Sunday, May 24, 2015

Why I've "Named" the Victims of Josh Duggar by Discussing Incest

I run a rape crisis center.  Our philosophy is simple.  We believe victims.  We empower them to make their own decisions about their healing.  We respect their privacy.  Belief, power, respect - these are all things that have been stripped away from them.  We want to make every effort to restore them. 

This is why we never pressure a victim to file a police report.  We never advise them on what they should or shouldn't do.  We merely provide all the possible options, and we stand by them and their decisions.  That is, unless the victim is a child - especially if the abuser is someone living within that child's home. We still fiercely advocate to restore belief, power, and respect, but doing so for a 25-year old living in her own apartment and paying her own bills looks VERY different than doing so for a 7-year old whose entire emotional and physical existence is dependent on her abuser.  How do you restore belief to someone whose entire belief structure was created for them by their abuser?  How do you restore power to someone who never had any to begin with?  How do you begin to challenge the definition of "privacy" for a child victim of incest, when they've been taught that sexual abuse is normal, a family matter, a private matter?

Since the Duggar sexual abuse case came to light, I've been called out by several friends and even colleagues for "naming" the victims by referencing the incest.  I've joined the ranks of other victims advocates to publicly hold ourselves, as a society, accountable to: empathizing with the plight of an abuser more than a victim; continuing to frame incest and child sexual abuse as a private family matter; ignoring the powerful impact religion has on the way we address sexual abuse.  While I have never actually named any of the victims, I have discussed these matters in the context of sexual abuse that happened by a family member, within the victim's own home.  And when your family is thrust into the limelight and watched weekly by millions of viewers, it's not hard to figure out who the victims might be. This has caused several people to accuse me of disregarding the privacy of the victims.  I would like to offer you three reasons why, as the director of a rape crisis center, a mom, and a member of society, I've chosen to do this.

1.  It is not possible to dismantle childhood incest without first confronting the complex power dynamics of the abuser/abused relationship that allows it to exist.   While all forms of child sexual abuse can have negative long-term effects for the victim, incest is especially damaging because it disrupts the child’s primary support system, the family.  The victim has been told that what is happening is normal or happens in every family, and doesn’t realize that it is a form of abuse.  The victim may care about the abuser and be afraid of what will happen to the abuser if they disclose. When a child is abused by someone outside the family, the child’s family is often able to offer support and a sense of safety.  When the abuser is someone in the family, the family may not be able to provide support or a sense of safety. Since the children (especially younger children) often have limited resources outside the family, it can be very hard for them to recover from incest.  (Excerpts from RAINN: Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network website)

2.  In our efforts to protect the privacy of the (now) adult victims, could we possibly still be shaming them as children?  When media outlets commit not to name adult victims, it is because historically, we as a society have further shamed victims by blaming the sexual assault on them, by letting perpetrators walk with little to no consequences, and by questioning the truthfulness of their claims.  Adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse often continue to carry with them confusing feelings of intense shame and self-blame.  Because I don't have direct access to the victims in this case, I want to shout it from the rooftops:  It's not your fault.  Not even if your own parents and the world around you have done very little to hold your abuser accountable.  Not even if your faith taught you that you are somehow responsible for tempting the action of others.

3.  It is a scary slippery slope when we attempt to "protect" the privacy of a child at the cost of perpetuating the dangerous notion that incest is a private family matter and that child victims have no voices.  Of course I believe that every child has the right to grow up without forever being defined by their sexual abuse.  Of course in my daily professional practice I diligently comply with mandatory reporting, confidentiality, and disclosure laws and policies.  But when media outlets are already reporting that this is a case of incest, it is irresponsible for us to frame it otherwise.  Because by doing so we are sending the message that there are different standards for sexual abuse if it happens in your home, by someone who should be protecting you.  We are perpetuating the message that incest couldn't possibly happen, and even if it did, it's too taboo of a topic, too difficult for us to stomach, much less talk about. My main motivation here is to increase public awareness of the problem in order to encourage other victims to disclose and seek help.

