Sin, Restorative Justice, and the Ethics of Care

The Catholic conception of sin was the first lens that I ever viewed moral wrongs through. If something was wrong, it was a sin. Sins weren’t just the things covered in the Ten Commandments but a variety of other wrongdoings, both defined and vague. Being reluctant to go to Mass was a sin, being mean to my little sister was a sin, lying to my parents was a sin. Through that perspective, if something wasn’t a sin, it couldn’t have been wrong. Of course, as I got older the line between sin and not sin blurred more and more.

The way I was taught as a child to right these wrongs was of course, to go to confession. Growing up, my sins were always the same: getting mad at my sister, not paying attention to Mass, lying, envy, etc. Honestly, most side effects of teenage angst would probably qualify as a sin. It wasn’t that confessing made me a better person, or at least stopped me from from sinning in the exact same ways year after year. At the moment of confession, I do believe that I was genuinely contrite, and genuinely sought forgiveness. I always mentally envisioned God, or maybe an angel since I’m sure the Supreme Being had to delegate, with reading glasses perched on their nose, crossing out my sins with a red pen in the ledger where they kept all of humanity’s transgressions. Kind of like Santa. But later in life two major questions began to arise.

As my sense of morality drifted from one rooted in the Catholic faith to one rooted in many things, it felt odd to confess things I didn’t really believe were wrong. I stopped regularly attending mass in college, due to a variety of issues with the catholic church and the feeling that I didn’t really get anything out of going to mass. But me sleeping in on a Sunday morning didn’t hurt anyone. If anything it allowed me extra rest for a day that was usually reserved for homework and other productive tasks. My sense of morality began to be rooted in the question of “did I cause harm?.”

Then of course there were many sins delineated by the Church that I could not and would not believe were wrong: being gay, being trans, living with your partner before marriage, abortion, etc. Even my devout parents didn’t really believe they were sins. My faith as moral compass was further eroded by the endless catalogue of sins that the Catholic Church had committed, even by its own measure, sins that had never been apologized for, harm that they had never been held accountable for, harm that was still perpetuated today. Was the Church ever contrite? Did they ever ask forgiveness? Asking for absolvement from an agent of an institution that never stopped its sinning, an agent who lives their life mostly in isolation from the regular tumult of the human condition, didn’t feel like a rectification of a wavering moral compass.

Running parallel to my waning faith in the Church was my education in restorative justice and abolition. Restorative justice is a response to crime that eschews our traditional notions of punishment. Instead, it takes the view that crime is not just defined as breaking the law, it’s causing harm to people, relationships and communities. We address this harm by bringing together all the stakeholders to cooperatively decide on a resolution. This method can cause fundamental changes in people, relationships and communities. Restorative justice is applicable not just to crimes as defined in the legal sense, but other wrongs as well. For example, many schools have adopted a restorative justice framework as an alternative to traditional disciplinary measures.

Restorative justice seemed like a more practical alternative to confession. If I lied to a friend, instead of just telling an old white man that I did and then doing 10 Hail Marys to erase my sin, my friend and I would work together to repair the harm that I cause and rebuild trust. Obviously that’s a very simplistic example, but restorative justice made sense in so many ways to me. Not only in the capacity of sinning, but in regards to all of the myriad ways we harm others. Instead of focusing on punishment or a violated norm or custom, we focus on whether harm was caused and how we can repair that harm in a way that includes both victim and offender. It teaches us that others are not disposable, that everyone is worth redemption, and that the relationships we have with others, our sense of community, is more important than an individual harm and while accountability is a solution, punishment is not.

I’m going to put a pin in restorative justice to briefly explain the ethics of care. The ethics of care is a feminist theory of morality, developed as a parallel (but not necessarily opposing) theory to the ethics of justice. It holds that moral action is centered on our interpersonal relationships and exalts the virtue of “care.” According to Carol Gilligan, an ethical framework of care is more common to women, due to the way they’re socialized to prioritize relationships and the feelings of others. However, it’s not limited to women and Gilligan’s connection of the ethics of care to femininity is obviously not inclusive of trans and nonbinary people. The ethics of care is at the core of restorative justice and explains how centering our connections with others. The ethics of care rejects hierarchy and instead elevates a network where everyone is a giver and receiver of care.

When we think about the forgiveness of sins and confession, it is framed as repairing our relationship with God. And of course, I recognize that for the devout, their relationship with God is the most central relationship in their lives. But what if we didn’t view our relationships as a hierarchy? And what if central to repairing our relationship with God was repairing our relationships with those we have harmed and those who have harmed us? The ethics of justice and Catholic perceptions of justice tend to view forgiveness, justice, and punishment as not very distinct from one another. What if we threw out the concept of punishment? From God, or the Church or from one another? What if we instead viewed forgiveness and accountability as part of a process of repairing and of healing? And what if we prioritized our relationships with God or faith or whatever higher power guides you by prioritizing our relationships with others?

