I’ve Got 99 Problems But Transphobia Ain’t One

I was horrified to learn recently, a day before its release, that Troubled Blood, Robert Galbraith’s (aka JK Rowling) latest Cormoran Strike book, was being called transphobic by early reviewers. I’ve been looking forward to this book for a long time, not because I love detective stories, or am particularly enamored with Rowling’s writing, but because I am extremely invested in the relationship between Cormoran and his partner, Robin Ellacott. I had already pre-ordered the book and when it showed up on my doorstep the next day, I started reading it immediately. I finished reading it an hour ago.

            Troubled Blood is a ponderous book. A hefty 927 pages in hardcover, it’s heavy, and dense. Rowling is always quick to praise her editor, but I wonder, what is she praising him for? Because he lets her do as she pleases, and doesn’t insist that she make revisions, changes, or cuts that she doesn’t agree with? There are so many problems with the text of the book. The same word, used twice in the same sentence. The same two words, used multiple times, in the space of a short paragraph consisting of two or three sentences. Repeating a noun in the same sentence when “it” would suffice the second time. Characters whose names are similar enough to cause confusion: Julie and Jules. Hiskett and Hickson. C.B. Strike, C.B. Oakden, and a client nicknamed SB. Far too many plots taking place at the same time. Emphasis on other cases Strike’s detective agency is working, which, while realistic, do not require the level of detail that is expended. Not to mention the fact that the title, Troubled Blood, really doesn’t mean anything, and doesn’t make sense.

            All that said, Troubled Blood is not a transphobic book. And I am in no way defending Rowling’s opinions, which I find shocking, disappointing, and reprehensible Rowling has said what she’s said on Twitter, causing controversy, and truly hurting people with her stance on trans people and her dogged determination to uphold her views. There is no doubt about that. I am so sorry that she has hurt people and I am angry with the deliberate obtuseness in her refusal to see how she is using her huge platform to perpetuate stereotypes, fear monger, and cause genuine distress. But this doesn’t translate to her having written Troubled Blood as a transphobic book.

There are no trans characters in Troubled Blood. Not one. There are several gay characters, but no trans characters.

            There are two killers. One of them is the reason for the accusation of transphobia, I guess. He is a serial killer who, according to scathing and outraged reviews of the book, dresses like a woman in order to kill other women. This is an exaggeration. The killer keeps articles of clothing and jewelry from some of the women he has killed. When the police question why he has women’s jewelry, he tells them it is his because he likes to wear it. I read this as his excuse to deflect suspicion, to convince the police that the jewelry doesn’t belong to dead women, but is his own. Whether he actually wears the jewelry, or even enjoys wearing women’s jewelry, is never discussed. There is also some vague suggestion that the killer might, sometimes, wear a wig and/or a woman’s coat or dress in order to trick his victims into thinking he is a woman, a safe person. Again, this is hinted at, but never fully explored or explained. While I was reading the book, I honestly found it difficult to determine whether this is actually true.

            Wearing women’s jewelry, or putting on a dress, are not the defining characteristics of what it means to be a trans woman. A person who is trans is someone whose gender is not the same as the one they were assigned at birth. It is not as simple as a person feeling they are the “opposite” gender, because trans people can be non-binary, too. Transgenderism is different from sexual orientation, and a transgender person does not always dress, act, or wear their hair the way society might expect them to. While dressing for the gender they know in their hearts they are supposed to be is certainly something that many (but not all) trans people do, a cis person who wears the clothing of the opposite sex is not transgender. It takes much more than putting on a dress to be a trans woman, and relegating trans women to this oversimplified definition is insulting.

            The only thing I can think of to support the claim of transphobia in a story where a man wears women’s clothing in order to attack women is the misguided notion that some people seem to have that if men can be considered women simply by saying they are, then this is dangerous to women. The idea that if women-only spaces like female locker rooms and restrooms are opened up to trans women means that other women will suddenly be at increased risk of attack and assault is ridiculous, but firmly held by many people. The truth is, attacks on women in women-only spaces are rare, a man who wants to attack a woman will do so regardless of when, or where, or how he is dressed, and trans people are a very vulnerable group who are harassed, beaten, and killed with shocking regularity.

