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Finding Hope within the Shadows: Reclaiming Authenticity

This isn’t like my other posts, but I hope you’ll stick with me as I put together the pieces of the puzzle that has been my life for the past 40 years. This will be a very long post, but one that I hope brings some hope in the wake of current events.

Targeted because of truth

I have always been an expressive woman. I tend to dominate conversations because I can usually find some connection to the topic, the person or the theme. I make my point of view known by weaving in the threads of my life with the topics at hand. I’m a classic ENFP and love connecting individuals to the bigger picture through narrative.

As such, I had an online journal where I attempted to do just that. And of course, because I’m me, I focused on sexuality, politics and real-life storytelling. It was a display of sexual confidence, but also sexual healing.

Eleven years ago that blog was exposed by a republican website seeking to make its bones with political gossip. They effectively outed me as bisexual, kinky and poly. Friday the 13 of October 2006.

It was my own damn fault I told myself. I got careless with the security settings. I was revealing too much about my own life, family. I put everything and everyone at risk. For what?! for sex? For authenticity? For my truth? My truth was dangerous to my family, my career and my psyche.

The blog that outed me had no problem using my journal and photos to speculate wildly about my sex life, so within two hours, I became a liability to my employer and I resigned. I could no longer do my job because my credibility had been ruined, not because I was honest and transparent about my life, but because I was a slut and proud of it.  I didn’t speak up.  I felt such shame, such repugnant regret for my hubris that I hid out, taking low-level jobs, deliberately staying off of anyone’s radar, feeling undeserving of anything more.

I acquiesced, sacrificingauthenticity for security.

The poison well of toxic masculinity

As I took time away, getting progressively more isolated, alone and depressed, my anxiety flourished. We couldn’t watch the news. I screened every call. I got used to never having enough, never being enough, never feeling deserving. And when I would take one triumphant step forward another obstacle would hurtle toward me. It was kind of like a brutal game of dodgeball where I was also taking friendly fire from trusted friends, family, and partners. My perimeter of safety contracted and filled with a toxic dose of self-doubt resulting in a few suicide attempts that I don’t discuss. I knew my view was distorted, but I was so deflated, so traumatized, I could no longer even trust myself.This darkness has led me down several different paths of healing. But there was a recurring theme in that healing: my sexuality never fully came back to the voracious lust that it had once been. It’s not that I don’t have an exciting or fulfilling sex life, but that I felt like that previous life had all been a dream. My consent had been violated in a deeper way than I had ever identified now was in a constant state of hypervigilance.

I had no choice but to illuminate the patterns that were starting to emerge. The influence of an early childhood sexual assault, continual pressure for Much of the sexual history and identity I had been so anxious to get back to had been heavily influenced by some distinct experiences with men who had taken their lack of power out on me. A poisoned well of pride.

While a handful of men from my childhood and adolescence infected me with poison from that well, far more benefitted from the impact it had on me. They didn’t care that it would poison my thoughts about myself. They didn’t care that they were inflicting sexual assault, harassment, and exploitation that would carry a current of trauma in my life. They didn’t care that their actions were wrong and criminal. They felt desire and they felt entitled to have their shot, no matter what price I would personally pay. They normalized the abuse and dismissal of my consent with the constancy of it. What might my life had been without that?

I adapted to survive

Shining the light on this part of my life has been the hardest thing I’ve had to do. Tearing apart my sexual experience and examining my lopsided relationship with consent has thrown everything I believe about myself into question. Where I once thought I was sexually liberated and commanded respect for how I approached sexuality, I realized how often my consent had been coerced, how often I succumbed to the intimidation or perceived threats of harm. It wasn’t the whole of my history or even the majority of it, but those distinct moments shaped me and what I should expect from men.But in examining this, I had to also acknowledge that I survived. Not because anyone else came to my rescue. I survived because of me.After I was raped, I developed abilities that I used to protect myself.  I used limited acquiescence for reconnaissance. I learned how to read them before they could read me. I learned how to touch a raw nerve to get them to back off or show their true colors sooner.  I developed closer female friendships and learned how to use our stories as examples so that other survivors would know they weren’t alone. I was able to speak up, safeword if needed and fight back.

Ten years later (last year – October 2016), my life was finally starting to shift for the better. I was ready to start emerging from the coccoon. Trusting others was still a minefield, but I’m better at trusting my knowledge, my intuition, my sacredness, my value. I’ve faced a lot of the scariest parts of myself, some of the scariest situations and have emerged stronger than I expected. By walking through my own darkness, allowing myself to recover threads of resilience, I started to love this new wholeness of me.

The personal is political

Around the same time I chose to cast aside my self-doubt and shame, the infamous “Grab ‘em by the pussy” comment came out.  Despite my political expertise, I was struck that Donald Trump had the audacity to defend it. The people around him had the audacity to defend it. The news became a too real personalization of rape culture.

