Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh My: Sex Ed and Consent Mechanics

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Bowser, is exhibiting behavior which is NOT suggested when dealing with this topic.

I went to WisCon again over Memorial Day. It was wonderful and difficult and continues to be wonderful and difficult, even as it’s over for the year (maybe emphasis on the difficult, but that’s a story for another day).

On Saturday I went to a panel called Sex Education for Kids: Consent Mechanics, and I would like to tell you about it. The panel description:

“It can be hard to know exactly when to talk to your kids about sex and what to say. Let’s talk about what we’ve tried, how well it worked, and what lessons we’ve learned in the process. The Positive Consent model is different from how things were taught thirty years ago; how can we learn to model and teach it outside the ‘birds-and-bees’ lecture?”

So I mean, how could I not go? Jetpack is five now, and man, things are just going to get more difficult. I LOVED this article, What If We Admitted to Children That Sex Is Primarily About Pleasure, and it also legitimately terrified me. I don’t know how I am going to talk to my kid about sex! We’re still working on respecting personal boundaries, and no, I don’t want your feet in my face. Working on consent mechanics in the sandbox? Got the idea down, but it’s not easy. How to you teach the next steps?

Anyway, my buddy Mo was on the panel, and did a bit of blogging about it (it’s the first panel he talks about). I appreciated his point that sexual education and sexual consent are linked, because it wasn’t a line I’d drawn in my head before—if a person doesn’t know what they’re agreeing to, what kind of consent are they giving? Making sure our kids know what they’re agreeing to, or refusing for that matter, seems paramount.

There was a lot of discussion of well-meaning but horribly awkward methods of dealing with sex ed, and what to do about them. Books seemed like a great way to start the discussion, without making kids feel on the spot. It seems like normalizing those books in the home was good—rather than tossing them on your child’s bed when you decide It Is The Time, having them on their bookshelf for access when they feel like the time is right. As with so many things, not having all the answers is okay, and probably a pretty healthy way of continuing dialog and also helping your kid empower themselves (”I’m not sure. Let’s go look it up in your book!”)

Related to books—please teach your kids to look critically at their sources! Mo volunteers at Scarleteen, and was discussing how very many teens he talks to who have gotten “answers” from Yahoo Answers. Please never take Yahoo Answers as any kind of authority, and please, teach your kids to be careful what websites they trust.

There was one parent (? I think? It was two weeks ago; my memory is foggy) who said that when they were a kid, they were told that when they did decide to have sex, to please do so at home, in their own bed. The reasoning was actually pretty good: they wanted their kid to have sex in a environment where they would hopefully have the space and leisure to use protection, to be less likely to be coerced, to be more likely to think it through and make safe and consensual decisions. Which is pretty brilliant, if kind of scary.

There was also a discussion of teens saying things like “my parents will kill me if they find out…” I think the commonness of that phrasing, along with the prevalence of rape culture in our society, drives home the truth that discussion of sex in a positive way, with a bent towards consent, is so important. IF you teach your kid before they become a teen that sex is okay, and here’s how it works; IF you teach your kid as they’re becoming a teen about what is ACTUALLY happening to their bodies, and what could actually happen to their bodies; THEN you have a teen and an adult who is empowered, strong, and smart enough to make safe, consensual decisions when they’re thinking about sex. Maybe if we taught kids about consent from the beginning, maybe there would be less men’s right’s activists in the world. Maybe.

Reading Materials! WisCon is always good for leaving you with a long list of books you want to look into. Here’s what the panel mentioned:

 

Absum

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As many of you (who know me in real life) know, my dog died last week. Ladybug was my girl for seven years. I was 22, barely an adult, it seems, when she came into my life. It’s been a very hard 2014 for me, mostly from stuff I haven’t been able to share, and Ladybug’s death has been the last thing I can handle. I’m hoping to get back to blogging—I have so much to say!–but right now I have to learn how to take care of myself.

So love to you all, take care of yourselves and your families, humanoid and non-humanoid alike. And here’s a picture of the dog we called the mother of all things, so, so sorely missed.

