Thursday, March 28, 2013

For LBGTQ Kids: You Matter

With Prop 8 and DOMA before the U.S. Supreme Court this week, it seems gay marriage and equal rights are what everyone is talking about.

I want to talk about something related, but not about marriage equality.

I want to speak directly to any LBGTQ youth who might ever come across this blog.

You are a good person. You have value and are worthwhile. You deserve to have the life you want. You matter.

I know it probably makes no difference hearing that from someone you likely don't know. I don't even know if I have any LBGTQ readers, much less young ones. But maybe if I say it to the ether, someone will say it to one of them. Maybe it will be you. They need to hear it.

Every year, thousands of LBGTQ youth are kicked out of their homes. These kids are far more likely than their hetero counterparts to experience personal attacks of violence, prolonged periods of homelessness, and substance abuse. LBGTQ youth are a whopping 6 times more likely to commit suicide than hetero youth.

These statistics do not reflect some defect inherent in LBGTQ kids. They reflect a defect in our society. All of these problems stem from rejection of LBGTQ youth by their family, peers, and teachers. They are bullied, beaten, raped, and murdered for simply being who they are.

This is completely unacceptable.

If you have experienced these sorts of attacks, let me tell you now: you did not deserve it. Nothing about your gender, sexual orientation, dress, mannerisms, or lifestyle warrants attacks on your body, home, or safety. If someone has done this to you, they are a monster. Even if that someone was your parents, your friends, your coach, your pastor. Nothing you have ever done deserves that sort of abuse. There is no excuse for anyone to behave that way towards you.

You deserve to be treated with respect. You deserve to have a safe place to live. To keep a job. To have a family. To shop for clothes and groceries without worrying you might be harmed or killed. You deserve life, just like anyone else.

To those readers who have been lucky enough not to be attacked, I urge you to become an ally. If you witness someone being attacked for their presumed gender or sexual orientation, stand up for them. If you know of a young person who no longer has a place to live because their parents do not accept them, help them find a place to stay. If you meet a person who is LBGTQ, welcome them.

Sadly, even being an ally carries a risk. You may be attacked with as much vehemence as LBGTQ people just for standing up for their rights. Please consider that this isn't a choice they can make. They have no control over being who they are.

We can all choose to do the right thing. To be loving, compassionate, accepting people. To value people as people, even if we don't understand their lifestyle. To protect kids from harm, even if we disagree with them.

The name of this blog is real love. Let your love help change society into something that isn't diseased. Understand that LBGTQ kids may feel totally unloved and unwelcome in the world, and do something to change that.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Lines in the Sand

Everyone has boundaries and limits in their life and relationships. They can be physical (such as not allowing others to drive your car) or emotional (such as using words like "partner" instead of "boyfriend" and "girlfriend").

Recognizing, communicating, and enforcing boundaries with your partners is essential to maintaining a healthy relationship. Let's address each individually.

First, you must recognize your boundaries, and determine how firm they are. Some will be non-negotiable. Some will be flexible under certain conditions. It's important to make this distinction.

For example, one of my boundaries involves cohabitation: I do not live with partners. This, for me, is inflexible. I am very solitary and greatly value my living space, and it's vital to me that I be the only one who sets the rules about what goes on in my home. This includes everything from who is invited over to how much clutter is present.

When I first started dating Rusty and Ryder, I had an additional boundary of no sleepovers. This stemmed from a previous, abusive relationship which had left me feeling highly vulnerable. After I worked through some of those issues on my own and established trust with my partners, we renegotiated this boundary and it no longer exists.

So keep in mind that boundaries are fluid, both yours and your partners'. Just because it was once true doesn't mean it must be true now, and it's okay to let your partner know that something has changed from what you had previously determined.

Which brings us to the next point: communicate your boundaries. Don't expect your partners to guess at what's important to you. Trust me, they'll guess wrong. Tell them what you need, and what is too much. Don't be afraid of hurting their feelings; it will hurt them far worse to do something they thought was okay and unintentionally make you unhappy.

When communicating your boundaries, be clear and be firm. Don't hint at what you mean, especially for issues involving sex. Some people find talking about sex uncomfortable, but the people you have sex with need to know what you consider out of bounds.

So if what you mean is, "I don't like anal sex and don't want to have it," say that, don't hint or insinuate. Leave no room for doubt about what is important to you.

