Sunday, March 16, 2014

Trans* 101 Discussion Question Sheet From My LGBT Graduate Course

I taught a trans* 101 class to my very tiny LGBT graduate school course the other week. What makes this class so unique is that these individuals are in the process of training to become therapists. This fact colors the way I have phrased these questions and statements. My colleagues are either coming from a place of total ignorance or what they have learned from academic study is not appropriate or totally incorrect for direct services counseling work with trans* clients. For example, the textbook I was supposed to be working from defined the word “transgender” in a way that is common among academia/public policy, but is not how a lay transgender person might define themselves. And this book briefly mentioned that nonbinary trans* people exist, but did not go into detail beyond a sentence or two. This was all new information and/or challenging thought experiments for professors and students alike in my graduate program. Don’t be surprised if you see blog posts related to these discussion questions in the future. I have a lot to say on this matter. Feel free to comment, email, etc. regarding this post. I’m definitely interested in anything you’d like to say or add to this.

  • The term “transgender” is used differently in academia and in the transgender community. This brings up the issues of identity, meaning and the power of labeling. Specific populations like cross-dressers, feminine/butch LG people, drag queens/kings, etc. are not considered to be trans* within the community, but are placed under this umbrella by academia. To clarify, one can be a butch lesbian and be transgender, but being a butch lesbian in and of itself would not automatically make you transgender in the lay community. What does it mean that academia places certain people under the “transgender umbrella” when even the book admits that this academic inclusion does not “imply that all people with those identities include themselves within the larger matrix or consider themselves transgender”. Whose labels/definitions are seen as more valid and who has more societal power? And what are the implications of these differences in labeling for counseling, research and social justice?
  •  The chapter talks about therapists serving as gate-keepers to trans* individuals’ access to hormones and sexual reconstruction surgery. Transgender individuals (binary and nonbinary) have been forced to lie in the past in order to fit into rigid standards to receive the care they need. This still happens, to a large extent, due to the fear that trans* individuals will regret these procedures despite the actual rarity of this phenomenon. How would this affect a client’s view of the counseling relationship? And how can a therapist respect a client’s agency and intelligence and explain the permanence of these medical procedures without becoming a gate-keeper?
  •  In this chapter, most of the discussion of transgender individuals focuses on binary transgender individuals (i.e. trans men and women). How would a clinician prepare themselves to help a nonbinary trans* person (i.e. someone who is genderfluid, genderqueer or agender, for example) function in a world that renders them invisible?
  •  What are some counseling approaches one can use to help a client deal with the internalized transphobia stemming from the pathologizing of their identities from the medical/psychological community and the political and social rejection of the heterosexual and LGB communities?
  •  How do factors like age, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status intersect with trans* issues? And how can clinicians support transgender clients in mitigating the negative consequences of these intersections?

 Problematic terms/phrases to keep in mind for clinical practice
  • Pre/post/non-op, MTF, FTM, female/male-bodied, transsexual – These words are falling out of favor and can be very offensive because they reduce trans* individuals to their genitals/body parts and to their birth assignment. If an individual’s medical history NEEDS to be referred to, words like “sexual reassignment surgery,” “vaginoplasty” or “top surgery” are preferred. And if you NEED to refer to someone’s birth assignment, the phrase “assigned female/male at birth” is more appropriate.
  • Real man, bio woman, genetic man, natural woman - Trans* people are not fake. A trans man is just as “real” as a cis man. A preferred word for “not transgender” is cis or cisgender.
  • Tranny, t-girl, shemale, he-she, hermaphrodite, transvestite – Never use these words. These are slurs and have their roots in pornography and the non-consensual fetishization of trans* people, trans women in particular. Some trans* people are trying to reclaim some of these words, but if you are not trans* yourself, do not use them.
  • Transgendered – the word transgender is an adjective, not a verb. For instance, a person doesn’t womaned, or maned. A person is transgender.
Binary trans* people, i.e. trans men and trans women, should just be called men and women unless, for some reason, it is necessary to refer to their transgender status.

It would not hurt to get into the habit of asking clients what their pronouns are when asking their name. It takes only a second and reduces the likelihood of committing a microaggression. For example, “Hi, my name is Kierra and my pronouns are they/them. And you?”

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Finding the Right Therapist for You – Part 2: Your Role as a Client (Written in 2014)

Please check out Part One of this two-part series. This post is about your role and rights as a client. As I said in the previous post: therapy should not be something that is done to you. Rather, it should be something you do together with your therapist. For the sake of self-disclosure, I will remind you of my personal theoretical approach. My approach to therapy mainly comes from a postmodern client-centered approach (with some cognitive therapy interventions). If you remember from the first post, my theoretical approach dictates how I see a client, how I see my role as the therapist and what kind of techniques and methods I will use in therapy. My belief that clients should be active co-participants in a therapeutic relationship is influenced by my theoretical orientation. Basically, keep in mind throughout this post that not all therapists will agree with everything I say here. These are my beliefs and these are the things I stand for.

