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Religious Freedom in an Emergency Department

I worked as a staff nurse in a pediatric emergency department from the time I graduated nursing school through when I received my master’s degree in nursing, in total between 6-7 years. I started at age twenty-two.

I enjoyed being twenty-two. I lived in a left wing land with Obama soon to be entering office and even though I attended school in very conservative upstate New York I never really internalized the level of conservatism that abounds in most of the country. I was working in an inner city hospital in the Northeast happily back in my liberal bubble.

The Emergency department was a hodgepodge of characters. Attendings, residents, nurses, techs, EMTs, police, security, administration, social workers, psychiatrists, surgeons, pharmacists…you name it and we had them at some point working in the emergency department. At that age and in that geographical area I basically assumed every one was pro-choice, pro-LGBT rights, and pro-healthcare for all.

I was wrong.

One day I was taking care of a patient who was raped. She was young (children’s hospital being under 18), and scared, and traumatized. The physician spoke to her mom and her about all the options available to her. Rape kit, medications, etc. One of the options was the morning after pill which prevents pregnancy from occurring. The mom and the patient wanted to discuss it and they agreed to certain things but initially did not want the morning after pill. No one pushed it, as that’s not our role.

Later, after all the tests and interviews and near time for discharge the mom approached me and said they decided she would take the morning after pill. I said sure, and went to the desk where the physicians were sitting. The Attending and the resident were sitting next to each other making my life easier. I told them the patient changed her mind and wanted the morning after pill.

The Attending looked awkward and said, “Okay, but I can’t order it,” and he looked at the resident, and she looked awkward and said, “Yeah I can’t order it either,” I stared at both of them like they had two heads and genuinely asked, “Is there something wrong with your computers?” They both shook their heads and avoided eye contact with me. I stood there staring at both of them and said, “Well some one has to order it because this kid was raped and she doesn’t want to get pregnant. So what’s the freaking problem?”

It still had not penetrated my head that they couldn’t order it because their religious beliefs prevented them from ordering it. I literally was still thinking there was a technical issue and for some reason the system was not allowing them to order it. I know it sounds so stupid, but I was young and naive and hopelessly liberal.

Another Attending overheard our exchange and likely heard my statement, and saw me standing there with my hands on my hips glaring at the computers and the doctors, and quietly said, “I’ll do it.”

That’s when I got it.

I remember walking away silently to the medication room. Later I was with the Attending who ordered it and I asked what would have happened if it was night shift and they were the only two doctors in the ED? He told me they would have ordered it. But I wasn’t so sure. I’m still not. I’m thinking if it was night shift and they were the only ones in the ED I’d be trekking up to the ICU and finding one of their Attendings to place the freaking order.

This happened eleven years ago. I still remember it vividly. For many reasons.

For starters I never envisioned patient care being affected by some one’s religious beliefs. I remember we had a travel nurse from North Carolina. She told me they don’t even offer it to rape victims where she worked down south. I thought that was shitty. Still do.

If birth control is against your religious belief I would hope that murder, rape, pedophilia, burglary, tax evasion, etc. are also against your religious beliefs. Do physicians regularly screen their patients for committing tax fraud? Because let’s be real, everyone in America who owns a business probably has kept cash for themselves and not reported it as income. Do you not treat them because they are stealing and committing tax evasion? Do you not treat men who’ve committed rape when they arrive in the ED for a heart attack? Do you not treat the man who arrives in the ED after having a heart attack while he is screwing a prostitute who also arrives with him, but quickly exits when she hears the wife is on the way (Yes that’s happened)? Why is it that you can pick and choose what religious beliefs you follow at work and which you don’t?

You shouldn’t, hence why religious beliefs should not affect the delivery of healthcare.

Here’s one that will totally trip you up- would you refuse to treat a pregnant transgender man who wants to have the baby? What about all that pro-life chatter? Or does pro-life mean you’re only going to treat the lives that matter to you? 

The Health and Human Services Department recently formed a committee to explore religious freedom within healthcare. Per LamdaLegal article the aim of the committee is to protect from consequences health care providers who refuse services to patients due to religious beliefs. It makes me sick that in the United States we have one of the highest Maternal mortality rates in the Western world, but no we aren’t going to form a committee to save women’s lives during childbirth.

In 2009 a study out of Harvard wrote that about 45,000 deaths in one year were attributed to people not having health insurance. But we are focused on decreasing access to care instead of increasing it. Psychiatric hospitals are losing funding, states are shutting down facilities, families with severely autistic individuals have no long term plans for placement. The United States has one of the highest infant mortality rates in the Western world. But we can’t focus on that. Our current administration is instead focusing on restricting care.

But I digress. My patient got her medication preventing pregnancy. Thanks to an Attending who was not conflicted about ordering it.

