The bravest thing I've ever done? It's happening now...I'm in the midst of attempting a personal revolution. On a scale from 1 through 10, I'd give it about a "6." Before I spill, though, a disclosure: the following are easily filed under 'first world problems'. Meaning, I have fairly stable employment, health, housing, safety...and as you can surmise from the above picture, I've got plenty to eat. Too much. So if you can remember back to that Psychology 101 class back in college, you might recall Abraham Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, stating that once certain basics were taken care of, we would be freed up to focus on higher level issues. Note the fab diagram below:
Yes, part of hiking up this bitch of an incline means a bevy of things for me. Such as:
1. To Get in Shape/Get Healthy
Listen, I'm not looking to become the cougar on the block (um...ewww) or to make my new hobby running races for the cure to suburban boredom. I just want to live a really long time, and so far, no sparkly vampires are offering me immortality (again...ewww). I want to take less pills. I want to play touch football on a green lawn in Cape Cod during the summer time (yes, there may be a few buckteeth Kennedy's playing along) without getting winded. You get the idea.
2. Finish/Publish/Produce a Creative WorkI have this quiet little obsession, lodged quietly in the recesses of my brain: to finish the book I've been working on, to write a play, to complete a body of art work.Something creative. Something mine. Something recognized.That part's not the crazy part. The part that keeps me up is this notion that until I complete this aforementioned task, I am due to have reruns of mortal life. In other words, my karma is directly tied to getting something creative out of myself and into the world at large. And if I cannot do this, I will have to come back, to be reincarnated.And that's NOT part of my current contract negotiations with the Big Almighty. I consider myself a Jewish-Buddhist, which my hot hubby is convinced I say just so I can sound 'cool' - ugh, he's so wrong, but whatever. And I do believe in reincarnation....and for a while I had put on lay-a-way my order to be tall, naturally blonde and thin and French, with money, in my next life.But I've returned that catalog item. Now, I want this to be my last life...and afterwards, when I'm on the other side giving wrong lotto numbers and dirty jokes to the Long Island Medium, I envision myself in perma-guardian-angel status. Because as much as I love life - my life - I'm tired on a deep spiritual level. And I can't live through Algebra and 80s fashion again.So that's another thing on my to-do list. 3. Reverse the Dysfunctional Family Feuding LegacyHot hubby and I have a lot in common. We are both only children. We both grew up by the beach. We're both Jewish.And we both come from some of the most dysfunctional, selfish, narcissistic people ever created. If one of them is reading this, I mean the other parent/relative, etc...Most of our parents have been married 3 times. Yep. You read that right. Hot hubby practically raised himself and I had the love and support of a great mom who helped me dodge my dad's cutting curses and thrown objects in my direction. It was a bucket-full-of-fun. And to answer your next question, most of them are lukewarm in the grandparent department as well. I could spend a lot of wasted energy being pissed off and resentful. But remember how I said in an earlier blog how I've had a lot of therapy? Well, one of my revelations has been to understand that people give what they can give. And I can get my knickers in a twist of self-righteousness or I can not feed future cancer cells and get on with it.As the Buddha said (in his 'Fuck moderation, I'm going for the full Buddha belly' phase) - "Holding onto anger is like swallowing poison and expecting someone else to die."One of the ways I channel my energy into something more positive is to envision that my nuclear family is less, well, nuclear reactive than from what we originated. Typical of many other Generation Xers, I see part of the function of our union is to reverse the wreckage of previous generations. I want our children, grandchildren, and beyond to view marriage and family as a safe harbor - not something to spur on PTSD rivaling symptoms. So while I don't get too anal about it, I admit I spend a decent amount of grey matter ensuring that our family life is as cohesive and functional as possible...and I try to add some whimsy while I'm at it.See? All good goals. And I'm exhausted.I have the suspicion that, deep down, there's a lesion festering underneath these seemingly healthy and lofty aspirations. That, in spite of my decent self-image, humor, and hard work, I'm afraid...in spite my best efforts...I'm not enough. I am afraid that it's never enough. Nothing is ever clean enough or Pinterest pretty enough or thin enough or accomplished enough. There's always more to do, more to create, more to be.I want to be enough. I'd like to just be. But I don't know how to do that. And the irony is that when I see others who seem to walk around in their lil Zen state of existence, I am either envious or thinking they're 'wasting' their 'potential'. Is potential just another way of saying we're not enough - right now? Do the people in our lives love us as we are in this moment or are they waiting to see us fully-grown? If I never accomplished another goal, if my ass stayed the size of a Buick, would I be able to accept it? Would others? Would God? Ok, ok...the red wine's kicked in. I'm getting maudlin -even by my standards. Let me know how you see things. Right now, I'm seeing Maslow as the ultimate pyramid scheme.