What might confession look like then? What might the concept of atonement look like?

Why Enemies to Lovers is the Best Trope

If you’ve read young adult novels or fanfiction or really any kind of fantasy you’re familiar with the enemies to lovers trope.

For those of you who are unfamiliar, it’s exactly what it sounds like. Two main characters who are at odds in some way, they may be on opposite sides of a struggle (i.e. soldies or spies belonging to opposite warring factions) or have met under unfortunate circumstances and loathe each other (girl meets guy in bar. Guy is douchey and charming and annoying. Girl is forthright and takes no BS. Their personalities immediately clash). There’s also the subgenre of enemies to friends to lovers where friendship is the transitional phase to a romantic relationship.

Most enemies to lovers stories feature a very specific kind of woman. She probably knows to fight, she tolerates zero BS, she’s very brave and argumentative and not easy to get along with or handle. She may have a lot of bravado or swagger, but she often keeps her real feelings close to the chest.

The women in enemies to lovers stories tend to be the opposite of the women in more traditional old school romances. To quote Megara from Disney’s Herculues their vibe is very much “I’m a damsel. I’m in distress. I can handle this.” These women are not lady like, they’re not nice or accomodating or friendly or subservient. They probably don’t have time to shave or do their hair and if they do happen to do those things they are never doing it for the male gaze just themselves. The anger in these women, often righteous anger, is celebrated, is given weight and importance.

In these stories, even though the characters start out disliking each other, even hating each other, and their aims are also often at complete odds, these are stories where the difficult woman, the closed off and argumentative and maybe even a little b*tchy woman is able to transform the person and forces that oppose her, so much so that they leave who they were behind to join her and devote themselves to her and her victory.

Enemies to lovers stories are where the characters see the ugliest parts of each other first. They see the violence and the anger and the vitriol. They might literally want to kill each other. The story is the process of them discovering the good parts of each other.

It’s the one dynamic that demands full truth and unconditional love of both parties and isn’t that really all we want? Someone to see the worst parts of us and embrace them?

I’m closed off and extremely argumentative and I like reading about strong women who can handle themselves and are a bit difficult to get along with and someone still falls in love with them BECAUSE of everything they are not in spite of. It assures women like that we are still lovable. And yeah yeah, this is supposed to be part of our inner journey and be an affirmation that we give ourselves or whatever. But sometimes it’s nice to be reminded.

Do I even need to say it?

I don’t want to make a post about this year but before anything this blog serves as posterity. It’s a constantly evolving letter to my future self so I can remember who I used to be and where I was.

I’m looking at pictures from last new year’s eve and I feel overwhelmed. Overwhelmed by how much I’ve changed and how so much of that change has been internal work I’ve finally had the mental space to do.

I spent a lot of time alone with my thoughts this year. More than I’ve spent since Netflix, smartphones, and all the other technological bits and bobs that make sure that I’m somehow alone I am never unoccupied.

Some things I’ve learned in no particular order: I consider myself an open book but that’s a lie because I just overshare about the things I’m comfortable talking about and push down the other stuff. My parents don’t know really who I am and I don’t know that they ever will and maybe that’s okay. I am not afraid of death, I am afraid of dying alone and forgotten with no one to grieve me. I don’t really know what my gender is. Or what gender is as a concept. I don’t actually want a relationship (and you probably don’t either) unless the person is *amazing.* I just want the affirmation and validation and performance of being in a relationship. Once you realize that can be gained from your relationship with yourself and friendship? It is truly over for these hoes. Hating men isn’t revolutionary. I need to read more theory. I can do hard things and do them successfully. How I spend my weekend nights is not an evaluation of how cool I am as a person.

This year sucked in so many different ways but I want to acknowledge that I was very lucky. I didn’t get sick, no one I loved got sick and I kept my job. I have never been more grateful for where I am and what I have. 2020 was the year I took the GRE, applied and got into my top choice graduate program. It was the year I lost a close friend. It was the first year in ages that I didn’t get my heart broken. It was the year I returned to my birth country for the first time in a decade. There were other funny things that happened this year that are not NSFTB (not safe for the blog) but if you know, you know.

I have really simple and straightforward resolutions for 2021. They are maybe my least ambitious resolutions I’ve ever set but they feel very right to me.

  1. 2021 will be the last year I can say that I only speak one language: I’m close to fluency in Spanish and a year of re-learning the complicated grammar, expanding my vocabulary and not getting stage fright every time I have to speak Spanish will get me to being able to say confidently “Si, yo hablo espanol” and mean it. (I’m too lazy to add accents to this but trust that I know where they are).
  2. Do my best academically.

