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The TSA’s Attack on a Disabled Young Woman

I received a text last night. It was from my best friend. I knew she was dropping her 19-year old daughter off at the airport in Bozeman, Montana so that Desi could visit family on the east coast. I was expecting to hear something along the lines of, “Dropping her off was hard, but she’s okay.” After all, her 19-year old daughter is disabled. She has an IQ of 52. She receives social security disability assistance and struggles with short-term memory loss as well as a lost list of mental and physical disabilities that make it harder for her to get through the day-to-day aspects of growing up in 21st Century America. Sometimes I envy her a little though, because things that bother me don’t give her any pause. She knows some things are wrong in the world but she doesn’t realize just how wrong these things are. She’s also one of the most wonderful souls I know. She calls me her “Other Mom” because we’re very close, and she’s just as close to my eldest daughter.

Flying over the Blue Ridge Mountains

I was flying myself when I got the text. We were in a Cessna 172, which is a tiny propeller plane that seats four. It was a gusty afternoon here in the Shenandoah area. Gusty makes for bumpy air, but my man, his son and I had enjoyed flying over the snow-tipped Blue Mountains. We even flew over our house in Front Royal, and did a touch and go at the local airfield, which has a tiny strip surrounded by hills on almost all sides.

Nonetheless, it was freezing in the backseat and the heat in the Cessna wasn’t working. When we landed, I heard my phone buzz to announce a text message from Stevie. I took off my glove and with cold fingers scrolled down to read what Stevie wrote. I read the following words:

She was strip-searched.

I started to shake at this point and not from the cold. Stevie had also called while we were in the air. I hit the call button beneath the log of the last call received but she didn’t answer. I had to wait three hours before I got the rest of the story. It’s a story that no mother will feel good hearing or retelling, but some truths need to be shared and this is one of them.

John Adams wrote that we are supposed to be “a nation of laws, not of men.” The idea behind this quote is that all humans are fallible, and thus we must put in place protections to ensure that those who make and enforce the laws do not trample the rights of the people. The entire purpose of course in forming the United States was to form a “more perfect union” and thus “establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity . . . .” See, Preamble to the Constitution.

Photo from https://bozemanairport.com/tsa-and-security

Our government is aimed at one thing: taking care of the people who live here in the United States. Government should defend its people from harm. Government—our government, for we are the people whom it was built for—should protect us from threats both foreign and domestic. Government should also protect us against violations of our natural liberties. As Thomas Jefferson explained it in the Declaration of Independence:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

It should go without saying that strip-searching a disabled young adult at an airport violates everything this country stands for. Indeed, the regulations listed on the TSA website say nothing of strip-searching or cavity searching. The TSA does, however, apparently have the right to “pat us down.” The website itself explains the following:

A pat-down may include inspection of the head, neck, arms, torso, legs, and feet. This includes head coverings and sensitive areas such as breasts, groin, and the buttocks. You may be required to adjust clothing during the pat-down. The officer will advise you of the procedure to help you anticipate any actions before you feel them. Pat-downs require sufficient pressure to ensure detection, and areas may undergo a pat-down more than once for the TSA officer to confirm no threat items are detected.

TSA officers use the back of the hands for pat-downs over sensitive areas of the body. In limited cases, additional screening involving a sensitive area pat-down with the front of the hand may be needed to determine that a threat does not exist.

You will receive a pat-down by an officer of the same gender. TSA officers will explain the procedures to you as they conduct the pat-down. Please inform an officer if you have difficulty raising your arms or remaining in the position required; an external medical device; or areas of the body that are painful when touched. You may request a chair to sit if needed.

At any time during the process, you may request private screening accompanied by a companion of your choice. A second officer of the same gender will always be present during private screening.

See https://www.tsa.gov/travel/security-screening

Please note that nowhere on TSA’s own website does it speak of strip searches or full body cavity searches. Their own procedures and regulations (at least the ones they make available to the public, who then relies upon these written promises) only speak of “pat-downs,” which are a far, far cry from a strip search or a full cavity search.

Can we rely upon the TSA’s own language as travelers? The simple answer is no. Apparently, the government lies. Or the people who work for the government as TSA personnel violate the policies in some of the worst ways imaginable.

Security checkpoint at Seattle Tacoma (SeaTac) International Airport by Minnaert

Back to the story at hand. Stevie called around ten PM EST. So that’s when I experienced or observed or heard about (however to categorize this when it involves someone who’s like family to you?) my best friend’s daughter being cavity-searched by the TSA. Again, as I mentioned, the girl is nineteen and she’s disabled. She has an IQ of 52. When she checked in at security, she submitted both her military ID (for her mother served in the Navy) and her disability card. Both mother and daughter told the TSA agent that the girl was disabled and was under the legal protection of the mother. No matter.

The girl unpacks her backpack and enters the machine that does full-body scans. Apparently she makes it through the screener. Now, the mom looks away for a split second. A few seconds later, after Mom has grabbed something out of her purse, her daughter’s gone.

Mom is searching now for her disabled daughter.

“She’s been taken into a private room, ma’am,” explains the TSA personnel.

“But she’s disabled, she can’t consent to being taken away!” Mom yells.

No matter.

Disabled daughter is escorted into a closed room. The young lady has no idea what’s happening. She knows nothing of rights to her person. She knows nothing of why they are taking her away into a room.

Meanwhile, Stevie is yelling but her daughter is locked away in a room with no recourse. Several things now happen that go against reason: a man is assigned to strip-search the daughter, but the daughter, now shaking, does manage to object to this. So the man leaves the room and a woman takes over. At no point does anyone explain that the scanner spotted something questionable between the daughter’s legs. Apparently, TSA security is not advanced enough to recognize a maxi-pad or a tampon; indeed, the Internet tells stories of hundreds or thousands of women who have been forced to display their soaked maxi pads or remove their sodden tampons to prove that they are not drug mules or hiding explosives inside their vaginas. That’s what it means to be a women traveling in 21st Century America.

But I digress. Because this is not an ordinary woman who knows how to object, how to refuse to be strip-searched, how to request a family member or friend be present, how to demand the presence of a police officer, or how to simply walk out of the airport and opt out of flying on a plane under conditions that are intolerable. She is legally, mentally, and physically incapable of either objecting or consenting to what’s being done to her.

