Texas (Self-)Righteousness

I found out I was pregnant with Evan at four or five weeks, and it was because I’d had unusual nausea/enhanced sense of smell on a couple occasions, and it matched my prior pregnancy experiences so I knew to get a test. I’m sure it would have been much longer had I not had a highly specific desire to vomit after eating runny egg yolks, which was a common factor in all three of my pregnancies. 

I was full of anxiety, because this unplanned (yet otherwise welcome) pregnancy came at such an older age and I wasn’t in a particularly healthy stretch. I wanted to test for viability immediately. We did not want to bring a child into the world that would potentially require a lifetime of care we wouldn’t live long enough to provide. 

My health insurance was out of whack (I had tried to renew on Covered California months prior, but kept running into problems, and gave up until I desperately needed to see a doctor). It was the beginning of the pandemic, and the week after we learned I was pregnant, I contracted COVID. I spent many exhausted hours on the phone over the course of several days, was required to produce a positive pregnancy test (thank you, Planned Parenthood), and it was still weeks longer before I was seen.

The health insurance issues were eventually sorted out, but as much as we expressed my concerns to the prenatal doctor at every visit, I didn’t qualify for the more extensive tests until about 22 weeks when I got the amniocentesis that confirmed, to our great relief, that everything was fine. 

I had already felt Evan move at that point, but we had only told immediate family. I didn’t want to get excited until I knew we would likely have a healthy, whole baby. I was distressed at the thought of facing a potential termination decision. Aside from the potential loss of a happy dream, I knew that certain members of my family would find it unforgivable if we decided that ending the pregnancy was the most responsible decision. (I knew most others would love on us regardless and sit with me in that private grief.)

Evan is a blessing, and it was such a relief after a relatively tough and very lonely pandemic pregnancy when they were born healthy (with just a slight snafu that landed us in the NICU, but which resolved in time to go home the next day). 

I know I’ve blocked out much of the hard memories of raising my first two babies, but OMG. PARENTING A TINY, NEEDY, DETERMENED-TO-SELF-DESTRUCT BABY IS TOUGH. The first weeks were weepy and really hard. We couldn’t have people in to help, including the grandparents, due to COVID risk. 

Ricardo stayed with me for the first several days, but then carefully, armed with sanitizer and fresh face masks, returned to his office where he worked alone at that time. I am privileged to have a supportive partner whose income primarily sustains us, a wonderful, understanding boss who is flexible with my part-time schedule, and the benefit of time and prior experience to equip me now.  But at my occasional breaking points, I think: I can’t believe we force teenagers to be parents and we don’t provide support for new parents as a society. I can’t believe we send people back to work full time when they’re still bleeding after giving birth (it takes up to six weeks to stop, and there remains a fragility beyond that). I can’t believe we don’t allow babies to bond with their parents to nourish them beyond, for many, a couple weeks, and many “essential” workers don’t have even that much time. 

For those celebrating the inhumane, immoral, oppressive, sexist (zero penalties for the sperm part of the equation?) policies out of Texas last week, you are turning a blind eye and washing your hands of the increased and prolonged suffering these laws will cause. Many of “The Unborn” – cherished beings until they’re somebody else’s reality to care for – will be birthed into tragic conditions, and their families of origin will be shamed for not being better providers of financial means and emotional nurturing, perpetuating generational poverty and other systemic failings that people who claim to be followers of Christ will chalk up to individual sins. 

I grieve for our Nation and my religious heritage. I am baffled at how these sacred teachings have been contorted to justify such immoral policies, though I suppose that’s been true for millenia. Oversimplifying everyday tragedies, and blocking access to pregnancy prevention and education, is directly contrary to Jesus’s recorded teachings. The blatant hypocrisy drives people away from what should be a source of life-giving comfort. The politicization of Christianity has justified slavery, murderous Crusades, and more – I just wish the people I know in the present day would reject such elements and devote living their faith to humbly serving those oppressed by our society; not siding with the oppressors.

I’ll keep working and living the values that affirm life and reduce suffering. Let’s be consistent, loving, and nuanced in our advocacy and values.

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No Pink or Blue Explosions

We know, we know, because some of you have told us: you want to know! Boy or girl? Pink or blue? Yeah, yeah… the most important thing is that they baby is healthy. It doesn’t matter, really. But you REALLY want to know! (“Come on… just tell me. I promise I won’t tell anyone else!”)

As with most things, if it’s not a life circumstance that you have direct, personal experience with, when dialoguing with somebody who has, what is an intellectual exercise for you may be deeply emotional/exhausting/sensitive for them.

So I invite you to listen as we walk down a path, together.

