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Posts Tagged ‘acceptance’

During a conversation with my husband the other night, we happened upon the topic of change. It came up because I’m going to Detroit Pride this weekend to join up with Free Mom Hugs. For those that don’t know, Free Mom Hugs, a group which also includes dads, gives free hugs, high-fives, fist bumps, and encouragement to LGBTQIA individuals who have been rejected by their families. I’m totally stoked about being able to show a bit of love to someone who may just need it, lord knows we all do from time to time.

I reflected on how this was not what I was raised to believe, and how people can grow and change.

I know because I changed.

I was raised in a very conservative home where I was taught, especially in church, that being gay, or at least, being in a gay relationship, was a sin. It was never really an issue, just one of the countless sins we were told about. I didn’t know any better until I actually met people who were “out” in high school and in my first year of college. Listening to their stories really made me question the belief system I had been taught. Why were people being judged and condemned for how they were born, for who they were, for who they loved? The more I reasoned, the more my views changed and I struggled with what my religion said vs. what I knew in my heart to be true.

My brother came out soon after. He had been raised with the same teachings, I know he didn’t choose to be gay. Why would God make him that way if it was sinful? Why would God make anyone gay if it went against what He wanted? It didn’t make sense. I started reading more and researching, not only personal stories, but articles and studies on religion to see what was actually being said in translations and realized that I didn’t agree with the interpretation that had been preached to me for all those years. I was soon completely convinced: people don’t choose their sexuality, it’s hard-wired from the very beginning.

With this realization, I made it a point to be an ally. We’ve raised our kids to be accepting of everyone. We’ve also been very fortunate to belong to a church where everyone is welcome, no matter what, with no agenda to “fix” people. One of our pastors even risked her job to marry two wonderful men a few years ago and we became an official Reconciling Ministries church the year after. The current pastor and his wife are all in, letting the rainbow banners fly. Our denomination is in a struggle right now to officially adopt a policy where gay marriages can be performed without penalty and I’m happy to say that there has some progress made on this. It looks much more hopeful now than it did a few months ago. We have wonderful new members who came to us because they have faith, but have not felt welcome in other places. There is still much to do.

Faith is important to a lot of people and it makes me sad that being gay is a reason for some to shut others out, no matter what the religion is. Do the homework, not just “research” from the conservative side, but objective research from real science. Talk to gay Christians, or gay Muslims, or gay Jews. You’ll find many. There are plenty of gay atheists, too, in case you’re not religious. Get their perspective, and really, truly, listen to them without judgement. Listen to religious scholars on the other side with an open mind and pray for understanding.

There’s another reason I think this is an incredibly important topic. According to The Trevor Project, suicide is the second leading cause of death for people aged 10-24 and LGB youth seriously think about suicide three times more than heterosexual youth. (https://www.thetrevorproject.org/resources/preventing-suicide/facts-about-suicide/#sm.00001dqohxj19xof4dx2kuf9llet1) They would rather die than deal with the pain they feel from being rejected by the world, their places of worship, even their parents. That should say something to even the hardest heart. Think about that. Children would rather take their own lives than subject themselves to the humiliation heaped on them by those who think they are less than. As someone who has been on that precipice, that decision is born out of desperation, not attention-seeking. The methods used to change children are bogus, as proven over and again. Conversion therapy is cruel and it doesn’t work. You can’t “pray the gay away”, you can’t beat it out of someone, and you can’t change their mind. That’s not how it works. Again, do the research. Hear them.

LGBTQIA people are not broken, they don’t need to be fixed. Like everyone, they need to feel loved, they need to know that they are accepted, and treated with dignity and respect. I thank God, those long-ago high school and college friends, my brother,  and my sister-cousin, for being brave, for opening my eyes, for opening my mind. My life is richer and fuller for that, for the friends I have, for the love I am shown daily. I shudder to think of what my life could have been like if I hadn’t followed my heart.

Growth is often uncomfortable, because you often have to fix stuff, but the rewards are wonderful. When I see anti-gay protesters, so angry, waving their vile signs, it’s difficult to not be angry myself. I want to jump in and defend my friends and family so badly, but getting in someone’s face rarely changes their mind. Instead, I try to love. I try to set a good example. I try to stand up for what I know to be the right thing. I teach my students that using the word “gay” or “queer” as insults is not acceptable when the situation pops up, besides teaching acceptance of all as a norm.

I’m also still learning. As I mentioned, I want to be the best ally I can and I want to do it right. I make mistakes sometimes (I still have to make myself think of and say correct pronouns for the gender fluid, just because it’s a habit) but that’s part of growth and understanding and I welcome it, even when I screw up. I can do more.

