Saturday, November 12, 2016

Trump, Clinton and the actual global conspiracy

There's a lot of chatter about the results of the US election and what it means, both nationally and internationally, but none of it is about the real problem.

What we're actually looking at, underneath the nationalism, or racism/misogyny/violence, is fundamentally a global class war. 1% of the world's population has over 50% of the global wealth. That wealth, for the most part, is untaxed and unregulated. It is also held by a global elite who are not beholden to any one country or culture.

Faced with this inequity, people who identify with nationalism become concerned with the everyday ways this lack of agency affects them: loss of work, no training for marketable skills, and living just above the poverty line (which, historically, only insert minority group here are supposed to do), etc. 

Facing the same inequity, people leaning left focus instead on increasing social justice and winning cultural wars, like gay rights/women's rights/institutional racism, in an attempt to increase minority economic agency. It is simply a different way of attempting to level the same grossly unfair economic playing field.

Both groups, for all their differences (which are many), are right. With a shrinking pot of resources to work with, we cut trade classes out of high schools and colleges, then cut the unions that protected fair wages and benefits. But those resources aren't being unfairly given to minorities, they're untaxed, unregulated, and stashed in Cayman island bank accounts. Meanwhile, the left, aware of the disgusting reality that people of color, the LGBT+ community, and women always lose the most in this violent fight for resources, takes everyone to court. 


We're thinking way too small. We have to back up and look at this as a global issue, which it undeniably is. 99% of the worlds population is violently fighting over 1% of the available power. Rather than focus on taking back some of the 99%, a much harder task requiring international cooperation at levels never before seen, we double down and fight like hell for a bigger share of the 1% in the only ways that feel familiar: bombs, terrorism, minority exploitation, and angry government elections that won't really change anything.

We will never make real progress until we realize that the "right" and the "left" are two sides of the same downtrodden coin. THAT is our common ground.
We have to put aside real differences that we've never successfully confronted and fight together. Once we realize that, we can redirect our anger toward the handful of people on this planet that really fucking deserve it.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Goodbye

Hi everyone!

A few months ago, I wrote about an idea I had to create a podcast or similar product focused on empowering parents to talk to their kids about sex. I spent a lot of the summer planning and researching this idea and I'm very excited to announce that I've joined the staff at ChicagoNow, where I'll be blogging from here on out as Sex Positive Parent. I'm also working on a novel.

Sex Positive Parent is going to focus on facilitating these important conversations between parents and their kids in a way that's positive and affirming. I intend to post information aimed at empowering parents to confidently confront this necessary part of raising children...and feel good about it. After all, sex ed isn't just about sex. It's about relationships, communication, and values. It starts from toddler hood and continues through adolescence, so I will cover a broad range of topics relevant to a wide range of ages.

It's been a wonderful experience blogging here over the years. I've enjoyed overwhelmingly positive feedback and appreciate every page view, comment, and in-person compliment I've received. Thanks for sticking with me, my friends, and I hope you'll join me in the next stage of this wild ride.

Check out my new blog here, and find me on Facebook, and twitter.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Mom, what are those?

Last October, I posted an entry about answering my eldest son's question, "How does the sperm get to the egg?" I got a lot of positive feedback, especially from parents, who are largely navigating the American sexual education landscape without a map. In the same spirit of sex positive parenting, I want to share another recent conversation my son and I had. This past Friday, as we were grocery shopping, I grabbed a box of tampons off the shelf and he asked, "Mom, what are those?" "They're tampons," I answered, "I'll explain more after we're done at the grocery store."

Five minutes later, seat belts buckled and NPR turned off, he said, "Mom, we're in the car now, so can you tell me about tampons?"

"Sure, sweetie," I replied. "Tampons are like special band-aids that I use to soak up a little bit of blood that sometimes leaks out of my vagina, the same opening that you and your brother used when you came out of my womb. It's called a period and it doesn't hurt, and it doesn't mean I'm sick, it's actually a way that my body shows it's healthy."

He thought about what I said and answered, "Well, why does blood come out if you're not hurt?"

I explained, "About once a month, my womb, the place inside my body where you and your brother grew big enough to be born, bleeds a little bit. It is my womb's way of staying ready in case a baby starts to grow. Even though Daddy and I have decided not to have more babies, my body likes to stay ready in case we change our minds. So when that happens, I use tampons, which soak up the blood and keep it from getting onto my clothes."

He asked, "Well how long does the blood come out? A day? An hour?"

"A few days and then it stops, until a few weeks later and it happens again," I replied.

He asked curiously, "Am I going to get a period?"

I answered, "No, sweetie, you don't have a womb. Only people with wombs, usually women, can have periods. You don't have a womb, so you won't have a period. But, if you ever decide to have a relationship with a girlfriend or a wife, then she will probably have periods, so it's good to know about them."

