Scandal

A few years ago when I had just broken up with my long-term boyfriend, a well-intentioned Christian friend came up and said to me, “Beware of falling into sin in this difficult time.” [Warning: explicit content ahead]

She meant well. Not a particularly close friend, she asked how I was doing. I said fine, but that the emotions were still raw and I was sad. I say she meant well because I suspect she had the image of me going binge drinking and grabbing the next guy I see to fill the void. I don’t do that, but she didn’t know me too well. She could have meant because I was vulnerable, I became an easy target for men to step in and snatch; but it wasn’t communicated that way. She chose to talk about sin, and specifically the (heightened) possibility of me sinning because I had now broken up. The sin that she was referring to, though it wasn’t named, was sexual sin.

It wasn’t the kind of support I needed at the time. Not only did I feel unloved, I felt her words were judgemental and righteous. She was married and proudly so and often felt the need to lecture single girls about decency. And because she was married, she no longer had the capacity for sexual sin. She was untouchable. Only single people were capable of committing that crime.

If you, like me, were brought up in a conservative environment where sex was rarely discussed without the usual accompanying embarrassment and squeamishness, you would probably, like me, feel equally embarrassed and squeamish when talking about it. If you’re lucky, you might have a close friend or two ballsy enough to tell you what’s really on their minds. That might be your only source of real sex information from actual people, internet excluded. Maybe your parents are liberals and gave you a healthier peek into what sex entails. Otherwise, you stand isolated in your questions and suffer in your own dearth of knowledge. Don’t count on getting information about sex at church, because the only times I remember hearing about it is how it’s a source of sin, how it for whatever reason is more severe and repulsive a sin than other more innocent sins, or during a reading of the ten commandments.

There was a scandal some years back about leaked photos of celebrities on the internet. These photos showed famous women in compromising positions, some naked some half-naked, in provocative poses with drug-droopy eyes. There was hair, tongue, expressions of ecstasy and genitals. They were circulated widely in chat groups and networks and it was near impossible to avoid if you owned a phone or computer. I was guilty of seeing them. The sole male protagonist of these photos took them, left them on his computer, and when his computer broke down he got it fixed at a shop. The computer technician extracted the photos and uploaded them onto a server. It went viral immediately.

Shortly after the scandal one of the female celebrity victims, a singer, addressed the public at a press conference. Dressed plainly with light make-up, clearly different from her usual jazzier looks, chaperoned by her manager, her co-star, and an army of people from her representing entertainment company, she tearily apologised for her “behaviour” and blamed the incident on her own “innocence and stupidity”.

There was much talk in town about the photos and the subsequent singer’s apology, enough that the church small group found it important to address at an official gathering. I recall it vividly. All of us, some 15 or so seated in chairs in a circle. Someone bashfully started the topic, voice hushed, “There has been an unhappy incident about inappropriate photos being circulated. You may have seen it already and must have heard about it. We’re creating a platform to discuss it and answer any questions.”

It was outrageous. Society was divided about how to treat these victims (I call all of them victims, including the male protagonist, because the photos are private and shouldn’t have been stolen and uploaded in the first place). Some condemned them them for having a little sexy time and being stupid enough to take photos of such; there were extremely mean and degrading comments made about the women’s female parts, widely circulated. Others felt sorry for the girls for having their bodies displayed to the public for what was clearly a private matter. Church, or specifically the small group, had a more one sided view.

Some of the comments during that small group gathering included:

  • God made body parts a certain way and should only be used a certain way. Clearly, they were using those body parts impurely (in reference to oral sex).
  • If you live a sinful life, you’ll be exposed and you risk being shamed when that happens. We should aim to lead pure lives so as not to be shamed.

There were other less infuriating comments, but those two stuck out. In my mind the case was clear – the victims were those whose photos were exposed. Stealing photos from someone’s computer is theft. And then uploading them onto the internet is sharing material which wasn’t yours to begin with. The female victims deserve empathy and support. Arguably more so than their male counterpart because their photos were the most explicit and the backlash they got was much more severe than the guy.

I tried to make my perspective known, and spoke out against the comments made. I said while church and Christian teachings have a clear stance against premarital sex, these people 1) aren’t Christian and 2) don’t follow the same values. It’s judgemental to talk about their case and chastise them for their behaviour. The women in the photos are victims of a crime. Victims should be treated with sympathy. We shouldn’t even be commenting irrelevant questions about how they had sex, whether they should have had sex or taken photographs of such.

There was an uncomfortable silence. We then quickly moved on to the next comment, without rebuttal or reaction to my point.

