Just Friends, or Why I Hate Being Called an Ally

By Emily

I have a dear friend who is a lesbian. Although she is probably cringing reading this, since she hates that label. But since she is the one that termed me an “ally”, I think we are all fair now.

Perhaps I need to make an aside comment defining the meaning of the term “ally”. (Pandora: It depends on your audience. I assume all my friends know that word, but maybe some Christians don’t, couldn’t hurt.) An ally is someone who confronts heterosexism, homophobia, biphobia, transphobia, heterosexual and genderstraight privilege in themselves and others; a concern for the well-being of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and intersex people; and a belief that heterosexism, homophobia, biphobia and transphobia are social justice issues. (Borrowed from http://www.lgbt.ucla.edu/documents/LGBTTerminology.pdf)

There are two issues here: one is being labeled, the other is the label itself. Skinny. Fatso. Nerd. Jock. Weirdo. Hottie. Gay. Straight. (Pandora: Asian. I spend my first 10 years of school being called Asian. Kind of weird because there were no other Asians in my school and I don’t know why kids thought that was an insult. P.S. I’m a little bit Native American.) They are all little boxes. And good or bad, it kind of sucks to be stuck in a box. We all want to be our own person, and known and loved for that, not some definition someone hands us. At some point we have all been put in a box. What was your box? (Pandora: It was my own box. How’s that for deep? Emily: ha!!) How did people treat you? Not fun, was it?

What about being called an ally made me so mad? (Pandora: The problem is not the label, the problem is the need for this type of label.) In my mind, an ally is someone who lobbies, and protests, and basically, is very active in the fight for social equality. I don’t do that. An ally should be someone who belongs to LGBTQ organizations. I don’t do that. I don’t do anything. All I do is be a friend. When my friend is sad, it makes me cry. When my friend is happy, I’m happy. When someone hurts my friend, I’m angry. When my friend wants to talk, I listen. When I want to talk, my friend listens. I. Don’t. Do. ANYTHING. And yet, being a friend makes me an ally. I hate that. I hate that there is a need for allies. I hate that being a friend means that I am an anomaly that needs a label. (Pandora: I have so much to say about this, it could be its own post! When I hear the word “ally,” I think of war. The LGBTQ struggle is a war for equality and love. When you, a straight person, from a hetero-normative, conservative, evangelical, privileged background openly befriend a lesbian, you are entering a battleground. It is sad and horrible that something so simple as love has been turned into something so dramatic. But I guess love is never really simple. We just wish it was.)

In our conversation, my fun, outgoing, personable friend who has thousands – possibly millions – of friends, could only list two or three people (I was one of those 2-3) who she would term an ally. She chose that label because she said she knew her other friends loved her and cared about her, but there were so many parts of her life she could never talk about. She knew that at some level, the other friends would judge her, and condemn her. Excuse me?? How is that the definition of a friend? That sounds more like my Greek mother-in-law. Folks, you are not being a friend if you are offering that friendship conditionally. (Pandora: Wow. But how many of our “friendships” are actually conditional? A lot.) If someone has to measure up, and attain your ideal moral, social, sexual, ethical and political standards, you have set your self as judge and jury. That’s not friendship.

Jesus sums it all up rather nicely in The Message: “If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that. In a word, what I’m saying is, GROW UP. You’re kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you.” Matthew 5:46-48 (Pandora: Thus the answer to your “ally” problem. Many people think LGBTQ people are unlovable, but you love nonetheless. Nobody would call me unlovable, thus your friendship with me does not achieve ally status. Emily: Nope. I’m not your ally! Just your friend.)

Beneath our skin, we all are people. We all have heartache, and loneliness, and fear. We all have joys, and triumphs, and dreams. And sometimes, we are all selfish, despicable, nasty people. But we all just want to be loved, or even just liked. If someone loves you, if someone gives you the gift of friendship, congratulations. Now, go give that gift to someone else. Your friendship could make a world of difference to someone who needs an ally. (Pandora: Calling myself an ally is how I announce to others that I recognize the struggle of the LGBTQ experience and I will speak up for anyone whose voice is oppressed, even if that means something as simple as calling them my friend.)

