Saturday, June 7, 2014

RAGING NON-CONFORMISTS (re-post)




*This post was our first-ever, published on February 28, 2009. 

The post is an email dialog, between myself and my good friend Gregg, about the decision to medicate his son. Or, to not medicate his son. That is the question, still, today, and so we find this post disturbingly relevant.


-----Original Message-----



From: Gregg
Sent: Sunday, February 15, 2009 8:19 PM
To: Lisa
Subject: RE: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/15/health/research/15psych.html

Lisa,

Found another article about the dangers of medicating children and the lack of drug testing. 

Sent it to B, probably shouldn't have, but during our last conversation she mentioned putting P back on medication. I, of course, said no.  I respond to this drug stuff pretty much through emotion and gut feeling. Turns out, I was probably right intellectually as well.

We have a whole generation (maybe even 2 generations) of kids being drugged up to conform.  Now we hear about all the dangers. How do we hold the doctors accountable for prescribing this crap without even knowing the full story?  When I was growing up, no one was drugged and everybody dealt with the kid that didn't conform. Why don't we have the patience now to do the same?

Gregg

-------------- Original message ----------------------
G,

Don't you think that's a little harsh, "drugged up to conform"?  I know real children that really benefit from the effects of these medications, children who could not even make it through a school day without the assistance of these pharmaceuticals.

I know your personal experience makes you question the use of these, but why deny help or denigrate the doctors and parents that do the research and make that choice for their own children? Especially when the benefits are overwhelmingly apparent.

L

-------------- Original message ----------------------

L,

I don't think it’s harsh for 90% of the population that vary slightly from the "norm."  I realize there are children, and adults, that benefit from use of pharmaceuticals to help them get through the day and calm themselves to be able to participate in everyday life.

However, I believe that the vast majority of child prescription drug users do not need the medication. Pills are pushed, by therapists and psychiatrists, onto parents that don't do any research but take the word of the professionals.  Any child that varies from the norm — in pre-school, school, on the playground — is subject to this treatment. While I realize that teachers are can be overburdened with a large number of kids in their classrooms, it seems that the norm has changed from when I was a kid.  Any sort of variance results in innumerable parent-teachers conferences and trips to the therapist, school counselor, etc.  Invariably, some sort of diagnosis is handed down and medication is recommended. 

What's a parent to do?  Do we all have time during the day to get our kid from school? Go to conferences?  No.  So we drug 'em up.  Schools want an army of well-behaved clones, strictly regimented, all-conforming to an ideal.  Were we all drugged up when I was young? Nope. Teachers, parents and other kids just learned to deal with the recalcitrant ones, the strange and weird kids, the troublemakers. 

Why does it seem impossible to work with these non-conforming kids today? Why should we want our kids to conform, become an automaton?  I don't think we should and, unfortunately, this decision makes for a very interesting time.  As you mentioned, my son is one of the non-conformists (although others would probably use harsher words to describe him).  He is extremely intelligent — measurably and anecdotally.  Many times, he is smarter than his teachers and can use this against them . . . and does.  He can easily manipulate teachers and counselors in order to get what he wants, which usually is to leave school and spend the day at home.  Of course, school bores him and he rarely does class work or homework, aces his tests, but still gets poor grades because of the lack of work.  From what I understand, during class he finds it difficult to be quiet, has trouble raising his hand to talk and generally causes disruptions. 

From first grade, his diagnoses have been ADD, ADHD, Oppositional/Confrontational disorder, Asperger's, and others I don't remember. Each time, the therapists and psychiatrists have prescribed a different combination of medications. He's been on Zyprexa, Risperdol, Adderall, Concerta, Ritalin, Wellbutrin, Strattera, Depakote, Paxil, Zoloft and others in combination and alone.  None changed his behavior in beneficial ways.

None made him pay more attention, keep quiet, stay still, and conform.  He did, however, suffer serious side affects — weight gain, weight loss, sleeplessness, lethargy, mood swings. So, he never had a diagnosis that “stuck,” all were "educated guesses" by the professionals.  The prescriptions were also "guesses" — we changed doses, strength, combinations — all guesses. 

Now we learn that most of these drugs have not even been tested on children. We don't know the long-term effects that they can have on them.  How can anyone possibly, consciously subject his or her child to these "educated guesses?"  My son's mother bought the doctors' lines and rather than pick another fight with her, the school and all the other professionals, I went along. 



Now he is living with me and his mother is far away. He is no longer on any medication.  Amazingly, his behavior has not changed.  Can you believe it?  The drugs had no effect on him and the lack of drugs hasn't turned him into a monster.  Conforming in school is still not easy and he has lapses. I get phone calls.  I get to leave the office early and get him.  I have conferences. The school and I have "behavior plans."  All of this is better than having a drugged up robot living with me.

