I’m Still Here

So, I’ve been offline since some time in July. It’s been a bumpy couple of months. August was full of a variety of family-related events, and my anxiety about them was consuming me, so I decided to take some time alone to focus on self-care in the hopes that it would make things go more smoothly for me. I find when I’m “unplugged” it’s easier for me to acknowledge and process my emotions; I sometimes get the urge to share things in a public way when I’m upset, to a degree that I often regret (whether or not I should), so removing that possibility reduces the “risk” of really experiencing and recognizing what I’m feeling. The last few weeks I’ve been in recovery mode, processing how things went and how I feel about it. My depression has still been flaring up lately, but I’m at least back to the point where the benefits of interacting outweigh the anxiety I feel about doing it. I’m more afraid of giving in to the silence now than I am of what I might say.

When I speak up, I tend to be afraid that I’m going to go too far or say too much and end up in a position I can’t handle. It feels like I might just explode, leaving nothing of myself behind. But I’ve been speaking up, in bits and pieces, in different ways, in bursts over the last year or so – and I’m still here.

When I stay silent, I become afraid that I might just fade away and disappear. It feels like I’m not being myself, and sometimes I feel like if I stop “being” myself, I might stop existing altogether. But I’ve taken time to be silent, when I can and when I need to – and I’m still here.

I’m still here.

My “real” social media accounts have been narrowed down to the people I really don’t want to lose. My “friends” are down to family and people I would (and do) genuinely miss, people who I believe genuinely care about me and would (or do) miss me too, and I rarely check these accounts unless I have a specific reason for doing so. Even with this limited number of people and small amount of time, I end up seeing something upsetting almost every time I log in. I hold on to the hope that by continuing to gradually exposed them to new information, maybe I’ll make some kind of difference and maybe they’ll begin to understand, but I often wonder if I’m just wasting my time and energy. I know it’s hurting me, to a degree that is probably unhealthy. But I’m still here.

I see posts that are bigoted and hateful towards all kinds of LGBT people. I wonder: Do you know you’re talking about me? Would it make a difference if you did? How can you not tell? How have you never noticed? I feel invisible.  When I try to confront these comments, my identity is usually dismissed. I become the exception – “that’s not what I was talking about,” “you’re not like them.”  My gender variance is belittled and dismissed, my marriage becomes a weapon – a means of erasing the complexities of my orientation. Who I am is replaced with an image of who they believe I am or want me to be. But I’m still here.

People post jokes and make comments about mental illness that are untrue and say disparaging things about mentally ill people and use mental illnesses as insults and make flippant remarks and jokes about suicide. It doesn’t seem to matter how many times I call out specifics and point out falsehoods and mention my own mental health struggles and explain that I can’t afford to take suicide lightly and have to protect myself from people who casually say things like “go kill yourself.”
Sexism and anti-feminism is as pervasive in my own feeds as it is everywhere else on the internet. Disgust is expressed for anything that might be perceived as “liberal.” Religious bigotry and condemnation is a constant presence. I’ve posted enough feminist and “liberal” content that it must be completely obvious that I fall into those categories, and I can’t imagine there are many (if any) people left who are unaware that I’ve left the church. Apparently these things are either being deliberately ignored, or these people care even less about me than I thought. But I’m still here.

I’m still here.

I’m still occupying this uncomfortable, unhealthy space. I’m still knowingly permitting people who hurt me to enter my personal sphere where they can do more harm. I’m still looking for a way to balance my desire to try to speak up for the sake of people still in this circle who feel alone and don’t have a way out (such young LGBT members or people who are financially dependent on members of the group) with my desire to protect myself and my happiness. It’s draining, and it isn’t an easy process, but I do think I’m beginning to find that balance. As I get stronger and healthier and construct a new support system, it gets easier to cope with the awfulness and easier to speak up in spite of the responses I know I might get. Over time, the people who are just plain hateful and not merely ignorant will become easier to recognize and separate myself from – and the more I put myself out there, the faster it’ll probably happen. Eventually I’ll find supportive friends and leave the hateful people behind and eventually this period of time will just be a memory and not an ongoing struggle. And until I get there, I’ll just keep reminding myself that I know I can get through this because in spite of it all, I still exist. I am still alive. I’m still here.