I hate to be called an ally. Because I’m just a friend.

Superwoman vs. Batwoman

By Emily

My son likes Batman. And by “like” I mean OBSESSED. Every morning, he wakes up, climbs out of his Bat-bed with the Bat-sheets and the Bat-blanket over his Bat-cave, collects his Bat-mask and Bat-cape from their hooks, leaves his Bat-room to eat Bat-shaped peanut butter sandwiches and begin his Bat-day. One time I took a mental inventory to see how I felt about this obsession. And I decided that I liked that Batman doesn’t rely on super human strength or powers. He relies on ingenuity and inventions (and huge amounts of inherited money).

And here is the beauty of super heroes that don’t rely on super human abilities: they are just like you and me.

When I was young, I tried to prove my self by proving that I did indeed have, well, super powers. It wasn’t enough for me to succeed, I needed to conquer overwhelming odds AND succeed (Pandora: How young are we talking? I thought you meant four years old! At four, I thought if I drank the dregs of my nightly glass of water, it would give me powers too, but I think you are taking this in a different direction. Emily: Ah. Well. I wasn’t four. It was roughly 18-24.) If normal people could accomplish the workload I had, then I could do it – with no food. Or sleep.

I had an eating disorder. I was anorexic. I tried to find control and stability in my life through food. Or, no food. I strove for superhuman strength to control my life and make sense of my life.

Today I have a “normal” relationship with food. (Who knows what normal really is, though?) (Pandora: We should watch the movie “Eating.” It’s just interviews with women at parties about how they feel about food. Emily: Ack. That sounds miserable.) But if you ask any therapist (and I have asked many), eating disorders never really go away. (Pandora: I always wondered that too) They may go in remission, or they may take a different form. I have learned to manage my eating issues, and that there are better ways to exert control in my life. There are healthier options to be a super hero. Superman, with his super strength, super eyesight, super hair, super flying skills, and inability to be injured (aside from kryptonite), is a fantasy. (Pandora: He DOES have super hair!) No one can ever be Superman. Ever. Regardless how hard they may try. Trust me. I know from experience. (Pandora: Except for the hair, you have super hair. Emily: Thank you. Purple hair IS pretty super.)

Batman, on the other hand, is human. He gets hurt. He is depressed. He is sad. He is conflicted about not killing anyone, but striving to bring order to the chaos. But Batman always wins. Because he has figured out the secret to being super: he controls his emotions, his rage, and his pain. He surrounds himself with people that help him when he is down. (Robin really is the best sidekick ever, and come on, who doesn’t want an Alfred in their life???) (Pandora: Can I have a Robin AND an Alfred? My husband does not fulfill either of those roles to my satisfaction)

For me, this means constantly monitoring my emotional well being. It often means medication. And it always means being honest with my closest circle of friends. The ones that know that under the mask, it’s just Emily. So, I’ve decided to hang up my Superwoman cape, and put on the Batwoman cape instead. (Pandora: Doesn’t everyone agree there needs to be a female action hero flick?!? Emily: Umm, yeah. But until then, I will just subvert the traditional masculine superheroes. But female superheroes may be fodder for a future blog.)

Besides, Batman has the Best. Car. Ever.

Purging the Nest

by Pandora

I love getting rid of stuff. It began when I was six. All of a sudden one day I had an epiphany that I had too much junk. I had too many knick knacks. My eraser collection was getting OUT OF CONTROL; most of the erasers were covered in pencil marks and had lost the faintly fake fruit odor that had initially inspired me to begin the collection anyway. (Emily: mmmmm…. I remember that smell!) I pulled out my trash can and just started dumping stuff. It really gave me a high, but I guess that could have been because of the erasers. When I was finished, I had at least 12 square inches of empty space to begin filling with a new collection. The opportunities were endless. I guess it gave me a sense of control in my chaotic, youthful life. Maybe my parents weren’t giving me enough freedom, or maybe I was getting stressed out about my entry to the competitive world of elementary school, whatever the reason, it made me happy. And I’ve never stopped. I live in cycles of collecting and purging, and I proselytize the freeing effects to any hoarders I meet.