He said, "Ok. Can I play basketball when we get to the gym?"

"Sure, sweetie," I said. 




Monday, June 13, 2016

It's not just about guns

So here we are, in the same place we were on December 3rd, 2015, when I wrote this. In this place, Donald Trump congratulates himself on being right about terrorism, Facebook commentators argue about gun control, and the bodies keep piling up.

Since that post in December, I've joined Moms Demand Action, which hasn't done anything besides ask me for money. I've also fought for Transgender rights at the local and state levels, and that experience showed me that mass murders like the one in Orlando aren't just about guns or terrorism.

Donald Trump secured the GOP nomination because he's tapped into underground rivers of fear and hatred running through this country. That's because fear makes people money. Some people, anyway. It is so much easier to sell something unnecessary to someone who's scared. When I worked as a personal trainer at a boutique Chicago fitness studio that actively targeted the rich and ignorant, the owners continually trained staff to present the purchasing of our very expensive services as a matter of life and death. I was nauseated watching well-meaning middle-class people who lived paycheck-to-paycheck stumble upon us online, listen to our sales pitch about diminished life expectancy and how much better life is as a fit person, learn how much our services cost, and then hand over their credit card in tears, willing to pay what they admitted they couldn't afford.

Now, on a much larger scale with much higher stakes, many of us feel terrified. Some of us are dying. And so we're buying things we think we need:

Guns.
Ammunition.
Concealed-carry permits.

We're also buying into things we think will save us. Feeling afraid? Angry about something in your life? Blame the gays. The Trans. The Feminists. The progressives. The Liberals. The Media. Corporate greed. Drugs. Mexicans. The Patriarchy. Refugees. Black people. Environmentalists. People who aren't Christian. People who support Palestine. People who own guns. People who aren't just like you.

When I was in college, I took a class in African American Women's Literature. It met once a week and the first twenty minutes of every class was reserved for a student presentation. One day, a student began her presentation by handing out a playing card to each person in the class. She told us to keep our card secret and that she would give us five minutes to "find someone with a similar card without directly revealing it to anyone". Forty students, myself included, spent the next five minutes bumping into one another, quickly trying to find someone else with the same number and suit, and mostly failing. When our time was up, the student said, "I told you to find someone with a similar card and you spent five minutes searching for someone with exactly the same thing that you had. It would have taken less than ten seconds to stand in one large group, since the cards all have the same design on one side, being from the same deck. But that isn't what you did. As human beings, we ignore our similarities in favor of our most obvious differences. We forget that though none of us is exactly alike, we are all, at the end of the day, people."

Yesterday, the Chicago Tribune, wrote:

Millennials are more open than the general population about gender and sexuality. But they've got nothing on Generation Z — those ages 13 to 20 — according to The Innovation Group of marketing communications firm J. Walter Thompson. A study by the group showed that about 56 percent of the younger group know someone who uses gender-neutral pronouns such as "they" or "ze," compared with 43 percent of 28- to 34-year-olds.

This major shift demonstrates that our humanity is beginning to matter much more to young people than the individual differences in our gender, skin color, political ideology, choice of sexual partner, or choice of god. That's terrifying for those who believe, subconsciously, in one or both of the following: 1) there isn't enough at the collective table to go around, and 2) that some people deserve more than others based on the aforementioned differences. According to principle one, there isn't enough food, water, money, healthcare, employment, or opportunity for everyone on Earth and, therefore, some must go without. Principle two dictates that those who are slighted deserve less because of their skin color, politics, sexual orientation, gender, or religion. The first is the action of discrimination, the second is the justification.

So this isn't just about guns. Or bullets. Or permits. Or gay people. Or Islam. It's about individually making deliberate choices to end the collective cycle of scapegoating and fear. Its about refusing to buy into things we're too scared to question. Turning off 24-hour news coverage and prioritizing our human relationships. Meeting our neighbors. Conversing civilly with someone who disagrees with something we believe. Helping someone who needs it, even if they don't say thank you. Searching for the humanity in the people around us.

Let's get off our phones.
Let's get out of our homes.
Let's go into our communities and look for the side of the card we have in common.




Tuesday, May 17, 2016

A new idea

In 2002, I was a 21-year-old collegiate senior doing my student teaching and dreaming about radically changing the way English was taught to middle and high school students. I had passionate arguments about educational theory with one professor in particular, poor Robert Tremmel, who couldn't decide whether to laugh or cry at my ideas and ended up doing both simultaneously. I took a four month contract in Stains, a working-class town just outside of London, and taught English to years seven and nine. It was very, very hard.

