My Own Understanding

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
And lean not on your own understanding;
In all your ways submit to him,
And he will make your paths straight.”
Proverbs 3:5-6

“My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline,
And do not resent his rebuke,
Because the Lord disciplines those he loves,
As a father the son he delights in.”
Proverbs 3:11-12

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,
And knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.”
Proverbs 9:10

“It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”
Luke 5:32

I have to start this post with a confession. This is a painful subject for me. Recalling these verses and looking them up was a painful process. Typing them out word-by-word stings. These wounds are old, they are deep, and they are still healing. But I’m ready to talk about them now.

Introduction

These words have echoed through my mind for most of my life. Every thought, every idea, every notion I had about what I should do or who I wanted to be was augmented by these ancient words of Biblical wisdom. Particularly that first one. I was taught from a very early age that I was not to trust myself—not overtly, but subconsciously; I was instructed to question my every instinct. I was taught to be grateful for discipline, and that in fact I should yearn for it. I was taught that God’s wisdom is the only wisdom. I was taught that I am sick, plagued by the same disease that has infected my ancestors since whenever evil crept into God’s creation.

I was also taught that I am beautiful. I was raised to believe God loved me and created me according to his pleasure, simply because calling me into existence filled him with immense, profound joy. I was taught that my disease made God sad, and that through the redeeming work of his son Jesus he had reclaimed his creation and brought me back into the fold, that I could never be separated from his love, and that I was not only forgiven but actually celebrated and treasured by my creator, and that I was to await, with deep gratitude and ardent hope, the day that I would be made spotless and holy both spiritually and bodily in the presence of my Creator, whether through death or through the eventual return of Jesus to renew his creation.

Even now it is difficult for me to know where to begin unravelling these principles. Here I was, a teenager in high school, affirmed and loved at every turn, but feeling like complete shit. It didn’t make any sense, and although I didn’t acknowledge it at the time (because I habitually denied my own self-love), I was a very, very sad boy. I had my mind made up rather tidily over how my worldview informed my attitudes toward others and toward myself, but for all my rationalizations, the results just weren’t adding up. I didn’t feel love, or acceptance, or even forgiveness, because I alienated myself from my own. This is at the core of what was happening, and I knew self-love was a thing that I should be doing, but I had no way of knowing what that was supposed to look like. My concept of self-love was buried under layers and layers of the remains of the sins of my ancestors, and the sins of my own past, and the sinful selfishness of my present contemplation of my own plight rather than being grateful for the life God had so graciously given me.

Before I continue, I want to make something abundantly clear. My goal here is not to de-convert my Christian friends. I want you to see things the way I have seen them. My goal in expressing my truth is to bring my readers into community, not to draw them out of another. Division arises when we see communities as disparate and incompatible, rather than acknowledging their profound interdependence on one another. And while I am presently not actively part of any Christian community in the sense of sharing that mission and purpose, my past is tightly interwoven with my present, and my own Christian community still surrounds me. If my experience resonates with your own, I would encourage you to contemplate what that might mean for you, not to be confused with what I know it has meant for me. Also, and this should be obvious but I’ll say it anyway, what I believed and what I describe below do not reflect the beliefs and opinions of all Christians at all times and places.

Out-Determining Determinism

How did I begin this journey out of what I had been raised to believe, these truths that had been so deeply ingrained, these principles to which so many in my position might have clung out of fear, or desperate hope, or for lack of any viable alternatives? Certainly it took quite a bit of courage on my part, but I owe many thanks to the teachings of none other than 16th century French theologian John Calvin.

Among this famous theologian’s many controversial teachings stands the core pillar of Predestination. There are volumes written both by John Calvin and by religious scholars on this one teaching alone, which means my explanation certainly can’t come close to the measure of exegesis necessary to have a critical understanding of this concept. But I’ll do my best.

In a nutshell, this is theological determinism. Everything that will happen will happen, precisely because that is logically where we arrive when reality is governed by an omnipotent (all-powerful), omniscient (all-knowing), and omnipresent (in every place at all times) creator God. Everything is predetermined, which means there is a group of “elect”, that is, human beings who will be saved, and by extension, human beings who will not be saved. There is no steady measure of agreement among Christians regarding these teachings. Some embrace them wholeheartedly; others reject them outright; and still others add their own shades of nuance to adopt what they believe is a more balanced view.

