Hate, life, suicide, and the terrifying “kindness” of the non-disabled

May 19, 2013 at 12:18 am (Uncategorized) (, , , , )

This post, and the article I link to, carry a heavy trigger warning for disablist hatred, for sexual abuse, and for suicide.

I’ve been deeply touched by this excellent post, on feminist blog The F Word, about disablist hatred, and in particular the horrible myth that disabled lives are not worth living; that we would be “better off dead” (and might even have a duty to be so).

The article speaks for itself, and I agree with it strongly. I do in fact strongly support the right of anyone who wants to die, to do so. But the ease with which as a society we accept (especially physically) disabled people being suicidal, compared to any other demographic, terrifies me. People should be allowed to die – but they should be given every possible opportunity to live, and live well, so that it is a true choice. What leads, I believe, to a lot of people becoming suicidal after becoming disabled, is not the impairment itself – it is living in a disablist society, it is suddenly losing abled privilege, it is the lack of financial, emotional, social and other support for disabled people. It is having grown up in a culture in which, “I’d rather be dead than unable to do [X]” is considered a totally reasonable and rational opinion to have. For someone to rationally choose to die is one thing. For someone to see no other way out because society encourages them to believe they are better off dead is not merely a tragedy; it is an atrocity.

I have been told, by someone who was supposed to be my best friend at the time, that unless my ME could be cured in short order, I would be better off dead. This happened well over a decade ago. It still hurts. It still makes me angry. And every time someone in the media reels out the “better off dead” line, every time someone talks about “mercy killing” in a sympathetic tone, with no respect for the sovereignty of the people murdered, I get furious, not to mention very, very scared indeed.

To belong to a demographic that means someone would like to kill me is bad enough. As a queer person, as someone on the trans* spectrum. Hell, just as someone who isn’t a het, cis man – I know this applies to me.

To belong to not one, but two demographics that mean that some people would not only like to kill me, but would regard doing so as an act of kindness… that fills me with a horror and distress and panic that I cannot fully articulate. All I can say is: not having experienced that visceral terror, not ever having had that hateful pity directed at you or others like you, is a fairly major part of abled privilege.

I say two demographics: along with disabled people of all ages and elderly people with dementia, the other group of people I have heard the “better off dead” line used against is survivors of childhood sexual abuse.

It’s generally directed more at those who suffered rape and other serious physical sexual abuse as a child, rather than the comparatively minor (though still traumatising) psychological ickyness that I experienced. Another reason why I do count myself as exceedingly lucky.

But it still hurts. We still live in a society in which the concept of someone being “damaged goods” is a real thing in some people’s heads, especially when the “goods” are children. And it’s really, really hard not to internalise at times.

When I have suicidal thoughts, they mostly start with a combination of that, and my disabilities.

The line goes: between my childhood, my marriage and my disabilities, I am utterly and irretrievably broken, and can never live a real, worthwhile or happy life. I would be doing myself and others an immense favour if I ceased to exist.

So far, every time those thoughts have arisen, I have overcome them.

And after I scared myself rather a lot two days ago, I made a promise to both the Magician and the Ranger: to keep being here, to keep living. To not take my own life. To always get help whenever I feel like this, from them, or others.

I tend to avoid making promises these days. For any number of reasons, not least the fact that I’m a Quaker! But this promise seemed an important – and helpful – one to make, and I don’t for an instance regret making it.

And tonight, I feel bullish and angry. I’m angry at anyone who’s ever expressed the “better off dead” opinion. I’m angry that someone like Colin Brewer could be elected to a political position in my country. I’m angry that disabled lives are considered lesser than abled lives, that paid work is considered the only measure of contribution to society, that benefits are considered “wasted”. That propaganda used in some sections of the media today is horrifyingly close to some of that used to justify Action T4.

That abled people underestimate themselves so much that they really believe that even with the right support they would not be able to lead a full or happy or beautiful life if they were disabled.

There is no respect in which I would be better off dead than in my life as it is. I am disabled, and I am currently unable to work, and I am a survivor of rape, child abuse and relationship abuse. I have agoraphobia and monophobia and ME and possible Fibromyalgia, and I have anxiety and depression, and I have Ulcerative Colitis and a deformed neck, and, it now turns out, allergic asthma. I get flashbacks and intrusive thoughts, and I tend to disassociate when receiving cunnilingus.

And my continued existence is fucking glorious, a shout of victory that laughs in the face of all defeats, a prayer offered up in breath and sweat and dirt and blood to the Gods. The trees dance when I walk past them, the sea sings to me, and the mountains know my name.

And here and now I resolve that never again is anyone going to get to tell me different.

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The gender binary, Beltaine, religion, and being part of the awkward squad :-)

May 6, 2013 at 1:30 pm (Uncategorized) (, , )

I follow what one might describe as a twin spiritual/sacred/religious path. I am a Druid (or at least, I take part in Druid ceremonies, and follow Druidry), and I am a Quaker (or at least, I Attend at some Meetings, and follow Quakerism).

