Wake Up, It’s Christmas! (plus 35 links to make you a better ally)

When I opened my Facebook today, one of my close friends had posted this on my wall:

“Wake up, it’s Christmas!”

It made me laugh, and a little teary, because really it did feel like that – that exquisite breath of hope and desire hovering over the day. My darling queer nephew woke us up this morning, poking his head in to whisper “Did you hear!?” We grabbed our phones to see, excited….I had visions of tiptoeing down the hall, hoping to catch a glimpse of Queer Saint Nick, and as we peeked around the corner of our virtual living room, we found this:

Supreme Court Rules Love is Love!

I’m not gonna lie, there’ve been a lot of tears. I’ve been obsessed with scrolling through my feed today, seeing all the pictures and posts, all the kisses and rings and declarations of love. It’s a heady thing, to have a feed literally filled with nothing but sunshine. It’s a big deal.

I’ve vacillated mightily today. I’ve cried tears of joy and rage. I’ve imagined a thousand weddings and mentally designed two thousand rhinestoned gowns, all while cursing the proprietary and historically oppressive institution. I’ve been excited, then furious with myself for being excited about something so freaking stupid.

It’s stupid. Stupid, stupid, stupid.

The government denied civil contracts based on assigned sex, and then after decades of sweat, tears, blood, and lives, the government finally decided that maybe sex is not a legitimate reason to grant or deny the associated benefits of that contract. I’m furious that it took so much and so long to get something accomplished that’s not even close to the biggest issue in my community. What kind of idiot am I to jump up and down for this? You don’t get cookies for doing what you’re supposed to do.

Jennicet Gutierrez
Jennicet Gutierrez calls out to President Obama

And how can I cry tears of joy when there’s so much suffering? How can I throw sunshine to Obama after he shut down Jennicet Gutiérrez’s cry for help earlier this week? How can I be excited about the increasingly widespread acceptance of trans representation in pop culture, when there’s little activity in areas that actually impact the lived experiences of trans folks themselves?

How can I not be excited? How can I not feel a little victorious, a little hopeful? How can I not cry when I think about Chloe’s little niece, who’ll be rainbow-dadpresent at her (other) aunt’s now-legally-sanctioned wedding next Friday, never knowing a world where that wouldn’t be a thing? (I admit, I also cried when I imagine that baby showing her grandkids pictures in 60 years…”your aunts got married a week after the laws changed!”)

It’s a foothold, though. I think it can mean more than just marriage. Having SCOTUS-sanctioned legal protection in one area will make it easier to get it in other areas. Marriage equality can be another tool in the toolbox, but we can’t be fooled into thinking that marriage was the battle. It wasn’t. If we could spend the amount of money, time, energy, and meme-making on these other issues as we did on marriage equality, maybe we could make some progress that would feel more meaningful for the people in our community who are suffering.

tumblr_n7uvpqZeL91qinh1vo1_500So I guess I’m gonna accept that this day and this issue will always bring mixed feelings. It’s paradoxical, but not untrue, to be excited and angry. I can be jubilant, and still heartbroken. So I guess I cry, and let the tears mean what they mean.

So now that it’s done, here’s a new To-Do list (it’s actually the same to-do list, but now we’re less distracted):

Read this overview of LGBTQ issues, and this one.

Become familiar with issues around economic injustice  and financial hardships in LGBT communities.

Learn more about the reality of oppression and violence in Trans people’s lives (also this, and this).

Be a pen-pal for LGBQ and Trans people who are incarcerated.

Learn about and get involved with the Sylvia Rivera Law Project.

Help out with the Trans Life Line, the Trevor Project and the GLBT Hotline.

Learn more about the Trans and Queer immigration crisis.

Read this report about LGBTQ youth in America, this one about youth homelessness, and this one about violence against queer youth.

Learn about violence and hate crimes against LGBTQ people.

Get involved with LGBTQ issues in healthcare (also this and this) and in mental health care (and this).

