Thoughts on the Las Vegas Massacre

From what I’ve seen, the dominant narrative about the perpetrator of the recent shooting in Las Vegas is that he probably had a gambling addiction, might’ve been badly in debt, kept to himself, and didn’t really settle down anywhere. Notable, IMO, is the insistence that “he didn’t have any political or religious affiliation.” And of course there’s the “lone wolf” narrative – all very typical, sweep it under the rug, nothing to see here, just another shooting in the US. Argue amongst yourselves over gun control.

Oh and we’re not saying it was mental illness, but the whole narrative kinda implies it. Just saying…

I don’t buy it. Something about this whole scenario doesn’t feel right. There’s something we’re not being told.

Assembling an arsenal, sneaking it into a casino hotel room, that just so happens to overlook a country music festival … All that takes planning. I don’t believe he “snapped” – it must’ve been premeditated. Why would someone put time, energy, and resources into planning something like this? I don’t know, but usually it has something to do with bigotry.

And I’ve never heard of someone with an actual, professionally diagnosed mental illness doing something like this. When people are in crisis they may withdraw from social groups and activities, they may act in ways people consider strange, they may hurt themselves, and/or they may (rarely) pose a threat to someone else. They don’t open fire on hundreds of people.

I’ve probably said this before but I’ll say it again, we need to figure out why white men keep perpetrating unspeakable acts of violence. And we need to do something to stop it. Yes, now, before people forget about it or get swept up in the next atrocity. There’s something going seriously wrong in the US with how people think, how they treat each other, how they respond to tragedy. Everybody’s angry – and rightfully so – but the anger isn’t being used appropriately. We’re all at each other’s throats, or bonding in our hatred of someone or something, and white men are committing murder with impunity.

We need to stop it. Now.

Trans Day of Visibility

Today is/has been Trans Day of Visibility, an annual celebration of trans people and opportunity for folks to be out and proud.

I think I’m fairly out on this blog but just in case, I am a proud genderfluid nonbinary trans person! My pronouns are ze zir or they them their. I originally used the former, but I’ve actually come to prefer the latter.

For anyone who’s not familiar with the terminology:

  • Genderfluid means my subjective experience of my gender changes, including self-perception, bodily feelings, how I want others to perceive me, mannerisms, etc. Others have perceived changes in my energy, for what that’s worth. It seems to be mostly in response to my situation and/or the people I’m with.
  • Nonbinary means I identify as a gender other than “man” or “woman.”
  • Trans / transgender means I identify as a gender other than the one I was assigned at birth.
  • Pronouns are words we use to refer to someone instead of repeating their name. For example: “Ziya went to the store. Ze dropped zir wallet. Thank goodness I saw it and returned it to zir!”

I recently learned of a couple developments in the visibility of nonbinary people that make me very happy. I’d been meaning to share them here, and this seems like the perfect time.

CBS News ran a story including nonbinary under the trans umbrella, explaining what it means, and featuring several different people who are nonbinary – including using their pronouns. It made me so happy to see that in mainstream media!

http://www.cbsnews.com/news/non-binary-transgender-you-havent-heard-of/

AP Style now allows use of they as a singular pronoun to “[…] recognize the need for a pronoun for people who don’t identify as a he or a she.” I’ll admit this seemed much more awesome when I thought it was the APA (American Psychological Association), which dictates the style and language I’ll need to use when I finally get around to writing my thesis. But if the AP approves of singular they, either APA will follow suit (if they haven’t already made the change) or I can have a stronger argument for using it.

Hopefully, as it is used more in mainstream writing, more people will become familiar with singular they and respect it when I assert my pronouns.

http://www.copydesk.org/blog/2017/03/24/ap-style-for-first-time-allows-use-of-they-as-singular-pronoun/

[Insert suitably awesome closing 1-2 sentences here.]

Awareness Wednesday

May is Mental Health Awareness Month (for another week and a half), so here are some links to sites and articles about mental health:

Mental Health America.net has resources and involvement opportunities

May 7th was Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day

Make the Connection has support and resources for veterans and their families

The Young Minds Advocacy Project works for legal and social change to help low-income youth access mental health resources

Minority Mental Health Awareness Month includes links to information and resources for people of color

Speak Out! a powerful statement by a Latina feminist mental health activist

Mental Health Awareness and the LGBT Community

Bisexual Mental Health

Transgender Mental Health

National Mental Health Awareness Month and the Importance of Language

Every month is Mental Health Awareness Month here at a day with depression, and I’m glad to have the support of President Barack Obama’s proclamation for one month each year.

