Through a glass, dimly

In their book Writing The Other, Nisi Shawl and Cynthia Ward talk about how to avoid building characters that are mere stereotypes. This is especially tough for secondary characters, because we tend to see them only through the eyes of viewpoint characters, so we may only get a very shallow look at who they are:

Generally, a secondary character has one main character trait. However, a secondary character shouldn’t be that one trait exclusively. Neither should all the secondary character’s few illustrated traits point to the same ROAARS [Race, Orientation, Ability, Age, Religion, Sex] category. That makes a stereotype of even the most minor of “bit players.”

I took their workshop in June, and I’ve been thinking about this a lot since–especially in light of my own transition to Plain Dress. I’m getting used to people making assumptions about me because of the way I dress. I’m getting used to people staring, photographing me without my permission, and asking me about what my deal is, because my clothing is unusual. It’s a Marked State.

Nisi and Cynthia’s advice about writing secondary characters so their traits don’t all line up with stereotypes rings very true to me, in light of this experience. I’ve seen how laughably wrong people’s assumptions can be.

It is weird to me how many folks seem to rail against such a sensible suggestion–I’ve heard it called “PC bull” that “distracts from the story” over the wailing of “but stereotypes exist for a reason.”

Indeed, they do. That reason is confirmation bias.

If you only see me occasionally, or in transactional contexts, you’re going to notice that I’m a plain Quaker. I wear long sleeves. I cover my hair. I don’t drink alcohol. I make an effort to recognize the humanity in others, even when I’m having a bad day–not because I’m saintly but because I’m really, really not, and dressing the way I do can remind me of my commitment to being a good person when nothing else does. I can be stringent about my religious beliefs, and I’m not afraid to quote the bible if I think it’ll get someone off my case about not taking oaths or using honorifics. If you see me only through a mirror, dimly, it is easy to imagine that the parts of me occluded by the old glass line up in ways that you expect with the parts that show.

I know because I’ve watched people imagine this. I’ve watched them peer at me through their clouded glass and interact with the reflection their mind has made of me, instead of with the real me in front of them.

We are all accustomed to not knowing much about people we’ve just met. But the more marked your state, the less likely people are to know how little they know about you–their mind fills in the space behind the flaws in their glass so seamlessly that they forget the flaws are there at all. They’ll believe their picture of you is much more complete than it really is.

As we get to know people, the view through our glass naturally shifts–we see them from more than one angle, and in different lights. Through this process, we learn to see around the flaws in our glass to what’s actually there.

I have a motorcycle.

The plain clothes I wear are actually typical of men’s plain dress, not women’s, because women’s plain dress made me feel out of place in my skin.

I’m a computer programmer.

I’m bisexual, but that’s never been a crisis of faith for me. God made me this way, and God doesn’t make trash.

I cuss.

A lot.

I’m trying to stop, but it’s an ingrained habit.

There’s not much of the bible I can quote without looking it up. And by ‘looking it up,’ I mean ‘with google,’ because I can’t remember where anything is in there.

This summer, I went to a science museum with some friends, including two other plain Quakers. I bought a plush space shuttle from the gift shop. Shortly after leaving, I realized the space shuttle looked like a penis (seriously, it does). I giggled about this, because I’m secretly twelve, and the others started giggling too. Another member of our party didn’t get what was so funny, so one of my plain compatriots explained the joke by, uh, gesturing with the toy.

A cab driver stopped at a red light nearby nearly died laughing. “You’re so bad!” he called, before driving away. We laughed. Even from a distance, the cab driver could tell the toy designers were having a laugh at the expense of unobservant shoppers.

Later, I realized that what made it so funny to the cab driver probably wasn’t the toy, or even the pantomime. It was that my friend was making a lewd joke while plain.

No one expects people in religious dress to make dick jokes.

Some of us do it anyway.

It would be easy to dismiss me as ‘an exception that proves the rule,’ but that’s confirmation bias as well. The saying doesn’t actually mean ‘prove’ as in ‘confirm.’ It means ‘prove’ as in ‘test, challenge–‘ if you’ve found one exception, how many others might there be? If you’ve met one butch bisexual feminist Quaker biker with a pottymouth and a gutterbrain, how many other plain Quakers might be people you don’t expect? None of these traits are unique to me. For each one, I can name another Quaker who shares the trait.

We can’t always repair the flaws in the glass through which we see the world. These scratches, clouds, and nicks are borne of a lifetime of conditioning.

