Archive for category awareness holidays

Kwanzaa: My kujichagulia

Habari gani?

This week is Kwanzaa, the often-mentioned but mostly-mysterious major December holiday. I’ve always been vaguely aware that Kwanzaa is about Pan-African identity. But what it’s about more specifically and how to celebrate it? No idea.

The Official Kwanzaa Web Site gives a pretty good picture of what this week is all about. Created in 1966 by an American professor, Kwanzaa includes the celebration of seven values, or principles. You focus on one principle every day through New Year’s Day, which is a time to reflect and “answer soberly and humbly the three Kawaida questions: Who am I; am I really who I say I am; and am I all I ought to be?”

Today is the second day of Kwanzaa, and the value of the day is kujichagulia (koo-jee-chah-GOO-lee-ah), or self-determination. The Nguzo Saba, the seven principles of Kwanzaa, says this value is about defining ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves and speak for ourselves.

This sounds absolutely perfect for me today. Two of my college roommates are visiting tonight. Both are very independent, intelligent women who have gone on to create adventures and experiences for themselves. One prowls the swamps and forests of the Southeast for the U.S. Forestry Service. The other spent a year in Thailand as a teacher and is probably Kenya-bound in the spring.

I admire both of them immensely, but I have a really hard time not feeling twinges of jealousy. It’s not a competitive feeling so much as remembering that I had hoped to travel or do something exciting after graduation. Instead, I took a very conservative path. I accepted a modest job at the university I graduated from, which isn’t all that far from where I grew up. Other than a brief trip to South Africa in college, I’ve never been abroad, though I have traveled a lot domestically with my family and G.

While I have no immediate plans to leave my job or anything like that, eHow suggests using kujichagulia to make some real goals for yourself, kind of like life-long New Year’s resolutions. I figure it can’t hurt to at least try to articulate what I think I want so I can start trying to make some of it happen. If nothing else, it’ll give me something to say when my roommates ask what I’m doing. I’d prefer not to say I’m doing the exact same thing I was last year!

Ok, so using eHow’s list of of strategies as a model, here goes: Read the rest of this entry »



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International Mountain Day

This is a United Nations holiday, actually. The idea is to increase awareness of the identity of and challenges faced by indigenous people living in mountainous regions. Even though I live pretty far away from any populations that would technically count as mountain people, I figured I could try to identify for at least a little while today.

The highest point in Wisconsin is Timm’s Hill in Ogema, about four hours north of Madison. We had a vet appointment this morning (Koda is now officially on a diet) and I had to get my oil changed, so a multi-hour road trip wasn’t really in the cards this weekend.

Madison is lake country, so it’s pretty low lying. The city’s tallest point is the sledding hill in Elver Park, Madison’s largest community park. Elver Park is a great spot, with a disc golfing course in the summer and cross country skiing in the winter. The local country music station sponsors a more than decent fireworks show at the park every July. In Chicago’s 2016 Olympic bid, Elver was on the proposed bike route.

My plan was to head over to Elver after our errands and hike up to take some pictures of the city from our “mountain.” However, I was thwarted by Wisconsin winter. We’re currently under a blizzard warning with, according to one of those handy National Weather Service alerts, expected snow accumulation of 10-16 inches and wind gusts of up to 45 mph.

The rain started as I was en route to Elver. By the time I got there it was a mix of rain and snow, and it was coming down pretty steadily. I knew I needed to be quick and get home before things started to freeze, so I skipped the hike. A few die hard sledders were still going, but it was definitely cold and very wet. A trio of young kids who had just come off the hill ran past my car, shrieking as they stepped in the quickly-forming puddles.

I snapped a few photos, then cranked up the defroster and navigated home through the slush. I supposed whether you live at a few thousand feet or several hundred, we all have our own environmental challenges.

Elver Park, Madison WI

The hill at Elver Park during today's blizzard warning.

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Clerc-Gallaudet Week

Held the first full week of December, Clerc-Gallaudet Week is a tribute to two men who had a significant impact on education for the deaf in the United States. Laurent Clerc and Reverend Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet founded the country’s first school for the deaf in 1817. The school is now known as the American School for the Deaf.

In honor of the occasion, I perused and attempted to come up with a short message. I make absolutely no claim to have gotten this right.

What was I going for? “Hello, I am S. I like holidays. I live in Wisconsin. Snow today. Have a nice day. Goodbye!”

Hey, it was worth a try.

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National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day

My grandfather

My grandfather, loading .50 caliber bullets into airplane artillery.

This holiday is pretty self explanatory for Americans. It is a day that has indeed lived in infamy.

I think today is a good day not just to remember an event that rocked the country as profoundly as 9/11, but also the people whose lives were drastically changed when we went to war. There are still almost two million WWII veterans alive today, though around 900 of them are dying every day.

Both of my grandfathers served, both in Europe, one in Germany, the other in England. One was infantry, the other air force. One lost a foot, the other was uninjured.

While my family has photos of both, this is my only photo of either. Though I only knew one, the one who is pictured, both are important. Both are remembered.


