TW: Sexual Assault mention, allusion to Lifetime Documentary series
If you’ve been on social media the past few days, you’ve likely seen references to a Lifetime docu-series where Black women are speaking out about surviving sexual assault as girls.
Black women, Black Trans Women, Black femmes, and Black girls have higher rates of sexual assault compared to other people groups, going back centuries. The trauma is deep and it is ultimately at the hands of white supremacy. We must collectively support Black womxn and the organizations doing the work of supporting Black womxn survivors of sexual assault and abuse.
Sadly, there are not many that focus on the specific needs of Black Womxn, but I have collected some here, including two in development (please support them as there is obviously a great need!!).
If you are a Black womxn survivor of sexual assault or abuse, I have also included some resources below and will continue to add more. If you would like support on your healing journey, please contact me for reparations (free) services or recommendations to Black women I know who can provide healing services for you.
If you are a white person, please donate to support these organizations. It is important that we provide economic justice in the form of reparations (including directly).
[Note for transparency and accountability: I originally used an image of a Black girl for this post and the associated posts on social media. A friend pointed out that as a white woman in this context, that is harmful. I apologize for any harm done and have changed the image so I don’t cause any further harm.]
Part 1 was all about “other” people and general concepts. But now it’s time to get personal. I’ll just come out and say it…I’ve recently discovered that I am pansexual and demisexual. If you’re not in the LGBTQIAP+ community, you may have no idea what that means, but let me share my personal journey:
When it comes to gender, I have identified as female my whole life and considered myself strongly feminine overall, but I recognized that I still had some traditionally “masculine” personality traits according to cultural definitions, and I eventually embraced that. Regarding sexuality, I identified as heterosexual and wasn’t open to thinking beyond that. After all, I married a man at age 22, have been happily married, and don’t feel like I need anything more. There was no “need” to think about it further. Heterosexual, box checked. Done.
Yet, looking back on my friendships and relationships, through much of my life I tended to have one really close friend at a time. Part of it was life circumstances, and part of it was just personality and the way I tended to connect with people. Most often it was women, but sometimes it was men. With my friends who were male, there would inevitably be a point where I would experience attraction. With some of my female friends, if I’m honest with myself, the same thing would happen, but I didn’t allow myself to go there, thought I was confused, or just lonely or something and my hormones were playing tricks on me. First because I was too repressed about sexuality in general, and then later because I was married anyway (and personally, monogamy is important to me). And now, the majority of the female friends I’m still in contact with identify as queer in some form. That could be coincidence, but it speaks to the fact that I easily became close with people who didn’t fit into heterosexual or gender norms.
Honestly, I can’t remember what it was that got me thinking about it, but a few months ago something triggered me into thinking that perhaps I’m not actually heterosexual. I debated for a while whether it was actually worth exploring this because, well, how would it make my life different? I’m not planning on exploring this in terms of relationships or lifestyle changes. I would still hold the same privilege as a heterosexual woman, especially if I kept it to myself.
But a friend encouraged me to look into it for myself because regardless of how one acts on it, every part of our identity matters.
Additionally, I believe that when we explore all parts of ourselves and hold all those parts with compassion and love (but without attachment, because we all learn and change as part of the growth process), we are able to show up in the world as our full selves. I’ve chosen to talk about my own story within the context of sexuality because I desire to be an ally to ALL outside heterosexual norms, and how can I justify keeping quiet about my own identity in that case?
So I started to let it simmer in the back of my mind over the past few months. Then a storyline from a character in the Netflix show “Dear White People” got me thinking more in depth. It was his story of discovering who he was (a gay man) that made me realize I could partially relate to his experiences. Oddly enough (especially considering I don’t watch that much TV, lol), another TV show, Queer Eye, affected me in a round about way, in particular the episode with Mama Tammye where Christians embraced these men who are Queer and proud of it. It was oddly healing for ME to watch those stories, especially since part of my decision to stop going to church was because of lack of acceptance for LGBTQIAP+ people and the lack of ability to be in leadership while being open about sexuality that’s not heterosexual.
