Author: Danielle D. Billing

Trans Military Ban: Some Early Thoughts

Content note: transgender rights, transphobia, transantagonism, LGBTQ discrimination

By now most of us in the U.S. have read of the president’s tweets about overturning an Obama-era decision allowing transgender individuals to serve in the military.

I am not trans, but some of my nearest and dearest are NB and/or trans. I have a lot of mixed and strong thoughts on this. I do not know everything. I can’t promise they will be coherent or consistent. I own that, and in writing I attempt to engage the problem and always be doing better than I was doing before.

By framing the ban as an issue of “medical costs,” the administration has adeptly pathologized the issue as one of  a medical defect, rather than identity. Further, if we do choose to frame it as a medical cost, taxpayer dollars cover prescriptions for the military. The military spends five times more on Viagra than on the combined medical costs for trans personnel. Certainly we aren’t going to stigmatize that, are we? Nope, because what goes on in their pants is none of our damn business.

Of course, there is a delay in implementation. Are we planning to dismiss these active duty service members, despite clean records? That’s a slippery slope of second-tier citizenship for the rest of the LGBTQ community. It sets a dangerous precedent. Would they still be eligible for veterans benefits? The GI Bill, introduced after WWII, discriminated against any soldier discharged for homosexual behavior. Are we willing to go back that far in stripping access and benefits?

The framing of “medical costs” is intentional, as we are currently embroiled in the healthcare debates. Transgender individuals are not a burden to the military, and they are not a burden to society, despite what this president tweeted. Be very careful how this is debated.

A few of my mixed feelings: I am non-violent. I consciously joined a Christian denomination with a peace history and a long line of conscientious objectors. This complicates the issue for me. I want to dismantle systems of power that kill and maim. Military service is not the benchmark for equality, equity, and justice in our society. Even with transgender individuals allowed to serve in the U.S. military, the life expectancy of Black trans women is 35. LGBTQ people in Idaho still do not have housing and employment protections. And both LGBTQ youth and veterans still complete suicide at an alarming rate. See the forest and the trees. This is only one step of likely more to come, toward making LGBTQ people second-tier citizens, or worse.

If you want to do more than just be mad, this is a great Medium post to boost, share, and read:

To the cis person angrily sharing news of the Trump transgender military ban

Wacky Wednesday: Denver Comic Con

Cosplay is Life.

That may be a stretch, but I went to Denver Comic Con this summer, and it is evident that a great many people take cosplay very very seriously. I would count myself among those people, but I didn’t finish my Mass Effect costume, and I lack the funds to be as hardcore as the more serious cosplayers. I spent money on comics and graphic novels for my classroom, instead.

A quick, shameless plug: I went to DCC with my friend Dextra, an indie artist. I have a few of her pieces, as well as a fantastic T-Rex dress with her artwork on it. Her Facebook page has links to her etsy and Redbubble shops.

Anyway.

DCC is a celebration of geekdom in all its glory. I registered for a half-credit educator’s track and sat in several amazing panels on diversity and representation in comics and pop culture. Pop Culture Classroom sponsors several conventions during the year, and Denver is one of them.

Highlights from the panels:

  • College students presenting their projects through an intersectional feminist lens
  • High school (!!!) students presenting their projects analyzing the representation of an identity politic (gender, religious identity, mental illness, LGBTQ, race) throughout the eras of comics
  • The “Indigenerds” discussions of stereotype and representation of Native American characters in popular culture
  • The two Star Wars panels: one on critical reading, and one on stories of resistance

I added several titles from Native Realities to my library. I bought several of Jeremy Whitley’s titles, too (including some My Little Pony single issues, duh). He signed them for me. He happens to be one of the kindest people ever, and made sure to show me the three-panel dialogue exchange with a female Deaf pirate in one of the books I bought!

One last thing, speaking of Deaf characters: two different panels mentioned the graphic autobiography El Deafo by Cece Bell, which several of my students have read (and loved). It’s about a deaf bunny. You should read it. I also found out about Matt Fraction’s run of Hawkeye; issue #19 is in ASL! So: even though the comics world still needs work in regards to representation of disability (a couple panels mentioned that weakness), it’s improving, bit by bit.

“I was spanked, and I turned out alright…”

The above headline is not true. The first part is, I guess. However, science demonstrates again and again that spanking, or corporal punishment, or swatting, has lasting detrimental impact on our psyches.

I love science. Especially five decades of science.

Why do parents spank? In my own anecdotal experience, many have said they spank for immediate compliance, when a time-out or a conversation about negative behaviors will not suffice. The lead researcher on the study, Elizabeth Gershoff, stated:

 “We found that spanking was associated with unintended detrimental outcomes and was not associated with more immediate or long-term compliance, which are parents’ intended outcomes when they discipline their children.”