This is a combination which has surprised a fair few people, but makes complete sense to me. Both are paths that emphasise love, social justice, care for the world. Both are paths that allow – indeed, encourage – you to find wisdom from a variety of sources, not just the paths themselves.

Quaker Pagans of various kinds, and Christian Druids of various kinds, have been around for a while.

I would describe myself as a Christian-influenced Pagan. I am fond of the Christianity I grew up with – liberal, devout (and there’s a combination that far too many people see as non-existent…), passionately committed to making the world a better place. I do not regard myself as a Christian now, though I do have a huge soft spot for Jesus, and for Mary. The Sermon on the Mount remains a source of inspiration, and a challenge. I can talk religion with Christian friends, and we understand each other. But I have other loyalties, to other Gods.

There’s a post I’ll make at some point about being a Quaker – and indeed a pacifist – but also being kinky. It’s telling, I think, that there is a “kinky Quakers” community on Fetlife! 🙂

What’s been filling my mind and soul over the last few days, is the challenge of being a queer, genderqueer Pagan – a challenge that is particularly fraught at Beltaine.

The conventional teaching of several Pagan paths, is that Beltaine is the sacred marriage of the God and Goddess. The fertility rite that leads, eventually, to the birth of the new year, of the new God. It celebrates a polarity of masculine and feminine, a sexual relation that is sacredly heterosexual.

It pisses the *fuck* out of me.

I’m genderqueer. Asked how to define my gender, I’d say something along the lines of “both/neither/handwave”. A compulsory, binary opposition of masculine and feminine energy makes my heart hurt. And it’s not simply that I unite those forces within me, or any such rubbish. My genders are legion. My understanding of the Divine transcends gender by a billion light years. My love for Brighid and for Mars Protector is overwhelming, is important, and the genders we humans have given those Names are, to me, about the least important thing about them.

An understand of Beltaine, and of spirituality in general, that makes compulsory an elevation of one kind of understanding of gender and sexuality, of dividing the world into a male and a female principle who then unite with each other… it excludes so many of us. Genderqueer people. Gay people. Asexual and many greysexual people. Many bi people. Intersex people. Trans people, especially when the emphasis is so strongly on the cock and the womb. People who are mostly-cis but don’t identify strongly with their assigned gender. And when the emphasis is on fertility, it also excludes many heterosexual single people, all childless people (including many trans people again), infertile people, childfree people…

In other words, in total, most of us.

My gender is an incredibly important part of me. I cannot throw it off, or pretend it does not matter. At the same time, the following of the Wheel of the Year, as modern Druidry understands it, is likewise hugely important to me.

I do not in any way resent those for whom this binary gender opposition *is* important, is sacred, is part of their path, and their understanding of Beltaine. That’s fair enough, and if it is truth for you, dear reader, then all power to you!

But it is not truth for me. It does not, as Quakers would put it, “speak to my condition”. And when I’ve been in pagan spaces where it has appeared to be the only way of doing things, I have felt profoundly uncomfortable and excluded. It has triggered massive gender dysphoria. It has made me feel as though I have to be dishonest to myself in order to worship the Gods – which is precisely the opposite of what I feel a religious path should be about.

Several things have helped me and my brain since I started getting more thoughtful about all this, last Thursday/Friday.

One of which is this: an sheer, overwhelming sense that my genderqueerness, my defying and transcending the binary in my own life, is of the Gods, and is part of Their plan for me. The Gods made me, formed me, grew me like this. My awakening to my own gender and my awakening to a religious path that suits me, have happened in parallel. I know that I belong in Druidry. I also know that the more open and confident I am in being neither male nor female (or both, or handwave 🙂 ), the more close I will and can come to the Gods.

And then, there was Saturday just gone. The Beltaine ritual for the small but wonderful Druid grove I belong to.

There were only four of us able to make it – myself, the Magician (who is also a Quaker Druid 🙂 ), and two others.

One, was the wonderful man who was organising and running the ceremony. I will give him the pseudonym Bear. 🙂

We were passing around a talking stick at a pub before we walked out into the woods. Talking about where we were in our lives, and what we wanted from a Beltaine ritual.

And I started ranting about all this. Started talking about all the questions it threw up, and how I didn’t know the answers, but that I knew I needed to be present in the moment, and asking those questions.

And the next person to speak was Bear. And he, as I had rather hoped, agreed with me fervently. He is a gay man, who has been the only gay person at weekend Beltaine gatherings. With the women going off into one space, and the men going off into another, and then all of these heterosexual people (with perhaps a few het-leaning bi people among them) came together, and there was this glorious frisson of sexual tension. The men decorated a maypole, the women dug a hole…

And… and what does that say, to a gay man? Where was the honouring of the sacred, of the God(dess) within him?

He sympathised absolutely with the challenges Beltaine presented to me as a genderqueer person.

And then, he gave me, not answers in a prescriptive sense, but the answers he had found that helped him.

That Beltaine *isn’t* about fertility – or at least, far from just about fertility. That the Victorians called it so, because they were embarrassed about what it’s actually about. Sex. Pleasure. Passion.

