Today I saw the story of a woman who was shot and killed by her (recently) ex-husband who is a police officer. And I got angry and started to write about how leaving an abusive relationship can be the most dangerous time, and about how the news reports didn’t even call this domestic violence. I started to write about how this murderer’s fellow officers saw the whole awful scene take place and waited it out for 30 minutes, so they could end this situation without using deadly force despite the fact that he was yelling and brandishing his gun. I probably don’t need to tell you that he is white. But as I wrote, I got so depressed about the amount of work we need to do to end the violence. Sometimes it’s hard to stay hopeful.

So I just can’t write that post today. Instead I’m going to tell you how excited I am about a 5K run. (For those of you who know me, you can pick yourself up off the floor. I still only run if being chased and occasionally for the bus).

For the 4th year, WSCADV in partnership with the Seattle Mariners is hosting a 5K run/walk at Safeco Field. Yes, it’s a fundraiser. But it’s really turned out to be so much more. Over a thousand people come together on one day—some because they love to run, some because they have a personal connection to the issue—to have fun and rally for healthy relationships. How great is that?! One runner said “By far the most fun event all year!” See? Working to change this culture of violence doesn’t have to be depressing. I am excited because the hope that springs from the Goodwill Refuse To Abuse 5K at Safeco Field will refuel me. It will inspire others. Bringing people together to have fun and talk about healthy relationships is a great way to carry on the conversations that we want—no need—to be having to change the culture of violence.

what-are-you-afraid-of-in-2015

I am not typically drawn to sensationalist articles titled “What Are You Afraid Of?” Mostly, because I already know.

But when Parade Magazine fell out of the Sunday paper last week, there was a cool cartoon on the cover so I flipped to the article.

Here are a few of the things you should and should not fear in 2015:

Flu not Ebola

Domestic violence not serial killers, pedophiles

Heart disease not Mercury in fish

Not getting enough dietary fiber not gluten

The re-appearance of measles, whooping cough, and other preventable diseases not vaccine side effects

Texting while driving not air travel…”

Note that domestic violence is number two on what we should actually fear.

Long before we feared flying in airplanes, long before airplanes, it served us to be afraid—of other animals that might eat us, things that go bump in the night, impending hunger or thirst. All this surviving through the millennia has landed us here—as beings with hyper-reactive fear centers in our brains that override rational thought.

But we humans are fortunate to also have lots of brain architecture dedicated to rational thought. This gives us access to things like ideas about what is right and wrong. About the differences between healthy and unhealthy relationships. And about how to survive domestic violence or stop perpetrating it.

I’d like to suggest an alternative to the fear framework that recognizes the wide open spaces of the fully evolved human brain. How about…

Use your gigantic pre-frontal cortex to:

Outsmart sexism instead of fearing that violence against women is inevitable

Outthink racism instead of fearing that racial stereotypes are real and/or irreversible

Promote peace and prosperity instead of fearing that there simply is not enough to go around

Think, plan, and act instead of fearing that nothing can be done.

We talk a lot about healthy relationships, we memorize the do’s and the don’ts, we vow to do it right. But even when we know what we are supposed to do, when it comes to real-life circumstances with real people it can get complicated and messy.

For many years, whenever I would visit my family it was inevitable that my father and I would get into a massive disagreement, mostly over politics. I’d take the liberal side, he’d take the Aruging-Family-Membersconservative side, we’d dig in our heels and try to convince the other person that they had it all wrong. Obviously, this didn’t work out well; usually it would end with me leaving the room in tears. It reached a point where I just wanted to shut down and not engage at all. I give my father a lot of credit, he realized I was checking out and decided that things had to change. He didn’t want our differences to get in the way of our relationship. And I wanted to share who I was as a whole person with my own thoughts and opinions. So we made some ground rules. We agreed to listen to each other, to respectfully disagree, to find common ground. We put love and respect for each other first.

I’m the first to say that our system isn’t perfect, we’ve had to revise and revisit. But we always go back to the ground rules and remind ourselves that a good relationship is our top priority. Because of our efforts my relationship with my father is better and—to the shock of my entire family—we can have tough conversations and still be smiling after.

I believe this strategy is applicable across situations; I’ve applied it to my relationship with my partner. I’ve made a commitment to resolving conflict, creating a system that works for both parties, and making sure each person is being heard and respected, despite differences. It isn’t simple or easy, but it’s doable.