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The Things That Spring Uncovers

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I pry the skull from my dog’s frenzied jaw. The old bone is yellow and the smell of rancid death still clings to it, though it is mostly clean now. I wonder how it died, how it came to be so clean under mounds of Wisconsin snow and record-cold temperatures. The things that spring brings up.

I carry it home in the poop-scoop. This is the second time she’d tried to claim the skull, and it’s unlikely to be the last unless I move it. Picking it up is neighborly, right? I’m sure the elderly couple whose yard the squirrel died in don’t have any particular attachment to it. And I’m saving all the other dog-owners in the area from having to pry little skulls from their dog’s maws.

It reminds me of a Georgia O’Keefe painting, although I think O’Keefe dealt in animals more romantic than gray squirrels. But there’s something to the slope of front teeth and the jagged edge of back teeth, and the way it’s just the top of the skull. The jaw has disappeared. Maybe a dog ate it.

 

Spring forces this up.

 

The smell of blood and road salt. My son was born in spring. The tulips heralded his first cry. His first full day of life, we stood outside in the sunlight with relatives, and his tiny, red fists senselessly battered the warm, not hot, air. I remember the smell of breastmilk mingling with the smell of lilacs, and the smell of the birthing tub. Spring things.

Now he is older, and like the little skull, he fights the frozen ground and still-present mounds of dirty snow for purchase. He races outside in the sunlight, heedless of frozen fingers and cheeks, to chalk sea monsters and spindly flowers on the patio. He blows bubbles, as if it were summer already. So impatient. He’s done with spring before the snowdrops even showed up. But maybe that’s the most spring-like thing of all.

 

The smell of blood, in water, in spring.

 

Spring brings these things up, frozen as they were, buried under mulch and rocks. Spring pushes them forth, yellowed skulls and the impatience of children.

 

Blood, in water, in a springtime breeze.

 

He was born at home. I gave birth to him. We don’t talk about that anymore. I don’t. I don’t have words, I lack purchase. I’m slipping on dirty mounds of ice and snow, the scent of blood and water and birth is in my nose, and I’m okay, I’m okay, I’m okay, I’m just falling.

 

And it’s springtime. And springtime pushes these things up.

photo credit: jacilluch via photopin cc

Beautiful Weekend in Prarie Dog Town

jetpack climbing in a tree, blurry sunlight

Yesterday the three of us went to Prairie du Chein to visit family, and Jetpack jumped in every puddle and covered himself in mud. We went to Pizza Hut and Jetpack climbed in a tree and greeted every child going to a birthday party there. And then we went to Cabela’s and Jetpack schooled a group of adults and children on the different kinds of sportfish that they had in the display aquariums.

Prairie du Chein is kind of adorable, in a run-down rural Wisconsin town way. It sits at the edge of the Wisconsin and Mississippi rivers. The terrain is wonderfully jagged with hills and bluffs and rocky outcroppings, and trains fly through the area several times a day. There’s a lot of very old, lovely brick buildings. Prairie du Chein was, once upon a time, a very important town in the fur trade business, and it has that lovely, dated feeling. Though we were only in town for a little while, I think we plan on trying to stay for longer, next time.

Villa-louis

It’s always a little strange to be the “gay” family in a rural midwestern town. Being white, and male, and cis-appearing, we don’t feel unsafe–just on display. We’re out of our comfort zone but not out of safety. (Rest in Power, the both of you. My heart goes out to your family and your child and your friends.)

And Jetpack, oh Jetpack. He’s quite a kid to have around when you’re an awkward introvert, let me tell you. He still patiently and happily explains that he has no mom to anyone who makes that mistake. And it’s sometimes odd to see that mistake happen—for example, when we’re at Costco and he runs up to get a food sample. The clerk says “make sure to ask your mom” even as I’m standing there with him. That’s not a case of misgendering—it’s merely that the cultural narrative is of mom as the primary caregiver. That a kid would be out with their dad is beyond the scope of how a lot of people understand the world. This hurts moms—we expect mom to take care of the kids, so their contributions aren’t valued— and dads—we expect dad to NOT care, and if they do, we’re treated like special snowflakes.

When you have two dads, those special snowflake moments are even bigger. When we were in Prairie, for example, we received a lot of very broad smiles. While it was the midwest and all, I’m pretty sure some of it has to do with being a pair of unicorns and a precocious, adorable kid.

