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.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

There Is No Room for Me Here

On Wednesday, my whole world was flipped on its head. I have been rocked to my core and the news of this week has shocked me so bad, I've become numb to what I am feeling. How can this be happening?

On June 11th, the New York Times publicized an event now widespread throughout the Mormon community. News of the threatened excommunication of two members in our society has saddened and even infuriated many supporters of Ordain Women and followers of Mormon Stories. The founders of these websites and movements, Kate Kelly and John Dehlin, will soon be tried before all male councils concerning their membership in the LDS church.

Yes, you read that right. A modern day church thinks it has the right to treat members of its own body like our justice system treats a criminal. On the grounds of speaking their own opinion. My church thinks men have the right to sit and judge another child of Christ based on the irrelevant fact that they don't like what she and he have to say. My church thinks so-called "apostasy" is all the excuse they need to void God-sanctioned covenants and ordinances. My church thinks it is okay to reverse someone's baptism, making their commitment to God null and causing that person to no longer be saved. And the leadership of the LDS church doesn't see how awful and truly evil that is.

The most inconceivable part of this whole ordeal is that those trying Kate Kelly will not even give her the opportunity to defend herself. They will be holding her case after she has already moved out of the state. And they did it on purpose. Kate was notified by her bishop subsequent to her move and can do nothing about it because her former leaders held her records so that the trial must be held in her previous stake. But that's okay. 'Cause these men are led by God, after all.

I looked up the definition of apostasy. This is what Google dictionary told me:
"The abandonment or renunciation of a religious or political belief."

I also looked up renunciation for good measure:
"The formal rejection of something, typically a belief, claim, or course of action."

Maybe I'm off my rocker, but I don't remember Kate Kelly or John Dehlin ever abandoning or formally rejecting the Mormon church. In fact, both of these amazing people have done the exact opposite. They are advocates in the church. They love this gospel so much that they want to do their part to make it better. Isn't that was Jesus did when he walked the earth? Did he not challenge authority and shun the parts of the church he did not agree with? Did he not implement changes and teach the masses new revelation? Did he not break the law, all in the name of goodness? Was he not a revolutionary?

My church is punishing Kate and John for doing exactly what Jesus did. For what he would be doing if he was still here. It is absolutely insane. Does that seem like something people led by God would do? Punish those whom they view as a threat? It is obvious Kate and John are no longer wanted in the church. And it makes me wonder whether I am anymore either.

I call shit out when I see it. And there's a lot of shit in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, just like there is in every other church on this planet. It is not a perfect entity. We do not know everything. If Mormons truly had the full truth like many of them want to believe, then we wouldn't be receiving new revelation every day and we wouldn't need modern day prophets. But suddenly the idea that an individual can be Mormon, and still form their own opinions and not believe every little thing we're taught in the church means we're "apostate." Apparently, disagreeing with certain dogma = publicly rejecting an entire church. Well. It's probably time you all knew.

I GUESS I'M APOSTATE.

I'm so blasphemous, I know. I'm also incredibly sarcastic. I like to make jokes. But here's what I'm not joking about: I no longer feel wanted in the church I was raised in. The culture shuns me, the people look down on me, and my beliefs are constantly ridiculed. Being a feminist at BYU or anywhere in the world of Mormons is akin to being a follower of Satan. I haven't felt a sense of community at church since I was sixteen. But I thought maybe it was just me. Maybe it was just my ward. Maybe it was just my freshman building. I'm sad to say this week has shown me the truth. It is not me. It's you, Mormon church.

I am not the problem. You are. I am not the one who needs to change. You are. I am not the one pushing people away. You are. There is no room for me. You've made that very clear. You lie and I'm done falling for those lies. I deserve to be wanted and appreciated and respected. But you don't respect me. You don't appreciate me. And you definitely don't want me.

It's time for you to change. It's time for you to listen. Until you do that, more and more people are going to leave. Including me. Please don't let it come to that.

Please give me a reason to stay. I'm begging you. Please prove me wrong. Please give me a space to occupy. Please show me there is still room. I'm not going to wait much longer. I'm still here for now. I'm hoping. I'm praying.

I'm waiting.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Ask Me About the Time I Was Assaulted

As many of you know from seeing the #YesAllWomen hashtag on social media, women across the nation and in other countries have turned the UCSB tragedy into an opportunity to spread awareness about sexism and sexual assault in our society today. I participated in this, and you can read my thoughts on the matter here. Some women even took huge risks and shared publicly their own personal experiences with harassment. These women willingly opened themselves up to reliving traumatic life events. Many of them have and will be ridiculed for their voluntary vulnerability. I ask those of you reading this to treat these women with the respect they deserve and to be understanding of their struggles and emotions as they choose to share a part of their lives they are not obligated to share with anyone. I admire them so much and I thank them for their bravery.

Because yes. All women live in fear of men. All women have been told their bodies are an object and a temptation. All women have been blamed for men's shortcomings. All women have experienced sexual harassment. Some women might not be aware that they have.

I am one of these women. For years, I blamed myself. I truly believed it was my fault and so did everyone else. I avoided talking about it for so long because all I could feel was guilt and self-hatred. It wasn't until almost exactly two years ago when I met someone who truly cared about me that I was able to open up. This person helped me to realize my worth and to understand I am not broken. He taught me how to be real and vulnerable and how to trust again. Because of him, I know now it was not my fault.

