An Uncomfortable Conversation

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Recently while I was driving, my eight-year old daughter started a conversation asking how people had babies. After a moment of almost going off the road I realized that she wasn’t asking how they are made but how they were born. She already knows they grow in women’s tummies. I’ve had three C-sections, so I started there, but eventually had to get into vaginal birth and it was still very basic, no problem.

Then the tougher questions came.

Do I need to have a boyfriend to have a baby?

Okay, good moment to express my equality stance by saying, no, you don’t need a boyfriend. You don’t need to be married. You can have a girlfriend. You can be married if you want. (There was a tangent taken that you do need a boy and a girl to make a baby, but you’re too young so we’re not going to talk about that, but no, you can be single and have a baby.)

So far, so good. Or really just satisfactory because this is the most uncomfortable, but necessary conversation to have with your child.

Then it got tougher still.

What if I don’t want to have a baby?

You don’t have to have one.

What if someone wants to make me?” (No idea where this came from, but she was concerned about it.)

I won’t let them.

What if you’re not there?” (Thanks for reminding me of the fragility of life and my impending mortality.)

If you don’t want to have a baby, there will be people who care about you who will make sure that you don’t have to have one. Or a boyfriend if you don’t want one. But don’t worry about that now, okay? You have a long way to get there.

Okay.

I could feel us both near tears by the end of this conversation, and I guess I put it out of my mind.

She was satisfied with the answers; I was satisfied-ish with my answers and all was well until the next time this subject (or another one like it) comes up.

This was weeks ago, and this morning at about 3am, I suddenly woke up and realized that with the way things are going in this country, my daughter may be more prescient than I thought. The irony that this came to me unbidden on the eve of the birth of Jesus is not lost on me. Perhaps he is the child of the most famous, single teenage mother to date. Not only a single mother, but a person of color living in her parents’ house, struggling with some tough decisions that a teenage girl should not have to make. Obviously, we know how her story ends; the Archangel Gabriel asked her and her faith led her to her decision, her assent to becoming the Mother of G-d.

I tried to ignore the replay of that conversation with my daughter in my head. It would not go away. I spent two hours tossing and turning and not sleeping when I realized sadly how relevant that exchange was.

What I thought of as a little girl’s worries about things she doesn’t understand are more relevant to today’s women than I realized.

There are women today who are forced to give birth against their will because someone else decided that they can’t have an abortion.

They became pregnant in the first place because someone else decided that they can’t learn how to prevent pregnancy.

Someone else decided that they can’t choose their own birth control and family planning; that their reproductive rights are nothing more than an antiquated notion as they are patted on the head and sent on their way.

These same people, who find the names of their football teams sacred, who can’t say the word vagina even when legislating against taking care of it, who choose to have vasectomies and abandon their own children are deciding that my child can’t make her own choices.

I realized that this world is not as far off as I thought it was.

In stating that I wouldn’t let anyone do that to her, it was the knee-jerk reaction of a mother protecting her child, but I won’t be there forever. Who will protect her rights when I’m gone?

We need to fix this now.

Right now.

No more Rick Brattins, representative of Missouri who wants a woman to have the permission of the father to get an abortion.

No more Bob McDonnells, former governor of Virginia, who wants to force women to undergo an unnecessary and invasive medical procedure before having an abortion (which has thankfully been ruled unconstitutional recently in federal court.)

No more Joe Walshs, Republican representative who said that there should be no exceptions to anti-abortion legislation including if the life of the mother was at stake.

No more Sam Brownbacks and Scott Walkers, governors of Kansas and Wisconsin respectively who followed Bob McDonnell’s trans-vaginal ultrasound stance.

No more Todd Akins and Richard Mourdocks.

This needs to stop.

Abortion needs to remain safe and legal for ALL women regardless of circumstances and socio-economic disparity.

We need to teach girls and boys alike that abortion is a last resort, but it is always an option. If we weren’t so afraid of premarital sex being the official bogeyman of a teenager’s life, we could talk about real reasons why teens should wait for sex. We could teach comprehensive sex education including PREVENTING pregnancy, which in itself would prevent abortions.

We wouldn’t be demonizing contraceptive drugs in their non-birth control use and glorifying and making easily available men’s erectile dysfunction drugs which are held up in every advertisement as take this, have sex.

I won’t be around to protect my daughter and make sure that her wishes for or against pregnancy are followed.

I need the rest of this country to look out for HER INTERESTS instead of their own.

At eight years old, my daughter should not be worrying about people making her have a baby or forcing her to have a boyfriend or be married if she wants a baby.

At eight years old, she may not fully understand it, but she knows it’s wrong and it worries her.

It worries me too.

Birthday Rituals

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Since I graduated high school I have not attended classes or worked on my birthday. I went on a job interview once; almost got into a car accident and after getting the job it was the first one I was fired from. No more.

I’ve learned my lesson.

I even prefer when my birthday falls on a weekday. My husband works; my kids are in school. I do my thing and we meet at home after school and work let out.

I wander, usually. I go to the mall or if it’s a nice day out, a rare treat even in early December, I go to an outdoor mall. We have a fancy one nearby with boutiques (I can afford to window shop anyway) and a café with benches and statues throughout the open space. It makes me feel as though I’m traveling some place new. I get to pretend I’m a tourist or researching my non-existent novel or a wayward traveler and I take pictures of the most mundane things and enjoy my quiet time with myself.

In the years before she died, my mother began to send me money for my gift. There’d be enough to buy myself something I needed, something I didn’t need and have lunch. I started taking myself out to lunch and beginning to be comfortable in my own skin and on my own, something I dread, but am more and more coming to appreciate and treasure.