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Transgender Awareness Week and Day of Remembrance

A friend of mine, F, is a transgender female to male living in the Midwest. In honor of Transgender Awareness Week and Transgender Day of Remembrance, he has very generously offered to answer some of my questions about life as a transmale and some of the challenges he faces. I cannot thank him enough for agreeing to this, and I hope this Q&A helps you better understand and appreciate a particular transgender person’s world.

Before I do the question and answer portion of this post, I want to be sure to include a couple of disclaimers. First, everything written below is the opinion of one transguy. I cannot and will not pretend to represent the entire community. So please, take what you read at face value. Second, if you need more information on the subject please try reading Transition and Beyond, Observations on Gender Identity by Reid Vanderburgh, MA, LMFT. Third, if you take nothing else away from this please remember that most people don’t want to be an example. Most people want to live average, quiet, wholly unexceptional lives. –F

When did you realize you wanted to live as a male?

Feeling male has long been an undertone in my life. When I was in high school I hit rock bottom and forced myself to figure out what it was that was going on with me, but I can remember as far back as third grade openly telling my parents that I was a boy. As you can imagine, that didn’t go over well. I spent a long time burying these feelings hoping that they would go away. Eventually it got to a point where even a quiet, timid guy like myself had to assert himself. When I moved out of state at 18 that time came. In a whole new place, without anyone I knew around for miles, I asserted who I was and I began to feel at home. It was one of the most liberating experiences of my life. Since then the medical transition has begun. I started hormones two and a half years later, and about six months there after had chest surgery. I felt like I finally started to live. –That’s the short version.

Can you give a couple of examples of behaviors you had to learn in order to present as a male (i.e. using a urinal, etc.)? Was it hard or scary the first time you performed these behaviors?

This is actually a really good question. When I started living as male I was not read as male all of the time. (Meaning, people did not always perceive me as male.) In the same way that a child learns the rules of human society, I had to re-learn how to act. I had to learn what it really meant to be male. Don’t cross your legs at your knees, cross them by putting your ankle on the opposite knee. Take up as much space as possible. You may laugh when you read that last one, but truthfully, men take up a great deal more space than women. When men sit down they tend to say “I own this seat (and the seats on either side of me),” and when most women sit down they seem to say “I’ll just sit right here for a minute.” Don’t move for anyone when you’re walking, they’ll get out of your way. –Unless they’re female or a child, then casually step to the side. After all, we weren’t raised by wolves. I could go on with these for a long time. It seems as though there really is a book full of all the dos and don’ts that you slowly but surely acquire as you grow up. And most men follow most of the rules without even realizing what they are doing. Now, I am much the same way. I follow male social rules without giving them any thought.

How did you tell your family about your decision to live openly as a male? What were or continue to be some challenges for them?

I took the band-aid approach with my immediate family and came right out and said “I’m trans.” There was a lot of crying from my mother, confusion from my father, acceptance from my sister, and denial that continues to this day from my brother. They try. Using male pronouns (‘he’) is still an issue for some of them. My parents have a hard time understanding and my mother has a tendency to blame herself, though no blame should put on anyone. With my extended family, I have written some family members letters who I see often and still haven’t addressed the topic with others. The fact of the matter is that I don’t know exactly how to tell people who I don’t feel close to. It is hard to broach such an intimate subject with people who know nothing about the rest of my life. To have to say “I’m a guy” is really strange, actually.

Tell me about dating. How do you tell a straight female who believes she is dating an cisgendered male (meaning the opposite of a transmale, a guy who was born genetically and anatomically male) that you are trans and thus have different anatomy? Have most women been okay or not okay with this news?

This is one of the most difficult moments that seems to keep repeating itself in my life. You know that nervous moment you have right before you ask that cute girl out from the office or the moment before the first time you kiss someone where your palms get clammy and you forget how to talk? This is worse. There is no guide on how or, even more importantly, when to tell a girl that she’s completely right, you are a guy but that you’re not exactly what she may have been expecting physically. I’ve been fortunate not to have any horror stories with this conversation. It tends to cause some confusion and a few very awkward questions, but, she’s the one person who is allowed to ask you about your genitals. After all, she might sleep with you some day and that does give her a very good reason to ask. So far I’ve been lucky enough to meet open-minded women who may have a mental block about how things will work but who are willing to ask questions and see how it goes. This is, unfortunately, not the case for many of the transguys I know.

What are some of the challenges transpeople face in terms of receiving genital surgery?

Frankly, it is expensive, REALLY EXPENSIVE. I’m talking, you could buy a house for what some surgeons will charge you. In addition, the best surgeons are located outside of this country–think Serbia or Thailand for example. The real trump card on this one is that they don’t produce average male genitals when you’re done. So you can leave the country, spend more money than you have, and you’re still not working with what a cisgendered guy is born with. Let me refer you to Hudson’s FTM Resource Guide if you’re interested in more details on what is out there and about how much it will cost you.

