The only meaningful difference between the cruelty and violence associated with mental illness and the cruelty and violence *expected* of sanity is the degree to which that violence is socially acceptable

Alternative title: “why most rapists aren’t any kind of ‘mentally deficient‘ and you’re a fucking asshole”

[Trigger warning: rape, victim-blaming, slurs for people with mental illness]

It’s especially ironic that the same act can be construed as a manifestation of mental illness or just a perfectly normal reaction, depending on who the perpetrator is.

Like how Charlotte King, on the TV show Private Practice, gets raped by someone whose defining characteristic is “a mentally unstable man,” and the audience is supposed to accept this as a contextless outcome of “mental instability [whatever that is even supposed to mean].” But when real, live, actual people are raped by real, live, actual rapists–most of whom would not be characterized as “mentally unstable?” Well holy shit our culture tries so hard to pathologize the victim and offer bullshit excuses for the rapist–if the victim is believed at all, in any way.

And I think what is comes down to is that “sanity” is a social construct used to (among other things) determine whether or not we’re allowed to stop an act of violence. Violence that falls outside the dominant narrative is said to be a product of insanity. Shooting Gabrielle Giffords was “insane.” Columbine was “insane.” But you’d have to be crazy to oppose the war in Afghanistan, AMIRITE? Systematically killing POC is totally fucking sane. And insanity is generally the explanation for violence if the pre-packaged excuses used to protect kyriarchal violence somehow don’t apply.

So when the creators of Private Practice wanted to discuss ~rape~, without the obligatory discussion of racism and capitalism and the prison-industrial complex and ableism and nativism and misogyny and trans*-hate and queer-hate and ageism (AND MORE), they decided that their perpetrator should be “insane,” because that is how we signal that something is insupportable. But of course, rape is supported by the dominant culture, due to all of the factors above. And our culture’s insistence upon classifying rape-as-an-contextless-abstraction is a way to obfuscate the actual cause and effect. It’s rape culture’s way of denying culpability, which makes it impossible for us to actually eradicate rape because we don’t know why it fucking happens.

And then conversely, my theory goes, this is also why certain mental illnesses (BPD comes to mind, but also schizophrenia, bipolar, and others) are met with such fear and righteous hostility. It’s this sort of symbiotic relationship between ableism and rape culture that leads us to think of rape (and abuse and even murder) as a marginal activity conducted by people who are by definition not part of society. And then when we find instances of rape or abuse or murder encouraged by or even central to society? Well obviously that’s impossible.

(cross-posted on my tumblr)



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Editing the Vanilla Privilege Checklist

I’m still getting pingbacks on “Thoughts about Vanilla Privilege” saying “maybe, but as a POC/woman/queer, I also get shamed/victim blamed/commodified.” And, yeah, your possession of vanilla privilege doesn’t invalidate that or somehow make it less objectionable. What your vanilla privilege does do is make sure that the level of kink you desire/act upon is not a contributing factor to the shaming/victim-blaming/commodification. Which is nothing to be, like, overwhelmedly grateful for. But it’s everything to be at least fucking aware of.

I haven’t seen it stated formally anywhere else, but my definition of “privilege” is this: privilege on any given axis (be it class, race, gender, etc.) is the guarantee that the dominant culture won’t persecute you on the basis of your position on that axis. No one commits hate crimes against straight people, for example, so all of them have straight privilege regardless of the actual amount of violence any individual straight person has suffered. Being a victim in a differently-motivated hate crime does not mean that you don’t have straight privilege, it means that you quite clearly suffer from a different oppression.

With that in mind, this is my attempt to write a Vanilla Privilege Checklist. I modeled mine after Peacock Angel’s, which has been criticized for missing intersections between race/gender/sexual orientation and kink. (I would argue that a lot of hir statements with regards to the government and media availability are also western-centric).

But the ultimate problem with the original Vanilla Privilege Checklist is the same as the problem with a number of privilege checklists: it infers that the privileged people have all been given a set of benefits for being privileged on one axis without taking into account the fact that many “vanilla privileges” have been taken away from vanilla people on some other basis, like their race.