The year after she died, my husband gave me his work incentive gift card, which happened to come the same week as my birthday– $50 from American Express and I have the same birthday ritual that I had with my mother’s gift.  He knew how much it would mean to me, and it really did. It was one of the nicest things.

I almost always go to Starbucks, breakfast or lunch, have a drink, or two, relax. Write. By my birthday, the cranberry bliss bars are available.

One year we had a major snowstorm on my birthday – schools were closed and everything; no going out for me. I planned ahead to cook Shepherd’s pie and Yorkshire pudding from scratch. I’m not sure why I wanted it so badly. I might have been reading a Welsh history book or historical novel at that time, and that was all I wanted for my birthday dinner. It tasted amazing! It was also one of the only snowstorms where I wasn’t anxious or panicky.

When I was a kid we always got a birthday cake. It was always a surprise, even when it wasn’t. Whoever’s birthday it was would get called away or asked to do a chore and when we came back, the lights were out and there was cake, lit candles and everyone singing happy birthday.

Every year as we got older, we continued this, every year, and every year we would all be surprised when it was our turn. It was sweet. And we all played along even if we did roll our eyes when we were asked to do the “chore.”

We were always taken aback, surprised, thrilled everyone remembered, and if we weren’t, we played along. This was one of those family traditions that my parents loved.

In our family now, we usually pick a restaurant to go out to dinner and come home to cake. I love birthday cake – anytime of the year. It is never the wrong time to have birthday cake. My favorite kind is vanilla with buttercream frosting and some kind of flower or something made out of frosting. This year we had a vanilla raspberry that I want more of. It was the perfect blend of cake and fruit, whipped cream and fondant. Yummm.

I began my most recent birthday by attending Mass. This really is one of the most enjoyable things I do in a week. The way the light bounces off the pews and the altar; the way the words wash over me; the way the host tastes when it’s mixed with the wine in my mouth. So many senses filled in such short moments.

This year, I actually went home and shared breakfast with my husband and drank Doctor Who tea (the ninth doctor to be precise) before going out again.

Believe it or not, I spent the next hour in Payless Shoes trying on boots. I might have mentioned in earlier writings, but I was so excited to find these boots and that they fit pretty perfectly that I even walked out of the store wearing them. I can’t remember the last time I wore shoes out of a shoe store and still kept my “old” shoes which hadn’t worn out to the point of falling off my feet. I now own three pairs of shoes. Woo-hoo! The last time I bought shoes on my birthday were winter boots several years ago from my mom.

Lunch at Starbucks and cake at home. Since my son was working we had my birthday dinner two days later.

It’s funny how every birthday is the same and yet different. I pack up my Kindle, my notebook or journal and my camera. I wear my favorite clothes – this year my favorite long sweater, my new black boots and my cute black knit hat. I become me for a day and try to figure out how to stay the me I am on my birthday all the rest of the year.

The ritual stays the same year after year; it almost takes no thought or planning at all, but the happenings change just enough and each  year I’m in a new place mentally, emotionally so that year’s wandering brings on new thoughts, new reflections, new grace to find.

The sun is in a different place, the clouds have different formations, the blue in the sky is a different shade. The people I run into in the shops or the café are all different and each brings a special presence to my day that I welcome and can add to my growing inventory of people and places and things and they all form the index for my reflecting and writing, always striving to find my way through the shadows.

Food Pantry

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Just a quick word of advice and one that I don’t always think of.

I spent this morning helping to fill Christmas food baskets with my church’s St. Vincent de Paul Society. I am one of the people who benefits directly from this group, and I wanted to give back something.

I was in charge of cake mixes and corn bread.

I almost never check expiration dates. Not at the grocery store, not in my own pantry. I assume it’s good, and if it’s slightly outdated it’s still not bad. I mean, I tell my husband all the time that you could use the cans fro WWII. He does not agree. However, if something expired nine months ago, it’s fine.

It really is.

However….

when you’re donating food to a food pantry or church, clearing out your unwanteds is a win-win for everyone, but please, please check the expiration dates.

A group like this can’t give out expired food.

For one thing, many people receiving the basket from the food pantry probably won’t check the dates. (I wouldn’t.)

I threw out about ten or so boxes of food because of the dates. Most had expired in 2012/2013, but I had two older than that – one from 2008 and one from 2004.

There are many ways to donate. One is buy a couple of extra boxes/cans on sale when you’re doing your regular grocery shopping. Another is donating money. Most of us can’t afford to give away a lot, but every dollar adds up, and if you put it in an envelope and mark it for the food pantry, it really is appreciated. (In our case, families with children get three $15 gift cards to the local supermarket chain. Some families this year received a coupon for a free 14 pound turkey from another chain.

Our group had 125 families from three churches receiving food and Christmas gifts. They made three extra food baskets for surprise walk-ins. Any leftover food goes down to the city’s food pantry. Then they start collecting again.

More and more this is a need that people request all throughout the year, not just at the holidays, so it’s never too early or too late to donate as long as the expiration dates are far enough in the future.

Before we started, we are reminded of why we’re there: as Christians, we are called to act as Christ would, and helping the poor is at the top of that list. We then start our morning off with the Lord’s Prayer

Transgender Bathroom Policy

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A Comment on a Local Issue

Recently, a local school district modified its bathroom policy, for the first time taking into account transgender students. In seeing some parental reactions at the Board of Education meeting and reading the comments on the local news’ Facebook, I think it’s important to explain and clarify for many good people who simply don’t understand the whole issue of transgender youth, the basics of gender identity, how physical configuration plays its part, and the importance of being able to use the bathroom safely and comfortably.