All States require appropriate agencies to report child abuse.  18 states, including my home state of Kentucky, require any person who suspects child abuse or neglect to report the abuse as well.  Please become informed of your state's reporting laws here:  Mandatory Reporters of Child Abuse and Neglect.

If you are an adult dealing with the effects of childhood sexual abuse, please remember that you are not responsible for the abuse and that you are not alone. You can overcome the effects the abuse may have on your life. Please call the National Sexual Assault Hotline (800.656.HOPE) or visit the Online Hotline. It’s never too late to get help.




Thursday, May 7, 2015

My 7-Year Old Is a Privileged Kid with A Nook and I'm Not Happy About It

My 7-year old son has been living a pretty privileged state of existence for the duration of his short life.  Please allow me to offer a small demonstration via America's favorite e-reader: the Nook.  Yes, indeed, this week my husband (the tech geek) upgraded, and therefore passed on his formerly prized e-reader to our son, fully loaded with all 53 issues of "The Magic Tree House" series.  That's right, unlimited e-books on demand, at the fingertips of someone who can barely wipe his own butt.  And you know what came before the Nook?  Saturday morning family strolls to the public library where he could pick any book he wanted, and where the trip usually ended with a pit stop at the ice-cream or fudge shop.  Books = family time + ice-cream.  How's that for some positive reinforcement?  And before that, you ask?  When he just started walking, we regularly brought our son to play with his favorite wooden train table....which happened to be situated perfectly in the middle of the children's section of Barnes and Noble.  And before this child was even born, he had a bookcase filled with books.  I'm talking at least 50 books before he could even see past 15 inches, people.

So is it any surprise that I have a 2nd grader who reads at the 4th grade level, who was put in the advanced reading group, has already been taught how to do research and write book reports, and who has fallen asleep with his Nook on his chest every night this week?  Am I proud of my kiddo?  Of course I am, he's my only son.  But barring any disabilities, given the gentle subtle and not-so-subtle nudging we've been doing for the past 7 years, does my kid really have any excuse NOT to be a strong reader?

While I'm grateful for the opportunities that I've been able to offer my son with our two-parent, two-income, two-car garage lifestyle, I can't help but think of the 50-70% of his peers who qualify for free or reduced lunches at his cafeteria.  I imagine the single parent who works evenings and weekends and has never been able to take her child to the public library when it's open.  I imagine the family living below the poverty line who has never been able to step foot into Barnes and Noble, much less dream of owning a Nook.  I imagine children who have parents that struggle with addiction, or children who are abused and neglected, that have never experienced a "family stroll" to the library, ice-cream parlor, or anywhere else for that matter.  Some say that when you become a mother, you become a mother to all the children of the world.  Maybe that's why I woke up in a cold sweat last week when imagining some of my son's peers being left behind.  Kids already labeled as "at-risk" being unintentionally denied leadership and growth opportunities while my son, who is likely to succeed no matter what, gets labeled as "high-achieving", and is consequently exposed to even more leadership and development opportunities.

By the end of fourth grade, African American, Latino, and poor students of all races are two years behind behind their wealthier, predominantly white peers in reading and math. By eighth grade, they have slipped three years behind, and by twelfth grade, four years behind. 

African American students are three times more likely than white students to be placed in special education programs, and are half as likely to be in gifted programs in elementary and secondary schools.   

By age three, children of professionals have vocabularies that are nearly 50 percent greater than those of working class children, and twice as large as those of children whose families receiving public assistance. 

* The Academic Achievement Gap, Teacher's College, Columbia University    

My son's school employs highly competent and compassionate educators who are doing the very best they can with their limited resources, time, and with the state-mandated requirements imposed upon them.  So what's a privileged mom of a privileged child to do?  Become part of the solution, of course.  Take responsibility for our privilege and do our part to level the playing field.  Like most parents who run for school board - or in my case, site-based decision making council (a Kentucky Department of Education statutory requirement), I want to advocate for educational access and academic success for all children, especially the ones that fall through the cracks.  I believe with all my heart that this is everyone's collective responsibility.  My dream (and my guess is that it's yours as well) is that when my son graduates 10 years from now, he and his peers will no longer be carrying our labels with them.  That each and every one of them will feel valued, smart, empowered, and equipped to go out and contribute to the world, regardless of whether or not their parents ever bought them a Nook.

