Friday, December 11, 2015

On the use of labels: helpful, restrictive or both?

Having just read an article about bisexuality, I began thinking about labels which can be informative and useful, and sometimes restricting and harmful, depending on the circumstances (

Some people love clarity and certainty, the more black and white the better.  Categorizing and organizing help us understand our worlds and the people within them. Naming people, places and things helps us feel safe and secure in a world where there is much chaos and confusion. But, these same labels may also lead to rigid, irrational stereotypes.

Using adjectives, descriptors and labels helps us communicate with each other. But, we may miss out on getting to know and understand all kinds of people because of our quick, initial impressions and assumptions.

For instance, the bisexuality article points out that if one describes herself as bisexual, that does not necessarily mean that she likes threesomes though some people interpret the label that way. Some also think that bisexuality means that a person is wishy washy wanting to sample many tastes in a cafeteria of choices instead of sticking to one theme, or type of person.

When labels produce inaccurate assumptions, they can result in narrowly stereotyping in a world where people can be full of many colors, tones and shades instead of being only black or white.

We gravitate toward descriptors in order to identify ourselves to each other and we like to belong to some community, some tribe. But, in fact we belong to many communities.

I am a psychotherapist, a mother, a daughter, a wife, an activist, a friend, all at the same time.  But, which labels do I use when presenting myself to you?  Which descriptors will you use when you help me learn more about you and your life?

And, let’s not over-categorize or stick people in boxes by viewing only one part of them and not the full, whole person who has many parts.

I try to be open to learning more about people before I judge them (especially) harshly, but it is a struggle.  It is so much easier to label and cross people off my list than to spend the time and energy it might take to see if we have any similarities, anything at all in common.  We might even explore our differences and be intrigued about each other’s uniqueness. 

How do we slow down our rapid judgements of ourselves and others, so that we can be more like children, just being curious in open, non-judgmental ways, without limiting people to just one part? How can we wonder about new ideas before rejecting them quickly out of fear or anxiety?  

Instead, we often create divisions, disconnections and separations based on minimal data, while there are already many lonely people in the world. Rigid beliefs can be distorted or inaccurate leading to inappropriate and unhealthy actions.  For instance, maybe we don’t need to rush to halt all immigration just because a certain faction of people has committed horrible atrocities.

Perhaps without the need for such restrictive labeling, we can realize we are all connected, and maybe we can love one another and ourselves just a little bit more easily, even if we object to some of our parts. 

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Working with Divorce (for psychotherapists)

How do we help struggling couples work through one of the worst times of their lives?  With great care. We listen not only to our psychotherapy clients about this terrible time of life but to divorcing family members, friends, and colleagues.

You have probably seen MTCA ads in NPI Reflects. The Middle Tennessee Collaborative Alliance (MTCA) group here in town offers couples a creative and different way to divorce. Some of us NPI members have been trained as Collaborative Divorce Coaches and we offer you our expertise if you are working with clients who are thinking about divorce. 

Before I became a MTCA member, I sometimes felt helpless when my individual clients and couples needed information about divorcing. I could certainly help them make some decisions about whether or not to divorce and about parenting issues, but, what often happened when my clients hired attorneys, was that I felt like I lost control or power to influence my clients’ divorce experiences or outcomes.

Not that we therapists need to be in control of our clients’ divorces but after investing much time and energy in our work with clients, we have sometimes felt like we were turning them over to an adversarial justice system without being able to assist them effectively during the process.  We often watched in horror as some of our couples experienced high hostility and severe conflict even when they may have wanted to divorce amicably, stay friends, or at least continue to coparent their children well.

In 2009, several professionals, including psychotherapists and attorneys, came together to create MTCA.  Collaborative Divorce processes had been developed and used in the US and Canada for many years prior to that time, but Tennessee was just getting on board to help couples complete their divorces with as little animosity as possible.  Couples tell us that they want to make their own decisions about their divorces instead of leaving those decisions to the courts. We owe many thanks to the founders of MTCA which include NPI members David McMillan and Julia McAninch.  

Because we believe in excellent care for our clients during divorces, some other NPI members also trained to function as Collaborative Divorce Coaches, Tiffany Davis and myself being two of them.  We 4 NPI members want you to know that you can use us for consultation about your clients’ divorce discussions, and for referrals to attorneys, financial professionals and coaches.

During Collaborative Divorce, attorneys advocate for their individual clients so that your clients will have rigorous legal guidance and support.  Also, Coaches will not work with your clients as therapists during or after the divorce, so you need not fear you will lose your clients to us.  We want to work with therapists to achieve the best results possible for families and their futures.

The collaborative process is exciting because it uses a multidisciplinary team to help each couple develop an excellent marital dissolution agreement.  The beauty of Collaborative Divorce is that the couple maintains much control of the process and outcome of their divorce, not handing over the reins to aggressive, adversarial litigators.  We have learned though that Collaborative Divorce is not for everyone and it is most useful for those couples who are communally committed to the time and energy it takes to work together. Collaborative Divorce often takes less time than a litigated divorce and expenses are often much lower than the expense of litigation.

In Collaborative Divorce, the couple designs their own parenting plan with our professional teams, and the attorneys make sure that the plan fits with the legal requirements for divorce.  Collaborative Divorce Coaches act as emotional supports to the couple, not replacing therapists but as adjuncts, facilitating the collaborative process and team meetings, and making sure that the process does not become adversarial.