Let’s be clear: this is the high school policy at the moment, affecting grades 9 through 12 with the approximate ages 14/15 to 17/18, depending on where the birthdays fall.

In viewing the reactions, this also seems to be more of an issue for the parents and non-parent community members and not the actual students (or former students) of the school.

Transgender issues as well as orientation, which is a completely separate discussion should already be covered in health class. If it’s not, it might be time to include some modifications to that curriculum to make it more comprehensive to today’s issues so that misinformation doesn’t continue into adulthood like it obviously has as I witnessed by many of the adult community members, parents and non-parents alike.

One of the comments said to “hold it”. I don’t know if this was said facetiously, and it was directed at both trans and non-trans students, but this is not only a childish response, it is also bad health and ridiculous that an adult would even suggest it for a child, let alone his own.

They described transgender children as being part of a liberal agenda, as being gay, that their gender expression and life choices shouldn’t be used to make school wide policy. All of these statements and assumptions are made based on outdated misinformation and bigoted notions that really need to be addressed and to educate these parents.

Although I would disagree with those against this policy, there is a difference between being against a school policy and stating your reasons and knee-jerking your reaction based on prejudices.

With gender, identity =/= expression, although there is some overlap. Trans people can be straight, gay, bisexual or other orientation. One example of gender expression might be a boy wearing a dress or skirt or high heeled shoes. That is a style choice. I would note that when girls dress as boys it is often easily accepted.

I’ve seen boys wear skirts to protest a dress code aimed solely at girls and no one would accuse them of being girls. They would not use the girls’ bathroom and no one would suggest it.

A trans girl is not playing dress up or making a fashion statement. Their identity is more complicated than what they choose to wear, and if they are asking to dress and use the bathroom facilities for the gender in which they identify, they have come to that decision through a series of discussions with themselves, their parents, and more than likely professional health care providers and mental health associates.

For many, the feeling that they were put in the wrong body is a painful realization and not one that is made lightly, either in private or in public and fear of peer reaction and bullying is tantamount to staying closeted. The fact that this school district is making an effort should be applauded.

Trans girls are girls; they will grow up to be women. They are female. They might have a penis, but that doesn’t change their gender identity of female and as with many young females, they are more comfortable using the bathroom facilities and dressing as their same gender peers.

It is the same for trans boys, men, males. They might have a vagina; some might have breasts developing, but if their gender is male, they are male. They use the boys’ bathroom and locker room.

It really is that simple.

There was one comment that there aren’t gender neutral bathrooms in the “real world.” Not always, no, but in the “real world” trans women use women’s rooms; not men’s. In addition to that, in the real world, when I’m using an adjacent stall or washing my hands, there is no reason whatsoever that I should be observing the genitals of the stranger using the toilet next to me. It’s not as though you do this to non-transgender individuals, assuming you could pick them out from cisgender people.

Another misconception is that if trans youth use their preferred bathroom, they are only doing that to get into the opposite gender’s bathroom to prey on them. This is generally assumed to be trans girls. For one thing, this discounts gay and lesbian students from using their assigned at birth gender bathroom with other students that they may feel attracted to. We don’t separate LGB youth from their preferred bathroom (nor should we), but this stereotype needs to die.

Gay =/= predator

LGB people, youth or otherwise are not attracted to every person they come in contact with. They are also no more likely to prey on someone sexually than anyone else in the school.

Trans =/= gay

Trans =/= predator

Trans =/= rapist

Transgender =/= transvestite or cross dresser.

From what some of the parents were saying about students [boys mainly, another stereotype] pretending to be transgender to get into the girls’ bathroom and rape them because now they have access don’t understand that rape is primarily an act of violence and power; it is not about sex or attraction.

Rape is not a well thought out exercise in “getting some.”

Boys [and girls] are not thinking, ‘man if only I could get into the opposite gender’s bathroom, I could have all the sex I want and no one could stop me.’

Yeah, it does sound stupid when you put it like that.

This would suggest that gay youth are already doing this, and we know that they are not.

This also seems to imply a very low opinion of their own children [boys mainly] and the bigoted, out of date notion that boys can’t control themselves when around someone they’re attracted to.

Transgender isn’t topical or cool. Transgender isn’t a label that you can put on and take off like a hat. Transgender kids have gone through a lot emotionally and psychologically to be able to come out to their parents, their teachers, their peers, and for the students who haven’t come out, but are living their gender identity shouldn’t need to announce what’s in their pants to use their preferred bathroom.

They shouldn’t be accused of being a predator for using the bathroom.

Being a teenager is hard enough without arguing over the merits of something transgender kids have no control over, any more than you have control over the color of your eyes. And if you think that a teenager would claim to be transgender when they aren’t, you need more than this little blurb for your education. No one would subject themselves to that kind of scrutiny and bullying and harassment if they weren’t transgender.

Of the LGBT+ community, transgender youth are at higher risk for homelessness, for being victims to sexual predators, for being assaulted, and horribly murdered. This morning, another woman was murdered while pounding on a door screaming for help.

We should be making middle school and high school better for everyone, not make an already disparaged group feel even more ostracized by repeating hurtful, wrong, and bigoted things we heard when we were kids. We should be willing to educate ourselves for all of our kids’ sakes so that at the end of the day, they can come to us with anything, without having to worry about our response.

This Board is moving in the right direction, and it is the direction that all schools will eventually follow, so read up from reliable sources and then speak out with your concerns if you still have any.