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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.

Fear

I’m constantly afraid of hurting people.
I’m afraid of speaking because I’m afraid what I say is going to hurt someone.
When I do speak, I feel guilty and mull on it for hours (or days), thinking I must have said something wrong, wishing I could take it back.
When I don’t speak, I’m worried that my silence will be hurtful. I feel obligated to do whatever I can to help, and I know how much it hurts to feel alone.
I fear not saying enough words. I fear saying the wrong words.
I fear, all the time.

I tell myself that nobody’s perfect, that holding myself to a standard of perfectionism will always ultimately do more harm than good. I tell myself that we all have to take care of ourselves, and that I’m not forcing anyone to listen to me or spend time with me. I tell myself that I am doing the best I can, that I am in the process of healing, that I am having to learn things now that many people learned growing up and that this isn’t my fault. I tell myself that I am getting better and I just need to be patient with myself.
I tell myself all these things, but none of it works. None of it matters. I’m still afraid

I feel guilty for existing. I feel like a parasite, sucking up resources and giving back so little. I feel guilty for feeling badly when I am aware of how easy my life has been compared to so many. I am trying so hard to be better than the person I was taught to be, but I am overwhelmed. I have so much to learn, and I feel like I am doing so much damage day by day that I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to learn enough to stop it. I’m sorry for so much, and then I’m sorry for being sorry, because why am I telling anyone that I;m sorry? Why am I not just being better?

I don’t want anyone to feel sorry for me. I just want to get better. I just want to talk.

I feel hurt by the stigma I constantly run into, but it hurts the most because I’ve internalized it. I know it isn’t true, but that doesn’t make me feel better. I know that it’s largely the depression talking, making it harder to cope with and address what I’m reacting to, but it doesn’t make me feel better. It doesn’t make me any less afraid.

I know to be loving to other people, you have to be loving to yourself.
I’m trying. I’m trying.
But I don’t.

I’ve been told how strong I am, how brave I am. I don’t feel strong. I don’t feel brave.
Just afraid.

On leaving

Trigger Warning: Spiritual abuse, references to sexual abuse (not explicit)
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Nearly the entire time I was a member of the church I was raised in, I experienced a difficult to describe discomfort, an aching inside, and I felt alone in that feeling.
After I left, I discovered I had never been alone at all. I’ve heard from people who wanted to leave, but cannot risk losing their families and the community of the church. I’ve heard from people who have objections to teachings and attitudes within the church but cannot express them without risking being ridiculed and shamed (or excommunicated). I’ve heard people express the same vague feeling of something being wrong, the same quiet hidden pain, that I felt for years.

I left because I felt like I had no choice. I took the teachings of the church very seriously, because I believed very passionately that the Bible was the literal word of God, as the church taught, and I believed all of the church’s teachings were in harmony with the Bible up until the day I decided to withdraw my membership.

