Monthly Archives: November 2012

World AIDS Day

I grew up in a world most people will never see.

My childhood was one where I knew about chest tubes, how to use syringes, running jokes about biohazard signs. I learned what sex was at the same time that I learned what death was. I wore plastic gloves more often than any child did in my grade level.

My father had AIDS. He died in December of 1993.

I usually do a heartfelt post about how I miss him, and about what the experience was like to live with it. But today I’m turning the tables. I’m making this a Q&A. You – the readers, ask the questions. I, the writer, will answer them. The only thing I ask is that you keep it respectful – even 19 years later, there are scars on my heart that are still raw. But I miss teaching, and I miss carrying on my father’s legacy – he took me with him when he taught AIDS prevention classes, and I have done that work since then.

Today I am a (mostly) open book. Ask away, I’ll take questions until end of day Saturday.

 

UPDATE: I’ll be adding stories as I think of them. Continue asking questions – since people have been shy, I’ll extend the deadline on queries – because this is seriously about answering YOUR questions. Here’s a short anecdote from the annals of my AIDS infected childhood:

“FUCK AIDS” I said. I think I was around seven years old, I may have been younger, I may have been older. I can’t remember the exact context, but I know I was angry about my father being sick. My mother had explained swear words to me in the recent past, and she had told me that they were adult and angry words, and that I could only use them in the appropriate context. So I did. I remember this: I didn’t get punished, because I’d used the right word, in the right context.

I swore.

Northwest AIDS Walk 1991

Northwest AIDS Walk 1991

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As Featured On:

Well, this dovetails awfully nicely! My piece “It Happened to Me: I’m Disabled But People Don’t Think I’m Blind Enough” is over at xojane.com!

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How We Learn Not to Stand Up

I remember the first time that an adult made excuses for someone being mean to me. I remember when my training began to not know when to say no to people, or to not stick up for myself

I was seven.

I was being teased by a boy at school, and I was told “It’s ok. He’s doing it because he likes you.” I would be told variations on this theme until i was in high school. He likes you, it’s why he tries to following around at school. He likes you, it’s why he wrote an essay comparing you to Helen Keller. He likes you. It’s why he tripped you down the stairs. It’s why he stole your lunch. It’s why he tied your shoes together. It’s why he put plastic snakes in your backpack.

As an adult, if someone were to trip you down the stairs we would call it abuse. If someone follows you around, and refuses to leave you alone even when you ask nicely – that’s considered stalking. If someone puts plastic snakes in your backpack (even though you’re afraid of them) you’d call it  mean.

The notion of being liked because he’s teasing you wasn’t just told to me by family (in fact, I can only remember one adult in my family doing so) but I can recall instances where teachers told this to us. We were fed this line to create playground unity.

Other women I’ve spoken to in my age group have said the same. We have all been told that it is acceptable for people to tease us and make us feel sad, or hurt, or frightened – in name of being “liked”. I asked one of my friends if she had been taught this, and she said that it had taken so much work to stop making excuses when her feelings are completely rational and reasonable. We as women are taught to make apologies in our heads. We are taught to make excuses for those individuals who harm us.

We shouldn’t.

This idea that being liked is attached to teasing and meanness opens us up to abuse. Mostly, it opens us up to emotional abuse, because it feels the same as some of the teasing which we have experienced, and if in our hearts we are trained to brush it off, to think of it as cute, to make excuses for others… we don’t know how to say no when it is the most important thing we can say. Yes, it also opens us up to physical abuse, but in this case I think the more pernicious side effect is that of not knowing whether it’s emotional abuse – or teasing.