Learn more about how racial injustice impacts the LGBTQ community.

If you’re in a caregiving or legal profession, read this about how to write about transfolks in a respectful way.

Remember when Obama won, and there were a ton of asshats who went around proclaiming racism dead in America? This is the same thing. Don’t be fooled into believing marriage equality means heterosexism is dead in America. It’s not.

the gracious mind discrimination

Bear Witness

Today my heart is (still) broken for the Charleston community, and for our greater national community. My heart is broken that so many of our American people are still marginalized and oppressed, even after all the work we’ve done. I’m devastated that this happened, and even more devastated that it just keeps happening. I don’t want to feel like this.

I don’t want to see the picture of that young man whose path took him to the doors of that church. I don’t want to read his terrible manifesto. I don’t want to imagine how this man sat with those good people for a full hour before he killed them. I don’t want to know he even exists.

I don’t want to see the posts and comments from people I know who are minimizing or ignoring the role that racism plays in this incident, and in so many other similar incidents. I don’t want to witness more of this willful ignorance about racism and violence in America. I don’t want to hear about how he’s a “lone wolf;” how he is one bad apple in a sea of yummy ones (he isn’t).

I don’t want to read this article in which Felicia Sanders, who lost three family members in the shooting, describes her dead son as a hero. I don’t want to read the names of the people who died; I don’t want to know about who they were. I want them to be alive and well and to be comfortable knowing our paths might never cross. I don’t want to imagine the ripples of their loss, the sheer number of people suffering because of this.

I don’t want to read about the stupid confederate flag. I don’t want to read about how big businesses are having to use their influence to bring attention to the indefensible problems with government agencies displaying the flag. I don’t want to know that so many people are willing to look the other way, that there is still a vocal minority of conservatives that maintain power over this issue. I don’t want to feel this rage at the sudden media attention on this problem, after generations of activists have fought and died begging for someone in power to pay attention.

And let’s be real. I don’t have to. I could take those posts out of my feed. I could pretend it didn’t happen. I could scroll past, I could delete, I could skim and move on to the newest kitten gifs. There are so many people who can’t turn it off, who can’t escape the brutal daily reality of racism in America, and the fact that I can is a disgusting example of my own privilege as a white person. And that makes me sick too.

So what do I do with this?

I choose to bear witness.

To witness is passive. To bear witness is active. I walk toward my own discomfort and pain because I know it is nothing compared to others’. I willingly keep my eyes and ears open, even though I hate it, because these injustices deserve and demand to be witnessed – especially by white people. It is our moral obligation to witness and respond to this.

So I will bear witness. I will read the articles. I will look at the pictures. I will be sad every day. I will talk about it. I will write about it. I will listen. I will do my best to help others bear witness too. I will work to amplify the voices that are so often silenced.

The hashtag #saytheirnames has brought me to tears today, multiple times. So I cried. And said their names, out loud. Will you say them with me? It’s okay if you cry too.

Cynthia Hurd, 54

Susie Jackson, 87

Ethel Lance, 70

Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor, 49

Hon. Rev. Clementa Pinckney, 41

Tywanza Sanders, 26

Rev. Daniel Simmons Sr., 74

Rev. Sharonda Singleton, 45

Myra Thompson, 59

Bear witness, and share what you witness.

Be Where You Are

I’m learning a new song on the piano – it’s one of the hardest and most beautiful songs I’ve ever tried to play, and I have dreamed of playing it ever since I first heard it. I’ve had the sheet music for it since then, but its complexity and majesty have made it difficult for me to pick through and learn.

My brother is getting married in a week, and I have the most incredible vocalist  a pianist could dream of, so I decided it was time to tackle it. I even went so far as to add to it, bringing my favorite sax player in on it to make it even more powerful. It’s a big mountain to climb. It’s been frustrating.

I’ve pushed through with practicing, and can make it through the whole song in super-slow-motion, with a few stops and starts along the way. I feel victorious when I start at the beginning and end at the end, even if the middle is a mess. But I’ve noticed something.