When I was 16, I experienced the nirvana of collecting/purging. I travelled to North Carolina to help move my grandparents into an assisted living facility. It was hoarder heaven. (Emily: my grandpa too. Took my mom and aunt a week to clean out his house!) My grandparents lived through the depression, a devastation which I believe justifies hoarding in anyone over 80. (Emily: agreed) They had freezers full of food, and too much furniture, plenty of normal hoarder ephemera; but they also had a box full of three sons’ shoes spanning at least 30 years of shoe purchases, and another box full of my great-grandmother’s underwear. I suffered a major conflict, should I collect or purge? Ultimately, I collected, and continue to cope with the consequences.

Purging still makes me happy, really happy. I do it when I’m bored, or sad, or feeling perfectly satisfied with my life. It frees up space for more collections. Empty space makes me more creative. It’s a way for me to assert control in a world that is spinning off its axis. (Emily: excellent point) I guess Einstein said something about an empty desk equaling an empty mind. He was probably just mad because people were making fun of how messy he was. (Emily: can’t argue with one of the smartest men in the world!)

UPDATED: How a table cloth saved my life

by Emily (and Trista)

So, I posted this earlier, and then realized to make this post a more honest opinion, I needed to get my awesome friend, Dr. Trista Carr, to add her two cents. Trista is a psychologist, and a super wise, insightful woman. On matters of mental and emotional health, she as an excellent person to talk with (see her full bio below)

Not too long ago, I was severely depressed. Life had handed me more lemons than I could make lemonade out of, and I was falling apart at the seams. It was almost more than I could handle to put clothes on in the morning, or brush my hair. One of my dearest friends (hi, Abra!!) came to visit. The house was a disaster. Dishes piled high in the sink. Toys cluttering the floor. My boys still in pajamas (at 4pm). Myself still in pajamas. (Dr. Trista Carr: This is actually a very common presentation of depressive symptoms, Emily. A lot of people who are experiencing depression lose the desire to do things they used to enjoy or keep up their appearances. Hygiene and enjoyment tend to be some of the first things to go when we are depressed.) I could feel how sorry she was for me by looking at her face as she walked through my house. Quietly, she walked into my kitchen, cleared a space on one of the chairs, and sat down.

“Do you know what you need?” Not a lecture, I thought to myself. (Trista: Definitely not! And it wouldn’t have worked either!) “You need a tablecloth. You need to have beautiful things around you, and if you put a tablecloth on the table, it will give you something beautiful to look at. Your soul needs to see beauty.” (Trista: Abra is right. When we feel apathetic about appearances due to depression or dysthymia—mild depression—it helps kick our brains back in gear when we take even the smallest step toward something that represents the opposite of how negatively we feel. In this case toward beauty!)

I bought a tablecloth. A deep purple one (no surprise to anyone who has seen my hair or glasses.) And slowly, the dishes disappeared, the toys started getting put away, clothes started being worn. Deep inside, I could feel my heart take a deep breath, and scream: “YES! I need beauty!!” (Trista: Yes, you do! Even the smallest gesture toward “normalcy” helps us start feeling a little better one small step at a time.)

Many years ago, (10, if you want to be exact), I was torn because I was expected to attend the womens’ Bible study at my church, but it was at the same time as the show, So You Think You Can Dance. Bewailing my fate to my mother about how I needed to be at Bible study, but wanted to be home watching the show, my mom asked why I liked SYTYCD so much. “It’s because part of me feels alive when I watch it,” I told her. My mom promptly demanded that I stop going to Bible study and watch SYTYCD instead. “God can speak to you more if you feel alive, than if you are doing something because you think you “have” to.” (Trista: Mom is spot on! When we do things out of obligation we can easily become resentful of the activity or the people who encourage us to take part in the activity, even if it is supposed to be a life-giving event like a Bible study. It is not giving life if we are resenting it. In reality what is happening is we are allowing our boundaries to be compromised and we are not allowing our true selves the opportunity to do and experience what really brings us life. And for many of us, what brings us to life are the things our souls find beautiful. And it is often in those things, and when we are open to beauty and life, that the God of love and life can speak most clearly to us.)

