The Psychotherapist: From Trainee to Professional

The first reading I ever completed for my three-year psychotherapy diploma program was in the summer before starting the certificate (In the UK we get our Postgraduate Certificate before we can progress to the Diploma). I can’t remember what book it was from, but the author seemed very determined to instill in the reader that any trainee counselor was going to need an incredibly strong support system (they called it an ‘anchor’) in order to survive this course. I thought they were being overdramatic. I read this aloud to my boyfriend-at-the-time’s mother and she stated that she expected her son to fulfill this role. He left before he had to, but that’s okay because by then I had my cat, Lucy.

Lucy became my anchor – my cat was the reason I got up to go to work so I could buy her food and treats. She was the only way I began to create any sense of attachment theory. I hesitate to describe her as a transitional object, but I can’t deny that I see myself very differently now than I did at the beginning of this course. I arrived believing I knew everything but was secretly terrified of having to sit with someone face-to-face instead of over the phone (my background is in peer support hotline work). What if they didn’t speak? What if I couldn’t help? What if I wasn’t good enough? I am now leaving this program fully aware of – and embracing – what I don’t know; yet feeling much more confident in my ability to sit with a client no matter what is brought – and survive a possible hour of silence with a stranger!

My journey to becoming a counselor began many years before that summer. At age 17, I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression. Fearful of speaking to my parents about it, I took myself off to the general practitioner surgery where I was prescribed Propanolol. The doctor was my mother’s own doctor when she was pregnant with me and thus he had always treated me as an extension of a family friend. By just giving me some pills, he managed to cement my idea that I was broken and needed to be fixed. It was only after I hated the pills (initially I hated the idea of them, but then I disliked the way they made me feel) that he suggested I look into counseling, which ironically made me feel even more broken. I didn’t know anything about counseling then, other than what I’d seen in films about psychoanalysis and that scared me. I made the appointment over the phone in my friend’s bedroom and ended up sneaking out of school every week for eight sessions of CBT – cognitive behavioral therapy.

I’ve been in and out of counseling ever since. My style of therapist and senses of accomplishment have varied, as have the labels I have acquired from different professionals. I’ve stomped my feet every step of the way. I’ve been angry at the system, angry at not feeling heard, angry at feeling that my age prevented me from being taken seriously. I’ve disagreed with nearly every label and fallen out with nearly every therapist. But I can’t argue that they’ve helped get me here. I can’t say they hindered me -just that it’s been an uphill battle. My counseling history has helped me now find therapists that I enjoy and taught me how to feel comfortable in my own practice for my own clients.

I began my course angry with the way the system worked, thinking that if only I could get my foot through the door with a qualification, I could attack it from the inside and perhaps gain a greater understanding about how people fall through the net or get left behind. I could help bridge the gap. I could help make this system work.

I’m still angry and I still want to change the system. However, when I was asked why I wanted to do my course, I originally refused to give this reason, because I thought it would be mocked or seen as naive. Whilst I can still see the possible naïveté in it, I don’t believe I could continue to do this job without that anger, without that strong desire to make sustainable mental health more accessible.

So it’s ok to be angry.

It’s also ok for me to say goodbye to my course. The three years have gone by in the longest blink. I notice in my client work, I’m always aware of making sure it’s okay for my clients to leave at the end of a session; can they return to the real world as their outside selves? I really value the time it may take them to put their outside faces back on and slip back into who they need to be. I’ve done this. I’ve cried my tears. My makeup is fixed. I’m okay to leave.

I’ve said before that I think this course is really more a driving test; I’m only going to learn to drive once I’ve passed. I have a whole new journey ahead of me to discover just what type of counselor I really am, once the reins have been cut. I’m really excited to start.

That first reading was right. This course has been testing and it has completely restructured how I view the world around me. But I think what it’s taught me most is to be my own anchor. Whilst Lucy is a wonderful companion to come home to and ride a train with, it’s me that I take everywhere I go. She cannot physically sit in a therapy room with me, although I can channel the self I provide to her to be the self I try to provide to my clients. But it’s me that I need to be able to rely upon – my knowledge and control of my selves that I need to have faith in. This has been difficult when also factoring in a long-term illness that means my body might not always be able to be relied upon and brain fog is never too far away. But I’ve done it. I’m here.

I’m ready to leave. I’m ready to pass. I’m ready to support my clients through their own versions of this journey. I’m also ready to continue learning in my own way. After seven years of university, I’m ready to let go of the ‘trainee’ title and embrace the ‘professional’ one.

 

Why a Psychotherapist?

At the end of one of our sessions, a client apologized to me for leaving me with all of their problems. This wasn’t the first time a client has apologized to me for this and I’m sure it won’t be the last. We were running out of time and my rushed response became a garbled, “Oh please don’t worry about it, this is my job.” I heard the words come out of my mouth and immediately hated them.

I should have taken them back, but I didn’t. I kept quiet because it was the end of our session and there wasn’t time to discuss this in depth and I needed to get ready for my next client. I heard the phrase, “this is my job” as it came out of my mouth and thought about what it would sound like to my client: this is my job, to listen to other people’s fears and complications. This is what I do all day, and often the only thing I want to do all day. What does that make me sound like? What type of a person wants to wade through a stranger’s misery day after day? I want to say it’s because I want to help. I think I can help.

Given the opportunity to think about it, I would have liked to have offered a short summary of how listening to their problems is what I am trained to do, that I have my own supervision and therapy I can go to if anything said to me became too much. But I would have reiterated that the space is theirs to use as they wish, as am I. There’s a part of me that wants to reassure and rescue, to reiterate how much I love my job and remind them that they aren’t burdening me with anything. But that’s not necessarily what my clients are asking. And to say they are not a burden may suggest that their problems are not as heavy to me as they feel to them, which would also be a lie.

There’s a really fine line between taking what my clients tell me and holding it in the room instead of taking what they tell me home. To hold it in the room is to do my job to support my client. Not letting it leave the room and taking it home is my job as part of supporting my own self-care. But to explicitly describe this feels clinical. Telling someone that I am sitting with them because it is my job feels superficial, as though the time they spend with me is simply a paycheck — which could not be further from the truth.