I rarely went back to those gatherings, because in the rare moon that I did I often caught myself fuming in my seat at the (by my standards, backwards) thoughts being expressed. Being conservative is one thing, but propagating unjust ideals is another. You cannot victim blame in a case where there is clearly a perpetrator and a victim, which practice leads down a slippery slope. What if this victim blaming extends to cases of sexual assault or rape? It may appear an illogical leap, but the fundamentals of the thinking process are there: if you are the unfortunate victim of a crime sexual in nature, be it the illegal obtaining and subsequent exposure of your naked photographs, or more severely, sexual assault, you are to blame. It may not be said blatantly in your face but the thinking is obvious in the conversations. The whispering accusations are: you shouldn’t have had sex, you shouldn’t have consented to the photos being taken; you shouldn’t have dressed provocatively or been at a shady spot on the get-go. Had you followed God’s orders of purity and sanctity, had you covered yourself, had you been more modest, had you left earlier, this wrath wouldn’t have dawned on you. Your pain and your shame is because of your sinful behaviour.

This wasn’t the type of thinking I was able to stomach. Victims aren’t to blame when something bad happens. It doesn’t matter if they were drunk or on drugs when the photos were taken. It doesn’t matter that they consented to the photos being taken at the time. The bottom line is this is a case of theft; their photos were stolen, and then disseminated without their consent. While I appreciate biblical teachings on loving thy neighbour, faithfulness, charity and forgiveness, the permeating inherently misogynistic nature of church teachings isn’t something I could tolerate. Generally, the: submit to your husbands; don’t behave in a way that makes your brother stumble; be pure; God loves you [because you are an honest, pure, clean, good sister of Christ]. And specific to this case: don’t have sex; don’t have pre-marital sex; don’t have oral sex; don’t do drugs; and all this wouldn’t have happened.

Would it have been different if it were an adventurous Christian married couple having a bit of sexy time and documenting the process? What if their photos were stolen and disseminated? Would they have received as much shade from society? Would the victims have had to issue a public apology to the church community?

“I’m sorry for having sex with my wife, documenting the process, and inadvertently showing my genitals to you. Although they were meant for me and my wife’s exclusive enjoyment, I’m sorry you had to see them, because someone stole them from my computer and publicised it to the world wide web without my permission. I was innocent and stupid.”

Does the bible forbid taking photos of yourselves in the act of sex? Does God really condemn oral sex? Are both classified as sinful?

These women were hurt by a man who disseminated their naked photos, and a conservative culture that not only failed to show empathy, but rather quickly threw judgement at them. The singer who openly apologised shortly after the photos went viral shouldn’t have needed to do so – apologising for having been a victim. It was twisted and wrong. I suspect she was under the pressure of her entertainment company; many singers and actors/actresses in this city have little control over what they do or say. Or, she could have genuinely stepped up in hopes to save her career. But we as a city shouldn’t have mocked her and her apology (tabloids went viral reporting this), further victimising her.

My own break-up story at the beginning of this post relates to the complex emotions felt when there are elements of victim blame. I didn’t go through nearly anything as bad as what those celebrities went through. It was a bad breakup, details which I won’t divulge, but which I’ve since recovered from. At the time I felt alone, sad, broken, isolated. It took much courage to start talking about what I was going through. What I needed was someone to cry with, have meal with, watch rom-coms with, give me a hug and moral support. Not someone to tell me that I needed to more vigorously monitor myself, ever be more vigilant, because I was going to more easily sin.

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24 comments on “Scandal

  1. It’s so easy for so many of us to jump to conclusions when we hear of someone having intimate one-on-one – or more – relations with one another. And sadly a lot of us do that and judge us for our personal choices on getting involved in sexual relations.

    I wasn’t raised a Christian but conservative and still stick with these values today. There’s this devout Christian friend of mind I’ve known since high school. A few years ago we were having lunch, chatting about work and she suddenly asked me some odd questions: “Would you live together with a guy before getting married?”, “Would you date someone of a different race?”. I honestly felt like I was being judged, put through the test of sin (I am okay with both scenarios). We used to be close, but after that we don’t exchanged texts very often anymore. It’s odd, I share a lot of the same un-sinful values as her.

    At the end of the day, I believe we are all victims of our own actions. Each decision we make leads to consequences, some happy, some unwanted. But that’s a poor excuse to judge.