At his last report card pick-up, one teacher put it best: "School is mostly about conformity.  We teach these kids to conform to get them prepared for later life.  Your son does not conform.  He is very smart — when I need someone to jump-start a discussion or answer a question no one else knows, I turn to him.  I always know that he will start an interesting discussion or know the answer. Sometimes I need to rein him in because the other kids have no idea what he is talking about.  School just isn't for him.  We'll help him get through it and then let him find his niche.  He'll probably go on to do something great." 

In some ways, this was comforting to hear.  On the other hand, he's only a freshman.

G

-------------- Original message ----------------------
G,

"On the other hand, he's only a freshman." Ai yi yi!

Listen, it's difficult for me to discuss this openly with you and not acknowledge my personal feelings — I consider your son my godchild.  I've known P since he was born and I love him dearly. You and The Wife, B, were two of our closest friends.

Your son did distinguish himself from an early age — his incredible memory for details, his precocious vocabulary, his ability to understand complex games, situations and emotions — were all well beyond his years. Do you remember his comment about the cause of the Iraq War (the first one)? "It's the oil, dummy!" he said in response to some commentary on NPR.  He was seven.

You two were possibly the most loving and dedicated parents we had ever witnessed. And among the first of our friends to be parents.  You set the bar high.  B nursed him for what, a year? More? When he started solids she pureed fresh, whole foods in the Cuisenaire.  She made all his clothes — funky, original, terrific shirts, jackets, and hats — that he loved and loved to wear.

On the weekends we often ran into you and P coming from the museum, or the park, or the city, or some other great adventure, P riding confidently on your shoulders.  He was healthy, well loved, well cared for and a delightful kid to be with, really.

Honestly, I can't remember the sequence of events, the exact circumstances that led to his diagnosis.  I think it was after he started pre-school.  I do remember asking you if the doctors were aware of how very, very smart he was, and the connection between social issues and high IQ's in young children.

I remember your search for answers and the pain you BOTH experienced in trying to understand and help P.

G, you can't have it both ways!  You say B "bought the doctor's lines," but she was and is a well-educated, well-read, thoughtful person who was trying to help her son. And even if you disagreed with the various suggested treatments, you gave your consent!

ALSO, as involved as you were in his care from minute one, she was the daily, primary caregiver. She was earnestly looking for peace, for her son, and herself. She wanted, just as you did, for him to get along in this world — to make friends, connect with his family, and be happy.  That's not conforming.

(Okay, hope this doesn't piss you off!)

xxx000xxx

L

-------------- Original message ----------------------

L,

Yes, she was the primary caregiver. And she had to listen to the complaints from school every day (EVERY day).  I understood her frustration at the time, and, with her, attempted to fight the powers that be.  It was very, very difficult and, I believe, too much for B to face every day — and so, she gave up.  We attempted to work with the teachers, the counselors, the principal, the therapists, the psychiatrists, and on and on and on.  As I wrote earlier, P was never officially diagnosed with anything.  We'd try out different diagnoses to get the "right" medications.  If that didn't work, we'd try a different diagnosis.

All this leads me to believe two things: (1) Teachers are overworked and overwhelmed and not trained or supported to deal with any child who may need extra attention and (2) child therapy, psychiatry and medications are nothing but snake oil in an overwhelming number of cases.

A couple of really dedicated teachers have been able to work with P and us to get him to be able to function pretty "normally" day to day.  These teachers — maybe two in primary school — were able to spend time speaking with B and me (very important for them to know our input, what works for P and what doesn't and to let us know what works for them in the class so we can pass it on). 

They also were firm but fair with P.  They saw his good points and attempted to capitalize on them, use them to make P feel better about himself and, therefore, be less of a nuisance in class.  These were exceptional teachers fighting against their own restrictive rules, poor pay and long hours.  It's too bad we don't nurture all teachers to help them do a job that they really started off believing in and loving.

No therapy, psychiatry or drugs ever helped P.  He never got a proper diagnosis because there is nothing wrong to diagnose. The Dr.s all played with P and his issues. Experimented with combinations of medications hoping that one group would work.  When he suffered terrible side effects, they just added another medication to counteract it. Games.

Now, we learn that the medications were never approved for children. We have no idea the long-term damage they may have done.

How many kids these days are being medicated? From anecdotal reports — millions.  Millions of kids weren't medicated when I was young.  And, although you are in a different, younger generation than I, I bet millions weren't medicated when you were young either.  What changed?

