A Jumble of Thoughts for NEDA Week

•February 23, 2016 • Leave a Comment

It’s National Eating Disorder Awareness (NEDA) Week in the US, and I’m not as well-equipped to write about it as I’d like to be, but it’s worth highlighting whether I feel prepared or not.

Eating disorders impact thousands of young people in the United States every year.  They’re also hugely misunderstood, often painted as being about wanting to be thin, as opposed to wanting control or wanting approval, which is what they’re more often really about.  As a result, eating disorders get characterized by simply some of their symptoms-~-over-eating, over-exercising, counting calories-~-instead of being seen holistically for the psychological struggle that they are.  What this also means is that recovery is more than just a battle to consume food; it can also be a battle to face the underlying issues that push people to develop eating disorders, and that can be incredibly difficult.

If you are struggling with an eating disorder, or you think you may have an eating disorder, you should know that you are not alone. If you want to be screened, the National Eating Disorders Assocation has an online screening tool to help assess your behaviors.  They also have some resources available through their website, including a directory of support groups and an online chat if you need to talk.  You can also find an additional director of support groups here.  MentorConnect is an online mentorship program that pairs people going through recovery with individuals who have made it through recovery; I have personally heard great thing from people who have used MentorConnect as a support system during recovery.

There are also any number of tools out there to support recovery, and while a therapist can do a better job of helping you to assemble a toolkit that is right for you, there are a number of resources out there even if you have not yet taken steps to find formal therapy or a formal recovery program.  Recovery Record is designed to help individuals struggling with anorexia, bulemia, and binge eating disorder, but has been used positively by individuals with other disordered eating behaviors as well; it helps track both the foods you eat and the moods you associate with them to track patterns in your recovery, and lets you connect with other users for support.  The app is also designed to supplement therapy and allow clinicians to monitor progress.  Rise Up + Recover has similar food and mood tracking tools, and also includes a coping skills menu to provide additional support.

Given that eating disorders interact with mental health as well as physical health, there are a few additional resources that might be worth taking a look at.  SAM is an app that can help you monitor your anxiety, track your triggers, and develop coping strategies.  7 Cups of Tea is a free app that can connect you with a trained volunteer who can provide short-term support and counseling; it can be helpful if you’re feeling stressed or anxious and need someone to talk to.  MindShift is designed to help you learn to manage stress, identify triggers, and reign in anxiety.  PTSD Coach is specifically designed to allow individuals who experience symptoms of post-traummatic stress to identify and cope with the ways PTSD can impact them; remember, eating disorders can be linked to post-traummatic stress, so it’s worth having a plan to deal with both if you suffer from both.

Remember, an app is not a substitute for a clinician, a nutritionist, or any other support network.  Recovery can be difficult and it can take time, and it’s always best to do it with as much support and professional guidance as possible.  If you aren’t sure where to start, many of the support groups included in the directories mentioned above are led by therapists who may be able to provide guidance.

Also remember this: the road to recovery is long and it is far from a straight line.  If you are struggling with reocvery, fear you may be relapsing, or simply need support, reach out.  Recovery may feel difficult, but it is possible, so give yourself the time, the space, and the support you need to get there.

 

 

An Open Love Letter For Everyone This Valentine’s Day

•February 14, 2016 • Leave a Comment

I have never been a big fan of Valentine’s Day, but I am a fan of relationships.  To a point.  My problem with our celebration with romantic love is three-fold, and whether you’re in a relationship or not, this may be something you need to hear.  I say all of this with love, and because all of these things I needed to hear.

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First off, romantic love is far from the only love worth having, but it’s the only one we seem to feel deserves its own holiday.  No matter what Facebook does with our photos, or how subgroups like the Nerdfighters choose to celebrate non-romantic love, the reality is that only romantic love seems to get the big hoorah.  This is a problem for both aromantic folks and for folks who just happen to not be taking part in a romantic relationship; it’s another way of society telling us that having a romantic partner is a benchmark for success that we are not reaching.  That’s an unpleasant thing to think and feel, but it’s also rooted in an idea that we can never be complete without another person.