    I’m sorry to hear of the relationship breakdown and the Christian friend of yours. I do wonder what she was thinking about when she told you to be careful not to sin. Maybe she was really looking out for your well-being, pitying you, or maybe trying to draw you closer to her religion, I don’t know.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for sharing your story Mabel. It’s not easy, having a faith that is quite different from mainstream thought and sticking by it. It’s true that we can feel easily judged, especially from people of say, the Christian faith, because the difference between believing and not believing means the difference between life and death. Sorry to hear that you slowly became more distant with your Christian friend. But perhaps that’s also part of growing up. As we know ourselves better and have a firmer grasp of what is ok in our moral world, sometimes the only thing we can do is to let go of certain relationships that cannot support what we stand for.
      I’m still in touch with my friend, and am still in touch with many of those Christian friends who were in that very room making those comments, but I’ve come to accept that I cannot change how they think, or they me. Our worldviews and thoughts adjust with time. They are never truly static. My values, like you, remain relatively conservative, but I’ve also come to a few conclusions on my own which may appear scandalous when shared with Christian friends. Therefore I choose to remain quiet sometimes. If it doesn’t help our relationship it’s perhaps best to hold my tongue!
      I agree that we should try not to judge and come to hasty conclusions.

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      • So true. As we get older, we all get different jobs and hang out with different groups of people. No surprise that some friends start to drift.

        That is good to hear you are still friends with your Christian friends. I’m sure some of them are accommodating of your beliefs and what you choose to believe in – often there’s more to a foundation of friendship than just common beliefs. Tolerance is another factor.

        I don’t know about you and whether you have encountered thus, but one thing I do not like is when some of my Christian friends try to convince me to believe in their religion – and they don’t seem to let this die when I’ve made my intentions very clear. Sort of up to the point they are shoving it down my throat – buying me bibles, Christian story books, bookmarks, and so on. I’m sure they have good intentions. But I really just want to be myself.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Hahahahaha I know exactly what you are talking about. There’s this urgency to convert and a sense that they know better, and know what’s best for you….

          I think this sort of action, whether it happens or is persistent depends on what type of Christian you’re talking about. Evangelicals have a heavy emphasis on evangelising, and there is a culture to preach and convert. Catholics I have found to be less adamant on converting unbelievers. There are also churches that are very chill and just want you to hang out with them.

          If your wishes have been made known, then they should understand the boundaries and not push you further. If bibles and books are not gifts you want, perhaps return them? There isn’t much you can do, because ultimately you can control your own actions but not those of theirs!

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        • “There are also churches that are very chill…” I’ve heard stories from some international students that there are churches and faith groups that aim to do that – the whole point of it is to make friends in a foreign country with people who have common ground.

          A few months ago I donated the bibles and Christian books to a free-for-all, second-hand library pop-up near my place. When I passed by a month later, the books were gone. I hope I made someone happy 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

        • Those churches sound like a fun place. But I guess the challenge for those church leaders would be to keep the bible’s message alive and stay true to God’s word, while still being relevant and welcoming people from different cultures. I don’t think it’s easy – too wishy washy and then it’s no longer classified as a “church”!
          I’m sure someone picked up those books and found them helpful. It’s a great idea that you put them up for second hand use. That’s very kind and also environmentally friendly 🙂

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    • “…we are all victims of our own action” – very true to a certain extent Mabel. I do believe that everyone holds the reigns to their destiny, and the outlook of life is based on the overall choices we make. Though, in many cases there are people, especially women and children, who are born into certain dire situations and can’t really escape. I’m thinking born into brothels, human trafficking, and modern day slavery which perhaps we never get to encounter, but are no doubt happening. Those, I don’t think are victims of their own actions. They are victims of other people’s malice and choices. But if we speak of those living in democratic, free worlds, then yes, I do believe a lot is up to how we choose…..

      As for the rather intruding questions your friend asked, it seemed she overestimated how close or how comfortable you both were with each other. It could be she was curious as to how non-Christians think of such matters. Perhaps she was taught only one correct way of life and she wanted to know more. Or perhaps, her questions were a reflection of what she subconsciously wished for, but cannot have. And therefore the next best thing is to live vicariously. It could be a number of reasons 🙂

      As to the intentions of my friend – I think she meant well. By no means did she mean to hurt. But it’s still annoying when people feel they can direct, or give moral guidance, or think they know what’s best for you, or what makes you stumble, without much understanding of the context. Speaking out of love and speaking controversially to a loved one takes years and years of building trust. It also takes much practice because how you say it will affect how or whether it is received. I’m still working on that, finding balance between being honest to those I love in hopes they will change something for the better, but also not isolating them entirely.

      I don’t mind speaking candidly about touchy matters, but definitely not with someone I don’t feel a close connection with or whom I entirely trust, and that takes a while!

      You always leave remarks that provoke further thought. Thanks for enriching this discussion!

