Welcome to Silver and Shadow

"Look at that sea, girls--all silver and shadow and vision of things not seen. We couldn't enjoy its loveliness any more if we had millions of dollars and ropes of diamonds." -L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

This is a blog I will be using for topics other than food. Politics, religion, spirituality, humor, green living, anything that I want to talk about that doesn't fall under the food/cooking category.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

A Date Which Will Live in Infamy

Seventy five years ago today, it was a Sunday. It started off like any other day, but would end up plunging the United States into the world war, two years after it had begun. The nation united as it never had before, and possibly never will again. Their fight lasted four years, and changed America for all time.

I was thinking about this today and trying to make sense of it in terms of today's world. It occurred to me that America's time in the war was the same amount of time as a president's term. I don't know about you, but sometimes it feels like Election Day this year was a date which will live in infamy. For me, I think remembering the Second World War will help me get through the next four years.

The new term that will begin next month, like the war, will bring out the best in us and the worst in us. Like then, it will be the defining moment of our generation. How we treat one another during this time is entirely our choice, and will be what we are remembered for. It will define us as individuals, as a generation, and as a nation in this world, for all of history.

Will we rise up to the reputation of the Greatest Generation? Maybe in an ultimate act of irony, in the new POTUS's goal of "making America great again," he truly will, when we all band together against him and everything he stands for. Let us continue to fight for our rights and those of others. Let us continue to fight for the planet. We will look out for one another when times are tough and dark and it seems like it can't get any worse. We shall rise up and stand arm-in-arm with people who are experiencing hate and discrimination. Let us become the heroes and heroines we long to be. We don't need guns and weapons for this, we just need to be brave, kind, and loving to one another.

Just like the war, everybody has a part to play. There will be plenty of people in need and plenty of organizations that need help in the next four years. We don't have to do all of it, and we really shouldn't burn ourselves out in trying to, but all of us can do some of it. It's going to be scary, it's not going to be fun, but this is our moment. Now it's our turn to be the Greatest Generation.

And in four years, maybe Election Day will be a date which will live in infamy for the man who will be the next POTUS. We will celebrate his last day in office, just as much as we will mourn his first day...

Saturday, November 12, 2016

The Blame Game

We have seen images like these a lot over the last year or two. They fill our hearts with sadness and pity for these people. We ask ourselves questions like, "How desperate do you have to be to put your kids on one of those boats, knowing you could all drown before you reach land again?" And of course the answer is, when the alternative is even worse, you will do whatever you have to do, however precarious, however dangerous, to survive. To keep your children safe.
How desperate do you have to be to throw your child onto a helicopter and hope they make it to the Promised Land of America, parted from you forever? When the world is closing in on you, and the end seems near, you will do what is needed to survive.

How desperate do you have to be to put your child onto a train and send them out into the countryside for others to take care of, in hopes that they survive the war, because the bombings are just too close and too often for their safety? You'll do your best to ignore the separation and the pain and anguish it causes, because it'll be worth it in the end when you're reunited. Assuming you survive...

I've heard parents say that they would sell their soul to the devil to keep their children safe. As I don't have kids of my own, I cannot attest to this personally, but I will take their word for it. People will do whatever it takes to make sure their children survive a dangerous situation, and also hopefully, thrive and have a better life than they had. As we are now deeply embroiled in the post-election blame-game, I wanted to point out this factor.

I am going to make what might seem like a radical and unliberal statement, but I ask you to hear me out with an open heart and an open mind. I would hypothesize that the vast majority of people who voted for Donald Trump, are not racists/misogynists/homophobes. The majority of them are desperately in need of help and reached out to the only person who appeared to be offering it.

The economy has mostly recovered from the crash of 2005, except in the middle of the country. The west coast, in particular, is doing very well. It's hard to imagine that it isn't the same everywhere else. For the last eight years, people from the middle of this country have been telling us it's still bad there. They've been yelling and screaming and we've chosen to ignore it. We've heard their issues, but say to ourselves, "That's ridiculous, look how amazing it is now!" We have countered their fears and complaints with statements like, "You just don't like the president because he's black. You're a racist!" but we haven't stuck around to hear the response which probably would be, "I'm not a racist, I'm just trying to put food on the table...Why aren't you helping me?"

A wise coworker of mine pointed out to me the other day, the idea that the unemployment rate is really low right now and in our minds we're thinking, "Wow, we're so great at employment!" When the reality is actually people coming to the end of their benefits and being dropped from the statistics. They still don't have jobs, but now they don't have help from the government as well. If you lived in a place where there were no jobs to be had, and you are now being cut off from the only lifeline that's been helping you survive, what would you do? Picking up everything and moving elsewhere isn't necessarily affordable to people and what kind of a job would you be qualified to have? Liberals like to tease and put down people who are less educated than we are, but that also limits their abilities to have a well-paying job. How dare we tease people who don't have the same opportunities as us? Did any of us ever bother to learn why they have less opportunities to become educated? Did any of us ever help? Or did we just laugh and point, contributing to their continued humiliation? No wonder they hate us. They have every right to.

