The Holiday Family Freakout: Calling Family In to Dialogue About Justice

Few things give me more anxiety than thinking about spending the holidays with my entire extended family.  Don’t get me wrong; I love them! And much of our time together each year is joyful and loving.

But inevitably someone is going to say something idiotic (read: racist, sexist, heterosexist/homophobic, anti-immigrant, anti-choice, religiously bigoted, or otherwise infuriatingly offensive).  And for years, I’ve struggled with how to navigate these family spaces.

After all, confronting the bigotry directly has been known to lead to all-out Christmas or Thanksgiving verbal brawls with shouting and crying and people walking out.

And I know full well that calling my anti-immigrant uncle out and starting verbal wrestlemania isn’t going to change his mind.  He revels in pissing people off with his political beliefs.  He’s the ultimate internet troll (except that he’s sitting on my grandmother’s couch).

Yet as I walk the precarious path in trying to be an accountable ally, I feel a calling and responsibility to address this stuff.  It’s tough to know what to do.

When talking with a friend the other night about whether or not to engage, I couldn’t help but think of a quote from the controversial but surely-quotable Tim Wise:

“The power of resistance is to set an example: not necessarily to change the person with whom you disagree, but to empower the one who is watching and whose growth is not yet completed, whose path is not at all clear, whose direction is still very much up in the proverbial air.”

As I think about whether to engage, I should consider less whether I want to fight with my trolling uncle than about who is listening.

Christmas_fight

Because I’m not going to change his mind, but I very well may plant the seeds of resistance in the minds of my young nieces and nephews.  They are listening.  And at 3, 5, and 7, few times of their lives will be more formative in their development of self and in their construction of “other.”

Further, I might empower someone else in the family to speak up.  Maybe they’ve been just as fed up with the nastiness and bigotry but felt alone at family gatherings.

Inclusiveness CAN Be a Family Value

And while a resistance to bigotry and a commitment to seeking justice are currently not family traditions or ethics, but they certainly can be.

When I saw Cornel West speak at the 2013 CIRCLE Conference, one of the many parts of his talk that stuck with me came in the Q&A.  I can’t remember exactly what question was asked, but he spoke to the need for an ethic of allyship and solidarity as a value.  He talked of needing to highlight more White allies in history, and he talked of needing more vocal allies working with others who share their identity to shift tides of oppression.

But that doesn’t just happen by buying our kids gender-neutral toys or books with fantastic messages.  Instilling inclusiveness as a family value requires some tough conversations.  Yes, these conversations should be respectful and carried out with love, but they need to happen, and they need to be public so that everyone in the family can understand that it is okay and encouraged to challenge someone on a statement that furthers oppression and marginalization.

But it’s also about timing.  If my uncle corners me alone in the kitchen to goad me into a a debate about how Phil Robertson is a perfect example of how Christians are the oppressed minority in the United States today, I’m probably not going to take the trolling bait.

But if during the meal, someone makes a statement about how immigrants are ruining our country, I need to find a way to challenge it and call them in to a discussion.

And while doing so might cause a collective family meltdown, the risk is worth it if we manage to have a powerful conversation that sets the precedent that we can talk through the tough things in our family. After all, doing so makes it clear to those little ones that our family is one that engages, not disengages, with the harsh realities that are the context both inside and outside the walls of our family celebration.

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CFW’s 2012 Year in Review

2012 was a big year of blogging for me.  I branched out in my publishing by partnering with a few amazing blogs, and my readership has grown tremendously.  In 2012, Change From Within had approximately 59,000 page views, and the blog had 59 new posts, some short and (hopefully) pithy, and some long and more complex.

There were a few posts from years past that continue to garner huge views on the blog.  In case you missed those, check them out!