And that’s it!

See you next year folks.

what does it mean to be a woman?

I think we can all agree that gender is just a social construct. How you do your hair, the clothes you wear, what’s between your legs is irrelevant when it comes to identifying as a gender. Being a woman or being a man can be whatever you want to be!

But if being a woman can mean whatever you want it to mean – what does it mean to be a woman? How do I know that I AM a woman?

Here are the things that I know to be true about myself:

  • I like being feminine: I like dresses and long nails and makeup
  • I don’t experience any dysphoria about my body
  • I feel the same about she and they pronouns but he/him pronouns feel wrong.
  • I hate the idea of my gender expression being limited but being AFAB and socialized as a woman also means that I am a slave to the male gaze!

I’ve tried to think about womanhood as my relationship with other women. I love women, I feel more safe around them and I trust them more implicitly. But those feelings also extend to all femmes as well. It’s not really a relationship with women but a relationship with the feminine.

Judith Butler says that gender is more a thing you do rather than a thing you are, and that becoming a woman is a process. It’s a constant act of becoming. Growing up as a woman you are constantly to become a woman without ever really getting a chance to think about WHAT you want to become. It’s so hard to see yourself apart from that thing because the world sees you as that. I don’t think I would ever be able to present in such a way that the world would think I’m anything but a woman.

And all of these feelings towards gender are further complicated by the fact that I’m not white or thin so societal standards have further bullied me into putting even more effort into appearing as feminine as possible. Of course, there is the constant internalized male gaze that is telling that if I am not pretty and feminine and delicate I will basically die.

There’s a quote by Margaret Atwood from The Robber Bride that I think about all the time.

Male fantasies, male fantasies, is everything run by male fantasies? Up on a pedestal or down on your knees, it’s all a male fantasy: that you’re strong enough to take what they dish out, or else too weak to do anything about it. Even pretending you aren’t catering to male fantasies is a male fantasy: pretending you’re unseen, pretending you have a life of your own, that you can wash your feet and comb your hair unconscious of the ever-present watcher peering through the keyhole, peering through the keyhole in your own head, if nowhere else. You are a woman with a man inside watching a woman. You are your own voyeur.”

My perception of my gender and gender expression are colored by my internal sexist voyeur. My value is in my ability to perform womanhood and if I fail at that – what do I have to offer the world?

I know that I can be feminine without being a woman and I can be a woman without being feminine. But trying to ascertain what my relationship with femininity means for my gender feels like trying to describe the way a piece of art makes me feel using a language I don’t speak very well.

Gender ultimately feels elusive. Something I see out of the corner of my eye but am unable to look at head on.

This is a poem about hating Snapchat

I’m tired of people that leave a bad taste in my mouth and intimacy that goes out like a light.

I’m tired of performing a character who is a corner I have backed myself into. She is the role I have been training for all my life. I am impossible to look directly at and see clearly – an eclipsed identity.

I haven’t learned to bite a coin before I spend it. I am tired of trust like a bad check and the disappointment that lives next door and throws parties every night.

Here there is always laughter that lasts a beat too long, secrets that people shouldn’t bother to hide, a locked door that no one has bothered to knock on.

I want to go somewhere untangled and clean. With a single path and uncomplicated sleep. Where people know me and that isn’t a bad thing. where winter never comes and overthinking is a lost childhood blanket.

I want to see the stars from my bed and hold hands with someone for a week straight and never use Snapchat again. I want to be all of my selves at once and have it be okay because it is true and I am loved.

 

Maybe spinsters are just tired of the haters

I realized that with turning 24,  I have officially entered my mid 20s. And with that comes an influx of my peers who are falling in love, getting married, and getting pregnant (on purpose). Honestly? I don’t really have any fears about being “behind” or never finding someone. I do fear over-prioritizing the search.

Whenever me or one of my friends mention some dissatisfaction with being single the response is the same: but you’re so amazing/beautiful/talented/funny/ you’ll definitely find someone!

First of all: since when has a woman being amazing guaranteed her anything? Second of all: Weird of you to assume that my qualms with being unattached mean that I have an issue with self esteem. I’m a work in progress but honestly I am getting cooler by the *second*.

If I ever partner or don’t partner up – that’s completely at the whim of the universe and I may or may not have tried out one (or several) of the manifestation rituals I’ve seen on Tiktok. My fear is that I will be so stuck on the waiting that I will forget to construct an otherwise wonderful life.

Now I’m not knocking love: my parents have successfully married for 26 years and my grandparents for over 50. But romantic love isn’t really guaranteed, and you can’t build a life on a potential person.

