Love them always

23 Apr

“Every day, we receive an abundance of messages regarding gender; simply living in our world exposes us diverse images and ideas about appropriate and desirable masculine and feminine identies. Gender is such a familiar part of our daily lives that it typically takes a deliberate disruption of our expectations for us to even question its very existence.”

“If we are going to eventually exist in a society of acceptance, we must work with the children of the growing generation. Developing acceptance for gender non-conformity requires much more than hurling definitions into children’s minds. It is necessary to model acceptance in our day to day lives as well as developing a sense of normalcy regarding issues of gender identity and expression.”

“In schools, this can be channeled through discussing self-confidence and diversity, as well as the significance of accepting individuals while recognizing their accomplishments and contributions. At home, parents and caregivers can have these conversations daily if needed. It’s important to remember that while definitions and labels have their place, cultivating awareness and sensitivity will go much farther. What’s great about kids is that you never have to tell them more than they want to know.”

Excerpts from Talking to kids about the T(ransgender 101 for children)

For the past several years I’ve been providing supportive and therapuetic care to transgender/gender-non-conforming youth; the youngest being four years old. In early 2011, I-in partnership with TransOhio at the time- began to facilitate the only known support group for trans/gender non-conforming youth in the state of Ohio. In the beginning, we faced multiple barriers in terms of locating a meeting space due to concerns within the community surrounding ‘liability’. For much of the group’s life we met at either a library or a park; the latter providing a wonderful opportunity for natural play and relationship building. Since that first day of group, I have been privileged to watch our community grow from just one family who faithfully attended, to over 10 families that have been regularly involved; some of whom have traveled as far as Indiana to find support.  With youth, there is such a unique opportunity to create a strong sense of self before the harmful ‘inner critic’ is able to take root. This idea alone, is the sole motivation and focus for group. The members of our community have grown from feeling confused and ashamed, to advocating for themselves to their families and within their schools.  Along with group work, I also provide counseling to trans/gender non-conforming youth and their families.

Over the years, many questions and concerns have arisen from parents, teachers, and members of the community; most of  which stem from concerns for safety and privacy. The most pervading question/concern, however is “What if it’s a phase?” As recent as this morning on the Today Show, in reference to a story aired about a trans kid, the hosts discussed the idea of this being a phase for young children; and how a parent may handle that. Here the clinical response:

Transgender people experience a persistent and authentic difference between their assigned sex at birth, and the understanding of their own gender.

Now, here’s a different perspective…

What if it IS just a phase? What if after 6 months to a year (or more), a child has reconciled their gender? Is this okay too?

Where is the harm in providing unconditional love and support for a child that is exploring who they are and trying to figure it all out?  Parents/caregivers do this in a multitude of ways around several areas of identity, yet for some reason the conversation door is closed around gender.

Our kids need to know that they are loved and accepted; no matter what. They need to know that hard conversations can happen at home. For many, transition is the goal; but we really aren’t focusing on the journey. I don’t know for sure whether all of the youth I see in group and/or therapy will engage in any type of transition, and that is absolutely fine with me. My purpose and my motivation are to ensure a space for conversation and affirmation. While gender identity is a huge part of our whole selves, there is also a soul on the inside that is doing their best everyday to navigate this life; and my role…my responsiblity is to help them develop the tools to do so as their best and strongest selves. In group, youth are able to enter a ‘space of knowing’ with their peers, where no explanation, justification, or defense is needed. They can be their full selves, no questions asked…a notion for which I believe we all are longing.

I know that everyone wants to understand the basis for being transgender. We are a culture of science, so we need the biological justification of why this is ok. Trans identities challenge everything we think we know and believe about life. It causes us to think about what we learned as children,  and we have to move outside of absolutes. For some, we even have to question our understanding of God and the concept of creation.

Exploration is great. Seeking knowledge is even better. But let’s be mindful of the ways our seeking may impact others.

Lately when a parent/guardian asks what they should do about their trans/gender non-conforming child, my response is to love them. Love in a way that they can rest in their uncertainty. Take all of your fear, and possible embarrassment/shame and channel it into love. Love them unconditionally. Love them always.

