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Heart with Orlando


You know I really don’t have important or profound things to say… Just a heavy heart and my reflections. 

There is so much wrong with the shootings. The targeting of the LGBTQ community… The fact that gun violence has become so commonplace in our society… The conversation on guns and violence in the US… The problem with religious rhetoric that spews hate… The intersections of racism, homophobia and islamaphobia… 

I think of the victims in the club and what they may have been feeling and experiencing… Terror, fear, isolation and now in the aftermath the loss of a safe space. Safe space in the LGBTQIA community is something that is built and established because society isn’t safe, church isn’t always safe and family can be dangerous.  As some others have said these safe spaces are sacred places because they give the LGBTQ community a place of belonging, acceptance and family. 

The shooting victims are the primary focus of compassion and love AND for those of us in the queer community we feel this hits close to home even if we were not at the club in Orlando, because it is a message of hate that targets our rights to exist, live and love. 

I came out later in life. I think in many ways I pass for straight because I’m queer bisexual and I am older. I don’t go out at night. My last relationship was with a woman and I’ve since dated men and women. I understand that I have some privilege with the level of passing I’m afforded. But I decided not to pass today because I do stand in solidarity with those in Orlando, as a member of this community. Although I haven’t been targeted with extreme acts of violence due to passing I have experienced hate and fear for what I represent and who I am. 

I’ve had religion used as a tool to shame and guilt and remind me I’m unacceptable. I’ve had some family outright say hurtful and rejecting things. I’ve lost a lot of friend and family relationships. But I feel so fortunate because I had a safe space of women who understood, accepted and loved me in some very dark times. We created a haven of safety for queer women.  

Orlando is a reminder that the world holds so much hate and fear simply because of who we are. 

Orlando is also a reminder that the queer community is one huge family that stands alongside each other and will not be held down by hate because we are marked by love.

Last night, vigils were held all over the U.S. to stand with our family in Orlando. I wasn’t able to go, because like I said I’m old and have kids at home, but my spirit was with them, my heart was with all of them here in Seattle and in Orlando. 

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Mother’s Day & Father’s Day Grief

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Mother’s Day and Father’s Day can be tough holidays for people.  It is tough for a variety of reasons: the death of a parent or the loss of a child… These losses make a day like Mother’s day incredibly difficult with complex emotions and reactions.  This mother’s day was particularly hard for me because my mom just died.  And it makes sense why Mother’s day would be hard for how it serves as a reminder of loss we’ve experienced.  Society hasn’t gotten a very good grasp on allowing space for grief, but loss because of death is something that is more widely understood and accepted.

With loss in mind, Mother’s & Father’s Days also can be hard for losses that take a different shape.

  • For some, this day is confusing because the relationship that one had with their mother or father or both does not fit the picture or the hallmark card that society has so conveniently packaged for us.
  • For some, it’s the memory of abuse and neglect that make the holiday hard.  Emotionally neglectful mother or a verbally abusive father… How does one celebrate when there is still so much trauma from the past?
  • For others, it’s emotionally and verbally abusive parents in the present.  People in these situations feel the obligation to send a card or flowers or go out to brunch, but don’t know how to reconcile that with their personal need to heal apart from the controlling or dismissive parent.
  • For others, Mother’s and Father’s day is fraught with anxiety and shame due to the rejection they’ve received from their parents because of their identity, life choices or personal decisions.  Folks talk about how they desire to honor their parents, but don’t know how given the demands their parents put on their lives to change to fit the parent’s ideals and values.  The relationship with the parent feels the farthest thing from loving.

The thing is we never talk about these realities.  We rarely get to acknowledge the fact that our relationships with our parents can be deeply confusing and painful.  Societally we don’t allow for an honest discourse around these family dynamics and on top of it we have this one day out of the year that we are sort of expected to pretend that everything is perfect.

I’ve heard people say, “It’s your duty to honor your parents.  The Bible says to honor your mother and father” in response to friends or siblings sharing about their painful relationships in the family.  Other responses include.

  • What happened to you happened so long ago… Why can’t you just let go of it?
  • You’ll regret not making the effort if something happens to your dad.
  • Ahhhh you know your mom didn’t mean it.

It’s so easy to dismiss these hurts and pile on obligation and shame on the individual hurting in these circumstances.  We don’t recognize the harm that is done in these comments.

How  one must navigate these hurts is complicated and varies AND the first step is to acknowledge that this hurt is real and to recognize that all loss goes through a process of grief.  Every grieving cycle is different, but the complex emotions that come in grief takes place with all kinds of losses.

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Human Rights, Choice & Coming Out

rainbow steps in Istanbul

When, how, to whom, and if one comes out is a human right.  It is a process of personal choice and human agency.  

