Category Archives: LGBTQ youth

99 problems (and my story has them all): Diversity and “issues books”

For a while there, I had a great writing streak going. Ideas popped into my head at the most random times – at meetings, during conversations, while driving, or in the shower. I started carrying a small notebook with me so I could jot these ideas down before I forgot them – because too many times, I’d said to myself, “Oh, I’ll remember.” And, well, you know how that goes, I’m sure. It was like I couldn’t write fast enough. My day job was beginning to feel like this big inconvenience, because I didn’t feel like I had enough time to do justice to all these great ideas. But when an idea grabs hold of you, it’s hard to let it go. So I made the time to write, whether it involved staying up late, getting up early, or grabbing a few minutes here and there. The writing didn’t always come easy, and sometimes what seemed like a good idea in my head sounded clunky on paper.

And then . , . the well ran dry. For months, I’ve had trouble coming up with new, fresh, and compelling stories. Many writers I know have experienced this very thing, and in each case, the writing eventually started up again. But this felt a little different that what I’d heard people describe. It wasn’t like the well ran dry slowly, like a riverbed drying up in a drought. No, this felt more like the coin-operated showers you find at campgrounds – when your five minutes are up, the water stops abruptly, and there you are, freezing and dripping wet. Strange. And I had no idea why.

Until today.

Every spring, I attend a writing conference that’s hosted by my local chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). Last year’s conference focused heavily on diversity in children’s books, probably in response to the well-publicized and much-needed #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign. One of the workshops was “How to Write Diversity Into Your Stories,” which, ironically, was led by young White female associate editor from a large New York publishing house. At the end of the session, one of the questions I had was this: When writing for a diverse audience, how do you incorporate issues like racism, homophobia, class oppression, etc., in a way that’s appropriate for children?

“I wouldn’t focus too much on those things,” she said. “If you do, then it’ll be an ‘issues book,’ which are the scourge of the publishing industry.”

An “issues book.” I’d never heard the term before. But since the conference, I’ve seen that term tossed around quite a bit, along with its sibling, the “problem story.” Book reviewers tend not to like issues books, and if they do, it’s despite the presence of these issues. Most children’s picture books with LGBT characters fall into the category of “issues books.” Many books featuring people of color do as well – and when they don’t, the race and ethnicity of the characters aren’t really a central part of the story.

So now what do I do? I thought to myself. I’d written a manuscript about a girl who’s grieving the loss of her transgender sibling – an issues book. I’d started working on another one, at the request of my editor, about a mixed-race girl with two daddies who’s trying to figure out how to navigate Mother’s Day at school – another issues book. I’d been playing with a story about an intersex character, and another about a child whose mother comes out as transgender – which are, of course, issues books. Meanwhile, in the back of my head, round and round like the stock ticker in Times Square, I’m hearing, Issues books are the scourge of the publishing industry. No wonder I couldn’t get anything on paper! So many of my ideas involved addressing a character’s personal struggle triggered by oppression, and the last thing I wanted to do was contribute to a scourge.

That was only part of my epiphany. The other came this morning, when I read this article from the Diversity in YA blog. What they had to say about “issues books” basically boiled down to this:

  • If your characters are part of historically marginalized groups, then oppression is part of their experience.
  • If your characters have multiple minority identities, then the issues they face will involve these complex intersections. (For that reason, most books don’t include characters with more than one minority identity.)
  • Simple narratives that have a clean ending don’t reflect the realities that multiply minoritized people face.
  • As long as minoritized people face oppression, then books that realistically capture their experience will need to include issues – even if it seems like “too many issues.”

BINGO. This article nailed it. This is what I wish I’d thought to say at that conference.