But when we’re aware of them, we can look around them–shift our view and actively look for the things confirmation bias would have us discard. It’s hard work, but rewarding. We live far more interesting lives if we interact with people face to face, instead of through a dim glass.

And you never know what kinds of jokes your glass obscures.

How To Ask Me About My Cover

Yes, that's Tux in the background. Good catch, you.Yes, that's Tux in the background. Good catch, you.
Yes, that’s Tux in the background. Good catch, you.

I wear religious dress. (Quakers call this “plain dress”). Sometimes, people ask me about my clothes or my religion. Most folks are very polite and respectful, and I’m usually happy to answer.

But I’ve also had to put up with a lot of bad behavior. Even innocent curiosity can cause a few moments of stress while I figure out if the person asking is genuinely curious, or if they’re just trying to engage me in conversation so they can be a jerk.

I want to talk a little bit about how to approach these questions respectfully. I’m not the Voice Of All People In Religious Dress, but I’ve user-tested this conversation enough times to have run into many of the common user experience bugs. So if you’re curious about someone’s religious dress and you want to ask about it without making the person uncomfortable, here are some ways to avoid the common pitfalls.

0. Be Mindful of Power Differentials.

Questions about religion have the potential to be fraught and uncomfortable. If I’m not at liberty to refuse to answer you, or may feel that I’m not at liberty to refuse, you should think long and very hard about where the burden of your curiosity should lie. Teachers, bosses, and law enforcement officers should be especially careful here. If you’re in a position of power and not absolutely sure of your rapport with the person you’re asking, it’s best to just not ask.

1. Choose your moment.

Asking people about religion can be personal, but before we even get to that, it’s still striking up a conversation with someone, and all the normal rules apply. Take a second to consider whether I look like I’m interested in a conversation with you. Am I rushing to get somewhere? Am I using body language or other clear signals (book, earbuds) that say ‘leave me alone?’ Am I already in the middle of another conversation?

When I’m at restaurants with other plain-dressed Quakers, people routinely come up to our table and interrupt us mid-sentence to ask why we’re dressed the way we are. Follow-up questions about what Quakerism is and what we believe are common. Sometimes I just want to have a nice meal with my friends and family without having to table for Quakerism to complete strangers.

2. Ask if you can ask.

If I seem receptive to conversing with you (or better yet, if we’re already conversing, or have done so in the past), ask me if I want to talk about my religion. It helps to phrase it in a way that makes your intentions clear. People sometimes bring this up because they want to start an argument. I appreciate it when people open with something like “I’m curious about your head-covering, but I don’t want to be disrespectful. Is it okay for me to ask about it?”

When you’ve asked, respect my answer. If I’m not up for it at the present moment but I’m okay talking to you about it later or in a different context, I’ll tell you so. Also, I may be up for a quick question, but not a lengthy theological discussion–when I tell you I’m done, I’m done.

3. Don’t argue with me.

I’m not going to try to convert you or tell you how to dress, and I expect the same courtesy. Curiosity is normal, but telling me I’m wrong to dress the way I do is incredibly presumptuous. I’m also not interested in debating my beliefs or politics with strangers in this context.

4. Be careful with assumptions.

The assumptions I get about my clothes range from the benign (mistaking me for an actor in costume) to the tiresome (launching into a tirade about my assumed politics without stopping to say hello first).

I don’t tend to care when someone asks me what play I’m dressed for, but they usually look super embarrassed when I tell them it’s not a costume, and then I have to assure them that they didn’t offend me, and it’s all quite awkward. You also shouldn’t open with “are you [name of religion]?” It’s easy to guess wrong, and keep in mind what I said about making your intentions clear–I’m unlikely to answer that question unless I know why you’re asking.

If you make assumptions about my politics and try to start arguments based on those assumptions, I might troll you. I’m not sorry. You know what they say about assumptions.

I’m not trying to scare people off asking. I’m quite a geek about religion, and we all know that geeks like opportunities to geek out. Just, you know. Treat me like a person, not a walking Google search, and we’ll get along fine.

Get Your Fake Conscience Objections Off My Lawn

NOTE: If you see the full text of this post on any site but this one, it has been reprinted without my permission.

Conscientious Objectors using hand tools to create a fire line.Conscientious Objectors using hand tools to create a fire line.

Conscientious Objectors using hand tools to create a fire line.