In reality, when it does get heavy, I will measure how the heaviness is affecting me and discuss that with my supervisor. I will discuss it (anonymously and confidentially, with no identifying details) with my peers and I may practice the different responses I might try in the next session in a role play. I may look for extra readings, I may work out a little more in the gym, or buy an extra bottle of wine and binge watch something on Netflix. I will endeavor to bring up how I’m feeling with my client because it may be something that they themselves have been struggling to name and my opening up might help empower them to name their own emotions. I might stomp my feet a little and berate the way the world works. I will always return to the room, to the client and sit in the muddy puddle of whatever emotion feels most overwhelming. I will bear witness and I will try my hardest to hold because that is my job – that is what I am there to do.

In truth, I believe without a doubt that this is what I am supposed to be doing. So yes, it’s ok that you tell me everything you’re worried about, everything you don’t like or even your deepest fears and your most superficial ones. Because it is my job, but also because it’s what I love doing; because it’s what I believe is my life’s purpose; because if there is some divine providence somewhere that’s dictating my life story, “Listener” is scribbled all over my book’s cover.

I would love to tell my clients just how privileged I feel to be able to listen to what they wish to tell me; how lucky I feel to know that I can make a living out of something I believe in; how yes, this is my job, but it’s also my calling; how actually, they may be giving me far more than I could ever give them back.

 

 

Contour Queen: The Power Of Makeup Revisited

A few years ago, I wrote a piece called “Send In The Clowns”. As a photography student who was enthralled by feminism and bodily autonomy, I captured my thoughts on makeup through a series of pictures that expressed my confusion- whether weaing makeup was feminist or not. Two years on, I would’ve never thought that my makeup journey would have progressed this much, and my thoughts around feminism related to makeup have finally become clear.

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I’ve had to defend my choice to wear makeup amongst feminist circles countless times, which was disheartening, to say the least, when I started out experimenting with makeup. I’ve always seen makeup as a form of self-care, so to be met with negativity (especially from people I looked up to) made me question whether I was damaging my feminist integrity.

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I can’t say when the turning point was. I just stopped caring. I slowly began to realise that I loved what makeup could do for me, and starting owning it. Being a perfectionist, I would spend hours upon hours replicating beautiful looks I’d seen, getting frustrated when I couldn’t get it 100% right. However, slowly but surely, I started getting it “right”. I didn’t have to meticulously plan out every look I was doing the night before, making sure I had all the right palettes ready for me to start first thing in the morning. It was so empowering.

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I still had thoughts that were harmful to myself and others around me; maybe I was better without makeup on, more natural, maybe I would be seen as intimidating to others by having strong brows and bold lips. Was I supporting an industry that makes it’s money by tearing women’s self-confidence down, telling them that a blemish is the end of the world, and that no one will love them if they have chubby cheeks? After some tough talks with myself, I came to realise that it was the intention behind my cosmetic obsession that what was really mattered in my personal journey. I wore makeup as an extension of my personality, as a creative outlet, and as part of a self-care routine; and identifying this felt profoundly feminist. 18579307_1898696840350555_2027954573_n

From this long and exhausting journey, I started to love my own skin. I became aware of why my skin would break out, and learnt to forgive myself for mistakes. I became more conscious on what would give me the best value for money in regards to what products I was buying, and hugely boosted my creativity. I stepped out of my comfort zone, and reaped the benefits of it. As I realised that I was good at what I do, I was being told that I looked confident, and I felt it.

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I have become aware of the flaws in the beauty industry. I try not to ignorant. I give advice where I can, and I learn as much as possible. I dedicated my Instagram to purely makeup (give it look here), and I practiced, practiced, practiced. I write makeup pieces for Rosewater. But most importantly, I feel confident, inside and out. This weird and wonderful art of makeup has allowed me to embody the sharpness of my eyeliner wings, the glow of my highlight, and the holographic wonder of my glitter. And even after a long, hard, exhausting day, if my cheekbones are contoured sharp enough to kill a man, it’s all worth it.

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Interview with Art: Pippin Lee Truman

We sat down with animator and illustrative artist Pippin Lee Truman to chat about their artwork, intersectionality, and their advice for fellow artists! Check out the interview below!

V: What inspires your artwork?

P: I would say that my inspiration mainly comes from the media around me, especially things like comics, because they’re such an interesting way of telling a story. At the same time, I’m really inspired by illustrations that incorporate different types of media, that maybe are part digital and part traditional. I often make comics out of everyday things that happen around me, like dreams that I’ve had- it helps me communicate abstract thought through art. It’s really a combination of lots of different things, but definitely other artists, especially ones that I grew up admiring. I love James Baxter, and classic Disney artists too.

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 V: Do you think the mundane, everyday experience is more inspirational than huge, impossible things? 

P: I’m a huge fan of absurdist humor, and that style that’s really popular on Tumblr. So making comics about dreams is a really fun way to explore communication, especially with those weird transitions that we all get in dreams. It’s a really fun way to explore as a storytelling device. I also make comics of my day-to-day life, conversations I have and little interactions I have, in order to capture those moments. Especially since I suffer from chronic depression, those mundane moments can be the nicest. Obviously, the everyday can be really tough when your feeling rough, but the mundane can be a really nice escape from it all. The little moments are really sweet to look back on, especially through my sketchbooks. 

V: So, you’re in university at the moment. What would you say are the main things you’ve learnt through studying art, and looking at it as a career?

P: The main thing I’ve found is that there is a huge separation between your working art and your doodling art. The difference between work and home has really helped me, especially when working in an industry environment, as my course is quite strict about that. I find myself much more productive when I’m in a stricter environment, working on tight deadlines, rather than at home relaxed. I set myself such strict goals, and then let myself relax when I was at home, so I can draw what I want. On such a tight schedule you don’t have the luxury of only working when you’re inspired- when you’re working on a project that is much bigger than yourself, you need to put that before your own inspiration. 

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V: What would be your advice to new artists to stop getting burnt out when working to a deadline? How to you keep the creativity flowing?

