Cissy Brady-Rogers
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I chose not to press charges against the perpetrator when I was raped 30 years ago. I didn’t want to suffer re-victimization in order to prove he was guilty. I didn’t want to put myself on trial, proving my victimization, justifying my choices, verifying my credibility, demonstrating my reliability as a witness to my own experience of rape. I didn’t want to be placed on the witness stand where my integrity and character would become the topics of the trial.

I was at a bar with friends. I met a man. We kissed. He asked for a ride home. We left the bar together. And suddenly, according to some perverse understanding of relationships upon which the criminal justice system operates when it comes to rape, our friendly engagement and public displays of affection had apparently given him permission to insert his penis into my vagina!

Who is on trial?

Who is on trial?

At least, that’s what the investigator from the District Attorney’s office said would happen if the case went to trial. She empathized with me, validated my experience and seemed to covertly agree with my protests of injustice. But she also reinforced the fact that my history of drugs, alcohol and sexual engagements would be used by the criminal’s attorneys to prove his innocence.

Unlike the vast majority of rape victims, the morning following the Friday night incident I called the rape crisis hotline and went to a local hospital for treatment of my injuries (bruising on my legs and arms and tearing of my previously un-penetrated vagina). With the support of a rape crisis counselor who met me at the emergency room, I reported the crime to the police. They interviewed me, took photographs of my bruising and collected physical evidence. At the end of the emergency room ordeal, I accompanied the officers to the site of the crime as well as to the bar where we met.

The police gathered information, identified the criminal and arrested him later that day. He spent the weekend in jail and was released on bail the following Monday.

Unlike Emily Doe who courageously took the stand, suffered the humiliation of her own life and history being put on trial in order to bring about justice, I chose to drop the charges I’d filed. I wasn’t willing to have my life become the target of his defense. I wasn’t willing to be re-victimized by a criminal justice system that continues to make rape victims the guilty ones by allowing our alcohol and drug use or sexual histories to become part of the trail.

Emily’s letter to her attacker reveals much about why, out of  every 100 rapes, only 7 of these crimes lead to arrest and only 3 are referred to prosecutors:

“I was pummeled with narrowed, pointed questions that dissected my personal life, love life, past life, family life, inane questions, accumulating trivial details to try and find an excuse for this guy who didn’t even take the time to ask me for my name, who had me naked a handful of minutes after seeing me. After a physical assault, I was assaulted with questions designed to attack me, to say see, her facts don’t line up, she’s out of her mind, she’s practically an alcoholic, she probably wanted to hook up…”

To add to the injustice of it all, even after being found guilty of three felony charges related to sexual assault, the criminal was sentenced to only 6 months in county jail plus probation. And, assuming he’ll be on his best behavior, he’s likely to serve only 3 months.

I stand with Emily and others in protesting the sentence handed down by the judge who has a history of bias in favor of student athletes. The judge justified his leniency by expressing concern that the standard sexual assault sentence of  6 years in prison would have “a severe impact” on the criminal, a former Stanford University student.

Isn’t severity the message demanded by justice? Doesn’t the serious violation demand a harsh sentence? What is the message being sent to the criminal by letting him off easy? What is the message being sent to other perpetrators? Other potential victims?

“If you’re a young white male and have a potentially bright future ahead of you, material and social resources, we’ll let you off easy and trust that because you come from a place of affluence and privilege, you’ll get the rehabilitation you need and become an upstanding citizen.” 

I wonder if the judge would have given the same sentence had the offender been from the wrong side of the tracks, a struggling community college student working at a gas station or any one other than a former Olympic hopeful who also happens to be a caucasian male?

Brock Turner is an adult deserving of the maximum penalty and time for rehabilitation as a sexual offender, not a slap on the wrist and a few months of jail time to consider the errors of his ways. In the United States the average prison time for rape is 8-9 years in prison. Three to six months is not enough for the needed punishment and rehabilitation–which is ultimately the goal of our criminal justice system, isn’t it?