The Green Family, owners of the Hobby Lobby chain of craft stores, has asked the US Supreme Court to grant them ‘conscience protection,’ exempting them from their obligations under the Affordable Care Act. They claim that their religious convictions don’t allow them to cover employees’ birth control.

As it happens, I know a little something about conscience protection. I’m a Quaker–one of the groups for whom the first conscience protection laws were created.

Back in 2011, I wrote:

As a Quaker, I believe in Conscience Protection. I believe people should have the right to refuse work that violates their principles. If a draft were called tomorrow, I would wholeheartedly support people’s right not to serve.

But if someone serving in the military came to me and said they wanted me to defend their right to refuse military service, but that they also wanted to keep their job and be paid as if they were actually serving in combat, I would laugh in their face.

A pharmacist demanding the right to keep their job even if they refuse to dispense legal medication is like a Marine demanding to keep their job even if they refuse to follow lawful orders. That’s not “conscience protection,” that’s a handout to someone who wants to be paid not to work.

I feel the same way about Hobby Lobby’s Affordable Care Act stunt.

I will refrain from asking where Hobby Lobby gets the nerve to claim ‘conscience’ when their shelves are full of products from countries with appalling labor laws. I won’t even ask which version of the bible they’re reading where Matthew 25.36 reads “I was sick and you sued not to cover my medical care.”

Instead, I want to know exactly where they’re getting the idea that conscience protections are a consequence-free exemption from legal obligations.

During World War II, men who refused conscription for reasons of conscience didn’t get to go back to their normal lives. They were conscripted instead for difficult, dangerous jobs. They served as forest fire fighters (including smoke jumpers), psych ward orderlies, and subjects in medical testing.

That program formed the basis of the Alternative Service Program used during the Korean and Vietnam wars. If a draft were called tomorrow, the Alternative Service Program would start right back up again.

And Alternative Service applies to work that people are required to actually carry out themselves, not to things they’re only required to pay for.

Every year, I pay taxes to the United States government. I tell myself that I’m paying for roads and schools; food for hungry families and head start programs.

I am, of course. But I’m also paying for Guantanamo Bay.

I’m paying for two wars, and for racist immigration laws.

I’m paying for drone strikes, including those that kill and maim children.

I’m paying for federal executions, and for lawyers to argue that the government is not obligated to provide comprehensive medical care to Chelsea Manning.

I’m paying for the prison industrial complex.

All of those things violate my religious beliefs.

And if I refused to pay my taxes because of that? I would go to jail.

There are Quakers whose consciences really won’t permit them to pay federal taxes. Many of them manage that by making sure they don’t make enough money to incur tax liability. They live on far less than they could earn if they were willing to pay taxes, but they’re willing to make that sacrifice, because their conscience demands it.

Now along comes Hobby Lobby, demanding a consequence-free exemption to paying for birth control on the grounds that it violates their conscience.

Back in 2011, I wrote:

If your conscience prohibits you from dispensing legal medication, then your conscience prevents you from being a pharmacist. Full stop.

If your conscience prohibits you from performing abortions, then your conscience forbids you from taking a position where abortions are part of the job. Full stop.

I know firsthand that it can be hard to pass up opportunities that violate your conscience. But that is the price you pay for conscientious objection.

If you’re not willing to pay that price, you’re not a Conscientious Objector. Full stop.

If the Green family’s conscience really forbids them from meeting their legal obligations under the Affordable Care Act, then they have the option to arrange their lives so as not to incur those obligations. They can choose not to run a two billion dollar corporation.

But if they’re not willing to make those sacrifices–if their ‘conscience’ only compels them so far as they can follow it for free–then they are not conscientious objectors.

And they and their fake conscience objection can get the hell off my lawn.

NOTE: If you see the full text of this post on any site but this one, it has been reprinted without my permission.

Going Plain

On and off through my adult life, I’ve been carrying what Quakers call a ‘leading’ –a spiritual calling–to take up Quaker Plain Dress. In college, I did an independent study on Plain Dress that involved taking it up for a while, and I came this close to committing to it as a lifestyle. Plain Dress was very grounding, for me. I don’t want to get too theological about it at the moment, but suffice it to say that it helped remind me of the person that I wanted to be. In a bunch of little ways, it made it easier for me to live my Quaker values.

I laid the leading aside at the time because plain dress is a big commitment when you’re trying to break into the workforce, especially in a tough economy. But I always told myself I’d revisit the leading if my circumstances changed. Over the years since, the leading has revisited me quite a lot. My bookmarked plain dress resources made their way into my browser history every few weeks.