Bullying and Transphobia – More than One Day a Year

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At the beginning of this week, I reposted something I wrote a few months ago about bullying – what it is by definition, my middle school experience and a more recent one. When I wrote that many months ago, I was angry at the thing that was going on; at the bullying being done against me. The bullying – without remorse, without shame, in fact quite the opposite with almost a smirking, cheerful triumph. I would have thought it was sad if I wasn’t so upset about it.

It was written in haste and fury and the tone probably got away from me. It was also written in the middle of the stress that triggered me all the way back to middle school.

That’s one of the ways triggers work. They lie hidden beneath the surface, in the unconscious until one day something happens that reminds the deep down and it affects you in a strong way with feelings rising that are at once familiar and unfamiliar and they are uncontrollable. Not uncontrollable in your reaction, although sometimes, but you can’t control being affected by it in whatever way you are.

On a conscious level, I didn’t go strawberry picking until my first son was old enough. I didn’t have any other opportunities really, growing up in suburbia, no strawberry patches where we lived, but if I thought about being on a school bus alone I was brought back to that day. When I thought about strawberry picking, even the day I went with my son, it came back to me. I wouldn’t call these triggers as much as memories associated with those very specific instances but it’s very similar to triggers that many (including me) feel much more strongly.

The bullying I experienced a few months ago was different. For one thing, I’m in my forties and my bully is well into his adulthood. For another thing, I forgot that not everyone works in the logical and open-minded section of the world. I was silly enough to think that if I spoke to this person rationally, he would realize how abusive and (verbally) violent he was being. I was wrong about that. For the third thing, this is the internet and people take their anonymity to cause more harm than good very seriously. Up until this point, I had been lucky enough to have experienced the latter folks – the compassionate, the kind, the helpful. This change was a surprise and fairly or not, I was still taken aback by the cruelty of it.

I’m sure this sounds naïve, especially for a forty-something mother of three, but I’ve always believed the best in people and this behavior was beyond my comprehension.

Having said that, I still believe that, but my eyes are opened a little wider and I parse my words a little more. I worry about offending people even though I can’t control how people will react to my words or my actions. I try not to let bullies affect me, but it’s hard not to. When it happens, I’m twelve again. I’m hurt, but I don’t want to rock the boat; I don’t want to make things worse for myself.

It’s fear, plain and simple.

And it’s wrong for other people to make us feel that way; to the point that we change who we are to avoid them.

I chose this week to talk about my bullying occurrences for a reason.  This has been Transgender Visibility/Awareness Week, culminating yesterday with the fifteenth Transgender Day of Remembrance, memorializing those transgender people who die violently each year.

If all we think of is the bullying, that’s bad enough, but coupled with the transphobia and violence especially against trans women of color, although trans men are not immune, it’s nearly epidemic.

It’s not a simple case of being bullied for who you are, for how you present yourself, but to fear for your life in a very literal way, knowing that if you meet a violent death it will probably be horrible. The bullying that comes for others after one of these murders must be terror inducing. I mean I get panic attacks thinking about my experiences and even with those, I’m not afraid of dying violently. There must be something alarming about hearing that someone like you deserved to die because of how they present themselves, how they identify.

For simply being themselves and living authentically like the rest of us try to do, they are given a death sentence, and for many this comes after a series of torture and abuse apart from the everyday kinds of side-eyes and bullying trans people face.

That’s why for me, it’s important to draw attention to every death, every torture that’s publicized in the news, every misgendering, every transphobic word that those of us not in the community don’t see as hurtful because we simply can’t understand how hurtful it is.

For every one that’s publicized there are inestimable numbers that are not reported to the authorities or the media.

Whether you know someone personally who’s been bullied for their gender identity or not, this is the responsibility for all of us to make everyone feel safe in their space, and in their skin on their own terms.

Be supportive, but be careful not to bully them into conforming to what you feel are your rights to information and take care not to put three dimensional people into a one dimensional box. Take care not to label those who choose not to use labels, and don’t assume you know better than the individual person. That probably should go for everyone you meet, not only trans people.

For those of us not in the trans community, it’s brought to us once a year as a day of remembrance, after the murders have already happened. For the trans community this is every day, and they can’t click the next link to avoid it.

Trans people are not a cause. Stopping the transphobic bullying and epidemic levels of murder in their community is a cause, and one that we need to focus on until there is no need for more days of remembrance.

REPOST: What is Bullying?

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What is bullying?

According to the Webster’s Online Dictionary, bullying is “the act of intimidating a weaker person to make them do something.” It is also defined as “tending to browbeat others,” and its synonyms include intimidation (noun), domineering, and blustery (adjectives).

In modern vernacular it happens much more than in the schoolyard for some kid’s lunch money or baseball cards. For starters, and not entirely relevant, do people still collect baseball cards?

In addition to school bullying by peers, we have adults and teachers who don’t know the appropriate responses to bullying. Often we blame the person being bullied, trying to get them to change how they do things to avoid the bully and/or the bullying behavior.

We also have the internet which is both the best thing for modern technology and information dissemination, but it is also the best place that feeds the trolls and encourages some aspects of bullying because of its anonymous nature.

Using a made up name with no affiliation to a legal name or location seems to free people’s subconscious to the point that they think their abuse of others is normal and/or okay.

We all know that many bullies have their own problems, whether it is mental illness, chronic abuse by others, or any other reason that they feel validates their abuse and bullying of others.

When I was in middle school, I was told by a girl, same age, same class, her name was Donna and she told me that I couldn’t go on the field trip strawberry picking. I really, really wanted to go strawberry picking. I grew up in the city and the suburbs, which was more city-like than rural, and I had never gone strawberry picking. We barely had a backyard. I really wanted to go.