My personal opinion on the role of the federal government, besides keeping us safe from foreign powers and all the international stuff it does, is to help the people who cannot help themselves. We are ethically and morally obligated to help people when they cannot take care of themselves. For eight years, we've been writing off nearly half the country who have been telling us they need help. Liberals pride themselves on helping the downtrodden, but we missed this group of people in need. We ignored them, willfully and willingly and their need grew more and more until they had no other choice but to accept the offer from the devil. When we should have been acting like a nation that cares about each other, we failed. We failed them and in so doing, we failed in being what liberals pride themselves in being: charitable towards those in need.

This wasn't a problem with Hillary Clinton's planned policies, this was the current administration. This is on the current president, as sad as it makes me feel to say. I love our president, but he is not perfect. This was also the problem of the GOP for not doing more to help, either. Both parties played politics with each other, abandoning their actual duties of getting policies set in place that help people out. And whatever the reasons behind it, whatever the actual reality of it all, is irrelevant, because perception is all that matters. Both sides appeared not to care about the people crying out for help, so they turned to the person who claimed he would help. I'm sure a lot of them are aware that he might have no intentions of making good on any of his promises, but it's better than what they have now. It can't be any worse, right?

Now, I have said that I believe the majority of Trump voters aren't "ists" of any particular sort, and I do actually believe that. I am not unaware, however, that there is a faction of the voters who are. And they are using Trump's invitation to hate openly and outwardly. People are already being attacked and harassed and there are reports that somebody was killed. It is on us to make sure people stay protected during this time. I would also say that it is on the majority of Trump voters, the ones who only voted for him because of the economy, to help as well. A refusal to care about it or a refusal to help is being a part of it. If they choose to do nothing, if they choose not to stand up for others and protest any policies Trump may try to pass that would hurt others, they have a moral and ethical obligation to stand side-by-side with us. Failure to do so will leave them branded as an "ist," and they will have to live with those accusations and words assigned to them. That choice is entirely up to them.

I think, overall, the country is actually moving in the right direction. Hillary Clinton won the popular vote and we cannot overlook the importance of that. We are at a place as a nation, as a people, to elect a woman to the highest office in the country. And if you look at a state and city level, there were amazing victories for women, people of color, and members of the LGBT community all around the country. We are doing something right.

What I wish we could see, as a nation, is that economic issues and social rights issues are not mutually exclusive. One does not have to be sacrificed to bolster the other. One party tends to be better at the social rights issues, and one party tends to be better with the economy. We need to come together and get to a place where each party can lend their strength to the country, and move both issues, forward. Once we can do this, we can start to see each other as people again.

For so long, we (By "we," I mean everybody, no particular side. All sides.) have looked to the other side, not as people who have a different opinion from us, but as the enemy. An enemy is no longer a human. They aren't a person. They're an entity to be conquered and destroyed. We don't have to listen to what they have to say. Maybe this is why we spent eight years writing off the screams of desperate people, because we saw them not as humans and fellow Americans, but as an entity that deserved what it got. They deserved to live in squalor and starvation and humiliation, because they are the enemy and that's what you do in a war.

But we aren't in a war. We've forgotten that. It's time we remembered.

Monday, November 7, 2016

We Are All Deplorables

There have been many "watershed" moments in American history over the years. Moments where it seems as if the fate of the country, or even the entire planet, hangs in the balance. Times when it feels like the world has come to a fork in the road and either path taken will change everything forever. The choice is up to us to pick either the "good" path or the "bad" path. Deciding to break away from England and become our own nation, choosing to divide our nation in two and take up arms against one another to resolve the conflict, Pearl Harbor, the Civil Rights movement, 9/11. These were all moments where the world we know now would be vastly different depending on how these ended. This election is also one of those moments. History will judge us based on the outcome of this election. And how can it not? Our future will be shaped by it, after all.

We can all feel this. We can sense it. The heaviness in the air that seeps into our skin and permeates our brains and souls. It makes it difficult to concentrate on anything else, and it becomes nearly or actually, an obsession. It takes over everything. It has taken over our minds. Things we would never do under normal circumstances, feel normal to us now. Treating people in ways we would never dream of before, is now par for the course. I think we need to be reminded that civility, good manners, and being kind to each other has always been our choice and always will be. Regardless of who becomes our next president, nobody can take that away from us. The only one who takes that way from us, is ourselves. No presidential candidate made us do it. They might have started down that road, but we fully and willingly followed behind without questioning it. 