 

not one more

3 Jan

i originally wrote this poem in 2011 in response to a rash of teen suicides in the lgbtq community. then and now, it often renders me speechless to know that a generation is hurting and dying; just to be who they are.  grief creates a depth, where you’re reduce to an almost primal space of expression. where eloquence and tact are out the window. this poem was created out of that space. a space where we wail and return to a fetal-like position, as there is no other way to bear the feelings of helplessness,  pain, and fear. on a heart level i don’t understand oppression, discrimination, and hatred of others. on a head level, i know that’s what we do; as humans. my prayer is that hearts and minds are one day changed, and in turn create humans with open hearts, filled with unconditional love. that their folded arms will become open. and that their eyes will be strong enough to see beneath the surface.

you have my permission to print and share this poem. it is my offering for when there are no more words.  my only request is that you credit me with the work. be well.

not one more

not one more suicide

not one more death

not one more homicide

empowered by your abhorrence of me

make it stop

palpable silence

the agency of death

not one more discharge

not one more infection

not one more rape

not one more dime

not one more revelry

not one more

 not one more shackle

not one more remorse

be free

i use my voice

that, you can’t take away from me

not one more group

not one more slogan

not. one. more. march.

not one more abandonment

not one more sermon

not one more law

not one more repeal

not one more trial

my life is not for sale

it should not be legislated

my love does not hurt

your hate does not heal

not one more

no

there is no more

you will not take

i don’t accept

what you give

empty promises

failed verbosity

no

no

out loud i will be

thrashing intrusively

not one more

Copyright © 2011 by Erin Upchurch

uprising

25 Nov

last night a white woman accused me of being hostile after i shared that i was wholly disinterested in her life. this, following a post on fb in which a friend of mine voiced her disbelief in non violent social movements. the woman asked when they’d ever been effective, my response was  “when have they not?”. she proceeded to throw out research with corresponding numbers and happened to mention that she has a B.A. in Resistance. it was at this point, i shared that i was unconcerned with her education or research; and very plainly identified that we were having two different conversations. i shared that the answer ultimately depends on how ‘success’ and ‘winning’ are defined; to which she responded with more academic drivel and innocently explained her intent to share ideas and facts. i excused myself from the conversation, again noting that we were in two different spaces and having very different conversations. her ideas had nothing to do with my facts; which include me having to coach my son on how to behave, in hopes that he will escape racial profiling. she responded again, oblivious to her offense and ignorance, but this time i let it go. she didn’t get it, and thus supported my belief that an educated mind is very easily a foolish mind.

we pray for peace because praying for anythng more would be socially unacceptable. anger, aggression, and hostility make us uncomfortable. rage is scary. black rage is punishable. our demands for justice often feel like nothing more than a wish list akin to what kids prepare for santa. we are begging a person/structure in whom we may or not believe to deliver something very specific; and are then disappointed when said wishmaker delivers something outside of what we asked; but its a gift nonetheless.

peace is something you experience on the inside and share with others. i pray for peace for the mothers who have lost their brown faced children. and i hope for peace for myself and the other women trying to raise brown faced, male bodied children in this world. i feel a fear and angst for my son, that i’ve never experienced in any other part of my life. its a vulnerability that writhes in my soul and commands my attention daily. there is no manual for how to build up your black son, while simutaneously explaining to him that despite his best presentation, he will always have something to prove. its contradictory to teach my children the  belief that people are good at their core; yet warn them that the color or their skin will make them stand out in ways for which they never asked.

when my son was around 6 years old, he asked “what did black people ever do that was so bad, to make people hate us…?” i didn’t have an answer then, and i still don’t today. but it has to be something, right?

protests and demonstrations do serve a purpose. inwardly, they support a romantic notion of the revolution and help us feel connected; they provide a sense of action. outwardly a protest creates visibility. its an open space for one to participate in the shared outcry for justice. its the place to prove that we have numbers on our side.