One more fact: Collaborative Divorce is not always easy and nice, although we would like that to happen. Sometimes, couples who have already been having difficulties communicating will continue to have trouble in the collaborative process.  But, with Coaches helping to understand their communication patterns, their histories and inner workings, we can facilitate the process effectively, helping couples learn to work together in new ways at times.  We try to help them move forward in their lives instead of staying stuck rehashing the past.

Feel free to use any of us Coaches or any of the other professionals on the MTCA website ( if you have questions about MTCA, Collaborative Divorce, or the variety of ways couples can divorce.  After all, litigation and mediation are best suited to some couples and some MTCA attorneys also function as litigators and mediators. One size does not fit all but we try our best to match clients with the most appropriate process to ensure success.

Sexual Assault is alive and well in 2015

I was a college student in the 1970’s where some young men were aggressive, some sweet and kind, just like today. Women and men participated in drinking and drugging on campuses, and rape sometimes occurred.

Nowadays, with rape so common nationally and globally, we need to understand why men still abuse women. We can agree that some men choose to physically overpower and control women in all sorts of ways. This is not just about rape by strangers in dark alleys but rape in fancy educational settings, housing privileged kids where rape is an institutional hazard, a nightmare, and a disgrace.

Rape is also the buying, selling and renting of children’s and women’s bodies in a society that prizes and rewards economic greed and financial success. Sex trafficking is rampant with children being stolen to become commercial property, thereby becoming slaves.

In the 1970’s and 80’s here in Nashville, we young women marched in protest about issues like women’s equality and rape. These days sexual assault seems not to have decreased even while gender roles and acceptance of sexuality differences have evolved positively. Probably because rape is not about sex but about power.

What can we do about this continued tragic state of affairs? First, by admitting that a large portion of the problem is that we are nested in a society whose social norms allow for and promote the abuse of children, women, minorities and the poor.

Being hesitant to say “no” to male sexual or aggressive behavior may be partly due to some girls’ and women’s buying in to the patriarchal idea that sex is something that a woman “gives” to a man, something he can “take from” her, “stealing her virginity.” Even the phrases sound criminal, describing a power exchange. Children also are taught to obey adults, increasing their risk.

These days, I would think that men would be even more careful about getting consent to sex. Even if the perpetrators and/or victims of rape are drugged, drunk, or impaired, men need to be absolutely sure their partner is a willing, adult sexual partner.

Although women are now seen as more equal to men than in the past in some ways, sexual violence is slow to change. Domestic violence of all sorts continues and Pat Shea of the YWCA encourages men to help solve this problem.

We grow up being highly influenced by our media, advertisements, movies, and magazines, many which glorify girls’ and women’s bodies as commodities. To decease sexual violence, parents need to teach their children about respecting each other’s bodies and how to deal with conflict in a nonviolent manner, something they may know little about.

Perhaps if men felt better about themselves, they wouldn’t rape. But, this problem goes further than that on a macro level. This is about economics, buying and selling products and services. After all, making money is a large part of the American Dream. 

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

"A Change is Gonna Come," one way or another

How in the world did we Americans become a gun-toting nation? Because of fear about our safety, or because some have decided to take control of what little we can control? After all, for most Americans, the American Dream is not all that it’s cracked up to be.

Are all police really as belligerent and aggressive as some we have sometimes witness? No, some are highly compassionate and honest, but some individual police and police departments have severe issues. Prejudice and bias reign, and some police react too quickly in response to their fears - or quotas.

We have more depressed, anxious people in our nation than ever before, whether we have better systems of diagnosing and reporting, or whether it is true. The past 50 years of our American economy, the myths about freedom, democracy, and equality along with guns and mental health problems, have all created our current crisis.

We need more nurturing, beloved communities where people care about their neighbors and watch out for each other and their kids. The extended family has gone by the wayside with our continued high mobility, and many people are often lonely and stressed by financial, physical, emotional and spiritual issues. Excellent, new technologies may separate more than connect us.

The disappointment, disillusionment and rage that grows out of poverty, racial divides, economic insecurities, and fear about the future of the planet, all churn within us. We feel helpless so often that we sometimes develop compulsive behaviors and act out against each other and ourselves while trying to manage these enormous stresses. Many experience shame and harsh judgement.

This is a recipe for disaster. Some votes rarely make a difference given our antiquated, American electoral system. The rich run this oligarchy and elections go to those who follow the rules outlined by their benefactors, until they, too, realize they are no longer public servants but puppets, controlled by money. And,  we and our ancestors are all complicit in the way things are. 

Some cry out for a revolution.  What can we do to change the tide, to improve our health and create new, more effective ways of dealing with each other and our world?

Take the money out of politics. Develop gun/weapon regulations and enforce them for all people. Take care of the homeless, the elderly, the sick, the poor, and children, providing mental health services to all who need them. Deinstitutionalize our prisons full of people who have been violated by law enforcement and judicial sentencing. Rehabilitate people. Decrease the huge gap between the incomes of everyone. Bring hope that “ a change is gonna come (song by Sam Cooke)".  Easy to say and very hard to do.

I certainly don’t have all the answers about how to change each of these systems to create a better life for all people. But, I do know that if we band together and work toward some common goals, we have the power to make healthy changes, one person/system at a time. 

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Occupy Gender Neutral Pronouns

The Basics
The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Office for Diversity and Inclusion asked in a post that students, professors and the administration welcome all of the students to campus this year, including those who are gender non-conforming. They suggested that the college community ask students what name they would like to be called and what pronouns to use when they are addressed. Then, all hell broke loose.

