How do we move forward?

When I saw the first text from my partner, it was still pretty early on the West Coast – 11:15pm or so.  The headline read, “Orlando shooting: Police confirm multiple injuries at Pulse nightclub“, so (sadly) I didn’t really think much of it.  I am not familiar with the Orlando area, and had no idea that the club catered to the LGBTQ+ demographic at the time.  All I really thought before I went to bed was, “another shooting at a nightclub with casualties – some drunk idiot shot some other drunk idiots – such a shame.”  Shootings were a big reason why I stopped going to nightclubs back in Denver.

The next text came a couple of hours later from a friend in Jacksonville to a larger group of friends, “Florida Pulse gay club attacked in Orlando – mass casualties“, and I thought to myself “This is serious.  Gay people don’t go around shooting up nightclubs.  It’s not really their style to be so aggro and shit.  The news has to have it wrong.”  It still didn’t register that tragedy had just enveloped Orlando.  Our group moved on in the conversation to discussing a documentary that one woman had recently seen called, On A Sunday Morning – about a baptist preacher instigating death to gays as a cure for AIDS.  Collectively, we couldn’t fathom what could make someone hate others so much as to go all Adolph Hitler on people, and try to wipe out an entire group of humans, simply because they make you a little uncomfortable.

I switched from the text conversation to checking the news on my phone and saw several stories streaming in, estimating 50 people dead, 50+ more wounded at a hot LGBTQ+ spot in Orlando.   Then, the gravity of the situation hit me.  This was more than an argument at a nightclub gone south, this was an attack on an entire group of humans, whom I have revered for as long as I can remember.  My intuition didn’t need to know much in order to know that this was clearly another attack on a community that has always been loving and welcoming to others.  Memories of Matthew Shepard’s murder came flooding back, and a wave of nausea hit me. This was, without a doubt, an act of pure hate.

President Obama called it an act of terrorism, an act of hate and a direct attack on the LGBT community.  While the shooter was supposedly inspired by ISIL to commit the atrocity, Bill O’Reilly candidly pointed out that everything ISIL does is an act of hate.  And while I’d love to be talking about how we can finally enact meaningful massacre prevention (aka gun control) in this country, the real conversation that we need to be having should be centered around how our faith-based and political leaders are culpable in seeding hateful ideas and rhetoric towards the LGBTQ+ community with their constituents and congregations across the country.  It is they who must to answer to the families of the 49 fallen and 53 injured at Pulse Nightclub, for they helped embolden the shooter into believing his cause was worthy.

In fact, I helped to co-create and launch the We Are Straight Allies campaign in 2013, to directly combat the misinformation and hateful discord that centered around Jacksonville, Florida’s failure to pass expanded Human Rights protections to the LGBTQ+ community in 2012.  The continuing conversations with City Council have proven why the additional protections are necessary, but we wanted our campaign to also send the LGBTQ+ community a more powerful message to remind them that they are loved, appreciated, and valued members of the community.  Sadly, in 2016, we are still fighting together to get an expanded HRO passed in the city of Jacksonville, mainly due to people citing their own religious bias for why the LGBTQ+ doesn’t deserve the same protections as everyone else.

Ever since same-sex marriage was sanctioned by the US Supreme Court in 2015, the LGBTQ+ community barely had a moment to celebrate their historic win before they began to face waves upon waves of brutal backlash.  There are currently 100+ other bills up for a vote across the country to weaken that ruling, which allows the same legal marriage protections that the rest of the “privileged” straight people have taken for granted for centuries – protections like making funeral arrangements for a loved one who has been murdered by a deranged, religious fanatic in a city that is home to the “Happiest Place on Earth”.  Marriage is not a religious concept – it is a legal contract, hijacked by the Churches centuries ago, in order to be able to oversee which member of one Royal Family was allowed to married another.  Not much has changed…the Conservative Right still wants to be able to dictate who can get married, and they are pissed now that they can’t.

In recent months, Houston (a city with a Lesbian mayor) voted to rescind the expanded protections for their LGBTQ+ community, while North Carolina passed HB2, blocking Transgender people from using the bathroom of the gender they identify with.  Mississippi wants to allow people to discriminate based on their religious choosing.  The GOP blocked a bill confirming Obama’s Executive Order which expanded discrimination protections LGBT people employed by Federal Contractors, just 3 DAYS after the Orlando Massacre, and Congress hasn’t been able to get the Civil Rights Act updated since 1968.  Opponents hide behind this guise of religious freedom and the First Amendment as their justification for being judgmental pricks.