A young adult friend spoke with me last week about her struggle to embody her sexuality. In her late 20’s and single, she’s part of the fall-out from the “purity culture” that advocates virginity and emotional purity before marriage. She’s also part of a movement to find a better way to support healthy sexual development in church communities.  After our conversation she referred me to a blog that gives voice to the inner dissonance I hear from many women and men raised in purity culture.

That interaction was on my mind when an op-ed response to the FDA’s recent approval of “pink Viagra” appeared on Sunday. In spite of significant controversy surrounding its’ safety and efficacy, flibanserin is the first drug approved to treat low desire disorders in pre-menopausal women. The author Emily Nagoski holds a doctorate in health behavior and describes herself as a “science-driven sex educator.” She calls the science behind the drug outdated and invalid. Distinguishing between spontaneous desire (which is not essential for sexual satisfaction or well-being) and responsive desire which emerges in anticipation of pleasure, she notes that “responsive desire isn’t worse than spontaneous desire, it’s just different.”

As a post-menopausal women with history of fairly robust spontaneous desire, I get the difference! Most often I operate on responsive desire these days. But just because my libido isn’t as strong as it used to be doesn’t mean I’m disordered or that I am any less in love with my husband than I used to be. It’s biology. It’s life circumstances. It’s 26 years of doing life together with freedom to have sex anytime we want. And, many other factors that come into play over the normal life cycle of those of us whose abundance of resources allow us to worry about having less sex or less dramatic orgasms than we used too!

Yet the pharmaceutical model doesn’t take those psycho-social-spiritual factors into consideration when looking for an answer to our multi-layered sexual, mental and emotional “problems.” Like the anxiety and depression that the drug industry would have us rush to diagnose and treat with medications, so-called problems of “low” desire may be manifestations of disordered lifestyles and distorted values about sexuality and intimacy. We live in a culture where we use excessive amounts of caffeine and sugar to compensate for sleep deprivation and then over-the-counter products and alcohol to help us wind back down. Much commercially produced food is nutritionally deficient. We over-work and over-spend. Is it any wonder we get to bed at night and lack spontaneous desire?

Moreover, the fact that hoards of middle-aged women helped make Fifty Shades of Grey a bestseller and box office hit is clear evidence to me that our cultural values about sexuality and intimacy have landed in the trash heap! If sadism and masochism are what it takes to get us turned on, we’ve certainly lost our way as to how to be sexually vibrant and loving human beings.

Ironically, the very teachings meant to “safeguard” the virginity of young people in purity culture can contribute to later problems with desire. As another young woman told me, “Sexual desire was just as bad as sexual activities. You were supposed to suppress it until you married. Then, it would somehow spontaneously emerge again.”

Rachel (who tells it like it is in her blog) is trying to ‘rid herself’ of purity culture thinking, but she hasn’t found anything concrete to replace it. Here’s how she describes her struggle:

Evangelical Christianity made it really easy to know what was right and wrong. It was easy to know when I was supposed to feel guilty (most of the time). I never really had to think about what I wanted in regards to sex because all that mattered was what the Bible said. And now I have to constantly question, “How do I feel about this? Will I regret this? Does it matter that I don’t know him that well, don’t like him that much, don’t think this will lead anywhere? If he does this, should I do that? Because I want to? Because he wants me to? Because it’s expected? Because I’m drunk? Should I do anything when I’m drunk? What is this saying about me? Does this say anything? Am I saying yes because I am horny or because I want to be nice? Will this change our relationship? Do I care? When is it okay to leave?”

And those questions are exhausting.

Yet those are the very kind of questions we ought to be helping our children consider from the first time they fondle their genitals in public or ask questions about sexuality that make parents uncomfortable. Not these exact questions, but similar ones that are appropriate for the challenges of their developmental stage.