i don’t begrudge the protests in ferguson last night. there is a space in us all that defies sensibility and logic. there is a place beyond our rage, where there are no words. its the space of the gutteral moan that is often inaudible to the human ear. here, we are driven to act. we are forced to expel our energy in a way that requires a special brand of force before relief will be realized. it is in this space that our aggression leads to success, because we have finally been able to communicate from the depths of our pain.

maybe this isn’t a time for peace. perhaps we need an uprising.

much time and too many resources are spent on theories and discourse; social media and petitions. but what are we doing? in our oppressed privilege, we do a lot of talking and very little doing; in the name of peace and relationship building.  all the while, our  community narratives are being shaped by  elite athletes, celebrities, assaultive black men, and murdered children. my son…ferguson’s soncleveland’s son; they are more than a theory, a number, or a hot topic on CNN or MSNBC. they are our sons with lives that matter, and it is our charge to protect them and ensure that their lives were not and will not be lived in vain.  my hope is that today is more than a moment. let this be a movement moment where real change is birthed.

riots are the product of our pain, but they should not be the story. sometimes we need to do the thing that is less acceptable; the thing that will make us uncomfortable. we have to decide for ourselves the face of our resistance.

 

“there is a time for every, and a season for every activity under the heavens; a time to be born and a time to die; a time to plan and a time to uproot; a time to kill and a time to heal; a time to tear down and a time to build; a time to weep and a time to laugh; a time to mourn and a time to dance;…a time to tear and a time to mend; a time to be silent and a time to speake; a time to love and a time to hate; a time for war and a time for peace…”

ecclesiastes 3:1-4; 7-8

 

truth telling, and such…

16 Sep

last month we joined a gym. now this is nothing too earth shattering, as i’ve joined plenty of gyms before; and was actually a member elsewhere at the time of this new membership. what makes this time so unique, is that it was motivated by our 10 year old daughter.

the night before, while preparing for her shower she stood in the mirror and decided that there were a few things that she did not enjoy about her pubescent body. it was the conversation that most women have daily with themselves, however this one was taking place openly with a school aged girl her parents. we discussed ways that her body was changing, and normalized several things; nonetheless, we ended up where we began-there were parts of her body that she found unacceptable. i remember at this moment feeling both proud and sad. sad that she’s even at this place in her journey; a place i’d hope she’d never arrive or, at minimum would be delayed for several years. its sad that we think so much about our external bodies. she’s 10. she’s 5’3″ and wears a size 10 in women’s shoes. she plays basketball and softball; is in a gifted and talented class; is a girl scout; plays violin and clarinet; and is a phenomenal writer…why is she thinking about the way she looks? we keep the scale hidden and work hard not to make disparaging comments about our own bodies; and if we do talk about weight, we try to discuss it in the context of overall health, verses aesthetics. i didn’t want my little girl thinking about this.

the thing is, there is actually nothing wrong with wanting to make improvements to ourselves. somewhere along the way, we’ve associated wanting to lose weight or becoming healthy (what does this even mean?) with a sense of shame and self hatred. this is something with which i personally struggle; particularly in the areas of dieting and weight loss. i had an eating disorder in college and spent most of my twenties dancing with with size acceptance and wanting to wear a size 12. for me, it was as if one who supports and promotes size acceptance, is a sell out if they decide to no longer accept their own size. today, i am learning to reconcile self acceptance and identifying my personal health needs. its the work of developing a healthy relationship with food, and not feeling like i’m letting people down if i lose weight (see how the ego can lead one astray?).

i was an athlete all the way into my 20’s, and even as a parent, my partner and i have been coaching our kids’ soccer, basketball, and softball teams (not the boy anymore, around the age of 9 it was no longer cool to have your moms as coaches). i eat a gluten and mostly dairy free diet, practice yoga and go through waves of intense commitment to regualry exercise. i don’t smoke, and very rarely drink, and most nights sleep for 7-8 hours a night. by most accounts, i am doing all the right things and should be healthy. i wear a solid size 18, which is just 2 dress sizes more than what’s deemed average in our society; however i mostly enjoy my roundness and curves. so what’s the issue? im not 100% healthy. i had gestational diabetes with both of my children, and after giving birth to my son, everything returned to normal. after the birth of my daughter, my system decided to hang on to diabetes and now i’m faced with the decision to continue with medication the rest of my life, or lose 25-30 lbs to be where my body functions best. the choice seems like a no brainer, but im having a hard time shaking the feeling that my weight loss will mean something more on the outside. i never tell others when i’m trying to lose weight beceause i don’t want them to ever think that i didn’t like the way i looked. i don’t want to be applauded for ‘being healthy’, or told that i ‘look so good’ once my collar bones fully begin to protrude. i don’t want to debunk the myth of being healthy at any size; but the truth is…that notion is not for us all.

