Pure As the Driven Slush: Heather Corinna's Journal and Diary, Online since 1999

Archive for the 'Heather Corinna' Category

Wednesday, March 17th, 2010

Dear Amazon,

Yes, I am an Amazon whiner.  I made a big stink in the past when my book was among the books de-ranked by you.  And I have complaints about you, even though I would be remiss in saying that you benefit me by selling my book, to the point that Amazon may be where I do my best sales. Thank you for that, but at the same time, you get a cut, too, so it’s not like I’m the only one who benefits from that arrangement.

I’m irritated again.  I’ve been irritated by this for a while, but I have got to get it off of my chest.  And yes, I have a personal and vested interest in this: I am not without bias or personal agenda.

When I go to the Amazon section that is Books> Teens > Self-Esteem, I get a list of books almost entirely written FOR teens about self-esteem.  When I go to the section that is Books> Teens> Literature & Fiction, I get fiction books that are written for teens. When I go to the section that is Books> Teens> Horror, I get horror books that are written for (not about) teens. When I go to the section that is Book> Children’s Books> then ANY topic, I get books FOR children.

So, I cannot figure out for the life of me why, when I go to the section that is Books> Teens > Health, Mind & Body> Sexuality, the vast majority of books on the list are anything BUT books for teens about sexuality. This is not a new issue, it’s been how it is for years.

Right now, the top book is a book by Meg Meeker for adults about her ideas on teen sexuality (which perhaps best belongs in that horror section I mentioned earlier).  Of the first 25 books on that list, in fact, four are similar books to Ms. Meeker’s (at least one of which should be shuttled to that fiction list). Five of the first 25 are young children’s books about sex or reproduction, not teen books. Perhaps strangest of all, four of the books in the first 25 are children’s fiction that have nothing to do with sex whatsoever, and where it would be pretty disturbing if they did. I’m very certain that My Weird School #17: Miss Suki Is Kooky! and My Weird School Daze #3: Mr. Granite Is from Another Planet! are NOT teen sexuality books.  I don’t think anyone reading those books is reading about how Miss Suki is that kind of kooky or how the other planet Mr. Granite is from is a planet where there are free condoms for everyone.

Of the first 25 of the list, only 8 of the books, including mine, are actually for teens and about sexuality, sexual embodiment and/or reproduction.  Though of those 8, 4 are about NOT-sex — about how God doesn’t want you to have any until you’re married, in a word — more than they are about sex. So technically, only 4 of the 25 first books in the section currently showing are for teens and about teen sexuality.

This would be a whole lot like if I went into a section for vegan cookbooks and what I found instead were a handful of auto manuals, some contemporary fiction that had nothing to do with cooking vegan, a bunch of books about why vegans are terrible people, a few on how veganism will kill you dead, some steak cookbooks and then 4 actual vegan cookbooks.  Which I think we can agree would be mighty silly.

Or like if people looking in the religious section for books on funadamentalist Christianity found…well, nothing but books like my book.

I’ve left you a note about this before.  You didn’t get back to me.  This came as no surprise. But I can’t tell you how much I’d like an answer on this.  Is this random?  If so, don’t you want to clean it up so that the books are on-topic and relevant to the readers you have the section for, just like the books in all other sections?  If it isn’t random, what’s the deal?  Do you just not want teens to be able to read about sexuality at all?  If so, why bother having a teen sexuality section in the first place, why not be transparent that you just don’t want one?  Is it just that you prioritize sections being in order in such a way that teen sexuality just comes last?  If so, can I volunteer to freaking clean it up for you already?

Wednesday, March 17th, 2010

I just wanted to leave something from the past today for Blue more than for anyone else.  It’s a piece from around a year ago. Honestly, the both of us were going through hell, though his in a lot of ways was far worse than mine, or perhaps more to the point, some of his hells-of-yore just barely beginning the cleaning-up stage were very hard on both of us.

Life has been really good for us since Blue moved.  For the most part, crazy-good.  As stressed out as my work can make me sometimes, on the whole, our homelife has been such a solace, so much joy, so much fun.  We need to learn to leave the house more often when it comes to our leisure time, but I think we’ll manage that one, especially now that the weather is starting to improve.  But it taking so long for him to find work was exceptionally rough on him (in case I didn’t mention it, he wound up getting a job at the teen shelter where I do some outreach: major career change, but so far, he loves it).  As well, he’s still got a lot to unpack as well as dismantle from his previous relationship and everything that went down in it, as well as the dynamics that were part and parcel of it. His having to deal with those still when it comes to doing all that needs to be done to sever those ties has been really hard for him, and it breaks my heart.

We’ve talked about it, acknowledging we both knew that in some ways, it might have been better to wait for him to move until all the ink was signed over there and he’d had some more time to heal, but that we both really didn’t want to wait, and that was okay. I’m still glad we didn’t, especially given how many years we effectively had waited already. I’m glad to be his support in this, even though some of doing that means working through his learned responses to things from his marriage that just make so sense here and have no reason to come into play here.

Blue, like me, can be pretty rough on himself sometimes, and can sometimes go without acknowledging progress he’s made, or ways things have changed positively via his efforts.  I was revisiting some of our shared writing this morning from the last year and came across this, which seemed a pretty good time capsule to remind us both of how much easier things have gotten, as well as how much we’ve both weathered and come through just fine. Blue is an emotionally intense person, (again, like me), and that given, he tends to leave a lot of intensity in his wake.  Last year around this time it seemed to keep coming from every direction: a year and change later, things have calmed down a whole lot.

There are far fewer worms in our apple now, and to boot, we’ve got each other to lean on every day, rather than having month-long lapses where we both so acutely felt the lack of the other during a time when we needed one another so badly. We are ever-mighty, and only keep becoming all the more so.

in times of storm or drought

There are truths, and then there is truth
and they are not comparable.

It will matter to you — of course it matters,
as it would to anyone — to have facts
lined up neatly, linearly;
to have fictions exposed and
shelved with the rest of the world’s imagined stories,
great and not-so.
I understand that this matters,
it has mattered to me before, too,
but right now, for myself,
it is nearly irrelevant.

There is a truth
which is wordless, boundless, nonlinear.
It is messy, often inconvenient and untimely.
It expresses itself better in
childlike images painted with blood on the walls of caves
than in any one language,
sound or pretty symbol. There is neither
any clear way to affirm nor deny it,
no formula to affix that tangibly validates.
It is a truth rooted not in fact but faith,
and one which feels all the more true
when it fails every proof applied to it.

These other truths or untruths
have little relevance or particular weight:
when I sit them on a scale with
that larger truth, they fly up and away,
landing flat on their ass
as a much smaller-child does
when the biggest kid in school
comes by and idly slides
onto the other end of a see-saw.

That larger truth lives in an effortless
space, be it silent or full of
words, tears, moans, grasping hands,
linked gaze, difficult history,
absolute acceptance, loud frailties,
unresolveable conflicts and the primal
urge to merge completely.
It makes a home where I am at the same time shaken
and yet still as stone.

I feel it when you lock your mouth
to my breast; it lives in that illogical sense
of nourishing you from glands I know
provide nothing, do not leak
or swell, and yet
when I look down at the angel
suckling me, when I feel how,
in those moments,
I soften and you impel
a strength in me. I am a mother cat
then: should I perceive anyone to even think
of doing you harm, I know I would
hiss, scratch, repel.

It lives in the fact
that if either of us are going to have
white-hot, seething anger with anyone
it should be with each other,
however much we have recovered,
and yet, even when I seek it out,
it denies me access. It has dissolved
as easy and invisibly as dew at dawn.

It lives under the soles of my feet.
My legs have always been peasant-thick,
but there is a certain force of will and ground
like the roots of grand redwoods
which could not be felled by word or deed,
no matter how poisoned, and such a tiny axe
is impotent even to seek intrusion by carving in its own petty initials.
It does not require
firm nor solid ground to walk upon, and meets resistance
with the confident quiet of giants.

I look at who comes to tangle with me,
and some part of me cannot help
but laugh: it feels a delusion, a jest
for anyone, at this time, in this space,
to seek battle with me. I feel I can pick them off
and blow them away with a huff and a puff,
as I would a piece of lint on my shoulder.
When you stand, solid-legged
with an ancient blade in your hands,
there is a certain hilarity
when facing the barrel of a Nerf-gun.

None of this is to say
I like seeing a worm in my apples,
I don’t, and it does disturb.
The grey, turning parasite
sours my stomach when my mouth
should be watering.
There are moments in which
it has felt as if my bathroom door
was broken down, my diary read,
a horse’s head placed on my pillow.

There are moments today where I feel
as vulnerable and overexposed as you:
while I often want to shout us out to the sky,
I do not relish intimacies of mine
in the sweaty palms of crooks or liars;
nor a hole for peeking into my heart
shared with an eye seeking an eye.

* * *

When first we met, I had all the seeds
of what I’d become, but some had grown mold,
many had yet to find soil or water.
Some had been purposefully stolen, for fear
of how much bigger I’d become
than those making off with my possibility
in their greedy pockets. I have since
not only germinated, pollinated, blossomed, grown,
I have overtaken every small patch
I found myself planted in. I have spread far
by wind, by water, by fur and by paw:
I have dispersed
myself and become hardy enough
to be capable of withstanding any manner of conditions,
and flourish even when it is proclaimed improbable.

This is who I bring to you, to us, to this:
to everything.
I would wish
it is who I had brought before, save that
neither of us were that expansive yet.
We are now. This is who knows
that no smaller truths even when juxtaposed
speak as clearly as that wordless one,
who knows how something rich and lush can grow
even in the most inclement of weather.

Friday, March 5th, 2010

It’s possible I may be stating the obvious here, or saying something someone else has posited before without realizing, but something struck me last night, in the midst of insomnia, I wanted to put out there.  In the case you have read someone else saying the kinds of things I am, please leave me a reference in the comments.  I’d love to read someone writing more in depth about this.

So, you may have seen that I’ve started a large sex study about multigenerational experiences with and attitudes about casual sex.  (If you haven’t, and/or you haven’t taken it, I’d be so grateful if you did, by the way.  Same with getting the word out.  The link explains more of what I’m doing with it.) It’s gotten a lot of responses so far and also some feedback.

Someone tweeted that they were delighted with how I handled sex and gender on the study, and many people commented in the study that it was refreshing, and not what they’re used to with studies, to have so many options with sex and gender. Then, late last night, someone else tweeted that they didn’t understand why anyone was so impressed, because as well as including male, female and transgender, I included trans female and trans male as options.

I was already aware of the issues with “trans male” and “trans female” as identifiers, and understand that, particularly when used by a cis-person, they suggest that someone who ID’s as female but is not female-bodied is not “really” female or “truly” female.  At the same time, I included them because despite that, I still know people who prefer and use those identifiers for themselves.  For the record, even in leaving an open field for gender so people can self-ID however they want, I have a handful of people who picked trans female or trans male as their own IDs, more than chose transgender, and more than chose to ID as one sex at birth, then as male or female with their gender.  So, whatever anyone may think about those terms, some people are clearly still using them to identify themselves by choice.

Certainly, people outside marginalized/oppressed populations often voice an annoyance with the ever-changing language which tends to be common in these groups, whether it’s about the spelling of women, what indigenous people call themselves, or how gendervariant people identify. For instance, none of us in North America have likely been spared someone’s whiny vitriol about how those uppity indians keep trying to force everyone to be PC by asking us to call them anything but indians.  If you are or have ever been a member of a marginalized group yourself, I don’t need to tell you that within these groups, there is often great frustration about language changes and keeping up with them, some general eyerolling from some members, as well as a lot of infighting about proper language.

So, here’s what I’m thinking about ever-shifting language on the margins. The dominant groups, the ones in power, have had a LONG time to have the freedom to firmly establish their identities, with the privilege of not having their identities or language challenged by anyone most of the time who had any power to enforce those challenges: there is a level of flux in language and identity they do not have. Anyone who has tried to question or change dominant language in any way knows this all too well.

On the flip side, there is a necessary inflexibility in their language around identity and in identity overall if they are to firmly sustain their position of power-over: if they change their language, they change their identity, and thus, potentially their level of power and privilege and their stronghold on either.  If a man wants as much male privilege as possible, for example, he’s got to call himself a man, especially within that group.  Calling himself anything even remotely outside that can make his privilege more tenuous, less solid, may put it in question and put him at risk of not being considered a full member — or a member at all — of that group.

It’s really hard sometimes to be patient with ever-shifting language, especially when you want to get it right and be respectful of everyone, to fully acknowledge everyone, but are trying to get it right by everyone, which is always impossible in some contexts as everyone isn’t in agreement in any given group,  or even just when you want to freaking get things done rather than argue about language.  It’s also sometimes tough if you find an identity you like within a marginalized group, one that feels true to you, and are later told it’s unacceptable or out of vogue (I think of how many old-school feminists I know, for example, who still prefer “wimmin” as an identifier but who are going to have to take endless shit from everyone, including other women and other feminists, if they use it).

However, I think it’s a little easier to be patient about it thinking of it in these ways. We’re carving out identities more slowly, are still more in process, because we have only had so much time and freedom to do so, especially without our identities being adjunct to the identities of, or controlled by, the dominant groups. We are still in process, and there’s really no way around or shortcut in that process, especially in groups that have been oppressed and marginalized the longest and/or the most.

At the same time, we also have a freedom in that which those in — or who want to or feel they must align themselves with — dominant groups do not have.  As someone low-income all my life, I’ll often talk with people about how while being poor mostly blows (especially the poorer you are: I may be without a lot now, but I have most definitely been way worse off than I am at the present time), some aspects of being low-income provide some semblance of freedom I appreciate.  I have little to lose, for instance, and am not beholden to certain things people of means are. For example, I have had people say that even if I can’t find a healthcare plan to give me actual preventative care, I should really get catastrophic coverage somehow in the case I get hit by a truck.  However, as someone with no credit cards, no car, no house, the fact is that all that’d be is one more expense, and one that really only makes sense for people of a higher economic class than me. If I had to file for bankruptcy because of a ginormous hospital bill, I’d likely lose little to nothing because I have little to nothing to lose.  Weird as it can seem, there is a freedom in that, and I’m grateful for freedoms like that, particularly given all the downsides and ways that I’m stuck.

The same can go here with identities and language: there is a freedom in having flexibility around our language and identities, of being in flux, that I think often goes unacknowledged and unrecognized, especially when we’re tearing our hair out and driving each other up a tree about language.  The fact that any of us in marginalized groups are able to try on certain words and identities and adjust them as we go is no small deal.  It can allow us/others an authenticity and diversity that those who have privilege/power, especially those trying to make very sure they hold unto it, don’t have (or, more to the point, choose not to have, or feel they have too much to lose to have ) the freedom of having.

Thursday, February 4th, 2010

So, here’s a question: how many of you think male-bodied or identified people are, as a group, earnestly satisfied with their sex lives?

To be clear, we hear a lot about how many women are not, but most men are, but I think that statement isn’t actually about satisfaction, but about who is reaching orgasm, or reaching orgasm most often.

If a given group of people reaches orgasm, then those people tend to be classed as sexually satisfied, just because they have reached orgasm, even though we know sexual satisfaction is a far larger critter.  Vaginal intercourse is a biggie where we see this: because most men orgasm that way (who do have intercourse) but most women don’t, people will say most men are satisfied with intercourse while women aren’t… but are men really satisfied with that activity alone?  Or are they just reaching orgasm that way?

I just wonder sometimes how short the cultural and (especially in the mainstream) interpersonal conversation about male sexuality is being cut short in this because of these kinds of assumptions. I also wonder that if I’m correct in my thesis, one reason we see so many male/female partnerships where women aren’t satisfied is because there are many men who really aren’t either, but since they’re a) reaching orgasm and/or b) getting” the kind of sex men are supposed to like, or told is satisfying for them because of orgasm, there’s a whole world of communication and exploration in many relationships which could be happening, but which isn’t because of this issue.  In other words, that we can sometimes expect one party of a couple to have a whole set of skills in finding out and communicating what satisfies them that they may not actually have (or know they don’t) at all, and expect them then to share or translate skills to their other partner they don’t have in the first place.

Tuesday, February 2nd, 2010

(I decided to kind of feel out and workshop this here before it went to the Scarleteen blog.)

You should wait for sex, but if you can’t….

This is another in a long line of common phrases people use, like “preventing teen pregnancy” that I strongly dislike.  It’s one thing when I hear it from people who clearly have no or little respect for young people (or anyone else), or don’t recognize that someone who is 6 and someone who is 16 and not both “children” in the same respect.  But when I hear it from people or organizations where I know they do have a more nuanced and respectful ideal per the treatment of both young people and sexuality, I feel seriously bummed out.

Let’s unpack this, working backwards.

“You should wait for sex, but if you can’t…”

That’s usually followed by “then you should have sex using safer sex and contraception.”  Or — and usually addressing both those things  — “you should be responsible.”

In some respect, that’s fine. Not everyone needs contraception, either because they don’t have a partner with a radically different reproductive system than them or they’re not having the kinds of sex that can create a pregnancy, so that doesn’t always make sense. But by all means, for people choosing to have any kind of sex, we’re 100% on board with the sentiment that all of us — no matter our age — should be engaging in sexual practices supportive of safeguarding everyone’s best health, and in alignment with whether we do or don’t want or are or are not ready for a pregnancy. So, this statement often tacitly or inadvertently defining all sex as opposite-sexed or as intercourse isn’t okay, but overall, on the safer sex and contraception bit?  I’m right there with you.

But the “if you can’t?” Not cool. We all can elect not to have any kind of consensual sex, sparing masturbation we may unknowingly do in our sleep, something that happens sometimes. Some people also do have earnest impulse control disorders, but those are disorders, and do not occur in the vast majority of people of any age.

If we have consensual sex it is completely within our control, whether we’re 13, 26 or 63. There is no “can’t wait” when it comes to consensual sex. To suggest there is is not only incorrect, as we have free will, it can also be rape enabling. It backs up those who excuse rape by saying they (or rapists) couldn’t control themselves, that just they couldn’t help it, that when they feel sexual they cannot stop themselves and every kind of garbage of that ilk that is an absolute, and highly convenient, fiction. People always can hold off on sex or decline sex unless someone is being sexually assaulted or abused, in which case the person doing the abusing is in control of what is happening, but the person being victimized is not because the other person or group has also taken control of that person in some way.

Some folks say “don’t” instead of can’t. That’s far better. There most certainly is a “don’t want to wait,” but there isn’t a can’t. Nearly everyone can. It’s just that not everyone always wants to. Not only is that a more truthful framing, it’s one which makes clear that active consent and decision-making, and owning your choices, is of great import.

This “can’t” stuff also plays into the way older people represent teen sexuality: as something out of one’s control or will, as about “raging hormones” (hormones with superpowers, apparently, which can compel the body to move against one’s own will), as this burly, untamable beastie that picks young people up by the feet and shakes them until they don’t have two pennies of sense left to rub together. I’m not about to argue that when sexual feelings first start to develop and flourish that they don’t often feel heady, even unwieldy: they do tend to. That doesn’t make them unmanageable or make any actions one may take stemming from them out of a person’s control. I will also argue that this is somewhat situational — not about people only of a given age, gender or marital status — and that we have no reason to think, and no data to support, that older adults do not also experience strong sexual feelings. In addition, I hear from a lot of young people worried something is wrong with them because their sexual feelings are not at the mega-hormone-madness level people say teenage sexual feelings are. Heck, maybe it’s both a misrepresentation of young adult sexuality AND older adult sexuality.  All the same, young people are capable managing their sexuality well, and also tend to do a better job with it in cultures that don’t present teen sexuality like this.

There’s another big flaw with the general message here: “You should wait for sex, but if you can’t, be responsible.” Huh?

If there’s something we should do, and we’re not doing it, we’re probably not being responsible already: by definition and context, the term “should” here implies an obligation. By all means, if we are NOT making and owning our own active sexual choices, or if we “can’t” have the ability to own our choices at all, and thus, are irresponsible by default, we are absolutely not being responsible.  So, “If you can’t be responsible… be responsible?  That’s -1 + 1, which equals zero. It’s null.

“You should wait for sex…”

…until? You should wait for sex until what or when? Until you’re married? Until you’re in a committed relationship? Until your body is all the way done developing (which it kind of never is, technically, as it’s always changing, just not often as radically as in puberty, which often isn’t all the way over until we’re into our 20’s)? Until you’re older? How much older? By whose standards? And why: what will one, three, five or ten years automatically give you just by having a birthday each year?

I think that for the most part, politically and culturally progressive people, and plenty of moderates, have down that the “until you’re married” part isn’t sound.  Not all of us have the legal right to get married to people we love, at any age.  Plenty of us don’t want to get married at all.  Some of us are in both of those camps.  Too, marriage does not mean a lack of STIs, a lack of unwanted pregnancies, a healthy relationship or a stellar sex life (even far-right folks know this part, they just avoid admitting it as much as possible).  It never has. It doesn’t still. And as we mentioned just the other day, through history, even for those who did/do marry, most people have had sex before marriage, especially if of people who marry, both were not very young teens when they did. Saving sex for marriage was never a realistic standard for most young adults nor a common practice.

For some people, long-term committed relationships have more positive outcomes. Some people have positive outcomes in casual or shorter-term relationships. For most, it’s not a simple either/or, because it depends on the specific relationship or scenario, as well as what that person wants and feels best about at a given time in their lives.

From some sound perspectives, physical sexual development is important, though not likely as much as emotional and intellectual development is. For instance, when the cervix hasn’t finished developing (which it generally will by about the mid-twenties), it’s more prone to infection, and it’s supported by data that for women who become sexually active (with activities which involve the vagina, anyway: not sure vulval sex is an issue here) under the age of 18, those risks are higher. But what if physical development like that is the only thing that gives us an age, and that age isn’t for everyone?

Wait until you’re older? How much older? Until it’s legal? Well, think whatever we do about age of consent laws, that’s pretty sound.  But even in states where the age of consent is, say, 16 or 18, there are usually allowances for same-age sexual relationships for those under that age.  If it’s not about the law, at what age does everyone, unilaterally, acquire the skills, resources and the right relationships and scenarios to assure, or at least strongly suggest, sex will be either devoid of unwanted outcomes or bear less risk of them, or be a positive? If, in reading this, you’re not silent and have that one magical age handy for me, I need to assure you that I can’t think of one single age, talking to people of many ages about sex, I have not had people report negative or unwanted outcomes with. I also have never seen evidence to show such an age, so if you have, do please send it this way.

You won’t, though, because there isn’t any.  We have sound study which tells us things like that at the youngest ages, teens expectations of sex often are less realistic, and that the youngest teens do self-report unwanted outcomes from sex or unhappy experiences more frequently (it’s a difference substantial enough that it’s sound to say it is more common) than older teens do.  We also have good data that shows us that for the youngest teens, sex more often is not consensual sex, but is rape, via either force or coercion.  Data like that is critically important, and is data we should absolutely share with young people when we’re talking with them about sex, especially if they seem to specifically fit the picture of any of that data.  However, there will always be exceptions, and often those exceptions are not about a few teens, but about a few million. Age-in-years also isn’t all that’s going on in those pictures.

Here’s where both I, and Scarleteen as an organization, stand on this. What we want is for everyone to only have any kind of sex — be it intercourse or any other physically enacted expression of sexuality with oneself or a partner — when it is what everyone involved in a sexual scenario: strongly wants, can and does actively consent to, feels prepared for, and has the knowledge and capacity to have sex in a way that is physically and emotionally safe for everyone.

This is our goal for people of every age, and we don’t think it’s fair or reasonable to hold young people to different standards on this than we hold, or anyone else holds, older people (especially if you’re going to say young people are less capable of meeting the standard than older people, but older people don’t need to meet it once they are capable).

So, if “you should wait” means until all of THAT, then you betcha, we’re so on board.

The kinds of things we know ARE likely to create positive sexual outcomes — areas where we can clearly see those positive outcomes most often occur — are things like having an earnest and shared desire for sex with the person you’re having it with at any given time, having knowledge about and access to sexual healthcare, safer sex tools and contraception, having the full legal right to and a sense of ownership of your own body (be that about the right to give nonconsent and consent or reproductive rights),  having emotional support and acceptance from your community and culture, not feeling shame or fear about sex or sexuality, having a strong sense of self as well as a real care for others and feeling prepared for and at least somewhat skilled with the kinds of things sex requires, like communication, vulnerability, creativity, compassion, discovery and boundary-setting. There are people who are teens and who have all of those things sometimes: there are plenty who do not. There are people who are 20, 30 or 50 who do not: there are also plenty who do.  While age and life experience can absolutely hone any and all of those things, a) it clearly doesn’t for all people (if only) and b) some of those things can sometimes be easier for younger people than older people, especially if they haven’t unlearned any of their intuitive skills with them yet.

I know, because of what I do and how broadly I have done it for and from a wealth of study on human sexuality, sexual and human development and sociology, that there is no one broad group which people can be a member of that guarantees unilaterally positive sexual experiences or relationships with either unilaterally positive outcomes, or a lack of any negative outcomes. Marriage doesn’t do that, and it never has.  Being of a certain gender doesn’t do that, nor of a certain race or economic class.  Being of a certain age doesn’t do that, either, and also never has. Setting aside both the implicit falsehood of these kinds of statements, and the audacity of making them to members of a group which we are not members of ourselves, if we give young people the idea that getting married, having a partner for X-months or X-years or reaching some magical-age-or-other will immediately imbue them with all of the above resources, skills or scenarios, we aren’t helping them any.  At best, we potentially set them up for disappointment, but at worst, we may put them right in harm’s way — since those things alone do NOT protect them — the very thing I think most people do want to prevent.

The other thing “wait until” can say as a message, intentionally or not, is that once anyone chooses to have sex, it’s a Pandora’s Box they have opened and can’t shut evermore. Sexual choices are not just important or meaningful the first time or times we make them: those choices are always meaningful, we consider if sex is something that is right for us every time we do or don’t choose to engage in it, and we all always have the right to change our minds and decline sex, even if we had it before.  But a lot of young people don’t know or feel that, especially with the other messages they get about how their valuation as people changes based on whether or not they have had sex or do have sex. I know, for certain, our allies don’t want to enable that message to young people, but I worry some do because this messaging dovetails with that kind all too easily.

“You should…”

Shoulds are mighty tricky when we’re talking about sexuality, especially when making opening or general statements, rather than responding to someone’s specifically expressed wants and/or needs. Given a rare few of us have been reared without pervasive shoulds when it comes to sex, or have been totally uninfluenced by a world which is rife with them, it’s really easy to slip into saying “should” and we all usually have to work hard to avoid it. But I think we need to try.

When it comes to things like what kind of sex someone enjoys or wants, or to when sex will most likely be right for them (especially in a given situation when you don’t even know what their unique situation is), “you should” usually means something more like, “I wouldn’t,” “I didn’t,” “I don’t think you should because I didn’t like that,”  “That didn’t work out so well for me, so it probably won’t for you” “I’d prefer if you didn’t because what I want is…” “My personal values dictate…” or “Some person or idea who has more authority than you do says no.”

This is particularly an issue, and particularly problematic, when adults are talking to young people, and all the more so when they’re saying “shoulds” about nothing but age-in-years.  So often, adults have the idea that because they were once a young person of 13 or 19 or 22, they know all of how it is for young people of that same age.

But there are some big problems with that. For sure, those of us who are older were once younger. We were, however, our own younger selves, not the younger person we are talking with and about right now.  we were not our younger selves in the same time they are their younger selves. And while some parts of a given experience they had may be much like one we had, they may experience that thing very differently, or have different outcomes than we did.  For sure, age and hindsight gives us perspectives, and those truly are often valuable, especially if we’re mindful people. But the idea that we know so much more than a younger person about their experiences, or what may be their experiences, just because of our experiences or our age isn’t kosher. It is, in fact, is one of the ways that adults are often adultist. On top of that, we have adults who DID wait past X-age to be sexual with partners, and felt that was best for them: but not having had the other experience, they can’t know what that would have been like for them. Then we have adults who had sex younger than they feel would have been best for them: they have a bit more information than the former group, but still can’t know what starting sex at a different age would have been like. Having experience with something doesn’t give us experience with not-something-else.
I was sexually active as a teen. Almost unilaterally, I deeply enjoyed the sex I had, it was on my own terms, my partners were awesome to me and I didn’t have the unwanted outcomes we’ve always heard will fall upon the heads of teens who have sex en masse (likely because I did very well with safer sex and contraception when it was needed), save a broken heart a few times. No more achy-breaky than heartbreak I experienced from nonsexual relationships, either (actually, I think those heartbreaks were sometimes worse for me). I’ve heard from more than my fair share of adults my age or older who both don’t manage their sex lives NOW as well as I did as a teenager and who are less pleased with their sex lives as adults than I was with mine as a teen. However, because my experience was like that at a given age does not mean I’m going to assume that what worked for me is going to work for every or even any 15-year-old female-bodied person out there, at this point in time or any other.

I know full well that it doesn’t or likely won’t work for some and I also know there are those for whom it does or will. My own experiences may provide me perspectives (but also potential biases) I may not have had I had very different experiences. But it’s my job to manage them and put them in greater perspective, to recognize they are individual, not universal, to avoid projecting and to figure that for any given teen out there who might have been just like me, there’s one out there who is radically different, and for whom my choices at a given age would be a terrible fit, with very different outcomes.

If being older really makes us wiser, why do adults have such a fracking hard time seeing when we’re projecting this stuff unto youth, or recognizing it’s often so disrespectful? Many times that “should” comes from the I-did-this-I had-bad-things-happen place. I completely understand adults — especially those who are parents or are mentors, teachers or other allies, rather than folks who don’t have any real emotional investment in a teen or teens lives — wanting to do what they can, within reason and with care, to help young people avoid harm or hurt. I think that’s laudable and loving. However, a negative outcome happening from something we do at one age doesn’t mean it’ll happen to all people that age doing that same thing. We all need to think more deeply than this and present teens with thoughts of more depth.