My professional circumstances have indeed changed, and pretty significantly. I’m now in a profession where employee dress codes are practically unheard-of. But even if I was still working in a formal office environment, I’ve come to a place where I think I’d try to make it work anyway. Among Friends, a leading isn’t a thing you necessarily want to do; it’s a thing God is telling you to do. I’ve been answering that call with “okay, but later.” And while I wasn’t looking, I arrived at later. It’s time.

I’ve started putting together a ‘look board’ to work off of as I construct my plain wardrobe. Since I’m making my own clothes, I have a lot of leeway in coming up with a style that works for me. What I’ve settled on is a fusion of traditional plain styles and what Quaker Jane calls “modern plain.” I’m trying for a look that is identifiably plain, but still modern enough that it’s not going to cause problems for me as a woman in the Tech industry.

So I’m off to go buy some fabric. I’m pretty excited.

‘My Quakerism’ Responses, Take II

My Quakerism Will Be Feminist and Anti-Racist or It Will Be Bullshit got shared around on Facebook again after I wrote what I thought was the wrap-up. It’s now sitting at more than 700 unique views, which is, um. A lot more traffic than my blog posts usually get.

The overwhelming majority of the second round of comments got approved. I really appreciate the support, folks. It means a lot.

The comments that got moderated mostly fit into one of these two categories:

1. The commenter wanted to debate the existence of ‘reverse racism.’

Those were not approved because, per the comment policy on the original post, I didn’t want the conversation derailed.

Having to stop and explain basic concepts (like the definition of racism) to every new person who walks in the door is a huge obstacle to those trying to discuss racism beyond the 101 ‘this is a real thing in the real world’ level. If you can see this post, then you have the technology to educate yourself about these issues, using either the links in the original post or your favorite search engine. If you need a basic introduction to racism, I strongly suggest you seek one out.

Why am I spending an entire paragraph telling you to google it instead of just explaining why reverse racism doesn’t exist? Quite simply, because the expectation that I will answer the question is born of white privilege.

As white people, we live in a world that privileges our opinions about race and racism, while downplaying as ‘biased’ and ‘anecdotal’ the lived experiences of those who experience racism firsthand. If someone shows up at our Quaker Meetings and says ‘you guys are racist’ and we don’t want to hear that, all we have to do is ignore them. They can’t do anything to change us or our communities without our participation, so if we don’t want to leave our comfort zone and listen to them, we don’t have to.

People of color do not have the privilege to walk away. Racism affects them every day, in ways both great and small. It’s not something they can ignore when it’s inconvenient or stressful (which it is for them more often, and to a greater degree, than it ever is for us).

When you have the privilege to walk away from a conversation and the other party doesn’t, you control that conversation. You get to decide whether the other person is ‘too emotional,’ or whether or not you like their ‘tone.’ You even get to set the standard of evidence you’ll accept before acknowledging the facts they live with every day of their life.

One of the ways that privilege manifests itself is white people entering conversations about racism and taking it as a matter of course that we can change the subject. If we still need the basics explained to us, we ask, fully expecting that everyone else will stop the conversation they’re trying to have and educate us. If we decide we want to ‘play devil’s advocate,’ we can just start doing it, without even considering whether or not the other party wants to be our partner in an academic debate about the truth of their lived experience. If something that comes up in the conversation upsets us, we can refuse to discuss the matter further until the other party apologizes–which often leads to the absurd circumstance of white folks demanding people of color apologize for saying that racism exists, and that white people perpetuate it. If our conditions are not met, we can just walk away, insisting that the other party is being ‘reverse-racist’ for not considering our feelings.

If you actually care about racism–if you want to be an ally to people of color, and create spaces that are welcoming to them–then step one is not exercising your privilege to walk away. If someone’s calling you out, listen. Think about what they’re saying. Participate in the conversation on their terms. If that takes you out of your comfort zone, then step on out, and accept that discomfort as the gift that it is. Always assume that what someone is telling you about their lived experience is their truth. If listening to that truth makes you realize your actions haven’t matched your intentions, acknowledge it. Apologize. Do better. Do it enough, and your comfort zone will grow. Take another step.

If you listen and you still can’t reconcile their truth with your own, keep listening. Remember that you–and everyone else–has been conditioned to privilege your experience of a situation over the experiences of people of color. Resist the urge to do that. Assume that you’re missing something before you assume that the other person’s truth is invalid.

