Thursday, September 17, 2015

What I Should Have Said to the Other Mom at the Bus Stop

Be careful what you say to your kids. Be careful what you say around them or over their heads. Kids listen. Sure, they don’t hear when you scream their name from ten feet away while they’re playing in the park and they don’t listen when you ask them, for the fourth time, NOT to put makeup on the dog—but when you stub your toe and those four letter words pop out? Or when they wake up at midnight for a glass of water and hear the funny noises coming from Mom’s room? Yep, they’re listening. Any time you say something you’ll regret, those tiny ears zoom in like homing pigeons. 

I thought about this a lot yesterday morning when a kindergarten boy ran after my daughter at the bus stop, trying to kiss her and hoping she’d stop long enough to let him. Ever the romantic, my girl yelled, “Ew!” and sprinted away, laughing. The little boy’s mom shrugged and looked at me. I think she was hoping I wasn’t pissed that her kid was trying to kiss my six year-old. I wasn’t, but maybe the moment was a little awkward anyway because as this woman’s son came back and tucked himself under her arm, she laughed and said, "Well…kissing girls is better than him kissing boys, right?"

It was a joke, just a woman struggling to diffuse a little tension. She's nice. She’s never batted an eye at my two-mom family. We talk every morning. She talks with my wife every afternoon. She’s a conscientious, open-minded parent. From everything I know, anyway.  It was just one of those things you don’t think about before you spit it out, just a stupid joke. But the thing is…kids listen when you say stupid things. This child is five years old...his mother has no idea what his sexual orientation is. I mean, my daughter has a girlfriend at school and a boy on the bus she swears she’s going to marry, so if I went by her cues at this point, I could only assume she’s planning to have one super understanding spouse…or spouses, maybe? Except tomorrow there will be no girlfriend and no boy on the bus and she’ll grow up to be Superman instead.

But when you say to a child, “It’s better to kiss girls than boys,” they soak it in, whether you want them to or not, whether you mean it or not. It’s the first blow in a long string of subtle, subconscious cues that lead kids to believe that being gay isn’t okay…or at least it’s not as good as being straight. So what happens if your child IS gay, then? Do they grow up feeling like you'll be mad at them or like they’ll be disappointing you if they tell you the truth? Maybe. You can tell them a thousand times that you’ll love them no matter what, but if they hear you say things like this, it undermines everything you’re telling them. Or maybe your kid’s not gay at all. Maybe it’s another kid at school, and your little angel makes a stupid joke and starts the cycle over again with the next generation.

I should have said all this to you yesterday, Bus Stop Mom, but I didn’t. So I’m saying it now. We all love our kids unconditionally, so start thinking before you speak. Change your habits. Bite your tongue on the bad joke. If gay’s your go-to word for something stupid, find a new one, and stop trying to figure out who’s the man and who’s the woman in a same sex relationship. If we cut the stereotypes now, we can save our future LGBT kids a lot of pain. And hell, at the very least, we teach our kids—whatever their sexual orientation or gender identity—to be open-minded, conscientious human beings who aren’t prejudiced and who treat others with human dignity and respect. That'd be a pretty neat trick, wouldn't it?

Friday, October 3, 2014

Pumping is a Right, Not a Privilege

I have been a mother for five years, but until two months ago, I had never given birth. I had never breastfed. My son is breathtaking. I love feeding him. I love it when we’re wide awake, and I love it when we’re drowsing through it. The other day, I loved it when he latched on in the parking lot of Publix, his cries from being in the car immediately silenced—we’d been fighting his aversion to nursing, something that had taken hold after I returned to work, and this was the first time he remembered that nursing came with a kind of comfort that bottles couldn’t provide.     

I am a breastfeeding mother now, and I’m also a working mother. So when I watched this news report, it left me cold. The story is about an assistant manager at Popeye’s Chicken with a breastfed infant, like me. She’s a secondary supervisor, like me. She has to take breaks at work to pump milk for her son to eat the next day, like me. Unlike me, though, her manager cut her hours and then demoted her from her assistant management position...for feeding her child. This woman’s boss went so far as to tell her that she would have both her hours and her position back if she quit breastfeeding. Wow. Okay, first of all, that’s illegal in the United States. I know because I looked it up before I returned to work after my son was born. The Fair Standards Labor Act mandates that all companies who employ more than fifty people are required to provide nursing mothers with clean, private spaces (read: not bathrooms) to pump milk, and time in which to do so. Now, I work for a city fire department, and they employ about 500 people, so correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m guessing a national restaurant chain is bound to have at least as many. They have to let her pump. They cannot fire her, demote her, cut her hours or in any other way discriminate against her for pumping at work. The only thing they can do is refuse to pay her for the time she spends pumping, which, oddly enough, she says they didn’t do.

As bad as the legal ramifications of illegally treating your employees like crap are, though, it’s the comments underneath the article that really get to me. I know…don’t read internet comments. I should know that by now. But it’s kind of like a train wreck…I really just can’t help but glance down, and once I have, I can’t erase what my eyes have seen. People ridiculed this woman. She should be using formula. She’s ungrateful. She’s taking advantage of her boss. She’s getting more breaks than other employees and that’s not fair. Of course she got demoted—she can’t supervise if she’s pumping milk. Really, the ignorance was almost impressive. It’s 2014, and people still haven’t learned that babies have to eat. I don’t expect people to know obscure breastfeeding laws if they don’t breastfeed (although it helps to know them before you comment on a breastfeeding news report, or you just end up sounding like an idiot when you say they had every right to demote her), but I do expect them to have compassion for hungry infants whose mothers are doing their best to both feed them and make next month’s rent. I also expect them to possess enough common sense to be able to deduce that a woman taking a break to pump milk isn’t actually taking a break.