Co-author Andrew Grogan-Kaylor said:

“[S]panking increases the likelihood of a wide variety of undesired outcomes for children. Spanking thus does the opposite of what parents usually want it to do.”

In short, spanking has no proven short-term effect.

What about long-term effects? What about we adults who were spanked as children?

The more they were spanked, the more likely they were to exhibit anti-social behavior and to experience mental health problems. They were also more likely to support physical punishment for their own children, which highlights one of the key ways that attitudes toward physical punishment are passed from generation to generation.

We didn’t turn out “alright.” We only think we did, and are thus more likely to continue supporting the use of spanking.

The line that hit me hardest, and I will continue to shout from the rooftops every time someone tries to differentiate between spanking and “real abuse” came toward the end of the press release:

Both spanking and physical abuse were associated with the same detrimental child outcomes in the same direction and nearly the same strength.

The difference between spanking and physical abuse is slight, and only by degrees. Spanking is abuse.

I’ve written about this before, regarding the use of corporal punishment in schools. Physical punishment damages children. It damages the adults who perform it. It damages the bond between the spanker and the spankee. It violates trust, bodily autonomy. A child’s brain cannot discern the difference between a “spank” and a “strike” meant for abuse. A hit is a hit, especially when we’re teaching our children not to hit.

In a country where the Cult of Compliance is the modus operandi from schools through law enforcement, it is not surprising we still cling to outdated modes of discipline in our homes. It doesn’t work. It never worked. Buying into the Cult of Compliance fuels such beliefs as “If he’d just listened the first time…” and “The officer had no choice…” Resorting to violence with our children warps our thinking.


I originally shared the Mic article on my personal Facebook, but the press release from the University of Texas at Austin is necessary reading.

Migraine Monday: Everything is (not) fine

I’m teetering on the edge of hope and absolute nihilism. I guess that makes me a Millennial, amiright?

Life in the two years of blogging silence has been a glorious shitstorm. Phrased otherwise, some things have been glorious, and others have been shit. I couldn’t write, though. Every time I tried I was too angry, too traumatized, too defeated. My world was on fire, and I was impotent.

this is fine

Image description: “On Fire” from Gunshow by K.C. Green. Full comic available at http://gunshowcomic.com/648 Frame 1: Question Dog sits in a burning building, with a cup of coffee on a table. Frame 2: Question Dog says, “This is fine,” with flames behind him and smoke above him, ignoring his peril.

I have enough distance from some of it to know I was in a constant state of emotional abuse and gaslighting at the professional level, and varying stages of grief in other areas of my life. My feet weren’t on a strong enough foundation of reality to form a coherent narrative of, well, anything. 

I tried to act like everything was fine, while I felt like I was going mad.

Maybe going mad is the only way to stay sane in a mad world.

I know some may see this language as ableist, but I do not mean it colloquially or glibly. My college religion professor Dr. Haar ended each class meeting with the words “Stay sane out there,” and he meant it quite seriously. How do we maintain our grounding in a world that organizes genocide, kills black men and women indiscriminately, pushes queer children and teens out of their homes, and attempts to cut health coverage for the disabled?

It’s Migraine Monday, and the only thing I have a grip on is my migraines. At least that’s something. It’s a start. I can wake up to face the day, the battle, the world. I can see out of both eyes.

My fistful of meds and I are ready to write again. I hope you’ll join the conversation, add your voice, and and your feet, and your hands.

 

Fit Friturday: CTFO

The last two Fit Fridays, I have had to CTFO: Chill the F**k Out.

CTFO is a mantra in my anti-diet, pro-moderation, support group. It’s a veritable alphabet soup around there. Every weekend, members post photos and short posts of their DSS: Do-Something Saturdays, or their FF: Flex Fridays–sharing victories toward personal goals of movement and strength breaking free from the impossible standards of cultural beauty and fitness norms. We share NSVs (Non-scale victories) toward self-care, setting boundaries, meal-planning, taking up space. For those members who are on weight-loss or weight-gain journeys, there are SVs (scale victories). We ETF: Eat. The. Food. Freed (or progressively freeing) from the restriction and rules of disordered thinking, orthorexia, food-group restriction, and fad dieting of the culture around us.

And sometimes, we remind each other to Chill the Frick Out.

When do we CTFO? After an injury. When we’re sick. When we’re feeling the feels. When we feel guilty after a relapse of binge- or restrictive-behavior. When we feel judgement from friends, colleagues, or family members who make unwelcome commentary on our food or exercise choices.

