Tuesday, May 31, 2016

On Self Love and Being Single

Hi friends! Wow. It's been a while since I've written anything on my blog. A lot changes in 15 months. I was still deeply struggling with the passing of my brother when last I posted on here, and I was forcing myself to process everything in a familiar way I thought would help: through writing. Emotionally, that wasn't what was best for me at the time; hence the hiatus. However, I feel I am doing much better now. I'm finally at a good place in my life where I can start committing to the things I love again. So here I am.

It's been an incredibly hard year. Most of you probably know that. But you may not know that besides dealing with the grief of losing Sean, I also went through a few other painful and life-altering trials in 2015. One of which being a very difficult breakup. I was devastated when this particular relationship ended. It was short-lived, but it moved really fast and we ended up falling for each other. You can imagine my heartbreak when he broke it off not too long after we said we were in love. I've dated guys before, but never officially or seriously, and never with this much emotional investment. Everything was very new to both of us, so consequently, I didn't handle anything well. It was a huge learning curve that, in the grand scheme of things, I probably needed to experience. I've grown exponentially from that relationship, and for that, I am extremely grateful.

But it took me a long time to be okay with it. Actually, it took me until about six days ago to be okay with it. Nine months after we broke up. Nine months. To get over a relationship that only lasted about a month in total. What does that say about me? Well, for one, I think it says I'm a very passionate person. I don't fall in love very easily, but when I do, I fall hard. I was head over heels very quickly. It says I don't handle separation well. At all. That's pretty common for people who are diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. But mostly, it says that I hadn't learned how to love myself outside of someone else.

Let me explain. I am a very confident individual, and I'm comfortable in my own skin. I like my body, I like my personality, and I'm okay with my flaws. I love who I am. But I never learned how to love myself in an all-encompassing way, which would include the type of love people usually want from a partner. When I was about 14, I started seeking out male validation. My desire for this attention largely stemmed from being sexually assaulted at that same age. I believed I was damaged goods no one would want. So I needed someone's love to compensate for my lack of virtue and self worth. I became bitter all through high school because no one ever showed interest. Then I go off to BYU, only to find more of the same. I went on maybe two or three dates my entire freshman year. What was wrong with me? I just wanted to feel wanted.

Fast forward a couple years and I meet this wonderful man. He's everything I want in a partner. We share the same values, the same opinions and beliefs, the same lifestyle, similar interests and life aspirations. It seems too good to be true. It's so surreal. My ideal partner actually exists! And he legitimately loves me back! And then suddenly. It was over. Incredibly bad timing too, because the rest of my world had been simultaneously crashing down around me. I'll be honest. It left me pretty numb and very lost. So perhaps now you understand better why it took me nine months to pick up all the shattered remains and try to piece myself back together.

But it was worse than simply having emotional trauma and slowly working through it. I wallowed. I not-so-secretly kept hoping he would take me back eventually. Or at least that I would meet someone else so I could move on. Anything seemed better than being alone. I tried the whole online dating thing. I probably had one too many hookups. Or ten too many. Who's counting? But I hated all of it. It didn't make it better. I just wanted to be happy being single. Because that's what all the self help books say, right? Learn to be happy as a single person, and that's when someone magically waltzes into your life.

That idea is STUPID. It doesn't help anybody! All it does is teach people that they need to "be happy being single" if they don't want to be single anymore. That doesn't even make any sense. Yet that's exactly what I was doing. I only tried to be happy because I thought that meant I would meet someone new. But that's not a guarantee. Nothing in this world is.

It's not a guarantee you'll date in college. It's not a guarantee you'll get married. It's not a guarantee your marriage will be happy if you do. It's not a guarantee you'll be able to have kids. It's not a guarantee you'll never wake up one day and find out your brother died, and then have to learn how to keep existing without him somehow.

It's just...not. No matter what you do.

Being happy doesn't magically ensure you'll find romance, and having a significant other doesn't magically make you happy. You cannot depend on someone else to give you happiness. You will always end up being disappointed, every time. I don't care how much commitment and effort you put into dating, or how badly you wish to get married/find love. It still might not happen. Because it requires someone else to give you what you want. You simply cannot bank on anything so unreliable as that. Happiness isn't real if it only exists in a space that includes others.

I choose to live with the assumption that I might never get married. Doing so leaves less room for disappointment and more room for all the unexpected surprises life can offer. But whenever I mention this to anyone--without hesitation--they quickly respond, "That's not true Keli! Don't say that; of course you're going to get married!" This is often followed by a series of compliments that I really don't need (although I am flattered others have nice things to say about me). There's basically a script people read from whenever someone says, with dejection, they're never going to get married or have a relationship. I know the intentions are good and you're just telling them what you think they want to hear. Maybe half the time you actually believe what you're saying. But should you be saying it?

What if that person really never gets married? Everyone surrounding them their entire life promised and insisted they would, so they believed it. And they ended up living the rest of their existence in a perpetual state of

Waiting.

Only to be disappointed. What a waste of a perfectly good life. They never lived in the now. Their day to day activities were only inconsequential placeholders while they waited for "true love" to come along. THEN they'd be happy. THEN their real life would begin.

But that's not how it works. If you can't be happy with who and where you are right now, then nothing you attain or accomplish will ever be enough. You'll always be wishing for whatever you don't have. I think someone once said, "you can't appreciate joy if you don't experience pain." Likewise, you can't appreciate the company of others if you don't know how to be alone. And you can't fully appreciate love and commitment if you never learn to be happy when you're single.

I've lived my whole life believing the most important thing I could do is get married and have babies. It was drilled into my head that a relationship with a potential spouse should take priority over a relationship with myself. I was made to feel like it was my job to wait. I couldn't move forward until a man gave me permission, and I couldn't truly live unless I put my non-existent marriage and imaginary family above everything else. After all, a single, childless woman has practically no value.

But now I know all of that to be pathological lies. The people who taught me those things are absolutely wrong. I can be happy and fulfilled all on my own. Families come in all shapes and sizes, and mine can be whatever I want it to be. There is no such thing as someone's "better half." You are NOT half of a person. You are whole; you are complete; and you don't need someone else in order to live your life. Yours.

So. I say all these things, and I've preached a lot of it before. But have I been living my own philosophy? Up until about this time last week, I don't think I was. I mean, the desire was there. But in my heart, I wasn't completely dedicated. So what changed? What helped me moved past this mental barrier in my life?

It was drugs.


Yeahhh, but in all seriousness, guyz. It really was drugs. Prescribed ones of course. I recently took the first steps towards treating my mental health, so I've started medication for ADHD and depression. Already, it's made a world of difference for me. If you missed my Facebook post about my experiences in the beginning stages, you can read it here.

Since the medications are designed to alleviate symptoms that have been clouding my mind for many years, there was an intense amount of clarity that came with feeling what "normal" is like for the very first time. I discovered a space in which I could see I'm really and honestly okay being alone. "Single" should not be treated as a transitory stage. It should be an adventure, full of self discovery and pushing your own limits. I want to COMMIT to being single. I want ME to be my lover right now. I want to be in an exclusive relationship with myself. I would be doing myself a great disservice if I didn't use this time in my life as an opportunity to just be Keli.

Now, none of this means I'm completely closed off to finding a romantic partner. It's just not my priority. I'm not going to seek it out or push anything. I'm not going to go on dates with people I know I'm not interested in. I'm not going to compromise self-advancing opportunities because of a relationship. I have the rest of my life to do that if I want to. This age is the time in every person's life where they aren't responsible for anyone except themselves, and they can do absolutely anything they want. That isn't always going to be the case, so why the hell would I waste such a precious window of time? Despite what the culture in Utah might lead us to believe, there is nothing wrong with being an unmarried 21 year old woman, or 25 year old man. Or being 40 and unmarried. Or even 60. At no age does being unmarried mean something is wrong with you. There isn't. You're not a menace to society. You're not too independent. You're not too [insert physical descriptor here]. You're just single. It's okay. Enjoy it.