See, my breast pump and I have gotten very familiar with one another in the three weeks since I’ve returned to work. My bosses knew I would be pumping milk because I told them so. And after I told them so, they verified with their bosses that pumping breaks were a thing now, and they also looked up the FSLA laws because, I don't know, they were born with both brains and the ability to google. They’ve been great. They provided me with a room that has a chair, a door and an outlet (and no toilet in sight…or smell). They give me all the time I need to pump throughout my shifts, and they don’t even take the breaks out of my pay. None of my co-workers are angry about it, and no one cares that I store my breast milk in our refrigerator for the duration of my shift. They couldn’t be more supportive if they tried, and you know what? Pumping still sucks.

So, since I’ve learned that I can’t rely on people to a) care about hungry babies or b) have the sense to know that pumping isn’t like playing with a barrel of puppies, I’m going to explain a little about how breastfeeding and pumping work. First of all, a woman who’s taking a break to pump breastmilk isn’t having fun. She’s not catching up on last week’s episode of Grey’s Anatomy. She’s not drag racing in the parking lot. No, instead she’s likely sitting in a closet and exposing parts of her body that she usually keeps hidden so she can hook herself up to an electric machine that sucks her nipples repeatedly into hard plastic tubes and treats her like a dairy cow…every 2-3 hours, every shift she works, and every other time she has to be away from her baby. 

See, every two and a half hours (it’s what works best for my supply, and it’s different for every pumping woman), I have to leave my cushy, expensive chair and my laptop that might very well be playing last week’s episode of Grey’s Anatomy and relegate myself to the storage room in my boss’s office. I prop my electric pump on a wooden box and assemble my pump pieces on another wooden box and then connect it all together. Lift my shirt, unhook my bra cups and expose my breasts to the cold air. Rub them a little to warm them up and get the milk ready to, hopefully, flow. Push hard plastic funnels up against my nipples and hold them there for what feels like a very, very long time while milk flows into the bottles underneath. My breasts are too large for hands free bras, see, and I can’t actually pump in any position other than leaning forward, otherwise the milk oozes out around the plastic funnels that are supposed to be sucking it down into the bottles, and all I succeed in doing is soaking my shirt, my pants and the floor, but not actually catching any milk for my kid. Seriously—whoever said you shouldn’t cry over spilled milk clearly never had to use a breast pump. So I sit in my chair, lean forward while holding the pumps against my breasts and stare at the same leftover batteries and packs of alcohol wipes on the same shelves that I’ve been staring at during every other pumping break…for fifteen minutes…every two and a half hours…for twelve hours in a row, for forty to sixty hours a week. Do you have any idea how much hell that puts my back through? And my arms? It’s enough to make me cry. And then there’s the guilt for being in the closet rather than at my desk when I hear the phone ring and the fear that my milk supply is dropping when my letdown takes longer than usual and the constant worry that nothing’s going to come out at all, and all of these things don’t do anything to make crying any less likely. And then after crying (I mean…pumping…), I have to get up, go to the kitchen I’m lucky to have access to, pull apart my pump, wash and scrub all the parts, set it out to dry, and then come back two and a half hours later to reassemble it (hopefully without breaking the most delicate bits because replacements ain’t cheap) and start the whole process over again.

These aren’t super awesome fun breaks. These aren’t smoke breaks that leave you relaxed and smelling of fresh nicotine when you come back in the door. They aren’t let-me-walk-around-the-parking-lot-and-see-the-night-sky breaks. They aren’t oh-my-God-I’m-starving-and-need-a-Snickers breaks. They aren’t even breaks at all. The only reason to do it is to make sure your kid has enough to eat when you go back in to work tomorrow. I mean, I don’t know about anyone else, but I’ve never been a big fan of starving my kids. I think there might even be a law against that or something. Read: if a mother doesn’t pump, then her baby doesn’t eat. 

You know what else happens if a breastfeeding woman doesn’t pump? Her milk supply drops or dries up altogether. Or she can get engorged, which is when her breasts get so full they’re painful and hard to the touch, and it’s difficult for her baby to latch on properly. Or she can get clogged ducts—those are painful lumps in her breasts that can quickly get infected. Speaking of infection, she can get mastitis, which can lead to hospitalization and have a drastic effect on her milk supply. All of this because some people think that her taking breaks isn’t fair to the other employees, or that the mere presence of breastmilk in the building is a crime against humanity, or that her productivity will suffer because she’s taking time away from work to pump. Feel free to let me know how that nasty boob infection affects her performance next week, though, okay?

Breastfeeding is hard. And breastfeeding women are badasses. On a daily basis, they deal with sore nipples, cracked and bleeding nipples, sorting out lip ties and tongue ties and shallow latches, working through oversupplies, undersupplies and foremilk/hindmilk imbalances, exclusively pumping because their baby is unable to latch, babies who need to feed every hour, every forty-five minutes, every twenty minutes because they are going through a growth spurt, nursing strikes on the part of the baby, nursing and/or pumping aversions on the part of the mother, infections, thrush, clogged ducts, screaming babies who refuse the bottle, screaming babies who refuse the breast after being given bottles, babies who bite, babies who kick, punch and scratch, babies who tap dance on one breast while eating from the other (It’s true, believe me…I have one of those), pumping every couple of hours at work, pumping at home after baby’s eaten or while baby is taking a nap because pumps aren’t as efficient as a baby and pumping at work doesn’t produce enough to actually cover baby’s needs, and a thousand other struggles. On top of that is the embarrassment of having to undress in public to feed your child every time you go out, the fear that someone will say something and you’ll a) cry, b) punch them, or even c) both of the above. Then there’s the constant fear that you aren’t producing enough, that your milk isn’t fatty enough, that what you’re eating is hurting your baby, that your medications are hurting your baby, that the mimosa you had at dinner is hurting your baby (it isn’t). Then there’s wondering whether you should breastfeed your baby when you’re sick and whether it’s safe to give them milk that you bled into (yes, you should, and yes, it is). 