I wasn’t alone in recognizing that this event retriggered most survivors of sexual assault. All the work I had done to regain my strength, confidence and sexual joy was smashed right back down with a deluge from that poisoned well of toxic masculinity. This sudden onslaught of smug entitlement, fueled by open victim blaming and lame justifications for criminal behavior has brought back all of the memories of every other lonely, angry man who decided he was entitled to whatever he wanted from my body.

The personal is political now. This Presidency has been an eerie real life example of the abuse many of us have suffered in our personal lives.

Abuse relies on an insidious spiral of control and power. It starts as small boundary-pushing, floating test balloons to see where we’re willing to tolerate their foolishness (questioning Obama’s citizenship, Mexicans are rapists and murderers). If they can get close enough, they can start to condition us (“lock her up”), feed us lies (“fake news”) so that we don’t believe what previously trusted sources would have told us. (No more links to Trump after this). They continue the isolation and they prevent us from asking for help (pissing off our allies), screen our visitors (ICE raids and travel ban), control our money (health care costs will rise). They openly mock us (disabled reporter impression), they make a big personal issue out of an innocent gesture (Take a Knee), control our bodies (birth control), they make us dependent on their help (Puerto Rico vs Houston vs California), they expect to receive better treatment than us (unjustified costs of protection and travel for administration). And when they know they’ve gone too far, they give the hearts and flowers usually with the delivery of a back handed compliment (“very fine people”).

Alone, powerless, you endure it the best you can because you’re just hoping someone will notice and come save the day. 

This entitlement and power hungry structure is not just confined to Trump. Much like the poison that infected my own sense of self, it permeates our culture. Harvey Weinstein exposes just how poisonous our culture is. How truth is stifled through intimidation. How mind-boggling common it is for this behavior to persist, not just in Hollywood, but everywhere. The courage that I have seen this week has been extraordinary. The more we speak our truth, the closer we come to freedom and justice for us all.

Freedom is Found in Authenticity.

This weekend Professor Marston and the Wonder Women was released on the same day as the day I was outed. What was so remarkable and inspiring for me in this movie is that it celebrated all of the things that I was outed for: bisexuality, polyamory, and kink. The problem is not that we are different, it is that others feel entitled to project their vulgar interpretations on us, to taint authenticity with judgment, fear and shame.

To see this triad fight through prophecies and internalized shame was a beautiful affirmation of what I have fought to regain for myself. To watch them submit to the authenticity of their love and prioritize their intimate connection over the compliance society expected is exactly the message we need right now. Living a lie just won’t work, not when those lies are used to subdue others into compliance. We must take the plunge into authenticity with our whole heart and soul, despite what the outside world convinces us to believe.

This especially is true when faced with harmful patterns of abuse and control.

Owning our own story, declaring ourselves to the world matters in the current environment. Being visible matters. Representation matters. Your truth matters. Your consent to live and experience life on your terms also matters. And in the reckless, power hungry, abusive patterns of men like Trump and Weinstein and the unfathomable number of other powerful men like them, speaking your truth matters.

Wonder Woman was the hero I looked up to as a young girl. In seeing some of the origins of her creator and the inspiring women who inspired her, I am more and more convinced that she is the symbol of the power that we need right now in our national narrative. So many women share a common experience, have found our truth stifled for too long, that we are speaking up, speaking louder and refusing to drink the poison fed to us by toxic masculinity. She stands for relentless truth, compassionate justice and unwavering alignment with her authentic self.

And what is encouraging isn’t just that women are speaking up, but men too. We’re making room for more of us to be heard and to hold more people accountable as we wake up to admitting our own truth. A truth that cascades into our selves and starts to washout the poison, healing the toxicity left behind in the wake of our too common traumas.

The golden lasso of awareness is starting to wrap itself around the body of the American politic – accountability demanded by those whose power has been most stifled and stunted: Women and marginalized communities. The powers that be are scared, lashing out and doubling down on their abuses.

But we are reaching the tipping point where the cost of silence is no longer a price we’re willing to pay. Putting pressure on America to confront itself: its racism, misogyny, rape culture, violence worship, cycles of poverty and inequality, and devastating patterns of environmental abuse and injustice. We are shining a light on the monsters the lurk deep within the American psyche.

It’s time for us to face our collective shadow, to recover the threads of our connective community that have been torn apart by hatred and oppression. To find inspiration in the collective light of our resilience and strength. Only in confronting the deepest truths within, pulling forth the authentic power of our true selves, will we realize the freedom, equality and respect we each deserve.

Fight on, my friends. We are in this together.

Dear Hot Guy

Dear Hot Guy, (insert name here)

Thanks so much for messaging me. It’s nice to hear from you. Before we get started, let me establish a few things first just to make sure we’re on the same page…

I’m not an easy target

I’m sure that if you’re messaging me that you’ve noticed that I’m fat.  Let me establish right away that fat girls are not the low hanging fruit ripe for a hot guy’s selective desire. Just because I’m fat doesn’t mean I lack standards. Your presence in my feed or in my life isn’t a gift. And I can easily sniff out when your tone is tinged with a smug “You’re lucky that I came along to save you from a life of loneliness” when I enforce my standards and set my boundaries.