It’s scary to me how easily this editor’s words derailed me, which speaks to the power of internalized oppression. I’ve studied internalized oppression for a long time (my dissertation focused on internalized homophobia), and I’m continually amazed at how, like a toxic mold, it can creep up and invades our psyches so easily. Internalized oppression may keep us from writing the stories we want to write. It keeps publishers from putting those stories out there – they fear they won’t make money, or they’ll be too depressing. But I don’t think it’ll keep readers from reading them – because, for many of us, they are our stories.

Just before I started writing this blog post, a little story idea popped into my head. I jotted it down, and later I’ll play around with it. Yes, that quickly, the idea well seems to be filling again.

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Filed under children, covert homophobia, culture, intersectionality, intersex, LGBTQ youth, media

My love-hate relationship with Pride

A couple of weeks ago, I got an e-mail message from a sender I didn’t recognize. Here’s how it started out:

Dear Ms. Pitman:
I am writing on behalf of Our Family Coalition (OFC) in San Francisco. OFC advances equity for LGBTQ families with children through support, education, and advocacy. We seek to create an inclusive and just world where all LGBTQ families with children have visibility and opportunities to thrive as valued participants in our schools, institutions, and communities.

Initially, I thought this was a targeted mass mailing (which I get all the time), and I almost deleted the message. But then I read the next line:

We recently received an advance copy of your new book and WE LOVE IT!! 

No way!!! They love it!!! That’s exactly what every author wants to hear – especially when all caps and exclamation points are involved.

But then . . . the other shoe dropped:

Would you be able to join us at the Family Garden at SF Pride 2014? We thought it would be nice to have your book for sale at the event this year, and even nicer if you were there too! 

I should have seen it coming. If you write a book about Pride, then people are going to expect to see you at Pride, right? Somehow, I hadn’t fully connected those dots. (I may be bookish and intelligent, but I’m not always smart.) You’d think I’d be jumping for joy – I mean, I got invited to sell my book at one of the largest Pride celebrations in the world! But I wasn’t jumping for joy – in fact, I went from feeling totally excited (They love my book!) to feeling totally anxious.

I have a love-hate relationship with Pride. I love the idea of Pride – the festive, celebratory atmosphere; the people cheering as they watch the parade (and crying when PFLAG parents are marching in full support of their LGBTQ kids); the rainbows, the glitter, the balloons, the costumes. However, actually going to Pride is a different story. It’s usually hot. (Well, maybe not so much in San Francisco.) It’s crowded – like 1.5-millon-people crowded. People get really drunk – and I don’t love hanging around drunk people. And getting there is a Pain. In. The. Ass. (Picture thousands of hot, drunk people squishing themselves into the BART train.) For an introverted homebody like me, this is like being thrown into Room 101. (If you don’t know what Room 101 is, Google it, and click on the Wikipedia link that comes up.)

When I’m really honest with myself, though, it’s clear that my ambivalence about Pride isn’t really about the heat, the crowds, or the drunkenness. It’s about feeling like I don’t belong.  And that’s the feeling I had when I attended my first Pride celebration.

I moved to the San Francisco Bay Area back in 1994. I had known for a little while that I was bisexual, and I had divulged this information to just a few friends. In 1995, when I went to my first San Francisco Pride celebration, I had high hopes – in retrospect, I can see that they were unrealistic. I didn’t know a lot of people in the LGBTQ community, and I desperately wanted to meet people, to make friends, to find my place in the community. And it didn’t happen – at least, not at Pride. In fact, although I found the parade to be entertaining and festive, I felt like I was watching it through a glass window, unable to connect with the people on the other side. People talk about “feeling alone in a crowded room”  – imagine having that feeling among 500,000 people, all of whom are supposedly part of your “community.” There’s nothing worse than that.