So, Happy Pride Month. Much love to my family and friends who are celebrating and know that I have your back, always. May God bless you always.

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I’ve been sending out queries to agents this week, lots of them. It’s a heart-wrenching time, sending something out that you have been working on for SO LONG, that you’ve poured your soul into, and bracing yourself for the rejections that will come. And they will come. Most agents are very upfront about their acceptance rates, usually less that 5% of thousands of queries every year, so even just statistically, the rejections will arrive, one after the other. These agents are busy, filtering through all of the email they get every day. There are a lot of people who want to be the next J.K.Rowling and they have to make quick decisions based on a tiny piece of work, hoping to get it right. Not an easy task, to be sure.

But there’s always that one possibility, that one chance, that that ONE agent will see your first ten pages, or five pages, of first three chapters and think, Yes, I could totally represent this person! That agent could have been looking for that very thing that you just sent them, in that very genre, with the voice that you wrote it in and it will happen. It will be a glorious, delirious, day when that email or phone call arrives. Believe me, I’ll be writing about it right away if that ever happens. You’ll be the first to know.

I was spoiled the first time I ever queried a publisher for my book, Put Up Your Hair. I got an offer from the first publisher I sent it to. It was exhilarating; I framed the contract and everything. Foolishly, I expected the same kind of thing to happen when I sent out my first novel, but I soon learned that querying a small publishing house for a specialized piece of work and querying an agency with thousands of other people trying to do just that are two very different things. With my first book, however, I heard lots of very good things about my writing, with many questions about when I would write another book, leading me to think that my writing was at least readable.

So there was that hope, and I kept writing. Writers who are trying to get published write, edit, second guess, edit again, and even again, to make their writing clean, concise, but yet descriptive enough to paint a picture in the mind of the reader. The waiting to see if someone likes all of that hard work can be unbearable; I’ve been checking my email all week waiting for a response, any kind of little answer. I did get a very nice email from an agent who rejected the project I sent due to time, but added that she hoped that I would keep her in mind in the future, so there is that. It’s amazing what a little spark of encouragement can do.

What is my point in all of this? Working off nervous energy, for one, but also to put my feelings into words. I’m better at writing them down than I am trying to say them out loud. I really, really want this. It’s worse than being a kid at Christmas, and there’s always that thought in the back of my mind that it’s not meant to be, that it’s never going to happen. Besides telling that little voice to bugger off in the rudest way possible, I’m keeping my hope alive by thinking positively and putting it out to God and into the universe.

In the meantime, I’ll keep working on the next project, the next book of Traveler (no title yet), my essay for a writing contest, and trying to not obsessively check my email. If you’d like, check me out on Facebook: Julie Ballantyne Brown- Author or on Twitter: @23italiana (I only have, like, 16 followers; I really need to get better at Twitter). You could even take a look at the first Traveler, available on Amazon Kindle or in paperback, if you really wanted to.

A presto.

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I watch the Today Show in the morning while getting ready for work. Sometimes it’s background noise, sometimes they have stories that I really listen to. I tune out a lot of the political stuff because I’m sick of hearing about Donald Trump and all of his insanity. The cooking segments are okay and I listen to the headlines, but my favorite things to watch are the human interest stories, stories about real people in different situations and how they handle them, in good ways or bad. The human psyche fascinates me. I am endlessly curious about the motivations people have, what circumstances in their lives led them to act the way that they do.

I was watching on Tuesday when a story came on that caught my attention. Apparently, Old Navy had put out an advertisement that portrayed an interracial family: an African-American mother, a Caucasian father, and their little boy. It’s a really cute picture, as many advertisements are, with everyone smiling and happy. When I looked at it, I  thought that it was a cool thing for Old Navy to show an interracial family, a reflection of our modern society. As I found out, though, the reason that that advertisement was being shown on the Today Show was because many people didn’t feel the same way.

I went on Twitter to read the comments. (I know, I know, the comments are scary, but if you’re going to take something on, you should know your enemy.) I’m not going to put even a fraction of them on here, they were that horrible, but they range from “disgusting” to some extremely vile things. I was really (unpleasantly) surprised that so many comments had something to do with “white genocide” Huh? Genocide? Um, no. Genocide= what Adolph Hitler did to the Jews. Genocide= what is happening to certain groups of people in the Middle East right now. Genocide= what happened to the Tutsi in Rwanda, 1994. Genocide≠ people of different races marrying and having families. The ignorance is staggering and more importantly, frightening. Here is an article from the New York Times, if you’re so inclined: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/05/us/upbeat-interracial-ad-for-old-navy-leads-to-backlash-twice.html?smid=tw-nytimes&smtyp=cur&_r=0 You can also see the controversy on Twitter and most news sites.