A friend of mine says Pop-Tarts changed the world and started us off in the wrong direction.  When Pop-Tarts arrived, we no longer sat around the breakfast table each morning. We didn't eat breakfast together and start off our day communally.  We lost patience. Everything began to have to be done quickly — we could eat on the go.  Soon, everything became more efficient, quicker, less time consuming.  We all lost patience — in every part of our lives. We no longer are able to accept the non-conforming, out of the ordinary, time-consuming issues.  We drug our children to make things easier for ourselves.  It is incredibly selfish and shortsighted.


-------------- Original message ----------------------
G,

Now, now, let’s not malign Pop-Tarts!  They weren’t agents of change, but rather symptoms of the larger, cultural shift that had already taken place.

Once we moved from agricultural communities to industrial-based ones, the shape and pace of family life was altered forever.  As people became slaves to artificial time constraints — i.e., the dictates of our employer-overlords, rather than the natural rhythms of nature and light and dark — we had to drastically reduce the time spent preparing and consuming meals with our families.

Then, we began sending our children out into the world to get the education they once received at home, a mimic of our Industrial work model.  (Which, by the way, is slowly being changed back, with the ‘work-at-home’ movement.  Ironically now our children commute while we stay home.)  When parents were the teachers, variables in learning abilities and personal eccentricities were already known and therefore accepted or, at least, more easily tolerated. 

The conformity that school requires in unavoidable, it’s dictated by the volume of children in attendance.  Without strict rules of behavior chaos would ensue.  And you’re right, our education system does not nurture, encourage or support individual relationships between teachers and students — there’s not enough time. 

Now, tie the requirements for federal funding for schools to performance on standardized tests (the infamous Leave No Dollar Behind policy) and you’ve effectively destroyed any remaining autonomy and creative freedom a teacher needs in order to adapt their methods and curriculum to the children placed before them each year.

Wow.

You might be right after all.

If you create a system that is wholly dependent on the mass conformity of adults and children, you might go to any length to defend it, including drugging up those raging non-conformists in the first grade.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Mother Love

Today, I am lucky. The two most important females in my life are here with me for Mother's Day. My mother, still sleeping. My daughter, perched besides me as I write this.

I'll never forget what my mother said as she held my daughter in her arms for the first time; "Lisa, it's like holding you again!"

Watching my mother, and my mother-in-law Ann (God rest her soul), gaze at their granddaughter was always a delight. I'd never seen such absolute joy on any one's face. Free from the day to day worry of taking care of this particular baby, their love flowed, unrestrained.

In my daughter was the love they held for their own babies, multiplied ten thousand times.

No love is perfect. Not even a mother's love, or a grandmother's. Mistakes are made. Patterns, repeated. But what my mother and my mother-in-law, and my own experience of motherhood has taught me is this: a mother's love is a continuum. It endures. It learns something new from each mistake, from each generation, and it evolves. It grows and grows, and is passed forward with each new baby.

A mother knows her love is not perfect but she never loses hope, never stops trying, that she will one day get it right.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Me, My Selfie and I

Yeah, yeah. I know.

Jezebel has condemned them and they've been thoroughly trounced in a pop song, but still I must confess: I love Selfies.  As Elton John might sing, a Selfie saved my life (tonight).

* * * * * *

When I was a little girl my mother would cut herself out of our family photos. Our albums were filled with dozens of strange pictures with mom-shaped holes on either the right or the left, or smack in the middle of the milky print. Back then you couldn't edit photos easily. Once you dropped off your roll of film at the drugstore there wasn't much you could do but wait. You couldn't check the camera or take a hundred digital do-overs before choosing what image of yourself you considered worthy of memory.

My mother, absolutely beautiful then and now.
My mother was then, and is now (in my eyes and in eyes of the world), a beautiful woman. Unfortunately, editing photos with a scissor was not her only form of self-critique. There was also plenty of negative self-talk in front of the mirror or to her friends, a practice both widely expected and accepted by all the grown-up women in my life. Talk also included declarations of certain foods as 'good' or 'bad', singling out hatred for specific parts of their bodies, and the latest cures for fixing 'the problem', like diets, exercise, surgery or pills.

This photo of my pre-pubescent self somehow made the cut.
I'm sure it's no surprise to any woman (or man) who suffers from body and image issues that I internalized the negative self-talk which permeated my personal and public cultures. Or that the negative feelings extended well beyond my physical features. A life-long, love-hate relationship with myself began in my teens as my weight moved up and down the BMI charts. I too began editing my image in the world. I didn't use a scissor, instead I would simply throw 'bad' photos away or not have my picture taken, at all. I also developed this odd tic where I couldn't look at myself in the mirror if someone else was in the room. Alone with a mirror I didn't have to hide the displeasure that seeing my body, or face, provoked. I hid this way for years, in plain sight. Until I had a daughter.