As clients, I believe that you are the consumer and the therapist is providing a service for you. Therefore, it is important to find a therapist that is best suited to be able to provide the best possible service for you. Finding the right therapist is like finding a partner. There should be chemistry. This potential therapist should work to gain your trust and create a safe space for you. And the both of you should be compatible enough that it is possible for the both of you to effectively work together to accomplish your therapeutic goals. As stated previously, this is the time to pay attention to the therapist’s theoretical orientation. Additionally, there is another factor to focus on: the therapist’s personality. Therapists are humans with all the accompanying strengths and flaws. If the therapist’s personality grates on your nerves or simply does not complement yours, you’re going to be distracted from accomplishing your goals in therapy.

Relatedly, think about coming out to the therapist during the intake process, aka that first meeting where the therapist asks you a lot of questions about your past, your personal life and the reasons why you decided to seek therapy. I know the idea of coming out to a therapist as queer, trans*, polyamourous, kinky, etc. may feel nerve-wracking and scary as all hell, but it is actually very helpful in the long-run. A therapist cannot provide care that is designed for you if they do not know enough about you. It is important to ensure that a therapist has the experience and the skills necessary to help someone from your community or communities. Even if, let’s say, your gender does not play a role in the presenting problem (the problem you are coming to therapy to deal with), if a therapist has negative biases or is ignorant about these issues, their ignorance may block them from being able to provide effective therapy. It would be hard to feel comfortable discussing your phobia of talking on the phone if your therapist somehow blames every problem you’ve ever had on the fact that you are genderqueer. Also it is impossible to provide effective therapy to a client without understanding them in their proper context. How can I possibly fully understand a client’s needs and goals if I don’t understand how being Chinese, queer or an immigrant interacts and influences their perspective? How would I be able to tell the difference between reasonable anxiety that comes from being a person of color in a racist society from a maladaptive anxiety that comes from an anxiety disorder without understanding their subjective reality? That said, your potential therapist does not have to be an expert on everything. That would be impossible. A therapist just needs to be open-minded and empathic. Your potential therapist may not know everything there is to know about being polyamourous and that’s fine. However, this therapist should be willing to do some research. You are not obligated to school your therapist on poly-101. It really is not that hard to go look it up on the internet and it would distract from therapy if your therapist kept asking you to explain how you can possibly date more than one person every other session. A therapist should be able to admit when they are not knowledgeable about something and should be willing to put in some work for the sake of the therapeutic relationship.

So congratulations, you bravely walked into their office, filled out the intake forms and then came back a second time for a therapy session. Damn right, good for you. Now that you have chosen a therapist, don’t feel like you are locked in. Do not be afraid to switch therapists and walk away from one if they are not meeting your needs. I have talked to some people who stick with incompatible therapists for much longer than they should because they feel as if they can’t leave. Your therapist is not your parent. You have power. You are the consumer. You can always find someone else if this therapeutic relationship isn’t working out. That’s not to say that you should just leave if there’s a bump in the road. Therapists are not perfect. I’ve bumped heads with my former therapist a couple times. The sign of a good therapist is their willingness to be flexible and their ability to apologize if they have made a mistake. Another thing to keep in mind is that there is a difference between feeling uncomfortable because you are dealing with your issues in therapy and discomfort because a technique or therapist simply is not working for you. If you are feeling uncomfortable or upset, talk it out with your therapist. They should be willing to talk about what is going on between the two of you in session (aka metacommunication). If a technique isn’t working for you, your therapist should be willing to modify it or scrap it altogether. A therapist that is not willing to be flexible and talk to you as if you are a competent adult isn’t a therapist that I would want personally.

Another thing to keep in mind: a therapist is not supposed to give you advice. It is not their place. A therapist is supposed to help you become independent by, for example, providing you with coping skills, teaching you techniques, and/or making you aware of your own inner strengths. Giving a client advice fosters dependence on the therapist by creating a situation in which the client feels like the therapist has all the answers. The client may not think they can come up with answers to their problems on their own and feel as if they would be incompetent without their therapist. This is not the kind of situation a therapist should encourage. If a client has a problem, an effective therapist would help the client brainstorm ways to resolve the situation on their own so that if they ever find themselves in a similar situation, they will be able to handle it without their therapist’s help. I would be incredibly wary of a therapist who dispenses advice or tries to “fix” your life.