I don’t understand the mentality of people who have been posting those inane responses. Some of them are so evil that I’m surprised they’re walking among us, but most of them vowed to never shop at Old Navy again. Really? You’re not going to shop at Old Navy any more because they used an ad of an interracial family? Stupidity and ignorance at its finest. If you are threatening to harm people because of their racial background, you should not be out on the street. Period.

What really floors me (and makes me smile to myself) is that many of the people who are so opposed to racial mixing are possibly of mixed race themselves and don’t even know it. During the period of legal slavery in the United States and its territories, thousands of children, often the result of rape from white masters. were born to slave women. Some interracial (and illegal) couples also lived together consensually and had  children. If those children, or their children, could “pass” for white, they often did in order to have a better life. Many times, their white families didn’t know and still don’t! A good example of this is Bliss Broyard’s fascinating read, One Drop. The title comes from the premise that if a person had only one drop of African blood. he or she was classified as black and was treated as such during the time of slavery and many years thereafter. Her father, Anatole Broyard, an acclaimed New York Times columnist, had come from a racially mixed family but decided to pass for white when he was a young man. It wasn’t until he was literally on his death bed that the truth came out and his children were introduced to a whole new branch of the family. It’s a fascinating story.

The TLC show, Who Do You Think You Are?, and PBS’s Finding Your Roots have both surprised a few celebrities with DNA test results showing that they have an unexpected racial connection. Ty Burrell, who stars on Modern Family, was surprised to find that the family whisperings of having a black ancestor were true. Several African-American celebrities uncovered white ancestors. Some were surprised, some were not. The truth is, we all have quite the mixture of races in us already, there is no such thing as a “pure” race. People who perpetuate the myth that there is a pure white race need to check their facts, and possibly their DNA.

My own roots are pleasantly jumbled. My father’s side of the family is pretty straightforward English/Scottish/Irish with some Swiss and German thrown in for good measure. My mother’s side, however, is a bit of a mixed bag. My maternal grandfather, Grandpa Nick, was born in Sicily. Poor Sicily, while now part of Italy, has been conquered many times by other empires: Arab, Spanish, Italian, Greek, Northern African. It is difficult to say what our racial background actually is based on Sicily’s history. His son, my uncle, took a DNA test several years back. It showed that we have northern African cousins, in Algeria and Sudan I believe, but it didn’t say how far back in time we were related. It could be 200 years ago or 1000 years ago. Like I said, it was an older test, but my sons and I thought it was cool that we were part African. You wouldn’t know it by looking at me, I’m a sickly pale about ten months out of the year, but I have some African roots.

The point I’m trying to get across is that the idea of race as a kind of a club is stupid. Sure, I love looking up my family history and learning where my ancestors came from (especially the English, for the simple fact that they kept amazing records in their parish churches), but equally intriguing for me is finding the different cultures that dwell inside. How exciting!

I taught 5th graders for several years and that is when they begin learning about slavery in United States history. Many of my students would self-identify as their religion, so we always had to have the talk about the difference between race and religion. One can be born and raised into a certain religion, but that is a choice. One’s racial background is not a choice, it’s just how you are born. You can’t choose it before you are born, you can’t change it, it’s something that is a part of you forever. We talked about being proud of whatever background we had, but also how it was important to respect the identities of others and how different cultures contribute so much to the world. We also talked about how it was not okay to disparage somebody because of their race. You see, children are taught racism, it’s not something that they’re born with. Something to think about…

The term “race” has been used by bigots as a way to separate people, to create divisions and animosity, instead of simply being used for historical or scientific purposes. That never made sense to me, seeing as how science and religion agree that human beings both started in northeastern Africa, even if their ideas of how we began are different. Differences developed in response to our environments. A translucent-skinned person like me would burn to a crisp on the African continent today, my lack of melanin meant to soak up Vitamin D from the sun in northern climates. My northern European genes have won out in that respect. My Grandpa Nick, however, had what one would call a “swarthy” complexion, necessary in sun-drenched Sicily to protect him. I look more like my father’s side of the family, but I have just as much DNA from my mother’s side as I do his. What you look like doesn’t necessarily have a bearing on what your roots are. Remember, with every generation back, your number of grandparents doubles: two grandparents, four great-grandparents, eight great-great grandparents, and so on. Unless you are a careful genealogist, you really don’t know all of your racial background. Maybe that’s worth taking a look into. You might find out some really cool things!