An unexpected dividend of starting a blog has been 'meeting' some amazingly funny, eclectic, and strange women via the blogophere. Some of them have been writing posts about what they're thankful for in this mortal coil. So I've got a list of my own thankful stuff.
Let's automatically assume all the assumable things: God, family, health, friends, funds for the trappings of middle-class suburbia. Don't misunderstand me...just because they're grouped as such doesn't make me any less thankful (sorry for the double-negative, grammar Nazis). But let's get to the wacky thanksy list, shall we?
Some of you reading this are probably too young to remember life before Caller ID. Bless your hearts. Let me tell ya, it was God awful. You had to actually talk to people, most of them beyond annoying because they wanted to sell you stuff - or worse - people you knew, but had successfully avoided in person. Now, thanks to caller ID, I've avoided whole hoards of people for, like, decades. Pure awesomeness.
Being a Woman in the United States
I'm not saying being a woman is always easy, but dagnabbit I'm uber thankful I get to share my witchy-woman-ways in this country. And I
want to thank this country for allowing me to take out more money in student loans than I'm worth in insurance money...but hey, at least I was able to earn a top notch education and utilize it to make $.77 for every buck a guy makes.
Ok, all snark aside, I love my country. I'm a patriot with roots dating back to the American Revolution and beyond (from my non-Jewish side, but hey, it still counts). This country may still objectify women, undervalue our paid and non-paid labor and fail to fully represent our interests in corporate and government affairs, but better here than almost anywhere else, where I'd probably be stoned to death by leaving my head uncovered or expected to cook and clean while tending my in-laws goat herd. Have you ever been around goats? They smell nasty and they're the a-holes of the animal kingdom. Just saying...
If I only had to cook once every fiscal quarter, or just for major holidays - and major is defined by either a school closing or a Hallmark card display - then having to cook wouldn't be a big deal. And in fairness, I should report that Hot Hubby does his fair share of cooking. That said, having to come up with a dinner every-friggin'-night sucks weinis.
That is why food delivery is a beautiful thing. I wish my lil' town in Northern Virginia had more to offer than pizza, Thai, and Chinese, but I am grateful nonetheless for my limited food delivery. My ass isn't, but the rest of me is.
Being Born in the Age of Frequent Showers, Antiperspirant, and Braces
As a former history professor, I used to entertain the well-worn fantasy of when and where would I travel back in time for a visit, equipped with my DeLorean time machine, of course (sorry for the bad 80s movies reference. My husband would be proud). Anyway, as I've aged and got-me-some-learning, I've realized a couple of things:
1. Thank God for orthodontics because without them, there wouldn't have been enough donkeys and lactating cows in my dowry to marry me off. Not to brag, but I had quite the overbite in my day.
2. People stink. Can you imagine how putrid it was in the Middle Ages, when deodorant was non-existent and showers were a rarity? Dear GOD I reek like the most unholy of beasts if I miss one day alone.
I'm a typical American in that I prize straight, white teeth and artificial smells which mimic the idea of nature - with scents like Fresh Breeze, Happy Beach Day, and Sunshine Rainbow Morning Dew - instead of the real thing like Horse Manure, Dog Flatulence, or Rotting Fruit on the Ground. Guess I'm funny that way.
Privilege - The Other White Meat
I'm a social worker in training, which is the short version of stating that I believe in the inherent decency within people. And being a white, blonde haired, green-eyed woman allows me a magical power to see the kindness of strangers all the time. Clerks smile at me when I come into their stores. Men hold their doors open for me - a bonus living in Virginia. And I can occasionally - although not as much as when I was younger - talk my way out of a ticket with that nice police officer stopping me while doing his or her job.
I lived in that bubble for a while - until I realized that I was enjoying the byproduct of white privilege. I found this out because once I got out of my lil' white suburban bubble by the sea, I made friends with varying shades of colorful characters and would be surprised, then saddened, to discover that my 'friendly' grocer down by the corner of where I lived in New Orleans didn't give the same greetings and smiles to my black friends as he did to me. I also found out that my some of my grad school peers got stopped by the police weekly, and not because s/he had a lead foot.