Children and teens need to be empowered with discernment skills to access inner guidance. Not just about sexuality, but about all the moral challenges of life that if they choose to live with open hearts and minds, they will inevitably face. They need to sense, feel and think about their sexuality throughout the developmental cycle and make choices each day about what to do with sexual pleasure they’ll naturally feel if not repressed.  They need to be equipped to discern the difference between healthy self-exploration and release of sexual energy via masturbation and self-pleasuring that is compensatory or otherwise unhealthy. They need us to help them consider the potential consequences of getting emotionally or physically intimate before their psychologically or otherwise ready to commit. And so much more.

They need us to help them learn to think and discern God’s path for them in a complex world where black and white answers are insufficient for many of the challenges they’ll face.

Ironically, the best book I ever came across for working with teen sexuality went out of print because the Christian publishers didn’t want to acknowledge teens might be sexually active! Thankfully, you can still pick up a copy of Judy and Jack Balsick’s Raging Hormones: what to do when you suspect your teen might be sexually active on Amazon.

Thanks be to God for my young friend, Rachelwhotellsitlikeitis, and others like them. May God’s grace show them a better way to pass on to the next generations.

Today hasn’t gone according to schedule. At only 9:30 this morning it was already “one of those days…”

I’m grateful the wise reminders from Eveyln Underhill and my friend Stephanie that came to me before the day started going sideways.

In her Lent devotional, Evelyn reminded me that Saint Paul did not say that the Spirit of God would bring forth qualities of productivity, organization, effectiveness or success. The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control. These hallmarks of spiritual maturity may at times manifest in productivity, efficiency, etc., but can’t take primacy over love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. The energy of the fruit of the Spirit may fuel my capacity for effectiveness and successful completion of my tasks for the day. But sacrificing peace and patience in order to “get things done” isn’t worth it!

Soul School with Stephanie

Soul School with Stephanie

My friend Stephanie Jenkin’s blog about her journey with infertility in today’s Monk in the World guest post reminds me of what I most value. She writes:

As a monk in the world, I am called to live authentically into who I am at the core. Infertility stripped off the false pretense of perfectionism and control and made me see that Love is bigger.  And I am called to choose Love each day. I am called to strip off the demands, the deadlines, the pressure to perform and conform. I am called to live in to and out of my heart.

My sacred symbols have become the feather and the leaf. Whether I am flying like the feather or falling like the leaf, I am surrendered to God who is greater than I.

I am loved. I am Beloved. That is more than enough. It is in this great Love that I am naked and unashamed.

For the rest of her story, please visit the Abbey of the Arts.

Thanks for taking me to soul school this morning Stephanie. I am loved. I am Beloved. That is enough!

Amen!

Your capacity to remind me of who I am and what is most important is a precious gift. You are a blessing to me and all who know you.

 

Two commentaries on the challenges of being female in the church and in the broader culture came to my attention this week.

Andrea Heinrichs’ blog “What I Would Tell my 12-Year Old Self About Gender Roles” reminded me that in spite of great strides toward egalitarian relationships between women and men through groups like Christians for Biblical Equality, most of the church is still stuck in a binary model that assigns roles, capabilities and value according to gender. Similarly, in the culture-at-large women continue to be underrepresented in leadership roles in government, media and business. On top of all of that, media stereotypes about masculinity (“real men” are tough, stoic and violent) and femininity (“real women” are sex-objects) limit our options for moving beyond the binary model.

I first came across Laci Green when searching for videos for my human sexuality and sex therapy class. She began her public work on gender and sexuality as a sex educator while studying at U.C. Berkley. In her signature irreverently humorous style, her video “Why is Zero a Size Tho?” confronts multiple issues related to women’s embodiment As she points out, “zero means nothing…It suggests that a woman should take up so little space that she actually disappears.” A culture filled with both covert and overt messages that make staying small and taking up as little space as possible severely limit the possibilities for female empowerment.