In fact, many members of Congress are guilty of spewing their own load of hateful language towards constituents in their own districts, without any sort of remorse, simply because they don’t follow their so-called book of ethics.  Last time I checked, Jesus wasn’t too keen on hating “the sinner”.  As someone who reveres the First Amendment above most others, I am tired of seeing the American Taliban perverting the spirit of the law, providing all Americans with both the freedom of religion AND the freedom FROM religion.  The Conservative Christian Right and Radical Islamic groups preach the same ideologies; cousins with the same lust for power.  They hate women, LGBTQ+ people, people of different faiths, free speech, people with different ethic heritage, and free thinkers alike.

Now, after years of spewing their vile, they are shocked when someone commits the largest hate crime in modern US history and act like it was a terrorist attack on all Americans.  No, it was a terrorist attack, targeted at a specific group of Americans, which makes it a hate crime.  A group of Americans that these “leaders” have condemned with their spiteful language for years now.  A group of Americans who have been the target of more hate crimes than any other.  The shooter didn’t have to pledge allegiance to ISIL, or any of the other conflicting groups he gave a shout out to.  He could have listened to what these shitty leaders tout, day in and day out, and come to the same conclusion.  He may have seen something in the LGBTQ+ reflected in him, that which he was taught to hate about himself.

The LGBTQ+ community lives in a constant state of fear of violence and it is time that we, as a country, demand more from our so-called leaders.  If your religion doesn’t lead you to love others more, then you need a new one.  If your politicians can’t create an environment of inclusivity and equality for all, because of their own ineptitude, then vote them out of office.  If we want to decrease the amount of gun violence in America, gun rights activists have to understand that common sense legislation and the right to bear arms are not mutually exclusive.  Most importantly, we have to stop seeing people as “other” and start seeing each individual as part of the greater whole, as part of ourselves.  We have to start being the change we wish to see in the world.

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Artist credit: @jcdecastelbajac Under the Rainbow+ on Instagram

If all is not fair in love, will we wage war on religion?

To read the full text of my essay, visit my writing portfolio here.

When the state of Massachusetts gave same-sex couples the right to marry in 2003 President George W. Bush declared, “Marriage is a sacred institution between a man and a woman. Today’s decision …violates this important principle.  I will work … to defend the sanctity of marriage.” 
  Doesn’t the word sanctity infer holiness? 
Whether the ceremony is sacred or secular, you must first apply for a marriage license from the state.  In other words, marriage is a contract.  One might assume, then, all marriages are created equal. But, the lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, and transgender (LGBT) community has sought equal protection for basic human rights, since the 1970s, including their right to marry.
  Marriage was founded on the necessity for our survival 
Seventy-eight percent of Americans identify with some form of Christian religion, so it comes as no surprise our country’s guiding principles come from the Bible.  Thousands of years ago, however, unions were decided based upon the practical purpose for physical safety.  During the agricultural revolution, families evolved into larger units to share in heavy workloads.   
  When did we become so sanctimonious about marriage? 
Elizabeth Gilbert discusses the religious evolution of marriage in her book Committed.  She reports that, around 730 A.D., Saint John of Damascus instructed the new, idealistic Christians to “create an exact replica of heaven on earth by ‘renouncing marriage and imitating angels’”.  This new ideal had been modeled by Christ: celibacy and purity.  Read closely: marriage was a sin!  During the tenth century, we shift again to see marriage as a highly efficient business arrangement.  Great sums of land, livestock and wealth traded hands and nations.  Then, as the Catholic Church began to play a larger role in the political and financial landscape of Europe, it secured jurisdiction over marriages across all nations. 
  The sanctity of marriage is a fairly recent phenomenon 
In 1996, Congress passed the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) which defined marriage as “only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, and the word ‘spouse’ refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife”.  When asked why DOMA was enacted, Congressman James M. Talent (R-MO) replied, “ is an act of hubris to believe that marriage can be infinitely malleable…without destroying its…stability and what it means to our society…”
  Marriage stable? 
With a divorce rate of 50%, the so-called defense of marriage as a revered institution must be seen as a defense of a particular social, or political, order.  Author Nancy Cott writes, “Christian activists who oppose same-sex marriages don’t hide the fact hey connect the nature of marriage with the nature of America’s social order.” 
 When faith and laws are wed, we divorce ourselves from our humanity
Regardless of religious or social beliefs, I fear that Congress will continue to work to enact bans on same-sex marriages, and the courts will repeatedly declare the laws unconstitutional.  If marriage is a legal contract, then the separation of church and state must be upheld to protect the integrity of our freedoms.  One religion, one group, one faction, cannot impose their beliefs upon another and vice versa.  Is it not the government’s duty to protect its citizen’s rights, even if that means defying our “religious values”? (Mad props to Cheryl Petersen for this video!)