Redskins, Sambos, and Whities: Racism in Sports Mascots
Speak American: Multilingualism and the English-Only Movement
It’s Not Just Rap – Misogyny in Music

As we head into 2013, though, it’s time to take stock of the 10 most widely-read pieces of 2012 in case you missed any the first time around.

love-is-a-verb-300x25910.  In October, I had the incredible pleasure of serving as the officiant of my close friend’s wedding.  After the wedding, I posted the message I shared at the wedding.  Coming in at number 10 is that message, Love: Endlessly Selfless and Powerfully Selfish.

alonzoashley9. Unfortunately, my former home of Denver, CO has a serious problem with police brutality.  In July, I attended a rally against police brutality that commemorated the death of Alonzo Ashley, a young Black man who was killed by police at the Denver Zoo.  The piece that came afterward encouraged White people to begin to consider the ways that our relationships with police (on the whole) are vastly different from the relationships of communities of Color.  Coming in at number 9 is Talking Privilege: Waking White People Up to Police Brutality.

FL Tray George Zimmerman smiling 2012 3-238. One of the more important stories of 2012 was the tragic murder of Trayvon Martin at the hands of George Zimmerman.  In my piece entitled I am George Zimmerman, I encouraged White folks to understand the ways that everyone who is socialized in our system of White Supremacy is taught to see Black men of any age as the dangerous other.  If we want to prevent future murders like that of Trayvon Martin (or Jordan Russell Davis), we have to understand the ways that each of us are trained to fear Black men, and then we must work to uproot that socialization.

Chick-fil-A-logo7. Sometimes I just have to rant a little, which is what the piece that comes in at number 7 felt like.  After their CEO spouted virulently anti-gay hate speech, activists targeted Chick-fil-a for boycotts and protests.  Those on the right claimed that such activists were attacking his freedom of speech.  In Chick-fil-a: Censorship or Freedom of Speech?, I lay out just how silly that argument actually is.

IMG_0046-203x3006. One of the best ways to share intimacy with your partner, whether this is a long-time partner or a short-term hook up, is to take steps to ensure that your sexual relationship is healthy and driven by sexy consent.  One way to do that is through a Yes, No, Maybe Chart.  My Valentines’s piece laid out just how to use one to ensure your sex is healthy, fun, and fulfilling.  Coming in at number 6 is, This Valentine’s Day Try a Yes, No, Maybe Chart.

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Turning to Self Care in Times of Trial

Whenever those around me are experiencing hard times or are hurting, I am the first to ask them what they are doing to practice self care.  However, when it comes to actually practicing self care, I am pretty terrible.  I don’t exactly practice what I preach.

Well, in the last week or two, I have been struggling.  Between the loneliness of being in a new city, a bunch of online blogger drama, tragedies in the lives of those I love, tragedies nationally and internationally, and struggles with my own personal demons, I should be doing more to take care of myself.  But, in true Jamie fashion, I just smile and push on.

In college, one of my mentors and close friends committed suicide.  I was devastated, and I struggled with depression for many months.  The funny thing, though, is that almost no one knew.  I was a public figure on campus (student government, lots of clubs, all that silly jazz), so I just sighed heavily and put on a fake smile before leaving my room every day.  Then I came home and cried myself to sleep.  If it weren’t for a few close friends and one professor, all of whom forced me to focus on taking care of myself, I don’t think I would have survived that time in my life.

Though I am not quite THAT bad about self care these days, I haven’t improved much.  About two months ago, I let a close friend know that I was struggling with some intense feelings of loss and sadness.  She helped me check in with myself about why, and she encouraged me to practice some self care.  And I did.  For about a day.

Last night I was talking to her on the phone, and she asked how I was doing with the heaviness I shared a few months back.  My response, “I honestly haven’t been dealing.  I am just so busy.  It’s there in the background, and I should probably do more about it, but right now, I am just trying to get settled into my new city and trying to invest in my partnership.”  Her response: “Jamie, take care of yourself.”

Then this morning I saw this piece at Everyday Feminism, an amazing blogging community that you should definitely be following.  In it, Melissa Fabello reminds us who work for justice that it can be really heavy work that drains our bodies and our souls, and she offers a few suggestions for self care.

