Wednesday, April 29, 2009

A family home evening on sex

I think my last long post either was incomprehensible or was merely too long. Either way, I better move it down the line and post something new.

As a parent I've rarely nailed it but on Monday, during our unconventional Mormon family home evening, I think I did just that.

I'd been stewing (in a good way) about finding a way to open up more honest discussion about sex with our two oldest children, one teen and one soon-to-be teen. While listening to a great new podcast Middlebrow introduced me to (To the best of our knowledge), I heard a short piece on teens from David Bainbridge's A Natural History of Teens. It seemed the perfect little piece to break the ice on the sex discussion.

And it worked. Of course what made the discussion amazing were my two great kids. They were authentic, unembarrassed, forthright. The discussion was great. Our 11-year old daughter, often very quiet, had many specific questions tied to particular experiences with friends. If anyone has ever doubted this, my daughter's questions confirmed that kids are hearing all kinds of things and there is no way parents can hide them from the "evils" of sexuality.

It was one of the moments which represented to me what I always thought parenting could be, what I imagined it might be if I were lucky. Just thinking about it gives me hope in the next generation, in their ability to learn, think, and question.

p.s. my son came home tonight full of vigor since he had questioned his old-school health teacher repeatedly as the teacher tried to present strict gender stereotypes. He said he was shaking but would continue to express his views even if the teacher retaliated--gotta love that kid. He showed me the gender chart--more awful than I could have imagine. One of my favorites which reifies stereotypes I thought were nearly dead:

Males: Has the greater tendency to press the "pedal to the metal"

Females: Has the greater ability to stop the engine before it overheats

Good God almighty! We are still telling women they must be the ones to say no and that men can't control themselves.

And, according to his little chart, men focus on reproductive organs and women focus on the whole person. Please,

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Unwanted disgust

Awhile ago I was working with a student who seems to be transitioning from a man into a woman—I’m not certain. Others clearly have the same questions as I since many people kept staring. At one point another student blatantly continued to stare so I stared back even though “Faith” didn’t seem to notice either of us. It made me angry that the student was staring, even though I knew damn well I would have been sneaking peaks (though probably not staring) at Faith had I been seated where the student was.

After working with “Faith” I must admit that I had a strong desire to wash my hands; kind of perplexing since I’m not very germ wary. I tried to fight the feeling, recognizing it as irrational, but I couldn’t shake it. I gave in and washed my hands even as I was disgusted with myself. Biology or….something, at least, runs deep.

The experience reminds me of Ursula Le Guin’s Sci-Fi novel, Left hand of Darkness, where Genly Ai, an early explorer on Gethen, finds himself overwhelmed on many occasions as he tries to negotiate with the Gethenians who do not have gender as we know it. Instead they are, in some ways, sexless except for a couple of days a month which they call kemmer, where they move towards one gender or the other for mating. Not only does Genly struggle to communicate with the Gethenians because he does not know whether to use tactics for a male or female, but he also, even after a year or so, has a level of abhorrence. Twice he has an opportunity to see kemmer up close and personal and, even, to engage in sex with a Gethenian.

First, on a truck where they are prisoners and naked: a young “girl” is in kemmer and desperately needs to mate (as kemmer is similar to being in heat) but he can’t even look at her: “I saw the girl, a filth, pretty, stupid, weary girl looking up into my face as she talked, smiling timidly, looking for solace . . . The one time any one of them asked anything of me, and I couldn’t’ give it. I got up and went to the window slit as if for air and a look out, and did not come back to my place for a long time” (171).

Second, while crossing Dobrin ice with Estraven, the only true Gethenian friend he has made. They’ve been traveling on the ice for weeks when Estraven enters kemmer. Genly reflects: “We were both silent for a little, and then he looked at me with a direct, gentle gaze. His face in the reddish light was as soft, as vulnerable, as remote as the face of a woman who looks at your out of her thoughts and does not speak.

And I saw then again, and for good, what I had always been afraid to see, and had pretended not to see in him: that he was a woman as well as a man. Any need to explain the sources of that fear vanished with the fear; what I was left with was, at last, acceptance of him as he was. Until then I had rejected him, refused him his own reality. He had been quite right to say that he, the only person on Gethen who trusted me, was the only Gethenian I distrusted. For he was the only one who had entirely accepted me as a human being: who had liked me personally and given me entire personal loyalty, and who therefore had demanded of me an equal degree of recognition, of acceptance. I had not been willing to give it. I had been afraid to give it. I had not wanted to give my trust, my friendship to a man who was a woman, a woman who was a man.” Later Estraven warns Genly not to touch him during the kemmer phase.

I’m not suggesting that Genly should have had sex in either situation but maybe…maybe it could have transcended difference, or maybe, as Genly suggest, it would have merely reminded them of their difference, of their alien natures. More importantly Le Guin’s imaginative “What ifs” concerning gender creates situations where we can more fully explore our utter reliance on strict, clean definitions of gender. I guess this isn’t very surprising—gender is a powerful biological and social construct. But it is, even biologically, to a degree a construct. That is biological gender is not nearly as clear cut as we want it to be and doesn’t necessarily have to mean what we assume it must. Somehow we will need to move beyond this biological response of disgust. Without moving beyond, we will continue to have people, like the man in Lebanon I heard interviewed on NPR who said “I hate gay people; they are disgusting and evil. They will tear down the fabric of our society.”