P: When I first started out, I would usually just doodle, and that’s where I did a lot of my growing. What worked for me, was studying other artists I really liked the work of. Years and years ago I came across some fan art for one of my favourite shows, and just started copying their style, because I loved their art. I gradually got better and better, because I was studying, but it was something I enjoyed studying. Obviously this only went so far- I found myself thinking that I didn’t need to study anatomy, because I had already got it. I now realize that made me look like a fool, because you need to study something in the 3D to properly translate it to the 2D. I started taking life drawing lessons, and still to this day take them too. Always try to be improving yourself, once you’ve learnt something, you can then break the rules too, which is such a lovely milestone to come to.  When you start to see your past mistakes, that’s when you know you’ve become a better artist.

V: Your work features a lot of people other than cis, able-bodied, white people, and it’s so great to see such intersectional artwork. What are your inspirations for creating such diversity in your characters?

P: I’m a massive believer that if your feminism isn’t intersectional, it isn’t feminism. If you’re not including all kinds of women, disabled people, or trans people, it’s not feminism. I’m transgender, I’m non-binary and I use they/them pronouns, and I’ve always been very outspoken about that in order to demand respect. I have a character called Jules, who when I was younger was very much a mirror of myself and who I wanted to be, and he’s really androgynous. He’s actually his own character now, and I draw him every so often. He was born out of my own gender and sexuality questioning, so I like to draw characters that aren’t similar to myself, because other wise I wouldn’t be challenging myself as an artist. I live in Birmingham in the UK, so it wouldn’t occur to me to not draw people of diversity, because I grew up surrounded by so many different people. In school I grew up around people of different races and religions, so if you’re not drawing the people around you, you’re not representing them. I obviously still have some learning to do about racism, and ableism, and we have to find out our own information on topics like that. I constantly have to educate people on what non-binary is, or what transgender is. It comes along in leaps and strides, and sometimes it doesn’t. I see people saying that, for example, they can’t draw fat people, because it’s too hard- but it’s really not, it’s exactly the same as learning to draw anyone else. Everyone needs to be engaging with intersectionality, because we are all linked with it. ahahahahahaha

V: How has drawing people other than cis, able-bodied and white been received by your colleagues and lecturers? 

P: I’ve had a couple of occasions where teachers or fellow students don’t seem to connect with my work. A lot of the time, my main experience is with being trans. I’m completely out at university, and have been for a while. In the first few weeks of university they had my legal name on the registers, even though my preferred name is different. I wouldn’t respond to my legal name being called out, and would be marked absent, which was a huge problem academically. Another time, we had to choose a clip to animate a lip-synch to. The clip that I chose was with two voices, one being a higher pitch and one being a lower pitch, and I decided to do it with two girlfriends, with one being a trans woman. In my head, she suited the lower voice, so I put her to lip-synch with that voice, and everyone misgendered my character! Obviously in that situation no one was getting hurt, but it was very odd to have to deal with that. 15

V: What would be your advice to those who find themselves in similar situations? 

P:If anyone ever finds themselves in that situation where someone demands information, or just doesn’t understand, you are never obliged to educate anyone. If you want to give them a whole detailed run down of your subject, or who you are- go right ahead! However, you do not have to do that if you don’t want to. Hopefully in the near future, people will be educated on a base level on subjects like that, so we won’t be put into that sort of situation. If I’m not in the mood to go into details, I tell people to Google it! We have a wealth of information in our pockets all the time, and you never asked to be put in the role of a teacher. Obviously I’m speaking from a place of privilege, I’m a white person and a trans person that is generally at lower risk in the community, unlike my trans sisters or some of my other trans friends, and that’s always important to keep in mind. But keep in mind that you don’t represent everyone, and everyone’s experiences are totally different. 

V: Do you think everyone can use art as a therapeutic activity? 

P: When you’re frustrated or annoyed or sad, I always feel  a little better when I’m doing some art, even if it’s really shit! Communicating your feelings in a way other than just to yourself is a really healthy way to process your feelings. 

V: If someone booked you as an artist, and would give you unlimited money, and allowed you to do any project you wanted, what would it be?

P: I have a lot of projects living in the back of my head that I would love to make a reality! I have an idea for a video game where the protagonist is deaf, and you have to navigate the world using vibrations and very small amounts of clues- but I have lots of little ideas, that I’m constantly adding to. My character I mentioned previously, Jules, has an entire expanded universe and world that links with him and his best friend Adam. That story has been with me ever since my teens, and it’s been developing and growing ever since I’ve been developing and growing. I would love to make that a reality, but I would never trust anyone else with it, because they wouldn’t understand and connect with the characters the same way that I do! I would love to make a fun, experimental animated series for young adults involving all these characters that I’ve been developing for years. I’ve been trying to write a novel for years, but I never have time. So, if anyone wants to give me lots of money and time, I have about ten years of plot living in my brain- hit me up! 3

V: Can everyone be an artist?

P: I think everyone is an artist in their own little way. It might not be drawing a beautiful portrait, but it could be a beautiful singing voice or being great at drumming. There are a lot of ways to create art. Talent doesn’t get you that far- talent will get you a failed audition and a coffee cup full of tears! The idea isn’t to have talent and just see how it goes, it’s about working hard and putting heart into everything you do! Even if it a tiny thing, that’s more than you would’ve made if you just sat there and been sad (not that you can’t just have a self-pity day), but after that’s done, I pick myself up, take a deep breath and pick up the pencil again! 

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Check out Pippin Lee Truman’s portfolio here!

Please contact leeleetruman@gmail.com for information on artwork or commission enquiries.

Transition

God, I hate change. There is just something inside of me that clenches whenever the word is mentioned. I get this mental image of myself as a small child throwing myself face down on the carpet, beating my fists and screaming. And yet, there is an equal part of myself that firmly believes that change is good for me, that it is life-affirming and somehow some mystical change will propel my life forward, making it all so much better.