My experience with my own gender throughout my life has rarely felt “normal.” I was proud of being a tomboy as a kid. I used to hunch my shoulders and try to be less tall and gangly as a teen. I felt like I ruined my body early in my 20s by having children. Though I would sometimes dress up and go out with friends, I felt like I was putting on a female persona, like a costume, playing at being like the other young women I knew but feeling like it was an act. It wasn’t so much about insecurities, though that sometimes was a factor. I just didn’t feel like any of what I perceived as feminine was a fit for me.

As I got older and more comfortable with myself, I used to joke that I was “bad at being a girl.” Still, it was traumatizing, not flattering, to occasionally experience what we now call street harassment – walking along with my own thoughts, blissfully or meditatively moving through the world – then being jarred by men looking for a response based on their needs for my attention as the woman they saw. It was so dissonant from how I saw myself most of the time.

I know that none of this is how most of you perceive me, and I know that impossible societal standards have played a role. Had those pressures and expectations been removed, I might have been more comfortable in my own skin my whole life.

When I was raising my first two children, a couple of times the eldest urgently tried to vocalize what they were feeling about gender, which was essentially (from an early age) that they didn’t feel like what the world decided they were. I mistakenly thought they were experiencing what I had growing up and as an adult but still didn’t have my own language or framework for. So I would respond: “Honey, it’s okay. You can dress how you like and pursue interests you like and break down stupid stereotypes.” Their little eyebrows would furrow, unsatisfied with my answer. I didn’t get it, and they didn’t know how to say it any differently to help me understand.

I only found out later that they retreated into silence and deep emotional stress and distress about this and other sources of anxiety and dysphoria, and we are fortunate they are still alive today

This year, at age 21, they have been doing deep personal work on honoring their authentic identity. I don’t know if you have ever fundamentally challenged something you had accepted about your reality, dismantling it, fretting, reading, thinking, walking through loneliness and fear of loss of love and identity, but it’s one of the bravest things a person can do. As a parent watching her firstborn wade through such a journey, I have been full of pride, worry, self-doubt about my prior lack of understanding and support as a parent, and joy as that grown child has begun to emerge on the other side in a much more peaceful, happy, self-assured place. It’s an ongoing journey, and my parental job of my gorgeous adult children is to assure them it won’t always be so stressful, and they are loved and cherished and I am here for them to the fullest extent possible.

When I started talking to my grown children this spring about their unexpected baby sibling on the way, it was a little weird for all of us. Since I had them so young (I was 21 when the eldest was born – the same age they are now), they have shaped my entire adulthood, and we all sort of grew up together.

The immediate protective instinct of the eldest toward the unborn sibling was: “Pick a gender-neutral first name, and don’t tell people the birth sex for the first couple years. Even when they don’t intend to, people will interact with the baby in gendered ways, and if it doesn’t fit for them it will lead to stress and confusion. It’s better to keep it as neutral as you can, and by the time they’re 4 or 5 they will begin to express their preferences.”

As Ricardo and I have taken these words to heart, and my fierce Momma Bear protectiveness of all my children has been in play, we have not shared the birth sex outside our immediate family.

At first we were only committed to this through the pregnancy, but now I want to keep it up for as long as we can. I have been grateful for the pandemic isolation and the greater ability to control the pressures that come my way. I have been to lunch with a friend once in the last 7 months, and the waitress squealed and asked: “Do you know if it’s a girl or a boy?” Nurses at my many doctor’s appointments ask. Other customers at the grocery store ask. And some beloved friends and family ask.

The asking is normal for our society. Other than: “When are you due?” it’s the only other major data point to discuss regarding the growing baby.

Even if folks claim they don’t have a preference one way or the other, though, whichever way I would answer would come with expectations attached. “Oh, it would be so good for Ricardo to have a girl since he already has a son.” “I’m hoping for a boy.” “I’m convinced you’re having a girl.”

I sometimes simply respond: “Oh, we’re de-emphasizing gender. We’re just so excited that, especially since we’re older, everything has been perfectly healthy – we were worried at first.” Sometimes I try to explain that it can be damaging to put too much pressure related to gender on kids, even ones that aren’t even born yet.

Sometimes the pressure is so intense I feel shaken and baffled, similar to the street harassment that would shake me from the world of thoughts by others who would impose their desires and perceptions on me, and I just don’t have the words – especially because in this case, people are well-meaning and don’t see what they’re doing. 

We want to do what we can to make us all more aware of these unintended impacts.

Teasing small and growing children about boyfriends and girlfriends when they just want to innocently and wholesomely play with peers is not ok. “Are you going to marry so-and-so when you grow up?” A culture that offers hypersexualized Halloween costumes and dance classes for little girls is not ok. Limiting the range of emotions that are considered appropriate for little boys – such as crying when they’re injured or sad – is not ok. These kinds of cultural norms are so firmly and unhealthily ingrained in us, it’s tough to break the cycle. 