So this Valentine’s Day, I want to tell you that you are complete, even if you don’t have a partner.  You deserve to be able to stand alone, even if you have a partner, or more than one partner.  This idea of finding our “other half” lets us buy into the idea that we ourselves can never be enough, and while having someone in your corner is always great, that person does not need to be a romantic or sexual partner, and no matter what, you are the person you need in your corner the most.

The second problem I have with Valentine’s Day also has to do with elevating romantic love as a marker of success.  This kind of thinking tells us that we need to engage in a dating market that may or may not be skewed against us;  it teaches us to feel like failures for not being able to find someone who matches what we want or need in a partner-~-but worse, it can teach us to accept relationships where we aren’t getting what we want or need from our partners.  This mentality can make us feel like we’re failures for walking away from people who ultimately aren’t good for us, just because now we are alone.  I’m sure I don’t need to point out the number of ways this can be problematic; it sets us up for unhappiness, or can even make it difficult to leave abusive relationships, because we’re afraid of the social consequences, or afraid to be on our own.

Let me say this: a relationship is only as good as it makes you feel or inspires you to be.  Be someone who makes you happy, and be with someone who encourages you to be that person-~-even if that person is just you.  If you’re going to have a partner, make sure it’s someone who builds you up instead of puts you down, someone who supports your dreams, someone who has dreams of their own and won’t make you feel bad for wanting things when they don’t know what they want.  Make sure you find someone who can actually be your partner, and don’t be afraid or ashamed to walk away if that’s not what you’re getting.

This Valentine’s Day, let me also say that if you are on your own having walked away from a relationship that wasn’t what you wanted or needed, I am proud of you.  I am proud of you for recognizing that you deserve more than the idea of someone; you deserve the real thing.  I am proud of you for recognizing that you deserve to be happy.  You deserve a relationship that lets you feel happy and safe, and it’s okay for the relationship to be with yourself.  And if you are in a relationship and you aren’t sure you’re happy, and you’re not sure how to make it work, you should know that you are not alone.  There are people you can talk to, and resources you can draw on.  You deserve to be happy and safe no matter what you choose to do.

My third problem with Valentine’s Day is this: our cultural fixation with being paired up can blind us to all the things that being on our own has to offer.  Being on your own teaches you what you can really handle.  It lets you figure out what you want out of life, without accounting for someone else’s goals, so that if you do decide to find a partner, you can find one whose goals genuinely fit with what you actually desire.  Being on your own lets you develop your own independent sense of self, teaches you to explore parts of you and interests you might have without any pressure or sense of obligation.  Being on your own can be scary, sure, but it can also be liberating.

Our relationships with ourselves ultimately dictate our relationships with everyone else in our lives, and while we spend a ton of time celebrating relationships with significant others, we never really talk about what it means to get to know ourselves, or to really love ourselves.  Self-love can’t just be a catchphrase; it has to be an active journey that we continue to take throughout our lives, and until we can embrace that, being with other people can be really difficult.  So if you feel like you’re still struggling to figure things out, ask yourself seriously: what do I want, and what do I need?  It’s okay not to have all the answers yet, but give yourself a chance to figure it out.  You might be surprised how much clarity you’ll find in those answers.

Finally, let me say this: whether you’re single or coupled up or in a polyamorous relationship, please remember that today is just a day on the calendar.  Love isn’t about candy or flowers or fancy dinners; don’t let corporate America convince you that it is.  Love is about having someone there who can support you, make you laugh, be there when you cry, and help you be the person you want to be, and there are so many places that love can come from, and so many ways a person can show it, that have nothing to do with our idealized version of Valentine’s Day.  In the grand scheme of a relationship, and in our lives, Valentine’s Day is just one small data point-~-don’t let it skew your perception of everything else you have going on.