Ironically enough, I am actually interested in someone right now. I met him right around the time I decided to commit to being single. ("Hey Keli, didn't you say earlier in this post that believing someone will waltz into your life right when you learn to love yourself is silly?" Yes, I did. Hilarious, I know.) But that hasn't changed anything. I'm still not pushing it. We've chosen not to rush into anything serious. I'm making a point of spending quality time with my girlfriends, maintaining close relationships with the other men in life, doing activities on my own, and being alone. We both have our own stuff to work on, and we have the freedom to work on them without the added stress of dating right away. If it's right, then it will work out. If it's not, then it won't. Right now, we're just enjoying one another's company without unnecessary expectations. We're still getting to know each other. And I'm perfectly content with that.

Although I still have depression and anxiety, overall I am happy and at peace with life. I'm finding fulfillment in the things I CAN control rather than pining for things I can't. And honestly, I have so many amazing things going for me right now. Opportunities I owe it to myself to focus on. I'm in school, studying what I love and preparing for grad school. I'm at a new university that is a better fit for me, and my grades are improving because of it. I have a stressful job, but I'm doing what I love and it's helping me reach my career goals. I'm on the board for a non-profit that has so much potential! I have an amazing internship lined up for the fall, volunteering with children who have suffered recent loss. I have my own apartment and my own car. I have a monthly bill for internet service now, which is the mark of a true adult. And I'm getting my associates degree in a month.

There's not a single person on this planet who can honestly tell me my life isn't fulfilling just because I'm not dating someone.  

To quote Newsies, "I'm alone, but I ain't lonely." I'm comfortable with who I am. I can do anything I want. Literally. Anything. And you know what the best part is? I know I will be able to find lasting happiness whether I stay single the rest of my life, or get married and have ten kids. Most people wouldn't be able to say that, let alone at 21. But I'm not worried about it. For the first time in my life. I'm absolutely not worried at all.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

P.S. To my ex-lover, I want to say this: You are nicest person I have ever dated. You helped me see that I am capable of being loved. You made me a better person. I wouldn't be who I am today if not for you. I grew and learned so much because of our relationship, and from it ending. I hope you did as well. This way-too-long blog post would never have been possible if I had not met you a year ago. For that, I am truly thankful. I'm glad we are still friends. I hope we continue to be for years to come. 

Saturday, February 28, 2015

This Is Why I Stay

It’s been one of those weeks. Nothing really seemed to go right. I’ve been working through some matters of the heart. I’m falling behind on my classes and it’s stressing me out. Motivation to do anything is pretty low. And I’ve been missing my brother especially the last few days. I may or may not have binge-watched Gilmore Girls for a straight six hours the other day. Whatever. No regrets.

I feel really alone all the time lately. It usually hits late at night and suddenly, I just really need someone to hold me. But of course, that’s when no one is available. So I’m often left with just my thoughts. And food. Both are good. But it’s difficult and often painful. I think it’s healthy that I’m working through my emotions and I know it’s necessary, but that doesn't make it any easier. Sometimes, I think I need to get up and do something and be productive. See people, laugh, be happy. But it hurts too much to try. And it hurts to be alone and not do anything. Everything hurts.

Yet somehow, in this last month that has been so difficult, I have somehow been given countless blessings. I received two unexpected (but very much needed) messages from individuals expressing their love and concern for me. They both have lost siblings of their own and wanted to reach out and assure me I’m not alone. What are the odds? Blessings come when you need them the most!

I was able to go home for Sean’s birthday weekend and spend time with my family, and Laura’s family. We had a lot of people over on Valentine’s Day to celebrate my dear brother’s life together, and they all reached out a hand of support and expressed their love to me and mine. I got to see my sweet Laura (Sean's fiance), who is so amazingly strong and recovering very well. I’m so beyond proud of her and her ability to take this trial and grow from it. I am thankful for family, and those so close they are practically family as well.

I was able to spend time with a couple dear friends of mine that I haven’t seen in awhile. We talked into the wee hours of the morning about wonderful, important things. Among those things was Sean. I needed that support and outlet to express myself. As I spoke with them, I was even able to come to some realizations and understandings that I hadn't yet reached on my own. I am thankful for wonderful friends.

I was able to talk to my parents for a couple hours a few days ago. I told them a little bit about the things I have come to understand this month and how important they are to my growth and happiness. They told me how proud they are and they can see me maturing and becoming the woman I’m meant to be. I am so thankful for a loving mother and father.

I was able to make a new friend, and talk to her for a good long time about our families and love lives and goals and desires. I learned there’s one more person in the world who can relate to me on some level. I gained a relationship where I can be real and open with another human being. I am thankful for favorable circumstances and new opportunities.

I went up to Rexburg this last weekend to meet Aubrey (Laura’s old roommate) for the first time. She’s been a tremendous support to me these last couple months and I am so grateful to have finally spent some time with her. I met up with some good friends for the first time in awhile, and visited Sean’s old ward and met his bishopric, his roommates, and a couple of his friends. All of them were so nice and considerate. I could see how much they loved my brother. Receiving hugs and warm embraces from those who were in Sean’s life during his final days was a wonderful experience I’m glad I was able to have. I am thankful for my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ and for trials that can bring perfect strangers together.

And best of all. I was able to share my testimony with someone who needed me. A testimony I didn't even know I had. One I needed to hear just as much as she did. I was able to be there for someone else. I was able to lend the support someone needed. I was able to be selfless and serve my fellow man and God. I am so thankful for the gospel and for the healing power of love.

I’ve learned a lot this month. More than I thought I would. I feel as though, lately, I grow substantially every day. I don’t want to think of my brother dying as a blessing, because it’s not. But it has forced me to think about a great many things I wouldn't have considered or pondered on otherwise. It’s pushed me to finally do everything I’ve been saying I was going to do for years. It’s made me re-evaluate and reconsider life from an eternal perspective I’ve never had before.

I’m finally understanding the difference between needs and wants. I never did much for myself in high school. I was, in a lot of ways, a pushover. Many of my choices were made for other people. So when I came to college, I was determined to do what I wanted to do. Follow my desires and wishes, no matter the cost. But it caused me to ignore a lot of blessings I could have experienced. I’m learning now that doing what I NEED is so much more rewarding in the end. And it doesn't mean you have to sacrifice happiness. In fact, I’ve noticed I feel much more at peace when I strive for what I know I need instead of giving into the natural man.

I want to have all my questions answered. I want to be and feel loved by someone special. I want everything to just come easy because it’s all far too hard. But I understand that, right now, what I need is more important than that. I NEED God. I’ve learned to be okay with this fact. I have to be okay with not knowing the why’s to everything and being a little confused, because God is bigger than it all.

I struggle every day, I promise. A lot of things in the church hurt my head and my heart; I can’t even stand it sometimes. That’s okay. Some days, it’s necessary to take a breather, take a step back, re-think things. But when I do, I always end up realizing that this is where I need to be. I don’t know why, but I just know that much is true.

I also don’t know where else I would go, so I try and make the most of the home I have. “Don’t abandon something just because it’s broken. Fix it.” Often, that just means fixing myself, and doing my part to contribute to the improvement of the church as a whole. I speak my mind and I never back down. I voice my opinions and questions, because it’s healthy and I have the right to do so. And when I don’t have all the answers, I pray for peace and clarity. Peace and clarity. Peace and clarity over and over. I cannot tell you how much that has helped. I just need to have faith that eventually, things will work out the way that is best. Maybe not in this life, but someday.

My testimony comes and goes. I can’t honestly say that I KNOW God exists and the gospel is true. But I will say: I have faith it is. I don’t have proof. I constantly wonder if He’s real or not, and it scares me to think he might not be, especially since that would mean I'll never see my brother again. But I can’t let that hold me down. I won’t.

