Category Archives: Get involved

My best reason

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2014familyday403 The thing about having a kids is, she becomes the center of your universe and, ultimately, the reason you make the choices you make.  Or, at least, for me, this is the case.

Why do I live in Albania?  Because it was the best place for her.  Short commute equals more Mommy time.  Country without Malaria means no meds.  Place that is super child friendly equates to less boundaries, visits to fancy restaurants, and abundant kisses and candies from strangers.

Why do we no longer have a house full of sweets? Because I am trying to model healthy eating habits despite what my sweat tooth says.

Where do we spend summer vacation?  With family.  Yes, there are tons of places that I would love to visit.  Montenegro is so close and, yet, I travel home to snow and cold so that she can build a relationship with her grandparents and cousins.

How do I spend my freetime?  Sometimes on me, because that makes me a better Mom.  But, more often than not, I end up looking up fun activities or recipes she can help with.  I research school choices and safe play toys.  I plan and replan birthday parties and rainy afternoon activities.

What was the last book I read?  Brown bear, Brown bear.  It was the millionth time this week— but it makes her smile and giggle so strong her entire body shakes.  I would read it a million times more just to continue to illicit that joy.

Why do I come out?  Because I want to build a world where it doesn’t matter what people’s sexuality or gender identities are, because we value them for who they are, what they believe, and how they act.  I react based on how they make us feel.  Because I want a safe place for my daughter to grow and explore.  So that I can model good behavior and no pass down any residual internalized homophobia that I may harbor.  I come out regularly because I want her to know that you don’t have to be invisible.

She is nearly three and I don’t know who she will become…. but I do want her to know that whoever that person is, her Mommy will love her.  Always.

*** *** *** Today is Blogging for LGBT Families Day, an annual event sponsored by Mombian. Check out all the entries from this year! Here are my entries from other years:

  • Suddenly the World Seems Like Such a Perfect Place (2013): “Love isn’t what Hollywood sells us.  It isn’t just grand gestures.  And song.  (Well, maybe sometimes it is, if you are lucky).  It also isn’t always tragic or fated.  Love, the kind of love that grows families, is in the small things.  It is the everyday things.  It is getting up in the morning to make coffee because your partner has to.  It is letting go of a bit of yourself to be there for the other.  It is reminding the other who they are and supporting them in that.  It is having the same interests.  Laughing at little inside jokes even when they are no longer funny.  Sharing values and night time diaper changes.   It is feeling comfortable and safe.  It is being safe.”
  • Families by Choice (2011): “I sit writing this, waiting for the arrival of my daughter. As a bisexual woman married to a man, I worry about educating my child. I worry how to create a home environment that is safe, a place where she can grow up without shame, knowing who she is and who her family is. I worry about the best ways to help her grow in a bilingual, biracial household– especially when that is located in a third culture. I ponder how my messages can be stronger than societies. I worry about everyday stuff and big picture stuff.”
  • Because of a Little Piece of Paper (2010): ”So often I feel this unearned privilege of having married a man thrown in my face. What if S had been a woman? My life partner very easily could have been a woman. And what protections would she have been given? The unfairness of it all burns. And, you think I exaggerate, but writing this, my eyes are welling with tears.”
  • Blogging for LGBT Families (2007): “Karen Atala, a Chilean judge with three children, had her children taken away from her by the courts in 2004 when she moved in with her partner. The courts granted custody to the father, he ex-husband. Ms. Atala, being a lawyer and judge herself, appealed all the way to the Supreme Court of Chile which ruled on the basis that, “[the children] would suffer psychological harm living with Ms. Atala and her partner…[and that] they would become confused about gender roles and suffer from discrimination and isolation.” The court then nullified all her rights as a mother and gave permanent and total custody to the girl’s father forever. She is still fighting, now on an international front, to have her children returned to her.”

Don’t forget to check out other posts for 2014 Blogging for LGBTQ Families Day.

Supporting the chainlink heart project

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I started looking for hearts everywhere I went about 8 months ago.  It was then that I first saw a post on instagram posted by Emily making reference to the chainlink heart project.  Curious, I checked it out.  What I found both broke my heart and inspired me.  You can read Jennifer’s story here and why she needs to collect hearts to heal.  You can read about losing her own son due to a broken heart and the decision no parent should ever have to make.  Be careful.  Her words are well chosen and, at least for me, poignant and painful.

I wanted to be part of her solution, part of the chainlink heart project.  So, I started looking for hearts to help her map grow.  As of today, she has received hearts from 16% of the world.  I have submitted two from Albania so far.

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Can you help Jennifer expand this map?