My Top Three Priority Areas If Elected to the School-based Decision Making Council:

1.  Commit to culturally responsive teaching, equity, and inclusion of all students in order to ensure equal access to learning and participation.

2.  Explore and embrace different ways students are motivated in order to accommodate and celebrate different learning styles, communication styles, and cultural perspectives.  Shift from models of rewards and external incentives to communication, respect, and intrinsic motivation.

3.  Implement research-based prevention education that addresses bullying, dating violence, sexual violence, and stalking in order to eliminate barriers to student success.

If you happen to live in Berea, Kentucky, won't you support me, or consider advocating for these issues yourself?  If you live anywhere else in the world, won't you do whatever it takes to ensure that every single child has a chance to succeed without our labels? You know how the saying goes.... "It takes a village."  And news flash y'all:  We ARE the village.


Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Why I Would Bake a Cake for a Christian Who Opposes Marriage Equality


I don’t own a bakery or anything.  In fact I have such a hard time following recipes, my cakes never rise, and that would make for a pretty pathetic wedding cake.  But for argument’s sake, let’s pretend I own a bakery – one that specializes in wedding cakes for that matter.  There I stand: the rainbow flag-yielding, we-belong-to-each-other, love-sees-no-color baker in town.  My store would be called, “Let them ALL Eat Cake”!  
 
And one day, YOU walk through the door, asking for me to bake a cake for your conservative, 1-man, 1-woman, only-definition-of-marriage-in-the-bible, Christian wedding ceremony.  Like most situations in life, I try my hardest to put myself in the shoes of others, which is precisely why you are here imagining this unlikely scenario with me.  How would I feel?  Would I not want to bake you a cake knowing that you probably wouldn’t do the same for one of my very best friends?  Would I make a big deal about it and use that opportunity to impart you with my version of my truth:  That I don’t agree with your lifestyle and life “choices”?  That my commitment to being an ally prevents me from condoning the marriages of people who fall in your category?  What would I be saying to the world by baking this cake?  That by virtue of this baked good, I was in fact validating the sanctity of your relationship?  Would I instead invite you to my home to share the gospel of impartial love with you, hoping to help you see the light – and so that you understood that I still loved people like you, but that my belief system made me conscience-bound not to bake this cake?


Nah.


I’d bake you the best damn wedding cake on earth.  No strings attached.  I wouldn’t even make you promise to watch an episode of Modern Family in exchange.  I’d fill it with raspberry jam, white chocolate, Nutella, whatever your heart desired.  I wouldn’t invite you to my home for dinner though, because that would be creepy.  Why, might you ask, would I want to bake you this cake?  


Because everyone deserves to eat cake on their wedding day.  Also, because given my interfaith, multicultural background, if I only baked cakes for people who shared my exact beliefs, I’d probably go bankrupt.


And because I believe that it’s not my place, as a simple baker, to impose my judgement on who is or isn’t worthy of receiving a cake from me.   I’d be afraid to imagine a society where businesses could deny cakes and you know other things like lung transplants and bus service, based on the personal religious beliefs of the business owners.


Can you just imagine?  Is that an NRA membership card in your wallet?  NO CAKE FOR YOU!  Keep on walking Tea Party candidate.  Don’t even think about stopping, man yielding a confederate flag bumper sticker.  Don’t  understand misogyny or white privilege?  Well then, you really don’t deserve my light spongy butter cream goodness either.   I imagine that these fictional customers would probably believe in a few things that went against the core of my faith tenants and convictions, but (honestly, I’ve pondered this) I wouldn’t consider my act of baking them a wedding cake to be condoning… gun violence, income inequality, discrimination, or violence against women.



I’d just be helping someone, who I know very little about, celebrate a sentiment that should be bringing people together rather than further dividing us.  In a world full of divisive religious and political ideology, I would never turn down the opportunity to contribute to an act of LOVE, regardless of what card you are carrying in your wallet or what bumper sticker you have on your car.  Even if you wouldn't do the same for me.   