Between these two reminders and my partners’ almost daily reminders to practice a little bit of the self love, I think it’s time I do so.  As I sat down to blog today, my busy-minded self shouted, “You need to get on that piece about how only using the Lisak & Miller study to talk about perpetrators of sexual violence is dangerous!”  And from another corner, I heard a shout of, “That promo video for your corporate consulting is not done yet.”  And, “Don’t you need to work on the content for that upcoming keynote?”  Endless.  That voice is powerful, the voice inside of me that says, “Self care is unimportant.  Stay busy.  Then it won’t hurt.”

But today, if not for me then for my partner, my dog, my friends and family members that rely on me and love me, I am taking a few minutes to focus on self care.

When I entered a comprehensive training to become an advocate for survivors of sexual assault, I showed up on the first day with a box of tissues.  I had heard about the program, and I knew there would be a lot of crying.  On the first day, though, there were no tears.  Instead, we were given an amazing assignment.  We were to create a “Self Care Plan.”  We had to create some sort of list of things we would do to practice self care as we went through the advocacy training program.  We were told that some items should be small, easily accomplished in a moment or with a few minutes time.  “Think deep breaths,” we were told.  Other items in the plan should be longer-lasting, along the lines of taking 15 minutes, half an hour, or a whole evening to ourselves.

After completing the assignment, I had a self care plan hanging in my bedroom and in my office for a few years.  For the last two or three, though, I haven’t had one.  Today that changes.

Below is my Self Care Plan, excluding a few of the more personal items, to give you a few ideas as you create your own Self Care Plan.

Quick Action Self Care

1.  Close my eyes, breathe deeply, and focus on clearing my mind.36487_118770518167624_2480645_n
2.  Look through a few of the photos of those I love.
3.  Cuddle with Chloe (my dog) for a few minutes.
4.  Do a few Yoga back stretches
5.  Put on any of the following songs:

6.  Scream.  Loud.
7. Dance.  Preferably to Robyn.
8. Rub Chloe’s velvet ears.
9. Hug Chickadee Longbottom (the stuffed animal I’ve had since I was little)
10. Think clearly about at least one of those wonderful people that love you very much.

Self Care That Takes a Little Longer

1.  Meditate for 15 minutes.
2.  Go for a run with Chloe.
3.  Ride your bike hard.
4.  Listen to a whole bunch of the songs from ^^THAT^^ list.
5.  Turn the music up REALLY loud and allow yourself to cry for a while.

Shaun Tan's "The Red Tree"

Shaun Tan’s “The Red Tree”

6.  Write.
7.  Read “The Red Tree” by Shaun Tan
8. Read some of “Charlotte’s Web” by E.B. White.
9.  Spend some time throwing on your wheel.
10. Read a few items from the “Self Care Box” (a box of letters from people who love me).
11. Call S, N, B, J, E, K, or S.  Or call all of them.
12.  Work in your garden.
13.  Make an elaborate meal for someone you love.

These are just a few of the things I need to be doing more often in my life.  What suggestions do you have for self care?  What songs do you listen to?  What movies do you watch?

Whatever they are, please take some time this week for self care.  You need it.  We all do.

Love: Endlessly Selfless and Powerfully Selfish

This weekend, I had the incredible pleasure of officiating the wedding of two of my best friends.  If you remember my Letter to Baby Jett, they’re Jett’s parents.

It was a beautiful ceremony held in Western Colorado, and I am so happy for the newlyweds.  Because of its relevance to my audience, I thought I would publish my message from the wedding.  I hope you enjoy…

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As English speakers in the United States, we have a crisis of imprecise language.  Ancient Greek has five words to describe the phenomena we refer to as “Love.”  Latin has four.  Chinese has, arguably, 7-10 words to describe everything from love for a friend to the love for family to the love for a romantic partner to the feeling of cathexis, a strong physical connection with another.

Yet in English, we describe everything from the beautiful love Stacie and Brandon share for Jett to the way they love their friends to the way Brandon “loves” to be naked to the love we come together today to celebrate with one word.

One word!

This imprecision has gotten me in trouble in the past.  I once told a woman that was a dear friend that I loved her, meaning that I value her friendship and love spending time with her.  I didn’t think much of it, but it threw her for a loop.  She spent a week interrogating whether we would be compatible as partners and whether she should risk the friendship for romance.  A week later we found ourselves in a pretty tough conversation, and I was told, “Never tell a woman you love her unless you’re damn clear what you mean.”