Every time I stop playing I say (either out loud or in my head)

“That was awful!”
“I’m never gonna get it!”
“I’m so bad at this!”

______________________________________________

I’ve had mixed experiences with yoga throughout my life, but have particular difficulty with it now because of chronic muscle spasticity problems. There are significant limits to what I can do in a yoga practice, and I’m usually pretty self-conscious in a yoga class because I can’t ever keep up.

But I’m working at a yoga studio now, and have supportive awesome people around me, so I’m giving it a shot. I started Monday, and spent half the time in child’s pose because I couldn’t do what the class was doing. The other half of the class I was able to do at least an approximation of the poses, and the instructor gave me lots of modifications and encouragement, so I didn’t feel as self-conscious as I have in the past.

When I made it from the beginning of class to the end, I felt victorious, even though the middle was a mess. But I noticed something.

In my head, I was thinking

“That was awful!”
“I’m never gonna get it!”
“I’m so bad at this!”

______________________________________________

This week I’ve been thinking about what it means to be where I am. I realize that the only way I won’t be terrible at something is if I give myself permission to be terrible at it for a while. I have to let myself be a beginner.

But, if I am terrible at them for a while, and my inner voice is trying to convince me that being terrible is a bad thing, then why on earth would I want to keep doing these things? Both activities are difficult, so if it’s not an enjoyable experience, where does the motivation to do the hard work come from? I might as well have my childhood piano teacher with the mean pointy fingernails standing over my shoulder scolding me (at the piano OR at yoga – equally terrifying).

______________________________________________

So now I’m practicing challenging that voice. Every time the thought enters my head to say something negative, I’m going to yell an opposite response as loud as I can (in my brain, not out loud).

“I’m getting it!”
“One step at a time!”
“This is great!”
“I can tell I’ve improved!”
“Just make it to the end!”
“I am doing just fine!”

With that said, I’m also going to allow myself to feel frustrated. It’s hard. I get aggravated. Those feelings are valid too, and I don’t want to squash them with false positivity. So when it’s hard, I’m going to say that in a way that doesn’t de-value my work and my effort.

“I’m so frustrated!”
“Whyyyyyyyyy does it have to be so haaaaaaaard!”
“GRRRRRRR!”
“I hate this arrangement/pose!!! I’m just gonna improvise!!”
“Hand me that gallon of ice cream please!!”

So that’s what I wanted to share with you today. Wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, you’re doing fine. Allow yourself space to be terrible in order to get better. Celebrate your progress, don’t question it. Challenge the voice that tries to undermine your effort.

Be where you are.

The Inner Voice (Part 1/3)

I want to ask you now to think about that little voice in your head, the one that keeps up the constant narration throughout your day. Have you noticed it before?


“Where did I put my keys? Damn, this is the third time I’ve lost them this week, what’s the matter with me! If I can’t keep up with keys, how could I keep up with my new job? I hope there’s nothing surprising today, I’m not sure I could handle it….”

As you go about your regular life, you have probably become somewhat sensitized to that voice, so much so that you may not even realize that it’s there.

What is your inner voice telling you right now, as you read this?

the gracious mind man inside head“I don’t know what she’s talking about, I don’t have an inner voice. Yes I do, that’s what I’m hearing in my head right now. But I don’t think I have it all the time. Maybe I do? I don’t know…”

Your inner voice likes to argue with itself. It doesn’t mind taking both sides in an argument. The voice just wants to keep talking.

Think about when you’re trying to sleep, and the voice just chatters away. Non-stop, all the time. Sometimes you’re trying to focus on something you enjoy doing, but can’t quite get past the inner dialogue. Occasionally, you might even try to do something just to shut the voice up, like having a drink or distracting yourself with a movie.