My heart aches for the number of people within the LGBT community, who if this committee actually makes progress, will hesitate to receive healthcare services because they are fearful of being refused services.

Religious freedom is a beautiful component to American society and the foundation on which our country was built. But religious beliefs do not belong in healthcare delivery. Science, education, and clinical experience should be the basis of medical decision making.

 

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Bigotry down the street buying a Christmas Tree. 2017.

This holiday season brought a lot of decisions for us. We always celebrate Christmas. We were both raised Christian though our religious experiences left us with different tastes in our mouths for sure. We agreed on Santa Claus from the start. We sort of agreed on Advent breakfasts. That’s just a thing my family does every Sunday in Advent we have a nice breakfast at the dining room table and light an additional candle each week until we have five on Christmas day. I grew up reading certain passages from the Christmas story in the bible, so we do that too. However we also have the “Yule” book at the table, written by a Wiccan, and flip through that to find blessings and legends outside the Christian tradition.

Our advent breakfast sounds so austere when I read what I wrote above, but in reality it was me flipping pancakes, the boys screaming because they don’t do well without eating first thing upon opening their eyes. Waiting the ten minutes for pancakes is torture. But they do love pancakes. Then we served them their pancakes in their highchairs at the dining room table, we brought out the coffee, placemats, then by the time my wife and I sat down the boys were basically done. I read the passage from Luke and the boys babbled the entire way through with my wife “shh-ing” them, and telling them to be quiet, and me telling my wife to be quiet. Then they got down and wanted to help us eat our pancakes and one of my son’s knocked over my water bottle…the chaos just goes on. So in reality our peaceful advent breakfast was a clusterfuck but we don’t regret it. Traditions start out as clusterfucks I’ve decided, or maybe that’s just in my family.

The one tradition my wife and I never disagree about is the Christmas tree. We get one every year. We cut it down fresh, drag it to the parking lot, watch them wrap it in twine, struggle and swear at each other as we lift it onto the car, tie it down. Then the ENTIRE way home I ride the breaks and make my wife practically hang out the window to make sure it’s not going to fall off (it never has. I’m just a freak). My wife meanwhile bitches about hanging out the window and tells me to drive faster and the tree is fine.

This year is the first year the boys had any clue what was going on. All four of us went out into the field, the boys frequently falling and tripping over all the stumps and holes. We finally found “the tree” thinking it wasn’t too big, when in fact it was the biggest freaking tree we’ve ever gotten and literally would not have fit in our living room if there was furniture in there. Which there isn’t because we just moved in, thank God, so it’s still unfurnished. Well except the big ass tree.

So we are out in the field, I’m chasing the boys around, we are all getting trapped in prickers, my wife is sawing down the tree yelling at me to push it, I’m yelling at her that I have to watch the two boys. It finally comes down. We try and get it onto the cart. We fail miserably. It’s not going on the cart. Then she’s yelling at me that we picked a tree that’s too freaking big, and I’m like I wanted the little one back near the car. And we are losing the boys.

So I take the empty cart, and yell to the boys who follow me like little ducklings, still tripping over every hole in the freaking field. My wife drags the tree that’s literally five times her size, and then a very nice gentleman sees our struggle, and probably hears me scream at her “I hate doing this with you every year!” And she screamed back “I hate doing this with you too!” then we both are cracking up, and one of the boys is stuck in a hole.

Anyway the nice man helps my wife carry the tree to the twine thing. The boys and I and the empty cart make it out alive. Covered in scratches from the prickers. The lady by the twine says the tree is too big for their twine machine and has to be brought to the “main farm” for their “industrial twiner”. I’m like Motherfucker. At least they transported it there in a pick-up.

We put the boys in the car, we drive up to the main farm, and see the ginormous twiner. Now back at the tiny twiner we put a tag on the tree with our last name. Pretend our last name is Smith. We are hanging out at the big twiner. The boys are drinking “cider” (it was warm apple juice, gross, but it was free), and sucking on candy canes, watching the trucks and dogs and everything. The four of us are standing together watching our tree go through the big twiner, it’s kind of a kodak moment. It’s bitter cold and we are all snuggled together loving life.

There were three middle-aged white guys working the twiner. And one woman supervising the “cider”. They put the Smith tree through then looked around and only saw the four of us. The guy in charge looked at us, and said “Are you the…uh…” and he looked back and forth between my wife and I, pointed at me directly, “Are you Smith?” he says. Kodak moment broken. Stupid bigot alert. It wasn’t what he said, it was the hesitation, the understanding that flickered in his eyes as he was putting it together, and the downturn in his expression when he did.

I gestured toward my whole family, and smiled and said, “Yes, we are the Smith’s” (in my head it continued with some profanities). He took us all in. The boys had on fleece hats. I mean come on. Cutest thing ever. And one had a cut on his cheek from the prickers. Battle wound. We just survived a family bonding outing from hell. And we wanted our damn tree twined up and put on our car. It was an awkward moment, and the other men  there were clearly sizing us up and deciding whether they would help us or not. I think because we were the only people there and they had literally no escape and my eyes did not leave them for a second, they gave in.