I took a one-block walk to the park to play when I was seven, climbed on what looked like a jungle gym in an alley to me (it so wasn’t) and I wound up slicing off half my hand, which left me with a permanent disability. Does that mean that it’s a bad idea for seven-year-olds to go take a walk, and we can be sure of that because of what happened to me when I was seven? If I have had both positive and negatives with both serious and casual relationships, does that mean all must be good for everyone…or that none are?
Maybe you had intercourse with your boyfriend when you were 15. You didn’t use birth control and became unwantedly pregnant, or a condom wasn’t used and you got an STI. You didn’t come into the relationship with knowledge about either of these things, nor sound negotiation skills or a real sense of self-esteem. You hid your sexual activity because per your religion, you were breaking the rules and sinning. Your relationship was also crappy, and the guy wound up leaving you, on top of everything. So, if you had had intercourse at 20, but all those other conditions were exactly the same, do you think the outcome would have been different?  Doubtful. Just like if that guy had a mustache, things would not have been different with all the same conditions at the same age with a partner sans mustache. The problem most likely was not being 15. It was all the conditions of that equation.

There’s often some coulda-woulda-shoulda going on here, too. A lot of people come of age with ideas of what “perfect sex” or “perfect lover” or “perfect first time” is. Many people have the idea that if they had just done X-thing differently, they would have had that perfect first time instead of the less-than-stellar experience they had. Certainly, we don’t always all make the best choices and some different choices very much may have resulted in different outcomes — because no, someone who had no sex at all would not have become pregnant, and someone who didn’t choose a sex partner they knew was a jerk would have been less likely to wind up with a jerk-in-bed. But as someone who hears a WHOLE lot about that “perfect first time,” including from people who followed all the given “rules” about what promises to make that so? I gotta tell you: if you didn’t have it, one reason why was that, in large part, that “perfect” first time isn’t real. It, like perfect lovers and perfect sex, is a fable; a fantasy. Hello: that’s why it’s so shiny. Too, we can’t ever know what outcome switching up one thing differently would have had, or what THAT change may have created. We hear a similar tactic in reproductive justice a lot, when people who are antichoice and regret an abortion they had say that they should have done adoption, that would have been so much less painful. Not only do they have no way of knowing that, that ignores the endless scores of women who HAVE surrendered a child and found it very painful. Grass, greener, other side: you know this one.

I also want to be clear that “should” is a word that has something to do with control. When we say “should” to someone — especially without context, such as where someone tells us they want to have sex without a pregnancy, so we say they should then consider using contraception — we suggest someone is obligated to make a certain choice. That’s not helpful messaging if some of our intent is to empower people to make their own best choices.  The phraseology here also suggests that responsibility is more about someone doing their duty, being a good citizen or a “good person,” than just caring for themselves and caring for others: it’s the latter motivation that’s more likely to help people create and nurture positive sexual lives and relationships. Plus, messages of duty and/or obligation in regard to sex are particularly noxious for women, for whom much of the whole cultural history of sexuality has been about sex as a duty and obligation.

I would be so delighted if we could start to broadly hear a change in this messaging, especially from individuals or organizations I know or think truly want what is best for young people, which certainly includes, ideally, a lack of negative or unwanted outcomes from sex, and also — pretty please? — some address of consent; which I also hope includes nurturing positive, wanted outcomes, like feeling good about one’s sexuality, having a satisfying, beneficial sexual life — one that includes pleasure and fun, not just not-pregnancy or not-STIs — like feeling able to express yourself and your feeling with someone else, like feeling alive in your body and feeling capable and respected. I don’t think we can’t present sex positively and treat young people as capable while still sending strong messages about health and public health: in fact, I think the former tends to make the other much more effective.

Here a few different phrasings to try on:

  • “If you want to have sex, please care for yourself and others by taking care of your bodies, hearts and minds, including consent, safer sex and contraception.”
  • “If you are going to choose to have sex, and want to do all you can to assure positive outcomes, on top of assuring desire and consent, please manage any infection or pregnancy risks with safer sex and/or contraception.”
  • “If you and your partner feel emotionally ready for sex, and each want to be sexual together, please make sure you are also practically ready when it comes to safer sex and contraception.”
  • “If you want sex to be positive, you’ll want to wait until sex is something you and yours want and feel ready for, including the use of safer sex and contraception.”
  • Or, if you earnestly feel you either didn’t wait but should have, or did wait, and that means it’s best, and want to speak from your own experience, how about “From my perspective, I think you should wait because . But if you decide that isn’t what’s best for you, and you want to choose to have sex, then I would like you to be sure mutual consent, safer sex and contraception are all in the picture.”

Of course, my favorite approach is avoiding generalized statements like this and instead having conversations where I can simply first ASK if someone does or does not want to have sex right now, then give more information, and ask more questions, then tailoring what I am saying to what they state their needs and wants to be: if we start there, and work from their answer, it’s pretty easy to sidestep all of the problems with these kinds of phrasings. I think it also makes it easier for us to focus as much on what we should be doing as we’re focusing on what teens should.

Wednesday, January 27th, 2010

Ugh, my poor old cat.

So, for those of who who have followed my pet sagas for the 10+ years I’ve been keeping this journal, I’m down to one. When I started writing here, I had four cats. In the interim, two have had to be euthanized — Rosie got severe kidney failure when she was 11, and I had to euthanize Rita when she was almost 20.  I had to find a different home for Rosie’s sister Zoe in ‘05 because after years of having her, I developed really intense allergies to her to the point I couldn’t even pet her anymore. Which leaves Flora.

People who know me in person know that Flora, while seemingly a very small calico cat, is actually an orange goldfish. (I’ll get to that in a second.) She’s almost 18 now. It was Flora who assigned herself the role of Sofia’s protector when she was a puppy and the other cats clearly wanted her dead. I earnestly watched one of my cats kick a knife off a counter when Sofia was walking under it once, I kid you not. Flora has always been tiny, never more than 8 pounds, but over the last few years, she’s been around 6.  At this point, I’m guessing five.

She’s been one of those old cats that will seem to be taking a turn for the worse, and you worry she’s starting to go, but then she’ll turn a corner out of nowhere and be totally fine for months.  Just the other night, I was saying that she seemed to be okay now, and that I might just get lucky and have a pet go, when she’s going to, in her sleep for a change, like my bunny did ten years ago. She’s still pretty spry, seems to hear and see okay, still eats decently.

I so shouldn’t have said that.  Two days ago, I found blood in her urine, and she keeps just going off by herself.  last night she was just acting really weird and listless.  I slept downstairs with her because I was so worried. She seems a little bit better this morning, but not much.  And I don’t know what to do.

When pets get really old, I don’t like to subject them to a lot of tests or treatments: it strikes me as needlessly unpleasant and painful for them.  With my cats, too, because they’re indoor, I have never done vaccines for them.  They seem to live longer when I don’t.  So, when I do have to take them to the vet, they often insist on those when I’d prefer not to.

I need to switch vets anyway.  The vet I have used for Sofia is very conveniently a few blocks away, but they’re expensive as hell, and I haven’t been very satisfied with them.  Sofi gets chronic ear infections.  Our vet in Minneapolis did great with these, just vacuuming out her ears now and then (with a machine our current vet doesn’t have), while I did gentle ear washes for her regularly.  This one keeps giving her the same round of meds that keeps not working, and isn’t open to trying anything else. I recently discovered there’s a naturopathic vet about 20 blocks away, so have been planning to give them a shot soon to see if I like them better.

So, the crux is, do I go ahead and make an appointment for both of them?  Or do I let Flora’s little old body either work through this like it has with other things before or let her just let go if that’s what’s going on?I have no idea, but I’m leaning towards taking her to the vet, in hopes that since this one is a naturopath, they’ll understand that a) I don’t want to do any vaccines and b) I don’t want to do any treatments for her which will ask a lot of her old body, or potentially cause her to suffer additionally in any way.

No matter what happens, Flora will be my last cat for a while, which is a strange thing. I’ve had cats since I found Rita starving to death under a van in the winter in 1988.  I’m actually not a cat person, but I have loved my cats, and when it came to being a renter in Chicago, dogs were totally out of the question. I had as many as I did due to a stray my college roomie brought in who promptly went into heat, screwed every other cat in a ten mile radius, and wound up pregnant in milliseconds: Rosie and Zoe were from that brood.

When I first started my little alternative school in ‘93, I did so with no capital at all. Nearly everything in there was either dumpster-dived or something I built with my hands. I was exceptionally proud of being able to make something out of nothing like that.  So, when one of my first wee students came in, cased the place, and remarked that it “wasn’t a real school” I was crestfallen.  In asking why, I was informed that real schools have orange goldfish in a bowl.  This little boy could not tell me the origin of this particular standard, but he was quite firm in it.

I tried to explain that I was horrible with fish, going right back to my first fish in the 5th grade, which I’d won at a school carnival.

My mother works in infection control, an amazingly perfect job for her because she is and has always been profoundly germaphobic. If she could have sprayed my sister and I head-to-toe with Lysol when we came in from playing, she would have. There was a year as a child where I kept a secret collection of pigeons under the nearby El tracks. Likely not knowing what I was doing with them, the man who ran the corner grocery would give me plastic milk crates and I set them up like a little aviary condo dealie back where no one could see. I’d grab old bread and whatnot from his dumpster and set the pigeons up there, sitting and playing with them when they came to hang out, making room assignments and gently moderating squabbles between neighbors. The volume and pitch of scream that issued from my mother’s mouth when she got off the El one day to catch of glimpse of her kid and walked back to find me with a dirty pigeon in each hand is one I have yet to ever hear the likes of again. If a casting agent for a B-movie had been nearby, he would have snapped my mother up instantly, heralding her a star. My evening at home after that day is an experience in scrubbing and sanitation I think only Karen Silkwood shared.

Anyway, unbenownst to me, when cleaning out my fish’s bowl, she felt the need to sanitize it in ways you are not supposed to. I came home one day, slipped my shoes off, went to check on my fish, and saw only a bowl with water in it: no fish.  In yelling to my Mom I couldn’t find him anywhere, I then felt a sickening squish between my toes.  Said fish had clearly suicidally jumped out of the bowl and unto the floor.  And I had stepped on him, and had to rinse pieces of him from my feet, bawling. No more fish for me for a long time.  later when I tried, no matter what I did, they always wound up floating belly-up.  I gave up on fish.

Even this story (told in a far less horrific way, mind) did not deter this kid. So, we agreed that we’d take a field trip to the pet store, the kids would learn how to take care of the fish so it could hopefully avoid my curse, and he would then agree he was, in fact, attending a “real school.”

Of course, did they have EVERY freaking color of fish that day but orange?  Of course they did. Then I hear the kid calling my name from across the store saying he found one. Thank christ. Except that when I got there, he was standing in front of a cage full of sleeping kitten, save one calico troublemaker pouncing on all of them, to their great annoyance. He’s pointing at her. I say that is a very cute cat. He says “She has orange.” I agree that she does have orange, but that she is a CAT, not a fish, and there are three cats at school already. He repeats that she has orange several times, firmly. I repeat my end of the conversation. We make no headway at all. I ask him if — if — we get said cat-with-orange if she will fulfill the requirement for an orange fish, a conversation one would only have with a four-year-old. He is quite certain she will.

And thus, we left with a very fluffy fish with orange who made our school real. Suffice it to say, as the token goldfish for a handful of kids, and the baby of a larger cat brood, she’s been through a lot and is a resilient little thing. It’s really sad to realize she may be getting to the end, here.

Like I said, she’ll also be the last for a while.  With the two dogs, now, and a possible move in the next year, less pets is better than more, and I’m also actually mildly allergic to most cats, so I’d like at least a few years without any skin rashes or sinus issues. But I’ve had cats my whole adult life (so has Blue: in fact, he was also there when Zoe and Rosie were born in our living room), and life without them seems strange.

I’m getting maudlin now, perhaps needlessly.  And I still need to decide what the heck to do about Flora right now.

Update:  I went ahead and took her into our existing vet, who was exceptionally great about seeing all of us on short notice, and with getting a look at her and giving me a set of options.

Ultimately, I decided to choose the option of having them take her overnight to get some fluids in her (she was way dehydrated), try and get her temp up (it was very low), try to get her to eat, and to run some tests to see what’s going on.  Euthanizing her today was put out there as an option, but without knowing if this is just about age, something terminal, something that would require a lot of care or suffering on her part, I wasn’t ready to make that call.  She also just wasn’t giving me the vibe that’s what she wanted, and the pets I have had to put down have all always done that.

1/31 Update: Friday afternoon I got Flora and brought her back home.  She no longer looked like (still doesn’t) she was moments away from death’s door.  The treatment they gave her for two nights seemed to make a really big difference, and they landed pretty soundly on a severe kidney infection diagnosis.

So, she needs IV fluids here at home indefinitely, which I think I can swing.  She’s still eating very little, but she is behaving a lot different and looks a lot better.  She’s got a little abode here in the living room on an ottoman with a heating pad, which she seems to like, and has walked around a little bit, too.

Saturday, January 23rd, 2010

There’s a woman (crowepps) who comments at RH Reality Check who I just love, love, love.  I often find myself just being so freaking glad she exists.

Today, she provided perhaps what is both a) the most honest  and b) the most comical answer to the cloying and perpetual anti-choice question I have ever read.

Q: When did your life begin?

A: When the kids went away to college and I got a divorce.

Saturday, January 23rd, 2010

I’d like a little help with something.

Due to popular demand from some of our Scarleteen users, I need to write a piece for them about casual sex: how to figure out if it’s right for you and someone else, how to negotiate it, how to work it all out.  Certainly, much of our material can be applied to sex in casual or committed/ongoing relationship contexts, but there are definitely some differences with brand new partnerships or casual ones that could stand to be discussed.

Initially, I thought that this was so no problem, and absolutely something I can write for them…

…well, wait.

Initially, what I actually thought was that I was bummed to need to do this because I know I am going to have to deal with a level of crap about it that is just plain going to suck.  I take enough shit from neocons (and all kinds of other folks) as it is for nearly anything I say about young people and sex that is anything more than “Just wait,” but putting something like this right out there and up front is likely to result in my taking more crap than usual.

So, I thought that.  Then I got over it. They tell me they need it, so it’s my job to provide it, that’s how I do things.  Plus, I’ve always liked casual sex and managed it exceptionally well, so it’s certainly something I can write about, and it’s not like I’ve ever pretended, to the young folks or anyone else, that my life and sex life has been made up of traditionally or morally-sanctioned relationships.

But I’m hitting a bit of a snag, which is the worry I’ve actually been TOO good at casual sex in my life to do this piece well all by myself.  That in some sense, it’s been too easy for me, so I may be overlooking some management and negotiation skills, or some potential pitfalls, that should be included. I tend to be a sex-on-the-first-date (or, sex-in-lieu-of-date) person almost unilaterally from near minute one of my sexual development, with me being the person nearly always initiating that. I spent many years of my life as a frequent one-night-stander and found that was usually a great fit for me: I felt very free in that, I’ve had a lot of fun, and I tend to be able to be sexually open really fast with people when the chemistry is there. I also came of age without feeling any major moral judgments around casual sex from my peers or even most of the adults around me, so I think I came into it with less fears and doubts and baggage than other people, and certainly a generation of young people told casual sex is the stuff of death and moral and emotional destruction, have.

In some ways, casual sex has posed less challenges for me than sex has in ongoing or committed relationships. I’m also, in general, a risk-taker by nature, so there’s that to contend with, too.

Now, maybe I’m just being a dope and underestimating myself, or maybe I’m even unconsciously buying into messages that casual sex is so much more emotionally risky than other kinds of sex, something which I know hasn’t been true at all for me, but I’ve always gotten strong messages I’m weird that way, messages which may or may not actually be true.

All the same, I’m asking for help: might any of you want to share with me some of your issues/tips/helpful hints when it comes to casual sex that I can look at and potentially include in this in the case that I might see this as far easier or more manageable than other folks do?  Pretty please?

Friday, January 22nd, 2010

I recognize that I sometimes have profound performance anxiety in doing my work.

Which is particularly ironic when my work is about someone else’s performance anxiety in the first place.

Tuesday, January 19th, 2010

This post, about this post and some of the comments in it, brought some things up for me this week, so I’m going to unpack  some things.

Through most of my life, the majority of my long-term partners have not been porn users or those who have used porn with any regularity. That’s nothing I purposefully screened for, asked for or did intentionally, it’s just been the way it worked out, which has been pretty surprising to me, since you hear all the time how unlikely that is, particularly if you’re dating men. And yet. To boot, in my own sexual history, it’s been more common for my female sexual partners to be porn users than my male ones.

“Porn user” is a common but weird phrase, mind, and it carries negative implications. So let me be clear: they have not been people who generally or habitually utilized/perused pornography in our sex life or in their own masturbation. With my casual partners, I really couldn’t tell you. It’s something I just don’t know about some of them because it just never came up in the brief hours or days we were schtupping. My sense is that it’s been pretty all over the map.

In general, I’ve never been someone who has a preference when it comes to whether or not a sexual/romantic partner uses pornography. It’s a fluke that most of my long-terms have not been into porn much in the same way that it’s been a bit of a fluke that most of my long-term partners wanted to be monogamous with me: both things I often don’t have any strong preferences about and have a lot of flexibility with.

Mind, I was a written erotica author and publisher for many years, I have and still do work in erotic art and fine art nudes with my photography. More than once, I’ve had staples in my own navel. So, if someone else wanted to be with someone who had little or nothing to do with pornography or erotica, I’d have been a poor choice for them. However, personally, I’ve never really been much of a visual pornography user myself, though. Lord knows I had the chance: for a handful of years, I got sent a lot of porn to review for Scarlet Letters.

My own lack of porn use has not really been about ethical objections so much as the fact that I find most porn either a) grossly comedic (in a bad and not so-bad-it’s-good B-movie kind of way) b) really un-sexy (especially when you bear in mind that I don’t find most cisgender men attractive and I also don’t find myself attracted to femmes) c) full of dynamics, language or approaches that either gross me out or make me depressed or d) downright boring. In other words, so much of it has been either a turn-off or felt so nonsexual to me that I’ve rarely had the chance to even get to the part where I make personal ethical considerations. The visual porn that I actually have found sexy and stimulating has generally been made in such a way that I don’t have ethical issues with it, though I don’t think that’s the big reason why I liked it. I know that Shar and Jackie and Nan made and make their material in a way that works with my ethics, but while that’s a big plus, I think why I like their work has more to do with the content, style and vibe of it all (which yeah, okay is probably also about ethics: clearly compartmentalizing this stuff is only so doable).

I think I’m also influenced by being a visual artist and finding that what I see visually in my head when I fantasize is a lot more interesting, complex and purty to look at than what has been committed to film or video or because it’s possible that some of what I see in my head just isn’t possible with the limitations of those mediums (or the limitations of physics, for that matter).  And when I’m photographing other people, it’s not a sexual experience for me (even if it is for them, which it often isn’t), it’s not really about erotica so much as body image, and when I photograph myself, unless a partner was involved, it’s the same story. Not always, but most of the time.

Written erotica? That’s offered me a lot more, and was something I far more often have found arousing, but I stopped reading erotica for the most part years ago because I just lost interest.  Editing and publishing it for such a long time probably played a part in that. My porn these days, if you can call it that, tends to be things more like cooking or music. Toss a porn vid at me and you’ll probably get a 0 on the Richter scale. Make an ungodly good and beautiful cake or pick just the right batch of tunes and then you get the quivering thighs.  Maybe I’m just getting old. Maybe I’m bloody boring. Who knows. Who cares?

Because I work in sex, I also often feel like I’m probably a bit off-the-grid with any of this stuff.  When sexuality is your job, you’re just in a different mindset with all of this in my experience, than people are for whom it isn’t or has never been work. I see and hear enough about sex all day, and often not things that are sexy either, that when it comes time for sex I just want the physical contact, pronto. I want to get right to it.  Perhaps impatience is part of all this for me, too. I’m not often an “I need to be finessed” type: I’m more a “Stop fucking around and get on with it!” gal.

Anyway, on the whole, I don’t know how much difference a partner using or not using pornography has really made in the vast majority of my relationships. I’m inclined to say little to none, in either direction.

Of course, I also find it tough to even define that criteria. For instance, one longtime partner of mine didn’t have any purchased porn of any kind (and this was pre-internet), but often, as an illustrator, illustrated erotic images were something we sometimes made part of our sex life or our general sexual consciousness: that’s porn. And like I said, some of the art I made has been about erotic experiences, even though the arousing part for me was the-making-of (and the sex that often continued after) rather than looking at anything later.  But then, I’m also a process-not-product person in most things.

The one way issues have come up that have been problematic for me hasn’t been about porn or no-porn, but about attitudes around or about porn.

In other words, the one time a partner’s porn use really was a problem for me was when that person’s attitudes about the people in porn framed them as less-than-human, as commodities, objectified them in a way that I just wasn’t comfortable with. And sometimes those attitudes bled over into our sex life, particularly if that pornography had been used very recently. I did put a kibbosh in that relationship on having porn be used as foreplay (either with me or alone) in our sex life because when it was, I did experience a bleed-over of those dynamics in our sex that created a dynamic I really wasn’t comfortable with, and made me feel like I was in some way also kind of nonconsensually being made part of the sexual dehumanizing of someone else.  And that’s neither okay with me nor was it sexy to me: it was a really big turn-off.

If someone wants to bring sexual fantasy of someone else into sex with me, I’m totally down with that (and as someone who has enjoyed sex with more than one partner at a time far more than once, that’s a goodie for me, and plays a part in my own sexual fantasy life a’plenty), but not if that fantasy involves framing others as products or goods, not people. Mind you, I would never have asked that partner to change their porn use that had nothing to do with me and that I walked into the relationship knowing about, even if I didn’t know some of the flavor of it. And setting that limit with it did seem to put an end to the dynamic I experienced coming into our bed sometimes.

I’ve also not done very well with sexual partners who don’t use porn and have strongly negative or objectivist attitudes about people in porn or sex work. I don’t know how much that really impacted my sex life with those folks, but it certainly impacted the relationship as a whole, mostly due to my own history, to the fact that some of my friends are “those people,” and the fact that I just don’t connect well with people who hate on other people as a whole, or who feel very insecure about their sexual selves.

I’ll be honest and also say that — in my experience, which isn’t to  say jack about anyone else’s — with my partnerships, when I think hard and try and find any differences, I’ve found my partners who are not big with the porn tend to be a bit more imaginative, full-sensory oriented lovers who I experience as a bit more tuned-in to the present sexual moment. There have been exceptions, but on the whole, for me, that’s one commonality I’ve found, though it usually hasn’t been a chasm of difference, but something more often more subtle. That personal experience may well bear no reflection on regular porn users as a whole, and I don’t know of any broad, credible study that has been done with that kind of criteria to make any kind of statement on if that holds true for others or most people or not. In my experience, partners who are not frequent users of very mainstream porn also tend to bring a bit less of some porny conventions or norms to the sexual table.  Given how gendernormative and heteronormative most porn is, so much of the attitudes there just don’t fit me or what I want in a sex life that’s rally about me or the kind of people I partner with.

I’m also not a fan of things being secreted away, so if and when I have had a partner (which has been rare rare) who came into the relationship with a pre-existing pattern of being very sneaky and secretive about porn or masturbation, that also hasn’t worked out for me. I wound up feeling like I was living in my Irish-Catholic grandmother’s house, which was not at all sexy and deeply unpleasant.  I just don’t do sex-sneaky of any variety or find that jibes with my sexual ethos or the kind of vibe around sex I want and need.  Unfortunately, I also don’t find that simply saying “Hey, you don’t have to hide that, in fact, I’d really prefer you didn’t, it’s no biggie,” fixes it.  Same goes with expressing that we can make room for privacy without anyone having to hide things.  Most people have learned those kinds of patterns in childhood and they’re often pretty darn cemented by adulthood (and sometimes the hiding and sneaking is part of the allure: you take that out, and you take the excitement out for them).

People who really need or want porn during partnersex also hasn’t worked for me. But that’s mostly about the fact that I don’t dig TV or computer screens being in my sexual or relaxation spaces in general. Having a monster TV screen nearby (even in my house at all, frankly) is a total buzzkill for my own libido. Plus, I don’t have any interest in acting out most porn scenarios, since most of them bore the living crap out of me. Watching women fake orgasm also just reminds me of the depressing parts of my day job.

So, all that said, how do I feel about what the pattern has turned out to be?  I really think I’d be copacetic either way, honestly, and that what was fine and what wasn’t would be unlikely to be as simple as porn or no porn.

But here’s the thing: I’m me, and someone else who writes in with an issue like this is someone else.

Even if someone who writes in on this is someone very much like me, I don’t advise people my age or people like me: I advise young people, and they’re almost always very, very different from me.

There’s no one right preference or set of preferences here, and while I feel just fine most of the time having partners who utilize pornography (or don’t) that doesn’t mean everyone else is fine with that. While I have not found that pornography use, on the whole, or a lack of same, has made any huge differences in my relationships or my sex life, not only may that not be true for someone else, anyone else is just as entitled to whatever their process is of finding out what works and doesn’t for them as I have been.  While I haven’t had strong preferences here, that doesn’t mean someone else isn’t entitled to them.

I’m not on board with some of the reasons young people, mainly young women, are uncomfortable with porn. For instance, with a lot of the young hetero women, it often seems to do with them hating on other women and seeing other women as sexual competition instead of as allies.  Something else that seems to loom large is that porn tells the truth about the fact that no, most people, including those who choose to be sexually exclusive with one, are not only attracted to one person. Young people of all genders often really, really want to think that they are the ONLY person a partner or love interest is attracted to, rather than acknowledging that no, that’s rarely so. Even when I gently explain that if they find monogamy to have a value, that value must surely have root in the fact that even though they and their partners are attracted to others they are still choosing to be with but one, that tends to go over their heads and not be what they want to hear.  As well, there clearly is a certain virtue they attach to the idea that only that one person in the world is found attractive, even when I explain that that kind of fully-single minded attraction is actually often pathological and leads to stalking, not love.

If in doubt they idolize this mightily, please reference sales figures for the Twilight books.

But despite the things like this that I’m not okay with, and think they do need to work through in order to feel good about themselves and have healthy relationships,  I don’t see any reason it’s not okay for someone to choose to date or become intimately involved with only partners who do or don’t use porn or based on what they think is going to create a relationship that makes them feel best and works best with who they are and what they want right now.

And this is a particularly big issue since I’m me at almost 40, and most of the people I advise are just starting their sex lives and just starting when it comes to intimate relationships.  They haven’t had the decades-long learning process I have yet, the kind of vast sexual history or even the opportunity yet to have a relatively diverse dating pool to choose from and figure out what their preferences really are.  And a lot of them also — be the constraints internal or external — haven’t had a lot of the kinds of freedoms I have had to explore all of this. Even something as seemingly small as my never having felt pressured in my life, by a partner or culture, TO have a given stance on porn, to look at it or not, to be okay with it or not, is a pretty critical difference.  Young people right now have grown up with a very different environment when it comes to porn than someone my age or older did: young women right now often express feeling very strong pressure to both be okay with porn, to include it in their sex lives or even to create it of themselves for partners.  Young people today also often didn’t find porn after searching high and low for it, led by their own curiosity: many see it accidentally before that curiosity ever happens.

If what any of them need in their process with porn or sexual relationships is to try to only be in environments sans porn, then they get to decide that and find out whatever they learn doing that.  I don’t think telling a young person it’s okay for them to have that criteria is sex-negative, shames anyone who uses or creates porn, or enables a culture of shame. I also don’t think telling a young person they can choose not to enter or stay in relationships where there is porn use is telling them they can or should regulate a partner’s solo sexual behavior (something I unilaterally tell them all the time isn’t okay). More to the point,  I think it’s really vital that all young people hear that they ALWAYS have the right to choose only the kinds of relationships they want based on their own criteria, especially since so many of them (and more female than any other gender) express that they do not feel entitled to that freedom.

* * * * *

Some of my reactivity to this piece and some of the comments is also about this thing that happens all the time when you’re a person who does what I do for a living.

That’s the common assumption that because I said X to this person, my personal sex life must be driving the car.  And often, they’re really not.  In fact, part of doing my job well (which is why sex educators do things like SARs) is doing my level best to be mindful of what my own experiences have been, what my own sexuality is, what my own biases are, and to take them into account, then try and screen them out while still also bringing the person I am to the table so that I can still connect with someone well.  That’s sometimes very hard to do, but I always try.

When I answer people’s questions, what I try and do is put myself into their shoes and their heads as the share the contents with me and suggest what I think seems would be best for them, based on what they are telling me about their values, their wants, their ideals and experiences in their sexuality or sex life. I also have to bear in mind everything I have learned more broadly about this generation in the time I’ve worked with them. I certainly can’t leave myself at the door in that wholesale, and sometimes I feel like my own ideas might help them think a bit differently if it seems the way they’re thinking is problematic for them or limited, but what I say is mostly about them and my estimation of where they’re at.

The assumptions people make in public about my sex life who clearly know zip about my sex life get very tiresome, especially after more than a decade of hearing them.  And it’s adults who usually go there: the young people I work with tend to ask me questions more often than just making assumptions if and when they really want to know what my deal is (and they usually don’t). Same goes for the assumptions adults make who a) don’t work with young people and b) haven’t spent a lot of time working with a lot of young people and their sexuality.  It’s not the same as children and it’s not the same as full-stock adults, and the rare few of us who do this full-time for a long time as our job understand that in a way other people who don’t do not.

Plus, I’d by lyin’ if I didn’t say I always get a hot streak of irritation when I see long written responses to sexuality information and education to/for young adults, so people can take the time to discuss it, and how well they’d do it, amongst their adult pals, but don’t show up to volunteer to actually do the work with young people themselves, something all of us who do could really, really use some extra hands with. Seriously: if you could do it so much better, and feel you know exactly the right thing to say, please send me an email to start volunteering, because I could really use the extra help.

Back to those assumptions. For example, based on some of the angry email I sometimes get from men who resent what I say about female-bodied people and intercourse, it’s common for people to figure that the reason I say that the majority of women can’t orgasm from intercourse so often is because I don’t get off that way, and want to keep other people from doing so in my horrible bitterness about the ways I can’t get off. “You frigid old bitch” is not a phrase which I am unfamiliar with as a greeting in some of these responses.  I get that enough that I’ve even considered signing my correspondence with Heather Corinna, FoB.

The fact of the matter is that I AM someone who can come that way and always have been. I’m a very multi-orgasmic and easily orgasmic person, and I reach orgasm from fucking all the time, always have, be the member-in-question attached to someone’s body with sinew or with straps and D-rings.