What happened
The media got involved locally and nationally, the beginning of a perfect storm. Some thought the university was requiring the campus to speak in new ways, using unfamiliar terms to many on campus. All sorts of people, including newscasters, began sarcastic snickering and hostile joking about this request. These responses are not funny.

Chris Sanders, Executive Director of the Tennessee Equality Project (TEP) sent out a 9/1/2015 email with the subject line: Fight back! Family Action trying to get Legislature to stop UT-K's trans welcoming program. He added: “Now Family Action of Tennessee is urging its members to contact state legislators to get them to "neuter" UT's program. Offensive doesn't quite capture it!” Chris also suggested that we sign a “...petition to generate emails to the State Senate Education Committee and to the State House Education Administration and Planning Committee .... so that they know you want UT to make its own decisions about programming to make transgender and gender non-conforming people welcome!: The petition link: education-committee-provide-legislature-with-accurate-information-about-ut-k-s-gender- neutral-pronoun-program

Some state leaders began frothing at the mouth, outraged, sounding like one national radio host, Tom Starnes who wrote, “Across the fruited plain, institutions of higher education are turning their taxpayer-funded fiefdoms into gender neutral zones where free thought is outlawed,” in Back to School: Let the left-wing indoctrination begin (http:// zones-where-free-thought-is-outlawed.html ). Mr. Starnes’ comments were inflammatory and inaccurate. UT-K’s request was in no way outlawing free thought.
In the 1970’s some women decided that they wanted to use the term “Ms.” instead of “Miss” or “Mrs.,” the latter two describing a woman’s relationship only to a man. Ms. magazine prompted our now common usage of this term but a similar backlash had also occurred. Some thought women were getting too uppity, they called out the feminists, labelling them extremists, femi-nazis, and even lesbians!

Why don’t most people line up to support the change in pronoun usage?

Using a variety of pronouns may be confusing at first. Some want simplicity, hate change, and wish for clear dualities: ie. man or woman, black or white. However, we are a melting pot of colors and there are unique mixtures of genders as well. Why can’t everyone welcome the transgender community with open arms, just like Jesus would do?

Most children go through a time of exploring their bodies, their identities, and their personalities. By not allowing children to freely explore, we are telling them both biologically and emotionally that it is not OK to be who they are. That there is something, in fact, wrong with them, that they need to be different. “Be like Mary or Joe, just don’t be you.”

Such shame, rejection, and distortion can make any child confused, angry, insecure, highly anxious, and/or depressed. Why would any parent or any society want to inflict that horror upon any child?

Those who rant against UT-K’s post separate people, preaching that there is a right and a wrong way to live, to be, to exist. Not acknowledging who a person really is, especially regarding gender or sexuality, can lead to trauma through violence, bullying, and possibly premature death. Why would anyone act so hostile and demeaning toward those they perceive as different?
First of all, some people are extremely insecure even if they display strong, macho characteristics. The most insecure people can be the loudest and the most rigid. They may also feel like their way of life (a rigid construct seeing life as black and white, not gray or brown) is being devalued by the “other,” threatening their very foundation, a strong, unmoving rock on which they depend for their very existence. If this foundation crumbles like sand, life can seem like a cascading, chaotic disaster over which they have no control. So, they yell and scream guarding their highly fragile egos.

If we challenge their rules, then we are asking them to examine everything that they believe to be true. No small matter. Thankfully, some will evolve away from their age-old opinions and open themselves up to discussion, maybe even changing their minds. But, many people gather their community members even closer together, circling the wagons, ready to fight and defend.

What happened next?
Top lawmakers in TN ramped up. Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey said that UT-K’s welcoming request was "the clearest example of political correctness run amok that I have seen in quite some time,” even though Margie Nichols, UT's vice chancellor for communications, explained that this was not a UT-K policy, just a recommendation (The Tennessean, http:// investigate-ut-pronouns-post/71529306/)

After several days of state and national attention, UT-K decided to pull the post that began all this controversy: “In a letter to the Board of Trustees, UT system President Joe DiPietro said he was ‘deeply concerned about the attention this matter continues to receive and the harm it has had on the reputation of the University of
Tennessee.’” ( removes-web-post-gender-neutral-pronouns/71726984/) I am deeply concerned that the university has made this decision, evoking harm yet again to the LGBTQIA community.

This storm makes for a very difficult discussion about how to create a better society where all people are not only equal but treasured. It is a debate we will continue to have until a larger majority of people support this issue. Look what happened with marriage equality!

I agree with Marisa Richmond with the Tennessee Transgender Political Coalition who said: “Anytime we challenge our notions of conformity and we find ourselves accepting different forms of diversity, I think society benefits” ( features/top-stories/stories/UT-Encourages-Gender-Neutral-Pronouns---Eric- Alvarez-192212.shtml#.VeYJCXi0OXl). Instead, our whole society suffers. 

Friday, August 7, 2015

The Attack on Planned Parenthood

If you want to witness an angry U.S. Senator speak to Senate Republicans, listen to Elizabeth Warren’s recent speech about the possible defunding of Planned Parenthood:  In that video, you will hear some pretty strong words about how there has been a focused, long term attack on the rights of women by the extreme right wing in our country.
Senator Warren asks: Why are we fighting a battle that belongs in the 1950’s or the 1890’s?  She describes the many bills  throughout the nation, including Tennessee, designed to banish legal abortions by making them extremely hard to access. Most people, especially the poor and disadvantaged, may be thwarted from terminating a pregnancy thereby increasing welfare rolls, which also annoys these right wing zealots. One day, many marginalized people may not have access to the range of medical services that Planned Parenthood provides, services like cancer and STD screenings, treatment, and birth control.