So, after talking with my best friend and doing some internet research, I learned that there is such a thing as experiencing sexual attraction primarily AFTER developing a strong bond with someone (demisexuality). And something called pansexuality, which is generally considered to mean sexual attraction regardless of gender (it can also include romantic attraction, also called panromantic). It was a huge AHA moment to realize my own sexuality falls within range of these identities on the spectrum of sexuality. I think part of why I specifically identify as pan, and why I desire to ensure I’m inclusive of all identities, is because ultimately we’re all just human. I have strong values of connectedness and love for all people, and a desire to help people become empowered to live life as their authentic selves. My sexuality is basically an extension of these other values.
I now find myself in a place where I am actually part of the LGBTQPIA+ community, but my lived experience affords me a lot of privilege and I have to recognize that.
I’ll still be partnering with folx in the community to ensure I’m fully inclusive and to keep me honest about my privilege. I am still working towards being an ally to all LGBTQIAP+ folx, and what language matters for those who don’t identify as masculine or feminine, regardless of how they show up in the world. I know there will still be a process of dismantling the heterosexual and gender binary norms I grew up with. But I’m really glad I am at a point where I am embracing my own unique sexuality and am learning to be honest and unapologetic about who I am in all ways.
We all have the qualities of God, and God is within all of us. If we reject other people simply based on their identity, or part of it, we are rejecting God’s creation. We are rejecting the Divine in someone else, and that means we ultimately are rejecting the Divine within ourselves as well.
When we stand up for others, we are not only standing in solidarity, but are taking a stand for the Divine within others. We’re ALL connected, regardless of belief system, religion, or creed. Our primary focus should ALWAYS be LOVE LOVE and more LOVE.
I’d love to hear your thoughts or your story! Share below, on Facebook, or shoot me an email (unless you’re gonna be mean, then just write in your journal or don’t say anything).
Also, a big thank you to Mason Aid for reviewing this article series and providing feedback! Mason provides consulting and education for businesses who wish to be more inclusive to the LGBTQ+ community.
CW: Homophobia mentioned, discussion of gender binaries, conservative Christian views of sexuality.
Additional note: I am sharing my experiences and journey towards understanding, and I recognize I may not understand everything perfectly.
I grew up in the culture of evangelical and conservative Christianity, and it goes without saying that sexuality is crammed into a very specific box in this culture. I grew up with the very black and white view of sexuality, and subtle (and not so subtle) messaging that sexuality in general is something to be held down and kept under control. So much about sex and sexuality was considered sinful, locked down via purity culture, abused via complementarianism, and controlled (like in the concept of courtship vs dating), that it was hard to hold on to the idea of it’s inherent sacredness. There is a lot to unpack here and I may do so more in a future post, but all that to say, I had a LOT of shame about sex, despite the fact that I was a virgin and therefore considered “pure” when I married my husband.
Earlier in my college career I took a class on Women, Class, and Gender and that was when I first started to open my mind to the experiences of other people’s sexuality. I certainly argued with my teacher, but the education was still there. Much of what we learned was both hard facts, and the lived experiences of people. It’s hard to argue with that (though people certainly do), especially since I have a tendency to be able to see multiple sides to issues and understand other people’s perspectives.
The idea of sexuality as a spectrum rather than a strict binary was something I started to really see was true. At that point, I already recognized that masculinity and femininity were a spectrum. I had female friends who were more “masculine” in many ways, but still held on to femininity, and vice versa. If all people were made in God’s image, then the qualities that we place under masculine and feminine identities come from God, and in order to embrace all of what God has for us, we have to embrace the experiences of all.
I now recognize and affirm that some people live without gender or outside the gender binary, and that ultimately, God is nonbinary as well. I also recognized how much of what is considered masculine/feminine is based on culture and not inherent qualities of people.
Going back to sexuality, I really started to integrate what I learned when I went to San Francisco State University (after already being married for a year) to study vocal performance and became friends with people with diverse expressions of gender and sexual identity. This was also the time I really started to question my beliefs about sexuality and the Bible. I knew many people who believed in Jesus and were also gay. Who was I to judge them, regardless of my beliefs? Who was I to think I had the “right” views and other people didn’t. And if people didn’t believe in Jesus, then it certainly wasn’t my place to say what they had to do because they hadn’t made the same spiritual commitments I had made. Ultimately, I came to the understanding that it was something between a person and God, and no one else’s business. That ultimately, the Bible talks WAY more about other things, like *greed* (hello, huge problem here), than it did about sexuality, so obviously even the God of the Bible has higher priorities. Not to mention that the verses always quoted were not as clearly supportive of heterosexuality as conservative Christians made them out to be.