Of course, I'll be more thankful for equal treatment for everyone and I'm happy to say I see more of that here in my town than I ever saw in Miami, New Orleans, or even San Francisco combined. Yeah Vienna! But until then, I'm sadly grateful that just as I give people the benefit of the doubt until proven otherwise, I am able to experience such treatment myself.
I have more to be thankful for - but that's it for today. What are you grateful for? Blogs not ending in prepositions?
P.S: Click on the Thankful link below to be magically transported to some of the funniest and most thought provoking bloggers - EVA!
Earlier this evening, I made my twice-a-year trek to synagogue, which means - yep, you guessed it - it's the Jewish High Holy Days. Members of the tribe, like myself, who describe themselves as "Jew Lite" tend to only go to services for Rosh Hashonah and Yom Kippur. Why? Because those are the only ones which really matter. Chanukah, from a religious perspective, is not considered a big friggin' deal...and only gets hype because it usually falls around Christmas. As if anything can compete with the pageantry of the Big JC's bday. As if! To answer your question, um...NO...that's not me in front of the menorah. You can tell because my hair would never hold its style for that long ANYWAY... So I'm in temple, sitting in the back on a fold-out chair which promises I'll atone for my sins through my big-fat-ass, when I started to think about how I really fudged up this past year. Like Catholics, as long as you're really sorry, you're pretty much forgiven for everything. I know, cool right? Oh course, my people make you actually ask forgiveness from the people you've sinned against. But being a former nice Jewish girl and a current Jewish Rockin' Mama, I'm always apologizing for something...but I thought it'd be fun to share my sins with y'all. Because that's me. I'm a giver.
Hey Genius, Put Down the Reading and CLEAN YOUR HOUSE!
I could be a lil' better, well, actually a lot better, with keeping our home clean. So how do I remedy this particular small sin? Start a blog, that's what...because we all know blogging doesn't take any time at all (choke on own saliva).
And Hey, While You're at It, Put Down the Computer/Phone Too.
Okay, I admit it. I love social media. I adore reading the blogosphere. And I'm glad I'm back in...but I do have to make a concerted effort to put down the devices and focus on the present. Such as my kids. The husband. Hey, is something burning? Ah crappers. There goes my kitchen. Uh-again.
You get the idea...
It Feels Like It'll Take Me Forever Until I Feel Really Good at My Job.
Old timers in behavioral health say that if you feel you're really good at your job the first few years after you're done with grad school, it's time to worry.
Graduating from a psychology or social work program doesn't mean diddly once you're working in the field. The clients I see are in crisis, often on and off for years. I feel humbled and - many times -overwhelmed by what I encounter everyday. I ask for guidance from my supervisors and coworkers frequently - a must in this field. I also admit when I'm wrong and have apologized more than once to a client.
Anyway, gotta say I threw in an extra prayer tonight, hoping to get better with every moment.
My Relationship Status with My Snarky Self? It's Complicated.
Let me explain something to you. I grew up in South Florida, which may as well be the 6th burrough of New York, with all the Tri-State area transplants. Steal that joke and I will shiv you in the neck. My point is, my mother and father dished trash-talk and mainlined snark like it was nothing. And they went for the jugular every time and laughed while they watched you bleed too.
I was not so naturally gifted - it took me years to learn the Jewish girl version of 'Fight Club' - which was an eye-roll, a hair flip, and something snarky like, "Oh Jesus, do you actually think you MATTER anywhere near here?" BAM! Eventually, I learned. And thankfully, I don't let out my Shadow-Dark-Side-Otherwise-Known-As-Miami-Diva-Bitch unless it's absolutely necessary.
That said, she's a RIOT after a couple of drinks. She never spews her venom at anyone we know, but she's a trip when she goes off on various pop cultural-car-crashes-of-the-moment. She's funny and makes me pee a little in my panties. I love her. I hate her. And I can't let her out around my kids because I want them to actually say nice things at my funeral and cry real tears. Of sadness. Not of relief.
I Have Issues. Really Messed Up Daddy, Not-Quite-Pole-worthy Issues.
You may have already suspected, but let me disperse any lingering ambiguity on the matter.
I've had therapy. Lots of therapy.
In fact, I'm back in therapy again. Seems I got into the bad habit of commencing in emotional eating to relieve moments of tremendous anxiety. Which turned out to be quite frequently over the last several years, leading me to gain about 60 pounds.