I embrace and accept the doubts and the questions, and I choose to live with faith despite it all. Because at least I know that even if I’m wrong, I lived with hope. I lived with the belief in happiness to come. Without that, I don’t think I could keep going. I would have no reason to live. I need God to be real. I need families to be eternal. I need second chances. I need the Atonement. Oh lordy, I need the Atonement so much it hurts. And since that is what I NEED, that is what I hold on to. That is what I know will give me peace.

Yes, it’s harder. Needs are always harder than wants. That’s why it’s called the natural man. Wants are natural. Needs are not. Being human is the hardest thing I have ever done. (Really, though.) But it’s all I’ve got, so I’m gonna make the most of it until my time comes.

Pray more. Love more. Read more. Laugh more. Do more. Be More. Ask yourself, “What do I NEED today?” Then pray for guidance. Pray to know the answer. It’s hard at first. But it gets easier. I don’t have all the answers. The church certainly doesn't either. No one on this planet does. Only God does, assuming He’s there. You have to trust Him, and just as important: you have to trust yourself. That alone will make a world of difference. And when you learn to do that, you might discover something amazing like I did.

You might finally understand the reason why you stay.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Something To Be Proud Of

Hi guys. I’m back.

I don’t really know what to say, except to start with an apology for my long hiatus from my blog. I really have missed it, as writing is very therapeutic for me and will hopefully be part of my future career, so I enjoy any opportunity to improve and explore my abilities. However, under the circumstances of last August with the whole Cosmopolitan fiasco, I felt it best to take a break from the blogosphere and to step back from anything that might create a buzz or attract the eye of the media and/or critics. I had many people supporting me through the whole ordeal, but just as many people were fighting against me and threatening me. It was quite the traumatic experience, and very emotionally draining, so the radio silence was a necessity for me as I put myself back together and decided how best to move forward.

I think in the end, it was a very wise decision. I love feminism and being involved in feminist communities, but being an activist is one of the hardest things I have ever done. It wears on you little by little, until eventually you just bust wide open. The continuous discussions, events, arguments, battles, rallies, protests, online warfare, etc. It can be overwhelming quite often. Actually, almost all the time. It really is hard on the soul. To constantly be rejected, ignored, and mocked. To find yourself repeating the same words over and over again, and still no one listens. To feel like you will never say the right thing and you can never please anyone no matter what you do. To feel your sanity slip away as society continues to defend awful beliefs that make your blood boil and your skin crawl. The anger is constant. The pain is unbearable. The frustration is maddening.

It’s definitely not healthy for someone who has anxiety and seasonal affective disorder.

I’ve been struggling with anxiety since I was about 15, I guesstimate. I didn't know this until recently, because I didn't know it was considered an actual mental health issue. But if you know me at all, it makes sense. I am constantly overwhelmed and stressed and over-involved. I’m a perfectionist with mild Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and the littlest imbalance can send me over the edge. I’m always giving myself headaches and stomach pains, and constant stress is most likely the cause of my joint problems and muscle spasms too. College hasn’t made it any better.

I never showed signs of seasonal depression while growing up in Washington, because my hometown of Yakima is very sunny. Even in the dead of winter, there aren't very many days out of the year where the sun goes away entirely. And as I’ve never lived anywhere else until I moved my freshman year of college, I didn't know how much climate can affect your mental and physical health. Utah has an extremely high rate of depression, possibly the highest in the nation, and studies suggest this is due to the high altitude. For people like myself who go from living in a low altitude area (Yakima is a valley at an altitude of about 1,068 feet) to a high altitude (Provo sits at 4,549 feet above sea level—that’s almost a 3,500 ft. difference), such a severe change all at once can cause extreme shock to the body. Provo also tends to have very dark winters and much colder weather than my hometown. I recall there being several days in a row last January where the sun never made an appearance. There were weeks where I didn't leave my bed for a few days at a time.

Now, I’m not writing about all this to get attention or to earn your pity. In fact, that’s the absolute last thing I want from anyone. But like I’ve said before, writing is my own form of self-therapy. It helps me work through everything and keep a grasp on reality. Honestly, writing about this at all is really hard for me, because it requires me to be open and vulnerable. It means admitting that I have weaknesses, and I hate that about as much as I hate the patriarchy (FYI: that’s a lot). I know it’s not true. Having mental disorders does not make you weak or weird or inferior. But I’m always afraid I might be using them as a cop-out or an excuse. Where does my laziness end and my anxiety begin? Am I really struggling to go to class and get passing grades because of depression or is it lack of motivation? My worst fear is not living up to my full potential or missing out on opportunities that I know I could have reached. I don’t want my health to hold me back. Just like I don’t want my past to hold me back or cause irreversible trust issues and therefore affect my future. Anxiety, depression, my past; it all makes it harder for sure. But not impossible. I don’t believe in impossible.

I guess I’m writing all this out because it is a huge part of why 2014 was probably the hardest year I’ve ever had. This is saying a lot, considering I was assaulted in 2009, struggled with two addictions in 2011, started my faith crisis in 2012, and was expelled and almost dropped out of high school in 2013. Yet 2014 was still worse.

In 2014, I was put on academic warning at BYU. I had my first major panic attack, which has now become a common occurrence. I discovered I have anxiety and struggled with seasonal affective disorder for the first time. I started therapy. I wasted my entire first year of college and didn't transfer schools. I found myself unsure of my dreams for the first time in my life, and ended up switching majors. I fell in and out of love, and fell again. I had a severe emotional breakdown when I moved back home. I had a breakdown when I moved back to school. I went inactive. I drank for the first time and made some horrible, awful mistakes. (I have since sworn off alcohol.) I hurt some close friends very deeply. I lost trust that can never be regained. I had an article written about me in a national magazine that threatened my schooling, my reputation, and many friendships. I worked nights full time and was in school full time. I never slept and wasn't able to keep myself healthy. I disappointed myself and my colleagues by fulfilling my responsibilities inadequately. I had relationships with more men than I care to admit, and all of them ended badly. I quit my job. I quit acappella. I quit Women’s Chorus. I failed most of my classes. My roommates all moved out.

My brother, my best friend, my everything…passed away a week before Christmas.

Yeah. 2014 pretty much sucked. I think it’s safe to say I’ve hit rock bottom. I don’t think it can get much worse.

But the thing is, it’s not 2014 anymore. It’s a new year. We all have the chance to start over. For me, I have nowhere to go but up. I am determined to take this as an opportunity to make myself into the woman I want to be. I want to be better. I want to be happier. I want to start focusing on the things that matter. My family. My loved ones. My schooling. Things that make me happy. If I’ve learned anything from this last year, it’s that life is too short to waste time lamenting the things you didn't do. Just do them. You never know when something precious will be taken from you. When tomorrow is no longer an option, and yesterdays are full of regrets and empty promises.

So call your mother when you think of her. Hold your dad a little bit longer. Tell your grandma you respect her and you’re sorry for not showing it better. Thank your aunts and uncles for their opinions, even when they hurt because at least it means they care. Wrestle your nephews more, and give them kisses even when they push you away. Spend more time with good friends and less time online. Choose to fall in love with your significant other every single day. Be with someone who wants you as much as you want them. Take care of yourself, because no one else is going to do it for you. Avoid things that hurt you and cause you unnecessary stress. Let go of the anger and the pain and the frustration. Speak wisely, pray faithfully, serve selflessly. Laugh harder, love deeper, dream bigger.

And please. For God’s sake. Tell your brothers and sisters just how much you care about them. Every day. Do it relentlessly, obnoxiously, obsessively. Let them know they mean the world to you. If they don’t mean that much to you right now, fix it. You will wish you had if you don’t. I promise. Don’t miss out on one of the most beautiful relationships you will ever experience. You never know when they might be gone. Please. Don’t wait that long.

Don’t wait. It’s a new day. It’s a new year. Make it meaningful. Make it worthwhile. Make it something to be proud of. 

Monday, September 1, 2014

I'm Not Fighting a Ban On Sex (Keli Byers Responds to Cosmo Article)

It's been almost three weeks since Cosmopolitan Magazine released a headliner that has received national attention because of its controversial content. An article with my name attached to it. Maybe you've seen it. It's called, "I'm Fighting BYU's Ban on Sex."