Finally, I love the way Richard Rohr’s daily mediation this morning reminds me what my faith in Christ says about who I am and what it means to be a real woman or man:

The object and goal of all spirituality is finally the same for all genders: union, divine love, inner aliveness, soul abundance, forgiveness of offenses, and generous service to the neighbor and the world. Here “there is no distinction…between male and female” (Galatians 3:28). Mature Christian spirituality leads us toward such universals and essentials. Yet people invariably divide and argue about non-essentials!”

Amen!

I lead a workshop on working with same-sex attraction for counseling trainees and interns at Life Pacific College last weekend. The clinicians were hungry for information and tools to help their clients cope with not just same-sex attraction, but a long list of other sexual issues.

I presented the work of psychologist Mark Yarhouse on narrative sexual identity therapy, along with some provocative thoughts from anthropologist Jenell Paris’ new book The End of Sexual Identity: Why Sex is Too Important to Define Who We Are. Both teach at conservative Christian colleges where they are seeking more compassionate and helpful ways to think about and work with issues of sexuality among this very confused, ill-equipped and all-too-often guilt and shame ridden group of young adults.

Pastor Steve Smith of Malibu Presbyterian church says that from puberty to marriage students from conservative backgrounds are in sort of exile from their own sexuality — he calls it “Sex-ile.” The church tells them to “wait” until marriage, but then offers minimal resources to integrate and develop a healthy sense of their own sexuality while they wait.

A former student from Azusa Pacific University where I taught human sexuality and sex therapy for 8 years sent me a link to a story that illustrates how well intended but limited efforts to prescribe chastity as the answer for sex-ile can end up doing more harm than good. Samantha Pugsley says that she waited until her wedding night to lose her virginity and wishes she hadn’t. It’s a tragic example of the kind of outcome that I suspect will become even more common among these young people if we don’t develop alternatives.

Meanwhile, five days ago ethicist David Gushee, who’s wise counsel helped me with my decision to discontinue teaching at Azusa Pacific this past summer, stirred the pot in a big way with his speech “Ending the Teaching of Contempt against the Church’s Sexual Minorities” at the Reformation Project Conference. As expected in the heated conversation taking place about same-sex attraction in the church world, he was soon on the chopping block of those who disagreed with his presentation.

Lord, have mercy.

Christ, have mercy.

Lord, have mercy.

I remain in the conversation, committed to staying open and being part of the solution. One day at a time.

Amen.

Clinical psychologist William Sheldon wrote that “Deeper and more fundamental then sexuality, deeper than the craving for social power, deeper even that the desire for possessions, there is a more generalized and more universal craving in our human make-up. It is a craving for right direction – for orientation. ” For youth and young adults, that orientation is about developing a solid sense of who they are, forming an identity that enables them to use their lives to create a better world for everyone.

Showing now - check website for locations and times

As I viewed Darryl Robert’s latest documentary America The Beautiful 3: The sexualization of our youth on Sunday night identity development was on my mind. The first two America the Beautiful films explored America’s obsession with beauty and body size. All three documentaries draw attention to the exploitation of basic human insecurities by commercial industries. Sex, slim bodies and beauty sell products from hamburgers to pharmaceuticals. Picture vibrant, slim, well dressed,  youthful looking middle aged couples in commercials for Viagra!

We want to be beautiful or handsome. It’s a basic human longing. We want to “look good.” Even before mirrors and photography people engaged in beauty enhancing techniques based on cultural norms. While across cultures the definitions of what is attractive vary, it seems that throughout history how one looks factors into identity development.

As a “chubby” child and early adolescent, I escaped the beauty, weight and sex traps by opting out of the game. I knew the rules: fat is not attractive. So rather than even trying to play the game, I mostly sat on the sidelines and played support crew for my more beautiful friends who were on the field. That isn’t to say I wasn’t deeply ashamed of my appearance – at least my body size. But I learned that my identity needed to develop from something other than how I looked.