As humans, we need beauty. It makes us “alive”. Beauty may mean something different to everyone. It could be a sunset. A perfectly cooked meal. A clever puzzle. A car. A… (Trista: A view of the ocean…or even a piece of dark chocolate raspberry ganache!) You get the idea. Fill in the blank. You know you have found something beautiful, when your soul inside feels like it might crack open inside you, and you can suddenly breath deeper than you thought you could. You come alive.

Never underestimate the power of beauty. It can save your life. It can make you alive. (Trista: Hear, hear! Well said, my friend!)

Pandora: I really can’t think of anything to add to this. It’s perfect!

Trista L. Carr, Psy.D., is a Clinical Psychologist for a state prison in the Central Valley of CA, a consultant for individuals and organizations, and a conference speaker. She completed her master’s and doctorate in clinical psychology at Regent University in Virginia Beach, VA, where she was a research assistant for the Institute for the Study of Sexual Identity. Dr. Carr also obtained a master’s degree in Community Counseling from The University of Akron in Ohio. Her research and clinical interests are in the integration of Christian faith, psychology, and sexual and gender identity concerns. Dr. Carr can be found at http://www.tristacarr.com.

How a tablecloth saved my life…

image by Emily

Not too long ago, I was severely depressed. Life had handed me more lemons than I could make lemonade out of, and I was falling apart at the seams. It was almost more than I could handle to put clothes on in the morning, or brush my hair. One of my dearest friends (hi, Jen!) came to visit. The house was a disaster. Dishes piled high in the sink. Toys cluttering the floor. My boys still in pajamas (at 4pm). Myself still in pajamas. I could feel how sorry she was for me by looking at her face as she walked through my house. Quietly, she walked into my kitchen, cleared a space on one of the chairs, and sat down.

“Do you know what you need?” Not a lecture, I thought to myself. “You need a tablecloth. You need to have beautiful things around you, and if you put a tablecloth on the table, it will give you something beautiful to look at. Your soul needs to see beauty.”

I bought a tablecloth. A deep purple one (no surprise to anyone who has seen my hair or glasses.) And slowly, the dishes disappeared, the toys started getting put away, clothes started being worn. Deep inside, I could feel my heart take a deep breath, and scream: “YES! I need beauty!!”

Many years ago, (10, if you want to be exact), I was torn because I was expected to attend the women’s Bible study at my church, but it was at the same time as the show, So You Think You Can Dance. Bewailing my fate to my mother about how I needed to be at Bible study, but wanted to be home watching the show, my mom asked why I liked SYTYCD so much. “It’s because part of me feels alive when I watch it,” I told her. My mom promptly demanded that I stop going to Bible study and watch SYTYCD instead. “God can speak to you more if you feel alive, than if you are doing something because you think you “have” to.”

As humans, we need beauty. It makes us “alive”. Beauty may mean something different to everyone. It could be a sunset. A perfectly cooked meal. A clever puzzle. A car. A sports game. A… You get the idea. Fill in the blank. You know you have found something beautiful, when your soul inside feels like it might crack open inside you, and you can suddenly breath deeper than you thought you could. You come alive.

Never underestimate the power of beauty. It can save your life. It can make you alive.

Pandora: I really can’t think of anything to add to this. It’s perfect!

7 REASONS TO HOMESCHOOL: Or, How I Learned to Bullshit My Way through Anything

by Emily (and Lydia!)