But I also know from talking to many, many female-bodied people over many years, from anatomy, and from doing my homework on actual study around this that I am a minority in that: just because that works for me isn’t going to incline me to discount what’s clear for vagina-toting folks as a group.

One of my fave assumptions I get from some conservatives is the idea that because I give information on anal sex, and don’t say it’s icky or gross or dirty or always painful for women, I must be having receptive anal sex nonstop. Possibly TMI, but alas, no. Unfortunately — and I say unfortunately, because ideally I’d like to be able to have every single spot on my body have the potential for pleasure — due to one of my sexual assaults, receptive anal sex is simply not something I can do.  It is physically and emotionally intensely painful and triggering for me, and that seems unlikely to ever change. I very much enjoy providing anal sex and play for partners who dig it, to be sure, but I can’t ever be a catcher.  But again, that doesn’t mean I’m going to project that and state that my experience is everyone’s experience: I know better, and I study more than my own sex life for my work.

The assumptions about Heather and BDSM have always abounded, like that one that I have “condescension and hostility” for sexually submissive women, an interesting theory considering that for a few years in Chicago in the 90’s I was thick in the BDSM scene as a switch. While I moved away from BDSM in my sex life, it had squat to do with…well, not what I think that person seems to assume it did. I moved away from that per my Buddhism and where I was/am at with it, and I also have had some issues with how many BDSM communities present those communities as automatically immune from any abuse occurring there, as if there is any community in the world anyone could say that about.  In the early 2000’s,  I was also overwhelmingly awash in several years of submissive women as friends, friends of friends or anonymous emails coming to me — I really don’t know why– who were unilaterally a hot freaking mess. Either a mess because their partnerships really were not negotiated, because those women were not understanding that being sexually submissive as a woman was an option, not a requirement, or a mess because abuse was going on. I had a very close friend at the time where a BDSM community was knowingly and actively hiding the abuse that had gone on in her very visible relationship to protect the abuser.  My expressing somewhere at the time, which I did, that I still had yet to personally meet a female sub (I have since, by the by) who truly had her shit together was absolutely true for me at the time, and I had been asked for a personal opinion/experience in that post. Then, that was mine. I qualified it, though perhaps not as well as I could have. On the other hand, silence on that may have been my only other best option, since otherwise, I would have had to have lied about what my experiences had been. Maybe silence would have been better: I don’t know. It’s tough to make these kinds of calls, and in a space where I constantly tell people they can tell their truths, I don’t know how I feel about any of mine being somehow totally unacceptable (inappropriate is one thing: unspeakable is so something else).

What Vinnie who commented on Greta’s post first linked to, though, was a post way back when from a user who, likely unbenownst to him (as he probably didn’t take the time to look through her post history), was in a pattern of rotten relationships where she said yes to all kinds of things she later expressed she really didn’t want to, but was basically scared to death to be single or alone. She was in a space where she postured a lot, kind of setting herself up as “the girl who would do anything for love,” to prove she was worthy to herself and to partners. That particular post was her asking about a pretty 24/7 situation that, based on what we knew about her and this guy from her past posts, was not at all likely to be healthy for her, specifically.  While I thought it was possible she was a kinky person in general, this particular scenario wasn’t a good one, particularly in her headspace at the time. I did my best with it, with the knowledge I had at the time personally and professionally, and with what I knew of her to date.

You won’t find that original post now because Vinnie came into the community without any history there and made a reply in it that she felt very uncomfortable with — and in general, often when older adults come out of nowhere to talk to our users they feel understandably uncomfy, especially if they come in with a beef  that’s really more about themselves or me than the teens –  and which led her to finding his journal where he talked about her some more. She asked me to make her post at ST go poof from public eyes because of that and because she was basically being assigned a sexual identity from unknown adults she wasn’t sure was hers, so I did. The idea I had “disdain” for her was bollocks and a clear projection.

In that journal entry of his, Vinnie said, “I think you will not see Heather say [that intercourse poses no issues per consent and gender role pressure] because Heather has had pleasurable and fulfilling heterosex…what I enjoy is what’s good for everybody.”  Yet, I’ve actually had fulfilling all kinds of sex, and have also frequently discussed (including in one of the old posts he linked to) that consent and assumed/assigned gender roles are a potential issue in ALL kinds of sex, those I enjoy or have enjoyed, and those I have not or do not.  This is exactly the skewed root assumption I’m talking about.  That motivation — what I sexually like or don’t myself — doesn’t lead how I advise people.  If what I liked and enjoyed sexually led how I advised people, Scarleteen would be a very, very different place than it is, I assure you. It also very much would not have the broad appeal that it does, and would serve a far smaller portion of the populace, particularly since one of the big things I have never done/been is heterosexual. I’ve been queer since I’ve been sexual. And when it all comes down to it, Heather has had a whole lot of different kinds of sex with a whole lot of different people in her lifetime, and Heather has tended to like the vast majority of that sex, be it kinky or vanilla (not distinctions I use, but other people tend to, so), queer or less-so, genital or otherwise, whatever.  If I have any strong bias in the sexuality work that I do, my bias is that I like sex.

By all means, if I — or any other person giving sexual advice — am not doing my job well, as can happen, but hopefully infrequently — then my own preferences and experiences may wind up being more of the picture than they should be.  Many sex advice columnists and writers are legendarily bad at that, though that’s likely less about sex work specifically and more about the fact that people in general often aren’t so great about awareness and management our their own biases. There is a learning curve here, mind: we all tend to get better the longer we do this when we’re trying to get better.  We all have a process: none of us are born fully-formed from the head of Zeus, after all.

Of course some people will tend to simplify things. A couple years back, I wrote an entry about how I felt like my own efforts in sexuality activism were best made outside of trying to change or make better pornography or erotica, which got translated by a bunch of people into “Heather is totally anti-porn.” Not true (and pretty strange if a person has any idea about the scope of what I do and have done in all my sexuality work), and those making the assumptions didn’t usually engage with me in any way to flat-out ask me that, either.

I’m not saying, for the record, that Greta is making these assumptions. I’d be surprised if she did, even though I do think she misrepresented my response.  I think I was very clear that I did NOT think it was okay to try and “regulate” a partner’s porn use.  Rather, what I said was that anyone gets to make a choice about who they date and get involved with, and if someone, as this user was, felt very uncomfortable with porn, she got to choose to only date people who didn’t use it if she wanted. Mind, I also made some strong suggestions that porn may not even be her issue here at all, as I suspect, when it comes to the heart of the matter, it probably isn’t. But if she wants to find out by only dating folks who don’t use porn, she gets to do that, just like if I only wanted to date other vegans or other Buddhists, I’d get to do that, too.

I was on the fence about whether or not to cross-post this at Scarleteen, but have landed on the best-not-to side. Why? Because, again, one thing I think older people don’t realize is how much pressure is put on young women to be okay with pornography and things like strip clubs. When I did some surveys for S.E.X. years back when I was writing it,  was pretty surprised to see how many young people, of all genders, had some pretty negative feelings about pornography, and how many of them really were strongly anti-porn and felt very strongly unsupported.

Those who felt that way tended to describe feeling pressured to like it when they didn’t.  Because of the respect young people tend to give me, statements I make like I have in this entry can be interpreted by young people, correctly or not, as “Well, if Heather is okay with it, then I should be,” or “Heather says it makes no difference to her, so I must be a prude because it does for me. I want to be more like Heather, so I need to just suck it up.”  They tend to feel similarly about those of us who have had a lot of sexual partners: talking about a big sexual history can make them feel pressured, even if that’s not what we intend. I also really pick and choose carefully when I make statements about my observations around my own sex life, because sound boundaries are important and essential, especially between older people and younger people when talking about sex.

Ultimately, I want them to feel as supported in their own sexual life and ethos as possible, and am always trying to be very mindful per how what I say may or may not really be supportive in whatever their own journey or process is.  That’s the foot I try very hard to lead with.  I think I get better and better at it as the years go by, and I think some of my reactivity to a crit like Greta’s comes from hearing that critique at times when I think I’ve actually done exceptionally well, and had to work very hard to bypass my own experiences and my own feelings in order to address and try to understand hers.

Had it just been my guts talking, my guts would have said that I don’t personally get the big whoop with feeling insecure about porn like she does, especially since porn is so often so freaking dumb, and that while she was 100% entitled to choosing partners who didn’t use it (and on that, Greta and I may actually disagree), I highly doubted porn was her real issue.  But my guts in that regard would not likely have been helpful to her, acknowledged who she is now and where she’s at now, or made her feel at all comforted.  My guts probably would have gotten in the way of her process, and probably would have cemented her negative feelings even more, especially since my guts aren’t her guts, and I’m supposed to be looking mostly at hers, not at mine. My guts usually say, “Eh, porn, whatever.”  But that’s not what hers say to her, and I think someone like her can find ways to have relationships in alignment with her wants that don’t also trample, dismiss or exclude someone else’s.

Thursday, January 14th, 2010

So, here I be, trying out of of my resolutions and applying it to the journal.  Don’t need to have huge things to say: just need to show up and say them.

There are some things that get said or asked at Scarleteen sometimes that really freaking break my heart.

• Teen women asking how they can “make their vaginas tighter.”

• The same said group often asking how they can make their labia smaller and remove all the hair from their vulvas without any kind of redness or bumps.  (Catch a theme here?  IOW, who are all these things for, exactly?)

• Worry that because someone you slept with didn’t orgasm once or twice,  you must be tremendously unattractive and unsexy.

• In that same vein, focus on sex as product, not process.  Especially when it’s so new and the process should be the stuff of awesome!  Ack!

• Getting so caught up in trying to figure out how one identifies orientation-wise that it winds up being a thing of thinking, and stressed-out thinking, at that, rather than a thing of feeling and intuiting. Or just grooving on whatever feelings one has when one has them.

• Winding up with a major birth control or sexual health error or problem because Mom decided to give you her oh-so-great advice that a) was learned 25 years ago and b) wasn’t correct then.

• Mom or Dad refusing to believe that a young person wants a GYN visit well before sex (often just to ask questions about their bodies, get BC info in advance) and refusing them a visit because they’re sure they really are having sex when they’re not. Of course, the truly craptastic part is that if they really think they ARE and think it’s a good idea to have them be sexually active without healthcare.
• This is one of the absolute worst: when we get one of these teens who has more than their fair share of partners, but isn’t safe with any of them, often out of crap self-esteem. You talk up and down about safer sex, they blow you off or tell what you know are fibs about getting tested once a month. Then they start asking about this friend or that one with sores someplace, and it’s like looking into a crystal ball of an STI wave that’s likely about to hit all of this user’s circle, and them, any minute now.

• The rape and abuse survivors who were raped and abused by partners and either a) won’t leave them because denial is easier or b) make endless excuses for them now KNOWING it wasn’t okay to call names/hit/rape because denial is easier.

• The late bloomers who are just so convinced they will never, ever have a sexual life.

• The young women who report really blarghy an unsatisfying sex lives with partners earnestly trying to figure out what will make things better, but who refuse to masturbate or touch their bodies in any way with a partner.

• Okay, so, the young women who don’t masturbate and who are deeply upset about never reaching orgasm, period.

• Young men convinced that it isn’t that intercourse alone doesn’t usually result in orgasm for women,  but that their penises are just too small.

• Young men who were SO in love going through breakups.  This is one of my top heartbreaks.  The girls in that space are painful enough, but they at least feel free to call up friends and sob to their heart’s content. The boys so often just go it alone and tough it out while their very tender hearts are shattered into teeny, tiny pieces.  It KILLS me.

• And on that note, the boys who could be great same-age partners to girls their age who are dating these total idiots in their twenties who treat them like absolute garbage, but are “so much more mature.” (Ten bucks says they’d feel very differently if they had ever been treated to listening to the way guys that age talk about teenage girls when they a) think no one is listening or b) think it’s a fun way to try and lord over older women.)
• And the fact that I cannot deliver a kick to the shins of the aforementioned too-old-for-them-idiot-men through my computer screen.

• Reproductive healthcare providers or general physicians who scare young women off of long-term methods they feel strongly would be best for them because those docs either have biases or haven’t updated their education. Do they really feel okay about this after these patients wind up accidentally pregnant because they — as they told these docs — spaced their pills out all the time?

• Young people who don’t talk to us because we have extra information others don’t, or because we’re someone additional to talk to about sexuality, relationships or sexual health, but who talk to us because they simply don’t have anyone else to talk to at all.

• Girls hating on other girls so much that they don’t have a single friendship, and have only sexual relationships with guys which they try to have fit the friendship bill, and which never do.

• People so attached to gender norms and binaries — their own or someone else’s –  that they totally reject what would be really great relationships, experiences or self-acceptance.

• Young people who take the stupid shit bitter or unhappy older people tell them to heart.

Wednesday, January 13th, 2010

I don’t usually make New Year’s Resolutions. I’m not sure why. My guess is it may have something to do with the fact that I’m simply a shite long-term planner, a failing grossly impacted by the fact that I just care a lot less about the future than about the present.

But I decided a few weeks ago that I need to do it for 2010. I turn 40 in a few short months. I tend to give birthdays about as much weight as I give other holidays (which is to say, pretty much one), and have yet to have any milestone birthdays actually feel like milestones. I have a feeling, though, that this one may actually feel like a milestone. I’ve had a lot of changes in the last few years, know there are some to come in the next, and there are some ways I’ve come full circle in my life of late, too. Making resolutions this time feels like a way of acknowledging all of that and also perhaps better, more consciously, putting my life in a better framework for it.

1. Accept and embrace my place in the world. When I say that, what I’m mostly talking about is the fact that there simply is little place for me in the mainstream, especially when it comes to my work. It’s not like I’ve ever tried that hard to fit in, but at the same time, I feel like over the last few years, I also haven’t fully accepted that and then just really been who I am, without feeling like I should at least try to play the game.

For example, I really don’t see Scarleteen ever getting something like a fat Ford Foundation grant, no matter how many more millions I serve, what happens with abstinence-only funding and culture or who is President at a given time. Our world and culture overwhelmingly getting on board with sex-positive approaches to young adult sexuality and sex ed is just not going to happen anytime soon. And I’m just not Ford Foundation people. I’m also not TV people: I didn’t forget that, thankfully, and said no to TV a couple times this year.  I have no interest in being TV people. Ever.

Beyond the way something like doing television or getting a huge grant from a mainstream foundation could help fund and support the work I want to do and feel is important, I don’t think I ever wanted to be that kind of people. There’s a limitation in those things I don’t like. Being on the margins allows me to best address the margins and to do so in a way where I don’t have to capitulate to anyone or have anyone have the ability to control what I do or say.  I still think that benefit is worth the cost of it.

I’ve been more cautious than I really need to be with my work at Scarleteen, the other work I do related to or like it, and also with my other work, like my photographic and written work here, where I write and publish elsewhere.  (I know that to some, it probably doesn’t look anything like caution, and if that’s so, then you perhaps don’t realize I’m weirder than you think I am. I appreciate your mistaken impression, if that’s so.) Some of that caution is sound, is about things that are vital like good boundaries, like understanding that I’m modeling attitudes and behavior for people, particularly young people, and because building bridges is important. So is having some vague semblance of privacy.

On the other hand, some of that caution has been based in fear or weariness. Fear of being stalked again, of being harassed, of being driven out of town with sticks. Fear of going totally broke. Fear of failure. Weariness with fighting the good fight, with paying the harder costs of transparency, with having my freak flag sometimes flying right out there in the open where everyone can see it and may or will dissect it.

When I started doing all of this work, I was more fearless. Mind, I had way less eyes on me and what I do then, and I was younger, but I can still be more fearless, those things notwithstanding (in fact, a compelling argument could be made that . I hit, spoke, expressed myself from the gut more. I miss that about me. I want it back.

2. Get better organized. If you have never lived with me or shared my space, what you don’t know is that I may well be the most disorganized individual on the planet.

I’m very organized in my head. I’m an utter mess outside of it.

And at the present time, I am living with an exceptionally good organizer, who’s already made it far easier to keep the things I do actually have somewhat organized in place. I could, and with no shortage of gratitude from anyone who interacts with me in any way, take very good advantage of Blue’s unlimited and well-honed skills in this department to refine my own.

Of course, this includes doing some actual long-term planning.  Sigh.  But I can do this.  I can.

3. Choose my battles wisely. At the moment, I have a couple half-written, already lengthy screeds about individuals who have driven me up a freaking tree. Whether it’s about penning a book in which they effectively called me a slut who has no call educating young people, about someone faking their credentials and identity and hoodwinking young people who can make my own, real work by a real person harder for a while, or about a partner’s utterly full-of-shit ex-lover manipulating the crap out of me for what appeared to be either entertainment or pathos (or both), I got ire and it’s got words.

Going back to resolution number one up there, to the way I live my life, to the work I do, there is never going to be any escaping this. There are always going to be people like this. They are always going to hurt my feelings or make my life harder or less happy, and they are always going to care very little about that.

Some battles are worth fighting. Slander or libel matter, for instance, especially if they threaten my livelihood and my craft. Harassment matters, because one does need to refuse to be harassed to the degree they can. Muckracking is important when it impacts others, even if it has a personal relevance to me. Too, I’ve had some incidents in the last year where I just felt really taken for granted by some folks, and I started figuring out that rather than sitting and stewing, it was best for me to just call some people out and ask for what I feel I deserve, which has been working very well. Especially when I carefully consider if I need to do that or not.
What amount of heart and mind I invest into this stuff, and who I devote any kind of time to also matters. Some of this keeps me from actually doing the work I want to do, from living the life I want to live, and can result in certain individuals or groups accomplishing exactly what they set out to accomplish, which is pissing me off, complicating my life or making me feel like garbage. Some of it is simply not going to be a sound or productive use of my energy.

I think with this one, I need to learn to err on the side of arrogance.  I need to get a little high-and-mighty and decree that more often than not, some of these folks are just not worthy of even a minute of my time.

4. And on that note, I also get to take my time with things. As much time as I feel I need to. I think because often so much of my work is crisis-based, I can become forgetful about the fact that not only does everything not need a rushed and immediate reply, but that some things are best left to marinate before a response or an action. If something feels like it has to be said or expressed immediately, or that it should be, but I feel like I want to sit on it for a while, I need to give myself full permission to do just that. The world can wait. Lord knows I’ve waited on it enough.

5. Less work, more play.  This is a tricky one, of course, because I don’t make the kind of living that allows me a lot of leisure time.  At the same time, when I overwork, I don’t usually get paid any more than I would if I didn’t.

I know I’ve talked about needing to do this before, and I frequently fail.  I think there are some things I need to do that are supportive of this goal. Trusting that there are others who share my work and activism goals who are working just as hard at them would help. Reminding myself that part of my ethos and philosophy as an educator is to be supportive and to provide guidance, but not to do too much hand-holding and to encourage people to hold their own space and be proactive, also helpful. Getting better at delegating — which also involves accepting that no, that will sometimes mean things won’t get done exactly as I’d like them to be done, but that’s fine — would be a huge help.  Bearing in mind that if I burn out utterly, I’m of use to know one. I may even need to put a note on every wall that reminds me that even if I somehow manage the impossible miracle of helping everyone else have a life they enjoy, if I can’t manage that for myself, it’s no good. Bad teacher, no biscuit.

So, at the very least, this means that every week, I must take at least one full day off. Totally off. I’m also going to make a promise to myself that since I usually start my workday around 7 AM, at 7 PM work needs to be over, whether I’m finished with things or not. If I start later, same deal: workdays must stop at 12 hours, without question. And the Staycation I took last year?  I need at least one weekish-long break like that every year, at a minimum. That was one of the best things I had done for myself in a long time, and I’m a moron for not having done it sooner.
All of this also involves…

6. Letting go of childish things. Not the good stuff: the good stuff stays. I’m talking about the bad stuff.  About the standards I was often held to as a child which were not reasonable then and still aren’t now. About the idea that I have to work harder and longer than anyone else in order to be worthy of living a life at all, worthy of the basic things we are all worthy of even if we don’t do anything with our lives anyone thinks is of note. The hurt, the ugly little voices that say ugly things, the mistakes I made and wished I didn’t, but which I have long since apologized for. The things I was assigned — or self-assigned — responsibility for when I shouldn’t have been.

And that also means I need to…

7. Hold myself to lower standards.  My perfectionism can reach truly crazy epic proportions sometimes, and over the years, it just keeps getting worse. Heck, even with this journal, the entries are less frequent because I somehow got it in my head that I had to say things here of Great Relevance, instead of also just taking a few minutes to add silly, potentially irrelevant parts of my daily life, which is supposed to be what a journal is really for in the first place. It’s a journal: it’s not a book, it’s not a commissioned article, it’s not going to be up for a Pulitzer, for crying out loud.

My new mantra needs to be something like, “No, you don’t have to do it better than anyone else. Sometimes, you don’t need to even do it at all.”  It might also be helpful if I actually remembered now and then that I’ve accomplished more than just a little in my life so far, and with less resources than most: I’ve already pretty much exceeded everyone else’s expectations of me, which were mighty high, so it’s past time I give myself the props and the leeway other people do.

8. Have the birthday party I always wanted.  I mean, for real, I’m turning 40. 40! I’ve well bypassed the age I thought I was going to live until when I was a teenager, and given a lot of my life, that’s no small feat.  There must, at the very least, be rollerskating.

9. Take care of myself just as well as I take care of everyone else. If you’re a helper-person or know and love helper-people, you know how we are. We’re sure everyone else’s care is more important and immediate than our own self-care, even when the people around us notice this brand of dysfunction and call us out on it.  In fact, we can sometimes even come back to those call-outs with this inane and irritating little game where we basically make a Sally Struthers-esque plea for those we feel so need more care than we do. And we’ll say that from our sickbed, we’ll say that when the bills go unpaid, we’ll say that when we are clearly about to literally drop from putting everyone else first.

Must. Stop. This. And if I tell you I’m fine when I really, truly do not look or sound fine, please call me out on my bullshit.

10. Remember that I’m allowed to be as happy as I want to be and don’t have to keep secrets about that from anyone. This is a new issue for me. I’ve generally been pretty effusive about all my interpersonal relationships in my writing and with the people in my life, and very open about my feelings about them. But there’s something right now about being back with Blue again that makes me worry that if I express certain things I’m feeling with this, and what our life back together has been like, it will make all of my other relationships seem like they were unimportant (when they very much were not). My concern about that isn’t just those other people reading this, but even readers making assumptions about what other people in my life meant to me. Which is probably pretty silly.

Mind, it’s a tricky balance regardless, because this is also a relationship I feel deeply protective about.  I want more privacy in it than I have with other relationships. It’s not because it feels tenuous or insecure: strangely enough, for as volatile as some of our history has been, I don’t think I’ve ever felt as earnestly secure in something interpersonal in my whole life. It’s more like that it’s this miraculous thing that’s managed to weather so freaking much over the years, including in the long absences between times we were together or in contact, and so I think I worry that if I don’t guard it in some ways, there might be that one thing that somehow tips the balance. Maybe. We’ve also had troubles over the years with others being very threatened by or envious of the deep way we connect and the import we have for one another that have caused us some big hurt or giant frustrations, too, so I worry there’s more of that to come. And, of course, when all this started back up again, I had to keep a lid on it, so I may just need to remember that’s done now. I don’t know if those things are it either, though. Still trying to figure out what my feelings on this are coming from, really.

All that said, I get to express my joy. I should be expressing my joy, because it is miraculous and it is exceptional and it is also a relationship which has been part of who I am since I was 19 years old.  It was some part of every relationship since because it was a part of me. What I feel and have now doesn’t change what I felt or had for others before. Intellectually, I know this: I just need to connect my head with my heart. And  bear in mind that resolutions 1, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9 will probably help.

…and for the bonus round: I am giving myself greater permission to BOTH tell people who I’m feeling love for that I love them madly, and to tell people who are being complete and utter assholes to fuck the hell right off.  So, whatever side of that coin you’re on, look out. :)

P.S. I love you wonderful silly people who have been reading me for an age madly. A happy 2010 to the lot of you.

Wednesday, January 6th, 2010

Consider this a bookmark.

In the last month, we’ve had two computer deaths. One of these meant getting a new system, a new system I haven’t even had a chance to get familiar with yet, though it’s been here for a couple weeks now. That new system meant that most of what I used to do most of this site and another couple was now obsolete, and I now have to migrate everything into Dreamweaver. Like, the ten years of site kind of everything. More accurately, the ten years of site kind of everything from someone who seriously talks too freaking much. Let’s remember that I learn any kind of tech by the seat of my freaking pants: it’s insane that someone who makes so much of their living on computers has such a tiny skillset with them. I can’t tell you how many times in my life I have nearly wept with a longing for the manual typewriters I used until the mid-90’s. I want them back. I understood them. They understood me. We had a much healthier relationship than computers and I have.

On the computer FAIL theme, we also needed to upgrade the Drupal at Scarleteen, which broke about eighty million things myself and my tech developer for that site have been driving ourselves crazy to find and fix.

I’ve had to do the HUGE deal that was the fundraiser (which I still have to sit down and do all the accounting for), Scarleteen traffic has been insane and I’ve been busy as heck trying to keep up. I am drowning in teenage crises, to the point that I may feel more stressed out about their crises than they do. I had pieces that needed finishing there that have been taxing. I’ve had phone meetings on various things coming out of my ears.  I have people sending me input on things, ideas on things in such a huge way that I’m dizzy, and can’t keep track of a good, goddamn thing anymore. An internet drama turned into people or groups being at risk that I was also dealing with and trying to help do all I could with. I have an amount of planning for both Scarleteen and the in-person program I direct here in Seattle that boggles my half-crazed little mind.  Money, as usual, is stressful as hell and I want to kill it until it is dead.

I actually made some new year’s resolutions this year, but they are only half-blogged.  I also have photo updates to add, but I have to deal with all the computer stuff and figure out how the hell it all works in order to do that.

In other words, I’m here but I’m not here. I will get things up as soon as I possibly can, but I have no idea when that will happen and if I’ll have any hair left on my head I haven’t pulled out by the time that it does.

Wednesday, December 9th, 2009

In case you haven’t noticed in your Internet travels, we’re getting towards the end of our big end-of-year fundraising drive for Scarleteen.  This drive is crucially important for Scarleteen as an organization and for myself as its executive director and lone full-time staffer. I haven’t blogged about it here yet, because I was holding out for this week.

From Friday morning through Sunday night, two awesome donors will be matching funds raised up to $2,500.  As of right this second, we’re at 1/3rd of our goal, which we have raised since releasing our appeal a little less than one month ago.  I’m hoping that over the weekend, we’ll be able to make some serious headway: while we really need to reach our goal, even if we can raise $2,500 to have it all matched, we’ll be past the halfway mark, which will also make a tremendous difference.

So, I’m including our appeal here.  You can check in with our meter on the site to see how we’re doing on the home page for the appeal here, if you like. If you can give during this time period, that’d be absolutely fantastic: same goes for getting the appeal out in front of more eyeballs.  Thanks so much!

You probably know Scarleteen has been the premier online sexuality resource for young people worldwide since 1998. We have consistently provided free inclusive, comprehensive and positive sex education, information and support to millions for longer than anyone else online. We built the online model for teen and young adult sex education and have remained online for nearly eleven years to sustain, refine and expand it.

What you might not know is that Scarleteen is the highest ranked online young adult sexuality resource but also the least funded and that the youth who need us most are also the least able to donate. You might not know that we have done all we have with a budget lower than the median annual household income in the U.S. You might not know we have provided the services we have to millions without any federal, state or local funding and that we are fully independent media which depends on public support to survive and grow.

You also might not know Scarleteen is primarily funded by people who care deeply about teens having this kind of vital and valuable service; individuals like you who want better for young people than what they get in schools, on the street or from initiatives whose aim is to intentionally use fearmongering, bias and misinformation about sexuality to try to scare or intimidate young people into serving their own personal, political or religious agendas.

To try and reach our goal, we’re asking our supporters to consider a donation of $100 or greater. If that isn’t possible for you, whatever you give will still help and will still be strongly appreciated. To donate now, click on one of the links below. If you’d first like more information on why we’re setting the goal we are, what Scarleteen has done in the last year and during the whole of our tenure, our plans for 2010, and what the scoop is with our budget and expenses, keep reading.

Ready To Donate Right This Very Second?

  • To donate to Scarleteen by credit card, online check or via a PayPal account: click here and choose the button at the top of that page for the donation amount and style you prefer.
  • To donate by check or money order directly to Scarleteen: make checks payable to Scarleteen and send to: Scarleteen, 1752 NW Market Street #627, Seattle, WA, 98107.
  • If you would like your donation to be tax-deductible: you can donate through The Center for Sex and Culture, a fiscal sponsor of Scarleteen online here (scroll down to the option to donate to Scarleteen on the left side of that page). To mail a tax-deductible donation, make your check out to The Center for Sex and Culture, writing “For Scarleteen” in the memo. Mail that to: The Center for Sex and Culture, c/o Carol Queen, 2215-R Market Street PMB 455, San Francisco, CA, 94114. They will send a written acknowledgment of your donation to you for tax purposes, and will send us donations made to them on our behalf after deducting a very reasonable percentage.
  • However you choose to donate, if you want to be listed as a donor on our site, please send us an email to let us know how you’d like to be acknowledged.

Want some more information? So far, in 2009 Scarleteen has:

Had around 1 million overall hits to the site each day from an average of 25,000 unique users daily. Scarleteen has a very high page-load rate as compared to other websites: on average, our users load 3.5 pages each when visiting Scarleteen. Since 2006 alone, our site has had over one billion overall hits and nearly 70 million page loads.

Currently, Scarleteen is the #1 ranked site by Alexa for teen sexuality education/information and for general sexuality advice for users of all ages. It is ranked 27,823 of all websites internationally, and is ranked 11,210th in the United States (on 10/12/2009). Our core users are international, 15-24 and diverse in their race, gender and sexual orientation. To see some of our user testimonials, click here.

To find out more about our educational philosophies and model, you may want to read Scarleteen Is…, What Is Feminist Sex Education?, On Innovation and Inclusivity in Sex Education, A Calm View from the Eye of the Storm: Hysteria, Youth and Sexuality or look at our general about page. If you’ve never taken the time to just look around the site as a whole, please do!