If you could give one or two piece of advice to someone who is coming out as transgender, what would you say?

Know that there are other people like you out there. It’s a tough road you’re going to face, but you are not alone. You are not the first to have to blaze this trail and you certainly will not be the last. Find your community of support where you feel comfortable. I personally am not very active in the LGBT community and feel more comfortable seeking support in my long-time hetero, cisgendered friends. They might not have ever been through what I’m going through, but the people who love you will listen to you anyway.

Know that there is nothing wrong with not wanting to be an example. Activism is great, and if it is your calling please do work for equality, someone has to. That being said, you have to live your life the way you want to. Coming out as trans is not the same as coming out as gay or lesbian. You may want to live out and proud or you may want to live stealth, where no one knows that you are trans. Either choice is okay, and you can change your mind at any time. There is NO one way to be trans. Every transguy and every transwoman lives their life differently than the rest. Just be who you are.

What are your hopes for the future of transpeople in society?

Ultimately, I would like equality. Being a second-class citizen is not a good feeling. Among the things that I would like to see are access to medical care that is covered under insurance, anti-discrimination laws in employment and education, and anti-hate crime law that includes transgender people. I would like every person to be afforded to live a quiet life if they want to. I would like for people to understand that trans people aren’t crazy, they aren’t sick, and they aren’t perverted. All I ever wanted was to be who I was and be accepted for it. I think a lot of trans people want the same thing. Acceptance and understanding.

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Military Family Month

I know I’ve mentioned this a couple of times, but November is Military Family Month. For the first time, this occasion directly applies to my family. P leaves for boot camp on Tuesday, so this weekend we got together with a handful of relatives and friends to celebrate an early Thanksgiving with him. My mother and I (though mostly my mother) made a giant, traditional holiday spread: turkey, dressing, green bean casserole, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, cranberry pumpkin bread, rolls, salad, gravy. All of this was followed up by a choice of pecan pie, pumpkin pie or apple crisp. Afterward, none of us moved much.

It was funny to be making and eating a Thanksgiving meal while the rest of the world was just having a typical Sunday. No Macy’s Day parade on TV, no Black Friday tomorrow morning. It was like we were on our own plane of existence, participating in something important to our culture but in a way that somewhat separated us from it.

To me, it seems like military families do this constantly, as the military requires a great deal of flexibility. We don’t know when P will graduate from boot camp or if we’ll be able to see him at Christmas. We don’t know how long he’ll be in A school or where he’ll go from there. We don’t know the amount of access to communications he’ll have.

I can only imagine how difficult things are for the spouses and children of service members. Joining the military is, in many ways, the ultimate participation in American culture, yet it also requires a parallel sacrifice of “normal” American life in a variety of big and small ways.

Tonight was my goodbye to P until he’s done with boot camp. It was also my goodbye to my little brother as I know him and goodbye to my family’s structure as it has been until now. P is leaving to start his own life and is doing so in a big way, and it’s a bit of a self-check moment to realize he’s going to leave Wisconsin and see many different countries long before I will. I will no longer be the “worldly” sibling, and he’ll have lots of new experiences that I won’t be able to fully relate to. It’s a change in our relationship, which is not a bad thing, of course. It’s just the unknown, and it’s difficult to process at the same time as tryptophan.

I’m excited for P–I really am. I know this will be hard on my parents, but they are rallying behind this. I will too, though as a sibling, I’ll be a bit more distant. Nonetheless, this act of rallying, of supporting the one who enlisted, is what I’m guessing is the essence of  all military families. It’s what makes us important but sets us apart. Today, in my goodbye, I said hello to this new, nebulous role, and I find it a sign from the universe that this is happening to my parents and me during the month dedicated to remembering families like us.

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World Diabetes Day

Diabetes is not a disease you mess around with. According to the American Diabetes Association, almost eight percent of the U.S. population (23 million children and adults) are living with diabetes, with another 57 million people living with prediabetes. In 2006, diabetes was the 7th leading cause of death in this country, the leading cause of new blindness cases, the leading cause of kidney failure, and accounts for 60 percent of non-traumatic lower limb amputations. The number of people with diabetes in only increasing, and millions more people have it but are undiagnosed.

So again, you don’t mess around with diabetes.

But diabetes is not an automatic death sentence, and it doesn’t necessary mean your days of eating sugar are over. Diabetes is more about controlling the amount of carbs you consume and making sure your diet is balanced. By controlling their diet and taking medication if necessary, people with diabetes are definitely able to stay healthy for a very long time.

A close relative of mine has recently been diagnosed with diabetes. She accepted her diagnosis right away and has implemented lifestyle changes early and aggressively, including counting carbs and adding weekly exercise. We hope this means she’ll be able to stay in control of the disease, and she’s already able to keep her blood sugar levels in the ideal range.

In the spirit of education, she let me record her testing her blood sugar. For those without diabetes or exposure to someone with it, I thought seeing this would be valuable. Testing blood sugar isn’t traumatic, but it’s not super-fun either. It’s just a reality of living with the disease.

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