#FreedomForKesha: What Kesha’s Legal Battle Says About the State of Our Dialogue on Sexual Abuse

•February 4, 2016 • Leave a Comment

Kesha (full name: Kesha Rose Sebert), the pop musician best known for songs like “Your Love is My Drug” and “Tik Tok”, has been embroiled with court cases since fall of 2014.  If you haven’t been following her case, now might be the time to start, because her hearing date is coming up, and for those who profess to stand with survivors of sexual violence, it’s a big deal.

What, exactly, is going on?  In October of 2014, Kesha filed against her producer, Dr. Luke (Lukasz Gottwald) in Los Angeles Superior Court.  Her suit alleged that Dr. Luke drugged and raped her, and that she was the subject of significant emotional abuse at his hands.  The 28-page complaint was the talk of the music industry for days, but unfortunately it has proven to be just the beginning of Kesha’s legal journey.  The goal of her suit was to be freed from her contract, which has prevented her from producing music with anyone but Dr. Luke; Dr. Luke proceeded to file a counter-suit against Kesha, her mother, and her manager, alleging that they are attempting to exort him in order to free her of her contract.

The initial response opened a slew of questions all too familiar in the sexual violence advocacy world: why didn’t Kesha report the assault to the police?  Why choose a civil suit as opposed to a criminal action?  Why is there no rape kit?  Her attorney, Mark Geragos, has handled these questions reasonably well, arguing that a civil suit allows for greater discovery by Kesha’s legal team, and that fear of her abuser has made additional action difficult.

I’ll go further, though, and say this: there are any number of reasons why rape survivors do not report to the police.  They may feel pressured not to create criminal consequences for their attackers.  They may not feel emotionally able of dealing with a criminal trial.  Rape kits, while useful, can also feel invasive and have to be completed relatively quickly after an individual is attacked; any action, including peeing, can diminish the evidence available through a SANE (sexual assault nurse examiner) exam.  On top of that, a civil suit may offer not only additional opportunity to gain evidence, but may also offer greater likelihood of a positive outcome for the complainant, since civil suits rely on a preponderance of the evidence as their standard (meaning it is more likely than not that an action was committed), as opposed to criminal cases, which require that a person be proved guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

But most of all, the implication that a person might just be making up their assault because they have not involved the police is simply false, and the response to Kesha’s suit is just another example of survivors not being taken seriously because they don’t fit the mold of the “perfect survivor”.

In March of 2015, the judge in charge of the New York cases determined that the suit initially filed in California should be determined first, meaning that Dr. Luke’s counter-suit against Kesha would be tabled until after her case against him had been heard.  Unfortunately, this was later undone by a California judge halting her case in June of 2015, because her record contract with Dr. Luke required her to settle in New York.

Her lawyers commented: Kesha now faces an abysmal decision: Work with her alleged abuser…or idly and passively wait as her career tick-tocks away. Kesha’s window of opportunity is nearly shut: She has not been recording, touring or able to market merchandise for nearly a year — an eternity in the industry. If Kesha is not permitted to resume working immediately with the backing of a major record label, her window will forever close.”

Her court case WAS set for Tuesday, January 24 of 2016; unfortunately, it was further delayed as a result of the recent snowstorm, leaving Kesha to continue to wait.  Her case is now set for Friday, February 19, when the singer and her fans hope that she will be released from her contract and able to take back her career.  The February 19th court date is an injunction hearing, a request by the singer that she be allowed to begin producing music without Dr. Luke, since her forced hiatus has caused damage to her music career.

The allegations included in Kesha’s suit are heartbreaking, dating back to shortly after she left high school in Nashville and moved to Los Angeles to pursue music as a career.  It’s easy enough for opponents to claim that she is making up these allegations to get out of her contract, but her conversations with her record label, Sony, from October of 2015 reveal that she is willing to record a new album under their label, as long as she does not have to work with Dr. Luke; the record label refused this, insisting that the exclusivity clause that pairs her with Dr. Luke is still in effect, and forcing her to continue her hiatus from recording and touring.