But I'll get to that carnival ride in a minute.
This summer, I organized a beach vacation for my three longtime soul sisters and their families. It was liquid sunshine. It was morphine-drip-giving happiness. Can't wait to do it again next summer...
While on said-fab-vaca, my BFF, call her Brown-Eyed Girl, told me she noticed that every time my hot hubby would try to snuggle with me, I'd be ok for a minute or two, and then squirm away. And she felt a lil' sorry for him and for me. So did I after hearing what she had to say. I was grateful she shared with me her observations, and I'm working on it.
So I prayed on that one too.
I'm in Recovery. What's Your Name? So for those of you who haven't gotten the bulletin, what used to be considered 'compulsively stuffing your face' or 'a complete disregard for willpower' has now been adequately coined, researched, and labeled Binge Eating Disorder, a neurobiological and psychological disorder when someone uses food as a means for self-medication. I'm in recovery, and just by stopping the continuous cycle, I've lost 18-20 pounds. However, being 5'3 and 200 pounds is still a problem. Not just because I'm a semi-narcissistic, vain, vain woman...but my health SUCKS. I'm pre-diabetic, high cholesterol, with a thyroid asleep at the wheel. I am now one of those women who emits flop sweat if it's slightly above 75 degrees in a room and needs a nap almost daily (for the record, rarely get one). I have skinny clothes so far back in my closet they might as well be in Narnia for storage. People come to my home, see pictures of me from my 30's and tactfully say, "That was YOU?" Yeah. So I'm working on my stuff. I do that a lot.
For those of you unaware, today is National Suicide Prevention Day. According to the American Association of Suicidology, there are close to 40,000 suicide attempts in the United States each year, with approximately 1.6% death rate. The National Institute of Mental Health has statistics even more alarming: young, white males have the highest rates of suicide attempts and deaths, with nearly five times as many males as females ages 15 to 19 dying by suicide, usually via firearms. The NIMH also states that just under six times as many males as females ages 20 to 24 died by suicide. Suicide is not just a problem for the young: for every 100,000 people ages 65 and older, 14.3 died by suicide in 2007. This figure is higher than the national average of 11.3 suicides per 100,000 people in the general population.
So those statistics are just a taste of the problem. Now, let's talk about real solutions...not slogans, not tag lines...possible answers to reverse a 100% reversible problem.
Ribbons are Reminders, Not Solutions in Themselves
The Yellow Ribbon Campaign has good intentions: to raise awareness, to remind those in crisis there are people here to help. We should keep the campaigns, but we must poke ourselves with hot cattle prods that tying a yellow ribbon around an old oak tree doesn't do diddly by itself. Too many of us - myself included - have placed our ribbons visible for all eyes and kinda left the cause hanging right where we left it. So now I eschew the ribbon because, honestly, it's too easy to think it does anything real.
America Loves Youth, But We Must Embrace the Aging
It's no wonder old people are offing themselves at records rates in this country: we're a youth-obsessed culture with little patience for the trials of the aging and infirmed. Let's be brutally honest about another point: they can be a real pain in the ass. I'm seeing it with my own parents - aging baby boomers raised to next trust anyone over 30 are now dealing with the inevitable baggage of senior citizenry. As Bette Davis once said, "growing old is not for wimps."
The baby boomers have changed the scope and breadth of how we as a society view so many aspects of American culture: war, politics, power, race, gender, and class. I'm hoping they can, once again, change the way we as a society regard and care for our elderly, to be more inclusive, patient, and multigenerational. It would be their most enduring legacy.
The Kids Most At-Risk for Suicide are Not Always the Most Sympathetic
I will totally date myself with this next example, but it's worth it: most people at high-risk for suicide are not as lovable as the actors in ABC After School Specials. We've all seen the mini-series or LifeTime movie, portraying the adorable-yet-kinda-nerdy-new-kid who is alone, afraid, teased, bullied - with a crap-load of weaponry that doesn't alarm his parents. And just as he's ready to shoot himself directly above his mom's new rug, the beautiful, shy bookworm girl follows her instincts, rallies the clueless adults, and saves him right before he pulls the trigger.
The truth is, many of the people who are high risk for either suicide or homicide are not always the easiest people around. Some are withdrawn to the point of mutism, others are highly combative, instigating conflicts in order to receive some attention, even if it's negative. In short, they are not always the sympathetic hero or heroine of their own stories, and in the cult of cool permeating most American environs, that's an extra hurdle to cross.
