashamed of their Bodies: Pearl’s Story on Homeschoolers Anonymous –

if enough girls tell their stories there is no way that homeschool parents can say they are exaggerating, or that they have some kind of malicious vendetta, or that they deserve to have their reputations damaged.

– and I’d like to add my voice, for anyone who’s interested, if anyone finds it.

Trigger Warning: Slut shaming, references to sexual assault (at a very young age).
If you are viewing this page on a desktop, you should be able to see a little worm on a hook to the left (with the current theme, at time of posting). If you continue reading and reach a point which is triggering for you, clicking the worm will take you back to the top of the page.

My church and family were not explicitly involved with purity culture, but “modesty” was certainly a big issue in both, much of the same language was used, and many of the same cultural markers were present. It was harmful for me, too, as it was for the many people who are now speaking out, and I would like to share a few stories demonstrating this in my personal experience.

When I was 11-12, I had the wonderful fortune of having access to a horse in our neighborhood, despite being in the suburbs fairly close to the city. Unsurprisingly, I would get very warm and sweaty while working in the pasture and riding, so when I was given a well-lined backless halter top (it tied behind the neck and across the back), it became my most frequently worn article of clothing. I didn’t really have breasts at this point, so going braless wasn’t much of a concern to me, and it was lined well enough that what concerns I did have were effectively taken care of. It was comfortable, and I could spend the day on horseback without a wet t-shirt stuck to me. As far as I was concerned at the time, that was heaven. However, my parents were seemingly not comfortable with this particular article of clothing. Nobody ever actually confronted the issue, though. Instead, the top became known as “the napkin shirt” and I would get awkward, vaguely shaming comments and “jokes” from my family when I wore it, and eventually “the napkin shirt” simply disappeared from the mountain of dirty laundry.
I probably wouldn’t have thought much of it, had this been the only thing that disappeared, but then there was the tiger swimsuit. I had a really hard time finding bottoms or one-pieces that fit comfortably that year, because most smalls were cut in a way that rode up on my body or were cut too high or narrowly in the back (which made me feel very exposed and would have led to constant adjusting), but most mediums would sag in a way that looked to me like I had pooped in my swim bottoms (and at that age, this was far more of a concern to me than sex appeal). After much searching, I finally found two swimsuits at the same store which I fell in love with. One looked like it was made of denim with a nice wide band under the bust and wide sides with big turquoise buckle-like accents, and the other was black with a tiger embroidered on the side of each cup and a flame print on the ties of the top and sides of the bottom. Between these two suits, I had one that I simply loved, and one that I could comfortably and confidently swim and play in; I was ready for summer vacation and couldn’t have been happier about it. However, this was fairly quickly ruined for me. My sturdier swimsuit, which I had chosen very consciously to feel secure in and meet my comfort level and personal sense of modesty, was met with countless passive aggressive comments, most especially from one relative in particular who quite memorably and semi-publicly asked me if I was “trying to win the tiniest bikini award at camp this year,” and the tiger bikini, much like the “napkin shirt,” simply disappeared. Other things began disappearing, too – mostly some other shirts and undergarments. I think my parents (or possibly just my mom – I’m not sure if my dad even knew this was happening) thought I just wouldn’t notice, or would assume I had simply “lost” all these articles of clothing, despite how much I loved them?

I would find out later, the tiger swimsuit in particular was thrown in the garbage because my father had found an advertisement featuring the same swim suit (but with the string bottoms) on a much older model sitting on a motorcycle and apparently found the photo quite appealing. Looking back now, I can recognize that the swimsuit had many pin-up like elements, and that particular photo emphasized this – but at the time, I saw some badass tigers and flames that reminded me of Hot Wheels (I was very fond of Matchbox and Hot Wheels cars). I wasn’t seeing sex appeal, but it was apparently the only thing that the adults around me could see, and the lack of confrontation and explicit conversation made it all even more confusing. Especially confusing to me at the time was why I had been allowed to choose and buy my own clothing at all if it was just going to get thrown away. Looking back, I think my parents knew they didn’t want to be controlling in this way, but didn’t have a way to reconcile allowing me this freedom with the belief in the modesty doctrine, and the related belief that “immodest” clothing leads to getting raped.

These experiences are markedly different from the bulk of experiences others have been sharing in the lack of confrontation, but I think they stem from very similar beliefs and had similar effects. The body policing is still present, but was executed discreetly and without explanation. The shaming is still present, but happened in a passive aggressive way, and again without explanation. However, between these particular experiences and countless smaller comments and conversations combined with lessons in church and the church’s school program about “modesty,” the message that my body was “inappropriate” and that my clothing was supposedly responsible for the thoughts and actions of others still got through loud and clear; I was raped within the year by an older boy in the neighborhood, and thoughts of “the napkin shirt” frequently came to my mind when trying to understand what had happened and why (however, what the rapist himself told me was that it was my braces which attracted him to me, leading me to bitterly resent having braces and feel inescapably “immodest” the whole time I had them).

Another experience related more directly to this subject comes from my time in high school. I attended a co-ed boarding school, run by my family’s church. For winter formal (comparable to a winter dance in “normal” schools – but, no dancing) my freshman year, I wore the dress I had worn for Christmas Eve a year or two earlier and for my eighth grade graduation (which was also an in-church event). I loved this dress. I still remember exactly what it looked like, smelled like, how it felt on… I loved this dress.
After formal, the girls were summoned to a dorm meeting. We were told by the dorm supervisor – exact words here; I remember them VERY clearly – that we “looked like a bunch of sluts.”
“Humiliated” is not a strong enough word. I listened to the whole shaming lecture, and spent the entire time wondering if my dress one of these “slutty” dresses. I wondered if I looked “like a slut” every time I’d worn it, or if I had outgrown it and that it was now “slutty” because it was too small. I wondered if my pastor thought I was a slut, or my grade school teacher, or if all the other people who saw me wear it for graduation thought I was a slut. I asked the supervisor privately if my dress had been ‘inappropriate’ – she answered affirmatively. I concluded that I was “a slut” and that nothing I ever did would be able to overcome this, because I had been trying so hard to be “appropriate” that being told I had failed felt like complete and absolute failure. I had been so sure that dress would be fine after having worn it in church so many times – but it didn’t matter. To make matters worse, after this occasion a dress-policing letter was written up – which was reused (although possibly in a revised form) for at least several years. That letter, every time, was a reminder that we were “a bunch of sluts” who couldn’t be trusted to dress ourselves.
Thoughts of “the napkin shirt” returned. I felt certain that I was forever doomed to sluthood, and all the sexual harassment and abuse and humiliation that supposedly came with it. I would be harassed and assaulted various times in various ways by various people over the years to come – and I wouldn’t report any of it.

I’m not sure if my experiences are exactly relevant to this wider conversation, but I think at the very least they demonstrate why this conversation is relevant to the wider world. Even without the trappings of purity culture and the explicit exercising of body policing, there are similarities, and there is harm. Very tangible harm.