Saturday, April 20, 2013

My 48-hour training begins

Click to enlarge.
Family Shelter Service DVA training booklet
Note 1: I extend deep gratitude to my lovely friend Amy, who sponsored my training. Though modest, the cost exceeded our budget, and this important work I'm doing would not be possible without her contribution. ♥

Note 2: While I will usually refer to the victims and survivors of domestic violence as female (most are), I recognize, as do the training materials, that many victims are GBT men, and some are heterosexual men. 

My state mandated Domestic Violence Advocacy training (in order to volunteer at the local shelter) began this morning, and already, I'm learning so much. The training is comprised of eight 6-hour sessions, each jam-packed with lectures, notes, role-play, videos, and more. I filled four pages with notes today, even on top of what I was given in handout form. I've made some of the more pithy statements into graphics. Feel free to share/pin/etc if you feel so moved. More below.

I thought ahead and packed a lunch, but after the morning's discussion and in particular the viewing of "Violence: An American Tradition," I found myself too nauseous to eat, which almost never happens to me. Three hours into this 48 hour training, I can tell that it is going to be a hard on me, emotionally and physically. I pre-emptively grabbed tissues after the first hour.

I wonder if maybe this is affecting me too much. How will I be able to hold myself in enough of a calm and professional space to help people if I am so affected by their plight? Then again, how can a compassionate person not be affected by such horrors? Is complete clinical detachment really necessary? If so, I may not be cut out for this work - or maybe the training will help me develop it.

I think it might not be a bad idea to make a standing appointment with a therapist and/or my minister to process this training. It is personal and emotional for me, having grown up for a time in an abusive household. But the experience is also powerfully spiritual. My desire to help the world heal, to be a force for good, is what drew me to Unitarian Universalism in the first place - it's why the principles resonate with me.

And many of the women who enter into the service of this shelter are in need of spiritual care. Religion is often a factor in a woman's hesitancy to leave her abusive spouse. Sometimes the horrors faced in a violent relationship can shatter the faith of a victim. I asked the facilitator whether there are chaplaincy services or spiritual advisers available to the clients. This is something they are working on and I wonder how I can be a part of it. Just like Faith Aloud became very important to me in my work as a clinic escort, because of the affirmative faith-based support they offer to women facing the decision to have an abortion (in fact, that's how I found them - by wondering aloud, to Google, if anyone was providing that service), I can see that domestic violence victims need similar care. They need to hear authoritatively that this treatment of them is not ok, not part of a higher purpose, not their cross to bear. At the very least, they need to be heard by someone who can hold their spiritual selves gently.

I frequently find myself wishing I could fix the world. I'm a fixer - a common thread in domestic violence victims and survivors, as a matter of fact, and likely the case for survivors of direct and indirect childhood violence as well. And, as our facilitator mentioned, it does so often go hand in hand with being a woman. But I need to overcome that desire, to a point. I can't make decisions for people. I can't fix them. I can only support them and empower them, advocate for them, listen to them, be present and knowledgeable. I can be on their side.

So here I am, once again, working toward a lay-ministry of presence, of showing marginalized people that yes, there are others who care, who value you and your life.

In DuPage county, if you, or someone you know, are living in fear of someone you love, please contact Family Shelter Service. Call the 24-hour hotline at (630) 469-5650 to receive critical information and services.

Scroll down for the rest of my graphics from this week's class.

Photo by flickr user SalFalko, used with Creative Commons licensing

All graphic designs made by Mandie McGlynn (me).
Photos were obtained copyright-free from unless otherwise noted.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Our children are "just" themselves

When my oldest child, Quentin, was younger, we knew he was a little different. He was precocious, talked like an adult, and while he loved people, he didn't seem to have any sense of social graces. Since he was only about two, we didn't think too much of it. 

Sometime between ages 2 and 7, my husband and I came across a description of Asperger Syndrome, and it was like a lightbulb went off. "Ohhhh," we thought. "That explains so much about our kid." In what may be typical confirmation bias style, we continued to notice more and more about him that seemed to fit the AS profile. But it was never a big deal, just a way for us to understand him, and we didn't seek a diagnosis because we didn't need one. 