What does belief in Predestination accomplish? Believing this could give you a very dark and jaded outlook on life; after all, you’re powerless over your destiny, and the destiny of others, so why bother with anything? What Predestination is meant to accomplish, however, is to reinforce the idea that God is taking care of things, that we needn’t worry about whether we are damned or saved because it lies beyond our control to change. It means God’s love is eternal and unconditional and those to whom he has granted salvation and forgiveness need not fear that it will ever be revoked (again, there are many nuanced views on this, many that do not entail any kind of damnation, but I’m just dealing with a very base-level explanation here).

You have to believe that God is good in order to not be terrified by this concept; if God is all-knowing and all-powerful, then he not only allows for everything to happen, he is actively in control and in fact making everything happen. Belief in God’s goodness is the only way to soothe the cognitive dissonance of the existence of evil, and that (in my opinion) takes an extraordinary amount of faith. In fact, how Christians draw a line between God’s control over everything that happens and God’s responsibility for everything that happens is still something I don’t entirely understand.

What does Predestination have to do with my journey out of Christianity? Well, I believed in Predestination, and mostly for those “God’s love can never be taken away” reasons. It also informed my outlook on mission; that I was to spread the gospel, but not in a manipulative or coercive way (i.e. the Alma Heights Christian Academy method: desperately try to convert everyone I know). I knew that if God wanted his truth to be known, it would be known, and that my sole purpose was to express the love and gratitude that had been poured into my own life, and that that radical expression of love was, in fact, visible and tangible evidence of the power of the gospel. Predestination, for me, was simultaneously a very lovey-dovey and rational approach.

All Christians experience doubt, and I was certainly in the deepest trough of doubt I had ever experienced toward the end of my sophomore year of college. There were so many external pressures keeping me in the faith (mostly disappointing and/or causing distress amongst my friends and family), but the biggest reason was fear: specifically fear of separation from God. Not fear that God wouldn’t love me, or even fear that I would lose my salvation (though for many, I daresay the majority, that is probably the case). I was afraid that separation from God would make me miserable, and that I’d waste a lot of time being miserable in order to learn that I needed Him in my life. I didn’t want to waste time “finding out the hard way”, I just wanted to understand what I was getting wrong and fix it. I wanted to find out why I shouldn’t press the shiny red button rather than press it and then find out why I shouldn’t have. It took a long time for me to allow for the possibility that maybe pressing it was the only way to find out, and that it might actually not be such a bad thing after all.

This was when I finally out-determined determinism. I told myself, “Okay. I know that if God is real, if he really is all-powerful and all-knowing and ever-present, I won’t be damned or lose my salvation or alienate myself from his love if I decide I don’t want to be a Christian anymore. If following Jesus is God’s will for me, then it will become apparent to me again someday and perhaps I’ll come back actually understanding why.”

I took a deep breath.

“Okay.” I said aloud to myself, and only myself. “I’m not a Christian anymore.”

The Beginning of Wisdom

I still remember how I felt after speaking those words. It’s something I can’t really describe and it may be that I never feel something like that ever again. It was freedom, and it was relief. I felt lighter, as though I had come out from under the cross I had carried for 20 years. I felt fragile and vulnerable, but tremendously powerful. I did feel alone. But that was nothing new.

Coming out was the next big step, though I didn’t exactly plan it that way. I was feeling sad and lonely and depressed, and I didn’t really know (or want to acknowledge) why, so I decided to pursue therapy, not even to come out specifically—though in the back of my mind I thought I might bring it up one day—but more just to explore general reasons I might be unsatisfied. Self-denial was the issue here, and denying my sexuality was just one (significant) consequence of this self-denial I would gradually and more fully come to terms with. After being outed by a routine questionnaire (“Do you like girls?” Yes. “Do you like guys?” Yes.) I got set up with a gay male therapist. We only had a couple sessions, as my therapist was mostly concerned with getting me involved in the gay community, and I wasn’t quite ready for that yet. But my takeaway from this experience wasn’t so much that I could finally tell people I’m queer—it was that I was finally ok with being queer. The hardest person to come out to, hands down, was myself.

Finally, I had allowed my worldview to expand, and I had begun to accept who I am. In addition, I began to discover who I was capable of being. It certainly wasn’t a smooth ride and I definitely stalled out a few times (more about that here), but through therapy and conversations and community and time I have found healing, and beyond that I have summoned the strength and courage to talk about my not-so-distant past.

Christianity is a painful subject for me because it invokes all those feelings of guilt, loneliness, confusion, and truly awful self-hatred that subconsciously defined me throughout my time as a believer. I can’t help but fantasize about what might have been if I had the capacity to break free sooner. Or if I somehow had the capacity to keep my faith and simultaneously allow myself to be everything that I am. I think of all the people who are and were in the exact same position I was, and how I might have been able to help them had I only known how to help myself.