Fast forward 40 years and I am grateful for the psychological insulation my fat provided. I learned that looking good (whatever that means) isn’t as important as being a good, kind, genuine person. I learned that being sexy was actually quite risky as I watched my “more attractive” friends suffer the slings and arrows of adolescent love games. Not to mention a few that ended up choosing to abort unwanted babies when they’d “forgotten” to use protection or the one who ended up marrying the father, moving to Oregon and becoming a teenage wife and mother.

Before I get on too much of a downer here, let me come back to what initiated this blog. My friend Chris Kresbach, who works in the film industry and knows all too well how messed up our cultural norms about beauty, weight and sexuality are, posted this video on Facebook today. It’s a wonderful tongue-in-cheek take on women, beauty and body image. All of which, along with sexuality, are central to the essential human need to know who we are. But they aren’t everything. We must find ways to love and enjoy our physicality and work with the inevitable challenges and changes, but not allow appearance to define us.

Let’s be at the forefront of reminding ourselves and each other about what is most important in life. Perhaps sharing this video with your friends would be a fun and simple way to do that!

Offered with my prayer that you will find ways to love and enjoy your body,  just as you are today!

How to Hold it Together When Your World Feels Like it is Falling Apart – Thursday, October 23rd 4 p.m.

Join me at the Cancer Support Community of Pasadena next week to explore the powerful opportunities unleashed amidst the crisis state evoked by cancer.

My breast cancer diagnosis and treatment 22 years ago lead me on a journey I didn’t choose or want, but has shaped my personal and professional life ever since. What began to emerge in my recovery process was the new way of being in my body and life that I now pass on to others. Cancer is just one of the many challenges we will all face if we are blessed to live long enough to face a major life crisis.

We will look at how cancer diagnosis and treatment can send many areas of life spiraling out of control, including family, friendships, work & professional life, overall  health and well-being, lifestyle choices, physical intimacy, as well as religion and spirituality.  Discuss how challenges to core belief systems and values can rock your world during and after a cancer journey. Learn mindful awareness tools to help you recover your stability amidst the crisis of cancer diagnosis and treatment.

To register contact the Cancer Support Community of Pasadena: 626-796-1083.

The following Hymn of Divine Love by Symeon the New Theologian (949-1022) arrived in my email this morning.  Through embodied spiritual practices like yoga, moving meditation and body prayers, I have experienced the transformation he describes. Everything that was hurt, everything that once seemed to me “dark, harsh, shameful, maimed, ugly, irreparably damaged about my body,” has been transformed. The sagging places, the stretch marks, wrinkles and blemishes document the life I’ve lived. I am beloved in every part of my body,  just as I am.

My work is to pass this grace on so that the upcoming generations of young women and men will not live in fear and guilt or be ashamed of their bodies. That’s why I teach Christ-centered yoga, offer workshops on transforming your relationship with your body and other topics. In Christ we are free from shame, but too many Christians live their entire lives ashamed of some aspect of their physicality. I’m on a mission to change that!

Thanks be to God for Symeon’s wisdom that is a rich but neglected part of the Christian tradition.

Thanks be to God for the amazing grace of Christ that sets us free.

Thanks be to God for transformation worked in our lives to set us free.

And thanks be to God ahead of time for the freedom that will come through us to upcoming generations.

Hymn of Divine Love #15 by Symeon the New Theologian

We awaken in Christ’s body,
As Christ awakens our bodies
There I look down and my poor hand is Christ,
He enters my foot and is infinitely me.
I move my hand and wonderfully
My hand becomes Christ,
Becomes all of Him.
I move my foot and at once
He appears in a flash of lightning.
Do my words seem blasphemous to you?
—Then open your heart to Him.
And let yourself receive the one
Who is opening to you so deeply.
For if we genuinely love Him,
We wake up inside Christ’s body
Where all our body all over,
Every most hidden part of it,
Is realized in joy as Him,
And He makes us utterly real.
And everything that is hurt, everything
That seemed to us dark, harsh, shameful,
maimed, ugly, irreparably damaged
Is in Him transformed.
And in Him, recognized as whole, as lovely,
And radiant in His light,
We awaken as the beloved
In every last part of our body.