Mirror, mirror in my arms. I clumsily Photoshopped my complexion here because I loved this photo so much.
Oh the big, blue eyes of my little mirror. They followed me everywhere; to the pantry where I hid a package of cookies, to Old Navy, where I desperately sought a pair of pants that fit my post-mommy form. To my bedroom mirror where I turned and twisted and tried to find a version of myself that I liked. She was watching. She was listening. She was learning. The day I realized that I was teaching my daughter how to hate herself was sobering. It started me down the road to getting help for my disordered eating and self-loathing, a road I still happily walk.

First Selfie, red filter, via Instagram.
Learning self-love and self-acceptance as an adult takes time. I made great progress but there remained the matter of the photos, finding the courage to literally look myself in the eye, alone, or with other people watching. The social web gave me the opportunity to overcome this fear. Numerous platforms, including Twitter, were asking me to upload a profile pic. I took my iPhone and starting shooting. I settled on the image above, choosing a red filter to mask the rosacea that seemed to bother no one but me. I used this photo liberally for the past four years, happy enough to let my tentative smile and odd, red glow represent me on the web.


The inclusion this year of my essay in The Good Mother Myth marked a new level of self-acceptance. I felt tremendous pride in contributing to this remarkable anthology that asked us to confront the myth of what makes a good mother, and Avital, our editor, was asking for self-portraits with book. There would be no filter for this photo, only the natural light of my bedroom. I didn't put on any make-up and I doubt I had brushed my hair. For the first time in my forty-something years, I had reached a point where I truly liked myself on the inside, which was reflecting back on the outside — and I had a photo to prove it.

A Selfie a day keeps the negative self-talk away.
I grew emboldened, even trying my hand at a few self-boudoir pics (with filter, yes!). It was incredibly liberating. I found out that a good friend had discovered the same secret and we played I'll Show You Mine IYSMY. Her photos made me cry. I had always seen her beauty. To see her fully embrace herself was thing of joy. 

I Selfie, therefore I am.
I've found that one good Selfie leads to another and I'll continue to experiment with the form. I've also discovered that self-love doesn't mean you're suddenly perfect. I still screw up, almost daily — but I accept myself now, warts and all. I found the courage to examine my character defects as thoroughly as my diet and to find my own voice. I no longer blindly ingest the criticism, guilt or shame that is still dished out daily to women in American culture and abroad.

You are invited to cross this post off as yet another self-indulgent musing of a middle-aged blogger with an Irish complexion. There are bigger problems in the world that beg solving. I agree. But the pernicious attack on the psyche of girls begins in the home, telling them they are too fat, too ugly, too dark, too stupid, too fragile, too weak to succeed, or be of value. Too too whatever, yet never enough. The bias against girls is reflected back to us in our magazines, our movies, our music, our politics, our female teenage suicide rates and the still ridiculously low percentage of women as leaders in business and government. Fat is still a feminist issue, and self-loathing is a public health problem that leads to many ills.


My struggle to quiet the negative voices in my head has been absolutely worth it, as evidenced by the thousands of proud Selfies I find on my phone, taken by my now ten year old daughter. She loves herself on and off camera and isn't afraid to look herself, or the world, in the eye. I hope it stays that way beyond high school. I will do everything in my power, including producing plenty more audacious displays of self-love, to keep it thus.







Wednesday, December 4, 2013

WHAT IS 'THE MODERN VILLAGE'?

The roles of mothers and fathers have changed dramatically in the past three decades.

In 1975, when I was ten, my father went to work while my mother stayed home to take care of my two brothers, our big suburban house and me.  This arrangement was pretty standard practice from house to house in our neighborhood.

Today, when I look around my own suburban town I see a very different dynamic.  More women are going to work to support themselves and their families.  More and more men are taking an active role in the daily care of their children, some staying home altogether.  Today, the title of “head of household” is more likely to rotate based on need and ability, rather than gender.

In addition, the families around me are being created, combined, and reconfigured in a multitude of ways, including through adoption or remarriage. Today’s families are a splendid mix of cultural backgrounds, of religious and racial complexity, and of educational, political and economic diversity.

What’s been gained seems obvious — greater freedom and satisfaction for everyone.

But what’s been lost is not so easy to recognize.

In the decade since I became a parent, and made it my business to talk to and about parents, I’ve observed a common problem: families don’t feel truly connected to their communities.