I’ve been in Istanbul for the past week conducting a research study on the disclosure process of gay men between the ages of 18 to 21.  This wonderful privilege came to me when Dr. Robert Cleve asked me to join the research team, as his assistant.  This research is a cross-cultural emerging grounded theory design, which initially identified cultural cohorts in Sao Paulo, Brazil and Chicago.  This year we received funding to expand the research to Istanbul, Turkey.  So here we are…

Our hope is to get an interior view and perspective on the process of disclosure of identified LGBT individuals, as it relates to their culture of origin.  What we’ve found in our flourishing analysis is that the disclosure process is informed by various elements: family of origin, culture of origin and religion.  What has been true of all the cultural cohorts that we’ve looked at is: a social constructivist structure within culture is a primary determinant and mediator to one’s awareness and acceptance of sexual identity.

In other words cultures where language, social systems, legal systems, healthcare systems and government systems that uphold a heterosexist view as the correct or preferred or normative orientation tend to inform individual’s about how he/she will be accepted and embraced.  Furthermore, this system tells one how she/he should accept and embrace self– such that individuals’ basis for disclosure is linked to how the individual understands where she/he will fit within the society at large.

What I want to really say is that the decision to come out is a painstaking, cost-benefits decision all the time.  It is not a one time decision– it is a moment to moment, person to person, context to context decision.  I always say how the large majority of LGBTQ people are not Ellen… They do not have the privilege of a one time coming-out on national television experience, like Ellen and other celebrities.

Coming out is a decision that has to be considered in every context– family, work, school, social group, church and so on…  It is never one time… It is continual and it requires energy, consideration, wisdom, assessment and discernment every-single-time.

In Turkey the consequence of being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered is risky and dangerous.  This week hearing stories of men fleeing their homes after being ‘discovered’ or coming out was a theme that consistently presented itself.  One man from a small village had to run away from home, because he would have been killed by his family as part of an honor killing.  There are almost no legal protections for LGBTQ identified persons in Turkey.  When harassment or violence is reported to the police the authorities typically state that the LGBTQ individual provoked the situation and brought it on him/herself.

This is the climate and tone in many parts of the world.  You can lose your job, your home, your family, your church, your community, your support… your life– that’s the reality of being open and authentic about who you are.  Just being you can get you killed.

The thing is I am completely aware that in this cross cultural work I bring my Western– US of A lens to the table…  In the US of A where we are so focused on marriage equality as a human rights issue for LGBTQ people– we forget the many other issues of human rights for LGBTQ that are needed– like the rights to life.

Marriage equality is a worthy cause.  I get why it’s needed.  I voted for it.  Stories like Charlene Strong’s makes this cause so evident.  However, let us not forget that the struggle does not end there and perhaps our single focus on that issue has distracted us from the many other human rights issues.

In fact, on much of the globe the right to live is a primary concern for the LGBTQ community.

– In Nigeria you can face up to 14 years in prison.

– Uganda passed an Anti-Homosexuality Bill that proposes execution to people identified in same sex relationships.

– 1,341 LGBTQ Brazilians were murdered from 2007-2012.

Even in the U.S. bullying and harassment is a prevalent issue, which can often lead to suicide.  9 out of 10 LGBTQ youth report being bullied in school.  (Bullying Statistics).

This past year in New York city gay bashings were on the rise.  Several gay men reported being beaten while just walking on the street.

These are a few of the reasons why choosing to disclose is a risky decision.  When one comes out he/she faces potential harms that range from rejection to physical violence.  In Turkey, physical harm can take place within the family of origin.

Yet, even when physical harm is not a risk there is the risk of losing family and relationships and being disowned.  LGBTQ men and women all over the world face these types of risks.

And this is why the decision to come out is a human right.  This is a right that each person gets to make on his or her own terms.

When participants were asked if they would go through the process of coming out to family and friends again (in that initial step) almost every participant echoed a resounding yes… stating that there is nothing like being one’s authentic, true and open self.

However, each one recognized just how personal, intimate and unique the process of coming out is for each individual.  There are no two stories that are exactly the same… Yes, there are shared fears and anxieties, but the outcomes vary from one person to the next.

We finally asked, “Would you recommend coming-out to other closeted LGBTQ identified people”?  One person’s answer stood out to me powerfully.  He said, “Yes!  Of course!  There is absolutely nothing like liberating yourself to be who you are.  However, I also recommend doing so cautiously, because no one knows your circumstance better than you.  No one knows your family better than you do”.

This is true… No one does know your circumstance or your family or your support system or your dreams, hopes and goals better than you…  You are the one that bears that knowledge.  In the end, whatever decision is made the decision to choose is your choice alone– it is your human right to disclose when, how, where and to whom you choose to.