During his seventh year of life, we started to notice that his speech patterns (particularly a "reverse stutter" and halting speech) were starting to interfere in his ability to effectively communicate his thoughts. He seemed anxious, and was having trouble connecting to kids his own age, even though he desperately wanted friends. So we took him to the pediatrician, who referred us to a neurologist (to rule out seizures) and a psychologist (to evaluate for Aspergers or other psychological "disorders"). We came away with an entirely unsurprising diagnosis of Asperger Syndrome. 

Never during this process did we use our suspicions or diagnosis of Quentin's differences to shame him or put a limiting box around him. Even before having him evaluated, knowing how parents with AS were handling some of the more challenging aspects of parenting kids on the spectrum helped us frame our interactions with Quentin in a healthier and more positive way. Once he received a diagnosis, we were able to enroll him in social group therapy which allowed him to begin to understand social expectations and develop skills that helped him form relationships. When we enrolled him in school, his diagnosis was the foundation of an individualized education plan that provided him further social training and tools to alleviate much of his anxiety around the environment.

In short, Quentin's diagnosis was a tool for us as his parents to understand him and his needs, so that we could in turn provide him with the tools he would need to be a functioning, happy person. He's been known to introduce himself to people by saying, "Hi! I'm Quentin. I have Asperger's!" with the same pride another child might say they'd just won a pony at the fair. Sometimes he even follows that up with, "I think I'm the next step in human evolution."

When I wrote earlier this week about our thoughts on my younger child's gender nonconformance, I received overwhelmingly positive feedback. Yet some people seemed concerned. Maybe we're pushing him into a box in which he doesn't belong. Maybe Jude is just Jude. After all, lots of boys like pink. Lots of boys like to wear long hair, or develop close relationships with male friends. 

Well, of course Jude is just Jude. But in the same way that "just Quentin" includes his Asperger's, "just Jude" includes gender nonconformity that may or may not turn out to be a long term part of his personality, that may or may not turn out to be a precursor to his being gay or transgender. I am not trying to put my kid into a box. I'm trying to understand him, so that I can be the best parent possible, so that I can shower him with love he can recognize no matter who he decides to be or love, so that he can grow up happy and secure. Knowing that there are words for this part of his personality (gender fluid, princess boy, pink boy, gender variant) helps me seek out other parents who have experience raising such children. It helps me Google, ok? :) 

And just like Quentin often treats his Asperger's as the gift it mostly is, Jude will often introduce himself to new people by asking, "Did you know I'm a girlboy?" He has no sense of shame in his explorations of personality and gender. And I'm going to do my best to keep it that way, which is what my previous post is all about.

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Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The story of my "cause"

Yesterday morning, as I was scrolling through my Facebook feed, I came across this post, "An Open Letter to the Church from My Generation," pleading with the (Christian) church to be more progressive on LGBTQ issues. I admit that I guffawed a little at the idea that *that* would ever happen, growing up as I did in an extremely conservative Lutheran Church.

When I was twelve years old and in the seventh grade, the pastor of my church taught my co-ed confirmation class, and I have a powerful memory of the class in which he taught that homosexual men and women defecate and urinate on one another to derive sexual pleasure. On Confirmation Sunday, when there were many guests come to see this right of passage, he chose to preach not the gospel, but hellfire and damnation for Gays.

At seventeen, I discovered the Original Soundtrack of the musical RENT, and the culture shock I experienced cannot be overstated. I think I listened twice before I realized that Angel (my favorite character, by far) was, in fact, a cross-dressing gay man. It (along with greater exposure to the World At Large) was a step in my slow transition from conservative-minded to open-minded and eventually, in my adulthood, to what I like to call pinko-hippie-liberal (and, not coincidentally, a Unitarian Universalist).