One of the church’s teachings revolved around a sort of extreme “closed communion.” “Closed communion” means communion is only offered to members of the church. To become a member of this church, you had to formally profess that you were in complete agreement with all church doctrine (based on the church’s “fellowship” doctrine). There is no room for disagreement, and no gray areas; you are either in or out. Most members were born into the church, attended a church-run elementary school, and “confirmed” in conjunction with graduating from 8th grade – meaning, most of us made this formal profession of agreement between the ages of 12 and 14, and are expected to hold on to the exact same beliefs for the rest of our lives because we essentially made a promise before this whole group of people and our entire families to do so. It’s a lot of pressure for a young person, during an already difficult time of life naturally filled with growth and change – but while everything else about your life is developing, you’re told that the development of your religious beliefs must stop here. No more growth, no more change, no evolution of thought – your beliefs are to remain fixed at that point, at that age.
After being confirmed, I went on to the church’s high school, and while there I was treated terribly and terrible things happened, and nobody did anything. When we tried to speak up or reach out for help, we were usually ignored. If we refused to be ignored and kept trying to speak, we were warned about committing “slander” and were ordered to simply accept the authority of the faculty and were accused of lying or being bitter and were doubted at every turn and sometimes we were blatantly lied about and misrepresented. Any implication that a faculty member had made a mistake or done something wrong was simply unacceptable and responded to as if it were downright impossible, and then turned around on the student in the name of “giving the benefit of the doubt” and “putting the best construction on everything.” It became clear that even when there was absolutely no doubt about a situation in the mind of a student, and even if that student was supported by witnesses or evidence beyond reasonable doubt, the student would still be doubted; we had been taught that all people aught to be given the benefit of the doubt, but for some reason that didn’t apply to us. Either we had been lied to, or weren’t really seen as people, or perhaps both. When there was no room to create this doubt, things were quickly hushed up and swept under rugs in the name of “forgiveness.” Forgive and forget – or get out. To a teen whose entire family was “in,” getting out wasn’t truly a viable option, similarly to how not being confirmed was not truly a viable option. We were fed strings of false choices, and by the time we reached adulthood, must of us had come to believe that truly were no choices. Believe, agree, submit and be saved – or be shunned and damned. With no experience in the outside world, and without any experience forming relationships that weren’t mediated by the church and its rules, there is even less of a choice for those deepest within the church. Being a member and not rocking the boat for them isn’t a matter of belief, but an issue of survival.

I knew it was wrong. I felt the wrongness of it so deeply that it made me ill sometimes. It took me several more years, however, to see this wrongness as a matter of belief. I thought if I held on until adulthood, when there would no longer be some conceivable motive to invent, then people would believe me. I thought if I held on, even though I couldn’t help myself or protect my friends, I could at least make things better for the children that would come after me. So I held on – and nothing changed. I am still accused of lying, or exaggerating, or of “misunderstanding.” I’m told that I am bitter, that I am vengeful. I am told things that I know are simply untrue, and I am not given the benefit of the doubt. The best construction is not put on me. Still, I am not fully human. After several years of this, I began to realize that there was a fundamental difference of belief at play: I believed that the way were treated was morally wrong, and the church did not. I believed that every student was a person deserving of rights and worthy of being listened to and heard, and the church did not. I believed that I was fully human, and the church did not.

I didn’t know how to fully express this, but the realization crept up on me and started eating away at me. I began rereading the Bible in an effort to find a verse that I could point to, and scouring church documents for a doctrinal point that I could highlight, in the hopes that I would find something which would encapsulate this wrongness. I began realizing that it couldn’t be done – not because I was wrong, but because the wrongness I felt was not in the doctrine or the misinterpretation of any individual passage. I was in the behaviors, attitudes, and dynamics of the group. I was discovering the idea that right doctrine does not automatically guarantee good behavior, but I didn’t have words for it yet.
The thing which finally gave me the clear logical justification I felt I needed to leave the church was a belief I had always found fairly trivial: the belief that the papacy is the antichrist. I had understood this teaching to be a common belief, but did not realize it was considered formal doctrine by church leadership. When a church leader informed my husband (who was participating in “adult education classes” at the time) that this was technically official doctrine, it all collapsed for me. The Bible simply doesn’t say that. You can make that argument, sure, but the Bible does not actually say “the pope is the antichrist.” It’s just not in there, and to realize that this was a belief I was supposedly expressing wholehearted belief in by participating in communion – I just couldn’t do it anymore. I didn’t express this as my reason for leaving, because I knew it wasn’t the real reason, but it reassured me that the church’s doctrine clearly was not perfect, and if all else I had learned there was correct, I was morally obligated by those teachings to separate myself because of this one thing – because I didn’t (and don’t) believe that the Bible teaches that the papacy is the antichrist. My motivation for wanting to leave was how deeply bothered I was that mistreatment of students at the high school was not taken seriously, and was often explicitly denied and ignored. I saw this problem as an issue for the entire synod, because it is also the location of the college and seminary where all of the teachers and pastors are trained. Any problems there present a problem for the entire synod, because any toxic issues there will likely be picked up by the teachers and pastors in training there,  and from there are likely to spread throughout the entire church body over time. I had often described the school as “the beating heart” of the whole organization, and up until I implied that this heart might be diseased, the analogy had never been contested. I e-mailed my pastor and stated that I was withdrawing my membership based on concerns of sexual abuses which were being ignored and covered up, and for my own well-being, and that I did not want to be contacted by and would not be meeting with any church officials to discuss this decision.