Bonus pictures from Rancagua, Chile:

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Scary how many pink hearts you find when you look down a toy aisle in Jumbo, Rancagua.

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Heart staring at me from the wall. Rancagua, Chile.

Bonus picture from Thailand:

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Lotus leaf hearts in Bangkok, Thailand.

 

 

Lawfully Wedded Life

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Lawfully_Wedded_Life_Lesbian_Family

Click on this picture to see all the posts in this series!

Have you heard about this new series over at Lesbian Family?  Have you heard about the two cases the U.S. Supreme Court is hearing on marriage equality?  Well, this series, every Wednesday at LesbianFamily.com addresses the importance protecting same sex couples through legal marriage and all the benefits that go with it!

They are inviting people everywhere to submit stories.  Here is more information they posted on submitting:

We’re interested in your stories and your thoughts.  We’d like to share your voices, your life experiences, as they answer any number of the following questions:

  • Does legal recognition of your relationship matter to you? To what degree, and why?
  • Did you find yourself feeling one way about legal recognition of your relationship before having kids, and another way after?
  • What do your kids think about the issue–if indeed they do at all? Does what your kids think about legal relationship recognition have an impact on your beliefs?
  • If you live in a state that has recently fought this battle at the ballot box or in the courts: what was your experience of that battle? If you had kids in your life during the battle, what was its impact on your kids?
  • If you got legally married: tell us your story! How did it feel? If you had kids yet, did they come? And what did it mean to you as a family?
  • If you’ve had a commitment ceremony before same-sex marriage was available, what significance has that event continued to have for you? For those who later married: how did the two events compare?
  • If you’ve not been legally married: would you, if you could? Why? Or why not?
  • For those of you active in or watchers of LGBT politics: what impact have you seen the marriage equality struggle have on the larger LGBT civil rights movement? Salutary, or distracting? Who do you think is driving this thing, and why? What other issues are being neglected as so much attention is on relationship recognition, and at what cost?

Clearly any one of those questions is enough. But we list them all to help pry the thoughts and stories out of you, even if you feel you may not have one. We’re especially interested in hearing from folks who feel that their viewpoint on the whole marriage equality issue is in the minority, or controversial, or overlooked, or disrespected, or misunderstood. It’s a complex issue, and we’ll only get at that complexity by telling our stories and listening carefully to them.

Submit your story, or a short (less than five minute) video, and we’ll include it in the series, which we’ll run weekly on Wednesdays up through the Supreme Court’s decision.

IWD: Not just a day for flowers

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InternationalWomensDay

Clara Zetkin and other founders of women’s rights movements and International Women’s Day would roll over in their graves if they knew that International Women’s Day had been reduced to a day of giving flowers and chocolates to females.  The day was started midst struggle and the truth is that women around the world still struggle.  According to the US census, the median annual income of women age 15 or older who worked year-round, full time in 2011 was $37,118 and $48, 202 for men.

Celebrate National Women’s History Month by advocating for equal pay for equal work!  Celebrate National Women’s Day by fighting against gender based violence!  Celebrate Women by getting involved, by voting, by demanding politicians take a stand on women’s issues, by speaking out when you hear people make jokes at the expense of women’s safety or dignity, and by teaching our daughters that the world not only can but must be different for them.

Check out this website which is trying to be a hub for March 8th activities and activism around the world.  They have deemed that 2013′s theme should be “The Gender Agenda”

2013 Theme: THE GENDER AGENDA: GAINING MOMENTUM

Over time and distance, the equal rights of women have progressed. We celebrate the achievements of women while remaining vigilant and tenacious for further sustainable change. There is global momentum for championing women’s equality.

No Name Calling Week

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I first heard about No Name Calling Week over at Lesbian Family. I thought the idea was great.

I have been thinking about bullying and what I want to say about it. This is a hard topic for me. I was bullied. But I was lucky– I have the personality and a strong support system that allowed me to walk away only slightly damaged. I certainly see how it affected and affects some others deeply. I worry about how my daughter will be treated and seen. So, this week, I am going to try and talk about bullying. Wish me luck!

About No Name-Calling Week

Coordinated by GLSEN in collaboration with over 60 national education organizational partners, No Name-Calling Week is an annual week of educational activities aimed at ending name-calling of all kinds and providing schools with the tools and inspiration to launch an on-going dialogue about ways to eliminate bullying in their communities.

***This is part of a series on bullying.  Check out the other posts: Friends vs. Bullies, Physical Violence, They reached their peak, and researching LGBT teen suicide..