My checklist aims to refrain from making assumptions about vanilla people’s experiences. Instead, I focused on highlighting the ways in which vanilla people are not exposed to systematic oppression based on the level of kink they desire. Which is, somewhat redundantly, the reason they are privileged.

Most of the words are from this checklist; my corrections are made by crossing out the objectionable phrases and rewriting them in blue.

  • A vanilla person does not have to fear that discovery of their being vanilla will have an effect on their work life.
  • A vanilla person usually does not have to worry about the potential legal implications of sex in the manner they prefer with a the vanilla nature of sex they had with a consenting adult partner.
  • A vanilla person does not have to worry about their being vanilla as having bearing on whether they are considered fit to be parents.
  • A vanilla person doesn’t have to worry about their being vanilla being thought of as diseased or pathological.
  • A vanilla person will have an easier time finding depictions of people with sex lives similar to their own that are equally vanilla in the media.
  • A vanilla person will not have their sexual orientation called into question due to their sexual practices the vanilla nature of their sexual practices.
  • A vanilla person will have comparably easy access to reliable dealing with safety surrounding their sexual practices not be refused access to sexual safety information on the grounds that they are vanilla.
  • A vanilla person seeking medical attention due to an accident that occurred during sex will not face scrutiny or be treated unsympathetically because of the vanilla nature of their sexual activity.
  • Vanilla is not used as a pejorative. The word “vanilla” in this context will never be appropriated to mean “kinky but passionate.”
  • A vanilla person will not be assumed to be a sexual predator because of their vanilla sexual practices, nor will language used to refer to vanilla people as a group be used to describe rapists and perpetrators.
  • A vanilla person will have an easy time finding media that portrays people with their sexual preferences a desire for vanilla sex sympathetically and accurately will be easier to find than media that portrays kinky people similarly.
  • Vanilla people will never have their sexual practices the vanilla aspect of their sexual practices used for shock value.
  • A vanilla person does not have to worry about outsiders perceiving their relationship the vanilla aspects of their relationship as abusive or pathological.
  • Safe spaces for vanilla courtship and socializing are not privilege to legal harassment in the way BDSM clubs are.
  • A vanilla person will not have their being vanilla brought up during a rape investigation (either as accuser or accused)
  • Vanilla people can assume their relationship partners will not find their sexual arousal pattern the vanilla nature of their sexual arousal pattern disgusting.
  • A vanilla person will not fear their sexual practices the vanilla nature of their sexual practices counting against them in a divorce.
  • A vanilla person will not be asked about the origins of their sexual arousal pattern vanilla status, or have it assumed their sexual arousal pattern vanilla status stems from trauma or disease.
  • A vanilla person will not have to worry much about their roommate discovering their vanilla-ness.
  • A vanilla person’s actions will not be attributed to their being vanilla.  (Many people link people’s bad actions to their kinkiness, “Well of course he’s a thief, he’s kinky”)
  • Symbols of vanilla affection/romance will not be appropriated as “edgy” fashion statements (E.G. collars)
  • Discovery of equipment associated with vanilla sexual practices, provided they are otherwise privileged (condoms, lubricant, even a vibrator) although embarrassing will not result people’s drastically changing their opinion of the person in question.
  • A vanilla person will not have their masculinity/femininity called into question because of their dominance/submission in bed (I.E. A woman who enjoys being sexually dominant may be called unfeminine, or a man who enjoys being sexually submissive may be called unmasculine)
  • The discovery of a famous person having vanilla sex (provided it is within the other realms of privileged sex, monogamous, heterosexual, etc) Finding out that a celebrity prefers vanilla sex will not be considered news worthy.
  • A vanilla person’s sex related equipment (E.G. Condoms, lubricant, dental dams) will be regulated by government agencies and tested thoroughly for efficacy and safety.
  • Vanilla people can find numerous studies relating to their sexuality and sexual desire from the scientific community that do not treat them their vanilla status as marginal or pathological.
  • A vanilla person can count on the media to usually get the symbols associated with their relationships generally right (Here’s an example of the media getting it wrong, dominants generally don’t wear collars)
  • There is accurate medical research on the effects of vanilla sex upon the human body, kinky people are left with scraps here and there and anecdotal evidence.  We still don’t know if it’s safe to flog breasts. When researchers set out to study the effects of sex on the human body, they are thinking of vanilla sex.
  • A vanilla person will not worry about how their vanilla-ness reflect upon their gender, sex, sexuality, age group, etc etc etc.
  • A person’s political beliefs will not be called into question due to their being vanilla.  (For example, a heterosexual man who identifies as a feminist and acts as a good feminist but is sexually dominant may be told he is a bad feminist for enjoying a dominant role during sex, same for a heterosexual female submissive, or a sexually dominant woman may be called an angry feminist due to her preference for a dominant role during sex)
  • A vanilla person will have an easy time finding a counselor who understands and is sympathetic towards their vanilla status sexual practices.
  • Vanilla-ness is not vilified or exotified by the media (For exotification/vilification of the kink community check out basically any CSI/Bones/Law and Order type show with an episode that deals with kink, or numerous episodes of shows like 1000 Ways To Die)
  • A vanilla person can remain ignorant of terms involved in BDSM.
  • A vanilla person will not be assumed to be sexually experienced because of their vanilla-ness.
  • Vanilla is not taken to mean sexually available.
  • A vanilla person can go their entire life without being called vanilla.
  • As always, most importantly, a vanilla person can ignore their vanilla privilege.