We have said to ourselves, Well, it was the other side who started it, so I might as well dive right in and fight fire with fire. It isn't just "them,"(whatever side 'them' is to you) who have become so rude. It is all of us. You, me, everybody. We have all become the deplorables. Some of the rudest words I have seen in this election have come from people inside one party, towards others within their own party. We aren't just disagreeing with another party, we are disagreeing with one another, and we are being vicious and cruel. Feelings have been hurt. Friendships have been damaged or ended. Family members have turned away from each other all because we disagree on the best way to move forward as a nation.

How many of us has wished somebody ill will during this election? Either a candidate, somebody online, or somebody in our own lives? How many of us have called somebody stupid or otherwise questioned people's intelligence? How many of us have questioned somebody's loyalty to this country? How many of us have had these things said about or questioned of us? It doesn't feel very good, does it? We've all created a lot of negative energy, not only in our own lives, but in the country, and the world. We owe it to ourselves and each other, to do better. To be better. To create positive change and energy for our world. The question is, can we do that without screaming at each other and tearing each other down?

For those of us who consider ourselves followers of Christ, we are supposed to follow his example. It isn't "politically correct" or weak to be kind to one another, it is literally "What Jesus Would Do." The concept of "grace" is one of the things that makes Jesus unique. We are forgiven, through God's grace, though none of us truly deserves it. It is a gift given freely to us anyway. Are any of us truly acting grace-filled during this election? Are we extending that grace to others? What are we becoming?

I can assure you, that regardless of who wins the election tomorrow, the sun will continue to rise and set, as it always has. Our money will still be in the bank. Our beds will be just as cozy and warm as they are tonight. For the most part, our days and nights will continue on as they always have, with very little interruptions. But soon, that fog we've found ourselves in, will dissipate. We will find ourselves having to look ourselves in the mirror and looking at each other. Can we live with the words we said or the actions we took? Can we mend family bonds and friendships that have been damaged? Only time will tell. But the choice is ours. It has always been ours.

I will end this with two of my favorite quotes. I have used them before, but I won't stop using them, because they sum everything up so perfectly:

"Turns out, real life is a little bit more complicated than a slogan on a bumper sticker. Real life is messy. We all have limitations. We all make mistakes. Which means―hey, glass half full!―we all have a lot in common. And the more we try to understand one another, the more exceptional each of us will be. But we have to try...Try to make the world a better place. Look inside yourself and recognize that change starts with you. It starts with me. It starts with all of us."-Judy Hopps, Zootopia

"Have courage, and be kind."-Cinderella

Saturday, September 17, 2016

DNA Test Results and Isolation

I had my parents take Ancestry.com DNA tests a few months ago and have enjoyed seeing the results and learning more about myself and my family's past. Probably the biggest revelation was from my mom's test results which says she has about 3% African and 4% Iberian in her genetic makeup. This means I have up to 50% of those percentage points in my own genetic makeup. This is actually fitting in with what I know about the family line this comes from, but after getting some additional information from some DNA experts*, I am now questioning if I actually have only one Afro-Hispanic ancestor, or several. Based on what the expert said, the amount my mom has in her results is actually too high based on when the first person in that line would have been able to "pass" for white. What this means: I probably have more than one Afro-Hispanic ancestor, possibly several.

The term that has developed recently as more people take these DNA tests and white people discover they have African ancestry in their genetic makeup, is "Hidden African Ancestry." Some people try to write this off by saying, "Well, everybody has African in them because of how humanity evolved and traveled out of Africa." This is not what that means. While it's true that if you go back far enough, that is the case, but we're talking a hundred thousand years+ for that. These DNA tests go back about 250-300 years which is far more recent. Think 6-7 generations back. It's not that far at all. One percent DNA generally means that you had one full-blooded ancestor of whatever ethnicity, about 6 generations back. If this ancestor was half-blooded or less, then you're looking at more than one person to make up the difference. My mom, at 3%, could have any number of less than full-blooded ancestors of African descent. The interesting thing about all of this is, they are finding that about 4% of white people who take these DNA tests, discover that they too, have hidden African ancestry. This is opening up a lot of questions about just how race relations were 200-300 years ago and if we have been making a lot of assumptions about the past based on how we live in the present.

So, what do you do when you find out you're one of these people with hidden African ancestry? Some people ignore it. Some people are ashamed of it, for various reasons. Or, if you're like me, you were always suspecting it, and so you become excited to have it confirmed. Then for a bit, you're sad to realize that you are now a part of a terrible history that you always thought had never involved you. Those people must have lived such hard and horrible lives, and all you want to do is go back in time and protect them from it. But maybe that's just me.

After that initial shock and taking it in, you start to realize that, things are different now. My skin is still white, my white privilege is still intact, but you realized there is more inside you than you ever realized before. And it's always been there. There's an antiquated rule that was used back in slave days called the "one drop rule," meaning, if you even had one drop of African American blood in you, than you were considered black. I guess this means I've been passing my whole life, but didn't know it. "Passing" is generally looked down upon, by everybody. Depending on what color you were, it was seen as crafty and insinuating, or as betraying and abandoning. I sort of see it as surviving by any means necessary, but I can see how people would see it those other ways.