it takes a great deal of vulnerability to acknowledge our flaws and identify things we’d like to do better. and i feel an immense amount of pride that our 5 th grader already has the sense of self to matter of factly have this conversation in a confident and conscientious way. she wasn’t whining, nor does she feel bad about herself. she independently laid out a plan and was ready to take action. my instinct was to tell her that she is fine and beautiful, but i’m glad we did not. we instead, listened to her concerns and gained an understanding of her perspective. we affirmed her honesty and made sure she had the resources to feel empowered.

i checked in with her last night, and she says she feels fine and then moved on to something else. not in an avoidant way, but in the way a 10 year old does when she has more important things to thing about.

 

“If you do not tell the truth about yourself
you cannot tell it about other people.”

~ Virginia Woolf ~

characters welcome?

21 Aug

this morning during yoga, i focused on a newly emerging space in my life where our children are becoming their own people. this is more than the individuation that occurs during adolescence, and its more than a mood swing (or two); its about them developing their own character and value systems. its like a new game; one where the directions are in another language and i lose money while taking two steps back.

when our children are born we work really hard to model our beliefs and values; and when their actions are not in line, we offer correction/discipline. some of us give them room to make their own choices, but those choices are usually never truly their own, as we guide them with an oft gentle nudge towards the right decision. the benefit of doing this while they’re young is that we have control over the natural consequences. we, as the adults, get to determine whether or not they have dessert, or go to their friends, or lose a privilege, etc…we create a safety net for our kids; and what i’m learning is that this safety net serves us, as well.

in our home, we are experiencing more than the typical tween resistance (i’m pretty sure there’s a symbol for this somewhere that has a raised fist). our children are truly becoming their own selves. we’re condidtioned to accept and even encourage this behavior, but it seems as if we only do this in terms of strengths. what if you don’t particularly enjoy all of whom your child is becoming? what happens when a value/belief that you hold very dear, is not one inherent in or even desired by your kid? gone are the days when i could manipulate redirect situations as i see fit. we are in a new zone where they have to figure some things our for themselves. a zone where life doles out its own consequences and there’s little we can or should do to interfere.  nothing dangerous, of course; however, danger itself is easier to deal with, as its very clear cut…this gray area; well it just makes no sense.

what i’ve learned, and am trying to accept is that our  interpretation of values may be different than that of our children’s…different, but necessarily wrong.  i’ve learned that i’m not going to like everything about my children, and that has to be okay. when they’re toddlers, the undesirable traits are almost cute, and there’s comfort in knowing that most of the foolishness is just a phase that could very likely be gone tomorrrow. with teens, phases start to become few and far in between, and life becomes a unique balancing act of them trying to figure out who they are and who they want to be. in early childhood, most behaviors and decisions are made semi intentionally in a very egoic response. in adolescence, the  response is still there, only with more intention. time outs are no longer appropriate, at this isn’t a tantrum, its who they are becoming. so we are faced with the task of finding strengths in who they are; and to at minimum nuture the desirable parts, and resist the power struggle over the parts we wish would go away.

at the end of the day, i will remember to find comfort in knowing that we live with two very fair minded, smart, kind, and compassionate young beings, who will ultimately be okay…i know that strong will had to come from somewhere.