They helped us put it on the car. But they weren’t nice. They didn’t interact with our sons and barely with us. They essentially acted like we had lesbian germs and they wanted to throw the tree at us and run. Which of course made me want to slobber all over them, but now that I have kids I can’t be that annoying lesbian calling every person out on discrimination.

Takes family bonding to a whole new level. Because all of the sudden we were not safe, and we were only a mile from our home. Suddenly I didn’t give a shit about the tree. I wanted to protect my sons. Because those guys could have spit on us, could have thrown the tree at us, could have destroyed our car. They could have followed us home and realized we were practically neighbors.

Some day the boys will be old enough to notice. Some day they might have a mouth like mine. Some day I hope middle aged white guys who live on farms will be nice to us.

And some day I’d like to actually estimate the size of the tree correctly.

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Only when you’re a nurse.

Tonight I had these two tender moments one with each of my sons. One of my sons crawled onto my lap with an afghan in his hands to pull over us, and then he laid chest to chest and put his hands around my face. He smiled and babbled because he still doesn’t talk coherently. I’m sure he was telling me a wonderful story. We had a fire going and it was just lovely. Then later my other son came and stood next to me on the couch, and wrapped his little arm around my neck and just leaned into me to cuddle. These small moments in life are just precious and if we had not been able to conceive I would be missing out. Big time. It made me start to reflect on how we conceived.

IVF sucks. I’ve talked about it here. The egg retrieval requires sedation by an anesthesiologist. My anesthesiologist was an anxious man with broken English. He sort of flitted around me when he was starting the IV (blood spurted out on the floor while he fumbled with the tubing- luckily I’ve started probably hundreds of IVs so I just put my finger over my vein and pushed hard to stop it while he figured out the tubing) and then when I was going off to sleep he told me to count backward from 99. I was extremely nervous and not really paying attention so I started counting forward from 99, he became more agitated and said no backward and literally didn’t give me the drugs until I started counting backward.

As I was coming into consciousness afterward I saw my wife. Eventually I was mostly coherent and the nurse told me what happened when I was waking up. She told me I cried and said over and over “I lost a patient, I lost a patient.” She knew I worked on an inpatient unit and asked if perhaps we had literally just physically misplaced a patient.

I had no recollection of my hysterical emergence from anesthesia. I had indeed lost a patient that week. They died. Not at the hospital and not related to psychiatric issues, but a long time patient we all knew well, and a rather traumatic death.

I remember feeling so floored by the questions from the recovery nurse. I hadn’t thought I was affected by that loss. But apparently that was the first thing on my mind waking up.

About six years ago I was still working in the emergency department and I was there for a code. The child died. I didn’t cry. I thought there was actually something wrong with me. It was the first death I was present for that didn’t cause at least some tears. I remember worrying that I was losing my empathy and compassion. I left for a vacation the next day. We went to New York City for a few nights. I was up around 1 AM reading a book, If I Stay, I got to a scene in the hospital. I remember I started to well up in my eyes. Then I started sobbing. I thought, “Aha, here it is,”. My wife woke up and was like what the hell? I just shook my head as I sobbed trying to tell her it was okay, this was good, this meant I wasn’t a cold hearted asshole who doesn’t cry when a kid dies.

This is the shit. It still happens. Nursing is hard work. Caring and empathy and then we have to come home and care for our own kids and families. It takes so much out of me.

Many people have funny stories about coming out of anesthesia. They hit on the nurse or they think they are on vacation. It loosens our inhibitions and opens us up to emotions. For me it allowed me to be in touch with grief. We take our patient’s losses and gains home with us.

When I went into psychiatry I thought it would be less emotionally draining than the emergency department. It is but in different ways. There are funny times too. People think because I’m a nurse I’m an expert in rashes. I don’t know why. I’m not. But people lift their shirts, drop their pants, and text me pictures asking my opinion about various rashes. I generally tell them to put their clothes on and stop showing me because I treat psychiatric illness not skin.

People tell me about their mom who’s a nurse or their cousin, as if all nurses just naturally know one another. One of our neighbors when we met said, “Always good to have a nurse around”. I thought that was weird. Why? Why is it good to have me around? Just in case some one needs CPR? An emergency rash that I can’t identify? I don’t know. People just feel safer when there’s a nurse around, more secure.

I know I am privy to more information about people than they may share with non-nurses. I don’t take that for granted but it is also exhausting. I refuse to go to the grocery store. Because whenever I go someone stops me and tells me their life story. Some times I just want to run in and grab bananas and run out but inevitably I hear about some one whose spouse just died or who just called DCF on their family member. I don’t solicit these conversations at all. I make no eye contact and I generally try to look completely unapproachable. But it still happens.