The school offered to hire me permanently, which I accepted, but my father passed away suddenly and I returned to the States to be with my family. Husband (then boyfriend) came to visit and asked me to move to Australia, where he was going, but I said no and moved to New Zealand. I did disability work there, the same kind of work I had done all through college. I also backpacked around a bit and worked in a kiwi fruit packing plant, eventually deciding to move to Australia and pursue a degree in Disability Studies, a degree that was not offered anywhere in the States at the time. Once I'd graduated, I applied for this strange little job advertised on a small, little-known website. It was as a Sex Educator for people with disabilities through a community health agency. I had spent the last eight years of my life believing my calling was as an English teacher, finding out it wasn't, then searching for a new path. That path was sex ed. I absolutely loved it. And I was awesome

When I moved back to the USA, I scoured job listings for similar positions, shocked to find none. Literally, zero. I looked for months and finally started applying for personal training jobs, having pursued a qualification in Health and Fitness in my spare time in Australia. Still passionate, I've mounted the same search repeatedly since 2008 and have finally discovered the answer as to why there are no sex education jobs on indeed.com. It isn't a job. Not in the way it should be.

Today's American youth access sex education in one of four ways:

1) In middle/high school health classes, which is largely abstinence-only education taught by physical education teachers that were never required to take credit hours in sexuality education and are not required by the state to have any formal knowledge in the subject whatsoever.

2) Information from their parents, who largely feel terrified/uncomfortable, and consequently focus on personal values, rather than specific information or behaviors.

3) Community agencies working with minority/at-risk populations, such as youth facing homelessness, addiction, family violence, contact with the criminal justice system, or members of the LGBTQ community.

4) Instagram, Reddit, Tumblr, Pornhub, and Snapchat.

Guys, this is appalling. We are unilaterally failing our youth in denying them access to information about something as fundamental to personhood as sexuality education. When I asked google how to get a certificate in sex ed, the only option that came up was related to sex therapy. Not only does the job I am looking for not exist, the whole goddamn network around that job doesn't exist, either. 

As people, we like things to be simple, mostly because life isn't. You're a child or an adult. You're black or you're not. You're Republican or Democrat. You're a Christian, or you're going to hell. You're stupid or smart, rich or poor, a virgin or a slut. Gay or straight. Masculine or feminine. We spend a lot of time trying to condense the overwhelming complexity of human life into boxes that make us feel safe, even when it's obvious that it doesn't work. We don't feel safe and things aren't simple. 

Talking to your kids about sex forces you to consider human beings and behavior on a spectrum, rather than just crammed into the badly-labeled boxes we default to in everyday life for efficiency's sake. When you help your kids grapple with the world, you have to grapple with it, too. You both learn, you both strengthen your personal values, and you practice effectively communicating about difficult subjects with people you love. How great are those things?

The job I want doesn't exist, so I'm taking matters into my own hands. I'm in the planning stages of starting either a dedicated blog or podcast meant to facilitate these important conversations between parents and their kids. I want parents and kids to be able to read/listen/watch them on their own, but ideally, read/listen/watch together and then have a conversation. They'll be short, somewhere around 5 minutes, and cover a variety of topics relevant to a wide range of ages. 

Contrary to popular American opinion, you can talk to your kids about sex and still be religiously devout. To those that disagree, does wearing your seatbelt mean you're planning on having an accident? No. I've been baptized three times and know that "Thou shalt not talk to your spawn about oral sex" is not one of the ten commandments. 

If any parents are reading this blog, leave a comment or send me an email with feedback, or even suggestions for topics you find too difficult to discuss with your children. I'd love to hear from you. 

I'm excited!

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Little magic places

I remember the first time I drove by my childhood home as an adult. It seemed so much smaller than I remembered, as if it had shrunk in the years since my family moved. I recalled the yard as a steep green hill covered with soft grass, perfect for log rolls, that widened into a swath of flood plain banking a small creek lined with crab apple trees. Years later, it looked decidedly average.  The house did, too. Yet, neither had changed. I had. Perhaps that shift wasn't just the result of proportion or perspective, but one of possibility. Maybe the world around a child feels large not just because it is, but because their potential is so great that it takes up physical space.

Two places in my childhood conjured up a kind of magic. My grandfather's house is the first. The house was built in the sixties and has a number of unusual features, including cantilevered hallways suspended over lower floors. I loved sitting on those hallways, swinging my feet in the open space over the side, enjoying feeling both daring and perfectly safe. At Christmas, my Grandfather loved to annoy my mother by walking across short beams in the entryway, balancing like an aerialist.  Tucked under the lower staircase in the basement, there was a small, awkward space with a miniature door leading to a dark storage area under the foundation. My sisters and I would sit in that space, pretending both monsters and adults could not get in.