But it was a beautiful weekend. It made the shit-sandwich of this week so far–The Mister has extra work to do, I’ve got a second-hand-smoke induced cold, Jetpack was made fun of AGAIN at preschool–a little easier to bear. Horray for sunshine, and greasy pizza, and my cute kid. I hope your weekend was lovely, reader. Feel free to share in the comments!

Princess Movies

 Like a invasive bug in your home. Kids bring it home from preschool, like lice. There’s no chemical treatment, no nit comb. No definitive recovery.

Negative gender stereotyping.

I’ve noticed an insidious motion in Jetpack’s preschool class. As the kids approach five, they are starting to segregate by gender more and more frequently. I don’t know whether it’s encouraged by his teachers (I wouldn’t be surprised, this year) or just a natural age progression.

We were at the library last week, and I was looking for a movie to watch with him. I pulled “Alice in Wonderland” off the shelf. The book is one of my partner’s favorites, and Jetpack has a book of Lewis Carrol’s poetry that he loves.

“I don’t want that. I don’t watch princess movies.”

I was thunderstruck. You what now?

I mean, he doesn’t. He doesn’t watch princess movies—or anyway, he never has. We’ve never offered. He also found Finding Nemo was terrifying, and Earth’s Mightiest Heroes left him shaking after twenty minutes*. So his outright refusal was bizarre. I had never offered a princess movie. Furthermore, I mean, what exactly made him refuse Alice as a princess movie?

 

Alice in Wonderland DVD cover, with Alice, the Mad Hatter, the Cheshire Cat, etc.

 

Here’s the cover. What screams princess about this? There’s no pink dresses, no crowns (well, except on the Red Queen, but she’s itty bitty in the corner and not really indicative of the “Princess” stereotype). So was he actually reacting to the fact that there was a girl on the cover? It’s about the only conclusion I can come to—that we’ve coded “movies about girls” into “princess movies” into “boring movies for boys” and that he’s picked that up from society at large.

Flames. Flames from the side of my face.

Thankfully, my partner swooped in to the rescue, as I stood, mouth agape. “You do too. You like Star Wars, right? That’s a princess movie.” (No, we haven’t shown our 4-year-old Star Wars. He’s played Star Wars Angry Birds a lot, though, and is familiar with the cast and stuff).

“No it isn’t!”

My partner deftly explained who Princess Leia was, and it was settled—we rented Alice in Wonderland, and he loved it (though the Red Queen terrified him). He asked to watch the next episode the next day (if only!) and then we watched the movie again the day after that (he hid trembling behind a chair during all the “off with her head” bits).

I hope that next time he’s more interested in movies with girls on the covers. I may have to rent a bunch more, for since.

Any recommendations?

 

 

*He was concerned because someone was trying to hurt Tony Stark. Cute, but misguided—I mean, come on, it’s Tony.

Mister Mom

A couple of things:

 

 

 

  • Are you reading VillageQ? Because you should be. Because there’s a host of excellence going on there.

 

  • I have a short story published in THEM Lit. If you have any interested in gender and literature, check it out. Everything in the publication is phenomenal—AND I hear they’re coming out with a paper run pretty soon here!

 

On to the proper post:

 

Members of Queen, in drag, looking amazing. From the music video for I Want To Break Free.

Members of Queen, in drag, looking amazing. From the music video for I Want To Break Free.

 

 

I hate that phrase. Mr Mom. It always made me feel uncomfortable when I was a kid—like I wasn’t sure who they were mocking, but I was pretty sure I didn’t like it. Maybe it was personal—my dad does things coded as feminine by the patriarchy—he loves cooking and sewing, for example. Or maybe it was both my parents and their second wave teachings. Either way, I hate the phrase. I’m glad it seems to be going out of style, though a quick search on google’s news page tells me it’s not fully out of vernacular.

But it haunted my thoughts the other day. Our neighbors stopped to talk to Jetpack. They asked what he learned that day at preschool—”nothing.” They suggested he teach it, since he’s so smart. And then they suggested I teach it. I laughed, and Jetpack agreed. “Daddy Levi can teach cooking!”