Again, please don’t forget that, as the client, you have agency. The therapist is not your lord and master. They are not better than you. They are not smarter than you. You are the expert on your own life experiences and they are the expert on therapeutic approaches/techniques. You deserve respect for your expertise. In my opinion, a therapeutic relationship should be based on mutual respect, collaboration and trust. Don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself and seek out what is best for you. You are important and you deserve the best.

If you have questions or suggestions for future topics, please feel free to send an email to me at or tweet to @QueeringPsych on Twitter.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Finding the Right Therapist For You - Part 1: Theoretical Approaches

I’m back! A perfect storm of personal events and graduate school has kept me away from you. However, my life has calmed down significantly and I will try to update this blog much more often.

This is part one of a two-part series regarding how to find the right therapist for you. A number of people have been requesting these posts for months and I am finally able to put this up. In this post, I will give very brief and basic descriptions of some of the more prevalent theoretical approaches that therapists work from. Knowing a therapist’s theoretical orientation/approach is incredibly important. All therapists are not the same. I have heard the following statements countless times from people: “My therapist is so awful! This proves therapy just doesn’t work for me!” Then I usually say, “Damn, I’m really sorry your therapist didn’t work out for you. What theoretical approach was your therapist working from?” And then I usually get a blank stare. Theoretical approaches determine how a therapist views you as a client, their role as a therapist, their relationship with you and what techniques they will and will not use. Think of theoretical approaches like a pair of glasses with which your therapist views the world. As a client, I think it is very important for you to know the theoretical orientation of a potential therapist. It is something that you really should consider when you are trying to figure out if a specific therapist is right for you. Do you want to simply focus on your anxiety symptoms? Do you want to talk extensively about your childhood? Do you want to figure out your place in the world? Different approaches focus on different aspects of life and different aspects of human psychology. Finding a therapist whose theoretical approach fits with what you are looking for can help avoid being with a therapist who simply is not compatible with you.

In this post, I will describe each approach by asking the following questions: “How Does This Approach View Clients and/or Humanity?,” “How Does This Approach View the Role of the Therapist?,” “How Does This Approach View the Therapeutic Relationship?,” and “What Are the Overall Goals of This Approach?”. I am only describing some of the many approaches and, as stated earlier, these descriptions are basic. This post is meant to serve as a diving-board for your own research.

Classical Freudian Psychoanalytic Therapy and Modern Psychodynamic Therapy

Psychoanalytic therapy is basically what first pops into everyone’s head when they think about therapy. Sigmund Freud is the founder of psychoanalytic therapy and his work influenced all of modern psychotherapy. Every theory that came after Freud’s was either inspired by or in retaliation of psychoanalytic theory. Psychodynamic therapy is the more modern version of Freud’s classical psychoanalysis. 

How Does This Approach View Clients and Humanity?

  • In Freudian psychoanalytic therapy, human behavior is motivated by unconscious and irrational urges. Freud believed that humans are inherently savages that were reined in by society.
  • Human psychology can be split between things we are aware of about ourselves (the conscious) and things we are unaware of (the unconscious). Becoming aware of the unconscious parts of ourselves is the main goal of psychoanalytic therapy because with this awareness comes choice and change.
  • The experiences people have early on in their childhood have a huge impact on who they are as adults.
How Does This Approach View the Role of the Therapist?

  • The therapist is the expert and is the one who will provide the insight. The therapist makes insightful interpretations based on what the client has told them so the client can grow and change. Interpretations include calling attention to and explaining the meaning behind a client’s behavior.
  • In classical Freudian psychoanalysis, the therapist tries to remain anonymous and emotionally detached from clients to encourage transference (a client’s unconscious rehashing of old feelings and reactions from past significant others onto the therapist). The therapist explores these feelings and reactions as a window into the client’s unconscious thoughts and feelings. This approach assumes that the client acts in similar dysfunctional ways with the therapist as they do with other people in their lives.

How Does This Approach View the Therapeutic Relationship?

  • Classical psychoanalytic therapists want to remain emotionally detached from clients in order to provide insights and interpretations. In contrast, modern psychodynamic therapists see a solid and healthy therapeutic relationship as an important part of creating change.
  • The psychodynamic approach views emotional communication with clients as another way to learn more about the client and to build a connection with the client.
  • Sessions are fewer and shorter than traditional Freudian psychoanalysis (nearly every day of the week for many years).
  • In the current psychodynamic approach, clients and therapists sit face-to-face, instead of lying on the couch.

What Are the Overall Goals of This Approach?
  • Making the unconscious conscious (classical Freudian psychoanalysis).
  • Increasing the client’s ability to function in society.
  • Reducing symptoms and resolving internal conflicts.

Adlerian Therapy

How Does This Approach View Clients and Humanity?
  • Human are motivated by their desire to relate to others in society.
  • Humans have agency in their own lives, but their ability to make choices is limited by biological and environmental factors.
  • It is our feelings of inferiority and insecurity that motivate us to become better.
  • Clients are not sick. They are discouraged by life and this discouragement results in dysfunctional behavior.