To Power or Empower?

“There is this wonderful, mythical law of nature that says the three things we crave most in life: happiness, freedom, and peace of mind – are always attained by giving them to someone else”  – Peyton Conway March, US Army General, Chief of Staff WWI

Most of us grow up learning that in order to be happy, we must compete to acquire more admiration, acceptance, and articles than those around us.  We develop have an insatiable need for validation through the external and physical parts of our existence.  Throughout my life, I worked tirelessly to either get something I thought I wanted, to gain higher social status that I thought mattered, or to become better than others I thought were less than me.  “Better” meant I had nicer things, made more money, was in better shape, had a good job, and was “happier” than my friends. The insatiable need for validation drove me to always want “more” from life.  My inability to take care of or love myself created a void that caused me to believe others could fill.  The more I believed that I needed love from someone else, in order to make me whole, the more that insatiable need unraveled and evolved into a healthy fear of abandonment.  That fear successfully convinced me that my unhealthy, self-destructive choices I made in men and friendships were all that I truly deserved from life.

With this premise, I began to weave together a plan to somehow beat the fear.   Not wanting to EVER appear weak to anyone else, I built a wall to keep my vulnerability hidden inside and the appearance of control outside.  And, until a few years ago, I got really good at it.  I had convinced myself and those around me that I had my s**t together …boooooyyyy…were we fooled. In my efforts to appear strong, I detached myself from anything I felt caused upset or grief or any sort of uncomfortable emotion.  I denied that my tumultuous childhood had an impact on my present choices, yet still convinced myself that I would never be dependent on anyone (for fear they would just let me down).  About this time, my career skyrocketed.  I was also able to cultivate a good amount of power and control at work which then bled into my personal life and my confidence seemingly soared.  Of course, I was working 90-hours/week so there really wasn’t much separation between my job and my personal life anyway.

Power [pou-er] noun: 1.) ability to do or act; capability of doing or accomplishing something; 2.) political or national strength: the balance of power in Europe; 3.) great or marked ability to do or act; strength; might; force; 4.) the possession of control or command over others; authority; ascendancy: power over men’s minds; 5.) political ascendancy or control in the government of a country, state, etc.  Synonyms:  ascendancy, authority, authorization, birthright, clout, command, connection, diadem, direction, domination, dominion, hegemony, imperium, influence, inside track, jurisdiction, law, leadership, license, management, might, moxie, omnipotence, paramountcy, predominance, prerogative, prestige, privilege, regency, right, rule, say-so, sovereignty, steam, strength, strings, superiority, supremacy, sway, warrant, weight, wire 

Ironically, I have spent my lifetime being angry at those in power.  As a child, I rebelled against those who were in a position of authority over me – family, educators, etc.  As I got older, this transferred to boyfriends, then my (ex)husband, and often towards any one in a role of authority over me.  Fundamentally, I resented being controlled by someone else and always questioned people’s motives for wanting to have that control over others.  Yet, I hungered to obtain more power over that which is uncontrollable – life.

Then, a few years ago, I received an unwelcomed and tragic wake-up call as to how little control I had actually “accumulated” and what that power truly amounted to… cousin died. His name was Jack….and he was a complete and whole expression of divine love.  Just six weeks after he was born, he was admitted to the hospital.  He was unresponsive and barely breathing.  He had skull fractures, bite marks, bruises, and brain damage.  It was Monday afternoon when I got the call that I needed to get to Children’s Hospital as quickly as possible.  Until that day, I had been too busy managing a yoga studio (of all places and useless ways to waste your life away, manage a corporate yoga studio….trust me on that….) to go and meet Jack.  Until that day, I had no desire to have children.