Engaged in over 4,000 conversations with young people on our message boards, providing them factual and friendly answers on contraception, sexual anatomy, safer sex, sexual health, masturbation, interpersonal relationships and other related topics; helping them through struggles like pregnancy scares or unplanned pregnancies, STIs, sexual harassment, rape and intimate partner violence or abuse; talking them through relationships and breakups, family conflicts, gender, sexual identity or body image issues and their sexual decision-making; discussing political issues pertinent to sexuality and youth rights. Most posts at the boards are answered within a few hours, some within minutes. Many of our board users return to the boards again and again for more help, to engage in deeper discussions or to talk with or support other users.

In total our boards have over 43,000 registered users who have posted over 60,000 topics: all have been answered by one or more of Scarleteen’s staff and volunteers. Our boards are fully moderated and a safe space for young people. To help protect our users from potential harassment, they may not share personal information like full names, e-mail addresses, messenger or social networking handles or personal webpages. Managing and moderating the message boards often requires the bulk of our staff and volunteer time.

Answered nearly 100 column-length young adult questions in our Sexpert Advice section, which is also syndicated weekly at RH Reality Check. There are around 900 Sexpert Advice columns in total published at the site. However, our advice queue typically has over 500 questions waiting for answers. In order to catch up with this backlog, we need the funds to acquire more staff to handle the high demand for the longer, in-depth answers our advice column provides and our users are seeking there.

Generated fresh static content. So far this year, we have posted 42 blog entries, half of which were penned by young adult volunteers, and have added more than ten new full articles to the site. Some of our most recent articles include Positively Informed: An HIV/AIDS Roundup, Boys Do Cry: How To Deal With a Breakup Like a Man, An Immodest Proposal, Chicken Soup for the Pregnancy Symptom Freakout’s Soul, Let’s Get Metaphysical: The Etiquette of Entry, Give’em Some Lip: Labia That Clearly Ain’t Minor and Love Letter. We have also added several new youth-written articles this year, and updated several existing articles to be sure our information is accurate and timely.

Excluding the message boards (where there are tens of thousands of pages), Scarleteen currently contains around 1500 pages of content: articles, advice answers, blogs, external resource listings, polls and more. We are not able to pay authors for articles, though we often are queried by authors we’d love to hire who have great ideas. An increase in our budget would allow us to provide more new articles and to further diversify Scarleteen’s editorial voice.

Received media coverage: In the last year, Scarleteen was mentioned by/in Salon, Glamour, BUST magazine, Medill Reports, TIME Magazine, City on a Hill Press, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The New York Times, Utne Reader, CBS News and other outlets. To see some of this and more media coverage for Scarleteen in previous years, click here.

Provided direct community education and outreach: In the last year, Scarleteen director Heather Corinna gave talks to sex education students, sex educators and sexologists, youth and/or their allies via presentations at or for the University of Texas (NSRC Regional Training), the sex::tech conference, the American Medical Students Association, Harvard College, the NARAL Youth Summit and Garfield High School directly reaching around 350 total participants. In addition, through the CONNECT program for Washington Corinna currently directs through Cedar River Clinics, direct to-youth sex education was provided on an ongoing basis both to Cedar River young adult clients and homeless teens in Seattle at Spruce Street SCRC, a secure residential shelter. In 2010, Scarleteen will inherit the CONNECT program and continue Seattle-based direct outreach. We also have plans to continue providing information and education both to youth and other educators via conferences, summits and other public outreach opportunities nationally. In addition, with the help of a student intern, Scarleteen is preparing four informative pamphlets for print and distribution to clinics, schools and other groups which serve young people on sexual readiness, consent, managing sexuality after rape or abuse and on how to be queer and trans friendly.

New at Scarleteen in 2009

In 2009 we ran a pilot program to train young adult peer sex educators online. To find out about that program and see what trainees had to say about their experience click here. We want to provide two more sessions of the training for 60 trainees in 2010. We have also just debuted a new SMS service for young people to text sexuality, sexual health and relationship questions to us and have them answered on their mobile phones. For more information on the text-in service, click here. As with all of our services, both of these new services are provided at no cost to youth.

Goals for 2010:

On top of continuing the existing services we provide, we would like to continue to grow, adding new sections, functions and levels of service.

  • Find-a-Doc is a user-fueled database we’d like to build to help young people find the in-person sexual and reproductive healthcare, counseling, LGBTQ support, rape and sexual abuse survivor support and other services related to sexuality they need. Unlike many adults, young people often lack the ability to get a recommendation from a friend: many of their peers and partners do not often yet use or know where to get these services, either. Some do, but are reluctant to disclose they have used them. This database would allow a user to enter one of these services they have used and would reccomend to another young person. Scarleteen staff will validate the service/provider by phone before publishing the listing. Our users in need of these services will be able to search for these services by choosing the type of service they are looking for and entering a zip code.  They will also be able to read comments from others who have used these providers/services to help them make their best choices in care. Find-a-Doc has been on our list of to-do’s for two years now, but the budget has not yet allowed us to pay a tech developer what would be needed to build it.
  • Improved Mobile Performance: More and more users are accessing the web via their mobile phones.  While Scarleteen is currently browsable via mobile, it is not optimized for that use.  Site improvements for mobile use can help us expand our reach and the ability of users to get to us exactly when and where they need us.
  • Volunteer stipends: Our volunteers are an integral part of Scarleteen. Most of them are young adults themselves, and having peer or near-peer voices and perspectives on the site is crucial to keeping Scarleteen youth-centered and accessible in tone for young people. Not only do our volunteers have their own valuable experiences in working as volunteers, they help keep parts of the site running smoothly and assure our users who are asking for one-on-one interaction get it from caring, compassionate and informed people. And the longer we can sustain a volunteer, the more skilled they become. Beyond slathering them in thanks and providing them skills and training, having some reasonable stipends is one way we can help retain the volunteers we value so much.  For more about our volunteers, as well as more about our executive director, Sexpert Advice authors and guest authors, click here.
  • Scarleteen would like to increase our traffic and our reach. Increased reach not only means more young people getting the sex information they want and need, it also can help support Scarleteen by creating greater opportunities for fiscal sponsorships and advertisers. Scarleteen has never purchased any kind of advertising to let young people know about our services. Given that all of our traffic has been via direct referrals and word-of-mouth, just imagine how many youth we might be able to reach with other means of promoting the site. We would also like to serve our global reach better by adding more sexual health resources specifically tailored to our users in India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and the South Pacific.

What We’ve Got & What We Need: As of November 1st, 2009, Scarleteen has received approximately $42,000 in grants and donations, the bulk of which has come from a single private grant. Only around $8,000 of that total has come from individual donations, $3,000 of which was from a single donor. To meet our needs for 2009 and the start of 2010, we need $70,000 in total financial support. Our goal now is to raise at least $24,000 in the next two months to meet our needs and cover the costs of 2009, as well as to walk into 2010 on financially healthy footing.

Beginning next year, we will require a minimum annual operating budget of $75,000 and the revenue to support it. While that is a substantial increase from our existing budget, it is essential: our existing budget cannot adequately sustain our staff or the organization as a whole. That new minimum budget is also still incredibly low: it accounts for the site running at a total of around $200 a day to provide all of the services we do to all of the young people and their allies who use them.

75K is exceptionally cost-effective and reasonable for the level of service we provide, especially compared to other organizations and initiatives, including those which do not match our reach and our level of direct-service. To find out details about our budget and expenses, and to compare them to other budgets and expenses of both similar and opposing sex education initiatives, click here.

As you can see, we need your help.

Please make a donation if you are able, and consider the value and level of the services we provide to young people in doing so. A $100 donation can pay a major chunk of our server bill for a month, or half the monthly cost of the SMS service, or, can fund any kind of use of the site, including one-on-one counsel and care, for around 10,000 of our daily users. However, we would very much appreciate your a donation at any level.

We’d also be grateful if you’d share our appeal with your own networks to broaden ours, and let the people who care about you know why you care so much about us.

In advance, we thank you for all you can give us and all you do or have done in support of Scarleteen.  We fully intend to keep doing all we can to give just as much back.

Once More with Feeling

  • To donate to Scarleteen by credit card, online check or via a PayPal account: click here and choose the button at the top of that page for the donation amount and style you prefer.
  • To donate by check or money order directly to Scarleteen: make checks payable to Scarleteen and send to: Scarleteen, 1752 NW Market Street #627, Seattle, WA, 98107.
  • If you would like your donation to be tax-deductible: you can donate through The Center for Sex and Culture, a fiscal sponsor of Scarleteen online here (scroll down to the option to donate to Scarleteen on the left side of that page). To mail a tax-deductible donation, make your check out to The Center for Sex and Culture, writing “For Scarleteen” in the memo. Mail that to: The Center for Sex and Culture, c/o Carol Queen, 2215-R Market Street PMB 455, San Francisco, CA, 94114. They will send a written acknowledgment of your donation to you for tax purposes, and will send us donations made to them on our behalf after deducting a very reasonable percentage.
  • However you choose to donate, if you want to be listed as a donor on our site, please send us an email to let us know how you’d like to be acknowledged.

If you would like to support us in some other way, such as through advertising, sponsorship or by volunteering your time or if you have any questions about donating, we’d love to hear from you.  You can contact us via e-mail here.

P.S. If you’re curious about how I’m doing, this is me in a nutshell: I have the working-too-long-on-fundraising crazies.  My main computer here kicked it a few weeks back, and thankfully I got a good deal on a new system, but am still switching everything over, which is the pain that stuff always is. (And means the new photo work I have ready will still be a wait, as I will now need to learn and use a whole new application for the site here.) The dogs are getting along swimmingly.  Blue and I are happy as clams, even though it is freezing cold in this house and we rarely see one another without hats on, that given.  I’m overworked, but what else is new? I need more coffee, but what else is new?

Wednesday, November 18th, 2009

The other day, a friend called to catch up with me and asked how I was.

I answered her by saying that the house won’t stop falling apart on me, that I’ve been beyond overworked and am scrambling to make ends meet, that I spent a week with what undoubtedly was H1N1 that flattened me utterly, but that otherwise, I’m seriously great.

Which is true, even in that context of not-at-all-great stuff.

Sorry to have been so absent. I was first gone for a while because of taking my Staycation, which I completely enjoyed, especially since half of it involved Blue’s arrival. Being able to have real time together without seeing and feeling the sands of the hourglass dwindle to an inevitable and painful separation was amazing. Having the time and the freedom to really spend some time ushering in a life together we’ve both wanted on and off for such a long time was a very big deal and a seriously righteous gift.

Then I forced myself to go back to work again, which included a day at the youth shelter, where it was total pandemonium including a couple of the teen boys hacking up a lung in everyone’s face. Two days later, I woke up feeling a little out of sorts. Four hours after that, I passed down face first on the couch and don’t remember a damn thing that happened the next couple of days afterwards, mostly because I almost entirely slept through them. I was still sick — but much more lucid — for a few more days, but it took well over a week for me to even resemble being back to normal. I thank my lucky stars that Blue was here to be a killer nursemaid.  It’s crazy to be so sick you have no memory of whole days at a time.

After that, I not only had to try to jump back into work again, but into big-time high-gear.  I had abstracts to prepare, a presentation for medical students to prep and deliver, a book foreword to write for an anthology, several local meetings, an interview and all the usual work I already have to do. I read a bunch of libelous commentary in both a printed book and online from a religious conservative about me that made me want to get out a Ouija board, channel Jesus from the dead, and demand he go and do something about some of his apparent followers because some of them are really out of hand and he’s clearly the only one they’ll listen to (if that: they seem to dismiss a lot of his messages, but just showing up would at least scare the crap out of them and get a momentary silence we all could use). After that, I needed to prep a feminist carnival, roll out a huge new addition to the services Scarleteen already provides, and start prepping for the big end-of-year fundraising appeal for Scarleteen that is critical to our survival. In case you haven’t picked up on this about me already, I HATE dealing with, thinking about and talking about money. I hate asking for it even more. I just hate money, period: I’d give just about anything to live in a totally barter-based world. When my days are filled with large portions that are about nothing but finances (especially since it’s usually about finances that aren’t there), I begin to slowly and surely lose my mind. It doesn’t help, of course, that Blue is in a similar spot right now himself.

The night before the fundraising release, my stress levels and way too many 12-15 hour workdays in a row broke the proverbial camel’s back.

I had a meltdown that made almost all other meltdowns in my personal history look downright amateur.

Mind, that was also in part because of the falling-down-house. The house I rent here is 107 years old.  It’s clearly withstood a lot, but the maintenance on it over the years and the time we’ve been here has been less than fabulous, and it’s a typical old west coast house: built fast, not in any way insulated. In the last two months, I’ve had so many things break it’s just nuts, and they seemed to have liked to do so in a way that gave it all a very dramatic build: it started gradual, but then picked up so there were days towards the end here where something would happen almost daily. First it was one broken sink (paired with another that was already broken: anyone who has stayed here recently got used to brushing their teeth in the kitchen). Then a broken toilet, which we woke up to with the floor full of water it resulted in. Already, the woodstove was toast (and the landlord doesn’t want to pay to fix it), and then the heat in the main rooms downstairs broke (which is also still not repaired). Next, one of the kitchen cabinets just fell off in my hand. Then the dryer broke. We’re not provided a washer and dryer in the lease: the last were bought used, so are up to me to replace: thankfully, we lucked out and found a free one. Then the toilet downstairs started leaking, providing the cold downstairs of the house with an oh-so-wonderful urine-scented perfume.  Then — not actually part of the house, but still — my main computer system which houses all my music, all my photo work and what I use to do it with, and my most important software, went kablooie.  And because we’ve had a recent move-out and move-in here, a good deal of the house was already in disarray.

And that’d be when I totally lost it, sinking into a pile on the floor of the stinky bathroom. It absolutely did not help that in that same week, we’d decided to double feature the original Grey Gardens with the dramatized new version (which was exceptionally good, but somehow manages to be even more depressing than the original documentary, which is quite a freaking feat). Both Blue and I could identify the stage the place here was in with its matching Grey Gardens stage, what felt like only a couple steps away from a pile of cat food cans in the corner and water from the ceiling pouring unto the piano.

I needed that big cry, really. It’s hard and it’s scary to work so much, so diligently and for so long in my life and still be dealing with things like not having working plumbing and heat. I was basically raised with very strong messages that I, like everyone else on both sides of my family, should expect to be overworked and underpaid, to always be bone-tired from work at the end of every day of my life and to not find work would net me even the basic the things it can net others. Those messages in some ways were helpful — after all, they have helped me manage my expectations — but in other ways, especially the older I get, they can feel a whole lot like a curse, especially given how deeply I am realizing I internalized all of that stuff.  Perhaps internalized to the point that others read that in me and figure throwing me crumbs is just fine since I’m clearly fine with it myself and will not stop doing all I do regardless of the conditions. It’s also hard and scary to be very transparent in asking for things I badly need, and most others in my position have, knowing that ask is inevitably going to meet with at least some cold shoulders that are going to either make me very angry, or just really hurt my feelings. Some of my meltdown was me bracing myself for some disappointment I knew would come.
It’s also hard and scary for me to have someone else around who very acutely feels my pain and frustration; who I’m both really letting all the way in, and who goes all the way in when I do let them.  Usually when I totally lose my shit, I’m alone, which sucks in some ways, but in others, I can really go whole hog with a freakout when it’s totally private.

While it’s certainly ironic, since it’s not what I want, it’s no coincidence that in my relationship history, it’s more common for me to be with people who keep a certain distance from me or withhold than it is for me to be with those who get very close and go all-in. With Blue back in my life full-stop, I’m acutely reminded that in some ways, I can be somewhat Wild Boy of Aveyron emotionally: a bit feral, twitchy and skittish when it comes to anyone really being all the way open to me and wanting the same in return. I’m reminded that this was part of the issue with us way back when, and that while I’ve certainly come a long way in that regard, I’m hardly all the way there. This Mowgli still has some serious work to do in this department. However, having someone so deep in it with me who will really just let me go and listen to all I’m crying about — both the reasonable and the not-so — is a gift. I also need to remember that especially for someone who knows — perhaps better than anyone — how hard it is for me to really open up and speak to the things that scare me the most, that make me feel the most awful, that my doing so is a gift, too.


Like I said to Becca when she called and asked how I was, all of that aside, I’m actually ridiculously happy. Which might seem completely insane given all the crap I just chronicled, but there it is.

Last night I was saying to Blue that if the two of us are as happy as we have been with everything in such total fucking disarray and utter chaos, it’s kind of mind-blowing to figure how we might be if and when it’s not. Even something relatively tiny, like getting an electric blanket to help with the cold, seems to make us much happier and more giddy than it might otherwise. Life here is very good despite all the other kinds of crazymaking and badness.  It’s amazing having Blue here and continues to be awesome for us both to finally really be together. In setting up some of what we can with the place here, it feels homier than it ever has, and that process has been exceptionally nice. Nice enough, even, that when I had heartburn the other night and Blue pointed out the Tums were next to the condoms on the nightstand, it made me laugh instead of making me feel geriatric. The animals are all socializing well. The meadow I cultivated — where the tree used to be — is beautiful and flowering. I have some good work stuff on the horizon in the next six months, just have to see it all through and hopefully get there.  I have had some great help and company in Blue with some of my work stuff and functions. And while I am not in the position to cut back my work hours, I really, really want to, and that wanting is in and of itself a very positive thing.

It sucks that we have to deal with the crap that is this crumbling Grey Garden right now, but we’re still planning a move to the islands, hopefully in the spring. I think we can get through one winter here, even with busted heat. Thankfully this is Seattle, not Chicago or Minnesota, so even if we had no heat at all, it’d be uncomfortable but hardly lethal. It sucks that I have to keep pushing the envelope so much with work, and have to work so hard right now, but it’s hardly anything new.  And I *did* get a weekish off this year, and that really was a lifesaver.

So yeah: a whole lot of everything really is quite shit. But I’ll work my way through it — and get to some of the bright spots looming on the horizon up there –  and am sure I’m not only going to get through it all okay, but in some ways, all that shit only has so much impact because it hasn’t yet managed to overrun the stuff that’s really, really good.

P.S.  I deeply apologize to site subscribers for the lack of photography updates.  I actually have one fantastic completed set that was ready to go online, and two in the process of being ready, but since the main system died with all of that inside of it, I can’t get to any of that or upload any right now.  I may be able to get the data off of it in the next week, but it’ll still be a bit after that for me to be able to get everything moved over to another computer and get it all up.

P.P.S. For those of you who don’t know, when I’m silent here, I’m rarely silent on Twitter, where you can keep up with my life and work mini-updates, things that politically infuriate me, my irrelevant random thoughts and my attempts to stop eating the pretzels I’m unable to stop stuffing in my gob right now.

Tuesday, October 6th, 2009

Just a couple short hours ago, I began the time off I said I was going to take last month.

To prepare for it, in the last week I earnestly can’t think of a freaking minute I wasn’t working.  But I got one of my local volunteers trained in, deposit-paid, and raring to go to effectively be my body double for the minimum work that has to be done each day to keep Scarleteen running smoothly, and I got a few updates up before I headed out, too.  I had a meeting with my new intern (did I mention I have one?  I do: it’s very exciting) yesterday, so she’s all set to get started on her projects.  The bills are paid.  The clinic knows I’m AWOL through the 14th.  I have my Reality Check pieces for the next two weeks sent in.  I just need to push a couple buttons in a bit to add an update to the members area of this site.

I don’t have an autoresponder set for my email, because the last time I did that, it autoresponded retroactively to every email I ever got.  Oops. Not doing that again.  I do have a form letter ready I can cut as paste as needed, though, and should only need to check the work emails briefly every few days. As much of the world as I can possibly inform knows that for the next weekish, I’m off-duty and Not To Be Bothered.

I have a headache, of course, from all of that work in preparation, but I predict that it will soon pass.  Especially since as I write this, I’m sitting on the futon on the porch during this lovely, sunny day, having taken a walk and ingested a quite delicious lunch paired with a very tall glass of juice.  I’m writing now as a sort of welcoming-in ceremony for my beyond-needed, very-much-desired and first-ever-of-its-length Staycation.

Big breath in, even longer one out.  Sun on the face, sun on the feet.  Pug snoozing happily beside. Headache feels better already.

What’s the plan?  For the rest of today it’s probably utter sloth.  I intend to sit out here, moving on to a book, for as long as it stays warm and sunny.  I might grab a hoop and play in the yard for a bit, but then again, I might not.  A Buffy marathon may happen later, or I may marathon something far more silly, who knows.  Even though I ordered in last night because I was on a work bender, I’ll probably do it again tonight.

Tomorrow, if the weather provides, I want to roll out of bed whenever I do, have some coffee WITHOUT starting my workday at the same time, and then grab my bike and go for a seriously long ride, stopping at the market on the way back to get some dinner goodies, maybe some champagne for mimosas for me, me and only me.  I want to get cracking on one of the rooms that wants tidying, then I’m going to steam my face, take the longest bath in recorded history, sit with a wad of the color conditioner I like in my hair to put some of my red back where it belongs, try and nap, read some books and maybe take the pug on an evening stroll.

Thursday I want to spend the day just out in my neighborhood with no specific intent or plans. I actually got quite a few things done on my to-do-during-vacation list already that would not have been big stressors, but not so much fun, either, like making the garden path and getting kitchen curtains up. So, I have even more free time than I thought I would to do things like just bum around Ballard. I also want to get the damn hoop isolations down that I’ve been so frustrated trying to learn.  Little more tidying, but not much.  Thursday night I’m going out with a friend I have not seen in forever, and have seriously missed.

Friday I just try and keep my marbles together and not wear a path in the floors from excitedly pacing.

Because Friday night Blue gets here, after having driven across the country since Monday with a car overflowing with his worldly possessions as well as a nice, big (well, by her standards) dog for Sofia.  Sofia has always wanted a big dog: when they walk past her, she will often sit down on the sidewalk and moon over them as they walk away, gazing in rapt adoration. So, as far as she and I are concerned, Blue’s dog is a present for her. I know, I just objectified a dog. I’m a terrible person.

We’ve recognized, for the record, that this is — in my estimation — all approximately 33% certifiably insane.  Mind, a compelling argument could be made that the whole of my work and my life is, which either makes everything I do crazy or nothing I do crazy: I’m not sure which.  But even by my lunatic-fringe standards, this is, partially, a little nuts.

There are sensible parts of this, to be sure.  We have been reconnected for over a year and a half, we have been together again for nearing a year, and we’ve lived together before very well, and that was before either of us really knew how to live with anybody.  Blue has wanted great big changes in his life for years: he’s getting them.  We know full well that if we had him come here and we didn’t cohabitate, we’d basically just be paying two rents to still be in the same place every night, anyway.  Plus, I like this old house, I don’t want to move until I can move to the islands ideally, I can’t afford it all by myself nor would I want such a big place just for myself, and if I got a roommate who had to live with the two of us fully reunited after seventeen years apart, they’d be wanting to rip out their own eyeballs and eardrums in no time flat.  See? Crazy = practical.

Know what else?  We both could use a big dose of doing something a bit loony.  For myself, I get few opportunities to do so anymore, and I like the freedom of this, the kinda-unpredictability of this.  I won’t say I don’t certainly have moments where I’m not like, “What on EARTH are we doing?”  I do.  But then I have this pretty simple answer I don’t have to think too hard about, which has something to do with following my guts, what they’re saying now and have said more than once before now.  It also has something to do with this strong, mutual knowing what we want and need, and a knowing we fit both for each other, now and in the past.  Really, the real question when it comes to pretty much all of this isn’t about what we’re doing now, but what the hell each of us, at given times, was possibly thinking in choosing not to do this until now.

Friday night it’s pretty much going to be car arrives, two people squealing like small children and scaring the crap out of the neighbors, arranging the dogs and getting some sort of leg up on making up for a fuck of a lot of lost time in several departments.
So, yeah, that’s Friday.  And Saturday, and…well, no more budgeting days for us at that point. If history repeats itself — which, in our case, it clearly tends to a lot — I imagine that by Sunday night we might just consider leaving the house.  Maybe.  From then through the rest of my days off, I imagine we’ll tackle quite a lot of the things I have left on that list I made last month of what I’d like to do with my time off.  Maybe we’ll grab the dogs and go to Vashon for a day or visit the zoo, we’ll get started on the settling in of stuff, who knows, but I assure you, it’ll all be good.

And after all this, my time for myself, my time once Blue completes his Odyssian journey here — a rather stellar combination, if you ask me — I imagine that when the time to get back to work rolls around again, this girl is going to be feeling a whole lot better.

Hello, vacation. You have no idea how happy I am to meet you.

Saturday, September 26th, 2009

I’ll apologize in advance for being pretty scattered, and also issue a warning that I expect to be for a while longer.  It’s entirely possible I’m saying that more to myself than to those of you reading.

I’ve been having a tough time getting and staying motivated with a lot of things lately.  I think most of that comes down to a strange combination of grief finally coming to a head (in terms of Mark and myself), anxiety around all of my work, a need for some big changes in every part of my life but feeling overwhelmed about how to make them happen, as well as a sense of very profound excitement and a continued sense of flabbergast when it comes to Blue and myself, especially Blue’s impending move here in just a little more than two weeks.  All of this comes on the heels of a feeling of exhaustion from the last year or so, which has been full of a whole lot of struggle and confusion, and nothing close to enough sleep.  Thus, scattered.  To say the least.  And that’s something I tend to give myself a very hard time about, even when I know it’s completely understandable for me to be this way.

Of course, now that I’m also here living alone for the time being, I’m also having to try and get that groove back on.  I’ve always liked living alone, but it’s been a few years, and my management skills when it comes to the nicely stretched-out periods of time are rusty. The last time I had them wasn’t that long ago, but in the interim, I also seem to have lost my ability to stay awake for more than 18 hours at a time, which used to be fantastic to marathon work and art with when I lived alone.

This is an exceptionally large space to be living alone in.  Until I’d lived here, I’d never lived anywhere this big, even with housemates.  Being in it completely alone feels bizarre: like I’m some sort of vagrant squatting in someone else’s space who is going to be pretty surprised to come home and find me here. I’ve spent a lot of time cleaning, moving things around, going through closets, cursing my magpie nature.  I’m finding it easier than usual lately to throw things away, a change I think has to do with my wanting a tangible representation of some clear space in my head and my heart.

I’ve been resuming some simple routines I haven’t done for a while, and something about some of those routines is very compelling when it comes to trying to get grounded again.  For instance, there was a dishwasher here.  I hate dishwashers, especially when you’re not running a school or cooking for 12.  The dishwasher got in the way of the sink; having that sink back and fully accessible and washing the dishes by hand is a quiet ritual I missed, and I’ve got dishpan hands from my fixation on constantly doing it again.

* * *

One thing that’s been bothering me work-wise is feeling like Scarleteen is the ugly duckling of online sex education. I’ve felt that way for a long time, but it’s just been getting more and more tiresome over the last few years. It’s not something I talk a lot about because it feels like a pity party, but it’s been gurgling in my gut very strongly of late.  It just gets so frustrating because a decade-and-change of doing the work with really tireless (or perhaps, tired) dedication, millions of users in that time, countless hours of constant overwork — some years without pay, and in the good ones, making around minimum wage — a girl’s gotta wonder what on earth she has to do to get some solid credibility. Or if she’s ever going to get it.  In this field, betting on never getting it would be the smarter bet, honestly.

I had a conversation a little while ago with another online sex education leader that, in hindsight, really upset me. The conversation wasn’t about this, but in the midst of it, I was essentially told how fantastic we are, and how great it is that we’re so understanding that this particular site can’t very visibly support us because we don’t fall in step with more conservative attitudes, and I mean liberal-conservative, mind, not fundie-conservative. And those sentiments were hardly unusual. I’ve tried right from the start of running Scarleteen to form relationships with other similar organizations and I have completely failed at that for those most part. Heck, once a year I used to email the other existing orgs just making clear that I think it’s crazy we aren’t all pooling resources to work together given that all of us together STILL don’t fill the level of need young people have, offering up our ad space for free for their PSAs, what have you, but to no avail.  Sometimes, we just don’t even get an email or phone call back, despite our placement, tenure and the millions of young people who have always found us invaluable.  Despite my never even asking for anything in return. Now, I know some of that is other orgs worried about losing funding via any strong association with us, that’s what is sometimes said anyway, but I have to be frank and say I really don’t think that’s a bonafide issue most of the time. I think it’s hooey, honestly.

It’s a tough spot.  I always want — and have always wanted — our content to be primarily led by what our users are asking us for, and also have always wanted to talk to our users with a certain depth and confidence in their maturity, as well as an acceptance for where they actually are sexually, rather than where many adults would prefer they be.

Mind, there are some exceptions to some of that based both on questions we really just can’t answer without making shit up or being overly anecdotal or without doing what I think is a disservice to our users.  For instance, we do get a lot of “How do I give a blow job?” or “How do I make my boyfriend/girlfriend more horny?”  We don’t tend to cater to that stuff because a) I am absolutely, positively certain I have never engaged in oral sex with their boyfriends so have no idea what said boyfriends like (and will usually respond explaining as much, and that he’s the one to talk to about what he likes), and b) save the barest basics, I don’t want any of our users to get robbed of the joy of experimentation and communication with partners by feeling like they should need a cheatsheet with them to partnersex.  As well, we watch some things, certain language, certain links, simply because I do want the site to be accessible enough to all that it both doesn’t freak out the younger or less experienced users, but also to be age-appropriate AND do what we can to limit how often the site gets blocked.  Plus, some of it is just a matter of taste: I just don’t talk about sex when educating (or heck, during sex for that matter) like I’m running a phone sex line.

Point is that overall, our model has always been user-led, and that’s also my own core philosophy as an educator. I keep hearing that we’re “radical,” and I guess we are when graded on the curve, but certainly not by my definition. We actually feel pretty conservative to me, but I know that my idea of what really is radical is hardly in alignment with many people’s ideas of what is and is not radical. I don’t know how we’d be less “radical” and actually stick to our mission or really educate honestly and well. I’m well aware how we/I do things and want to do things means making some sacrifices, like not getting funding the way other sex ed orgs our size do, but it just seems like it shouldn’t have to be this hard, and still this struggly, at this point.