This article has received an incredible response, both supportive and positive, critical and negative. All are to be expected. I was astonished at how quickly internet businesses such as Jezebel, the Huffington Post, Think Progress, and other reporting websites picked up the story. What I didn't anticipate was the vehemence and anger and hatred which has been thrown at me from people within the LDS and Christian communities. 

I don't mean to sound rude or judgmental towards anyone who may have had choice words to say about me. I know I'm not perfect, as this article has shown. But it hurts to see so many people saying these things about me--a fellow Christian sister and imperfect human--when they don't even know all the details. So I figured today is as good a time as ever, what with school starting again tomorrow, to tell you everything you need to know concerning this article and its back-story. 

Let me take the time to clear up some common misconceptions that I've seen floating around the internet:

Misconception #1: Keli Byers is the author of this article. 

False. I am not the author, and I regret it was perceived this way. This article was written by Michelle Ruiz, a journalist for Cosmopolitan. It was written in first person based on a phone interview I had with Michelle earlier this summer. 

Misconception #2: Keli Byers approached Cosmo to write this article. 

Also false. Cosmopolitan initially contacted a friend of mine who started the BYU Secrets Facebook page and asked him/her if they knew anyone who might be willing to be interviewed for an article about sex culture at BYU. This friend then gave Michelle my name, who in turn contacted me and I agreed to an interview with her. 

Cosmo has recently had a change in their editing staff, which is why you may see the magazine altering its subject matter to address social and public issues more often in its editions lately. This is part of the reason they wanted to write an article about culture and an important issue, and I for one am looking forward to the changes Cosmo is experiencing we will witness in the near future. 

Misconception #3: Keli Byers is the new face of Mormon Feminism. 

I absolutely AM NOT a representative for Mormon feminism. Young Mormon Feminists is not some group of women who sit around bashing the church and BYU. I am only one member of Young Mormon Feminists, and YMF is only one representation of Mormon feminism, and Mormon feminism is only one representation of feminism as a whole. I cannot possibly represent all those people, as my concerns are not necessarily the concerns of others, and there are plenty of feminists who do not agree with my beliefs or choices up to this point. There are, of course, some who do. But again, I am not trying to be the face of feminism in any way, and I never said I was. The Cosmo article was a representation of one bisexual, white, middle class woman's experience and concerns. There are an infinite amount of other feminist issues that take more precedence than my own, and such topics of interest concerning sexuality, LGBTQ rights, people of color, racism, and class-ism should all be addressed as well. Young Mormon Feminists is a great support group to have such discussions, especially for those who identify as Mormon and feminist in some way at BYU and all around the globe. For more clarification, please read this statement from Young Mormon Feminists written by Hannah Wheelwright.

Misconception #4: Keli Byers was banned from church for a month. 

This is a case of editorial license and is not entirely true. I was not banned from attending church, but like many people who go through the repentance process, I was not allowed to partake of the sacrament or participate in church activities in my calling or in other ways, such as giving public talks or prayers. Cosmo paraphrased in order to fit everything into their limited space, and also to appeal to their regular audience, the likes of which would not understand LDS processes concerning repentance and disfellowship. The separate question of whether or not I should have been punished for a sin that was not mine has already been addressed, and you can read about that here. 

Misconception #5: Keli Byers is an attention-seeking whore who wants fame/infamy. 

Again. False. First of all, using terminology such as "whore" or "slut" to demean women who are assumed to be sexually promiscuous should not be a thing. Stop it. Secondly, I never had the intention of this article being about me. As I said earlier, this initial interview was about sex culture at BYU as a general topic. Yes, I shared personal experiences as examples of my own observations concerning the culture at BYU. However, I didn't initially share those with the intention of having Cosmo write an entire article about me. That's just how they chose to write the article; in the journalism world, often publication choices change and stories evolve and adapt into something different than the original idea, and that's just how it goes. Not much I could do about that. So if you think I intentionally went around trying to make the whole world aware of my personal and intimate life details, you're wrong. I would never ever willingly seek out the cruelty I have had to endure in the last month.

Misconception #6: Keli Byers is a slut who wants to be able to have sex at BYU whenever she wants. 

I am going to repeat that sluts do not exist. "Slut" is a degrading term used against women by people who are cruel, judgmental, un-Christlike, and creepy. In this world, there are no prudes and there are no sluts. There are women are more sexually liberal and there are women who are not. You don't have to agree with either lifestyle, or condone it, or accept it, or respect it. In fact, you can totally reject and hate someone's sexual choices if you want. But you don't get to demean someone, or judge them, or publicly chastise them just because you don't like what they choose to do with their body. I wrote a whole blog post about this and how slut-shaming is not okay. Go read it and then make the conscious choice to STOP BEING A BULLY. 

Even after mentioning slut-shaming in the original article, people still went on to slut shame me publicly on the internet, and it was vicious enough for the Salt Lake Tribune to contact me about it. See just a few examples from one person below (I am twitter handle GingerMormon): 




Note: This is a parody account and not run by the actual BYU Honor Code Office
As far as assumptions made that I want to have sex all the time, that was never even implied in the article and it is definitely not true. 

Misconception #7: "Sexual woman" = "I am sexually active and I have sex aalllll the time."  

Newsflash: MOST PEOPLE ARE SEXUAL. With the exception of those who identify as asexual, every person on the planet is sexual. That's how we're made. Oftentimes, it is unacceptable to admit this openly in Christian culture. It is not my fault my honesty and frankness concerning this fact makes you uncomfortable. But no, that does not automatically mean I am sexually active, and admitting to not being a virgin does not mean I am having sex at this time. So please stop assuming.

Misconception #8: Keli Byers is not following the honor code that she chose to sign, and if she doesn't like it, she should just leave. 

Addressing the first part of this misconception--yes I signed the honor code. I signed it with every intention to follow it. I do my best to do exactly that. However, I'm not obligated to like it. No, I'm not perfect. I slip up; I make mistakes; I go through learning curves. But everything I've done wrong while attending BYU has already been addressed or dealt with. Not that it is anyone's business where I am spiritually or what I do in the privacy of my own home. We would all do the world good to deal with our own struggles and issues before pointing fingers or making it our job to determine someone else's worthiness. 

For those who are wondering, I am still a student at BYU and I will continue to be a student at BYU for as long as I choose to be. I would appreciate it if people would stop vehemently telling me to leave. Doing so shows little understanding or sympathy and is a blatant disregard for others' situations. Take the time to research class-ism and class privilege. Not everyone can afford to just get up and leave. Not everyone chooses to go here. Not everyone has a mom and dad helping them. So please just stop and listen before making assumptions about people who attend BYU but aren't in love with every single facet of the school.  

Misconception #9: Keli Byers is becoming an advocate for assault victims everywhere. 

Another vehement "NO." I do not wish to be a representative or example for victims of sexual assault in any way, shape, or form. I am more than willing to share my story with others in order to assure them they are not alone. I also willingly open up about what happened to me because I want people to understand what the real definition of sexual assault is. (Meaning: if a woman or man is not of age or does not consent or changes their mind or does not verbally say yes, that is assault. Period.) However, I have turned down nearly every interview I have been offered since this whole thing started because I don't want to be made into some sort of hero. Yes, my assault is valid and important and tragic. But regretfully, I have been on the other side of the coin. I have been the perpetrator before, albeit unknowingly, and I have made some horrible decisions that have harmed others similar to the way I was harmed. I am ashamed of this, and I hate myself every day for this fact, but it must be acknowledged. If you wish to read more about that, click here. For these reasons, I do not wish to be an activist against sexual assault when I have been an assaulter. Please respect this choice and recognize that I am a human being who has made mistakes I deeply regret and I am doing all I can to fix said mistakes. Even though some can never be completely fixed. 

Misconception #10: Keli Byers wants to change the honor code and Church doctrine concerning sex. 