Friends, I think there’s enough cake to go around, can't we ALL eat some?



   

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Six Things I'm Telling My Non-African-American Child About Bloody Sunday


I’ve never been one to shy away from talking about difficult subjects with my 7-year old, but on a topic as monumental as civil rights, I often struggle on how to do so in a way that is deeper than just “the history lesson of the day” that he reads about in school and doesn’t think about again.  The last thing I want is for my Asian-American kid to feel disconnected, unaffected by this time in history that transformed a nation….that continues to tear it apart. How do I NOT make my child lose faith in all humanity at such a tender age, and yet manage to instill a sense of responsibility and ownership in him as a future citizen of the world?
 
As we mark the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday, I choose to talk to my son about the ugly realities of that day, in a way that will hopefully inspire him to "be the change." While the violence of the Selma marches horrified our nation, those transformative moments in history (and the courage of the faces behind them) undoubtedly served as an important catalyst for the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.  Here’s what I hope my son will understand today.
 
1.  At the end of the day, even the “good” guys are merely human, and the ones breaking the laws can end up being the greatest heroes.
During the Selma marches, activist and deacon Jimmie Lee Jackson was shot and killed by a state trooper.  Unarmed organizer, Amelia Boynton, along with 600 peaceful marchers were viscously attacked with clubs and tear gas by state troopers and a county posse at the Edmund Pettus Bridge, leaving Boynton unconscious. 

2.  Always own your privilege and then use it to impact change.
While the governor of the state of Alabama refused to protect the marchers, President Johnson committed to doing so. Protected by 2,000 soldiers of the U.S. Army, 1,900 members of the Alabama National Guard under Federal command, and many FBI agents and Federal Marshals, the marchers averaged 10 miles a day along U.S. Route 80, known in Alabama as the Jefferson Davis Highway. 

 
3.  Some things are worth standing up for.  Justice is one of them.
If it weren’t for the Selma marches, some of your best friends today would not be able to vote.  Barack Obama would not be president. 
 
 
4.  You can always do good from your little corner of the world.
As a 7-year old, you don’t have to march to make the world better, but you can speak up when you see someone being bullied.  You can share your views on love when someone expresses hate towards someone else.
 
 
5.  We belong to each other.  We’re all connected.
Without the civil rights movement, as an inter-racial couple, your mom and dad would not have been able to get married.  You too, wouldn’t be able to vote. 
 
 
6.  We still have a lot of work to do.
Police brutality still exists.  African-Americans are still experiencing racism.  Your uncles are still not allowed to get married.  Women are still disproportionately experiencing violence.  What is our Selma today?
 
 

 

Saturday, January 24, 2015

How I Won An Election Without Even Realizing It

Last year I ran for a seat on my local city council and I lost by about 200 votes.  My town actually voted for almost the exact same city council, except they replaced the only person of color with a young, conservative male.  Just as soon as election day was over on November 6th, friends and supporters began to ask me if I would consider running again.  At that time I was fairly exhausted, pretty deflated that my town had spoken loud and clear that they were happy with the way things were, and I asked folks for a few months of hibernation where I could sleep in, enjoy the holidays, have absolutely no agenda. 

And now we're almost through January and I can't seem to come out of my "hibernation".  There have been council meetings, public forums, community celebrations, and I can't seem to find the energy or motivation to get back up out there to engage myself with a town that I care so deeply about.

For the past 3 years of my life, I've trained myself to wake up at 5 a.m. in order to fit all the non-work stuff in (like writing a blog or running for office) before my day job. If there was a rare moment of free time between scheduled appointments or committee meetings, I'd frantically run to the store to pick up groceries, or if I was at home, I'd cram in folding laundry, unloading the dishwasher, and making a crockpot meal in the 15 minutes before my conference call began.  Weekends and evenings were never truly mine - there was always, always, a committee meeting, a forum, you name it. There was NEVER a single moment of down time.  Ever.  I'm not complaining, it's just the reality of the life of a working mom who happens to have other interests.  I dare say that most of the women around us probably experience this very same intense juggling and multi-tasking. 

