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. 


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.