 

Resources & References:

Homophobia: Human Rights First

not an illness or a crime LGBTQ equality in Turkey

Uganda: Anti-Homosexuality Act’s Heavy Toll

World Report 2012: Nigeria

World Report 2012: Uganda

It Gets Better

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Sexual Violence, Secrets & Shame

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One in four women have survived sexual assault and two out of three assaults are committed by someone known by the survivor.  These assaults leave deep wounds and harm on the individual’s psyche, body and personhood.  Women that experience sexual assault are:

3 times more likely to experience depression

6 times more likely to experience post-traumatic stress disorder

4 times more likely to contemplate suicide

The pain is incredibly deep and burdensome to the survivor.  And as if it wasn’t enough to live through the assault, many women experience further trauma from the impact of shame and silence.

Statistics show that out of every 100 incidents of sexual violent acts only 40% are reported by women.  

This is obviously problematic.  Yet, it is so common for the survivor to be further victimized by society, the legal system and their own family and friends.

In the legal system and society it is not uncommon for women to be questioned about their clothing, their whereabouts, their state of mind, their involvement before the assault and the assaulter are even addressed.  In some cases the perpetrator is not addressed and completely overlooked.  Our culture and system fail survivors.

One woman I knew experienced a sexual assault when she was 5 years old by a family friend.  The experience was so traumatic that she didn’t remember the event for 20 years.  In an attempt, to protect her body, her integrity and personhood her mind literally locked away the experience.  Developmentally her body and mind were unable to process this information.  This lapse of memory is not uncommon.  Memory research shows that the brain in an effort to survive can block out traumatic events and once triggered the memory can resurface.  At twenty-five, when the memories began to reemerge she shared her experience with trusted family.  The family did not know how to respond so they didn’t.  They maintained relationship with the family friend.

This experience embedded the message that she could not trust herself, her memory or her need for healing.

Several years later when the assault was verified through the perpetrator’s confession she still did not experience support, but faced pressure in ‘reconciling relationship with this long time family friend’.

Unfortunately, this story is all too common.  Most survivors do not have safe places in community to share their stories.  The damage of holding these secrets within oneself lead to shame, hopelessness, isolation and sometimes self-hate and contempt.

So here’s the deal.  I want to be completely clear here:

It is never, ever, ever the survivors fault

and all forms of sexual assault and violence are unacceptable and wrong.

– She wasn’t asking for it because of how she was dressed

– Even though she may not have remembered the assault for some time doesn’t mean it did-not-happen

– It doesn’t matter if the perpetrator was a friend, a family member or intimate partner– sexual assault is sexual assault– stranger or not– it is a violation and injustice to the survivor

It is never the survivors fault.  Let that sink in.

Now as much as I would like to conduct a critical analysis on victim culture in the US I think that’ll need to be for another time.  There is something seriously wrong with how we place blame and shame on the survivors.

But what I feel is needed to be done is to talk to family and friends of survivors first, because I don’t see a lot of people addressing family and friends of survivors these days.

If you have a daughter, sister, granddaughter, niece, female friend, cousin or congregant who comes to you to share that she has experienced a sexual assault the first thing you need to do is:

1) Listen.  As hard as it is to hear and as helpless as you may feel– set your discomforts aside and listen to her.  She is not lying to you or telling you a made up story.  Believe me, it is incredibly hard to share an assault story like this.  If she is sharing with you chances are she believes she’ll find a safe place in you.  She may have been holding on to the story for some time– debating whether or not she could really share her story with you.  She is placing a hell of a lot of trust in you– that you’ll honor her story and listen– so honor her.  Listen to her and really see her, because she is a courageous, brave woman to share one of the most intimate violations of her life with you.

2) Do not get stuck in helplessness or denial by blaming her.  It’ll go a long way for you to know now that it is not her fault.  It doesn’t matter what she was doing at the time of the assault– she wasn’t asking for it or inviting it.  One client reported being at a college party drinking when she was locked in a room and raped…  Before you start asking her if she should have been there in the first place I want to say, nope… Not helpful– wrong.  Veer away from those lines of questioning.  Doesn’t matter where she was or what she was doing…  She was sexually violated and the pain she is experiencing is real.

3) Here’s some words you should say: 

I am so sorry for your pain.

I am on your side.

I support you.

I believe you.

I will be with you to find help for your healing process.

Here are words you should NOT say:

Why were you at that party to begin with?

Were you drinking?

Are you sure?

Really?–  Bill?  But he’s been a family friend for years.

You do not need to process/talk about your shock or discomfort with the survivor.  In fact, plan to do that with a therapist or someone who is equipped to help you process that information.  Do not place that burden on the survivor to help walk you through your process and shock.

Take time to grieve and connect to the injustice that your loved one has endured.  