Then there are doctors who are still using weight charts based on formula-fed babies and are telling you that your child is being starved to death and you have to supplement, doctors who weren’t taught anything about breastfeeding and tell you that breastmilk is garbage after twelve months, nine months or even six months, and doctors who don’t know it takes several days for a woman’s milk to come in after birth and urge formula feeding instead or who don’t know that breastfed babies lose more weight after birth than formula fed babies and again, urge formula feeding instead, and doctors who don’t know enough about latching on a baby to help teach a new mother how to do it and, yet again, urge formula feeding instead (it’s amazing how much doctors just don’t know, isn’t it?). And then there are employers who (illegally) turn pumping into a nightmare and do things like demote a woman or slash her hours and tell her she can have her former position back if she quits breastfeeding her child and know they can get away with it because those women need those jobs to pay their bills and it’s damn hard to find another one. 

It is a freaking badass woman who can still breastfeed in the face of all that.
I never used to be a breastfeeding advocate. I never gave breastfeeding much thought before I had children, and my first child was largely formula fed. My wife (she gave birth to our first child) had issues with her milk, and we didn’t know much of anything about how to address them at that point, so we switched to formula. We were fine with it. We’re still fine with it—our daughter is happy, healthy, amazing and alive. There’s no way of knowing now whether access to a lactation consultant could have fixed the problem. We didn’t even know there were such things as lactation consultants and the La Leche League available to us to ask back then, and that’s okay. I mean, it’s not really, because these are things that all women should be told about when they give birth or even when they adopt a baby, but we’re at peace with it. I didn’t really start thinking about breastfeeding until I got pregnant last year and realized I was having a son who, due to health concerns that run through my family lines, needed—absolutely needed—to be breastfed. But when I realized that, I started researching it and reading everything I could about it, and I believe now that we all need to be advocates. We all need to learn about breastfeeding, whether we have children or not. Why?
Because breastfeeding saves lives. Breastfeeding is so important that women whose babies have weaned still pump milk every day so they can donate it to babies whose mothers can't provide it for them. Breastfeeding is so important and so amazing for the body that scientists are trying to use breastmilk to cure cancer. Breastfeeding is so important that the Surgeon General of the United States has issued a call to action for breastfeeding support. Why? Because formula fed babies have a higher risk of SIDS. Let me say that again, in a different way: feeding a baby formula instead of breastmilk increases its risk of suddenly dropping dead. Formula fed babies have a higher risk of developing asthma (which also increases your chance of suddenly dropping dead), and they have higher instances of infections, like ear, throat and respiratory infections, as well as higher incidences of repeat infections. The World Health Organization recommends breastfeeding a child for at least two years, for health purposes. Do you know how many American babies are still exclusively breastfed (meaning, without supplementing with formula) at even twelve months? I do—13%...and only 8% among African American babies.
It’s a human rights issue—babies deserve to eat the best food we can give them and women deserve the right, the ability, and the knowledge, encourage and support needed in order to give them that. There’s a reason that formula fed babies have a higher rate of illness and SIDS…formula is, at the heart of it, unnatural. It will never be as good for a child as breastmilk. America has the highest infant death rate of any first world country. With all our research, all our pharmaceutical companies and cutting edge medical procedures, we have the highest infant death rate. Our low breastfeeding rate is definitely a contributing factor there, and the way we treat breastfeeding women is, in turn, a huge contributing factor to our low breastfeeding rate. Being an advocate for breastfeeding and for the rights of women to breastfeed their children literally saves lives. By humiliating a woman for daring to breastfeed her child in public, by sexualizing breastfeeding, by making it hard or impossible for her to both pump milk and keep her job, by not educating our doctors on the way breastfeeding really works, by pushing formula on women and sending them home with it in the hospital even when they intend to breastfeed, by not making breastfeeding help and support easily available to all women from the day their children are born or even before, by not mandating paid maternity leave like every other first world nation has done—by doing all these things, we drive women away from breastfeeding. We make it embarrassing for them. We make it a struggle. For some, we make it impossible and for others, we keep them from realizing that it’s even an option. And some of those children who were switched to formula or never breastfed in the first place will suffer for it. Some of them will even die. And some of those women who didn’t breastfeed or who stopped when they had a problem, like we did with our daughter, will regret missing out on an experience they really wanted to have.
I’m lucky. I gave birth in a breastfeeding friendly hospital, attended by a breastfeeding friendly midwife, and my son has a breastfeeding friendly pediatrician. My family and friends are supportive and not at all grossed out by the sight of a baby having dinner, and they don’t think I’m flashing them for attention or to flirt with their husbands (or wives, in my case…) when I feed my son at their houses. My milk came in with no problems. I have a good supply and I respond well to a pump. My baby doesn’t have any difficulty latching or with taking bottles; my employer gives me no problems about my need to pump milk at work, and I have ready access to an extremely competent lactation consultant (she’s friends with my sister…yippy!) who has never hesitated in answering my questions.
Even with all of that, we’ve had our struggles. My son had jaundice and a slow weight gain for the first month of his life. I had a pump I didn’t respond to and not enough money to buy a different one ($200 is a lot of money to spend on something when you can’t test it out beforehand, and there’s no way a woman can know which pump will actually work for her in advance). I have a high needs infant who needs to be nursed constantly, which makes it hard to sleep…or cook…or clean…or shower, and yet, after I started working, he developed an aversion to nursing because the bottles required less effort on his part. The days of screaming while we worked through that almost drove everyone in my house to insanity. There have been days I have wanted to quit, days that I almost didn’t care that formula feeding my son would increase his chance of developing celiac disease, if he hasn’t already been born with it.
But I haven’t quit, not yet. Nine weeks (such a short span of time…), and I haven’t quit. The best piece of advice I was given was, “Don’t quit on your worst day.” So on the bad days, I breathe, I cry…and I go again the next day. And the next day I remember that I love nursing. I love his giant eyes looking up at me and the look of intense concentration on his face when the milk starts flowing more slowly and he has to work harder. I love this simple picture I took with my crummy phone