How Does This Approach View the Role of the Therapist?
  • It is important for a therapist to be able to see the world from the client’s point of view. It is essential that an individual be understood in the full context of their life.
  • The therapist takes on the role of teacher and encourages the client by making them aware of their strengths.
  • The therapist helps the client create goals for therapy.

How Does This Approach View the Therapeutic Relationship?
  • The therapeutic relationship is collaborative, as the client and the therapist work together to create change.

What Are the Overall Goals of This Approach?
  • Encourage discouraged clients.
  • Help clients better understand how they see themselves and the world, which should avoid the repetition of symptoms.

Existential Therapy

How Does This Approach View Clients and Humanity?
  • This approach asks the question: “What does it mean to be human?”
  • Humans are constantly changing in response to the conflicts of life.
  • This approach focuses on how humans deal with being alone in the world and how they handle the anxiety that comes with it.
  • Humans are free to make decisions within the environmental and social limitations of life. Humans may not be able to control exactly what happens to them, but they can control how they deal with it.
  • This freedom comes with responsibility and the choices people make comes with consequences. Trying to avoid one’s responsibilities or trying to avoid making choices results in existential guilt and anxiety.

How Does This Approach View the Role of the Therapist?
  • The therapist helps clients explore their current values to see if these values are benefiting them.
  • The therapist confronts clients with the fact that they must become their own person and not allow others to define who they are. Clients are encouraged to accept responsibility for their actions.

How Does This Approach View the Therapeutic Relationship?
  • The therapeutic relationship is seen as a sample of other relationships in a client’s life.
  • A caring, respectful therapeutic relationship is more important than being an objective, detached professional.

What Are the Overall Goals of This Approach?
  • To help clients see the ways they are not living fully authentic lives full of freedom and responsibility.
  • To help clients face their anxiety and create meaning lives.

Person/Client-Centered Therapy

How Does This Approach View Clients and Humanity?
  • People are trustworthy and are capable of creating constructive change.
  • Clients already have the strengths and assets within them to overcome their problems.

How Does This Approach View the Role of the Therapist?
  • The expertise, clinical knowledge and techniques of the therapist are not as important as the quality of the therapeutic relationship. It is the therapist’s ability to connect with the client as a person and their ability to be present for the client that truly matters.

How Does This Approach View the Therapeutic Relationship?
  • The therapeutic relationship is incredibly essential. A good, solid relationship allows the client to feel safe enough to explore thoughts, feelings and behaviors that they have not been able to express otherwise. This leads to clients being able to become their own healers and create their own positive change.

What Are the Overall Goals of This Approach?
  • Help clients recognize their strengths and become independent so they can handle problems on their own.
  • Create a safe space that will give clients the freedom to explore parts of themselves they may have been too afraid to explore previously so they can live whole and authentic lives.

Gestalt Therapy

How Does This Approach View Clients and Humanity?
  • Clients have the ability to make positive change when they are fully aware of themselves and their environment.
  • Clients have an active role in therapy as they find their own insight.

How Does This Approach View the Role of the Therapist?
  • The therapist is a guide who encourages the client to change by discovering and accepting themselves and their environment.

How Does This Approach View the Therapeutic Relationship?
  • It is a collaborative relationship in which the therapist and client share their experiences in therapy together in the here and now.

What Are the Overall Goals of This Approach?
  • To expand the client’s awareness of themselves and the environment in the current moment because change comes through awareness.
  • To help the client accept themselves.

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapies

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy is an umbrella term for many different theoretical approaches. All CBTs use techniques/interventions that focus on the cognition (thoughts) and behavior of clients as a way to create positive change. CBTs also tend to be short-term therapies that focus primarily on reducing psychological symptoms. I chose Albert Ellis’s Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) and Aaron Beck’s Cognitive Therapy (CT) because they are the most well-known of the CBTs.

How Does This Approach View Clients and Humanity?
  • REBT
    • People are born with the potential for both rational and irrational thinking.
    • They learn irrational beliefs from childhood and actively reinforce these beliefs throughout their lifetime.
    • Blaming the self or the world is the root of emotional problems.
    • Life experiences and events do not cause psychological issues (i.e. anxiety or depression). It is our beliefs about the event that impact our emotions and behaviors. For example, according to REBT, you are not depressed because your father died. You are depressed because of how you perceive your father’s death. Your perception therefore influences how you behave and the emotions you feel. If your perception was changed, you would feel better.
  • CT
    • Humans have core beliefs about themselves and the world that they maintain all throughout their lives. When these beliefs are not accurate, psychological problems occur.