 

“the only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance” (alan watts)

 

a different kind of gift

22 Apr

a favorite friend of mine once shared that each situation in life is a gift. no matter the issue, each moment serves as an opportunity to grow, learn, and strengthen our core selves. the bible also houses several verses regarding this perspective of things happening for a reason. and in my both my personal and professional life, i am intentional in my view of finding a lesson/opportunity in our day to day adventures; and encourage others to do the same.

last night, literally just before bedtime my lovely almost 11 year old remembered that he had homework due this morning. in addition to the homework yet in his backpack was 4 small books, 1 book that belongs to the school, the memoir of amar’e stoudamire, a multitude of loose pencils, a project from 3 months ago, a jump rope, and empty pencil case (from which the pencils seem to have escaped), a spiral notebook, several drawings, and a library book that is long over due…and i actually have him empty his bag everyday. in the midst of this discovery, i rapidly spiraled into a mini fit  which included a few bad words and a long lecture about following directives, responsibility, and organization. although i didn’t yell, my tone wasn’t my favorite (i blame the other mom; she always makes a visit at the most inopportune times). i made a plan to wake him a hour early the next morning and continued my rambling about natural consequences.

fast forward approximately 7 minutes later, and i find myself sitting on his bed reconstructing the conversation as a small tear rolled down his cheek. i explained why i was frustrated and allowed him space to share his feelings. we both vowed to do and be better, and i acknowledged my ability and need to be kinder in my use of words; even when i’m very upset. we ended on a good note with hugs and smiles, and went on to sleep soundly.

so this morning, after waking him to complete his homework a fun “gift” appears…his adderall is missing. he last took it sunday morning and today has no clue where it could be. not only does he not know, but nothing in his response indicates that he even cares. i immediately begin searching everywhere that does and does not make sense (pantry, refrigerator, etc…), i even went outside to dig through the trash. nothing. at this point, i have no words. i sent my sisters a text in an effort to vent and one of them laughed and the other expressed sympathy for the boy. i went upstairs and chatted with my love and began to devise a plan for the remainder of the week (did i mention OAA testing begins tomorrow?). we decided that i would call the doctor and explain the situation and hope that i wouldn’t be flagged as an abuser of amphetamines, thus potentially placing my social work license in jeopardy. (i know the latter is a stretch; but was definitely my worst case scenario). the doctor’s office was wonderful and agreed to process a new prescription for me to pick up later this afternoon; while reassuring me that i was in no way being ‘tagged’.

i calmly updated my pre-adolescent and listed all the consequences from this one action and explained the seriousness. he appeared minimally concerned; yet clearly his day or life would not be ruined.

we proceeded with getting the kids out of the door, and as i reach into my daughter’s basket of hair products, i come across the most beautiful red bottle i had ever seen…

i’m not sure how his medication ended up among the hair supplies, but trust me when say that there was a beaming bright light and angels singing when it appeared. perhaps my children were playing a joke; or my sisters since they found this so funny; but here’s what i learned:

anger and frustration are not fun to experience before 8a; the worst case scenario rarely happens; i am still not a morning person; french vanilla coffee can be calming; and most importantly when you set an intention be prepared to follow through.

it hadn’t been 12 hours since i had declared my plan to exhibit more patience towards my kid before this test opportunity presented itself. despite my inner feelings of agitation and anger, i managed to remain calm and kind. although i was very direct in my concerns, my voice was never raised and my eyes didn’t roll.  i allowed myself the space to be intentional in my communication, and it worked; because of this, we were all able to laugh at the ridiculousness of the situation and move forward with our day. no feelings were hurt. no guilt existed.  i was able to model the importance of taking responsibility for our actions (i had to own up to the fact that i, as the adult was ultimately responsible as i should’ve paid more attention to what he was doing the day before); as well as example that there will always be a consequence for what we do or don’t do.

of course there are several more lessons manifested from this experience, but for this moment, i will be thankful for the gift and opportunity to be good, and be the type of parent i wish to be.

that being said…there will be no thank you card.

i cannot tell the truth about anything unless i confess being a student, growing and learning something new every day. the more i learn, the clearer my view of the world becomes” –sonia sanchez

what matters

8 Apr

a poem written by my 9 year old daughter…

What Matters

When I wake, I’m sleepy

that don’t matter.

When I got to go,

that don’t matter.

