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

Archive for the 'workworkwork' Category

Monday, November 21st, 2011

I wound up getting a pretty invaluable takeaway from the Staycation-that-wasn’t.

When it was over — or not over, really, since it didn’t really happen, but you know what I mean — I realized that I had stayed off my personal Twitter without even noticing.  Then I realized that going back on filled me with some level of dread. So did the prospect of doing pretty much anything that involved promotion or standing out from the madding crowd in any way.  While I didn’t get the time off I wanted, I was at least able to get a handful of days separate from my larger work world of late and away from its constant din. In a word, anything potentially extroverted or which carried the pressure to be extroverted made me feel highly anxious and depressed.

Growing up, music, writing and teaching were always my big loves, as they are still. Unsurprisingly, my musical abilities tended to be the ones that got the most attention and focus from others.  Some of that was just because I loved to make music, but I suspect a larger part of it was that making music tends to involve a level of performance that writing (well, until fairly recently) and teaching, especially when you do it the way I’ve always liked to, do not.

The thing is, I never liked performing. I still don’t. What I liked was making music, being a part of music, or even more to the point, being so much a part of music that what I was in those moments was music itself, separate from myself, invisible as myself.  My favorite part of any kind of art has always been the process, not the product, and really being able to get lost inside that process. Before I went to the arts high school I did, I was always in the choir at every school I attended. I remember people feeling very invested in getting solos or not, but that was never my interest. Being in the choir — in it –  was my favorite part.  I especially loved those moments when you’d be singing with everyone else, and all the harmonies would be just right: even though you were still singling just as clearly and loudly when your own voice was more audible, you’d blend in so that you couldn’t distinguish your voice from anyone else’s anymore. It was like you opened your mouth and everyone’s voice came out, and yours was only one part.  It’s the same reason I loved being in the mosh pit during my high school years: things were loud and intense, sure, but everyone was part of the crowd, it required going with that flow or people would wind up underfoot.

I loved being at the arts school. Being able to focus on my writing was fantastic, but I was there primarily to study music, and I loved that, too. At the end of senior year, everyone needed to present their own project, and I was so happy to be able to form a band and be able to collaborate with a group, rather than playing alone. But by the time graduation was coming up, I,d realized that a life in music would probably mean a life performing. Making my living as someone who only stayed in the studio was not likely to be doable (I should have learned a brass instrument, I know). If I wanted to sing, I’d need to learn to like performing. I tried. During my gap year, my friend Joe and I would play open mikes and at a couple bars and I literally tired to see if I could learn to like performing if I just sang and played my dulcimer with my back turned to the audience.  (Yes, really.  I did like it better, but audiences, as you’re probably not surprised to hear, found it a bit odd.) What about street performing, I thought? Maybe that would work. Nope. Also? Fucking brr.

So, when I started college, I decided to stop studying music and focus instead on literature and sociology, and on writing and teaching. There’ve been two decades between then and now, and a lot happened in my life and in the world in between.  And of course, silly me, I decided to write and teach about and subjects that seem perfectly normal and relaxed to me, but also wonderfully complex, so never boring, but which most of the world finds provocative and feels the need to yell about a lot.

But over the last couple of decades, the biggest thing that happened around my little epiphany I’m about to talk about is that it seems to me that our culture has become a culture of constant and en-masse extroversion to the exclusion of all other ways of being.  A “look at me” world. If how a lot of the world seems to be going right now was a kid in class, it seems like it’d be the kid who always has their hand up for every question, even though half the time, they don’t have the answer or weren’t even paying attention to what the question was.

Everything seems to involve marketing. Everything feels like it involves making yourself louder and louder and louder and bigger and bigger and bigger. If you don’t want to be on television — or, if you’re like me and that kind of visibility sounds like a circle of hell Dante would have invented if he’d written the Divine Comedy in the 21st century — it must mean you’re not really motivated to do whatever it is you do. Hell, we have reality television, and people who aspire to be on reality television as a what-I-want-to-be-when-I-grow-up. If you just want to quietly do your own thing, it’s often assumed you must not want to involve other people or make an impact on the world, since making an impact involves being seen as widely, as largely as possible, even if what you have to offer when given those opportunities is less than the best you’ve got to offer. I can’t express how many times over the last year or two I have found myself arguing with colleagues who just don’t understand — they’re not being assholes, they just clearly don’t get it –  why I don’t self promote more, more, more and how I can be highly dedicated to doing what I am without wanting to spend more time marketing myself and my work than time doing my work. It’s gotten to the point where if anyone around me even starts the sentence, “You know, you really should promote yourself better by….” I feel on the verge of tears or shin-kicking, sometimes both.

And in the subject I work in, in sex, I feel like it’s just gotten really bad — and maybe it always was — to the point where the promotion and marketing schtick has gotten so fever-pitch that even smart people I know with great intentions frequently sound like snake oil salesmen to me. I ran from two professional email lists screaming in the last year because where I had been looking for educated community to deepen the actual work we all do, most of what I found was what sounded like a nonstop infomercial from hundreds of people at once, some of whom, it seemed to me, spent more time marketing than actually doing the work, because when they did ask about work-related things, the questions they asked were so rudimentary it made it obvious how little time they spent doing the work they were promoting.

When I’ve been trying to figure out why I’ve felt so burnt out and tired, I kept finding myself very perplexed. I love the work I do. Working with teens and young people, especially when they’re in crisis, can be very challenging, but it rarely wears me out: it tends to energize me instead. I never get tired of writing: I still love the process. Same goes for teaching: I still love working as en educator.  The money stuff is always tiresome, so I often look there when I’m trying to identify a source of stress, but that’s not it. I wish I had more time for my life, still, and for my own creative work, but I’ve been working on that with some measure of success. I keep being asked for things from too many people who seem to forget I’m just one person over here, but as frustrating as that is, I can let mostly those annoyances go when I experience them. I’ve wracked my brain with all of these puzzle pieces and more, trying to find out where, exactly, so much of my stress seems to be coming from.

Then I realized that I somehow have managed to often fall into working in this extroverted mode that doesn’t work for me at all. In fact, it keeps me from doing my best work; from my best self, even. From who I am and the way that I do things best.

I’m gragarious, sure. And very open. Sometimes loud and boisterous. But I’m not extroverted. I’m introverted. It’s one of the reasons I always loved writing. It’s one of the reasons why I’m always much more concerned with getting enough time alone than with getting enough social time, and why I always feel completely perplexed when people ask me if I get lonely now that I live on the island or if I get bored out here. When I was in the UK early this year, Blue took some time off and was home alone for several days.  When he told me on the phone he hadn’t seen a single person in days, I said, “I know, isn’t it AWESOME?” (I think it is. Blue, on the other hand, was a little freaked out by the experience.) It’s one of the reasons I fell so in love with Montessori when I discovered it, where the teacher isn’t the focus, the students are. It’s one of the reasons I still love making music, and tend to save it for cherished, quiet times when I’m alone. It’s the main reason why it’s been very hard for me to have to adjust to the fact that semi-regularly now, I have to do public talks for big groups, something I’ve gotten decent at doing, but am always most thrilled when it’s over. My introverted nature is not news to me nor is it to anyone who knows me well.

And yet. Because — and really, I can’t believe how unaware of this I have been — it seems like the way things have been around this is that this, this high-key extroversion, is The Way you do them, I have tried to do them that way. I have tried to keep my own personal and professional din at something resembling the level of what seems like everyone else’s. I have pushed myself really hard to perform the way a lot of my colleagues perform. Heck, I can actually track this back to way earlier in my life, to times even as a kid where I forced myself to learn to be loud because I so badly wanted to do things, and the only way it seemed I was going to be able to get a chance to do them was if I acted like I was extroverted.

And that, my dears, is what I realized has been making me so incredibly worn out, above and beyond all else.

For an extrovert, see, that stuff obviously feels energizing and exhilarating. Not for an introvert: it gives me an intense desire for a rock to go hide under where I can take a long nap or listen to my records alone all day. An extrovert loves to be in the spotlight. We introverts generally can’t stand it, especially if we’re not at least sharing it, ideally with someone who wants that spot right on them, far, far away from us. My sense is that for extroverts, being constantly visible and in the middle of everything helps them focus. For an introvert, especially for this introvert, it feels like trying to watch one screen while 50 different screens with different things on them are on at once. It’s distracting. For me to see out clearly, I have to start by seeing in: and I can’t do that very well if I’m trying to be extroverted. It’s like extroversion puts a flashlight in my eyes.  Not only does it just feel wrong — wrong like you feel when you’re trying to get somewhere, and someone tells you you’re on the right street, but you are 110% certain you’re utterly turned around –  it makes it really, really hard for me to even remember what I’m supposed to be doing, let alone enjoy it.

The thing is, I — and my other fellow introverts — should be able to be who we are, the way we are, and do what we want to do in life and in the world in our way. It’s no more wrong or right than the other way: these are both ways of being. Not putting out a constant, flashy, look-look-look outflow doesn’t mean I don’t want to do things that have a big impact, nor that I don’t think my work has value: it usually just means that I want to be in the work and focusing on the work itself, and focusing on myself in such a way that I’m the vehicle for it, rather than the other way round.

I thought a little about some of the people I’ve admired most in the world who were clearly introverted: Blake, Goodall, Thoreau, Ghandi, Woolf, Bronte, Curie, Einstein, Dr. Suess, Jung, King, Van Gogh, Chopin, Yeats, Joni Mitchell, Georgia O’Keefe, Remedios Varo, nearly every writer and artist whose work I find most visionary and my father. Then I started thinking about how they’d fare in the world right now, and how hard it might even be to find them and what they did if they didn’t shift to an extroverted model. I mean, would Virginia Woolf really be like, “No, srsly, everyone, COME SEE MY ROOM! Pls RT!” Would Thoreau have a daily photoblog of Walden Pond? Why? How the hell would Chopin have composed anything with one hand on a cell phone? How on earth could activists like King and Ghandi have done what they did as well as they did with the kind of reactive urgency we have right now?

Then I realized that all the people on my list were brilliant people, very self-possessed and visionary people who I feel certain would have found a way to be who they are, and to do things the way that felt right to them, without taking on a way of being that would be more likely to stand in the way of their work and their lives than it would be likely to enhance it.

I am, at the moment, without solid answers about how to do this differently. At the same time, it’s not like I’ve ever really thought about it before: I only, and quite foolishly, just hit upon this awareness last week.

But I’m so very grateful to have gotten to that awareness, even if what got me there mostly seems to have been a lot of deep annoyance, a ton of new grey hairs, distraction from all of the things I actually want to do and which need a level of full attention tough to come by anymore for me to do them as well as I can, and feeling very misunderstood pretty much constantly, all unpleasant things.

For now, I’m just going to start thinking about this. I have a few strategies to start with, though, like staying away from social media I can until I figure out a way to manage it that really works for me, taking baby steps to ask the extroverts in my circles to accept I’m different than they are, doing things more quietly, even if it seems like a gamble to do so, and just reminding myself that the way it seems like everything has to be done isn’t the way everything has to be done.  There are other ways to do things than whatever the predominant model is or seems to be at a given time, something I know and have always applied to near everything in my life and my work, something I tell other people at least several times a day, and something I used to do all the time, so there’s no reason I can’t apply the same here with this, starting now.

Wednesday, July 6th, 2011

I very recently started some coaching to help me develop some balance between my work and my life, and to help me create better separation between the two.

It’s probably more obvious to everyone else than it was to me that I needed that, but to give you an example of just how clueless I can be about this, my coach and I were setting a goal so that I could, eventually, get down to a workweek that looked at lot more like 40 hours a week instead of the more typical 60, and even 70 I wind up putting in sometimes.

In doing that, she asked me if I could describe what a day when I was working 40 hour workweek would look like for me.  In my usual Corinna lead-first-with-mouth-next-with-brain fashion, I opened my mouth to immediately speak and said, “Well….”

And then nothing came out. In the back of my head, a very annoying Musak version of Depeche Mode’s “Enjoy the Silence” started to play, because silence was all I had going.  Finally, when I reached the sub-basement of the elevator of my mind, I mumbled, “Shit, I have no idea.”

This seemed ridiculous. Surely it had just been a while, and I couldn’t remember.  So I asked her to hold on a second while I collected my thoughts, and flipped my fingers through the card catalog of my life.

Last decade or so: yeah, no 40 hour weeks there or anything even close. Plenty of years where I wasn’t even just working this one job, including the two years where I was killing myself — but feeding myself, and keeping my organization afloat, both hardly unimportant — by working three.

Let’s try looking at the pre-web years. The year before I started all of this?  Nope, three different jobs.  The couple of years before that? Teaching jobs, nannying jobs, my internship and the farmer’s market gig during the summer on top of all that.  Nope, back to that 60 hour+ week during those years.  I know it’s not even worth considering the years I was running my little school, because even in the five days a week it was open, I showed up every day to prep at 5:30 or 6 and didn’t usually leave until 6 or 7, then showed up one weekend day to clean it.

That gets us to the college years, during which I usually took around 27 credit hours a semester and worked close to full-time on top of that to pay for school and my own bills. When I was in high school, because of the kind of school I attended, we had a longer school day than most, and I worked part-time then, too, so no 40-hour-weeks then. During my gap year between high school and college I think I actually did have close to a 40 hour workweek, but since a whole lot of that year was spent in an LSD-induced haze, I a) have few memories of that year and b) think the ones I have are perhaps a little bit suspect, since some of them contain things I’m fairly certain did not exist in reality.

That gets me to early adolescence and childhood.  While I’m very sure trying to visualize how those days went is of limited use regardless, the fact of the matter is that even during a lot of them, I got up incredibly early, often going to the hospital with my mother hours before school started, so I don’t think I even experienced a 40-hour “workweek” as a child.