May each of us awaken to the radiance of God’s life living, moving and taking delight living through us today!

Amen.


Please join me for a South Pasadena Community Special Event Screening and Community Discussion of the award winning documentary Miss Representation Monday, February 24, 2014 , at the South Pasadena Library.

In a society where media is the most persuasive force shaping cultural norms, the collective message that our young women and men overwhelmingly receive is that a woman’s value and power lie in her youth, beauty, and sexuality, and not in her capacity as a leader. While women have made great strides in leadership over the past few decades, the United States is still 90th in the world for women in national legislatures, women hold only 3% of clout positions in mainstream media, and 65% of women and girls have disordered eating behaviors.

Free Screening - South Pasadena Library, Monday February 24 5:30 p.m.

Hailed by the Hollywood Reporter as “A relevant and important doc[umentary] that deconstructs the insidious role of visual media in the widespread, unbalanced depiction of women and girls,” Miss Representation exposes how mainstream media contributes to the under- and mis- representation of women in positions of power and influence in America. The film challenges the media’s limited and often disparaging portrayals of women and girls, which makes it difficult for women to achieve leadership positions and for the average woman to feel powerful herself.

“How we think about ourselves helps to determine our sense of self-worth. Well-being is not just the absence of disease or illness. It is a complex combination of a person’s physical, mental, emotional and social health factors. Well-being is linked to how you feel about yourself and your life. We need to be increasingly mindful about the demeaning and sexualized images of women and girls that popular media promotes. This event will bring awareness to the source of these negative messages and jumpstart a much needed conversation in our community about self-esteem and political empowerment.” Marina Khubesrian, MD, FAAFP

The 90-minute film will be screened from 5:30pm-7pm followed by a dynamic discussion from 7pm-8pm facilitated by Cissy Brady-Rogers, LMFT, featuring expert guests Katherine Wong (Common Sense Media), Mayor of South Pasadena Dr. Marina Khubesrian;, SPHS Feminists Unite Club members Charlotte Foley, Mia Forman, Paige Valentine, Paige Forman, and Suki Sekula; Katherine Wong (Common Sense Media); Pasadena City College Board Trustee Linda Wah; Oliver Middelstaedt (USC student and featured in the film);, Pasadena City College Board Trustee Linda Wah and Shaunelle Curry (Media Done Responsibly).

The event is free and open to the public; no tickets or reservations are required. Space is limited. Refreshments and snacks will be provided. While attendance of the screening is encouraged, it is not necessary for participation in the community discussion.

Press Release supplied by Healthy South Pasadena and Day One.

I’ve blogged about the dangers of use, misuse and abuse of alcohol before. A recent N.Y. Times discussion got me thinking about it again.

Studies indicate an association between binge drinking and rape on college campuses. As one of the N.Y. Times bloggers states: there’s nothing liberating or empowering about getting so drunk that you make choices to go places and do things you’d never do if you were sober!   If women think that being free to “drink like a man” is a sign of liberation, they’ve got some serious self-reflection to do on the meaning of life.

Encouraging women to drink responsibly is not about putting the blame for rape on the women, it’s about taking personal responsibility for our own welfare. Moreover, the same message should be sent to the men who rape them. I wonder about my own experience: would that man I met in the bar have raped me if he were sober? Would either of us made the choices we did if we’d met at a coffee shop instead of a bar?

Another author asks an important question about the abuse of alcohol: When did it become a social justice issue to defend anyone’s right to get so inebriated they make decisions they’d never make if they were sober?

And so the conversation continues…