It can be easy to think that the inner voice is telling you the truth. It feels like it’s you talking, because it’s in your head, and so it’s easy to think that it has to be right. But if you really think about it, that inner voice is wrong fairly often. That’s the voice that has misunderstood people in the past, it’s the voice that told you you’d fail when you succeeded, and it’s the voice that has made you feel badly about yourself in ways you’ve never deserved.

That’s because the voice isn’t actually you.

It’s basically one big mashed-up mess, an amalgamation of all the voices throughout your life that have impacted you. It’s the people who were and are around you, it’s all the movies and tv and ads you’ve ever seen, it’s the media coverage of current events, it’s every teacher you’ve ever had – add them all up, and that’s the voice you’re hearing in your head. That voice is not you.


“I want to go to the party, but I know everyone is going to ignore me. They’re not even going to notice if I’m not there. But she invited me so she must want me there. But maybe she just invited me to be nice. Some people do that. I don’t think she would do that. I think I’ll just go and see. Or, I could order pizza and stay home.”

the gracious mind the monster in your head
“I AM THE VOICE!!”

So your first task is to start to notice the voice as if it is separate from you. Imagine a little fluffy monster in your head that’s just chattering away. Don’t argue with it, don’t try to change it, I just want you to notice it, and recognize two things:

1) the voice will do anything to keep talking

2) the voice is not always right

Here’s your homework: just notice. 

Spend a day or two just listening to the voice and making note of what kinds of things the voice is saying. Good, bad, self-deprecating, neutral, nagging, doubting, encouraging – whatever the voice is saying, just notice it. Once you feel like you have a good sense of your inner voice, check back here for part 2.

Get Grounded

Today I thought I would teach you about grounding exercises, which are a relaxation technique often used to help manage anxiety, fear, and trauma responses. It’s a process that’s easy to learn, and it’s something you can do anytime, anywhere.

If you’d like to try this exercise, sit comfortably in your chair or on the couch. Each of these steps should last for about 5 deep breaths.

1. First, start by breathing all the way into your belly. Just notice how the breath feels – is the air cool or warm? Is there an odor?  It doesn’t really matter, just notice whatever it’s like. (5 breaths)

2. When you’re breathing steadily, I want you to notice your feet. How do they feel? Are your ankles or knees crossed? Pay attention to the weight of your feet; notice which parts of your feet and ankles are touching shoes, socks, carpet, the chair….now allow your feet to feel heavy. (5 breaths)

3. Move your attention up to your legs and knees. Are the backs of your knees touching anything? What do your thighs and calves feel like? Are they pressing into the chair or couch? Again, you’re just noticing. Let your legs be heavy. (5 breaths)

4. Notice your hips and pelvis. If you’re sitting up, notice which parts of your body are touching the seat. Are you sitting evenly? Still taking deep breaths, let your hips become heavy. (5 breaths)

5. Now your back and shoulders… pay attention to how those feel. Do you notice any tension? How do your clothes feel? Are your shoulders hunched? Each time you breath out, let your shoulders sag a little more. Roll your head a little to notice your shoulders. Let your shoulders become heavy. (5 breaths)

6. Pay attention to your arms and hands. Are your hands linked, or your arms crossed? It doesn’t matter, just notice how they are. What parts of your hands and arms are touching fabric, furniture, technology? Notice your wrists, notice each finger. Let your hands be heavy. Let your arms be heavy. (5 breaths)

7. Finally, notice your face. Relax your jaw. Relax your scalp. Breathe deeply and wiggle your jaw. Is your face tense? Smile a little bit, puff your cheeks. What does your face feel like? Let your jaw get heavy, and yawn if you need to. Just notice how it all feels. (5 breaths)

8. Now bring your attention to your whole body. Your heart rate will have lowered, and if you were feeling anxious or uneasy, you may notice a slightly calmer feeling. As you wrap up the exercise, pay attention to what’s going on in the room around you, and reassure yourself that you are okay, you are safe, and you will be just fine. (5 breaths)

 

You can work through this in a meeting, in the car, in class, or laying in bed. You can use this when you feel overwhelmed, worried, angry, or insecure. Grounding exercises are an important tool in the emotional regulation toolkit, and the more you practice the easier it will be.