Which all led me back to my initial answer: “Well….shit, I have no idea.”

I’d like you to share a rerun of the moment I had in my heart and my mind when I realized it was true that I earnestly had absolutely no experience in my life, neither as an adult nor a teen or even a child, of not being overworked and overextended, and pushing past what is a pretty common limit for an awful lot of people; of having overwork and overextension be my absolute normal, to the point that I couldn’t even access anything in my usually vivid imagination to pull up a picture of what having a life that wasn’t like that could or even might look like. Enjoy the moment with me next where I was whacked a few hours later by what utter insanity that is and how very, very long it has taken me to realize that.

Mind, it’s not like my experience with this is all that atypical for someone like me in terms of my usual economic class, trying very hard to just pay the basic bills and keep my head above water. I come from immigrants, so there’s also that to take into account. I’ve also always worked in at least one of three fields: education, activism and healthcare, which are all legendary for paying very little while demanding a lot from their workers. But do most people in those kinds of situations not even recognize that their normal is….well, too much?  Again, color me clueless.

Setting aside the past, and keeping in the present, one of the big questions is this: why DO I work so many hours?  Over the last year and change, for the most part, I get paid the same whether I work 40 hours or 80 hours.  It’s not like I see an increase in financial support for what I do when I work more hours, like people notice and say, “Hey, that ED seems to be working way more hours than usual, I’m going to donate or donate a little more.” I think most of the time, people just don’t even realize that I’m the person doing most of the work that I am to even consider my work hours, why would they?

When other organizations are short of funds, short on staff, but high on people who want and need services, what do they do? They have people wait longer out of necessity and cut back services: they do not ask their staff to add more and more hours without additional pay or benefits to try and have one person do the work of ten.  They do not suggest that a staff person should just give up their whole life to do their very best to get as close as they can to working 24/7. That is because they are reasonable, fair and probably don’t want their staff to drop dead.  Go, them. Would that my own boss were such a smart cookie who gave that kind of a shit about me.

But she’s really, really got to change or else it’s going to be time for me to find a new boss.

Over the last couple of years, I’ve been doing okay. Moving out here to the island has allowed me to live in a beautiful place where everything is not constantly breaking at a reasonable rent. No, I don’t own a house or a vehicle, but as always, that’s okay: those things are my normal, too, but they’re fine as normals. Working more isn’t likely to put those things within my reach. I don’t have the healthcare I need, still, but there’s nothing I can do about that.  Overworking also won’t give me access to that, it just makes me need it all the more. I can pay my rent and my bills every month, I don’t have to worry about being unable to afford to feed, clothe or shelter myself. I can even sometimes give the people in my life in a far worse spot than me a tiny bit of financial support sometimes: less than I’d like to, but hey, as someone not even middle-class, being able to do anything at all is a boon.

I’m actually in the position right now to have a really beautiful life if I want it, if I allow myself the time and space to enjoy it and live it. I’m living in a place I love being in, with someone I adore.  For the most part, my life currently is blissfully free of drama or crisis. I’ve had the opportunity to learn to just be happy, rather than in a constant struggle, be it financial, interpersonal or emotional. It’s even possible that sometime in the future, I might be able to find a way to bring Briana and Liam — who are both part of what I consider my core family in the world — over here, but to commit to that, I’d need to, and want to, commit to having the time to really help with Liam and be around for him. So, my little pipe dream is a beautiful thing, but this sense I’ve had that would be no problem is delusional, since as things have stood, I clearly have yet to learn how to make that kind of time. Promising it to a little kid and his mother when I don’t know if I can deliver it would be unconscionable.

Let’s take another trip to The Department of the Painfully Obvious. I have had pretty much zero time for any of my creative work.  I can manage a little bit of time to sit with an instrument and strum on it some, but have had little to none for more than that, to create (or even publish what IS created!) any visual art, or even just fiddle around to get those juices flowing, to put any real time into writing that isn’t directly related to work. I was an artist before I was anything else in this world, and it’s so vital to who I am and to expressing and exploring who I am for me, and yet.  And yet.

There’s more, but those are the core issues, and they’re pretty overwhelming all by themselves.  But the good news is, I know all of this now, I am painfully aware of all of it now, even if that awareness is in its infancy.  The even better news is that I’m committed to making positive changes and have started doing that.

The first goal is for me to get to a 55-hour workweek. Over the last week, since setting that goal, with one day shy of that week today, I’ve clocked 48 hours.  If I work  only a 7-hour day today, I’ll have met that goal for this week.The week before this I clocked around 70 hours, so that’s a pretty massive improvement.  Now I just have to stick with it which, of course, is a lot easier than it sounds.

It’s been a nice week.  I’m finding that at least once, I have actually felt the kind of sense of accomplishment in packing less into a day, and ending it on time, as I often feel in packing in more than seemed possible and working superhuman hours.  I’ve had some of the kind of time I’ve wanted to have for my partner.  I’ve had some of the kind of time I’ve wanted for myself. I feel slightly less relieved by the idea of being run over by a Mack truck because if I were dead, I’d finally be able to get a nap.

I’m also starting to see some of the things that keep me in this mess.  For instance, while I’m usually really excellent about limits and boundaries in my personal life, and in my professional ethics, I’m recognizing I’m actually very bad with both when it comes to work in the sense of what’s asked of me, what’s asked of myself and what (read: how little) I ask of others. I ask much, much more of myself than I ask of others, and I think the trick is going to be to find what’s in the middle of those goalposts, and move each side closer to it.

I’m also finding out I’m less immune to what others think or say about me around my work than I thought.  For instance, we did go ahead and put up a notice that response time for direct services at Scarleteen will now be slightly longer sometimes out of necessity.  There was some background gossip around that somewhere that I know was about something to the effect of how much I suck, and I was finding that really, really bothered me, even though I know I don’t suck and I also know that anyone who’d make that kind of judgment is clueless about the level of work I do myself and we do as an organization, or what it takes to run it all, especially for this long with so few resources to draw on. Why do I care so much, especially when the chances are that anyone being critical hasn’t put half the time and dedication into their work as I’ve put into mine?  And why am I putting so much of my own esteem into work, and so little into life anymore?  Must to fix.

Guilt is clearly another big trigger for my internal overwork beastie. When the emails keep piling up to the degree there is just no way for me to answer them all in a day, sometimes at all; when people are asking me to do things for them, their projects, their orgs, and usually for free; when I set a limit or politely decline things I’d love to do but just can’t because I am out of hours to do them in and people don’t back off, rather than feeling pissed, I feel guilty. I want to be able to do all of these things, and I’m very unforgiving of myself when I can’t.  So, rather than dismissing or getting mad at people who won’t respect my limits or take some time to get a sense of how much I’m already doing before they even ask for something (or hey, try and ask for things only when they can make a sound offer that compensates me in some way), I internalize and get made at myself and refuse to let myself off the hook.  Even when I know someone has figured out how to trigger a guilt response in me or is clearly looking to do that, I still have to talk myself through why that’s uncool, rather than just falling in line and acting of of guilt.

Of course, there’s also the fact that this is something I need to learn. I am, as I now know, an absolute beginner at this.  I do not know how to work a typical, full-time workweek. I do not know how to have this kind of balance, both because I haven’t usually had the opportunity and because the few times I have, I didn’t take it.  I have to learn how to do this, and my ignorance has been a barrier.  I have to ask for help with this, so I can learn, rather than asking for help with all the work I manage, which can feel like the same thing, but it really, really isn’t.

There’s going to be more, of course, but I think one other thing that’s on the list of things that keep me stuck here is one of the toughest to face, speak or even think about, which is that the person I usually want to be is really not a person I — or anyone who doesn’t want to kill themselves — can be. If and when I am only highly valued or appreciated because I do more work than others and will give up everything to do it, that is not a good thing. That’s a serious problem.  I can’t control whether or not that’s the yardstick by which others measure me, but I can control whether or not I use it with which to measure myself, and I have got to stop doing that. I not only cannot be that person and be healthy and whole, that person isn’t so great, anyway. I’m more than that person. I’m someone who has always had the capacity for a lot of joy, even when things are awful, and who has been really dedicated to milking everything I can out of life, living it completely and fully and with great wonder and abandon and delight. I can be that person, who has value AND still work to the degree I need to to support myself and to the degree I can to do the good things for the world and the people in it that are so important to me. But I can’t be that person, that whole person, if all I do is work and if when I work, I am working so much and so hard that when there is finally a minute when I am not working, I am too physically, emotionally and intellectually drained to do anything else.

I think I’ve mentioned in the past that a while back, my mother found this newspaper article about a relative of ours from 100 years ago. The headline read, “Man Drops Dead After Stint of Shucking Corn.” (For serious. Clearly a writer who thought subtlety was for sissies.)

The story was about how said relative was purportedly feeling really, really sick all day, but had a history of being a very hard worker, and was not going to make an exception that day. He made clear to his co-workers that until all that corn got shucked, he wasn’t going to leave work. So, he did it: he shucked all that corn. Then, as the headline so delicately reports, he dropped the fuck dead.

I feel certain there was a moment in there where dying must have felt very satisfying. A long day of farm work when you are literally taking your last breaths is hardly the best day ever, so it being over — like, really over — must have been awesome for a second.  There may have even been a moment in there where he felt quite satisfied, thinking that he won the Martyr Olympic Gold for finishing his work even though he also finished his heart in doing so, which probably no one else on the team that day could say for themselves.

But I also have this funny feeling that there may have been another moment, probably the very last one, where he had a sudden, likely awful, realization that he just spent his last moments above ground on earth shucking fucking corn for pennies; spent his last day creating a challenge for himself that seemed laudable at the time, but was about the worst, most pointless use of a last day on earth there was. When he had that moment, he probably felt like a total asshole.  Then he died, that assholic feeling being the last he had. It was perhaps paired with the vain wish he had had just one more nanosecond to leave a tip for someone later on down the line like me that his story was not to be interpreted as an aspiration or inspiration.  Rather, it was a warning not to be so damn stupid as to think that last ear of corn matters more than giving someone you love a hug, rolling down a sunny hill, having a laugh, drinking a cool pint, eating the corn instead of working it, or just appreciating the value of your life as something much, much more than merely being She Who Works Herself to Death.

He didn’t leave that message, alas, and some of my family members indeed saw this dude as some sort of hero. When I first saw it, I did too. I thought, “Yep, that’s us, aren’t we so awesome in our badass workiness?” I thought that because I was an idiot who somehow wound up with a Protestant work ethic that would make Luther feel like a hack, even though we don’t even come from Protestants (though I’d be lying if I didn’t say we do come from some idiots, so maybe that explains it).

But I’m starting to get that unwritten message now. I’m going to learn how to leave the last ear of the damn corn unshucked if it…well, if it doesn’t kill me.

Sunday, May 23rd, 2010

While so much of my work involves my giving other people advice, I’m writing today to ask all of you for some for myself.

While the answers and working it out are obviously going to be complex, the question itself is pretty simple.  How do any of you both accept and express your limits to others, especially people you don’t know?

I’m not talking about sexually, but in the rest of life.  Over the last year, and certainly the last few months, it’s become clearer and clearer to me that I’m not very good at this.  I’m actually great at it sexually or when it comes to my close personal relationships.  But when it comes to work-stuff, and to people who I don’t know very well (including people who may feel they know me, but who I don’t feel I know)?  I kind of suck at it. Okay, so I really suck at it.
I am aware that one of the big hurdles is that I have done and do so much that I know that can give the impression I’m either superhuman, or just always capable of doing a million things at once.  I also know that a lot of people don’t realize — how could they, really — how many people at a given time will usually be asking/wanting things of me at any given time.  To boot, when it’s about work, I find it really hard to figure out who to be professional yet still state limits that usually have something to do with having too much work on my plate, but also have to do with my health and the limitations it can impose, which is very personal.  Same goes for the financial limitations I have, also personal.  I mean, “I’m sick, broke and stretched to my limit,” is just not a very professional answer, even though that’s often the truth of things.

For example, right now, the hard truth is that unless I’m being compensated very well for anything work-wise, I really, really should say no.  Same goes for my needing to do anything work-wise which requires a lot of time and energy for any kind of setup or prep, other than things in which I can just bring my existing skills and resources to the table.  Between now and a few weeks after the upcoming move, I just need to not take ANYTHING extra on at all, because if I do, I just don’t know how it will get done in the midst of everything else.  Ideally, I’d be able to go a month before even answering any email, because the backlog is so great, and I feel so overwhelmed by how many folks want or need something from me.

Lastly, I’ve little doubt that consciously and unconsciously, my own dislike of some of my many limits probably comes across in some of these exchanges, which I’m sure doesn’t help. Any tone from me that sounds apologetic about my limits…well, I guess I feel like it only seems to make things worse.  Too often lately, I find myself just not responding to a lot of people sometimes, too, because a) even taking the time to respond to everyone takes up a lot of time and energy I don’t have, b) it makes me feel crappy to have to constantly explain that I can’t do everything, and c) a lot of people seem to take it really personally, a response I’m also really bad at dealing with, and tend to easily feel guilty about.

So, are you awesome at this?  What works for you in doing this?  If you sucked at it in the past, what was your process like in getting better at it?  If you could just gab at me about it, I’d be so grateful.  Thanks!

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?

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.

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.

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.

But.

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.

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.

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, 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.

Sunday, February 22nd, 2009

Man, I’m tired.