I was done. I was freeIt felt like I was escaping, and I often still describe it this way. I’ve spoken to enough people who feel trapped and unable to leave the church to conclude that it really was  more of an escape than simply walking away. People have called me strong and brave for leaving, but I don’t feel strong. I don’t feel brave. I feel fortunate. I feel downright lucky that I had experiences with the outside world that showed me that there were better things out there (even in churches with virtually identical teachings), and that I met people who taught me what it feels like to be genuinely loved and supported, rather than dominated and controlled. Part of why I still believe the existence of some sort of god-concept at all is because more than anything else, I feel I was blessed with those experiences, and blessed with that last nudge out those doors. I feel more “saved” now than I ever did there.

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
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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.

More “Immodesty”

After my semi-frantic post last night in which I shared some stories which Clare’s Story and Pearl’s Story had reminded me of, I found myself mulling on some more related memories, and had a couple realizations I’d like to share.

Trigger Warning: Sexual harassment, slut shaming, victim blaming, body policing, suicidal thoughts.
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.

1) Policing and shaming one child can cause unexpected harm to other children.

When I was about 13, I wore a lot of punk and goth inspired clothes. It was fun, and it was a way to avoid the aspects of more “mainstream” fashion trends that I was uncomfortable with. Unsurprisingly, this included painting my nails dark colors.
I had a childhood friend whose parents were significantly more controlling than mine, and one day we were hanging out and she complimented the dark blue nail polish I was wearing. I offered to let her use it, and her face fell and she shook her head; she explained to me that she wasn’t allowed to wear dark nail polish colors because they were “too sexy.” While my external reaction was roughly “that’s silly, I’m sorry,” internally I was worrying about myself. Was it true – were dark nail colors “too sexy,” or was this as arbitrary as it seemed? Part of the reason I wore the colors I did was to avoid this whole mess of “sexiness;” had I inadvertently stumbled right into the middle of it? Worst of all, did this mean her parents thought I was “too sexy,” or even a slut?” I felt judged by them, and they weren’t even there.
I have no idea if they actually had negative opinions of me. They were never anything but kind to me, but I would always wonder what they might secretly think of me or my parents (for not placing the same type of restrictions on me) after that. Regardless of intent, my friend received the message from her parent’s rule that I was “sexy,” something I was actively trying not to be, and that message was passed on to me. Once again, I received the message that “sexy” or “slutty,” despite my intent and best effort to be otherwise. It was like it was something I just was.

It felt beyond my control, but simultaneously was something “bad” and “wrong” that I was doing; it felt like simply by existing I was “sinning,” and all of this exacerbated the suicidal ideation I was already struggling with. I wanted to be “good,” and it felt like the only I could do that would be to cease existing – but suicide was supposedly a “sin” too, so these thoughts also reinforced the feeling that I was inherently “bad.” I was left with a self-destructive impulse and a death wish that I still carry with me; it felt like the best thing I could possibly do was to put myself in dangerous situations while doing “good” things and hope that I ended up some kind of martyr – and I followed this feeling into all sorts of problematic situations.

2) Policing and shaming provides cover to sexually predatory adults.

There was an instructor (who was and still is also the dean of students) at the boarding school I attended who was notorious for saying awkward sexual things in class and other settings and made many of the students, especially the girls, extremely uncomfortable.