            If we assume that writing a cis character who (maybe, occasionally) dresses as a woman in order to kill other women as an assertion that trans people demanding their rights to use the single-sex space that best matches their identity is proof that women will suddenly become less safe in their women-only spaces, then yes, the argument can be made that the premise is transphobic. But it is such a stretch as to be ludicrous. JK Rowling is undoubtedly transphobic. I don’t believe Troubled Blood is.

            There is a second killer in the book. This person, too, dresses like a woman in order to kill not just other women, but also men. The reason this killer dresses like a woman is because she is one.

            JK Rowling’s Strike books have some dubious content. Whether that is because they are gritty detective stories about crime and other bad behavior, or because their author is showing us who she is, is impossible to know for sure. She seems obsessed with the “other,” people who are different from the cis, white, hetero mainstream. People with special needs are used as props, their differently-abled mental faculties exploited as plot devices. A burqa is used as a disguise by a white, Anglo, presumably Christian killer. People express racist, classist, sexist, and homophobic views. Models and rock stars are drug addicts. Sex workers are disposable. Gay men are camp and love show tunes. The one-dimensional stereotypes come hard and fast, there is no denying that. Troubled Blood is not a particularly interesting or well-written book. But transphobic? It is not.

A Rather Funny “Tail”

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Okay, friends. Gather around, because I have a story to tell.

When I was a little girl, my mother used to take me to all kinds of book fairs and craft shows and “white elephant” sales. It seemed there was always a vendor, tucked away in a corner, who was selling personalized books. The books that take your child’s name, and other details, such as the names of siblings, friends, or pets, the name of the town where you live, and other information, and plugs them into a pre-written story. There were all sorts of titles to choose from, and different subjects, some meant to appeal to girls, some to boys, and others with universal appeal.

Over the years, I accumulated several of these books including “Me, Snow White, and the Seven Dwarfs,” “Read About Me and the Bee,” and “The Great Sesame Street ABC Hunt.” But there is one book that will always be more special and memorable than all the rest, for a very odd reason. This book is called “Read About Me in the Mousehouse.”

One detail you must know about the mouse-house book is that the name of the mouse changes depending upon who the intended recipient is. The mouse’s name is the child’s name—spelled backwards. In hindsight I bet this convention caused some trouble for the parents who bought the book. I would imagine that many, if not most names spelled backwards are hard to pronounce. But that’s not the only problem.

You see, my name is Lana. At least, it was back then. When I was born, my name was Lana, but everyone pronounced it wrong. All the time. Teachers. My grandparents’ friends. The man at K-mart asking over the P.A. system if my parent could please come to the front of the store because I was lost. My mom got annoyed, then she got sick of it, and the spelling was changed to Lonna. But back when this book was created “especially for” me, my name was Lana. L-A-N-A.

Do you know what ‘Lana’ is spelled backwards?

Anal.

I have a book in my possession where the mouse is named Anal. Anal Mouse.

To my mother’s credit, whenever she read the book to me, she pronounced Anal as “AHH-null.” Not that I had heard the word ‘anal’ or had any idea what it meant when I was a toddler. I wasn’t sure, why though, it was always so hard for my mother to keep a straight face when she read the book to me. After all, it was an enjoyable book, but it wasn’t funny.

Here is something that’s funny though. Anal Mouse was most decidedly not anal. Her mouse-house is a mess, “as jumbled as” her name. Empty bottles and jars and boxes, torn mittens and holey socks, clothespins, used postage stamps, rubber bands, match boxes, and buttons imprinted with logos and sayings and pictures are just some of the junk that clutter Anal’s mousehouse. By the end of the story, Lana (that’s me!) had helped Anal to create a more livable space by upcycling and reusing all the trash to make furniture, décor, and storage solutions for the decidedly un-anal Anal. I was truly ahead of my time.

If you aren’t crying with laughter at the thought of a children’s book that inadvertently named one of its two main characters Anal then I can’t help you. But here’s one more delightful snippet from the book that might cause you to crack (no pun intended) a smile.

Lana is exploring around her house when she stumbles across the mousehouse, quite by accident, in the back of a closet. The mousehouse, is, of course, a “tiny hole” in the wall.

A tiny hole.

A tiny hole with a sign hanging over it.

What does the sign say?

Anal.

But(t) of course.

You’re welcome.