In today’s blog, I would like to introduce our first guest blogger, my lovely sister, Lydia Cooper. (Check out www.lydiarcooper.wordpress.com here). My sister and I were both homeschooled from K-12 (relatively speaking. We didn’t really do the grade thing). The homeschooling movement has been gaining popularity since we were homeschooled behind closed doors with the curtains shut. Here, we respond to some of the main reasons people give for why they think homeschooling is the best option for their ankle biters.

Reason 1: Homeschoolers receive a superior education to public schoolers.
Lydia: Homeschoolers are able to do very fun things like reading Les Miserables in French. The only problem is, Mom doesn’t speak French so they will have to read it in English. Emily: I didn’t study enough French to be able to order a plate of pomme frites, so it is a moot point for me. However, without having to study for tests, one can learn so much more useless bits of trivia and random information that has no bearing on real life. Lydia: Charlemagne was crowned Holy Roman Emperor on Christmas Day, 800 C.E. Emily: And I can still sing most of the songs from both Pirates of Penzance and HMS Pinafore. Lydia: The only bummer is that we never learned the other stuff, like, science.

Reason 2: Without having to study for tests, homeschoolers excel over their peers in math and science.
Lydia: Oh yeah, science: which comes from the Latin scientia meaning “denial of fact.” Emily: We took science? Lydia: Being taught that the world is 5774 years old does add a slight hint of the medieval to our bio-chem labs. Emily: I suppose next you’ll say the world is round. Heaven forbid.

Reason 3: Homeschoolers are more grounded and have more real life experience than public schoolers.
Lydia: To this day, I have never used a combination lock and am petrified of them. I once spent almost forty five minutes in a gym waiting for my friend to get back from swimming so I could put my stuff, casually, in her locker. . . . Emily: I was once a half hour late to a class. Good news, though. Now I know that classroom numbering reflects what floor of the building the classroom is on.

Reason 4: When you are homeschooled, you can do your work in bed, in your pj’s!
Lydia: Sure, but feeding the goats, making ketchup from scratch and corralling all 8 younger siblings is tough on your footie pj’s. Emily: And why would you want to wear your pj’s when you could wear a historically accurate costume to correlate with your studies? Lydia: And on that note…

Reason 5: Homeschoolers get just as much and more worthwhile socialization.
Lydia: What better way to raise kind, compassionate and worldly children than by raising them with seven other homeschooled kids who are the same race (white), religion (evangelical Republican), ethnicity (white), political affiliation (evangelical Republican), and strand of paleo-vegan (Emily: yum. Carob.) (again, white) as they are. Emily: Word.

Reason 6: Public school teachers are, of course, evil….
Emily: Public school teachers, the “fat cats” of the educational world, are paid to smoke their Cuban cigars on the back nine of their private golf courses. We all know this. What else could possibly motivate an individual to teach pre-algebra to a bunch of eighth graders? Lydia: paid summers off?!? Emily: seriously though, being a teacher is one of the most important yet thankless jobs. Pandora – do you want to add something about the altruistic nature of public school teachers and the shit you put up with? Pandora: Um no. I am not altruistic, I do it for the perks, and I don’t put up with jack. . . . .

. . .And, Reason 7: Of course mom knows best what her kids need.
Emily: As is evidenced by the new trend in refusing all vaccines. It’s so much better for your kids to die of measles or be handicapped by polio, rather than getting shot for showing up to school on someone’s bad day. Lydia: Good parents raise their kids in nuclear bomb bunkers!

Reason 8: Sending your kids to public or private school means you are a lazy parent.
Emily: regardless (note: as a previously homeschooled kid, I would NEVER use the word “irregardless”), no educational system removes your responsibility to train your child to be a moral, well-rounded, citizen of the world. At the end of the day, your kids are your responsibility, whether you choose to teach them math and science and penmanship, or have someone else teach them the “basics” of education. Lydia: Just, whatever you choose, please teach more science than medieval fan fiction. And irregardless (note: I’m an asshole), the compassion and integrity your little tykes already have, Emily, means that you’ve already figured out that good schooling isn’t the substitute for good parenting.