It used to be that your community came with the three-bedroom house you bought.  Your Village came with your backyard, or front stoop, and that village often included grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins.  By virtue of location, one could assume that you and your neighbors shared a certain set of values, block by socio-economic block.  There was daily and weekly contact with your neighbors, too, and kids played together in the street without adult mediation.

Now, it’s not unusual to live many miles away from where you were born and raised. Or for your siblings, parents or extended family to have moved far from you. Now, when mom and dad need a break there’s no relief in sight that doesn’t come with a fee.

Community building is hard work

Particularly when the previous, traditional points of community contact — the school yard, grocery
store, church or temple — won’t do anymore, because both mom and dad are working, or because five kids on any given block attend five different schools and a multitude of different after-school activities. It’s hard to feel connected when your next-door neighbors are having very different, daily experiences. Even getting your entire family together in the same place at the same time, more than one night a week, seems impossible!

These increased choices as to how and where we live and where our kids attend school are changing the very nature of our villages.

An increase of choices in how and where we work has changed our village, too.

Many moms and dads now work from home, and it is their children that do the commuting. But even working from home is no guarantee that you’ll know your neighbors because it’s often a single, solitary affair punctuated by trips to Staples or the post office, in your car.

The way our children make friends has changed, too, often having to accommodate a working parent’s schedule.  My friend’s children became my daughter’s friends in large part because that’s whom I chose to spend my free time with. Because we didn’t live on the same block, or even around the corner she couldn’t simply go outside to find her friends; it was up to her Dad and I to nurture her friendships. This included lots of drop-offs and pick-ups, long play-dates and sleepovers.

It narrowed the number of friendships my daughter could make on her own, and required a deeper commitment on our part, and on the part of the other parents, to make it work.

Building your Modern Village

Without immediate family around, or the ready-made community of yesterday, contemporary parents need to build their villages from scratch.

Parents must foster friendships with other parents and families, some who will become surrogate family members, and they also need the help of babysitters, teachers, tutors and therapists. Making these connections requires time, energy and research. Turning these connections  — which are part employer-employee and part familial — into your sustainable network requires an entirely new set of skills.

I created The Modern Village to teach and share these skills with parents and caregivers.

Our programs feature the best local and national experts in the parenting space. They offer parents, and caregivers, the information, tools and strategies needed to successfully build and navigate our increasingly complex, modern villages.

Program topics include:

• how to create strong relationships with your caregiver
• how to help your son or daughter manage their anxiety
• the best habits for healthy technology consumption
• the importance of speech and language development for learning and living well
• how to navigate separation, divorce and remarriage
• how to increase your and your kids' scientific literacy

and much, much more.

Our overarching mission is to increase the social and emotional health of today’s families. Presently workshops are being offered in the NYMetro area, with podcasts, webinars and  live-streamed classes coming in 2014.

Visit our website for more details and a description of all our classes.

— Lisa Duggan

Friday, June 7, 2013

MAMMAS, DON’T LET YOUR BABIES GROW UP TO BE UNHAPPY, REPRESSED COWBOYS by Angelo Andreatos


Becoming a parent forces you to examine your deeply held beliefs; it can also force you to confront your deeply held prejudices. 

We want to teach our children tolerance and love, but what if we suspect they might be gay — can we practice what we preach?

ANGELO ANDREATOS wants to have a word or two with all parents in the hopes of saving everyone a lot of heartache.

This article was originally published in the May 2006 issue of The MotherHood magazine. It is reprinted here with loving permission from the author.


************************

WHAT IF you start noticing that your son always washes his hands, or desperately wants to soon after getting them dirty? What if all the men of your family gather talking in one room, but your boy always winds up in another room, with the women? What if your ten year-old son asks if it’s okay to love his friend Kennie? What if your son goes to the football game with his older male cousin and, when the girls in the stands form a kickline, he joins in and kicks just as high (or even higher) than the girls? And he has a blast doing it, because he’s too young to be conscious of gender issues?

What if you suspect your child is going “over the rainbow”? Could your love follow?

What is it like to have a gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender child? My mother told me when I was quite young: “Mommy and Daddy will always love you, no matter what — you can come to us with anything and it’ll be ok.” And: “There isn’t anything you could ever say to us that would make us stop loving you.”

I first came to grips with being gay about twenty-four years ago. I started dating my first boyfriend when I was twenty-two, although I didn’t verbalize my sexuality to my family for several more years. But I brought my boyfriend to their house anyway. I was proud of him, proud of me. I was happy to be bitten by the love bug. When I did come out it was dramatic — like when Scarlet pulls the carrot out of the ground and declares, “I swear I’ll never be hungry again!” (Or was it something about birthing babies?) In any event, I was Scarlet, and it definitely was a scene.