I have a challenging class of students this year. One student in particular is taxing my mental game in a way that stretches me beyond my level of adeptness, and into the game of “Wow. What do I do here?” There have been money woes thrown in the mix, several (four, now, I think) deaths of colleague’s close family members within the first month of school, my roommate’s parents came to visit on their Farewell Tour before returning to New Guinea for four years, my roommate’s older son started school the same time I did (yay routine changes!).

So aside from my Monday silks class and Tuesday 12-Steps, I’ve been practicing CTFO during my evenings. And I’m using my weekends to get out of the house and connect with people; I don’t want to make my depression/isolation feedback loop, well, you know–feedback.That’s how I’m taking care of my body and mind right now. I don’t need to apologize for it or explain to people that “normally” I would be exercising more. I get out of my classroom during lunch or prep to walk a bit. And I think it’s time to add another day of upper body work, because silks has demonstrated I’m a veritable T-Rex… but I’m not going to kill myself trying.

This is what I need right now.

Home is Where Your Heart Feels…

This summer I attended ArtsPowered Schools (APS), a week-long intensive workshop on integrating arts into literacy in the K-12 classroom. The following month, I enrolled in a graduate critical pedagogy seminar with Donaldo Macedo. We discussed literacy a lot there, too, particularly related to English language learners, and students who have been historically oppressed.

On Monday, I wrote some frustrations on how APS fell short in engaging students’ full experiences in connecting to literature and art. I asked, How is an arts practice accessible if it only speaks to the positive experiences of our students? Macedo asked, How can we continue to educate students while insisting on the separation of cognition and emotion? 

Regarding APS, I elaborated:

Case in point: one of our activities, as a whole group learning to integrate performance (and later visual art) into the literacy curriculum, used the text Where the Wild Things Are, by Maurice Sendak. This is a rich text, full of rich illustrations, deep subtext, and an opportunity for students to read both the word and the world. We got only the text, removed from the book entirely. All of the activities were upbeat and engaging, and while they brought the text alive, got the text on its feet, breathed life into the words… I felt that the activities were devoid of any deep meaning. And we completely neglected the fact that Maurice Sendak had a long legacy of children’s books that were not shiny-happy.

[…] But children also bring their own texts: themselves. Their environments are texts. Max being sent to bed without supper? His anger at his mother? That raw, childhood anger that students feel toward parental injustice is a text, and should not be ignored in the discussion or art-making process. Doing so is insulting to children as full humans capable of complex emotions and complex art. 

So what is the alternative?

In the pedagogy seminar, and in my children’s literature course last spring in the bilingual education department (taught by my adviser, who was responsible for bringing Macedo to campus), we used student-generated, open-ended literature responses in the target language. These enable us, as teachers, to simplify a complex text to make it more accessible to our students; through the same process, we can also take a simple text and dig deeper into it through discussion cycles and semantic mapping.

Below are two maps from my seminar this summer, based on the discussion around a short poem by Francisco X. Alarcon. The first is on “Silences,” on the things that keep people silent or silenced; the second is on “Noise,” the things in life that distract us or drown out issues requiring our attention. Although “silence” and “noise” are opposite words by denotation, these concept maps are fairly similar:

Silences

Silences

Noises

Noise

So taking this, I read the book My Friend is Sad, by Mo Willems with my students. I projected it on the interactive white board so the English text was visible and read the story in ASL, making connections to the English text. We talked about opposites: happy and sad. In their journals, each kid drew and wrote about their favorite part of the story. The next day, two students (who do not have nicknames yet because it’s too soon in the year!) read and acted out the story. Then, we got down to mapping.

We started with the HAPPY map. Happy is a safe emotion. You can share stories and phrases and synonyms for happy with new people, and you don’t have to be very vulnerable. We referred to the story, and then we branched out. Some of the things that make us happy:

  • skateboard
  • snow board
  • play tag
  • yellow blanket

The next day, we talked about things that made us sad. The kids started out timidly with single words, and got a little bolder:

  • cry
  • baby
  • feeling scared
  • Mom took my iPod
  • JoJo broke my doll and the head came off

Then the floodgates opened:

  • No dad because he’s in jail far away. Then jail finished, still lives far
  • Go to a funeral and miss your grandpa. Hold your heart and carry his casket (This was in reference to my grandpa dying in April 2014, which a student remembered and shared. I was a pallbearer. I was not expecting this, and yes, I teared up.)
  • Want more money and patient working (The ASL sign for patient can also be translated as bearing, suffering, or enduring)

This. This is what my students produced on the first week of school

The Sad-Happy Maps

The Sad-Happy Maps

…from a book that looks like this:

IMG_20150825_072609

My students don’t always need upbeat. They don’t need hyper-engaging. They need real. They deserve authentic. Sure, My Friend is Sad is a really funny book (the lengths to which Piggie goes attempting to cheer Elephant are extraordinary, indeed). But the basic human desire to take care of one’s friend and to alleviate loneliness is totally accessible. They really just needed me to operate the markers. For now, anyway.