The mom does everything she can. She’s yelling again and again, “You can’t do this, she is disabled, you cannot take her back there, you cannot violate her rights, she can’t consent!”

The TSA official argues. Mom goes through security despite the possible ramifications and continues to insist, “My daughter is disabled, she cannot give consent to this.” TSA guards block Mom from reaching room. Daughter is not allowed to answer cell phone when Mom calls (which again runs counter to our right to film ourselves while we are being searched and to have a person in the room with us).

So there she is. The disabled young woman is alone in a closed room. She is ordered to remove all her clothing, including her bra, her shirt, her pants, and her underwear. She is then ordered to spread her legs. All of this while she is on her period. Then the girl is CAVITY SEARCHED. “We were looking for drugs,” they explained to the mother later. Or explosives—they didn’t seem to know or care exactly what they might have seen instead of a maxi pad—and maxi pads for the record contain no metallic material whatsoever.

Eventually, after wiping the daughter’s hands to check for signs of explosives, the TSA official opens the door. In full view of everyone who may have been near the gates, the daughter stands there half-dressed, with her shirt still not covering her stomach. She’s shaking and crying when she finishes getting dressed and walks out of confinement.

Is this what we’ve come to in America? We are strip-searching disabled women while they’re on their periods—all without the permission of the young woman’s legal guardian? Are we not more worried about preventing crime than we are worried about protecting the innocent? From their own government? This whole war on terrorism has become a terror, or an attack on innocent citizens.

In the case of this disabled young woman, our government terrorized a U.S. Citizen who was powerless to defend herself. This cavity search was a brutal attack on a disabled person’s very humanity. As a former lawyer, I think in terms of legality, and this was illegal in about nine different ways, but this isn’t just about the law. It’s about the entire purpose of government. It’s about American principles.

We lose our rights piecemeal day by day and our government has become the enemy of all that is human. There’s always a morning after something like this. Like today, I wake up shaking and angry. I see a train and it’s coming toward us all. And I can’t do otherwise–I can’t wave at it and not care, so I try to figure out how to derail it. I’m hurt and angry and there’s some brokenness in me too, but there’s others out there who are more hurt and more broken than I am.

So I must act. Last year, I dedicated my art to peaceful political revolution. My latest book is about preserving the humans who are at the backbone of the political system. Not the system. The individuals who should (who MUST) be protected by it. My work is idealistic. I write and I work on the behalf of those who can’t derail the speeding train of inhumane abuse. I write for people like my beloved Desi, the disabled woman who is subjected to cavity searches by fiat of gray-faced terrorists who act in the name of the United States government.

Maybe this is all that’s left of my idealism. Telling stories to show how the train’s coming and how we can derail it, and in the meantime trying not to suffer too much when I hear about assaults on innocent victims or watch the death reels of white and black men being shot and killed or reading the latest paeans to human cruelty. Government should not be cruel to the innocent, but it is.

These are bad times we live in—it actually hurts me to write that, because I love my country and I love the humans who live under its aegis, but it’s the cold, blunt truth. And we help no one when we hide from it.

 




When the Legal System Fails: The DAPL Protests Part 2

. . . I read all of this with interest, and at first I found myself thinking, “Well, maybe the tribe didn’t follow the right procedures, I wonder what that means about the rightness of their protest itself.” But then I recalled my own work as a member of a community, fighting for safer walking trails and lowered speed limits on a road that passed in front of my children’s school. Basically, the citizens of my community banded together to petition for a lowered speed limit, flashing safety lights and a school speed zone, and for reasons complex and frankly silly, the state highway officials as well as the school board opposed passing our safety measures. For years, different people fought to get these safety measures passed, and the issue really came to a head when a child died crossing the street. Still, the state and the school board said, “No” to increased safety measures on our parkway.

Part Two

So we took it to our local political officials as well as to the governor of our state. A local politician formed a committee that included a few citizens, the school’s PTA president, as well as officials from the school board and the state highway safety folks. We would meet once a month, and we’d barter, negotiate, argue . . . but it looked like nothing would get done. Eventually, we came up with an odd but effective tactic to get our school zone sign and our flashing lights. The school wanted to get a hundred million dollar renovation approved by the County. Knowing the way county government land use law works, one citizen suggested that we appear before the zoning board and announce our conditional opposition to the renovation absent the approval of increased safety measures. A few of us in fact showed up at the zoning board, and we made a fifteen-minute presentation. Our measures got approved on the spot.

In other words, we did an end-around the county. We weren’t being heard, even though we were talking and talking and talking. We never stopped talking, mind you, but we went to a different governmental actor, and we found a way to get the complex strands of American democracy to work in our favor. We got a democratic body to strong-arm another arm of government to give us the safety measures we wanted.

When I survey what’s going on with the Tribe and the DAPL, I see a similar tactic being used. The Tribe didn’t think it could get anywhere with the Army Corps or with the pipeline company. Sure, the Tribe tried to use the legal system and the existing governmental processes to oppose the pipeline, and it certainly could be argued that they could have tried harder or used different legal tactics to oppose construction. But my sense from studying the case is that the Tribe (like so many other tribes and like so many citizens) has been down this road before, and it hasn’t been heard.

Indeed, the judge in the D.C. court case recognized just how little Native Americans have been served by our democratic and legal processes:

“Since the founding of this nation, the United States’ relationship with the Indian tribes has been contentious and tragic. America’s expansionist impulse in its formative years led to the removal and relocation of many tribes, often by treaty but also by force.” Cobell v. Norton, 240 F.3d 1081, 1086 (D.C. Cir. 2001). Id. at 1.

The American legal and political system, in other words, has not been a particularly just one as far as tribal rights are concerned. Anything but, in far too many cases.

I think the Tribe recognized the real politics at hand. At the heart of its protest has been an effort to garner awareness and use the resulting outrage as leverage to impel democratically elected politicians to take up the tribe’s cause. In other words, the legal challenge itself was irrelevant, and so too were early negotiations with the Army Corps or the pipeline company. The Tribe knew the results were stacked against it; the Tribe also knew that it could obtain better results through appeals to the people of our nation. Indeed, this worked, at least initially: President Obama ordered a temporary halt to pipeline construction the same day the D.C. court ruled against the tribe.