So I urge you to talk to your kids about universal kindness, the importance of reaching out, even to those who sometimes make it difficult to do so. Ask the clumsy, shy girl to sit with you at lunch. Include the obnoxious weird guy in your group project. It does not mean your child has to ignore their poor social skills, but instead encourage them to be honest and gentle. For example, "Hey Keith, we'd like to give you a chance and include you more, but when you roll your eyes and always give a sarcastic response, it makes me feel like dirt. Perhaps you can ease up on that?" Encourage your children to include such acts of humanity into their daily lives, not just to prevent suicide or as an act of social charity, but instead as part of what it means to be part of a whole community.
Demand Real Mental Health Care in This Country
Comprehensive mental health care in this country is a joke. I had hoped after the Sandy Hook tragedy that we would wake up and demand more preventative, comprehensive behavioral health care, but I was wrong. Part of the reason, I believe, is that mental health still carries a stigma. We are afraid to stand up and say that we're vulnerable, we struggle, we can't do it alone. We believe we can free-will-away our anxiety, depression, manic states, and compulsions with more exercise, vitamins, and the latest self-help book. We have attached the heavy weight of personal moral failing to a bevy of neurotransmitters and chemicals in the brain. It's like saying that the person with Type I Diabetes just needs more sunlight and a better attitude to combat their insulin levels. If you think it's different because of the location of the chemicals and circuitry, you are wrong.
I was one of the deniers, the free-will-my-way-to-happiness for many years. Too many years. My cognitive-behavioral tricks did me well for a while. Until they didn't. And then, I crashed - I went down a rabbit hole of despair and hopelessness, one of which I hope you may never understand. Talk therapy helped me find the light at the end; the right medication got me to feel the warmth of life once again.
I tell my story often. I will share it with anyone, at anytime it organically arises, because I want to change the perception of mental health in this country, one person at a time. I can't begin to tell you how many times I have shared my story, only to hear the response, "wow, I'd never suspect someone as together as you would have gone through something like that."
My response is always the same. It is because of all I have gone through that I am as 'together' as I am today. And if I'm ever in trouble again, I won't wait so long to ask for help. It is because I ask for help, that I admit my foibles, and often laugh at them, that I am strong and 'together'. Anything but living our full truth denies ourselves and the Universe the chance to fully actualize.
Demand from your government comprehensive behavioral health services which actually meet the needs of a citizenry in crisis.
Ok, I admit it. I'm a planner. Especially when it comes to vacations. I may actually have more fun planning these family treks than I do going on them, but that's another neurotic post for another day. Anyway, amongst American-Jewish families, there's this cultural tradition of sending the children away to summer camp. I realize, of course, how ridiculous this subject is, considering we just started the school year, but hang in there with me for a sec. Now, back in our day, my husband and I were sent away for the entire summer, as early as 9-10 years old (see note about neuroticism earlier in the post for reference point). Hot hubby and I met when we were 11-years-old, at a Jewish sleep-away camp in Mountain City, Georgia. To answer your question, no, we did not date consistently since our latency periods, but the summer of 1981 (ack!) does serve as an important marker in our story. Our daughter, Rocker Chick, has been going to camp for several years now, but only for 3-weeks at a time (we can't bear her gone any longer than that). We almost recruited her younger sister, Drama Queen, this past summer, but she backed out, afraid of being away from home for that long. Plus, she suffers from some significant anxiety issues, enough where medication is needed (more on that megillah another day), so we weren't going to push her on this one.
So, long story short, now she swears she's ready, especially if she can go to the same camp at the same time as her big sister. We adore our girls, rather be with them than without, but true confession time: the idea of getting Hot Hubby all to myself for 3 WEEKS UNINTERRUPTED is almost too much for my sleep-deprived brain to handle. We can run with scissors. We can walk around naked. We can actually have sex without having to time it between knocks on the bedroom door. It's like having hotel sex without the mints on the pillows, or clean sheets, but I digress.
So we will enjoy our school year, the coming season of autumn, followed by the merriment of winter and the holidays. We will rejoice as the first crocus peaks its purple blossoms out of the tundra, greeting us with the promise of green, mossy warmth.
But summer - ah summer. She is our bewitching mistress, full of radiance and sweat and late nights filled with voyeuristic stars. Ok, I've just made summer sound like a character out of Boogie Nights. Sorry. You get the idea.