Now go drink a glass of water, and give someone a hug.

North Texas Therapy Referrals

I am often asked for therapist referrals in the Dallas/Denton area, so I thought I would make a post with my favorite professionals in the area. This list will be updated from time to time, so please feel free to leave any referrals or suggestions in the comments below.

All of the people and clinics posted here are recommended either from my own personal/professional contact with them, or from direct recommendations by people I know.

Feleshia Porter works in North Dallas, and is a fantastic source of support for individuals and couples, particularly for folks who are gender-nonconforming and for those in alternative relationships. Her office environment is really interesting and comfortable, and even one meeting with her can be incredibly helpful and affirming. She doesn’t take insurance, but offers necessary documentation for insurance reimbursement.

Dr. Lisa Hensley at Iris Psychological Service is an all-around amazing human and excellent psychologist working out of Arlington. She is dedicated to social justice, and specializes in working with folks from marginalized populations. She can do assessments, therapy, consultation, and education (she’s a former professor). She takes Blue Cross/Blue Shield, Humana, and Cigna, and can provide documentation if you need reimbursement from any other insurance companies.

Dr. Kyle Erwin is a highly knowledgeable and affirming clinician in Denton.  His clinical training sites have included collegiate, community centers, and VA Hospitals. He specializes in the assessment and treatment of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), other trauma related disorders, couple distress, substance use disorders, family psychotherapy, and LGBQ and Trans communities. He accepts Blue Cross/Blue Shield, Magellan, Aetna, Galaxy, and Medicare, and can provide documentation for out-of-network reimbursement.

Ruby B. Johnson is a social worker and chemical dependency counselor in Plano. She is a lot of fun, very kind and supportive. She specializes in substance abuse treatment, anxiety, depression, grief, and personal growth. She works with individuals, couples, and court-ordered clients, and is a certified Interactions Coach Practitioner. No insurance, but can give you documentation for reimbursement.

Dr. Erin Hammond is in McKinney, and is a licensed psychologist who can do assessments, therapy, and consultation. She’s incredibly gentle and kind-hearted, and is one of the best listeners I’ve ever met. She is very client-centered and works with a variety of populations, including gender-variant folks and people in alternative relationships. She takes Blue Cross/Blue Shield and private pay. Her website also has a comprehensive list of resources that are worth checking out.

Shawn Chrisman is in Dallas, near 75 and Walnut Hill. He is a Licensed Professional Counselor who specializes in therapy for people with non-traditional sexual and relationship styles. He’s super affirming and has a very comfortable and calm demeanor. I know him professionally, and have heard good things from others who’ve worked with him.

Zandra Ellis is enthusiastic and passionate about her work, and enjoys working with all kinds of folks. She works only with substance abuse clients, and approaches individual, group, and family therapy from a gender- and orientation-affirming lens. She also does life coaching, African American and LGBTQ community-based work and is an excellent resource on trauma and DBT.

Dr Elizabeth Zedaran is a licensed psychologist in Richardson. She treats a variety of issues and is affirming of diverse identities and non-mainstream spiritual practices.

Dr. Steve Tankersley is a psychiatrist in Dallas (OakLawn area). He provides psychotherapy services and pharmacological management. He is affirming of identity/orientation, and specializes in chronic pain management.

Elizabeth Newsom is a clinical social worker offering therapy services in Dallas and in Plano. She specializes in depression, anxiety, relationship issues, spirituality, sexuality, and personal growth.

Renee Baker is a Trans-identified licensed professional counselor in Dallas; she has a long background working with young people and families, and is a dedicated social justice advocate. Renee is also a licensed massage therapist.

CeCe Dorough is a fantastic therapist in Dallas, and is affordable for clients paying out of pocket. She also takes insurance and can help with reimbursement documentation if you need that. She specializes in a variety of issues, and is affirming of alternative sexualities and lifestyles.