A culture that too-often paints survivors of abuse and sexual assault as liars sets up individuals like Kesha who have a lot to lose to be seen as making things up to get something they want, and watchng that happen so publicly is miserable.  The reality is that as much as skeptics may want to claim that Kesha stands to gain from severing her contract with Dr. Luke, he has perhaps even more to gain by denying all allegations and insisting that she fulfill the full six-album obligation of her current agreement.  And in any case, Kesha has lost out significantly through her case, as a result of her determination not to be forced to work with a man who has so mistreated her, and her experience is one that deserves support and solidarity.

 

 

 

A Note About My Absence

•January 18, 2016 • Leave a Comment

Those who follow this blog may have noticed that recently there has been little new material. I apologize for the unplanned hiatus; it was due to a confluence of professional and personal commitments that left me with less time than usual to devote to this blog.  I plan to resume posting with semi-regularity in the next few weeks, so please keep your eye out for new material!

The Terrorist Who Looks Like You

•November 25, 2015 • Leave a Comment

This last week we have seen an outpouring of Islamophobia in the United States.  It has been predictable, in the wake of the attacks in Paris and the heightened attention being granted Syrian refugees seeking asylum in the United States and Europe.  It has also been heartbreaking, and has prompted some truly problematic rhetoric from high-profile individuals within this country.

Much of this rhetoric has been a reversion to the “Muslims are terrorists” argumentation we saw in the early 2000s.  Of course, this rhetoric doesn’t even come close to the reality of Islam: the vast majority of Muslims are not terrorists (and I only even included a link there for those looking for further reading, not because I think this should require statistical substantiation).  There’s really no good argument as to why we allow people to assign this blanket label to practitioners of a major world religion because a very small subset uses the religion to justify their use of violence, when we do not do so for any other group.

The real explanation is, I suspect, that terrorists from the Middle East, North Africa, and Central Asia do not look like us, while those who commit acts of terror here in the US do.  But I would entreat those who claim that America’s problem comes from terrorists who identify as Muslims.  The terrorist that looks like you is a terrorist still, and domestic terror is certainly an ongoing and too-often invisible battle in the United States.

The argument I’ve heard in response to this is that “Islamic terrorists have a coordinated agenda, but violence in the United States is random”.  Certainly not all violence in the United States has to do with the perpetuation of particular agendas, but pretending that none of it does, just because a large amount is not carried out in the name of a specific group, is just ignoring the reality of racialized and gendered violence in the U.S.

Besides that, in case anyone had not noticed, violence is carried out in the name of organized hate groups like the KKK.  Just a few short months ago, attendees at a KKK rally in North Carolina were overheard discussing wiping out Black people in the state in response to the removal of the Confederate flag, a well-known symbol of racism and oppression in the American South. And the problem hardly ends with the KKK: from threats against African-American students at the University of Missouri to the anonymous threats made against students at Howard University in Washington, DC to those made at Michigan Tech, it no longer matters if there is a central organizing force.  The reality is that racialized violence in the United States does not appear to be going anywhere, and recent waves of threats at universities are indicative of a trend designed to frighten Black college students into missing classes and compromising their education.  If terrorism is the use of fear and violence to promote a political end, threats and violence against Black university students certainly seems to fit the mold.

Student leaders of Concerned Student 1950 address protesters at the University of Missouri demanding policies promoting greater inclusivity and safety for Black students

But white terrorism in the United States unfortunately doesn’t even end with the targeting of Black individuals; it extends very much to targeting institutions meant to foster community and support a way of life for people.  With recent threats against Black churches and Jewish synagogues in the news once again, it is important to remember that White supremacists in the U.S. have notoriously targeted places of worship, and have targeted all kinds of non-white groups plus Jewish Americans in their efforts to uphold a society dominated by white Christians.  These recent events should not be interpreted as isolated incidents divorced from any kind of broader narrative of violence: there is a substantial recent history of threats and violence against Black churches in the US, including numerous cases of arson, and threats against church members when congregations have made public statements about racial affairs.