When I meet new people and they hear I'm a child and family behavior specialist (fancy schmancy title for a counselor), they often comment, "Oh wow, your family must run like clockwork" or "oh geez, don't let me know how badly I'm screwing up my kids," I laugh with both my inside and outside voice because I'm thinking: boo, come to my house. You'll feel much better about your lil' shop of home-based horrors - and reaching for the Purell on your way out of mine.
So, in the spirit of full disclosure, let me share with you some of my family's deliciously dysfunctional weirdness - with this in mind:
Just because I know better doesn't always mean I do better.
5. Chore Charts Suck.People like me who utilize CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) strategies love crap like chore charts: anything demonstrating tangible, measurable results gives us a contact high better than any aerosol can, can. But let's be honest - trying to get your family on board with any new system is like trying to train cats to care. I recently instituted a new chore system for my whirling dervishes of mayhem, known as my family, and its allure lasted all of two days before I started getting eye-rolls from Rocker Chick (my 13-year-old) and protests from Drama Queen (my 9-year-old). That said, the goddamn chart stays and I calmly refer to it daily. You want a ride to music lessons? Sure thing, just make sure you've done your chore today. Want a sleepover with a bevy of tweens, at my house? Yep, you guessed it - talk to the chart.
4. My House is a Mess
Even with the chore chart and some time on my hands, my house is always disheveled. Not quite at the level of A&E's Hoarders, but enough for people to know that I don't use cleaning as an anxiety-reducing strategy. I like to make piles. I have little towers of books and newspapers and magazine articles I'm plowing through. It's my adult version of fort-building, so there.
3. My Kids Can Be Really Annoying
I say this fact without any guilt because I know there are many times my girls find me just as irritating. While I won't come out and say they're bugging me quite that directly, they've both gotten to the age when I'll tell them some social skill truisms we've all had to learn, such as:
a. You can't tell the same joke to the same person more than once. Glad you got the laugh, but move onto a different funny.
b. I want to hear about you and your friends, but please don't re-enact every bit of dialogue. Give mama the Cliff Notes version, I'm quick that way.
c. Try to save your True Confessions or Juicy Stories until after I've had my coffee or before 9pm. In fact, unless you're deathly sick or scared, assume the hours between 9pm-7am weekdays and 10pm-9am weekends are all yours.
2. I Fake It Sometimes
Maybe it's a byproduct of what I do, but I see kids living through shit no grown-up should have to endure. So when Drama Queen or Rocker Chick decide to occasionally lose it over something like not having their laundry done or how life would be more fair with the latest iPhone, I either feign sympathy or just state plainly 'too bad, buttercup'. On a more serious note, there are other issues which arise for them that I'll initially not think are worth the energy they pour into them, but I try to remind myself they're only 13 and 9, and just because they don't have PTSD-worthy worries doesn't mean they're not entitled to a pity party once in a while.
1. While I Engage in Play Therapy with Clients, I Rarely Play with my Own Kids.
This is one I actually feel sincerely badly about...because when my kids were little, I just wasn't the sit-on-the-floor-for-hours playmate mom. I would certainly take them out and snuggle and arrange play-dates with others, but the simply act of playing with a dollhouse was beyond me.
And now, guess what I'm often doing with my elementary-aged clients? Yep...sitting on the floor with them and using elements of play therapy in our work together. And the friggin' irony of it all is that I'm good at it with other people's kids. I get into character, use different voices, and follow their lead like an improv pro. Heavy sigh. Ok, so I know I'm ending this post on a low note, but the truth is, I consider one of my biggest failings as a parent to be my inability to be more playful. All I can say is, I'm working on it.
When I earned my first masters degree in Gender History, I got asked a lot "what the HECK are ya going to do with that degree?" I'm literally laughing to myself as I write this because, truthfully, I wondered the same thing myself. However, when I saw Lori Duron on the Today Show this morning, I realized my education would finally be relevant in a way that won't have people's eye glaze over like they do when I mention these issues at cocktail parties.
Lori Duron is the author of the book and blog Raising My Rainbow, chronicling her family's life with a son more comfortable playing with Barbies than with Batman: or in Duron's words, gender creative. He loves everything pink. He enjoys dressing up in princess costumes. He revels in tea parties.