Don Greever is a licensed professional counselor in Dallas specializing in trauma, as well as other issues such as anxiety, depression, and interpersonal violence. Affirming of identity/orientation.

The University of North Texas Psychology Clinic (Denton) is open to the community on a sliding scale. This is a very affordable and reputable option. Clients work with trainee therapists who are under the supervision of faculty. The program is accredited by the American Psychological Association, and the clinicians there are generally very competent.

Richland Oaks Counseling Center is located in Richardson, and is affiliated with Argosy University. They are also a training clinic, and are affordable and accessible, with clinicians offering services in a number of different languages.

Dr. Marlys Lamar is a psychologist in Denton offering a variety of treatment approaches and specialties. She is dedicated to safe space and is affirming of all identities. She does not take insurance but offers sliding scale and insurance documentation.

Dr. Edita Ruzgyte is a counselor, educator, and AASECT certified sex therapist in Fort Worth. She sees individuals, couples, and families.

Elizabeth Gehrman is a marriage and family therapist in Forth Worth with over ten years of experience. Accepts most forms of insurance.

Peter Kahle is a doctor and faith based therapist, who is affirming of other identities and supportive of atheist/agnostic clients.

Julie Cross has over 20 years experience ranging from career counseling services to psychopharmacology and cognitive based treatments.

Aaron Brown specializes in treatment of the whole person, their values, relationships, and physical fitness as well as mental health.

Susie Hair serves the Dallas area with specialties in eating disorders and substance abuse.

Michael Salas primarily serves gay men and has extensive experience treating sex addiction, gender questioning individuals and their families, and also leads group therapy sessions dealing with shame and vulnerability.

Dr. Sherry Huey specializes in emotional disorders, sleep disorders, and ADHD.

Dr. Suresh Sureddi researching bipolar disorder and specializing in treatment for a range of emotional and sleep disorders.

Patrick Young has over 30 years experience treating children and adolescents with depression and ADHD and is LGBT affirming.

Lee Kinsey is a relationship counselor and sex therapist specializing in LGBT relationships, transgender services, and mood disorders.

Paulette Lee is explicitly affirming of clients from the polyamorous and kink communities, offering relationship and general counseling in an affirming, non judgmental atmosphere.

Dr. Anetta Ramsey runs Chrysalis Eating Disorder Center but also takes private patients. Does not take insurance, but strives to be affordable, as well as preserving safe space. Also runs a DBT focused weekly group therapy.

The Pensieve

In the fourth Harry Potter book, Dumbledore introduces us to the pensieve, a mystical bowl into which he can deposit the contents of his mind, and look at all his thoughts, ideas, and memories from a more objective perspective before putting it all back into his head.

It’s a beautiful idea, isn’t it? That there might exist a way in which we could silence the monkey-mind… that we could separate ourselves, just for a moment, from the things we are experiencing.

To me, the therapy room is like a pensieve. Clients come in, and bring with them all the experiences, thoughts, memories, problems, and confusions they carry with them throughout the day (it’s exhausting, right? carrying all that stuff?), and they pour it all out in front of the therapist. Then, together, the client and therapist can observe, analyze, brainstorm, decipher, explore, celebrate, mourn, and understand all those confusing and overwhelming ideas.

By having a therapist as your teammate, you’ve got another set of eyes on your pensieve – an objective person who is only on your side. They are trained to look into pensieves; they can see patterns, walk you through murky areas, identify snags and snarls, and help you find ways to smooth things out and make life a little better for yourself. They’re trained to help you know yourself better, not by telling you how to feel, but by helping you explore your pensieve more efficiently and effectively.

I love therapy. As a client, as a therapist, as an educator – I believe therapy can work wonders in anyone’s life. Finding a good therapist is key, because the pensieve only works well when everyone is comfortable. But when you find the right person, the amount of insight, self-growth, and personal productivity you can experience is truly revolutionary.