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Poetry! And Anti-SlutWalk Blog 2k11

So I linked “I Am Not a Slut” around at Feministe, because I want people to read it. Mostly in the hopes of expressing solidarity for survivors who feel similarly, but also partially to open a dialog about how SlutWalk is centering the set of people who want to reclaim “slut”–which is not the set of all survivors. So essentially, a spokesperson for the Toronto police engaged in victim-blaming, and the push-back excludes many of the people who were and are marginalized by victim-blaming (i.e. survivors!).

And, with that said, I would really like to not have the first post displayed here be about how I was raped when I was a kid. Sooo…here’s some poetry. You can use the comments to analyze it or tell me what a jerk I am for disliking SlutWalk (you can also just ignore, obviously :p).

“Old Astronomer to His Pupil”

Reach me down my Tycho Brahe, I would know him when we meet,
When I share my later science, sitting humbly at his feet;
He may know the law of all things, yet be ignorant of how
We are working to completion, working on from then to now.

Pray remember that I leave you all my theory complete,
Lacking only certain data for your adding, as is meet,
And remember men will scorn it, ’tis original and true,
And the obloquy of newness may fall bitterly on you.

But, my pupil, as my pupil you have learned the worth of scorn,
You have laughed with me at pity, we have joyed to be forlorn,
What for us are all distractions of men’s fellowship and smiles;
What for us the Goddess Pleasure with her meretricious smiles!

You may tell that German College that their honor comes too late,
But they must not waste repentance on the grizzly savant’s fate.
Though my soul may set in darkness, it will rise in perfect light;
I have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night.

Sarah Williams


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I am Not a Slut (So I Didn’t Go to SlutWalk)

[Trigger Warning for Discussion of Rape, Rape Culture]

Or I am, who am I to argue? I have big breasts, long legs, and the occasional short skirt. Men twice my age whistle and blow kisses as they drive by.  The first time I was ever raped, I was 8. And then when I was 16–several times over. The day before it happened (again), my rapist told me that I was “such a slut,” and it took me a while to realize that this was abnormal, because slut is a thing that my parents, my teachers, and the girls I never seemed to get along with at school have all had the right to call me since the 6th grade.

It has very little to do with my personhood and a whole lot to do with victimization.