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      • That is so true. Some of us can’t help the situations we are in. There are a lot of us in this world who aren’t as well of as us and who have no roofs over their heads – and for that, yes, they are most definitely victims of others’ selfishness and ignorance.

        I think sometimes we take someone’s advice out of context, especially if they think that a certain mindset or religion will better our lives. We might think they are being overly concerned or simply want to push their beliefs onto us. You are right. Trust takes years to build between each other. And also tolerance. Just because we don’t share the same beliefs doesn’t mean we can’t get along or can’t hang out together.

        I suppose sometimes those who follow a religion see us who don’t as a bit selfish – that we’re full of ourselves and don’t have a purpose to serve. Just a thought.

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        • “…sometimes those who follow a religion see us who don’t as a bit selfish – that we’re full of ourselves and don’t have a purpose to serve” – I agree with your observation. I guess there are some core Christian values that naturally separate believers from non-believers. Death is a big one – Christians must believe that those that don’t accept Christ will be eternally damned. It’s not an easy thought and I deem there needs to be quite a bit of mind gymnastics to truly believe that’s true, and not break down. Because if you’re Christian and your parents not, you’re certain that you’ll enter heaven but they won’t. They’ll also be damned to hell, suffering fire and other tortures for the rest of time. If we put that into context, and understand that’s what Christians believe, then it’s no surprise that they’d drop everything to preach and convert. It’s also easy to see why they’d see non-believers as selfish, foolish, and purposeless – because to them, outside of Christ, one has no life – unbelief is a straight ticket to death. Also, the only way to receive salvation is to love and serve God – so anything outside of having God as the sole purpose also leads to death. With that framework in place, you get two extremes of Christians. Those that fervently preach and evangelise, because they genuinely believe that anyone who doesn’t know God will perish in hell; and those who don’t care too much for “this world”, because once they’ve crossed over to Christ they know/believe anyone that is not on Christ’s side and will be judged and will also perish in hell. And all the others in between…

          But yes, I do agree that sometimes it’s easy or tempting to take people’s advice out of context. How we receive information sometimes depends not only on how it’s presented, but also on how we’re doing mentally as well…so yes, it’s possible that the most innocent or well-meaning of advice will get read the wrong way! Great thought!

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        • Very powerful paragraph, Pixie. You perfectly captured my thoughts. “mind gymnastics” – I guess that’s in all of us since we all choose and are convinced of certain beliefs.

          I am definitely not a Christian as I mentioned in the earlier comments. But I really do wonder if all Christians believe we will perish in a certain place if we don’t follow a religion. There are a lot of Christians who I’ve met who are really lovely people, it’s hard to believe they’ll think this way of others. Maybe there really are some of us who are “in between”.

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        • That’s an interesting question Mabel – I’m not sure if that’s what all Christians think, that unbelief leads to eternal perishing. I’ve had Christian friends tell me before that hell is “merely the eternal separation with God”, and take a less literal approach to interpreting say, the Book of Revelations of hell-fire and the gnashing of teeth. Christian apologetics like CS Lewis once described in a book that if one (a said prince) has a heart for truth, even if they didn’t recognise the one true God, he will/can be united with God eventually. There are definitely those in between or those seeking, but even among Christians there is often debate whether one way is better than another way. We see this most often in Catholicism and Protestantism, which originated from the same scripture but took starkly different routes when it comes to interpretation and practice. Perhaps the only way to know if you’re seeking the ‘right’ way, is to follow your heart, be as moral as possible, celebrate the things that make us human, and use logic to determine whether a commonly accepted thought is ok. All of which requires much mind gymnastics!

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  2. It’s always amazing when someone “knows” what others should have done. Unfortunately there is too much judgmental “shoulds” in this world. And I often find those who ought to know better, if they really are what they say they are, are the worst. I am glad you have recovered.

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    • Thanks Otto. It’s true – there is a bit too much judgment going on. I remind myself that people usually mean well. If they’ve been brought up in a certain mindset it’s hard to think outside of that, and sometimes it’s nearly impossible to see from another’s worldview. What we can do is keep educating ourselves in why people think what they think, and understand where they’re coming from, and perhaps find common ground there.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi Pixie,
    I’m going to stay mostly out of this, but I do want to add two things to the conversation. First, I was raised by liberal parents and I can tell you first hand that being liberal doesn’t make a person more willing or able to talk about sex with their kids. My mom told us nothing – if she had it may have saved some of my sisters from contracting certain diseases.

    Speaking of diseases, there has been a dramatic increase in the incidence of oral cancers – virulent oral cancers. HPV, the virus that causes cervical cancer also causes cancer of the mouth and throat, which are lined with the same type of epithelial cells as the cervix. It effects men and women.