The instincts which are trained out of us aren’t just the ones that say “get out, get out, you’re being abused!”  They are the same instincts that teach us how to tell our partners we’re uncomfortable. I still get all nervous and uncomfortable telling my husband when he does something I don’t like. My voice gets all soft and quiet and I shift from foot to foot. I don’t actually need to be afraid, because we’re adults and we’ve made a commitment to be together – and yet I still get nervous that if I tell him I didn’t like the way he handled something on my behalf, I’m afraid he’ll divorce me. You see, these interactions don’t just hurt women – they hurt men too. From not knowing what’s an appropriate way to express affection, to having partners who don’t know how to express their feelings without fear – men are also those who deal with the consequences of being told “It’s just because he likes you”.

I’m not the only woman to feel this way. Asserting dominion over our emotions and our physical beings in relationships where we’re consensual participants still feels difficult, and I firmly believe that the root cause of this is how we’re taught to handle teasing and bullying as children. Without the tools to tell people “no” as children, we’re not able to do it as adults – and it’s harder to recognize the hurtful things from the harmless things when we never learned how to do that in the first place.

N.B.: Yes, teasing can be a way of being affectionate, and in many relationships it works. The difficulty of course is knowing how to use it and when, so that the laughter isn’t masking pain.

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But I want to see “The Hobbit” too!

I am a nerd. I love scifi, fantasy, you name it – I probably want to watch it. And yes, I probably want to go on opening day.

But there has been a sneaky trend in the last few years, one which made it impossible to see “Thor” in the theater after 4pm or on the weekend. One which made picking a time to see “Skyfall” or “The Avengers” a bit of a challenge. In fact, I’ve taken to asking when I arrive at a movie theater to buy my tickets… .

“Please tell me this isn’t in 3D”

So, let’s take a quick trip through science land!

3D is seen through glasses with different colors over each eye. One of your two eyes sees slightly different images, so that when the final image comes together in your brain – voila! Things jumping out at you, etc.

So, about that having two eyes thing….? Yeah. That’ll be a problem for me.

The trend towards 3D all Day All The Time presents the issue of my never wanting to go see movies. I’d rather stay home and rent. But I want to go see “The Hobbit” with my friends, or when other fantastical films come out on the big screen. I’d be happy with at least one blind friendly showing that isn’t at 11am when everyone and their 3 month old infant is at the movie too.

I get that maybe I’m the only one eyed patron at my movie theater, but there have to be other people who go to the theaters I do that are prone to motion sickness, or simply don’t enjoy 3D. Quite seriously, it’s just not fun for everyone.

And the fact is, there’s the threat that 3D may become the norm on home video as well, making my issue doubly problematic. So if any of you readers manage an AMC or a Regal in the NY Metro area, think of the one eyed and save me from this crap.
{this post is part of the very seldom used “get off my lawn” tag. Because everyone’s cranky about something.}

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Transgender Day of Remembrance (A day after, but never late.)

Yesterday was TDoR. I respectfully ask everyone reading this post to please open this link to the list of all those who have died because they were living in their own gender. Please do so knowing that this is triggering for almost anyone. TW on this post in general for violence and bigotry.

I want to tell you the story of how my 10th grade teacher taught me why shock is not always a valuable tool to change hatred.

To begin with you need to understand my exposure to transgendered life. My family is filled with trans activists, with people who transitioned before I was born. I was raised to understand that sometimes people were born in the wrong bodies, and that it is OK to make changes in order to live the life you need to live.

So when I was in the 10th grade, we had a unit on racism and hate crimes in my literature class. I’m not entirely sure how it came up, but someone said something pretty awful and moments later our teacher was angry – and she told us all to watch “Boys Don’t Cry” the movie about Brandon Teena. For those who aren’t aware, the film is the story of a trans youth who was raped and murdered because of who he was. Being the well behaved student that I  was, when my grandmother picked me up from school I told her we needed to rent a movie for my homework – I wasn’t actually aware of how intense the movie was, and I certainly didn’t know what my reaction was going to be.

I watched the movie in my grandparents basement by myself, and afterwards I cried for four hours. Watching the movie hadn’t just been about watching the story of Brandon, but had been about watching the story of every person in my life who was trans, and the abuse that they might suffer were they in the wrong place at the wrong time, were they to come out to the wrong person, or were they to be found out.