For a couple years after I left the faith, I did something I’m quite good at: I suppressed my feelings about it. I didn’t want to feel or remember that pain so I just smoked a lot of weed and did fun things and thought that over time I would just figure things out and that I wouldn’t need to really address it. But I did, and I still very much do. As I have already said, my past cannot be severed from my present. Who I presently am and the opportunities I presently have are determined in no small part by where I came from.

In the process of healing, I have had to go back and try to understand who I was and why I thought and felt the way I did, and in so doing I have come to understand a lot of the struggles I still face today. Delving into my faith, and what that made me think and feel, was and is a crucial component to arriving at this understanding.

Reclaiming My Cosmic Innocence

“…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
Romans 3:23

“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Romans 6:23

“What can wash away my sin?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.
What can make me whole again?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.”
-Robert Lowry, “Nothing But the Blood”

Perhaps the most fucked up thing I believed about myself was that I was a sinner. I believed I was weak, easily tempted, depraved, imperfect, selfish, and in desperate need of saving. I believed I was cursed by original sin, that even my best efforts were marred by my tainted, sinful nature. I believed that it was only through Jesus’ death (which happened to be a brutal, horrific, obscenely graphic crucifixion) and subsequent resurrection that I could be saved. I believed that Jesus was perfect, blameless, spotless, and that he had taken the ultimate punishment for my sins, that he had stepped in and taken my place on the chopping block, and that I owed my deepest gratitude to him for making my relationship with God possible.

I also believed that this depth of gratitude was what should serve as my primary motivation for following Jesus—not out of any obligation on my part (Jesus took care of that with his sacrifice), but out of love and a deep desire to become more like Jesus, and in so doing I would become more like my true, perfect self. True freedom was found in Jesus, because Jesus is “the way, the truth, and the life”, and becoming who God created me to be was the ultimate expression of freedom.

Now I’ve come to understand that I’m not a sinner. I’m a human being. The world we live in is so much more complicated than a simple matter of “good vs. evil” or “right vs. wrong”. Sin is a childishly simplistic concept. It’s a control mechanism. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. Operating under the mentality of working toward becoming “the person God created me to be” is enslavement to someone else’s idea of who I should be, even if I could somehow believe that who I am and who God created me to be are one and the same. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a negative concept, but it opens the doors for abuse, it allows us to create things like “pray the gay away” therapy and mindless acceptance of authority. You have to explain away a lot of passages in the Bible that talk about sexuality, gender roles, and family structure (among a plethora of other heteronormative constructs) in order to be okay with being your queer, gender-nonconforming, empowered self. I simply don’t have the time or the inclination to give a damn about what the Bible says about anything in general, much less with regards to the kind of person I should strive to become.

I haven’t fully figured out who I am, and perhaps I never will, or maybe I’ll just become one with everything and dissolve into a blissful state of nothingness. What I do know for sure is that I can strike “sinner” off that list of possibilities.

Reclaiming My Inner Beauty

“I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
Your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.”
Psalm 139:14

I believed that I was beautiful because God made me beautiful, and all the beauty within me was a reflection of God’s beauty. In fact, the beauty of the world we live in, the goodness of creation, is all like a giant mirror reflecting the vast and unknowable beauty and goodness of its Creator. I was to consider myself amazing and beautiful because of how amazing and beautiful God thinks I am, because that amazingness and beauty IS God. Not just spiritually, but physically, everything in this world is treasured and loved and redeemed by God.

My first realization, as I have already described, was reclaiming my cosmic innocence. But this next realization was more complicated, because the belief that God’s beauty is in everything and is what makes it beautiful seems rather benign and perhaps even quite pretty to someone who hasn’t thought of things that way before. But when you couple this with the sinner complex, you get a magnified sense of self-denial. And even without the sinner complex, there’s this underlying notion that I have no agency to claim anything, to create anything, to inspire anything, outside of the divinity that God has bestowed upon me in the act of my creation. How can I stand up and say to the world, “I’m sickening; you’d better eat it” when the material I’m serving isn’t even original? No. I need my beauty to be purely and intrinsically my own in order to call it mine. And the only reason I have to believe that my beauty is actually God’s beauty is that the Bible tells me so. Once again, I can’t be bothered by what some old misogynists who lived thousands of years ago think about where my beauty comes from. No ma’am. SWERVE.