I love how his eyes roll back in his head and he starts looking like a tiny drunk person about halfway through, and I love how my wife texts me when I’m gone because he’s screaming nonstop, so I take a short drive home, give him a kiss and a cuddle, pop a breast into his mouth and bask in the way he stills, calms and goes right to sleep after a few minutes of us nursing together. I love that last night I pumped fourteen ounces of milk at work, and sixteen ounces tonight in between writing this, even though I usually only get ten or eleven ounces. I mean, really…that makes me feel like a freaking superhero.
And this woman, this woman who works at Popeye’s…she’s freaking epic. She’s doing her damnedest to give her kid the best nutrition she can, and she’s facing a lot of opposition to do it. Think about that for a second. A woman lost her supervisor position. She lost her full time hours. She had those things stripped away from her…because she was trying to feed her child. When is it ever okay to punish someone for feeding a baby? The worst thing about it to me is that this woman’s boss, this person who is treating her so very badly for simply being a mother and for acting within the bounds of what the law allows her to do, is another woman. When women are discriminating against other women, against each other, it’s a sign that there is something very, very broken in our society.
Support breastfeeding women. Support women, period. Don’t compare our pumping at work to another person’s thirty cigarette breaks. Don’t accuse us of slacking off or taking advantage of our bosses or fellow coworkers. I take so many pumping breaks that I don’t even like taking a regular break because I know there are other people who need to get up and do things. So, in order to feed my child, I have given up walking at work, lifting weights at work, just breathing in the rainy air outside or even indulging in eating dinner away from my desk at work, because I am thinking about other people. If you don’t know how breastfeeding or pumping works, then ask before you accuse. I mean, if there’s one thing women with children have in common, it’s that they love talking about their babies.  Now if you’ll excuse me, it’s time for my last pump break before I go home and feed the baby who will wake up as soon as he smells my milk jugs walk through the door.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Love Song for Mercedes Lackey

Okay, let me start by saying I’m a lesbian.  A big ol’ lesbian.  I’m also an avid lover of books.  My mother raised me to believe that reading is the best way to both entertain and educate yourself.  I read hundreds of books as a child.  Thousands, probably—everything from biography to history to gothic, fantasy and science fiction.  Never, though, did I ever see such an important part of myself in a book as when I opened a battered copy of Mercedes Lackey’s Magic’s Pawn. 

“He doesn’t like girls,” giggled an idiot on page 81.  “He likes boys.  Lucky boys!"

She snickered the words behind her hand, whispering like it was something to be ashamed of, despite the beauty of Tylendel, the boy who was the subject of her speculations.  That’s the only way I’d ever seen gay people depicted in literature.  They were a subject of hushed words and knowing glances, their lives the topic of scandalous gossip in locker rooms or pointed sermons in churches.  Having been raised deep in the American south, this was familiar ground.  This was my reality.

Twenty pages later, though, the protagonist—the distinctly male protagonist—and Tylendel were kissing one another furiously. 

I blinked.

I read it again to make sure I’d gotten it right.

Vanyel was gay.

He was gay, and he was the main character of a mainstream fantasy novel by a bestselling author.  Mercedes Lackey wasn’t speaking in whispers or giggling behind her hand as she muttered indecencies to girls who got off on being scandalized.  She wasn’t making a statement against him.  His sexuality wasn’t even the point of the novel.  It was simply a part of his life and a part of his personality, as it is for every other gay boy out there. 

“There is in you a fear, a shame, placed there by your own doubts and the thoughts of one who knew no better,” she tells Vanyel through the words of another character.  “There is no shame in loving.”

I don’t remember how old I was.  Fifteen?  Sixteen?  It doesn’t matter.  I cried when I read those words.  My hands shook, and I lost the ability to breathe.  Never had I read anything that so echoed what I felt within me. 

When I finished the book, I read every other novel I could find by Mercedes Lackey, and what I discovered was that almost all of her books included gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender characters.  Why?  Because they’re a part of the world, and literature is about the world.  The whole of it, and not just the parts that so much of society finds savory. 

I began finding characters like this in novels by other authors as well (Tanya Huff’s The Fire’s Stone, for instance, and Anne Rice's The Vampire Lestat), and my heart stamped out a lovely beat. 