Even if your boundaries are fuzzy, communicate that clearly as well. It's okay to say, "I'm not sure how I feel about anal sex. I haven't really tried it. I might not like it." If there's information you would like from your partner, ask for it. If there are things that bother you but you're not sure why, let them know. The more information your partner has, the easier it will be for them to do what you need. Also, having a discussion with your partner when you're not really sure where your boundaries lie can actually help you figure out what is important to you and why. Sometimes just talking about it is enough to give you clarity.

Finally, enforce your boundaries once they've been defined and communicated. If you've told your partner you're not okay with sleepovers and they fall asleep on your couch, wake them up and ask them politely to leave. Any time your boundaries have been violated, explain to your partner what the violation was, remind them of the conversation you had in which you communicated what was and wasn't okay, and insist that they maintain your boundaries in the future.

By the same token, respect your partners' boundaries completely. You can, of course, ask the reasons behind what they ask of you, but be prepared for the answer to be "I don't know, I'm just not really comfortable with it." Check in with them regularly if you feel a boundary might be renegotiated, or is sensitive enough you feel it needs extra care. If you find yourself unsure of whether you're violating your partner's boundaries, ask, "Is this okay? Could I be doing something better?"

Don't be afraid to communicate your boundaries, and don't be offended when a partner communicates theirs. "I'm not comfortable having unprotected sex" doesn't mean "I don't like you."

Respecting the limits your partner has regarding themselves, their property, and their behavior within relationships is a basic element in a healthy relationship, as is having your own limits respected. Remember, you have the right to protect your body, your money, your home, and your safety. You do not have the right to violate that which belongs to your partner. If you share some of these things (like a home and finances), ensure you have clearly established the boundaries about what is and isn't okay to do with them.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

No More Excuses

I've argued the case against letting other people tell you what or how you're feeling, and I stand by those arguments. But today I'm going to present the flip side of that coin.

While I would never presume to tell you what you're feeling about a situation, I can observe your actions. If you say, "You don't understand the way I conduct relationships," you may indeed be right. But when what I observe is that you give no value to the opinions or feelings of your partners, you act to protect your own interests at the expense of others, you tell other people what they can and cannot do in the relationships with people other than yourself, or you hold your partners to a different standard from which you hold yourself, I'm going to think that you are behaving badly, not simply loving differently.

It's time to stop making excuses for this bad behavior. "He does the same thing to me." "You just don't understand us." "I've always done this, and it's always worked fine for me." "If you don't like it, leave." "She finds it cute when I get jealous."

It can be hard to sympathize with those whose feelings you are totally failing to consider. You think, "Well, I would be okay if someone did this to me," and that makes it okay in your eyes. But if it's clearly not okay with your partner, you're not seeing the situation properly.

Here's an example: let's say there is a couple, Jenna and Alice. Jenna grew up in an abusive home, and Alice knows this. Jenna has been conditioned to do whatever someone says anytime they raise their voice, because consequences for disobedience when she was a child were severe. Alice had no such upbringing, and frequently yells during arguments. She's never upset if Jenna yells back, and she feels that yelling "lets off steam" and helps resolve conflict, because the argument always dies down immediately after the shouting starts. Jenna, meanwhile, feels manipulated and controlled, because Alice constantly gets her way by yelling whenever the two of them disagree.

This may be an extreme example, but it gets to the heart of the matter: just because shouting doesn't bother Alice, that doesn't make it okay. Alice knows that Jenna is sensitive to shouting, yet she does it anyway because it gets her what she wants.

Loving behavior would look like this: when Alice and Jenna disagree, Alice takes extra care to maintain a quiet, calm discussion, even when things get emotional. When she feels herself becoming angry and fighting the urge to shout, she asks for a break from the conversation so she can regain her composure. During times when no conflict is occurring, Alice makes sure Jenna knows that she may sometimes have to put arguments on hold in order to keep things calm, and if this happens it's because she wants to be sure everyone's voice gets heard.

Which of these two situations sounds more like your current relationships? Do you and your partner(s) take extra care to consider each other's needs and feelings, or do you insist on having your way regardless of the consequences? During arguments, do you try to force your partner to see it your way, or do you try to work towards a solution that satisfies you both?

Think for a moment about how you conduct yourself in your relationships, and examine whether you are behaving in a way that shows love. How might you make more effort to ensure your partners' needs are met and their voices are heard?