This is where the feeling of isolation starts to creep in. When I tell other white people about this part of myself, most of the responses I get are none at all. See, as white people, we have the privilege to ignore things like this. Pretend it's not there, pretend it didn't happen. It's not like it shows or affects our lives in any way, right? It's been my experience that most white people don't want to hear about this. Even non-racist white people seem like this just creates more drama than they want to deal with, so it's best to just leave it be. And I would never presume to speak to an African American about this, as though comparing this to what they have lived their entire lives experiencing makes us somehow equal or on equal footing. My white privilege is still very much intact. So, I'm on my own to process this and navigate my way through whatever emotional responses come up with all of this.

What do I do with this information? I understand the idea of not wanting to go overboard with this and try to appropriate cultures that aren't mine. I don't get a voice in the Black Lives Matter movement because of this. But to ignore this piece of me feels disrespectful to the lives of the ancestors who existed and were real flesh and blood humans. They are a part of me. They make up who I am. To continue to ignore them doesn't seem right to me.

So, what can I do? I can educate myself about the countries that showed up on the DNA tests. I can better educate myself about this country's history, and  continue to learn all I can about my own heritage. And I realized that I am in a unique position in this country, to have conversations about race and white privilege, with white people. I can get into white spaces and speak to other white people in a way that a person of color cannot. This isn't taking over the Black Lives Matter movement, it's supporting it. Being able to teach others about racism is one thing I can do to help change the world, and to honor my ancestors who were victims of a racist system. Maybe helping to make the world freer and more equal for everybody who will be born into it in the future, is the best way I can honor them, and that small part of my past.

* The letter I wrote to Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr, and the response.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

An Open Letter to Senators Clinton and Sanders

Wherever we go, whatever we do, we're gonna go through it together…”-Together Wherever We Go, Gypsy

Dear Secretary of State Clinton and Senator Sanders, 
It’s been a very long, very contentious road to the DNC, but now we’re here. We’ve made it. It’s been a great show so far, and we’re only halfway through! We were all really worried at first over whether or not you two could pull off bringing the party together to present a (mostly) united front against one of the biggest threats our country has ever known. It remains to be seen if this will be successful. A lot of hearts were broken, and a lot of minds have been closed in the race to the nomination. Both “sides” still have some growing up to do between now and November.

One of the things that stood out to me the most during the nomination process, was how you two played off of each other. You two have always been #StrongerTogether. You made each other better candidates. You brought out the best in each other and forced one another to work harder to be the best candidate you could be. And you both succeeded. The Democratic party currently boasts an embarrassment of riches when it comes to amazing people. I have always felt proud about being a Democrat, and I am happy to say that this feeling never wavered during the nomination process.

The nomination has been made now, and Senator Clinton has been chosen to carry the party to the general election in November. Senator Sanders, you have been gracious and humble these past few days, and are to be commended. I can’t have been easy for you. You have helped change the direction of the party. You have changed the conversation. You have pushed Senator Clinton farther than anybody else probably could have, and I hope you are very proud of yourself. Senator Clinton, you have the strongest chance yet to become the first woman president this nation has ever known. Whenever Sanders pushed you, you pushed back, but never pushed over him. You are one of the greatest candidates I have ever seen, and I am so proud to get to vote for you in November.

One thing has become clear to me during this long process: regardless of what you two feel about each other, you’re stuck with each other. The party needs both of you to win, and the country needs both of you to keep working together to become the best that we can be. I don’t care if you two can’t stand the sight of each other once the cameras are off and the doors are closed. You two complement each other perfectly.

My proposal: Senator Clinton, you need to offer Senator Sanders a position in your cabinet, and Senator Sanders, you need to accept it. There are three positions that would be a good fit with your passions. Secretary of Education would allow you to continue your fight for tuition-free college for every American. Secretary of Energy would allow you to continue working for the betterment of the environment. This would help the nation, and the world And Secretary of Labor would help you keep fighting for the working class, the middle class, and helping to achieve goals like equal pay for equal work, and a $15 national minimum wage.

They say that still waters run deep. On the surface, the water might look calm, but underneath, the current is moving swiftly downstream. I think the same could be said of revolutions as well. Sometimes they come with violence and a frenzy of action, and sometimes they sneak up on you until they’re over and you never knew it even took place. I personally believe that slow and steady wins the race. Maybe the changes won’t happen overnight, but we’ll get there.

Being president would pull you in too many directions to be able to give any of your passions the true attention you need to give them. And by helping out in the cabinet, you help free Senator Clinton to give her attention to other needs. She’ll have a very full plate on her hands and will need all the help she can get. Juggling the needs of the nation while also keeping her eye out on the rest of the world will take every spare moment she can give.