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I Mean, Who Does That? (Don’t Be An Intellectual Property Thief)

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Did you know that a person’s work is under copyright “the moment it is created and fixed in a tangible form”?* That means that an author’s manuscript is copyright before it is published. So is a musical composition. A poem. A limerick or a haiku. A painting or a drawing or a cartoon. A sculpture, a photograph, a Facebook status, a tweet.

Did you also know that this means if you copy, reproduce, or claim someone else’s work as your own, you are infringing on their intellectual property rights? You might know this is true of a motion picture, or the script for a play or television show or a musical. You might know this is true of a record album or a song or music video. For a short story or a newspaper article or a book. But it is every bit as true for a blog entry, an Instagram post, a Facebook status, or a tweet.

Maybe you’ve never really thought about it before. Maybe because the internet is so very open and public you never realized that it’s not okay to copy someone else’s status and share it as your own. That content created on platforms like Facebook and Twitter are not in the public domain, but the property of its creator. Maybe you didn’t stop to think that using someone else’s words requires permission from the creator, and attribution of your source. But it does.

Theft of intellectual property happens all the time. Sometimes it’s a victimless crime, resulting in little more than annoyance or perhaps a touch of anger on the part of the person whose words, art, music, or other work has been co-opted or stolen. But not always.

Would you be okay with a colleague stealing your idea or taking credit for your work? Would you shrug and look the other way if another student copied your child’s book report or science fair project or math homework? Would you be angry if the majority of people on a team project took credit for one person’s work? No, no, and yes. Because, duh.

If this seems petty, I’m not sorry. Because stealing is stealing whether it’s armed robbery or pocketing a candy bar or cutting and pasting someone’s Facebook post to share it as your own. Don’t say it’s not a big deal because it shouldn’t matter whether someone dashed off a thought in twenty seconds or spent nights tossing and turning over the perfect status update or tweet. Stealing is wrong. Can you be arrested or sued for stealing someone’s work? Yes. Does it always happen? Of course not. But that doesn’t make it okay.

I find this particularly vexing because I am a writer and a published author. Imagine that you have X number of Facebook friends and I have X number of Facebook friends, and never the twain shall meet. Right? But what if we have X number of friends in common, mutual friends, on Facebook? I post a status, you steal it, and our mutuals see your status first. Then, they see my status. Whose status do you imagine they will think was stolen, and whose will they think is the original? How many of them are going to toggle between the two accounts to check time and date stamps?

Writers of all stripes, published, amateur, and everything in between, absolutely DO NOT want mutual friends—or anyone else—thinking they have stolen another person’s words, however few words, however inconsequential those words may seem. It’s a matter of being seen as professional, as having integrity, of being trustworthy, of being a person who does one’s own work and keeps one’s eyes on one’s own paper. I learned this in first grade. Maybe not everyone did.

If you see something that’s clever, that’s poignant, that’s funny, that speaks to you, that you want to share, stop. Contact the person who created that content. Ask permission. Then, give credit where credit is due. Share directly from the creator’s page to be absolutely sure the right person gets the credit for the photo, the drawing, the pithy saying, the joke, the whatever. And if the creator’s content is not available for public sharing, then be sure you give proper attribution before cutting and pasting to your own page. But never should you ever copy something and present it as your own. That’s dishonest. It’s childish. And yes, it’s stealing.

So, if you’ve thought about doing this, don’t. If you’ve done it, stop it. And if you’ve never done it or considered doing it, I thank you.

 

*U.S. Copyright Office, Copyright.gov

(See how easy it is to give attribution to one’s source?)

A Servant’s Heart is Here!

Beautiful young woman with bouquet of lilac in spring garden

I am pleased to share that my Christian historical romance, A Servant’s Heart, is now available on Amazon in paperback and for Kindle. This is the long-awaited story whose original title was River Farm. 

Idealistic, independent, and utterly alone, seventeen-year-old Catherine Abbott arrives in the Virginia colony in the spring of 1774. Now an indentured servant, she is determined to leave her painful past behind and build a new life.Dr. James Craig has lost his entire family and his fiancée. He immerses himself in his work and surrounds himself with a surrogate family of employees and servants to assuage his loneliness. When he hires Catherine and she comes to live at his farm on the Potomac River, it seems as if God has brought them together for a reason. But has He?