And, don’t get me wrong, I can’t possibly bring myself to give a shit about whether or not you consider yourself a slut. But I can tell you that I am no less of a survivor for wanting to keep my distance from such a term. Because slut is something that I internalized in a way that I could never internalize “stupid,” or “cunt,” or “dyke.” It didn’t mean anything to me, except that I was irredeemably available for sexual violence. “Slut,” to me, will always be a rape threat.

This doesn’t mean people will stop calling me that. I’ve learned pretty quickly that one of my litmus tests, now, has to be “will you invoke childhood trauma by calling me a slut? Does your love of shock value outweigh your distaste for making me feel unsafe? Are  you aware that words mean things?” Lots of people fail. Including Jaclyn Friedman.

And nobody is talking about it. Friedman addressed a group of survivors with “well hello you beautiful sluts!” but all of us who would have felt threatened already knew not to be there that day (fittingly, if I wanted to be called a slut, I could just hang around at home). It’s frustrating, and a little exclusionary. I mean, maybe if every Saturday a group of survivors got together and demanded an end to rape culture, I could be okay with SlutWalk. I wouldn’t go. But I would be okay with it. But the fact that I apparently have to “reclaim” a word that I’ve been fighting my whole life to escape if I want to be part of the one response to a dipshit rape apologist who is furthering oppression that I–and every rape survivor too triggered for SlutWalk–suffer from is inexcusable. Demanding that we call ourselves sluts or just shut the fuck up is what rape culture looks like.

Because I was too powerless when slut was first applied. It doesn’t refer to anything I’m proud of: it’s not my sexual orientation (dyke), my genitals (cunt), or my autism (stupid). It’s my vulnerability and status as a rapeable member of society. There is nothing to “take back,” for me. Keep it.

(ETA: This post has been getting a lot of hits, and in maybe an overly-cynical move, I would like to request that negative/dissenting comments be directed at this thread, because they won’t be approved here).


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“But I’m Otherwise In Compliance With Your Bigoted Cultural Norms!”

NB: “gay marriage” is a bit of a misnomer since not everyone getting “gay married” is, in fact, gay. And do marriages really even have sexual orientations? Suspect. However, that is the term most commonly used for legalizing marriage between two adults of the same legal sex.

It’s a sentiment that crops up a lot, especially in the gay marriage debate, but also in the is-it-okay-to-call-yourself-a-feminist debate (“but I shave my legs and have a boyfriend! Feminists aren’t all ugly, socially-awkward dykes you know!?!?”) and—apparently—the can-we-stop-pretending-that-all-sex-work-should-be-criminalized debate.

Pro-sexwork legalization poster

As in, “guys! This sex-worker is middle class pays her mortgage! She has heterosexual privilege children and a nuclear family! She is, very explicitely, “not so different,” after all! Maybe we should think about not throwing her in  jail, then?” Many, many sex workers are queer and trans*. Many of them are young; many were kicked out of their homes. Many are very, very poor. But you won’t find any of those people represented in the “Turn Off The Blue Light” campaign, because who gives a fuck about a transgender teenager who moved out of an abusive home? There are cis women with mortgages and husbands and athletic children and middle-class lives to lead!

The gamble is a cynical one: people would rather hear about the most privileged in a group, the people who would benefit the least from social change, than actually put up with stories about the least privileged sexworkers, for whom it’s this or starvation. But, we’re told, it works. And so POC shut up about how the anti-prop 8 advertisements were overwhelmingly white, and LBGT youth don’t speak up when referred to collectively as “gay,” and I guess it fits that people engaging in survival prostitution allow themselves to be spoken over by the reassuring intonation of presumably-straight, middle-class, cisgender white ladies who are “not too different” from the way every bigot in the West would like them to be.

After all, gay marriage should be legal, some representation is better than no representation, and consensual sex work should not be equated with criminal activity. So in that sense, I’m not ready to start shaking my fist at commercials that say (implicitly), “we’re two white, cisgender, monogamous, middle-class, college educated gay men, so please don’t devalue our relationship.” Because the rights of white, cisgender, monogamous, etc. gay men are important to me, and holding minorities specifically to a higher standard than the majority generally is bigoted. (Confidential to white queers who complain about “black people’s intolerance” as though it is more offensive to you than white people’s intolerance: STOP).