“Construction of the pipeline on Army Corps land bordering or under Lake Oahe will not go forward at this time,” said a joint statement from the Department of Justice, the Department of the Interior, and the U.S. Army. “We request that the pipeline company voluntarily pause all construction activity within 20 miles east or west of Lake Oahe.”

It could be said that the Tribe is not really concerned about sacred or historically relevant cultural sites, but is using that as a convenient excuse to oppose the pipeline. But it could and should also be said that the Tribe is really trying to save our nation’s water supply. If this is true, the way the legal and regulatory system is set up precludes the Tribe from effectively fighting the pipeline.

By NASA/Apollo 17 crew; taken by either Harrison Schmitt or Ron Evans [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By NASA/Apollo 17 crew; taken by either Harrison Schmitt or Ron Evans [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Indeed, in our legal system, you must have “standing”, or an actual legal interest in whatever you’re objecting to or protesting. Since the Tribe’s water supply may not be directly impacted by the pipeline, the Tribe lacks a legal interest in wherever the pipeline is being built. I find this argument to be true in some ways, but it misses the point of what it means to be a Native American. From an early age, Native Americans are taught that it is their duty to protect our land and our water. They are taught that the land has life as well as life-giving spirit.

The rest of us Americans are taught to “think globally, but act locally.” Most of the time, we don’t get involved in the political system unless our own property or our families are threatened by a proposed or ongoing public measure. It’s only when a pipeline or a well or a manufacturing plant or some other externality-creating monstrosity is about to be built in our backyard that we take to the courts or the local and state governmental bodies. We are the consummate self-interested actors. We don’t get involved unless we are interested in and have an interest in a problem.

The Tribe is thinking and acting both locally and globally. The Tribe sees that the pipeline is being built near its water supply, but also realizes that the pipeline will pass by or through or under major rivers like the Missouri. The Tribe sees that the pipeline thus could harm other communities or other bodies of water that exist outside the tribe’s land. And it also sees that the energy companies cannot be trusted to comply with safety measures that will keep the water supply alive and healthy. The Tribe doesn’t trust the government to enforce its own laws on the environment; after all, what has our government shown Native Americans as far as its willingness to obey its own laws and treaties?

The Tribe is protesting more than desecrations to its own land. It is seeking to protect all life, both within and outside its borders. The Tribe says that “Water is life,” and this would sound like a cliché were it not the simple truth. We cannot go more than three days without water and live. And as the citizens of Flint Michigan can tell you, our nation cannot destroy its citizens’ water supply without the citizens suffering deleterious health consequences.

Sometimes I think we as a nation have become actually addicted to oil. When I bring up the issue of saving the water, logical people ask me, “Well, if we stop producing and transporting oil and using it for our energy needs, then what? How will we power our cars, our houses, our other energy needs?” I always shake my head and answer honestly. I don’t know. But I know that the current processes we are using to produce energy are damaging the environment. And I know that we need to re-think energy. We need to figure out a better way to produce and use energy, because the way we’re doing it now is hurting Mother Earth. We need her. We need to protect her.

11-09-fotofluege-cux-allg-25a

Oil Field Mittelplate in the North Sea By Ralf Roletschek [CC BY-SA 3.0 de (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/de/deed.en)], via Wikimedia Commons

I know. We need our cars. We need our houses heated. Clean energy is too expensive, too hard to produce . . . oil and coal are cheap. I get it. The economics of the environment are complex. Simply saying we need clean energy doesn’t get us the clean or cleaner fuel we need. But do we need to get the fuel the way we’re getting it to live? Is this the best way? Or is there a better way?

The Tribe says we’re hurting the land. The Tribe says that building another massive oil pipeline is going to hurt our water. The real question is not whether we can live without oil, says the Tribe. It’s whether we can live without water. I think both questions need to be answered. But first, we need to listen to others when they ask the questions.

If you don’t think we can live without cheap oil, I challenge you to re-think your premises. Is there a better way? Can we spend less on other things, and spend more on the development of clean energy? Can we dedicate less of our GNP to other foreign entanglements and domestic items, and more to developing clean energy? And is what we’re doing to our land and water worth the long-term costs to its health—and by logical connection, since we depend on our water, to our health?

 

 

 

 

 

 




Why I Dislike Santa

I love Christmas. I love the celebration of the winter solstice and the auguring in of a new year; I love to honor the last official appearance of God’s son in the world as a human boy; I love to hunt for the perfect Christmas tree; I love to teach the children about giving and sharing and making the world better for the less fortunate, which is becoming something akin to a family tradition for us. I love the smell of pine and I love the gathering of families and I love the promise (or in some years the delicious appearance) of snow falling in a glittering purple night sky. I love the winter season and I love Christmas for all that it is and all that it helps us to be. When, that is, we become better souls because of it. When, in other words, we give an extra twenty or we pay a family’s electricity bill or we smile at a stranger or we slow down and hold the door open for someone holding heavy bags or we buy a toy for a kid in need—this, to me, is the essence of what makes Christmas so good.

I just touched though on what often betrays the best of Christmas—this buying of presents. For even when it’s done with charitable intent, it’s still the one thing that unites all America. Christmas in America is about spending money. For inextricably tied to Christmas in modern day secular culture is the reign of the great symbol for mass consumer culture: Santa Claus. And I dislike everything about Santa.

Why?

  1. Adoring Santa Claus leads us to place the focus on spending money rather than on connecting with our inner selves or with things and matters of eternal value. We worship getting and spending and we become, as the Bhagavad Gita teaches, our deepest desires, or we become that which we desire most. If we spend all of our time chasing things down on Amazon, if we traipse up and down crowded malls staring into beautifully stocked windows, we end up wanting all of THAT. It’s unavoidable. We become what we desire most and we desire most what we focus our time and energy on acquiring or becoming. If we’re shopping, we in fact become what we’re shopping for . . . whereas if we are worshiping or meditating and seeking the divine, we become THAT—that union with the best in us and the best that come OF us. To reach our higher selves, we need to disconnect from our lower selves, or the ones that crave after the material bits and pieces of our fleeting physical world.