Finding our Way Home

This summer I attended ArtsPowered Schools (APS), a week-long intensive workshop on integrating arts into literacy in the K-12 classroom. Each teacher participant signed up for a studio-intensive workshop from a choice of five artistic media; we met in our studio groups for 90 minutes of direct and guided instruction each day. We could return to the studio for independent work at other times during the day/evening. We signed up for single-session classes in a medium we might not have tried before, or in something that piqued our interest, but that we would not normally spend a full week studying. All sessions were taught by professional, working artists from the state of Idaho who, in addition to their professional practice, work in collaboration with the Idaho Commission on the Arts as artist-educators. We also attend whole-group sessions dedicated to the practical side of integrating the arts, artistic process, and artistic expression into our existing literacy curriculum. All this work is centered on a single theme each year.

This year, the theme focused on Homeand the process of going home. I participated in the theatre studio intensive, and we generated and performed our own content. I’ll come back to this in a moment because it is important, but in this self-generation process (which we can take into our classrooms and use with our students), our instructor explored a full range of images and emotions with us. We used our five senses and talked a lot about kinesthetic response. We tuned into our own bodies and watched the physical responses of our peers. When there was a collective gasp, or a moment of stunned silence, we held that. At one point, one teacher (who had never considered herself a writer or an actor) had the whole room in tears. We honored that.

Side trip: Two weeks after APS, I drove home to visit my family for two weeks. It was an important trip. For one, since I moved out in 2003, I always go home over the 4th of July because my grandparents’ anniversary was the 5th. Grandpa died last April, and since I’d been home for the funeral and was in a play at the end of the summer, I missed my July trip home. For two, this would be my first time doing the road trip alone, without any driving companions.

My second day of driving shuttled me home. My second day of driving was 13 hours between Missoula, MT, to my parents’ farm in rural North Dakota. Confession: I have not always got along well with my mom. And she did not always get along well with her mom. And we make each other a little frazzled, frustrated, and other emotions that sometimes invoke a “throwing things” response. But “home” is still overwhelmingly positive, in the grand scheme of things. The closer I got to home, the stronger the pull felt. As I got close to the driveway, I cued up “Home” by Ingrid Michaelson and let all the driving tension from the previous 13 hours out. I pulled up in front of the house at midnight, the porch light on, and I wept. I was so glad to be home. (And for the record, mom and I got along swimmingly while I was there!)

Back to APS: in every one-off session I attended–creative writing, storytelling–and in the whole-group, arts-in-literacy sessions, the tone was overwhelmingly positive. No where, except in my theatre studio, were we given the opportunity or the space to dig into the negative aspects of home. In one workshop, we were explicitly instructed to stick with positive images or memories of our childhood homes. One teacher sitting across from me sighed: I don’t want to go back there. They keep sending me back there. Not only were we not permitted to choose our preferred incarnation of home, but we were limited to a narrow range of emotional language. No where were we equipped with tools or strategies for working with a student whose artistic process dredged up unhappy, unsafe, or unpretty images.

How is an arts practice accessible if it only speaks to the positive experiences of our students? 

Case in point: one of our activities, as a whole group learning to integrate performance (and later visual art) into the literacy curriculum, used the text Where the Wild Things Are, by Maurice Sendak. This is a rich text, full of rich illustrations, deep subtext, and an opportunity for students to read both the word and the world. We got only the text, removed from the book entirely. All of the activities were upbeat and engaging, and while they brought the text alive, got the text on its feet, breathed life into the words… I felt that the activities were devoid of any deep meaning. And we completely neglected the fact that Maurice Sendak had a long legacy of children’s books that were not shiny-happy.

If reading is about making meaning, we spend far too much time teaching children that the text is king. All this focus on “close reading” in the Common Core concerns me. The text is important, yes. The author’s intent is also a text. What isn’t written is a text! The illustrations in Where the Wild Things Are contribute to the text as much as the words themselves. But children also bring their own texts: themselves. Their environments are texts. Max being sent to bed without supper? His anger at his mother? That raw, childhood anger that students feel toward parental injustice is a text, and should not be ignored in the discussion or art-making process. Doing so is insulting to children as full humans capable of complex emotions and complex art.

Not everyone at APS cries when they pull into the driveway of their childhood home. Not all my students are excited to go home on Thursdays to spend the weekend with their families. If I censor those emotions, I sever an important piece of my students’ life experiences. I lose an important opportunity for human connection and critical instruction.

For a theme so central to our identities, we barely scratched the surface. We need to go deeper.

All of us need to go deeper. Language. Reading. Art. Our students deserve more.