A New Year, in this respect, always sort of tickles me. We talk so much about change: throughout the year we seek to change policies, politics, societal attitudes, educational curriculums, equality laws, fantastical big advancements that could make huge strides for humanity around us, and yet, come January 1st, we all keep saying the same old things. Cliches about gym memberships, new diets, old diets, new ways to save money are often resolutions we made many years ago and yet still haven’t found a way to actually include in our regular lives. Because we really don’t change too much, in either our actions or our words. And that’s okay. Of course, there are always exceptions to the rule and some people thrive on change – living through one new adventure to the next, trying one craze after another, that is what works best. Perhaps in this circumstance, their change would be to just do one thing and not change. Patterns, no matter how they are shaped, are comfortable. Change is not.

The only thing I find comfort in is the cliche of change. I find hope in the changes we all keep striving for on a daily basis and I find camaraderie in the fresh turn of a New Year, a calendar we have constructed to make sense of our world, a return or sorts to a new beginning of yet another spin around the sun. There is something truly special in a universal recognition of the one day of the year signaling a change for the whole world, on a date that itself never changes. We may change how we look, how we act, how we speak and how we smell, but we shall consistently be a sum of our parts. We can change, but never too much.

However, I worry that our desire and drive for change can leave us feeling uninspired and dissatisfied with the lives we currently lead. That we may be holding ourselves back by not letting go of past selves, past loves, past habits that were as comfortable as your grandmother’s old armchair. That when we focus on what we don’t have yet (equal pay), or what we could lose (LGBTQ rights), we lose sight of the great gains we have made (same-sex marriage) and we don’t necessarily recognize the great achievements we have accomplished. The ideal would be to do both, to celebrate our accomplishments as stepping stones towards our almighty goals. But I wonder if that feels a little too farfetched at the moment because as a society, the journey ahead of us is told to be so treacherous, so full of land mines and probable calamity that it can make our great achievements seem small. Those landmark historical arguments we won, that at the time felt like we’d surmounted Everest, can feel like molehills in comparison. And that feeling of dissatisfaction, of reviewing something you were so proud of and realizing you’ve got to keep doing it every day, all day, can push you to the point of despair. If we’re dissatisfied personally, we’re often dissatisfied politically; but it’s very hard to fight either when you’re holding this hurt deep within your person. How do we fight every day, all day, if we don’t feel that our fight has been good enough? And we’re wrong; our fight has been fantastic, but it’s hard and that light at the end of the tunnel keeps dancing just a little bit further on.

I still struggle with change. I might charge into battle tomorrow morning demanding that men’s mental health needs to be championed, that consent from all parties irrespective of gender needs to be respected and that I consider it my basic human right to be able to walk home without feeling afraid – gigantic changes I want to happen in society and the way we educate ourselves, as well as others . Yet, the thought of replacing my car from one that’s currently hemorrhaging money to one that isn’t  – a clear change that makes life better for me – makes me want to vomit. I like my routine, and I like what I know. I like my comfort zone, and whilst I want something better and bigger for society at large, the change required to make my comfort zone more comfortable in the long-run feels too big. I think it’s because it’s so personal, and it’s on me; changing my car isn’t a decision I can ask a focus group to make for me. I wonder too where this fits with self-care, and the aversions we can feel to self-care that are often based on self-worth, only we don’t wish to acknowledge it. At this point in my life, driving a very nice ‘old banger’ fits my identity. It’s my first car, the one I’ve driven down windy country lanes, since I was eighteen, from high school to university to postgrad. It’s carried me through three different cities and three different eras of my life. While everything else around me has changed, my car hasn’t. I wonder if I feel that maybe I don’t deserve that change yet; if I swap it for a younger, sportier model, something that feels slightly more grown-up and dependable, do I think I can also make that leap in my feelings of self-worth? Do I deserve this change? Have I earned it? Can I live up to it?

Change is a wonderful equalizer, if not for the strong feelings it seems to stir and the decisions it seems to enforce upon us. We must either stand against the tide or bow to it. Personally and politically, 2017 signifies a great deal of tension and shift. Personally, I will finally finish my seven-year university career in May. Politically, the UK should be exiting the EU this year and with the uncertainties of Scottish Parliament being willing to move with this, my Scottish home could feel compromised. My passport will become something of a museum relic, with the title of ‘European Union’ no longer valid. I can’t even begin to contemplate America’s next hundred days. The changes that will applied due to democracy at home and in my second home (my treasured academic home) will bring personal and political changes to everyone. All identities (and self-worth) may feel shifted, altered or even unhinged by this change.

When I first began working on this theme of change, it was December and, trying to convince myself that upgrading my car would be a good thing, I began to believe that change was the thing that would save the world – that a Trump Presidency and Brexit would be horrific, but that their “change” could be the catalyst to make us shout louder, to reassess what it is that we want and what exactly we’re fighting for. That the change could be the making of us. As I struggle to remember how the buttons differ in my new car, and consistently stall the start/stop transmission, I’m also aware of how much of a fight one has to make to transition. How it’s a constant, daily thought pattern that must be almost reprogrammed. And I think of the Women’s Marches all over the world and hope that we can fly our flags and wave our banners daily, no matter how tiring and frustrating it may feel.

As we enter 2017, uncertain of just how much the world could change in the next hundred minutes, never mind the next hundred days, I wonder how we might transition next.

 

Bookworm – Free Desktop Wallpaper!

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Well done everyone, you survived January! Enjoy this desktop wallpaper on us. Scroll down to see it available in different resolutions, or click here to buy it as a print!

 

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We See Right Through You, Betsy

In a move that shocked literally no one, The U.S. Senate has confirmed Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education. For the first time in U.S. history, the vote was split 50/50, and our ever-so-loving Vice President Pence, in an unprecedented vote, leaned in favor of DeVos to break the tie. Even with every Democrat in Senate against her, DeVos managed to squeak by her confirmation. In what is sure to be the grossest failure of the American education system, all but two Senate Republicans voted “yes” for DeVos.

As an adult who went through the public school system, my heart aches at the decision. I’m disappointed that the next generation’s future was sold for such a low price. I’m angry that another wealthy white person can be blatantly unqualified for a position and still be appointed anyway. But mostly, I’m terrified for parents nationwide who have to navigate their children through a world that doesn’t care about their education.