And suddenly, just like that, I had all of my mornings free......most of my evenings free........and by golly, my weekends were all mine again.  What's a girl to do?  Well, I kind of did nothing.  I slept in.  Made pancakes for my son on a SCHOOL day (Whoa.)  Went for long walks.  Picked up a book.  And I began to embrace the notion of living with no agenda.  And just when I thought I might be content turning into this selfish, lazy human being, magical things began to happen.  When I ran for city council, my main platform centered around civil rights, income equality, and economic progress.  I wanted to help pass a fairness ordinance that would protect the LGBTQ community from discrimination.  I wanted to help create a sustainable community that supported local businesses and met the food, housing and transportation needs of working-class Bereans.  I wanted to bridge the racial divide in our town that is so deep that people either deny that it exists, or are afraid to talk about it.

And so without the platform of a seat on city council, my voice was powerless.  Or was it?  Since November of last year, I have had weekly craft nights with my 7 year-old son.  This week we made paper Kenyan masks as we talked about a beautiful country in East Africa, the Maasai tribe, and Lake Victoria.   Since my weekends are free, our family has had more time to spend with our dear friends and chosen family, Ronnie and Eric and their beautiful and curious little girl that they are in the process of adopting.  Just last week I spent the entire Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday with my son - we made cards welcoming refugee children into the country and we participated in a Black history scavenger hunt at our local museum.  I wake up excited every Saturday, because we've been going on local adventures, picking up books from our public library, scouring local flea markets for the perfect Beanie Baby, drinking hot chocolate late at night at our local coffee shop, and waking up at ungodly hours just to get a chocolate-glazed donut from the new donut shop, run by the kind Vietnamese man with the cool Gears of War sweatshirt.  During Thanksgiving we welcomed a table full of friends from 3 different faith backgrounds in beautiful shades of brown and white.  During the Christmas break, our family carefully went through all of our toys and other material goods and collectively decided which  items should go to those who need them more than we do.

I wasn't exactly passing a fairness ordinance, bridging my town's racial divide, or creating a thriving local economy while helping to address income equality.  But in some ways I can't help but wonder if I've been minimizing the impact I can have right here under my own roof, with an evolving, and open-minded 7-year old sponge, who has an insatiable appetite to learn about the world around him, and how he fits into it.  And well, because I have my mornings, evenings, and weekends fairly open these days, I regularly pencil him in.  I may not be doing my life's work in city hall, but I'm slowly learning to see that I am creating ripples in a place I least expected to do so, in a place that perhaps has always needed me the most.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

To Gay Men Who Choose to Marry Women Because of Your Faith

Last week the cable network TLC announced a new special titled “My Husband’s Not Gay”, a reality show featuring Mormon men who are attracted to other men, but who choose to marry women.  Two days later NPR covered the story of a pastor who “felt called to marry a woman” and who consciously chose not to act on his same-sex attractions.  These stories were shared on the timelines of my Facebook friends repeatedly.  Each time the headlines popped up on my newsfeed, my heart sank and my soul was left feeling unsettled. Before I proceed, let me be clear:  there are few people I feel compassion for more than those whose acceptance by society is denied to the point that they feel forced – consciously or subconsciously - to succumb to the more “traditional”, more predominant lifestyle.  This is not what I’m talking about.  This is not what unsettles my soul. 

I’m talking about the men (and the entertainment and news outlets that sensationalize them) who publicly tout themselves as pinnacles of spiritual strength and discipline for making the choice to marry a woman rather than act on their same-sex attractions.  Men who are basically saying, “Look at my selfless sacrifice.  Look at how much I love my God.  If I can do it, you can, and should too.”  That does not settle well in my soul and before I go on, let me assure you, I am  uniquely qualified to have an opinion on this matter.

I am the ex-wife of an ex-straight man.  Well actually, he never was straight, but he fought desperately to be straight for the first 30 years of his life, because he didn’t know he had any other choice.  Because well-meaning people in his community, in his church, in his own family told him that his God would not, could not, love him otherwise.