It’s a fire festival. It’s the beginning of Summer, the welcoming in of our active, passionate, creative, Summer selves. For those for whom some cosmic, heterosexual, fertile gender binary offers a way into that, fair enough. But it does not have to be that way, and those of us who cannot, or will not “do” Beltaine as part of that, are not “doing” Beltaine any less well than those who can and will.

I shan’t go into too many details of the ceremony that followed – that’s bad form, and would feel wrong in any case. But Bear led a meditation that awakened the four of us to passion, to Summer. To our sexual selves. It was beautiful, and it was wonderful, and it was exactly what I needed. And it’s given me some ideas for solo work I can do, to help me tune myself into that part of myself, in *my* way. Those who have been following my blog for a while will know how precious a thing this is to me. I am working on reclaiming my sexual self from an abusive childhood, being raped when very drunk at age 19, and a marriage that included sexual abuse and other kinds of rape.

Finding a spiritual practise to help me awaken to my sexual self, without having to misgender myself in the process, is… incredible. Truly, incredible. 🙂

Bear wondered to me whether bringing a challenge to the gender and sexuality conformities within Druidry is part of what we’re both called to do. He may well be right, though he is so very much wiser and well-informed than I am, I hesitate to do more than follow in his footsteps! But, well. I am a singer, I’m aiming to be a Bard and songwriter. Possibly this is something I can bring to the table, if not now, then maybe at some later point. 🙂

And in the meantime, I feel that my thinking and praying and receiving wisdom from Bear – and affirmation and support from the Magician, who is also somewhat genderqueer, as well as being queer and greysexual – over the past few days, has helped me tremendously. The Gods want me to celebrate and affirm my genderqueerness. The Gods want me to be able to celebrate and rejoice in Beltaine, and all the Wheel of the Year. I feel that little bit closer to being the person I, and they want to be.

And all just in time for my first date weekend with the Ranger, which starts in a little under four days’ time. 😉

Thanks be to the Gods; Blessed Be. 🙂

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Don’t take away my “yes” [TW for sexual assault]

April 7, 2013 at 2:03 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , )

Apparently, second wave feminist (and noted transphobe) Germaine Greer said this yesterday:

“Evidence of violent constraint is usually taken to be evidence of withholding consent, even after women have been softened up for sadistic interaction by having their brains beaten into Fifty Shades of Grey.”

I haven’t read the article that the quotation was taken from. In all honesty, I suspect it would make me feel so angry and triggered that it would sap my energy, and there are things I want to get done today. It is therefore quite possible that I am taking her remarks out of a context that would change the meaning somewhat.

But out of context and given Greer’s general known views, the implications of the quotation make me exceedingly cross, though in a reasonably energised and articulate way. It seems to me that she is implying, quite strongly, that consensual BDSM is not a real thing – and that only a woman who has been somehow corrupted by a badly-written book could believe that she has consented to it.

Firstly, the difference between consensual BDSM and Fifty Shades of Grey is… quite marked. Not that I’d expect Greer to understand the difference. But, fail.

Now, as readers will know, I am a survivor of rape, of child abuse, of sexual abuse within a relationship.

And on those rare but wonderful occasions when the Magician ties me up and scratches and spanks me, I am bloody well consenting. Enthusiastically. Happily. Freely. Intelligently. Not because my brain has been “softened up”, but because this is part of my sexuality, part of how my body and brain like to interact with a sexual partner. Because it makes me feel amazing. Because it turns me on.

Just as the possibility of New Person doing the same to me at some point turns me on. Just as the possibility of me doing the same thing to New Person also turns me on.

I have fought long and hard and bitterly for the right to my own body, my own sexual power, my own choices. For my right to a true and meaningful “yes” to a sexual activity that I like. For anyone to now say that my enthusiastic consent isn’t good enough – that they are the ones who will decide whether my consent is real or not… just… EWWW.

There is nothing good, or feminist, about undermining someone else’s “yes”. The idea that only a man can truly, fully consent to a sexual activity is part of the patriarchy. If you tell me that my “yes” is meaningless, then you are undermining my “no”. And, more crucially in my case, you are undermining my scared/exhausted/drunk, “oh all right then”, and saying that is no less consent than “OMG yay, please do that!”. And that, my friends, is rape culture. It is a whopping big part of the problem.

I’m not a believer in “all choices are feminist”. And the concept of the male Dom and the female Sub as the One True Way in BDSM is *incredibly* patriarchal and icky and disgusting, as well as ridiculous, and I have no truck with it (and hope I would have no truck if I were a male Dom or a female Sub – as a genderqueer switch, of course I know it’s bollocks!). But it is perfectly possible to have any of the orientations within BDSM and be a feminist, and oppose rape culture. Both of which Greer is singularly failing to do when saying things like the quotation above.

And also? This:

Tying me up and hurting me because we both passionately want you to = consenting.

Guilt-tripping, cajoling me and bullying me into tying you up and hurting you = not consenting.

This does not strike me as a complicated thing to grasp. 😉

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