The second magic space belonged to my mother's dear friend, June, who sometimes looked after us for short spans of time. June was every bit as popular and sunny as the month for which she is named. Her husband, John, worked during the day when we often visited, but had a great number of fascinating hobbies that seemed to fill the house. June used to let me play on an ancient typewriter, tapping the keys in wonder and smearing ink all over my fingertips. I loved to write before I knew how. I loved it so much that she bought me my own typewriter for my birthday when I was still a toddler. Her small, bright garden was perfect for blowing bubbles, then poking for frogs in the antique brass bird bath hidden under a boxwood shrub. John's hobbies took over the basement, rendering it a veritable treasure chest of oddity.  An oversized power-blue rocking chair, hand-painted with delicate flowers, dominated a dark corner, opposite a small trampoline. A large table sat along one wall, covered with various rocks, some of which John had turned into jewelry. A noisy rock tumbler whirred constantly, the clear cover showing rapidly churning water and rocks inside. Preserved butterflies hung in cases along the walls, carefully labelled, and following John's death years later, were relocated to the Smithsonian. Piles of vinyl records teetered on the top of an untidy desk, littered with papers that, as a child, I imagined to be the same sort of thing Indiana Jones kept on his desk.

That feeling of simple wonder is desperately hard to hang on to as an adult. Perhaps it comes easier to children because imagination fills in the gaps between what human beings know and what we understand, and as adults, we grow fearful of that gap and skirt around the edges, trying not to look. I spend so much of my time with my children focused on what I have to teach them that I sometimes forget to let them teach me, too. If I let them, they teach me to remember what if feels like to wonder, to commune with the wild and unknowable without being afraid. To find marvelous moments between my to-do list, seek extraordinary in the everyday, and make magic in the little spaces.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Intrinsic value

This is a difficult time of year for me. That is true for a great number of people living where the days are short and frigid. After the holidays and before the spring comes, I feel trapped indoors and my thoughts feel suffocating. They become as heavy as my winter boots and just as tiresome to wrestle with.

I've spent the most time this winter with the notion of a person's intrinsic value. A few months ago, I heard someone describe a pivotal moment where they realized that they did not have to prove themselves worthy of existence. Even if that person did nothing the rest of their life, they would still have an intrinsic value, a sort of dignity that need not be justified and cannot be taken away. That person's words struck a deep chord; so deep that I wasn't ready to think about them, instead filing them away for my annual existential crisis.

That crisis always has the same starting point. A year ago, in a short story I've never shared, I described it:
Youth is not an age, but the belief that people eventually grow up. Adulthood is knowing they do not. The events of our childhood and how we remember them have very little to do with one another. Our minds pick and choose over boxes of discarded moments, splicing together an evolutionary story of who we think we are, within the framework of who we wish to be. We use that story to convince ourselves and one another that we can simultaneously change and remain the same; that we can be different, if we choose it, but familiar. 
I spend a lot of time in this gray area of person hood, thinking, as Father John Misty sings in his extraordinary song, "Holy Shit", "Oh and no one ever really knows you and life is brief / So I've heard, but what's that gotta do with this black hole in me?" I was awake in the very early hours of the morning, unable to sleep, lost in the the grey, when the words I'd heard came back to me. They were a bright, happy light in an otherwise bleak landscape.

I've focused on that light in the last few weeks. It unearthed long-forgotten memories, like apologizing to my father for being too expensive to feed (I'd eaten all his snack nuts), and boys that measured me only by what I would give away. It shed light on the endless circles I run in my head, trying to figure out who I used to be and who I am now. For so long, I've measured myself based on what I could do for other people, what I could achieve, or what I could give away. I was a good mother because of the efforts and sacrifices I made for my children. I was a good wife if I provided enough support, made good enough meals, had enough sex. A good daughter by being available and strong enough to lean on. The lens through I saw myself through clouded my vision to the point of blindness. I lived my life like one, long apology. Last year, I wrote about my realization that I'd been spending every day fighting a battle, one of emotional survival and self-protection, but it was really more than that. At my very core, I felt I had to prove to the world that I wasn't superfluous. That I wasn't a burden. That I had a right to be here. No wonder I felt so tired. Maybe that's why we're all so tired. We're blind to our own worth, and to that of one another. It's easy to understand inventing all-knowing, all-loving gods to bestow us with worthiness: because giving that gift to one another, or ourselves, is harder than believing in religion.

I've been fighting locally for trans rights because I believe in the intrinsic value of human beings. I weep for Syrian refugees for the same reason. When my kids have bad days, I kiss their cheeks and tell them that they have my love, no matter what: that it cannot be earned or lost, but simply is. I tell my husband the same. I say it to my friends. I've started saying it to myself.

Though night comes early for some more weeks, and spring is a long way off, my heart carries a new light. One that keeps despair at bay and bathes this fierce, beautiful world in a warm, loving glow, and whispers, "I am. You are. We are enough."