What’s fascinating to me is that none of these experiences have anything to do with my sexual orientation. When people are in crisis they don’t care if I’m married to a woman or not. It doesn’t enter their mind to even wonder. I saw clients for a few years before some knew I was married to a woman. It just doesn’t come up because it’s not about me. But I also know I’ve cared for homophobic clients and families over the years. Nothing about my care taking changes when I have homophobic patients. I treat every one the same. But apparently if a homophobic patient of mine has a business they want the right to be able to refuse my own business. This makes no sense to me. It’s okay to allow me to care for you often in the most vulnerable aspects of care taking but you can’t bake me a cake?

I don’t get it. As a human being and as a nurse with a brain and a heart I would never refuse care to some one even if they are the most homophobic person on the planet. Because it just goes against my value system and my duty as a healthcare professional.

But we can’t have it both ways.

I’m not sure what the solution is. However I’m very aware there is a problem.

 

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That time a group I’m in made a “Christian” subgroup.

I enjoy connecting with other people. It’s sort of what I do. Today a client asked me how I knew they had ADHD because I have a reputation of being rather anti-ADHD. But there are clients I see who truly have it, and when they do I treat it. I wouldn’t say I’m anti-ADHD more like anti-overdiagnosing and anti-overmedicating. I told that client I have hundreds of conversations a day. Literally. If I really break it down, between clients, families, phone calls, insurance companies, office staff, my family, etc.

I have hundreds of conversations a day because my job is about talking to people. I’ve worked in healthcare for ten years. After a certain amount of time I got a feel for what it’s like to talk to some one with ADHD. The conversation is not linear, and they tend to interrupt a lot. Not in a rude way but in a they can’t contain themselves way. I often have to repeat myself, and I make sure they put any and all information I give them into their phone with alarms set for reminders. They are often generally disorganized. In adults they have multiple planners, or a planner that they can’t find in a ginormous purse. The list goes on. These may sound like gross generalizations, and to a degree they are. But like I said you just sort of get a feel for these things (I also make clients get formal testing- it’s not like if you have a big purse you have ADHD. Please don’t think that!)

I’ve talked about being discriminated against, and that’s something else that you sort of get a feel for. My life is about forging connections with others. I joined a nation wide group of mom’s who all work in psychiatry. It was a great way to connect with others with shared experiences. After a time the idea came up to form subgroups. The idea was to be geographical but some one also entered their idea to have a Christian subgroup. I talked to my wife about it because I said I really wish I strongly identified as Christian so I could try and join their subgroup. We laughed. Because we both made the assumption that the subgroup would not be welcoming of LGBT members. We were not wrong.

It reminded me of hearing a story from a woman at the Women’s March on DC earlier this year. She talked about seeing women with pro-life signs join the march. Marchers around them didn’t quite know what to do. People assumed that the Women’s March would be for liberal women only. But here were women coming forward to say they didn’t stand for the discrimination of the new administration, while identifying themselves as pro-life. It was confounding to everyone present.

My wife recently asked me if I thought she had a learning disability. She takes longer to process things and sometimes needs ideas or questions repeated in a different way for her to process them. She also has horrible short term memory but I’m not convinced that’s not volitional. She never forgets when she has a haircut scheduled. But her damn shoes in the doorway that I chuck outside every other day. Seriously.

Anyway, no I didn’t think she has a learning disability. I know her history. She spent the first nine years of her education in a private school run by her church. To review briefly- her church is similar to a cult. The education she received was no where near the education I received in the public schools. It was religious based with no true academic rigor. The science was based out of religion. I told her no, she wasn’t disabled. Based off what I knew about her schooling she had been stunted though by her formative years being spent in a school that did not teach. She was not challenged.

She did not disagree with me.

It’s actually something that’s come up several times over the years of our relationship because there are basic ideas and concepts we learn from kindergarten through eighth grade. She missed those. Knowledge I take for granted she may not have learned.

When either of us hears something starting with “Christian” as the descriptor our defenses are automatically up. As lesbians we can certainly identify as Christian. But there’s lesbian Christian and there’s orthodox Christian. Every time we hear “Christian” we just assume it’s orthodox Christian. Actually what I literally translate it to in my head is “Anti-Lesbian. Danger. Danger.” It doesn’t feel safe. Unfortunately I’m usually right.

I really loved that group of women I had been able to connect with. But when that sub-group option came up I got a pit in my stomach. Then when I confirmed through various channels that the subgroup was indeed anti-LGBT the pit turned into overall unease and now of course a blog post. The subgroup idea was to separate off so people could meet in person. So it’s not like I have to be a part of the subgroup. But all of those Christian members are still part of the group at large as well. Now knowing they are there, I feel like they are lurking in the background, waiting to pounce. It’s sounds so crazy when I write it, but discrimination breeds a certain level of paranoia.