I’m a little bit concerned that 2009 will wind up labeled as The Year of Burnout, because I keep feeling very precariously on the edge of it, and it’s really uncomfortable.  Running more than one program has been seriously, seriously tough in a whole lot of ways.   It’s not just a matter of working more than one job, since I am having a hard time thinking of a time when I didn’t work more than one job.  It’s working more than one very demanding job, having more than one position of leadership, and working with a whole bunch of people in a lot of different ways. When I’m in the trenches with any of my work, working with my users and my clients, those feelings of burnout tend to fall away and I’m in the zone that I so, so love, effortlessly, but everything surrounding all of that is what’s getting to me.

It’s about having — or feeling a lack of — the resiliency to work in the fields that I do and weather the fallout that lands in my lap ably.  There have also been a lot of changes at the clinic lately, and some rough tensions. It doesn’t help that none of my jobs still offer me any benefits at all and the health insurance conundrum remains, as ever, unresolved.

I had a mini-meltdown at home on Saturday night about a bunch of things, one of which being that as I approach three years of living here, Seattle still just doesn’t even remotely feel like home to me, and I’m guessing it’s just not going to.  I love my neighborhood, but that doesn’t seem to be enough to make this place home. There are a whole bunch of reasons why, and I’m not going to go on and on about all the ways Seattle blows chunks for me.  It’s a tricky spot to be in, though, in part because Mark very much loves it here, and also because I’m just not sure where I’d go right now if I were to move again anyway. I’m feeling like I don’t want to even think about relocating until I know, for sure, a place that I step in and feel very much at home in.  having visited back home in Chicago lately, I don’t think that’s it, and while there was so much I loved about Minneapolis, I didn’t like some of the changes happening, and frankly, it’s too freaking cold. There are other cities I like, but I just don’t know how I could afford to live in, and there are pipe dreams I have about living rurally, but I see no way to even come close to manifesting those any time soon. I am off to Austin this week, a town I always love, so I suppose I can give some thought to there as a future-maybe, but it’s missing a large body of water, which has always been a must-have for me to feel at home.  Bleh.

I think per the impending burnout,  when I get back home from Texas, I need to just spend some time with a pen and a blank notebook and try and map out all of my stuff: what all I am doing, what areas are seeming to cause me the most stress, what places I can possibly pull back a bit. I also, still, need to get a lot, lot better about expressing my limits to people as well as to myself, as well as find some extra patience and compassion for myself about the limits of nothing more than my mere humanity.  I often balk at being presented as a Superwoman, but that’s a bit silly of me to balk at since it’s not like I don’t try and effectively live like one.

I also very much need to find some time in the next few months where I can literally take a complete week or two off, full-stop.  Given the amount of work I do in a year, it probably would be totally appropriate for me to have a full month of vacation, and lord knows I could use it, but that’s not exactly doable.

I don’t like feeling like this.  Just this weekend, at the NARAL youth activist summit, I was talking about how in my mind, the job of an activist, in so many ways, isn’t somehow singlehandedly fixing a problem or getting an issue the attention it needs, but inspiring others to be activists, too, not necessarily full-time, but enough to mobilize enough people in ways from small to great to make the good stuff happen.  At times like this, I can’t help but feel like I am not even remotely inspiring, and that totally bums me out.  (That’s not me, for the record, asking for anyone to say, “You do inspire me, Heather!” I’m just talking out loud and voicing how I feel about myself at the moment, which I don’t imagine would be altered by anyone else’s feedback.)

When I’m out of town next week, I’m going to be talking to a bunch of future and potential sexuality educators about how to be innovative in sex ed.  Effectively, what I have so far per what I’m going to say about that is talking about how it is I think, since that seems a lot more valuable than saying what I have done without talking about how I have done it and what has led me to do things the way I have.  I’m hoping that goes well for a whole lot of reasons, but I also think I could use a reminder in how I think and how I innovate.  Applying that to some of the places I find myself in right now would be a mighty fine thing to do.

In all honesty, I sometimes wish of late that I could take a long sabbatical to do nothing but have a personal and creative life right now.  The last few months have been so intense, mostly in incredible, expansive, big-growy ways. Even the rough spots have brought a lot of enlightenment and growth. I have been feeling so loved and so able to love so fully, getting so much clarity about a million things, and having a strong feeling of renewal all around that I just didn’t even see coming or knew I even needed.One interesting side effect, too, about reconnecting with Blue has been that areas of my memory which were murky or just gone (gee thanks, abuse) have been coming back to the surface.  I’m not sure if that’s because it was first with him that my most repressed memories were able to surface, because we have such a long history together, or lord knows why else, but it’s actually quite a gift.

I feel inspired as hell creatively, personally, in my heart, in my guts, in a part of my brain that doesn’t get enough airtime these days, nor do they seem to have found the right places to express themselves outside of my love relationships and my closest circle of friends.  My two romantic relationships are both incredibly rich and complex, and the intersection of them all the more so, but it all feels very right and like…well, it makes a whole lot of sense out of a lot of things which hadn’t made sense before.  I feel very much in my right place in both of them, even though neither is perfect or without its challenges.  I suppose wishing I could do nothing but love and make art is incredibly self-indulgent — and it also would take away from the benefits these feelings have been having on the work I do, which have not been small by any stretch — but I wish I could all the same.

This came out really whiny, alas.  But it’s what I’ve got at the moment, and where I’m at right now, a strange mix of tired and invigorated, inspired and burnt, expanded and limited, old and new.

Saturday, February 14th, 2009

I’m finally just finishing up the push for our two major Scarleteen fundraising drives (part of my infrequent updating here due to all this) for 2009.

So, I thought I’d share the letter I sent to existing donors and supporters about the drive…well, because I can. And you’re supporty-type people, oh readers of mine. Any donation you might be able to make yourself, or promotion of the fundraiser in your own networks would rock my socks. Thanks!

I blissfully anticipate a return to the more typical dizzying pace of my life in a couple of weeks, and hope to have something much more interesting to report than exhaustion.

P.S. It was very early this morning when I started working, and I’d already stayed up late the night before and had been sick for a couple days, no less. Thus, in trying to come up with a simple tagline for the Valentine graphic, my brain was not at its most normal. That’s not true, actually: it was perfectly normal for me, that’s just not the right kind of brain to use for things like this. Where there are other people involved. Whose money you need. Who are supposed to feel like young people would be safe – rather than permanently scarred — with you.

This state of mind is perfectly evidenced by the first two graphics which were other “brilliant” (and those are intentionally self-effacing bunny ears, not quotes) ideas I had for the tagline that is supposed to cast as wide a net as possible to help me sustain my organization. Yeah.

Anyway….

From February 14th through March 15th, one of our regular donors has agreed match the donations we receive up to $350 per donor, and/or up to $3,000 total.

This is a great opportunity to amplify your support! You can play a part in sustaining Scarleteen and all of the young adults who need and are helped with our unique brand of inclusive, progressive, holistic and accurate sexuality education. As we finish one decade of delivering the goods we so strongly feel have nurtured and continue to nurture the development of a healthy, happy sexuality for young people, I’m asking for your help as we enter another.

You have several options you can use to donate:

  • You can donate online with you credit card or PayPal account by clicking here, OR
  • You can donate by check or money order, made out to Scarleteen, and mail to: 1752 NW Market St. #627, Seattle, WA, 98107 OR
  • If you would like your donation to be tax-deductible, you can donate by check or money order by making your check out to The Center for Sex and Culture, and writing “Scarleteen” in the memo. They will send you a written acknowledgment of your donation for tax purposes, and will send us any donations made to them on our behalf. Those donations should be mailed to: The Center for Sex and Culture, c/o Carol Queen, 2215-R Market Street PMB 455, San Francisco, CA 94114.

Scarleteen is now affiliated with the Center for Sex and Culture in San Francisco. The CSC was founded and is directed by Dr. Carol Queen and Dr. Robert Lawrence. Their mission is to provide judgment-free education, cultural events, a library/media archive, and other resources to audiences across the sexual and gender spectrum; and to research and disseminate factual information, framing and informing issues of public policy and public health. We’re thrilled to be the first young adult sex education project they have worked with and are very glad for this partnership. Robert and Carol, as well as other members of the CSC, have been incredibly supportive of Scarleteen and sex education as a whole over the years.

To give you an idea of how we utilize donations, I’d like to briefly fill you in on where we stand with Scarleteen right now, what we accomplished in 2008, and what we have in the works for the future!

Most weeks, Scarleteen remains the top-ranked site for young adult sexuality education on the internet. Our information, support and advocacy continues to serve many young people all over the world.

  • We rank in the upper 25,000 of all sites online internationally
  • We consistently rank in the top 11,000 - 12,000 of all sites in the United States
  • 65 million page loads have occurred at the site from users since 2006
  • We now have over 40,000 active message board users

We currently have around 20 active volunteers, and in the last year, have added more content to the site than we have in any other year prior. We have been able to sustain and add to the most basic information, but have also been able to keep widening our scope so that on top of having information on topics like sexual anatomy, contraception and safer sex, we have a good deal of information which is tougher for young people to find on such topics as gender identity, body image, rape and abuse, more subtle or sophisticated sexuality issues, feminist approaches to sexuality and the body and relationship modeling and management.

One of the tricky parts about financing Scarleteen is that while our traffic is incredibly high, the vast majority of it comes from users who either do not have their own income, or who do not have checking accounts or credit cards with which to make donations. We usually average just one donation per every 500,000 users. That’s one reason why your help is so important: support that comes from those who can give — like past users of Scarleteen who are now adults, or parents, educators, mentors and other adult allies — is what helps provide our services for those who cannot. It’s also why a site like Scarleteen is so important. Due to both age and financial limitations (as well as concerns about safety — particularly for GLBT youth — or privacy), often young adults are also without the resources to purchase good books or access quality counseling and support services and our free, easily accessible information and support is a godsend for many of them.

Want an idea about how some of our users feel Scarleteen has been a help to them? Take a look at some of their emails to us here. You can also have a peek here to see some of the media coverage Scarleteen has gotten in the past, and peek over here to get a better idea of why we do what we do.

If you haven’t kept up, here are a few pieces we added to the site in 2008 and 2009 to give you an idea of what we’ve been up to:

We have also had a handful of great first-person pieces added from users or volunteers in our In Your Own Words section. Our voting guide last year helped many users of voting age to find clear, balanced information about the Presidential candidates to best inform (and motivate!) their vote. Our archive of direct, in-depth advice to users who write in with questions is extensive. Lastly, our message boards, which we rolled out in the year 2000, continue to be busy, actively moderated and a place of bustling, supportive conversation (as well as a way to help users manage crises quickly) at a level many teens do not have other opportunities to engage in when it comes to such loaded subjects.

Scarleteen is also in the process of organizing a Teen Talking Circle through the site in an online format. For information on Teen Talking Circles, see: http://www.teentalkingcircles.org/

With your support we can sustain the pace we have set for ourselves as well as be able at last to do some things we have wanted and have seen the need for, for some time. They include:

  • Creating and distributing outreach print materials for schools, clinics and community groups, based on content like our popular Sex Readiness Checklist, our anatomy articles, and our pieces on abuse, gender identity and sexual orientation.
  • Providing our volunteer staff extra training. In the next year, we’d like to get a few of our staff trained or certified in either or both pregnancy options counseling and/or basic sex education.
  • Stipends for some of our volunteer writers and columnists, which will both sustain a quality of content and allow us to keep up with the frequency of updates we have had in the last year. Paying writers also can nurture a greater diversity of voice and content.
  • Maintaining a part-time freelance developer to help us best manage and maintain the site for optimum useability.
  • A part-time, in-person assistant for myself as director.

In 2008, we were able to cover the basic overhead expenses of the site, and to do some travel for in-person book promotion, education and outreach. I was able to acquire needed computer/equipment updates for the organization, and have been able to pay our bills easily. We have also been able to donate many copies of the book to young people and youth advocacy organizations. We have also begun to establish a lending library for our volunteers so help them further and sustain their education on the issues we address at Scarleteen.

To let you know where I stand as director, I am very much looking forward to what we can do in our second decade. When I founded Scarleteen in 1998, I could not find any other viable resources online for young adult sex education and information, and perceived a strong need by youth for something like this. I also had a vision of sex education, having previously been both a teacher and a student in alternative education models before, that was considerably different than so much of what sex ed had been. Our supporters have put great faith and trust in my vision of the organization and sex ed as a whole, and I hope I can continue to inspire that faith and trust as we continue to grow and evolve.

I’ve had time to reflect on where we have come from and where we need to go. Towards that end I would like to continue to give my time, vision and dedication, as the sole full-time employee at Scarleteen, and to also increase my yearly salary to $20,000 (last year I took around 16K before taxes). As anyone who does work or has worked in non-profit knows, it’s hardly a place for the world’s best pay, however, as director of a large organization with ten years of operation, I feel, if possible, my salary should reflect the gravity of my position and the amount of my time and efforts a bit better.

Many of our supporters have been so exuberant and effective in drumming up support from others through the years, and that’s been an enormous help. Whether or not you can help with a donation right now, you can always help by getting the word out, both about Scarleteen as a whole, and about fundraising drives like this one.

If you’re able to donate, you have my deepest thanks. I know that these are not the best times for fiscally supporting anything save oneself, so I doubly appreciate what support you may be able to give. Donations of any size — and general support are so critical in providing support for those who need it and have helped us to thrive and survive. I cannot thank you for any of your support enough, both on behalf of all of the young people who remain able to access such needed information and support, and on my own behalf. Doing the work I do with Scarleteen has been, in so many ways, my dream job and my life’s work and I am so blessed to have that opportunity and to be able to continue to do it with your help.

Here’s that information on how to help out once more:

From February 14th through March 15th, one of our regular donors has agreed to match funds we receive in that month, up to $350 per donor, and/or up to $3,000 total.