Beauty from Without; Beauty from Within

The greatest artists inspire as much as they are inspired. Bullies inflict harm on others because they are victims of harm themselves. Our actions send out shockwaves into our communities, and our exterior appearances often betray our inner insecurities. When I talk about claiming my beauty (and beyond that, my very identity), I am not saying that it doesn’t come about as a result of the indelible mark that every person and every experience has left on my life. No one exists in a void, and no one was born of a void. My beauty comes about as a result of those things; those people only I have known the way I do, those events and emotions and places and things that only I have experienced in my own way. My beauty is my synthesis of reality: it is shaped from without, but composed from within.

I sought beauty and redemption from an external source for a long time. I thought my beauty came from God, and that my salvation came from God.

Is it any wonder that self-love could never form under those circumstances? There was no SELF to love! The only person I could love was the person I could never be, and therefore I had no love to spare for the person I was.

This is why I left Christianity.

Parting Thoughts

I want you to know something, if you’ve made it this far. I want you to know that there are people in this world who love you, who have loved you, who will love you. And there are people you love, who you have loved, and who you will love. But none of that will make a positive impact in your life if you don’t spare any love for yourself. If you don’t love yourself, you’ll reject the love others give you, and you will pour all the love you have into the world without thinking that you deserve love in return, as I did for so many years.

At the root of it all, you can’t love yourself without acknowledging that you exist. And in my own journey, it wasn’t until I left God’s embrace that I finally began to feel my own.

Slavery, Capitalism, White Supremacy, and the Heteropatriarchy (WS 330u Final)

Nobody wants to talk about slavery, but everybody wants to talk about Abraham Lincoln. I’ve learned so much in this class, and by learning I mean changing, because these two things go hand-in-hand. One of the most radical changes has been my understanding of slavery. It’s not a fun subject. It doesn’t naturally flow in casual conversations. And I think that’s why my view of slavery has been confined to what my history textbooks have been telling me: it happened, it’s over now, its legacy lives on, it isn’t legal anymore. After the Emancipation Proclamation, slavery evaporated into thin air, and although People of Color have struggled for generations to gain the same legal rights (personhood in the eyes of the State) as White people, we can say with clarity that at the very least no one can be legally enslaved. But what does enslavement look like? Could it be that slavery still exists in a covert form? How can you remove a massive source of free labor from a capitalist economy without the danger of a total economic collapse? How do you fill the socioeconomic void? These questions are difficult to answer, but examining the State-sponsored mechanisms that separate black families, control black women’s bodies, and incarcerate black fathers and sons, brings us closer to the inevitable conclusion. Slavery still exists. Slavery is alive and well. Capitalism, the heteropatriarchy, and White supremacy are cemented into the structural violence perpetuated by the State against People of Color, and slavery is not just a byproduct. It is a requirement.

Andrea Smith neatly and succinctly examines this phenomenon in “Heteropatriarchy and the Three Pillars of White Supremacy”. Where did all the free labor go? The Prison Industrial Complex. Here we have a for-profit business model that effectively controls people’s bodies and forces them to work for free. This is a State-sponsored mechanism! It is slavery in its purest form, justified by the idea that these slaves have committed “crimes” and must be removed from their communities in order to keep their communities safe (even though quite often that removal serves to further destabilize the tenuous foundations of that community). The Prison Industrial Complex is an incredibly efficient and legal form of slavery that is widely perceived as a mechanism of justice and protection. Andrea Smith’s example is important because it is not just something that the State is “getting away with.” It is something that the State convinces us is necessary and even a force for good. We send the bad people to jail to keep the good people safe. And we hire good people to keep the good people safe from the bad people. Who are the good people? Who are the bad people? And who is keeping us safe?

The Police are the agents of this State-sponsored mechanism of structural violence. We’ve all heard the motto: “To protect and serve!” But what are Police protecting us from? What do they accomplish? It doesn’t take a very hard examination to see the difference between what Police are supposed to do and what they actually do. People of Color do not feel safe around police officers. Why? Because the Police have special legal protection, they are armed, their firearms could end a life as easily as flicking a light switch, and as we see in the news on an almost daily basis, many officers seem all too eager to do so. Who suffers when men are given unchecked military-like powers? Women. Always. Women, and particularly women of color, endure dehumanizing violence in the form of rape and sterilization. They are told they must turn to the State for help when it is often the State itself that is the source of violence. Andrea Smith describes this violence in “Rape and the War Against Native Women”, specifically in the context of an Indian reservation, where shaky legal protections for Native women makes rape a frequent reality. We see this again in Sylvanna Falcón’s piece, “National Security and the Violation of Women” which lays bare the reality of rape as a “price of admission” to enter the United States from Mexico. Women’s bodies are subject to rape and violence because they must be kept firmly within the power of men in a heteropatriarchal society. And women of color, including immigrant women, are relegated to a special form of violence that is allowed because of their perceived “otherness”. When immigrant women are portrayed as “invaders”, they are dehumanized. When Indian women are caricatured as Rayna Green describes in “The Pocahontas Perplex”, they are relegated to a subhuman category that makes them targets for colonization and subjugation. Black women are told by the State that they cannot provide for their families and their children are taken away because they do not have the agency to make their own choices about their own bodies in the first place. Slavery works like this. When you strip people of their humanity, you can justify all forms of horrific violence against them, and their bodies are subject to outside control.