Who knows, maybe the Obama administration will change this, but I have to say that I’m not particularly optimistic.  So far, what’s come out of that administration around sex ed doesn’t look much different to me than what did under Bush, and it’s also one of those issues that often gets relegated to the back page because it’s so divisive among adults (to say it’s practical, not political, for young people is stating the obvious).  Expecting a focus on inclusivity as far as what’s LGBT-friendly goes, or some recognition that what orgs like mine do when it comes to be fully inclusive is important?  I expect neither.   I’d love to be pleasantly surprised, but I’m not holding my breath.

It’s just rough.  We continue to have the widest reach and highest traffic of any of the YA sex education orgs, and yet our funding/donations are dismal and I can’t ever get enough volunteers to help run things, either.  When I listen to other people in similar positions as myself organization-wise bitch about money or staffing, I have to reign in some seriously homicidal urges because I know other executive director’s ideas about what a crappy salary is, or a low budget is. It’s a salary far higher than mine, a budget way larger than ours.  I just mostly lost one of my very best volunteers to another org because I couldn’t possibly even have one paid full-time staff position to support him properly with and keep someone fantastic. I also really don’t want us to forever be in the proverbial back room of the bookstore.  I just don’t know what to do to change that, and suspect that it’s the biggest thing that keeps us largely unfunded.  In a word, I think I, and my org, might just like sex too much.

I never really know how to talk about all of this, especially professionally.  It’s obviously totally unprofessional to shout out that everyone’s idea of how well we must be doing is off-base and that nearly any other org running this way financially and practically would have shut down years and years ago, but at the same time, I worry that our need for funding, for volunteer help, for more support overall won’t be understood unless I’m frank about these things, either.  But I worry that when I am, because of how things are, it always gets disseminated as this big panic that we’re on the verge of shutting down. We’ve been there twice — and when we were, I did say as much plainly — but we’re not there now, and haven’t been there for quite some time, even though, when you look at everything on paper, it probably looks pretty unsustainable.  Mind you, some of why we’re still around is that I am capable of living very simply, and living without some of the things many people are not. I only have myself to feed, I don’t own a car, I don’t own a house, I don’t have a credit card. It also has just the weest bit to do with the fact that our executive director is just a little bit stubborn. Plus, as I’ve said before, I was raised with the notion that activists not only needed to accept that we may never see results of our activism in our lifetimes, but also that we may scrape by the whole of our lives if activism is what we decided to do full-time.  And scraping by, I know how to do.

It’s probably obvious, but I hate, hate, HATE having to deal with money or any of this stuff.  Growing up with the idea that money is The Big Evil probably didn’t help, but marketing also just isn’t my skillset, and there’s always something really uncomfortable about having to do marketing and fundraising when it’s not about someone else. I’m a much better cheerleader for other people’s causes than I am for my own, and way more comfortable doing fundraising and marketing for others than I am for myself, even if I still don’t like doing it.  Even when it’s important, it just always feels like money-grubbing.

But I need to work that out, big-time. I need to work it out in terms of our funding and finances, and I need to work it out when it comes to our place in all of this.  Because it really is preposterous that in something we really blazed the trail for almost singlehandedly, we wind up often going unrecognized by others who stepped unto that trail after we cleared the freaking path for them. Maybe I just need to get a little more irritated about that; maybe I need to be less irritated.  Again, I just don’t know.

One of the tricky things coming up with this is that this is Blue’s skillset: he’s an amazing communicator, and an incredible marketing person, especially for progressive initiatives and causes.  To say he’s willing to help is an understatement, and he is going to help (read: I am going to grudgingly let him help), but I also want to keep very clear and firm boundaries around that. I have a pretty intense rule that I mix as little business with my personal life as possible, and when I’ve bent or broken those rules, it’s never gone well for me or others. He’s also coming out of a relationship where there were NO boundaries with any of that, where his work was 100% merged with his relationship, so it’s going to be important for him, too.  But we always did have a seemingly-natural inclination to merge (and that’s very much his individual nature, as well: not so much mine, I am my father’s daughter) we’ll have to keep in check on this.  I need my own space, a good deal of it. I also need for my work not to be overly influenced by the dynamics of close interpersonal relationships or vice-versa.  I know there are couples and families who work out running businesses together, but for me that just feels too precarious, especially since on a personal level, work as a whole is a haven for me; a place I can go and put my energy even when everything else is problematic.

To lighten the tone here, I had a meeting this week about adding a new service to Scarleteen I’m really excited about, through a company who came to me because they really wanted to work with us.  It’s a plunge I have been hoping we could take for a while, but until recently, I didn’t know how to accomplish it, and now it seems we have a great way to do so. It’s also something the other online orgs like us haven’t done just yet, and something I think is going to prove incredibly useful for a lot of young people.  Given it has a cost, and also requires labor we aren’t already doing, I’m seriously hoping it helps with funding.  I don’t mean to be obtuse, it’s just that the ink isn’t yet dry.  When it is, I’ll shout it out, I promise. I also had a different meeting about some potentially very good news per funding next year as well as for me overall when it comes to my work with Scarleteen and the clinic.

I think I need to remind myself that what I do know how to do, and know I do very well, is take leaps.  I know how to jump, and I rarely struggle with any anxiety or worry about jumping. I just feel like I’ve fallen on my face a lot when I’ve jumped over the last couple of years, personally and professionally, so I’m struggling with feelings of dread about continuing to do so. However, here I still am, right?  I’m not my best ever, I’m not super-great, but I’m okay, I’m fine, so clearly I CAN leap and wind up falling on my face and it’s not the end of the world. The theme in my life of late seems to be that jumping is the thing to do, no matter how I land.

I’ve told this story here once years ago, but I feel the need to retell. Back in college, my Blake professor made our first assignment to go out and find heaven (we were starting with The Marriage of Heaven and Hell). My first thought was that I needed to be somewhere outside and beautiful, with a horse to ride, just chilling out. So, I asked John, my financial aid advisor, if I could borrow his horse.  He told me Mango was old as dirt, and may not even take any steps at all, but I figured it was worth a shot. Due to an injury, at the time I was walking with a cane, and I also hadn’t ridden in some years, so a mellow horse sounded best, anyway.  As it turned out, old Mango clearly decided this was his last chance to get a big run in and bolted like nobody’s business. I wasn’t even saddled, and I had not ever learned to ride bareback. At a certain point, he clearly was not going to slow down, I couldn’t get him to slow, and he was also about to run across a highway. So, I just let go, figuring falling and breaking my neck in a meadow beat being splattered under a horse by a truck.  Apparently, even from a distance, John had seen all of this, including my attempt at flying when I let go.  Once he came and found me in the mud, the very first thing he said was, You fall exceptionally well and with astounding grace.”

Need to remember that, too. (Mango, for the record, had gotten across the highway just fine, and was back in his stable when we got back, with seemingly no awareness about anything that had happened.  I, for the record, reported to my Blake professor that my discovery was that there is an incredibly fine line between heaven and hell, and their borders are closer than one would presume.)

I also think I need to consider that it’s entirely possible — maybe because I have to to push through, but maybe because it’s true — that I’m on the apex of getting TO being my best ever. I did most of the work I have, after all, in a completely unsupportive administration, and a largely unsupportive culture, and the former has certainly changed for the better, and the latter just might. It is entirely possible that in the next year or two, I will be able to get myself to somewhere a bit more rural, which I know feeds my spirit better than cities do, despite spending most of my life, save my very early childhood, so urban.  And however rough all of this transitioning has been for everyone, I may both be about to discover a much better relationship with Mark than the one we had been having, and I’m also about to be fully reuinted and rejoined with someone who has been a tremendously large part of my heart for 20 years, who is as amazed, excited and is feeling as equally spaztastic and relieved about it as I am. And to quote everyone’s granny, I do have my health: it’s still been on a strong upturn and that’s quite the relief.

P.S.  I should also note that in the middle of writing all of this, I had two people/small groups I really like email and ask about doing some kind of joint work together. Go figure. That given, I’m going ahead and also voicing wishes for a million dollars, a vet who loves to work pro bono, a farmer who wants to give me her land just because she thinks I’m awesome and my 18-year-old ass back. ‘Cause you just never know.

Thursday, September 10th, 2009

I just needed to remind myself that, per the terms of my one grant, I am really only expected to work around 30 hours each week at Scarleteen.

And that when I literally never go a single day without at least doing a couple hours of work on it, even if I only worked four hours on it every day I’d be at about that level.

But that what I, in fact, am logging when I usually not only never do less than a minimum of those four hours, but tend to do more like a few nine hour days, a couple six hour days, and a couple four hour days, is seriously surpassing those hours. I’m nearly doubling them.  Factor that into all the hours I work on other things and even if you don’t consider everything else I have going on, it’s easy to identify the why of my creeping burnout.

So, on top of my promise to myself about time off in October, I’m also promising myself that I’m going to start logging my hours and set those 30 hours as a goal. Our donations this year overall have been incredibly miniscule, so it’s pretty easy for me to logically justify why it only makes sense for me to dial back my hours. If I’m not getting paid for more, and the site can do fine (which it can) without my doing more, doing more starts to look a lot like masochism rather than devotion.

I say all of this because after doing a few hours of work on the site, it occurred to me that what I wanted to do today instead was do some housekeeping, edit some more photos, write a little here, take a long shower and go to the Storm playoff game without working until the very last minute.  It also occurred to me that having to struggle with myself about that is mighty silly when I haven’t taken a day off from any work in days. While I logged a lot of hours doing photoediting last week, a lot of it was about work; about prepping sets for the site.  Thus, work.  Had to remind myself of that, too.

Mark has set his moving day as the 19th.  It’s a mixed bag, my feelings about that.  Many are sad and not at all comfortable, but overall, I know it’s what needs to happen here for both of us as well as for the sake of our friendship.  And when I get past the sad, and don’t guilt-trip myself about the feelings I have that aren’t sad, one thing I’m really looking forward to is a few weeks of being able to have the place here to myself before Blue gets here.  I’ve been a bit of a social hermit lately, and I’ll probably keep that up, because frankly, I want and need the time to myself.  I’m really relishing the notion of being able to have a lot of time and space to regroup, but also the opportunity to kind of regroup the house, as well.

While as I said, I’m always reticent to talk too much about an ex-partners side of a relationship changing or ending, I don’t have a problem talking about my own. I think I’m allowed that.

If I’m honest with myself, one responsibility I bear in all of this is not having taken enough time not only away from working, but where my head was all the way away from working, in the time Mark and I were together.  Mind, I don’t think that would have changed anything as it is now in any essential way: in fact, I think we may have just gotten to this point a lot sooner. (I also think we both share this particular error.) But I think us having gotten here sooner also would have been a lot less painful for us both, and my being more mindful, more truly present in the time we spent together, and making time for more of it is something I think would have made a big difference; a positive difference no matter what.  It’s not a mistake I want to make again. If I’m not all-in in that way, it’s only going to make so much difference if someone else is, especially since I can be very stubborn, it’s very difficult for others to drag me away from work and I should be the one dragging myself away in the first place.

Mark and I are, and have been from the start, very different people: our interests only strongly intersected in a few places, which is not nor has ever been the case with Blue and I. So, something else I need to remind myself of is that making that kind of time is going to get a whole lot easier no matter what, because things like tending to my garden, going to the market or the nursery, riding my bike, boxing, setting things up around the house, going on some wild, random rampage for new shoes, sitting down and writing, reorganizing the fridge… these are things where I am now going to have opportunities to do them with a partner, rather than trying to squeeze them in on top of everything else so I have time for a partner AND all of those things.

Of course, I’m going to have to remind myself of that, especially with my lifelong case of  “I can do it by myself!” syndrome. Shouldn’t be too hard, though: I’m really looking forward to it. Like, I’m earnestly dizzy in the head at the idea of someone wanting to plant flowers with me.
And that stuff is another bit where I feel awkward talking about it. Shifting a secondary partnership to a primary one, and then also ending the primary partnership at the same time is sticky and tricky.  I’m really incredibly excited about what’s to come with Blue, especially given our history and how long we both feel like we’ve waited for this, but I don’t know what is and isn’t graceful when it comes to how much I express that here and elsewhere.  I’ve never been all that confident in my own social graces.  But Mark is excited about his new place, and has voiced that plenty, and is also excited about moving back into life as a single and has talked plenty as we’ve gone through this about his dates, so I may just be being overcautious.

Still uncertain about that, I veer.  In figuring out how to restructure things, I want to be able — both in the weeks I’ll have to myself, and then after Blue arrives — to have days where there is plenty of room for all of the parts of my life, all the parts of life, period.  Where I don’t feel like I’m shirking my duties because I want to tend the house and garden for a day (things normal people make time for all the time, Corinna), or work on art for a day, or write something that isn’t for Scarleteen, or even step away from there altogether for a few days at a time now and then.

I feel a bit silly saying that, because I often feel like most people my age seem to have this stuff down to a pretty decent science by now, whereas it usually confounds me.  But, I yam who I yam, I suppose, and I get to have my own challenges.  I’m allowed to be daft with some things, after all.

Tuesday, September 1st, 2009

I am a giant, pulsating ball of stress.

Here’s my whirlwind, as scattered and lunatic-fringe as it feels: some friends in deep crisis needing a good deal of care, more and more rape/abuse survivors coming to Scarleteen as well as more and more users who just need a kind of care we can’t give, but who often aren’t willing to get what they actually need, Blue mid-divorce which will probably get more and more yucky (paired with my own irritation at people getting married in the first place, with all apologies to my married readers), more work that just is barely paying me lately (Scarleteen donations are dismal) than any one human being can do, less work that does pay me available to me lately, a bunch of long effort expended on a maybe-second book only to get the oh-so-typical marketing team not-commercial-enough smackdown, Mark getting ready to move and going through something major to boot, Blue getting ready to move, a big house I am going crazy to keep tidy on my own, the tail end of the peer sex educator training, broken sinks, cut-down trees, overwhelming photo backlog (have been making progress, but have a long way to go) so I can get to the point where I can make some new art (which my spirit direly needs), serious impatience about having certain parts of my life start I feel like I’ve been waiting for forever, feeling ineffectual half the time even when I work my tush off, not enough help for…well, nearly anything and everything I need help with, behind on a million things from people visiting, feeling like I can’t possibly give all my friends the time and care they all deserve, money worries including old bills coming home to roost, too many people asking me to do too many things, feeling better physically but still have no answers and am sick and tired of stupid healthcare bills especially in the cultural context of a million people whining about healthcare proposals who have always had and will continue having their damn healthcare, not allowed to box which would really freaking help right now, still desperately trying to find a new developer for Scarleteen we can actually afford and not at all liking living totally developer-less, my pug is itchy all the time again, I’m sad for summer’s upcoming end, I desperately need some time alone, I’m excited about good stuff to come but also nervous as hell, I worry over both my parents a lot these days. Hell, I worry over anything and everything I could possibly worry about.  I have also been finding much of the world lately to be an utterly irritating and crazymaking place and I hate my negativity that way.

Like I said? Giant pulsating ball of stress.

At this precise moment, I’m not sure what the answer to all of this is.  I can figure out some answers for a few of those things, I can put on a few band-aids, but unfortunately, an awful lot of them are things I just have to weather for a bit.  All of this not going on at once would sure help, but there’s not much I can do about that.

I have, however, firmly decided that sometime in October, I am taking a full week, maybe even a week and a half, off.  I mean real-deal time off: NO Scarleteen, NO clinic, no work at all.  No managing anyone else’s crisis.  Part of me says I can’t afford it, but the smarter part of me that cares for myself says my pocketbook is more resilient right now than my head, heart and body are.

I honestly don’t know when the last time was that I did that, where I didn’t even check in with any work-stuff at ALL for more than a couple days at an absolute maximum.

I am taking a moment to put this here because I can pretty much always come up with some excuse when the time comes to take time off as to why I cannot, and I’m asking the internet-at-large to hold me to this, and nag me like a granny if I backpedal.  You see me working anywhere during that time?  I want you to chase me with sticks like a crow in the corn.
And if you’ll humor me, I’d like a few moments to step away from the whirlwind and daydream about what I’d like to do with that week, even about things that probably aren’t possible in reality, in an equally scattered fashion.

I want… to hula-hoop in my backyard on days when it’s sunny and blast reggae while doing so, get a footpath into the front lot where they took my tree away from, get back to baking bread especially so I can give it that satisfying thwack after it rises, make some art, have lots and lots of sex and even more kissing, paint a wall something crazy and in possibly poor taste just because, learn to take naps, go to the Olympus (and in my fantasy world, I magically don’t have to pay for it), eat too many Mighty-O donuts, get a bike ride in every single day, restring my dulcimers, watch way too many movies in a row, discover my new favorite band, have not a single pimple, find things I’ve misplaced and have been missing for years, write something completely fanciful and ridiculous of absolutely no import or consequence to anyone, not have anyone talk to me about money at all — in fact, not deal with money at all save to discover some unexpected donation that comes in to fund my taking time off and prove me right in being able to take the time in the first place, be free of awkward silences, put up curtains in the kitchen at long last so I can dance (and do other things) freely in my underpants without providing live theater for the neighbors, get a real sofa like real grownups have (if it appeared at Goodwill and was two bucks, that’d be even more awesome), giggle, sew a canopy for what’s become my new bedroom, actually experience total apathy for even just one minute, remember I don’t need to somehow write or say everything that needs saying in one sentence, get out of the city for a day, be given a bath in which someone washes my hair who isn’t me, play with my dog, take evening walks, spruce up my space for my sitting practice, have dinner made for me, read books that have nothing to do with work, have someone tell me marvelous things about myself right in my ear where I can hear them and not doubt them, go to sleep too early and sleep in too late, have an overcast, chilly day turn into the most beautiful day of the whole year, find the bathroom scrubbed clean when I didn’t do it myself, start one day with a pitcher of mimosas, go to the zoo, say some things I often feel like I shouldn’t, cry freely, have nothing terrible in the world happen for at least half my time off, find those days stretch like taffy and have each feel like a week and remember who the hell I am again, entire and apart from the giant, pulsating ball of stress I have lately become and deeply dislike.

Friday, July 31st, 2009

This is the twentieth time or so I’ve tried to write here in the last month and a half.  I’m determined to succeed this time, despite my fear of doing so.  I got a few notes from people starting to earnestly worry about me: I certainly didn’t need to make anyone worry, but do appreciate the concern.  Given my time lapse, and how complex everything is, there’s going to be a lot to read here today, and it’s going to read a whole lot like a confession, even though I’d prefer it didn’t.  I don’t really know how to do this: I expect to be clumsy, which feels like my default these days.

A lot of my silence has had to do with waiting for a very, very big shoe to drop.  The long and the short of it is that the once-primary relationship — a marriage — Blue has been in for over a decade has been troubled and deteriorating for quite some time: years before we even started talking again, let alone renewed our romantic and sexual relationship last winter.  And it has now led to his taking the first steps of a divorce.  I haven’t felt comfortable sharing that aspect of all of this until now because…well, wait.

I still don’t feel comfortable sharing, but I feel even more uncomfortable not doing so.  I don’t like keeping secrets, especially big, nasty ones.  I don’t like being secrets, either. All the same, I haven’t felt okay about even thinking about disclosing that until this point.  Both knowing (which I have for some months) what choices Blue wanted to make, and having those choices begin to be enacted was something I needed before I talked about it publicly, for everyone’s sake.

Let me get this out of the way: in general, I don’t care if someone is married, so long as it isn’t me.  However, I have always had a hard and fast rule about dating or sleeping with anyone who is married, even if it’s an open marriage by full and glad agreement: I don’t do it. The one time I was with someone who I found out wasn’t truthful with me about the status of a marriage, I put an immediate end to the relationship, even though it was an important one I didn’t want to sever.  If I went into all my reasoning around why that’s been my rule, I’d have too easy a distraction, but the crux of it is my feelings about marriage, honesty, honoring people’s existing agreements (and dating people who honor their relationship agreements), emotional availability, how much drama I’m up for and what I want and need in my life. I also have been close to too many messy, ugly divorces in my life, with family, with friends, and I want to be as far from divorce — always a possibility with any marriage — as humanly possible.

I made an exception this time, which I’ve had mixed feelings about. Because I did go outside my own ethics, ethics I tend to broadcast, I feel a need to explain why. I made that exception because of the nature of both my and Blue’s relationship, now and in the past, because of my understanding of Blue’s relationship with his wife, because of existing nonmonogamy over there for years before I was back on the scene, and because my feelings for Blue and vice-versa are very strong and enduring.  I’ll also be honest: given our long and complex history and how we have always been when together, beyond my usual bristling at the idea of anyone having ownership of someone else, the idea that Blue is “someone else’s” just isn’t how this feels or has felt.  Not to me, not to him. I made an exception because we both felt gypped at not having another chance to be together at a time in our lives when we could finally handle it. I made an exception because a lot of this — most of this — just felt right, and because in weighing my options, not pursuing this as we have felt like a choice I’d regret more than I would in pursuing it.  I don’t intend to absolve myself of any responsibility for my choices, but in terms of how it has felt and it feels, this hasn’t been one of those things where I’ve been all, “I’m not proud of what I’ve done, but….”  I’m neither proud nor not proud.  In making my choices, I consulted at great length with my heart and head, and with people close to me who I know care about me a lot, understand me, and hold me to the same kinds of standards I hold myself to. I also made an exception because we both intended the way things have been to be temporary.

The end of this marriage isn’t about me: it’s been creeping towards this for some years now after efforts to repair problems for a very long time, and also has not been a sexually active relationship for a long time. Both for longer than I’ve ever even been in a romantic relationship, which is an odd perspective to have.  As far as nonomonogamy over there has gone, they have had is what I describe as a passive agreement to active ignorance (and not the pejorative meaning).  There’s essentially an agreement to denial, rather than to an open relationship, and some interpersonal structures built to provide certain freedoms for nonmonogamy while keeping a strongly padlocked silence about it.

It has not been something workable for me in anything but the short-term, if that.  Even in that limited way, I don’t see my ever agreeing to this with anyone but Blue.  I’m not down with multiple partnership like that where everyone isn’t talking and negotiating as a collective, especially with relationships as serious and loaded as these.  I also feel conflicted with anything — even when it’s a choice one woman has made — that keeps women from connecting with one another.

However, it’s not my relationship, so I’ve tried to be a grownup and not project what I think is kosher for me or in general unto them. Suffice it to say, I can have a certain arrogance about things like this as an occupational hazard, especially if I’m not mindful about it. I’ve tried to deal only with my and Blue’s relationship and how their stuff involves me.  What I could address, obviously, is our relationship, and both what I can live with and want to live with.  I had my ducks in a row over here on my end, and my agreements with Mark sorted already; I had from the get-go.

So, back in March, Blue and I made an agreement that by fall, he would either a) create an open and fully honest agreement per he and I within his marriage — which included the honesty that he wasn’t with some random person, but with me, as well as that he wanted me to become a primary partner — b) for that relationship to switch to a fully acknowledged platonic relationship and/or for the legal marriage to be dissolved, or c) for the model of our relationship to change so that it became a platonic friendship, either permanently or until one of the other options was wanted and chosen.

It wasn’t an ultimatum.  In fact, if his marriage wasn’t in disrepair already, and it was meeting Blue’s needs, in many ways I’d have preferred the first of the three options.

The why of that is complex, but I know part of it is that I just hate any a situation where one person is chosen “over” another or perceives things that way no matter who it is getting chosen, even when it’s me.  (Maybe in some ways especially when it’s me.)  My internal sense of fairness revolts at it, as does my core feeling that we all have room for infinite love in our hearts; room for far more than one person we love in life, and I don’t understand why we accept that as a culture with friends and family, but not with sexual or romantic relationships.  This “pick one” thing just doesn’t sit well with me when it’s about people.  I also know that Blue has a lot of love for the person he’s married to, and has valued many aspects of their relationship.  I hate to see love lost.  However, this is another area in which I’ve needed to work on being an adult when it comes to what other people choose and what they want.  I didn’t have a say in their relationship, to how they structured and lived it: that was all about their choices, choices made a long time before Blue and I reconnected and renewed our relationship.

In any event, Blue wound up choosing door #2.  At this point, discussion of he and I has not yet happened between he and his wife.  I sit on that precipice very, very nervously, the same way I’d sit in the open maw of a lion.  I don’t know what’s going to happen when they get to that point, especially since it’ll mean his breaking an enforced silence on a bunch of things she/they clearly just has/have not wanted to face or address.  His disclosures around nonmonogamy are going to be one thing when talking about other partners, but most likely something else when it comes to me.

I’m not entirely sure if it’s okay for me to talk about this here, but it’s really heavy for me and no small part of all this, so I’m going to say it for now and hope I don’t trespass. I’m a very loaded person in that relationship, and that’s age-old: in many ways I’ve been the most loaded person in that relationship since it began. I started out the bad guy (or rather, girl) for them both: I was the terrible person who broke Blue’s heart, who in some ways he was treated as needing nursing from.  In some ways I’m sure that he did, of course, but there was a lot of demonization there, some of which I understand now, but still don’t like.  I, or the history of myself and Blue, seems to have been a foil for some of their problematic dynamics.  Mind, I don’t think that was fair.  I was 22 years old when I left Blue and in the middle of very terrifying, overwhelming and unanticipated PTSD that took some things away from me (or seemed like it did) that I deeply cherished and felt utterly lost without.  As well, Blue and I had some shared issues, and he had his own missteps. I had a fight-or-flight impulse, and I flew. I handled it all badly, without question, and only after finally really working through all of it together last year did I stop feeling horrible about some of what I did which I know was awful.  However, I didn’t mean to hurt him: I was trying to protect and guard myself with limited skills and a mind that was in total disarray.  So, not fair, but that’s not all that relevant: a lot isn’t fair in life and love, and it’s very clear at this point that they were probably more hurt, and will be more hurt, in creating that dynamic around me than I was or will be.

It’s a bit tough not to feel like something of a homewrecker, though, even though I know that’s not what went on, nor what is going on, and not at all what anyone intended or wanted. But I anticipate it may be perceived or presented that way, especially since it’ll probably be more comfortable in some ways to point at me rather than acknowledging tougher or more painful truths.  If it is, if I am, presented that way, I don’t know how I’ll deal with it.  If I’m honest, I have to acknowledge that I have equal parts sympathy and a total lack of sympathy in that department.  I feel some guilt around this, particularly because I know that there has always been a good deal of jealousy in terms of the strong feelings he has had for me, as well as a (obviously valid) fear he’d choose to be with me instead of her.  I would never want anyone to feel like they were in or lost some kind of competition to me for someone else’s heart: that just sounds abhorrent to me.  I don’t even want to be even a tangential cause of someone’s pain. Suffice it to say, I have a lot of sympathy for anyone losing Blue in any way: I know too well how painful that can be. On the other hand, I have to be kind to myself and cut myself a break knowing that this is not a dynamic I set up: that was someone else’s choice, not mine.   I made clear what I felt and wanted a long time ago, and that last time around, in Act II of all of this, I stepped aside without argument to allow Blue to choose to go to her when a “choose one” was their deal, even though it was the last thing I wanted to do, it hurt like hell and I was the walking wounded for a couple years afterward.

It still sucks that this dynamic exists, regardless, and I still don’t look forward to facing it, but expect I will have to.  That everyone will have to.  But maybe we’ve all needed to, perhaps for longer than any of us have realized.

Okay, taking a breath.  Now another one.  One more.

I realize there’s another reason why this has been so tough for me to voice here, even once I had the criteria I thought I needed, we all needed, for me to do so.

It makes me feel small to admit it, but one benefit of having and living very stringent ethics is that it allows you a certain lack of vulnerability. In some ways, a perception of you being superhuman and perhaps not as flawed and fallible as everyone else.  Even if it’s not why you choose your ethics, certain standards of living and thinking do put you on a pedestal to some degree.  They can protect you from some measure of judgment. Of course, if that is the case, however rough some of this is, that’s very important for me to ditch, especially since it may well be part of some treatment or perception of me in life I don’t actually like and which can feel very isolating.

Let’s also face it, I’m hardly anonymous, and putting this out there does make me nervous in terms of my job and position in the world.  I know all too well that there are some individuals and groups who will relish evidence that I am the immoral, skanky harlot who is out to wreck families and traditional relationships it’s been sometimes suggested I am.  I’ve joked about it among friends sometimes, that that’s my easy out, my being everything some have said or implied I was in the first place. But my jesting there comes out of guarding how vulnerable it makes me feel and my desire not to be that person.

I’d be remiss to leave out that disclosing all of this means that if I wind up with egg on my face I can’t hide it.  (I was so close to typing “…then the yolk’s on me” instead.  I’m very sorry that I still did it.)

And that’d all be some of why I was so quiet.  Believe it or not, that is only some.

It’s been rough to figure out how to talk about Mark and I, too.  Some of what came out in all the communication around the poly agreement last winter was a level of honesty Mark had withheld from me –  and himself, really — that was so rough for me.  It wasn’t anything malicious, cruel or purposefully deceptive.  At worst, I’d say it was careless, but at the same time Mark and I have had very different lives, very different levels of experience with relationships and very different personal growth experiences. All the same, what came out hurt me deeply in some ways, and was a dealbreaker for me when it came to us having the kind of relationship we had been building, or that I thought we had.  I don’t mean to be obtuse, but it’s not my right to spill Mark’s guts for him on the Internet, so what I’ll just say is that I want and need certain things in a relationship of this depth and level of commitment that just didn’t mesh with how Mark was feeling, thinking and constructing his own frameworks.

It’s not an honesty I regret, and it was a brave one on Mark’s part that I’m exceptionally grateful for.  I think when this kind of stuff comes out of poly — as it tends to since you’re usually deepening communication a lot — it’s so convenient for people to blame the poly, and this just isn’t poly’s fault.  A lot of good things have come out of us opening the relationship up at the end of last year: I’d number those tough truths among them, even though the outcome of that truth led to a split.  I think, though, it’s probably also going to lead us both in directions that will result in both of us getting what we really want and also coming to whatever our best relationship is.  Mark still feels like my family: I have a hard time imagining Mark will ever feel like, or be, anything but. Mark’s family feels like my family, and they’ve made that clear on their end, too. Mark also remains, however sticky some things are right this second, one of my very best friends in the world.  Visualizing a life without him in it makes no sense to me.  And some of all that is why it’s been tricky to talk about what went down with us: I’m a ferociously loyal person with those near and dear to me, and can be very protective.

