Saturday, April 30, 2016

Right on Target

In the news and social media lately, I have seen so much emotion and drama about people going to the bathroom.  Yes, we are vehemently arguing here in the U.S. about who is and is not allowed to pee.  I think this is absurd.  With this in mind, I am going to attempt a little tutorial on American culture and bathrooms from the perspective of a fairly well-educated, middle class, American woman.  I am going to explain a few basic ideas, and then pull them together so that we can have a simple understanding of the situation.

Rape Culture
The simple definition I go by:  As a culturally accepted, non-written rule, we blame the victim for the sexual crimes perpetrated against her.  
Even though I never heard the term until I was an adult, I have belonged to this culture my entire life.  When I was a little girl (growing up in my middle class, white neighborhood), my mother taught me to never go to anywhere alone.  She taught me to take a buddy with me to the bathroom and to always tell someone where I was going.  Bathrooms were an especially dangerous place- one that I could not enter without her or someone else along with me. Now, my mother never told me, "bathrooms are dangerous places full of men who want to molest or rape you," but that was what she said when she told me, "never go to the bathroom alone."  
I taught my children the exact same thing.  I went with my daughter to the bathroom until she was 12 years old.  When my boys were old enough to be embarrassed by using they women's restroom, they went with each other to the bathroom until they were 10 or 11.  Even when they went together, and even once I allowed them to go alone, I always asked if they were going "number one" or "number two" and let them know how many minutes they had until I came looking for them.  It may be in a restaurant, a church, or a school, but I never let my children use restrooms unsupervised and without me knowing exactly how long they were gone.  I also made sure to know that there were no exits between me and them.  I never told them bathrooms were scary places, but I am pretty sure they figured it out just like I did.  
To this day, when I am traveling alone and I stop at a rest stop or gas station to use the bathroom, I call or text my husband to tell him exactly where I am before I get out of the car, and I call or text him again when I am safely in my car and locked back in.  When I am walking into the restroom, I look around to see who is there.  I look in all the bathroom stalls if I think I am alone in the restroom.  I go as quickly as I can while listening for footsteps.  I am quick to wash my hands and I don't run the automatic hand dryer because I don't want to miss a sound.
This makes it sound like I live in fear.  The thing is, I do not live in fear.  This is simply how I was taught to travel in the world.  I must always be on my guard to protect myself when I do not have a man there to protect me.  This is rape culture.
 I am infuriated that I have been taught to live in a way that no man is.  My husband does not do these things.  My father did not do these things.  They are survival skills our mothers teach us to survive in a world where we are not protected against the men who may want to hurt us.     
Does it seem that this is just one personal example?  Here are some others:
Last week, a court in Oklahoma found that a teenage girl was not raped because she was nearly unconscious.  This allowed a white male to force her to perform oral sex on him while she was unable to give consent.  He will not be punished for this crime, even though he admits he committed it.

Over the last few weeks, it has come out that BYU, a prominent American university, has been disciplining the victims of sexual assault and rape because they broke the honor code.  Yes, according to BYU, a rape victim broke the honor code because of what was done to her without her consent.  

I just ran a search for "how to keep my daughter safe at college" and 13,300,000 results came up.  I typed in "how to keep my son safe at college" and 11,000,000 results came up.  I was about to be surprised, when I realized that those articles were being gender neutral.  Not a single one used the word "son."  On the "daughter" screen, every single one used the word "daughter."  This is rape culture.

My daughter wants a keychain with mace in it for a going-away-to-college present.  Just like her aunt got for hers.  Just like I got when I got my first job.  My brothers never got any such gift.

Clearly, 2016 America still holds on to its rape culture, even to the point that we don't even realize we are living it because it is a generational norm we have never stopped to notice.