Early Quakers didn’t speak of the inner light as a warm, fluffy ball of love. They saw it as a hard light–one that shines on us and illuminates our flaws so that we can see and work on them. They acknowledged that spiritual nakedness as a gift from God–and it is. It’s the unwavering belief that every one of us is capable of doing better. Embrace that. Listen. Educate yourself. Don’t hide your light under a bushel on the assumption that you can’t.

Everything I just said also applies to men and sexism (and straight folks and heterosexism, able-bodied folks and ablism, cis folks and cissexism, etc). Which brings us, in a round-about way, to the second category of comment that didn’t get approved:

2. The commenter suggested that I’d be much happier if I’d just [forgive everyone/stop letting assholes rent space in my brain].

The idea that people can’t make us feel inferior without our consent is meant to be empowering, I know. What it actually does is place the responsibility for both hurt and healing squarely–and exclusively–on the injured party’s shoulders.

Recent anti-bullying campaigns have finally started wising people up to the idea that ‘just ignore them and they’ll go away’ is not a winning strategy. It is, as I explained in point 1, a strategy that only works for those with social power, not those who are hurting for lack of it.

Forgiveness is part of the healing process. It’s pretty hard to heal when the wound is constantly being re-opened. My community is hurting me, and I’m not a failure for asking them to stop.

If I sound angry, it’s because I am. But I’m not speaking up because I’m angry. I’ve been angry–and silent–for years. I’m speaking up because my silence on these issues does not serve God. I’m speaking up now because I’ve finally found enough grace and trust to believe that doing so will make a difference. I’m no longer willing to pay my faith community the insult of assuming that I have to rise above our failings because we can’t face them.

F(f)riends should be honest with each other.

I honestly believe that Friends can do better.

‘My Quakerism’ Post Responses, Thus Far

My last post got a bit more traffic than I was expecting.

It saw just over 200 unique visitors in the first twenty-four hours, and it’s now up to 300. That’s, um. More traffic than I normally get.

First of all, I just want to say that I’m a little floored by the response. It’s really gratifying to hear from others who feel the same way about these issues.

I also put myself out there in a pretty major way by telling my own story, and spent most of the weekend physically sick with dread that someone was going to be a jerk about that. So far, no one has been. My defenses on that front are still jacked up to 11 and are likely to stay that way for a good long while, but I’m starting to have hope that they won’t have to be forever. Which is…’nice’ isn’t the word. There’s probably a German portmanteau for “this s— sandwich tastes much better than it could have.”

A big thank-you for all the supportive comments, hugs, re-tweets, and hell-yeahs. They mean a lot. I do want to go back and respond to comments, but it might be a little while before there’s room in my brain to do so.

One common thread I’ve seen in a lot of the response is a desire for next steps–how do we build a more feminist, anti-racist Quakerism?

I have Things To Say about that, but I think it’s important to recognize that the conversation is already happening. So before I kick off a post on that topic, I want to finish assembling a list of references and links to ongoing efforts to improve Quaker spaces.

In the meantime, if anybody wants to have a conversation with me about feminism and anti-racism in Quakerism, let’s do it. Shoot me an email. I’m also a big fan of Google Hangouts. If you’re in the DC area, let’s grab coffee. I’m on Twitter as @leeflower, which is probably the best way to get in touch with me if you don’t already have my contact information.

My Quakerism Will Be Feminist and Anti-Racist or It Will Be Bullshit

[Content warning: this post discusses sexual assault, micro-aggressions, victim-blaming, and ‘progressive’ sexism and racism].

Just over a year ago, Flavia Dzodan wrote a incisive piece for Tiger Beatdown. In it, she calls out mainstream feminism for the rank hypocrisy of claiming to work for the betterment of all women while refusing to stand up for, listen to, respect, and welcome women of color and other marginalized women. She said MY FEMINISM WILL BE INTERSECTIONAL OR IT WILL BE BULLSHIT!

I can relate.

Not because I’m a woman of color who has to put up with a steady stream of micro and macro-aggressions from white people who claim to be my allies. I’m not a woman of color, and the intersectionality I have to deal with is a very different sort.