Over the years, I have kept finding that one area where it gets tough to write here about my personal life is all about loyalty.  Sometimes, it’s hard to be truthful about the not-nice stuff interpersonally, not just around protecting the privacy of other people, but because I also know that how I talk about someone, how I present someone or a situation with them creates a representation of them a lot of people read here.  I never want anyone I care for and love to be disliked by anyone — heck, even if and when I dislike them, which isn’t the case here, but certainly has been in a couple previous relationships of mine I’ve journaled about.  I absolutely don’t want anyone to think someone in my life is a jerk because of what I say, or because people who know or read me feel a loyalty to me, rather than to that other person.  Talk about unfair.  I can see how, over the years, from an outsider’s view it probably looks like I’m with someone and with someone and then BOOM: I’m not.  I can see how it probably presents a lot of my relationships as a bit one-dimensional, since I tend to talk more about their strengths than their flaws.  But again, I’m not anonymous here, and often, neither are the people I’m involved with.  I think being responsible around that inevitably means presentations that are often fair-weather.

That’s played a part in both of these relationships and my silence around them of late.  That loyalty made me want to withhold that Blue was married because I felt protective about anyone leaping to cliched notions about him and thinking he’s a bad person: I know he’s not and I have loved him dearly for nearly all of my adult life.  That made me want to withhold some things about what has been going on with Mark and myself because I love and care for him deeply and hate the idea of even someone he’d never meet having a fleeting thought that he’s a jerk because it’s so easy to do with only slices of a picture or only my own words.

To keep you in the loop with more practical stuff, Mark and I have stayed living together throughout, which has been okay sometimes; not so okay at other times.  It’s come to the point where we both clearly need some more space.  That means one of us leaving the big old house that we rent, and based on a bunch of issues (I’ve done much of the work to it, it has things I need or like but Mark doesn’t, it’s trickier for me to find a good place because I don’t have a car, etc.) we’ve decided I’m going to stay here.  I still intend to try and move to the islands, so Mark may even come back here and take over when I can do that (probably not until next summer, mostly due to the health stuff and its expenses).  And Blue is planning to move to Seattle to be with me in the next few months, which most likely means moving in here.

I keep going on tangents which I know are coming out of left-field — a very defensive left-field, no less — but I’m going on them all the same.  I feel the need to say that this is probably, from an outside perspective, seeming a bit fast.  From the inside track, though, it feels like something we have both waited for for close to two decades. We were also Olympic Gold U-Haulers when we got together in college.  Our first “date” lasted three solid days and we moved in together right on its heels.   It’s probably the most stereotypically dykey thing I have ever done, and I did it with a guy.  Figures.  All the same, we loved living together, it never felt too fast, and we lived very harmoniously for a few years at a time in our lives when we barely knew how to live alone.  We figure we’re probably better at it now. To boot, when we were together the first time we always basically headed these small collective households.  They were lovely — I often miss our shared house with Becky and Thai and all the kittens a ton.  However, the idea of actually being able to live by ourselves for the first time is pretty exciting.

Where things will go from there, where we’ll want to take them, we don’t know. We’re not there yet and don’t feel a need to be there yet. It’s been one of those things where you just jump.  You don’t have to, but you so want to and you can, so jump you do.  We’re still mid-air, so who the heck knows where we’ll find ourselves when we land.

The timing of all of this has been seriously rough, or maybe perfect, depending on how you look at it.  If Mark had not shared with me what he did, and our relationship hadn’t changed markedly because of it, then we’d still probably have been negotiating switching from primaries to secondaries a few months back.  We’d probably also still have been doing that even if Blue had wanted to choose for he and I to stick to a friendship, or if Blue was going to stay in his marriage.  Hell, the this of this has been rough.  Even from when Blue and I first just started talking again, I was endlessly checking in with Mark because he knew how I felt about Blue: he knew in the first six months we were dating, as I told him about the relationship way back then, before we got to Act III of it.  But of course, I didn’t tell him about it with any expectation that that relationship was anything but over. (In hindsight I’m glad of that: I never had to wonder if I was honest about my feelings.) I never thought any of this was going to be easy, but I do think all three of us thought it wasn’t going to be this hard.  We’ve all been clumsy, we’ve all had our moments of thinking and feeling we have loused everything up or taken missteps.  Maybe we have, any of us, all of us, but all things considered, I think we’ve all done alarmingly well in caring for everyone involved.  And that’s not something I’m simply saying out of loyalty, either.

On a strangely bright note, my parents, who got along for five whole minutes of my life and have agreed on things less often than the fingers I have on one hand (the one without all its original fingers, no less), have both been incredibly supportive.  Oddly enough, my father was the one with some issues at first — usually, it’d be my mother with the finger-wags — but at this point, they’ve both been great. And that’s been a real and unexpected source of comfort.  My friends have also been totally amazing.

On the health front, for the last two weeks, I have finally gotten feeling in my left arm and hand 100% back.  I also have been almost entirely without the constant pain in that arm and shoulder.  I cannot begin to tell you how amazing it is to have months of that be over, even though I am still enormously behind in everything from the months it went on for.  I’m still having weekly therapies for that and some of my other symptoms and issues — muscle work, acupuncture, nasty-tasting herbs — and we still don’t know why it happened, or why I have some other things going on.  But to be plain, the pain and numbness being gone, having full use of that hand back, is enough for me for right now.  I can live without that question answered at the moment.

However, in a lot of ways, all this health business has been a bit of a straw breaking the proverbial camel’s back.

I need to accept, I’ve been trying to accept, that I simply can’t do 60+ hour workweeks anymore. I need eight hours of sleep a night. I need to take plenty of breaks during the day, especially breaks to play outside where I can move my body around and turn off the incessant furnace of my brain.  I need downtime in the evening, and I need something close to two days off a week, not two hours.  I turn 40 next year, not 20.  I need time for my freaking art, including creating things I have no intention of showing or selling.  I also need more flexibility to call it a day when I’ve worked with someone in any given day who has just emotionally tapped me out: the longer I work in the fields I do, the more easily people very deeply connect to me, the more rough stuff they disclose and ask me to help them hold.  Sometimes I can hold it and move through the rest of my day, able to hold more.  Sometimes I just can’t.  That needs to be okay: I need room for that to be okay.

And on top of all of that, with as much diplomacy as I can muster, have to say that I want to be able to have the time when all of the preexisting context of all this is sorted (which may be a seriously long haul) to simply enjoy Blue and being with Blue.  Without attaching any sort of hierarchy to any of the relationships in my life, including my relationship with Mark, I am on the precipice of being able to spend a lot of time with someone I have loved for an age, and to be with him in a way that it seems we are both finally ready for.  In so many ways, there was an unwieldy enormity to our relationship and chemistry the first time around, and for us individually in terms of dealing with very difficult issues in our own lives.  It was a LOT of relationship, a crazy-quick depth of connectivity, some very strange fateful details, and no small measure of drama; a lot of for two relatively young and very passionate people with poor relationship modeling growing up to handle. At this stage in our lives, we are much more capable of both handling it and appreciating it for the rare, mighty thing that it is and always was.  Then, it felt like trying to be out in a thunderstorm holding nothing but an umbrella, more likely to get you electrocuted than it was to offer any shelter. Now I think we’ve both got handfuls of thunderbolts and a far greater strength, care and power to use them wisely and without so much fear.

The both of us, albeit in different sorts of ways and on different schedules until the last year, have been hoping for a chance again for a long time. The only things I’ve waited for this long in my life have been health insurance, world peace, the passage of the ERA and a perfect vegan donut (I at least got the last when I moved here). That it seems we’re going to have it feels pretty miraculous and incredibly unlikely.  I get to find out what happens when you get, and take, the second chance you never thought you’d get but always wanted.  Strangely, this is one of the few times in my life where I find I am not worried about what happens after, not even thinking about what happens after.  I don’t know why I’m feeling that way, especially about something so huge and potentially disastrous, but I don’t particularly care.  I’m just delighted TO be feeling that way for a change.  It’s very freeing.

So, sometime soon, I need to sit down and figure out what has to go in my life: which projects, which jobs, which way I use my time.  Some things simply have to go or get cut back to make room for everything else or I’m either going to lose my mind or do myself in with sheer exhaustion.

Okay.  So, that’s what I’ve got for now.  It’s a lot, I know.  Believe me, I know.  The funny thing is, it feels like I’ve only addressed a little, just kind of opened the door a sliver.  But I had to open it: the longer it sat closed, the more uncomfortable and dishonest it felt, and the more was going to bust out of it when I finally did open it.

I have some silly, light stuff to tell, but putting that here before I just spit out some of the other stuff felt disingenuous, so I can get to that stuff soon now.  Writing those trifles is easy as pie.  The other stuff?  Not easy.  And perhaps not graceful either, but at least it’s done.  I’ve got trembly fingers, but I’m going to push that button that says publish, even though “save” seems more fitting.

P.S. I think the most gracious way to handle this per saying so much, including about other people’s private lives as well as my own, is to password this entry in a little while.  So, I’ll leave it up for all for around a week, then it’s going somewhere more protected.

Tuesday, June 9th, 2009

I’m sorry to have kind of left the ball in the air when it comes to my health.  I’m not great about that, as a general rule.

Here’s the deal as of right now: what the physical therapists identified was a big, swollen mass of muscles around my c6 and c7 vertebrae.  They don’t know why yet this is — pinched nerves, who knows — or what is causing it and some other spots in my body, because until we get that mass down, it’s going to be tough to tell.

Doing some traction and some manipulation of that area with the physical medicine  team and some basic at-home stuff to get the swelling down has been helping.  While my index finger on my left hand is still numb, the numbness of the surrounding fingers is gone.

They’re still thinking they’d like to have either or both a spinal x-ray and/or an MRI done.  They don’t see any need for an immediate rush to this, and this team is a bit more understanding per my lack of health coverage than the last, so are suggesting the spinal X-ray first since it’s cheaper, and think that’d be the best place to start anyway.

I have to say, this earnestly is the worst city I have ever lived in when it comes to public health, and given public health in Chicago, that’s seriously saying something.  I’m tremendously lucky that Bastyr both accepts cash payments and offers a really generous discount (50% for my income bracket).  It’s not cheap, but I can manage it. Thankfully I have (over)worked enough in the last year, and often at decent pay, that this actually is one of the few times in my life where something like this hasn’t completely wiped me out.  I can remember so many other times when a health or some other crisis has literally felt like the end of the world, and I had to sit down and figure out which utility to let go, or how to cut a meal out of each day.  I’m so grateful that I’m not in a space like that right now, but having spent so much of my life like that, and at a time of economic decline, it’s just a bit bizarre.  I keep thinking surely there is some shoe about to drop I’m just not seeing but  — knock on wood — I don’t think that there is.

My Dad is really freaked about my not being well.  He’s in this headspace where he’s sure he will outlive everyone: he found out most of his old friends died when Googling the last time he was here, and it really did a number on him.  I’ve explained that no one has even suggested the vaguest idea that this is because of anything terminal: the worst possible diagnosis remains MS, which doesn’t have anything to do with death or dying.  My guess is besides the connection to the friends some of the freakout is about me sharing that I was scared, sharing that I was upset, sharing that I really, really didn’t feel well.

This would be, perhaps, some of what happens when you take up permanent residence with the people closest to you as Ms. Stiff Upper Lip too often, I think.  I really, really need to work on doing less of that, and also less of sharing something big, then taking several steps back or going quiet because I felt exposed in the sharing.  It’s no good for anybody, myself included.  I swear, there are areas in my life in which I feel so enlightened, but others where I feel like the the wild child of Avignon.

* * * * *

Blue is coming back this week, and will be here from Wednesday night through Sunday.  We’re going to be staying at my friend Pam’s in West Seattle, hanging with her a couple nights, then housesitting while she’s away for two more. On Friday, Blue, Mark and I are finally having a dinner that is long overdue: they still have not met due to distance and poor timing every time we try and get it together.  Mind, at this point, it’s not the same sort of dinner we’d have had six months ago, but it’s still important.

It’s a bit nervewracking.  I think we have some good ground rules set, and I’ve made sure there is time for Mark and I to take a walk alone afterwards so we can process anything we need to.

Our shift into a platonic relationship, as I’ve said, is still shifting and shifting, and not be cliche, but it’s complicated.  There are solid steps and missteps on both sides almost constantly.  I think we’re figuring it out, and are helped by what a gradual shift this has been in many ways.  But there’s always that thing when relationships really start to move to a different place:  you can feel out-of-sorts or out of step with the passage of time.  Now and then, you have to press pause and remind yourself of both where you are and where you’ve been, then get it all sorted into the place it is now.  It’s disorienting sometimes.

At other times things feel just right, more right than they have in a while.  Mark has learned not just to cook, but to love cooking while we’ve been together, and Heath and I got him a couple cooking classes for his birthday he’s really stoked about.  Listening to him be excited about that or some of the more relaxed gabbing we’ve had around a couple of the dates he’s been on: it all feels as if it’s where we all should be.  We both think that for right now, living in the same space is still okay.  We still feel like family.  My guess is that it’s going to get more awkward for Mark as time passes than it is for me, since I’m not back in the dating pool like he is, but we can see how it all goes as it goes.

He talked to his family about our relationship changing a week or so ago (we’d decided that while his father was in a health crisis, it was best we not put any undue burdens on them), and they were really lovely about it, making clear that I’m still a member of their family no matter what.  Such fantastic, loving people: I love them dearly, so I was worried about that.

I really hope the dinner on Friday goes well and that everyone feels good about it.  I hate the notion of anyone walking out of it not feeling loved and fully loved, and that’s my biggest fear.  Ideally, of course, I’d like everyone to love each other, that’s always my ideal in everything, but even with the change in our relationship here, I think that’s asking a bit much of a first meeting.

* * * * *

Circling back round to what I was saying about closeness and some of my barriers to getting close,  there are some facets of getting very close again to one of the people I have been closest to in my life, ever, especially someone who was present for one of the most heavy and confusing times of my life, and who I probably did more stumbling with, made more mistakes with, than anyone.

I am reminded, with various things, that I have had a lot of forward movement in a whole lot of areas.  Sometimes, I almost forget what a wreck I was in so many ways back then, especially when the shit really hit the fan.  It’s really weird, and also pretty weird to kind of have this person who holds some memories for me that I don’t have myself, or which are really fuzzy.  One unfortunate result of having a lot of trauma in your history, especially in early life, is the lapsing memory tends to do around times of trauma.  There are some moments in my life I honestly barely remember now, and having someone else to reference them and remind me about what they really were like is a gift.  Too, I sometimes forget — not from trauma, just from absentmindedness, age or giving myself less credit than is due me — what the lead-up was like in terms of what I have done with my life to date: I forget how much foundational stuff I was building back then for what I do and who I am now.

I think that in the last year and some since we’ve been talking again, some of that reminding has shown up in the work I’ve been doing with the teens and young adults: there’s something you take from someone who knew you so well in (in my case, some of) those years, who keeps the you-of-yore from then real, not idealized.  In my teens I was holding and hiding so damn much, withholding a lot of stuff from so many (and myself) that would burst the dam, and Blue was there for much of that bursting.  It’s a whole lot of why we burst, both of our personal cloudbusting happening in a whoosh all at once.  It’s kind of fascinating to see the things we each worked out separately, grew through or past, as well as the things we’re both still working on.  It’s also really amazing to see how much we really moved for each other back then, how we still do that now, and what that experience is like with more awareness, maturity and sensitivity around it.

I also have a visit from Mya coming up the night Blue goes home.  What I’m hoping, what I need, is that save Thursday’s clinic, then my outreach morning at the shelter next Monday, I can just go ahead and take much of the next week off.  So many things have been happening all at once, and Dr. Tiller’s assassination and the flavor of the world in its wake have just left me toasted.  I feel much less sharp, a little numbed out, delicate and certainly worn down. I wasn’t able to get out and ride for a few months due to my dead bike: having a new one and being able to go ride in the early mornings and do my morning sit on the dunes or at Gasworks Park has brought me to feeling where I’m at right now more acutely.   Without a lot of movement and being outside, my meditation is never as good.

I think I need to do that thing I know I am allowed to do but never quite feel justified in doing: I can take time off.  It’s ridiculous that I can’t figure out that when you go weeks working seven days a week, that means that now and then you do get to make up for that by taking more than one or two freaking down days.  There are really only 10-15 hours of work in the next week I absolutely have to do, so it’s actually a good time to take some downtime.   I’m hoping for a nice day to take Mya kayaking when she’s here, get a Discovery Park hike in, a few other things I think she’d enjoy.   And for the love of Jaysis, being able to just mellow out with Blue this weekend would be great. For real mellow out: seeing one another in person often requires a good deal of time spent sorting out a bunch of heavy stuff, especially because his transitions are bigger, more complex  and have had less room made for them in his life than mine have in many ways.

I’m babbling, I know.  See?  Told you I needed some downtime.  I’m off to physical therapy, and then a full at-home workday.  Tonight and Wednesday I can get a pile of things done, and then Wednesday night I can pretty much bugger off for a week besides the few things I am scheduled to do.  If you see me working, snap my fingers in the laptop, will you?

Saturday, June 6th, 2009

I’m cross-posting a piece here from both The Guardian (where it was edited down for size) and at Scarleteen, and then I’ve a bit more to say.

* * *

All of us who work at clinics that provide abortion, or as abortion or reproductive rights educators or advocates know we do so at substantial risk. Women who come to our clinics as clients also know that they, too, may be at risk.  The slaying of Dr. Tiller yesterday is tragic and upsetting, but it is not surprising or new. We didn’t become scared for the first time yesterday.  We’ve always been scared, and we have always had cause to be scared.

The independent clinic I work for part-time had a branch firebombed three times in 1983 until it shut down.  In 1988, via Operation Rescue, unending and intense harassment of children from demonstrators in another of our clinics forced us to close our on-site clinic childcare center for clients and staff.  And our clinic, despite being one of the 40 or so in the U.S. which provides procedures through the second trimester like Tiller’s did (though Tiller’s was one of but three to go past 25 weeks to 28 weeks, the legal limit), could very well be counted as one which has it easy. We haven’t had an incident of violence for some time, most days we have but a few protestors, and we do not wear Kevlar to work.  None of our providers have been murdered.  Yet.

But all of us who work in the field live either with the threat or actuality of domestic antiabortion terrorism daily: at work, at home or anywhere at all.  Let’s refuse sugarcoating or denials that merely call it violence or paint it as random or isolated: what happens around abortion is not the same violence as someone shot during a minimart robbery.

Terrorism is generally defined as an act intended to create fear, perpetrated for an ideological goal. The Patriot Act is not something I support, but antiabortion violence fits squarely in its definition of domestic terrorism. Vandalizing or bombing clinics; stalking, threatening or harassing staff, clients or providers and/or organizing or aiding others to do so; publicly publishing the home addresses of providers or staff, names, photos and school addresses of their children; outcries for a war:  all of this and more could be easily classed as terrorism by the definitions our government has used for other violence or threats.

The murder of Dr. George Tiller at his church yesterday morning  — based on the information we have so far – was domestic terrorism, and terrorism which has been known and prevalent for some time.

It’s been going on in the United States since we have had legal abortion, and typically increases during times when our federal government is not outright antiabortion.  As Christina Page points out, the number of harassing phone calls to clinics since Obama took office has massively increased. She also notes that the murder of Dr. Tiller is eerily similar to the murder of Dr. David Gunn in 1993: that, too, happened only a few months into a new administration which was not antiabortion. Dr. Tiller was also shot the first time in that same year.  Rachel Maddow gives a good overview of the history of clinic violence here.

Some antichoice groups will call Tiller’s assailant a vigilante. But for those who use incendiary speech, who provided him with the information and comraderie that fueled him, it’s going to be tough to uphold that stance with anyone of intelligence. We all have freedom of speech, to be sure, but as with any freedom, that comes with responsibility.

Current Operation Rescue president Troy Newman says they denounce vigilantism, but the raging enticements provided en masse through their organization has always told a different tale.  The organization’s founder, Randall Terry, says his movement “should not tone down its rhetoric despite the killing of abortion doctor George Tiller,” and that Tiller was “a mass murderer and horrifically, he reaped what he sowed.”

When someone like Bill O’Reilly provocatively says again and again and again, that an abortion provider is a butcher who the law refuses to punish (nevermind that abortion is legal), when he calls abortion “execution” or talks about providers as those who “kill babies for money,” (as if all surgeries did not cost money); calls abortion clinics “death mills,” or reports (falsely) that Tiller will terminate pregnancies up to the due-date, he is NOT denouncing vigilantism, just like someone constantly and intentionally pouring gasoline on rising flames is not denouncing fire.

This kind of rhetoric and harassment and the fear it creates is something we’re faced with every day. And it has serious impact, even when no one is murdered.

It purposefully scares, intimidates and upsets the women who come to our clinics.  It intentionally clouds their decision-making. If one reproductive choice may or does involve things like being harassed, stalked or assaulted, you’re obviously going to take that into consideration in your a choice, even though fear or harassment should have no place in choices as important, personal and complex as those of reproduction.  Even for those unswayed by these actions, abortion in a context of shame and blame can make a choice one’d otherwise felt was best one of guilt and remorse.

The threat of harassment and violence can even keep women from coming to clinics when they were not seeking out abortion services at all. Here in the states, clinics like mine are where many women – particularly low-income, immigrant and teen women — also get their well-woman care, contraception or pregnancy tests, as many women are without health insurance or a private OB/GYN.

The threats, intimidation, vandalism and assault and the fear of them makes staffing clinics difficult, and make a job which is already emotionally demanding far tougher. Anyone getting any kind of surgery ideally needs a centered, relaxed and stable staff and a safe environment during their surgery: that’s no minor feat in this culture.  Clinic staff work long hours, often at low pay and with few or limited benefits. Even without clinic violence or the threat of it, it’s not an easy job: abortion isn’t just any surgery, and as with anything to do with the end of a pregnancy, whether it tends in termination or a live birth, our clients emotional needs can be great.

With all of this violence and intimidation so constant and pervasive, and with the actuality of the job itself often being less-than-ideal, why do so many of us stick around?

We stay is because we know that women need us to.  Many of us have been those women ourselves at one time or another.  We know from women: we understand our own needs.  And we’re scared sometimes, but not scared enough to leave women without choice and care.

A sign at Tiller’s clinic read, “Abortion is not a cerebral or a reproductive issue. Abortion is an issue of the heart. Until one understands the heart of a woman, nothing else about abortion makes any sense at all.” Dr. Tiller knew us, too. No one going back to work a day after having both arms shot, knowing it could happen again, is going to take that risk for cash or because they want to win.  Only someone who cares deeply for and about women, and has a very real grasp of the realities of women’s lives, is going to do that.

Obviously, the threat of something is not the same as that threat made real.  Some of the shared upset the reproductive health and abortion communities have right now is because we do feel even more unsafe than usual.  For those who knew Dr. Tiller personally, their personal loss is profound. But even for those of us who never met him or were not close to him, even for those fear has not increased, the loss is enormous.

It’s obviously important for the women receiving abortion and other reproductive healthcare to have as fantastic a doctor as possible, but it’s also very important for those of us working in the field to have our Dr. Tillers.

Like any field of practice, abortion has those who are adequate (and some less-than-adequate), some who are very good, and a few who are simply exceptional. Dr. Tiller wasn’t just any doctor; just any abortion provider or advocate:  he was an exceptional and inspirational doctor, provider and advocate. He was someone who set and held high standards of care, a quality of healthcare we all want to receive, especially when we are in crisis. He chose to work with some of the toughest cases; to include providing for a group of women with some of the greatest emotional needs, women who also had few other places to turn, despite that choice creating additional risks for him and resulting in greater harassment. His commitment to helping women never wavered in over thirty years of his practice. Just like anyone in any field, we have our heroes, and we all looked up to George Tiller.  Just like anyone in any field, having our heroes assassinated is devastating, particularly when they are assassinated for being so exceptional.

Ginny Cassidy-Brinn, an ANRP and the author of Woman-Centered Pregnancy and Birth, works at my clinic, and is someone I look up to the way I have Dr. Tiller.  I want to leave you with words she shared with me yesterday. I think they’re the way Dr. Tiller would want us to best use our sadness or fear and the way he so bravely used his own.  I think they are what those of us in the field, as well as those who want to understand or support us or the women we serve, need to hear.

Like anyone who knew him even slightly, I know that he was very brave. He faced so much hatred on a daily basis: he knew the risks he was taking.  But he simply thought that women’s being allowed to decide whether to carry a pregnancy or not was an essential, basic human right.  So, he continued despite the attacks and threats. He was diligent in protecting himself, — I don’t think he had any desire to be a martyr — but he continued.  He was very careful as a physician: using the safest, best techniques.  He did a lot to foster communication amongst abortion providers to make abortion safer.

I keep thinking about the old Joe Hill quote, “Don’t mourn, organize.”  I intend to mourn, but I also intend to carry on his legacy–to try to be as brave, loving, politically savvy and competent in my work as he was.  And to try, to the best of my ability, to inspire others as well.

* * *

This has hit me much harder than I expected: it’s been tough for me to shake it off.  It’s not like I expected it to feel like a trifle, but considering how aware I am of this kind of violence, how much I know to expect it, I’m surprised at my response and how it lingers.

On the afternoon that Dr. Tiller was assassinated — again, I’m irritated with it not being made clear by our leadership that this kind of murder is a political assassination just like the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X or John and Robert Kennedy –  in an effort to find some way to work through my feelings without more hours of the crying that was hurting my face, I headed out back to do some weeding.  My garden had become seriously overgrown.

I was ripping those plants out like nobody’s business, feeling more and more anger with my sadness, and was struck by a (perhaps obvious) metaphor. I snapped a few shots trying to capture what was going on with me.

I think some of why my sadness and anger is lingering is that I feel we’re left so adrift, those of us who work in any aspect of reproductive justice, especially in or around abortion.  Yes, we have a new administration now which is more supportive of our rights when it comes to some policies. However, knowing that violence has begun again, in part because of that fact, I need a strong response to it: I need acknowledgment of the terrorism it is and always has been, clear statements that it is unacceptable, I need everyone and their uncle to shut the hell up about this “common ground” bullshit: my body isn’t common ground.  (Okay, so mine kind of is, but you know what I mean.) Women and our lives are not common ground, despite thousands of years of being treated like we are. Those of us who work in this field, who work around it, who work for reproductive justice have never sought to stamper on anyone’s rights or ideas: asking us for common ground is silly at best, and a grave insult at worst.

These are the loose thoughts I came back inside with, hands cathartically bloodied from weeding with such intensity:

An inexperienced gardener will often ask how it is, exactly, we know which the weeds are, and which are not.

The most simple answer is,
of course,
that I know what I want in my garden, and I know what I don’t. I get to make that determination because it’s all growing (or not) in my soil.

My neighbor or some bird passing by might drop a seed in it; that does not alter whose ground it is, and who’s right it is to choose what grows there: it is my own, and sovereign. It is my own say, and only mine, what gets nurtured and kept, and what is pulled, or let go to seed. However lovely everything growing might be, whatever it’s right is to grow, it may be that this plant will keep that one from growing. It may be that I either cannot afford or simply do not care to grow anything at all this year or that one — even every year there is — leaving the soil fertile, but barren.  I may even want to burn out all the seed entirely.  Again, my soil: my right to do with it what I will.

And sometimes it may be that this plant or that may well have grown into something more marvelous than I thought it would, and I will never see that result. And it may be that I accidentally pull a plant I did not intend to: but that is my regret, if I have one, to carry; my sorrow to hold, if I have sorrow.  All of that is the nature of my life and my life in this particular body: no matter what we do, no matter what we choose, there is a certain and unique weight that lives between our hips and in our hearts.

And we can’t always tend to our gardens on our own.  If we’re lucky, some other gentle gardener who understands, and cares to help, with no claim of ownership over the ground that is ours, will lend a hand. In the midst of storm, his hands, too, may become injured or bloodied; her heart, too, may sometimes be heavy.  This is not light business: whatever we do, even if we neglect the soil completely, blood, sweat, a tear, an ache, a strain and all the thick mud of our lives is unavoidable.

The best of help — genuine help — will not second-guess, will not presume ownership or a share of our crops, but will simply ask us what we need and then tend to it generously, offering counsel of his own only if we ask for it first. She will not ask if we’re absolutely certain we want these plants to go or that to stay; he will not enter into philosophical arguments with us about their own ideas about the way to garden.  They will not seek to speak for the weeds, nor for us: they are listeners with gentle nods, able hands who trust our hearts and their own and respect the soil.

Saturday, May 23rd, 2009

(Cross-posted from the Scarleteen blog, because a) I can and b) I’m just that irritated with this lately.)

Preventing teen pregnancy. I hate, hate, hate that phrase.  Nearly everywhere I go or look as a young adult sexuality educator anymore, I run into it incessantly.

Let me be clear: I don’t hate doing all that we can, to help people of every age to avoid pregnancies or parenting they do not want or do not feel ready for.  I’m so glad to do that, and it’s a big part of my job at Scarleteen and elsewhere when I work as a sexuality and contraception educator and activist.

I don’t hate doing what we can to help women who want help to determine when the best possible time is for them to become pregnant and parent (for those women who want to do so at all), and to do what we can to be realistic about pregnancy and parenting when counseling those who are considering either or both.   In addition, I’m totally in support of making sure young women know all their options with the whole of their lives; aren’t choosing to become pregnant or parent at a time that’s too soon for them to both discover and reach their own goals and dreams, or too soon for them to be able to learn and provide good care of themselves.  All good stuff, all terribly important, and all things that many young women seek help with which we can provide.

I’m on board with parents of teens or twentysomethings who don’t want to pay the costs for their teen’s pregnancy or the child of their teen, or don’t want a new infant in the house.  I’m not down with any young person assuming that their parent should automatically be a co-parent, an instant babysitter, or will bankroll a pregnancy.  Co-parenting with anyone is something to be discussed and negotiated, not assumed.  When we’re talking about consensual sex, if a young person has the maturity to have sex, to have sex which carries a risk of pregnancy, and to consider parenting themselves, I think it’s reasonable and appropriate to also then require the maturity to discuss and negotiate any contributions they want from their own parents with pregnancy or parenting.

I certainly understand parents wanting their youth to be able to have a childhood and adolescence that is not fraught with more responsibility and stress than a young person is able to manage, or which is likely to cause them unhappiness: that’s plain old love, and I don’t see a thing wrong with that.