Katha Pollitt, in How to Really Defend Planned Parenthood (New York Times, 8/05/2015), wrote that “The whole society benefits when motherhood is voluntary.”  She also reports that, “according to the Guttmacher Institute, nearly one in three women will have had at least one abortion by the time she reaches menopause.”  

Why don’t more prochoice people  speak out about their beliefs in the rights for all people to make medical decisions for themselves without governmental interference?  “Silence, fear, shame, stigma,” Ms. Pollitt answers. 

Senator Warren points out that 1 in 5 women have used Planned Parenthood at some time in their lives, and why: because their doors are open to all genders and income levels. I myself used Planned Parenthood as a young adult.

 The fact is that federal funds do not even fund abortions. Rather, they are earmarked for other medical services.

Why the continued attack on women in our nation and in Tennessee?

There are some leaders who fight this battle against women for political gain.  Some are acting out age old issues they have with women, beginning with their mothers. Some who preach and advocate for celibacy or abstinence are sometimes themselves adulterers. Some of these hypocrites have amassed vast political power.

Sometimes, people who protest so much about certain issues have some deep fear, rage, or conflict about the issue rooted in their lives. Trauma of any sort, even emotional trauma and neglect, occurring in a child’s early years, can lead to all sorts of dysfunctional behaviors, including protesting against an issue that relates intimately to the person who has been hurt.  Such abuse happens in many forms ranging from rigid church dogma to strict, fearful, stressed, and/or substance abusing parents.

I support the rights of all people to use excellent and comprehensive medical services.  If we defund Planned Parenthood, we are once again separating the rich from the poor, reinforcing income inequality where rich people can obtain such services but poverty-stricken people cannot.  Our current type of capitalistic society is directly linked to income inequality which abuses the poor and disadvantaged.

For now, we need to stop our Congress and our state from continuing to pass legislation that prohibits so many people from receiving excellent medical care at Planned Parenthood. Please talk with your legislators frequently and consistently about this issue.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

An Angry White Woman on Why Black Lives Matter

Why is a middle age white woman writing about Black Lives Mattering? Because white people need to challenge other white people about racism in America. We also need to stand together with our brothers and sisters of all races, religions and value systems to create sweeping change across the country. The time to act is now.

We white people are a privileged group of people. We have never had to worry that a police officer might attack us or our children for little or no cause. We have not grown up as victims of bigotry and prejudice just because of our skin color. We have not had to live through a long history of slavery and injustice, and we are not even aware of our own privilege most of the time.

Write me off as an angry white woman. Or, call me a person who wants to increase fairness, civility, equal rights, and compassion for all people. We white people need to not only face our own internal racism, we need to talk with and educate each other about our racial values, and we need to change our society’s system of structural racism.

We now know some cities’ names only because of extreme violence against black people. Ferguson and Charleston come to mind. Think of the names of so many black lives that were recently and abruptly halted because of racism, violence and guns, some of them being children: Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Jordan Davis, Walter Scott, Michael Brown, Sandra Bland, Jonathan Sanders, and many more. All of these black lives mattered and they were killed unfairly and violently by white people.

Although there is still some controversy around the deaths of Sandra Brand and Jonathan Sanders, police violence happens so frequently, we white people can hardly imagine how African Americans feel about white people and about the United States of America. Doesn’t seem so united to me.

Our prisons and jails are so full of black lives, some incarcerated for not being able to pay bail for a traffic violation, or a petty crime. We imprison our poor and blacks, immigrants and people with minor drug offenses. Many of our correctional facilities are run by private corporations that make huge profits based on the amount of beds filled each day, incentivizing profit.

Let’s change the dialogue, let’s ask white people to take responsibility for changing our patriarchal, mostly white systems. This is no small task. We cannot change everyone’s minds or values, but we can speak out and influence our leaders, asking them to make changes that will improve black lives.

Black people have been oppressed, injured and killed in unspeakable ways throughout our nation’s history, and we are still wounding blacks today in prisons, in housing projects and in current educational systems. We white people are much of the reason that structural racism still occurs, and it is up to us to do something about it. 

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Raising Unwanted Children

The Tennessean did a fine job describing what has changed regarding new abortion laws beginning on July 1, 2015, and described a lawsuit filed about the 2014 vote on Amendment 1 (see 

The Yes on 1 campaign was victorious (53%) giving state legislators the right to decide about girls’ and women’s reproductive health, including birth control and abortions, instead of letting females make such decisions in consultation with their families, doctors and faith leaders. The lawsuit disagrees with how the vote was counted, and a judge last week agreed not to dismiss that suit.

Tennessee has enacted legislation that makes it almost impossible for some women to get good reproductive healthcare and/or abortions, and the fee for abortions has now almost doubled.  Now, we are not just discriminating against the poor but against rural Tennessee citizens who often travel to larger cities to receive excellent healthcare.

Some women now need to travel two days instead of one if they are seeking consultation about abortion and choose that route. Missing work adds stress and often loss of income. Those who voted Yes on 1 and those who didn’t vote at all have given our legislators the power to make such changes.

Some say, “Most women don’t really think about these matters or consult with others. They just get pregnant and decide quickly and easily about abortions.”  Think again.  Women do not take lightly the termination of a fetus.  Having practiced as a psychotherapist for over 25 years, I can tell you that women suffer greatly about making such decisions.