I’ve been to several Pride celebrations since then. In the late 1990s, I went to a few Pride events in the Bay Area, including Sonoma Pride, San Jose Pride, and Santa Cruz Pride, to recruit participants for my dissertation research. In these last couple of years, I’ve attended smaller Pride events in the Bay Area and the Central Valley – Stockton Pride, Castro Valley Pride, Sacramento Pride, Fresno Pride, Modesto Pride. I’ve discovered that every Pride event has its own character. There were handmade quilts for sale at Sonoma Pride. Castro Valley Pride had a lot of teenagers, probably because it was held at on a high school campus. Lots of children were at Stockton Pride. Fresno Pride had a strong Latino presence – and a lot of HIV awareness tables. At these events, I felt much more connected than I did at San Francisco Pride – probably because they were smaller (my introverted self does a lot better in small-group situations). Plus it was easier to get involved at these smaller events, and that’s always a good way to feel like part of a larger community – especially in places like Stockton or Modesto, where there’s a strong “all-hands-on-deck” ethos.

But I didn’t get invited to Fresno, or Modesto, or these other smaller events. I got invited to big, huge, San Francisco. And I’m hearing a little voice inside me ask, “Will I find people who are like me? Will I see myself reflected in this event?”

One thing I love about the LGBTQ community is that it grows, and changes, and responds to our community’s needs. Our community is not perfect, and it definitely has its share of infighting (read “One big happy family” for some insight on this). But Pride celebrations have changed over the years, in ways that better meet the needs of the community. For people in recovery, many Pride celebrations have Clean and Sober spaces. Most Pride festivals have children’s play and entertainment areas. This year, San Francisco Pride has a 60+ Space, a Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Gathering Space, an HIV Pavilion, a TRANS: THRIVE Pavilion, a Leather Alley, an Asian Pacific Islander Community Pride Stand, a Women’s Stage, and an African Diaspora Stage, among others. If I were attending San Francisco Pride for the first time this year, I think I’d have an easier time plugging in. They’ve created spaces where you’re more likely to find your reflection, honoring the fact that we are truly a diverse collection of communities. And finding connections is how we keep ourselves strong, and keep our communities thriving.

Today is June 1st, the kickoff of Pride month. Pride celebrations are taking place every weekend in June, and at other times throughout the year. If you’ve never been to Pride before, consider going – and find a way to actually get involved, and not just watch from the sidelines. If you have been to Pride, and it’s really not your thing, consider giving it another try. I have a feeling that my second go-around with San Francisco Pride will be much more rewarding than the first time.

 

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Filed under activism, children, coming out, HIV/AIDS, intersectionality, LGBT families, LGBTQ youth

I wrote a children’s book!

For those of you who read The Active Voice regularly, you may have noticed that I’ve been discussing children’s books quite frequently lately. And you may be wondering why. Well, here’s why.

I WROTE A CHILDREN’S BOOK! And it’s going to be released in early May! (picture me clapping and jumping up and down)

OK, now let me connect the dots. Writing children’s stories has become a side hobby, and I’ve written probably a dozen or so. But this one is different. And a few weeks ago, I read two articles that crystallized for me why these “different” kinds of children’s books are so important. Read on.

* * * * * * * * * *

In 1969, when I first entered the world of writing children’s literature, the field was nearly empty. Children of color were not represented, nor were children from the lower economic classes. Today, when about 40 percent of public school students nationwide are black and Latino, the disparity of representation is even more egregious. In the middle of the night I ask myself if anyone really cares.

The person who asks “if anyone really cares” is Walter Dean Myers, author of several children’s and young adult books, including the widely acclaimed novel MonsterThis past March, he and his son Christopher Myers (a children’s book writer and illustrator) wrote a pair of articles for the New York Times Book Review about the lack of diversity in children’s books: “Where Are the People of Color in Children’s Books?” (which is where the above quote came from) and “The Apartheid of Children’s Literature,” respectively. Both articles were shared widely on the Internet (they showed up on my Facebook news feed several times that week), always generating a wide variety of comments and discussion. One comment I read made a point that’s stuck with me: “Publishers often say that they’re committed to diversity. If that’s true, then where is it?”