Among the topics he discusses – care for veterans, reduction of stigma, that “taking action to help yourself is a sign of strength,” etc. – I personally am most grateful for the Affordable Care Act. As a result of this legislation, Fox and I have health insurance that enables us to receive the medication and marriage counseling we need. Around this time last year I felt like our marriage was falling apart. Now we’re working together and supporting each other. Fox has held down a job for 6 months (and counting!). I am less than a week away from completing the last two classes I need for my Master’s degree; after nailing my piano final last night(!) I feel like I’m ready for internship and will be an awesome music therapist.

I have a bone to pick with President Obama, though. His proclamation begins:

This year, approximately one in five American adults — our friends, colleagues, and loved ones — will experience a diagnosable mental health condition […] and many others will be troubled by significant emotional and psychological distress, especially in times of difficulty.  For most of these people, treatment can be effective and recovery is possible.

(emphasis mine)

I wish he would use more inclusive language; that would be a great way to reduce the stigma around mental health issues. The language in this proclamation suggests that mental health issues affect other people, even if “they” are the people “we” interact with every day. It seems like the President is trying to distance himself from the people who live and struggle and sometimes even thrive with these issues. He’s practically saying: “this thing exists and we need to be aware of it – and just to be clear it doesn’t affect me, and I don’t think it affects you.” IMHO, that contributes to the stigma.

I imagine that we’re all in a room, and Mr. Obama is on the stage giving a speech, and I’m in the front row because hey, I’m the one imagining it. He’s talking to me… about me, as though I’m not sitting right in front of him and can’t hear him. I’m probably one of the people who are the happiest to be there listening to him, and yet he’s not really talking to me. I think maybe he’s talking to the person sitting next to me.

However, more than 20% of the people in this room are the population he’s talking about (as though we’re not there listening to him – probably filling the front-and-center seats). The person sitting next to me might feel the same way I do; they probably think I am a member of the President’s intended audience. But neither of us will admit it, because then we’d be marking ourselves as “other” – as not really belonging in that room where “normal” people go to become more aware of us. (How ironic is that?) Instead of connecting with each other, we each go home feeling more isolated than ever. (And the “normal” people go home unaware that we were literally sitting right in front of them.)

What about us? I wish someone would say: “This year, approximately one in five of us will experience a diagnosable mental health condition and many more of us will experience significant emotional and psychological distress, especially in times of difficulty. For most of us, treatment can be effective and recovery is possible.”

That wording makes it sound like mental health issues affect everyone, and needing help with them is normal. If I attended a speech and the speaker said that, I would feel like I belonged in that room. Isn’t that what reducing stigma is all about?

You don’t have to be one of the “one in five” – or the “many more” – to use this language. You just have to be willing to admit – to yourself and everyone else – that you could be. If you’re brave enough to do that, you can help us feel safe admitting that we are. That’s how you let us know we’re “not alone.”

Transgender (Tues)Day of Visibility

How cool is it that the International Transgender Day of Visibility falls on a Tuesday the year I start a “Transgender Tuesday” feature? Ironically, I was going to ignore the feature today – you’ll see why tomorrow – but then I saw the following posts:

Happy Transgender Day of Visibility | Jude’s FtM Journey

Transgender Day of Visibility | Because I’m Fabulous

I may want to be invisible today, but I’m happy to help other trans* people be more visible. Perhaps reading others’ stories will provide the inspiration I need to come out of the closet and breathe.

Human Rights Campaign Transgender Visibility Guide

Confronting Racism

After the grand jury declined to indict Darren Wilson for killing Michael Brown, people were talking about solutions. Maybe requiring police officers to wear video cameras would encourage them to use less force when confronting potential criminals; if that didn’t work, at least there would be clear evidence to help indict the officer. Maybe it’s time to revoke the right of police officers to carry guns and use other equipment that can best be described as “military.” That would reduce their ability to harm suspects, protesters, and bystanders alike – potentially helping everyone be safer.