Transgendered People
Disclaimer:  As far as I know, I do not know any trans people well.  I am going on what I have read and seen in documentaries, the news, and social media.  All ignorance in this section is mine.
The simple definition I go by:  A transgendered person is someone who was born with a body that belonged to one sex, but with a spirit, mind, and heart that belongs to the other.  There are other people who do not identify as either male or female, and they fall in this category too.  Basically, the person inside of the body does not match the gender assigned at birth.
While looking up statistics to write this blog post, I found out things I don't want to know.  
75% of transgendered students don't feel safe at school.  Many of these students are not only harassed and bullied by other students, but many are picked on by teachers and administrators (which makes my teacher heart ache).    
These same children hear anti-LGBT comments at about the same rate.
Approximately 41% of trans people have attempted suicide at least once.
Trans children are often abused by their own families.
1 in 2 trans people are sexually assaulted (this is not adding all the other assaults they face).
I did not see any statistics about trans people as the abuser or rapist.  

What all of this tells me:  Trans people are one of the most victimized, abused, and singled out groups of people in our country.  These people- our coworkers, friends, brothers, and sisters- are hurting and the people around them often do not understand or blatantly say or do harmful things to them.  

Fear and Love
When I put together what I know about rape culture and trans people, this is what I get.  We live in a society where women (and boys and girls and other humans who do not qualify as men) live in a constant state of awareness to protect ourselves from becoming victims.  We must be  ever vigilant in protecting ourselves because we know that men are liable to harm us, and in the American justice system and American culture, we will be blamed for it.  We will be the ones who are scrutinized and held under a microscope to deem whether we are worthy to be a victim or if there was something we did that caused it to happen to us.  Among us are trans people, one of the most abused groups in America.  
Enter this fact:  Trans people have to pee.  Sometimes, they are out in public when this happens.  They go to the bathroom just like the rest of us do.  They pick the one with their gender on the door.  They go in and they pee.  Hopefully they wash their hands.  They go back out and carry on with their day.  Obviously, they do the same thing I do if they go into an empty bathroom- they check to make sure there is no rapist hiding on top of a toilet seat.  
Now, enter the absurd side show that America has become:  Some idiot on his legislative seat has determined that trans people should not be allowed to pee in the bathroom that fits their gender.  They should use a bathroom based on an appendage or a lack of an appendage connected to their body.  

What this legislator is saying is that instead of a little girl going pee with her mom, the mom should say:  Hi daughter, I know that you are a girl, but you were born with a penis, so I am going to send you in your pretty pink dress into a bathroom with men.  Don't bother checking the stalls for rapists or child molesters, they won't need to hide from you.  After all, one out of every four rapes occurs in a public place.  Don't worry honey, I'll be here when you come out.  I know that one in two trans people are sexually assaulted, and we had better get you used to it now.

Why Don't We Take Out Our Fear and Rage Upon Those Who Cause and Perpetuate It?
Last week, a former Speaker of the House of the United States of America was indicted for sexually abusing several teenagers.  I have seen many, many people take to social media to rage against trans children using the bathroom that belongs to their true gender.  I have seen ZERO of these people say a single word about this sexual predator.  Why, if our goal is to protect people from sexual predators, do we not fight for laws banning these rapists and molesters from bathrooms?  Why don't we fight for them to have a little shack out back to use for the bathroom?  Why are we taking one of our most abused populations and trying to force them into situations where they will no doubt be abused further?  
When we have celebrities, religious leaders, politicians, and countless other men raping, molesting, assaulting, and damaging other humans, do we not try to enact laws to keep us safe from them?  
When we have a population of abused and misunderstood people, why do we make laws to further push them out of our communities?
Why don't we rage against the evil of these criminals who cause our fear?
Why don't we love and embrace these individuals who have already been or are at the highest risk of becoming victimized?
I ask you, why do we choose fear instead of love?

The answer is simple my friends.  Rape culture is so ingrained in us that we are willing to blame the victim for the crime we are afraid will happen to us.  