This is what Christopher Myers says on that issue:

The mission statements of major publishers are littered with intentions, with their commitments to diversity, to imagination, to multiculturalism, ostensibly to create opportunities for children to learn about and understand their importance in their respective worlds. During my years of making children’s books, I’ve heard editors and publishers bemoan the dismal statistics, and promote this or that program that demonstrates their company’s “commitment to diversity.” With so much reassurance, it is hard to point fingers, but there are numbers and truths that stand in stark contrast to the reassurances. The business of children’s literature enjoys ever more success, sparking multiple movie franchises and crossover readership, even as representations of young people of color are harder and harder to find.

For the past three years, I’ve attended a Northern California regional conference sponsored by the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). At each of these conferences, diversity and multiculturalism have been major topics of conversation. And every single year,  I hear editors talk about their publishing house’s “commitment to diversity” (broadly defined). They want people to submit manuscripts that feature people of color, or LGBTQ people, or people with disabilities. One editor I met at last year’s conference lit up when I told her I’d written a couple of stories about LGBTQ issues. “Send them to me!” she said. An agent I met at that same conference had a similar reaction – she was ready to take me on almost immediately. I left that conference feeling like there wasn’t just a “commitment to diversity,” but that editors would jump at any chance to diversify their offerings.

So here we are, a year later. And the diversity, well, just isn’t there. In fact, the lack of racial and ethnic diversity in children’s books, according to a study by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, has gotten worse in recent years. The number of LGBTQ-themed children’s books is harder to pin down, since no one seems to be tracking these numbers. From my vantage point, a lot of LGBTQ-themed books seem to be about two-mommy/two-daddy families or gender nonconformity, and a good number of them are self-published. The big publishing houses (including the one represented by the editor I met at the conference) just aren’t putting children’s picture books out there that reflect the identities of their readers.

Why is that? My guess is that publishers fear two things: avoidance and aversion.

First, the avoidance. With respect to race and ethnicity, publishers may fear that White people won’t read books about people of color, and that diversifying their booklist will come at a significant economic cost. (Interestingly, Nikki Grimes, who was a keynote speaker at this year’s regional SCBWI conference, shared many letters from White middle-class kids who read her books and loved them). If people don’t buy books, then publishers don’t make money – and a lot of books need to be sold in order to post a profit. Moreover, there may be an implicitly racist assumption that people of color are less likely than their White counterparts to read – and if that’s the case, then profits will take a significant hit. (Walter Dean Myers writes quite candidly about why he gave up reading for a period of time.)

It’s bad enough if people avoid something; it’s even worse if there’s an aversive reaction. Quite possibly a fear of aversion may be behind the lack of LGBTQ-themed children’s books – particularly because they’re aimed at children. Anti-gay organizations often make inflammatory, inaccurate claims, many of which revolve around perceived effects of homosexuality on children:

Homosexuality threatens the institution of marriage in America, which will have devastating effects on children.

If children are raised by gay parents, they will become gay themselves. 

Children are subjected to harmful pro-homosexual propaganda in schools, which increases the likelihood that they will choose this lifestyle. 

By logical extension, the fear is children who read pro-LGBTQ children’s books will be harmed by them. Which is a Big Lie. The reality is that children and adults benefit tremendously from LGBTQ visibility in children’s books – and, consequently, are negatively impacted by the absence of these stories.

* * * * * * * * * *

So. Guess what? I have a children’s book coming out in a couple of weeks. (YAY!!!! Picture me clapping and jumping up and down.)

It’s called This Day in June, and it is, according to the book description, “an uplifting and upbeat book that shares the experience of attending an LGBT Pride festival and a day when everyone is united.” It includes a section at the end with information about LGBTQ history and culture, and it also has a guide for parents and caregivers about how to talk to children about gender identity and sexual orientation.

Why did I write it? If Walter Dean Myers were to look me in the eye and ask me if anyone really cares, I would want to have integrity in my response. A change in the course of children’s literature is way overdue. It’s time to dramatically diversify the representations in children’s books. It’s time to challenge and demolish the myths that anti-LGBT organizations have perpetuated – and that many of us have internalized on some level. It’s time for publishers to walk their talk, and demonstrate a commitment to diversity. And I want to be a part of that.