And, men? Are they clamoring to support unwanted babies?  Children may be born before parents have a high school education or the skills to raise a healthy child. 

Pregnancy can occur by accident, by sexual assault, and when using appropriate birth control. Think about adolescents and other women who cannot afford or take good care of a child. Think about the children. What a difficult way to come into this world.

It seems like the same people who dislike welfare numbers also want to ban abortions. Because of these new laws, there will be more babies whose mothers cannot afford abortions, who may need public assistance to help their unwanted children have the very basics, like food and shelter. They may not be as able to support their children’s emotional needs.

Add in the stress of parents working 2 - 3 jobs to make ends meet, and how families are negatively impacted by the absence of parental involvement and the effects of parental stress. Domestic violence increases.

Is this the kind of world we want to live in, one that helps babies be born with so many strikes against them?  I hope children can be born into healthier environments so that our state flourishes and becomes a better place for all people.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

A Sign: No Gays Allowed

The Supreme Court recently made an excellent decision about marriage equality and now, the backlash from conservatives. 

Businesses that deal with weddings, like photographers, bakeries, florists, and wedding planners will be making some decisions. A friend says that for those businesses that don’t want to serve the LGBT community, perhaps we can say, "OK, fine, as long as you advertise that you are denying these customers.”  Let the market itself take care of those businesses.  Unfortunately though, in many rural places, people do not have a variety of choices.

Recently, some news: “Tennessee hardware store owner has been getting death threats after posting a ‘No Gays Allowed’ sign on his front door, but he stands by his homophobic message,” according to the New York Daily News (  He took down the first sign and replaced it with: 

"We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone who would violate our rights of freedom of speech & freedom of religion.”

I do not understand how LGBT customers can violate his freedom of speech, much less his freedom of religion.

Jeff Amyx, the store owner, is also a Baptist minister. I don’t know anywhere in the Bible that it says not to sell a wrench to a LGBT person.  Maybe this man doesn’t serve people of other faiths, like Jewish people. Does he serve adulterers? Wasn’t there something in the Ten Commandments about that?  I don’t know how business owners can know such facts about our private lives anyway, unless they have gaydar.

Chris Sanders, Chairman of the Tennessee Equality Project (TEP) says, “A few hateful business owners cannot stem the tide of the growing number of companies embracing equality. We have over 20 new members of Tennessee Open For Business from East TN.   So this hardware store doesn't define the region.”

My friend, Ernie Boyd, said in response to the USA Today article: “Can you imagine if a sign says, ‘No Baptist Ministers Allowed?’ He’d justifiably be upset. But, then again, he wasn't born a Baptist pastor. He chose to be one.”

Over 50 years ago, African Americans often couldn’t stop on road trips to eat in restaurants or use public bathrooms because they were barred from all-white establishments. There were laws against interracial couples as well. The Supreme Court finally intervened. 

I don’t want to live in a country where business owners can deny services solely based on their beliefs and assumptions about people.  The legality of denying customers is important but even more significant are the morality and ethics of excluding particular types of customers.

A business owner, Saralee Terry Woods voiced her opinion: “BookManBookWoman Bookstore welcomes everyone and we do not discriminate. One of the owners has been speaking out for gay rights in television and radio interviews for more than 30 years.  We have a Tennessee Equality Project sign on our front door.”  This is the kind of world I would like to live in.

Hedy Weinberg, the executive director of Tennessee’s chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, says: “Gay and lesbian people are our neighbors, coworkers, family members and friends. When it comes to being able to be served by a business, they should be treated like anyone else. Religion should not be used as an excuse to discriminate against LGBT people. Businesses that are open to the public should be open to everyone on the same terms.”

My question to Mr. Amyx, the hardware store owner: “If you are a Christian, didn’t you grow up singing a song about Jesus loving ‘all the little children of the world?’”

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Boys to Men: Home-grown American Violence

Disclaimer: Some of the following is true for all people, not just for males.

When a boy child is born, a celebration occurs. What happens after birth can result in violence.
We teach boys to play with “gender-appropriate” toys, like guns, trucks or swords. Boys may also choose such toys partially influenced by their hormones. Little boys are often taught not to cry when they are hurt, even as toddlers.

Boys are trained to compete and win whenever possible. Boys may be bullied by larger boys or by parents and coaches whose tones of voice or words can sound condemnatory: Don’t throw (or run) like a girl! Don’t be a sissie! Such words are quite meaningful and powerful to young, formative minds, especially when comparing boys’ skills to girls’.

Another: Don’t be the last one chosen for baseball or football. If boys are not natural athletes, fathers may reprimand or ignore them, even though the sons may perform brilliantly either academically or artistically.

Little boys soak up the words and actions of elders who praise sports celebrities and who watch TV shows and movies where the man takes all. Heroes are CEO’s, generals, coaches and sometimes clergy.

Some boys are abused emotionally, verbally, and physically by older kids, family members and churches. They are taught not to share their negative feelings, so they learn to detach from such feelings until a perfect storm occurs, when they may act out their rage, fear, or pain against others or themselves. We blame them for their “evil” actions.

But, we are also complicit. We prompt boys to play violent games like football and then usher them into the military and into law enforcement where they may act out legally in the name of freedom and safety.

Home-grown American violence is difficult to change because violence is a core value in our American culture. Compete to win no matter what it takes. Spank the bullies who terrorize kids and admonish them at the very same time not to act violently toward others.