  • You can donate online with you credit card or PayPal account by clicking here, OR
  • You can donate by check or money order, made out to Scarleteen, and mail to: 1752 NW Market St. #627, Seattle, WA, 98107 OR
  • If you would like your donation to be tax-deductible you can donate by check or money order by making your cheque out to The Center for Sex and Culture, and writing “Scarleteen” in the memo. They will send you a written acknowledgment of your donation for tax purposes, and will send us any donations made to them on our behalf. Those donations should be mailed to: The Center for Sex and Culture, c/o Carol Queen, 2215-R Market Street PMB 455, San Francisco, CA 94114.

We’ve also got a new way that some of our younger users can easily help support Scarleteen! If all of our users for just two days each gave only one dollar, we could fund the site for the whole year. One dollar can assure that others are helped the same way you’ve been. If you’d like to help out, but don’t have much income of your own, a checking account or credit card, you can slip just one buck into an envelope and make a big difference. Plus, for every 30 envelopes we get with a dollar inside, we’ll randomly pull one and send that donor a free signed copy of S.E.X., which is a sweet deal for a buck and a stamp. Find out more about our Give a Buck fundraiser by clicking here.

In peace and with pleasure,
Heather Corinna, Founder & Director, Scarleteen

Saturday, January 31st, 2009

One thing I love about you journal readers is that I can vacate for a while without having to make any kind of big to-do about it.  I appreciate that kind of latitude.

I’ve been working a lot, and struggling to keep up with the mad pace of work a lot , which for this year includes a lot of planning for both Scarleteen and the FWHC job and dealing with a lot of adjustments and shifts.  I’m also adding a few things to my load for the year: I recently accepted a position on the editorial board for the American Journal of Sexuality Education, I’m soon starting a Teen Talking Circle through CONNECT, I’m doing a bunch of travel for work which I’m usually more apt to decline.  I’m also keeping up with the column over at RH Reality Check, and have a couple new pieces for various things I’m working on in fits and starts.

When it comes to my more personal stuff, I’ve been writing for myself or writing for, talking with — to a point of very intense immersion –  the people the most close to me and the people I want to be closer to.  I’ve been spending plenty of time with my piano and even the dulcimers now and then (ah, to have my hands work like they used to: it’s a pity fingerpicking hurts like a bitch so much anymore), reading, meditating, taking long walks.  I took a break from my camera for a bit there, and it’s time to pick it up again.  Just being able to write a snippet of this, a snippet of that, and know it doesn’t have to turn into anything else or more is golden: I haven’t given myself that permission in a long while.

None of my time away or to myself is because anything is wrong: despite things being challenging in my life on several levels at the moment, nothing feels at all wrong.  Quite the opposite. There’s just a lot of cross-roadsy stuff that’s been going on all over the place, and it’s been really nice to be very introspective about it — and private about it — and when I do share outwardly, to be making an extra effort to do so almost entirely intimately.

It’s not something I tend to be inclined to do much of the time: hermit that I can be in some ways, I also don’t tend to keep things very close to the chest.  I usually write about them or express them very outwardly in some way.  But every now and then, the time calls for it and it feels like just the right thing.  And this has.  Of course, this season always lends itself to that, it’s for that, really.  The time of year is not inconsequential.

I have a very expansive heart right now: it’s been stretching its legs exponentially of late.

There have been a lot of opportunities for me to water and grow my compassion over the last few months, my ability to love well and wholly.  I’ve felt it at work with the Scarleteen users and the FWHC clients, with my family, and even just out on the street as I walk the dog.  It’s been a marvel, especially with things with Mark and Blue where as all three of us have stuff to work through, inconnectedly and separately, when either of them apologizes for bringing heavy bags, and I say it’s all okay, I mean it so sincerely.  I also mean that it all feels okay: I’m feeling so freely able that sharing a tough load with either or both of them may have its moments, but can feel nearly effortless when it comes to the flow of my heart and what I want to offer.  I feel bigger of late, more mighty, I feel like I have a clarity in how I’m seeing people, experiencing people, what I have to offer — and want to offer — others that’s more attuned than it has been in a while, one that makes getting really close much less daunting.

There are a few strings of phrase from some private writing a month and a half back which does a very good job of expressing some of this:

This is not often a sanctuary
for small, broken-winged birds,
a Muzak-humming rest home for invalids.
It is where the giant-footed few
who have the seemingly strange inclination
go to toast marshmallows and sing campfire songs in the midst of an apocalypse;
it feels a temple for legend, not leisure.

We seem to tend to err most
when we underestimate the nature of who we are,
what our unique alchemy is,
and try and fit magnitudes into the tiniest of boxes.

I have to confess that I can sometimes have — have certainly had in the past on far more than one occasion — the tendency to give people I am close to a whole, big lot, but also to withhold just an eentsie-enough that I am still withholding.  I actually think it’s partly a writer thing: I seem to notice that many of we wordsmiths have this tendency. I’ve been a lot better about that lately, a lot more fearless with it.  I’ve been letting people really know me, which perhaps sounds very strange coming from a total oversharer in so many ways, but to anyone in my life who has come very close to me, I assure you, those kinds of barriers of mine are well known. Opening things up and being in both of these relationships has been so just right for me, and I feel so, so nourished by all of this.  Nourished in my own heart and head, nourished with what I give out interpersonally, in work, in everything.  I have had a very strong feeling of being exactly where I am supposed to be.

Pema Chodron said some things I really like which relate to some of what has been going on with me:

There is a Tibetan teaching that is often translated as, “Self-cherishing is the root of all suffering.” It can be hard for a Western person to hear the term “self-cherishing” without misunderstanding what is being said. I would guess that 85% of us Westerners would interpret it as telling us that we shouldn’t care for ourselves—that there is something anti-wakeful about respecting ourselves. But that isn’t what it really means. What it is talking about is fixating. “Self-cherishing” refers to how we try to protect ourselves by fixating; how we put up walls so that we won’t have to feel discomfort or lack of resolution. That notion of self-cherishing refers to the erroneous belief that there could be only comfort and no discomfort, or the belief that there could be only happiness and no sadness, or the belief that there could be just good and no bad.

But what the Buddhist teachings point out is that we could take a much bigger perspective, one that is beyond good and evil. Classifications of good and bad come from lack of maitri. We say that something is good if it makes us feel secure and it’s bad if it makes us feel insecure. That way we get into hating people who make us feel insecure and hating all kinds of religions or nationalities that make us feel insecure. And we like those who give us ground under our feet.

When we are so involved with trying to protect ourselves, we are unable to see the pain in another person’s face. “Self-cherishing” is ego fixating and grasping: it ties our hearts, our shoulders, our head, our stomach, into knots. We can’t open. Everything is in a knot. When we begin to open we can see others and we can be there for them. But to the degree that we haven’t worked with our own fear, we are going to shut down when others trigger our fear.

So to know yourself is to forget yourself. This is to say that when we make friends with ourselves we no longer have to be so self-involved. It’s a curious twist: making friends with ourselves is a way of not being so self-involved anymore. Then Dogen Zen-ji goes on to say, “To forget yourself is to become enlightened by all things.” When we are not so self-involved, we begin to realize that the world is speaking to us all of the time. Every plant, every tree, every animal, every person, every car, every airplane is speaking to us, teaching us, awakening us. It’s a wonderful world, but we often miss it.

Of course, in all of this as well is the fact that for a very personal writer, I often find myself lately in the position of being the keeper of more than one very private vulnerability or big confidence which is okay, but it means that the gristle of a lot of my life at the moment is behind a closed door. It also means I’m being trusted to hold all of it, which is so small gesture, and these are trusts I’m grateful for.

I’m off for the most whirlwind of trips to Chicago on Monday for both love and for work — my apologies to all the Chicago people I just can’t see and who can’t (or don’t want to) catch up with me for a short bit at the workshop (by the way, I think we still need some more women on the younger end).  I get back Wednesday night, then head right into the clinic on Thursday morning, and if all goes well, on Friday, I have something to do with something that resembles rest.

Thursday, November 20th, 2008

Yesterday, a TIME magazine piece on cosmetic vulval surgeries nearly did our completely excellent server in. Then today, another piece from UC Santa Cruz’ student newspaper came out (which is a much more fun piece than the TIME one, and the reporter who did it was great fun to talk to and get connected with everyone).  Media avalanche, man.  Jaysis.

By the by, last night while I was in the living room indulging in a mini-film fest of tragic 80’s figures (Sid and Nancy is what was on at the time), I overheard Mark upstairs on the phone bragging a blue streak about me and my work to a friend.   It was just about one of the sweetest things ever, and I totally melted like a stick o’vegan buttery spread.

In making some calls for the CONNECT program, I set up a observation day at yet another program for homeless youth where they want some sex ed.  I am just loving that when it comes to my local work, I seem to be finding myself more and more often serving…well, the me of yesteryear.  At that training a weekish ago, a lot of it focused on basically reliving/telling our teen years, and I was telling my tales (which, by the way, is far more difficult to do in a group of people you don’t know in pewrson than it is in writing), I realized that I had a level of appreciation for my own pluck and ability to survive that I’d not ever given the proper weight to, even though it’s something I see in these kids and appreciate all the time about them.  It seems like kismet, really.

With that, I’m out to go do some more outreach today.  And I am hoping that unlike the very awkward Not-So-Great Tote Bag Explosion of 2008 that happened on the bus a couple months ago that resulted in every method of birth control imaginable spilling all over the floor (and every single person on said bus all but freezing in their seats, lest they have to TOUCH any of it: what the heck is with that?), I will not find that both all that stuff as well as a bunch of abortion instruments get restless and feel the need for an untoward escape.

Wednesday, October 8th, 2008

I don’t mean to be such a stranger.

I’m nearly finished with organizing, making and getting out the big mailing to nearly 200 organizations in Washington State for CONNECT.  It’s crazy how hard some of this has seemed: I’ve clearly gotten spoiled over the years by new media.  The funny thing is that way back in the day in the early 90’s, when I ran my little alternative school, I was the queen of all things paper: I refused to use any kind of computer at all, even a basic word processor for the first year.  For several of those years, I produced a pretty involved alternative ECE newsletter and doing that and I don’t remember getting it out being this big of a deal.

However, it’s looking shiny and awesome and once it’s off my desk, I will be one very happy chick.

I’ve also been overwhelmed with just trying to run two programs at once, getting the voting guide done for Scarleteen, and trying to keep up with all the usual work there. I’ve been distracted — though that’s likely not the best word — with the elections, national and local.  And per usual, I’m still just not feeling well.  I don’t think I have ever had a stretch of time where I’ve gotten so much sleep every night (I’ve been managing to get 7 or 8 hours a night), and yet, I feel like I could sleep all day, every day, and it still wouldn’t be enough.

I keep thinking that I should be very personally concerned about the current financial crisis, but then I realize that a) I own nothing, b) most of the contributions to Scarleteen aren’t even from the U.S., and c) I don’t make shit now and don’t know how much worse it could really get.  I also remind myself that I have enough to worry about already.  I guess sometimes freedom really is just another word for nothing left to lose.

My Dad is coming up here in a couple of weeks, and staying for a couple of weeks.  He’s been in a really bad way lately, which at times means my having to have one or more long phone conversations with him in a day, where his moods and what he is saying are just all over the place, which is really tough to deal with. One of the most recent several-day conversations involved me patently refusing to cancel his plane ticket simply because he was certain that the dreams he has been having about plane crashes were prophetic and that he would die on the way here (which is a strange concern for someone with a long history of being suicidal to have, but so be it).  Unfortunately, this dream stuff has gone on before, and it’s tough to expect him not to believe them: his mother, my grandmother, stated she was going to die to everyone mere hours before she and half his family were in the truck accident that killed them when I was young.

I’ve had times in my life where I’ve gone through phases of this with him, but it just feels like it’s happening more frequently lately, to the point that I feel like I might need to start looking into what exactly someone in my income bracket can do to find residential care for a parent. Him living with us just isn’t an option: he would never agree to it, and even though we’ve lived well together before — more harmoniously than I live with most people, to be truthful — I don’t see it being a good answer.

How on earth, if I could find something, I could convince my father to even consider such a thing, I don’t know.  In so many ways, he’s so progressive, but there always remains some very prototypical Italian pride my father clings to.   I honestly don’t even know how I’d bring this up to him, and explain why I feel we need to consider it without hurting his pride and also triggering his guilt: he expresses guilt constantly (always has, but more of late) that I’m the only person he has in the world to lean on and that I have no other help or support when it comes to him.  But I’m just getting really worried, and I just feel like I have lived long enough with my parent living like this.  It’s breaking my heart, and I just can’t stand it anymore.

The place he stays at is still in one of the worst parts of the city, worse than it was when we lived in that neighborhood, and it’s just really vile.  Last week, he had this major freakout — validly — because in his dank little room the size of your average bathroom, four huge rats had gotten in.  He was so scared and wigged out that he wound up blowing his disability check to sleep in a motel for a couple of nights.  More then once while I have been talking to him, I can hear freaking gunshots. Given how he is mentally, as well, the isolation that he has very clearly just is not healthy for him: he’s so much better when he’s here, around people, somewhere safe.

I don’t suppose there’s any of you out there around my age who have been in a similar situation with any idea of where I’d even start when it came to looking for this kind of care?

Anyway, that’s most of my stuff.  Things at home here are totally fine, including that my boyfriend found a way to turn bacon into flowers last week, his new brag of late.

Apparently, if you’re at the farmer’s market, and you indulge your carnivore-sweetie’s longing for good bacon by giving him five bucks to buy some from the butcher, and he buys it, but then turns around and buys you a $5 bouquet, bacon has been turned into flowers.   Now you know.