Mostly what I found, though, is that books with LGBT main characters aren’t usually filed under the major genres.  They’re segregated out and slipped into a category specifically titled “gay and lesbian literature”.  I found the same issue with books centered around protagonists of other minorities—black ones, Hispanic ones, disabled ones, autistic ones, ones of multiple races or ethnicities.  Books about those individuals are largely filed under “ethic literature” or a similarly titled section of the book store.  They’re also largely self-published, or published by small presses that specialize in printing literature for and about minorities.

There were and are exceptions, of course, but from what I’ve seen, most books, to be considered part of a mainstream genre, usually require a protagonist who is both straight and white. 

I hate this with the fiery passion of a thousand burned books. 

I hate this as a lesbian, as a woman, as a human being, and as the mother of a young girl who is black, white and Cuban, a young girl who may never grow to see herself reflected back at her from the pages of a book, at least not in a way that tells her she is a part of something rather than apart from it.  I don’t want her to grow up in this world in which the romance genre is divided into romance, ethnic romance, and LGBT romance, in which the sci-fi/fantasy shelves, teen fiction and YA fiction shelves are stocked with straight white protagonists and all novels that don’t fit into that mold are relegated to the segregated shelves under the heading of “LGBT Literature” or “African American Literature” regardless of the novel’s true genre. 

I fell in love with Mercedes Lackey because she is the first author I ever read whose books defied this particular social norm.  Her books were mainstream.  They were found in the sci-fi/fantasy section of every book store I walked into, not in the gay literature section.  They were sitting right there in the middle of a hundred other fantasy books, like it was a completely normal thing to do.

Which it was, of course.  It still is.

We need diversity in literature because life is diverse.  I don’t read books exclusively about women, about mothers, about lesbians, about 9-1-1 dispatchers.  I am these things, sure, but I read books about everything because I am also a part of the world, and I want to read about everything and everyone in it.  Books are about the world, and they should reflect more than just a single part of it.  We need Hispanic protagonists, Japanese protagonists, gay ones, transgender ones, protagonists with same sex parents, adoptive parents, single parents.  We need protagonists who are adoptive parents.  We need all of these things and so much more, and we need them in supporting roles as well.  We need them in books that are sitting right smack in the midst of every other book out there, not stuffed into a corner of the store by themselves, visited only by those people who are black, are lesbian, are anything that is actually included in those corner sections.  Why?  Because these people deserve to see themselves as a part of the world, and because all people need to be exposed, both in life and in literature, to that which is not a part of their own lives. 

To put it simply, a book is LGBT literature when the focus of the book is exploring issues specifically related to being LGBT.  A book is not LGBT literature simply because the main character happens to be LGBT.  This is something so many people and so many publishers seem to miss or dismiss, and not just in reference to us big ol’ lesbians.  It happens to books and movies who happen to be about anyone who isn’t straight or white (or even male), really. 

We need more Mercedes Lackeys in this world, and we need more publishers, more editors (and more filmmakers) willing to offer these writers their support, their contracts and their printers.    

Saturday, March 15, 2014

The Things We Should REALLY Never Say...

I had this moment today, when I was reading this really cool article called "22 Things You Should Never Say to a Skinny Woman". It was really great. It was simple and to the point, and it was about how badly people treat (sometimes unthinkingly) people they view as too skinny, just like they do with people they think are too fat. I read stuff like this all the time because it interests me, because we tend to forget that there are so many types of bodies on this earth and because we can't know someone's health or personal situation from a snapshot.  As in, maybe this person is chubby because she has PCOS. Or maybe she's skinny because she has Crohn's Disease, or cancer.  Or maybe she has or has had an eating disorder, for one of a thousand reasons.  Or maybe she's just skinny...or fat, and maybe it's just none of our business so we should just appreciate the human beauty that's there and move on with our day, instead of making unnecessary and hurtful comments.


My moment came from glancing over a comment at the bottom. I shouldn't have done that. I know I should never do that. Internet comments are weird and bullyish at best and downright demonistic at worst.  People say things over the internet that they would never say in person. And did you know that scientific studies have actually indicated that internet trolls are sadistic and prone to psychopathy in personality?  Still, I did glance down at the comment section, and there it was.  A comment from a fat girl about all the skinny girls commenting on how great the post was and how much it resonated with them. Mind you, I have NOTHING against fat girls. I am one. I'm happy; I'm healthy, and I'm good with my body. It took me a long time to get to that point, too, I'll tell you. 

The comment is what bothered me.  It went something like, "All you skinny bitches need to shut up and stop talking like you got it worse than us. I won't apologize for existing. You need to sit down, shut up and realize living skinny will always be easier than living fat."

It stuns me.  I mean, she won't apologize for existing (and nor should she), but she seems to be expecting all the skinny girls to do exactly that. I mean...there's some serious hypocrisy involved there.  And the bitch comment...I mean, body size does NOT a bitch make. 

So I can we ever expect to conquer sexism, which is still a problem the world over, if we as women can't even love and respect one another ourselves?  How can we convince others to see the beauty in our variety if we don't appreciate that beauty ourselves and understand the difficulties we all have?

Acceptance starts at home.  Equality for all humans starts at home.  They start with us.   

I will strive to love and respect all bodies, short and tall, fat and skinny and everything in between.  Healthy and frail.  Dark-skinned and light, and all the shades and backgrounds therein.  Those with religion and those without. Those covered and those bare, or mostly bare.  Those with makeup and those without (I'm far too lazy and cheap for makeup myself!). Those married and those single, whatever genders those spouses may happen to be.  Those with children and those with none. Those of all ages.

I love women. I love people.

