Imagine this scenario: You agree to meet with some beloved friends or family who are not in your Covid pod. You’re nervous about safety, but you have a detailed discussion beforehand of exactly what Plan you will all follow in order to protect everyone. You decide to meet outside, wearing good quality masks, staying six feet apart. If people want to eat or drink, or remove their masks for any reason, they will go farther from the group, more like 20 feet away. If anyone needs to use the inside space, such as the bathroom, they will be sure no one else is inside and will keep their mask on the entire time.
“We can do this,” you tell yourselves, “We are smart, educated, considerate, careful people who love each other and want to keep us all safe.”
You arrive at the gathering. You greet everyone, masked from the proper distance. You find your seats, six feet from the seats of other pods. Within a minute or two, a beloved friend or relative approaches to give you something, h/er mask hanging down on h/er chin.
Now you are put in the awkward position of either leaping up out of your chair to back away, or interrupting to tell this beloved person to stop, put on h/er mask, and then put the thing on a table a few feet away, where you can go pick it up. But it’s all too late. While your mind is frantically scrambling, your beloved person hands you the thing, talking all the while, and you know that your safety has been compromised. The Plan has already failed, and your pod is now at risk.
Various versions of this scenario have played themselves out Every Single TIme my family pod has tried to meet with anyone from a different pod. No matter how much we plan ahead and try to cover every possible contingency, no matter how much we all seem on the same page about Covid safety, no matter how much we love each other and would be utterly horrified to infect each other with Covid, we fail. There are always multiple breaches of the Plan, multiple holes punched in the protective barrier we try to create.
At first, I thought the hardest part of such meetings was coming up with the right Plan and agreeing on it. I thought if we just examined each possible breach more carefully, we could find just the right set of guidelines to prevent these safety breaches.
But after awhile, I realized the bigger problem: I do not believe I deserve to have boundaries that keep myself safe. In other words, I believe I must sacrifice my safety for the sake of the feelings of others. So when a beloved friend or family member walks toward me, and the part of me that wants to be safe tries to shout “stop!” or raise my hands palm outward, or say “mask, mask!” or do whatever makes sense to remind the person of our Plan, the other part of me, the eager-to-please part, causes me to freeze instead.
By this point in the pandemic, whenever some sort of rare event comes along that feels too important to miss entirely, and we Plan our safety guidelines, I find myself struggling with anxiety, depression, and even resentment in the days leading up to the event, and with feelings of failure, frustration, and despair afterwards. No matter how much I trust that people love me, when they breach my safety boundaries, I struggle very hard to find the strength to speak up in real time and protect myself and my family.
You can see where I’m going with this idea. The vast, vast majority of rapes are committed against women by men whom the women know, usually men for whom the women have some trust or affection.
***TRIGGER WARNING – RAPE***
All seven of the men who raped me were men I knew and liked or loved. Each time, though I fought, resisted, sobbed, begged, or screamed, I still eventually just accepted, paralyzed, that this was simply going to happen to me. In six of the cases it took years, sometimes decades, for me to accept and understand that I had been raped. A part of me did not want to believe that man 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, or 7 was a rapist, was someone who would violate me, thought so little of me… I wanted to believe that he somehow did not understand that I had not consented to sex, that what he was doing was violent, horrifying and traumatic and would haunt me, scar me, and leave wounds that changed me forever.
***END TRIGGER WARNING***
It’s clear to me now that a frightened inner part of myself is afraid that if I make my loved ones feel offended, hurt, or rejected by protecting my boundaries, I will lose their love and the intimacy of our friendship/family bond. However, in not protecting my boundaries, I already lose that intimacy because I withdraw from them emotionally and decline speaking with them or seeing them as much as possible. Protecting my boundaries is the only way I can have true intimacy, real love, honest bonding with others. Just as a healthy marriage makes sure all sexual intimacy has enthusiastic, joyful consent, a healthy friend or family relationship must make sure both people feel safe and comfortable, never violated.
I know these truths full well. But knowing is not the same as believing. Until I believe in my deepest soul and every fiber of my body that the only love worth having is honest, safe love, I will allow my frightened inner part to sabotage my intimacy with loved ones by freezing when they cheerfully, casually put my life and family in danger. Until women in our culture believe in their deepest souls and every fiber of our bodies that we deserve to be treated with honor, dignity, and reverence, we will resist the terrifying truths of Rape Culture — and how common, pervasive, and endemic its extent.
I am reprogramming my mind away from the deadly lies of Patriarchy to the Living Truth of Jesus, my Savior, whose very name means One Who Makes Safe. My faith tells me that I am precious, sacred, in the image of holiness, always cradled in tender, embracing Love. My ancestors whisper:
Guide with me protecting,
Christ with me directing,
Spirit with me strengthening,
For ever and for evermore.
Ever and evermore, Amen.
Ancestor of ancestors, Amen.
Every day, I look in the mirror and say, with love,
“I, Trelawney, deserve to be safe.”
“You, Trelawney, deserve to be safe.”
“She, Trelawney, deserves to be safe.”
And so do you.
 Carmina Gadelica, Hymns and Incantations Orally Collected in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland and Translated into English, Alexander Carmichael, ed., 1900. c.f. De Waal, Esther, The Celtic Way of Prayer, New York: Doubleday, 1997, p 76, rev.
Trelawney Grenfell-Muir teaches courses about Sex, Dating, Marriage, and Work in the Religion and Theological Studies Department at Merrimack College and about Cross Cultural Conflict in the Department of Conflict Resolution, Human Security, and Global Governance at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. A Senior Discussant at the Religion and the Practices of Peace Initiative at Harvard University, she holds an M.Div. from the Boston University School of Theology with a concentration in Religion and Conflict, and a Ph.D. in Conflict Studies and Religion with the University Professors Program at Boston University. She currently writes articles, book chapters, and liturgical resources about feminist, nature-based Christianity.