We subconsciously encourage boys to be more active and give them greater physical freedom to be rough and tumble and take risks, while we subtly and overtly put pressure on little girls to be nurturing and more docile and pretty. 

Our goals in parenting this little one include breaking these gendered approaches to child rearing. We can’t control the world around us, but we can place these expectations on those we love who will be around our baby in the early formative years. By us not revealing the birth sex for as long as we so choose, it will help you help us raise a healthy, well-balanced, inquisitive, bright child who is not so restrained by internalized gender norms. 

Any time you find yourself consumed by curiosity about this, with our child or anybody else’s, ask yourself: why is it important for me to know? Regardless of whether we had a big, explosion PINK or BLUE announcement, you would be overjoyed for us, as long as we didn’t burn anything down in the reveal. 

I encourage you to sit with any discomfort you feel in not knowing. Use it to think about the crushing weight of the gender binary, and think of how brave it is for those who are across the spectrums of gender identity and gender expression to buck the power of societal norms simply to be authentic – to be themselves. Think of the many teens and young adults who don’t fit neatly into male or female boxes, who are rejected by their families of origin, who end up homeless, who contemplate or attempt ending their precious lives. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among those aged 10 to 24, and 92% of transgender and nonbinary individuals report having attempted suicide before the age of 25.

We can’t protect any of our children from everything, but when you know better, you do better. We will try to give this child the most affirming start possible to life.

So, regarding the little one who will be with us soon, we will share the birth sex with a select few. If you hear the baby’s name, don’t assume M or F. We expect loved ones not to share this on social media, and we will trust them to interact with the kidlet in ways that focus on play, and inquisitiveness, and bravery, and joy, and healthy touch and snuggling and self-determination. There will be lots of color and laughter and freedom and gentleness in our home.

This is what we have all always deserved. Our birthright is supportive, responsive families and community and self-determination free of constructs that can be limiting and sometimes harmful.

We are bringing this baby into such a loving, wholesome, well-intentioned, beautiful community of people who share our excitement about this unexpected life blessing. We ask you to partner with us in creating a world that’s a little safer for all children to be who they authentically are.

I get that it’s a challenge. It certainly is for me. Among fielding all the questions, I won’t shop on baby websites that exclusively separate their goods by girl/boy, and the fact that there are so many like that is frustrating. It’s yet another symptom that our society is really, REALLY invested in the importance of birth sex. The pressure feels crushing for all the questions and funny looks that will come our way in the weeks, months, and years to come. But allowing this child to grow up in as much freedom as we can carve out for them is worth it.

Friends and family – always feel free to ask me questions in the DMs and I’ll respond with as much honesty as I have energy for. I invite you to challenge your own thinking around this, every time you have the overwhelming desire to know the birth sex of this or any baby. Why does it matter so much?

Love you all in our big community, and thank you for partnering with us to build a safer world.

A little more on this: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/01/parenting/non-binary-children-support.html

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We Will Not Be Quiet


I was feeling anything but safe, but I was sitting at the kid’s table at my Mom’s church with my daughters, using watercolors on construction paper, painting the word “SAFE.”
My cell phone started receiving text messages from my boss, Marco Gonzalez.
We had recently met with Irene McCormack. Donna Frye sent her our way, and we heard from her firsthand how terrible the working environment was with then-Mayor Bob Filner; how he was verbally and physically sexually harassing her and others on San Diego City staff.
After meeting with Irene, Marco, Donna, and Cory Briggs called for Filner’s resignation. He responded with a vague video apology. We all knew it was his desperate, Tom Shepard PR-team-attempt to avoid accountability and continue forward with no change to protect the women in the Mayor’s office and broader community.
Irene then decided she would allow her name to be used, but despite her respect and credibility among local media, Marco knew the naysayers would immediately attempt to discredit her.
I went out in the quiet church parking lot to speak with Marco. His voice was full of grief and urgency, saying Irene needed others, even anonymously, to share their stories of Filner’s harassment to bolster her account. “It’s completely up to you, Sara. But Irene needs you.”
I definitely didn’t feel safe.

Continue reading

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Survivors are NOT Lori Saldaña’s Political Pawns

Here are people who have come forward with claims of sexual harassment against local, powerful men Lori Saldaña has not supported:


All the women who publicly accused Bob Filner of sexual harassment, plus Todd Bosnich, Justin Harper, Isabel Vasquez, and Melody Godinez.

Why hasn’t Lori supported these brave individuals?

For the Filner accusers in 2013, Saldaña said she thought “due process” was important.

In a February 2018 Voice of San Diego podcast, she explains why she privately opposed Filner’s endorsement for Mayor (2011), publicly endorsed his candidacy for Mayor (2012), then called for due process when he was being accused of sexual harassment by several women (2013).