We shouldn’t live in a world where watching a movie should make you so terrified for your people that you cannot hold it together enough to leave the basement.

I called my mother in tears and told her what I had watched, and she told me that she was disappointed in my teacher for having told impressionable teens to watch a movie like that. When she saw it in the theaters, she said that grown adults were sobbing in the aisles,. and she felt physically sick while watching the movie.

I’m glad this movie exists for one reason only: it is a great teaching tool if you’re not a part of the community. If you don’t understand the persecution, and the cruelty that happens to people who try to lead their lives in the way that feels right. It is an unflinching view of cruelty and reality.

The point of this story is this: Sometimes we don’t need television or movies to understand fear. For me, I actually didn’t need to see that movie. I probably shouldn’t have. For some of my classmates, it was likely a harrowing but life changing film.

The fact of the matter is that we still live in a time when the Brandon Teena story could happen again. Even yesterday on TDoR itself, I was helping a friend gather resources for a young trans person who does not have a home to go back to. I have heard my trans peers talk about experiences that made them want to commit suicide rather than live in the gender which society assigns them at birth. I have seen friends thrown out of their homes, threatened with abuse, and yes – I have known about suicides.

Being transgendered is not an easy path to walk, and I hope that people will educate themselves, and lend a hand when someone is in danger – because every life lost to bigotry is tragic, even if we didn’t know each other. Our jobs, as allies, as cisgendered people – we need to become better at supporting those who are different. We need to become better at supporting the families of those who lead different lives. Please learn to be tolerant, because without that tolerance we are lost in a sea of hate. The biggest thing you can do TODAY is to never ever call someone by the gender which they DO NOT identify with. Using pronouns THEY choose is another big one. Respecting their name choice. Make these shifts in your language, and you make the world a slightly better place.

 

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Medicating Tantrums

One of my biggest concerns looking forward for this country has to do with the way that we handle children. It isn’t just that parents have become more protective, or that the world has suddenly become more dangerous. What worries me is the trend towards having a diagnosis for everything.

So when I saw the following news item on BoingBoing on Friday I was particularly concerned: Temper Tantrum in the DSM

DMDD [disruptive mood disregulation disorder] seems to be nothing to do with mood, but instead covers a pattern of misbehavior which is already covered by not one but two labels already. Why add a misleadingly-named third?

Well, the back-story is that in the past ten years, many American kids and even toddlers have got diagnosed with ‘child bipolar disorder‘ – a disease considered extremely rare everywhere else. To stop this, the DSM-5 committee want to introduce DMDD as a replacement. This is the officially stated reason for introducing it. On the evidence of this paper and others it wouldn’t even achieve this dubious goal.

The possibility of just going to back to the days when psychiatrists didn’t diagnose prepubescent children with bipolar (except in very rare cases) seems to not be on the table.

One of the commentors on the post made a point that I had already started to form in my mind as I read this little news snippet: If there’s a diagnosis in the DSM, then they can medicate it.

Tantrums, from my limited experience have a lot to do with children not being able to express their emotions, so instead of expressing their feelings in an appropriate way, they scream. A lot. I’m not a parent, but I’ve spent a fair amount of time working with children under the age of 10, and all the tantrums I have witnessed (with a few minor exceptions) came from a place of frustration.

Which makes me wonder – have people lost their ability to understand that children are children? Have we as a society made the choice to medicate rather than teach?  One of the reasons that I choose to not take anxiety medication is that I firmly believe it is something I can master without medication. Do I falter sometimes? Certainly, like many others do.  But if we medicate children instead of teaching them how to sort through and communicate about their frustrations or their feelings, when they become adults they will not be able to have the kind of dialogue needed for marriage, or having a boyfriend, or even in a job. By medicating, we’re taking away a learning experience – a valuable one which could affect the way that children interact with society in the future, not just in the right now.