And I will strive not to judge another person's struggles against my own, because we have all seen darkness or been tempted to it in our lives.  My being fat does not mean I have suffered more than someone my neighbor calls "skinny bitch" because she doesn't have to diet, though she does have problems keeping weight on her body.  My being a lesbian does not mean I have suffered more than the straight Colombian girl living down the street, or the straight white one, for that matter.  These things also do not mean that I suffered less.  It will be a wonderful world when none of us suffer at all for things that shouldn't be fodder for societal censure in the first place. We are none of us perfect, and we have none of us had perfect lives, but we are all worthy of love, respect and equality.

I will do my part to try and remember this, lest I become the one making the kinds of comments that made me blink today (and made me a little nauseous too...).

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

My New Blog Novel--Finding the Soul Shore

So I really did start the new project I said I was going to start...amazing how that actually sometimes happens, huh?  Anyway, just a short post here to offer a link to the novel, for those who enjoy fantasy/sci-fi books, like The Hunger Games or Divergent.  I mention those two specifically because this one's in first person too, so I feel a tiny bit of kinship going on there. 

Like this blog, the oldest posts are at the bottom, newest at the top, so if you jump in somewhere in the middle, just scroll down or click back to the oldest post (or the last one you read) and start from there.  Frankly, I'm not that computer handy and I have no idea how to make these blogs work any other way. 

With no further adieu, Finding the Soul Shore! 

The...Joy...of Impending Motherhood

Pregnancy is amazing.  I'll start with that.  I can't wait to feel this kid move in the next few weeks, or to see a picture on an ultrasound screen next Friday. I can't believe it's actually happening again, and that I haven't lost it (the baby, not my mind) like I did the last one. We've been through that more than once in this house, and we definitely never want to do it again. 

That being said, pregnancy comes with a whole hell of a lot of side effects that I think all us ladies (and concerned partners who are preparing for the coming war) read about, but don't really expect to hit us as hard as they do, or at all.  Ugh. I have a headache; my back hurts; my nose won't stop bleeding...and it won't stop running either; I threw up constantly for the first three months and now I'm doing it again courtesy of the antibiotics I'm taking for a nasty dental infection (which required that I have a tooth pried out of my jaw last week....ow). Frankly, I'm not sure how much good my antibiotics are doing me from the toilet anyway, but I haven't stopped taking them. I'm such a trooper, aren't I?  I'll take the next damn round too when my dentist tells me, probably tomorrow, that the infection hasn't cleared up yet (go figure...). 

On top of all that, my concentration is shot. I'm either too sick and over/under-medicated (too many antibiotics and too few pain pills...there hardly seemed any point in taking them for the headache or the pulled tooth since everything's coming up anyway) to think clearly, or my head is all taken up with thoughts of babies, pictures of cute babies and all the things around me that might affect my baby.  I'm at work and take a call for a traffic accident on the street I take to work, and I think, "Oh my God, that could have been us!  I drove down that road just seven hours ago..."

Oh yeah, and I'm an us now.  I really am.  When people talk to me, they say, "So how are you two doing?" And they aren't talking about me and my wife, or me and my bad hair, or anything else but me and my uterine stowaway.  I'm officially the temple of a 5 ounce god who apparently sends out subconscious commands to strangers to rub my belly even though I'm only showing a little bit and also demands enormous amounts of food and water as a daily sacrifice (and then rejects 90% of that).  This week it's watermelon.  I know, I's February and I'm supposed to buy local and all that.  Well what the hell am I supposed to do? The god demands watermelon! So the god will HAVE watermelon imported from some place super close to the equator, where they harvest sweet, juicy red watermelon in February, damn it!  Mmm...watermelon.

(Pause for a watermelon break.)

Okay, I think I'm okay now.  Wait...

(Pause for a vomit break.)

Okay, now I'm good. Wait...

(Pause to go pee.  Twice.)

Yeah. So. Pregnancy is awesome.  I really do mean that.  I watched my wife go through all this stuff before (except for the vomiting part, the lucky duck...she never does that whether she's pregnant or not.  I hate her...), when she was pregnant with Starren, so it's really interesting being the one on the other end of it.  Some days are so light, dreamy and calm, I can't even tell I'm pregnant (except that my boobs are a size bigger already, they always hurt like the bloody devil and if someone or something accidentally brushes against them, I have the irrational urge to claw their eyes out, and since that someone is usually me, that doesn't bode well for my vision over the next few months...).  Other days I'm bent over the toilet all day and eating everything in sight whenever I actually get the strength or the chance to stand, and that makes it pretty obvious...both to me and I imagine to everyone around me as well, especially those unlucky enough to be in the bathroom with me at work when the nausea hits hard enough to make me puke (there's a fine line between the usual all day nausea and Oh-my-God-Toilet-Now nausea).

The cool part, though?

People do things for me, like the dishes and cooking and cleaning up my side of the bed when I just dump shit down there because I'm too tired to carry it to the sink or the trash.  They rub my back or my shoulders and give me sympathetic smiles.  I get naps at work, and no one says a thing.  I'm like, "Yeah...I just...I gotta go lie down for a bit" and my boss just waves me off, and they let me do this like three times a day if I need to.  Also, no more ugly work uniforms since they apparently don't make them in maternity sizes.  I'm gonna enjoy THAT for the next five months, and I'll cry when I have to put it on again (probably true since I'll have all those post-baby birthing hormones to deal with when I go back to work...).

The sucky part? 