How Does This Approach View the Role of the Therapist?
  • REBT
    • The therapist is the expert and teacher, who models rational behavior for the client.
    • The therapist disputes the client’s irrational thinking and teaches them techniques to independently dispute and replace irrational beliefs with rational ones.
  • CT
    • Therapists encourage clients to turn their core beliefs into hypotheses to be examined. Clients conduct experiments to test the validity of their beliefs.
    • The therapist asks open-ended questions to encourage clients to find their own answers to their problems.

How Does This Approach View the Therapeutic Relationship?
  • REBT
    • According to Albert Ellis, a warm therapeutic relationship is not necessary for success and can actually be harmful to the client. He believed that it could cause clients to become dependent on the therapist.
  • CT
    • A collaborative, empathic relationship is incredibly important, but it is not the only thing needed to create change. Techniques are needed too.

What Are the Overall Goals of This Approach?
  • REBT
    • Teaching clients to accept themselves, flaws and all.
    • Teaching clients how to change dysfunctional thoughts, emotions and behaviors into functional ones.
  • CT
    • Helping clients analyze their core beliefs and change them if necessary.

Postmodern Therapeutic Approaches

Postmodern theory is a reaction to modernism, which believes that there is one true, objective reality that can be studied and known through the scientific method. Theoretical approaches based on modernist thinking are founded in the idea that people who seek therapy have deviated from some objective norm and need to be put back on the right path. Postmodern theory disagrees, believing that there are multiple valid and subjective realities. Each person lives in their own reality that is influenced by the time, place and society in which they live. There is no single objective truth and, following that, there is no single right way to live.

I will describe two postmodern therapeutic approaches: Steve de Shazer and Insoo Kim Berg’s Solution-Focused Brief Therapy (SFBT) and Michael White and David Epston’s Narrative Therapy.

How Does This Approach View Clients and Humanity?
  • Both postmodern approaches agree that clients are the experts of their own lives.
  • SFBT
    • SFBT believes that clients already have the strengths within them to resolve their problems, but sometimes people lose their way.
    • Clients are not reduced to a diagnostic label.
  • Narrative Therapy
    • An individual’s life is made of up stories, regarding how they perceive themselves and the world. These narratives dictate how clients live their lives and shape their realities. Psychological problems can come from the internalization of the narratives from the dominant culture, which takes away the personal agency of the individual. Modernist theoretical approaches would encourage clients to conform to the dominant narrative or simply help them to cope with the socially constructed “truth” imposed upon them by society.
    • Clients are not reduced to a diagnostic label.

How Does This Approach View the Role of the Therapist?
  • SFBT
    • The therapist helps the client become aware of their strengths so they can use these strengths to create their own solutions.
    • The therapist guides and encourages the client towards change, but does not tell the client what to change.
  • Narrative Therapy
    • The therapist has an active role, guiding the client toward change.
    • The therapist helps the client detach themselves from the dominant narratives they have internalized so they can create their own stories.
    • The therapist asks questions to assist clients in coming up with their own answers.
    • The therapist helps the client work through their problems and helps them take steps to solve them.

How Does This Approach View the Therapeutic Relationship?
  • SFBT
    • The relationship is very collaborative. Therapists are not the sole experts in the therapeutic relationship. Clients are the experts in their own lives and therapists are experts in the therapeutic process. Together, they both bring their sources of expertise to the table.
    • The therapist strives to create a relationship based on mutual respect and open communication.
    • The client sets the tone of therapy and of the relationship.
  • Narrative Therapy
    • The client and the therapist work together as experts to solve the client’s problems.

What Are the Overall Goals of This Approach?
  • SFBT
    • Goals are specific to each client and are created collaboratively by the client and therapist.
    • Goals are small and well-defined so clients will not become discouraged.
  • Narrative Therapy
    • To make clients aware of how the dominant culture’s narratives impact their lives.
    • To invite clients to create their own stories and take back their agency.

Integrating Approaches

Some therapists (myself included) prefer an eclectic approach to therapy. Meaning they combine aspects of theoretical approaches and techniques in order to fit who they are as therapists and to do what is best for their clients. Self-disclosure time: I personally work from a postmodern person-centered theoretical approach with some cognitive therapy interventions. Meaning, the way I see the world, my clients and my role as a therapist is influenced by post-modern and person-centered approaches. That said, I also see the value of some of the techniques from cognitive therapy in cases of anxiety, depression and phobias, for example. My specific theoretical orientation gives me a firm foundation to work from while also providing me with enough flexibility to work with clients as complex individuals and not as diagnoses. Integrating theoretical approaches can go wrong if not done properly. A therapist cannot just combine any theoretical approach and technique at random. The approaches and techniques must complement each other. If they conflict at their roots, the therapist does not have a proper clinical compass and is basically a ship lost at sea. No one would want that person to be their therapist.