OWCH. Cooking? I mean. I love cooking. I love feeding my family. But—and I admit this sounds a little ridiculous, but this is how it felt—if I died tomorrow, he’d remember me as that guy that cooked a lot. Not as the guy who writes. Not as a dad who reads with him, or who helps people out, or who gardens—but that guy that cooks.

I don’t think I prepared myself for the little disappointments—the way that kids can sometimes cut at their parents. They have a lot of power! I’m sure there’s a lesson in here somewhere—maybe my own internalized sexism? Maybe not taking things so seriously? Maybe some of both?

Anyway. We’re getting take out for dinner tonight. Gyros. You know you’re jealous.

Anxiety.

Picture from Allie Brosh’s Hyperbole and a Half. I have lived this feeling.

Last weekend, Jetpack wandered off in the grocery store. I had a basket with six apples, and three other things, and I unloaded it, and turned my head, and he was gone. He’d gone the length of the supermarket to look at the flowers, and he didn’t answer my calls. Luckily, some amazing person had seen him wandering and started looking for me. He was gone for about two minutes, and before I found him I was pretty convinced he had been kidnapped.

A week before that, I wrote all this:

I’m not good enough. I’ve yelled at Jetpack for really stupid reasons, like not listening or not letting me use the toilet without climbing all over me like a caffeinated capuchin. I’m always late on flea/tick drops for the dog, and someday she’s going to get lyme disease again because of it. My sister (I’m her primary caregiver) didn’t get a bath the other night, even though she should’ve, because I took Jetpack trick-or-treating. Sometimes she has dry cereal because we run out of soy milk in the fridge and I don’t notice until after she’s eaten breakfast. Sometimes we yell at each other because we don’t understand each other well. The other night the Mister was up very late because I forgot to clean something up, even though I promised, and it really needed to be done. The last two times I put away laundry, I did so because I needed to the basket, in order to wash all the newly dirtied stuff. I can’t fix everyone’s problems. I don’t think I can fix anyone’s problems. And my worries about something terrible happening to Jetpack are as numerous as grains of sand on the beach.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder. I saw it first written, about me, in college. The student counsellor didn’t mention anything to me. She just wrote it on her notes, and I happened to see. It left me with a huge mistrust of her, and a diagnosis that I researched on my own. (Protip, mental health professionals: don’t act like we’re stupid, please).

I’ve never had a job where I didn’t spend some days at home, terrified of going in for absolutely no reason. I’ve never been bad at a job, but I’ve always had attendance issues, usually from days spent sitting at home, sobbing and shaking, afraid of going anywhere. Classes too. I’ve dropped plenty of classes because I was SO SCARED of going. I had a panic attack in spanish class once—not anxiety, a full-on panic episode. Completely lost it. I drove home and actually hid in my bed. (Protip #2: don’t drive directly after a panic attack. I made it home okay, but it was probably the most unsafe I’ve ever been on the road).

Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I had a pretty complicated childhood. I also know I don’t have a lot to complain about—my parents are very loving, I’m white and have never been homeless or without food.

But sometimes I’m still damn crazy.

A friend—who has been travelling her own bumpy mental health road—mentioned the fear of passing these problems on to our children. If you’re genetically related to your child, some of your mental health problems are probably passed on automatically (thanks, genes!). But nature and nurture being the murky waters that they are, who knows. And I know so many people who identify their own neurosis in their parents, and blame them.

I don’t want Jetpack to look back and see that.

Sometimes I wonder, who am I to have a kid? Shouldn’t I have thought about this before taking on that responsibility? (I did, but that’s not the point). I never want to see Jetpack even half as crazy as I feel sometimes. But no matter how much I struggle to shut it down, no matter how much therapy I attend or medication I put into myself, I can’t hide it all. That sad and twisted fucked up me is still in here. I can’t just cut it out. And it scares me that someday he’ll see that too, and he’ll resent me for it.

I don’t have any answers for that friend. I don’t have any hopeful closing paragraph for this litany of my own tragic faults. I can try my best, and I will probably fail.

My Life as a Ghost

I’m a ghost.