I've barely worked on my novel at all since Thanksgiving, and I haven't written a blog post since the end of December.  It's *cries*  (Oh yeah...then there's that. I haven't cried so much in my life as I have in the last few months.  Really.  And for no reason whatsoever. I once cried because I sent my brother out to get me food, and the people at the restaurant forgot to include my iced tea...cried for about half an hour, until my food was stone cold.  True story.)  This post has no focus and no theme whatsoever, unless you count pregnancy brain as a theme, because I just plain can't think of one, and if I could, I'd probably get distracted halfway through by a picture of a baby on my Facebook feed from one of my breastfeeding support groups (and I don't even have a baby to breastfeed yet...Oy. What the hell has happened to me???). 

The other cool part?

These dreams are sometimes terrifying, but other times they absolutely kick ass.  I got an entire awesome novel idea from one the other night, and I actually started working on it today (don't judge's almost impossible to edit my completed novel at work, which is where I do most of my writing, except on the weekends when I can access my laptop, so I might as well split my admittedly lacking attention between the two projects). I want to do this one differently though. I'm going to start a blog for it and post each part of it as it's written (I'll ignore the fact that it's obviously a rough draft), starting soon as my pregnant brain can actually remember how to make a blog.  Seriously, it took me ten minutes to remember my log in information for THIS blog.  Yikes.  I've seen a lot of other authors thoroughly enjoy this method of creation, and I don't see any reason not to try a different tactic from the more traditional route I'm taking with my first novel (except for plagiarism, as Phoenix pointed out to me, but I really haven't seen people having problems with that particular issue in blogging novels....I guess because it would be too obvious, maybe, since blogs are auto-dated? ...Or because no one thinks your work is actually worth stealing...or because finding someone to publish your shit is almost impossible anyway, so why make the effort???)  I don't know, but even the slim possibility leaves me feeling scared and vulnerable (tear/sniffle break, and belly rub break...I'm allowed. It's MY belly!). 

Still, I'm gonna do it anyway, and it's gonna be awesome.

(Pee break again.  And SNACKS!)

What were we talking about?

Oh YEAH, ultrasound next Friday, on March 7!  Get to make sure the little parasite is healthy, and check the gender if the little mite's willing to be a well-behaved exhibitionist and flash the goods for us. 

Oooh, cute baby picture on Facebook!

Bye, now! 

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Holy Chocolate Starfish, Batman!

Five reasons why the "I'm sorry, but I have to do this because my religion says homosexuality is a sin" argument holds no weight with me: 

1.)  A subset of Christians in America use their devout religious beliefs as justification for marrying underage girls against their will, raping and siring children on them.  They further use that religious belief to justify marrying multiple women, keeping them uneducated and highly dependent on the males in the society.  It is their fervent religious belief that this is not only okay, it is actually what God calls on them to do.  See: Religious polygamy in America.  There's a heart-wrenching book about it.

2.)  Certain subsets of Muslims in different countries use religious belief as justification to prosecute, imprison and even execute (whether legally and formally or illegally and informally) women who have been raped, maintaining that the rape victims have committed adultery or that they are now "black virgins".  Families and communities who stand up for the rights of these women often become victims of violence themselves.  See: Honor killings.  There's even--again--a great book about it, probably more than one.

3.)  Certain subsets of Muslims use religious belief as justification for keeping women from getting an education, having a career, or even simply getting a driver's license.  Many of these religious subsets also refuse to allow women to bare more skin in public than what shows around their eyes.  They devoutly believe this is the right thing to do.  See: The recent controversy over women fighting for the right to drive in Saudi Arabia.  See also: Malala Yousafsai, the target of attempted assassination by religious extremists for fighting for the right of girls to receive an education.  These are simply two examples of a widely pervasive problem.

4.)  Religious (and/or cultural) belief in certain parts of Africa (and in many Africans who have immigrated to different countries, including America and England), demands that young women be castrated and have their genitals permanently mutilated in the name of proper femininity, leaving them permanently scarred, incapable of experiencing sexual pleasure, and in many cases leaving them with lifelong, sometimes debilitating health consequences, or even death by infection.  Many of these women find sex to be so humiliating, such a violation and so physically unpleasant (Read: painful) that they engage in it only a few times in their lives in order to produce children, and their husbands often keep mistresses who don't have such physical limitations.  This practice continues despite having been illegal in most places for something like twenty years.  See: Google.  It'll take about 0.2 seconds to find a wealth of information on female genital mutilation.

5.)  Religious belief in certain sects of orthodox Judaism demands that when a newborn boy has been circumcised, the man performing the circumcision must use his mouth to cleanse the wound.  This ancient practice has led to the contraction of herpes in an infant at least three times in the past couple years alone in America, and to at least one death from the illness.  See:  Google again.  Probably a combination of the words orthodox Judaism, circumcision and herpes will get you where you need to go.  (I personally don't believe in circumcising male infants at all.  I think if a person's anatomy is going to be permanently altered for no medical benefit whatsoever, the person should be old enough to make the decision himself, though I also know male circumcision has become absolutely routine in America over the last one hundred years, more as a cultural thing than a religious one, for a variety of "reasons" you'd probably be surprised to learn.  You can Google that too.) 

These are but a few examples of the violation of human rights in the name of religious belief.  The people who engage in these practices believe, devoutly, that this is the right thing for them to do. 

These things, things like the risk of passing on a deadly virus during the commission of an unsanitary medical procedure on an infant (not the circumcision itself, but the use of the human mouth as a cleanser for the blood afterwards), are why human rights should always trump religious rights. 

Yes, people have the right to believe, and they have the right to practice religion in their personal lives.  That right, however, should never allow them to infringe on the rights on another human being. 

