Today in Terrible Parenting

I have nothing to add to Ragen Chastain’s excellent piece on the asshole father who thought it was *hilarious* to write an article fat-shaming his freaking three-year-old, in which he literally said he wanted to kill all fat people, except perhaps incoherent swearing. But you should read the piece, and you should sign the petition.


The Casual Ableism of “Get Therapy”

A while ago on Ask a Manager, a letter writer with PTSD asked about how to get her boss to tone down a Halloween display that was triggering her.  The over-the-top decoration wasn’t a big deal, but the constant spooky soundtrack was a problem.  Not just spooky music, but screams and other sounds suggesting people or animals being horribly harmed.

There were lots of useful suggestions, but also at least one impressively patronizing comment. The commenter first expressed that he’d have trouble replying with a straight face if a grown woman was scared of a little spooky music, since children are fine with it. And he suggested that she get therapy.

After I finished swearing under my breath, I realized how much casual ableism is packed into those two little words.

First, there’s the condescension. I rather doubt that someone who’s triggered by their work environment every year and who takes the time to write to an advice columnist for suggestions is sitting there going, “Therapy?  What is this ‘therapy’ of which you speak?  I’d better go try that!”  It’s like asking a fat person if they’ve ever heard of diets (with the exception that therapy is way more useful).

But, aside from the attitude of “I must make incredibly basic suggestions that this person surely has never considered,” there’s also the underlying idea that mentally ill people owe it to abled people to never inconvenience them.  Because “get therapy” is presented as an *alternative* to talking to the boss about the decorations.

Even overlooking the fact that therapy is a help rather than a magic cure-all, the idea is still that it’s the responsibility of the person with the mental illness to “get better” completely rather than make the completely reasonable request that their work environment not be filled with screams and maniacal laughter for several days leading up to Halloween.  If the therapy doesn’t work quickly enough, I suppose they’re just supposed to take the time off.  Wait, no, that might inconvenience their coworkers.  Better just suck it up and have multiple panic attacks.  Make sure to hide in the bathroom and panic quietly, so no one is annoyed by any crying or hyperventilating that might occur. But, you know, don’t take too long.  Other people might need to pee.

That’s not to say that therapy isn’t important, or that you shouldn’t do what you can reasonably do on your own before asking for accommodations. But it costs *nothing* to turn the sound off on creepy decorations, or to switch the soundtrack to spooky music without the screams. (I guess it might cost $5 if you don’t have suitable music handy, but a boss this into Halloween probably has 47 covers of Monster Mash as well as every version of Toccata and Fugue in D minor ever recorded.)

It bothers me that people are so cavalier about other people’s suffering that they weigh “Boss gets to celebrate Halloween exactly as he wants” as more important than “Employee’s serious health condition isn’t exacerbated by totally optional and non-work related things.”

Schrodinger’s Closet and the Fuck-It Model of Coming Out

One of the ways in which my experience of being bisexual is different and sometimes weird is that I was already married to a guy by the time I realized I was bi.  This is, of course, more common than you’d think. There are lots of people who figure out their sexuality in their twenties or thirties, or later. And, just because of the size of the dating pool, an awful lot of bi people will end up with someone who is not their gender, having people sort of assume they’re straight.

This makes the whole concept of coming out a little weird for me.  It shouldn’t feel like oversharing to say, “By the way, I’m bi,” but it often does.  Spending more time in LGBTQ spaces has helped with that.  When people are going around the room giving introductions and how they identify is a standard part of that, it’s a lot easier to stand up and say I’m bi.  The fact that I bought a shirt that says “Bisexual and Still Not Into You” also helps.

I’ve reached the point, finally, where pretty much everyone who I feel *needs* to know that I’m bi knows.  My husband knows and is supportive. Ditto for my brother.  My mom knows, and is mostly confused, and we will probably never speak of it again.  A few friends know, especially those who also fall somewhere in the queer universe. My dad doesn’t know, and while that’s sometimes a source of stress, I’ve pretty much accepted it as the status quo.  When I told my mom, she made it a point to keep it from my dad, so I suspect that he’d be weirder about it than she was.

The concept of the closet, at least for me, is complicated. Most of the time I go about my daily life without actually caring whether people know I’m bi, or feeling like I’m hiding something, or worrying what will happen if someone finds out. Even at my pretty conservative workplace, I have at least one non-straight coworker, and people manage to not be assholes to her.

And yet, every once in a while, it hits me.  It’s basically Schrodinger’s closet—simultaneously a closet and an actual room until a thing happens that makes the distinction clear.  Like, for example, the aforementioned t-shirt.  I had ordered it for Pride, but it didn’t arrive in time.  So, when I got it, I wanted to show it off.  I put it on, I agonized a bit about whether some stranger in my pretty red community would give me grief over it, and I ended up changing into something else.  Oh, hey, is that a hanger pressed into my back, and a door a couple inches from my nose?  And, wow, it smells kind of musty in here all of a sudden, doesn’t it?

So, between being pretty much sick of angsting over who to tell how and when and being in a position where I really don’t *want* to be out at work, but it’s not likely to torpedo my career, I’ve come up with the “fuck-it” approach to coming out.  I’m not going to censor myself, or bring it up.  I’m not wearing the bi shirt to the company picnic, but I’m going to wear it to the grocery store, and if I run into a coworker, oh, well.  Likewise, I’m not planning any more big conversations where I tell people I’m bi and try to phrase it perfectly so they don’t freak out on me.  If it comes up in passing, then I’ll roll with it and treat it as the non-issue that it really should be. If someone else wants to make a big deal out of it, that can be their problem.

That’s the theory anyway.  We’ll see how it goes.


Babies and Sleep

I really like to read advice columns, and Carolyn Hax is a good one.  But, there are always going to be answers that I think miss something important.  This is one of those times.  The letter-writer asked if it was possible to have a baby and still get a reasonable amount of sleep. She has “always needed a good night’s sleep to function, at least eight hours but ideally 10.” She hears parents talking about sleep deprivation and is terrified, and hopes maybe they’re exaggerating.  After all, how would they work or care for their kids on no sleep?

Carolyn’s response provides a useful explanation of the sleep habits of babies, and is meant to serve as a wake-up call that, yes, you will be horribly sleep-deprived, but you can deal.

The thing I think she’s missing is that the letter-writer needs an above-average amount of sleep to function.  So, my approach to the letter-writer is more like, “Hi, are you me?”  I also have always needed lots of sleep.  When I’d pull late nights in college, I’d feel like shit the entire next day and maybe get a nap.  Other people seemed to be okay.  And that was when I was 15 years younger, with a functional thyroid.

Today, with several chronic illnesses that drag my energy level down directly *and* contraindicate caffeine, I know I need way more sleep than most people. I’ve given up hobbies because they required too much night driving and I didn’t want to fall asleep on the road. I accept that if I have a late night out, I’m going to feel like crap for a couple days after. And, yeah, the idea of waking up every two hours with a screaming infant terrifies me too.

So, my advice to the letter-writer is a little different.  First, you are probably not going to have multiple sleepless nights in a row, unless something is wrong.  (If the baby has colic, which is a thing that happens, all bets are off.)  Second, you’re not likely to get 8 or ten most nights either, and it’s totally reasonable to be scared about a situation that leaves you unable to function.  When I was trying to get pregnant, I had similar worries.

Obviously, nobody can diagnose anybody with anything through the internet, but needing 8-10 hours of sleep for minimal functionality might be a sign of something medical.  I would define minimal functionality as being able to do your job well, meet the needs of the baby, and drive safely.  Feeling crappy and yawning a lot is one thing; falling asleep at the wheel is another. So, if going under eight hours puts you into “dangerously sleep-deprived” territory, it might be worth seeing a doctor and getting your thyroid, vitamin D levels, and whatnot checked out.

Another thing that might be useful, if you’ve been diligent about getting enough sleep currently, is a little experiment to find out how sleep deprivation affects you. Unfortunately, this only works if you have a free weekend with nothing critical to accomplish during it, and it requires deliberately making yourself feel like crap.  On a Friday night, set the alarm to go off two hours after you go to bed.  When it goes off, get up, putter around for 10 or 20 minutes, go back to bed, and set the alarm for another two hours. Continue through the night and get up at your normal time.  That’s your worst-case scenario, with a brand-new baby.

On Saturday, how do you feel?  Terrible, right?  No surprise there.  But how bad is it?  Can you drink some coffee and shamble through your day?  Would you be safe to drive? Can you accomplish simple household tasks? Granted, if you have a newborn, the housework is less important, but if you’re not awake enough to load the dishwasher, you’re probably not awake enough to make up a bottle or change a diaper. Again, remember this is the brand-new baby level. The experiment isn’t to determine whether you could keep the house clean, work full time, and take care of the baby.  It’s just to determine whether you can safely pull off the bare minimum in the beginning, while you’re home with the baby.

If you can, then that’s good.  You’ve learned that you can handle some level of sleep deprivation and still function.  And remember, you and your husband can take turns getting up with the baby even if you don’t get a night nanny, so even that worst case is not something you have to do every day until the kid sleeps through the night.

If you can’t, then that’s useful information too. What you do about it might depend on how that doctor’s visit went.  If there’s a medical issue, do you want to wait on having kids until that issue is better controlled, if that’s a possibility?  Obviously, it depends on the issue, on how old you are, and on a million other things that only you can weigh.  But it’s an option you have.

Regardless of what medical issues you do or don’t find, it’s good and responsible parenting to make sure that whoever’s responsible for the well-being of a tiny, helpless human is physically and mentally capable of doing so.  So, if you really do need 8 hours of sleep to make that happen, then you really do need 8 hours of sleep to make that happen.  That might mean you need to stay home with the baby longer than you otherwise would, so you can catch naps during the day.  Hiring a night nanny is also a viable plan, and if it’s what you need to do and you can afford it, do it with no guilt or hesitation.

As far as whether parents are exaggerating, I understand why Carolyn gave you some flak for that.  Because most of them aren’t, and sleep deprivation with infants is a real thing.  But, people do like telling war stories, so if someone says they haven’t slept in two straight days, and another parent counters with, “That’s nothing, I haven’t slept all week,” then those individual people probably *are* exaggerating.

But I think it’s more likely that it feels to you like they *must* be exaggerating because you have a different baseline than they do.  Since 7-9 hours is the average requirement for a good night’s sleep, there are people walking around bright-eyed and bushy tailed on seven hours, where you or I would be grumbling and hating life on that much sleep.  Those same people may be tired and reasonably functional on 4 or 5 hours, where you or I should probably not drive.  And people do pull all-nighters and function the next day.  Not necessarily well, and not for multiple days, but it can be done.  By some people, who are not me, and who might not be you. So it’s not that the parent who says they only got three hours of sleep is exaggerating, necessarily, but that you’re picturing how you would be on three hours of sleep, which is very different from how they are.

But the thing that I want to emphasize is that it’s okay to have different physical needs than the people around you.  I don’t know whether you might have some undiagnosed illness, or you just fall toward the edge of the bell curve as far as sleep requirements.  Either of those is nothing to be ashamed of.  We have this weird puritanical streak in our culture that tells us that sleep deprivation is a virtue, and that people who prioritize rest are lazy slackers.  But there is no prize for hurting yourself, or denying yourself help that you need because someone else doesn’t approve.  There is definitely no prize for being unable to care for your baby because you’re exhausted.

The Never-Ending Healthcare Debacle

If you’ve paid attention to political news, you know that Republicans have six days to pass something, *anything* that repeals the ACA under budget reconciliation. The current bill is Graham-Cassidy, which sort of pretends to be a healthcare bill for the next 10 years. It initially cuts funding by a 16%, giving the remainder to states in block grants.  So there’s no pre-existing coverage, no essential requirements that insurance must cover, no *anything* unless states feel like doing so. Even if they want to do everything the ACA did, with less money, they can’t.

Oh, and it “defunds Planned Parenthood.” Because there is no line-item funding for Planned Parenthood, that really means, “prevents people on Medicaid from accessing care (that isn’t abortion, because Federal funds don’t go to abortion) at providers Republicans don’t like, regardless of whether they’re the only provider the patient can afford, or the only provider in the county.”

Unfortunately, none of this actually matters to most Republicans, or to President Trump, for whom pissing on our only Black President’s legacy is all the motivation or justification they need.  Oh, and tax cuts for the rich.

There are, however, a few Republicans opposed. McCain (Arizona) said he would vote against it, and Susan Collins (Maine) said she’s very unlikely to support it, but is waiting for the CBO.  If these are your Senators, call or email them. For John McCain, thank him for opposing it and encourage him not to vote for it.  For Susan Collins, thank her for waiting for the CBO score (because really, why would you vote for a bill before you know what it does?), and encourage her to vote against it.  Especially after Monday when you have specifics in the CBO score to point to.  (Yes, I’m assuming it will be bad because I’ve read up on the bill.  You can’t slash the available budget and the rules that make sure sick people can get insurance and expect puppies and unicorns.)

Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) hasn’t actually said how she’ll vote, so it’s important for Alaskans to call her and ask her to vote against it.  Alaska is one of the states that gets seriously screwed over by this bill, so she’s likely to be against it, but nothing is certain.

If you want to go beyond just calling and emailing (though you should do those too!), Indivisible has a guide for direct action, including sit-ins or die-ins at your Member of Congress’s office. Indivisible has a search for #KillTheBill events near you, so you can coordinate with others.  Tomorrow is the big day of protest for this bill.

So, what can you do if your senators already oppose this cluster? That’s the boat I’m in. My Senators are firmly against Graham-Cassidy, so instead of calling them, I’ve mostly been retweeting them.

You can also support people protesting in other states. It may or may not be helpful to actually show up at those protests. On the plus side, you’re another body, but on the negative, showing up with out-of-state plates gives ammo to the “fake, paid protester” lie. And, really, if you’re not one of a Senator’s constituents, they should be listening to the people they represent rather than you.  That’s not to say don’t go, but take a supporting role for those who live in that state, and be mindful of how you’re perceived. And probably don’t park in front of the Senator’s office with out-of-state plates.

You can also support those protests without going in person.  Kick in money for gas/tolls/public transit.  Provide food and bottled water.  For flashier protests, like die-ins, you can contribute props. Again, there’s the Indivisible  search to find rallies or protests near you.

Another neat tool Indivisible has is Calls to Kill Trumpcare. You call people in targeted red states and ask *them* to call their senators. The tool even lets you put them through to their Senators right then & there.

If this post inspires you to take any action—big or small—against the latest incarnation of Trumpcare, I’d love to hear how it went in the comments.

Being Principled without Being a Sucker, Part 2: Trigger Warnings

In my last post, I talked about the way white supremacists exploit the idea of free speech in order to do violence, and how that ties into the general idea that manipulative people will exploit whatever principles you hold to get what they want.

Since trigger warnings, and mental health accommodations in general, are an issue I’m pretty passionate about, it occurs to me that all the hand-wringing about trigger warnings relates to this.  While the people ardently defending the free-speech rights of Nazis are ignoring the fact that the principle of free speech can be weaponized, the folks wringing their hands about trigger warnings seem to focus *solely* on how they could be twisted and misused.

“We shouldn’t expose people to traumatic images or stories without their consent,” is a pretty good principle. It’s founded on the concept of consent, it accounts for the fact that mental illness and trauma exist, and it emphasizes respect and kindness.

So, like any other principle, it can be manipulated. People can, potentially, falsely claim triggers they don’t actually have in order to get out of school assignments. Or they can claim to be traumatized in order to shut down discussions.

Those are legitimate issues that should be addressed if you’re a teacher figuring out how to accommodate students’ mental health needs or someone running any kind of online discussion community.


A lot of people immediately jump to “Therefore trigger warnings are bad.” But, again, the fact that manipulative people can twist and misuse something to get what they want, doesn’t make it a bad thing. They can do it with free speech, after all.

The fact that some students will make up outrageous lies to get out of work is pretty well known.  Grandparents dropping like flies before a big assignment is due is a common trope. And yet, what kind of asshole would a professor be who stated on their syllabus that deaths in the family are no excuse for missing classes or assignment deadlines? Same thing with illness.  Yes, some people will fake sick to get out of work or school, but the solution to that is not to make everyone come in when they’re puking or coughing up a lung.

To me, it’s interesting how “We have to defend the free-speech rights of Nazis!” and “We can’t have trigger warnings because people will abuse them!” are opposite sides of the same coin.  The first is, “This general principle is good, so we just have to accept that people are going to misuse it in ways that could literally destroy our country,” while the second is, “People could misuse this to gain minor competitive advantages, so it must be a horrible principle.”

In both cases, thinking critically about *how* we defend the principle is important. Just having a principle that you’ll give students a heads-up before exposing them to triggering material doesn’t mean they automatically get out of assignments that might be triggering. Some might, if that’s appropriate, but they could do an alternate assignment that addresses related ideas. Others might just need more time or some other minor tweak. For others, the heads-up might be all they need.

Likewise, having a principle that everyone is legally entitled to speak unless they’re defaming someone, shouting fire in a crowded theater, or inciting violence doesn’t require pretending that a group that’s openly planned violence is peaceful. It doesn’t require volunteering to give Nazis a platform, or continuing to employ someone after you find out they’re a member of the KKK.

Stay tuned for Part 3, where I tie in fat acceptance and talk about the principle of body autonomy and diet talk in FA spaces.

Be Principled Without Being a Sucker

I’m still pretty sick over Charlottesville, and right now there’s a lot of argument about the principle of free speech as it applies to white supremacists.

The “Unite the Right” rally was initially moved from downtown Emancipation Park to a larger park outside of downtown for safety reasons, but the ACLU challenged that. On free speech grounds, they made sure that the rally went on as planned. If it had been a peaceful rally, that might have been fine.  But the intent was never a peaceful rally. The heavily armed white supremacist groups surrounded a church, trapping people inside.  They stalked and harassed people. They beat them with pipes, attacked them with torches, and ran over them with a car. Richard Spencer described the rally as “a huge moral victory in terms of the show of force.”

Essentially, a violent white supremacist group conned the ACLU into supporting them with talk of free speech and peaceful assembly. My understanding is that between organizers making violent threats and public discussion of plans to come heavily armed, this should have been apparent to the ACLU. But whether it was or wasn’t, Nazis and the KKK did a bang-up job of using the banner of “free speech” to threaten and assault a lot more people than they would have if their rally had been in the alternate park, which wasn’t in downtown.

The ACLU initially claimed that it was in no way responsible for the violence, but later stated that it would start looking more closely at rallies asking for ACLU support and would not represent protesters who want to carry firearms. This seems pretty reasonable to me. The First Amendment includes a right “to peaceably assemble,” not “to show up better armed than the local police and beat the shit out of counterprotesters.”

It also seems to me to be an indicator of a lot of larger problems. One that’s been discussed a lot is the way Donald Trump is supporting and encouraging racism, but the larger problem I want to talk about is more abstract.  It’s basically this: No principle, no matter how noble, is immune to being abused by manipulative people. Abusers and manipulators of all stripes, from a controlling partner to someone who doesn’t want to pull their weight at work or school to literal Nazis and Klansmen who want to literally murder every Black or Jewish person in the country, are all really good at taking good things and twisting them.

To me, this means two things. First, the fact that something can be abused can’t make it bad, because *everything* can be abused. Secondly, having good principles doesn’t absolve you from being smart and savvy about how you adhere to those principles. If, for example, you work for the ACLU and are asked to defend a rally, do your best to find out whether these are people who want to peacefully express their ideas (good, bad, or genocidal) or a heavily armed mob intent on violence.

Or, to put it in D&D alignment terms, because I’m a geek like that, it’s not enough to just be lawful. Evil people will get your support for their evil by appealing to your lawful principles. If you want to be lawful good or even lawful neutral, you need to think really critically about the motivations of people who are trying to appeal to your principles.