Separating families is a marked legacy of slavery that endures to this day. Welfare, Child Protective Services, and the mechanism of adoption and foster homes have taken the place of white plantation owners. When families live in poverty, they are forced to prove to the State that they are capable of providing a safe environment for their children. For women of color, the State often takes the place of the man in cases where their husbands are estranged because of divorce, incarceration, or untimely death—often perpetuated by the State that subsequently replaces them. The State can tell families where to live, where to work, where to send their children to school, and how many children to have. Families living in poverty have no choice here, because if they reject the mandates of the State, they starve. When children are separated from their families for a variety of reasons, they are put into foster homes. Foster homes themselves are sources of instability and violence, in many cases even more unstable than the impoverished family they came from. And the State allocates resources in the form of stipends to adoptive parents, who are incentivized to give these children homes with the best of intentions. Rather than use these resources to help lift communities out of poverty, they funnel them into the hands of wealthy adopters who fit the State’s description of a healthy, heteronormative family structure. People of Color are enslaved to the mandates of the State, which further perpetuates their enslavement by destroying their communities and sending Black children to White parents who can raise them properly. This is covert whitewashing, and the underlying assumption behind it lies in the blaming of Black people for the poverty they live in, and that the only hope for Black children is that they should be raised in a White household so they do not “learn poverty” from their parents.

These are just some of the issues we have discussed in class that draw direct parallels to the pillar of Slavery/Capitalism. And each one of these issues could be (and have been) unpacked and investigated in volumes of literature and critical analysis. This class has given me the benefit of poring over a broad array of issues that need further study, and that is something I very much look forward to doing. And in looking at these issues, it is easy to fall into the trap of finger-pointing, assigning blame to certain individuals, police officers, politicians, bankers, etc. But the reality is, and this is the “big truth” that we discussed in this class over and over, we are all to blame here. None of us is innocent. We are all active and willing participants in this structural violence. It happens right under our noses every day, with every product we consume and with every decision we make. This is the first and most critical realization we must come to terms with if we are to pursue an effective and systematic change.

With this understanding comes tremendous responsibility. I need to feel the anger, the sorrow, the frustration, the guilt, the shame, the brokenness. I need to feel them and touch them and let them seep from every pore of my body. Allowing myself to feel my feelings, to think my thoughts, to breathe my breath; this is a reclaiming of my agency, my identity, life itself. And it is precisely these things that the Pillars of White Supremacy and the heteropatriarchy are designed to take away. I can’t say I have any answers or solutions to the myriad of problems I’ve discussed in this paper, not to mention the items that I simply couldn’t fit even if I had hundreds of pages to write. But before I can seek solutions I must first map out my identity and give myself a place to stand. Rather than ignore or try to forget the past, or the struggles of my ancestors, or the history of the land I inhabit, I must remember where I came from, and understand how where I came from largely determines where I am now.

We, all of us, often find ourselves caught up in a fight for what we think we can get. This will not do. We must not settle for what we can get. We must fight for what we want. No one deserves to be enslaved, to be incarcerated, to watch passively as their children are taken away from them. We must seek justice, and justice is not retribution. Justice is healing. This is what I want, and this is what I choose to fight for.

Capitalism, Colonialism, and the Urban Garden (WS 330U Midterm)

“We’ve got so much butterhead lettuce growing right now, feel free to take some!” My neighbor gestured magnanimously to the raised garden beds shared by the members of my apartment complex located in the strip of grass between the sidewalk and the road. It was a generous offer, as I hadn’t contributed anything to this garden patch. Like I was the lazy dog in a much more forgiving rendition of “the Little Red Hen.” But I didn’t take her up on the offer, in part due to my hesitation to partake of something to which I hadn’t made any contribution. But as I looked at the garden patch I saw dog poop lining the perimeter. I saw cars driving by in the street, exhaust swirling in the air out of their tail pipes. Urban pollution and animal waste conspired together to form a grotesque symphony, a cacophony of contradictions.