I remember back in middle school, when I had braces and frizzy hair, I would get these men, these boys, these hot guys who would come on to me. Whooo, I was so flattered. They liked me? They really liked goofy looking me? It didn’t take long to figure out that not only did those guys, not like me, that they publicly made fun of me for believing that they could ever like me at all.

I grew my first layer of armor soon after.

I have since learned my own value. I don’t admit (nor ever want to admit) my own beauty. I’ll accept that others might find me attractive, but that isn’t my true value in me. I want them to see me as a  woman who has the strength to withstand darkness, the wisdom to share compassion and the courage to prioritize my own self-worth more than any singular man’s attention toward me.

So, if you’re assuming I’ll be an easy lay because, you know, fatness (or age, or presumed cougar-ness or MILF or whatever). I promise, I have plenty of partners who keep me happy and I’m not salivating at the sight of your nude body. It takes more than the mere suggestion of sex with a hot guy to turn my head. That’s because…..

You are not the first; nor shall you be the last

Trust me, there will never be a drought of hot men who like thicker, curvier women. There will never be a drought of hot men who get turned on by older women. There will never a lack of hot men who love going down on a woman. There will always be hot guys with big cocks (and retailers that sell good approximations) And there will always be the hot men who secretly desire women like us but can’t get past their own self-loathing to declare it openly.

Likewise, there will never be a drought of hot men who are attracted to passion and soul. Those who respond to wit and intellect. Those who share openly with their hearts and who cherish what they see in mine. Ultimately, those men remain in my orbit, connected to a shared moment or purpose together that surpasses more than just their mere hotness.

Show me what makes you shine

I admit I’m a greedy bitch. I’m not driven by lust for a body alone.  Offer me more.  I want the men who have deep passions, generous souls and are pursuing their heart’s purpose. And I also want those who care deeply for others, accept their own vulnerability and take responsibility for their presence in the world, including their fears and biases.  Having that kind of wholeness offered is intoxicating. To have those qualities likewise come in an aesthetically pleasing …ahem…package is downright decadent and luxurious.

But once you’ve tasted the richness of someone’s soul, you’re not as thirsty for basic, low-effort dick. It will never matter how big you are or how you plan to “treat me like a queen” until I see more of who you are. Your hotness isn’t all that you can or should offer to me.  Your dick’s length or girth will never make up for a lack of personality or casual cruelty. Why would I waste my time on someone who thinks I only want his surface-level offerings?  Baby, I want so much more than that.

I want to be on your mind first thing in the morning, searching for messages I left for you overnight. I want you to crave my words and to respond to my touch. I want to see that flash of opportunity in your eyes. I want to explore deep into the chasms of your desire. I want to feel the tremulous waves of anticipation and share the inevitable surrender to pleasure and joy. I want to see the real you.

Allow yourself to be more than just another hot guy in my life. Supply more than lustful promises for my satisfaction.  Offer more than just your dick. Surely, we both deserve better than that. Allow yourself to actually shine from within, beyond the glossy surface you’ve been told that women want. Worship at the font of authenticity and humble yourself before your own depths. I crave connection to the wholeness and am waiting to see you trust yourself enough to let it shine.

Only then will I truly know how attractive you really are.

The Ultimate Body Positive Challenge: To fall in love with yourself

Back in February, I participated in a body positive challenge. I was needing to feel more confident and sensual in my body, needing to accept where it is now. I’ve grown so weary of my body wearing my trauma for me. I’ve grown so tired of trying to protect myself from the opinions of others by covering up and denying that my body can be beautiful and magical and downright amazing when I decide it is.

But like most women, I have a complicated relationship with my body. When someone compliments me on it, I react rather adversely and predictably. “Oh no, it’s not.” In my mind, I’m just echoing the ongoing opinion of larger, older women’s bodies. In my mind, I’m enforcing a truth universally acknowledged. But what I’m really doing is rejecting my own beauty, even if it’s a sliver of what I’d want it to be. I’m denying that to myself over and over again.

Taking a Risk for Myself

trapped by fearFor the past year, I’ve been inching towards making my living as a sex, relationship educator, writer, consultant something or other. Basically, everything that I love to do that isn’t the practice of law. To do any of this, I needed to start curating more of an online presence. It means more writing (yay!). It means developing content for a more expansive website. And it is showing who I am as an educator and professional. And because I’m teaching about intimacy and sex, that includes representing who I am as a sexual woman.

The only professional photos I have are ones I got done about 4 years ago for my mediation practice. And while I love those photos, they aren’t the best representation of what I offer as a sex educator. So I contacted my friend, Anthony Graham, with Broken Glass Photography.