We were together for nearly a decade when one day, just like that, he no longer had the strength not to face himself, and he left me.   Out of respect for the fact that he has his own story to tell, I won’t linger here for long, but let me at least say that to this day (it’s been ten years), I thank him for having the courage to leave me.  We've both gone on to find love and lead happy, fulfilled lives.  I am however, deeply saddened that he – that we – don’t live in a world that could have given him the space and courage not to marry me in the first place.   

While I consider my ex-husband to be one of my best friends, his journey towards self-acceptance (one that I have whole-heartedly supported), unintentionally had the consequence of greatly altering and forever changing mine.  I wouldn’t give up those ten years for the world, but I would be lying if I said the experience didn’t change me in profound ways.

And that is why I see no entertainment value in exploiting the real life experiences of others, by watching a train wreck in the form of a TLC reality show - why I cringe when I hear the coverage of the NPR story, reducing something so unimaginably complex to a single intentional decision “not to act on an attraction”.   As if the “chosen” wife and any future children won’t potentially be impacted by this act of “martyrdom”.  As if the man making the choice won’t spend the rest of his days silently battling himself for feelings he will never be able to quell, for feelings he shouldn’t ever have to quell.

While I have genuine compassion for men who feel that they have to choose this path in order to have a place in their faith communities, I find it problematic when these personal experiences are used to suggest that others can and should follow that same path. That one can and should reject their homosexuality simply by marrying someone of the opposite sex.

It implies that people have to make a choice in order to be a part of a faith community.  Simply put, it suggests that you can’t be gay and still love God.  Or worse, that God can’t possibly love you if you’re gay.  And I for one am tired of straight people hijacking religion.  If my ex-husband had felt accepted and supported within his faith system early on, he probably wouldn't have felt so pressured to spend a third of his life desperately trying to fit into a certain mold.
It’s irresponsible.  It puts young, not-yet-out, questioning members of the LGBTQ community in incredibly vulnerable and dangerous positions – to remain closeted, to feel shame, to become isolated, to feel pressured to change who they are, and then in turn face the serious emotional and psychological consequences of attempting to do so.
It reduces women to human shields whose main purpose in life is to guard their husbands...from themselves.  If you really believe that your faith prohibits you from being with a man, then don’t be with one.  Rather than treat a woman like some sort of personal training tool, why not go try to work out your spiritual system, take some time to figure things out?   But don’t suddenly walk around like a man of God just because you decided to use another human being to distract you from becoming who you really are.
I consider myself fortunate to have shared in the extraordinary journey of a dear friend who took three decades to finally learn to love himself.  But I also can’t sugar coat the fact that I not only witnessed, but personally experienced every excruciating pain and struggle of that journey.  While I have no regrets, I don’t wish this “marriage of convenience” on any gay man or straight woman.  And it's not because I can't respect the individual choice of a gay man to choose to marry a woman.  It's because I just can't accept that we live in a world where  certain belief systems continue to make gay men feel that they have no other choice but to marry a woman. 


Saturday, December 6, 2014

Dear Girlfriends, It's Not You, It's Me

Dear Girlfriends,

You have been there to share joys and celebrations.  We've toasted and cheered, and sometimes we've even cried.  Sure life gets in the way, but when we reunite it always seemed to feel effortless to pick right back up and get lost in conversation for hours.  You have done nothing wrong.  You have not changed - still that girl with the beautiful smile with whom I can share light-hearted, uplifting wine-infused late night giggles and girl talk.  Please know that I am grateful for the time we have shared, but I've reached that point in my life where I find myself constantly having to protect those few precious unscheduled moments.....and where I find myself needing to be around only those who truly feed and nourish my soul.

It's not you, it's me.

You have not changed, but it appears that I may have.  A lot.  You see, I used to be quite comfortable pretending to be just like you.  In fact, every time we were together, I did everything to convince myself that the things that mattered to you, also mattered to me.  That we shared life experiences.  That we saw the world through the same lens.   But we don't.  And for some reason, for all those years, I tried so hard to pretend that we did, and so I misled you.  I'm sorry.  I'm afraid I'm not the "Americanized", watered-down token Asian side-kick who, skin and hair color aside, perceives the world in the manner that you do.  And let me be clear that I am not choosing to surround myself only with those who perceive the world exactly as I do, but I am choosing a circle of friends who intentionally acknowledge and value, and heck even celebrate, the fact that we may see the world differently.  