This is the worst misconception of all, and I want to apologize for the misunderstanding. Much of what was discussed in my Cosmo interview simply could not be included in the article due to publication issues. So the long winded version of, "I want to see a positive change take place on BYU campus where church members stop judging others based on past or present sexual indiscretions (AKA slut shaming) or on the clothes someone is wearing, so that our culture can make a transition from one which makes assumptions about an individual's character based on their outward appearance or sexuality, to one that loves everyone and is non-judgmental and is HONORABLE in the real sense of the word" was not included. 

The short of it is: I'm not trying to change doctrine. I'm not trying to re-write the Book of Mormon. I'm not trying to change the Honor Code's stance on the Law of Chastity. I understand church doctrine and the honor code and law of chastity perfectly, despite what the naysayers claim. When I state that I think BYU can be sexist and slut-shaming towards women, I'm addressing the culture, not the administration. I want to change that culture and I'm trying to make my campus, my home, a more loving and welcoming environment. Right now, I'll be honest, I don't feel like it is in a lot of ways. Slate barely touches the surface concerning this issue (although, some of the facts included about me are wrong, as I have already clarified). But that's a subject for another day and a separate blog post. Be on the look out for that one. 

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I want to thank those who have been loving and understanding during this stressful time. Responses that have come from women such as the BYU Confessions Babe and Brooksley are what keep me going, because, although there were still some misconceptions (very valid misunderstandings, I will admit), they have treated me with love and kindness. And for those who responded more vehemently, all it took was one conversation to change feelings like this into this.   

I promise I'm not all bad. I'm just like you. I sin, I make stupid choices, I mess up, I learn, I try again. Don't judge me for that. I'll gladly do you the same favor.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Confessions of a Kleptomaniac

Before I start this week's post, I must apologize to all of you for once again stumbling last week. I could have made a post last Saturday, but I was so beyond busy running this fundraiser for my non-profit organization that I simply did not have the energy to sit down and write something meaningful and shocking for two hours. On the plus side, the fundraiser--which was a silent auction and dinner with live entertainment that showcased what our organization does--was incredibly successful and I'm pretty proud of myself that I actually managed to pull it off. I'm glad it's over though. You never understand how much time goes into event planning until you actually do it.

Anyway, I appreciate your patience and your continual support. It means a lot to me. Just the knowledge that there are people in my life who read this blog, know the changes and growth I've gone through, and still love me unconditionally and respect my life decisions is beyond amazing. If I didn't have that, the transitions I've been experiencing would be much harder. Still possible, because even if I don't have anyone else, I always have God. But friends and family are definitely a plus.

The blessing of good friends has been something I value very highly in my life. If it weren't for certain individuals and social groups (plug for Young Mormon Feminists and the Dance Syndicate), I wouldn't be where I am today. I wouldn't be the woman I am now. I would have never learned to let go of my past, while still embracing my weaknesses and the influence many past trials have had on my life.

I've already discussed in detail how my sexual assault has changed my life, for the worse in the past and for the better now. I've also admitted to my weaknesses pertaining to my sexuality and some negative choices I've made because of that. And now it's time to get a little uncomfortable and be really honest again, because I just love to be an open book and have everyone judge me. Yay. Let's get started!

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I remember the first time I ever took something that wasn't mine. I was probably six I think. My aunt wouldn't buy me the gum I wanted, so I opened the package and took out just one piece. I felt so incredibly guilty and I'm pretty sure my aunt caught me too. But I was a little kid and I didn't know all that much about boundaries. It didn't seem to be that big of a deal.

I started making my own money around 14, which is when I learned the importance of frugality, monetary management, and financial responsibility. I also discovered how great it feels to buy something with my own money I worked hard to earn. To know you own entirely that thing you bought is the greatest feeling in the world for practically everyone between the ages of 12 and 30. But working also taught me that being able to buy and own things comes with the added understanding that there is now a world of things you can't have.

When you're a little kid, it feels like you can get pretty much anything you want. The only time you can't is when your parents say no. But suddenly, I'm all grown up and it's not just my mom telling me no; it's an entire business and social system pushing me down with a constant stream of "no, no, no." This happens in all aspects of life, especially surrounding assumptions about success based on sex, class, and race ("You're not strong enough to do that; you're a girl." "You can't go to UCLA; you're not rich." "You can't become the president of the United States; you're black."). As a 14-year old, and even now, the biggest "no"s that affect me are the ones associated with money. It's so infuriating to know the only thing standing between you and your success and needs and wants is green paper. Money is everything in this world; yet it's literally nothing. And somehow, it's still more powerful than a living, breathing human being.

Something I've never allowed in my life is the toxic "can't"s and "impossible"s that can deteriorate a person. Whenever someone would tell me I couldn't do something, I always made a point to prove them wrong. However, I didn't always do it in a healthy way. I'm much better about it now, and I've learned how to apply respect and decorum to the same situations without mitigating basic components of my responses to negativity. Unfortunately, my 14-year old self was not nearly that smart.

I decided at this young age that money was stupid and I wasn't going to let it be a barrier between me and anything in life. What was the action applied to this thought? Why, I took things I couldn't afford, of course. Bravo, 14 year old Keli. Well done.

It started out small at first. I only took little things like 1 ounce perfume bottles and cheap earrings. It wasn't a normal thing; just a few times. Then one day I really liked a blouse I couldn't possibly afford. I stuffed it in my purse and walked out of the store like I was the most honest person in the world. I still have it hanging in my closet; I never wore it even once.


I, being the huge nerd I am, decided the most beneficial use of my new "talent" was to get all the books I had ever wanted. I love reading, and I have two bookcases full to prove it. Trips to Border's were a weekly occurrence and every now and then, I'd actually buy something. But mostly, I walked out with two or three books, never having glanced at the cashier. It was months before I did anything about it.

I started to hate myself, but I didn't want to stop because it was convenient. It was so easy. I could have anything I wanted, and no one had to know. But I would stare at my book shelves filled with books I didn't pay for and I knew it wasn't right. I finally told my mom and I let her know I wanted to pay my debt. I worked really hard for a month and did whatever my parents asked of me until I could pay it all back--all 535 dollars worth.

Returning those books in a big white bag and going up to the manager to explain what I had done was one of the most embarrassing and challenging things I've ever gone through. She was really kind about the situation; she thanked me for my honesty and said that it was good I did this now, because if I had ever gotten caught, they would have had to call the police. I paid for all the books and gave them back, too. I prayed to God for that to be the end of it.

Sadly, it wasn't. I did really good for awhile there, but it wasn't long before I slipped into the old ways. I can't even imagine what the worth is of all the makeup and clothing I took. Being a girl is so expensive! Stupid beauty care companies that make billions of dollars off of women's insecurities...

The last thing I ever stole was a $50 bottle of perfume. I thought I was going to get away with it, but an older woman grabbed me as I was walking out. She told me I had to follow her and she escorted me into a back room where I had to wait for my dad to come and get me. I was bawling my eyes out; I was so scared. I thought for sure I was going to jail. My dad arrived and of course he was angry and disappointed and frustrated. I didn't blame him. We were allowed to pay a very large fee and sign a contract stating I was not allowed on the premises for three years, and they wouldn't report me. That was one of the worst days of my life.

Well, it's been three years this month and I haven't given in to the urge. I've paid for everything I own. I try to be honest in everything I do. And if I can't afford something, I leave it on the shelf. Where it belongs.

It's hard to admit, but this is still a constant struggle for me. I stole things. I was a thief. I am a kleptomaniac. Which means, by definition, that I have an obsessive desire to take things that aren't mine. Even if I don't necessarily need it, and even when I actually can afford it. I can't really explain it to you, but it's a real weakness. It's not a matter of deciding whether I want to steal something or not like it is for other people. It's a matter of deciding, consciously, to not take anything. I walk into a store, and I can feel my body react to the obsessive behavior associated with my kleptomania. I have to talk to myself and internally say, "you will not steal anything. You will pay for everything you take out of this store."