I purposefully left off all worldwide violations of the rights of homosexuals, bisexuals and transgender individuals in the name of religion, wanting to keep the list simple and easy to understand by alluding to multiple kinds of human rights violations.  "Well," you say, "What I do is nothing like that.  I just state my opinion and stick to my beliefs.  No one is hurt, and I'm not violating anyone's rights." 

The problem is that a lot of people aren't just voicing a belief.  They're using that belief to actively discriminate against other human beings, even in this country, even when they think what they're isn't discrimination, just an exercise in religious beliefs.  They use religion as an excuse to refuse to sell products or services to homosexuals and to transgender men and women.  They use religion as an excuse to fire those men and women from their jobs.  They use religion as an excuse to refuse death benefits to the surviving partners of same sex couples after one of them has died.  They use religion as an excuse to bully children and teenagers, to keep them from attending certain schools, from using certain bathrooms or even from wearing certain types of clothing or from going by names that are different from what is listed on their birth certificates.  They use religion as an excuse to keep people from getting married.  They use religion as an excuse to keep homosexuals from visiting family members in the hospital, or to keep them from obtaining legal rights to their children, or to keep them from adopting children, or to keep them from providing vital health and life insurances for their families.  They use religion as an excuse to deny fertility services, such as artificial insemination, egg donation and surrogate pregnancy services to gay and transgender individuals, couples and families.  They use religion as an excuse to protest and to hold picket lines at the funerals of LGBT citizens, or even at the funerals of members of the military who are not gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender themselves, bringing additional pain to already grieving families.  They use religion as an excuse to send LGBT youth to schools for "ex-gay" therapy, schools in which they are emotionally, psychologically and even physically abused, schools from which it takes them years to recover, if they ever do.  They use religion as an excuse to disown children, to push them out onto the streets.  They use religion as an excuse to exclude LGBT individuals from public events.  They use religion as an excuse to publicly heap verbal abuse on men and women who have behaved in no way inappropriately except to dare to be themselves or to be a family in public.  In extreme situations, they use religion as an excuse to commit hate crimes--to murder, rape or physically assault members of the LGBT community simply for being LGBT.  They donate their money to American religious organizations who "fight for traditional marriage", and these organizations are largely responsible for using that money to influence the governments of countries like Uganda, whose recent human rights violations include enacting lifetime prison sentences for same sex sexual activity, and prison time for anyone daring to found or participate in LGBT rights organizations. 

I'm sure I can think of more, but I've already made myself sick with just this short list of atrocities committed in the name of faith. 

Your religious belief does not give you the right to deny civil rights to another person.  You should not choose to use Christianity or Islam or Judaism or Hinduism or any other religion as justification for denying rights to LGBT individuals, or to women, or to any other human being, living or dead. 

Here's a legal news flash for business owners:  In many states (and soon, I believe, in ALL states, due to impending new federal laws, though I could be mistaken on this), you cannot refuse to sell your products to gays anymore than you can refuse to sell your products to blacks or Muslims.  You own a public business, and therefore you have to abide by civil laws.  Religion is for your personal life, not your professional one. 

Keep some perspective. 

If you wouldn't use religion as justification for executing a victim of rape, why would you use it as justification in discriminating against a gay person? 

The same thing goes for those business owners using religion to deny certain health coverage to their employees on the basis of religious birth control.  If you don't believe in birth control, don't use it.  Believing that it's wrong doesn't give you the right to inflict that belief on someone else.  For a woman whom you pay $7.25 an hour to work thirty-nine hours a week, birth control may be exactly what she needs to keep herself from having more children than she can afford to raise, and at that rate she clearly doesn't make enough to afford it without the aid of medical insurance.  Personally, I believe contributing to the birth of children who will go hungry, under-clothed and without proper healthcare is a much bigger religious violation than contributing to the use of preventive care to keep this from happening.  Schools should keep that in mind when they refuse to teach anything other than abstinence in their "sex education" courses. 

Catholic hospitals:  You absolutely do not have the right to refuse to inform a woman that she is in need of a lifesaving medical procedure after her water breaks eighteen weeks into her pregnancy.  Termination of pregnancy in this case is not an elective procedure, and facing the reality of her unborn child's probable death after such an occurrence is traumatic enough without the possibility of her own death hanging over her as well if she doesn't get the treatment her condition requires.  In many places in America, Catholic hospitals are the only hospitals in the area.  People don't have the luxury of choosing to go elsewhere, and therefore you shouldn't have the luxury of choosing to refuse them the care that they need.

Politicians:  You serve the people of the United State of America.  We do not serve you.  As public servants, you agreed to uphold the Constitution, a Constitution which guarantees equal rights and protections to all citizens.  This country was founded on ideals of keeping religion and law separate from one another, and therefore your religious beliefs have no place in your politics.  Do your job and support equal rights.  Otherwise, you are not  a proper servant of this country, and you should be immediately stripped of your position and relieved of your governmental responsibilities and privileges.

I, too, am a public servant.  I am a 9-1-1 operator.  If I take an emergency call from a person whom I believe serving is against my religious beliefs--for instance, if a woman is suffering medical complications from an abortion, and if I believe abortion is a sin--I still cannot refuse that person service.  If I do, I can be fired, sued and potentially even criminally prosecuted if they suffer illness, injury or death due to my negligence.  I can believe all day long that it is against my religious beliefs to provide a specific person an ambulance or to provide lifesaving instructions over the phone line prior to the arrival of that ambulance, but if I refuse to offer any of those services, I am breaking the law, and I am engaging in discrimination.      

Religion is personal. 

Human rights are global, or at least they should be.