But then another grand jury declined to indict Daniel Pantaleo for killing Eric Garner using an illegal choke hold – despite being able to watch a video of it happening because a passerby recorded it. The officer didn’t need a gun to use lethal force, so while disarming police may have some benefits, it isn’t going to solve this problem. More importantly, though, clear video evidence apparently isn’t enough to charge a police officer with a crime!

At least, not of the officer is white and the victim is black.

The problem – and solution – have nothing to do with technology and everything to do with racism. Before this happened, I hadn’t acknowledged how pervasive – and deadly – racism is. (Obviously I’m white, and that’s part of my privilege.) I’ll admit, I thought people in such a diverse and generally liberal city/area as New York would be more enlightened or something.

But I can’t point “over there” (at Missouri) and look down my nose at “those people” for refusing to send a white man to trial after he killed a black man. At least “those people” have the excuses of ambiguous testimony and listening to a prosecutor who was determined to exonerate the defendant.

I have to look in the mirror. I have to wonder what I would have done if I had been on the grand jury observing the evidence against Pantaleo. I think it’s ridiculous to have a trial to determine whether there should be a trial, so I think I would have held true to that belief if nothing else. But if I were faced with 11 other racist white people (Yes, I acknowledge that I am racist. No, I don’t want a cookie.) If I were looking into the faces of 11 other racist white people, would I hold my ground? Would I use my privilege to stand up for the people whose subjugation provides it?

There are protests everywhere and I haven’t been to one, yet. I’m afraid of experiencing the very police brutality I’d be there to protest. I’m deeply saddened by the efforts of the NYPD to silence protesters on the same day a young-looking white woman, Chief Joanna Jaffe, created the #wehearyou hashtag. I was hopeful that maybe things would be different in the great enlightened city of New York. But even if Joanna hears you, and even if most of the police officers in the country hear you, the force as a whole doesn’t.

But I’ve deflected again. It’s easy to point fingers at the police and decline to participate in protests when it isn’t your existence that’s being threatened. I can read and re-post articles black people have written about the topic. I can talk about how fucked up the whole situation is – and allow myself to be silenced by people either defending police officers or criticizing black protesters. I can use the #blacklivesmatter hashtag – and decline to argue against use of the #alllivesmatter hashtag…

But I’m not ready to throw my lot in with black people and other people of color. (To be honest, recent events have me more grateful than ever that I’m not one of them.) I’m not willing to risk experiencing in an act of civil disobedience what they experience regularly just for existing in their skin.

I’m not trying to be mean and it’s not that I don’t think this is important. It’s a limitation I’m facing, and as much as I want to believe I’ll overcome it, I honestly don’t know whether I will or what it will take. I wonder how many other white people feel the same way and what – if anything – we can do about it. We need to do something.

Vote Like Your Life Depends on It

For anyone who thinks the major parties are the same, congressional elections aren’t important, or their vote doesn’t matter, please remember the government shutdown that happened last year and cost us $24,000,000,000. It happened because the Republican Speaker of the House chose not to vote on the federal budget in an attempt to undermine the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, or “Obamacare” – which, by the way, is the reason I have health insurance and can afford the medication that seems to be helping me change my life.

One person should not have that much power, but for the time being we need to ensure that person isn’t in the pocket of right-wing extremists who exist to do the bidding of the ludicrously wealthy at the expense of everyone else. They would rather allow people to starve to death or commit suicide than risk losing a small portion of their profits. (Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in Americans.)

The only way we can have a federal government that comes remotely close to representing us is to get a Democratic majority in the House, and the only way to do that is for those of us who can vote to do so – wisely.

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Here’s the relevant part of my post from last year about the shutdown:

I’ve been having a really hard time lately and there’s no end in sight. Sometimes I feel so hopeless, it’s painful to keep breathing.

This government shutdown orchestrated by a small handful of right-wing extremists who somehow managed to take control of the House is such a huge, overwhelming problem. I know one person who works for the government who has been extremely stressed out, and another person who just lost their job – I suspect at least partially due to the shutdown. I’m concerned for them, and for the hundreds of thousands of people out of work, and for the millions of people who won’t receive the assistance they need for Zek knows how long. The impact on the economy is devastating, and more importantly people could die as a result of this.