And friend, WE are vastly different.  But it's not you, it's me - because it's no longer enough for you to be interested in the spices and recipes of my culture. Did you know that my immediate family celebrates three different faith traditions?  For years I cringed, and tried to ignore your assumptions and condescension about the absoluteness of your own faith.  You should know that I celebrate friends from many faith backgrounds, but rather than dictate scripture and pass judgements, we honor one another's beliefs, and we seek commonalities in our expressions of faith. 

It's not you, it's me - because try as I might, I can't understand or accept your inability to acknowledge your own privilege.  The rest of the world doesn't usually get to choose to have multiple exotic romantic getaways, the most vintage and rare wine, designer clothes, or the healthiest organic, gourmet foods.  Honestly, many of us do not measure the quality of our lives based on those standards - and it's just become too exhausting for me to constantly try to blend into an environment that has always felt so very foreign to me.

It's not you, it's me.  I can't be the only person of color in your life.  It's too much pressure for me to constantly represent the minority view.  While it's the norm in my work life, it's simply too tiresome for me to always be "the only one in the room" in my personal life. Why is it that you don't have a single black friend, gay friend, or non-Christian friend?  And if that was your subconscious intention, why is it that we are still friends?  Do you have any idea how impacted this friend - the friend "between two races" is in this increasingly divisive state of injustice our world is experiencing?  Have you read these blogs I wrote last year?  If you secretly have, why haven't you engaged me in conversation about these parts of me that define the very core of who I am?  http://plainjaneactivism.blogspot.com/2013/07/my-son-is-george-zimmerman.html, http://plainjaneactivism.blogspot.com/2013/02/the-real-reason-i-support-gay-rights.html.

It's not you, it's me.  I can't be your one peripheral feminist, activist friend who's always angry about something, always rallying about something, always blogging about something.  It's too hard for me to always feel like an anomaly when in your environment.  Because I'm not.  I'm surrounded by hoards of people who care about making the world better, who care enough to speak up, act out in their own ways.  Some also rally and blog and advocate, but many just simply send me a supportive text, voice their discontent with the status quo, make a modest donation to a non-profit organization, or merely take the time to ask me about the work with which I am involved.  You never have.

Really, it's not your fault that I can no longer make time and intention for our future shared moments together.  It's me.  It's just too hard for me not to BE me when I'm among "friends".


 

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Why My Driver's License Photo is Beautiful

Forty-two years. Two countries.  Driver's licenses stamped by six different states.  A blur of twenty or so different basements, rooms-for-rent, apartments, town homes, dorm rooms, faculty housing, two-stories, and split-levels. 

Someday when my seven-year old is asked - Where are you from?  No, really, where are you from?  Where is home? - I never want him to have to pause and silently, but frantically search his mind for the "right" answer. 

And so, without any level of self-awareness, I made life choices designed around a K-12 education for my son that takes place under one roof.  I created raised bed gardens in my back yard because they never fail to promise seasonal returns.  I drilled permanent hooks into my living room drywall for the Christmas decorations I plan on hanging every year in that same exact spot in this house I plan to grow old in.  And I genuinely felt peace in my soul every time I renewed my driver's license and was able to list the same address, in the same town, in the same state. 

It would take running for (and losing) a local elected office for me to become painfully aware that throughout my entire existence, with every effort I made to convince myself that I was finally planted somewhere, perhaps I never really belonged anywhere.  This year I ran for one of eight city council positions in the town I've called home for nearly half of my life - a place in which I am deeply invested that I love dearly, the only place I've ever called home.  Out of 20 candidates, I was one of five women and the only person of color.  During public forums and meet-and-greets I was routinely called out to prove my loyalty and track record of commitment to my town, while my white, male counterparts merely got away with:  I was born and raised in this town.  My dad was the town "fill in the blank with any local elected office".  I'm a third generation Madison Countian. 