The trope of the bitter, mean, spinster is based on the fact that she is upset at the fact that no one ever fell in love with her and she takes it out on the world. The fact that there’s no male equivalent to the word spinster aside, I wonder if the reason that spinsters developed this b*tchy reputation is because they were pissed at the way society viewed them. Women who don’t partner up and have kids are viewed as a failure even if they have other fulfilling relationships and a successful career. Maybe spinsters are just sick of the haters.

I don’t think spinster life is better than partnered life (or vice-versa) but I do think there’s value in imagining a dream life that doesn’t need to include a romantic partner. If you never meet the one, how are you going to ensure your happiness? Is it visiting every country in the world? Writing a book? Helping to build a stronger community? Organizing against social injustices? Running away to the forest to live in a cottage and bake bread and tend to your garden and chickens? That last one might just be me.

The next time your friend whines “I’ll be single forever” let her know that even if she is – she’ll be okay.

 

 

 

 

23 Things I’ve learned being 23

  1. After years of begging my parents for a dog and more years of identifying as a cat person it turns out I’m not a pet person! I like animals just fine – I just don’t want to responsible for them permanently. Also: I firmly believe that it is incredibly unsanitary to sleep with an animal in your bed.
  2. Before you vent to someone: journal about it. It’s a better way to get out what you feel without having to make it make sense to someone else AND you can rant about the same thing over and over and no one will mind! I’ve starting doing it during quarantine as a way of preserving my thoughts and feelings during this time. I do it right before bed, and I’ve noticed that on that nights I do spend 10 minutes jotting some stuff down my heart feelings noticeably lighter when I go to bed.
  3. But also: over processing is a real thing.
  4. Country music is actually good when it’s not about patriotism/misogyny.
  5. Being an oversharer is not charming/cute/cool.
  6. If someone doesn’t like me – it’s none of my business as to why.
  7. Being desired is meaningless.
  8. One of the hardest things to do in a friendship (and IMO one of the most important) is to hold each other accountable.
  9. Buying plants = serotonin
  10. It’s very interesting that as a formerly extremely messy teenager I’ve become someone with kind of high standards for cleanliness.
  11. I don’t know if I belong on the East Coast, at least long term.
  12. Sometimes the best opinion to have on a subject is “I don’t know.”
  13. I don’t care if you don’t believe in astrology but I do care if you’re obnoxious about it. Some belief systems are not inherently more true than others. Except Scientology which is completely false.
  14. Christianity and socialism are inherently extremely compatible. I also don’t think you need to be a “perfect Christian” to be allowed to have an opinion/critique the faith.
  15. There’s a line between being an extrovert and using external things to distract yourself.
  16. Oh my god mortality is terrifying. It really took a global pandemic for me to fear death.
  17. I have to stop seeing the world in black and white. The problem isn’t my political views, it’s how I view people that disagree with me. And I’m not talking about fascists or Nazis or avid Trump supporters. I have this ugly, knee jerk reaction to anyone that isn’t politically close to me. And while politics are deeply personal, there are tons of shitty people on the left and good people who have other political beliefs. I’m not saying I need to start stop talking shit about the demonic turtle that is Mitch McConnell, but I need to judge people for who they are beyond their politics. Maybe I’ll even start swiping right on moderates.
  18. Boundaries are real things that are very important to establish with people you’re close to!
  19. Twitter is a net bad for my mental health.
  20. Even adults have to parent themselves.
  21. If they like you, you won’t be confused.
  22. Projecting past hurts onto new people hurts you the most. Let it go sis!
  23. Honestly, the Twilight movies are kind of good.

daisies, etc .

Today is tender white calves and toes 

The impulse to buy yourself flowers, kiss someone when the sun is still out

A new year of its own kind – the sun tucking its fingers underneath your skin 

The wet green waiting, your mouth tasting of tomorrow 

We want to touch each other again, lace fingers in the grass, underneath the trees, turn high school poems into heat-pinked flesh 

Clean your floors

Open your windows

for a while 

We will remember Eden

A poem for Boston

Boston is an old boyfriend

who I reminisce about often.

It’s a relationship made beautiful in the past tense.

At the time it was too dark to see my hand in front of my face, to see beyond next week, next month.

But here was a cold, winter bed of becoming, the sense of being unleashed upon a city where every face was a stranger, every night limned with the possibility of disappearing.

Here was joy in parceled out shiny moments, stored deep in the pockets, constantly brushing against the fingers, worn smooth by the physical act of remembering.

the quiet of snow, the damp quiet breath of summer, the sense of time slipping like sand.

I arrived heartbroken and left heartbroken and somehow that is a selling point.

There was something there to fall in love with.