I’m very lucky, dead pigs notwithstanding, to have his whimsy around.  I was just remarking to him the other day that it’s one of the things I appreciate most about him, and a quality I find it pretty rare with a lot of people: I need creativity around me, I need silliness, I need to be whimsical with someone.  I can go without a lot of things in my life, or in a given week or day, but if a day or two passes and I haven’t laughed my arse off, I just can’t deal.  While now and then that means that sex gets shelved — because we tend to take a left turn at silly, to the point that there is just no turning back — I’ll take it.

And on that note, I leave you with something I begged him to let me have a while back, which he penned during a meeting he was clearly very interested in at his day job.  I don’t think his boss would be particularly delighted, but I’m fairly certain I don’t care.

Mark's Very Important Work Notes

Thursday, August 21st, 2008

I’m up all too early because I head back to work in-clinic today in order to start a new part of the CONNECT program.

Basically, I’m bringing sex ed and CR into the clinic, giving women in the waiting room an option to come sit in the cozier room with me and other clients to do Q&A and discuss all things sexuality, reproductive health, sexual health, abortion, relationships, the works.  Hopefully, I can find a way to do this so that I don’t seem like a clown sent into the old folks home: I need to figure out a way to invite them in where I’m not poking my head into the waiting room, hawking my wares with a “Yo, sex education is in the house!”

All the same, I’m excited. It feels like a first day of school: I even have some new school supplies.  This is one of the first things I proposed to diversify the works and help our clients when I took over directing the outreach program.  If all goes well, they stand to learn a lot, I stand to learn a lot, and I think it could be a truly marvelous thing.  Plus, I have really missed being in the clinic over the last monthish, and I’m really looking forward to giving my co-workers big, bear hugs.

In other news, I am hoping to present a panel with a group of fine, fine women at the 2009 SXSW Interactive Festival and I need your assistance.

Here’s the info on what we’re hoping to present:

Sex Ed Online: How Teens Self Savvy

Creators of popular online teen sexuality content—including the Midwest Teen Sex Show and Scarleteen.com—community educators, scholars and advocates discuss teenagers, sex, and the Internet. Content developers, parents and teens: Bring your questions, fears and hopes. We’ll answer generational quandaries. Apparently, there are prizes for the best questions, but I have no idea what they are.
For the uninitiated, here are the deets about the SXSW Interactive Festival:The SXSW Interactive Festival (http://sxsw.com/interactive) is an industry conference for web developers and digital creatives, held in Austin and now in its 15th year. These days the conference has become so popular that it gets hundreds of proposals, like mine, from people who would like to present at the conference.

To help the SXSW Interactive folks sort out what people what to hear, the conference organizers now use a web-based panel picker. Please visit and use the panel picker and to place a vote on it for my proposal and leave a comment.  It’s fine if you don’t currently have plans to attend SXSW Interactive 2009 - anyone at all can vote and leave a comment.

Leaving a comment would be especially helpful, because the SXSW people pay more attention to those comments than anything else.

So, if you’ve got a sec…
***
==> Please go to http://panelpicker.sxsw.com/  and, in the search box, enter “Sex Ed” in order to quickly find the listing for my proposal, place your vote and leave a comment. The panel picker will be active until August 29.
***

It will take you less than 3 minutes and costs nothing, but you must open an account on the panel picker to post a comment. You are not signing onto any e-mail lists by giving  your information, and you do not need to attend the conference nor must you have attended it in the past in order to vote for my panel.  While votes to rate the proposal (1-5 stars) are valuable, I’m told that what really counts with the organizers it is having comments written about why someone would be a good speaker and/or why the topic is of interest. So please vote for my idea and comment

And here are more details about the women who’d be presenting with me: Karen Rayne, Karen Kreps, Nikol Hasler and Kris Gowan PhD.

* Nikol Hasler is one-third of a highly entertaining podcast, “The Midwest Teen Sex Show.” A Midwestern mother of three (who isn’t afraid to use her children in the service of sex education) Nikol has no formal training as a sex educator but along with her co-creators Guy Clark and Britney Barber, she has created a great sex education tool, playing with stereotypes not just about sex, but about age, race, class, and orientation in a way that is engaging and opinionated enough to be useful.
* Kris Gowan has a Master’s in Education in Human Development and Psychology and a PhD in Child and Adolescent Development. She is the author of “Sexual Decisions” (Scarecrow Press, 2003) and started www.teensforum.com (but left before it became overly commercialized) Her research has focused on healthy relationships/sexuality in adolescence and lately on positive youth development and the intersection between youth, the Internet and sexual development/sexual identity.

* Karen Rayne earned her Ph.D. in Educational Psychology, which she puts to good use educating parents about how to talk with their teens about sex and romance. She also provides comprehensive sex education to teenagers.
* Karen Kreps will be moderating the panel. Karen has more than two decades developing interactive content (www.netingenuity.com), and has written and published the book, “Intimacies: Secrets of Love, Sex & Romance,” a collection of columns she has written for The Good Life magazine. See http://trueintimacies.com. For six years, Karen hosted monthly public discussions about love, sex and romance.
Some of the questions that will be answered on this panel include: 1. What do teens want to know about sex? 2. How do they use the Internet to find answers? 3. Which social media tools provide the best sexual education? 4. What positive or negative impact can the Web have on teen sexuality? 5. At what ages should online use by children and teens be monitored? 6. Are parents abdicating their roles as sex educators to the Internet? 7. Does online info encourage or discourage sexual experimentation by teens? 8. What role does the Internet play in educating youth about sex? 9. Can the government regulate online sex education and should it? 10. Can online sex info be trusted for accuracy?

I will be most grateful for any support you can offer and hope that you will please use the Panel Picker and vote for our proposal. Thanks!

And with that, I’m off like a good hair day in the rain.  Literally, unfortunately.  Monsoon season seems to be starting early here this year.  Great.

Saturday, August 2nd, 2008

Here are the details, by the by, for my two public San Fran events next weekend. I cut and paste the blurbs that Carol wrote directly because…well, she always makes me sound better than I do myself. :)

The first is a more casual reception:
Friday, August 8, 5:30-8 pm — SCARLETEEN RECEPTION: MEET HEATHER CORINNA

Join us in welcoming Heather Corinna, sex educator and activist, founder and editor of Scarleteen.com, and author of “S.E.X.: The All-You-Need-to-Know Progressive Sexuality Guide to Get You Through High School and College.” Heather, via her superb website Scarleteen, serves tens of thousands of teens and young adults internationally every day, making sure they have a trusted place to ask questions they can’t ask anyone else. Heather will catch us up on the history of Scarleteen and we’ll give her some much-deserved love! If you’ve ever thought about volunteering for the site, come meet Heather and talk to her about it.

No charge, but we will gladly accept donations and split them between the Center for Sex & Culture and Scarleteen! CSC now accepts Visa, MasterCard, and Discover, as well as personal checks. At the Center for Sex & Culture (room 1), 1519 Mission near 11th.

The second is more of a discussion and presentation:
Sunday, August 10, 2-4 pm — HEATHER CORINNA SPEAKS OUT! YOUTH, SEXUALITY, AND SEX ED

Join Heather Corinna, sex educator and activist, founder and editor of Scarleteen.com, and author of “S.E.X.: The All-You-Need-to-Know Progressive Sexuality Guide to Get You Through High School and College” for an afternoon discussing young adult sexuality and inclusive, feminist, comprehensive sex education for teens and young adults. Find out about the current state of YA sexuality and sexual health trends, needs and issues from someone who serves tens of thousands of teens internationally every day, and discuss your own needs and concerns in addressing, parenting, mentoring and supporting this important population.

$5-20 sliding scale, and we will gladly accept donations and split them between the Center for Sex & Culture and Scarleteen! CSC now accepts Visa, MasterCard, and Discover, as well as personal checks. At the Center for Sex & Culture (room 1), 1519 Mission near 11th.

Wednesday, July 30th, 2008

Sometimes, I just really don’t enjoy my job and cannot even feel certain I’m doing it decently.

Man, I hate posts like that, and trying to answer them just wears my shit right out. I think I need a bath, and it’s not even past noon.

(It didn’t help, by the way, that a situation like that so totally illustrates to me the ridiculousness of conservatives positing that readiness for sex is not so much about age as it is about marriage, and that while a young adult isn’t capable of managing sex, they are capable of managing marriage AND sex. And parenting. Lordisa. But of course, you know that the response would simply be that if they had followed the “rules” of marriage, everyone would be doing just fine. It’s not getting married and pregnant young that creates any problems or isn’t so easy, it’s doing so and not following the rules.)

Friday, July 25th, 2008

Every now and then, I seriously have to wonder what on earth I can possibly do to convince determined, self-assigned missionaries that I am a seriously lost cause.

Do I change my sigline in places I write or discuss to, Don’t bother: I’m in hell already? Do I wear the blood of baby goats or a hairshirt when I go out to do talks? A t-shirt that reads “Jesus Loves Me…but he told me to tell you that he’s getting pissed off at you?”

Just passing through, having dealt with some wacko in the comments of some of my recent columns at RH Reality Check. I actually don’t have to deal with this stuff as much anymore as I have in the past — I think most of them have long since figured out that if they bring this stuff to Scarleteen, it never sees the light of day, and if they email me, I hit delete. We’ve also had some amusing exchanges in the past where when they did find a way to go on a preach-a-thon, the teens they were so sure were so malleable and not-at-all-wise to their shit basically have told them to shove it and get the hell out of their space.

It tends to only be when I branch out somewhere new anymore that they come back out to pray play. (Today I couldn’t help but sing Don’t pray for me, Saint Christina…) Can’t say if it’s a coincidence or not, but this week one of my favorite “Bad, bad, evil sex lady!” emails (I actually only got the one this week: again, anymore, those really are the strong minority these days) was someone explaining to me that I clearly was unqualified to give anal sex the weight it should have because I used the word “jellybean” — a clearly frivolous, flippant confection, unless jellybeans connote something else I’m not aware of — in the title of an advice answer.

What reaction I was supposed to have to this missive beyond the one I did — wild laughter, which I presume was not the wanted reaction — I couldn’t begin to tell you. Why this was someone’s Very Serious Issue that day which deserved even three seconds of their time, I also just do not know. But I did at least seriously consider switching to creampuffs the next time I talk about assfucking. Creampuffs require artistry and are a bit more upper-crusty, therefore I presume them to be a more suitable choice. Plus, that should keep the appropriate amount of homophobic innuendo intact.

Obviously, I could prattle on about these kinds of annoyances forever, but there’s just little point. It’s not likely to even come to a full halt, and even if I didn’t do what I do with my living, I’d probably still have to hear this crap from someone at least every now and then. Heck, I had my mother’s mother calling me a devil while praying for my soul as a child for as far back as I can remember (primarily because a) I was technically illegitimate, b) no one baptized me, and c) there was just something so clearly and essentially wretched and evil about me that someone needed to save me because this shit obviously wasn’t going to save itself). I’m afraid I’m just plain old savior-bait.

But that doesn’t mean I still don’t want to kvetch about it for a minute now and again.

Okay, my minute’s up. That’s better.

Tuesday, July 15th, 2008

I did my first day here at the home office where I was doing both jobs — Scarleteen and working on CONNECT and the CRC website — at the same time.

This is what a ludicrous amount of multitasking looks like. My corner desk, with…

• to the far left, my home office laptop on a freestanding table, where an ashtray that so isn’t anything close to empty also lives
• the CRC work laptop to the right of it on my desk, with a mouse plugged in because this business with PCs (first time I’ve been stuck with one of these stinkers) having two buttons drives me batty with a touchpad
• my stationary computer on while I downloaded cards from my camera and kept a little music going
• my phone on the desk to the right of that, with my headpiece attached to my ear
• one legal pad of notes and to-dos for each gig to the right of that
• a cup of perpetually tepid coffee on one of the legal pads
• a jade plant at the end of the desk, desperately trying to represent
• the birth control comparison chart for CRC stretched out over my office chair behind me
• and me, in the middle of all the melee, rolling around on a swiss ball I use as a chair

For most of the day, I couldn’t figure out if I was doing the kind of work I think I do, or somehow electronically responsible for the fate of the free world. I had several paranoid moments of feeling like there was probably some sort of button somewhere I shouldn’t push that had the capacity to delete Australia. Halfway through the day, I shouted “Mayday, MAYDAY!” into the phone just because it seemed like the thing to do.

Want to know the big funny? All this, and I am the girl who, in the early eighties, was completely incensed with my father, who had been having a field day for a while taking apart and putting together Ataris, who thought this whole newfangled computer business would be all the rage, endlessly nagging me to learn DOS so that I could manage the amazing and oh-so-useful feat of making the letter A blink on a black screen with orange text. I HATED technology. I even got my stray cat at the time, Bowie, to pee on one of the keyboards in a shared protest.

I still have to confess that while I know full well how I fell into this tangled-cord-spaghetti, beepedy-beep-beep, creepy-chrome digital business (in short print publishing = instant bankruptcy), it’s a full-tilt love/hate relationship.

Which is why I must head to my garden immediately, now that much of my workday is done, and get as stinky, muddy and full of pollen as is humanly possible. I might even kiss a slug.

Sunday, July 6th, 2008

I just spent about five hours today seriously cleaning up the home office. Given my schedule over the last half a year, and how often I’ve been working away from home, it had gotten more and more cluttered and insane. When I cleaned it out, I not only took out two bags of crap, but cleared about fifteen boxes, which were either temporarily storing things in a way that was reasonable, or storing them in a way that was about me… just throwing assorted shit into boxes.

I took some photos so that I can remind myself when it starts to get bad that this, right now, is what it is supposed to look like, and there’s really no good reason it can’t most of the time.