And that's exactly what I do. I fight the urge. I choose not to give in. Kleptomania is just like alcoholism or a drug addiction or any other vice people fight against. It affects my brain the same way. It's part of who I am, but I can choose not to give in. I can make the conscious decision to not take something, which is always my automatic response in order to deal with the withdrawals and urges. It's extremely hard sometimes, but incredibly doable.
I am a Kleptomaniac and I'm three years straight. It's a part of my past, not my future. I'm not the same person I was at 16. I'm not asking for your approval. I'm not asking for your judgmental comments or your sympathy or your dis-acknowledgement of psychological disorders. I'm just telling you like it is. You can take it or leave it.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Dancing Through Life

This summer, I have been doing a lot of thinking. Thinking, reflecting, pondering, and everything in between. Things have slowed down after an action-packed first year of college and between work schedules at my two jobs, all I have is free time. Everything calmed down, I reverted back to some of my more laid back tendencies, and I took a much needed break from the ongoing storm of events that is college. I got to thinking about how different things are right now in 2014 versus last year at the beginning of August. When I moved back to my hometown of Yakima after living on my own for the first time, the adjustment was incredibly hard on me, physically and emotionally. I honestly didn't expect that at all.

See, for years, I swore up and down that as soon as I graduated, I was getting out and never looking back. If you grew up in a small town community like me, you probably understand this desire. Everyone I went to high school with seems to be doing the same exact thing as the next person--studying at an in-state college, most of them still living at home. Now, I'm not at all trying to bash on these people; everyone has their own path to follow and it's not my place to judge why someone makes different choices than me. Personally, I hope all of my old friends and acquaintances get out, at least for a little bit, to explore and experience the world beyond the Northwest. (I certainly plan on experiencing something other than Happy Valley, because let's face it--Provo ain't much better.) But I understand now when I didn't before why so many choose to stay.

High school sucked for me. It pretty much sucks for everyone. But I projected those feelings onto the city of Yakima as a whole. In my mind, Yakima was the problem. It wasn't until my senior year of high school that I found something worth staying for. I joined a society that has become my family; they have been there for me through the biggest trials of my life thusfar. My best friend found me in a bad place at the end of my junior year and helped me to find my self-worth again three years after having been sexually assaulted. He stuck it out through stuff no one should be expected to go through, from my own family drama to my parents hating him to me falling in love with him. And even when I pushed him away, he still fought for me. He still voted for me.

He introduced me to the most amazing group of individuals I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. I never believed I would have so many people I could truly call my friends, let alone lifelong friends. But that's exactly what the Dance Syndicate has given me. It has been my home, literally and figuratively, for the last two years. When I was expelled my senior year of high school, they were the only ones who were there for me. When everyone else faded away and walked out of my life, I turned around and there they were. With open arms and ears, and loving hearts. If it weren't for them, I seriously don't know where I'd be. I don't even want to think about how far I could have sank into my depression after having everything I knew ripped away from me if it hadn't been for that support system.

That is just the tip of the iceberg. I could write an entire blogpost just about the Dance Syndicate and everything they've given me and taught me over the last two years (and I probably will soon!). So can you see now why it was so hard for me to want to leave, when suddenly I had something in Yakima worth staying for? I had no guarantee I would ever find something quite like this anywhere else, and I really don't think I ever will. I have a purpose here. I have lifelong friends here. I was comfortable. I was finally home. For the first time in 18 years. And then I was supposed to leave them behind? Just like that?

I almost didn't. I almost stayed. I thought maybe I'd just work for a year to save up money and then move to LA like I was supposed to. But deep down, I knew I couldn't do that. If I came up with an excuse, if I put it all off, I'd never be able to move on or let go. I would get too comfortable and end up like most people who are faced with the same life decision. The decision to stay where it's familiar and where you feel at home is not a bad one; I just knew it wasn't for me. I've known since I was 14 that I wasn't going to become the person I want to be in Yakima. She's out there waiting, and I have to search beyond the nest if I'm going to find her.

All that being said, it didn't make the move any easier. Ask any of my dorm-mates: I pined for home; I spent hours on the phone with everyone back in Yakima; I often wouldn't leave my room; I counted down the days until Thanksgiving. My heart was still in Washington. But I've come to understand now that all those emotions and mixed feelings are perfectly normal. Slowly but surely, you learn to adapt. Little by little, you let go. Until you realize you haven't called home in a week and that's okay. Then you notice you've started to refer to your college town as home and the summer goodbyes are just as difficult to say as the ones that were 18 years in the making.

That first week home, I seriously contemplated packing up and moving back to Provo. Moving to a brand new place is so incredibly difficult. Who could have imagined returning to a life you left behind and trying to jump back into things would be even harder? I feel as though I was dropped into this limbo space where I'm not at school, but I'm not really home either, because I missed so much and we all know it's temporary. Of course everyone has loved having me back and I've made some great memories this summer. I've been so grateful to spend time with people who mean the world to me. Yet, I often feel alone. When I'm at work surrounded by a hundred other servers, or out dancing on Friday nights, or curling up with my mom to watch a movie. It all feels a world away. Like I'm not really here. And I'm scared going back to school is going to feel the same way.

I don't want to feel like this anymore. This feeling of isolation. Of silence in my soul. It's impossible to describe. But as I sit here writing all this at four in the morning in an empty house, feeling completely lost without my parents (they're out of town) or anyone else around me, I'm holding back tears. With all this uncertainty in my life right now, as far where I belong or what I should do next, I know one thing for sure: I don't ever want to be alone. I need people. I need support. I can't do this on my own.

If you know me even a little bit, you know how extremely hard that is for me to admit. I like to pretend I'm completely self-sufficient and independent and I don't need anyone's help, but it's not true. This dream I have of being an awesome businesswoman with an amazing career and nothing holding me back has suddenly been shattered. Not that I can't have all of that and companionship, too. It's just, my head has been telling me for years, "I don't need a man or family to be happy--all that fluff is just a plus and if it comes along, swell. But if not, oh well. I'm not going to go chasing it down with the risk of never attaining it. That would hurt more: to desire something you can't have versus choosing to live without it." And now suddenly, my heart is saying, "I want love. I want marriage. I want a family."

Blech. Just admitting all that makes me feel gross inside. I have issues.

I am not at all suggesting I'm ready for that stuff. I'm only 19. I won't be ready for awhile. But I do know things are starting to shift in my life. I'm growing up, and I guess that means it's time to start thinking about these things.

I've had a life policy for the last few years to just to do my best to survive: care a little less, avoid trouble, and know that nothing really matters in the end, so maybe have a little fun along the way. I've been trying to dance through life. Dance makes everything better. That's something the Dance Syndicate taught me. But then I realized...it takes two to dance. You can't do it alone. You have to trust your partner; you have to rely on them. And in the end, that's what makes the dance so enjoyable.

I don't know what to expect this year at BYU. I don't really know how or where I fit in right now. I don't know where I'll be in a year. I'm still trying to figure out what exactly I want out of this life; I have an idea, but I still have so much to learn. I do know, whatever it is, I'll get there. With the help of others, I can do it. I'm planning on it. I'm planning for uncertainty. I'm planning for growth. I'm planning for adventure.

I plan on dancing through life.

"And the strange thing: your life could end up changing while you're dancing through."

Saturday, July 19, 2014

What 'Sex Positive' Actually Means

In previous posts, I've discussed openly my sexual orientation as well as my sexual behavior and the consequences I've faced because of this behavior. Yes, there can be negative results to having a hyperactive sex drive like I do. However, despite all this, I remain sex positive.

What does sex positive mean, you ask? Well, let me tell you. Sex positivity is the idea that men and women alike should have the right to express themselves sexually without being judged. Sex positive as it relates to feminism focuses on the idea that sexual freedom is essential in the fight for equality and women's freedom. In our society, men are often allowed, and even encouraged, to act upon their sexual urges with no fear of retribution or consequence because they have been taught since infant-hood that sexual desires are an innate part of being a boy. But with women, from the time we are young girls, we are told that our sexuality should not be talked about and should be kept secret, as if it were something to be ashamed of.