A safe space has been taken from me. That’s two in one week. First New Hampshire, now this group. It pisses me off.

Some people I’ve talked to are like well it’s no big deal, discrimination exists. What are you going to do about it?

The truth is I don’t know. I’d like to join the subgroup and stir some shit up. But I likely won’t. Most likely. Maybe. It’s still a possibility.

I’d like to eliminate discrimination. But how the hell does one do that?

I’d like to not have Christian equate to discrimination. For many churches it doesn’t. But for many it does.

At the end of the day I’ve decided to form my own subgroup. I submitted it for review. The subgroup for all LGBT identifying individuals in the group. It has garnered a lot of interest and I think is going to actually happen. I like that saying, “I don’t get mad, I get even.”

I totally get mad. But after I get past that I get even. In this case it wasn’t about “getting even” but more like evening the playing field. Literally within one minute of throwing the idea out I had people responding that they would be interested. How many other women were sitting there feeling uneasy? Too many.

For those that know me, you know I love me some Disney.

Pocahontas: The ripples

John Smith: What about them?

Grandmother Willow: So small at first, then look how they grow. But someone has to start them.

 

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Receiving the ‘Hater Glare’ on vacation.

This past week my wife and two sons were in New Hampshire. We knew that it is a conservative leaning state at times, as Hilary only won it by about 3,000 votes. I thought fleetingly this year might be a different experience as we hadn’t been there since before the 2016 election, but I didn’t think about it too much. After all we had been there as a couple over a dozen times and had no negative experiences. Perhaps we did though and I just was completely unaware of them living in my Obama happy bubble.

My sons are two year old twin boys. We purchased them lumberjack outfits for Halloween at Carters in NH. Overalls and flannel shirts with work boots. It was chilly enough in New Hampshire for them to wear their new outfits when we were walking one day on the boardwalk down by the lake.

Now picture two two-year olds in overalls, flannels, work boots, and holding hands walking down the boardwalk. It was quite possibly the cutest freaking thing I’ve ever seen. They were chattering excitedly to each other in their “twin talk” (yes that’s a thing and yes they do it). One of my sons realized we were heading toward the beach so he was walking very fast pulling his brother along.

My wife and I were smiling ear to ear and holding hands with each other and the boys intermittently. “Herding cats” my wife says. Literally the cutest moment on earth. Not just because they are my sons. But because it was one of those zen moments. We are in our favorite place, walking next to the lake, the sun is out, but there’s a chill in the air, the leaves are orange and red…just a beautiful moment.

In the distance we noticed a group of about six people. Three couples most likely and all appeared over the age of sixty under the age of eighty. They were walking toward us. We made sure we each held a boy so that we could all walk nicely by them without one of the boys falling on them or something.

Now if I walked by us in that moment I would have smiled and said something obnoxious like “How cute!” Because you could not see those boys in their flannels and overalls and not smile. But I was wrong. Because all six of those adults did not smile at the boys. They gave the boys a once over and then their glares fell onto my wife and I. I made eye contact with all of them who looked, (one looked away), because I’m that type of person. I also was not expecting the hateful looks when there was such a spectacle of beauty occurring.

I’ve got pretty accurate senses about people. I work in psychiatry it’s what I do. These people were throwing hate around with their glares. The moment lasted about five seconds. Because one of my son’s was now trying to run as the beach was just within our reach. And there was no slowing down of either party. Neither one of my sons noticed this exchange. I wouldn’t have either honestly if I hadn’t looked right at them because I was expecting smiles and for fellow human beings to engage with my cute little boys.

It was a silent display of their objection at our family. In the moment it also made all of them look like they were constipated and I was going to ask if they needed to add fiber to their diets but thought better of it and kept walking.

There were so many beautiful connected moments on our vacation yet this is the one I am choosing to write about. Because this is the one that sticks with me that I can’t get over and that I need to get out.

What is the right thing to do in that moment? To acknowledge the hatred in some way? To call them out on it? To actually ask if they need emergency fiber administration? Or to ignore and keep walking?

When will my sons notice these behaviors of strangers? If they are like me, which I fear they are, when will they say something? When will they engage in a pointless battle with a small-minded person? I can’t make every one love my family and I don’t want to. But I do want to be able to walk in public with my family and not be glared at. What if the strangers were younger and more intimidating and more verbal? I asked myself that very question as I watched my sons play on the beach. What would we have done? Grabbed the boys and ran like hell? So many different “what if” scenarios ran through my head and so many scenarios of what I should have said or done differently also.

That moment ruined a safe space for us. A space we have travelled to literally since I was born. It doesn’t mean I won’t return there. Because we will. But I will be more cautious, more aware, and one day my plan is to own a home there and be a registered voter and fight for that swing state to remain blue.