What does matter is that its me,

my personality

and that’s what matters.

by Alex Moore

queer rage, etc…

27 Mar

i have a blog post that’s been brewing for quite some time, however i haven’t yet found the space (mental or otherwise) to pull my thoughts together and get it posted. so…in the meantime, i’m going to share a few links that make me feel good about the world.

this poem, “marriage”, also known as “queer rage”, is a critique of gay marriage politics as a strategy of liberation

jenna wolfe comes out on the today show

janet mock launches #GirlsLikeUs campaign to empower transwomen of color

i love knowing that our young people of color have positive examples of leadership; and can see how necessary it is that we speak up.

“when we speak we are afraid our words will not be heard or welcomed. but when we are silent, we are still afraid. so it is better to speak.”-audre lorde

we laughed until we cried…

18 Mar

lesson from the weekend: certain things should not be kept in certain drawers where certain children may find said things…and use them for a facial massage.

back to basics

9 Mar

yesterday, i spent the majority of my day off (from my day job) doing what i was believe i was born to do…education and advocacy.

first up was a meeting with a family and district officials to discuss why they are discriminating against a transgender youth. the school (in the affluent northwest part of columbus) will be facilitating a sex segregated puberty talk, and when the youth requested to be with his peers, was told no.

i work with this youth through a monthly support group offered by transohio, and over the past year, i’ve watched a family challenged by a difficult situation ban together to support their 11 year old son. when we first met, he barely made eye contact and i was hard pressed to get more than a one word answer or response to my attempts at conversation. but yesterday, i watched proudly as he listened to a well dressed, well manicured middle aged blond woman tell him that his presence ‘may make other students uncomfortable’. she inappropriately pressed about his journey, and then made shallow attempts to indicate that she understood what he was going through.  i marveled at this kid’s composure as his very existence was invalidated by the adults who are supposed to offer unconditional support and empowerment; and at the end of it all, he held his head high and used his voice to tell them that they are wrong.

next up, i maneuvered across town to speak to young brown girls (ages 9-12) about finding their purpose and using their voices. this school is part of a large district that is *considering dropping courses and cutting jobs in an effort to balance their budget. from this district, only 20% of students who attend college actually move forward to graduate. **82% of students that attend these schools are considered economically disadvantaged (as opposed to 14% in the previously mentioned district). i know my message to these tweens was necessary, however, i couldn’t help but feel a sense of sadness knowing that for many, the idea of them being valued will not be expressed within their own homes. while we worked together to identify black women in their field/interests of choice, i understood that a lot of them didn’t eat breakfast this morning; not by choice, but for lack of its availability.

on a sunny spring like friday, inequality abounds.

as us grown ups who identify as activists and advocates focus intimately on the big picture, i worry that we have forgotten about the children. i understand the need for big ticket issues in the media, and how we’re working to protect the future; but if we don’t get back to basics and take care of our youth…there will be no future to protect.

for these kids, life is happening now.

i’ve worked for different issues/causes where individuals and communities have been told to wait for various things. wait for their turn to run for office, wait to get a seat at the table, wait to put an issue on the ballot…but no one will understand the gravity of waiting until you’ve had to look an 11 year old in the face and ask them to wait for justice.

i don’t know what to say to a little girl who identifies her purpose as making sure that her dad doesn’t act crazy.

fortunately for my trans* kid he has a family that is fighting for him. but who will fight for the others? what about the ones who are kicked out of their homes for being queer, or that 8 year old who will miss school again because they have to babysit their 3 year old brother or sister? what happens to the 14 year old who can’t read, but keeps getting passed through school?

inequity exists across systems of class, and transcends race and gender. overtime, we’ve seen youth exhibit a resiliency second to none, but i worry about the ones that just don’t have it in them. or who have it in them, but don’t event know that ‘it’ exists.

i don’t know that i can participate in one more conversation about a movement until it includes a discussion centered on liberating and empowering our youth. indeed i can, but i won’t.

“being oppressed means the absence of choices”-bell hooks

*The Layoffs are Coming

**The State of Education for Columbus Students

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