I think she said they would beat me up.

I went home and cried. I cried a lot.

I also think this is the reason I’ve always wanted a big brother, someone to beat this girl up so I could go on my field trip. This just illustrates the mentality of dealing with a bully; more violence. We know now that this is not the way.

Thinking back on it, she also had two friends with her: it was like Crabbe and Goyle with Malfoy from Harry Potter. She looked like Meg 1.0 from Supernatural, probably one of the reasons I prefer Meg 2.0 to the blond version. The first one always made me uncomfortable and it wasn’t until I started writing this that I realized why.

Anyway, I knew I couldn’t go on the trip. That was obvious; no argument there. I was upset and I’d cry, but no way could I go on the trip.

I also knew I couldn’t make a fuss.

I said I was sick. Very technically, I was sick; sick to my stomach about so many things that I couldn’t understand at eleven or twelve years old. All I knew is that it sucked, and I wasn’t precisely lying; I was truly sick.

I stayed home, and I never forgot it.

Thirty years later, I went to my son’s middle school back to school night. I came home having a panic attack and after spending about two hours talking and crying on the phone, the panic was barely soothed. I was upset for days after, on the verge of other panic attacks.

Bullying never goes away, and so when a fellow Tumblr user began bullying me last week, I became that twelve-year old again.

I tried to talk to the person, to express that I didn’t want to be harassed.

They bullied further.

I shouldn’t admit it for the satisfaction they might get (or others), but I’m in my forties and if it could happen to me, it could happen to the teenagers here who might be less equipped to handle the pressure. I cried. Every time I turned on Tumblr, my tears welled up. It was in the back of my mind at every moment. I stayed after mass and prayed on it.

Tumblr is not supposed to be stressful like this. Tumblr is not supposed to be upsetting. Nothing we do for fun is supposed to be stressful and upsetting.

I’ve taken legal steps to stop this bully from harassing me, but it’s not simple on a public site.

It also shouldn’t be my responsibility to stop this person. They shouldn’t be encouraged by others.

You can’t stop someone from hurting you by hurting someone else.

Sure, I could leave. But why should *I* have to leave? I like it here, and I’ve done nothing wrong. Tumblr is a place of diverse ideas, diverse opinions and people say stuff all of the time that I don’t agree with and don’t like. I don’t jump down all (or even some) of their throats, bully, threaten and harass them because I don’t like what they’re posting.

That is what’s called being an adult.

But it’s more than that.

It’s called respecting that not everyone will agree with you. Not everyone will share the same experience with you. Not everyone will want to follow your tactic. And you feeling that you’re right does not give you the right to bash someone who also thinks that they are right.

I don’t care what their problem is. I don’t care if it’s mental, physical, they’re a victim of abuse, what their political affiliation is, what their gender or orientation is, married with kids or single. I honestly don’t give a fuck.

My empathic nature does have its limits. I try to live my life through Christ, but human nature is at once beautiful and compassionate and it is also selfish and egocentric. Once you crossed the line to threaten me (and this person did), you lost my empathy. I have no need to have direct contact with anyone unless they come to me first; unless they talk about me with the name calling and verbal abuse.

When my first son was born, I remembered the strawberry picking field trip. It is never far from my mind when harassment begins, but when my first son was born, I swore that no one would bully him. I would not leave him to fend for himself.

And a few years ago, I swore again. I promised myself that *I* would not be bullied ever again.

I would not live in fear of some ignorant, arrogant, holier than thou, knows better than me about me person, whether in physical person or online.

So this is me standing up.

I know I’m not the only one this person is harassing. I know I’m not the only one that this person has attacked.

And I won’t be silenced.

Links

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Books & Authors

Life’s That Way by Jim Beaver

Entertainment

Theatre West in Los Angeles

Verdigris Kickstarter

LGBT+

Gizzy Fowler Death Marks 10th Known Murder of Trans Woman of Color in US in 2014

Alejandra Leos (murder)

International Transgender Day of Remembrance (Word Press)

National Center for Transgender Equality

Transgender Law Center

Glaad

The Trevor Project

Point Foundation (LGBT Scholarships)

GLAD (Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders): LGBT Legal Advocates/Equal Justice Under Law

PFLAG

Religion/Spirituality

Confession of a Catholic Priest (CNN) (Father James Martin, SJ)Week

Fan vs. Fandom

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Fan versus fandom.

Are you a fan? Or are you in the fandom? And is there really a difference?

This began as an argument, not so much on which was better or whose fan activity had more value, but the fact that there is a difference between the two. I absolutely believe there is a difference and in my non-scientific research and polling, I think that was confirmed. I’m going to use the generic word “things” to mean the thing: the movie, the book, television series, podcast, pop culture item or icon, music, band, historical figure, motor vehicle, era, sport/hobby or whatever was named by the fans of the thing.

And yes, there was a motor vehicle named (Jeep), three eras (Arthurian, Medieval, Victorian), two historical figures (King Arthur and Charles Dickens) and one sport/hobby (dance).

The age range of those polled was between 8 and 48 with a median age of 29.5. Fourteen responded, although I know many, many more who could have contributed. In this group, two were men, seven married, five parents of kids under the age of 18.

Their economics ranged from unemployed to career track. Some were students still in all levels of school and college, active duty military, military reserves, teachers, stay at home moms, from four countries speaking four languages with three bilingual in Spanish, Hebrew and Hungarian.

Thirty separate “things” people considered themselves fans of as opposed to thirty-five separate “things” the people considered themselves in the fandom of.

