My office will be moving at the end of 2018 to 43 Grove Street. This new office will still have free, off-street parking behind the building and will also offer more space for yoga and somatic work, as well as room to host groups. Stay tuned for pictures in my January newsletter. In the meantime, I'd love to hear what groups, trainings, and workshops you would like to see in my new healing space. Comment on this post to share with me what connections you're hoping to make or resources you're longing to find in 2019. I'm so grateful for the opportunity to expand my healing work in this new space.
Thank you to everyone who has attended the first two classes of Yoga for Liberation! This class has felt different than any I've ever taught in a studio, and I'm so inspired by the folks who are showing up on the mat for the first time to explore this healing practice. We have one more class in 2018, this Friday the 14th at 10AM at BeLoved Asheville's Liberation Station at 10 North Market Street in downtown Asheville. We'll start back in 2019 with classes every other Friday at 10AM starting January 11th.
If you are curious and haven't joined us yet, this practice is trauma-sensitive, queer and trans-affirming, and welcoming to absolute beginners or seasoned yogis. Mats are available, but you're welcome to bring your own if you have one. The class is free and donations to BeLoved Asheville are welcome but not required.
I hope you’ll join us as we breathe the world we want to live in into existence together.
Earlier this week media outlets reported on a memo that shows that the federal government is considering steps to legally define sex in a very narrow way in an attempt to deny the existence of transgender people. Let's be clear. Transgender people exist. Transgender people have always existed. This is not a topic to be debated.
I, along with many others who have spoken up on social media, am outraged and saddened at this most recent attempt to deny the existence and rights of transgender, non-binary and gender-nonconforming (GNC) people. I know that many of you who identify as trans, non-binary or GNC are scared. I know that many of you who have children or other loved ones who are trans are scared and, perhaps, wondering how to respond or what to say to your loved ones. Keep reading for some resources that may help.
Originally published June 28, 2016 for Porch Light Counseling.
When I sat down to write a blog post to honor the Stonewall anniversary, I wasn’t sure exactly where to start. The complexity of the events of this month and this anniversary threatens to overwhelm my capacity to integrate them. June was chosen as LGBT Pride Month to commemorate the Stonewall riots of June 28, 1969, which launched the modern LGBTQ civil rights movement. What is often left out of the story of Stonewall is the fact that trans and gender non-conforming people, in particular trans women of color, were on the front lines of this riot sparked by yet another police raid on a gay bar. In 1969, Sylvia Rivera was a 17 year old with Puerto Rican roots active in the civil rights and anti-war movements who refused to go quietly when the police attempted to arrest everyone present in the bar that night. Sylvia, along with others in the crowd, including her African-American friend Marsha P. Johnson, another transwoman and sex worker, fought back by throwing beer bottles at the police. The ensuing riot resulted in days of protests in Greenwich Village’s Christopher Street and served as the catalyst for formation of the Gay Liberation Front and other groups organizing for LGBTQ rights. The Pride parades that are held all over the country in June were originally intended to mark this occasion when the some of the most marginalized people resisted their oppression and worked together to secure their right to live and love with dignity.
The heart of my professional work is about helping people to connect with their own goodness and to heal the barriers to connecting with others. As a somatic trauma therapist working with individuals, couples, and families, this often means holding space for long-buried emotions to be expressed and old stories to be experienced through a new lens. My work as a therapist incorporates a focus on building resilience - our innate capacity to bounce back from difficult or overwhelming experiences.
My last two posts have discussed the problem so many of us have of spreading ourselves too thin and strategies to find our way back from the stress of over-committing. This week I want to continue sharing resources that have helped me to reduces stress and find more joy and ease in my life. I recently started training in a somatic (body-centered) treatment for trauma, and one of the trainers described a resource as anything that brings you closer to yourself. This concept resonated deeply with me, and I immediately began to see so many of the simple practices I engage in regularly as having much more significance than I was giving them credit for. The flip side of this was the realization that there are many more simple practices that I convince myself I don’t have time for or haven’t “earned” that could be bringing me into greater alignment with myself and my values. Here are some resources that work to bring me closer to myself...when I allow myself to practice them....
A few weeks ago I talked to you about ways to notice that you’re spreading yourself too thin or over-committing. I came out to you as a recovering over-committer and shared some of the ways I recognize my tendency to try to be all things to all people. Most of these red flags involve paying attention to thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, or noticing how stress is affecting your body. Many of you told me that you saw yourselves reflected in that post and see many of these red flags in your own lives. So what do you do about it? How do you put on the brakes when you’ve jumped on the train to burnout and think you might want to hop off?