Boys become men and some act in violent ways toward women through domestic abuse, sex trafficking and sexual assaults. Some white boys and men abuse minorities.

The good news is that Pat Shea, CEO of the Nashville YWCA, offers a solution. She says that we need to encourage men to help work on these issues of violence. We women have not been able to solve the problem of male violence. It takes men to stand up against violence and teach boys how to treat and respect themselves and others.

If you are committed to help change the violent nature of our society, please contact existing organizations focused on gun violence, domestic and sexual violence, and violence against the marginalized, impoverished, and minorities. Join with organizations like the YWCA, The Sexual Assault Center, the Brady Campaign (to prevent gun violence), and the NAACP, to decrease violence for all Americans. 

Sunday, June 14, 2015

On Marriage Equality and the church

On June 12, 2015, Out & About Nashville published an article by James Grady about Middle Tennessee’s Episcopal bishop, the Right Reverend John Bauerschmidt, and his leading the charge against marriage equality for Episcopalians ( I do not understand how a Christian bishop thinks about this issue theologically.

If this were just one man with one opinion, his views about this issue would not be so problematic. However, this bishop’s conservative stance contradicts many Episcopalians’ beliefs on social issues, especially regarding how we treat each other as human beings.

When I grew up in Mississippi as the daughter of an Episcopalian priest during the 1950’s and 60’s, we had no idea at that time that women would become priests one day. Now, my 92 year old mother and I attend St. Augustine’s Church on Vanderbilt’s campus where two women priests lead our services and preach the gospel. Becca Stevens at St. A’s preaches that “Love Heals.” I see no healing or loving compassion in denying the LGBT community (many of whom are Christians) equality in marriage.

I read the Bible as metaphorical stories about our yearning for the divine’s love and our sometimes difficulty with living as mortals, because we humans judge each other and sometimes fear those who are different from us. But, growing up with my church lady mother and my preaching dad, I was taught about how God loves all people, no matter what.

The Episcopal Church of the United States (ECUSA) often embraces LGBT people, and a task force has recently recommended resolutions that reword the church’s canon law, including changing language indicating that marriage is between a man and a woman, according to O&AN. However, Bauerschmidt and his co-authors wrote against the changes suggested by the report which “would render optional the traditional understanding that marriage is a ‘covenant between a man and a woman’ that is intended, when it is God’s will, ‘for the procreation of children’ (”

Sarah Smith, a parishioner of St. Ann’s Episcopal Church and a candidate for Master of Theological Studies at Vanderbilt Divinity School, says: “In this logic, why then would we allow people that are past child bearing ages to marry or people who are biologically incapable? The argument doesn’t hold and there are so many more ways of being ‘procreative’ than bearing children through one’s body.”

I wonder: What Would Jesus Do (WWJD)? He taught us to love sex workers, and he blessed those who are weary, meek, sick, hungry or poor.

Although I don’t channel God like one U.S. President has, I have no doubt in my mind that our modern day Jesus would preach that all people have the right to marry, and that all people also have the right to equal pay, to food and shelter, to a fair justice system, and to love whomever they love. 

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Justice and Fairness in Nashville

When I heard Metro Police Chief Steve Anderson speak earlier this year, I complimented him on how his police force handled Nashville’s first Ferguson protest last year.

When attending that evening event, I talked to an officer as a group of protesters began moving toward the interstate. All of the sudden, a media representative frantically ran up to this officer asking these questions: “What is happening and how are the police handling this? Any violence so far?” The officer calmly and seeming somewhat irritated replied, “These people have the right to speak out about their concerns, they have the right to protest. And, we are helping them do that safely.” I was very impressed with his response and a bit disgusted by the media person’s seeming frustration with his answer.

Fast forward to the present and The Tennessean’s report (June 2, 2015) about plans for Metro Police Headquarters to move to Jefferson Street. I am not sure how that decision was made but the article clearly states that the community has not felt included in the process.

The Justice for Jefferson Street Coalition has filed a civil rights complaint against the mayor’s office and the police department. Police, in general, are accused of racial profiling throughout our nation and data has been collected displaying how dark skinned people are arrested much more often than us white, privileged people.

I can just hear the responses of readers. Some will speak about how black and brown people break the law more than white people do, and how dare I argue that this is not a just system of enforcement? Please read Michelle Alexander’s book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (2012) to clarify the facts of racial profiling. Ms. Alexander has researched how the United States has not really moved past slavery at all. Slavery is disguised more covertly now, and prison systems house our slaves. Even just reading brief reviews of the book will illustrate this fact.

A friend and one of the Justice for Jefferson Street Coalition members, Sekou Franklin, PhD, describes in the complaint that Metro government has violated the community’s rights by excluding civil rights organizations along with black colleges and universities from discussion about the options and plans for our police department’s move. The project was decided upon rapidly without much community input.

I don’t know about you, but I want to be proud of Nashville’s being the “It” city. Although there will always be disagreements between groups of people and plans for the city, I hope that the government will often seek input from our beloved communities especially when the impact on the community, its youth and families is so clear.

I ask Nashville’s government and its leaders to be fair and honest, and ask openly for community input. Then, we can all be proud of the process, even if we don’t happen to agree with the outcomes. 

Reactions about not only Caitlyn Jenner but Ourselves

Caitlyn Jenner. What more can be said than has already been reported, analyzed and sensationalized? What does her coming out as a transgender woman and the reactions to it say about our society, our values and our human nature?
Many of us have now read and seen many articles, news reports and media stories about Caitlyn’s life along with her Vanity Fair cover photo by Annie Leibovitz. How do we interpret the myriad of reactions to this event?