What better way to continue bringing the party together and healing the rift that was created over the last year, than by announcing that both of you will continue to fight for America after being elected to the White House in November? I would encourage both of you to seriously consider this idea. I don’t care if you hate each other; you can work from different buildings if you have to. As public servants, making the United States of America the best it can be, should be your top priority. It’s time to let go of any bruised egos, hurt feelings, and negative personal opinions of each other you may have, and continue to work together. We will thank you for it. History will remember you for it.

Summer Whitesell
Seattle, Washington

Saturday, June 11, 2016

The Presidency and How We View It

I don't know about you, but my social media has been pretty crazy lately. Some people are extremely excited about Hillary Clinton being the Democrat nominee, some people are terrified/outraged. And some, I'd wager to bet the majority, are just quietly taking it all in and hoping calmness and logic will prevail over emotion by November. I've been mulling it over, and wanted to offer my thoughts about all of this. 

Regardless of who the nominee is, the president is not the person with the most power in this country. He or she is one of many people who wield power in this country. Our nation is purposefully set up like this so no one person can have all the power. He or she isn't the captain of the ship, he or she is the steering wheel of the ship, and moves in the direction that he or she is told to by the captain, which is us. Yes, the president does have a good amount of power at their fingertips, and that does need to be taken into account when looking at our options in November, but it is not the sole source of power in this country.

What the president isn't and should never be: Our Messiah. Lately it seems to me that we look to the president to solve all our problems and we become disappointed and disillusioned when that doesn't happen. I feel that we sometimes idolize the role of president and whoever it currently is. For anybody of Judaeo-Christian persuasion, we know this is generally a bad thing. In fact, it's rather quite frowned upon and should definitely be kept in check. We should never make the mistake of turning the president into a god. They should never have that much power over us. We simply cannot and should not, put all our hopes and dreams on the shoulders of this person. Some of the hopes and dreams we will have to achieve on our own, regardless of who currently does or will become the next steering wheel of America.

The person in the role of the presidency is merely a human, just like us. He or she is fallible, is not and cannot be perfect. He or she will inevitably disappoint everybody at various parts of their tenure as president. This is simply the way it is because a government is a human-made entity, run by fallible, imperfect humans. As much as we try to make it look like it's greater than this, or capable of being better than it is, we will always be choosing the lesser of two evils when we vote.

We like to say things like "This is the most important election of our lifetime," to try and drum up support of our candidate and to encourage others to go out and vote as well. But the truth is, every single election, at every single level, is the most important election of our lifetime. Local elections will affect our daily lives much more often and much deeper than those at a national level. "Lesser" elections like those of our Congressmen and women and those in the Senate are in some ways, far more important than whoever we elect as the next president. With our current Do-Nothing Congress up for reelection, we have a responsibility to vote them out of office. If they remain in office, it won't matter which Democrat is elected, because none of their goals will be achieved. 

And finally, to the "Bernie or Bust" people, I'd like to point out just a few things that are subject to change, should the Democrats lose the election in November. The Affordable Care Act, women's right to choose what they can and cannot do with their bodies, two or possibly three Supreme Court Justices who serve a lifetime term, our dignity and standing in the rest of the world. All of these things will affect not only the four to eight years that a GOP candidate is in office, but for generations to come. It will affect not only America, but the whole planet, as well. Writing in a person as a candidate or encouraging them to run as a third party candidate has always been a way of helping to elect the other side's candidate. In the history of this country, no write-in or third party candidate has ever won a presidency. If this candidate did not win the primary election, what makes you think he or she could possibly win via these means in a general election? Just remember that the "bust" part of that saying affects everybody else in this country as well, not just you. A scorched earth policy only destroys the earth; I have yet to see anything good come of it. If November comes around and you still just cannot stomach the idea of voting for Hillary Clinton, I would honestly encourage you to not vote for that category at all. You are allowed to do that, it is your right to abstain from voting for a category if all the options are so abhorrent to you that you cannot do so in good conscience. I would, however, highly encourage you to vote for your state's Congressmen and women and Senate members who are up for reelection. Either voting them back in or out, as you see fit. Just because you skip one category doesn't mean you can't vote for everything else.

It is still an eternity away until November, and anything can and probably will happen between now and then. Emotions are high, and it's about to start getting even uglier. One thing to remember in all of this is that we are all trying our best to do what we feel is right for the present and future of our country. And when the election is over, and the dust has settled, we still have to work with each other, live with each other, and be friends with each other. Don't let an election ruin real life relationships in your own world. Nothing is worth that. Not even Donald Trump.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Bathroom Bills and Mass Hysteria

There is a lot of hysteria making its way around the news and social media right now regarding "bathroom bills" and which public restrooms transgender men and women can use. I thought I would write this out as a handy guide for people who are not very familiar with the concept of "transgender". Educating ourselves about issues that frighten us is the best way to grow as people, and become more compassionate towards others.