But a big part of the reason gay marriage should be legal is specific to the ways in which heteronormativity (which is already objectionable in and of itself) can coexist with bigotry against things like disability or poverty or immigrant status or some kind of “social deviance.” Because that coexistence tends to bring fears like “will my kids be taken away from their home and forced to stay with my abusive parents when I die?” or “will my wife be able to stay in this country?” and not just “will everyone please recognize that my marriage is valid?”

I think that similarly, questions like “how can I support myself now that my parents have kicked me out of the house?” and “will I be killed in jail for being trans* after I’m arrested for being a prostitute?” are being ignored in favor of “how can I put myself through college?”

And I’m loath to tell marginalized people that their narratives aren’t marginalizedenough for them to deserve space on a poster. I think that becoming a sex worker because you have kids and a mortgage is really fucking valid, and I wish more people could understand that.

But I would also like to see some recognition of the people who would most benefit from social change, not just the beneficiaries who are most “acceptable.”


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Liz Lemon Isn’t Ugly (and That’s a Bad Thing)

At some point, someone in Hollywood decided that White, thin, cisgender, non-disabled women who otherwise fit the (white, patriarchal, cisgender, etc.) beauty standard could be “ugly” if they have brown hair. Huzzah! Now we can appreciate a compelling storyline without having to endure all of the discomfort that attends watching TV where one of the female characters isn’t white, cisgender, non-disabled–or genuinely ugly.

So in addition to robbing legitimately ugly/nonwhite/disabled/trans/etc. women of representation, I think the “dark hair/eyes = pretend she’s ugly” formulation is starting to serve as an excuse for white women (who are, by virtue of–like–being white given an automatic pass on the white beauty standard) with brown hair to claim that they are somehow more oppressed than their blond/redhead counterparts. This is super appropriative of nonwhite women’s experiences, especially when you consider the fact that the canon of “conventionally beautiful” actresses are proportionately brunette–but almost all white.

On the other hand, women of color are generally praised for having lighter skin/features for the sole reason that those features are considered “whiter.” But of course, there is no pinnacle of whiteness, whereby nordic/blond women are “whiter” than other white people. And so there is no punishment for being a white person (or a passing-as-white person) who would otherwise fail the impossible test of beauty designed strictly for women of color.


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Rape Jokes are Boorish and Triggering, But Here’s Why I Hate Them:

Rape is an expression of the status quo. It embodies the violent, dehumanizing rape culture that endangers everyone but acts, specifically, as a tool of oppression. And, circularly enough, rape culture supports rape.

This puts rape-as-a-prevalent-cultural-phenomenon in a pretty fucking precarious position. Because combating rape culture prevents rape, which thereby cuts back on the support for rape culture, in turn preventing more rapes–all due to the circular construction of oppression.

Meanwhile, a joke/funny anecdote/comedic sketch, for the most part, can be boiled down to a basic, unsubstantiated sentiment.

  • I hate a dead mathematician named Kurt Godel.
  • Tumblr makes you like people you don’t know; facebook makes you hate people you’ve already met.
  • Women belong in the kitchen.
  • Kristen Wiig is really excited about working at target (TELL ME YOU’VE SEEN THOSE SKETCHES).

The sentiment is either funny because it’s “ridiculous,” or funny because it’s “true.”

So it stands to reason that when you make a joke that isn’t just “about rape” in general, but is coming from your personal acceptance of rape culture, you are implying —assuring yourself, even–that the premise of rape culture is true. Which makes you a rape-apologist and total douchebag.

And, moreover, jokes like that aren’t just a strident expression of rape culture; their practical purpose is to relieve everyone present of the responsibility to challenge rape culture. People are raped. Every day. As a systematic expression of hatred.

It’s funny cuz it’s true.

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