First, I would like to talk about all those who are not Caitlyn Jenner, those whose coming out has not been celebrated (or criticized) by the entire world. Those who have struggled often massively throughout their lives to deal with being and/or coming out as transgender, those who have suffered and have been ostracized, harmed and killed when people have suspected or learned about their gender identity. Too many transgender people have killed themselves partly because of the dire societal, vocational, and social ramifications about gender and sexual identities.
Along with the praise and celebration of Caitlyn’s coming out comes the horrible, outlandish comments made by some right wing conservatives who think we are headed for an apocalypse (http:/ culture-was-is-lost/2015/06/04/aa*ccbbe-oade-11e5-9e39-odb921c47b93_story.html) The good news is some of our Democratic leaders, like Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, have praised Caitlyn for her bravery. And, even some Fox newscasters have been supportive.

Jon Stewart, The Daily Show (6/2/2015), entitled his piece, “Brave New Girl.” (http:// Not only did he illustrate some of the media using descriptors for Caitlyn like “courageous “and “brave” but he also showed clips of angry, belligerent and abhorrent people talking about what an abomination Caitlyn’s story is. On June 4, 2015, the Washington Post published an article by Josh Cobia, a minister, entitled, “I went to church with Bruce Jenner, Here’s what Cailtyn Jenner taught me about Jesus (http:// jenner-heres-what-caitlyn-jenner-taught-me-about-jesus/).” The reactions to Caitlyn are as varied and extreme as we are people.

One reaction that has appalled me about the news that Bruce is Caitlyn is that so many of the media are talking about her body, her sexiness, hot-ness, glamorousness and attractiveness, even female newscasters. They also mention her age as if she only has a little more time left before she is irrelevant to the public. In the past, when Bruce was a decathlon star and TV/ movie celebrity, married to a Kardashian of all people, similar media personnel described his former athleticism, his business sense, and his acting talents, not his body. Jon Stewart says, “Welcome to the world of being a woman in America, Caitlyn. “ What a world this is.

So, what’s really happening here? The good news is that our society is moving forward, becoming more and more accepting of people who are not mainstream, people who might differ from our white, heterosexist societal norm. Caitlyn says she wants to help others by talking openly about some of the issues in growing up transgender. Hopefully, that is happening now. At least people are discussing the topic and exploring their own feelings about their values, their beliefs and what is the “new normal.”

My hope is that the “new normal” will be a world in which everyone is accepted for whoever they are. No matter what their skin color, their gender, their sexuality, their religion (or the lack thereof), their size, their looks, and/or their mental or physical abilities. A world where there is less income inequality, where one group doesn’t judge or discriminate against another group based on misplaced hatred and fear but where people are willing to talk with others who may seem different. Where we try to understand other people rather than be quick to judge. To
know that what works for me isn’t necessarily what works for you. We can do better than what we have been doing. We can learn and grow, evolve as better types of human beings, even though we may often compare ourselves to others and may compete even until our dying days.

Let’s live in a world where we can have compassion for other people and try to understand how their thoughts, feelings and behaviors make sense in their worlds. We people can do terrible things to one another. If we each have a goal of coming to know ourselves as best we can, then we can hopefully look at others as being more like us than not, all struggling to live in a sometimes chaotic, crazy world where bad things happen to good people, and where people are sometimes filled with hate and fear, causing great damage to us all. 

Thursday, April 16, 2015

To those who have lost a loved one to suicide

I am writing to you, the living. You who have experienced the suicide of a loved one, family member, partner or friend.

Last year, I attended a suicide walk in Nashville’s Music Row area, a time for those affected by suicide to gather and grieve together, and to raise money to help prevent suicide. We were given necklaces in a variety of colors connected to how we were related to those who had died, whether a friend, family member, partner, or child. It was upsetting to see so many people with not one necklace but several of different colors.

Recently, family and friends were shocked and stunned to find out that Kevin Watts had killed himself. What many people go through following a suicide includes much grief, sadness and also sometimes anger about the suicide. I want you to know that any feelings or thoughts that you are having about Kevin and his death are normal reactions to a tragic and horrifying situation. No one knows how they will react to a loved one’s death, especially not to a suicide.

One way some people handle such a tragedy is by questioning themselves, wondering what they missed, blaming themselves for not having seen the signs and not being able to prevent the suicide. I do not know Kevin or his family and friends although I have read a friend’s tribute to him as well as a piece written by the Tennessee Suicide Prevention Network highlighting his death and how we need not stigmatize suicide nor keep it secret or silent. People need to know more and talk more about suicide in order to prevent it.

I am focusing on how the living can go on living, mourn and grieve death, and cope with such a tragedy. Family members and friends often beat themselves up about a suicide. They think they should have known it was going to happen and that they somehow could have prevented it.

But, none of us are mind readers, we can’t always know what goes on inside even our closest loved ones. Depression, anxiety and other forms of mental illness come in all sorts of flavors. We sometimes tend to notice those who are depressed when their symptoms include withdrawing, isolating, missing work, using too much alcohol or drugs, and/or having visible physical pain. We can see those symptoms.

We can also try to understand the reasons why someone has killed themselves and usually there are many important factors. Still, however, we may never really know why, because we can’t fully know any human being like they know themselves.