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When Humans are Brought to Their Knees

Through my ten year career thus far in healthcare I’ve been around people who have been brought to their knees. It doesn’t happen often and when it does it is so powerful and emotional to witness that it becomes scarred into one’s memories. To see another human break whether from physical or emotional pain is in some ways indescribable.

I have seen the moment parent’s witness a physician call the time of death of their child. I’ve been the one doing compressions when the time of death is called. I’ve witnessed patients being given devastating diagnoses. I’ve seen people so crippled with pain from detox they literally fall to their knees in the hallway as they crawl from their rooms begging for relief. These moments are so overt in visceral agony that it is hard to bear witness to them.

It struck me recently though that these are not the most painful situations that come to mind if I think of the worst things I’ve seen.

What comes to mind is the look of defeat on a teenager’s face when her parent calls her a him throughout our session though they have been identifying as female for two years. The fear in the eyes of a young adult when they tell me they are gay and they haven’t come out to their parents because they know their parents will stop paying for college and kick them out of their home. It is the shaking hands of a client who came out to me as transgender terrified of rejection. It’s the hundreds of moments I have personally witnessed when LGBT teens and young people have been horribly invalidated, unaccepted, and in their own eyes unloved because of who they are.

What weighs on me day after day is the intolerance and the hatred facing so many youth in our country, in my state, and in my own town. The scary hatred in America is not just the neo-nazi assholes scattered about our country. The scary hatred is the nice middle class suburban families holding their children hostage through their financial and emotional dependence on them with no acceptance of their sexual orientation or gender identification.

The scary hatred is the “normal” families with children living in fear because of the intolerance in their own families.  Because they have to live with them on a daily basis. They have to live in fear of rejection every day, fear of emotional rejection, fear of homelessness.

It feels defeating to me sometimes because intolerance is so pervasive. It starts to feel like a heavy burden we are all carrying around. As an adult, confident in my own self and in my own skills professionally, it can still pull me down to face a homophobic family who doesn’t know I am married to a woman. It creates uncertainty and fear if I’m being honest. This is also why the religious freedom laws piss me off. So a religious person can say they don’t want to bake my wedding cake, but I as a lesbian have to treat every person who walks through my door because I am a healthcare provider.

I don’t treat homophobic people any differently than LGBT people. But it feels scary to sit with some one who doesn’t know who I am and who would potentially threaten me if they find out.

There is acute pain such as a sudden loss, and then there is the pain that grates at you, day after day. Every day being misgendered or every day having your parents try and set you up with boyfriends even though they know you are a lesbian or vice versa. Every day being told you are confused, it’s a phase, you’re evil, you’re going to Hell…

That kind of cruelty chips away at a person’s soul. It’s like slow torture. It’s quite possibly the most painful human experience I bear witness to.

To all the parents out there- it’s not a phase, they are not confused, and you won’t just bring your kid to their knees you will push them down a path into deep depression that can end in suicide. People don’t get up from suicide.

I don’t know how to fight this other than what I’m doing. I provide safe space for LGBT youth who are living in fear. I make sure they have lifelines in the event of suicidal thoughts. I talk and talk about the suicide rates and acceptance and love and I’m hoping maybe some day I will see news stories about the declining suicide rates in LGBT youth instead of the increasing rates. I will see news stories about families who love and support their children without discrimination. Unconditional love will be just that, unconditional.

On days when I want to fall to my knees from bearing witness to the fear, pain, and depression in youth the hope for acceptance keeps me going. Knowing I am raising two sons who will never know that fear of rejection also propels me forward. But it’s hard. It’s hard to be a minority because it is tiring in so many ways. I’m tired of the hatred and I’m tired of watching parents inflict pain onto their kids.

Create safe spaces for youth, be a lifeline and if you are a parent please just love your kids. If you are not LGBT don’t put your head in the sand. The nice suburban neighborhoods outside of the South and Midwest are filled with intolerant families. Don’t look the other way.

 

 

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Angry Dyke.

When I first started dating my wife I was young. It started as a one night stand. I was single, happy, and venturing out into my twenties. At first our relationship was fun and games. The “honeymoon period” is a real thing. Then after about a year I remembered that I am straight and the reality of being in a same sex relationship started sinking in. It didn’t go well for awhile after that.

I remember feeling angry. I was angry that I was in love with her, I was angry that I couldn’t imagine my life without her. I was angry that I wasn’t a “real” lesbian and she was, and I had it so easy with my family and she didn’t. I was angry that I was straight but fell in love with a woman. I was angry that I already knew what discrimination feels like just from being related to a lesbian. I was angry that I couldn’t just have sex with my husband if I wanted kids. That was a big one. I could not wrap my mind around the whole how a lesbian gets pregnant situation. I was mad that no one told me to walk away from her. This sounds very petty and childish but in the moment it’s so intense.