The seeds for those plants had likely been purchased in little packets from Fred Meyer, or perhaps even New Seasons. What’s wrong with this picture? Why can’t I just take the lettuce leaves with gratitude, wash them off and make a delicious salad? Until now, this has only been a feeling, an undeniable repulsion that I can’t really place a finger on. But now I’m beginning to understand the many converging forces that create this kind of cognitive dissonance I feel whenever I encounter urban gardening projects.

To be sure, urban gardening can be a wholesome, community-driven exercise. But these urban gardens, despite their purported merits and inclusiveness, are (quite literally) gated communities. There is a bureaucracy that determines who gets access to which plots, and when. And before you’re considered for a plot in any of these communities, you’ll be asked to pay a fee depending on the kind of plot you’d like (https://www.portlandoregon.gov/parks/65821). Getting a basic plot in one of these gardens is relatively cheap (50 square feet will cost you $12) but bear in mind that if you’re disabled, you’ll have to pay more for an “ADA Accessible Raised Bed”. If you’d like to have a large plot to support a large family or community, get ready to pool your resources, because it’ll cost you $100 for 400 square feet.

These urban gardens are widely perceived as a symbol of empowerment—a venue for the common citizen to take back the land and its resources, to care for a living thing that in turn nourishes you and your family with its fruit. But behind this lies the same old mechanisms that have been in place since European colonization began centuries ago. Here we have the State allocating small segments of land and giving them “back” to the citizens (for a fee) in order to give them a sense of autonomy and community. Nevertheless, these gardening communities very much depend on the benevolence of the state and the mechanism of the State’s authority (capitalism) for their continued existence. This is all beginning to sound very familiar, isn’t it?

In “Decolonizing Our Diets By Recovering Our Ancestor’s Gardens”, Devon A. Mihesua admonishes her Native community to break away from modern trends of “convenience food”, a special breed of edible products born from a culture that values quantity over quality. Native peoples living within the illegal occupation known as the United States have been subject to their captors’ diets, and Mihesua goes into great detail discussing the adverse health effects that have plagued Native peoples from different tribes all across North America. Her remedy? Take back the Earth. Garden, stay active, eat healthy food and reconnect with the land that was taken away. Urban gardening is, perhaps, a step in this direction, but I fear it does more to distract from the central issues than remedy them.

In “Rape of the Land”, Andrea Smith addresses this issue more broadly beyond just dietary problems in Native communities. Even the nutrient-rich, wholesome sources of food familiar to Native peoples in various regions have been contaminated and polluted thanks to the careless dumping of toxic waste in “remote” natural areas (i.e. Indian reservations). She pushes even further to suggest that “attacks on nature are also attacks on Native women’s bodies” (referencing the work of Katsi Cook). When we begin to weave the thread between these two pieces together we begin to see a distinct pattern and extended metaphor of this Western separation of humanity from nature, and further, of women from humanity.

Reyna Green’s “The Pocahontas Perplex” illustrates this metaphor quite succinctly. In it, she points out the colonialist view of the Native woman as this hauntingly effervescent, wild creature that is simultaneously self-sacrificial and subservient to the needs of her Western lover. We see here not only a caricature of the Native woman, but an extended caricature-metaphor of the land which she inhabits. When the land is something to be “subdued”, when a woman is property in need of ownership, the heteropatriarchy fills the void. We can only arrive at this juncture if we begin to separate “human” and “nature”, as if the world is some kind of crazy circus and humans are obliged to step in, take control, and run the show.

The difference between urban gardening and what Mihesua is suggesting in “Decolonizing Our Diets”, I think, is that many urban gardeners are doing so as a hobby, rather than as a defiant, radical lifestyle change. Gardeners aren’t growing the rice they cook with their home-grown vegetable stir-fry, though not out of lack of ability or desire. It simply can’t be done with the State-allotted resources (not to mention geographic region, climate, etc). Urban gardeners are growing plants that aren’t indigenous to the land. Urban gardeners are growing tomatoes, canning them, and using them in the winter to make Daal with lentils they purchased with their reusable containers in the bulk section at the grocery store. Under the guise of empowerment and a “return” to caring for the land, urban gardens are operating very much within the comfortable parameters of the capitalist State. They aren’t a lifestyle change, they’re a vacation from urban “reality”. Nature theme parks.