One day I was wearing a knee-length argyle print skirt that had these big buckles on it, with thick black stockings and studded patent shoes. One of the RAs said something about my outfit to the other RA, and the second RA paid a surprise visit to my room as I was getting ready to leave for class. The RA who came to see me seemed utterly confused (I have no idea what the first RA must have said, but apparently it must have been pretty bad), apologized for interrupting my morning and reassured me that my outfit was fine, complimented my tights, and I went on to my first class of the day feeling even more confident in my choice of clothing.

My first class that day was with the previous mentioned creeper teacher, and we had a quiz that day. I had the seat in the back right corner, my roommate had the seat in front of me, and there was an empty desk or two in the front of the row. The teacher was walking up and down the rows, and paused for an uncomfortably long time over my shoulder so I looked up – and his gave was very clearly directed at my lap (which was fully covered by my skirt), not my paper. He then proceeded to sit down in one of the empty desks, lean forward, and look straight back. My blood ran cold; he was very clearly attempting to find out if he could see up my skirt. He was so fixated on my lower half that he didn’t even notice when I grabbed my coat with one hand, and then I leaned out to the side until my head was at the same height as his and looked forward, making direct eye contact. While giving him the stinkiest stink eye I could muster, I put my coat over my lap and asked my roommate if she saw all that. She confirmed that she had, and her perception lined up with mine. I resumed the quiz, shaking with anger and feeling really violated. I briefly considered reporting the incident somehow – but I had no idea who I would talk to, or what I would call it. By the end of class, I had resolved to simply put it out of my mind, because what else could I do? He was the dean of students, and I already had a reputation as a “problem student;” he had more influence over our daily lives than any other single person on campus, and I was already used to faculty members assuming I was lying or had bad intentions. I couldn’t win and I knew it.

However, I did end up disclosing the incident later and having my worst fears (that I would be blamed and nobody would do anything) confirmed. I was having dinner with my family and my pastor’s family while home for a break, and somebody started talking about how wonderful this teacher was during dinner. I became increasingly visibly upset, and announced “well, I don’t like him,” to which one of the adults responded that it was their opinion that many students don’t like him because “he knows what’s going on,” and essentially that only students who get into trouble dislike him. On the verge of tears, I burst out “well you’d probably feel differently if he’d looked up your skirt in class, too.” The discomfort in the air was palpable; my memory of the rest of the night is fuzzy, except for a singular moment when I saw tears hitting my plate and realized I was crying into my dinner. I tried to recount the story to several adults in my life after that night, including that my outfit had actually been explicitly approved and that I had a trustworthy witness (my roommate had a strong reputation as a “good girl” – and interestingly enough,  her father also strongly disliked this teacher) in the hopes that this would give me some kind of credence, but to know avail. It was explained to me – every. single. time. – that he must have simply been trying to make sure my outfit was “appropriate,” and that I must have misinterpreted his behavior (and this is still the response I get if I try to discuss the incident with my relatives now). No action was ever taken. Nobody even spoke to him about it. I was given the impression that apparently people in authority positions were simply entitled to attempt to see my undergarments (or whatever else might be visible beneath my skirt), and that it was my fault if they succeeded. I felt defeated.

There was another similar incident with the same teacher and a different student, in which a memo was sent to the girls’ dorm titled “Robin’s Egg Blue” – named after the color of undergarments the student was wearing when he looked up her skirt. Despite how obviously inappropriate and disgusting this was, no action was taken in this case either.

This teacher is also involved in the biannual “room raids,” in which students’ rooms are ransacked while searching for “contraband” like rated R movies. I very vividly remember opening my normally meticulously folded and sorted underwear drawer, seeing it in total disarray, and feeling violated. No matter what I wore, I still couldn’t keep him from seeing what I was wearing over my intimate areas, and I knew it, and he knew that I knew it. It was, and is, disgusting.
And he gets away with all of it, because these parents have determined that he has the “right” to inspect children like livestock for the purpose of policing their bodies and shaming their clothing choices.
Ugh.