You can pre-order This Day in June from Magination Press or at www.amazon.com.

 

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Filed under activism, children, gender nonconformity, homophobia, LGBT families, LGBTQ youth, racism

Listening to HIV

Tap tap tap. 

One of my students peeked her head through my office door. “Can I talk to you for a minute?” she asked.

It wasn’t my regular office hour, but I always keep my office door open if I’m in there, in case a student needs to talk to me (and lately, that’s been a LOT). Usually they want to talk about their grades (the real-life version of the YouTube video “I Am Worried about My Grade” gets played out a lot). Not infrequently, probably because I’m a psychologist, they come to see me because they need help with some mental health issue. And it’s never just a little end-of-semester anxiety, or something easy like that – it’s always something heavy-duty. I had a feeling that this was one of those times.

“So I have a friend,” she said. That’s what they all say, I think to myself. But as she continued, it was clear that she was talking about a friend – and that she was very concerned about him. He’s HIV-positive. He’s in denial. He’s African-American, and has sex with men. He’s partying, doing drugs, not taking care of himself. She suspected he was having unprotected sex, although she didn’t know for sure. And she was very, very worried about him.

“How old is he?” I asked.

“Twenty-four,” she said.

Sadly, this friend is a textbook example of the highest risk demographic for HIV. According to a recent report from the CDC, although AIDS diagnoses and deaths continue to decline because of the effectiveness of antiretrovirals, HIV infections continue to rise. Every year, according to the CDC, more than 50,000 people in the United States become infected with HIV. More than half are men who have sex with men, and about half are Black or African-American. What’s particularly scary is that about one-third of those who are diagnosed with HIV will develop AIDS within one year of that diagnosis – suggesting that they could have been HIV positive for as long as 10 years before they were tested and diagnosed. This young man, I thought to myself as my student was talking, may have been infected a long time ago – and just didn’t know it.

AIDS diagnoses and deaths may have gone down significantly since the mid-1990s, but HIV infection is another story. Hundreds and hundreds of studies have been done, looking at everything from identifying at-risk populations, teaching safer sex practices, working to increase access to health services, improving sex education curriculum in schools, decreasing behaviors that are associated with risky sexual practices. And over the last twenty years or so, the research paints a depressing picture. Because none of this seems to be working.

Many people aren’t practicing safer sex. Many people don’t have access to health services. Many people don’t get great sex education in school (my students have told me many horror stories about what they’ve learned – or what they didn’t learn).  And what’s the common thread behind all this?

Oppression.

If you want a concrete example of how oppression increases the risk of HIV infection, take a look at Sacramento County, where I live. According to a recent article in the Sacramento Bee, Sacramento County has the highest rates in California of STD infection, including HIV as well as chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis – all three of which commonly co-exist with HIV infection, according to the CDC. The highest rates of infection tend to be in the poorest and the most racially and ethnically diverse areas – South Sacramento, Oak Park, Del Paso Heights, and Florin. If we extrapolate from CDC data, it’s likely that many of those infected are gay or bisexual males, living in areas where there are few, if any, resources for LGBTQ people. Moreover, most clinics in Sacramento where people can get STD and/or HIV testing and treatment are located in the downtown or midtown areas – not in the neighborhoods where the highest percentage of cases are clustered. And young people between the ages of 14 and 29 are overwhelmingly overrepresented in these statistics. These are people who are poor, nonwhite, and lack access to health care, and, if they’re gay or bisexual, may also lack a direct connection to LGBTQ resources.

What’s interesting to me – and I don’t think this is a coincidence – is that this is the exact same demographic that’s at higher risk for depression and suicidality. In fact, when I asked my student if she thought her friend might be depressed, she didn’t hesitate.