I have tried and failed to do boudoir photo shoots. It usually becomes a last minute cancellation because I’m curled up in a ball crying with the anxiety of it all. Most shoots I see with women of my size and with my belly don’t look comfortable or at ease. And each time I would see such little representation of either women my size or women of color, I felt more and more that I didn’t have any assets worth seeing once you know that women of my size aren’t usually celebrated or revered.  Read the rest of this entry

The Courage to Bern

sanders-2016-feel-the-bernEarlier tonight a friend of mine posted this article criticizing the #FeeltheBern fervor drowning out all of those Hillary supporters who are just as passionate about their candidate.

I took an hour to pen the following response while my kid waited patiently for supper. I decided to post it here because, I needed a place to expand on these ideas that I have felt too inhibited from proclaiming to a wider audience. In the 10 years since the event described below, I have changed my view on politics and what I expect from our system.

And here I talk very frankly about being forced to create new ideas about myself and about the concept of loyalty. Take from it what you will, but it is my story and my reasons for believing we are on the precipice.

The choices that we make today for ourselves and our generation matter more than ever.  Read the rest of this entry

Poverty Battle Royale: a commentary on welfare (part 3)

Note:  I wrote this post originally in August, before my husband lost his job.  Now that we are on food stamps and Medicaid because of our mutual lack of employment, my reasoning and rationale behind this post is even more personal than it was before. I have added references to my own experience in blue.  This is intended to be a multi-part commentary. Links at the bottom to subsequent posts.

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Therefore, I reject the notion that people who receive cash assistance just won’t do anything else to survive or to help themselves.  And frankly it’s comments like yours, usually founded on false assumptions and skewed “facts” that cause people to not reach out for help when they need it the most.  I do believe these programs need adjustments and in some cases a huge overhaul for improvements, but I suspect we may be coming from vastly different viewpoints here.  I want programs that provide better benefits, that cover more people and provide more meaningful interventions than what we currently offer.  We should be helping more people and not fewer.  I refuse to believe that we cannot or should not take care of each other.

But before anyone can suggest HOW to make changes, I believe there needs to be significant discussions about pinpointing and defining the actual problems.

In order to even do this much, we must…

  1. Dismantle the abusive and dehumanizing myth of “welfare queens”.  This will help isolate any actual abuse and identify unchecked errors that need to be remedied.  But more importantly, this disintegrates the angry & racist welfare narrative that has prevented empathy in both policy makers and voters. This old narrative perpetuates a righteous indignation too enamored with its own false sense of superiority to have a meaningful conversation about the issue itself.  Let’s be real, the “welfare queen” is a myth.  An exaggeration.  A lie.  A damaging lie told by Ronald Reagan on the campaign trail which incited an indignation founded in racism and sexism.  It was a formidable tool in getting white voters (the more likely voters) on board with his political and economic agenda.  A tall tale that has outlived its maker and needs to be put to rest so that we can approach poverty policy from a place devoid of stigma and shame.
  2. Next, there needs to be a long discussion about the true nature of poverty itself and the reasons it persists around the world, much less in a country as prosperous and abundant as ours.  This includes describing the very real biases that people hold about poor people, the disabled, the elderly and children born into poverty including class and wage inequality as well.
  3. Likewise, we must include conversations about the cultural values of personal generosity, survive vs. thrive, the role of charity in society, the pursuit of profits, sustainable outcomes, autonomy in personal or family decision-making, the role of sacrifice and hardship, and well, our values about humanity as a whole.
  4. We also need to critically re-examine our assumptions about marriage and family so that it better reflects the cultural and economic realities of Americans today.  Many children are growing up raised by grandparents so that the parents can work, go back to school or get back to health.  Likewise, many households are deciding to invite roommates or even the ex’s family to stay with them as a means of creating intentional community to provide better financial and emotional support to all involved.  Yet, rights do not always flow in the direction of reality.  This requires a critical examination of where our policy and legal assumptions about family need to be updated and retooled.
  5. We need to have a conversation about our policies that promote:  access to affordable health care (including substantial mental health care), keeping people in their homes, access to justice, availability to improve or access social capital, education equity, and of course, the economic cost-benefit of a living wage.  This also should address access to higher education, safe and affordable options for day care for working families and the cost of caring for our elderly.
  6. We must also reconcile our hypocritical messages about children and families in the United States.  We must encounter head-on the cultural disconnect between our agendas on abortion, prenatal counseling/care with our utter disregard for a child, the mother and the family unit once the child leaves the protective cocoon of the womb.  This includes critically assessing access to all family planning options, including sexual health education, birth control (including condoms), and screenings for STIs and cancer so that they are either completely free or covered fully by insurance providers and Medicaid. Include too foster parenting, availability for adoption, equality in education, access to nutritious foods, clean environments, support for parents through all stages of a child’s development up through college, remedying the pervasive cycles of abuse and violence and creating opportunities for higher education including student loan forgiveness.
  7. We must rewrite the myth of the American Dream which perpetuates a cultural standard of “with just some good, old fashioned hard work, you are able to have everything you need”.  Great, good.  But it’s not true for everyone.  Many people who are poor work hard too, often in multiple jobs; then they encounter tragedy or loss and are right back where they started.  Therefore, we must recognize that our policies and indeed our national narrative that distinguishes between  the “deserving” and the “undeserving” poor.  We draw these distinctions in all of our communities—people who are either worthy (usually those who are like us) and those who are unworthy (not like us).  A rather exaggerated and selfish example of these distinctions is detailed here:  http://www.snopes.com/katrina/personal/volunteer.asp .  (“WHY THE FUCK SHOULD I HELP PEOPLE WHO DON’T WANT TO HELP THEMSELVES!” has become our new national anthem ).
  8. And finally we must confront our history and our disappointing present policies that promote and enforce gross disparities in wages and living conditions  based on a pervasive culture of sexism, cis-sexism, homophobia, ableism, ageism and racism.  We must recognize and come to terms with how privilege operates in our public policy landscape much less our personal lives.