From kindergarten through my senior year, I always had new textbooks, fine literature and informative health classes. We had a free lunch program and decent food. Our teams always had fairly new uniforms and the gym classes had enough equipment for every student. My high school covered the cost for the students to take Advanced Placement tests. Our International Baccalaureate program sent students to Denmark. It was always evident that we were some of the lucky ones.

When DeVos was asked if she would pressure our public schools to privatize or if she would cut funding to public schools, she replied, “I look forward, if confirmed, to working with you to talk about how we address the needs of all parents and all students.” It sounded like a vague answer from someone who is being appointed to a position she has no idea about, likely because she paid her way to get there. This is a pivot, to distract from her lack of knowledge and make the public feel confident that she’s working with us, not against us, even though she doesn’t know how to do the work itself.betsy3

DeVos’ lack of experience in public school systems directly affects how efficiently she can help the majority of our country’s education.  She never went to public school and would rather see private schools prosper (with taxpayer money) – schools that do not have to abide by state regulations. Schools that can teach inaccuracies, using fear mongering and hatred. With her push for “school choice,” her attempt to strengthen the public school system is a thinly veiled ploy to indoctrinate religion into classrooms with taxpayer money. What was once a school will now become a profit center for America’s children.

I will not let this happen.

I’m a Sunday Hebrew school teacher and a child care provider. I’ve made lunches, helped with homework, crafted lesson plans, sat through hours of parent-teacher conferences, and hoped to God every day that my kids didn’t have to experience gun violence while trying to learn. I’ve loved and nurtured children who are protected by the IDEA legislation, which allows children with disabilities to receive a proper education. During DeVos’ confirmation hearing, she admitted that she may have been confused, indicating that she didn’t seem to know that IDEA was a federal law.

When it comes to gun control, DeVos also made a strong reach during that same hearing, citing an example of a school in Wyoming, where she “would imagine there’s probably a gun in the school to protect from potential grizzlies.” Trump has signaled that he thinks that some teachers can be trained to carry guns in school. DeVos supports Trump’s stance, while also exclaiming, “My heart bleeds and is broken for those families that have lost any individual due to gun violence.” In the time since this hearing, the US House of Representatives has voted to scrap a regulation intended to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill, said the BBC. This decision makes gun safety less possible by adding leniency to the vetting process for gun owners.

As we’ve seen in many shootings, mental illness has become a strong defense for the perpetrators. Relaxing the laws to protect the mentally ill from harming themselves won’t help trained gun people better protect children from school shootings. This is a false dichotomy. It has the potential to cause more gun violence, and allows more access to guns, by people who are unsafe and untrained. DeVos has not taken a clear stance on whether she will stand for or against gun control in an effort to put an end to gun violence in schools.

As a former college student, I have seen schools fail young women who have reported sexual assault on their campuses. I have watched rapists graduate with zero marks on their record. I went to college during Title IX and still never felt safe. When DeVos was approached with this topic, she wasn’t even able to formulate a coherent answer. There should be no discussion over the safety of college students, but she couldn’t even confirm her support towards it. She did acknowledge that rape of any kind is wrong, but wouldn’t take a strong stance on further work to prevent rapists from assaulting people.

So, I will be watching you, Ms. DeVos. We’ve seen the buyout money, we’ve seen you make a fool of yourself in front of your peers. Your mission to “advance God’s kingdom” will end in ruining sex education and miseducating youth by being unsafe with their bodies. Teen pregnancy rates have dropped significantly in the last two decades, but does that matter to you? The vouchers you so fully support will further segregate our schools, leaving children of color and poor children at a severe disadvantage.

We know you aren’t even remotely qualified to hold this position.

This is not over. We are watching.

And to the citizens of the United States: Now is the time to make sure you vote “yes” for your school district’s budget. Attend public board meetings and find out what is going on districtwide. Invest in our future, since our government clearly has no intentions of doing so.

Now is Time to Follow Scientists and Science Journalists on Twitter

Maya Angelou once said, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.”

 

President-Elect Donald Trump has shown that he has a quite tenuous grasp on science, at best, and that his policies will be, at best, hostile towards research and innovation. Alas, Trump offered little in the way of a policy platform throughout his campaign, so we’re left playing catch-up to understand a Trump presidency’s impact on science. That said, what we do know of Trump’s take is alarming.

 

Trump believes climate change is a Chinese hoax, tweeting in November 2012: “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.”

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In his hallmark tradition of international affronts, Trump has also threatened to “cancel” (withdraw from) the Paris climate agreement.

 

More recently, in September of this year, Trump selected Myron Ebell, a well-known climate skeptic, to lead his EPA transition.

 

Trump believes the United States does not have funding for space research, because we have potholes to repair. He also believes in privatizing space exploration. In November 2015, Trump was at a “Politics and Eggs” event in Manchester, New Hampshire when a 10-year-old asked him about space. Trump said, “Right now, we have bigger problems—you understand that? We’ve got to fix our potholes. You know, we don’t exactly have a lot of money.” He continued, saying that privatization of space is “great” and “maybe even better” than government space exploration.

 

Trump’s space policy adviser Bob Walker recently suggested in an interview with The Guardian that he intends to cut budgets for NASA’s “Earth-centric science.” NASA’s Earth Science Division, which will receive an estimated $2 billion (out of a total $19 billion) in funding for the fiscal year 2017, is dedicated to researching things like hazards, weather forecasting, and climate change. An article on Vox details the complexities of such a budget slash.

 

While Trump has thus far publicly made climate change and space the primary targets of his ineptitude, he has revealed a gross (and now empowered) lack of understanding in a wide-ranging set of areas, including the internet, mental health, and water.

 

Now for the reason I’m writing this article. This month, the House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space, and Technology’s official account tweeted a Breitbart climate-change-denying article.

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As in the past, but perhaps now more than ever, it is up to scientists and science journalists to combat the barrage of scientific misinformation—and up to us to stay woke. So, if you haven’t already, now is the time to follow these people* on Twitter.