I have a confession to make: I am a recovering over-committer. There have been long seasons of my life when I have spread myself so thin that I made myself physically sick. (The image of me at one particularly stressful job scratching a rash that only appeared when I was at said job comes immediately to mind.) Saying "yes" to every request for my time or attention or trying to focus on every project I found interesting made it impossible to be successful at any one thing. Just when I put out one fire, another would crop up. Just when I would start to get some traction in one area of my life, I would get distracted by a real or perceived (and sometimes self-induced) crisis in another area. Living this way left me feeling mentally, emotionally, and physically exhausted, and it wasn't sustainable. But try telling that to an overachiever with a serious problem with perfectionism. I was fully engaged in what Brene Brown calls the "hustle for worthiness." I was attempting to be all things to all people and feeling deeply inadequate in the process. And inadequate was what I was hustling to try not to feel in the first place.
Parents often ask me how to talk to their kids about gender, especially in a way that creates space for fluidity or creativity in gender expression. Sometimes they seem as intimidated about this topic as they are about “the sex talk” (which, by the way, isn’t just one conversation!). I can empathize with the desire to not say the wrong thing lest your child repeat it in the wrong place and raise eyebrows in public. (“Mommy says boys can have vaginas if they want to.”) Even parents who do their research on the language to use about various gender identities and expressions worry about being misunderstood or creating more confusion about a potentially complex topic. But here’s the thing, like with everything else, if you don’t talk to your kids about your ideas of masculinity, femininity, and everything in between, they’ll learn about it from someone else. Here are some tips to get the conversation started on the right foot:
As I write this, it’s been less than 48 hours since North Carolina passed the most extreme, sweeping anti-LGBTQ legislation in the country. The bill guts anti-discrimination policies passed by local governments around the state protecting lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender citizens. It also removes the ability of local governments to raise the minimum wage above $7.25 per hour. But the centerpiece of the law and the driving force behind the unprecedented speed of its passage is the exclusion of transgender people from bathrooms that match their gender identity. The law specifically targets trans children, requiring them to use the school bathrooms and locker rooms that correspond to the sex written on their birth certificate. My goal is not to debate the merits of this law or to convince anyone that trans people deserve to exercise their humanity by choosing the bathroom appropriate for them. Maybe I’ll have the energy for that effort on another day. Today that argument is settled for me, and I want to speak directly to trans people.
Back in March, just days after the North Carolina’s HB2 was signed into law, I wrote a love letter to the trans community called “I’ll Go with You”. The post was shared and emailed around and a few days later, I received an email from a Catholic nun thanking me for my work. She wrote that she has been “a companion to God's trans community for over 17 years” and that her work with trans people has been “the greatest privilege of [her] religious life.” When Sister Monica (a 72 year old sister of 55 years) and I met over Skype a few weeks later, she told me that she devotes her mornings to prayer and would keep me and my clients in her prayers. She also explained that Sister Monica is a pseudonym she uses when she speaks or writes publicly about her trans ministry because, though the leadership of her religious community supports her work, the church hierarchy would likely not allow public recognition of this ministry.
A few weeks ago after a presentation I did for a conference of school counselors on supporting transgender students in schools, a group of counseling students came up to me and said that they were so afraid of offending someone by using the wrong language that they were afraid to talk about the LGBTQ community at all. I hear this a lot from well-meaning folks who haven’t had much experience with LGBTQ people but want to be respectful. Language around gender and sexuality seems to change continuously and rapidly, so it can feel hard to keep up and easy to feel out of the loop when you’re not sure how to use the newest term. The LGBTQ acronym itself can be confusing by mixing together gender (T) and sexuality (LGBQ). I explained last month that they’re not the same thing at all. (Remember that gender is who you go to bed as and sex is who you go to bed with.) If you missed that post about terminology related to gender identity, be sure to check it out.
To the uninitiated, the alphabet soup of the LGBTQ community can be a little daunting. I’m here to break it down for you a bit and answer some frequently asked questions. Let’s start by separating out the concepts of gender and sexuality. As has been quoted often since Caitlyn Jenner’s interview with Diane Sawyer, gender identity is whom you go to bed as and sexuality is whom you go to bed with. When we’re talking about children, this is a bit more complex because sexual and gender identity are just beginning to develop. So for kids you might say, gender identity is whom you go to the playground as and sexuality is whom you want to sneak behind the bushes with to kiss on the cheek.
Some of the most rewarding aspects of my life revolve around family. My definition of family includes so much more than a group of people who are genetically related or bound by the legal contract of marriage. I have children in my life who call me Aunt Heather, yet their parents are not my “blood relations,” as we say in the South. I have friends who serve as sisters, brothers, and eccentric aunts. (I’m still waiting to welcome the rich uncle who takes me on dream vacations into my family. I’m sure he’ll materialize soon.) If I limited my understanding of family to the people who share my DNA, I’d probably feel pretty lonely because most of them live really far away. Instead of feeling limited by other people’s understanding of family I’ve developed my own that’s about surrounding myself with people who help lift me up when I’m down. And hopefully I do that for them too.