I understand wanting children in the world to have parents who are capable of parenting, and for those children to have their most basic needs met.  I worked in early childhood education for years before moving on to run Scarleteen, and I continue to feel very strongly about quality care and parenting for children.  I also came from two young, unprepared parents, so I know firsthand what some of the downsides and struggles can feel like to a child.

I’m also absolutely on the bus when it comes to all of us, doing all we can to make our soundest decisions around pregnancy and parenting, and the idea that we should all be held accountable when it comes to only choosing to parent if and when we think we can be parents who can provide what children need.  It is in part because I am on board with that that I am 39 and childfree, despite being someone who has always liked kids a whole lot, to the degree that I’ve been teaching my whole adult life.  Part of why I also work at an abortion clinic is because I strongly support the right of every woman to decide if a given time is or is not right for her to remain pregnant, and to have the option to decide a given time is not right.

(For the record, I do not understand that “we shouldn’t have to pay taxes that support other people’s children,” stuff.  I have to pay taxes for all kinds of things I don’t support or like, but I’ve never had a problem with the idea that some of my income goes to help and support the children of the world.  It’s one of the few things my taxes go to that I do feel good about.  I have chosen not to reproduce myself, however, I’m of the mind that we all share some collective responsibility for caring for everyone else on our planet.  So that one?  I don’t get or sympathize with.)

Here’s what I’m not okay with.

What I hate about that phrase is the patronizing, disrespectful and ignorant presumption that all teen pregnancy is unwanted or unplanned: it isn’t, and while young women may have less information about and access to contraception than older adults so may have more unplanned pregnancies than older adults (teens do have more unplanned pregnancies than older women, but the highest unplanned pregnancy rate right now is for those 18-24, poverty is as much a determinant as age is, and close to 50% of pregnancies for all women are unplanned), that part certainly isn’t their fault or doing. Ask a young person what they want in sex education or contraception access, and you’ll find it does not resemble what we, the adults who have withheld power from them in these policies, have usually provided.

I hate the shaming or demonization of teen parents or teens who become or are pregnant, the widespread assumption that all of that is always bad or always wrong, and must always be prevented based on anyone’s standards but those of young people themselves.  I hate teen pregnancy being presented as if it were a pandemic, and teen parents presented as automatically incapable of parenting just as well as anyone else.  I hate the often-dishonest moralizing that often goes with all of this, and teens being told that all sex = pregnancy and that the only way to prevent pregnancy is to avoid all kinds of sex, and/or that choosing to be sexually active means choosing to be pregnant.  I hate the other words so often used around this topic, which make teen pregnancy sound like Hurricane Katrina. I hate the defeatist messages we give teens or young women who have become pregnant and who are deciding to parent. I hate that we seem to hold teen or young mothers to higher standards of parenting than we hold older parents.

I hate that our culture has no problem recruiting young people into the military before the age of majority (for enlistment at 18, but the efforts start before then, contracts are often signed before then), suggesting that they have the capacity to make that kind of potentially life-altering decision, one that can often involve choices around life and death, and yet suggests they have no capacity to make this one.  I hate that in many states and areas young women can be legally married at 16 or younger, and even though for the youngest teens, that often requires parental consent or a pregnancy, I hate that it’s thought by so many that marriage at the age of 16 somehow makes young parenting easier, better or more socially acceptable, or that for a 16-year-old woman, a legally binding marriage contract is somehow less of a big deal, less of a limitation on her life, than a social contract to care for a child. I hate that there are states and areas which don’t allow a young woman the right to choose to terminate a pregnancy of her own volition, and some which don’t allow her access to contraception, and yet in some areas — especially when we are talking about nonconsensual sex — remaining pregnant is the only option we allow young women to have within their own control.

I hate the presumption that it is anyone’s place BUT the teen in question to actually prevent a teen pregnancy.  Can it be our place to help those who want help in that aim?  Absolutely, and I hope that when and if any of us are asked for that help, we’ll provide it. But it’s not our place to do the preventing, because it ain’t our body or our life.  It’s theirs.

Perhaps even more than that, I hate some of the attitude that seems to inform that presumption, which feels to me a whole lot like older people saying that it is okay for older women to become pregnant, but not for younger women.  Which is a pretty odd thing to say about women who both have actively working reproductive systems, who both have the ability to become pregnant and to parent, or to make other reproductive choices.  In fact, it sounds a whole lot like eugenics to me.

I’m not going to beat around the bush (as it were) here.  In a whole lot of ways, women in their late teens and early twenties are in a better position than women in their thirties or forties are to reproduce, whether anyone likes it or not.  They are more fertile, their bodies will bounce back more quickly from a pregnancy, and they have more energy both for pregnancy and for keeping up with small children.  A 19-year-old woman and a 39-year-old woman, on average are not in the same space physiologically when it comes to bearing children.  The younger woman, in general, is in the better, healthier position, and the same is likely so for her fetus, particularly if she has healthcare of the same quality the older woman has.  And for most of human history — though there are certainly aspects of this, such as gender inequality and sexual violence, very worthy of critique and change — teen or young adult mothers have been who so many of our mothers were.

There is another side of that coin, which is that young women are without some things many older women have.  They more frequently will have less financial resources to care for children, their partnerships (if they are co-parenting) can tend to be less stable or shorter-lived, and they have less access to things like day care at school or work, good transportation, health insurance and the like.  Obviously, too, a younger person has often had less life experience, and an older person may have greater perspective in certain areas which can be of great benefit when it comes to good parenting.  But there are corrections for those inequalities. So many of the troubling statistics that we have on teen pregnancy and parenting aren’t around the pregnancy or parenting itself, or the age of a parent, but instead, arise from many inequalities young people suffer because we have set things up so that they do.

For instance, it’s not likely because someone is 16 when they become pregnant that they will be less able to finish high school, but because so many opportunities for schooling are cut off to young, pregnant women, and so few concessions are made to help a pregnant or parenting teen finish high school or enter college. Given the higher teen pregnancy statistics when it comes to young women of color, immigrant women and rural women, the fact that our culture often doesn’t privilege education for those groups in the first place is no minor detail. It’s not likely because someone is a teen that their child can be more likely to wind up in the corrections system, but because someone is a parent of any age who is without the resources they need to actively parent. Older people can help younger parents by sharing life experience and perspective gleaned with them rather than hoarding it or lording it over them.

Given that we know that that lack of resources is a central issue, why do we see so much money and so much effort put into “preventing teen pregnancy” yet so relatively little put into efforts to get free or affordable daycare into high schools and colleges, providing counseling, schooling and housing for young mothers?  Why do we hear so much about preventing teen pregnancy yet meet so much resistance when it comes to contraceptive and abortion access for teen and young adult women?  Why does the left and right alike tend to have so much to say and offer before or while a teen is pregnant, yet so little post-pregnancy or when a teen has become a parent?

Why is so much money put into developing and doing fertility therapies for women moving outside of their reproductive years, and so little for supporting women at the dawn of them; women of an age where even the best contraceptive methods, used perfectly, fail most often?  Why are the celebrity teens or those of fame and wealth “speaking out against teen pregnancy” so often the loudest voices we hear?  Why are the representatives of teen pregnancy and parenting so often so non-representative?  Knowing about the disparities between white women and women of color with teen pregnancy, those between women in poverty and those who are affluent, and about the achievement limitations teens who choose to become parents so often feel they have, what the heck is up with the vast majority of those representing teen pregnancy being so wealthy, white and pampered (or male!?!) all the time?

Knowing that for some teens who do choose to become pregnant, or risk pregnancy needlessly, it can come out of loneliness, the desire to cement a relationship, low self-esteem or the feeling that they have little opportunity for a breadth of life achievement, why do we shame them, blame them and put them down so often, further isolating those already isolated and low-feeling teens even more?  (At the same time, it’s important to recognize these are also often motivations or feelings of older women with pregnancy or parenting, too.  They do not only belong to teens.)

For the many older men involved in these prevention initiatives, given the rate of sexual violence and coercion involved in so many teen pregnancies, given how often young men don’t cooperate with sound contraception, and given the fact that no cisgendered man has any experience with being pregnant himself, why are their efforts not put on talking to young men about sexual violence, sound sexual decision-making of their own and contraceptive cooperation rather than in moralizing at young women?  And yes, I’m talking to guys like you, Neil Cole.

(FYI, I don’t think Cole’s commercial or ad should be suppressed.  However, I’d like to bring your attention to who the infant is given to in the ad, and who is the one really being talked to, who the big issue is left with while the male partner is taken out of the car and out of the issue. Check out the ad: the only thing directed at young men is about marriage. Cole’s language around teen pregnancy with the Candie’s campaign, and who so much of it is aimed at is seriously not okay in my book, particularly as a male person. While he seems to put so much of this on young women, he also doesn’t seem to recognize what actually does belong only to young women: “kids” don’t have babies, women do. Yet, all the parts of teen pregnancy — marriage has nothing to do with getting pregnant — are apparently, based on his language, only about women.)

I’m also not entirely certain that there isn’t, possibly, for some, some measure of envy at play here. It’s tough to talk about, especially as a feminist, but I have had enough friends trying to reproduce at later ages now to know how incredibly frustrating the process can be for them.  I also have friends honest enough with themselves and others that they will share that they do feel jealousy and anger when they see other women able to become pregnant as easily as breathing, and that’s often the case with the youngest women.  Some older women — not all or even most, but some — struggling to get pregnant now may even feel resentment about all the strong social messages they got about childbearing that they had to wait for later, should wait for later.  If and when those feelings exist, they are valid and real, but don’t have a place, covertly or overtly, in the discourse around teen pregnancy.

When older people and/or those of means are those creating the movements to “prevent teen pregnancy,” — and that is overwhelmingly who is — the onus is us to evaluate and keep in check any bias we may have, and to be very sure those are not influencing how we treat teen pregnancy, planned or unplanned, wanted or unwanted.  And that’s what I think hasn’t been done very well: that’s what I see when I see phrases like “preventing teen pregnancy.” I see a whole lot of bias, a whole lot of carelessness and a whole lot of disrespect.

So, are we all checking in to be sure that older people aren’t trying to claim some sort of ownership over pregnancy and parenting and who has the “right” to parent; who can and cannot be a good parent based on age alone — and nothing else — something we know has little basis in reality?  Are we sure that some of the messages we’re sending aren’t about our own frustration or resentment; aren’t coming from a place where we might feel like young mothers now are taking liberties we wish we would have?  As well, are we sure that for those of us who felt that our lives went best because we did not procreate or do so at a given age aren’t projecting our own goals and desires unto a generation which may be radically different than ours?  Might we even be projecting some of what we saw and heard — and disliked — from our mothers generations unto this one?

Ageism is alive and well and teens are a very common — and often thought to be acceptable — target for it. We, as adults, make lousy policies for or around teens without allowing them input or control, and then we point the finger at teens when those policies we made or supported fail them, such as the poor sexuality education we’ve given them (especially in the last ten years here stateside), the awful relationship modeling, the glamorization, romanticism and commercialization of things like motherhood, vaginal intercourse, marriage and being sexually “attractive.” The only real power we give them of late is in the commercial marketplace, and then adults whine about how youth are fixated on money and acquisition. Uh, okay.

Their sexual and reproductive lives are two of the areas where ageism is exercised constantly, and often without any resistance from even progressive adults. Are we sure that ageism and classism (not to mention racism and sexism) aren’t playing a part in our discourse around teen and young adult pregnancy?

Are we also sure, that as can happen, that older people are not harboring a desire for their children do do as well as them, but not to surpass them?  In other words, what if — just what if — a young teen mother really could “have it all?”  What if she could be a good parent AND finish high school, finish college, have the career she wanted, have all she envisions her life to be?  By all means, that scenario might feel mighty frustrating for generations before who did not have the cultural or interpersonal supports or resources to achieve all of that, but not if we can see making things better for the generations that follow us as one of our great successes, not as something we were robbed of or must grudgingly provide.

It stands to mention that some of this approach likely comes out of attitudes that are not just about young people or young women, but about pregnancy and pregnant women, period.  We have long had a cultural problem with women’s bodies and reproductive systems being treated like collective property; with laws, policies, practices and initiatives around pregnancy being led by everyone but those who actually are or will be pregnant.  To some degree, the way we have been treating teen pregnancy is highly indicative of those attitudes, which isn’t all that surprising.

But if we’re serious about being pro-choice, if we’re serious about wanting to help others make decisions in real alignment with respect and self-respect, the most basic foundation we have to hold is that every woman has the inarguable right to make choices about her own body for anything that happens to or inside of her own body, and that no one but that woman is most qualified to do so.  Once we start talking about preventing a given choice someone else may make, we take that person’s ownership of their choice away.

When our bodies are of an age where they can reproduce, any of us then — be we 16 or 36 — has the right to choose to do that with our bodies if we want to.  By all means, once a child is born, we’re talking about someone else, someone outside of a woman’s body, and not our own body.  That’s a huge and tangled discussion of its own, especially given the way children are so often framed as the property of their parents, rather than as the responsibility of parents and all the rest of us.  But until there is an actual child born and independently present?  We are talking about a woman and her own body.  Not ours, hers.

For the record, I also have a problem with the notion of “preventing unplanned pregnancy.”  A LOT of wanted children, children who are loved, children who are parented well, come from unplanned pregnancies: at least half of us have.  As a sexuality educator who knows very well how many people don’t understand how reproduction works, and as someone who has a good handle on human history per how long most people didn’t know, it’s safe to say MOST pregnancies throughout history have been unplanned to at least some degree. Even now when we do know more, when far more people are educated, when we have many contraceptive methods which are highly effective,  a lot of people approach pregnancy not as something they exactly plan, but leave themselves more or less open to at given times depending on how okay they are with pregnancy. For sure, we do want to fill people in on the things which might make a pregnancy more or less healthy when it happens, make parenting go better or worse for everyone involved, but while planning can certainly contribute to healthy pregnancy and sound parenting, it really isn’t a requirement or a reality for many people.

This really isn’t all that complicated.  Words matter.  The phraseology we use for things matters, especially when we’re talking about subjects like this.  Especially when we are talking about choices which are not ours to make, about the lives of others and the bodies of others.  Especially when we are talking about something as nuanced, complex and wildly individual as pregnancy and parenting.  Especially when we are coming to something and saying that it is about quality of life and respect.

May I suggest some easy lingusitic corrections?

If your heart is in the right place, what you want to do is to not to prevent anything.  Rather, you want to nurture and support conscious conception and contraception, conscious birthing; to enable wanted and healthy pregnancy, wanted and healthy parenting. You want to help support all of us in having exactly the reproductive life we want and feel is best for us to the degree that we can control that.

If you’re still stuck on prevention as an approach, why not try making it about helping teens to prevent unwanted pregnancy or unwanted parenting?

Is age really even relevant? Only so much. An unwanted pregnancy has the capacity to disrupt or cause hardship in a woman’s life whether she is 17 or 37.  A parent who is unprepared for parenting, who doesn’t want to parent, or who just can’t parent can do damage to a child no matter how old they are or are not.

What you really want to do — I hope — is to help women of all ages to understand what all their possible choices are for their whole lives, to have a good idea of what making any given choice can entail, the possible positives and negatives alike, and how it could impact them and others.  What you probably really want to do is to help young people, all people, make choices around sex, pregnancy and parenting which are most likely to result in a happy, healthy life, and the life any given person most wants for themselves and those in their lives. What you also probably want to do is work just as much towards creating a culture of support for those who do become pregnant — by choice or by accident — and choose to parent as you work to support those making different choices.  And if you really want to help to prevent unwanted teen pregnancy, you need to make sure your efforts are directed just as much towards young men as they are towards young women.

I know for a fact that many of the people who use the current language around teen pregnancy are people whose intentions are stellar, totally laudable, and all about the good things I’m talking about here. So, why diminish or mislead those great intentions with words and phrases that undermine them and disrespect the population we’re claiming to care so much about?  Why use the negative when you’re trying to support the positive?

P.S. This rant is dedicated to my friend and volunteer Alice, and all of the other teen and young mothers who get as validly angry about this stuff as she does.

Tuesday, May 19th, 2009

On Sunday, this journal turned ten years old.

Here’s that first entry, just because:

I woke up this morning to the sound of thunder, echoing off of the window beside the bed.

From the breadth of the sound, I assumed there would be sheets of rain, pummeling the grasses and sidewalks. The sound of the thunder woke both B. and I, and I slunk into my jeans, through the glass doors to the wooden porch to ingest my morning take of nicotene and take in what I expected to be a strong storm.

Though it sounded like a storm, it was the gentlest rain I’d experienced in some time. The drops fell down so lightly; it was like the softest kisses one could imagine, fleeting and teasing in their lightness. Shy rain, I would call it, just a little warm and very timid. I sunk my bare feet into the puddles on the walk and stood outside for several minutes, kissed gently again and again by the tiny droplets, inhaling the scent of morning, and all things new.

With that feeling, I start yet another journal. I have journals as far back as 1976, when I had just begun to write; six years old at the time. They often dissapoint me. I am an impetuous person: I embrace new projects with all the vigor of war, but often, as soon as something which seems bigger looms it’s voracious head, I drop the former notion before cobwebs have had time to settle.

I have many times sat and read through the pile of journals, looking for inklings of myself - as I am now - hidden in the pages written when I was a child, an adolescent, a blossoming woman. Often, I find them, and it amazes me how little - on some level - we truly change from what we were born as.

It is with these things in my mind: the newness of things that are in truth not new at all, and the compulsion and determination to begin, always, again and again, knowing there will be some lapse, but hoping there will not be; knowing it is nearly futile. Though living may be a continuum, there are always lapses, and they come and vanish in an instant that can swallow years.

By way of introduction, I warn you now: a journal for me is not a confessional. I was not raised in that cultural sect which keeps secrets and then feels the need to purge them somewhere secretly. Instead, I was raised with the notion that a large part of being an artist is to bear witness: to record events through individual eyes for the purpose of marking personal history, and perhaps bringing the personal to history in a way that is unique and diverse. By virtue of what I am - an artist who has, since I was a child, been a sensate creature, engrossed with touching, tasting, feeling, and the union of body and soul - I expect, like any journal I have kept, this one will be a bit more salacious than another artists memoirs may be, though I similarly suspect what is sensual, sexual, and considered an event by myself may be those things considered less noteworthy by others.

Being kissed by the rain this morning was an event. It may or may not have been as noteworthy an event as the falling of the Berlin Wall, the day women gained the right to vote, as a death, or a birth, or the union of two souls, but from moment to moment - and in an individual life - those moments spent with our feet in the puddles, the rain kissing our cheeks, are those I never wish to forget.

(I cannot help but laugh out loud at the “not a confessional” monologue.  If a journal never was for me before, it most certainly has been one here far more than once over the years.  Oh, hindsight: you briny bastard.  It’s also a bit hilarious to read my little warning about the fact that I would likely talk about sex and sensuality here: the internet most certainly is not the place it once was.  There really was a need for that statement then, for serious.  There was not a need to be so pretentious about it.)

When I first started journaling online, very few others were doing it, and no one was blogging yet: we didn’t even have the word “blogging” yet.  I also had far fewer gray hairs.  And I think my bottom has started migrating south since, no less.  If it’s heading to South America, I hope it takes me with.

I was thinking I’d sum up everything that has happened in the last ten years, but I started to do that and became dizzy very quickly.  It’s been one hell of a decade, and I can’t fathom how very much I shoved into it.  Meetups, breakups and makeups, nearly the entire development of my career in sexuality with all the ups and downs that has entailed, the whole of my photographic work behind the camera, four moves (two to different states), struggling with money (there is a post back when where I was literally unable to get myself a warm coat in Minneapolis, and a very kind reader — thanks, Kat — sent me an old coat of hers), struggling with family, struggling with life as we know it.  I’ve been single in this journal –sometimes gladly, sometimes miserably — I’ve been with partners, I’ve been cohabiting.  I’ve been flush and in scarcity, high and low; there has been high comedy and high tragedy.  There have been trials (literally) and tribulations (and how). Writing here has at times made me feel very comforted and with community, and at other times very isolated and overexposed. In many ways the world has changed massively throughout this relatively short span of time.

The arrival of Sofia even happened during this journal’s tenure.  And no, I can never turn down the opportunity for a gratuitous shot of my dog, so here’s us when she was around six months old.

As insane as I kind of feel for doing this for so long and in this way, this has actually been the most consistently kept journal I have ever kept in my life.  By all means, it has its limitations, but it also has its boons.  While I’ve had to make some adjustments over the years due to the way life has changed, how journaling here does or doesn’t work for others in my life or for all aspects of my life, and it’s not the same journal it once was in many ways, I don’t see any good reason to stop writing here.  I like writing here, and I also feel really blessed by those of you who read here, some of whom have offered me generous feedback, solace, comfort, help, humor, love, compassion, understanding, counterpoint, friendship, lust, confusion, sadness, cheerleading and silliness. I’m even strangely grateful for the occasional vitriol and bullshit left in comments here over the years.

So, moving forward, here’s my right now.

There is a spirit of candor I’ve tried to keep over the years I have written here: most often, I think, I’ve managed it, though sometimes I’ve slid, particularly unsurprisingly, when things are tough, awkward or painful, or when I have been worried about invading someone else’s privacy or having such a lack of my own that I just wouldn’t be comfortable. Certainly, when I first started journaling online, the audience was much smaller, and I didn’t imagine I’d be read by as many people as I have been over the years, nor as visible with everything else I do: thinking maybe ten or twenty people are reading you and knowing thousands do is a pretty huge discrepancy.

But I’m going to try to write today with that same spirit, even though there have been some things that have been difficult to talk about, certainly personally, but particularly publicly.  I’ve been avoiding them with no small measure of intensity.

One is that I’ve not been well lately.  I’ve said a little about it, and over the last few years, have also made some mention of some things that have gone wrong with my health.  But in the few months, things have gotten pretty scary over here at times.  The long-story-short, sparing you my whole medical history ad nauseum and giving myself some semblance of privacy, is that I’ve had various neurological issues my whole life.  I was epileptic for years in high school have had heinous headaches off and on since I was a kid.  The deal in the last month and change is that…well, two fingers of my left hand have gone numb, and my left arm has periods of either numbness or pain. Needless to say, when I already have a disability in my right hand, this is even more scary.  (However, the weird part is that I’m so used to adapting for those two fingers on my right than shifting the same behaviors to my left at least isn’t something new I have to learn.)  I get some weird tremors, shakes and spasms these days, and every now and then, my speech also seems to simply run away with itself in a really disconcerting way.  I’m also just plain exhausted, despite getting way more sleep lately than usual.

So, what’s going on?  I don’t really know yet.  By virtue of not having healthcare for decades, and public health in Seattle being beyond heinous, I’m limited in this process, which blows in part because the not knowing bites, and also because I’ve no management for the pain this has involved yet, and am very tired of being in pain all the time.  I do, thankfully, have the benefit of the services of the Barstyr clinic here.  I prefer eastern  or holistic healthcare to western anyway, and I can both pay cash to go there and get a discount due to my income.  I don’t have a ton of dough to do this with, but for now, I’m managing.  As of this week, I’ve had a bunch of tests done, and just got the results of my bloodwork back yesterday.  So far, nothing terrifying, but I do have some low levels of a couple things which may be a cause of, a contributor to, or signals of something else, or the problem all by themselves. My care team has some theories, but they’re all still murky.

By the way, am I the only person who did not know — and being in any branch of healthcare, I feel like a particular dipshit about now knowing — that very LOW cholesterol is a problem?

I’m going to start some physical therapies this week, have been given some nutritional therapies, too, and then they’ll determine if we want to see about getting me an EEG and MRI, which will be a bit of a trial because they can’t do them there, and the one place we found I could pay cash for them did not exactly have a nice-looking price tag.    I’m also groaning at the prospect of those tests: been there, done that, more than once.  I swear, high school was a blur of having shit stuck in my hair.  If it wasn’t a whole can of aqua net from making it all stick up, it was the rice from Rocky Horror shows.  if it wasn’t the rice, it was someone’s beer or whatever from a mosh pit.  if it wasn’t beer, it was glue from some brain scan or another while they tried to figure out the seizures and the headaches.  Apparently, I have come full circle.  Maybe I need to go buy some Aqua Net.

What else?

Well, Mark and I have been in the process of shifting our relationship to a friendship and family relationship.  That perhaps has been obvious.

It wasn’t having the triad that got us here (yes, I say that defensively: I really hate that bullshit perception that when you go poly, some relationship will go to shit).  I do think it can be said that all the deep communication that went on in that process made us realize we already were or were heading here for the last year or more, maybe even for the last three, but I don’t think that’s a bad discovery or by-product.  The more we’ve talked it all through, the clearer it becomes that this has been the direction for more time than the both of us had a real, full awareness of or wanted to have an awareness of: we like and love each other a lot, and this isn’t the outcome either one of us really wanted when we first got together.

I write about that today in part because I’m reminded of how tough it has always been to write and publish here about these kinds of times and spaces.  Obviously, one of the big things to manage when you journal so personally and publicly is how you write about others in your life, especially those closest to you.  While certainly, everyone I’ve gotten intimately involved with over the last decade has known or been made aware that I publicly journal, that doesn’t mean anyone is automatically signing up for their every detail, shared moment or feeling to be shared here: that’s not my right.  I’ve often done negotiating around what I write, and my default setting with intimate relationships tends to have been that both for myself and for others involved, everyone is — unsurprisingly — a lot more comfortable with me going on about the good stuff or the easy stuff than the tough stuff.

I haven’t usually tended to write about arguments, about huge conflicts, about many incompatibilities, about some of the changes that have gone down.

Obviously, that’s a big flaw when it comes to the integrity of writing because of course, the way I present my relationships are often going to appear a bit fair-weather.  And I know more than once that readers have felt like a breakup or interpersonal change of mine has seemed like it came out of left field for that reason.  At the same time, I’m not quite sure how to remedy that, especially with such a public journal, especially with always having kept it under the same name I do rest of my work and personal life with.

I’m not going to go on and on about the deal with Mark and I right now, save to say a few things, both for clarity’s sake and because they’re so important.  We’re still living together.  We likely will be for at least a couple more months, and perhaps even a good deal longer than that.  It’s hard to say, finances, practicalities and the whole soup both either of us moving and no longer being housemates entails, emotionally and otherwise. Blue may also be moving out here in time, too, which is another complex ingredient to factor in. We are no less friends than we have ever been.  We also still very much feel like family, and both of us have a tough time envisioning that ever not being the case.  By all means, we’ve had some rough moments and have been very sad at times; hard truths on both sides have whacked both of us upside the head lately, but we love each other very much.

This is coming off like a parent talking to their kid about an impending divorce, no matter what words I use: sorry about that.  Mommy doesn’t mean to talk to you like you’re six.

In short, no one has done anything wrong here. There’s no bad guy in this.  Without unfairly disclosing someone’s feelings and experiences which aren’t mine, this feels primarily like both of us facing certain limitations we each have, and those of the situation we’re in.  This is about us figuring out the difference between things we want and things we need, dealing with the fact that the overall arc of our lives and our relationship history have always been incredibly different, and that in some ways, we each want to head in different directions, or have a different timetable for the directions we’re heading in.

I’m still involved with Blue, and while that has its own kinds of complexity, as well as its own brand of not knowing where anyone will land in many ways, it’s been a very good thing.  There are a lot of old fears involved, some new ones, and I really wish someone had written a guidebook for having a new relationship that is also one of the oldest ones you’ve got.  It’s also a relationship that for a big batch of reasons I’m not up to discussing over much here yet.  Too, Blue is far more of a private person than Mark is or I am, or than many other partners of mine have been for that matter, so we’re just going to have to feel this out as we go in terms of what I write here.

I’m still hoping to make a move to the island here in the future, but I just don’t know when I can make that happen.  Finances are a usual issue, and until I have the word on what the hell exactly is going on with my body, what I need to/can do about it, and have some idea of what to expect per getting better or getting worse, getting there soon isn’t exactly a doable plan.  Putting myself in a rural space alone when I’m having days where I can’t open a can or am feeling dizzy and disoriented all day long?  Not so smart.

From the Department of Things Far Less Heavy, the SSSS weekend at Monterey Bay was just lovely.  I got to have quality time to sit down and talk with some people I respect the hell out of (like Joani Blank and Susie Bright), catch up with some folks I haven’t seen in way too long (being able to sepnd the Aquarium afternoon with David Steinberg and gab for hours was a real treat: the last time we had a lunch was in 2000), meet some new people, see some excellent presentations (the Sex in the Sea lecture from Steven Webster at the aquarium and Gina Ogden’s and Remi Newman’s talks were big highlights), and also enjoy a breathtakingly beautiful place for two days.  I did a lot of solitary walking meditation, which I’ve very much needed.  I went to bed very early both nights and didn’t wake up at the crack of dawn, either.  Getting the award was really awesome and flattering (even though with the recent shakes and other unpredictable body stuff, I felt self-conscious about standing up in front of people), and it got all the more compounded by winding up getting two awards for my work in one week, which is seriously something else.

This last weekend, I was up on the island at Sacred Groves with my buddybro Ben, both looking at some places and options, and just chilling out.  We built a vulva out of branches and leaves, because we’re like that.  We made a nice communal dinner.  I got to sit in a meadow bathed in sunlight for a half hour Sunday morning.  We got to have the talks brothers and sisters who are close do.  Good stuff, all of that.

Work has been….worky.  Not a lot to write home about, since it’s the usual stuff, sparing a lot more travel in the last year than I’ve done before.  I’ve been doing more of that in order to get myself more comfortable with it.  I’ve gotten a lot better over the years at speaking publicly to bigger groups, but it still isn’t something I love to do or which I find fun, so more practice always helps, and it’s a smart thing for me to do more of career-wise.  I am also trying to create a plan so that, ideally, sometime in the very near future I am burning the candle at both ends a lot less, for both my mental and physical health as well as so I can be sure I’m doing the best job I can when I am working.  Perhaps off-topic, today I have been asked more times about this by press people than seems reasonable, and am apparently the Pulling Out Poster Girl even though I’ve never used withdrawal as a method myself, and I haven’t been asked about something like this with other methods of contraception before.  So, I don’t know what that’s all about.

me, on this journalversary.

And that’s really about that.  Or the best I can do with all of that for now, anyway.