    From http://business.simon.com/leasing/orland-square-mall

     

     

  2. Santa Claus is a false idol. When we teach our children to worship him, to write him adoring letters asking for STUFF, we teach them to honor a purely imaginary entity, and they’re not even taught to honor this entity. They’re taught to fear him and ask him for favors. They’re taught, “He sees you when you’re sleeping and knows when you’re awake” as if they’re in the throes of some stalker/all-powerful, omniscient entity. They’re taught to behave and be good boys and girls so this all-powerful, scary but kind and plump entity will bring them toys. Just ugh.
  3. We lie to our kids from early childhood about Santa. When it’s time to teach them about the real God and his son, as well as angels and prophets, why should our children believe us? After all, it’s impossible to see God or angels with the human eye. God can only be seen or felt with our souls, and yet we’ve flimflammed our kids into thinking that they can’t really trust their intuition or their senses—after all, Santa does not exist, but all adults say he’s real—which leaves children with the choice of trusting themselves or trusting what more powerful adults allege to be true. In other words, trust us because we’re older, and don’t trust your own intuition is what we are telling children to believe when we insist they believe in Santa Claus.To truly see God and to actually communicate with angels requires that we teach kids to do the exact opposite of what we teach them to do with Santa, because you can only hear or see God if you trust yourself. Seeing with soulvision or via human intuition takes practice and the first step in practicing is trusting yourself and your teachers to help you see what is and isn’t real. Santa’s not real, but adults say he is. So who should a child trust? Obviously, a child can’t trust his or her own judgment in the case of Santa. What about God? Should a child blindly believe in God just because you say God exists? But you LIE! Why should a child believe you if you lie to him or her?

  1. God is real. Santa is not. But we tell kids they’re both real and we celebrate the coming of Santa the same time we celebrate the last coming of God’s son—and then we try to teach children about God? No wonder religion is so impossible to teach or comprehend in the modern era. We’re confusing the heck out of our children and out of ourselves too for that matter. When a child looks us in the eye and asks if Santa’s real and we lie and say “Yes Santa’s real,” we also lie to ourselves—we say to ourselves that it’s a “good lie” because we’re using the lie to propagate a nice myth for our children. We tell ourselves it’s a white lie just in keeping with having a white Christmas, but I say that’s pure nonsense. Why is it not better to say, “No Santa is not real, adults make up nice stories to amuse you, but Mom and I (Dad and I) get you presents we think would bring you joy . . . but the real focus should be on what Christmas really means, and truly what it’s about is celebrating the birthday of God’s son, Jesus. Why not tell them THIS?
  2. Santa brings us stress. When we run around spending and consuming, we make ourselves miserable. We also make our children miserable. They become selfish. Their motivation is dulled even as their need for physical baubles and plastic toys is sharpened. They get stuff, and none of it is meaningful . . . so they become even more fixated on getting more, because they feel empty after they open one present, especially with ten more waiting, and this need begets more need, and none of this is any good for the soul of your child.
  3. Santa promises to give kids more, but this promise results in them receiving much less than is their due. Each time they contemplate Santa or see a Santa decoration, or even a Christmas tree light somewhere, a Pavlonian like response goes off in their brains, and they think not about God but about getting something from Santa. Our children get obsessed with compiling, getting, comparing, consuming, taking . . . and this brings out the ugliest side of their human nature, not the best side. Even worse, we threaten the kids. We say, “Behave, be good, or you will get nothing and Santa will be mad at you,” so we start building up shame and fear of punishment, of authority in their hearts, one leaden deadening brick at a time. All of this fear of Santa resembles the fear orthodoxy breeds in churches. We shouldn’t try to shame our kids into behaving, nor should we resort to bribery. Our children are infinitely better than this. So are we.
  4. The symbol of Santa makes us competitive and jealous. We realize other children get more, and we want more too. It’s just human. We all do it. We all want not so much to have more, but not for others to have too much more than we have. The more our neighbors have, the more we want, and nothing brings this ugly emotion out more viciously than “Santa brought me this” envy.

    Nativity tree2011” by Jeff WeeseFlickr: Nativity. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Commons.

Santa Claus is easy. Everyone follows this tradition. It’s actually hard to say “No, I don’t worship or propagate this myth,” but it’s not really THAT hard to be truthful, to go a different route, to stick to what’s true and to diverge from the norm. After all, it’s been said that normal is just a dryer setting, and in the case of Santa Claus, normal also seems to me to reek of conformity to a certain form of insanity. You don’t have to hurt your children or your friends by telling the truth about Santa. You can say with grace and class, “Well, some people like this tradition and they follow it and that’s wonderful, but the truth is THIS,” and then you tell them you go a different route. No one sane is going to disparage you if you don’t teach kids that a strange man is appearing on their rooftop with reindeer carrying bags of toys.

I hope this gives you something to think about. I am grateful for the true spirit of Christmas, which I’ve seen abounding all around me in this beautiful town of Front Royal I’m now so fortunate to be living in, as a single mother of three. Over the last week especially, as I’ve recovered from a serious car accident, I’ve been treated with kindness and generosity and compassion by hospital workers, tow truck drivers, rental car agencies, mechanics, service center employees, and by souls online who’ve wished me a speedy recovery. THIS is Christmas and it’s why I love it so much. Christmas is about giving and loving in my home. What is it to you?




The Church Who Turned a Hungry Family Away

There is a sickness overtaking the modern American church. One of my friends actually has a tattoo of a dilapidated structure. When you look at the tattoo, you can see what’s wrong with the church from the sketch itself. The church is obviously teetering on its foundations—vast foundations, overladen with fancy artwork, expensive sculptures, and stuffed coffers.

I pictured this tattoo this morning when I got up and thought about this story I’d heard last night. There’s this lady in the American south, and I’m gonna leave the name of what state she lives in out of this story just in case she ever reads it, because I don’t wanna embarrass her. She and her family have fallen on hard times. Her husband works at a company that periodically lays off its employees, who are cruelly labeled as “independent contractors,” which really is a lark and a fraud, but this is Twenty-First Century America and most big corporations are living embodiments of the Scrooge . . . so anyway, her husband got laid off temporarily. And because of the way government and business share the same bedroll (after the corporation submits legal bribes from its payroll), the husband can’t collect unemployment . . . and by the time he finds a new job, he’s gonna get rehired again, based on past practices at least.