There is quite a bit of overlap between the two lists. “Things” appeared on both lists and people listed both their fan and fandom “things” separately.

There is nothing wrong with being a casual fan, but two recent events solidified what I was trying to express about fandom:

  1. Michael Straczynski, creator of Babylon 5 had this to say in the DVD commentary from 2003:

“…what fandom provides is a sense of community.”

Eureka!

That’s it!

Fandom is community. More on that to come.

The second catalyst was discovering that the series 8 of Doctor Who has for their opening sequence a fan made video. When I saw it for the first time, during the premiere I commented on how much I really liked it and was glad it was changed. Prior to the second episode there was a special and Steven Moffat talked about the fan origination of the opening.

These are the two fundamental sides to the fandom coin: community and original content (creation or consumption) and most casual fans just don’t get it: the investment in fandom. Casual fans enjoy what they enjoy and that’s all they need. By the same token, many of the casual fans for one or two things were also in the fandoms for other things so many understand to some degree, although would not confess to being in a fandom.

It must be acknowledged that social media has played a vast role in promoting fandoms as more mainstream than they ever were. I think that more than any other social media outlet, Tumblr is most responsible for this with its very visual platform. On any given day on my Tumblr dash, I can see a dozen fandoms all in a row.

Despite that we are still often referred to as bleary eyed orange-fingered Cheeto eaters crawling out from the darkness of mom’s basement despite the amount of money spent on fandom things and bat caves and collections in suburbia.

Fan is the DVD release. Fandom is the Deluxe Director’s Cut/Commentary Blu-ray with the mini collector figure.

Conventions are showcased on news and entertainment programs. They are not for the select few who followed the television show or book. We used to think the sci-fi conventions we attended twenty-five years ago were packed to the gills, but they were tiny compared to today’s conventions. One example of a quarter of a century’s difference is that I have never paid for an autograph or a photo of a celebrity. Now, paying for those things is expected; it’s not questioned anymore, not even by us old timers.

Sometimes trying to explain fandom to a fan who’s not in fandom can be slightly daunting. It’s one of those I’ll know it when I see it. Kind of like looking for Easter eggs on a DVD. Or how no one leaves a Marvel movie until all the credits roll; we all know there’s something coming at the end. We all look for Stan Lee’s cameo.

These things are the more mainstream that all fans enjoy.

Not surprisingly, the list of fandom activity was quite lengthy, much longer than the activity that fans admitted to.

To begin with, the people in fandoms are first and foremost fans. They just have a bit more of an investment in the thing.

For the fan, the main relationship is between you and the thing. Fans talk about the thing over the water cooler with co-workers. It is more relaxed. Fans dress up for Halloween and if a fan misses something, they’re not left reeling from it. Fans chat with other fans who enjoy other things. It’s recognizing characters and looking forward to the next installment; buying the soundtrack.

Fandom is a little more intense; more involved. For those of us in fandom, we are passionate about our thing. The level of commitment is close to that of a student taking an undergraduate course. Fandom consists of consuming and/or producing fanworks: fan fiction, fan art, etc. Fandom is a place to discuss and squee over the thing with other passionate fans. The interaction is totally different from that of the casual fan.

I’ve mentioned being part of a community. The relationship isn’t between you and the thing; the relationship is between you and the other fans centered on the thing. Fandom fans watch the show, read the fan fic, write the fan fic, draw the fan art, go to conventions, wear the t-shirt, argue over the best season, knows episode titles, knows the actors, buys the merchandise, schedules their lives around the season premiere and finale.

In fandom, they pick apart the thing. They critically review performances and write analysis of characters and plot lines. It’s reading and writing fan fiction.

For those that don’t know about fan-fiction, it takes the story places that perhaps the author didn’t think of, or possibly that the author/creator didn’t have time to write in their original work. In my case, I “corrected” something that I felt was an error in the original author’s plot.

Many fan fiction writers also go on to write original fiction or started with original fiction and hone their craft with their fiction.

The investment of fandom fans is not only of money, but time.

There is active engagement through conversations, analysis, creation of content, cosplay and attendance at cons (official and fan-centered). They are on message boards and in chat rooms. They hold office in related clubs.

Even lurkers are in fandom. They consume the goods even though they don’t actively engage with the fans constantly. They are more behind-the-scenes but without them there wouldn’t be any point for the fan-based creators.

Some examples of fandom activities include making a Castiel (Supernatural angel) tree topper out of a toilet paper tube. Or knitting hats for Pop Vinyl figures. Or planning a menu around the nationality of the Twelfth Doctor. Or traveling five hundred miles to join other fans in a LARP before a season premiere. Or 3000 for a convention.

Other outlets in the fandoms can comprise of videos and fiction and meta-analysis, cosplay, and art. It’s a huge arena for fans to dig deeper into their favorite show, broaden their interests and their worlds and foster their creativity in a safe place. The discussions and debates that go on feed the fan while encouraging critical skills like forming opinions and strategic debate. Some fandoms, Supernatural for example have conventions and the fans interact with the cast and crew and they feel more like family with one another. They’re very protective of the actors, the crew; and of each other.

They gather together for the actors’ charities and creative projects, like Misha Collins’ GISHWHES and Random Acts, Jim Beaver’s other acting roles and his play, Jensen’s singing and his nephew’s charity for Down’s Syndrome.

Cosplay is like Halloween every day, well, maybe not every day, but more than once a year.

It’s well known in Doctor Who circles is that Doctor Ten, David Tennant and Doctor Twelve, Peter Capaldi grew up in the Doctor Who fandom, acting out the role, playing Doctor Who the way kids today play Iron Man. David Tennant went so far as to marry the Fifth Doctor’s daughter for a multigenerational, above the call of duty for a fandom. 😛

While the fandoms center on a television series or a series of books, first and foremost the center of the fandom, just like the community, is the people.