Open your mind and think. You’ll be surprised at actually makes sense.

A presto.

 

 

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I just realized that I haven’t posted anything in almost a month. I have some catching up to do! March can be a tough month for me, though. Bittersweet. The sweet part is my Middle Child’s birthday, smack dab in the middle of the month, balancing out the bitterness with joy. I’ve blogged about one of the bitter parts before (https://juliabbb.wordpress.com/2014/03/08/march-8/) so I won’t revisit that right now. Today I want to focus on the other part of March that I think about on a regular basis: My father and his death on March 22, many years ago.

He’s been on my mind a lot lately. I never knew him, at least in life. Those of you who know me personally already knew that. He tragically died in a car accident seven months before I was born, the night before he was going to apply for a factory job so that he and my mother could get married and give their family a good start. That never happened. The circumstances of that night aren’t especially clear to me, but the fact is that he died, leaving us behind.

Do I think he wanted to leave us? No, absolutely not. From what my family tells me and from a poem that one of my cousins wrote for his funeral, I know that he was excited about being a dad, that he was planning everything out. It took a bit for him to get used to the idea of being a father, though. When my mom told him about me, he went to his grandparents house for three days to process it all. When he came back, he was ready to go forward with a family. I hold that little scrap of information dear and tight.

I’m not writing about him to elicit sympathy or to rehash sad old feelings. I guess I just still want to know him better and this blog is a great place to express that. I want to know if he felt the way I do at times, what he would think of the world today, how our family dynamics would be different if he were still around. I want him to know his grandsons. I think he would have been a cool grandpa. My boys are lucky: they had another grandpa, Marty Man’s dad, for a few years. They have my uncle-dad, my brothers, and cousins who have all stepped up to give them extended family closeness. I don’t think they know what they’re missing, but I had two wonderful grandfathers until I was an adult. I wish they could have had the same experience as I did.

I used to be a hot mess about him. When my mother told me about my dad, I was around seven years old and at first I was elated. I already knew that the step-monster wasn’t my real dad and all of the other kids had dads, so I asked my mom about it. I had also just learned the facts of life, so I knew with all of my seven-year-old wisdom that there was a missing piece. When she explained that I indeed had a dad, the big question in the back of my head was finally resolved, but then the realization that he would never be there crushed me, especially as my life got worse. All through my very roughest years, I used to pray for God to say that his death was a mistake, that he wasn’t really dead, sobbing in my bed for him to come back, thinking he would rescue me. My grandma had given me a lens from his glasses and I took it everywhere I went, wanting a piece of him to be with me all the time.

I had a lot of anger toward him for a while, too. I was mad, so mad at him for dying and leaving me. After all, if he hadn’t died, my mother would never have married the step-monster. Of course, none of that was his fault, but as a very angry and confused teenager, it made sense to me to place the blame on him. I wondered about him all the time. Did he crash on purpose because he didn’t want me? Did he not try hard enough to survive? Had he been on drugs? Was he drinking? Like I said, even today, I don’t know all the details. I don’t know if anyone does, but that’s not important anymore. I’ve worked through the whys and made peace with that. I’ve made my peace with him.

I really truly think that he is still here, still around me. Things happen. I’ve had dreams where he’s there for very short periods of time and in them, he’s told me things about himself that I didn’t know, things that later checked out to be true, such as the fact that he played guitar. A song will come on the radio, that I’ve heard thousands of times, but for some reason, I’m overwhelmingly moved to tears for no reason at all. Later, I find out that it was one he liked. I feel him around me. He may be gone physically, but I believe that his spirit is here.

My anger is long gone. My pain is much fainter. Talking about him, learning more about the person he was from my family and his friends helps. I wish I could talk to him, to have one short hour with him. I still have that frustration sometimes that I can’t pick up my phone and call him to tell him what his grandsons did or to invite him to Thanksgiving, but it doesn’t happen nearly as often as it did when I was younger. I am a part of him, I have his hair, his eyes. Half of my very DNA is his and that’s saying something. I have a father. I am his daughter.

I don’t have a rhyme or reason to this post. Again, my dad has been on my mind a lot lately and I just needed to write about him. If you have a dad, hug him tight. Hold him close, tell him you love him. If you are a dad, do the same for your kids. They need you more than you’ll ever know.

 

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