As the colonies teeter on the brink of war, the future is uncertain. James joins the Continental Army as a surgeon and is shaken by the suffering and death he witnesses. As Catherine’s steadfast faith draws her closer to God, James finds himself doubting God’s goodness.

A Servant’s Heart affirms that God is present and working for good even when we can’t understand the process or know the outcome. It is the story of a woman searching for a home, a man standing in the way of his own happiness, love thwarted by the course of history, and a message of hope about the power of God.

 

 

Good-bye, Fox Island

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July 13-26, 1986

Those dates were hands down, the very best days of my teenage life. This is not hyperbole. This is true.

And this will be raw. I’m not interested in creating anything cohesive, not interested in editing or caring about flow or format right now. Above all I’m not interested in trying to tell a story with a happy ending or a valuable lesson. I suspect if there is one, I won’t be able to see it until much later. But what I really suspect is that there is no happy ending or valuable lesson. So you can stop reading now if that’s what you’re here for.

During the summer of 1986, I was thirteen years old. I was well on my way to fourteen, but not until the middle of August. And that was the best summer. A summer when, though I was far from mature, I started to grow up. A summer when, though I was a huge nerd, I found acceptance from a small group of people. A summer when I had one of the most formative experiences of my life.

I was lucky, oh so very lucky, to go on a great adventure, a two-week field trip to various educational centers around the Chesapeake Bay. It was something I dreamed of doing, something I applied to do, and after applying, waited, and waited to find out if I would be accepted. The day I received my acceptance letter in the mail, I leaped up and hugged my older brother, and believe me, the hugging of older brothers was not something my thirteen-year-old self ever did.

The first week of camp involved traveling around the bay: by canoe, by rowboat, in a workboat called The Osprey, on foot, and in a van. We baited our own trot-lines with salted eel and went crabbing. We had canoe races. We built osprey towers and wood duck boxes. We conducted experiments on water samples from the bay to determine water quality, dissolved oxygen content, salinity, and more. We searched for and recorded the locations of SAVs-submerged aquatic vegetation.

The second week was spent on Great Fox Island on the Tangier Sound. A century before our arrival, a hunting lodge was built on pilings next to a marshy island. The only solid ground-the floors of the lodge and the wooden boardwalks-were manmade. There was no electricity, just kerosene lanterns for light. The running water was supplied by a stationary bike in the kitchen. By pedaling the bike, water was pumped for washing dishes or taking short showers. The toilet, one that composted waste, used no water.

During our two-week bay odyssey, we got a first-class, hands-on, up-close-and-personal lesson in conservation and ecology. We did other things, too. We had ice cream in Annapolis. We swam at Sandy Point State Park where we also took our first hot showers in five or six days. We christened the van that drove us around “the party van” because we got to listen to “Danger Zone” by Kenny Loggins and “The Glory of Love” by Peter Cetera on the radio and because we were thirteen and fourteen and we were just that cool. We rescued a raccoon that got stuck in a trash container. We listened to ghost stories and told jokes and played Trivial Pursuit: What part of an airplane gives the bumpiest ride? Uh, the john? Hilarity.

During that trip, which I have always referred to since as “Fox Island,” I became friends with a boy named David. When the trip was over, I exchanged a few letters with three or four kids. But David and I wrote to each other for years. And years. This was when you still had to sit down with a pen or a pencil and a piece of paper and then put a stamp on an envelope. And we did. I have seen David three or four times since Fox Island ended. Our correspondence has dropped off in recent years, but we are Facebook friends.

That trip was the topic of many of my high school essays. What is your favorite place, and why? What is the most exciting thing you have ever done?

Why am I sharing all of this? Because just last night, I was thinking about Fox Island, fondly, as I always do, and wishing that my kids could experience this wonderful place. So today, I went to Google to see what I could find out. And what I discovered was devastating. Fox Island, for all intents and purposes, is gone. Last fall, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation made the heart-wrenching decision to suspend operations there. Due to rising sea levels brought about by climate change, the island is gone. The lodge and its boardwalks are still there, but it is no longer safe to take students there. It was the end of an era. I didn’t know.