I’m not writing this blog to poo-poo on gardening. My goal here is to take a step back, examine the entire picture, see where we came from and where we have arrived. We still have a problem when it comes to humanity and nature. We haven’t relinquished our control or our efforts to subdue. We can’t even legally collect rainwater runoff for personal use—water is a public utility that must be obtained from the State. Water, the very essence of life, has been subject to human dominion and control. Urban gardening is important, I think, because it serves as a reminder to what it might be like to exist in a state of harmony and gratitude toward the land we inhabit and the food we consume. But we cannot embark on this journey without first knocking down the garden gate and critically engaging its constricting urban forces.

What Therapy Has Taught Me

Over the course of the last two years I developed a drug problem, specifically cocaine. About this time last year marks the beginning of the climax of a period of self-neglect that culminated in an emotional breakdown on a cloudy winter morning in Portland. The first person I called was my dad, followed by my mom, and then gradually, intentionally, I shared this with as many people as I could. “Get it out there,” I thought. Better not to keep it a secret from anyone. This post is in no small way a continuation of that process.

My drug addiction catalyzed my seeking therapy. And for most people who seek therapy, there is some kind of catalyst that drives them to it, often not by choice. It’s a shame that for me and so many others, therapy was something I only considered after the crisis struck. A crisis is not born of a void. I had plenty of reasons to go before I developed a drug addiction.

I’ve seen a therapist twice before. The first time was in Eugene, Oregon, Winter 2010. I saw a therapist who “outed” me. It was very necessary for me to verbalize my sexuality, as it had been repressed both specifically because it was of the homosexual variety and more broadly because that’s just kind of a thing with Christianity. I had just recently “quit” my faith and I needed some space to explore myself in ways I hadn’t allowed myself to. At the time I just thought, “I’m kind of depressed, maybe if I see a therapist they’ll remind me that I have an amazing life and I’ll feel better.” Like, “coming out” was this distant possibility that I’d maybe get around to but it wasn’t a priority (really queen?). It was one of the first things that came up in my first meeting with my first therapist. And after that I went back a couple of times but I stopped, I think, because I was still reeling from the impact of my first taste of self-acceptance.

The second time I went was for similar reasons. I was feeling depressed. This was in spring of 2012 (I think). Not a lot to say except that I wasn’t ready for it yet and I only saw the guy once. I felt it going nowhere, fast. I could have stuck with it and I might have gotten somewhere, but at that particular moment in my history I was a huge stoner which obviously had a detrimental impact on my general motivation. Things improved when I left the country for the month of June 2013 and got a bucket of ice water dumped on my life by Europe. Getting stoned 24/7 was no longer my primary source of comfort. Going to class and working on a degree that would get me a ticket back to Europe was.

And then along came cocaine, dusting my drunken evenings with a coat of fresh powder and leaving a trail of drama, chaos, confusion, and madness (Alyssa Edwards, tm) in her wake. A year after Europe had gotten me back on my feet, I began to lose my balance once again. I sought therapy, this time with a renewed sense of urgency. My physical and mental health were at stake and this was becoming increasingly clear even before I broke down and admitted to having a problem. My approach was different this time, too. I knew what I wanted: not just to feel better, but to actually help me, to get to know me, to talk to me. This is the brilliant irony of seeing a therapist.

Therapy taught me, more than anything else, how to truly, deeply, completely love myself. This was very good timing, as I also developed a new addiction that coincided with my going to therapy: Rupaul’s Drag Race. If you haven’t seen it, get educated ASAP. Rupaul says the same phrase at the end of every episode: “If you can’t love yourself, how the hell are you supposed to love somebody else, can I get an AMEN up in here??”

What makes us hate ourselves? Why do we self-destruct? For me, it was rooted in this idea that what I actually wanted was separate from what I should want. I wanted greatness and to be followed, but I thought I should want modesty and to follow someone. I wanted praise, encouragement, love, but I thought I should want correction, “hard words”, to be put in my place. I wanted the good, but I deserved the bad. This mechanism was and still is present at the core of my being. It is a darkness within me, a trap in the night, a voice that silences my own. But this voice, roaring in my ears throughout my childhood and early young adulthood, lost a little of its acoustic depth when I began to verbalize my reality. And it is in this process of ruthless honesty and vulnerability that I have not only affirmed who I am and what I want, but I have actually called myself into existence. And now I realize that every day I must continue to call myself into existence. I would say that humility is important, though the concept of humility changes here in this new framework. Humility is not self-denial or suppression; rather it is the appreciation, rooted in gratitude, of the wondrous reality of self-discovery in the midst of a vast universe filled with infinite possibilities. Humility is the realization that the mind expands infinitely inward as the universe expands infinitely outward. Humility is why you shouldn’t be taking everything so god damned seriously.