It completely and utterly infuriates me that the Republicans won’t even acknowledge that they played a role in the shutdown, never mind taking responsibility. […] All we need is for the House to vote on one bill that’s been sitting on Boehner’s desk, but that he refuses to call a vote on. I don’t even understand how or why the Speaker of the House – one person – has that kind of power. I thought our government was set up to prevent one person from ever having that much power.

We can petition them all we want but it’s like they live in a different universe. […] I think the only solution is for the American people to somehow take direct control of the House – at the very least, force them to vote on the bill that would provide funding to the departments that have been shut down (without removing access to birth control or delaying implementation of the Affordable Care Act / Obamacare for a year, thanks). At least then we’d have some semblance of transparency, a record of who voted to keep this country afloat and who voted against us all.

So far I’ve learned of one way to bypass Boehner and force a vote on the clean funding bill: the discharge petition House Democrats have been pursuing. I encourage readers (especially those in the U.S.) to sign this petition urging House Republicans to join their colleagues in ending the shutdown. Also please consider contacting your representative directly (House.gov). I know I just wrote that petitioning them doesn’t do anything, but I don’t really see any other course of action. People know that the Republicans are responsible; there are several races for Republican seats in the House where polls show the Democrats to have an advantage.

(But only if the people who support them vote!)

And here’s part of another post I wrote around that time, Running Red:

I read an article that said the Tea Party is actually pleased with Boehner and that this shutdown is part of his career strategy. That’s right folks, starving mothers and babies, survivors of rape and domestic violence put out on the street, head start programs ground to a halt, hundreds of thousands of people without work or pay, parks and monuments closed, a lapse in veterans’ benefits, etc. etc. etc. … merely the pawns in Boehner’s game of chess. If he’s winning, he’s not going to listen to our petitions – unless perhaps there is a massive outcry by the people in his district, who can vote for his opponent in the next (this!) election. Without their votes, all the support and campaign funds from his party will be nothing.

So please, please vote today, if you haven’t already. If you’re inclined to vote Republican, please look up what your candidate and other Republicans have been doing and think critically about whether they actually represent you, your needs, and the rest of us who aren’t bazillionaires in terms of the practical, this-world decisions they’ve made and the consequences of their actions (or inaction). If you’re inclined to vote Democrat, please stop reading this right now and go vote!

Additional Voter Resources at Vote411.org

Voter Lookup

Here’s the WordPress tool for looking up information about where to vote on or before election day: Tuesday, November 4th. I plan to vote at my local polling center that morning.

Shut Down

I’ve been having a really hard time lately and there’s no end in sight. Sometimes I feel so hopeless, it’s painful to keep breathing.

This government shutdown orchestrated by a small handful of right-wing extremists who somehow managed to take control of the House is such a huge, overwhelming problem. I know one person who works for the government who has been extremely stressed out, and another person who just lost their job – I suspect at least partially due to the shutdown. I’m concerned for them, and for the hundreds of thousands of people out of work, and for the millions of people who won’t receive the assistance they need for Zek knows how long. The impact on the economy is devastating, and more importantly people could die as a result of this.

It completely and utterly infuriates me that the Republicans won’t even acknowledge that they played a role in the shutdown, never mind taking responsibility. Their smug lies are difficult to tolerate on the best of days, now they might as well be physically tying my intestines in knots while force-feeding me spoiled milk. All we need is for the House to vote on one bill that’s been sitting on Boehner’s desk, but that he refuses to call a vote on. I don’t even understand how or why the Speaker of the House – one person – has that kind of power. I thought our government was set up to prevent one person from ever having that much power.

We can petition them all we want but it’s like they live in a different universe. I don’t think they’re capable of having an honest conversation anymore. The meaning of your words gets twisted in their minds before you’re even finished saying a single sentence; it’s almost like they can’t help dodging the question or spewing blatant lies because they’re not perceiving the words or the situation realistically. I think the only solution is for the American people to somehow take direct control of the House – at the very least, force them to vote on the bill that would provide funding to the departments that have been shut down (without removing women’s access to birth control or delaying implementation of the Affordable Care Act / Obamacare for a year, thanks). At least then we’d have some semblance of transparency, a record of who voted to keep this country afloat and who voted against us all.