But I know what it’s like to be part of a movement that congratulates itself for its egalitarianism and dedication to social justice out of one side of its mouth while belittling and silencing me out of the other. I know what it’s like to put up with a steady stream of micro and macro-aggressions from people who think equality is all well and good until they have an opportunity to use their size, age, gender, and the timber of their voice to cow me into submission. I know what it’s like to look around a gathering at a sea of white faces and listen to someone congratulate us on how ‘inclusive’ we are.

Yeah. I know all about what that’s like. I’m a Quaker.

It’s exhausting, is what it’s like. It’s having to keep my guard up all the time; having to suffer hypocrisy in silence; having to live every day knowing that the love and acceptance I get from my faith community is conditional on that silence.

I have known for a long time that my silence on these issues does not serve God. I have prayed for the strength to live my witness, but I haven’t found it yet. When Quakers say ‘speak truth to power,’ rarely do they mean they want you to speak your truth to their power. I don’t think I’ll know whether I’m actually going to say it this time until I hit ‘publish.’

But here it is–this is my truth. I feel the presence of God in my heart, and he has asked me to say: my Quakerism will be feminist and anti-racist or it will be bullshit.

And so will yours.

One year, two of my meeting’s regular attenders–a young couple of color–decided to use our first-time attender coupons to check out our Yearly Meeting’s annual sessions. They came back the week after to report that practically every conversation they’d had started with the other party wanting to talk about ‘diversity’ and brag about their personal progressive credentials. One of them called it the “Oh My God, You’re Black!” conversation. We offered them sympathetic laughter.

They stopped attending Meeting shortly after that, and joined a nearby church.

I don’t blame them.

I heard a white Friend compare a space for Quakers of Color to apartheid once.

I’m not kidding.

I’ve also heard white Friends use the term ‘reverse racism’ as if that’s a real thing that exists in the real world.

When we refuse to respect and believe the lived experiences of people of color in our communities, we are contributing to a system of structural violence that lifts white people up at the expense of people of color. It’s not ok. It’s not just. It’s not honest. It’s not God’s will. And it’s Not Quaker.

So my Quakerism will be anti-racist or it will be bullshit.

When I was a teenager, I was sexually assaulted at a Young Friends conference.

I was asleep at the time, and I never spoke up about it because I was half-convinced I’d dreamt it. Years later, I was going through another Friend’s old conference photos, and there it was, like a punch in the gut: a picture of an older Young Friend with his hand up my shirt, while I was asleep. And around us, a room full of other Friends–some of them adults–going on about their business as if nothing was happening.

The young friend in question went on sexually harassing me until we were both well past our high school days. Eventually he assaulted me again–while I was awake, that time. Once I’d had a few days to process that, I decided I was officially through with being anywhere near him. Mutual Quaker friends of ours have told me that it’s a personal conflict between him and me, and they don’t want to be involved.

Or they’ve just told me to stop saying mean things about their friend. That happened too.

I wish that I could trust the larger Society of Friends–my meeting, my yearly meeting–to help me heal that bleeding wound in my heart, but I can’t. I’ve been around Quakers long enough to know what will happen. Some people will be sympathetic, but reluctant to ‘take sides.’ Others will ask me, in concerned voices, if it’s possible that I led him on, and he didn’t realize. Others will demand proof, and in its absence (I don’t have that photo), they’ll insinuate that I’m a liar. Others still will just weaponize my story and add it to the arsenal they level at Young Friends when trying to paint them as irresponsible and incapable of running their own community. (For the record, the current generation of Young Friends were in grade school when this happened).

My community’s love and acceptance is conditional on my silence, and I’m tired of it. My Quakerism will be feminist or it will be bullshit.

When I was serving as clerk of my meeting, there was an incident at the rise of worship one day. A male attender tried to kiss the female attender next to him. She told him no. A few minutes later, when I invited Friends to share their prayer requests, he held forth at length about how Quakers are too ‘prudish’ and ‘uptight.’

I was the clerk. I should have said something. Instead, I thought of what happened when I tried to speak up for my own physical and emotional boundaries, and sat silently seething while he passive-aggressively upbraided her for exercising her right to decide who touches her, and how.

No one else said anything, either.

At this year’s Annual Sessions, an older, larger Friend approached me while I was alone, in the dark. He took a threatening stance and took me to task for helping another group of Friends stand up for themselves in a manner he took personally. He called me immature, and an embarrassment, and when I refused to apologize, he used his size and the timber of his voice to frighten me into silence.