    So liberal or conservative, religious or not, parents ought to do what they can to protect the health of their kids. Especially if they want to be grandparents some day, because the rise in STIs and the resultant STDs has also lead to a rise in infertility.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks trb for providing your personal views and experience regarding this topic. Well noted – it’s a good point that someone liberal may not necessarily have the skills nor desire to share their sexual knowledge with their kids. Perhaps my comment was bit of an over generalisation; I speak from my own experience and understanding of relatively liberal families I know and their discussions of sex with their children, versus religious, or conservative families which in general do not really discuss issues of sex at all. I draw examples of my own relatively conservative family where it was rarely discussed. It could also be cultural, where in Asian cultures sex remains quite taboo, compared to say, the more liberal North American household or, parts of Europe, where it is a much more accepted topic. But yes, these are generalisations and no family is the same.

      As to your implied point on oral sex causing cancers of the mouth, I’m aware of the link, and don’t disagree. Studies have supported HPV causes and effects in relation to cancers, and last year actor Michael Douglas openly attributed his oral cancer to the HPV virus contracted through years of abundant oral sex. There’s not a doubt that the sexual talk – including whether or when is it appropriate to have sex, how to prevent STDs, whether and how to use contraceptives, the risks involved in sexual behaviour with or without protection, etc – should be openly and clearly discussed with children of appropriate age. Like the now popularised HPV vaccine for women (and now men too) to prevent cervical cancer, awareness regarding oral sex and its effects should equally be discussed.

      Going back to my post’s content, the criticism of oral sex during the discussion was what I had trouble with – I’m not aware of the bible being very clear about this, and there are probably Christian couples out there who practice oral sex and don’t feel like that’s sinful behaviour. My problem with such a comment was at how judgemental it was, spoken as if law by the commentators, based on their understanding of what “natural” sexual behaviour should be. I know you said you’d stay out of this so I won’t clarify further!

      There are many things we can only know from hindsight and research. No one knew the cause of AIDS in the 70s/80s, and no one knew HPV caused cervical and now oral cancer till advancements in scientific research and population observations. Viewing this from the religious context, perhaps some would conclude that it is sinful choices that causes the world’s problems – including outbreaks and the rise of new diseases. I’m still on the fence about this one, but do not see the logic as outrageous. Perhaps we can say the best prevention is abstinence. But humans will be humans, and sexual desire and the varying manifestations of such will continue regardless. I guess it’s a matter of understanding this basic instinct, and like you said, doing whatever we can to educate ourselves and the populace (regardless of background, religion and race) about the consequences of sexual behaviour. This knowledge also evolves with time and our greater understanding of how things work.

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      • No need to clarify at all, pixie, I understood that your problem is with your church’s reaction to the scandal. I was just adding a couple of cents for the possible benefit of other readers. You are certainly well-informed.

        And you are right, our knowledge is evolving, but God’s isn’t. He has known everything from the beginning. He knew all about sexually transmitted diseases long before we did. Which, I’m guessing, was His genius reason for placing sexual expression within the protection and exclusivity of marriage.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Thanks trb. The sexually liberal/secular/modern person would beg to differ on the last paragraph/sentence, but I understand and respect your view. I understand the sanctity of marriage within the Christian definition, but have also witnessed non-religious (or specifically, non-Christian) relationships remain exclusive, loving and supportive. There are states and countries where any sexual expression would be prohibited altogether because the definition of marriage doesn’t encompass a certain sexual orientation. Let’s not go there in this post…but in a nutshell I think the box of marriage confining sexual expression to only one possibility is unreasonable if not inhumane. That said, certain Christian marriages do appear to work out beautifully, and I’m always very happy for those couples. The problem lies with when a right is for the exclusive enjoyment of a certain type of people, along with that exclusive enjoyment naturally comes arrogance and entitlement. That’s the type of attitude that appears quite prevalent and perhaps which churches should address, along with the general marginalisation of the single man and woman (and other groups of people that don’t fit into the marriage mould…).

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  4. Pingback: Pass me by | Pixie Dust Beach

  5. Pixie, this is brilliant! Especially your own part in this post touched me. I was raised in the same envrironment, where people never talk about sex. Because it´s considered a dirty thing. It´s quite relief to know that it´s not just my case 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Teresa, thanks for stopping by and roaming around my blog! Very happy to hear this struck a chord with you, and it’s quite comforting to find someone growing up in a similar environment. I’m slowly becoming more comfortable when it comes to sexuality. But it’s also a matter of degree – I’m liberal to some and a prude to certain circles. What matters I guess, is your own standard. No, you are not alone 🙂

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