So far I’ve learned of one way to bypass Boehner and force a vote on the clean funding bill: the discharge petition House Democrats have been pursuing. I encourage readers (especially those in the U.S.) to sign this petition urging House Republicans to join their colleagues in ending the shutdown. Also please consider contacting your representative directly (House.gov). I know I just wrote that petitioning them doesn’t do anything, but I don’t really see any other course of action. People know that the Republicans are responsible; there are several races for Republican seats in the house where polls show the Democrats to have an advantage. Maybe if we keep enough pressure on they’ll realize that the best thing to do – whether it’s to save their jobs or because deep down they actually do give a damn about this country – is to give up the Tea Party’s ridiculous demands and frelling fund the government. We only need about 18 of them to rejoin reality.

Anyways, it’s not just the shutdown that’s got me, well, down. I’m having my own financial crisis. I wiped out my checking account paying credit card bills (in full, on time), then received 2 very unwelcome pieces of mail. One was the bill from the animal hospital where we’d taken Schmoozer; they’re charging me an additional $400 on top of the $200 deposit. I was very angry when I first received it, but the vets and other staff worked hard and they do need to be paid. The financial cost just adds to the pain of losing him. The other offensive bit of mail was regarding my student loans: I need to contact them about repayment or deferment because I’m not at least a half-time student. I’m hoping I can defer repayment, but I’m dreading the call I’m almost guaranteed to have to make. Again, not at all unreasonable (or entirely unexpected), just horrible timing. I’d much rather disappear into a hole than deal with bureaucracy.

I managed to fill out most of the information to apply for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act – which went into effect a week ago – but the site (HealthCare.gov) was “unable to verify my identity.” I haven’t been able to log on since to view the message that’s waiting for me; I hope it’s not time sensitive! I could call but I really feel a lot more comfortable with written communication, which allows me to ensure my own comprehension and make sure I’m clearly communicating my true intention. On the phone I feel pressured to agree with whomever I’m talking to; I might agree to something that’s not in my best interest.

I’m frustrated because I just want to see what plan(s) I’m eligible for and take some time to compare/evaluate them, but I can’t even log in. The more rational side of me is saying to wait a month or two. Then Fox and I can apply as a married couple, I can use my new legal name, and less people will be trying to access the site at once, so it should be a lot easier. But that doesn’t jive well with the part of me that feels an urgent need to Do Something Right Now to change my current status: unemployed and uninsured. Being unemployed and uninsured goes against the values I was raised with, the sense of identity I wanted. It’s hard to accept; it grates on my nerves. But it’s the truth and I want to do something about it. I hate that when I finally get up the guts and energy to try, then I can’t even log in to a website.

I’m also feeling a lot of pressure to get a job, but I find it difficult to get up, feed myself, and get dressed in the morning; my mind fills with doubts about whether I’d be able to be on time for the job, ever. The idea of going in for an interview paralyzes me with anxiety. Mom says I need to figure out what I’m doing with my life, and I agree. But I question whether I really want to and can continue on the career path I’ve already started out with; for the time being, at least, even role-playing a therapist is dangerous. I would love to write professionally (even though I lack a degree in English), but I’m not sure how likely I’d be to actually get paid; most of the jobs I’ve seen posted online would provide unstable income at best. I have the minimal degree I need to enter a career in music composition / arranging / orchestrating and I think I’d enjoy it a great deal … except that I have trouble getting myself to work on my own compositions for fun. Assuming I could even get anyone to pay me for my work, would I be able to stick with it consistently enough to finish commissioned works? Right now I’m full of doubt. I doubt I could be successful in any career.

Mom says I should try to find a small office job or something local. The idea fills me with so much anxiety I have to end the conversation. But then I doubt myself again. Am I really suffering from a mental illness that makes it so I can’t even try to find work? Or am I just being lazy, making excuses? To what degree do I need to take responsibility? And to what degree do I desperately need support? Whose responsibility is it to make sure I get that support? I feel like I should know where to look, but I don’t. I’m lost.

Preventing Violence through Courage and Compassion

I was so inspired to read about Antoinette Tuff, who prevented a mass shooting at her school by talking to the gunman – both trying to understand him, and trying to help him relate to her. She was terrified, but she did it anyway, and saved over 870 lives. Meet Antoinette Tuff.

copyright Every Joe / Antoinette Tuff

copyright Every Joe / Antoinette Tuff