I did this because after this next week, I’ll be back to primarily working from home again. Without getting into too many details, the clinic has been restructuring due to what works for them best financoally, and I got laid off from counseling a week and a half ago. For various reasons, this was a good deal of my recent devastation I alluded to.

The timing was both awful and strange. I hadn’t gotten the chance here to mention — we needed to have the timing right — that a few months ago an offer was extended to me to take over directorship of the clinic’s CONNECT program: our teen sexual health education and outreach program which we inherited from Aradia when it closed. It was a great offer which I pretty quickly accepted. Running CONNECT would be in very perfect harmony with what I do with Scarleteen, and they’ll really enhance each other. I’ll get the opportunity to do more in-person, local outreach and education (and get paid for it), more additional training (and get paid for it), and develop more materials (and get paid for that, too). My co-worker and supervisor is one of my favorite women who works for the clinic. At the time, the extra bonus was that combined with my hours counseling at the clinic, I would have been full-time. That certainly wasn’t going to be a bonus in some ways: combined with Scarleteen hours, that would have had me at around 60 work hours a week. But, hey: it ain’t like I hadn’t done that a million times before.

The big boon in all that, and part of the plan knowing I needed this, was that I FINALLY was going to have health insurance for the first time since the 80’s, something I am in more and more of a dire need for these days.

But alas.

I’d gotten started with CONNECT for a while, then got this news my first day back to work after my Minneapolis trip. It was highly unexpected and a really, really sad thing, not just because I was thisclose to having some of the basics I have lived without for so long, but because I LOVED counseling at the clinic. I loved our clients (and I mean loved them: I felt my heart grow and deepen daily, it was such a crazy-rich thing), I loved having a team to work with, I loved almost every aspect of what I was doing. It was hard as hell some days, for sure, but it was — particularly as a Buddhist and a feminist — such an incredible spiritual exercise. I also know myself well enough to say that I was extraordinarily good at it, and I got very highly invested in it. I was able to develop some resources that weren’t in place before, get this amazing mojo going on with one of the doctors (who had told me not two weeks before that all the clients coming from my office into her exam room were the most comfortable and calm she sees, and how very much I rocked), and really feel, much as I do with Scarleteen and sometimes more so, that I was able to provide something unique that was very much needed. Whereas apparently a lot of counselors burn out, I don’t think I was in even the remotest danger of doing so anytime soon: doing it felt so natural to me. Sometimes, I came home seriously buzzed on nothing but compassion and endorphins.

To say I’ve shed tears over this is an understatement. The first night and day after this happened was like nursing a very bad breakup. I could barely breathe when I got the phone call telling me this news. I can’t express how much I am going to miss all of these women and miss doing this. It has been tough over the last seven months to kind of connect with a lot of people outside work: doing this has made small talk something I really stunk at, whereas I used to only moderately stink at it. So much of this, and really letting myself get invested, really being fully open to all of the clients, has expanded my universe to such a degree that sometimes, hanging out with people, I felt a bit like I’d been living on Mars. But it was so, so worth it. This is no small loss for me. Yesterday was the first day I was able to talk about it in casual conversation, without getting deeply sad or deeply angry. I still feel like most days, I could easily sleep all day, which is not at all like me.

Mind, I will still be in the clinic once a week or so (and apparently still do some options counseling over the phone) once I get all shifted into doing CONNECT and developing some in-clinic education we’ve been planning since I accepted the job, which I am still electing to take. It’s kind of weird, really: I got laid off due to money, but this gig pays me better (it’s not primarily funded by the clinic, so that’s the why on that), and is a promotion. And it may be that should the financial status of the clinic change, I can someday walk back into my old job.

Again, there are still some things I’m opting to keep to myself, but on top of the loss of almost-benefits and the clients in that setting, I also have never been fired even once in my life. I know being laid off not actually being fired, but still. My inner overachiever was completely rattled and shaken by this, and I had no idea how to process it. I come from immigrant, hardworking family, so even though we are hardly ignorant to the realities of these things, it feels very intuitive to us that if you work your ass off and do a great job, everything should be just fine when it comes to keeping a job. When that doesn’t happen that way, it just feels like something is terribly wrong with the natural order of things. To some degree, I still don’t know how to process this, and I’ve no doubt that during my last week counseling this week, it’s going to feel mighty weird.

So, after this coming week, it’s back to a lot of home work for me. Some of why I had to clean today was to make room for two huge tubs of CONNECT materials, another laptop for the work on the site for it as well as the clinics birth control comparison site (both of which I’ll be webmastering as part of this job). I have to say, it really sucks to wind up a lone wolf again. I don’t mind being alone and working alone, but it was just so nice to have a couple days a week where I wasn’t, where I had in-person co-workers, especially given the way social stuff goes (which is to say it often just doesn’t) in Seattle, and especially because so much of the work I do leaves me feeling so isolated.

Meh.

I don’t want to get too mopey here. Not only have I been working hard to crawl out of the big funk this put me in for a while, some of this also is only so bad. I DO still have a job there, and it’s one that in many ways, will likely wind up to be a very perfect fit. Again, it also pays me better (and if I could find some freaking way to get health insurance as a self-employed person in Washington state, where this is highly problematic, I could just about afford it now), and it is so in line with Scarleteen. As well, RH Reality Check just offered me weekly syndication there with my advice columns for Scarleteen (we’d started with bi-monthly), so it’s not like my work life is terrible.

It’s just mighty tough to kind of see the top of the mountain in so many ways and feel dropkicked back down.

Tuesday, June 10th, 2008

I just got back from doing a morning birth control and safer sex presentation for the clinic at a temporary shelter for teen runaways down in Chinatown. It was all boys, which was unexpected, but I grooved with it and all went well. Still trying to figure out how one of the guys was earnestly convinced that his girlfriend hides needles in her hair in order to puncture his condoms — despite the fact that none of his condoms have ever failed to his knowledge, nor has he ever seen any of these aforementioned needles — and why he felt it was so reasonable to suggest that these are things all women do, but that’s beside the point. I’m exposed to so much paranoia, ignorance and just general weirdness in my line of work that often, what surprises me is the absence of it.

The real hilarity of my morning was that on the bus down there, I was a few rows behind a man who had some mix of OCD and Tourette’s going on. He would count all of us on the bus methodically and with his hands — “One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, either, nine…” — getting more vexed the higher he got in his count, and when he got to the end of the list, he’d then shake his hands, and yell with no small measure of frustration, “Sex, sex, SEX!”

It took everything I had not to let him know that I heard him, and I was en route to do the best that I could to handle it, but he was going to have to be a little more patient, for crissakes.

Friday, May 30th, 2008

Yesterday at the clinic I got wedged in the middle of a client’s abusive relationship.

It was pretty clear even from watching the goings-on in the waiting room that something was not at all right. She was dressed like she’d been scraping by, yet he was dressed like he was going for a job interview. He gave us her ID and insurance card because he was the one who kept hold of her purse. When she came in for her labs, he used that time in the waiting room to try and woo other women. (I found out later that while he was the one pushing for abortion, one of his wooing tactics was apparently to tell the women in the waiting room how much he didn’t want his wife “to kill our poor little baby.”) She also clearly, from her body language, did not want to be at the clinic. She had a do-rag she kept pulling down over her eyes, she was all curled into herself, but she also looked very irritated and upset.

We have a section of the intake form which asks how sure someone is of their decision to terminate, and she’d marked she was unsure. Those charts are more often given to me, in part because I’m trained for options counseling, and in part because they tend to be more difficult sessions, but I’m usually okay with that. When I get that on a form, I usually start with a discussion about that before I do anything else.

She told me firmly that she did not want to terminate. She had kids from a previous relationship, had never had an abortion, never wanted to have one.  She had been married to this man for a year, and described a very textbook pattern of the cycle of abuse. We discussed how the lone conflict she was having — the only thing which would incline her to choose to terminate of her own accord — was that she knew full well that having a child with this man would tie her to him. I talked about the realities of this, about legal help, about how it was a big issue, even if she could get a divorce and help keeping him from her and a child, a person obsessed with control tends not to be someone who gives up easily, so she would have to be okay with possibly fighting legal battles for years and years. All the same, in our conversation, it because clear that while she still might consider a termination given the permission to evaluate it for herself, she had been forced to be there by someone else that day — she was physically pushed into the car that morning and driven to the clinic — and so terminating that day was off the table so far as our polices go and her wishes went. I discharged her, making clear that should she make her own choice to terminate, she could reschedule for another day.

In trying to assure that going home not having terminated would not compromise her safety, I talked a little about shelters and ways to taxi her out potentially without his notice. What she just wanted was just somewhere inside the clinic to sit for a bit, gather her thoughts, ready her resolve, so I arranged that for her in another area of the clinic. I really thought she needed to get to a shelter, but obviously, I can’t usurp her choices that way. Unfortunately, when she stepped outside to smoke, he’d been circling the clinic and found her, and I was notified that there was a bit of an altercation outside. Looking at the security cameras, he kept blocking her path on the sidewalk, and wasn’t yet pushing or hitting her, but it didn’t look good. I was asked to go outside and help escort her into the clinic and to ask him to leave, making clear that we’d call the police if he came back into any of the waiting rooms.

And here’s the part where I found myself sucked into the vortex of another planet.

When I circled around to them, greeted her by name and motioned with my arm a bit protectively around her back for us to walk back into the clinic, and we tried to go in, he stepped in front of me, as well. He stepped in front of me, arms waving as if flagging down a driver who has come to help you when your car has broken down — as if clearly, I was help en route for him — and said, “She won’t LISTEN to me!”

It wasn’t just what he said, but the way he said it; the way he said it with this confidently held belief that I was on his side, that her disobedience was preposterous, and that, of course, her compliance to him would have been my primary or sole concern. I had to fight off the very nonproductive urge to say something to the effect of, “Oh dear! She won’t listen to you? That’s not right at all. Why don’t us uppity little ladies just sit down and you can tell us how it is since we’ve clearly lost our marbles all thinking for ourselves. I just don’t know what’s gotten into us. I am so sorry. Daddy knows best!”

Instead, still trying to get us both past him and back into the clinic, I said, very firmly, “I don’t care. I am taking her inside where she is safe, and you need to leave.”

He then said, “But she’s my WIFE!”

Resist sarcasm, Corinna, as it is not at all likely to de-escalate squat. Also? Do not stand there slack-jawed and silent because you can’t believe someone is trying to have this conversation with you at all. So, instead, again firmly and clearly, “That is not meaningful to me. I am taking her inside where it is safe, and you need to leave.”

And it isn’t meaningful to me, personally or politically, but it’s particularly devoid of meaning in my book when it’s obvious that the person telling me it is has acquired a wife the way one acquires chattel, and sees her likewise. You can have a marriage which is a partnership, but marriage alone does not partnership make, and I care about if someone has an earnest partnership, not a legal shackle to someone else as their personal property. I don’t give a rat’s ass what papers you have, what ceremony you’ve had, what promises you’ve made or what you call someone: what I care about is what is enacted and actionable. You can call it marriage all you want, but when what it is is bondage, putting a pretty, legally-sanctioned name on it doesn’t change a damn thing.

Then, clearly not having absorbed the general sentiment that we’re all just heartless babykillers (though most likely only because he sees us as people able to get him what he wants: I’m sure if he had wanted her to stay pregnant, we would have been Satan’s handmaidens), he tries a new line.

“But she SMOKED a cigarette today while she was PREGNANT with MY child!”

Oh, well THAT is a totally different story! Because of COURSE the damage a fag is going to do to a fetus so, so far surpasses a woman having you make her reproductive choices for her. Because of COURSE when you scheduled the appointment FOR her last week, you knew, being omniscient and omnipotent, she would have this cigarette today and thus make sustaining a pregnancy completely off the table, which I’m sure whatever you do to her at home can’t come close to comparing to. Because of COURSE your deep and utterly selfless concern for the fetus usurps her own life. Because of course, if a woman has done anything less than perfect pre-natal behavior we are morally obligated to terminate her pregnancy against her will. Duh!

He starts to ask if I asked her about that. I make clear that what goes on with a client and us is private, I can’t talk to him about her medical history or health, and that, again, I am taking the client inside, he needs not to block us or try and follow, and that if he persists, we will call the police. He is starting to sputter why at me, and then even goes so far as to make a move where his hand is starting to raise in my general direction.

I tend to react to anything like that, at this point in my life, with a reflexive look which I’ve determined, the times I’ve been physically threatened since I left home to get free of that in my teens, gives a crystal clear impression that laying a hand on me would be a Very, Very Bad Idea. For all my self-defense training, I never even really get a chance to use it, because the look always comes first, and it’s been 100% effective over the years. (I wish I could make it in the mirror to see what it looks like: I’m curious. Alas, I can’t do it on purpose, or at least I don’t think I can, because nothing I do when I’m trying looks all that intimidating to me, especially since it’s also usually happening several inches to a foot lower than the person I’m giving it to.) He lowers his hand very quickly, I swoop us both around him and get her inside, he tries to follow. Someone else’s boyfriend or husband tries to do him the profoundly undeserved service of being a brother helping another brother out by making clear that he really needs to go back outside because he’s about to find himself in serious shit if he doesn’t.