In the midst of coffee and conversation with a friend last week, it came out that the LGBTQ fight for equality and acceptance is one of my personal "causes." She asked why, I'm sure expecting a story of gay friends or family. But you know, I didn't really have such a story. When I became a surrogate, I decided that I would choose to work exclusively with gay couples, because many surrogates outright refuse to work with anyone but a straight couple or individual, and I felt gay couples deserved as much as anyone else the chance for biological family. But at that point, I already felt strongly about LGBTQ equality.

Regardless of its cause, I'm coming to see my seemingly random change of heart about LGBTQ people and their lives as nothing short of grace. I describe myself as agnostic or at the very least nontheist, but sometimes I DO feel like there is an invisible hand guiding my life. Maybe it's just luck.


As I continued reading the Open Letter blog post, I came to the music video of Macklemore's song, "Same Love." About halfway through, my youngest child, J, climbed into my lap and asked me to start it over. As I watched it again, with J on my lap - this child who is so sweet and good and full of hope and love and all of the good things in the world - I cried. I cried for J's innocence. I cried imagining MY CHILD bullied and tormented and 8.5 times more likely to attempt suicide than other children. I cried and I kissed my baby's face and hair and told my child "I love you. I love you. I love you."

This wasn't just random imaginings on my part. You see, J is extremely gender nonconforming. I would even go so far as to call J gender fluid (before I knew there was such a term - thank you, Google - I made up my own word and described J as flex-gendered). It's not just that my kid likes wearing
cross-gender hairstyles and fashion. It's not that J's play is particularly gender-variant (actually, J's play is pretty gender-stereotypical). It's not even just that J has "married" a same-sex church-friend. It's more that J self-identifies as a "girlboy... or a boygirl" in addition to gender-variant tastes and preferences.

Could this be a phase? Sure. But given the length of time this has been going on, and that it's gotten more and not less pronounced over time, it's unlikely that J will grow up to be both cisgender and straight. In fact, studies show that between 60-85% of boys (specifically, there is less correlation for girls) who exhibit this sort of gender variant behavior grow up to be bisexual, gay, or transgendered.
"Green (1974, 1987) has conducted the most comprehensive prospective study of boys with marked patterns of childhood cross-gender behavior. This study contained a sample of 66 feminine and 56 control boys assessed initially at a mean age of 7.1 years (range = 4–12 years). About two thirds of the boys in each group were followed long enough so that their sexual orientation could be assessed in late adolescence (M = 18.9 years; range = 14–24 years). Data from a semistructured clinical interview were used to rate sexual orientation in fantasy and behavior on Kinsey, Pomeroy, and Martin's (1948, pp. 636–641) 7-point sexual orientation continuum, where 0 = exclusive heterosexuality and 6 = exclusive homosexuality. Depending on the measure (fantasy or behavior), 75%–80% of the previously feminine boys were either bisexual or homosexual (Kinsey ratings of 2–6) at follow- up as compared with 0%–4% of the control boys.
"Green's (1987) results were similar to those of six other follow-up reports of boys who displayed marked cross- gender behavior (Bakwin, 1968; Davenport, 1986; Kosky, 1987; Lebovitz, 1972; Money & Russo, 1979; Zuger, 1984)...Because a strong empirical link between childhood sex-typed behavior and sexual orientation has been established for men in both prospective and retrospective studies, it is likely to be genuine."

Maybe I didn't have a story, a "why" to go along with my strong feelings about LGBTQ rights and equality, but I do now.  When you speak, or even think, about gay men or transgender women, there is every possibility that you are speaking of the hopeful future of this sweet little person in my lap. That if you feel hate or disgust, these eyes are the ones that will fill with tears. That if you try to keep away basic human rights, to prevent sanctioned love and connection, that it is MY BABY whose heart you are breaking. That when you speak words of hate that filter down to the next generation, my child will bear the abuse that flows from them.

If my son grows up to be my daughter, or if my little boy grows up to be a man who loves men, will you think less of him, of me? Will you try to change his beautiful heart?

Addendum: If you think I'm jumping to conclusions or otherwise boxing my child in, please read this follow-up.

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