Now I do know, and part of me wishes I didn’t. Fox Island will always exist in my memories and in my mind, but I never thought it would only exist there. It is terribly ironic and desperately sad that the very place that strove to teach generations of students about the dangers of climate change and the importance of conservation has succumbed. I can’t find a message of hope in its loss, all I can find is sadness.

I immediately contacted the one person who could understand and share my sadness. David. He responded to my Facebook message right away, as if he had been sitting there in front of his computer, waiting for me.

That’s so sad.

I’m really sad.

Those were good times.

They were great times.

I’m no stranger to loss. The older I get, the more things change and disappear. My elementary school is gone and so is the public library visited I growing up. Shops and restaurants in my hometown have closed. Places I took for granted and thought would always be there are gone. It reminds me of a poignant exchange between Armand and Lestat in Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles. About how hard it is to go on when everything that you love “slowly rots, or fades away.” I wasn’t expecting the world to change so quickly. I don’t know what the answer is.

I only know that I am sad tonight and I am weeping. Not only for the thirteen-year-old girl I once was, a girl who loved, and still loves nature, the outdoors, the water, and adventure, but for all the thirteen-year-olds who will never know what it’s like to step onto an island, step off the grid, and find yourself.

Good Night, Oppy. You Were Us.

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I have spent the better part of the day going back and forth between crying over the “death” of Mars rover Opportunity, and trying to understand why it has affected me so deeply. There is something at once poignant and terrifying at the thought of a small, silent ambassador of humanity stranded—perhaps forever—on a distant planet. Cut off from any and all contact with those who sent it, disconnected from the mission that once gave it purpose, beyond any hope of return or recovery. Dead.

Tributes have been pouring in from all over the world. An achievement like this captures the imagination. It confirms our shared humanity. It is a communal triumph of the human spirit and of human ingenuity. It affirms our thirst for knowledge, our drive to discover, our insatiable need to ask “why?” and perhaps more importantly, “why not?”

Opportunity was meant to last 90 days. Three months. A span of time smaller than a blip, not even worth mentioning or quantifying in an infinite universe where millennia have passed in the blink God’s eye. Yet Opportunity outlived its expected lifespan and increased its usefulness. Months turned into years. And for nearly two decades, much less than one human lifetime but longer than anyone could have hoped or predicted, the little rover that could gathered data, processed information, took photos, and brought us all just a little closer to the stars.

Now that contact has been lost and Opportunity has been declared dead, my mental image of a brave and intrepid little robot trundling over the surface of Mars has changed to that of a sad, lonely, and abandoned heap of metal and circuits. Logically I know that Opportunity is not a person, not an animal, not a sentient being. Emotionally, though, my heartstrings are remorselessly stretched to the limit by the message, “My battery is low and it is getting dark.” Even now, reading these words makes me want to sob with despair, and rage against some kind of unfairness I can’t define. And as I ask why this should be, an answer suggests itself. Perhaps it’s not the defunct machine I am crying for, but for myself, and for all of humanity.

How often have we felt similar sentiments? I am tired. The darkness is too deep. It’s so cold. I can’t do this anymore. I am alone.

Somehow, a little rover on exploring a new world gave us a reflection of ourselves. It moved over the surface of a planet that has stirred our imaginations since we first knew of its existence, and has starred in our popular culture since we created such a construct. It did just as you or I would do, have done, when set down in some new place. Explore, learn, tell our friends what we have discovered, take photographs, share selfies. In this way, a manmade machine was humanized. It was like us.

Human beings built Opportunity and launched it to the stars. Humanity is its creator and commander—we sent it out into the world to see what we could not. And we waited and watched to see what it would do. And now it sits, abandoned, in a world colder and darker than we can imagine. It’s not so different, really, from the story of us. After all, God created people, and launched them into a new world. Granted, it was a lush garden where every need was met, a far cry from an alien world of dust and rocks, a true howling wilderness. But then God found it necessary to banish humankind from that ideal, into a world that was bigger, harsher, scarier, and more dangerous than anything we had seen before. And while He hasn’t abandoned us, I know it sometimes feels that way.