Since then I’ve been told by these same parents, the people who are supposed to love me the most in the world, that (a) I’m abnormal, and (b) my partner is not on an equal level to my sister’s husband. In fact, on several occasions they have described Stephen — my partner of fourteen years — as a “friend of the family.”

In my mother’s eyes there is a pre-gay Angelo, and he’s only a memory to be conjured up when reminiscing about loved ones who have moved onto the next world — the world of the dead.  My parents, and possibly my sister too, mourn the death of “the straight Angelo”.

Does my family really believe there is a pre-gay Angelo? 

I’ve come to realize that if parents have spent any time at all with their child – even one day – they will know that their child is gay long before the child figures it out. Whether or not the parents choose to accept that reality will determine how much pain everyone will feel — how much therapy & Edy’s ice cream will be needed.

What if my parents had chosen to accept the fact that I was gay? What if I had the chance to tell them how they should have treated me when I came out to them, and how they should treat me today? Perhaps the tears my parents and I cried don’t have to be in vain, and will serve you. Perhaps there don’t have to be so many tears — perhaps none at all.

Well, this article is my chance. So here goes:

Don’t love us any less. That’s my plea.

Don’t grieve for yourself, or your child. Love your child no differently than you did before you realized they were gay. All children need these things to grow: unconditional love, respect, acceptance and support. The unconditional part is most crucial.

A child’s need for unconditional love is just as basic as the need for food and water.

Love your child.

Never treat your gay child differently than you do your other children. Instruct your other children not to change the way they treat their gay sibling. Tell all of your children that as long as they live under your roof, you’ll put up with no less. And while you’re at it, let your extended family know that you will not tolerate any mistreatment of your child. Your child’s emotional health should be more important than what anyone else thinks.

Just love your child.

I know you mean well, but don’t pressure your boys to play baseball, or football, or hockey, if they don’t want to play. It’s not the end of the world for you, or them. Support them in participating in any school activity or civic organization that they do like.

Remember that your child is not sick and does not need to see a shrink. If you’re having a problem dealing with your child’s sexuality, take yourself to a therapist.

However, you may ask your son or daughter if they would like to see a therapist. Not because they’re crazy, but as a means of support in navigating a cruel and biased world. Explore with your child the many support groups that exist, like The Gay/Straight Alliance and P-Flag: Parents, Families & Friends of Lesbians and Gays. (See list below for additional resources.)


Explain that they need to start forming their own support networks. When they come out to the world, they might start losing friends. Let them know that you will always be there for them. Mean it.

Love your child.

Stay strong, be a role model for your entire family. It’s not easy growing up with very few positive gay role models, although there are more today than ever before. But love from one’s parents will always mean more than anything a role model can provide. And you could wind up being a role model for another friend or family member facing a similar situation.

Parents, family members — you did not make your child gay.

Your child is not gay to spite you or the rest of your family. Which brings me to my final point, on the question of choice. As a gay man the only choice I’ve ever had was the choice between accepting my sexual orientation and denying it. And to deny it would have been tragic and suicidal. I could have gotten married — fought over who was going to wear the dress, had 2.5 children — and totally screwed up everyone’s life.

Parents: love your children. Proudly, whole-heartedly.

Tell them to hold their head up high and think no less of themselves because of their sexuality.

It’s not going to be easy. But what’s the alternative? To lose your son or daughter, forever?

Just love your child.

************************


FINDING SUPPORT IN YOUR COMMUNITY
There are many local and national support groups for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender teens and families. Following is a partial list.

These groups were found on The New Jersey Coalition for Gay & Lesbian Youth website.
To find support groups in your area, we recommend searching under “gay support groups + city name".


Gay and Lesbian Political Action and Support Group offers an opportunity for individuals in isolated areas to be politically active and establish support groups where they are needed.
 
NJ Lesbian and Gay Coalition offer resources for LGBT youth. Helpline numbers, housing information, legal resources, physical health agencies, etc. are incorporated in this site. Call 732-828-6772.

HiTOPS is a New Jersey organization that offers health services and group support resources for people ages 13 to 26. They developed two support groups called “First & Third” and “PFLAG” for the LGBTQ youth and their loved ones.

Hetrick Martin Institute, Newark is based on the services for LGBTQ youth operated for over 30 years by the Hetrick-Martin Institute in New York City. Offering counseling and crisis management, health and wellness programming, academic enrichment, job readiness and arts and cultural programming, HMI has implemented its first out-of-state direct service program.