There’s more to all of this — it’s a very long story, aspects of it can’t and shouldn’t be disclosed, and this whole incident had legs and took up half my day. I’m not happy with how it resolved itself, if you can even call it that. She rescheduled for next week to terminate, clearly pressured again after several more bouts with him in the parking lot, thanking me the whole time tearfully for trying to help, telling me it isn’t what she wants to do, and wound up quasi-electively leaving with him (I say that because he had a pretty firm hold on her arm, and he looked like the cat that ate the canary), but the whole situation was such that our hands were tied, and since she was discharged and did go outside again and go to him, and they were leaving, there wasn’t anything we could do. I would have written down his license plate number — since we did make clear to both of them that he may not ever come to the clinic again, and police will be called ASAP should he do so — but he didn’t have any on the car. I will probably be her counselor if she shows up for next week’s appointment, and will have to try and suss all of this out again, trying to help her figure out what she wants or needs to do knowing that in the situation she’s in, whether I like it or not, what he wants is going to have an influence I can only mitigate so much. I’m trying to think of a small token to have for her if she shows up again: I’m thinking she might need some Maya Angelou.
Obviously, I was left after the whole thing feeling both rather unhelpful and helpless, my heart aching for this woman, but I also still just had this profound feeling of total sci-fi. That guy didn’t know me. He had no idea that I interpreted his words and behavior as completely sinister while, to him, they were sacrosanct. But I know me, and anyone who knows me even thismuch would know that saying the kinds of things he was saying, trying to sway me the way he was was so completely ridiculous as to — were the situation not so sad — be knee-slappingly funny. Again, were I not so outraged for this woman, I would have laughed myself, and amidst all the adrenaline, when he first opened his mouth at me I did have to fight off laughing outright. If we can (even though we really can’t) take out all of the ugly in this, to anyone who knows me, a person talking to me like this, asserting this kind of shit to me presuming I’m on board, is earnestly silly beyond measure.

By my perspective, it was this level of total delusion that his words were meaningful, that his control over the woman he was married to was sovereign and that I’d recognize that which struck me first and foremost. I couldn’t believe, through the whole exchange, that it was happening, that this guy could not know that he was trying to speak a language to me which was a long-dead language that even if I recognized some of the words, didn’t mean shit to me.

That was immediately followed by the not-at-all-laughable feeling that it was not entirely delusion, not outside my frame of reference, anyway, and what I will and will not tolerate or enable in my own life. Clearly, in order for both of them to be at this point, this crap had been working on this woman for some time, and was likely working for him in one or both of their extended families, in the community they were in: after all, in our session it seemed clear that no one had made any kind of motion to help this woman before or acknowledge that this guy was very bad news. When we talked about him, the way she was telling me about this had a certain certainty on her part that I’d think she was crazy and that he was reasonable: that I was supportive of her pretty clearly came as a total surprise.

(I should add, as an aside, that some of that might be my color. The clinic staff are very diverse, but unfortunately, all of us who counsel right now — who often have the most in-depth conversations with clients about their trickiest stuff — are white. So, I’m often not surprised to have women of color warm more slowly to me, be more cautious at first, and, understandably, be reluctant at first to trust that I’m in their corner.)

I managed my clients the rest of the day, but it wasn’t easy. I got a ride from work to a spot downtown a mile or two from the stop for my third bus, and took a long walk there, fighting tears. Sitting on the packed, rush-hour bus on the way home, I was not only still fighting tears, I felt pressed in on all sides by people, in dire need of more air, open space and ideally, the opportunity for a good, loud primal scream. I dove into some bell hooks, but I couldn’t stay with it all sardine canned like that. I stopped at the market on the way home, picked up a bottle of wine and some things so I could have a good meal, got home, had a yawp and a good weep, took out the dog, than parked my tucas on the porch with a hefty glass and Flannery O’Connor. I needed me some Flannery: I needed her beautiful darkness and her realness all at once, the way she shows up the facades of people. I needed her to give me empathy. Mark came home, and listened to the whole saga and gave me a much-needed hug. I sat this morning for a while: I breathed it all in and out. I need some extra time for myself at some point in the next couple days — which won’t be easy, given it’s Mark’s birthday today and festivities are afoot, I have a march tomorrow, and work that needs be done before Monday — but that’s okay.

* * * * *

I also have a bit of a Buddhist conundrum about scenarios like this when it comes to how I approach, manage and experience them.

In so many ways, I am loving the work at the clinic — even when things happen like this — because it is such an amazing and constant exercise in compassion. It is nothing close to easy: it’s sometimes very tough (especially when sometimes, you have to remain compassionate with a client when they are not extending you the same compassion), but it’s a nourishing, life-affirming challenge. I certainly have a similar dynamic with Scarleteen, but it’s a little different. Not only is it virtual, but if something shakes me up, stirs me, overwhelms me, I can step away from it for at least a few minutes, if not hours, gain some composure, and come back to it on my own time. I don’t have that luxury in my counseling office: the person disclosing to me, letting me in, is sitting right in front of me, and their need is intensely immediate. I also have to address those needs knowing that a) they need to be able to move through the clinic at a decent clip so they, other clients and staff don’t have to spend all day there, so I have to try and be efficient in how I address them, and b) I will not likely have another opportunity to help this person again. This is probably my one shot.

Here’s the kicker, though: in any aspect of healthcare or counseling, from a professional standpoint, you’re supposed to keep this given distance, not get too stirred, too invested, etc. That approach runs solidly through care-based services. But as a Buddhist — and as someone trying to remain devoted to helping others in heart, mind and body — striving for distance (not nonattachment, distance) in order to cope, stands counter to my practice, and in my mind in order to best connect with clients/readers/users/the-universe-en-large, I have to remain pretty open. When a client is upset, and I am troubled by their troubles — while still keeping my own shit together enough not to make them feel guilty or like they need to take care of me, and keeping it together enough to do my job for them — this clearly is and has always been a comfort for them. I have a tough time believing that when you feel you have been marked by a great tragedy that for a person you disclose that to not to express a deep and real empathy for you, to express feeling some trace of that tragedy in a very real way, is a comfort.

There’s obviously a balance to be struck. You still need to do your job and you need to be a support, not just a co-griever. You need to instill a sense of faith in that person that however upset you also may be, that you are capable of being unattached to your feelings enough to help them when they can’t help themselves. If they feel out of control or incapable, you need to be someone they feel is in control and capable. You need to be able to still do what you can do for them while being open enough that part of the help you are giving them is being someone — sometimes that only someone they have yet encountered like this — who feels their pain and is unhappy that they have been wronged, traumatized, shafted. And of course, you need to be able to do all of this and find a way to preserve enough of yourself and your own emotional equilibrium to still start each day whole and end it the same way.

When I hear noises from anyone that I or my kind of approach gives too much, opens too much, doesn’t distance enough, doesn’t shut down enough, should strongly consider putting a larger shield up, my first reaction tends to be repulsion. I feel like there is a certain arrogance in the idea that self-preservation must always come first, as if we had any way of determining that somehow our self has greater import or meaning than someone else’s self. (Mind you, I think I’m a bit passively suicidal sometimes, but I figure it beats being the actively suicidal I was when I was younger by a serious long shot. This may color my views here.) I know that in part, that kind of directive comes from a place of care, perhaps the same kind of place that mine is coming from in trying to put others first myself: people say that to me because they care for me. But I also can’t help but think that some of it comes from a place where I’m effectively being asked to follow a certain status quo as to not threaten or usurp it: if we don’t all agree that the self always comes first, even if making it secondary, temporarily or permanently, might help someone else, that we then make it harder for those who want or need it to always rule all to feel as comfortable doing that. That sounds a bit pious to me, but I don’t know how else to express it. Thing is, I’ve been going about helping and counseling the way I do it for many years now, and I have my own way of managing it. Clearly, I can handle it without burnout better than most since I’ve got some serious staying power, and I still very much like doing what I do. My way seems to work for me and feels authentic to me — and is also in line with the kind of person I want to be, the kind of life I want to live — and I’m the expert on me.

I came to the practices I did because they make sense to me, and they run through everything I do in my life, including work. I’ve never been able to — or wanted to — separate my politics, my ethics, my spiritual life from my work, or set them aside somehow, and I’ve tried very hard to only choose work and work settings where I don’t have to do that. I often approach people very vulnerably, with a great deal of openness. It’s gotten me hurt before, for sure, but I think that the benefits have far outweighed the harms. Yesterday was a hard, hard day and parts of it were painful and very frustrating. But at the same time, yesterday, amidst everything else, I did get to share more than one moment where I was able to do anything at all to help someone feel a little more empowered and a little more cared for. But I do sometimes feel a little alien, both at the clinic and en-large, when it comes to all of this stuff, particularly when it comes to the harmony and cacaphony of all of it with my practice. I need a new sangha, I think. It’s tough to find something I can actually get to here without a car (good lord is this city car-centric), but I think it’s time to renew my efforts.

I’m rambling. I’m seeking out a balance and a clarity with this which I’m finding difficult both to do and to express. I’m glad for the opportunity, but it is a lot to try and sort through in the breakneck pace of my life these days, and I’m certainly not going to sort it out before I head back to the clinic on Monday.

Saturday, May 24th, 2008

The last week and a half in review?

The last few days I’ve had that wonderful cycle I have every other month which results in not only heinous pain when my period starts, but hours of vomiting. This time, I hit a record eight hours from start to finish of the vomit, to the point that even keeping water down was impossible. Not my best day ever. I was at clinic when all this started and was at least able to get an EFT treatment from the doc there, which fended off the worst of it so I could finish my workday. Unfortunately, it only fended off the big yuck into the evening, and my body seemed to want to get revenge for dismissing her schedule.

After several years of this, there is still no solid theory on what the heck the deal is. I do have more votes for this being the flirtations of peri-menopause than anything else, and it does appear that in those cycles proceeding this, I’m anovulatory. As I mentioned to someone else though, if this is flirtation, knowing that given my age I’m looking at a long courtship, I’m not excited. And I don’t even want to think about what the consummation of this relationship will be like. Ugh. So much crap for an organ that, for the most part, I’ve never even wanted to use.

Given I was on the couch all day and night yesterday after I could finally keep enough water down to get a painkiller in my system, I caught up with some film. I’ve had Sweet Land sitting here for weeks wanting to see it, and it was just a beautiful, quiet and earnest film. I didn’t realize that Mark Orton (of Tin Hat Trio, who if you don’t know, you so should) had done the soundtrack, either. As I am wont to do with Jarmusch films in general, I fell asleep twice when Broken Flowers first came out, so tossed it off, but had a few people telling me it was so, so good, so finally could watch it yesterday. I remain unimpressed. My father said he couldn’t stand La Vie en Rose, but I rabidly disagree. Parts of it felt disjointed (though my suspicion is that was intentional), but I thought it was amazing, and sweet jesus did that woman ever earn her Oscar. Brilliant, brilliant acting.

Due to the holiday on Monday, I am graced with a schedule at clinic this coming week where my two days are one right after the other, rather than being spaced out over the week, which I mightily look forward to. At home, the way I work tends to be in very extended two or three day spurts at a time. Since I’m usually working Mondays and Thursdays away, that’s been creating a problem in my usual patterns, and only allowing me Friday - Sunday to do that, taking away the time Mark and I usually have together since he’s got a standard day job with a standard schedule. So, this weekend, this should allow us some extra time, and also give me the whole front of the week to finish up a few articles I’m almost done with. I’ve been working on a sort of meditation on the validity of love for young people, so often told the love they experience isn’t bonafide or real, that I’m particularly stoked to finish.

The Thursday before last, I came home from clinic feeling pretty defeated, having had my first repeat client since I started working there, a 17-year-old girl with one of those few-years-older boyfriends who looks like Joe Sensitive on the surface, but who actually is a controlling, careless ass. In fact, the first time I saw both of them at the tail end of January, the clinic was still allowing “support” people (I put that in quotes since they were often anything but: more often than not, the ones who wanted to come back only did because they wanted to control the client) into counseling appointments. He was one of my examples as to why I, personally, was not at all okay with that, and the policy has since changed. While I sat there explaining her procedure, her aftercare, asking how she was about her choice, he sat playing video games on his cell phone. Would that I were kidding. As well, he told me this whole lovely fairy story about how the pregnancy was all her doctor’s fault because he didn’t renew her pill prescription on time. When I asked if her doctor had also then, of course, made clear he was never to wear a condom under any circumstances, I got a shrug and a sneer. When I told her she could have a Chlamydia and Gonorrhea screening with her procedure if she wanted, HE answered for her saying she should probably get that, and when I not only made clear I wasn’t freaking talking to him, but asked if, given how invested he was in her screening, if he’d ever had one himself, he told me no as if I had asked if he ever tore the legs off of squirrels. What a charmer.

And there she was, back again a week ago, and she was sent home with three months of pills last time, no less. Of course, Mr. Wonderful was still with her, and very not-pleased when he couldn’t come back into my office this time. I did the sneering that day. Alas, she wouldn’t talk to any of us about birth control, or much of anything, even though she was back in the office for another procedure not even three months later. Obviously, I can’t keep watch over any client to assure they use the birth control we give them, or do anything outside the office to help them get away from jerks. So, I know I’m not at all responsible for her being right back there, but it is pretty hard not to feel like, somehow, you failed someone in that spot; like there were some magic words I could have said but wasn’t smart enough to think of. It’s frustrating, and it’s hard not to bring that home and stew in it.

On the other hand, I’ve done a few options sessions lately, hour-long sessions expressly for clients who just don’t know what to do about a pregnancy and need to talk it through, and I love those. They often do get pretty emotional, but usually within just that one hour, you get to watch someone come in totally conflicted and lost and leave resolved, clear and confident. Two of my last three decided to terminate, and one decided to continue her pregnancy and parent: all felt good about their choices, and that is incredibly rewarding. One common thread I see in a lot of these though, no matter someone’s age, are families pressuring them into a given choice. A lot of the time in these sessions, you have to spend the first quarter or even half of them just getting the client clear when it comes to putting away everyone else’s opinion, whether the pressure is to continue a pregnancy or terminate. But the mere fact that any family makes a condition of their love what a woman does with her own pregnancy and her own body is so incredibly maddening. Watching someone feel like (or be directly told that) they have to choose between what they know is right for them and the love of their family makes me want to hurl even without my grumpy uterus.
I finally got my camera in for repair: here’s hoping they can actually fix it. They seemed about 50/50, which was not especially heartening. I need a working camera, both for the photo gig in Minneapolis next month, and for my own well-being. Being unable to make any art over the last handful of months has been seriously sucky.