I sort of forgot all of this until I started seeing more and more young adult LGBT clients at my mental health practice. They are all angry. Transgender clients are angry that they are in the wrong body, that they face discrimination, that no one truly understands and everyone asks about their genitals (note to reader don’t do that!). Young lesbian and gay clients are angry that they are gay. They are angry that they are forced into this lifestyle that they don’t necessarily want. They are angry they had to fight with their schools to bring a date of the same gender to prom. They are angry that they have faced verbal and physical violence from peers and/or parents and/or strangers.

At the core of their anger is absolute and utter fear.

Thinking back I recognize that underneath my anger was so much fear. Fear of being a minority. Fear of discrimination. Fear of fertility. Fear of living my life with my wife but also finding it physically painful to imagine my life without her.

It was no picnic for my wife either. She was living with this mess of a human being who one day was firm and solid in her commitment to the relationship and the next day was sobbing because she wanted this whole lesbian relationship to just go away.

People who met me after my wife and I got married just assumed I’m a lesbian. It’s just too freaking hard to explain that actually I identify as heterosexual but happened to fall in love with a woman. People are into labels and our relationship defies labels. I am not bisexual, I am not gay, and obviously I’m not totally straight. I prefer to think of myself as beautifully and happily curved.

For me there was anger for a multitude of reasons. For every LGBT youth who firmly identifies as gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender- and for the occasional straight person who finds themselves in love with the same gender- there will be anger. There will be days and moments of pure anguish. I’ve lived it personally and I’ve observed it professionally. Being a minority is hard. Being a minority in a country half full of homophobic individuals is harder. Coming to terms with one’s identity at the age of 18-22 is a normal occurrence, but what about when your identity doesn’t fit with society’s heteronormative culture? So many LGBT young adults become stagnant- they can’t finish college, they can’t hold a job, because developing into a young adult is freaking difficult. Developing into an LGBT young adult is beyond difficult.

It puts every friendship and every singly family member’s relationship on the line. It affects career choices and geographical choices for living. I’ve said it before and I will say it again, coming to terms with one’s own Queer identity will make you or break you.

If you are a family member of some one who is grasping and clawing their way through this journey please reach out to them in any way you can. Let them know their life is valued, let them know that though there are more and more anti-LGBT laws being put forth that you want them to live and you want them to be part of your life. Be a lifeline. Because we all need one.

In the depths of my anger and sadness and fear my lifeline was my wife, my friends, and my family. I got to go through my struggles with only my own judgement, no one else’s. Every one else encouraged me to stop being angry and be grateful I found love. The love is love platitude made me want to vomit though. Because love is love, but it was making my life more difficult.

Don’t dismiss a person’s anger because it generally is a cover for fear. We do have much to fear.

Looking back I regret nothing. Because I love my life and I love my family. But the journey from there to here was intense in so many ways. To anyone gasping for air through your anger and fear- it gets better. But it takes a lot of work.

And to any LGBT individuals who fall in love with a person who identifies as heterosexual but is potentially moving toward “beautifully curved”……gear up, you’re in for a wild ride.

(My cat is not a dyke. She loves boys. But she’s got the angry look nailed)

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10 Reasons Being a Lesbian Rocks

When I initially thought about writing this I’m not going to lie, I had a hard time thinking of 10 reasons. Because my brain was inundated with negatives. Discrimination, religion, families, coming out, disowning, the list goes on. I could think of a hundred reasons being a lesbian sucks and they just kept overpowering me. So I took some distance from this piece and came back to it when I was in a better frame of mind. I also talked to some lesbians. They helped. So here goes…