The Pride Center of New Jersey offers numerous social, supportive, educational, entertaining, and fun events and groups for the LGBTIQQ community every month.
 
Garden State Equality is an organization dedicated to bringing same-sex marriage equality to New Jersey. It is the organizer of campaigns, primarily to get the legislature to pass a marriage equality bill and to accumulate enough votes in the legislature to override a gubernatorial veto.

NJ Gay Life gives a listing of local events happening throughout New Jersey to connect the LGBTQ community members. Also this website provides an online directory of New Jersey businesses as well as a support group calendar that is organized by issues and geographic locations.
 
Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) is a national non-profit organization located in Washington, DC. The non-profit provides support for the health and well-being of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons, their families and friends. It offers support, online information, events and programs, as well as scholarships and advocacy opportunities.

The Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN) is dedicated to make sure that students in schools are being respected regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity and/or expression. The network strives to create school settings that valued differences for a more powerful and diverse community.

Equality Federation is a national alliance of state-based lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender advocacy organizations.

Human Rights Campaign (HRC)
 advocates on behalf of GLBT Americans, mobilizes grassroots actions in diverse communities, invests strategically to elect fair-minded individuals to office and educates the public about GLBT issues.

Outreach to At-Risk Youth (OTARY): The OTARY program is designed to prevent crime/juvenile delinquency and deter gang involvement by providing enhanced recreation, vocational, educational, outreach and/or supportive services to youth ages 13 to 18, with the option to serve youth until age 21.  The programs are located in communities with demonstrated high crime and gang violence. These programs have a proven track record of making a difference in the lives of youth, including “at-risk” youth.  The programs are open to youth regardless of their involvement with DCF.


In New York City:
The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Center
208 West 13th St.
New York, NY 10011
Phone: (212) 620-7310
Deaf and hearing impaired callers can reach the Center through the NY State Relay Service: (800) 662-1220 (TDD/TTY) (800) 421-1220 (voice) Email: info@gaycenter.org
Web: http://www.gaycenter.org

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

LESSONS OF A RED-HEADED WARRIOR by Lisa Duggan


This essay originally appeared in Issue #4, 2006, The MotherHood Magazine.  


Saturday morning, 1978.  


My brother Tony and I sit at the kitchen table eating bowl after bowl of sugary cereal. We are reading every superhero comic book in his vast collection. I am careful not to bend back the covers as we pass the books back and forth over the table. 

Suddenly in my hands is a comic I’ve never seen before. I stare in disbelief at the cover of Red Sonja #1. A fierce looking red-headed female warrior in a chainmail bikini. Big hips, bigger breasts and a sword raised triumphantly to the sky. While Tony is engrossed in a new storyline, I sneak Red Sonja inside my bathrobe and slip quietly down the hallway to my bedroom.

I lock the door, take off all my clothes and stare in the mirror, comparing my newly forming body to her picture on the cover. I’m thirteen and pleased to see that puberty is drawing my curves along the same lines as those in the book. I look in my closet for something resembling a chainmail bikini. I don’t yet have a collection of bras, but now need them, and getting dressed is a problem. As I’m pulling every piece of clothing I own out of my closet, I experience a defining moment of womanhood: for the first time I declare in disgust: “I have nothing to wear!


Today my battles with clothing are largely relegated to getting a three and a half year-old dressed in time for pre-school. “I’m ready Mommy!” she declares, standing before me in badly stained pink pants, clashing orange-striped t-shirt and ballet slippers on the wrong feet. “I am so pretty!” We’re late (again) and I pause before I start to correct her. So what if she’s wearing slippers and it’s raining? So what if her hair is combed only in the front and clumps together in a large knot in the back of her little head? She’s making choices and learning to care for herself. 

Will I be able to sustain my tolerance for a mismatched, knotty-haired appearance when she’s older? The question disturbs me. I know that choosing how to dress is an important and powerful act of self- determination for girls. I can encourage Alice to be proud of her body just as it is and tell her that it doesn’t really matter what she looks like — but can I say it with any conviction?

Fitting into the right clothes in the right size has been a life-long source of anxiety for me. Puberty directed my brothers to eat my parents out of house and home and at 5’10” and 6’2” they pleasantly fulfilled the notion of growing boys. But the rapid changes in my body were welcomed less enthusiastically. An increase in flesh meant hips and breasts. Although I was not overweight as a young teenager, my brothers’ repertoire of nicknames for me included “fatty,” “hippo,” “thunder thighs,” and “Orca” — as in “Orca The Whale”. My mother began each morning with a scrutiny of my attire and a furiously whispered admonishment to “Go put on a bra!” Everyone seemed uncomfortable with my new form and so I was, too.