I haven’t written in a while because I was afraid about being wrong. I was afraid I’d make a fool of myself; that I’d write something I’d regret later. But it’s not about being Right or Correct. Right and Correct are imagined, meaningless, ethereal words floating in our collective psyche that each of us distills into something different at an individual level. It’s like grammar rules. They’re not real. Helpful only to a certain extent. Sentence fragment. Fuck you, Oxford. Writing is so much more than that to me. It is my voice. It is my expression. It is my craft. It’s something I do beautifully and to my own satisfaction and in a way that is uniquely my own. Writing isn’t about being right, it’s about speaking the truth. My truth. Writing, for me, is self-love. Writing is how I call myself into existence.

There are plenty of things I unearthed in therapy, but this is all that I wanted to share for now. If you have the resources or have access to community resources that connect you with a therapist, I would strongly admonish you to pursue it. Talking about your feelings, your struggles, your desires, but more broadly, talking about you…that’s something most people don’t get to do a lot. We are more connected to each other in more ways that ever before in the history of humankind, yet the person in the room looking right at you is the one you find yourself impulsively and awkwardly avoiding, blurring your vision by whatever means necessary to avoid returning the gaze.

That person is you. You are the truth. Speak the truth in love.

Ambivalent Sexism (Psychology of Women final, part 1)

Misogyny is still very much alive and well in the year 2015, though it might not be obvious to many men and women who do not harbor any overt negative stereotypes about women. This quote sums it up nicely: “Today we still have misogyny, but we have no misogynists.” Negative stereotypes about women can include the idea that women are less intelligent, that women are irrational and too emotional, and more broadly that they are quite simply inferior to men. How can it be, then, that in an age where most people do not outwardly demonstrate their belief in women’s inferiority, misogyny still exists? The theoretical framework of ambivalent sexism targets this very issue.

Ambivalent sexism can be broken down into two categories: hostile sexism and benevolent sexism. Hostile sexism manifests itself in the negative attitudes toward women mentioned previously. This is the kind of sexism that we see increasingly less in the United States and many other parts of the world as we approach the latter half of the second decade of the 21st century. Benevolent sexism is the theory that people’s prejudices against women can manifest themselves in genuinely benevolent ways. Holding doors open for women or carrying heavy objects for them, complimenting women on their appearance, and even male self-deprecation are all examples of benevolent sexism. While none of these things are inherently sexist things to do, they may betray an underlying prejudice about women’s capabilities and roles in society. Holding doors open exclusively for women and insisting on carrying heavy objects for them are attributes of “modern-day chivalry”, a practice that originated long ago from the idea that women are weaker than men and therefore need men’s help. Similarly, while it may grow out of a genuine desire to convey affection and appreciation, complimenting women on their appearance can serve as an objectifying mechanism in which a person who deserves praise for their skills and achievements is valued more highly for her ability to physically present herself in a way that is appealing to men. Male self-deprecation occurs when men say things like “I was just thinking with my penis” or “my wife is the smart one”. On the surface, this sounds like the opposite of misogyny, but a closer examination reveals that the misogyny lies in what is implied about women’s behaviors—that women don’t have a sex drive, or that they are ruthlessly shrewd creatures uninhibited by the lust and desire that govern the minds of a men. This is something men may use subconsciously to justify their own misogynistic behavior, to the detriment of the women they are so quick to praise.

It is difficult to evaluate whether certain remarks and actions fall under the umbrella of ambivalent sexism or whether they are simply innocent and perhaps kind and courteous things to say and do, but context may be the key to this distinction. For example, a man who holds doors open for people in general (regardless of gender) is probably not doing so for sexist reasons, or if he is like me, he is aware of his underlying benevolently sexist attitudes and attempts to offset that with a more gender-equal approach. It is also true that many women are complicit in benevolent sexism. Theorists point to evidence that chivalrous deeds reinforce the status quo of gender roles, and that most active members of society are much more comfortable perpetuating, rather than disturbing, the status quo. This could partially explain why many women defend “modern-day chivalry” and appreciate it when men carry heavy things for them or hold doors open for them. For a man to protect and provide for a woman isn’t necessarily a bad thing—but it is sexist so long as the man doing so believes that it is his duty, as a penis-bearing individual, to do so. Ambivalent sexism is a complex and nuanced theoretical framework, but it is a good perspective to keep in mind when studying modern male-female relations.