You see, children and I didn’t really get along, despite my time as a nanny when I was younger.  I saw them as a reminder of all of the joy I had missed out on because I acted “wise beyond my years” (whatever that means…I am pretty sure I am not any more wise now than when I was TWO). It is interesting how the Universe just decides one day that your life will dramatically change.  Jack had been badly beaten by his father (who is now serving quite a long prison sentence….thank you very much).  His head was wrapped in bandages, he was hooked up to several machines to monitor his vital signs, his brain had swelled, he needed a feeding tube and a respirator, yet he fought to live.  I had no idea what to expect when I walked into the NICU (neonatal intensive care unit) that afternoon, but in one instant, I fell in love.  Jack and I had developed an ineffable bond that was felt by all of those supporting my family.  His EEG would light up every time I came in the room and my heart leapt whenever I held him.

The next few weeks were wrought with worry and tension.  We did not know if Jack would survive and if he did, he most certainly could not be allowed to return to his parents.  The social workers made it clear to Jack’s mother that, while she had not participated in the abuse, she had failed to protect her son.  They asked the family who would be willing and able to care for Jack, if and when he recovered from his injuries.  Everything in me knew that adopting him was what I wanted and it was the right thing to do.  I didn’t know how things would work out, the only thing I knew was that Jack needed to be cared for and loved.  It was decided, however, that he would be cared for by his grandmother – obviously the more logical choice considering she did not have a job to manage and had the financial resources needed to tend to his lifetime of medical issues he would face. Jack was released from the hospital into his grandmother’s care.  We all made frequent trips to see him, for he had polarized an estranged family into one place for one common cause.

During this time, I had stopped fighting for power and came to understand what it means to let go of control.  Had I fought to maintain power, I would have sought revenge against Jack’s father.  Of course, we were enraged that someone would harm a child in such a heinous manner (in any manner really), but we realized that harvesting hate wouldn’t change what happened and it would never help Jack get better. Then, Jack’s brain swelled and he didn’t get better, he got worse.  Shortly after he turned four months old, Jack died.  After he was gone, there were no feelings of rage, there was just silence.  The inevitable emptiness that depression delivers after losing someone so precious had blanketed our lives.  We felt no need for revenge; Jack’s father had an enormous load to carry, for the remainder of his lifetime, because of the pain and suffering he caused.  No amount of anger, power, money, or influence would return Jack to us.  At that point, power became irrelevant to my life.  Instead, we worked to empower others to make a difference in their community, to impact their choices in the heat of the moment, and to help other families heal.

Empower  [em-pou-er] ) verb: 1.) to give official authority or legal power to; 2.) to enable (which also means to provide with the means or opportunity); or 3.) to promote the self-actualization or influence of.  Synonyms for empower(ment) are: accredit, allow, capacitate, charge, commission, delegate, entitle, entrust, grant, invest, legitimize, license, okay, permit, privilege, qualify, sanction, vest, warrant

While my aunt was busy formulating the “Give Your Word” campaign, I was fired from a job that didn’t understand why I needed to take the day off for Jack’s funeral.  Then, I lost the man who wasn’t there for me when Jack was dying.  Loss compounded upon loss, loss that wasn’t fully grieved, and I finally lost my shit.  It took me awhile and a few thousand miles of travel around the world to reconnect with myself and to remember what I had learned from Jack.  I remembered that I needed treat myself with as much compassion and love as Jack had given all of us.  I remembered that power and control are irrelevant when it comes to enjoying life.  I remembered that the most fulfilling and comforting moments of my life came from being in the presence of others, as they experienced joy.

Power has the ability to entrance us with its empty promises of security and sway.  Security and sway entice us to strive for more ways to insulate our lives from perceived discomfort and the unknown.  The more insulated we become, the more disconnected from life we are.  That disconnection creates a vicious cycle that evolves into the need for more security and ultimately, more power.  I never felt good, whole, loved or complete when I tried maintain a position of power over others.  And, I never “got” what mattered most from the power I thought I had – we lost Jack.  Love truly gives you the ability to feel empowered.  Love does not have a goal, a motive, or a need to confine another being.  When you are empowered, you want others to be happy, you are comfortable in your own skin, and you no longer feel your life is lacking.  Even if you don’t “get” what you perceive matters, you trust that you will be okay – that WE will be okay.  Jack empowered me to love myself, for the first time in my life, and from that grew peace, sweetness of mind and freedom from fear, because I will never abandon myself, or abandon love, again.

Baby Jack

What is Narcissistic Personality Disorder?

Following is a sample of an Abnormal Psychology research project I worked on.  The research was prompted based on personal experiences while interacting with several Narcissistic people in my personal and professional life.  It helped me to understand the motivation of their behavior, and how I could protect myself from the harm they cause, by establishing clear boundaries in each of these relationships.