Not a real ghost, really (I think I’d just be able to type cryptic messages if that were the case). More like…what exactly are the people from Dead Like Me Called? You remember that show, where Ellen Muth became an undead/grim reaper-type being that worked a normal office job, except when she was instead culling the souls of the recently deceased.

The resemblance is uncanny, though I don’t actually have a desk job, thank goodness.

Well, okay, I haven’t culled any souls yet (though Jetpack was both angry and mournful when I accidentally crushed a grasshopper the other day). But otherwise, life is often like being the same person—in a different body.

Over the summer, Jetpack attended (for a few weeks) a large camp at the local nature center. Once, as the sun beat down on us and the bugs buzzed their merry mindless tunes, the Mister and I dropped Jetpack off together. We stood next to the car as he gathered his things, watching him put on his itty bitty backpack with pride.

From behind us, a voice greeted the Mister. It was a coworker from something like six years previous. She was dropping off her daughter at the same camp. We’d seen her once, shortly after Jetpack was born, and then we all fell out of touch.

She gave me a once over, and then briefly spoke to my partner, and we followed her in to camp. I said a friendly word or two, which she didn’t even respond to, and as we parted ways, I caught her giving me a look again. It was only as we were settling Jetpack in his room that we realized—she saw ours as a broken family. The Mister had dumped his wife for a young, bearded buck, and even the kid was okay with this. The nerve!

A friend (who I’ve known forever, and who transitioned about a hundred years before I did) and I were spending time in a park (with Jetpack). A nanny and two small children were playing on the play equipment as well. He and I leaned toward each other.

“Do we know her?”

“I think so.”

We awkwardly mutter for a few more minutes. At some point in the afternoon the nanny talks to us, introducing herself in that way you do at parks. She’s very friendly, and very much considers herself a stranger.

These moments are flattering, in a way. Pretty nice. And it allowed us to avoid any number of awkward conversations that might come up, and honestly, summer camp, or a beautiful day at the park, is not where I’d prefer to be having trans101. I’d rather be with my kid, my friends and family. And, on the other hand, if you’re actually interested in talking to said person, do you make it abundantly clear who you are, to everyone’s discomfort? Do you miss out on an opportunity?

What do you do when your sister’s friends look at her and say, “I didn’t know you had a brother.” Suddenly, you’ve killed Model01, and replaced them with Model02. How many science fiction stories have used this?

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If only transition were as simple as compressing a glowing ball of magical energy…

Of course, I get to be Buffy AND Faith. Ha.

And there’s the HUGE privilege inherent in getting to choose whether to come out. There’s a huge privilege inherent in feeling more or less safe to do so in many situations. I am incredibly lucky that I can choose to be a ghost.

Being trans can be pretty confusing! And being a ghost is pretty awesome. Except when it’s not.

Make up magic spells/ We wear them like protective shells

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Driving down the busy divided street that leads to our new house, past HyVee and to the highway, where the YMCA snuggles up against bridges and fast-moving cars. Traffic in my lane, the lane closest to the sidewalk, stops abruptly, and I change lanes in order to escape the snarl. And then I see a mama, about my age, dragging a dark blue stroller onto the sidewalk from the shoulderless street. Her older kid—Jetpack’s age, Jetpack’s proportions—stares, his expression unreadable, as his mom cradles the baby in the stroller. I can see her shaken, crouching, her face twisted with relief and horror and fear like I’ve never felt. Everyone’s okay. Traffic resumes, the baby is unharmed, everyone is okay.

But the scene has gnawed at my insides. If. If. What if.

I just can’t get that moment out of my head. I’ve seen car accidents, and put in my heartfelt wishes for the safety of everyone involved. I can remember what seems like a thousand international and horrors, waiting and hoping that the body counts were low.

This wasn’t a massive incident. This was a moment, an accident, a second when something terrible might’ve happened. If the driver hadn’t stopped. If she’d been on the phone or texting. If her brakes were bad. If the stroller had rolled further into traffic. If.

IF is a terrible place to live.

I don’t know what I’d do if something happened to Jetpack. Our brains reach the end of that road, and I think they just turn off. Nope. I don’t know what I’d do. I can’t know what I’d do.