The first, most basic place to begin: What is "transgender"? Trans, a Latin prefix, means "Across, beyond, or through". Gender, at its most basic meaning is "The state of being male or female (typically used with reference to social and cultural differences, rather than biological ones." Basically, a transgender person physically inhabits the body of one gender, but mentally identifies as the other gender. Please note that this has nothing to do with one's sexual orientation.

Some other terms you may have heard lately, but not really know what they mean:
Binary: Is defined as "relating to, composed of, or involving two things." People who are transgender are "Non-binary gender," meaning that their gender identity does not fit into the male/female binary.

Cis: This is a word that simply means the opposite of "trans". It is a Latin prefix meaning "on the side of." Cis-gender people are people who identify as the gender they were born into.

So, now you know the basic vocabulary. Next up is how to handle the concept of transgender people.

There are two steps a person needs to take to help work through the fear of transgender people using restrooms that they feel most comfortable using.
Step One: Accept that transgender men and women truly exist. They are not troublemakers or perverts or just being difficult because they want attention. They are not a concept, they are real.
Step Two: Understand that a transgender man is a man and a transgender woman is a woman, regardless of what body parts they were born with or currently have. Some men have breasts. They are still men. Some women have a penis. They are still women.
Once you master these two steps, this should dispel most of the fear of the unknown you may be feeling towards transgender men and women.

Once you get used to the idea of transgender men and women truly existing, you will be ready for the next level: Compassion. Did you know that the suicide rate of the transgender community in the United States, is 41%? To put that in perspective, imagine a room with 100 people in it. Of that 100 people, 41 will kill themselves. Compare this to the overall national suicide rate, which is 4.1%. That is a disturbingly large number of deaths. As a person who has lost a loved one to suicide, I can tell you exactly the sort of pain this type of death leaves on a person's friends and family. I've made it one of my goals in life to help prevent other people from experiencing this sort of pain. Compassion is as much of a choice as hate.I choose to be compassionate.

And now, for some responses to some of the more frequently asked questions and arguments used in this issue.
1.)Why do we have to make accommodations for such a small group of people?
Why not? The amount of hateful bigots in this nation is hopefully a small percentage of the overall population in this country, and yet they are asking for accommodations for their hate, fear, and ignorance. I would rather accommodate people who are just trying to live their lives without being harassed and physically endangered just for existing. Just remember, when you ask questions like this, what people really hear is this: Why do we have to be nice to people? Why can't I openly hate and discriminate against anybody anymore? Isn't there any group of people it's ok to hate? This is how I feel better about myself as a person, by oppressing others. I need to feel justified in my actions, so I need laws to protect my right to be horrible to others.

2.)Why is this happening so suddenly?
The transgender community has lived in obscurity for hundreds of years in Western society, but they have always been here. Now that we, as a nation, are moving towards being more accepting of others, it is time for us to catch up on groups of oppressed and marginalized people. Basically, it's making up for lost time.

3.)Why can't things just stay the way they've always been?
I know change is scary and hard. It's difficult to adjust our sensibilities to new ways of being or thinking. But life is about change and adapting to that change. We don't have 40 year lifespans anymore, but we're ok with this. We no longer dress like people did in Elizabethan England, and nobody minds that, either. This is just one more really big thing we all need to adjust to. And you know what? We're gonna be ok.

4.) Won't perverts use this opportunity to dress up as women, sneak into women's restrooms and rape and attack women?
Again, once you have mastered step one of the process, you will see the fallibility of this question. Transgender women are not men, and since we don't know what their sexual orientation is, we cannot assume they are all attracted to women. On top of this, it is already illegal to rape people, and since that still happens, a law to force people to use the bathroom of their birth gender won't stop that. When you think about it, what it will really do is force men into women's bathrooms and women into men's, exactly the opposite of what people assume the laws will do. And, if a truly perverted man wants to attack women in restrooms, he will not go to the lengths of dressing as a woman to sneak into the restroom to do so. He will merely barge into the room and attack somebody. I'm sorry to scare you even more, but a sign on a bathroom door doesn't change anything. There is no guarantee of safety in any public place, unfortunately, but we shouldn't put other people in even more danger than they need to be, in order to continue some illusion of safety and security.

In conclusion, I will use a phrase I have used several times before in my writing. It comes from last year's live-action version of Cinderella, and I have adopted it as my own personal mantra: "Have courage, and be kind." I like this phrase because it has a double meaning. In it's entirety, it means to be simultaneously brave and nice to each other. But in each section, it explains how to do it. Sometimes, to be kind, we must first be brave. Sometimes you are asked to take risks in life. Reach out to somebody different from you, and what you gain in return far outweighs any perceived risk. We will all be better off for it.