“Definitely.”

Then she paused. “But I’m not sure if he’ll do anything . . . you know . . . .”

I knew.

“He’s already doing something,” I said. People who are HIV positive are thought to be seven times at higher risk for suicide than the general population – and it’s common for these suicidal feelings to be expressed indirectly through risky, self-destructive behaviors.

HIV and depression seem to go hand-in-hand. And that brings us back to our common denominator.

Oppression. It doesn’t just increase the risk of HIV infection – it increases the risk of depression as well. No wonder they coexist so frequently.

You know what’s ironic? The same day this student came to see me (November 25th), David Huebner of the University of Utah published a research article in Health Psychology that, in a nutshell, told this young man’s story. The title of the article? “Social Oppression, Psychological Vulnerability, and Unprotected Intercourse with Young Black Men Who Have Sex with Men.” With a title like that, you almost don’t even need to read any further. What this article does, in my mind, is connect the dots. Among the 1,2o0-plus participants in the study, those who experienced higher degrees of racism, homophobia, and socioeconomic distress were more likely to engage in a range of risky behaviors – unprotected anal sex, multiple partners, sex in public places, etc. What’s interesting, though, is that depression appeared to be the missing link. If racism, homophobia, and socioeconomic distress were all on board, then depression was likely to be part of the picture as well – which in turn was associated with risky sexual behaviors.

To me, looking at the equation from that perspective paints a different picture. For decades, public health researchers have been trying to stem the tide of HIV infection by focusing on risky sexual practices. But if you think about it, they’re not just “risky sexual practices” – they’re indirect suicidal behaviors. Whether they’re consciously aware of it or not, many people with HIV walk the line and flirt with danger, putting themselves and others in harm’s way. It’s a cry for help.

My student wants her friend to go to an HIV support group, although he was lukewarm about the idea when she brought it up to him. I hope he changes his mind.

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Filed under HIV/AIDS, homophobia, intersectionality, LGBTQ youth, mental health, psychological research, racism, transphobia

A mixed-bag holiday

Oh my God – it’s Thanksgiving Day. I’ve dreaded this day for MONTHS. 

Perhaps I shouldn’t eat breakfast. Or maybe just a piece of fruit and some coffee. LOTS of coffee. And I’ll make sure to go to the gym this morning. Okay. That sounds like a plan. 

But what if I get hungry? Can I hold out until dinnertime? I’ll chew gum. I’ll drink coffee and diet soda. I’ll make sure to keep my hands busy so I won’t eat. 

And then what’ll I do when I get there? I’ll be SURROUNDED by food! Maybe I can pass hors d’oeuvres around (if I’m holding the tray, I won’t be eating what’s ON the tray). Or I can set the table. But I know that Grandma baked the pies, and she’ll be heartbroken if I don’t have a piece.

How many calories does pie have, anyway? 200 calories? 500 calories? 1000 calories???

Maybe I shouldn’t have had that piece of fruit this morning after all.

Thanksgiving is one of those mixed-bag holidays. It’s intended to be a day to give thanks, to be in a state of gratitude, and to surround ourselves with family and loved ones. But for some people, being around family just ain’t pretty, especially around the holidays. Other people (including LGBTQ people who have been rejected by their blood relatives) don’t have family to be around. Still others wrestle with how to observe the Thanksgiving holiday in a way that honors the historical and cultural realities surrounding the Europeans’ treatment of those indigenous to these lands.

And then we have, on top of all that, the 10 million Americans who suffer from a diagnosable eating disorder. For them, obsessive thoughts like the ones described above have probably been festering for days, even weeks, before the Thanksgiving holiday – and when the day finally arrives, you’re surrounded by your biggest fear for a whole entire day. To friends and family, people with eating disorders seem incredibly selfish. If you plan to take just “one small taste” of the pumpkin pie before it is served, and then you end up eating the whole thing and throwing it up afterwards, others will probably – understandably – see that behavior as selfish. But it’s not an intentional selfishness – in fact, it truly may be the only self-preservation tool the person has in their mental health toolbox. Having an eating disorder feels like being in a prison, except you’re your own jailer, and the only way to get away from the torturous, anxiety-provoking thoughts is to engage in some kind of selfish-looking, self-destructive behavior. Eating disorders do a great job of ruining a perfectly good holiday meal. For everyone.