Human Trafficking Awareness Day

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Being that I work overseas, you might expect that I would use today to talk about Trafficking in Persons in the country I live in currently (Albania). Or, the country I just came from (Kazakhstan). Or, the country where I did research on human trafficking (Chile). Or, the country where I knew children who were trafficked (Moldova). But, today I won’t do that. I want to talk about human trafficking int he country I call home (USA).

The sad truth is that human trafficking continues to be a problem in the US.  Yes, in large cities: New York, LA, Boston.  But also in rural areas of the country, small towns, suburbia.

A few jobs ago, I worked with some victims of human trafficking.  Men who were lured to the US with promises of jobs and money to send home and instead ended up working in slave like conditions in Middle America with their passports confiscated and the door to the house they lived in padlocked from the outside.  After several months, someone put in a tip and they were freed.  They were freed, but they weren’t compensated for their losses.  They were free, but they still had to explain to wives and children what happened to them.  They have been free for years now, but I am sure their experience still haunts them.  Honestly, their stories still haunt me.

An estimated 14,500 to 17,500 foreign nationals are trafficked into the United States each year. The number of U.S. citizens trafficked within the country is even higher, with an estimated 200,000 American children at risk for trafficking into the sex industry. (U.S. Department of Justice Report to Congress from Attorney General John Ashcroft on U.S. Government Efforts to Combat Trafficking in Persons)

These numbers are staggering and the realities are bleak. However, in the US, there are places you can report suspected cases of trafficking.  Polaris Project suggests:

If you see any of these red flags, contact the National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline at 1-888-3737-888 to report the situation. Click here to learn more about reporting potential human trafficking situations. This list is not exhaustive and represents only a selection of possible indicators. Also, the red flags in this list may not be present in all trafficking cases and are not cumulative.

Common Work and Living Conditions: The Individual(s) in Question

  • Is not free to leave or come and go as he/she wishes
  • Is under 18 and is providing commercial sex acts
  • Is in the commercial sex industry and has a pimp / manager
  • Is unpaid, paid very little, or paid only through tips
  • Works excessively long and/or unusual hours
  • Is not allowed breaks or suffers under unusual restrictions at work
  • Owes a large debt and is unable to pay it off
  • Was recruited through false promises concerning the nature and conditions of his/her work
  • High security measures exist in the work and/or living locations (e.g. opaque windows, boarded up windows, bars on windows, barbed wire, security cameras, etc.)

Poor Mental Health or Abnormal Behavior

  • Is fearful, anxious, depressed, submissive, tense, or nervous/paranoid
  • Exhibits unusually fearful or anxious behavior after bringing up law enforcement
  • Avoids eye contact

Poor Physical Health

  • Lacks health care
  • Appears malnourished
  • Shows signs of physical and/or sexual abuse, physical restraint, confinement, or torture

Lack of Control

  • Has few or no personal possessions
  • Is not in control of his/her own money, no financial records, or bank account
  • Is not in control of his/her own identification documents (ID or passport)
  • Is not allowed or able to speak for themselves (a third party may insist on being present and/or translating)

Other

  • Claims of just visiting and inability to clarify where he/she is staying/address
  • Lack of knowledge of whereabouts and/or do not know what city he/she is in
  • Loss of sense of time
  • Has numerous inconsistencies in his/her story
To request assessment tools and for more information about reporting trafficking click here. For resource packs on human trafficking and how to recognize the signs click here.

The Great Return: Lesbian Family dot com

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In 2006, Liza was pregnant and in search of other mothers to answer her questions.  She yearned for a one stop shop for lesbian moms to gather.  Not finding quite what she wanted, she created it. Thus, lesbianfamily.com was born.

In 2007, I started writing for Lesbian Family.  At the time I was living in Chile and trying to find other LGBT friendly-folk.  The blogging helped me find a whole tiny world of lesbian bloggeras (that would be the Spanish for blogging women).  I helped add a Spanish speaking section to the original page and am so proud to say that Julieta has agreed to be part of the reincarnation of LesbianFamily.com.

As a bisexual woman, married to a man, mother to a daughter (little elephant), and sole bread winner— I haven’t yet rejoined the ranks of Lesbian Family.  I am, nonetheless, so excited for the new content and new voices.  Check it out.  Lesbian family is not just for lesbians.  It is a great place for allies and gay dads and trans parents and anyone else who is interested.  It is a wonderful space for parents who want to discuss raising allies, feminist parenting, and getting toddlers to eat broccoli.

Happy internet-ing.

 

Also, in case you haven’t voted yet— go do it!

Because my niece stopped pretending to be a doctor

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My sister is an outspoken, strong, independent woman who I know has worked to empower her daughter in every way possible to move beyond gender stereotypes. And, in some ways, she is winning that uphill battle; however, a visit to Milwaukee’s Discovery World, a museum for children, 7 years ago still haunts me.