The point of this post is to show you that all therapists are not alike. Each therapist works from a theoretical framework that seriously determines how they view you as the client, how they view themselves as the therapist and the techniques/interventions they will use. Do they see you, the client, as an equal partner-in-crime, as a student or as a patient who needs their insight? Do not hesitate to ask a potential therapist what their theoretical framework/orientation is. And then do a little research to figure out how this framework dictates the way they do therapy. This may be my personal approach showing, but do not think of therapy as something being done to you. Think of therapy as something you do with your therapist. You have power. You have agency. And I like to think that therapy works the best when both the client and the therapist work towards a common goal. Part two of this series will discuss your rights as a client. 

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Theft of Cultural Appropriation

So what is appropriation? To understand this concept, one needs to consider a few things, namely the history of colonization, power, privilege and context. A cultural group swoops in and takes a cultural aspect from a disenfranchised group and claims ownership over it. The cultural aspect is often taken out of context and becomes a further sign of the remnants of colonization and a refusal to respect and acknowledge the validity of cultures different from one’s own.

So what is the difference, you might ask, between a hipster wanting Native American “tribal” patterns all over their pants and a person of color wearing a business suit? Or speaking English? Can there be ‘reverse appropriation’? No. Appropriation is about power and privilege. A person of color is forced to wear a business suit because Western societal values dictate that an individual is not appropriate for work/success without it. People of color are required to conform in this way in order to be hopefully deemed appropriate for work (I could throw in a discussion of natural hair and whether or not it is appropriate for “professional” settings, but that’s a discussion for another time). As for English, it is not one of the ‘dominant’ languages in the world because it is, in some way, a more superior language. Or because it is more beautiful or its use is somehow an inherent sign of intelligence. It is used because of colonization. Because people were killed and cultures were decimated. And these English-speaking colonizers decided to force their language upon them. White/Western culture is seen as the standard. In essence, people of color are required to look as assimilated into White/Western culture as much as humanly possible in order to be seen as appropriate, intelligent, etc. This is not a sharing of culture. This is forced assimilation. On the other hand, the hipster with the Native American “tribal” print pants is seizing a part of another culture that they have no understanding of just because they think it looks cool. This cultural aspect is being taken out of its proper context and morphed into a plaything, an accessory to White America’s desires. Not to mention, Native American artists are not even making money off of this. In most, if not all cases, the designs are literally stolen and put in stores like Urban Outfitters without so much as a thank you card.

Now, so what does this have to do with music? Well, American music is a great place to look for cultural appropriation. Since the days of Elvis and probably before that, mainstream (read: White) artists and record companies have mined black culture. Whether we’re talking about style, actual songs or dances, black culture has provided a very fruitful ground for white artists to come in, take what they want, make money and move on. Black artists are not credited, compensated or respected in the often repeated process of this cultural theft. Black culture becomes something “edgy” to be used when you want to take your music to the next level (See Justin Timberlake and Miley Cyrus). When white people appropriate black culture for music in particular, they are allowed to put on what they think are trappings of the culture for short periods of time. They can do things (like twerking) without anyone really thinking any less of them because everyone knows it is a phase. It is not seen as who the person IS, the way it would be if a black person did it. If a black woman tried to make a career from twerking, she would be slut-shamed, her intelligence would be questioned and no one would take her seriously. It is from a place of privilege that an individual can temporarily put on the things that hold a black person back just to look edgy before moving on to the next venture. Black people cannot move on. In the eyes of mainstream America, every black man is a dangerous thug and every black woman is a hypersexualized twerker. Who we really are as individuals is never taken into account. Not only that, but through appropriation, the history and original ownership of music, for example, is called into question. Mainstream society actually starts to believe its lie that it has created something. White artists are seen as the innovators or the ones who made something popular/important even if it has been practiced and/or celebrated in its original context for years. People of color are then regulated to the sidelines as they watch aspects of their culture warped, manipulated, disrespected, owned and then thrown away when the new cool thing comes around. Their culture and they themselves are seen as disposable.

I could go on for much longer about the many aspects of white cultural appropriation of black culture in particular and the recent examples of Miley, Macklemore and Robin Thicke, but other people have done this beautifully before me so I will use this space to cast more light on them:

Free feel to tweet @SexMiseducation on Twitter or shoot me an email at regarding your thoughts on appropriation (of any kind) and/or any suggestions for future blog posts.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013


What: #solidarityisforwhitewomen is a trending hashtag on Twitter where people of color are pointing out how whitewashed mainstream feminism is and how the experiences of people of color are being ignored, silenced or cast aside by people who identify as allies.