Los Estados Unidos han sido mi hogar por los últimos 14 años. Es el país de mi hijo, el lugar que me dió la oportunidad de reinventarme, de iniciar una nueva etapa en mi vida, de ser madre, de desarrollarme profesionalmente. Este país me recibió con los brazos abiertos y cada día me da nuevas oportunidades y libertades para continuar mi crecimiento en todo aspecto. De las cosas que Constitution_We_the_Peoplemás me gustan y respeto de este país es el cómo se formó. Esa esencia donde el respeto a la libertad de creencias, y el respeto a las leyes son principios fundamentales, entre muchos otros el “We the people” (Nosotros el pueblo).

Desafortunadamente la experiencia de millones de inmigrantes en este país, no se compara con mi experiencia como inmigrante. Muchos confrontan abuso y explotación; las familias están siendo separadas, y viven con miedo a ser deportados. Estas familias como la mía, estamos aquí con sueños de ofrecer un mejor futuro para nuestros hijos. Las familias indocumentadas apenas pueden satisfacer las necesidades básicas de sus hijos y el estrés con el que viven ejerce presión en sus relaciones haciendo a veces difícil tener relaciones amorosas y saludables. Nuestro sistema de inmigración es un sistema que no funciona correctamente, simple y llanamente necesita ser reparado o reinventado.

El Presidente Obama, el mes pasado, emitió una orden ejecutiva donde una gran mayoría de inmigrantes que no han tenido la opción de legalizar su estadía en este país puedan hacerlo y así dejar de vivir con el miedo a ser deportados. Con esto, pienso que el Presidente está retomando los principios fundamentales con los que se fundó este país.

La orden ejecutiva es un pequeño paso, un pequeño comienzo de algo que puede convertirse en un verdadero cambio. Es la oportunidad de unirnos y hacer de los Estados Unidos un país aún más rico de lo que ya es. Todos podemos tener creencias y culturas diferentes sin perder nuestra individualidad. Dejemos a un lado el racismo, los prejuicios, y la necesidad de que las cosas tengan que verse de una sola manera.  Cada uno de nosotros tiene un papel importante que ejercer para que este cambio se dé en su plenitud. No nos olvidemos que aquellos que se encargan de aprobar las leyes y hacer este cambio trabajan para nosotros. Vamos a continuar a lo que el Presidente Obama nos hizo favor de iniciar.

****

The United States has been my home for the past 14 years. It is the country of my son, the place that gave me the opportunity to reinvent myself, to start a new phase in my life, to grow professionally. This country welcomed me with open arms and every day gives me new opportunities and the freedom to continue my growth in every aspect. The thing that I like most and respect about this country is how it was formed, with a foundation of respect for freedom of beliefs and respect for the law as fundamental principles. “We the people.”

Unfortunately the experiences of millions of immigrants in this country do not match mine. Many face abuse and exploitation, are separated from their families, and live in fear of being deported. These families, like mine, are here with dreams of providing better futures for their children. But when families are undocumented, they can barely meet their children’s basic needs. This stress puts pressure on their relationships making it sometimes difficult to have loving and healthy relationships. Our immigration system is a system that does not work correctly, quite simply it needs to be repaired or reinvented.

Last month President Obama issued an executive order that allows a large majority of immigrants who previously did not have the option to legalize their stay to now do so and stop living in fear of being deported. By doing this I feel the president is returning to the fundamental principles on which this country was founded.

This executive order is a small step, a small beginning of something that can become a real change. It is an opportunity to unite us and make the United States an even richer country than it is already. We all can have diverse beliefs and cultures without losing our individuality. Let’s leave aside racism, prejudice, and the need for things to look alike and be just  one way. Each of us has an important role to play in order for this change to happen. Let’s not forget that the people responsible for passing laws and making these changes work for us. Let’s continue what President Obama has started.

I was watching TV when Jaylen Fryberg shot his friends and himself at Marysville-Pilchuck High School. Which meant that I spent too much time—shocked, scared, angry—watching the media cover this horrible situation. The story was that the shooter was popular, friendly, and the homecoming prince. His popularity didn’t seem to fit in with the kind of person we usually associate with being a school shooter. The loner. The one who was bullied, unpopular.Marysville-Pilchuck_High_School,_Art_Mural_in_Forum,_October_2009

So I decided to look at his Twitter account (I am not linking to it because of the graphic content) and what I saw there was a very different person than the one portrayed on TV that day. The boy on Twitter was full of rage and sadness which seemed to center around a love interest. Who knew?