When I canvassed door-to-door, one person shook her head sadly after I responded to her question, "But where were you born, dear?" and proceeded to follow with, "But how will you ever understand us and what we need?"  I plowed through the campaign experiencing many other similar "polite" interactions with people who immediately categorized me as an outsider within the first 30 seconds of our meeting, but it wasn't until after I lost the election, that what the universe has been trying to tell me all along, finally hit me.  I do not belong in this town.  And probably even more painful, I've never really belonged anywhere.

And so I allowed myself to sink and wallow in self-despair for two full days.  This really wasn't about me losing the election - really, it wasn't.  I assure you that my ego has handled rejections far worse.  It was about the fact that the majority of people in my own "hometown" spoke loud and clear -  That being born into a place had more value than consciously choosing to make a place your home.  That values like acceptance and inclusivity for all people, were trumped by individual interpretations and judgment of Christian moral ideology. That despite my best efforts, all the raised beds and permanent hooks in the world could never make my interfaith, bi-cultural, multi-race family with close gay friends, grow roots in this town.  I was devastated.  And so I wearily looked the other way when my husband began to research schools that weren't all under one roof...in a nearby town.  A town where no one stopped to question why our close friends, both male, were lovingly raising a beautiful little girl together.  A town where my mom doesn't have to drive 40 miles for Thai spring roll wrappers.

And in those hazy days that immediately followed, I found myself at an event in my town, at my college alma mater featuring authors Barbara Kingsolver and Silas House.  And just as the universe had clearly told me that I didn't belong to a place, she spoke to me again, and this time through the voice of a renowned, beloved author.  A college student posed this question to Ms. Kingsolver during a Q & A session:  Can one foster roots without staying in one place?  And the universe (aka Barbara Kingsolver) said this:  You find your roots when you find that which has always followed you.  That thing, that person, that feeling, that tells you you're home.  With all the different places Barbara had lived, the very first thing she always did when she arrived in a new place, was seek out the public library.  Books, stories, history, voices of people - that was her home.  Those were her roots, and it didn't matter where she lived, nobody could ever take those things away from her.

Bam.

Maybe it didn't matter as much for me to belong to a place.  Maybe what mattered more is that I discover and embrace what belongs to me - what I carry with me no matter where I go, that no third-generation local will ever have the power to take away.    I can't really put exactly what that is into words at this juncture in my life, and that feels OK.  For now, I am content being mindful that my soul is lightest when I'm not the only one in the room but also, when the chairs around my Thanksgiving table are filled with close friends who experience life differently than me.  That's my home.  Those are my roots.  And that is why it doesn't matter what state will be taking my next driver's license picture.  I will always smile with content, for that smile is but an outward reflection of the sense of belonging I will always carry within.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

How To Continue Awesome

Some of you may already know, that I've always been a "Plain Jane" and last  year I wrote this blog every day for a year, challenging myself to find opportunities to demonstrate activism in small, ordinary ways every single day.  I look forward to returning to that which is so very comfortable for me!

Words can not express my gratitude for your support and belief in me over the last few months.  While countless Bereans and Berea-inspired folks have offered me beautiful, kind words of support, I want to challenge each and every one of you to really embrace the beauty of your own words.  Funny thing is, if you really read all of your texts, e-mails, and messages, they are not about me - they are about YOU.  They are about your voice and desire to build a beautiful, inclusive community - I was just one small channel that could have possibly helped amplify your voices.  These are your own words.  Hear your own voices.  I do.  This community does.  The world does.  

An ethical, empowering, community-based campaign 

What local politics has the potential to be

Beautiful, loving and incredibly inspiring community driven world-changers

A classy, issue-focused, people-driven, community-loving campaign

Love the hope and strength in our community

A beautiful campaign

Represent the conscience of those who care about civil rights 

Honorable and full of integrity

The winds of change are in the air

Deep pockets are not required to reach people

Boldness is inspiring

Passion is contagious

Breath of fresh air

Community, mutual responsibility and above all, awesomeness

Positive and forward thinking

Continue to change the world  
Continue to change the world 
Continue to change the world 
Continue to change the world.