 

* This list includes primarily environmental and space scientists and reporters.

 

 

  • @AstroKatie: Katie Mack is a theoretical astrophysicist at Melbourne University and a passionate science communicator. Mack’s work focuses on finding new ways to learn about the early universe and fundamental physics via astronomical observation.

 

  • @PlanetDr: Sarah Hörst is an assistant professor of planetary science at Johns Hopkins University. Her work focuses on the formation and composition of planetary atmospheric hazes.

 

  • @edyong209: Ed Yong is a science writer at The Atlantic. Yong recently authored I Contain Multitudes, a New York Times best-selling book examining the microbiome. Yong is also the author of the National Geographic blog, Not Exactly Rocket Science.

 

  • @mdichristina: Mariette DiChristina is the editor-in-chief and senior vice president of Scientific American. Her work can be found here.

 

  • @Rocket_Woman1: Vinita Marwaha Madill is a space operations engineer at the European Space Agency, as well as an advocate for women in STEM. At the ESA, she works on future human spaceflight projects. She is also the founder of Rocket Women.

 

  • @scicurious: Bethany Brookshire is a staff education writer at Science News for Students. Her work can be found here.

 

  • @mcnees: Robert McNees is an associate professor of physics at Loyola University Chicago. His research focuses on general relativity, cosmology, string theory, and quantum field theory.

 

 

  • @am_anatiala: Asia Murphy is a PhD student in ecology at Penn State. She runs the website Anati’ala, which is Malagasy for “inside the forest,” where she communicates science and conservation information for lay audiences.

 

  • @elakdawalla: Emily Lakdawalla is the senior editor at The Planetary Society, and an advocate of exploration of all the worlds of our solar system. She uses the Planetary Society blog to write space news, explain planetary science, and share beautiful photos.

 

  • @TucsonPeck: Jonathan Overpeck is a professor of geosciences and director of the Institute of the Environment at the University of Arizona. Overpeck is interested in interactions among climate, ice sheets, and sea level, as well as in interactions between climate and ecosystems. He also collaborates in environmental law. Full disclosure: I am employed by the University of Arizona.

 

 

  • @cragcrest: Christie Aschwanden is the lead writer for science at FiveThirtyEight and a health columnist for The Washington Post. She blogs about science at The Last Word on Nothing.

 

  • @aaronecarroll: Aaron Carroll is a health services researcher, and contributor to The New York Times. Carroll is editor-in-chief of The Incidental Economist, a health services research blog.

 

  • @GrrlScientist: “GrrlScientist” is the pseudonym of the evolutionary ecologist and ornithologist who writes about science for Forbes. Her work can be found here.

 

  • @chriscmooney: Chris Mooney is an energy and environment writer at The Washington Post. His work can be found here.

 

  • @LeeBillings: Lee Billings is a science journalist covering space and physics for Scientific American. His book, Five Billion Years of Solitude, chronicles the scientific quest to discover other Earth-like planets elsewhere in the universe. His work can be found here.

 

  • @laurahelmuth: Laura Helmuth is the health, science, and environment editor at The Washington Post.

 

  • @borenbears: Seth Borenstein is a science writer for the Associated Press, covering climate, astronomy, and more. His work can be found here.

 

  • @ivanoransky: Ivan Oransky is the vice president and global editorial director of MedPage Today. Oranksy is also a columnist for STAT, and the co-founder of Retraction Watch, a website dedicated to tracking scientific retractions. Oransky teaches medical journalism at New York University’s Carter Journalism Institute, as a distinguished writer in residence.

 

  • @celiadugger: Celia Dugger is the science editor at The New York Times. Her work, focused on global health and development, can be found here.

Word Current: Genderqueer

 Genderqueer: Of, relating to, or being a person whose gender identity cannot be categorized as solely male or female.
The top definition of genderqueer on urbandictionary.com states, “Genderqueer is most commonly used to describe a person who feels that his/her gender identity does not fit into the socially constructed “norms” associated with his/her biological sex. Genderqueer is an identity that falls anywhere between man/boy/male and woman/girl/female on the spectrum of gender identities.” This definition from 2004 seems outdated, especially with the lack of gender neutral pronouns. It seems to go into much more detail about identities associated with and used interchangeably with genderqueer. More current definitions include, “While genderqueer could be an identity in itself, some common genders that fall under the genderqueer umbrella are: agender, bigender, genderfluid, androgyne, ambigender and neutrois.”

As a result of prolific feminist authors such as Judith Butler (well known for her gender commentary in “Gender Trouble” from 1990), ‘genderqueer ‘became a term used within the LGBTQ+ lexicon in the late 90’s. This came from frustration of the community at the general lack of non-binary terms relating to expression of gender and its fluidity. However, before this, it was sometimes used within the drag community as a means of taking back gender identity, rather than using labels given to them by others. Around this time, genderqueer had a slightly different definition – mainly someone who expressed their gender “queerly”, or anything other than typically feminine or masculine. The use of the suffix “queer” was pushed because it was initially used as a pejorative –  the community decided to own the label. 

In the late 90’s, there was a rise in criticism of genderqueer falling under the transgender umbrella. Transgender activist, Leslie Feinburg, fiercely campaigned to have everything other than cisgender beneath the transgender label. However, individuals who identified as genderqueer argued that whilst some genderqueer folks might fit into the trans label, there was a portion of the community who used genderqueer as a form of gender expression. This second group argued that due to the confusion between the terms, transgender and transsexual, they wanted a label that was completely separate from the transgender umbrella.

gender1Genderqueer became more frequent used when gender activist and founder of Gender Public Advocacy Coalition (GenderPAC), Riki Anne Wilchins, adopted the label for themselves and urged others to consider it too. It was also around this time that genderqueer folks quickly became absorbed into the last efforts of the Riot Grrrl movement, with newsletters circulating the community urging genderqueer people to network with each other. However, this movement seemed to exclusively focus on people who were assigned as female at birth and who tended to express masculine qualities, rather than genderqueer people from all over the spectrum.