As I’ve continued to educate myself about gender and sexuality, I actually see it as more than just a spectrum.
That people can be a part of it, express their own version, or be completely outside it.
And even within the labels, there is a huge range of experiences and preferences. Why would we want to squash the beautiful differences in identity and expression? They can in fact expand our connection to humanity and to each other.
So how does this relate to spirituality?
I think we can all agree that many spiritualities have fallen along the gender binary. But where does that leave those of us who don’t ascribe to the binary system, or identify as nonbinary? I think there are many different ways to approach this, but ultimately, it is that we are ultimately human and Divine. You can choose to eschew binary all together and just view spirituality through a non-gendered lens. The Divine is the Divine. Gods and goddesses are simply expressions of one ultimate Divinity brought into the lens of a binary world. God, the Universe, Yahweh, or Allah, etc is They/Them.
Ultimately, all human characteristics are reflections of Divine characteristics, regardless of whether they are considered masculine or feminine. We ALL have what are considered masculine and feminine traits in varying expressions. We all have light and dark, and everything in between.
In our culture, the separation of masculine and feminine when it comes to spiritual or personality traits has become a damaging thing to those who don’t fall into traditional roles or expressions of masculine and feminine, or who find themselves outside the binary. Many faith traditions have no Divine representation for non binary folx, at least within the mainstream orthodoxy. And this is harmful to ALL people. It feeds into toxic versions of masculinity and femininity that serve to constrain us and prevent us from living unapologetically as our selves. We stuff down the parts of ourselves that don’t fit into our role within the gender binary and therefore give up a part of our personal power and our authenticity.
I’ll be honest, even though I don’t personally identify outside the gender binary as a cisgender woman, the gendering of God messed with my relationship with the Divine. I was hurt a lot by my father, and it’s hard to separate that from a God called Father.
When I started to think of God as a Divine being that encompasses all the characteristics that fall under masculine and feminine, as a Whole Being instead, I felt more connection.
The patriarchal tropes could fall away and God could be anything I needed – Mother, Father, or just Parent. God could be strong and soft, intellectual and intuitive, active and restful, destroyer and creator, without having to assign those attributes to a gender. I could accept the traditionally masculine parts of myself without feeling like I was giving up a feminine identity.
I still have a lot to learn when it comes to non binary spirituality, but it absolutely is possible to find spiritual balance without the gender binary. It really is not ultimately necessary and perhaps its time to find new language within spirituality that doesn’t alienate folx who don’t ascribe to the gender binary.
Also, a big thank you to Mason Aid for reviewing this article series and providing feedback! Mason provides consulting and education for businesses who wish to be more inclusive to the LGBTQ+ community.
The following are my initial thoughts from the #SisterSummer prompts from Desiree Adaway’s Sister Summer writing program focused on liberation. I’m sure there will be more to come from this prompt alone, but certainly from the rest of the weekly prompts.
Trigger Warning: This includes elements of my own story and journey, so it is inherently centered on my white, Christian, cis-gender, privileged experience in some sections. There is also a brief mention of abuse, and discussion of many “-isms” within Christianity.
I’m really lucky. I’m white, middle class, and cis-gender in a heterosexual marriage. And I was raised Christian. I don’t have many systems and institutions to fight to survive because they mostly work for me, not against me.
But I think I feel that pull towards social justice not only because I believe wholeheartedly (and after much ideological change in some areas) it’s simply what we MUST do. But also because I have had to fight some ideologies and institutions from birth. I first had to survive within highly patriarchal belief systems, with a certain patriarch who abused and manipulated. It took years to fight back, recognize it enough to call a thing a thing, and then to forgive, to heal….and continue healing. I also was ingrained with fat phobia…and am now fat and body positive. I am finally learning how to handle the depression I’ve had all my life (most of it without knowing I was depressed). I have an internal organ that doesn’t work. And now I wonder if perhaps I’m not as heterosexual as I thought.