There certainly are some children who need medical assistance, but after 2 years working with special needs youth, I can say from observing that any temper tantrum which comes from a place of psychological duress has a lot of other symptoms going hand in hand – and the job of parents, psychologists and teachers is to notice those differences – not to give labels that don’t allow for growth.

Furthermore, what kind of medication would be given in these instances? Tranquilizers? Mood stabilizers? How would those kinds of medications impact a growing child and their mind? Medications do have side effects, and who knows what the results would be from such interventions?

I think, as a society we need to take a good hard look at what is helpful and what is harmful when it comes to the damage we do to children when it comes to psychological care.

 

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So Your Preferred Candidate Lost…

What’s a sad voter to do?

Pick up a new hobby? Find a new political cause you care about? Call your mom?

… Oh. I see. Okay.

You’re going to start a petition to secede from the United States of America. Gotcha. That’s… uhm…. Unreasonable.

Yes. Secession. So very 1860.

In fact, this has almost become a fad. Now it’s not just the dissolution of states from the union that make sense, but those who really don’t. From looking at the We the People Petition Site the following states have filed petitions to “peacefully secede” or “secede” from the United States. A parenthetical indicates the number of times the petition has been put into the system: Commonwealth of Virginia (x2), Iowa, Maine, Missouri, Illinois, New Mexico, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Idaho, Georgia (x3), Rhode Island, Wisconsin, Utah (x2), Ohio (x2), South Dakota, West Virginia, Nebraska, Pennsylvania (x2), Kansas, Oklahoma (x2), Wyoming, California, New York (x2), Delaware, Arizona, Arkansas, South Carolina (x2), Missouri (x2), Tennessee, Michigan, Colorado, New Jersey, North Dakota, Montana, Indiana, Mississippi, Kentucky, North Carolina, Florida, Texas, Alabama, Louisiana, and Washington.

Alaska and Oregon asked for a vote to be put to all state citizens on if they should secede or not.

45 states out of 50 have petitions filed on their behalf with regard to secession. And one city: Austin Texas would like to remain part of the United States. Because apparently Austin is cool like that.

There’s a popularized myth that Texas has the right to secede from the Union as according to their state constitution – they do not. But their website about secession has a lot of answers (from their perspective). In their case at least, this isn’t just a pouty faced outcry, but actually well thought out reasoning for why they want to leave the United States.

But why are people putting petitions to the White House about secession? Well. I’ll tell you, but it’s not pretty. It’s because we re-elected an African-American President. It’s because it turns out that the country isn’t as conservative and intolerant as many people would like to believe. We are a country populated by differences, and that is showing in this last election. They’re angry because they didn’t win.

So instead of acting like adults, who live in a country that they would have supported had their candidate won, they’re taking the temper tantrum route. They’re throwing a fit because they feel entitled to do so. Fortunately for them, unlike the one petition on the site requests, we won’t deport them for suggestions of secession. Look, we on the left did it too. We threatened to move to Canada (actually, I threatened to move to Europe, but it’s the same thing.) It’s a jerky thing to do, and we should all stop it.

But I’d like to point this difference between the Left and the Right out: The only other time that there has been a secession from this country, has been over race too. Apparently what really pushes people over the edge here isn’t about the choices a President makes, but his actions or affiliations with regard to race. My hope is that no one is stupid enough to throw a John Wilkes Booth-ian tantrum.

The White House has said that they will respond to the petitions which do reach the regularly required number of signatures (Which Texas and Alabama have.) No idea when, or what it will say. But given that the Governor of Alabama doesn’t support secession of his own state, I think it’s likely that the White House will tell them (very politely) to go sit in a corner and think about what they’ve done.

Go read a book. Go drink some whiskey. Volunteer at your school or church, or with the government. Make a difference. But don’t pitch fits about leaving the country when you know that our history still shows the battle scars of the Civil War, and seriously – don’t do it because our President has a different skin color than you. Plain and simple: That’s overblown bullshit racism.

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