This family was making less than $1,500 a month, and now the primary wage earner’s been laid off. So the family’s in a pickle. This is a proud family. A good man, a good woman, two young kids too young to understand why their mom’s crying when she looks in the pantry and sees only a sack of old potatoes, maybe some two-week old bread, I dunno, maybe some butter. I haven’t been by their house or anything, but I know what desperation and an empty pantry feels like.

This family doesn’t go to church, not regularly, so for real, they’re like so many Americans. They don’t get much from the modern stand up and sit down, mumble some words and shake hands with the family behind you, but deep down they view church as what it was meant to be: a place of refuge, a source of hope and healing, a safe place where you can go when you can’t go anywhere else to get help.

So the mother walks down to the local church. She doesn’t drive because they can only afford to have one car, and her husband needs it. She also doesn’t want him to know she’s asking the church for help.

 

She gets there. A woman tells her to fill out some forms, and she’s thinking, forms, why? I just need some food. But she does what she’s told because we’ve all gotten used to doing what we’re told when we walk through the door of the ubiquitous American institution . . . there’s signs for everything and doors for everyone, but there’s no heart in these signs or these doors . . . I am roaming off topic again, sorry.

So she’s filling out these forms and trying so damn hard not to cry, and she’s wishing the lady would just see her pantry and how hungry she is, because she’s not eating. No mother would eat when there’s barely enough to feed her children . . . and none of the questions really are making much sense (why does a church sound like a creditor or an unemployment office? she’s asking herself), but she answers honestly and she tries not to bite her fingernails because coming to the church was a Hail Mary, and now she’s too scared to even think of Mary while she scribbles symbols on a white form.

I’ll skip ahead, you got other things to read and think about today. The intake clerk looks down over her glasses and says, “Your husband makes too much income to qualify for assistance.”

This is a true story. It’s why my friend has a tattoo of a broken church. This church supposedly represents God, but let me tell you, God never would turn away a hungry mother with two hungry children. No church should ever turn away those in need.

And this my friends, in a little more than 750 words, is why we’re building our own church. It’s really simple after all. Those who claim to serve God need to serve others, always. A church that won’t serve is no real church at all, and I’m not talking about meeting IRS requirements for grabbing tax-free treatment under Section 501(c)(3) of the Tax Code. I’m talking about satisfying a better, more loving master: the Lord who stands at the foundation of any real church. That Lord believes those who serve Him serve all others first.




The Mendacity of a Zero Tolerance Bullying Policy

Here is what’s going down in my daughter’s life . . . to protect the privacy of all participants, I’m using initials instead of names, and in some cases have switched initials up.

Dear School Board Rep. MM:

Re: bullying of MEF

I am attaching the e-mail I sent to the principal at TCES. My daughter, MEF, a 4th grader in Ms. GB’s class, has been subjected to bullying all year, which has now culminated in assault. We are considering contacting the police and we certainly will do the same if another hand is laid on my daughter. One of the children involved in the assault has been harassing MEF since second grade. At that point, Ms. Principal S switched my daughter into a different class. In this case, that will not be a satisfactory resolution.

TCES has a so-called zero tolerance bullying policy, which as far as I can tell simply protects the strong from serious repercussions. Given the increase of teenage and even pre teenager suicide that results from bullying, I am very concerned that the school isn’t doing more. While my daughter is not as of yet demonstrating signs of depression, she is showing an increasing desperation and sense of isolation. To date, she has tried to stand up to the children who have been hurting her, and somehow this has led her teacher to argue that MEF gives out almost as well as she gets. I find this more frightening than laughable.

Regards,

ELF___________

 From: ELF
Subject: bullying
Date: November 15, 2012 4:04:51 PM EST
CC. Principal S

Hello GB:

As we mentioned during our Parent-Teacher Conference earlier this month, we are concerned about KZ’s bullying of MEF. This has been occurring all year and today, it culminated with my daughter racing off the bus in tears. Apparently at recess, MEF was sitting alone and playing a game. Three boys (AK L, DG and KZ) marched over and spat at her (which they also did yesterday). One of them ran up and called her a “Guana [sic] Pig” and “Ninja Pig” and when two girls tried to intervene, KZ pushed MEF, causing her to fall down. AK kept calling MEF these nasty names; then DG shoved and pushed MEF into playground equipment. MEF tried to chase them away, and they screamed, “Leave foul beast.” At some point, AK said, “I hope your little ‘sister’ dies” (referring sarcastically to my son TJF, who tried to stand up for his sister during recess yesterday). At some point during this, MEF called KZ a “stupid idiot.”

At the end of this, KZ told MEF that she’d better not tell on him, or else he would tell on her and say that she was bullying him. This, of all the things I’ve heard from MEF, disgusts me the most. She admits to calling KZ a “stupid idiot” only after she was shoved, pushed, called epithets, struck, made fun of and basically tortured.

I do not want to hear what I heard earlier this year: that “boys will be boys.” No. You have a zero tolerance bullying policy. Let’s go ahead and see that policy in force.

Let me be clear: this is a clear pattern of bullying. We have spoken with you regarding DG, Ms. Principal S. In second grade, we switched MEF to a different class after he sexually harassed her. I don’t want him to ever lay a hand on my daughter again and I don’t know how else to make this clear. And Ms. GB, this is at least the fourth time I’ve raised the issue of bullying, either in writing or in person, this year. MEF loves being in Ms. GB’s class. At this point, if anyone is moved, it must be the perpetrators and not the victim.

I would appreciate if this e-mail is forwarded to the parents of all involved children. And Husband and I request an action plan.

Regards,

ELF
___________________

Mr. Vice Principal PBJ:

Thank you for calling me earlier. I’ve received the rest of the story.

MEF just got home from school and told me she was afraid to answer your question about pushing. To your “leading question” of, “Do you think it’s okay that you pushed the boys,” she didn’t answer what she was really thinking. At that point, she’d given up. It isn’t polite to argue with adults, mom.  What she said to me was, “I was trying to protect myself from them. I wouldn’t survive if I didn’t fight back. Especially when they’re spitting at me and calling me bad words. But I didn’t bother telling Mr. PBJ that because he didn’t want to hear it. They don’t really care. Why can’t you just transfer me to a different school, anyway?”