While I was attending San Francisco State University's grad program, we discussed at length how gender is socially constructed, meaning, how much did our sociocultural environs influence what we liked, how we spent our time, and how such factors influenced our self-conceptions as male or female. By the way, if you ever want to go to the perfect place to test your ideas of what's straight, gay, bi, transgendered, pan-sexual, or androgynous, plug San Fran into your GPS because every shade and permutation of gender identity and sexuality were in that city - and often sitting next to me in one of my classes.
By the time I graduated, I almost believed that most everything about us is dominated by nurture versus nature. We were by-products of our rearing, which meant we could 'fix' inherent disparities by raising our kids in gender-neutral or gender creative ways.
Living in the Bay Area, I got to hang with lots of different types of families, each testing their theories onto their offspring with earnest, zeal, and more than their fair share of self-righteousness. One family I knew refused to allow anything blue or pink in their house and refused to have any corporate sponsored 'tools for gender subjugation' (i.e. Disney, Barbie, etc) into their children's hands. One of my former gender studies' professors had a household of boys with tons of gender neutral toys (blocks, puzzles) and a fair share of 'girlie' stuff (dolls, playhouses) but weren't allowed any GI Joes or play weapons like swords or guns.
Know what those boys used to build with their Legos when their parents left the room? Swords and guns. Know what the other family's kids did when they came to my house with the Disney costumes and baby dolls? Made a beeline for them like junkies to a crack den.
I guess the point I'm trying to make is that if you go to either extreme, either subscribing exclusively to gender roles or admonishing them altogether, we run the risk of leaving vast areas of our internal landscape unexplored. I myself was a 'tomboy', refusing to wear dresses or play with the other girls because I thought playing house was the most boring activity in the world. Why would you'd want to pretend to vacuum and clean the kitchen when you could play with a train set or peg someone in dodge ball? I remember signing up for shop class in eighth grade and my parents having to petition the school when they said a girl couldn't enroll. I was the only girl in that class and I got a taste of architectural drawing, woodworking, and photography. Why those subjects were identified as male pursuits, I have no idea, and while I still can't draw a straight line with a ruler to save my life and have no interest in whittling a tree, I'm thrilled I had parents who fought for me to have those opportunities.
That said, let's be brutally honest for a sec - it's still more socially acceptable for a female to pursue socially constructed male pursuits than it is for a male to enter more female-dominated arenas. In the case of Lori Duron's son, C.J., they have a boy who is not just looking to play with a doll, he wants to look like a Barbie. Most parents wouldn't be as accepting and open as the Duron's; there's a reason why the suicide attempt rate amongst transgendered youth is a high 41% (according to a survey by the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, released in October 2010). Ironically, if I see a man in drag, it doesn't bother me in the least, but when I see pictures of C.J., - or when I saw the film on the same topic called La Vie en Rose, I felt unnerved, unsettled - like something was fundamentally not right. And I'm the same parent who constantly talks with my own daughters about the meta-messages our media sends to them about what is feminine or masculine, what constitute self worth through the physical, emotional, and intellectual. Yet, when I see that happy little boy in lipstick dancing around in a tutu, it feels inherently, well, off, in some way.
Guess what though...that's my problem - and I shouldn't place that on any child. I'm working on it - and in the process of that work I have to ask the next logical question: why am I uncomfortable with the masculine commingling with the feminine and not the other way around? The unfortunate answer is that such people and actions challenge what I have been constructed to believe is the inherently dominant 'correct' order of nature - and the feminization of a subject somehow weakens or degrades its essence or power. I cannot begin to tell you how much I loathe admitting this about myself. How can I - a self-proclaimed feminist - state that seeing a boy dress as a girl skeeves me out more than it should?
I am admitting it because the more we bring to light the ugliest, non-politically-correct aspects of ourselves and our beliefs, the likelier we are to question their etiology and change ourselves and our communities. Growing up in South Florida was actually a fairly segregated existence mid-20th century...I used to feel the same uneasy queasiness about interracial couples as I do about boys like C.J. I remember someone asking me as a young teen how I take my coffee and I said, "light and sweet" and my dad saying "hopefully like your men, too." Btw, that kind of joke wasn't unusual where I grew up, where the Jews always voted for the Democrats but called black people "schvartzes" (not a kind word for African-Americans in Yiddish). The point is, the more I admitted and realized my prejudice and from where it derived, the quicker the bias dissipated. Now interracial anything is a non-issue for me. Perhaps, hopefully, sooner than later, gender creative identity will be too.