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Carrying my own baby again

I truly believed I was done having my own children when I became a surrogate.  After the last surrogate pregnancy, I pretty much knew I was done.  My body had been battered, my spirits had been crushed, and I knew that I could not emotionally handle another bad ending to a journey.
The thing I didn't count on was my husband deciding- after five years of marriage and three surrogate pregnancies- that he wanted to have OUR child.  And how could I say no?   I couldn't.  And the idea of us creating our own tiny miracle made me smile.
So here we are, 23 weeks pregnant with our daughter.  And I have realized that this pregnancy is so very different than the last three.
My own babies- take 1:
I was 18, 21, and 23 when I had my first three children.  I was young and strong and busy.  I took my own health and the health of my children for granted.  I didn't pay much attention to what was going on inside of me, just that I would have a child at the end.  I enjoyed my pregnancies and loved nothing more than feeling my child moving inside of me.    And each time one of my babies were born, I was the first to hold them.  I was able to look into their little face and see the person I had been getting to know for the last ten months.  Pregnancy and motherhood were beautiful to me.  They were my happiness and the one thing in my life I never doubted.  I knew I was an awesome mom.  I knew I had amazing kids.  No matter how fast or far I was running, my kids were always who I was running for.  Pregnancy was a means to an end, and an enjoyable means at that.
Surrogate babies- take 2:
I was 30, 31, and 34 when I carried my five surrogate babies.  Starting with couples who had experienced losses or infertility, going through shots and hormones and IVF, and belonging to a surrogacy community where pregnancy and problems were shared freely brought a new perspective to pregnancy.  I knew the odds, the risks, and the high stakes involved.  I knew that these families were counting on me to get their child(ren) here safely.  I took excellent care of myself, and treasured these babies as the most precious gift their parents had entrusted me with.  My pregnancies themselves became the journey, and I documented every month with pictures, updated the parents
with every change, and savored the beauty of growing a life for another family.  Pregnancy was the journey, and I loved it (well, until that last one....).   I relished the moment when I would deliver the baby and watch as her parents received her into their arms and fell in love.  My favorite moment of each journey was seeing those parents look at their child and .... Change.

Here I am, 36 years old, a year after I had planned to shut down the uterus, 23 weeks pregnant with my own child again. I didn't know how this would play out in my mind or what it would do to my emotions.  The first few months were terrible.  I had morning sickness for the first time ever.  I doubted my ability to carry a child safely to term after 6 successful and uneventful pregnancies.  On the heels of my miscarriage, I doubted baby would settle in and feared I would lose this child before we really got started.  Once we made it out of the first trimester, I started to believe the baby would be okay.  We have made it through all of the tests and all looks good.  We are days away from baby being able to stand a chance at survival if she were to come.   And in the last few weeks, I have noticed that this pregnancy is unlike any I have ever had before.

How is it different?  I am not enjoying pregnancy at all.  It is a means to an end once more, and the journey will not really begin until my daughter arrives.  I find myself wishing away the weeks until we arrive at her due date.  I still worry that something will go wrong because I still know all the bad things.  I plan for her nursery, and I prepare the necessary things.
I want desperately to see my husband's face when he looks at her for the first time. I want to see him when he sees her.  I want to record the look on his face when he changes.  I have always told him there is a magic in seeing your tiny, new child for the first time that changes something inside you.  I have told him that once he sees her and holds her for the first time, he will never be the same again.  I have always wished this for him, since it is the greatest joy I have ever known.  I hope against all hope that I will be able to witness this moment.
But in my mind, I always come back to the one moment.  I come to the moment when my daughter is born and they put her in MY arms and it is ME feeling her skin, kissing her cheeks, and counting her toes.  I am stuck on the moment when it is ME who gets to feel the delicious weight of her on my chest.
I think somehow, after watching the last five babies I have delivered go directly into someone else's arms, I think that I will appreciate this miracle being laid into my arms even more than I ever did before.
I am starting to believe, that with all the experience I have with childbirth and pregnancy and motherhood, with all I have learned of hope and giving and loss, I am starting to believe that I even I can, just maybe, still find the magic and... Change.