At school today, Ms. GB caught AK and KZ (I think) while they were spitting at MEF. (to MEF’s tremendous relief, Ms. GB gave them a serious rebuke). AK was also bragging that he’d lied and told you that MEF had hit AK (which is nonsense). AK thinks it’s hilarious that he’s pulled one over on you and has somehow convinced you that MEF has bullied THEM. I refer, as exhibit 1, to MEF’s near-perfect behavior record. Seriously. Go ask all her prior teachers.

Oh, and one other thing MEF did not tell you: she has tried to defend herself physically in the past. One day she hit KZ, in the stomach, at recess when he was bullying her. He laughed at her and called her a “weakling.” I fear that she will try to protect herself and will suffer harm at the hands of these boys, who are much bigger, stronger and heavier than her.

What’s happening here is a small, sweet kid is trying, really, really hard to take matters into her own hands. She is trying to create a safe space for herself. When she tried to do that and enjoy some peace, the boys invaded her space (a situation that seemed laughable to you because it involved a make-believe “command center”), spat at her, called her a PIG . . . and then she’s in trouble for pushing them? This is nonsense. Unlike some of the kids in her class, she is not a violent kid, but she’s trying to do her best “to survive,” as she put it. If you don’t act soon, someone is going to get hurt. Please work with me to keep my child safe. I am not satisfied with your response.

Regards,

ELF

On Nov 16, 2012, at 4:54 PM, PBJ wrote:

Good Afternoon ELF,

I am sorry that MEF has the perception that we do not care about what she said because we do.  As I said on the phone, our goal is to make TCES an inviting, safe space for all of our children.   We have begun taking steps to address the concerns we uncovered today and will continue to do so.   I would be happy talk with you further about this either on the phone, or, if you prefer, we can meet next week.  Please let me know how you would like to proceed.  I expect I will be here for at least another thirty minutes, if you would like me to call you tonight please let me know.

PBJ

We won’t stop.

ELF      Date:   November 16, 2012 5:01:24 PM EST

To:       PBJ

I’m far too upset–in tears– to speak to anyone more tonight.

____________

I wasn’t exaggerating. Before I’d typed this, I’d asked all three children to go outside for 15 minutes.  So I could cry.  I needed to break down, feel weak, feel this, for just 15 minutes.  Then I got my shit together, which really only happened when my husband walked across the threshold.

After I took a run, I calmed down and got back on the computer.  A friend of mine sent me a note last night.  She told me a pretty haunting story about a bully named KZ (the same KZ) who tortured one of her son’s friends so badly last year that the child transferred to another school. Yep.  The victim transferred to another school.  My friend added that she heaved a sigh of relief when finding that KZ was not in her child’s class this year. “My son is happy again.”

KZ has chosen another victim: my daughter. His parents don’t or won’t intervene. Meanwhile, the school has erected a smattering of anti-bullying signs around the hallways—the same hallways KZ prowls, searching for victims. 

He preys on the sweet kids. The ones who wear glasses, or are a little bit unique, or aren’t surrounded by a posse at all times. And he’ll keep on hunting until the school stops him. You know what sort of thing happens when the school bureaucrats don’t act?  Kids take their own lives, or they bring a gun into school and . . . well.  Columbine.

What do we do?  I’ve prayed on this a lot.  I’ve prayed for the Holy Spirit to fill me; I’ve asked Him for peace and love and I’m still praying, and pretty damn confused.  I know one thing for sure.  I will not go along with the blanket of secrecy that the school uses to shroud the misdeeds of out of control students.  I will fight, and I will not stop until my daughter is safe. So help me God.

 

 

 

 

 

 




Guest Post: With God’s Love I’ll Be Okay

Most mornings start like this morning: I wake from dreams where I’m stuck in the past. In these dreams, I’m trying to run, talk, plead or beg my way out of a remembered time or place, real or symbolic, from childhood.  My childhood, as captured in my dreams, is a prison my mind, my past, and my family once put me in.  I try everything to escape, but the only way out of that hell is by turning my eyes to the morning light  . . .

To read the rest of today’s blog post, please go visit me at The Monster in Your Closet, where I’m guest posting for my dear friend Deb Bryan.
By the way, I’m really, really excited to be over at Deb’s virtual home. She’s like a sister to me. So really, please click HERE to read today’s blog post.

 




Helping Break the Code of Silence, One Tiny Brick at a Time

I have written about the Code of Silence as it relates to PSU, and in Tuesday’s guest post, my friend and fellow blogger, Dawn Sticklen, has written about how it has affected her community.  What I have not written about is how it has affected (and still affects) me.

I don’t like my own story. So I create ones in which I do not feel weak and disempowered. In Ripple, I create a fairy tale: a father rapes his 15-year old daughter, Phoebe.  Phoebe’s mother, though failing to prevent the abuse, protects Phoebe from FUTURE harm as soon as she finds out about the abuse.  And in helping Phoebe heal, Helen, a workaholic lawyer, finds redemption for failing to protect Phoebe.  No one is perfect in Ripple, but action and disclosure breaks the silence.

This isn’t about me.  It’s about what’s been done to so many others by so many. I know it’s done. But they can’t let go of it. They churn it over again and again in therapy.  They like to think they’ve healed, but time is an uncertain companion, just as the abuse we suffer. Some of us get over it quickly. Others bury it until it haunts them. Some thrive. Some suffer.

The worst thing is it’s ugly.  Either an abuse victim is telling lies, or their abusers committed great harm. sins.  No one who wasn’t abused, and even some people who were abused, wants to believe that there is evil in our world.

I told a friend the logline from Ripple, and she asked me if the story was realistic.  “Do fathers really rape their daughters?”  Yes, my friend, they do.  Parents abuse their children all the time, in more ways than one.  It’s ugly, and messy and confusing to hear someone’s story, but it’s even uglier and messier and confusing to tell your own story.  The only thing worse than telling your story is to face the disbelief of others.

That’s what abuse victims face, readers, when they try to break the Code of Silence.

P.S. I couldn’t leave this on a sad note, not after watching some good news on NBC.  Earlier today, Kayla Harrison became the first American to win a gold medal in Judo.  Kayla was sexually abused when she was a 13 year old girl by an ex Judo coach.  And yet, she triumphs.  She is, my friends, a Rebel Thriver.