Gender Definition

The article that inspired this

Suicide Statistics

Thursday, March 24, 2016

White Privilege and Helplessness

Each morning at my bus stop, a young man on his way to high school, talks to me. He jokes that I'm his therapist. We talk about school, college, and working, so he can get an idea of what's to come for his life. He talks about his family, classes, and friends. I think he likes having an older person outside of his family, who has nothing to gain or lose from hearing what's going on in his life, that he can turn to. I'm a safe person, I suppose. It felt awkward at first, since I don't have kids of my own, but now, it feels like an honor and a privilege that he trusts me enough to talk to me. I won't reveal his name or anything about him, except to say that he is a young black(his preferred adjective) man.

Today, though, he told me something that I had no idea how to respond to. He told me that he'd been feeling a little down lately, the last few months or so. I thought maybe it was a typical teenager depression issue, like I had, or maybe seasonal related, since we're just coming out of winter. But he told me that he'd been experiencing a level of something he couldn't really define, until I told him the word. He said that when he was younger, he thought everybody was the same, and fine with one another and that he had a future as bright as anybody else. But lately he'd heard statistics from somewhere that said white people preferred the company of their own kind most. As a young black man who had almost always been the only black kid in his class, this seemed to fill him with uncertainty. I imagine he was now thinking, were people only putting up with him and not really liking him? Add to this all the news we see lately of violence against African Americans, particularly men, in this country, and I think it sent him into a tailspin. I told him that I thought the word he was thinking of, was "disillusionment". When he asked me what that meant, I said it meant that he was seeing the world for the first time for how it really is, and was leaving him sad and disappointed. He agreed with that assessment. He looked at me with such helplessness, wanting advice for how to handle this tough situation, and all I could do was shrug my shoulders and say, "I am so sorry I can't give you any advice about this. This has not been my life experience..." My white privilege slapped me in the face and I had never before felt more unable to help somebody.

Once we get on the bus, we part ways, I get off sooner to transfer to my other bus, and he stays on to go to his school. But our conversation stayed with me all day today. I realized that there are two levels of tolerance and acceptance in this country. There's the governmental level. The level that makes rules that says we have to hire people based on their abilities, not the color of their skin. Laws and regulations that make it more fair for everybody to find employment or education opportunities. But there is another level: a personal level. This is when two people openly and honestly talk about race, and issues that affect us, and what we're trying to do to stop hate. This is the more important level, really, and often overlooked, I think. Because if a person gets a job they fought hard to get, what does it matter if everybody they work with resents them and makes it really difficult for them to feel included and welcomed and able to do their job well? The government can force open doors, but it cannot force the people already inside those doors to love and accept the people coming through them. That is up to us.

Today's experience was eye-opening to me, because I never knew there was an added level of anxiety and sadness that a teenager could experience when he realizes that the idyllic world he imagined he would come of age into, doesn't exist at all. But I get to go on with my life as it is, it's not affected by this young man's sadness. I could just go on and pretend it's not my problem. I can't do that though. The problem is, I'm not really sure what to do. All I can do, I suppose, is continue to open my heart and mind to others, listen to what they say, and incorporate it into my life. Now I have a story I can tell others to hopefully help open their hearts and minds. That way, one day, when the young men and women of color today get through those doors, they'll be met with people eagerly looking forward to them. It's literally the least I can do.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Have Courage and Be Kind

I'm starting to see a lot of open letters to Donald Trump and have been trying to think of the words to pen my own. But none of our words will get to him. A narcissist such as himself will never hear anything but what he wants to hear. I won't waste my effort. The best way to combat a narcissist, is to ignore him. Change the channel whenever his face comes on the tv. Skip reading the articles online. Scroll past the clever memes. Even negative attention is still attention, and he'll take whatever he can get. 

We cannot get through to him, but maybe we can get through to his followers. Rather than call them names and roll our eyes at what we think is their stupidity, maybe we can try to hear them, for once. What are they so scared of? What do they really want? Many of them just want jobs and are willing to put up with Trump's garbage to get one. Many of them just want to be heard. I know from my own experience that once I have been heard, I am able to let go of whatever I've been holding onto. Maybe listening to these people's anger, fear, and frustration will help them to move on from it. Maybe it will open hearts and minds, our own included. 

The 2015 Disney live-action version of Cinderella includes a catchphrase used several times throughout the movie. "Have courage, and be kind." It takes courage for us to stand up for what's right. It takes courage to choose not to respond in kind when people are being hateful, racist, hurtful, and divisive. It takes courage to extend a hand in friendship when you would rather extend a fist in anger. Being kind is hard. Being kind is a choice that we have to make every day. It's so easy to give into anger and hate. Kindness is optional in life. Some see it as a weakness to be use against others, but I see it as a strength. Why give somebody the power to take kindness and happiness away from you? 