That’s a whole lot of white Christian violence, without even touching on violence against the American Muslim community.  Hate crimes against Muslim Americans are still occurring at high rates, according to the FBI, and the Southern Poverty Law Center predicts that these numbers will continue to climb through 2015.  The shootings in Chapel Hill, NC, were just one recent high-profile example; there have been numerous crimes against Muslim individuals, not to mention threats against a large number of mosques in the United States and harassment of mosque members or defacement of the facilities.

Just for good measure, I want to include a mention of anti-choice violence in the United States, which is alarmingly common and not treated in our discussions as terrorism.  Threats against the lives of medical professionals and clinics, even in light of the Freedom to Access Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act, continues to pervade this country as anti-abortion activists work to prevent individuals from seeking desired and legal medical services.  Intimidation tactics and even direct acts of violence have been utilized in the name of being pro-life, and while we treat it just as the clash of ideas, it is certainly far more menacing than a simple debate.

Lastly, but not least, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the prevalence of white male violence across the United States.  Statistically speaking, white men are the most likely to commit mass shootings.  97% of school shooters in recent years have been male, and 79% have been white, numbers too great to be a statistical accident.  Many experts assert that toxic masculinity is a major contributor to male violence, and that privilege plays a role in allowing white men to justify taking violent actions.  A 2013 study at the University of Washington found a notable correlation between feelings of entitlement and homicidal revenge against particular groups, including women or black individuals.  Those statistics play out on both ends: according to the Huffington Post’s analysis, approximately 64% of mass shooting victims are women and children.  Add this to other statistics about gender-based and intimate partner violence, and one starts to see a broad pattern of violence, intimidation, and coercion by those who are currently privileged within our society against those who are not.

When American politicians argue that we cannot let in Syrian refugees because a few among them might be terrorists, they fundamentally miss the point: acts of terror take place in the US more often than we would like to admit. It would be absurd if I said that all white Christian men in the US were terrorists-~-it wouldn’t make any sense-~-but that’s the same rhetoric we use when discussing terrorism and Islam.  But on top of that, when we talk about terrorism solely in terms of the acts of a few groups based overseas, we delegitimize the experiences of those targeted by white, domestic terrorism in the United States.  Fear is still very much a tactic used by those who currently hold particular positions of power and privilege in America to keep other groups in line, to prevent them from feeling safe or from reaching for further rights or opportunities, and this violence needs to be addressed.  It’s past time that we take this violence seriously, and certainly past time that we admitted that terrorists who look like us are still terrorists, no matter how uncomfortable that truth may be.

 

Getting Amped Up for Transgender Awareness Week

•November 23, 2015 • Leave a Comment

It’s no longer October, which means my posting on Domestic Violence won’t stop, but it’ll be a little more intermittent.  It’s time to redirect attention to the MYRIAD of other issues worth discussing, starting with the recently-passed Transgender Awareness Week.

(For the record, this post was originally schedule to go up a week ago, as a lead-in to Transgender Awareness Week, but some sort of glitch seems to have prevented its earlier publication; apologies)

TW: Violence, Trans-targeted violence

Let me be clear: feminism as a movement needs to care about the trans community.  Trans women are women, and trans folks of all genders deserve respect and dignity that they are too often denied in our society.  Their issues intersect with all the issues the feminist movement claims to care about: sexual assault, domestic violence, homelessness, employment discrimination, reproductive justice (the list goes on and is unsurprising since trans people are, after all, people who therefore face problems that cut across our society), along with some unique issues related to violence, acceptance, healthcare, media representation, etc.  I’m not trans, and I won’t try to speak for the trans community, but I will say this: we should never speak over the trans community, but those in a position to do so have an obligation to speak up for them when we can.