Without these conversations, meaningful change cannot even begin.

Without widespread recognition of that there is a powerful and enduring cycle of poverty, the status quo will endure.

Without a significant policy shift that places an emphasis on meaningful interventions at all levels and entry points to poverty there will be no change.

I reject the welfare myth that assumes that those on government assistance are lazy.  This myth permeates because it gives fuel to the righteous indignation that many feel toward the poor.  Anger that is sparked by assumptions and judgments based on someone’s appearance (clothing, jewelry, phone, car, furnishings, etc.) or a news article (urban legend) that highlights  one instance of welfare abuse, which leads people to a panicked conclusion that there is widespread fraud within the system as a whole.

We assume laziness is the answer, but laziness doesn’t belong only to the poor.  You know who else is lazy? You are, Mr. can’t -be-bothered-to-introduce-myself-properly Man.  You know who else?  I am.  Ms. Didn’t-put-my-laundry-away-and-left-it-in-the-hallway Woman.  You know who else?  The guy who pays for fast food on the way home.  Or the woman who took the elevator one floor up instead of the stairs.  Or the teenager who played video games instead of mowing the lawn.  Or the couple that decided to sleep in and let the kids watch TV all morning. Or the politician who took a week off to unwind at his favorite resort.

Let’s be real, each of us makes thousands of decisions every day many of which could be characterized as lazy.  Yet it seems to be the national pastime to review and critique those decisions in order to be deemed “worthy” enough for our help.  Since when do we have such special insight into anyone else’s life that we get to judge them for every imperfect result they have experienced?

But guess who we judge for their choices more than anyone?  Celebrities and the poor.  Funny mix, isn’t it?  Well, no one is going to question whether you spent that $8 on a wheel of cheese; however, if you’re poor that’s cause for someone like you to automatically dismiss them to the “undeserving” zone and loudly confront them in line at the grocery store: “how DARE tyou spend ‘hard-earned taxpayer money’ on a luxury item such as cheese!?! The ungrateful sods.”   No one is going to question whether you ate a donut for breakfast, but if Jennifer Lopez does it, it’s on grocery stands for the next week.  “The fucking cow.”

Yet, dehumanizing suffering and tragedy and ignoring a desire for autonomy and dignity  is a very easy way to let yourself off the hook from feeling anything and taking responsibility for the contribution you’ve made to the system that created this mess. Demonizing entire classes of people is an easy way to dismiss the problems of the world while giving yourself a congratulatory handshake for all your “hard work”.  Achievement unlocked: Douchehattery 101.  But all of this is just another method of playground bullying except this time you don’t have to see them cry when you do it.

Sorry, but that is not the world that I am here to create.  I do have ideas and I do have critiques, but they involve better targeting of our resources combined with an expansion of aid available for longer periods of time.  All of these are based not in anger or prejudice, but in empathy and a recognition of the realities of poverty.  Maybe it comes from the years of working with individuals and communities that astonish me with their creativity and resilience.  Maybe it’s from my struggle to survive the overwhelming bills and debt when I was unemployed.

Maybe it just comes from being someone who believes that generosity is a virtue and that each person is deserving of dignity and respect. Maybe it’s because I believe that we’re all in this together.

Click here to read Part 1

Click here to read Part 2

Poverty Battle Royale: a commentary on welfare (part 2)

Note:  I wrote this post originally in August, before my husband lost his job.  Now that we are on food stamps and Medicaid because of our mutual lack of employment, my reasoning and rationale behind this post is even more personal than it was before. I have added references to my own experience in blue.  This is intended to be a multi-part commentary. Links at the bottom to subsequent posts. 

Need a job

Unemployment is an income maintenance program.  This has an absolute requirement to look for work. Basically if you are offered a job, you must accept it if it falls within certain category requirements or equivalents, even if the job pays less than what you had been earning before.  It’s put up or shut up.