Enter the 2000’s, where the number of people who identified as genderqueer was growing. Organizations and charities were also trying to raise awareness of the label, as well as the issues genderqueer people faced. In 2001, we saw the launch of The United Genders Of The Universe organization, whose aim was to be “the only all-ages genderqueer support group, open to everyone who views gender as having more than two options.” Around this time “The Gender Neutral Issue” was published by the McGill Tribune in 2003, which emphasized the ongoing case to have gender neutral bathrooms across the globe.

Nowadays, we have people who are much more public about identifying as genderqueer and other gender identities, such as Miley Cyrus and Ruby Rose, who stated, “I feel very gender fluid and feel more like I wake up everyday gender neutral”. Rose is known for their androgynous looks and challenging gender stereotypes by stepping outside the gender binary.

In recent years, genderqueer has become a much more openly used term within the LGBTQ+ community. There is now a symbol and a flag designed explicitly for the gender label. With the rise in awareness of gender identities outside the gender binary, we are slowly but surely starting to see genderqueer and similar labels being acknowledged in public. Alan Cumming, who frequently uses inclusive terms and pronouns even said at the Tony Awards, “Good evening ladies and gentlemen, and those of you who don’t identify as either.” Even though this inclusive wording is still less frequently used in society, it is slowly, but surely on the rise.

White Out: How Disney Discontinued Their Discussion on Race

I was recently listening to one of my new favorite podcasts, Another Round, and they started reminiscing about how The Proud Family was such a solid show for its time.

(Side note: if you don’t already listen to Another Round, you should check it out! Tracy and Heben will fill your earbuds with contagious laughter, as well as smart critiques revolving around race, gender, pop culture and media).

The Proud Family was a really empowering show, but thinking about it now, back when I was little and didn’t know anything about feminism, I realize that I took shows like this for granted. I started thinking more about the shows and the made-for-tv movies the Disney Channel had created when I was growing up. Many of these were empowering and diverse in a way that you just don’t see in mainstream media today. One movie that will always stand out in my memory is one called The Color of Friendship.

Set in 1977, the movie is loosely based on the short story “Simunye” by Piper Dellums, written about real events that occurred during apartheid South Africa. The movie portrays the story of how Mahree Bok, a white South African, and Piper, a black American from DC, form a strong bond despite their differences. Mahree decides to study abroad for a year but is met with surprise when she arrives in DC, as she is expecting to stay with a white family, while Piper’s family, the Dellums, who are black, expected to have a black student staying with them.

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Mahree arrives with a lot of assumptions and stereotypical views, mostly from her upbringing. She and her family benefit from the apartheid as a wealthy white family in South Africa. When Mahree arrives in the US, both she and Piper are taken aback by the disparity between their cultural norms and their expectations. Mahree doesn’t understand that there can be black politicians and Piper doesn’t understand that there are white South Africans.

After activist Steve Biko is killed, protests break out all over the world. Mahree makes an ignorant comment about Biko’s death and Piper rips her a new one, explaining how she has no idea of the racial struggle happening in South Africa. Piper’s father Ron, who is a very outspoken opponent of the apartheid, teaches Mahree about the book Roots. Both girls learn to put their judgements aside and figure out how to bridge the gap between them. Together, the Dellums help Mahree understand the damaging aspects of the apartheid. One of my favorite scenes is when Mahree tells Ron a story that her maid Flora told her, about a weaver bird which built communal nests that many other birds lived in, symbolizing the possibility of racial harmony. In the end, Mahree returns home, understanding the world a little better. She even sews a flag inside her jacket, showing it to Flora, as a way of rebelling against her family.

In terms of tv shows on Disney Channel, The Proud Family was one of the most empowering ones. Each character has a personality and there are few (if any) racially based stereotypes. If you didn’t grow up watching this show, it premiered in 2001 and tells the story of teenager Penny Proud, along with all the funny, difficult moments that come with trying to find her independence. Penny is a normal girl with a diverse set of friends, like Dijonay, Sticky, LaCienega, and Zoey (one of the few white people in the show). She comes from a middle class family and often has to take care of her twin siblings.

Shout out to Suga Mama, who is the most bad-ass grandma ever. She watches wrestling and is all about attracting the men, which defies ageist ideas about elderly ladies being less sexual than young women. There’s something for everyone in this show.

The Prouds star in ``The Proud Family'' Thursday on Family Channel.

One of the most personally memorable episodes was the one called, “She’s Got Game. ” During a game of boys vs girls football, Penny’s friend Frankie bets the girls can’t win. When Penny does, he doesn’t take it well. The next day, he teases Penny, saying he could have beat her if he wanted to. Feeling challenged, Penny decides to try out for the football team but isn’t allowed because she’s a girl. When Penny shows up for try outs, the coach is refuses to let her on the field, calling her “baby doll” and telling her to “go home and bake a cake.” Penny convinces him to let her try and she catches every throw (or something like that – I know nothing about football). However, at the end of the practice, the coach still won’t let her be on the team. Frankie approaches her and tells her to just accept it, since “girls can’t play.” Then he explains how he’s glad she didn’t make it since he wants to take her to homecoming and it would be “weird” to go to homecoming with a teammate.

With some help from Zoey’s lawyer aunt, Penny petitions the school to let her play and her petition is accepted. In her first game, the coach refuses to put her in the game until he is forced to after too many of their players get knocked out. Penny proves that she can play when she gets tackled by almost the entire opposing team, but gets right back up again, then catches ball after ball. In the last few minutes, she’s about to score a touchdown, but the ball slips out of her hand, causing them to lose the game. She’s understandably upset, but what’s so rewarding about the episode is that no one blames her for losing because she’s a girl. At the homecoming dance, everyone supports her, even her teammates. Her friend Frankie gets over his sexist ideas and they dance together at homecoming.

Another important episode, called “I Had a Dream” focuses on Black History Month. Penny’s history class is learning about Black History Month and are each assigned someone important to black history.  Penny and many of our classmates don’t see the point of learning about the past. In an effort to make it more interesting, their teacher, Mr Webb has them dress up as their assignment. Penny dresses as Angela Davis, activist, teacher and writer. Big plus, Zoey dresses as Madame Walker, the first black millionaire and inventor of the world’s first hair straightening product. No black face in sight whatsoever.