The banishment from the Garden of Eden is the world’s first morality story. A cause and effect narration that explains the introduction of sin into the world. Yet God himself placed the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil in the garden, along with the Tree of Life. Of course he knew that His people would seek knowledge. I’m sure He expected it. The Bible tells us that wisdom is more valuable than gold and that only fools despise knowledge. When humans moved from the Garden of Eden into the wider world of God’s creation, I am sure He watched with great expectation to see what we would do. Like Opportunity, we began to learn, to explore, to investigate, and to discover. But unlike Opportunity, we are not abandoned. There is no place dark enough, cold enough, far enough, that we can go where He won’t look for us, find us, and call us back.

Even if, like Opportunity, we can’t, or won’t answer, He won’t cease communication, end the mission, or declare us dead. God’s grace is everywhere and we can’t lose it or shake it off. God Himself may call us to go where we don’t wish to go. Far from friends and family, into places that are dark, or cold, or lonely. But He goes with us. Opportunity allowed us to look beyond ourselves, into the infinite worlds of God’s creation and to find, not only the eternal, but ourselves.

Why We Don’t Report

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I smiled and he called it an invitation.

I didn’t smile and he called me a bitch.

I laughed at his inappropriate joke and he said I agreed.

I didn’t laugh at his inappropriate joke and he called me repressed.

I showed my emotions and he said I was unstable.

I hid my emotions and he said I was cold.

I dressed one way and he called me a whore.

I dressed another way and he called me frumpy.

I told him to stop touching me and he said I was uptight.

I didn’t tell him to stop touching me and he said I wanted it.

I had too much to drink and he said it was my fault.

I didn’t drink anything and he said I was a prude.

I wore make-up and he said I was looking for attention.

I didn’t wear make-up and he said I should try harder.

I raised my voice and he said I was hysterical.

I kept my voice calm and he said I wasn’t really upset.

I told him I didn’t want to talk to him and he said I was a dyke.

I talked to him and he propositioned me three times in five minutes.

I stood up for myself and he said I was bossy.

I didn’t stand up for myself and he called me a pushover.

I ate a cheeseburger and he told me I was pig.

I turned down dessert and he told me I was too skinny.

I dyed my hair and he said I was fake.

I didn’t dye my hair and he said I should make an effort.

I spoke up at a meeting and he said I was shrill.

I didn’t speak up at a meeting and he said I wasn’t a contributor.

I cried and he said I was moody.

I didn’t cry and he said I was dead inside.

I ignored him and he called me a tease.

I paid attention to him and he wouldn’t leave me alone.

I told him to stop calling and he threatened me.

I took his calls and he said that meant I wanted him.

I told them it was sexual harassment and they said I was not a team player.

I told them it wasn’t sexual harassment and they said I was an enabler.

I told them he raped me and they asked what I was wearing.

I told them he raped me and they asked why I had gone out alone.

I told them he raped me and they said I was just fantasizing.

I told them he raped me (years later) and they asked why I’d waited so long.

I told them he raped me and they told me not to destroy his life.

I didn’t tell them he raped me and when they found out, they called me complicit.

I told them he raped me and they called me a liar.

The Death of Personal Responsibility

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I thought it was just Twitter, but apparently there is nothing you can post on Facebook that isn’t subject to provoking someone’s existential angst. People will make it all about themselves, use it as an opportunity to “educate” you about some non-issue, invite you to check your privilege, suggest you’re not being nice, police your tone, or flat-out tell you you’re wrong. Trolls and gatekeepers don’t care about starting productive dialogues, they just want to be right, even at the expense of making things worse instead of better. Everyone’s entitled to their opinions, of course, but words have consequences and we need to be aware of just what it is we’re saying, and what kind of messages we are sending to society at large.

I just don’t understand people’s need to shame some of their peers, and choose to die on some random, unimportant hill for others. I’m referring to a rash—no, an epidemic—of people sticking up for virtual strangers no matter what they’ve done. Today, I saw two different posts in local Facebook groups that I follow. In the first, a woman posted a photo of a motor vehicle (no license plate) with the information that the driver had raced right past a school bus that was stopped, with its lights flashing and stop sign fully extended, loading children. She suggested that if anyone knew the driver, they might remind her that her behavior was reckless, dangerous, and selfish. Many people reacted to the post with the angry or sad emojis, but there was more than one person who immediately leaped to the driver’s defense. It’s always the same: you don’t know what that person is going through.

Really? That is a valid and legitimate excuse?

Of course people have issues. People have problems. People have cares and worries and fears, often beyond anything we can imagine. So we try to be understanding. We try to be kind and tolerant. We try to be patient. To have empathy.