And she’s right.  We need to be clear what we mean when we speak of love.

As they prepared for their wedding, I wanted to help Stacie and Brandon be clear in what they meant when they spoke of love, so I asked them to read together and discuss selections from a book that changed my life: bell hooks’ treatise on love and relationships, All About Love: New Visions.  More than just a simple self-help-style relationship book like Men are From Mars, Women are From Venus, hooks aims to explore how our understandings and misunderstandings of love in the United States (and elsewhere) have profound implications for relationships, families, death and dying, politics, social justice, everything.

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Men Lovin’ On Men: Male Expressions of Love and Affection

This weekend I got to tell some amazing men that I love them, and I got to hug them, hold them, and remind them why they are worthy of my love.

I attended the first of what will be 10 Hugh O’Brian Youth (HOBY) Leadership seminars in Tennessee, and I consider many of the men at that seminar my brothers and my friends.  There’s something about the HOBY spirit and community that always makes me more apt to openly show my love for my brothers and sisters.  But in mainstream American culture, men don’t a very good job of showing their love for one another.

In my letter to my Fairy Godson, the first thing I said to him was, “I love you.  Men don’t tell each other that often enough.  Knowing your parents, you’re going to have a tremendous amount of love to unleash on this world.  Never hold it back, no matter what anyone tells you about how men should express their emotions.”

Oooh the man hug…

Yet in my own life, I do not always show affection for the men in my life the way that I would like to or in similar ways that I show affection for the women in my life.  I end almost every conversation with the women I care about with, “I Love You!”  With the women in my life, I tend to hug them regularly, and we hold hands or show physical affection as a sign of our friendship on the regular.  With the men I love, though, I don’t tell them that I love them nearly often enough.  I don’t hold hands with my male friends or with my dad, and we don’t tend to greet each other with a hug.

Why is that?

I mean, I understand why it’s tough for most men to express our love for other men.  Dominant culture tells us that empathy, care, gentleness, and love are not masculine qualities, so from an early age, we suppress those feelings.  I can’t tell you how many times I was told growing up to stop “acting like a girl” if I cried or if I showed affection.  For many years, I kept it on the down low that I still cuddled with my mom or that I had that gentler side.

But at this point in my life, I consider myself pretty counter-cultural on most issues of masculinity and gender.  I tend to think of myself as forward-thinking when it comes to how men can and should act in relationships, and I like to think that I have made a lot of progress in overcoming some of the harmful ways that I was socialized to be a man.  So why don’t I more regularly tell the men in my life that I love them?

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This Valentine’s Day Try a Yes, No, Maybe Chart!

Valentine’s Day, huh?  Well, I’m not a huge fan of the holiday.  My socialist leanings tell me it’s a manufactured holiday meant to increase wanton consumerism after the feeding frenzy of Christmas has died down.

However, I do think it can be a good time to check in with those you love to remind them of ways that you love them.  As we all know, one fantastic way that people in romantic relationships can show love is through sex!

In my experience (with evidence to support it), nothing makes for better sex than open, honest communication.  I’ve talked about it as I detailed my views on sex, and I’ve stressed the importance of consent.

However, one thing I’ve learned is that it is not always easy to start such an open, accountable, honest conversation.  Then, thanks to The Consensual Project, I discovered Yes, No, Maybe Charts!  Essentially, a Yes, No, Maybe Chart is a list of sex acts and topics related to sex with a space for you to express your comfort level with a simple Yes, No, or Maybe.  Yes, No, Maybe charts are a great way for you to check in with yourself about your wants, needs, desires, and comfort levels in various sex acts and things related to sex, and when done with a partner, they are a great way to start a conversation about what your sexual relationship can, does, and should look like!

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My Take On Sex

I was recently approached by a student who saw me speak this summer.  He was responding to my posting of some amazing comics on sex and consent that I had posted on Facebook, and he asked me if I’d be willing to share my take on sex.  He expressed that he comes from a community that seems to only tell the story that sex should be saved for marriage, and he wanted to know another perspective.  After writing out my response, I realized that many of my readers (particularly my younger readers) might like to hear my take on sex.