When puberty bestows growth and mass on boys, it denotes power and strength. But for women it’s the opposite. A girl’s increase in flesh signals fertility and a new level of vulnerability. It also invites new standards by which she’ll be judged in her particular class & culture. Although 90 percent of the kids on my block were of Italian heritage, we played to the same you-can-never-be-too-thin American aesthetic as the rest of the country. My post-pubescent body might have conformed nicely to the historical standards for women in Italy, but on my block I simply had a fat ass.



Throughout history two things have always been true: (1) being born female was the single most determining factor of your life and (2) your beauty and your virtue would be the most important commodities you possessed. An intact virtue ensured a good marriage and a good marriage could elevate the entire family, so everyone was invested in its protection. Clothing was an important clue to the state of a woman’s virginity. Proper women did not put their wares on display.

Beauty was more of a crapshoot as there was not much to be done if a girl was con- sidered plain or ugly. A woman’s beauty was her only source of power, income and exchange so it had to conform to the demands of the market. The body was the commodity and the woman had better measure up or she’d be “left on the shelf.” Or returned to the discount rack.



In our part of the world, this is no longer true. So why was the size and shape of my butt such an issue at thirteen and why is it still an issue today?


Women are no longer dependent upon well-made marital alliances for their for- tunes, so beauty and virtue have simply become fashionable accessories. But our individual and group consciousness has yet to catch up with this new reality. We continue to perpetuate the fairy tale that Beauty is the key to a woman’s fortune every time we read Cinderella or Snow White to our children.


Collectively, we have internalized the ideal that Beauty=Success, so no matter the level of academic or economic achieve- ment, a woman can still manage to feel like a failure.
I am convinced that this awful double message has contributed to the rise in the number of diagnosed eating disorders today. Perhaps women are playing out the battle between accepting or rejecting that message right in their own flesh — a corporeal Eff-you to society’s imposed standards for them.


Which brings me back to my heroine, Red Sonja.


Red Sonja wasn’t using that incredibly drawn body of hers to advance in the world. She was using her brains and her brawn. She possessed the only two acces- sories a woman truly needs — armor and a sword. Her sword and the ability to wield it made the issue of her looks a moot point. With it, she determined for herself the entire course of her life — her level of income (she was a mercenary) and if and when she would procreate. That sword was her bank account and birth control in one instrument.


Red Sonja made a lasting impression on me but I still work hard to eradicate this notion of an Absolute Beauty Value from my own head. I’m going to have to show Alice rather than tell her that beauty comes in all forms. Perhaps the best place to start is with my own body. Embrace my backside just as it is.


I’ll also read stories to her that include real heroines who go to school and work hard to achieve their goals. Not stories about women who lie passively in glass boxes waiting for their lives to begin when royalty arrives.


I’ll tell her too that, unfortunately, there are still many places in the world where being born a woman is a cruelly limiting factor. Perhaps she and I can spread the word about Red Sonja in service to them. Or send them swords.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

NO MORE OP-EDS BY MARIE ANTOINETTE, PLEASE by Lisa Duggan

Ann Slaughter's June piece in the Atlantic entitled by the editors as "Why Women Still Can't Have it All" — undoubtedly to appease the PageView Gods — has generated more Google Juice than Kim Kardashian's love life.

But I'm not going to let that stop me from weighing in:

****************
My thoughts' on Ann Slaughter, and "Having it All":

One could summarize Slaughter's piece as her "Is that all there is?" moment, the mid-career crisis written about, talked of, and divorced over for, by men for centuries. Her "Cat's in the Cradle" swan-song. And in choosing that view, we can see Ann's turning point as an achievement — women now experiencing the same existential low-point reached by countless fathers before her, who only lifted their heads up from their desks as the kids were leaving for college.

I don't begrudge Ann her insight — but writing from that POV when stepping down from a government position, a JOB — in a time when hundreds of thousands of Americans remain unemployed for 2+ years, and/or facing foreclosure — is, in the least, in poor form.
Ms. Slaughter's caveat to privilege is inappropriate, here. She had the opportunity to see her personal struggle as the same, collective struggle of working mothers and fathers everywhere — and moreover, to recognize that she had both the power and responsibility to advance positive change for all families, at a high level.

Enough Op-Eds from Marie Antoinette. No more crying in our champagne glasses. Let's work on the problem of redesigning our public institutions and policies to reflect the change in our culture. Women work. Men work. Children need care. The era of guaranteed, unpaid childcare done by women is OVER. None of us will advance — not as individuals in pursuit of success, or this country as a world leader — until we acknowledge that reality and do something to address it.