But there is no excuse whatsoever for putting the lives of children at risk. You are running late? Leave earlier, or just be late. You’re distracted? Don’t drive. Personal issues don’t trump the law and every person who gets behind the wheel of a motor vehicle has an obligation and a responsibility to operate it safely.

It’s kind to suggest we should offer grace. It’s wise to suggest we should consider what someone else’s life might be like on any given day. When someone deliberately bumps my cart in the grocery store, or yells at a service provider, or cuts in line, it’s okay to let it go. It’s wonderful to practice grace and assume the best. But when it comes to automobile versus human, there are no do-overs. It’s not okay to say, “whoops,” and move on. The possible outcomes are too severe, and they are permanent.

In the second post, someone related that they had narrowly missed hitting a dog that darted into traffic. Several steps behind the dog, was an owner, leash in hand. The law in our community is that dogs must be leashed. This is for their safety as well as the safety of others. Immediately, other people began to clamor that the original poster did not know the whole story. Maybe the dog slipped out of the house, or jumped a fence, or any number of other, more innocent possibilities. These could all be true. But why the dog was off leash would not change the outcome if the driver had hit the dog. Calling attention to these issues is not necessarily “judgy,” as someone rather judgily suggested. If we are going to continue to push the you don’t know what other people are going through scenario, then we shouldn’t assume we know why a person makes a particular post. ‘The dog was off the leash accidentally’ is believable and true, but the original poster just wanting to call attention to a safety issue is not believable or true? Her only motivation was to shame and judge? Nope. You can’t have it both ways. If you’re going to insist on extending grace to one person, then you must extend it to all people.

A few months ago, I posted an anecdote where a woman literally shoved past my child on the way to the (one-person, and only) restroom in a store, slamming the door in my child’s face. My only reason for posting the story was that it was so incredible and I thought I might see some solidarity from others who might empathize and believe that it is bad behavior to take advantage of a child that way. Most people agreed that the woman’s actions were in poor taste. But I got plenty of the you don’t know what she’s going through variety of responses. Maybe she had a medical condition. Maybe she really, really had to go. No one considered that my child might have a medical condition (she doesn’t). No one considered that my child really, really had to go. (She did). And she got there first.

All these knee-jerk reactions online are essentially people blaming the victim. We are seeing the death of personal responsibility, not just by the perpetrators who think their time and their feelings and their physical needs are more important than those of others, but a whole group of other people out there who agree with them and their behavior. That is what is most disturbing to me. The person who takes a handicap parking spot may have forgotten to display their permit. The man who parks in the fire lane to drop off library books or dry cleaning might have mobility issues. The woman who darts around a school bus might be running late. The person who takes up two parking spaces at the grocery store might be a teenager learning to drive. I can have empathy for others without being stupid, because none of these things matter. We have rules and laws and yellow lines painted on pavements for a reason.

This problem is even more insidious when it comes to victims of crime. How dare a man operate a motor vehicle while being black? What did that woman do to make her husband hit her? Why didn’t the young man in his own apartment not respond to verbal commands by a police officer? What was that rape victim wearing or drinking? Why was that young woman jogging by herself?

We are asking the wrong questions, and creating sympathy for the wrong parties. We are normalizing bad behavior and blaming victims for things that are no one’s fault but the perpetrator’s.

When everyone blames the victim, and everyone comes up with excuses for the guilty, we have an awful lot of people who begin to believe that any excuse for wrongdoing is a good one, and that no one will be held accountable. Even our president is not being held to any standards of decency or personal responsibility. If he can’t or won’t govern his own words and actions, why would anyone else feel the need to behave appropriately?

God forgives us and calls on us to forgive others. But he has given us commandments to follow, too. No commandment that begins with Thou shalt not continues with the word unless. No caveats, no excuses, no wiggle room.

Empathy is great. Kindness is so important. Trying to understand the struggles of others is a wonderful exercise. But we can do all these things without excusing bad behavior. We live in a civilized society. It is still up to us to say: No. This is wrong. This will not happen here. It’s okay to be annoyed. It’s okay to be angry. And it is vital to speak up. Our safety, security, and well-being depend on it

No More Silence

neverun

Archaeologist Eleanor Blake has no intention of relying on a man for her happiness; she needs only a trowel and a dig site to feel fulfilled. But in 1985, an attempted sexual assault frightens her into giving up field work. She hides behind her desk job at the Smithsonian—safe, but unhappy with the limits she’s placed on her career.