What does this have to do with LGBTQ people? you’re probably wondering – AGAIN.

Well, two reasons. First, I’ve been there. It was a long time ago, but the memory of what it was like is clear as day. And it wasn’t pretty. (We’ll leave it at that for now.)

The second reason is more research-y, if you will. Back in the 1980s and 1990s, when eating disorder research really took off, there weren’t many studies focusing on body dissatisfaction and eating disorders among LGBTQ people. What little did exist suggested that, although gay men appeared to be at a high risk for body image issues and disordered eating, that wasn’t necessarily the case for other queer populations. (Regarding transgender people, no studies existed in the 1980s and 1990s, and only a couple of individual case studies – but none with a decent sample size – have been published since then.)  Today, the research paints a very different picture, in some cases indicating that lesbian, gay, and bisexual people are at higher risk than straight people (particularly heterosexual men) for engaging in eating disordered behaviors. Bryn Austin of Children’s Hospital in Boston, for example, followed 14,000 youth between the ages of 12-23, and found that compared to heterosexuals, eating disordered behaviors were significantly more common among lesbian, gay, bisexual, and questioning individuals. Moreover, straight males were the least likely to experience body image issues and disordered eating – gay males, lesbian females, bisexual males and females, and heterosexual females all showed a comparable uptick of these behaviors. Letitia Anne Peplau, a researcher at UCLA, found something similar in two of her studies, the first involving 2,500 adults, the second drawing over 54,000 participants. In both studies, heterosexual men were unlikely to experience body image issues – in comparison, gay men, lesbian women, heterosexual women experienced a similarly high rate of body image issues.

These are all large-scale studies, in comparison to the much smaller sample sizes common to studies a few decades ago. From a research methods standpoint, the larger the sample, the more robust your findings tend to be. In other words, what Bryn Austin and Letitia Peplau found isn’t a fluke – thousands of lesbian, gay, and bisexual people indicated that they suffer from body image disturbances and engage in eating disordered behavior. When researchers begin to include transgender people in a meaningful way, I bet the findings won’t be all that different.

This shouldn’t be surprising, really. Living in a culture of oppression is like being a fish and swimming in toxic water. Swallowing some of that water is unavoidable, just like internalizing oppressive attitudes is unavoidable. It’s no wonder that so many LGBTQ people attempt suicide. Or abuse drugs and alcohol, or engage in unsafe sex practices, or self-mutilate in some way, or suffer from debilitating depression or anxiety. Or have an eating disorder. These are hate crimes committed against the self, if you want to get real about what LGBTQ people often do to themselves.

There are lots of tips out there about how to survive Thanksgiving if you have an eating disorder. The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt has a good tip sheet. The Cleveland Center for Eating Disorders has a good article for family members, particularly for people who are in some form of treatment or recovery. And there are lots of ways to observe Thanksgiving that don’t have to involve surrounding yourself with food and triggers all day.

But I have this thought that I want to leave you with. As I said earlier, Thanksgiving is a mixed-bag holiday – a day of celebration and gratitude for many, a day of mourning for others. For those who have suffered oppression at the hands of others, and for those who direct oppressive practices towards themselves, I urge you to think about this:

What would it be like if oppression didn’t exist?

What would it be like if people didn’t oppress others in order to secure their own power?

What would it be like if we had the power – and claimed that power – to stop oppressing ourselves?

There would be nothing mixed-bag about Thanksgiving at all.

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Filed under bisexuality, culture, LGBTQ youth, mental health, psychological research, transgender, violence