You meet one, and then another, and you find out that despite the distance, despite the differences, there is more in common than not.

Some of us have been together since Harry Potter and moved collectively to new fandoms. That was my first ‘modern’ fandom back in 2008 (not including my childhood). Three of the original fans from there joined me earlier this summer on my GISHWHES team, an annual scavenger hunt for charity.

We do more than go to conventions and talk fandoms. In fact, it is probably a small part of our daily communications.

We hash out our problems, talk about our joys. We support one another, sometimes emotionally, sometimes financially. We’ve become roommates. We’ve traveled together. In my six years of fandom, three couples have gotten married, we’ve exchanged clothes for our kids, we’ve had parties and sleepovers, amusement parks, dinners and more things than I can list here and while fandom was the impetus, it was not always the center of our group activities.

The fandom’s intimacies bring a level of closeness and trust that isn’t found as quickly in our daily lives of acquaintanceships.

A Supernatural Love Letter

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[I wrote this a year ago, but it seems fitting to commemorate Supernatural’s 200th episode.]

Last weekend was a Vegascon weekend for Supernatural and their fans. I didn’t go, living on the other side of the country, but it was still been a pretty good week if you forget that new shows don’t begin again until March 20th. Just think back on this week of hilarious gifs (my opinion – Jensen dancing and Pie) and what not (Supernatural Shake).

Yesterday, I posted a picture of Jensen and Jared, not together, but they were both laughing and it just made me smile and as I sat to write the Meg meta that I’ve been promising myself, I thought about the funny looks I get on my Facebook and at home and maybe even here and realized that this obsession, but it’s not really an obsession, it’s something else that I have for Supernatural, something that I can’t quite name, and that might seem a bit odd outside of my head, and I decided it was time to write a love letter of sorts.

Dear Supernatural,

No, not really, but as Elizabeth Barrett Browning once wrote, ‘how do I love thee? Let me count the ways.’

It really is kind of funny. Everyone has their favorite character. That’s how fandom works. I’m not sure where I stand on that, though. I love Dean and Castiel. I love the relationship between Dean and Sam. I loved Balthazar and Gabriel. Crowley. Bobby. Death. There are not enough good things to say about Death.

And therein lays the bizarreness of Supernatural.

Angels and Lucifer, Hunters and Demons, the King of Hell and one of the Four Horsemen. And don’t forget his less pleasant brothers: War, Famine and Pestilence.

When you’re rooting for the good guys, but feeling sympathy for some of the bad guys, well, what can I say; it’s multi-dimensional. Multi-plane, too.

I was first introduced to Supernatural through Misha Collins (metaphorically speaking; I haven’t had the pleasure of any in person meetings) by my friend recruiting me for next year’s GISHWHES, which is Misha’s charity, Random Acts’ scavenger hunt. I said what I always say to him, ‘huh, yeah, okay, I guess so. What did I say yes to?’

I started watching (being sent) videos of  Misha’s antics – the tea party, the tree planting, cooking with West (his toddler son), some gag reels, the introductory clips of the Four Horsemen (yes, from the Apocalypse) and finally an entire episode: The French Mistake.

That was my final mistake if I had intended to escape the pull that I was already feelings for the actors, the characters, the car (yes! The car), and damn, Misha as Castiel makes an impressive entrance.

I think, however that it was Misha getting his throat slit, not Castiel mind you, but the actor playing himself, blood spurting, arms flailing, weeping, begging, and crying in that hideous sweater in that dirty alley. And the tweeting. By G-d, the tweeting!

I was still a little put off – I mean this show hits all of my buttons and I hesitated. It hits all of my passions also, but in this case, those passions are a little too close to the buttons that leave me curled up in the fetal position under my blankie. I would not readily admit to triggers other than water and death (small D), but this show has so many of my triggers, it’s as if the writers have infiltrated the dark recesses and corners of my mind for plotlines. Every show (especially the first two and a half seasons) would be a new shock of novel and horrifying ways to terrify me.

I still resisted, but in my own unique way.

My friend, finally fed up with my wishy-washy-I-want-to-but-I-don’t, wrote out a very specific trigger list for me, telling me which shows to skip and which shows to watch with caution and which ones I should plan on drinking with (Abandon All Hope and Death’s Door). It is one of the nicest things ever done for me.

I spent the next two weeks watching every waking hour. Constantly. I left the Netflix long enough to eat, although I think I actually lost weight and to use the bathroom. I only showered if I was leaving the house, and only left long enough most days to attend Mass and then come back to my waiting headphones.

My family was very tolerant.

Some days, though, it got really bad, like a bizarre drug trip. Every couple of hours (or every couple or three episodes), I’d get a phone call and we’d spend about half an hour discussing the ins and outs and what’s coming nexts. There’d be watching new episodes and then an analytical phone call to follow. I began to see Supernatural everywhere. I dreamed Supernatural. I saw demons in Target. Seriously, they gave me the heebie-jeebies; I finally had to walk out and take a couple of hours off from viewing. I couldn’t go back to Target for two days.

My son, instead of properly pouring the rock salt one icy morning poured it in a straight line across the door frame and not actually on the walkway. Instead of getting angry, I thanked him for keeping the ghosts out and posted a picture on my Tumblr.