But on a larger scale, tell me how this scheme allows people to create their own destiny?  There’s no holding out for a better offer.  You cannot refuse a job.  If you do, that safety net is gone and you’re on your own. Never mind the impact that unemployment has on a resume or what taking a job isn’t your dream job does to your attractiveness to future employers who are looking for a consistent and solid work history.  Remember, employers don’t look fondly on any gaps in work history but they also want to see a gradual increase in responsibilities and achievement, something you can’t create when you have a temp job for 4 months.

And if unemployment required you to take a job A earning 25% less than your expected pay grade then in your next position Employer B is likely only going to offer you a modest bump up from your most recent all-time low.  It can have a very clear ratcheting down effect that makes it that much harder to get back to your pre-unemployment potential.  This, I can tell you from experience. I still haven’t broken the glass ceiling of my all time low to get back to what I was earning in my dream job 6 years ago, despite my qualifications and knowledge. A stint of unemployment longer than 3 months, can destroy a person’s bargaining potential for years to come. 

But the mantra is “any job is a good job”, right?  Sure, any job is a good job, particularly when it’s a step up from having no job at all. But that doesn’t mean it’s the right job or a long-term solution to crippling debt.  It doesn’t mean it will pay enough to feed your family.  It doesn’t mean that your children escape the detrimental effects of poverty.  And it certainly doesn’t mean you have significantly improved your chances of escaping poverty.

In Denver County, for a typical family of 4 to survive (2 adults/2 children), the adults would have to be working in jobs that pay an equivalent of $19.65/hr  ($40+K per year). Sounds reasonable, right?  But that’s the living wage, the actual cost of what it takes to live in this county.  The level of income they would need to qualify for most levels of aid (and to fall below the poverty line) is roughly $10.60/hr or $22K a year, still significantly below the wage they would need to earn to make ends meet.  Working a minimum wage job (at $7.25/hr, 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year) gives that  family $15K to live on and pretty much automatically qualifies them for aid.

So, in order to make enough to get out of poverty in Denver county (let’s not include the debts accumulated in order to make ends meet or get utilities turned back on), they would need to be in one of the following types of positions: Management  ($45.62/hr),  Business and Financial Operations ($29.75/hr),  Computer and Mathematical ($38.14 /hr),  Architecture and Engineering ($35.93/hr), Life, Physical and social Sciences ($30.20/hr),  Legal ($33.05/hr),  Education, Training and Library ($21.37/hr),  or Healthcare Practitioner and Technical ($30.13/hr).  (Information courtesy of MIT’s Living Wage Calculator available here: http://livingwage.mit.edu/counties/08031)

Do you notice any trends here?

That’s right, all of these are positions where one needs at least some post secondary training/education, significant work experience or a college or post-graduate degree.  If they are in a position that requires only a high school diploma with little to no additional training, they are more likely, if not absolutely assured, to fall below the poverty level.

Add to that anecdotal evidence of people who are looking to go back to school so they can improve their chances—only to subsequently be let go or have their hours reduced for daring to utter or even investigate that dream.  Employers have a lot of power to be as choosy, bitchy or negligent as they want.  Not all jobs are created equal or provide an equal opportunity to advance or maintain a living. And in at-will states, you can basically be terminated for any reason.

[Oh and another little tidbit that I noticed on that site is that a single parent with two kids pays about $2000 more in annual taxes than a 2 parent household.  Hence, a clear argument for the inequity applied to same-sex households with children and that disproportionately could land a same-sex household below the poverty level.   Fortunately, the reversal of DOMA will help remedy this situation but not completely.]

Another cost of poverty that you may or may not have considered is the constant stress that comes with wondering where the next paycheck is going to come from.  Sure, if you believe the Heritage Foundation (a conservative think tank) children living in poverty may or may not be going hungry each day.   But you still have rent to pay, right?  You still have electricity to keep on?  And in this day and age, you still have to choose whether internet is a good idea to pay for as you try to find a job or complete online classes.  Stress creates a whole host of health issues that, if left unchecked, could significantly lessen your chances of maintaining stable employment and thus ever escaping poverty.

Finally, let’s also consider those who are living just outside the poverty line.  In my example above, it’s the difference between those making $22K and those making $40K.  Quite a large number, if you think about it (two full-time, minimum wage earners  with two kids fit here).  These are people who are just one car wreck or one illness away from complete financial catastrophe.  Even the family with $40K a year is hovering in that danger zone.

Think about what causes people to enter poverty.  Think about the traumas, disasters and crises they may have experienced.  The death of a spouse, a chronic illness requiring daily medications or treatments.  The special needs child who requires constant care.  The snowstorm where they slid into another car and totaled their vehicle.  The lay-off.  The divorce.  The hurricane.

This isn’t laziness.  This is life and it is threatening to eat us alive every day.