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I was raised in a Catholic household and Catholic community where it was preached that sex (in any form) should not exist outside of Marriage and that anything relating to sex outside of Marriage should be treated with shame.

I take a very different tact. Sex is one of the most beautiful, complex, and vital aspects of human existence (and I suspect that those that preach abstinence until marriage only would agree with me). As such, we should experience as much of it as possible so long as we are responsible.

In my opinion and experience, sex is best experienced within a committed relationship where two people have agreed to be exclusive with one another and to explore their sexualities together. This doesn’t have to be within marriage. However, in my opinion, relationships should not exist solely to provide a means for sex. Relationships should be a beautiful tapestry, of which sex is one piece. And within that relationship, sex should only exist with an incredible amount of communication. The communication should be about when people are ready for different stages of sex, what people like and dislike in sex, and at the core of all this communication should be Consent. Our society talks about and does consent VERY poorly (which is why we have such a high rate of sexual violence). That is what the cartoon I posted was getting at.   I very much respect my friend who runs The Consensual Project, which I encourage you to check out. I have learned the most about myself and about sex when I have committed myself to a partner and where we have communicated extensively as we explored each other and our sexuality together.

Sex, though, doesn’t always (and perhaps shouldn’t always) exist in a relationship. Masturbation, for instance, is one aspect of sex that people should experience and not be ashamed of. It is natural, and it helps you to understand your body and your likes and dislikes. That being said, porn and masturbation are often linked, and in my opinion, porn tends to be a very destructive thing. Unfortunately, porn is usually created by men for men, and as such, tends to be really sexist and gives men unhealthy understandings of sex and relationships. I really like the approach of MakeLoveNotPorn. They help people to understand that porn is not sex that we should replicate in our relationships (at least not necessarily). That being said, don’t be ashamed if you have used or do use porn. There is even Feminist Porn out there, though it can be tough to find.  It is natural to want to explore porn. Just remember that it is not often a healthy depiction of sex or relationships.

Also, sex can and often does exist outside of committed relationships. I would be lying if I said that I have only explored sexuality in a committed relationship.  Sex outside of committed relationships can be a great way to connect with another person on a unique level, it can be fun, and it can be another great way to come to know oneself and one’s like and dislikes.  There are risks in sex outside of committed relationships (like there are risks to sex inside of committed relationships).  That is why sex, both in and outside of committed relationships, should be approached with a mind to safety. It should be safe with regards to the use of birth control and Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI) prevention, but it should also be safe with regards to consent. I cannot stress enough how much consent needs to be a part of sex, particularly as people are first getting to know each other and don’t know what the other person is as comfortable with or what they like or dislike.

Growing up Catholic, I also had drilled into me that sex should only occur between a man and a woman. However, I understand sexual attraction much the same way that researcher Alfred Kinsey understands sexual attraction: It is a scale. Some people (though few) are only attracted to one gender. Most people, though, are attracted to many genders.  This is okay! This is natural (there are over 500 species in which homosexuality is found)! If part of your sexual exploration means exploration with people of different genders, that is great and nothing to be ashamed of (so long, again, as it is safe).

Lastly, I think that people should wait to experience sex for as long as possible and as they feel comfortable.  That’s why if people wait for marriage, that is totally great, and there’s not necessarily anything wrong with that.  Sex, for better or for worse, comes with a lot of adult responsibilities (potential for babies and STIs and the connection between sex and one’s very complicated human emotions), and as such, people should try to experience sex once they know they are ready for those responsibilities.  Also, the first time someone has sex, it is best (again) when experienced in a committed, loving relationship.

For more resources, I encourage you to check out The Good Men Project!  They post all sorts of articles relating to being a man and to sex, and they have some great stuff on the topic!

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I’m not the be all end all, though, so I encourage my readers to add to, disagree with, or offer their own perspectives on sex in the comments below so that the young man who approached me can benefit from our common wisdom!!