The reality is that being trans in the United States is often not an easy experience. While transition surgery is becoming more and more accessible via insurance, one needs to actually be insured to access that benefit, and some health plans will exclude surgeries commonly used in transition if they are linked to gender dysphoria or gender transition.  That’s a problem, but it’s far from the only one.  The trans community disproportionately experiences poverty and homelessness, especially since trans individuals experience unemployment at twice the rate of their cisgender counterparts, and rules regarding homeless shelters and other housing programs can make it difficult to help those in need.  This isn’t overly surprising, since many housing discrimination laws don’t cover gender identity, and may states continue to fail to protect individuals from employment discrimination based on gender identity as well.

Given that Trans Awareness Week led up to the Trans Day of Remembrance, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the issue of anti-trans violence.  The statistics related to transphobic violence in the U.S are staggering: of anti-LGBT homicides in the United States in 2013, 72% of the victims were trans women (and 67% of the victims were specifically trans women of color).  That’s not even counting other forms of physical or sexual violence targeting trans individuals, which is alarming as well: 75% of openly trans students have reported feeling unsafe at school, and according to the Justice Department’s Office for Victims of Crimes, as many as 1 in 2 trans individuals may experience sexual assault or sexual abuse over the course of their lives.

I don’t want to leave you with the impression that trans people are just victims: they’re not.  I do want to draw attention to why Transgender Awareness Week and the Trans Day of Remembrance are so important, but I also want to reiterate that the best way to learn about trans issues is always going to be by listening to trans individuals. Check out Laverne Cox’s videos on “the T word”, and on issues facing the trans community.  Read Janet Mock’s book, Redefining Realnessand this article she wrote on Caitlyn Jenner’s Vanity Fair cover. Check out Susan Kuklin’s collection, Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out, in which the author interviewed six transgender and agender adolescents to allow them to tell their own stories.  Take a moment to look through some of Meredith Talusan’s articles and op-eds on trans issues in the U.S, or Kate Bornstein’s Gender Outlaw, or heck, any of these books on transgender lives and issues.  And don’t forget to look at this incredible collection of videos put together by GLAAD for Transgender Awareness Week.

In general, I think learning more about these issues is an important step in becoming a better ally; more informed people are less likely to make easy mistakes in talking about trans issues or to trans individuals.  I had meant that to be a lead-up to the Trans Week of Action, but even with the Week of Action behind us, we shouldn’t pretend that we can afford for this discourse to be limited to one week.  That said, I’d like to re-focus a bit on allyship in general, and ways that we as cisgendered activists can better support the trans community.

First off, for anyone new to allyship for the trans community, just some very quick basics.  Always defer to the experiences and voices of trans individuals: you are supporting their work, not talking over them.  Always be respectful of pronoun preferences, even if switching pronouns after knowing someone for a while feels strange; avoid deadnaming (using a name that a trans individual was assigned at birth which they no longer use) since it is dismissive of a trans person’s identity.  If you’re going to ask questions, ask politely, and be respectful: transition is none of your business unless a trans person chooses to bring it up with you of their own accord.  Cisgender fascination with physical transition often derails important discussions.

Second, pay attention when acts of violence are committed against the trans community.  Pay attention to how those around you are talking about it, and do what you can to make these events more visible.  America will never solve the problems that the trans community faces here if they are not forced to recognize what is happening.  Speak up also when you see acts of aggression, even microaggressions, being committed against trans persons you know.  Correct people if you hear them misgendering someone; it’s not enough, but it is certainly better than remaining silent.  And don’t forget to pay attention to employment and housing non-discrimination legislation when it is introduced at the state level; actively supporting laws to protect trans individuals is a concrete step you can take in using your voice to help.

This won’t be my last post on these issues-~-far from it-~-but I hope I have at least made my point in saying that we need to talk about these issues a lot more.  I haven’t given trans issues enough coverage on this blog, and I’ll work to improve that in the next several months.  If you are a trans or gender-nonconforming writer and would like to submit a post on your experiences or on an issue of your choice, please contact me at radicalbutlogical@gmail.com.