Click here to read Part 1

Click here to read Part 3

Poverty Battle Royale: a commentary on welfare (Part 1)

Note:  I wrote this post originally in August, before my husband lost his job.  Now that we are on food stamps and Medicaid because of our mutual lack of employment, my reasoning and rationale behind this post is even more personal than it was before. I have added references to my own experience in blue.  This is intended to be a multi-part commentary. Links at the bottom to subsequent posts.
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Sometimes you meet some winners on OKCupid.  Earlier this month I met one the winners out there.  The self-assured, confident guy who is also sensitive, caring and intuitive (putting it lightly).  I have no idea how well that connection will turn out, but I’m willing to let it settle in a bit to see if it moves forward.

Then you meet some true assholes.  In fact, I’ve held off responding to most messages in the past few years because frankly I just don’t want to spend much time slogging through the waste of messages that I get on a daily basis. There was a time I replied to each and every one of the stupid messages I got, but now I’m much more comfortable with the delete and block feature.  First impressions count.  I put a lot of thought into how I approach someone before I rattle something off to them in the hopes they will reply back.  And if it doesn’t seem to fit, it’s not a biggie.  It means we likely weren’t going to hit it off in the first place.

However, every now and then, a message arrives and sometimes you have no choice but to relentlessly make fun of it.  I’m not normally a fan of mocking someone’s effort to find a special love, but sometimes the approach is so filled with hubris and presumptions that it begs to be publicized so we can point to it and make an example of it.

And in this case, this message from…let’s call him Timmy6917 (apologies to anyone with that username) was so arrogant, misguided and off-the-mark, that I felt obligated to spend a day researching my response which is posted below.

See, Timmy made three very crucial errors:

  1. He never once introduced himself, asked a question or even pointed to some commonality that might explain why he contacted me;
  2. He trotted out a lazy, conservative trope about welfare to a woman who is very clearly far left of center politically;
  3. He describes himself as “intelligent” and “sharp” in his profile, which sort of begs the question–who is he really trying to convince?

I needed to make sense of the rage I felt when I read his messages so I researched and I wrote.  I wrote 8 pages and could keep on going.  Writing out my thoughts on an issue that deals squarely with poverty and policy “suggestions” that rely on prevailing myths about poverty, I felt the need to expand even my own privileged horizons on this topic.  It was more cathartic than I ever thought it would be, or so I tell myself to justify the full day of work and sleep that I lost to this project.  It brought me back to a sense of pride for my political prowess.  All knowledge is worth having, I suppose. 

Disclaimer:  I did not actually send the following message to Mr. Timmy as he forever shall be known.  No, instead, I posted it as information for myself and my Facebook followers, many of whom know this subject far better than I can hope to emulate.  What Mr. Timmy got in reply was a curt notice that he failed to state an argument with his conclusion and that anyone who hopes to be a partner with me must demonstrate a minimal amount of kindness, respect and humanity.  I told him blatantly that the problem is not abuse of the welfare system, but rather limited and narrow viewpoints that shame those who live in poverty.  I have since gotten a reply from him, but haven’t read it because…well, I’ve already wasted enough time on someone that I never, ever want to meet much less fuck.  

Dear T,

Let me start off by saying that I’m not entirely sure what your basis is for the conclusions you’ve drawn.  You say Medicaid “is easily one of the most abused programs available”.  Okay?  Abused in what way?  Is it abused by the administrators of the program, those who receive benefits or the doctors/companies providing services?  And by cash programs, it would depend on which cash program (I’m going to assume Federal) that you’re talking about.  TANF? Unemployment?  WIC? Disability? Is your beef with the federal program itself or the state administration of these programs?  Or is it a state program you have an issue with?

But I hope to god that you’re not basing any of these broad opinions on the oft-debunked yet relentlessly persistent myth of the “welfare queen”.

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Internal Disappointment Processing

Self-awareness is a grand thing that cannot be over-emphasized as we interact with the world around us.  However, some people, including myself, who make this a priority, tend to skew the viewpoint a little toward whatever story they want the world to know about them.  Inevitably, with all of us, we end up with blind spots that trip us up and end up impacting others.  That blind spot is usually obvious once we recognize it for what it is: a struggle within to reconcile and identify the source emotion.

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So let’s just attack my blind spot emotion: Disappointment.  Disappointment is a close friend with regret.  However, regret is the disappointment that we apply to our own actions  and disappointment is what we apply to others’ actions.  Disappointment doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It’s often the result of creating and sustaining expectations that another will act the way that we thought they should or would.  In order to identify a feeling as disappointment you have to:

a) recognize that you had expectations;

b) believe you deserved or had good reason to have those expectations;

c) placed trust in someone else to meet those expectations;

d) relied on that person’s implied, express or assumed promise to fulfill those expectations; and

e) experienced a failure of someone to meet those expectations.

Disappointment can be general (“I’m disappointed I didn’t get any email today”) or specific (“I’m disappointed that my husband forgot our anniversary”).  Disappointment carries a deeper attachment to the result or even the process than ordinary breaches of social protocol.  It is personal and yet sometimes we judge ourselves for reacting to something so seemingly simple.