Again, I want to express my love and affection for everyone who has been on any leg of this journey with me, and particularly to those who have been readers the whole damn time.  I think there may be something seriously wrong with you for reading me for this long here, but that doesn’t make me love you any less.

Friday, April 24th, 2009

it said it saw itself as a very tall tree, and so I saw it that way, too.

After the weekend before last, I feel very, very clear on the fact that life on the island would fit my wants and needs very nicely.  I’ve known for a long time that I wanted, at some point in my life, to live more quietly, more rural,  I just thought it was going to be a bit more down the road than this.  But I think the only reason I thought that was that I didn’t see it as feasible any earlier.  It is, in fact, feasible sooner, as feasible as living exactly where I am is.  In some ways, it may be even more so.

The whole weekend, I kept doing that thing one does in a heavenly place, where you say to yourself, “Wouldn’t it be amazing if I could live here?”  Usually, when I’m somewhere where I say that to myself, it’s a pipe dream.  In this case, every time I thought that, I’d then remember that I CAN live there.  The rents and expenses are really no better or worse than they are in the city, everything I have here on the mainland I could have on that island, and getting to the city from Bainbridge (there are other islands, but this would be the most convenient for me) is exceptionally easy and highly pleasant.  I know locals here kvetch about the ferries a lot, but having grown up with subways and inner-city buses, I tend to find them a far more pleasant means of transportation than what I usually ride on.  I wouldn’t have to take the ferry much anyway, as I really only need to be in the city for outreach/clinic work two times a week at a maximum.  And two of our clinic staff live on the island, so carpooling is also an option.

I just felt better there, separate from the fact that I was also there visiting with Blue, who I hadn’t seen in five weeks.  I breathed more deeply, my skin looked immediately better.  I could walk out on the porch in the morning stark naked without anyone’s notice or care and take a soak; have my first sip of coffee with the moist breeze on my skin.  The quiet both soothed and inspired, and the company of trees, ferns, birds and water felt more like me these days than the company of tall buildings, construction detritus, bar mania and a ton of people everywhere I turn.  The rhythm of the day there fit my own so well, sending me to sleep early and rousing me to wake before the sun came up.  Doing the dishes by hand felt better than loading them into a machine: doing simple things and doing them more simply is so grounding for me.  Taking a long hike on the dirt felt better than a walk on the pavement.  The people were warmer, everything was smaller; more intimate, yet more private all at once.  My head felt more clear, my heart more at rest, to the point that I could put most thoughts of work away save flashes of inspiration.

I felt much more like island people than mainland people.  I felt much more at home. I felt much more like myself, much more like I fit, than I have felt in Seattle.

While I was there, I started to do some planning.  Ultimately, if I could sell another book in the next six months, I could handle the financial aspects of this move with incredible ease.   It’d be doable without that, but that would make it nearly a cash cakewalk. I will need to find myself some kind of reliable junker to drive, which means a) getting a new license (I let my old one expire ten years ago, having no need of it), and b) purchasing said vehicle.  I may also need to consider finding a roomie, but I may not: it really depends on what I can find to rent for myself or not.  In a lot of ways, I’ve felt so alone in my own home over the past couple of years, as well as in this city, that literally being alone, not just feeling alone, seems very important and like the right thing for me.

I do think that as much as I have always loved the solitude of being in more isolated spaces, and as much as I need to be alone in the near future, it will probably take some adjusting on my end to be out there alone.  But I realized there is a very easy and fantastic solution to that matter, which is simply calling and emailing some of the people in the world I love and miss the most and inviting them to come stay somewhere beautiful with me for a week or two during the first few months after I move.

Briana is going to come up here to visit in June or July, and wants to come see the island with me, too. (Mya is coming around then, too, maybe I’ll drag her over for a day, as well.)  I’d love more than anything for she and The Baby Liam (who isn’t a baby anymore, but I plan to call him that well into his adulthood, in alignment with my job as his obnoxious auntie) to be close to me, even to live with me, but given custody arrangements with his father, that may or may not be an option.   But it’s likely also possible for the two of them to be on one of those visits when I love, regardless.  I can also ask Becca, Elise, Christa, Mark, Mya, Heath, Fish, my mother, my father…any number of people who I’d love visits with anyway.  I think it’s a workable plan.

I don’t know when it will happen, but I’m thinking fall or winter.  Like I said before, one of the toughest parts of this is that my moving out of the city at all also equals my moving out from my living arrangement with Mark, and even thinking about that is so very hard and makes me feel tremendously sad. It’s probably right for us, regardless, to start moving towards not living together,  but that doesn’t make it easy, and it’s something very heavy in the lightness of my feelings about being somewhere else where I think I will be happy as far as my location goes.

And as I’m talking about somewhere else, I’m packing to go somewhere else yet again. After a week from hell where I have had to be on way, way too much, I’m heading back to Chicago for a week to visit family, get some grant work started, to spend a few days with Fish (who moved from here to there a few months ago, go figure) and to see Blue.  AND, perhaps coolest of all, to have a 5th grade slumber party reunion with two of my other closest friends as a child who I haven’t seen in decades.  I don’t know if there’s much cooler than that.

What I do know is that I’m wiped and need a soft, warm bed.  And that the idea of having it somewhere as lovely as the islands is a marvelous — and attainable! — daydream.

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2009

Consider this a bookmark: I have been out-of-my-mind busy, and have a couple entries almost done, but all the jobs are being incredibly demanding in the last week or two. I also wound up with an injury to my arm and neck a little bit ago that did a number on me (getting better, slowly) and which made typing intensely uncomfortable.

But I’ll have something here by Friday, and I’m not dead.   Not yet, anyway.

Sunday, April 12th, 2009

Thursday, after working my second job at the clinic, I was effectively kidnapped by my co-worker Gigi and her ten-year-old daughter Sophia, whom I adore.She calls herself Big Sophia around me, my pug being Little Sofia. We wound up driving from their place to my neighborhood for dinner, which is a pretty long haul. On the drive up, I sat in back with Sophia as she showed me how she plays cards on her Zune, shared her teen magazine with me, and put her headset on my ears to share her favorite music.

As I agreed that Paramore are, as she said, so super awesome and cool, I was reminded of my sense that when girls that age think you’re the bomb, you really must be the bomb, and you very much feel as cool as the bands they like when they let you in. It’s quite a gift.

At dinner, we sat together as she flipped through the magazine some more — she still liked me even after insisting she hold my hand as we crossed a busy street, though she may well be too big for that. (She seems to simply accept that her Auntie Heather is a worry wart.) She pointed out a two-page section in it to me about embarrassing moments. The more embarrassing something was considered, the higher it was rated, and they key for the ratings listed the highest as so, so mortifying that one should leave town. Some guy farting loudly in his car with a girl hardly ranked, but, surprise, surprise, the one which involved menstrual blood was top-rated as the worst of the worst.

The scenario was that you were at your older sister’s dorm in college and you wound up leaking on her roommate’s bed. The image showed a horrified girl, a very psychotic-looking screaming roomie, and a pool of blood so large, I suspect there may have been a dead body under the blankets. Maybe even two.

I casually commented that I didn’t understand why you had to get out of town because of something that inevitably happens to women with some frequency, just like people get nosebleeds on things or track mud into the house. I mentioned that this kind of stuff really does happen pretty often, and I’d be pretty surprised to see another girl — since it’s probably happened to her, too — make such a big honking deal out of it. I also mentioned I’ve never had a move where once I totally stripped a bed or futon, I wasn’t reminded of how often it happens with the many Rorschach splotches all over mine. I also commented that a puddle of blood that size was an illustrator taking some serious artistic license.

This brought up questions for her about getting periods, and if that’s always horrifying. I told her my comic tale of the cruelty of the fad of white painter’s pants in the early 80’s, especially when your parent had let you know how to identify malaria, but had not filled you in on why you’d suddenly find a red stain inching down your leg while talking to someone you had a mad crush on. (Thank goodness for Judy Blume, mother of us all.) Her Mom also chimed in with her story and talked about how not having that basic information made what would probably otherwise just be a mere bother a lot worse. We both talked about the wads of toilet paper in the underpants technique one often finds oneself using when a pad isn’t available or you don’t even know what one is yet. We also both mentioned that even if moments like that felt like a nightmare at the time, it doesn’t take long for them to become the very funny stories you laugh about like we all just had been laughing over.

Sophia asked both of us how old we were when we got our periods (I was 11, Gigi was 12 or 13), and exhaled a “Phew!” that she still had some time. Then we both said some words about how she probably does, but it really is only as big a deal as you make it. So, when it happens to her, it’ll be just fine, and once she starts having her period, it’ll get pretty normal after just a little while and not be anything to worry about. And certainly nothing to consider leaving town over if you bleed on something now and then.

I was even able to end the evening sending them home with one of the kickass booklets on getting your period I was part of doing with Lunapads.

Only once they all left and I was home alone did I even realize that we’d had “The Period Talk” with Sophia. I had a brief moment of worry that not having thought about it while we were having it, we didn’t do it right, or messed something up. But in reflecting back, I realized how mellow and casual — and unabashedly public! — it was, how it was even in front of her Dad, who was also being totally unsqueamish about it, how comfortable and conversational Sophia was throughout, and how normal it was all made to be, and I felt great about it, convinced this kid I like so much may have had one of the best period talks ever.

One almost as super awesome and cool as Paramore, even. Rawk!

Sunday, April 12th, 2009

This is a fucking outrage.

So, it appears that Amazon.com has decided that some books now belong in their version of the back room.  In other words, some books, which they state they consider “adult” now are no longer listed in sales rankings or topical lists of subjects.

My book — a young adult book, one right on the shelves with everything else in the young adult section at the library, for crying out loud — is among them.

So are: Changing Bodies, Changing Lives: Expanded Third Edition: A Book for Teens on Sex and Relationships by Ruth Bell, Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power and A World Without Rape, Full Frontal Feminism: A Young Woman’s Guide to Why Feminism Matters by Jessica Valenti, Cycle Savvy by Toni Weschler, Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters, Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson, Gender Outlaw by Kate Bornstein and too many others to count.

What CAN I still find in the rankings, which apparently now cannot, according to Amazon, include “adult” material?  Girls Gone Wild: Girls on Girls, Surrender the Booty 3: The Search for More Arse, Jenna Jameson: Ultimate Collection, Playboy: the Complete Centerfolds, Girls Kissing: Volume One, Hot BabesI don’t think I need to go on.

In other words, what it’s looking like is this:  It’s NOT “adult” and not deranked, so long as it’s porn, or salacious, or for the sexual entertainment of “normal” people. And possibly also simply not adult if it’s heterosexual or heteronormative (or tagged to the contrary).  It IS likely to be considered adult and stripped of its ranking if it’s queer (or written by a GLBT author), not hetero/gendernormative, feminist or about any aspect of sexuality for young people (though oddly, some YA sexuality guides were spared, and of the ones I am familiar with, they aren’t outrightly queer-inclusive or sex-positive, either of which may be why).

To be clear, if a person searches for one of these books by title or author, they will find it.  However, that’s only so useful.  Many people find books on a given subject by browsing the subject listings, not knowing what is available by title or author, or by seeing what books are most popular per sales: these derankings remove us from those listings, no matter our book’s popularity or relevance in a given subject.  What this also results in is a given subject, like say, homosexuality, showing books which aren’t actually relevant unless you are looking to “cure” yourself of the apparent affliction of your own identity (today, post-deranking, A Parent’s Guide to Preventing Homosexuality was the top book under homosexuality, and most other books in that topic are of that ilk.)  In other words, many of the listings by subject in these kinds of subject areas, have been replaced with books which, well…either aren’t really about the subject, which are protests to these subjects or are somebody’s idea of what is an acceptable approach to these oh-so-unacceptable topics.

I sent a letter, a far calmer one than I wanted to, to their executive office this morning, which looked like this:

To whom it may concern,

It has recently come to my attention that the topical listings and sales rank for my book, a young adult sexuality and reproductive health guide, “S.E.X.: The  All-You-Need-to-Know Progressive Sexuality Guide to Get You Through High School and College,” are now gone on Amazon, despite having active sales, and usually being very well ranked.

I have also noticed several other reproductive health guides for young people, such as Toni Weschler’s “Cycle Savvy,” and The Boston Women’s Health Collective’s “Changing Bodies, Changing Lives,” have had the same treatment.  And yet, other books similar to ours, such as Michael J. Basso’s “The Underground Guide to Teenage Sexuality,” have retained their rank and listings.  Why?  Who is making these decisions, and where might any of us who are authors find the clear criteria or standard on which these decisions are being made?

My understanding is that Amazon is now hiding what it considers to be  “adult” (or rather, SOME “adult”) material from its rankings and listings,  While I strongly disagree with this practice as a whole — and the arbitrary standards clearly being applied, particularly as Amazon appears to be especially targeting gay and lesbian material — I feel all the more strongly about my book and some of these others being classed as adult, as they are expressly young adult books.

I can go to any library who has my book — and that is hundreds of libraries — and see my book right on the shelves, in the young adult section, unhidden.  Why has it been relegated at Amazon to the back room?

Thank you,
Heather Corinna

Who knows if I’ll get a response, or if the response I get will…well, contain any actual information.  Clearly, an arbitrary standard is being applied here, but I have a hard time envisioning them earnestly copping to it.  After all, what exactly are they going to say?  “Yes, we do find sexual health information for young people, particularly if it addresses queer youth or is written by a queer author, obscene and do NOT feel that Girls Gone Wild is, because…well, it’s not gay, even when the girls are macking down in it because we all know that’s just for the guys watching?”

(Is it perhaps worth my pointing out that the girls who appear in GGW really NEED to be able to find books like mine?)

Edited to add this.  If they can make money off of my book, one supposes I ought to be able to voice my objections at their front door.

4/14 Update: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/apr/14/amazon-derank-books-sexuality

Saturday, March 28th, 2009

I know that of late I’ve been talking much more work than the rest of my life (and I’m still due to blog about sex::tech), but the work stuff is a lot less complicated.  Given what I do, that’s seriously saying something.

The thing is, there is a lot of limbo right now, and it’s not just my own.  Since I accepted that no, I’m not digging Seattle and I seriously doubt it’s ever going to feel like a home for me, I’ve started looking more at elsewheres.  My feeling right now is that I’m in no way ready for an out-of-state move yet, for a whole lot of reasons: financial limitations, because that’d also mean moving far away from Mark (he wants to stay here, and it’s also more complicated than that), and because I’m also not sure I dislike Washington state yet.  Just sure that I dislike most of Seattle-proper.

Of late, I’ve been thinking about trying life on one of the islands here.  The rents are about the same if not better than in the city, there is water everywhere, loads of trees and green stuff, beach and, in general, a slower, more quiet life. The social dynamics also seem to be less chilly, cliquish and painfully hip, which is my primary complaint about Seattle. That’s sounding very nice to me, more like a life I have wanted to head towards for a while, but didn’t think would be able to happen until much later.  It also sounds like a much more suitable place to write a second book.  Oddly, just as I was starting to think that early in the week (I haven’t known when I’d get going on another since I finished the last), an editor from an imprint I like wrote me asking about something else, but we also may start batting around ideas, since apparently they’d love to publish me. I need to spend some time later today, in fact, creating my writing wishlist for her, then hop to more photo editing: it’s been great to have whittled out time to get back to my artwork.

Next week, I’m heading to a cabin on Bainbridge island for a few days to feel life there out some more, and to get some serious downtime, solace, creative inspiration and a visit with Blue.  I figure that’s one of several little minibreaks-with-purpose I’ll do over the next few months, trying a new island each time.  I’m just going to make-believe I live there and see how I feel about it.

Lord knows I could use the downtime anyway. There has been so much travel, so much work of late with both Scarleteen and the clinic.  I’ve also been putting so much of myself out there in life and work in a way that does take a lot of energy, and is a bit more than even I’m used to.  I can do all of this for the rest of the year, I think, but I’m going to need more downtime than I usually take to manage it.

The relationship limbos are even tougher than the locational ones or the work ones.  Well, tougher in some ways, anyway.

I find I’m frequently inarticulate about what’s all been going on in my love life, despite babbling like a brook about it with both my partners and with some friends.  Things are tricky and sometimes tough, though I don’t know if I’d say they’re capital-H hard.  There have been some moments of sadness, but in so many ways, things are also really good with everyone, too.  Where some aspects of the relationship Mark and I are in have been seeming to be stagnant or go on the back-burner, over the last year or so, other parts have been growing; they’re just not the parts either of us expected to be at the forefront of everything, especially when our relationship was new.  There’s not really anything hugely wrong, per se, with our relationship right now, it’s just been transitioning over the last year or two as it is, and us getting to adding other partners — and the deeper communication involved with that — seems to have amped up or illuminated some of those changes more over the last six months.  Even just in talking more and more deeply, some things have come to light coming from both Mark and myself about our relationship, not about anything outside of it, which have made many things more clear which were murkier before.

The quick-and-dirty on all things interpersonal right now is that both of my most intimate relationships have been changing, and both have their own kind of intensity.  While some of the changes are certainly challenging, I also think that things are all moving in the direction that is likely most right for everyone, even if it’s not what any of us expected, even if sometimes it’s been a bit rough and bittersweet and scary.  There’s a whole lot of surprise in everything, really, whether we’re talking about Mark and myself per how we saw this at the onset four years ago and how we see things and interrelate now, or talking about Blue and I: heck, after Act II of our relationship in ‘96, we were both absolutely sure (actually, I more than he, as he tells it) that we’d never even see one another again, let alone be involved like this.

I know I’m being annoyingly obtuse. It’s so damn tricky to write much about this or Blue and I here, despite there being a whole lot to say, and a whole lot I want to say. Mark and I’s courtship was so all over this journal that, understandably, he feels some sense of ownership with this space and it feels uncomfortable for him to not have that same ownership or, more accurately, that singular focus.  I get it completely, and want to honor that because I love him and want him to feel good, but that doesn’t mean I can easily figure out quite how to walk the line here.  It’s just as tough to talk or write about new-old relationship energy (still haven’t figured out if you can have NRE in a relationship with this much history) at the same time our relationship is in transition.  And it’s always tricky to write publicly about the parts of any relationship when it’s not just mushy-gushy stuff: I think it’s safe to say that no one wants to read about the tough parts of their relationship online. We’re all three of us (Mark’s other partners have so far all been very casual, one-time folks, so none of them are involved in the big stuff yet) pretty tender-hearted about everything lately, and sometimes it feels like everyone is getting the shaft in some way, but that may just be my own guilt talking; my own need to have everyone taken care of all of the time.

A month ago, in a wonderful but very intense therapy session I had in Austin, I came to some conclusions about how I have been living my life and some things I really need to work on changing.  Some of these led me to a desire to have this be the year I worked on learning how to be more… well, self-centered.

The therapist talked a lot about my nature to be a caretaker — in work, in my interpersonal relationships, even just in my worldview at large — which also made me think about parts of how I grew up, and how often I parented my parents more than they ever parented me: it’s crazy in how much of my life I’ve felt like an orphan, even as a child.  My last couple moves, for example, have been about what was most convenient for others rather than for me, about making sure the other person was comfortable, even if that meant I wasn’t.  What I’ve said to myself about them in the past was that I had the ability to be more flexible than others. But when I take a long, hard look at it, that’s just not true: it’s that I was willing to be flexible when others were not. I have to take responsibility for some of that, too, because I often don’t even ask for concessions to be made for me. And I often see myself as more flexible and able to give than everyone else, in work, in my personal life, in a ton of even just simple, daily interactions: as the person who needs to provide comfort, to help and aid others, who needs to step aside or yield, who needs to fight for so-and-so’s rights, with my own stuff second.

Long story short: I need to seriously knock it the fuck off, because I’m at an age where if I don’t soon, it’s likely to stay a pattern through the whole of my life.  So, I’ve proclaimed 2009 as The Year of Being Selfish.  We’ll see how well I do with that, and obviously, there are limits to it beyond being just not being a total asshole.  I have no desire to do different work than I have been doing: I just may need to deal with the doing of some of it differently. I want to be yielding, flexible and giving with the people I love, I just need to require more mutuality in all of that, and step into these things with more already intact in the first place. I need, I think, to recognize, that everyone has the ability to be just as adaptive as I have been, it’s just a matter of whether or not they want to, and also a matter of whether or not I keep shouldering everything by default.

(As an aside, I did manage to do this even with my father lately, who is the toughest person for me to do it with, since I am his lifeline in so many ways, and the only person he’s really got.  I also love him to bits, and his opinion of me very much matters.  But he’s been very strongly judgmental with me lately, especially about my relationships, and was kind of going to the place where it’s my job to take care of everyone and give everyone what they all want, even if it isn’t in alignment with my own wants and needs. I was able to draw a very serious boundary about this with him, which included making clear that I’ve clearly shown myself to be more capable of managing my relationships, and having healthy ones, than not just both of my parents, but than most of the people on either side of my extended family.  I was also able to make clear that he gave me the message loud and clear growing up to create my own models, so it was a little late now to have a problem with my doing that.  He’s still a bit pissy with me about my refusing to talk with him about certain things, and my insistence that I am making the best choices I can despite his feelings to the contrary, but I think we’ll work it out in time.)

I also have been thinking about how much of my life has been about fighting for survival.  Mind, much of that was unavoidable if I was going to survive, or others — like my father — were going to.  However, it’s so easy to kind of get stuck in that place, and be fighting and struggling even at times when you don’t need to anymore, or don’t need to be fighting quite so hard anymore.  I also find myself in the position, now, of having some more resources than I have during much of my life, and thus, have the ability to restructure so that I do that less, especially when we’re talking about the ways I do it so unconsciously. Heck, I fight enough with my work: needless struggle or needless battles elsewhere is just freaking silly.

… and as I hear myself say that, while struggling with writing about this when I’m really not required to, one supposes I’d best heed my own advice, figure I did the best I could so far, and get on with the rest of the day as I want it to be.

Saturday, March 14th, 2009

Thursday was the kind of workday when I feel I’m right where I am supposed to be in the world.

I’m at the clinic itself around once a week now as part of my job running our outreach.  My job when I am there with clients having terminations is mostly as an educator: I give one-on-one consultations and discussions about birth control methods and proper use, STIs, relationships, sexual health and any questions or concerns a client might have about their procedure.  It’s also my job when there to particularly educate and advocate for teens and young adults, and since I’m trained to do options counseling, I do that sometimes, too.  Because I float in many respects, what this also means is that I can tend to be a bit of a concierge at the clinic, particularly between clients.  So, if someone needs help with say, a lodging issue, if I walk into a waiting room and a batch of clients have a question they’ve been discussing and want more information on, if someone is alone and upset about it, I’m able to tend to things like this and more.

While I very much like doing the outreach at the shelter and in other presentation environments, this really is my favorite part of the job, despite the hellacious commute.

Last Thursday, in the span of a day, I:

• Came upon a client in one of the waiting rooms who was alone and right about to burst into huge tears.  I was able to sit with her for nearly an hour, let her cry, be an ear for the relationship conflicts she was having and reflect back her valid sadness at being totally abandoned by her partner on that day and other times of reproductive crisis.  We managed to get from crying to laughing (she was actually tremendously funny, and HER words then wound up making another client who came in in the middle of our conversation feel better: gotta love that kind of trickle-down) during the space of that time, and every time I’d check in with her throughout the rest of the day, she looked better and better.

• Was able to help a developmentally disabled client and her very awesome partner (always so nice to see, and unfortunately a bit rare per the men who more often come to the clinic) with a whole handful of things, from connecting him with a state resource to have his vasectomy paid for, to getting them a place to stay overnight, to making very detailed notes about all of her medical conditions, reactions to medications, and just assuring her that everything was going to be okay.

• I was able to arrange for something to help a client who was otherwise doing just fine, but was terrified of but one thing.  To make it so she didn’t have to have that one thing be part of her day not only was going to change her whole experience of her procedure and let her feel really in-control with it, but it also meant she did not have to sit waiting all day dreading it anymore.  So, another where we got to go from tears to great big sighs of relief and peace and smiles.

• We had protestors yesterday, one of whom walked right by a teen client in front of the clinic (and broke the law here in WA by doing so on our property) who was already upset, and who was already being pressured TO terminate outside by her boyfriend and family.

I was able to get her inside, take her downstairs to my sitting room, and give her open time to talk about all of her feelings, what she wanted, and how she felt she was given no permission by anyone to make up her own mind.  She was able to say she felt very unsure, and was considering termination, but had also wanted to consider adoption but was told this was “selifsh” I gotta say, I hadn’t heard that one before about adoption, but you hear something new every day. She also informed me her mother had told her she could legally block her from remaining pregnant, which I let her know was false.  We were able to discuss both options in some depth, and she was able to hear someone tell her — and mean it — that ANY choice she made was an acceptable choice which could be her best one, and that none of her choices were selfish save that this was about her and it was really important she think of herself.  I was also able to open the pressure valve by letting her know that no matter what, when we have a client come for a procedure who says they are here due to being or feeling forced by others and/or says they do not want to terminate, we will not and cannot do a termination that day, and that I’d be happy to inform anyone she needed me to that that was our policy and my firm decision on that.  I let her know she was welcome, if she decided for herself she did want to terminate, to come back, even the next day if she liked, and we could still talk more about all of this regardless, but she did not have to worry about making up her mind that day.

After talking some more, asking a lot of different questions about both choices, she wanted mediation with her boyfriend. I got him and we were able to have a joint discussion for a while.  Some of this involved both of us listening to this guy dish out a neverending spew of how incapable the client was of anything (I was able to respond that my impression was he was talking about himself more than about her, as she seemed quite capable to me), how he feels abortion and adoption are the same since “either way, you don’t get a kid,” (I was able to make clear that he might feel that way, but she clearly did not and I hadn’t heard most pregnant women share that particular logic), and his unwillingness to even hear her feelings on this or to consider or research, with her, other options.

This and more also gave her the opportunity to listen while someone told her boyfriend that their impression of her was far more positive than his own, and she got to hear a rebuttal of all the negatives he lectured us both on about her.  She was able to hear that yes, he got to have his own issues and concerns but that our concern was for her, not anyone else, and she came first with us no matter what. (I believe my summary to him of all he had said was that what he had to say was very interesting, and he certainly did get to think what he thought about it, but that at the start, middle and end of the day, I just didn’t personally care what he thought because he was not our client nor the person pregnant, she was. He had his own choice, and he made it when he refused to use a condom.) She got to hear me point out that anyone pressuring her to make the choice they wanted not only was not okay, but that in this case, it really backfired mightily since their pressuring her resulted in her being unable to terminate that day, even if she had decided — in an environment without pressure — that that is what she had wanted.

He decided he needed to also go on this doomsday rant about how all teen and young mothers are doomed to disaster, how she won’t finish high school, won’t go to college, won’t have the money she wants, will lose her whole life, will be a terrible parent, will have no freedom — this is another point where I asked if he was sure he was talking about her, not himself — and I was starting to wonder if the story was going to end in a plague of locusts.  I was able to point out that yes, all of those things were possibilities, and statistically, were more likely for teen mothers than women who were older.  But I then made very clear that it was also possible she could have NONE of those results, and while doing things like finishing high school and college might be tougher for her or take longer, they were doable and I’ve met plenty of women who have done them.  He started to go down this road about how she wasn’t able to be like those successful women, so I pointed out that one thing I’d noticed those other women have that she doesn’t right now were people around them who didn’t tell them what they could NOT do, but what they COULD, and who were positive and supportive, not negative and nonsupportive.  I said that did she decide she wanted to parent, he could certainly influence the outcome by growing a better attitude, but she also had the option of influencing the outcome by choosing not to surround herself anymore with negative people like him, too.  Which, who knows, said I, she might choose to do at this point no matter what reproductive choice she makes.

I got to watch her face and posture change throughout in a very positive way, and also got to watch some guy who was clearly sure — even in the way he initially spoke to me — he could bully, sweet-talk or intimidate women like he had her find out that was so not the case.  His posture changed, too.

That never, ever gets old, I gotta tell you.  I can’t imagine it ever will.  If I could do nothing but mediate scenarios like that, adjusting the power-dial ever-so-slightly, in-person, with people (usually guys or parents) who talk young women into feeling like failures, I’d ditch everything else I do in a heartbeat to do that 24/7, truly.

I can’t know what she wound up deciding unless she does come back, but in the end, my sense was she was going to be likely to terminate, and was feeling that may have been best for her from the start, she just needed everyone to back the hell off so she could get all the information and breathing room she needed to consider her options, and so she could make her own choice. This is actually a pretty common occurrence, especially with teens who also tend to face people not giving them autonomy in most things, so they often already feel talked over and controlled as it is.

It doesn’t matter to me what she chooses, but my sense is whatever it is, it’s a lot more likely to be her choice now, and whatever she feels is best.  And that’s absolutely all I need to feel good about this stuff.

It was a really, really good day, and those are but the highlights.  Again, every day I’m there isn’t like that — and some can be full of sadness or feelings of hopelessness, to boot — but there is usually at least one exchange that just absolutely sends me.  I have similar things happen at Scarleteen all the time, mind you, but being in person, seeing body language change, really seeing something vital and positive alter in the moment adds something so massively marvelous.  I am so, so full of huge, bursty, loud love for these women, and I do think it manifests itself better in person — or sees itself reflected more — than online or by phone.

I hadn’t gotten decent sleep in two days, and thankfully, the one woman who lives near me was working that day, which is unusual.  So, I was able to catch a ride home with her rather than doing the two-hour, three-bus tango, which was a godsend, as I probably would have passed out on one of the busses and wound up gawd knows where.  We stopped at Trader Joe’s on the way home. I was able to get myself a cheap bottle of wine, come home and enjoy said bottle, a little battery-operated something else, and a fine, simple meal in a peaceful night alone.  I started watching a movie but wound up feeling the adrenaline and sleep-deprivation crash around eight, which I totally indulged by going to bed as early as I wanted.

Some days are better than others, and some days — like Thursday — are freaking banner days I get a contact high from that’s got serious staying power.  Which is really good, because Friday was totally full of suckitude and I needed that buoy, big-time. Meh: every day can’t be a winner.

P.S.  Today is the very last day of the funds-matching for Scarleteen donations.  That also makes today the last time I nudge anyone about donating, likely for the rest of the year.  Point is, if you want to pitch in and can in any way, please do: anything you give will be worth twice that.