In the past year, I’ve shed many things, healed others, and am still on that wild ride of intense change. I’m now on a path of shedding the dogma and strappings of a religion I’m not even sure I recognize anymore. Or maybe my eyes have opened to what it is. It’s a tricky place to be in because my newfound spirituality is still based in many of the beliefs I’ve held dear all my life…many of the beliefs that led to healing and life-changing experiences. But I’ve come to realize those experiences are more universal and less exclusive than I was led to believe.
I’ve gone down an interesting path the past few years. The people and the religion I relied on let me down when I really needed them and it made me start to question more deeply. Around that same time, I came into a new awareness of what racism means, what white privilege and white supremacy means, and I woke up to what was *actually* going on in the world around me. Everything was not what I thought it was and I felt like I was unplugged from the Matrix. Rather than let it overwhelm me, I started to educate myself with voracious fervor. With a young child that needed me often, most of my education came to me through Facebook and Google searches. Then I branched out into the “real world” as much as I could as well.
And within all that I started to see how the systems I grew up in, including the Church and so many Christians, worked to support systems that Jesus would not have approved of. The cognitive dissonance was REAL. How could I participate in a church community where respected people obviously believed in racist, xenophobic, Islamaphobic, homophobic, and transphobic ideologies. I started to see the truth about people I thought were generous and kind, especially around the 2016 election. Granted, not all of my Christian friends believed this and I had many friends who also believed in intersectionality and inclusion, but I could not in good conscience be a part of a system that upheld those ideologies.
I considered finding a progressive church because I missed that sense of community, but on a personal level, I still had too much hurt of my own. I ended up finding that community in other ways, or more recently created it on my own.
Yet even within the spiritual/New Age community at large, I’ve discovered many of those same systems still come into play, but it doesn’t have the same structure and history of Christianity’s legacy. The manipulation seems more recent and a result of colonization and globalization. Ancient religions were more often colonized and oppressed by Christians than the other way around. So it seems a more fragile system that’s getting exposed more easily. I’ve found the people who believe what I believe, or who have helped clarify things…many of whom are marginalized and speak truth unabashedly.
My place in all this is still getting solidified, but this I know…I will always stand for the liberation the wild selves of EVERYONE, which means standing for the marginalized and oppressed. I don’t want to enhance my life on the backs of Black and Brown people, continue to suppress and oppress LGBTQ+ communities, disabled communities, people from other religions and cultures, etc. It does us no good. It weighs us down because we bear the weight of oppressor and colonizer. But when we help others get free, we free ourselves in the process. Not in a selfish way, but because when we’re all free, we are our best selves and can give to the world what we’re meant to give. I would rather set the stage for future generations by humbling myself and bending down to lift up marginalized folx than to break their backs by walking all over them (and teaching my daughter the same values).
I dissent from a lot of things I used to believe, or blindly participate in, and my dissent is showing up stronger and stronger not only in my social media presence, but more public avenues such as my blog, my business, and within my work itself.
I dissent with the obvious isms, the oppression, and the white supremacy. But I also dissent with society’s expectations in so many ways. Who defines success? Who says we need to “have it all”? Perhaps true success is being grateful for the abundance we have, sharing it with others according to our purpose, and working to help our fellow humans and our earth.
I feel that I have a lot of “causes” and a lot of areas where I continue to grow and expand in my knowledge and understanding, but the core of it is this: recognizing each others’ beauty, humanity, and struggles. And then choosing to lift up and center any marginalized person who enters my sphere.
For my personal life purpose, that also means helping people express their true and authentic selves as freely as possible. Too many of us have had our voices muffled, shot down, dismissed, muzzled, or been told it’s not good enough. Who are they to determine that? Unless you’re spouting hate speech, no one has the right to tell us how to use our voices. Sing imperfectly, shout out loud, howl at the moon, speak from the depth of your soul.
Will I always do this work perfectly? No. But I’ll keep working at it day by day, moment my moment, till the day I die.