Why: This hashtag was created by Mikki Kendall (@Karnythia on Twitter) during a debate with Hugo Schwyzer, a self-proclaimed feminist who harasses and stalks women of color who criticize him (among other things). This man has been interviewed on and has written for The Atlantic, Jezebel and Salon. He confessed to his disgusting behavior (being a fraud, harassing women of color online, sexually harassing his students, etc.) on Twitter on Friday August 9th. And some people had nothing but sympathy for him. Mikki Kendall didn’t pull any punches: “All this concern for @hugoschwyzer's mental health & future prospects, & none for the WOC he attacked online or his students? Wow.”

Ok, so why is this so important?

Allies must be held accountable. Being a feminist does not give one a pass to be racist (or transphobic, homophobic, ageist, ableist, etc.). Mainstream feminism has always been dominated by white cis middle/upper-class voices, leaving the rest of us in the shadows. And whenever someone tries to call out our so-called “allies,” they are chastised and accused of being divisive or being mean. White feminists can say the word “intersectionality,” but many of them seem to have a hard time applying this theory in the real world. I have come across so many white liberal feminists who say they are my allies, who say they understand, but then they argue with me over my real life experiences or the real life experiences of other marginalized groups. They suddenly want to play devil’s advocate and hypothesize.

No. Stop it. This might be a fascinating thought experiment for you, but this is my life. These issues have real (sometimes, life or death) consequences for me and I don’t feel like debating with you whether or not my feelings/views are valid. If I, as a person of color, tell you something offends me, I don’t want to have to prove to you, white feminist, that I have a right to be offended. You wonder where all the people of color are, why some women of color reject feminism. We have been here this entire time and we have been watching you. You have been so tied up in theory and in issues that mainly benefit you that you have been unable (unwilling?) to see us, but we have always been here, right in front of you.

White feminists: Think twice before you respond to this hashtag, whether it’s to agree or disagree. We don’t need you to talk. You have been talking all this time. We need you to finally listen. Stop in your tracks. Be quiet. And listen. Oh, don’t forget to acknowledge and check your privilege.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Texas, State-Level Anti-Abortions Legislation and Why You Should Care

I started writing this post to document the major push in anti-abortion laws in 2013. I have run into people who are totally unaware this is all happening, which blows my mind, so I decided to make this my first post after my hiatus. I was going to include 2012 state-level anti-abortion bills and laws in this post, but there were so many that I was quickly becoming overwhelmed and decided to just stick to 2013. Then, as I continued my research, it seemed as if new state-level anti-abortion legislation was being announced every single day. As a result, I decided to narrow the frame of this post. Otherwise, this entry would be never-ending and I would end up never posting anything. This post will focus mainly on the timeline of the highly publicized SB5 battle in Texas. I will then reference and link to other anti-abortion laws in other states around the country at the end of the post.

Note: Check out my abortion 101 blog post for basic information on abortion procedures and rights.

Why These Laws Matter:

The recent surge in anti-abortion legislation is incredibly troubling. From a purely logical perspective, it does not make sense on face value. Why would individual states (namely states where Republicans have control over the state legislatures) propose and pass anti-abortion legislation when abortions are clearly legal thanks to Roe v. Wade? It’s actually pretty simple. These laws are decided to create so many limitations and restrictions on an individual’s right to an abortion that Roe v. Wade becomes inconsequential. They claim that all they care about is protecting life, but remember, these are some of the same people who support the death penalty and still think the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were brilliant ideas. I do not know whether it’s more laughable or vomit-inducing to watch Texas governor Rick Perry talk about the sanctity of life in one moment while ordering the deaths of more inmates than any other state in the country in the next. Apparently, life is only sacred when one is a fetus. Weirdly enough, it seems as if the fetus is held up on a pedestal, deemed to be oh so pure and perfect, but several months later, if/when that fetus is born, it no longer matters. It is as if the event of birth somehow corrupts it. Oh, person that was once a fetus, do you have a preexisting condition and need healthcare? Did you want to go to preschool? Would you like your voting rights not trampled on? Would you like your higher education to not be so painfully expensive? Well, too bad. You are not a perfect little fetus anymore. You are a person who might demand rights, who might be a minority, who might be poor or worse, who might not vote Republican. You’re on your own.

The lives of adults and, namely, the lives of the adults who seek abortions are unimportant and these state Republicans are determined to effectively ban and/or make safe abortions impossible to access in their states. Honestly, I am at a loss as to what they expect. If someone wants an abortion, they are going to get it. These laws only limit poor disenfranchised individuals who cannot afford to take days off of work and travel to places where they can access safe abortions. When an individual wants an abortion and cannot receive a safe legal one, they do not shrug their shoulders, go back home and give birth. Instead they try to find other means (usually, unsafe means) to have the procedure. Maybe these state Republicans just don’t care. They don’t care about the suffering these laws will potentially cause as long as they can pat themselves on the back (and as long as they could potentially have their abortions on the sly).