Plus, the garden is coming along really beautifully this year, and my old camera from early 2000 isn’t at all cutting the mustard when it comes to capturing it. (It is not, for the record, half full of poisonous flowers this year, as I unconsciously chose last year. I am taking this as a signal of improved mental health on my part.) Since the dog also has a habit of stealing my strawberries and cherry tomatoes, I also made a small garden just for her this year in the front with those things of her very own. This may or may not make any sort of difference, and may, in fact, only be indicative of the fact that I take my dog a little too seriously.

There’s also been family drama, but I’m not going there. Let me just say that a lifetime of my parents being unable to stand each other, and ever being the person perpetually shoved into the middle, is truly tiresome.

Mark is off to the start of SIFF tonight, where a feature he produced last year is playing, and I’m off to an evening out with a co-worker at the fantastic new cantina a few blocks away which includes some vegan deliciousness, then up to the Copper Gate for a perhaps ill-advised bout of Norwegian grain alcohol. I have a little gardening on my plate today, a little Scarleteen work, a couple edits on an anthology piece, some tidying-up and a few snuggles where I can get them.

(And hey: happy birthday, Fish! My father sends birthday wishes to you as well, still clearly nursing his mad crush on you.)

Tuesday, May 6th, 2008

One of the things that has a great influence in both how I enact sexuality education and how I conceptualized my approach from the get-go is my background with teaching in the Montessori Method.

Overall, the primary way Montessori works is this: as educators, we observe our students, and based on our observations of what their self-directed interests, skills and questions are — basically, what they’re drawn to in terms of what activities they choose for themselves and what activities and areas they express interest in — we choose what materials to make or find and to present to them. In doing this, we’re also trying to help students learn to be observers, as well as working to empower them when it comes to trusting their own interests and instincts and to be self-motivated and self-directed, rather than reliant on — or vulnerable to — others to give them directives. Montessori teachers see ourselves more as helpers, as guides, than as directors or founts of knowledge. We see our students as the real directors, not us: it’s our job to follow their cues, not teach them to obediently follow ours. The underlying principles of Montessori are all about liberty and freedom, without which one cannot achieve, develop or experience self-discipline or learning. Montessori wrote that, “Discipline must come through liberty. . . . We do not consider an individual disciplined only when he has been rendered as artificially silent as a mute and as immovable as a paralytic. He is an individual annihilated, not disciplined.”

Particular areas of what we call absorbency — times during which a person is most able to learn something and can most easily and enthusiastically absorb information — is also something we pay close attention to and bear in mind. The big deal that identifies a time of absorbency is when a person is both expressing a strong interest in a subject or area of development and is just starting to use and hone those skills: ages 1-3, for instance, as children are learning to speak and are fascinated with language, is usually the time of the greatest absorbency for language. If we help children be exposed to and learn language then, not only is their mastery best, they usually can also learn more than one language, more easily and ably than they will be able to during other times in life.

It doesn’t take someone with Montessori training or keen observational talents to identify the fact that when it comes to human sexuality and sexual attitudes, the minds of adolescents and pre-adolescents are greatly absorbent. Because part of identifying what and when to present certain things has to do with when a person is starting to use what they learn, we can easily spot adolescence as a great time for sex education. In working with young adults, while I’m not really getting in on the ground floor since so many sexual attitudes are learned in childhood, I’m still in early enough so that our readers can get help forming healthy habits and attitudes at a dawn in their sexuality and during a time when they are very absorbent. I’m not just working with them just so that they can use this information and these skills now — after all, some of them want the information now, but don’t intend to, or are not, putting all of it to practical use, while others are becoming or already sexually active — but so that they can have them early, available to them for the whole of their lives.

Young adult sex education isn’t just about young adult sexual activity, just like young adult education in mathematics, social studies, physical education or language isn’t just about their use of those skills now. We teach these things with the understanding and expectation that they will be useful and needed now and later or now or later.

Most teens have an expressed interest in sexuality, and feel and express a need to find out about it now, which makes now the best time to teach it. When children and young people ask us or each other questions about sexual anatomy, sex, and sexual relationships, when they are starting to consider how sexuality will be part of their lives and what they want from it, they are communicating clearly to us that they feel a strong need and desire to learn and want our help. Even if you’re not a Montessori-enthusiast like myself, this idea is woven throughout nearly any educational approach you can think of.

For the life of me, I cannot figure out why or how people can selectively forget that what we learn about sexuality is information most of us will need for the whole of our lives. When we learn about sexuality, we’re not just learning for what we need and will use right at the moment we are learning, and no matter when or in what context we have a solo or shared sexual life, that activity itself cannot teach us all we need and want to know, nor can learning only through sexual activity later tend to result in sound sexual, physical and emotional health.

I confess, I quietly slipped out the back door years ago when it came to doing adult sex education, because I often found it deeply depressing and frustrating. We all know it’s hard to teach an old dog new tricks, and it is often just as hard for adults who have firmly established certain sexual attitudes and behaviors to change them after ten, twenty or forty years of thinking and/or doing things differently. I heard so much “But my husband just won’t listen when I say this doesn’t feel good for me: I’ve told him a thousand times,” or “My wife just won’t believe that how I feel is normal and common,” or, “But we’ve never used birth control so he can’t understand why I need to now and just won’t do it,” some days — so many firmly cemented attitudes and practices making so many people unhappy and unhealthy that I felt helpless to counter — that I just had to step back from it in order to preserve any sense of sexual optimism about the world at large.

In my job at a women’s clinic, where part of my counseling is to try and help my clients who want them to find and use sound birth control methods and safer sex practices, and to have sexual lives which are truly beneficial and safe for them, I hit the wall of this daily, both with them and with their partner’s compliance. With some women, we have to have a conversation as to how she is going to convince — not request, and know that request is all she needs make — her partner that he is not entitled to sex with her at any time and will, indeed, need to withhold from sex with her for two weeks after her abortion to prevent her from getting an infection or complication. Plenty of those clients will express a strong feeling of hopelessness, or a history of failed attempts at changing established norms of behavior, when it comes to their ability or the ability and willingness of their partners to change those habits and attitudes. I know, plainly, that had many of my clients and their partners learned these behaviors, in terms of their physical health and their social relationships, and started out with inclusive, factual and compassionate sex education earlier that these situations would be far more rare.

Those clients are lucky to even have an opportunity to get some sex education later in their lives: there are not many avenues for older adults to become sexually educated (which explains why we see some of them come to Scarleteen for help in their twenties, thirties, even in their sixties). When I hear those who protest young adult sex education in high school and college, I’m often left wondering where, exactly — if indeed, as many express, young people will all just elect not to have any kind of sex until they are older — they think older adults are going to get that education. Last I checked, major corporations aren’t giving sex education seminars to their employees, and many general doctors, like many people period, remain uneducated on, and uncomfortable discussing, sexuality.

That isn’t to say educating older adults is an impossible task, but it seems a needless challenge when we have the opportunity, as educators, as a culture, as communities, to teach sexuality and sexual health way before that time, when absorbency is far greater, and when a person is either in the dawn of their attitudes and practices, or is able to start learning them before they’ll apply them at all. What we establish early as norms, and hear pervasively as norms, is incredibly sticky. We know that when someone learns to do something incorrectly or incompletely, that the longer they go doing that thing that way, the tougher it becomes over time for them to learn differently or to add on additional steps and skills. This is true with sex as much as it is with anything else.

The practical application of all of this aside, I’m never going to be able to let go of the idea that without liberty, real learning — learning, not indoctrinating — can’t happen. If in any of the ways I educate, I seek to hinder or protest that essential liberty, I’m not only hindering learning, but the quality of life of my students, and it is my job to very carefully consider how I educate through that lens. It is not my place to tell my students or clients when to have sex, how to define their own sexuality, to tell them they are good or bad people based on their sexual desires or choices, or to tell them that they do not need to know the very things they are asking me to inform them about. I cannot ever call myself an educator if I purposefully slam the door of knowledge in my student’s faces because I, not they, feel that it’s for their own good.

Rather, it is my place to observe be responsive to the cues they give me in terms of what they need and want from me to help them learn about sexuality and sexual health, and to give them as wide an array of factually accurate and inclusive information, resources and discussions as I am able so they can create lives where their sexuality is part of their liberty; where the attitudes and practices they develop are in as best an alignment as possible with their and their partner’s unique set of needs and wants. It is my place to share with them as much of what I learn and know as I possibly can when they invite me to. This is part of why I feel so blessed to be able to educate in environments which are completely drop-in and also very one-on-one — or without my intervention at all, unless it is asked for — where even the onset of the education I provide isn’t determined by me, but by my students or clients themselves, and where every person I interact with is able to expressly ask me or my co-workers for exactly what they feel they need, rather than what I or others determine is right for them.

It is my place to allow and encourage the opportunity for them to draw their own conclusions, and to provide an environment for them where they feel they have the inarguable right to use that information however they please without my value judgments. It is my place to make clear to them that questioning my authority is always acceptable, that while I do my best to be as educated on these issues as possible, I am not infallible, without my own biases which inevitably will occasionally leak through, or somehow representative of one universal truth, and when they have questions or doubts, it is my place to direct them to other sources of information besides my own.

Every now and then, when doing an interview or a press piece, I’m asked why I give the information I do with the approach that I do, and if I’d ever consider doing it differently. And every time, I make clear that I walk into each day ready to do it differently, because if my students and clients — through my observations of them and their direct requests — asked me to, felt another approach would be more helpful, or showed me that the way I am doing things is not helpful for them, and is not what they needed, I would be obligated to adjust my approach based on my own educational ethics. Were I shown that, say, my students and clients were all made happier and healthier in the whole of their lives by only ever having sex within heterosexual marriage, only having sex for the purposes of procreating, or in going without sexual healthcare and birth control, even if that conflicted with what I have found keeps me happy and healthy, by all means, I’d have to seriously consider that. But again, I’m a trained observer, I observe daily, and that’s not something they express or I see. I do not tend to hear that knowing how to use a condom, how the sexual response cycle works, how to negotiate sex with a partner, how varied human sexuality is or how to prevent unwanted pregnancy at any age has done a person emotional or physical harm: I, do, however, hear and see the inverse daily. I do what I do the way that I do it because I do my level best to base it on mindful observation with the aim of being a partner in the learning of others, not a director or a dictator.

Like much of my father’s family, Montessori was an Italian Catholic, and designed her educational model during a historical time when sex education wasn’t an issue on the table. The only sex theorist she even had to draw from was Freud, whose ideas on infant and child sexuality — sensibly so — she rejected. She did however address that sexuality was a particular issue for adolescents, and one which can be so encompassing and distracting for them that adaptations may need to be made in their education — such as allowing them more physical activity during the day. I can’t know, ultimately, what Montessori would have felt about sex education as it is today overall, save that it does seem to me to be part of Practical Life (the area of the classroom and materials in Montessori that focus on care of oneself, others and the environment) for older students. We can glean some ideas based on how she felt about education for ages 12 - 18 (see From Childhood to Adolescence for more on that). She felt it vitally important to recognize those ages as a passage into adulthood — not an extended childhood — to help students of those ages to feel capable and able. She emphasized adolescents’ need to separate from adults, rather than to be dependent on us or exploited by our determination of what is right for them based on our ideas-in-hindsight of what would have been right for us. She protested the notion that we need to save them from themselves, and worse still, try to do so in a way which is purposefully misleading and a barrier to freedom, motivated by the idea that the ends, however deceptive and controlling, justify the means. Fascism is incompatible with learning and liberty: this is why Montessori left her home country in the 1930’s.

She would have been very much opposed to any kind of education — sexual or otherwise — which denied what we observed in our students, denied the needs our students express and demonstrate to us; which was based in ideas of controlling their behavior by making them fearful of life and others rather than providing them with the information and tools they need in order to exercise their liberty to make their own choices and to follow their own interests and development.

Uncannily enough, Montessori once wrote something else which seems a sound representation of our current conundrum with approaches to sex education in the States. It was this: “The task of the educator lies in seeing that the child does not confound good with immobility and evil with activity.”

The inverse of that statement defines abstinence-only approaches to the letter. While good and evil is not a dichotomy which particularly speaks to me — few dichotomies or binaries do — ideas of good and evil, rather than ideas about liberty and learning, are foundational in abstinence-only education approaches and arguments against honest, factual, inclusive and comprehensive sex education. That simple sentence can tell us much about the flaws in a lack of sex education or abstinence-only sex education and the idea that the only way we can help protect people from activities which can carry risks is to keep them from them, teach them that they have no real means of managing them, or to urge them to be inactive — in both how they behave sexually and how we educate them sexually.

It shows up the red herring in the proposition that abstinence-only “sex education” is sex education at all, due to the approaches it takes, the purposeful misinformation or incomplete information it provides, and the place of control and withholding — a place with no allowance or respect for liberty — it’s all really coming from. It demonstrates an awful lot about if denying young people free and factual information and real opportunities for learning is really about health and well-being or really about being “good.”


(cross-posted at the Scarleteen blog)

Monday, May 5th, 2008

I just got back from a night and a day in oh-so-not-at-all-beautiful Yakima, Washington.

I was teaching the staff of the clinic there self-defense today, and had to try very hard, when telling them how best to keep safe and feel secure, not to simply say “First?  Get the hell out of this town.”

I am relying on Washington natives here to know I need say no more.