I remember being taught in Sunday School that our virtue was dependent on our sexual purity and our sexual urges were to be ignored. They were never acknowledged or dealt with; instead, they were swept under the rug. No one ever taught us, as young women, how to handle our sexuality. I was made to feel like I was not a proper girl because I often thought about sex like I was told boys do. And if I acted upon those thoughts, I would lose my virtue. To this day, I still do not understand this mentality. Do people not know the definition of the word virtue? Here, let me help you out:

virtue (ˈvɜːtjuː, -tʃuː) —n: 1. the quality or practice of moral excellence or righteousness.

Does it say anywhere in that definition "sexual purity?" I know for some people, that's what it means to practice moral excellence. But I have met many amazing and moral individuals who are sexually active, and they are far better people than some Christians or Mormons. Does this mean they have no virtue? No value?

Morality is an individual idea. It is a code either a culture or you yourself decide is ethical and acceptable. There is not one right or wrong way to morally govern your life. All you have to do is travel to a different country to see how different someone's morality can be simply because they grew up in a different culture. For this reason, I do not believe it is right for anyone to judge another person's actions. I mean, this is pretty cut and dry, people. Even Jesus taught that. You don't have to agree with others' lifestyles; but you don't have the right to look down on them for their decisions.

This practice of judging others for their actions has led to a culture in America of slut-shaming. Slut shaming is when someone bashes or verbally attacks an individual--usually a woman--for their sexual actions, or perceived sexual actions. THIS IS NOT OKAY AND NEEDS TO STOP. Unfortunately, within moral circles, such as Christian culture, slut shaming is completely acceptable and even somewhat encouraged. I attend BYU, and one of the things they make students swear to when they sign the honor code is to turn anyone in to the Honor Code Office that is being sexually inappropriate so they can face discipline.

Not only is that kinda creepy (like, dude, why are you so interested in someone else's sex life?), but it creates a culture that says it's okay to decide someone else's worth based on their actions and then punish them for said actions that do not in any way affect you. This also leads to a negative conception of sex. And people wonder why Christians have to fight against a guilty conscience concerning their sex life, even after being married.

The sex-positive movement is a movement that is trying to create a new culture which promotes and embraces sexuality all across the spectrum, from asexual to celibate to "sexually promiscuous." It also puts emphasis on consent and safe sex practices.

Sex positive means we acknowledge there is no such things as "sluts". There are women who are more sexually active and there are women who are not. Neither type of person should be shamed for their own choices.

Sex positive means we reject a culture that says if you aren't putting out, you're a prude; but if you've slept with even one guy, you're a whore.

Sex positive means we believe sex is a good thing! It is a gift that God gave us to create life, as well as to become closer to another human being and to experience pleasure.

Sex positive means determining for yourself what sex means to you and not determining it for others.

Sex positive means all sex that is being had should be consensual and safe, and any other factors are no one's business.

Sex positive means I can choose to wait for marriage because of religious convictions and still acknowledge that sex is important and not something to be ashamed of. It also means I can choose not to wait for marriage because of personal choices and that is not something to be ashamed of.

Basically, I'm saying all of this to try and get people to understand that sex is awesome, no matter how or when or with whom you are having it--it just needs to be consensual and safe. Having moral standards surrounding sexual activity is a good thing too, as long as it doesn't lead to bashing or superiority complexes. You don't have to agree with someone to love them.

I want people to also understand that when someone says they are sex positive, that doesn't automatically mean they are going around having sex with every person they meet. Some of the most sex positive women I've met didn't have sex until they were married, and that's great! As this article so wonderfully put it, "being sex positive isn't about encouraging everyone to have tons of sex all the time; it's about understanding that sex should be safe, shame-free and above all, based on informed, personal choices."

Let's get rid of a culture that puts women down for the same actions that are encouraged in men. That is sexism, and it is degrading and harmful. Let's get rid of slut-shaming and the idea that just because you don't agree with someone, that makes you better than them. Ask yourself, "Would Jesus have done this?"

We all need to be a little bit more loving and a lot less judgmental. Christian culture needs to refocus on what Jesus really came to this Earth to teach us: love and understanding and acceptance. He didn't teach us to call each other sluts or whores or prudes. He didn't teach us to shame or label or judge others. We get so caught up in all the rules and standards we think we have to follow in order to be considered a good person, and we forget to simply "love one another as Jesus loves you."

Let's stop the hate. Let's stop the judging. Let's start loving. Let's start being sex positive. Let's start being a little bit more like Jesus.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Coming Out

On the 29th of June, I had the opportunity to travel to Seattle with a very dear friend of mine for one of the biggest events of the year. I was so excited, because this is something I have wanted to attend for awhile now and was not sure I would ever have the chance to do so. But lucky for me, I was indeed able to see in person one of the most well-attended parades to take place each year in Washington. Seattle Pridefest.

I'm sure most of you know what a Pride Parade is, but just in case you don't, Wikipedia is here for you. Basically, it's just a festival to celebrate gender or sexual diversity and how beautiful it is that we have so many different kinds of people living among us. It's a weekend of acceptance, love, and pride in who you were designed to be.

I truly do believe God made us to be exactly who we feel we are and I believe everyone is born with certain traits they will have for the rest of their lives and, most likely, eternity. I believe sexuality and gender are eternal; however, sometimes they might not be what we expect. But isn't that kind of awesome?? Life is exciting and scary and adventurous and surprising and beautiful. It gives me hope to see a world developing that actually recognizes these facts and even embraces them.

Why have we, in past generations (and still today, but slowly and surely that is changing), clung to this fear of people who are different from us? Why do we hesitate when we should be running, grasping, leaping for the opportunity to experience variety in our lives? Roosevelt was so right when he said that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself. It's scary to see a society that still, to some extent, thinks there's nothing wrong with being afraid of another human being simply because they aren't "normal." I'm pretty sure that's one of the things Christ was fighting when he lived on Earth.

With that in mind, I want to admit that I was exactly that type of person about two years ago. One of my best friends at the time came out to me and right away, I tried to convince him to not be gay. Looking back, I can't believe I could ever do that to someone. What the hell was wrong with me? Since when was it okay to tell someone else who they are? I'm having a hard enough time trying to figure out who I am; what makes me think I'm qualified or that I have the right to sit and tell a fellow sibling in Christ their labels and identities are evil, therefore they are evil? That's exactly what is happening when someone comes out and the first words out of a person's mouth are, "homosexuality is a sin." Like....no, dude. That is not your job. That is God's. And others are always telling people like me that God works on His own time schedule, so maybe everyone should stop rushing to do all His dirty work when I have yet to see Him strike any LGBTQ people with lightning.

Our only job as children of God is to show love and charity. You are not going to "fix" anyone or anything by telling them your opinions on LBGTQ rights. No, I don't care if you think it's not your opinion, but scripture; Newsflash: Not everyone believes in the same God. Not everyone believes in a higher power. And religion is all about faith, because that's exactly what all beliefs are based on--faith. Not fact, not evidence. So until you have some sort of physical evidence that your God who believes homosexuality is inherently evil exists without a doubt, everything you have to say on the matter will continue to be opinion. 

Instead of standing in judgment of others and casting the stone when you are not without sin, every member of the LGBTQIA community would appreciate it if, instead, you took some tips on how to react in a helpful and loving way. I especially would appreciate it right now, because I'm about to tell you something I have not yet shared publicly. But here it goes.

I'm bisexual.
Bisexual Pride Flag
Shocked? Not shocked? I've gotten both reactions from the few people I've told so far. It hasn't been surprising for many of my friends that grew up with me, because I've always been very physical and sexual since I was young, but I acted that way with men and women equally. Others have been very confused because, if you know me even a little bit, you know I'm boy crazy. Or at least I was in high school. For that exact reason, I was one of the people who were completely bewildered by this new discovery.