Penn State University: Lessons Learned

Today I’d like to introduce Dawn Sticklen, from Since You Asked…. Dawn lives in Joplin, Missouri and she writes about family life both in her local community and around the globe. Her blog offers ideas for contributing to the overall quality of life and wellness of your community.

Dawn and I have been talking about a major issue that, sadly enough, affects each and every one of our communities: sexual abuse. Recently, I wrote about the Code of Silence that protects perpetrators in child sexual abuse cases, and Dawn wrote an amazing response to that issue in the comments that followed. I asked her to expound on her response in a guest post, and what she wrote is both hair-raising and instructive. For a look at how the Code of Silence has impacted her community, please read Dawn’s excellent story below.

Today, as I ponder the sanctions handed down to Penn State University by the NCAA, I can’t help but wonder, “What can we learn from all of this?  Will we learn from this?”  Like El and most of you, I am outraged not just by Jerry Sandusky’s behavior, but also by the behavior of those surrounding him who felt that the reputation of the university and its football program was more important than the safety of the children with whom Sandusky worked – and then abused.

However, what makes me most angry about the Penn State situation is the fact that the “code of silence” is frequently enacted in our own communities.  Too often we ignore complaints about inappropriate behavior by adults in leadership positions for fear of bringing negative attention to an institution that we hold high esteem for.  We speak of the accusations in hushed tones; hoping the incident was a “one time” event or convincing ourselves it’s none of our business because our child was not the victim.  Unfortunately, what we don’t realize is that when we react swiftly in the face of accusations of abuse and/or inappropriate behavior it is an indictment against the individual.  When we are slow to react, though, it becomes an indictment against the institution.

Take, for example, the Catholic Church, of which I am a member.  Imagine how much more respect and honor the church would have received over the years if its leaders, upon learning of the very first abuse case, had simply done the right thing and adopted the policy of removing perpetrators from any contact with children.  Instead they chose to move the abusers to other churches in an effort to cover up the crimes committed and in the hopes that the perpetrator would miraculously cease his abusive acts.

After years of this pattern, the church –and rightly so – now finds itself responsible for jeopardizing the safety of hundreds of children.  Unfortunately, Joe Paterno is guilty of this same crime by hiding what he knew about Sandusky’s behavior with the young boys he came into contact with on a regular basis on Penn State’s property.

Penn State’s fans are outraged by the NCAA’s and the media’s harsh criticism toward their beloved coach.  I find this ironic because it is this same revered coach who single-handedly brought dishonor to the university by his decision to put the sanctity of the university and its football program above that of the many children who were Sandusky’s victims.  Unfortunately, this misguided anger occurs frequently in our own communities, albeit on a much smaller scale.

Locally I witnessed the firing of a high school football coach amid accusations of inappropriate text messages he sent to a student.  I was appalled to hear parents defend the coach by questioning the student’s reputation.  Some individuals even went so far as to make threatening phone calls to the victim’s home out of their anger for her drawing negative attention to their beloved coach, football program, and school.  It was the fear of this community backlash that kept past victims from coming forward to reveal the pattern of abuse exhibited by this coach.

How many other children have been victims of abuse in other communities but have been reluctant to come forward for fear of their own safety and reputation because too many people are loath to admit that someone they respect is capable of crimes against our most vulnerable citizens?  This is the “code of silence” that exists in all our communities, and it is time to break this code.  It is time for us to stand up to the bullies who desire athletic dominance over the safety of our children.  Are we really the kind of society that values the reputation and sanctity of an institution above that of a child?

NCAA president, Mark Emmert, explained the severity of the sanctions against Penn State as a wake-up call to all universities about the dangers of “hero worship” with regard to their athletic programs (specifically football).  In our own communities we, too, must endeavor to achieve a winning tradition while refusing to adopt a win-at-all-costs attitude.  We cannot allow our admiration for an individual to cloud our judgment of his behavior toward the children entrusted to his care.  We cannot continue to allow others to threaten a victim or discredit his or her claims of abuse in an effort to protect the institution with which the perpetrator is associated.

We must take our cue from the NCAA and realize that as adults and members of a community we are all accountable for the safety of our children and must strive to create a culture of honesty and integrity where children need not be afraid to report any inappropriate behavior of the adults who work with them.

These are the lessons we can – indeed, must – learn from the Penn State scandal.

Readers: how do you feel about the Code of Silence? What can we do about it?




PSU and Getting in Touch with my own Anger

  I’ve followed the Jerry Sandusky case with a bit of self-protective distance until yesterday.  Revelation after revelation exposed both horrific child abuse and an even worse phenomenon: a Code of Silence that protected a football program while it sacrificed the safety and welfare of young men.  Not only did the football coach I’d so admired uphold the Code: so did the athletic director and the Penn State University president.

For my entire life, my identity has consisted of two major facets: athlete, and intellectual.  I admired Joe Paterno and his football program.  His players seemed to abide by high moral standards, and they graduated.

Like so many heroes of mine, Paterno proved weaker than I expected.  Despite knowing that a boy was raped by Sandusky, a PSU coach, in the locker room showers, Paterno did not report this to the police.  He figured that the Program, with all of its heft and power, could handle it internally.  The Code prevailed.  The Code of Silence.

Three things were sacrificed to this Code: the abused boy; subsequent Sandusky victims; and the psyche of abuse victims throughout the world.

I try to write about this and my brain shuts down right HERE.  Grief takes over.  I’m so confused.

I’m spinning.  Sorry.  Where was I?  Victims and how we feel when the authorities protect abusers.  THAT.  Yes.  My chest grips me and I cannot access words, but I will try.  Those of us who suffered abuse suffered something much worse: silence.  Our own silence, and the silence of people who knew that we were abused.  This hurts worse than the touch of hands that had no right to touch our bodies.

It’s so hard to explain.  I tried to advocate for shutting down the PSU football program last night.  My poster, now taken down, said:

Stop Child Abuse.  Shut down the PSU Football Program.

Sarcastic and offended PSU supporters attacked me, but as a friend noted, the discussion was pretty civilized.  You know why it was civilized?  Because I kept it so.  I swallowed my anger and took care of everyone else.  To the PSU grads who felt attacked, who mourned the potential loss of their beloved white and navy-clad football players, I said I was sorry.