His friends had certainly seen these posts. Social media is where young people live. It’s their community. We adults aren’t doing anyone any favors by ignoring this fact and not taking the time to understand it. Social media can offer something positive. An outlet. A place for youth to express themselves.

A few years ago, someone who was hurting and raging and planning to take it out on people at school might have kept a journal that would be found after the fact. Now, we can all see the warning signs in real time as long as we’re looking. I don’t know what happened in this situation. Maybe someone did reach out to him and he wasn’t ready to hear it. Maybe an adult in his life was trying to work with him to get help.

Teens are learning how to navigate intimate relationships, and we don’t give them a lot of help. Jaylen retweeted a post that said “I’m not jealous. But when something’s mine it’s mine.” For those of us who work with survivors of domestic violence, this statement is an enormous red flag. When giving an update on this story, a local news anchor said the words “He was heartbroken.” We’ve all been heartbroken. But framing his actions that way minimizes violent behavior motivated by jealousy and rage.

What if we equip young people and their families with tools to recognize unhealthy relationships and where to get help? My heart breaks for the families of the students hurt and killed in this shooting. I hope it can open doors for more and better dialogue about healthy relationships for teens and what friends and family can do when they notice the warning signs of dating violence.

I’m not a big fan of awareness months. There are so many these days that each month shares a long list of issues to be aware of along with a corresponding ribbon color. There’s even a Zombie Awareness Month. It’s May (gray ribbon) in case you want to mark your calendar.

Every October, when Domestic Violence Awareness Month comes around, I have an uneasy feeling. It’s not that I don’t think that domestic violence awareness is important. Of course it is. But I wonder what we are accomplishing. Does awareness actually lead to behavior change? Researchers say no.

I’ve seen awareness about domestic violence grow significantly over the years. That’s a great thing and it needed to happen. But I don’t want us to stop there. Now that people are aware, I want them to act. I want everyone to realize that they can be a part of the solution. They can learn about the resources out there so if someone turns to them for help they’ll know what to do. They can talk to young people about what a healthy relationship looks like. They can ask a friend “How’s your relationship?” and make chatting about this a normal part of life.

I’m not suggesting we all cancel our Domestic Violence Awareness Month activities. But let’s shift our focus to turning October into Domestic Violence ACTION Month.DVAM-logo

Many people equate BDSM with abuse, but in fact that community can teach us a lot of great lessons about healthy relationships. You might be shaking your head in consternation right about now. But playing with power dynamics or intense bdsmphysical sensation is not the same as being abusive, violent, or controlling.

In one of my previous lives, I worked for several years as a sex educator for a feminist sex shop. While I was relatively open-minded, I had a lot to learn. Because even if I wasn’t particularly interested in something for myself, I had to be able to speak knowledgably and non-judgmentally with customers, many of whom were trusting me with vulnerable information. In any given week, I might help a 70-year-old woman who’d never had an orgasm or a 40-year-old man struggling to open up to his partner about his desires to explore role play.

I learned a lot, not just about sex but about communication and boundaries and consent and exploration and healthy relationships. All things that you need to engage successfully in BDSM.

Most people, especially when playing with a new partner, have a get-together where they chat about their yes/no/maybe list. The “yes” list is filled with all the activities you know you enjoy, the “no” list is all about the things you do not want under any circumstances. And the “maybe” list can include things you haven’t tried yet but might be interested in or things that might be okay in certain situations.

This list is one of my favorite tools, and anyone—any gender, any sexuality—can use it, regardless of what kinds of sex they like to have. It’s a great way to think about what your own desires are. And when you do it with a partner, you get to see where your interests overlap, where you might do some new exploration, and where the hard boundaries are. This is just one way to get to that “enthusiastic consent” that so many people are talking about right now.

Or you can do a yes/no/maybe list about other kinds of physical and emotional affection. “Holding hands in public—yes! Hand on my neck—nope. Deep kisses—maybe, but only if we’re in a private place.” For survivors of abuse, this can be a useful bridge to regaining ownership of their bodies and their desires. Being explicit about what is and isn’t okay can help avoid triggering incidents and make them feel safer.

Using the list might seem a little silly or even boring, but I’ve found the opposite to be true. If you find yourself tongue-tied when talking about what you want, it can be a great way to lay your cards on the table ahead of time, when you’re more able to think clearly. Give it a try!

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