These stories may seem like little things, on their own. These two men probably didn’t even think about the fact that they were using their masculinity to threaten. I’m sure they didn’t think of their actions as acts of violence. But they were. Those little aggressions add up, and they build a community in which women are not safe, let alone respected equals.

I’m tired of living in that community. My Quakerism will be feminist or it will be bullshit.

A few years ago, a Friend posted a sexist video on Facebook. One of those ‘funny’ college-humor style jokes where the ‘punchline’ is “hahaha women are lying bitches, am I right?”

I responded, “Wow. That’s really sexist.”

He told me that he and I would have to ‘agree to disagree’ about that, because his wife thought it was funny.

If that was the end of it, I probably would have brushed it off. But it wasn’t the end of it.

A friend of his who’d never met me–and who identifies as a Quaker–jumped into the comments. He posted a ‘translation’ of my comments, complete with caveman-style grammar, suggesting that I was offended because I was just like the women in the video (which is to say that I, like them, must be an emotionally immature, passive-aggressive liar). I tried to engage with him about sexism and micro-aggressions; he called me a ‘little girl’ (I was an adult out of college), and told me that sexism didn’t exist. When I asked for an apology, our mutual friend (the one who’d posted the video) asked us both to take it off his facebook page because he didn’t want to see us arguing.

I guess asking him to stand up to his buddy for being a sexist jackass who blatantly disrespects women he’s never met was too tall an order.

I stopped going to meeting, after that.

I didn’t even tell my friend how deeply he hurt me. I still haven’t, because I suspected our friendship wouldn’t survive that conversation (though he’s probably going to see this, so I guess he has a chance to prove me wrong). I just stopped going to his meeting. And shortly after that, I stopped going to my own.

There are extenuating circumstances. I’ve got a health situation that can make it hard for me to get out into the world. But even on Sunday mornings when I wake up pain-free and don’t have a hundred other things to catch up on, I don’t go. I contemplate the exhausting notion of facing more micro-aggressions amidst a community that claims to be dedicated to justice and equality, and I just stay home.

It’s not all Quakers. There are many wonderful Friends in my life who work very hard to recognize their own privileges and decolonize their minds of the racism, sexism, ableism, and other brands of injustice that we’re all poisoned with from birth. But the Religious Society of Friends–the people once called the Friends of the Truth–are supposed to be dedicated to justice as a whole. We are supposed to answer God’s call to listen deeply, to think critically, to improve ourselves, and thereby improve the world. It’s very difficult for me to be around Quakers who aren’t doing that.

Because it’s become a leading, for me. My Quakerism will be feminist and anti-racist or it will be bullshit.

EDIT TO ADD: I’ve written two follow-up posts on this subject: part one and part two. In Part Two, I discuss a basic step that Friends can take towards building a more inclusive and welcoming community: acknowledge the privilege to walk away.

A Note On Commenting: I haven’t had comments on this blog yet, but if any of my posts are likely to start a conversation, it’ll probably be this one. Since this is such a sensitive topic, and especially so for me, this thread is going to be heavily moderated. The following things are specifically not ok:

  1. If I wanted to name names, I would have. Please don’t ask, don’t speculate, and if you already know, keep it to yourself.
  2. The following things are not up for discussion:
    1. Whether or not sexual assault survivors have a responsibility to name and shame.
    2. Whether or not what happened to me was ‘really’ assault.
    3. Whether or not I’m telling the truth.
    4. This also isn’t the place for an introductory-level discussion about the basics of racism and sexism, and how they affect racial and gender minorities. If you are new to the idea that racism and misogyny are still alive and well in our society, here are a few resources to get you started:
      1. Mary Anne Mohanraj gets you up to speed, Part I
      2. Resist Racism: Racism 101
      3. Finally, A Feminism 101 Blog
      4. Shakesville– The Terrible Bargain We Have Regretfully Struck

Writing this post has taken a lot out of me. In fact, contemplating putting this up and linking to it where other Quakers–including the Quakers I’ve just refused to name–will see it has pretty much taken all I’ve got to give at the moment.

So in order to make it possible for me to post this, a F/friend has agreed to step in and help me moderate comments. Here is the comment policy. If your comment breaks those rules, or the ones stated above, she is going to clean it up with the Squeegee of Gentle Eldering. And if you take this conversation somewhere she can’t moderate it–to my email, or twitter, facebook, g+, etc– for the purpose of violating the boundaries I’ve laid out here, please be prepared for that to be the end of any relationship you and I have.