Generally I don’t see any relation between myself and a someone speaking such vitriolic bullshit but somewhere, deep down in my biology, there is revulsion and disgust I can’t quite come to terms with.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

"Seth is a sexy beast"

I've been working on a post about breasts, but it may be a rhetorical challenge too risky for even Counterintuitive. Instead, on a lighter note (breasts are a serious issue for me), I'm trying to figure out how it is that my I-Pod is named "Seth is a Sexy Beast." Here's how it went down:

1. My son, Seth, got a Nano I-pod from grandma before we really understood I-Pods

2. Said Nano, early on, got mysteriously bent which caused a few minor malfunctions at times

3. Said bent created a plethora of complaints and deep remorse from son

4. Said complaints drove me to distraction

5. A year or so later I purchased a Nano, the new ones which can play videos

6. Said new Nano made son jealous but I didn't care

7. A year later, trying to get some work done (ok maybe I was blogging) and get him to stop bothering me about how he couldn't play videos on his I-Pod, I finally relented: "Yeah, whatever, I will trad you as long as you put my music on yours and you make me an excercise playlist of rockin songs." (I'd yet to make a playlist because I suck and spend most my I-Pod time downloading podcasts)

8. And now I have an I-Pod which is called "Seth is a Sexy Beast"

9. Unforseen benefits of son taking advantage of me: I can see the screen on this I-Pod with my
cycling sun glasses and I can change songs with gloves (most of my I-Pod use occurs with my rear in a cycling seat), neither of which I could do with the newer, "improved" one.

10. I know I could change the name with a click, but I kind of like it, makes me chuckle everytime I see it and it reminds me of how much I really like my son.

Friday, April 10, 2009

The Last Baptism

A year ago I got so stressed about how to handle my youngest son's baptism that I couldn't get to sleep multiple times.

I worked through it which is good since the baptism is tomorrow. I came to terms with the paradox and contradictions with one key insight: I love my son and know he will be comforted by me baptizing him. It's that simple.

Now if I could only find a priesthood manual to check on the wording of the baptismal prayer. Seems I got rid of all those manuals. Lucky I have the Internet.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Taxes done

By the numbers

1300 amount of federal refund (must decrease amount of money coming out)

267 amount owed to state

16 times I praised TurboTax

17 times I uttered "Fuck" under my breadth

1 stamp used

1 envelop used (I no longer understand how these work)

23 times I had to get up a look for some number or form

3 days to complete (not continuous of course)

10 days between completed taxes and actually printing payment coupon and sending in money to the state

26 times I reminded myself to send in state payment before I actually did it

1 utterance of joy--yipeee!!!!

Friday, April 03, 2009

Reading Life

I heard Andrew Solomon interviewed a couple of weeks ago on NPR. The honesty and accuracy by which he discussed depression took me aback. I got to thinking that strangely I have never read any book directly addressing depression. Strange because I use reading to understand myself and what I think. I've read books about just about everything which makes up me and my life. Yet, I've never read anything on depression even though at times I've suffered from depression. So, I ordered his "definitive" book on depression: "The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression." I could do without the "an atlas" in the title and I would rather not know he attended Jesus college (he also graduated from Yale) but I'm going to give it a go. Here's an early passage which draws an insightful connection between love and depression:

"Depression is the flaw in love. To be creatures who love, we must be creatures who can despair at what we lose, and depression is the mechanism of that despair. When it comes, it degrades one's self and ultimately eclipses the capacity to give or receive affection. It is the aloneness within us made manifest, and it destroys not only connection to others but also the ability to be peacefully alone with oneself. Love, though it is no prophylactic against depression, is what cushions the mind and protects it from itself. Medications and psychotherapy can renew that protection, making it easier to love and be loved, and that is why they work. In good spirits, some love themselves and some love others and some love work and some love God: any of these passions can furnish that vital sense of purpose that is the opposite of depression. Love forsakes us from time to time, and we forsake love. In depression, the meaninglessness of every enterprise and every emotion, the meaninglessness of life itself, becomes self-evident. The only feeling left in this loveless state is insignificance."

I want to remember that love "cushions the mind and protects it from itself." I love the mind, the intellect, but the more living I do I'm convinced it needs to be protected against its extremes.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Do you know what girls look like down there?

One post in March? Pathetic! I have reasons but I won't whine here; well, at least not too much.

I meant to blog about this conversation with my youngest (just turned 8) son:

son: Dad, do you know what girls look like down there?

dad: Umm, yeah, umm, why do you ask?

son: (lots of laughing)

dad: umm, what got you thinking about that?

son: her friend (pointing to 11yr old sister) showed me a picture.

dad: oh, really. Umm, what kind of picture?

son: ya know in that one book, that one about girls.

dad: oh (sudden relief) the one about maturation.


son: Dad?

dad: yeah?

son: it was my bestest dream in the world to know what girls looked like down there.

dad: well, I can understand that....