And I was sorry for their pain.  But I wasn’t sorry for advocating the shutting down of a football program.  The student-athletes who get a free ride at PSU can transfer to other universities, and be paid to run up and down a field of green for four years.  They will receive a free education.

I’m not sorry for believing that shutting the program down will help shatter the Code.  Shut it down.  Send a message to future coaches and athletic directors and university presidents: your team is not above the law.  If you protect the abusers, you will suffer consequences.  It’s too bad that the consequences will affect players and fans and alumnae.  But we live in an interconnected world.  We do not own the teams we follow.

Ownership.  Funny, that it comes back to ownership.  The rights of each person begin where the rights of another person end.  Sandusky violated those boundaries when he raped that boy in the showers.  From that crime rained down shards that cut so many others.  And so much of it could have been prevented, if the men who knew of the crime reported it to the authorities.  Those men represent a university, and since they acted on the university’s behalf, the university must bear the responsibility and face the punishment.

Am I disinterested?  No.  This case means a lot to me. The mother I’ve become sees her own boys shivering in the corner of some university’s showers ten years in the future.  My anger and my pain and my grief rage inside me right now, and I am struggling against it, trying not to self-destruct by burning too hot.

This anger and grief is crippling me today.  I feel scared and alone, and yet I know I can’t sit with this too long.  Soon.  Soon I will rise and move and run again.  Soon.  This fire burns too hot inside, but I will rise.  Soon.




Unmarked Gay Graves: Persecution and Death by Hatred

I looked up when I heard the angry tone.  I searched the faces in the crowded classroom.

Who was she talking to?  Why are they staring at me?

The more she said, the more they stared at me.  Like a confused, sleeping child hunting for a lamp in the dark of night, I looked for someone’s hand to grab but the only thing I could find was my desk, so I held on so tight my fingers hurt.  I was twelve years old and this white-haired, plum little old art teacher, with words stark like winter sunshine on a ski slope, screeched, “Why must you act like such a dyke?  You should be ashamed of yourself, wearing boy’s clothing.”

On the outside, I appeared calm and collected but I was dying inside.

Years later, my brother’s voice startled me.  “E!  Mom needs to talk to you!!”  Setting my copy of The Fountainhead down, I took a deep breath and tried to loosen my right shoulder.  It was tight from all the pitches I had thrown that morning.  Each summer day between my senior year and first year of college, I threw 150-200 pitches, lifted weights for an hour, and ran at least three miles.  I had a crush on Jon and a best friend named Tracy and we were inseparable—closer than I’d ever been to any of my friends.

Too close, apparently.

I opened my parents’ white bedroom door and tripped on a stray piece of loose carpet in their otherwise pristine room.  My parents sat on fabric-covered bedside chairs and I wondered what I had done wrong because Mom’s brow was furrowed and Dad’s mouth was tight and he was glaring, not leering, at me.  They assured me that “I needed help,” and that they wanted to help me because no one should be condemned to a “homosexual life sentence.”

I still didn’t understand what they meant until she held up my once-gay uncle’s letter as if channeling Senator McCarthy when he brandished his infamous list of Communists.  This uncle of mine had undergone a spiritual awakening.  He had seen the light and stopped his sinful fornication with other men, and ever since, he spent his days searching for other gays to save.

In his mind, I was yet one more gay in need of salvation.  You know, because I dressed in jeans and white athletic t-shirts and didn’t wear makeup and wasn’t screwing some guy . . . and had a best friend that I hugged and even held a lot . . . surely, he reasoned, they reasoned, I needed help.  Because I was gay and all.  So my parents read his letter and asked all of these questions and told me I was going to hell and their words poured over me like cascading water falling fast, so fast, over rocks in a waterfall and I was falling, falling . . .

falling.

On the outside, I appeared calm and collected but I was dying inside.

So I grabbed the keys to my Subaru, and my journal that my mom has since hidden from me, and I drove down I-71 toward Pennsylvania, playing chicken with the guard rails for hours and hours.  I wasn’t sure.  I wasn’t sure.  Was I going to hell?  Did they know something I didn’t?  I had never had sex with a man; then again, I knew what it felt like to be turned on and boys, not girls, got me going that way.  I pulled over and wrote in my journal that I wanted to die, and then I kept moving west on my drive of death until the rain poured down so hard I couldn’t see.  And then I chose to keep living and figuring all of this shit out and I gripped the wheel and made it home and once home, I drunk whatever I could find that night until the pain . . .

receded.

A few days ago, the phone rang and I answered it on the second ring.

“El?”  She whispered, her voice ragged and ravaged by grief.

“Yes?  It’s me.  Talk to me.”

For a moment she cried too hard to speak.  I knew what it was about.  Someone we both know said that gays are sinners, destined for hell’s fires.

With my left hand, I swung my strawberry blonde hair out of my eyes and pressed the receiver into my right ear, and I waited.

Trevor Project at LA Gay Pride Parade

Photo Credit Karen Kartjen.

“God loves me!”

“I know, hun.”

“GOD LOVES ME!! He loves me!”

“I know.  I know He does.”  I repeated the same words and felt her grief in my cold heart.

“Enough!  Enough! How many more children need to die?”  She was howling, like an animal wounded and left to die, and I held still, very still, trying to breathe, and listen, and find the right words.  We both know the statistics: four out of five teenagers who commit suicide have been bullied on account of their sexual orientation.

I nodded and mumbled something useless.

“How can he say I am a sinner?”  I pictured her tear-rimmed, blue eyes with dark rings circling them and her own hand gripping the phone, and my mind danced between knowing and not knowing how to comfort her.

“How can he say God doesn’t love me?  HE MADE ME!!  He knew me before He made me!”  I could barely understand her because she was sobbing so hard.

“I know.  I love you.  I know.  I know.”  I said the same words over and over, as if I was hugging her and patting her back.  I felt so fucking useless.  “I am so sorry,” I added, as I sunk into my rocking chair, my throat gripped by her grief and my own pain.

On the outside, I appeared calm and collected but I was dying inside.

There are many ways to die.  A piece of me felt broken and grief-stricken as I sat there in my rocking chair, wishing I could hold my dear, precious friend, as she wept at the persecution she and so many others face.  This inward death is my marker for each gay child who dies when the vocal violence of human hatred drives her to choose too soon her own death.

The death I almost chose.




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