It is far harder to understand suicide when a person has seemed to be doing well, has seemed to handle life with a smile, and has continued to be engaged with family and friends. This type of person isn’t usually trying to lie about how they are feeling (although some are excellent actors and don’t want anyone to know the severity of their pain, or their plans). Some act out externally but others implode, directing harsh and negative feelings toward themselves, not others. The nature of depression itself can prevent people from reaching out, crying loudly in distress for others to see.

In fact, sometimes we witness a person seeming to feel better and we feel better in return. Even though we have given them close and careful attention when life seemed worse, we may back off a little.

The unfortunate truth is that sometimes people, who have fully decided to kill themselves, may go through a period of time feeling more peaceful and calm, knowing they will be ending their lives soon. The pain may even slip away as they plan the suicide. They are not trying to fool us, but they may honestly feel better temporarily.

Do not blame yourselves. Yes, we can help people enter treatment programs or find trained professionals hoping that they will benefit from such help. But, sometimes even then, suicide can occur.

What we can do is to offer ourselves to them, giving them all the support or assistance that they may need, but knowing that we are not in control of their decisions. If they push us away and refuse or resist such help, there is little we can do except to love them anyway, feeling compassion for them and concern about their suffering. Hoping that they can find new ways to decrease their pain and suffering while still living among us. 

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Voting for a new Mayor in Nashville

Last week, a news report claimed that women in this country only make on average 77 cents for every dollar that men make.  And, women may not reach equal pay until 2058.  How tragic and strange.

Americans can create all kinds of technological feats but we also spend much of the U.S. budget on defense, building tanks and military equipment that are never used.  Why can’t we make better decisions about women’s equality, as well as about civil and human rights?

The U.S. views itself as the world’s number 1 country, and Nashville is the new “It” city.  But there continues to be much discrimination and inequality throughout.  Surely we can do better than this.

I attended an event for Megan Barry on March 29th, and the room was packed with supporters who want Ms. Barry to be Nashville’s next mayor.  Nashvillians Emmylou Harris, country music artist, and Connie Britton from Nashville on TV, both spoke on behalf of Megan, cheers rippling through the crowd. Nashville can design for itself a bright future, and we believe that Megan Barry can lead us there.

Ms. Barry has been a Metro Nashville and Davidson County Council Member since 2007, and she is the only mayoral candidate who has both business and government experience.
I will vote for Megan because she believes in improving the public education of our children, and wants to fully fund pre-K education in Nashville. She is also the only candidate who spoke out about voting “No” on Amendment 1 last year because she believes that women’s medical decisions should be left to women and their doctors instead of those decisions being made by politicians. And, she says it doesn’t matter who you love.

Megan also believes that “a city that thrives is a city that moves,” dedicating herself to a Transit vision that includes all modalities from bicycles to buses and more.  If Nashville is truly the “It” city then we need to pay attention to all of our citizens and not just to the wealthy and powerful.  Megan sponsored and passed a bill keeping guns out of parks, illustrating her strength and dedication to protecting our citizens from harm.  She has also participated in setting up the Affordable Housing fund and the budget for it.

Megan is a smart, enthusiastic leader for us all.  She closed this campaign event with something that she heard at church.  “Be grateful for the people who do things for you, not because they have to, but because they want to.”  I couldn’t agree more.  

Don’t let just 20% of our citizens select our leaders.  We all have the power in our hands to elect those who will serve us well, who will listen to us, and work for us. I urge you to vote in every election in Tennessee and in the nation after educating yourself as best you can about the candidates and their values.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Out of Darkness Comes Light

When I was recently diagnosed with the flu,  I was both upset but also glad to be validated that my pain was biologically based. Being who I am, I took this opportunity to make meaning of this illness.
When I got sick, I entered into Elisabeth K├╝bler-Ross’ stages of grief, spiraling through denial, anger, despair/depression, bargaining and acceptance; along with my wondering: “How dare my body let me down?  I feel betrayed!”  By myself.
Then came poor, pitiful me.  Finally, giving up and giving in to the fact that I could not control my having the flu or not, I accepted it and let myself rest and relax instead of beating myself up for being so damn human that even I can get sick - like everyone else.
Out of darkness comes light. We have often heard: out of sadness comes joy, out of pain and sorrow comes rebirth, and out of tragedy comes hope.
Perhaps we can begin to heal ourselves while focusing on bodily symptoms, wondering about them, not only exploring how we got sick but by asking these ailments what they are doing for us, even embracing them as part of us. Only then can we be with whatever is going on inside us and explore ourselves without judgment in order to release old negative energy or blocks, renew our vitality, and move through trauma toward transformation.
When I finally surrendered to the fact that I had little control over having the flu, I could get on with the business of what I could do to help myself heal.
Out of darkness comes light.  Is that true then for such tragedies as war, poverty, the mass incarceration and killing of black and brown men and boys, rampant sexual abuse all over the world, and the fact that people destroy and kill each other physically or emotionally every day?  What grace or good can come out of these dark facts?
If we can look at all of the world’s tragedies as parts of us, all of the images and issues that represent the pain and agony that we feel inside ourselves and dish out to others, then maybe there is a way to decrease our violence toward ourselves and others.  I am the first to admit to my judgmental-ness, my privilege and my anger toward others with whom I strongly disagree. Some of us also struggle with harsh evaluations of ourselves. What matters is what we do with these understandings about life and health.

When we as a community get better at diagnosing our “illnesses” and providing the support we all need while “sick,” only then can we work toward healing within our communities and the world.  Only when we admit to and work through our conflicts internally and externally, can we become our best selves, more loving and nurturing for the whole planet and all the beings within it.