I’ve loved many shows – Star Trek, Lost in Space, Remington Steele, Babylon 5, I’ve crushed on celebrities, I’ve written fan letters, I’ve gotten autographs, I’ve gone to sci-fi conventions, I’ve been weak-kneed, but Supernatural has brought something to me that I don’t recall ever having before and I have to admit: I love it. I really love it. All of it. The show, the fandom, the writing. I don’t even know where to begin.


The Characters

Trying to explain it now, it’s coming out in a jumble of fangirling nonsensical mush, but being a fan of many things, I’m pretty sure that in every show I’m attached to I could pick out one character as a favorite, one actor that I’d just love to meet, shake hands, hug, and with Supernatural, I don’t have that. If I try to name one character, I inevitably add three more. If I choose one actor, another one’s attributes come to mind and I change my mind.

I definitely identify with Dean – so many of the trials he’s gone through – the older brother, the responsibility, the stress, the taking on too much because he thinks he has to and so much more, so he might be my favorite in that regard, but I also identify with Ellen. And Bobby.

The only one who might have a shot at that elusive favorite title is Jared – he just makes me smile, always, but even then, Sam is not my favorite character although I value him as a good one even when he’s being bad, or lost. I loved his faith in Houses of the Holy. It was so much of what I was feeling in my own life with my own faith.

But somewhere along the line, I fell into this weird-to-explain-love-but-not-that-kind-of-love with Jared Padalecki. And not just him, but his wife and son too. He would scroll by on my Tumblr and I would smile. Not the kind of smile you reserve for a celebrity crush or a lustful ogling, but a genuine, why does he make me happy smile?

I still don’t know.

He just does. I can’t explain it, but it has literally relieved me of headaches, so I’m going to keep going with it and be thankful that he’s such a nice guy. (And Gen, too.)

So while Sam isn’t my favorite, Jared probably is for that simple reason. He and Gen make me smile.  They are my real life OTP!

Even saying that, though I feel pangs of guilt for the rest. (Especially Mark Shepherd who I adored from Doctor Who and Firefly.)

There truly is not one actor on this show that I don’t like. There is not one bad character. Oh, there are evil characters, but they are all so important to the plot and the story, with their own idiosyncrasies and mannerisms, each bringing their own, and so nuanced you can’t help but at the very least, respect them.

I hated Meg when she started! I really wanted her to get her comeuppance. But Rachel Miner’s portrayal is so good; I’ve changed my feelings for her. I want her to stay. Which means she might die on Wednesday, but don’t blame me. I’d like to see redemption for her (but not a romance with Castiel), although I don’t believe that she wants it, so we’ll never get that.

Crowley.

Words fail me. Snarky bastard. He’s just a beautiful snarky bastard.

Bobby is also a snarky bastard, but he has much more love in him than Crowley. The two of them together should have their own spin-off. Bobby is so good to those boys. His death was the hardest for me to take, and I cried for Rufus and Ellen and Jo, but Bobby really did me in.

I loved how Jo changed and matured as we got to see more of her. I was sad that we couldn’t see more of her. And Ash. Oh, poor Ash.

Gabriel.

Balthazar.

Every time I write something nice about someone, I think of someone else who I’m forgetting.


Episodes

I can’t even name a favorite show because it’s usurped by another one in the next breath. Yellow Fever. Mystery Spot. Changing Channels. Lazarus Rising. LINDA BLAIR AS A GUEST STAR!!! I love that sort of thing!

I was warned about season 1 and season 6 as not being as good as the rest. I still loved them. It may have been my soap opera-y, television background of watching anything that I still loved the stories that they told. The monsters scared the crap out of me.

In that time, it was fantastic to watch Sam and Dean grow so much as characters, and then watch them fall and fail, pick themselves up and watch them continue growing, and it not matter that it was the last chance for each other, it never was.

I love the idea of a home base and the Bat Cave is perfect for them.


Puns, Family and Acting

There are never too many puns for me. There are more puns in a single episode than an entire Weird Al album. I get the pop culture references, and I adore them. I did not mind the decapitation season or the dick jokes. In fact, my favorite line is Gabriel’s in Hammer of the Gods: “Lucifer, you’re my brother and I love you; but you are a great big bag of dicks.” That is one of the greatest summaries for Supernatural.

Wait, hear me out.

It’s about family and love and telling it like it is no matter how much it hurts. And it’s funny. Damn, it’s funny.

Everyone face-acts, but especially Jensen and Jared. Did you see Jensen up against the wall in Remember the Titans?

After watching several shows, I started watching convention footage that was sent to me, and seeing the cast interact in real life was just great. I’ve never seen anything like it. They are like a real family. And they look like they’re having so much fun.

I’ve been thinking most of this for a while. I watched Misha’s son cook, I looked up his wife’s doctoral dissertation (so happy it’s going to be a book), I smile every time I see Jared’s wedding pictures, and there’s this picture of Jensen and his wife that looks like a photo booth that tugs at my heartstrings.

But seeing the pictures and hearing the quotes and watching the videos (coming so soon after the Harlem Shake video), really seeing how relaxed Jensen was in Vegascon. I’ve never seen him this calm and happy and joking his way through the convention, and it’s a reminder of how much these guys are a real family and it makes me happy-happy to be involved in a show and a fandom like this.

I’m watching all the shows, I’m re-watching all the shows, I’m writing meta and fan fic, I’m toying with the idea of a convention and I’m already signed up (against my will, but not really) for GISHWHES in the fall. I’m also toying with the idea of doing crafty things, which is really not really me.

I’m excited. I haven’t been this excited about something in a long time. I’ve been creative. I’m infatuated and preoccupied. I’m writing again. I’m passionate about it.

And every time I see a Padalecki, I smile.