Disappointment is a blind spot for me because I rarely believe (b), that I deserve or have good reasons to expect anything.  I feel that undeservinginess so deeply that I have adjusted my whole life around that basic concept so I never have to feel disappointment in another human being. And like most things it was influenced by some distinct event at an impressionable time.

ImageTake my birthday for example.  I typically don’t celebrate my birthday and instead have replaced it with a spiritual ritual practiced in solitude.

Yet, I remember making a distinct choice to stop any public celebration of my birthday on my 16th birthday.  This was the birthday where my boyfriend ditched me to have a drugged-out one night stand with a co-worker. I swallowed the disappointment, the heartbreak because I felt so unworthy of the expectation of fidelity or honesty or to be special on my 16th birthday. And I made a conscious decision that I didn’t want to be hurt like that again so i prohibited any celebration by family and friends from that time forward.

What is the old saying? If you don’t expect anything, you won’t be disappointed. Right?

(SIDE NOTE: I made an exception for my 21st birthday which ended up in that boyfriend dumping me just minutes after I turned 21 and was waiting for him to show up so we could go to the bar for my first legal drink.)

So here I am almost twenty years later. I can say with some certainty that I was completely reasonable to expect my boyfriend to spend my birthday with me as he promised instead of cheating on me. But that realization doesn’t change the new traditions I have created around this day for me.  Disappointment was the fuel to that fire; but denial and avoidance of disappointment has ensured that there are no birthday parties, no presents, no cards, no celebratory drinks or revelry of any kind.   Avoid disappointment,? Check.  Avoid any chance to feel special and included? Fail.

Expectations are a bitch, because it’s entirely out of your control whether people meet them. And people give you excuses that seem reasonable at the time.  But instead of owning up to the fact that I feel hurt or let down, I swallow it down where I plot my next attempt to circumvent any future disappointment

So how to fix it?  Here are a few suggestions:

  • Admit to yourself that the icky mix of anger and sadness you feel is disappointment. Write it down and burn it if you’re afraid of letting anyone know you feel this. But say or write the words at least.
  • Practice telling the other person when you feel disappointed for small things.  Like when they text to tell you that they won’t be able to make it to dinner tonight because they’re sick, text back  “aww…I’m disappointed I won’t see you tonight.  Take good care of yourself”
  • Recognize and relate to their own humanity.  Trust me, as a human being you’ve done something, big or small, to disappoint another human being. Remember what caused that person’s disappointment and apply it to your own now.  Was it a miscommunication?  An assumption?  A crooked sense of priorities?  Stress? Excuses or not, these play into all of our interactions.
  • Express your disappointment. It doesn’t have to be a drag out fight.  But instead find an opportunity soon after the event in question to tell the person you were disappointed by something they did or didn’t do and how things can be better in the future.  Make it an honest exchange of information.  Yes, you will hear excuses or rationale, some of which are totally understandable, but just as importantly they will hear it from you directly how you feel and what you’d like them to do differently in the future.
  • Check but don’t eliminate all of your own expectations. There are times that our expectations can be pretty unweildy and can set everyone on edge (think Miranda Priestly from the Devil Wears Prada). If you’re noticing an increase in agitation or stress with the people you rely on, you may want to double check that you’re not asking the impossible and scale it back just a little bit.
  • Arrange regular time to check in about promises, rules, expectations in a relationship. Having a regular check-in with a partner, loved one or even co-worker about what expectations are on the table, what’s working and what’s not can be enormously helpful.  Don’t wait until there is a history of consistent fuck-ups, instead check in early and often (like every 2-3 months) to make sure each party knows what is expected of them.
  • Trust again. Maybe not the same people as before, but trust that your needs and desires are worthy.  It is amazing how less disappointment haunts me and hurts me now that I’ve started trusting that the world isn’t out to get me.  .

And the biggest show of that trust in my life? After twenty years of solitary suffering, I am actually going to celebrate my birthday!  Bring it on!

Scared to date

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So, it is says anything about the gravity of this topic, this subject line has been sitting here since October of 2011.

Hello. My name is Bella. I’m polyamorous and I’m afraid to date.

Hello Bella

Is there a support group for people like me? I have been polyamorous for almost 9 years now and for the past 4 years I have been afraid to date. I have been avoiding discussing why for a very long time, but like most things if I don’t just delve in and say it publicly, it will never get parsed out and thus never truly change.

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A Manifesto for the Age of Soul-Starved

Tonight, I watched a portion of the State if the Union address. I was inspired, particularly at the end where the President called upon the courageous acts of valor and the tragic ends found by so many children and families. I was so moved that i cried. I cried for those hearts and this country. Where did we go so wrong?

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Afterward was the inevitable mocking of our President by pundits and armchair activists alike. The accusations that Obama is stepping outside his authority (he’s not). but the ones that really got to me were the many, many messages i saw on Facebook that again, push for more guns, more ammo, more ways with which to “protect” ourselves. It’s not just the message that is discouraging, it is the rage with which it is delivered. Read the rest of this entry

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