Saturday, April 23, 2016

I'll Pee by You

(Artist: Matese Fields)

Dear transgender people,

I’ll pee in the stall next to you anytime.

You see, I’m concerned about being attacked by a sexual predator in a public restroom. I’m guessing you are too considering 64 percent of transgender people will experience sexual assault in their lifetime. I’m cisgender, so I can only imagine what that feels like. I empathize though, as a bisexual woman I am twice as likely to experience sexual assault and three times as likely to be raped, most likely by a cisgender male. Statistically speaking, you and I are targets for sexual assault.

Don’t get me wrong. I love cisgender men. I married one, I came from one and I have two sons myself. I love my family and want to keep my children safe. I’m sure you’re concerned about the wellbeing of your children too, considering roughly 41 percent of transgender people are parents.

Let’s be logical though, the odds of you or me getting assaulted by a stranger in a public restroom are very small. In 8 out of 10 cases of sexual assault the victim already knows the person who sexually assaulted them. We are more likely to be assaulted by a known friend, family member, or by a classmate on a college campus, than by a stranger at a shopping center.

I don’t see how disallowing you from peeing in the stall next to me is going to keep you, me, and my children any safer from a cisgender male predator. Anyone, regardless of apparel, can walk into the ladies’ restroom and assault us at anytime.

You know what they say, though. We like to think that we arrive at a decision by using rational thought and trustworthy data, but in reality humans tend to rely on appeals to emotion. I’m sure there are people who could dispute the studies, numbers, and data that support my logic, but in the end it’s a matter of trust. I trust you to protect me and I hope you trust me to protect you.

I’d love to chat longer, but I’m on my way out the door to Target.

Sincerely yours, 
Cisgender woman 

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Stop Silencing Victims

(Artist: Volkan Olmez)

I was sexually assaulted by two Mormon classmates when I was sixteen years old. We were on our way to the school parking lot when one of them groped my body and breasts without my permission. The other one just laughed. I was paralyzed by confusion and fear. Luckily, a friend saw us and told them to leave me alone.

Afterward, I felt horrible. Perhaps I did something wrong? I victim blamed myself, rerunning the usual questions in my mind, “Did I give them the wrong impression? Was it something I was wearing? No, it couldn’t be. I was wearing jeans and a long sleeved shirt. Was it my makeup? Did I look at him the wrong way?”

I concluded it was best not to tell anyone. I didn’t want anyone to get into trouble, including me, and more importantly I wanted these horrible feelings to go away. But the victim blaming persisted.

You see, when you victim blame yourself it produces a false sense of empowerment. I told myself, “If I can just isolate what I did to bring this upon myself then I can stop it from happening again. I’m in control. I can stop this. I will not be the victim again.”

This couldn’t be further from the truth. No amount of rationalizing was going to change the fact that I was assaulted and it can happen again. This is a difficult conclusion to reach because it requires recognizing one’s own vulnerability. I had to accept this wasn’t my fault. They did this to me. I can’t stop it by not wearing make-up or wearing different clothing, or never smiling at another guy. Victim blaming will not empower me.

However, recognizing vulnerability should not be confused with weakness. There is strength in recognizing vulnerability because it can empower a person to overcome physical and social obstacles.

Recently, a very specific vulnerability has been exposed in the BYU Honor Code. Victims of sexual assault are not getting the adequate assistance they need for fear of being punished during the process of confronting their assault. The victim blaming and rape culture that is harvested by the implementation of the BYU Honor Code is real and it is doing very little to attack the real enemy. The enemy is not clothing, modesty, women’s bodies, or even the Honor Code. The enemy is the dehumanizing subjugation of another human being during and after a rape or sexual assault. Sadly, victim blaming after the assault is a toxic perpetuation of injury that can be just as painful as the assault itself. This is the enemy—apathy toward human suffering.

I understand there are concerns about offering Honor Code immunity to sexual assault and rape victims. I understand there is a possibility of people abusing that immunity by staying in an apartment past curfew, wearing “immodest” clothing, or drinking alcohol. However, the risk of these offenses is miniscule when compared to the current Honor Code policy that enables victim blaming, discourages women from coming forward, and empowers sexual predators.

I love BYU. My husband and I have many happy memories there. It is a wonderful school, and there is also room for improvement. The university recently stated “Brigham Young University cares deeply about the safety of our students. When a student reports a sexual assault, our primary focus is on the well-being of the victim.” I trust they mean well and I want to trust this statement. However, these words will be most meaningful when they deliver tangible results. In a time when sexual assault and victim blaming are running rampant on campuses across the nation, BYU is in a position to set an example worth following.

Today at the BYU: Stop Silencing Victims Demonstration I participated in handing over 90,000 signatures of people who support granting Honor Code immunity to victims. I remain hopeful that our common concern of “the well-being of the victims” will lead us to constructive and improved resolutions.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Faith in Truth

I believe truth to be of paramount importance. Myths, legends, religions and stories can be useful means of creating and discovering truth, but if not approached thoughtfully impractical narratives can lead to grave falsities.

Disillusionment is an important step toward a more practical and effective faith. Fundamentalists on both ends of the spectrum may contend that faith cannot be independent of superstition, supernaturalism, and literalism—that in order to remain faithful a person must obediently reject rationality, logic or new evidence. However, to reject evidence, truth, and knowledge would be counterproductive to what many Mormons refer to as, exaltation. Transhumanists might call it transcendence.

President J. Reuben Clark once said, “If we have truth, it cannot be harmed by investigation. If we have not truth, it ought to be harmed.” (The Church Years, pg 24)

In order for a humanity to find truth we must question, petition, and investigate individually and collectively. Our biblical narratives encourage individuals who lack wisdom to inquire and they will receive knowledge liberally. When Adam and Eve partook of the fruit of knowledge in the Garden of Eden “…the LORD God said, Behold,the man is become as one of us.” Our ability to increase in truth and knowledge is suggested to be essential to becoming posthuman or God. Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles reinforces this theme, "Knowledge is essential to our understanding of the purpose of mortal life and of oureternal destiny as resurrected beings after mortal life."

Even though it seems that the Mormonism described in this passage is lost in the wake of disciplinary councils or excommunications, this is the Mormonism that inspires me. I still have faith in truth.