4) Be an ally and do the work.  More often than not people do not know what to do when a woman shares an assault story so they don’t do anything.  Maybe they are scared or maybe they are in denial or maybe they do not know where to seek help.  The thing is with all the resources available to us there really isn’t any excuse for burying one head in the sand and denying the survivor’s story.  Most have internet, a phone or a library that is accessible to them… there is really no excuse to just sit back and do nothing.

The thing is if you’re an ally– then you have to do the work to educate yourself.  There are many ways to do that you can see an experienced therapist.  Some therapists provide Skype therapy for those who have transportation challenges.  Check out your local listings for support groups for friends and family members of sexual assault victims.  Lastly, do the research.  Read stories and books about survivors and strategies to support survivors in their healing process.  Seek accurate information.  If you can’t do therapy you can even ask an experienced therapist about books and resources that will help you process information and give you ideas on how to be supportive.

Be an ally by choosing to believe the survivor and do the work to compassionately understand her painful experience.  

For Survivor Allys:

New York Times article on Sexual Assault 

Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN)

Sexual Assault Statistics 

Crisis Clinic

King County Sexual Assault Resource Center

Video

ocean shores and dad

I’m a bit behind on posting this… Yesterday was Father’s day and I made this little documentary for my dad.  A few weekends ago we took a trip to Ocean Shores with the family and it was one of the nicest, most relaxing trips I’ve had in a long time.

During that trip I had time to reflect on my dad and the presence he’s had on my life. We’ve always had a special bond since I was a very small girl.  While I was in undergrad my father decided it wasn’t too late to expand himself and so he started his bachelor’s degree at the same university I attended.  Not many can say that they’ve taken Criminology or Acting 101 with their dad, but that’s our story.  It was a crazy blast.

This past year has been one of the most difficult of my life and I can say without hesitation– I wouldn’t have gotten through it without the unconditional acceptance and love of my father.

When I think about the measure of a steady father these words come to mind: generous, gracious and courageous.  My dad will be the first to say that he isn’t perfect, but these words describe, only in part, his beautiful soul.

Generous // It used to drive me crazy because we could never expect to have a holiday meal without every lone person my dad ran into at the grocery store joining us for dinner.  On Thanksgiving, there we would be with an assortment of misfits and loners gathered around the table.  As a teenager this cramped my style but over time I began to recognize just how deep my dad’s generosity flowed. We always had room at the table for anyone who didn’t have a home.  He’s still like this to this day and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Gracious // My teenage years tested the breadth and depth of my father’s graciousness– the nights I snuck out to ride bikes with my best friend across the street– the day I skipped 8th grade to ‘run away’ for a day to Everett… I’ll spare you the details.  These were the real testing moments and although my dad would vacillate in disappointment his grace found a way to embrace me.  I’ve seen folks wrong him– moments of rejection or hurt and he has always exhibited an openness to second chances.

Courageous // I haven’t met many who are willing to ask themselves where it is they need to change and then figure out how to make the needed changes.  He modeled that often. He owned his short comings and would get back up and try again.  He’s committed to an evolving process and that’s not easy to do or even encouraged in our culture, but he digs in deep to find the courage and take another step.

Thanks dad for who you are.  I am full of gratitude.

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Day 22 of 30-day challenge: Family Yoga

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Meet the Killick Family.  This family from Edmonton, Alberta practice Bikram yoga together.  When I read about them I was inspired and secretly hoped that my daughters would one day want to practice with me– a mom can hope.  It’s a good thing that they are loving the kid yoga class that I take them to at the studio I practice and maybe that will carry on as they get older.  I hope so, as it has been such a great foundation for their esteem and learning about their bodies.  

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New Year… new blog space

After several years of loyalty to blogspot I’ve decided to heed various requests to update my blog and I’ve found that wordpress is a great host to do that on.

I’m looking forward to a new year with many more opportunities to blog my random thoughts and ideas.

It seems that right from the on-set our family is going through significant transitions as my husband begins his first week of classes– THIS week!  And as I look into the future it is so easy for me to get obsessive about where we will end up and how we will get there!?!  In the last few days as I’ve reflected on life– the last year– the last ten years I have had a bit of a wake up call to stop, relax, breathe in what is right before me.  And although, I still have great ambitions and goals for career and development the most important thing I have before me is my family– my babies– my spouse.  And I’ve realized that no matter how big my dreams get I don’t want to miss out on a moment with them…  it’s just too important.  So my hope and prayer this year is that I can be a more restful, content person so that even in the midst of moving forward I don’t overlook the important things and miss the beautiful moments like my baby girl taking her first steps all the way across the room or my elementary student who astounds me with her curiosity, creative energy and generous heart.  You see, it may be hard to believe, but slowing down and drinking in is my greatest challenge.  So I hope for peace.

And now I leave you with a question to ponder– What do you hope for in 2010 and beyond?