She explained: “If he leaves voluntarily and we never get to the root of how this happened, then it’s going to continue to happen. So that was why I said, ‘We need a process.’” Continue reading

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Opinion: #MeToo Democratic Women ‘Will Not Be Quiet’ at Annual Party Dinner

Original post: https://timesofsandiego.com/opinion/2018/04/05/metoo-democratic-women-will-not-be-quiet-at-annual-party-dinner/


By Carol Kim and Alexis Olbrei

The #MeToo movement marches forward in San Diego with this weekend’s “we will not be quiet” action at the 38th annual Roosevelt Dinner, which is the San Diego County Democratic Party’s major gala and awards event.

Local Democratic Party activists, members and elected officials will dress to impress and show up at the designated union hotel to network, share the latest news and celebrate our victories, as wells as raise money for the party’s operations and activities in the coming year. Unlike past years though, you’ll be seeing women and their allies wearing buttons bearing the statement, “I will not be quiet.” Continue reading

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Swords into Ploughshares

It can feel gratifying to fight. To win a protracted debate, point by point. But this can quickly become counterproductive if we’re not careful.

Loving our enemies, as I was reminded by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s sermon, does not mean silently standing by as injustice continues to reign.

But if we operate in hate and bitterness, if we cannot envision the more just world we are trying to create, creating it first internally, we will never achieve our goal of peace. Continue reading

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Hurting People Hurt…

If “hurting people hurt people,” and the people they hurt react in ways that cause further injury in return, is that some kind of karmic cycle of deserved pain?

Is it possible for one person to disappoint and wound another so completely that they “earn” unlimited destructive retribution at the hand of the one whose pain they caused?

What if two people hurt each other in this pattern for years – then one finally puts the cycle to an end despite the other’s continued attempts to manipulate and inflict pain? Continue reading

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Love, Power, and Justice for Children

My junior year of college I took the most collegiate class ever, at my Christian university, from Dr. Leffel. It combined principles of Nazarene (Wesleyan) theology and psychology, and included challenging deep texts and high-level conversation. I loved it.

But one premise in the class bothered me. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs seemed in conflict to me with the teachings of Jesus. Leffel told us that humans cannot live to their fullest potential if they do not have not only food, clothing, and shelter, but also don’t live with fear of wanting for any of these basics. At the time, I felt this was in conflict with the Beatitudes. “Blessed are the poor…” I’ve pondered this over the years, observing the experiences of myself and others. Sometimes financial insecurity forces us to value our families and relationships more. Sometimes wealth comes with a whole host of other problems. What’s best? I don’t know. But of course: food and shelter are necessary to basic heath, regardless.

I digress.

There was one time I really stumped my professor, unfortunately, because I really wanted an answer.

Dr. Leffel was talking about the power of personal narrative. He gave the anecdotal story of a mother and her son. The father had died when the boy was too small to have many memories of his dad. Continue reading

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Know better, do better, help children thrive post-divorce.

Last night as I was pretending to sleep during a bout of insomnia, some of my worst memories resurfaced.

My early adulthood was traumatic. I was married at 20 and had my first child at 21. We scraped by on food stamps, his full time service industry job and my two part time, slightly better than minimum wage jobs. Before I was done nursing my first daughter, by some miracle (because the relationship had deteriorated by then) I was pregnant with the second.

That pregnancy was the most isolated I have ever been. My Aunties, cousins, and Grampie were my only local family, and I didn’t tell them or my Mom, Dad or Stepmom that I was alone with my toddler every day. That things were combative or sullenly quiet every evening. That many evenings he would go back out and I would be alone again with my suicidal thoughts. Only the love for my growing, talking, snuggly child kept me going.

In that state, I mostly felt shaken, broken, and vulnerable, but a couple times I lashed out in ways I deeply regret. Continue reading

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Anatomy of an Apology, and Living Atonement

So, how does one apologize?

If things have become so broken and toxic between two people that the parties no longer speak, and either via spoken or unspoken agreement there is no contact, how does one extend a for-real, heartfelt, growth-evident, highly specific apology, perhaps seeking but not expecting forgiveness?

And if such deep wounds require layers of cyclical healing to mend, such that additional apologies over time would deepen accordingly, how can complete peace be achieved in the absence of communication?

If a heart-wrenching “I’m sorry” is cried in the middle of the wilderness and there’s no one there to hear it, does it do any good? And is it still helpful if no forgiveness will ever be offered?

Often, social norms and our stoic legal system prevent healing. The icy, quit-cold-turkey separation that is necessary for a time serves to sever unhealthy connections and cycles, but that’s a tourniquet. It serves its purpose to stop the bleeding and prevent re-injury. Continue reading

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