  1. Lesbian sex is awesome. 
  2. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Those words have never been more true than for LGBT youth today. An estimated 44% of adolescents who kill themselves identify as LGBT. That’s a huge percentage considering we only make up an estimated 4.1% of the general population (Gallup Pole 2016). All of the negatives that come with being a lesbian- discrimination, religion, disowned by family, etc.- literally kill us but also have the ability to make us stronger. I would not be the woman I am today without facing the adversity I have faced and seen others face. I’ve talked in previous posts about the experiences my sister and my wife had with discrimination within our towns, friends, and families. I learned so much from watching them both over the years. I know so many other painful stories of lesbians who have faced discrimination. Seeing them all traverse adversity with grace and dignity has made me a better person. I could tell you story after heartbreaking story of these people, and they are not all at home lying in the dark because they can’t bear to live. They are working, living, making families, going out, having fun. They are survivors, not victims. They are amazing human beings walking beside you  and luckily walking beside me too.
  3. Fun fact- hospitals will let people of the same gender stay overnight in a double room if needed. So if I was married to a man and was hospitalized and felt I really needed him to stay over night with me, he wouldn’t be able to stay because he is not the same gender as my roommate. But when I was hospitalized for throwing out my back they let my wife stay overnight in the chair next to the bed because I couldn’t move literally, and she was a girl as was my roommate. This also works for any same gender situation. We get to be in the locker room together at the gym (I’m laughing because she NEVER goes to the gym but if you are fitness inclined and so is your wife that would be cool). We get to go into bathrooms together anywhere, and some spas have female only areas and we could be there together too. Sometimes being the same gender works to our advantage.
  4. People find lesbians intriguing. As a result- any time anyone is invited to a lesbian wedding or party they show up. I mean literally we even had people show up at our wedding who we sort of jokingly invited. I don’t know why, but it happens. So for any lesbians reading this- think about that when planning parties, weddings, showers, etc. They will ALL show up.
  5. Being a minority has it’s perks. Not many. But they exist. I live in a wonderful state that has laws stating I cannot be fired based on my sexual orientation or gender. For the lesbians that live in other anti-LGBT states (ahem Texas, North Carolina, Mississippi, Arkansas, etc.) I’m sorry. You can be fired and that’s just fucking wrong. But the states that recognize we make up at least 4.1% of the tax-paying, economy driving, population- Thank-you New York, Connecticut, New Hampshire, California, Massachussetts, etc.- they want to attract the LGBT population to their states. Because like I said, we pay taxes, we drive up the economy with the money we spend, and those states are happy to have anyone who will stimulate the economy regardless of sexual orientation. We are sought after to move to areas right now because those states know we are being discriminated against elsewhere and want us to spend our money in states that welcome us with open arms. I’m cool with that.  Remember that awful Mayor in California who said crime is down and the economy is up in his city because of “the gays”? As politically incorrect as he was he was right. We rock. And the states that want us, I say should have us. You can guarantee I will not be planning a vacation to any of the states passing anti-LGBT legislation, which means they lose out on all those vacation dollars. I purposefully plan vacations to LGBT friendly states, as do many LGBT families. Remember when the NCAA threatened to pull their finals from NC after they pass the infamous bathroom ban? It was a big deal, NC stood to lose A LOT of money. I don’t really care that it’s motivated by money, because we need people coming to the defense of the LGBT community. I love Target. I never shopped there before the CEO came to the defense of transgender individuals and breastfeeding mothers. Then they recently introduced a line of gender neutral clothing. I mean come on! That’s amazing. For every evangelical Christian they lose as a customer I guarantee they are gaining two more who are raging lesbians. Highlights magazine. I would never have bought three subscriptions to it because I thought it was overpriced. But then they did stories around same sex couples. I was sold. I strongly encourage all LGBT folks to utilize the almighty dollar. It’s one of the few bargaining chips we have. Be mindful of where you spend your money and support LGBT friendly businesses, states, cities, etc.
  6. Ellen Degeneres. Rachel Maddow. Jane Lynch. Rosie O’Donnell. Jodie Foster. Lily Tomlin. Ellen Page. Kristen Stewart. That’s a list of some formidable intelligent sexy women. Glad their on my team. Being a lesbian is a real thing. And the more celebrities who come out the better, because it’s a way to normalize it. Also, lesbians automatically have something to talk about if we run into any of these people ever. I can see it happening, “Hey Ellen, I’m a lesbian too.” Then we high five and become besties.
  7. It’s never weird asking your partner to buy you tampons for the first time.
  8. We don’t have to pay for condoms or birth control. (Public health message to all lesbians- this doesn’t mean we are immune to STDs and this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get a pap smear as recommended by your OB-GYN. We can still get cervical cancer. Drives me nuts that lesbians don’t go to the OB-GYN.)
  9. Lesbian parties and weddings are so much more fun than straight parties. Going out to gay bars is also more fun that straight bars. People are crazier, more “out” there, and happier. I have a lot of theories as to why, but not sure if any of them are accurate. I thought this even before I was dating and married to a woman. There’s something more laid back about lesbian weddings and parties. All of that gayness in a room I guess, it’s just more fun.
  10. The best part about being a lesbian is that I am married to someone I truly love. We have both sacrificed so much to be who we are to be with the person we love. And who better than Optimus Prime to summarize “The greatest weakness of most humans is their hesitancy to tell others how they love them while they’re alive.” When you meet a lesbian couple I can guarantee they have a story. They’ve been through some shit individually and/or together. Lesbian relationships are special because they almost always require sacrifice. Never doubt that lesbian couples love each other fully and deeply living in the here and now with no expectations for the future. To be a part of a deep relationship that faces a society of hatred and discrimination sounds scary, and sometimes it is, but it is also fulfilling in ways that heterosexual white couples just won’t ever understand. Every negative about being a lesbian carries a positive. Why do you think our symbol is a rainbow? We are the calm and the beauty and the different fighting to emerge through a dark storm.