Now, let’s specifically talk about the Texas SB5 bill (now law). Here is some of what the bill actually says:

The physician, on the day of an abortion, must have “active admitting privileges at a hospital that is located not further than 30 miles from the location at which the abortion is performed or induced…” A physician in violation of this section of the bill will be fined up to $4,000. [Chapter 171.0031, sec. 1, subsection A and sec.2, subsection b]

Any doctor performing an abortion must have “active admitting privileges at a hospital” that is 30 miles or less away from the clinic. This section of the bill is not necessary because hospitals are already federally required and able to take in a patient if an emergency were to occur. So if this section is basically redundant, why was it included in this bill? Requiring doctors who want to perform abortions to have hospital admitting privileges gives power to those running the hospitals in question. These individuals have the power to deny doctors admitting privileges and, as a result, have the power to effectively shut down clinics. Also, any physician who performs an abortion without local hospital admitting privileges will be heavily fined.

“On and after September 1, 2014, the minimum standards for an abortion facility must be equivalent to the minimum standards adopted under Section 243.010 for ambulatory surgical centers” [Sec. 171.044, sec.3, subsection a]

Proponents of this bill (now law) claim that forcing abortion clinics to follow the standards of ambulatory surgical centers would increase the level of safety for patients. The American Congress of Obstretricians and Gynecologists released a statement disagreeing with this claim. The ACOG reaffirms that abortions are safe procedures and “the risk of complications from abortion is minimal, with less than 0.5% of abortions involving major complications”. The ACOG also states further that decisions supposedly made for the safety and medical care of patients should be based on science and made by medical professionals, not legislators. Forcing abortion clinics to conform to the same standards of ambulatory surgical centers (e.g. buying various unnecessary equipment) would be a crippling financial blow to the clinics and cause many to close.

“If  some or all of the provisions of this Act are ever temporarily or permanently restrained or enjoined by judicial order, all other provisions of Texas law regulating or restricting abortion shall be enforced as though the restrained or enjoined provisions had not been adopted; provided, however, that whenever the temporary or permanent restraining order or injunction is stayed or dissolved, or otherwise ceases to have effect, the provisions shall have full force and effect.” [Sec. 171.044, sec. 6a]

If any sections of the bill are stuck down for being unconstitutional, for example, the rest of the bill will remain unaffected and continue on as if nothing ever happened.

To give a bit more perspective, this bill (now law) would close 42 clinics across the state, leaving only 5 clinics open to fulfill the needs of Texas women.

To just highlight how absurd and aggressive Texas State Republicans have been in their efforts to pass this anti-abortion legislation, I’ve set up this timeline:
  • May 27th: Texas’s regular 140-day legislative session ended.
  • June 11th: After Rick Perry called a special 30-day legislative session, he added the abortion legislation to the bills that could potentially be passed during this special additional session.
  • Thursday June 13th: The Texas Senate committee has its first hearing on SB5. 42 people showed up for public testimony: 20 for the bill, 22 against.
  • June 18th: The Texas Senate passed (20-10) SB5.
  • June 24th: The Texas State House of Representatives passed a version (95-34) of SB5 this time including the 20-week abortion ban. Although the ban is considered unconstitutional and will probably be forcibly removed, this potential removal does not affect the rest of the bill. 
  • June 25th: Wendy Davis led an 11 hour filibuster against this bill. The rules for filibustering in the Texas State Senate are incredibly strict. Eating, drinking, sitting, leaning on anything, going to the bathroom and speaking "off-topic" are not allowed.
  • Rick Perry announced that a second special session lasting 30 days would be held the following Monday to try to pass the bill again.
  • July 10th: The Texas State House passed the bill and sent it to the Senate (96-49).
  • July 12th: The Senate passed the bill (19-11). 
  • July 18th: Rick Perry signed the bill into law. 

Guess what? Texas Republicans didn't want to rest on their laurels: Thursday July 18th (The same day Rick Perry signed a version of SB5 into law), the senate introduces a new anti-abortion bill, a fetal heart bill

The second special session ends on the 31st so the Texas GOP proposed 7 other bills presumably to try to pass before the deadline.

And Texas isn’t the only state on a recent anti-abortion kick:

Well, now you're all updated...until an hour from now when another new anti-abortion bill is announced. 

Monday, July 29, 2013

I'm Back!

Sorry for the incredibly long hiatus. I'm finally able to start up the blog again and I'm really excited! If you have any topic ideas/suggestions that you would be interested in seeing on SexMiseducation, feel free to leave a comment at the bottom of this post or send a tweet to SexMiseducation on Twitter!