Penny slips and gets knocked out, then is transported back to the year 1955. She comes face-to-face with segregation and a time before Black History Month, before many inventions were created (like dishwashers), as well as a time before many black people got recognition for their inventions, such as Garrett Morgan, inventor of the traffic light. She sees her fellow black classmates placed at the black of the classroom with textbooks that are falling apart. Her friend Zoey refuses to talk to her because white kids and black kids “can’t be friends.” The white janitor and Mr. Webb (a black man) have swapped places. When Penny tries to explain that Mr. Webb was their teacher, the idea of a black teacher is laughed at. Penny manages to unite her fellow classmates and defy racial barriers. She gets up in front of the press, her fellow students, her family and friends, repeating Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous speech, “I Had a Dream.” She realizes how important this was to the civil rights movement. Penny comes to appreciate why the past is so important to understand and how it’s relevant to her present life. She learns, as her teacher says, that a person who doesn’t understand their past, doesn’t have a future.

The reason shows and movies like are so important is because when you’re growing up, the media you consume  makes you reflect on yourself and others (whether subconsciously or not). The Proud Family, The Color of Friendship, and other series or movies like these show young people of color that they should be treated equally to white people, their entire race should not stereotyped in media. Yes, they are black, but they are so much more than that. By showing intelligent black figures in media, it empowers black teenagers. There’s a lot of good media out today combating racial prejudices, yet in a way, media for children and teenagers isn’t as varied and outspoken as channels like Disney used to be. We need more movies that talk about important issues like race, apartheids and gender discrimination. We can all stand to learn something from them.

Scanning through a list of current Disney shows, the lack of diversity is almost painful. There’s Girl Meets World, a throwback to Boy Meets World. Though it was one of my faves, it had a predominately white cast, until Angela entered the show in season five. Girl Meets World seems to following the same trend.

Jesse is a about a small town Texas girl who moves to New York City to try to become an actress, but ends up being a nanny instead to a wealthy family. The mother, Christina, is a supermodel and her husband is a movie director. They have four children: Emma, Luke, Ravi and Zuri. Zuri is adopted from Uganda and is sweet, but sometimes very sarcastic. Luke is a white boy adopted from Michigan. He’s a good athlete but doesn’t get good grades. Ravi is a fifteen year old boy from India who was also adopted by the Ross family. Hindi is his primary language but he can also speak English. So, basically if Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt had a Disney show. Even though it has some secondary characters of color, the main protagonist is still a white girl. This is yet another example of how people of color, whether children or adults, are only used in media to support and empower the main role, often played by a white person. Roles for people of color are used to push the plot forward, but are no more than that. By having a rich white family adopt children from places like Uganda and India, it screams, “Look at us, we’re so charitable, we’re ‘helping’ people who aren’t white.”

The only potential for diversity that I found was a show called K.C. Undercover, starring Zendaya, who is currently one of the most famous black female teenagers in the media and recently appeared in Beyoncé’s Lemonade visual album. Zendaya has been in the spotlight for a while.  In addition to appearing in Lemonade and writing a book about tween style, she is also an ambassador for Convoy of Hope, a nonprofit organization that works on children’s feeding initiatives, community outreach and disaster response. Talk about a great teen role model. She was also in another Disney show previously from 2010 to 2013 called Shake It Up. K.C. Undercover is about K.C., a  high school student who is training to be a spy. She is a math genius who discovers her parents are undercover spies and is recruited to become one as well.

The family works together to continuously fight against a criminal organization called The Other Side. Besides being a spy, K.C. is a basketball player and skilled in karate. Her brother Ernie is a computer genius, who is often ignored by his parents. It’s refreshing to see a show for younger audiences that features black families that are intelligent and play powerful roles. Another bonus is K.C.’s ex-boyfriend Brett, who is an enemy spy, played by Asian-American actor, Ross Butler. Interracial topics are another issue that doesn’t get explored enough in media. It’s nice to see a show that features this. The fact that they’re enemies has a lot of potential. Here’s hoping Disney uses it.  

Lastly, there’s A.N.T Farm, a show about Chyna Parks, an 11-year old musical prodigy who has just become the newest A.N.T, a high school program in California for gifted students. This is really hopeful, as the star of the show Chyna, is played by 18-year-old African-American, China Anne McClain. Her best friend in the show, Olive, has an eidetic memory, meaning she can remember images, sounds or objects after only a few seconds of exposure. Her other friends include Fletcher Quimby (weirdest name ever) who in love with her (more interracial relationships!) Other stars include Gibson, the counselor, tutor and therapist at A.N.T. Farm, who is a strange, goofy guy that isn’t very bright. The “it” girl (is that what kids are calling them these days?) is Lexi Reed who considers the A.N.Ts students to be immature.

Disney seems to have gone backwards in many ways. There just isn’t the range of shows that I remember growing up with. However, kids and teenagers these days have an advantage I didn’t. In an age where Netflix is producing better shows than cable tv and anyone can become a Youtube star, there’s access to better shows in other places. If you look, you can find media that represents you and makes you feel appreciated and heard. If only channels like Disney was willing to feature more content like this, maybe we would all grow up more aware.

Other 90s/2000s Disney shows and movies worth mentioning are:

  • The Famous Jett Jackson: Jett Jackson is an actor playing a secret agent who decides he wants to move back to North Carolina from LA to have a normal life
  • That’s So Raven: Raven is able to see the future, complications ensue. Need I say more?
  • Up, Up and Away: Scott Marshall is the only one in his family without any superpowers until he has to save his parents’ from an evil genius
  • Gotta Kick It Up!: Starring a pre-Traveling Pants America Ferrera, the movie tells the story of a teacher who helps a group of girls start a dance team at their school
  • Smart Guy: Ten-year-old boy genius Taj Mowhry has skipped six grades and is now in high school, battling the idea that white people are the only one who can be smart