Being able to talk openly about the time I was sexually assaulted has helped me to deal with it in a healthy way. However, that doesn't make it easy. Please understand how much it's taken for me to get to this point where I can write publicly about these events. I'm going to be sharing intimate details here, and if you cannot continuing reading, that's okay. It might be very triggering for some of you, so please be sure to put your own emotional health first and stop reading now if you are unsure how it might affect you. But if you're still with me, I just ask that you be as understanding as possible, and be respectful of me and my experiences.

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I was fourteen years old. I was a freshman in high school and dealing with a lot of confusing emotions, as well as severe body image issues. At this time in my life, I was also not getting along well with my parents, as it was the first time we had lived together without my brother around. He had left for college in August and I was struggling with the adjustment of him not being home. I had no close friends and had recently dealt with rejection from a boy I thought I was in love with. I say all of this to paint a picture of basically: I was a typical teenage girl and life sucked.

I've never been someone that naturally emotes well, so instead of talking through my problems, I chose to lash out and rebel against humanity. Mostly my parents. I would do pretty much the exact opposite of whatever they told me to do in an effort to somehow assert my agency and individuality. Oh, teenagers.

A friend of mine's brother had recently returned home from a mission for the Church of Jesus of Latter-Day Saints, better known as the Mormon church. I don't remember how or why (and I'd rather not), but he began texting and messaging me. He flirted with me. I reveled in the attention. An older man thought I was pretty. I was actually good enough for someone.

He propositioned me for a hook up of sorts. In rebellion of my parents and everything I thought I knew, I made a mistake I wish every day I could take back. I said yes. He responded with surprise, but still agreed to meeting me. He came to my home and picked me up to attend a local musical. After the show, we went back to his car. What happened after that is very difficult for me to write and I'm filled with embarrassment, but I need to say this.

We made out. I had never kissed a boy besides my brother before this. I didn't know what I was doing. I was scared and the whole time I was just thinking how stupid he must think I am. I'm inexperienced and not making him happy. I thought I owed him pleasure.

He pressured me into touching his genitals. I had never seen a penis before, let alone touched one. At this point, I was so incredibly uncomfortable, it was cloying. I felt like I couldn't breathe. He undressed me and fondled my chest. I knew right away I did not like that at all but I couldn't say anything because I was afraid of upsetting him.

The worst part was when he reached his hand between my legs. I barely understood my own body at this point, being a fourteen year old who hadn't even had her period for a year yet. And here was a man touching my vagina without my permission. I sat there frozen, shocked into a stupor. I had no idea how to respond. A part of me was still clinging to the attention I was receiving from a man--any man--so I thought maybe I liked it and was just afraid because I had never done anything like this before. But deep down, I knew this was wrong and I didn't want to do it again.

Eventually, he took me home. Before he let me out of the car, he made me promise something.

"You're not gonna go tattling to anybody, are you?"

All the confidence I had in myself went out the window in that moment. With one question, he reduced be back to the pubescent teenage girl I was. Someone who would tattle. That was the last thing on earth I wanted to be: a little baby who tattles to her mommy. There was no way. I wasn't going to tell anyone. I was going to prove to him I wasn't some little girl. I was mature and important and trustworthy. I still had value.

I lived with my secret for four months. I started to feel worse and worse about myself. Someone had touched me. I wasn't "pure" anymore. Who in the world would want me? No one. That's who. I wasn't worthy of love. I wasn't worthy of affection. I wasn't worthy of the attention I craved anymore. And if no man would ever want me, then I must not be worth anything. I truly believed that. That's how so many Mormon and Christian girls grow up feeling because we're taught this false dichotomy that staying chaste is equivalent to keeping our individual worth. And if we make one mistake, one slip up....it's all over. We can never be forgiven for throwing away our virtue.

I finally broke down and told my bishop during a temple interview. He was very kind about the whole thing. But no bishop is perfect and I think he just didn't know how to handle the situation. I still blamed myself, so he assumed I was indeed to blame. He said I needed to go two months without partaking of the bread and water or participating in church activities. He encouraged me to tell my parents, so I did. They handled it much better than I expected. They were loving and kind and supported me through it all. I am forever grateful for that.

Unfortunately, the entire experience did nothing but further solidify in my mind the idea that it was my fault. The "repentance process" wasn't helpful; it was hurtful. I was being punished for a twenty-one year old man taking advantage of an extremely vulnerable and emotional fourteen year old girl. An underage girl. Below the legal age of consent. He NEVER should have touched me. It doesn't matter if I had literally thrown myself on him. He never should have touched me because I was fucking fourteen.

Three years I spent hating myself. Thinking I was less than all the girls at church. Believing I would never get a boyfriend or get married because I was damaged goods. I just thank my God in Heaven I met the man who changed my life around when I did; otherwise I might very well still be in that hole of self-loathing.

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I am sharing this now because it is something everyone should know. You need to be aware that this happens every day. What I went through is not abnormal. Every woman you know has experienced something similar. And it's not okay.

I'm so grateful for the brave men and women in my life that still value and love me. Because of them, I am able to talk about this and hopefully I will impact someone else's life. If I can do that, maybe then we have a shot at making a difference. Maybe we can save one woman from having to go through what I did. Maybe we can stop it from ever happening again.

And maybe someday I won't feel the need to convince you, and myself, that I still have worth.