In the future, I will try not to post too much stuff on my social media regarding that man. In an effort to diminish his power, I will try to be more mindful of what I share and respond to online. Paying him no mind is the best way to take away his power. At the same time, I will try to listen to what people are saying. I'd be willing to bet, when you strip away the anger, hatred, and vitriol, we all have a lot of the same goals in life. Safety, security, comfort, feeling like you have control over your own life. We all want these things. Maybe we can find a way to come together to help us all achieve them. Moving forward, together. It takes both courage, and kindness.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Why I detest "#FeeltheBern"

Bernie Sanders fans have selected the most unfortunate catch phrase of "Feel the Bern" to express their love/hysteria/passion for the candidate of their choice. I have to wonder, though, if any of them has ever experienced the pain of a burn. I have, and I can assure you that it is not a fun experience, or something I would wish other people to experience.

When I was ten, I fell on an overturned grate that had been over a campfire all day. I ended up with grill marks across my left hand and a giant blister that forced my hand into a curved position. The only thing that brought any level of relief was to keep my hand on a block of ice all night long, but I cannot explain in words the pain I felt. It was excruciating and after a while you started to hope for unconsciousness to put you out of your misery. The next day, I went to the doctor to see what could be done. The doctor drained the blister, which they don't normally do, but the way it had forced my hand into a curved position was worrisome that it would do permanent muscle damage if it stayed in that position for too long. Next came the scrubbing. With a hard bristle brush. Right on the burned skin. After that came the cutting of the dead skin. Just enough to cut what would pull away on its own. Never forcing it. Then they slathered it in salve and wrapped it in gauze. My mother was trained in how to do this for me and ended up having to continue this for the next week or so. I cannot fathom my mother's strength as she did this for me. It was painful, but it had to be done. It's not a memory she likes to talk about very much, even now. But she did it, because she had to help her child get better.

My burned hand probably doesn't sound like it has much to do with politics, and maybe it doesn't. But it's what the phrase "#FeeltheBern" invokes in me. And don't get me wrong, I am happy that so many people are getting involved in politics and the political process. People are excited and enthusiastic. I am reminded of what Barack Obama's campaign felt like in its infancy. What I don't remember about the Obama campaign, though, was what I refer to as "Bernie Bullies." These are Bernie Sanders fans who are very excited about the idea of a Sanders presidency, but cross a line in the way they go about expressing it. People who bully others. People who call names and make fun of people who are supporting other candidates. The unfortunate result of Bernie Bullies, is the exact opposite of what they are hoping for. Instead of bringing people together and helping to convince people that Sanders is the candidate for them, they are pushing them away, making them cling even harder to the candidate of their choice. Hearing these people say things like, "If Sanders isn't nominated, I'm writing him in/not voting at all/voting for Donald Trump just to spite people," doesn't make me respect them. It makes me question their motives. I think a lot of these people look at Sanders for "What can I get out of him?" instead of "What can he do for all of us?" It's a very selfish point of view.

The worst part of the phrase #FeeltheBern, is that burns fade in time. The pain subsides, and after the scrubbing, cutting, and wrapping, new skin begins to grow and the burn becomes a painful memory. My biggest concern about a Sanders nomination, a Sanders presidency, and his fan base, is the idea that he might not achieve his many, lofty goals. With politics, I am a "slow and steady wins the race" person. When you push people too far, too soon, you end up with a civil war, or a Donald Trump phenomenon. The pendulum always swings back the other way before balancing out again. Unless Sanders comes into a presidency with a brand new "Will do" Congress, pretty much none of his goals will be achieved, through no fault of his own. But, as with what happened with Obama, when people realized he really couldn't walk on water, when people realize that Sanders isn't the Messiah they are praying for, they will begin to turn on him like a pack of rabid dogs. But we're not just electing a new president for the next four years, we are of course hoping to elect them for the next eight. With the majority of his fan base disappointed and disillusioned, it will be up to people like me, people who will vote for the Democrat whoever they are, and keep their eyes on the greater goals and needs of our nation, to get him reelected.

For all the people currently "feeling the Bern," I wonder how many will be left four years from now. How many of his fans are merely fair weather fans, only looking at him to get some cool stuff out of him, who will turn against him when they see how long it takes to achieve his goals? I can guarantee you, if he is elected president and inaugurated next January, you will not have "free" college that February. It's gonna take time. Just like all burns take to heal properly. Do you have that patience? Do you have that stamina? Because I can tell you, with personal experience, that the scrubbing, cutting, wrapping, and regrowth of burned skin is excruciating. But it's worth it. My hand healed and there was no lasting muscle damage. But it's a pretty painful memory for both me and my mom. Will Bernie Sanders end up being a painful memory for his most ardent fans? Possibly. But if he's elected president, hopefully he'll be given the time to move this country to a place where we can handle the dreams he has for us all.