My niece must have been about 5. The museum has lots of hands on toys and activities. In one section, about how the body works, there are lab coats for children to wear while they pretend and while they learn. Little Niece happily donned hers. I cheerfully told her she looked great and could be a real doctor like our friend Dr. Die (this is a nickname that has to do with our friends real name and not anything that has happened in her professional life). She grinned back at me and said, “No, I am a nurse”. I argued. She was steadfast. She was a nurse. Well…. she was a nurse until she was a Doctor’s Assistant.

From another child, I would have been convinced that she was getting poor messaging from her parents about her gender’s role in this world. Only, I knew the parents and I knew that this is not what they were teaching or advocating. In fact, they actively pushed back against these stereotypes. Where was she getting it from?

With my own daughter, I am hyper-aware of all the negative messages she gets and all the gender specific roles she is silently (and not so silently) asked to perform. How can I, just one person, be louder than all those other voices around her?

Today a friend posted an article in The Atlantic called “Can a Kids’ Toy Bring More Women into Engineering“. It basically was talking about the idea that in the toy store, the boys aisle, all bedazzled in blue, is filled with chemistry sets, engineering games, and robotics; while the girls toy aisle, drenched in pink, is all about beauty and princesses.  In response, Goldie Blox has been created.  Or rather, it will be if they get enough financial backers through kick stock.

The product takes the approach of “meeting girls where they are at”.  In other words, incorporating all the gender messaging they have received (pink, that they are caregivers, using materials that are warm colors and soft to touch) but encourages them to build, thus supporting nascent engineering skills.

As a social worker, I have been indoctrinated in the importance of meeting the client where he or she is at.  This helps him or her grow. It makes intervention and success more possible.  It recognizes that all of us as individuals are shaped by the world around us and our personal experiences.

But coupling this with acceptance of gender messages in society aimed at children makes my stomach turn a little.

The Atlantic article explains:

Does it somehow undermine the goals of gender equality and girls’ empowerment to engage them in engineering by buying into and relying on so many stereotypes about girls in the first place? Cunningham says we need to keep in mind, by the time they’ve reached the age of five (the youngest age GoldieBlox is recommended for), many girls will already have well developed gender identities, and oftentimes that identity will be quite, for lack of a better word, girly. “How can we take the places that girls are and develop the same kinds of innovative problem-solving skills? … We’re very much based in, ‘what is the reality of the now?’ And how do you work with that? Are there small ways you can push the meter to bring in these kinds of skills?”

I get the argument.  And, frankly, I support the product.  I can’t just wish away a world of messaging because I don’t agree.  I can’t protect my daughter from all the things the world will teach her despite my efforts.  And, while I will continue to refuse to adhere to gender normity in choosing toys for her, in buying clothes for her, and in crafting activities; I want her to be able to find a social group that equally accepts that— mainstreaming engineering toys for girls, even if the toys are specifically pink to target girls, may not a bad first step.

What do you think?

Because of a little piece of paper

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You probably didn’t notice, as I believe most of my readers don’t fall into the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) family blogging circles, that yesterday LGBT families and allies around the world blogged about their families.  Some of them blogged personal stories of struggle in creating a family or protecting their families, some blogged about love and what it means to be a family (hint, just the same as being any other family only with a little more legal struggles), some were activists, many were mothers and fathers talking about the children who became the center of their world.

This year, although late, (again, blame the Russian classes), I want to talk about privilege.  As my readers know, a little over a year ago I accepted a new job in international work.  I also married a man.  We are finally reaching that point in my job, where the Russian classes are dying down and my departure to Kazakhstan feels imminent.  This is exciting! Really! It is!

And yet, at the same time, it is sad.  So often I feel this unearned privilege of having married a man thrown in my face.  What if S had been a woman? My life partner very easily could have been a woman.  And what protections would she have been given?  The unfairness of it all burns.  And, you think I exaggerate, but writing this, my eyes are welling with tears.

S got two months of Russian classes—if we had the same genitalia, he wouldn’t have.  My office is working on getting him a visa—I don’t know how this would have worked without that little pesky marriage license.  They are buying him a plane ticket.  He has preference for other jobs in the agency.  He can take classes on security, getting a job overseas, using the internet to maintain work or continue to study.  So… much… all because we have opposite body parts.

But… the love we share is no different than that I would feel if I had ended up with a woman. And that is my point.  If the love is the same. And the family is the same. And the fears are the same.  Why aren’t the protections the same?

Please take a moment, even if this isn’t your fight, and read some of the posts.  Educate yourself. (I know I learned a lot by reading the pieces) Maybe it should be your struggle too.