I've always just assumed I was straight because, like I said, I really like men, and I never felt a desire to pursue a woman romantically. Whenever I found a woman attractive, I just figured it was because women tend to be better about acknowledging someone of the same gender's individual beauty. But looking back, I can see all the signs. I definitely had a few female crushes; I just didn't know that's what it was. Yeah, I've kissed a couple girls. And yeah, Katy Perry, I even liked it.

Let me clear up a few things for everyone reading this now, so there are no misunderstandings. Bisexual means you are attracted to people of the opposite and same gender. On average, that usually means being attracted to anyone who identifies as male or female. It does NOT mean I am attracted to anyone regardless of gender. That would be pansexual. These two types of sexuality are not at all the same and those of us who identify with either one would appreciate it if you did not continue thinking so.

The other misconception often made when someone comes out about their sexuality is that their romantic feelings are the same as their sexual ones. This is not always the case, and I am one of those people where it is not. I find women physically and sexually attractive. I find men physically and sexually attractive. However, I have never in the past, nor will I ever in the future, have a desire to pursue a woman romantically. I thought about this for a long time after I learned the differences between gender, sex, orientation, and romanticism. (Please please please watch the video in that link if you are finding it difficult to follow anything I've written so far.) After much pondering, I came to realize that I would never be comfortable having a romantic relationship with a woman and I still very much desire an emotional connection with a man exclusively. So, to all my religious friends out there--don't worry, I'm still gonna marry a dude (assuming I get married at some point).*

If you're having a hard time with all this, I completely understand. Take a minute to follow a few of these suggestions and please feel free to do a little research if you have any other questions. Also, don't think you can't talk to me directly. I'm okay with you asking me anything or telling me how you are feeling.

Please understand: all of this has not changed who I am. I'm still the same person at my core. I will always be the outgoing, out-spoken, confident, loving, inclusive, crazy woman I've always been. And really, that's the most important part. This doesn't mean I lust after all my female friends; I still have a preference like most people do and it definitely does not include most women, or very many women at all honestly (I'm pretty picky). It just means I'm a little bit more open than I was yesterday.

I'm so happy and relieved to understand myself a little better through all this identity crisis and confusion I've been experiencing for the last year. My past makes so much more sense, and my future does too. I'm actually really excited, because I'm a big fan of identities and labels. Some people aren't since, yes, labels can be very harmful. Too often, they are used to force everyone into tiny boxes based on what others want you to be. Labels will often be used against you and give bullies power over you. For these reasons, labels can be dangerous.

However, for me, my labels give me purpose. They give me strength. The moments when we are weakest in life are when we don't know who we are or where we stand, and you'll notice a pattern--those times tend to be when others label you the most. Labeling myself means no one else has that right anymore. Sure, they can try, but it won't matter because I'm not going to subscribe to what others say I should be. No one can say who I am but me. And my labels are what make me who I am.

I am a woman. I am a ginger. I am a Mormon. I am a musician. And I'm bisexual. Those are my labels. That is who I am. You can never take it away from me.


*Sarcastic tone intended.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Bad Habits Are Hard to Break

Recently, I've become more observant of myself and my surroundings as I go about my daily business. The little things that tend to be overlooked have begun to stick out to me like a sore thumb. In case you're interested in a whole bunch of random facts about Keli, here's a list I've compiled thus-far:

1. I always button my shirts top to bottom.
2. I never use the bathroom stall closest to the door.
3. Even though I'm left-handed, I almost always put my pants on right leg first.
4. I flare my nostrils when I'm nervous or uncomfortable.
5. I snort louder than average when laughing around a cute boy.
6. I have to push down all the little bubbles on my drinks every single time.
7. Without fail, I always pick out the ugliest, brightest, most colorful, patterned thing on the rack because I'm the only person ever that would wear it and absolutely love it.
8. I talk about my best friend literally every single day. I just love bragging about how amazing she is.
9. I take compliments from friends and strangers with grace now when I used to combat positive remarks with rebuttals explaining why they were wrong. I've noticed there is a direct correlation between this and my self-confidence and body image.
10. I touch people without their consent more often than I care to admit.

Now, this last not-so-fun fact about me is what I need to address today. I have a bad habit. It is a problem I have had basically my entire life, and I was too ignorant to realize it was indeed an issue until this last year. I have a problem with consent.

I have always been a physical person. My love language is physical touch; the way I express my love for others is physical touch. I like to touch and be touched. I like the feeling of being close to another human being. Every time I touch someone, even if it's slightly more abusive like a punch on the shoulder, I'm doing it because I care about that person. I know this might not make sense to a lot of people, but that's just how I am. When words fail me, I'll reach out a hand to show you I'm there. When words fail you, I'll reach out a hand to convince myself you're there.

I sound like a sappy poet right now.

All I know is physical contact = the stuff I like. But where the problem comes into play is when I take what I want without permission from the other parties involved. And I do that. A lot. So, when I say I have an issue with consent, what that means is I frequently engage physically with other people without verbal permission. That is the definition of physical assault. Yes, I'm embarrassed to say I have assaulted people.

This happens more often than you would expect, because many people do not know what all consent truly entails. Let's make one thing clear: consent is not the absence of a no. Consent is only given when there is a confirmed "yes" statement. Implied consent is not a thing; even Wikipedia admits such an idea is controversial. So, if express consent is not given before engaging in any physical contact with someone, That. Is. Assault. If you don't ask, how do you know whether or not the other party is okay with said physical contact? You don't. Not everyone is going to be able to say no if you don't give them the opportunity to do so. I myself know how difficult it can be to speak up and say "no." But that doesn't mean I ever said yes.

I'm writing all this with the very real knowledge that I often do not follow my own advice. Literally every day, I catch myself touching someone without giving them an opportunity to consent. But at least I'm aware of it now and as hard as it is, I'm trying to change my own patterns. I know this doesn't even begin to make up for the physical and sexual assault I've committed in my lifetime. It's hard for me to admit publicly that I've done such things, but I feel it's necessary in my journey to make things right.

To all the people in middle school, in high school, at church, at college, or anywhere else; to anyone I've made feel uncomfortable or invaded your personal space or assaulted: I am soo so sorry. I know what I've done is not okay. I know I made your safe spaces unsafe. In many cases, I've lost your trust. That is deserved. I don't think I can ever apologize enough to make it right, but I say again: I am truly and deeply mortified at my own actions. I wish I could take them back. I wish I had understood consent years ago. I wish, after learning about consent, I had actually applied it to my life right away.

I'm sorry to anyone I've hurt. I'm sorry for acting like I don't care about other people. I'm sorry I have not censored my actions in order to protect those around me. I want you to know that I really, truly and deeply do care about you and people in general. I know my actions have not shown that, and again I am so very sorry. I am doing my best to correct that and not repeat the same mistakes.

I'm sorry for my choices that have hurt and endangered others. I apologize to those who have tried to help me that I ignored and did not appreciate. I wish I would have listened. Please know how much I really do appreciate what you've done for me when I didn't deserve it.

I've lost many of my good friends' trust because of these and all my sins done toward them. I don't deserve your trust, but I hope someday I can earn it back. I want to be trusted. I want to be caring and considerate like I know I can be. I'm trying. I'm changing. Bad habits are hard to break, but no good thing in life is easy. This is something I'm going to have to always be conscious of and I'll probably slip up from time to time. Please call me out on it. I can't do this without you.

To those of you reading this, I care about you. I love you. I respect you. And because you deserve the utmost respect, I promise to work on this struggle of mine. I promise to listen when you call me out. I promise to be humble and admit my mistakes. I promise to be responsible for my actions. I promise to put others' safety before my own. I promise to think about the people around me. I promise to be less selfish. And most important of all, I promise to do my best in following the rules of consent.

Thank you to those who have stuck around. Thank you to those who have been honest with me. Thank you to those who have called me out on my shit. It really is what I needed. And the next time I see you, I'll say, "Hi, I've missed you. Thank you for all you have done for me. May I give you a hug?"

I hope you say yes.