I think that’s what that momma was thinking, that day, in front of the YMCA. Or maybe what she thought later.

Moments like those remind me why we grasp so hard at religious understanding. To blame sudden, painful changes on something—on the Fates, on Sin, on demons or deities—gives us some way to understand. Those aren’t understandings that I subscribe to, but I can see the draw.

And maybe this is even a religious thought, a prayer to toss into the aether. Wherever you are, I’m glad your baby was okay, YMCA mama, and I wish you all the best. You are in my heart.

———-

I wrote this weeks ago, and just haven’t had it in me to post it. Too depressing, I guess.

To add a kick in the gut, I’m going to go all topical. As Mark Twain said, “It could probably be shown by facts and figures that there is no distinctly American criminal class except Congress.”

Politics aside, there are a lot of people who are going to be hurting due to this political game that Congress is playing. WIC isn’t funded, some smaller food access programs are closing down, and food programs for low income seniors will not be funded. People won’t be bringing in paychecks. If you’re not a federal employee, and/or if you aren’t hurting from this charade, now might be a good time to donate, to food banks (often, they prefer money, not “the canned goods from the back of your cupboard”). And keep an eye out for ways you can help, as the shit, as they say, continues to roll downhill.

Giving It Up For…You.

An aside I can’t figure out a way to put in this rambly and sub-par post: our very own Dylan got doored by a car on his bike last week. All good and healing thoughts his way!
I never did have the courage to drink that coffee.

I never did have the courage to drink that coffee.

I started this from the doctor’s office. I’ve just gotten done with my visual field test—my third—for a problem I have called Idiopathic Intracranial Hypertension. It’s fun. Right now, I have to take a pill every day, and it keeps the fluid around my brain from pushing down on it and giving me headaches, vision problems, and hearing problems. After the visual field test–where you stick your head in a machine that looks like HAL’s rear end:

I'm sorry, Dave.

I’m sorry, Dave.

After that there’s the part where they shine bright lights in my eyes, in order to see every crack and crevice of my optic nerves. I gave up contacts, in part, because I just couldn’t stand things coming at my eyes, long before I had IIH. So I get to have these every couple of months. For funsies!

I’m here during Jetpack’s brief time at preschool. Lately, his time at preschool has been taken up with purchasing a house, seeing doctors for my upcoming abdominal surgery, and not on writing or catching up on important other things like that. I’m behind on my email, behind on my writing, behind on the (unpaid) work I do with some non-profits.

I can’t imagine doing this while I worked full time. Or as a single parent. On the poverty line. In a rural area, or a larger city. Between caring for my sister, taking care of other family needs, Jetpack, and then somewhere in there, myself…I just don’t know how I’d do it.

I don’t have much of a good blog post this week, is what I’m saying. I’m moving in the first week of September, and in between now and then, I have to get my house packed up, and then do work on the new place, and a dozen other little things.

Parenting is hard when this kind of stuff is going down. Not only, like, making sure dinner gets on the table (not gonna lie, tonight we had fast food. It’s been a long time, but I just could not pull my shit together enough to get something else out there). But being the kind of parent that has the energy to explain for the sixth time where lightening comes from, to not let him have freezy pops all day long, who smiles and laughs and asks how his day was.

My point, though, where did I…whoops, it’s over there. Excuse me, all I’ve had today is a can of pop. And I don’t usually drink pop, but it was there, and I had just gotten out of fat-shaming-neurologist, and…right, right, the point.

Artwork by John William Keedy.

Artwork by John William Keedy.

I can do this, because someday I’ll be done moving, and I can come home after the doctor’s to the Mr and cry on his shoulder if I need to, and Jetpack has preschool, and I have the spare cash to buy us fast food when dinner is just Too Damn Much.

So this is my massive nod, my bowing at your feet, my buying-you-a-beer-or-coffee, virtually.

To every parent out there who makes it, every goddamned day. Who gets shit done, clothes cleaned, homework enforced, dealing with or putting aside our own mental and physical and socio-economical blockages. We deserve so much respect and love for the good we manage to do.

Hugs!

So, y’all, go out and hug a parent. Ask first, though.

Huuugs