Those sentences describe my as-yet to be published contemporary romance Trowel and Error. It’s a story I believe in. A story I feel needs to be told. A story I want to share. But I’m not sure I will get that chance.

Attempted sexual assault. Do you need a trigger warning? Are you disgusted? Turned off? Already hitting delete on my query? If only sexual assault victims could delete what happened to them. But they can’t. We can’t. I can’t. And it’s downright hard—insulting even—to see so many people (agents) say they don’t want to see a manuscript with a rape. According to RAINN, one in six women will be a victim of a sexual assault or an attempted sexual assault. Every 98 seconds, an American is sexually assaulted. So you can say you don’t want to read about it. You can say it’s “not for you.” You can dismiss it as an empty or lazy or manipulative plot device.

You can say all these things, but you haven’t met me. You don’t know me. And maybe, your attitude is diminishing my experience. Maybe you’re rape shaming me. Maybe you think I’m playing the victim card. Maybe you’re just not interested. Maybe you just don’t care. Maybe you don’t want to bothered, don’t want to be upset, don’t want to acknowledge there’s a problem.

Some people turn their faces away from homeless people. Some people change the television channel when starving children or amputee veterans or abused animals are on the screen. Everyone has that right.

But when you’re in an industry that the rest of the world relies on to give us a window into other people’s lives, that holds up a mirror to reflect ugly truths, how can you not be brave and try to understand someone else’s experience? How can you deny the legitimacy of someone else’s pain and their right to share?

I can’t believe I even have to say this but here it is: A RAPE ISN’T A PLOT DEVICE. It isn’t who a person is. But it is part of that person. You can no more ask a rape victim to disregard that part of their own self than you can ask someone to distance themselves from their race, their gender, their age, their sexual orientation. I’ve often wished there were some sort of #ownvoices designation for assault victims who want to tell their stories. It feels like we need that sort of protection. And yet, no one is saying someone else is more qualified to tell our stories; they’re saying that even we shouldn’t be telling our stories. How sad. How wasteful, short-sighted, and damaging.

There is still so much shame around rape. There is still so much doubt. Rape victims have an enormous burden. To prove it wasn’t their fault. To prove that their clothes or their actions didn’t cause what happened to them. To prove it actually happened.

When someone doesn’t want to see a manuscript like this, it’s as if they are saying my story isn’t important. My experience doesn’t deserve to be shared. I should sit down and shut up. I should keep my experiences to myself. Because they might inconvenience you. They might be hard to read. They might make you uncomfortable. Any idea how uncomfortable I was?

The agents say, “no raped women.” No rape as a means to making a female character stronger. As if a woman who has been raped is suddenly, forever and completely, a raped woman. As if a woman who has been raped isn’t a total freaking HERO for rising above what happened to her. Rape is not her identity, it is not her fate, it is not the end of her story. But you’re saying the story doesn’t matter. That what comes next isn’t important. That you have no interest in finding out how this doesn’t have to be the final word. That women can be and are so much more than what happened to them. And they have stories. Stories that deserve to be shared. Victims need a voice and a platform.

I will use my voice. And I will create my own platform if I have to. But having allies and advocates in the publishing world would help. Having people who won’t automatically reject even a glance at my manuscript because of one thing would help.

One way or another, I will share my story.

And maybe it will help others. And maybe it will make those of you who don’t want to be bothered more compassionate, more understanding, and more aware that survivors should never be branded.

If I sound angry, I am. By saying you don’t want to see it, you’re sending a message that this is bad, this is wrong. No one wants to see this, no one wants to know. Move along. Keep going. Close your eyes. Turn your head. Deny, deny, deny.

 

Profile of Lonna Seibert and her manuscript “A Servant’s Heart” on Susan Preston’s blog

I’m so pleased to be featured as a writer of Christian/inspirational fiction on Susan Preston’s blog. Susan is the award-winning author of the Apostle John series, books that explore what was like to be a Christian in the first century, A.D. You can find the post about my manuscript, “A Servan’ts Heart,” here: