Healthcare through Charity

I have been struggling to talk about the Healthcare Repeal law sputtering its way through Congress. Having kept up with the news, it is hard to find a way to discuss this issue in a way that may shine a light on the insanity of the situation. Today, a poll came out saying that just 17% of people approve of the Senate Healthcare repeal bill. In a normal world, that would spell political doom for the party in power. Instead, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is trying to change the bill enough to have a vote by this Friday.

4 out of 5 people against the bill or don’t know enough about it to support it, it feels like the opinions of the nation is taking a backseat to the pathological need to repeal this legislation by the Republicans. The CBO came out this week and said that 22 million people will lose their insurance, 15 million as soon as next year. It is tough to think of those numbers and not get angry. That is almost the population of Australia, that is 5 times the population of New Zealand. That is nearly 60% of the population of Canada, and about 7% of the United States.

The issue is that even if you are not apart of that 7%, you will feel its effects.

Today, I went to GoFundMe, a website where people can raise money for just about anything. Over the years, I have seen people use the site for trivial things like trips, gym memberships, and computers, as well as important things like recovering from a house fire, or funding school. The big one however, and one that is featured on their site, is Medical need.

From the website:

Even with insurance, medical bills can be a financial burden. How do you get help with medical expenses that aren’t covered? From doctor’s bills and insurance co-pays to travel costs and lost wages, you can get the financial assistance you need with a GoFundMe crowdfunding campaign. It’s fast, easy, and free to start a GoFundMe.

– Gofundme.com

This reminds me of the “Cancer Jar” I would see in stores as a kid. The one where it would have a picture of the kid, usually during treatment, as well as information on a raffle/fundraiser in the community to help the stricken child.

Those jars were always empty.

The site goes on to say that they have raised millions of dollars to help people with their medical bills. I look at this and I just wince.

The United States as a nation gives a lot to charity.  It is something that as a nation, we are proud of. We give to our churches, we give when there is a disaster, we give to people around the world when things happen. We also give in other ways: by donating blood, by giving time, food, and compassion. As a nation, we are a giving people. GoFundMe exemplifies that. The problem is… why is medical care considered charity? Why, as a nation, are we reduced to beg for money to be treated or taken care of? Why is that so normalised for us now?

If 7% of the nation is going to lose their insurance, not to mention the people who are *still* without insurance, we are all going to know that person who is going to be begging for money for their life saving treatment. Will our charity continue? 28 million people are currently estimated to not have medical insurance in the US right now. Add to that the 22 million estimated to lose their insurance, and you are talking about 50 million people, we are talking about 15% of the population of the US with no coverage, an average of 1 in 7 adults you see will not have healthcare.

Will our Charity continue?

When someone you know is affected by this repeal (and lets be honest, it is a repeal, the talk about “replace” has long been forgotten now), will you be able to open up your wallet to help save them or their family from financial ruin? What about when it is your family, or your parents, and you have to go to GoFundMe to beg for enough money to save those you love. Maybe you will plead to your church, and perhaps they can help, but with an aging spiritual community, there will be many in line, and at many mega churches, pastors are more concerned with their own prosperity gospel than to help those who are sick.

Charity as insurance, relying on the goodness of others to get the medicine that may mean life and death for you.

Having GoFundMe Medical Insurance is going to become the reality to many more people. Even in my example above, insurance doesn’t cover everything as it is. For those of us who need to take care of elderly parents, this burden will compound. Unable to save for our own retirement, having to balance your own insurance, forced to pay extortion prices for our parents…. a Pre-condition may ruin you if there is ever an accident, or for many, something completely out of their control.

How long will the Charity hold out when you have to take care of your own family first?

There is a better way, there is a moral way, there is a kinder way to solve this problem. The United States is the 3rd most populous country in the world. The combined leveraging power we have *as a nation* is immense. Drawn together, we could easily fund the medical expenses of the nation AND negotiate better deals to be more economical. Just like Costco or Sams club, when you buy in bulk, you save… so having individuals buy their medical care one by one… that is never going to work, and we will never be able to afford it. but 330 million people banding together to make sure we are all healthy? Much easier, and much cheaper.

When I think of this debate, and the America debate in general, I am reminded of Upton’s Sinclair’s “The Jungle.” I read this when I was in High School, and it is about the story of an immigrant family in the Meatpacking District of Chicago. The story chronicles how the family, who starts off in the “land of opportunity” slowly succumbs to the issues facing the impoverished: they can’t make enough money to live off of, forcing more and more of the family to work low paying, dangerous jobs. As they become injured and unable to work, their situation quickly deteriorates. Being immigrants, they cannot get better paying jobs, and being uneducated, they qualify for precious little. The bias people have against being Slavic immigrants is strong in the book, and the while there are people of charity, it is every bit every person for themselves.

And we are seeing that again.

I often call the time we are in The Gilded Age 2.0, because we are seeing the same time of wealth disparity, exploitation of people, and the lack of protections for every day people that we saw back during the hey days of the Industrial Revolution. From a political standpoint, both parties seem to be unaware, or uncaring of the disaster that is coming, instead trying to furiously get the best seats for when things fall down. With healthcare being the flash point at the moment, if the repeal happens, you will see a further radicalisation of the fringes of society. You will see more desperate people doing more desperate things in order to survive and life a normal life. You will see more of your friends fall further into debt and despair. It may happen to you. Will you be one of those 7 people?

Will the Charity be there for you when you need it?

How often will you give to those in need, and how long will it take until we can’t give anymore, because we have no money left to give? What happens when it is *you* who needs Charity, and the line is too long?

This is why we need to stop this repeal. This is why we need to fix what we have and not go back to before. This is why we should move forward, creating a better healthcare system, and not backwards to some fetishized ideal of the past when “things were simpler.”

Of course, 17% approve of this bill and they are still moving forward with it, it seems that even our voices are not enough.

Maybe the ballot box will have to do.

The fear of failure

Yesterday, Husband and I needed to do some domestic errands around the house. Living in an urban apartment, as well as being our first home, we needed to borrow some tools from the parents-in-law. Now, for the record, I have pretty amazing In laws, so a trip to see them is nothing stress inducing. So we went over, and chatted a bit before husband and I go to the hardware store to pick up the rest of of needs.

During the conversation, the topic of my weight loss came up, but in particular, my clothes. I mentioned that pretty much everything in my closet is now too big for me, and that I am slowly rebuilding my wardrobe. My Mother-in-Law said, “You really should just throw those clothes away, and start fresh!”

This is not the first time she has brought this up.

I tell her that I am planning to, and that most of them are sitting in a big duffle bag in my closet. I file it in my mind, and a few minutes later, we are off.

*Flash Forward to this morning*

I am searching for some socks and something to walk in.  I go back and forth between my closet and the clean clothes basket. As I am going through my things, I keep going “Too big, Too big, Too bulky…” and it is the same refrain I have said for the last couple of weeks now whenever I am trying to get dressed.

“I really should get rid of these clothes” I think to myself.

But then, I hesitate.

For anyone who has done the diet cycle, you know that the clothes you have may not fit you in 3 months time. You may be bigger, you may be smaller, but rarely do you stay the same weight for very long. Since 2008, I have experienced over a 55kg/121lbs swing in my weight. This covers four major weight loss periods (including the current one). I have pants that range from 36 inch waist to 46 inch waist. Shirts that go from XL to 6XL. This vast coverage of clothes is a line of defense in many ways. It means that I have clothes that will fit me wherever I am in my cycle. If I am big, I have big clothes, if I am small, I have small clothes. It works well… if you cannot control your weight.

It is a defense against my fear of failure.

In so many ways, my big clothes is my insurance plan. That *when* I fail, I will have clothes to cover me. It is not so much a question of *if* here as well. In the past, I always held onto my clothes because in the back of my mind, I felt my willpower was not enough. I knew that the weight loss was through extreme methods, and that the current cycle of weight loss couldn’t sustain itself. I would get to a point, and I would start to gain weight again, it was inevitable. And to give away my clothes would be arrogant, because it means I don’t think I will fail when history has proven that I always did. It would be hubris to throw out your clothes, only to buy more when you gain weight again.

I have a closet full of clothes that don’t fit me because I am afraid that they will fit me in the future. And when I step back and think about that… that needs to change.

With the surgery, and with The Journey, you have to confront a lot of things emotionally about how you look, view, and treat yourself. You also have to come to terms with the fact that paradigm of how your body works has fundamentally shifted. While I am now 4.5 months into this Journey, and 5 months from my peak weight, things are starting to shake out in important ways. In the past, when I lost weight, I usually ended around this time. My body would be in an all out war against my mental and emotional willpower to lose weight. I would crave food constantly, and I would be so obsessed with food and weight that I would think of nothing else. Once I have hit that new “lowest weight,” (or nearly there) I stop.

Not this time however. This time is truly different.

Holding onto my clothes is security, security I don’t really need anymore. While I have always loved to lounge in baggy hoodies, I don’t need 6 of them. While I fear that one day, I may gain weight again, holding on to clothes I bought a decade ago will not make me feel better. And letting those clothes go, says to myself that I am no longer afraid that I will be that size again… I am breaking the cycle.

I wish I could say it is empowering to think about, in reality it is terrifying… but that is not a reason to not do it. Too often we let fear of failure guide us into doing nothing. We fear change and failure so much that we would rather do nothing and continue the cycle, because it is something we know, and we have dealt with that before. The fear of “what if” can often paralyze us. For me, I can’t stand it. I cannot stand doing the same thing over and over and hoping for a new result. So when I see myself in a cycle, a negative cycle, I do my best to break it and do something new, even if it is terrifying.

So, very soon, the clothes are going to go away. Given to a consignment store or to LGBT organisations, or somewhere that someone can use those clothes (and believe me, in this country, these clothes would be a god-sent to someone who is bigger but poor). The closet will be emptied out for the most part, and I will need to rebuilt, slowly but surely.

I will still keep an over sized hoodie (or two), and a couple of my all-time favorite shirts… because every mid 30’s guy has that shirt he has kept for way too long to the amusement of those around him.

But it is time to let go… and embrace the new me.

Dear Vern

It has been a while since I have written to you, but today is a tough one, so I thought I would drop you a line.

Today is the first Anniversary of your death. The year since, has been one of the toughest I have ever had. The shock of your passing, the depression and grief that followed, the slow journey out of that fog, and the drive to pick myself up and to achieve the things I needed to do… it has been a long year.

I miss you terribly. In the year you have been gone, we have seen Brexit happen, Donald Trump Elected, and hold power. We have seen terrorist attacks across the world, we have seen celebrations and heartache. Elections and mass movements, events, large and small. The world marched on, as it always does, none the wiser that you had left. For me I would sit there and say continually, “I wish Vern was here.” And I know there are many who know you who have felt the same way.

I miss our conversations, our political arguments. I miss having a foil, someone whom I trust, and someone who will challenge me. Not because you thought I was wrong, though you thought I often was, but because you knew I could do better with my argument. And turnabout was fair play. We challenged each other politically, socially, and emotionally. I miss having that confidant who would tell me the blunt side of things. Being a bit rough to get the point across, but having the love behind it to know you actually cared.

There has been a hole in my life, that you have left behind, and I struggle every day with it.

In the last year, I see more of you in me. The way I approach things, or how I view perspectives. A few months ago, I realised that I am almost to the age where you met me, and thinking back, what it must have been like to have an upstart 22 year old challenging you left, left, and center. I feel like I get you better now than I ever have before, and I don’t have you to talk about it.

I am still working on the things we discussed in our last big discussion. I am still trying to find a way to get that PhD. It may take time, but it will happen.

I miss your inappropriateness. How you would make that off-off-off color joke and everyone cringe. I miss how you always went for the crass joke, even for the 100th time. I miss your hobbit references anytime New Zealand came up, even if I was annoyed at them.

I remember, in Iceland, the guys staying at our house played King/Asshole, and over the night, we talked about life, goals, where we wanted to be. We asked each other probing and heartfelt questions, and it was an incredible evening. I wish we could have had more of those.

I think back to this day last year… and… its nearly impossible to contemplate how I was able to keep it as together as I did. The trip back to the US, the mourning, the grappling without you to somehow guide us. I remember sitting in your office the previous May, talking about “If things progressed” not knowing that 6 weeks later it would be reality.

*sigh*

I want to close before I get too emotional… I know that I have always been the more emotional one between the two of us. But… I miss you deeply, and I hope you are proud of me. I hope that I have done you well in this last year handling this, and I hope that I can achieve those things we talked about. I am on my way, and trust that in many ways, you a reason why I push so hard on myself, your belief in me, even when I didn’t believe in myself, is why I always strive to be the best I can be.

Take care, I miss you, until the next letter.

Love,
Squared

ps: Bailey the pug is amazing. She is everything I have ever wanted in a dog. I know you would love her so much and be thrilled at all the pictures of her.

113

Early February, 2010

I had just finished a grueling 2.5 hour workout, the second of the day. It was after work, and I had done 1 hour of treadmill work, 30 minutes of weight lifting, and then another hour of treadmill work. During the course of the workout, I stopped three times to see my weight. As I walked up the stairs for the fourth time, weighed myself on the scale just inside the Men’s locker room.

It was 4 and a half days since I last eaten, a day and a half since my last drink of water.

I had to stop several times in my workout that day to avoid passing out. I would move slowly outside working out to make sure I didn’t get dizzy when I walked. When on the treadmill, I would put it at a 7% grade, and walk as hard as I could, often using the rails for support.  I was 2 weeks from visiting Australia and New Zealand for the first time, and my goal of getting to 240 was in reach.

249 pounds. (113 Kilos). I had lost 110 pounds in 9 months.

I was happy.

I was miserable.

My entire world had become being focused on the weight loss. In the aftermath of my breakup with my fiance in 2008, I went into an eating spiral, which lead to (at the time), the largest I had ever been. I went for several months losing weight, but things got more serious, and dangerous, after I decided to go to Australia for Mardi Gras. For me, the goal was everything, and I would post on social media how excited I was that I was the lightest I had been since college. I was getting compliments from everywhere, and while some were concerned, I ignored them with the sole goal of losing more weight.

Having achieved my goal of getting under 250 pounds, I went to my car, and sat in it.

And cried.

It was devastating.

I was so hungry, so thirsty, and I worried that every ounce of water would help defeat my goal. I wanted to eat so badly, that it was the only thing I thought about. To me, it was the force of will that was important. To withhold is what people say. Calories in, Calories out, and I was in such caloric deficit, I should be dropping in weight.

But the nearly 5 hours of working out for days on end, and I just could barely get under 250.

Back then, after days of not eating, I would go to Outback Steakhouse, sit in the same booth, at the same restaurant (On Lee Highway) and have the same thing every time: A 16oz (450 Grams) Rib Eye Steak, Sauteed Mushrooms, and steamed vegetables and lots of water. Along with the loaf of bread you get at the beginning. That night I did the same thing. Euphoric and devastated, I ate the dinner in silence (as I usually did), playing on my phone. I went home, and sat there. Trying to figure out how to get lower on the scale, knowing that I had just defeated myself by eating so much food.

The next day, I woke up at 5:15, so I could get to the gym at 6 for another 90 minute workout.

I woke up, laid in bed, and admitted to myself that I couldn’t do it anymore. I didn’t go to the gym that day, or the next. I didn’t eat until the third day, but in my mind, I had failed. I reasoned with myself that Australia is only a couple of weeks away, and you can ease up until you get back, and that may be a good thing.

I never reached that number again, though I had tried, using the same brutal tactics that I used before, each time giving me diminishing results.

June 16, 2017

I walked back into my apartment after a 9 kilometer walk in around 90 minutes. It is my 5th walk in 6 days, and I am nursing a small blister on my right foot, a result from walking in my new shoes.  (hense why I didn’t walk yesterday) Generally, I do a shorter walk (6km) on weekdays, but because it is Friday, and I am working from home, and I was awake earlier than usual… I decided I wanted to see the Bay down by the Harbor Bridge. The morning was chilled, but pleasant, and with headphones in ears, I listened to songs to motivate me as I went through walk. I thought about the Pride Flag Arguments, about the Apartment tower fire in London, about Heroes of the Storm, and how wonderful the city looked in the pre-dawn light. Getting home, I took the dog out, and then prepared breakfast for her. After that, I went and weighed myself.

113

I blinked.

I stepped off, waited a few moments, and stepped on again.

113

There was no ambiguity there. I turned around and took a shower, the number rattling in my head. After the shower, I got out, dried off, and then checked again.

113

“Fucking hell, I did it”

55 Kilos lost in 4.5 months. (121 pounds)

This time I didn’t cry. It almost doesn’t feel real in a way. I went out, grabbed my water and my multivitamin and had a little bit of hummus (as I often do in the morning, I will have 1-2 spoon fulls).

This time I didn’t starve, this time, I didn’t become manic. This time, I didn’t wage war against my body in order to get to a number I shouldn’t have been achieving. Last night, I had 275 grams of chicken, basically the same routine I have had for the majority of the last month. I am drinking tons of water each day, and here I am… at 113.

I never thought I would reach this again. Even in my most manic moments of weight loss, I felt like I was chasing the white dragon, hoping for a goal I could never achieve. The last week, as my weight started dropping again, these feelings kept bubbling up. The Husband and I spoke the other night about my progress, and asked where I feel I could get to in terms of weight, and for the first time, I actually contemplated, seriously, about a number lower than 113. 110? 105? 100 or less? These numbers are truly uncharted territory.

I have said throughout this, that I would listen to my body, and that when my body stops, I will stop. Right now, I don’t know where it will stop. In the back of my mind, I thought that 115 would be the place it would force me to stop, being that was the wall I hit last time. That is looking to not be the case.

To say that I am happy is an understatement. I am thrilled and humbled to be in this position. I do my best to not focus on the number, and instead focus on clothes, activities, social stuff, and the general goal of fitness and being healthier… but today, the number is important because of how important it was to me back then, and how I have learned… the hard way… to not solely focus on that.

Happy Friday.

-W

 

The Journey: Uncharted territory and sabotage masquerading as Support

It has been a while with a Journey story! I will give an update on me, and then onto something that happened this week that has been on my mind.

Last week, I developed a pretty painful blister on the heel of my left foot. The area had been irritated for a while, and it basically came down to the fact that my shoes were breaking down. I took off walking for a few days to recover (mostly because my Husband forced me to), and bought a new pair of shoes (New Balance!) On Saturday, I was off walking again, and things are going well.

My weight loss in general has been slowing down. which is to be expected, so I wasn’t surprised when my weight bumped up a bit immediately after I stopped walking. It slowly lowered over the next few days, but very slowly. When I started walking again, I was just back at the 50kgs loss mark (118.6 kgs).

Since Saturday though, I have lost 3.5kgs, and am sitting at now an even 115kgs/253lbs. This means I have lost almost 54kgs/119lbs, which is definitely in uncharted territory for me. Also, 113kgs is the lowest I have weighed since college, and that is literally right there. If this trend continues, next week will truly be the lightest I have been since I entered adulthood.

Mindblowing.

But I have also had a tough time on the support side of things.

I found myself frustrated with the Bariatric Support Social group I joined on Facebook when I started on The Journey. The group is well established and has thousands of members. People in the group come from around the world, and are at all stages of the Journey. Some are trying to lose weight so that their insurance will cover the surgery (and honestly, there is a lot of heartbreaking and cruel things insurance companies do to make you prove you need the surgery.) people who are in pre-surgery phase, immediate post surgery phase, and long term maintenance phase.

Lately, however, people have begun posting more and more “alternative” recipies to favorite food. I stepped in it the first time a few weeks ago when someone in the group, who was post surgery, and still on her liquid diet phase, asking desperately about alternatives ingredients to Nachos and Burritos, because as she said “These foods are important to me.”

Most people went in with tons of suggestions for ingredient replacements. From cauliflower tortillas to alternates for veleeta cheese (though several argued for Velveeta) and so on. I decided, in my infinite wisdom to challenge her on why the food was important to her, and that part of this process should be re-evaluating your relationship with food. This did not go over well with her, and she yelled at me and called me evil. We had a bit of back and forth, but it quickly boiled down to the fact that she has these foods weekly before the surgery, and she will continue to do so. She didn’t have “food issues like many of the fat monsters here, so don’t group her with them. and my Nutritionist said it is ok to have these foods anyhow sometimes.”

I tried to explain that “sometimes” didn’t mean weekly, and her response was again, not kind. So I walked away.

Then there was the recipe that called for a cup of “sweetener” and people were raving about how sweetener is not sugar and totally fine to have as much as you want. I said nothing there.

This week, someone in the group posted an article about how TACO BELL was the “Healthiest fast food on the market.” Soon, people where talking about how much they eat Taco Bell, and how their Protein Bowl is awesome, and it is totally ok for us Bariatric people to eat. There were several people who pushed back on it, but hedging their reasons why.

I had no such qualms in pointing out how insane it is for a Bariatric support group to be advocating fast food to the group. Again, the reaction was harsh.

“I would like to have a life sometimes, unlike you, and enjoy food on occasion.”

“I have kids, so I don’t have time to make pre-made meals, so I need this.”

“It is ok to loosen up, and cheat once in a while, you must really suck at life if you never cheat.”

“You are a food shamer and making this group look bad.”

I was livid. Three post down, someone was struggling losing enough weight for their insurance company will approve them for the surgery, and people were giving incorrect advice and information about a fast food place. And I did check, the Taco Bell Protein Bowl has more carbs than I should eat in a day. It is NOT a healthy option for Bariatric people. Yet, to bring that up, I was attacked.

After a few fruitless back and forths (Remember wanderlust, it is useless to get into internet fights), I unsubscribed from the page and left the group.

Why it has stuck with me two days later, (and why I felt compelled to write this) is that the self-sabotage was so strong with many in that group. The hoops they jump through to justify what they shouldn’t be doing was mind-boggling, and while I could have engaged in a less direct way, previous experience showed me that I would have been ignored, like many others who disagreed with the article. I even re-examined my own eating, and realising that over the weeks, my food intake had started to grow more than it should. (It has been reset, and I think is also contributing to the increased weight loss).

How do you stop a support group who is sabotaging others unknowingly? What is the right kind of support in those situations?

For me, support is to celebrate the victories, be there for the challenges, and help beat those challenges by giving the tools necessary to overcome them. I am not one for allowing people to wallow in their challenges and backslide. I am always someone who is looking for a solution to get back on track, and move on… even if it takes a while to get to that point. There have been times where I have had great pushback against that type of support, and I am always confounded by it. I have done the silent support at times, and while effective in the right moments, I find that after a point it is never enough, and it often enables inaction. I felt that not putting a warning, or sounding concern/alarm was appropriate, but others felt I was being bossy and mean.

So… I left the support group because I felt it didn’t actually support, and increasingly enabled bad behavior… and I am sad about that. I also didn’t want to see bad recipe videos of food I really shouldn’t be eating every time I went to Facebook.

I am not sure if I will seek out another support group, or go on alone. It has weighed on my mind, and I am still not sure how to proceed.

So, all in all, a mixed bad this week.

Always ever the Happy activist

Today, as I was sitting in the break room, I was talking to a couple of co-workers, the question of Makeup came up. The conversation was how Chanel Mascara doesn’t go as far as it used to.

“I personally use Mac Cosmetics for my makeup needs” I quipped.

The person talking about the mascara laughed and my other co-worker, an Indian woman, honestly inquired, “Oh, do you use makeup?”

“Only when I do Drag.” I said, “But honestly, I have only done it a couple of times for big parties.”

She gave me an inquisitive look, and blushed. “I don’t really understand… is this common in the United States? Men wearing makeup?”

“Oh, no not usually. But it is more common in the Gay Community.” I said.

“Oh I see, I have never seen this in India, and I don’t really think we have a … community like yours in India…” She then spoke up, “Well, we have 1.25 billion people, so I assume there is one, but I have never seen it anywhere. You are the first… of your community, I have ever actually met.” Her voice hesitant, and you could tell she was struggling to find words that weren’t offensive.

And suddenly, I was in happy activist mode.

I explained that, yes there is a large Indian Gay community in India, but it is likely hidden because many societies and religions feel that being gay is wrong. She wanted to counter that as a Hindu, there is no issue, but socially it is considered “not normal.” Not being an expert on Hindism and LGBTQI rights, I let that go, though I know India has begun in the last few years to talk about and discuss LGBTQI rights in the courts and around the country.

The conversation progressed, and we talked about the path the United State had taken with LGBT rights, and how it is still in progress. We talked about being Out, and what that means, and why I am relentlessly out in my life. (I have a wedding photo as my Computer background as an example).

She asked if my being gay was a “state of mind, or a physical thing?” and I spoke about the arguments of Nature vs. Nurture, and the idea of epigenetics possible influencing DNA so it could be a mix of both. We talked about my Great Uncle, who is also Gay and how he lived in the 50’s, and how he hid himself and his partner relationship from most people = for years… which lead to a talk about gay persecution during that time, as well as Alan Turing.

It was an interesting conversation. She was clumsy with her words at times, and never actually used the word “gay,” but she was honest, and inquisitive, and open-minded. She said that she really liked me, and she didn’t want to offend me by asking silly questions, which I quickly calmed her down about, saying that I have been an activist since coming out at 18, and that as a natural teacher, I want to help people understand that we *are* normal, and that this is just how we approach it.

After the conversation, I somewhat realised that I haven’t had in that situation in a while, being the sole representation of the Gay community. In some ways, I cringe. I am literally the vanilla of the LGBTQI community, the proverbial entry point. I am not genderqueer, I am not Trans, I am not the flaming queen who wears feathers into work (but omg that would be awesome if I did…) I am the happy activist, the person who patiently explains our world to outsiders in the hope to broaden their perspective. But even my perspective is limited. It is based on where I have been, and what I have learned, but the LGBTQI community is so vast, different, and far ranging, I feel I can’t do it justice.

But in reality, I feel that has always been my strongest asset to the community. In social movements, you have ideologues, you have extremists, and you have moderates. Each group have an important use in the movement, but too much (or too little) of one can be detrimental to the others and the greater community as a whole. I have always sat squarely in the Moderate category, trying to take the ideologues and the extremists issues and bring it to the fore in a way that outsiders can engage in, and in a place where I don’t condemn, but rather teach.

For me, I have always wanted inclusion, but also understanding, and my method of activism is what I would call “soft activism.” With this mode, I explain, teach, and inform, and through that plant the seeds of tolerance and understanding. By accepting and being kind, I hope to change the pre-conceived notions of what being Gay is, and subvert it, allowing them to confront their bias and change their minds. It is often a slow, long process and it doesn’t always work. But it has always been my way.

And today, I fell into that role again, happily and honestly using my life as an example to prove that we are not so different and just as normal as her and her family. And it is something I still do not tire from. Each conversation is a chance to change minds, and even in the most unlikely of places, you can leave a mark. As we ended, I told her to not feel embarrassed in asking me questions, that I would rather her ask me, than not knowing. She smiled, and said “I really like you Aaron, you are very kind.”

And I hope that with that, she learns a bit more, expands her perspective, and one day, maybe remember me when she sees something on TV or the news, and see past the stereotype or the negativity others put on us.

 

The power of a Community

Everyone lives in a small town.

It doesn’t matter where you live: The biggest cities on earth or the most rural of areas. Everyone lives in a small town. While we may be surrounded by thousands, or even millions of people, we truly only interact with a few hundred, or a couple thousand at most. This is also borne out online. We live in communities online but there is a number we reach and we either split off into smaller groups, or create cliques within the larger group. In the end, I feel people live in a few small towns… but, that is a discussion for another time.

This is a story about an online community who banded together with little more in common than the breed of dog they own and love.

I belong to an online Pug Group in New Zealand. This group (through Facebook) is where Pug owners (and lovers) join and post pictures and videos of their pugs, memes, and jokes. It is normally a light and easy group. We post, like each others dogs, and occasionally have meetups where our Pugs (many of whom are related since we are such a small community) can form grumbles and play around. Sometimes, they post things warning about puppy farms, and trying to save dogs who seem to be from puppy farms being sold online. Husband and I joined a couple months ago, but haven’t been to a meetup yet.

Anyhow, last Sunday a desperate post was sent out. A Pug, named Cruz, had disappeared at a Beach in the southern part of the North Island. One moment, he was there. The next moment, Gone.

The Pugs owner was beside herself. The community quickly reacted, with suggestions on how to find the pug. One poster attacked the owner for having the pug off leash (which is common practice in New Zealand), and the community quickly piled on him for being callous. As the hours went and no sign of Cruz, his owner started to panic. Night fell and she had to go home. She returned the next day (it was a holiday for us) and spent the entire day searching, and posting lost posters. This is where the community leapt into action.

People plastered the whole lower half of the island with lost posters. Informed all of the Vets and stores in the area to make sure he wasn’t stolen. People went to the beach to look for the dog. Vets up in Auckland (which is like a 8-10 hour drive mind you) were alerted.

Each day people would check in, saying they put up posters, informed another Vet, or did a walk on the beach looking for Cruz. A few people eventually became point people directing walkers to certain areas to look for him.

Still nothing.

On the Page, people where simultaneously giving advice, offering support, and sounding out ideas. On Wednesday, a meetup group was announced for people to come to the beach and fan out in search of the dog. A BBQ would be had in the afternoon to try and attract the dog to the smell of food. Also, bringing dogs, (and pugs in particular) may make Cruz come out of hiding.

No one dared mentioned that something terrible may have befell him.

On Thursday, after four days missing, Paw prints were found my people walking on horseback in the area. The prints were pug sized and were on the edge of a forest adjacent to the sandy dunes.

At this point, people went into overdrive. We need to get out there now? Can we bring the horses back? Did you leave clothing out there with your scent to attract him? Can we get a drone to look from the sky? Maybe we can call the army!

And Yes, someone did call the army.

On Friday, the owner, with someone with search and rescue experience (working on his own time) went out with some horses to search for the pug.

He was spotted, but ran off.

Posts galore on the page. People screaming out ways to catch him. Pug breeders (who are well known and loved here in NZ) were giving tips and tricks and to not act like their daddy (because we are all relatively close knit, and we know all the reputable breeders in the country). We were all invested. I was reading with bated breath, looking outside at the fading light and worried for a dog I have never seen (and will likely never see because he is so far away… if he even got out of this).

They couldn’t find him, and the light failed. They set up a tent with clothes from home and some food, in the hopes of attracting him.

Then Saturday.

On Saturday, over 20 people from across the southern part of the Island gathered, many with pugs of their own and fanned out. Over 100 people were following the events unfold, cheering and giving advice from afar. by 4:30, no sign of Cruz, and the worry set in. The weather for the week had been surprising ok given it is Winter right now, but forecast from Monday onward were portending deteriorating.

Traps were then set out in the hopes he could be caught.

Sunday morning, at 9:15 ish, as I was finishing up my walk, a message on the board. A woman and her son had caught Cruz and were holding him, and needed help calming him down.

Elation.

For a Sunday morning, my phone was filled with updates from this page. The owner hurriedly driving to the beach (30 minutes away), another person, who had been on the search for Cruz started as well. Cruz had lost his harness, so second person bought a harness and lead. Soon, people were offering to help donate for the vet check afterwards. Everyone was excited, and we all dared to hope. A week had gone by, and… have we actually found Cruz?

It took over an hour of anxious waiting for the online people to find out that Cruz had been found, and was now safe with his owner. Pictures of the reunion was posted on the wall, and a massive outpouring of love, relief, and elation swept through the community.

Over the week, people from all parts of New Zealand, with nothing in common outside their breed of dog became a community, who together made sure a Pug and their owner were not separated. It’s a warm feeling, and one I won’t soon forget.

Tonight, a video of Cruz was posted, with him running in his yard, playing with his toys, as if nothing had happened over the last week.

Just like a Pug would.

 

The 9/11 Generation

With the events currently unfolding in London, It is our reaction to stop, pause, and think about the “whys” and the “hows” and react to the reactions from around the world. We also want to point to a singular thing and label it as “the problem” and fix it.

I feel like the Mass Shootings of America have no become the Terrorist Attack of the world: We are shocked, horrified, and dismayed, we argue for a few days, and move on, with the only action being taken is more security, more fear, and more policies that divide rather than tackle the situation.

Prime Minister Teresa May said in her address today,

“We cannot allow this ideology the safe space it needs to breed. Yet that is precisely what the internet, and the big companies that provide internet-based services, provide.” She continued: “We need to work with allied democratic governments to reach international agreements that regulate cyberspace to prevent the spread of extremism and terrorism planning.”

– Prime Minister Teresa May

President Donald Trump said in his first Tweet in response to the attack:

“We need to be smart, vigilant and tough. We need the courts to give us back our rights. We need the Travel Ban as an extra level of safety!”

– President Donald Trump

The first statement feels more like a power grab, similar to the U.S.’s Patriot Act in the wake of 9/11 (More on that in a moment), and the second statement flies in the face of the reality of Terror events that have unfolded in the West over the last couple of years, where in country Nationals, not immigrants, are the likely perpetrators of these actions.

“So, what is happening, and why??” we ask ourselves. Why now? When ISIS is losing what territory they have left… though, looking at the Philippines, things are getting dicey, when the Refugee crisis in Europe is creeping away from the headlines, and attention is becoming more focused on Russia, the US, and the rise of the extreme right.

I feel that what we are seeing is in part, the 9/11 Generation.

The Charlie Hebdo attacks, the assailants were born in 1980 and 1982.
The Port De Vincennes the assailant was born in 1982,
The November 2015 Paris Attacks the Assailants were between the ages of 20 and 31.
San Bernindino assailants were born in 1986 and 1987
Orlando Pulse Shooting – Perpetrator was born in 1986
Munich Shootings – Perpetrator born in 1998.
Ansbach Bombing – Perpetrator was 27.
Berlin Christmas Market Attack – Perpetrator was born in 1994
Westminister Attack – Perpetrator was 52 years old.
Manchester Arena Attack – Perpetrator was born in 1994

A few notes:

  • There were several Turkish incidents I wanted to add, but they never gave the name, nor the ages of the perpetrators
  • In almost all of these incidents (Ansbach, Berlin, and 2 of the 20+people involved in the November Paris attacks excepted) were citizens of the country they attacks.
  • Everyone except the Westminister attack where people born after 1980.

The question people will (and have) been asking is why?

The 9/11 Generation.

It is hard to believe that 9/11 happened 16 years ago… half a generation now, and the people who were impressionable, learning their way in the world, in school, entering college, are now in their 20;s and 30’s. 16 years of knee jerk reactions to Muslims. 16 years of fear mongering and alienation, and drum beats of war. For the Muslims and second generation immigrants in many western Countries, the anger, the xenophobia, and the unwillingness to separate world events with local people created the fertile ground for radicalisation. The post 9/11 era us shaped our world fundamentally. While the adults were busy implementing the Patriot Act, going into Iraq, bombing Afghanistan, and seeing how the Western World *now* treats Muslims, we created our current enemy.

The West radicalised its own second generation Muslim Immigrants, doing the job for those who hate our culture. With the exception of one of these perpetrators, each of them have lived most of their lives being looked at with fear, loathing, and contempt. Many of them couldn’t recall a time when they were not treated that way.

Teresa May and Donald Trump, in their statements today, follow that lead from Blair and Bush 15 years ago, “You are with us, or against us” and for many people, we made their choice for them through our policies.

A Travel Ban will not stop this radicalisation. These people are largely citizens of their home countries who have been alienated and radicalised by (partially) our own doing. Clamping down on the internet is not going to stop this either. Both moves are blunt objects that ignore the fact that our governments have help enabled this situation with their policies. The fact that the Westminister attack only happened a few months ago, and it followed, almost exactly, the attack in London this weekend means that what the May Government is doing is inadequate to meet the crisis.

**Sigh**

I will often darkly joke that “9/11 changed everything”

… but it is true.

Prime Minister May said today that “Enough is enough.” Maybe it is time for us to say that to those who continue policies that enable radicalisation.

Of course, this is not meant to absolve these acts or these actions, but if we want to *stop* this from continuing, we need to stop the tactics of the last 16 years, because those tactics are pushing more people into fundamentalism, on both sides of the coin, and we are only making it worse by becoming more authoritarian and reactionary. We have a radicalised population, and it is our duty to defuse that bomb. We need to look at ways to deradicalise and, honestly, retrain our society a bit to approach this differently, or else we will continue to have these attacks, these issues, and be left with the same questions, and retrying the very things that caused the situation to begin with.