Standing With the Citizens of Orlando

Photo Credit

Photo Credit

I am joining the voices of so many others in the last few days in offering my thoughts, prayers and condolences to folks in Orlando and beyond.

If you’re looking for resources on coping with distress after the events in Florida, check out some of my past posts:

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And here are a couple of resources from the American Psychological Association:

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Lastly, check out this thoughtful and useful article over at Huff Post about How to Help Orlando Shooting Victims and Their Families.


Why “Reparative Therapy” Is Wrong

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President Obama recently announced that he will work to ban the use of “reparative therapy.”  In case you’re not sure what that is, it’s a sort of therapy that claims to change someone’s sexual or gender identity.  Sometimes it’s also called “gay conversion” therapy.

Why don’t these sorts of therapies work?

Check out this statement of support of President Obama from the American Psychological Association:

“So-called reparative therapies are aimed at ‘fixing’ something that is not a mental illness and therefore does not require therapy. There is insufficient scientific evidence that they work, and they have the potential to harm the client,” said APA 2015 President Barry S. Anton, PhD. “APA has and will continue to call on mental health professionals to work to reduce misunderstanding about and prejudice toward gay and transgender people.”

I love this statement because it sums up the problem with “reparative therapies” perfectly – they are trying to change something that isn’t broken, wrong or a mental illness.  In fact there is nothing at all that needs to be changed, except perhaps a society that isn’t as supportive as it could be to all of its population.

Want to read more about the topic? Check out this informative story in the Washington Post.  Or check out all of APA’s statement of support.


Halting Holiday Stress: Family Conflicts

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We all have them: family members we just don’t get along with.  Whether it’s because they’re simply annoying, overly obnoxious or outrageously opinionated – just because we’re related to someone doesn’t mean we get along.  Sadly the holidays often make these relationships worse.  Between spending more time than usual together (whose idea was it to make Thanksgiving and Christmas so close together, anyway??) and high expectations for picture-perfect holiday celebrations, this time of year can be a perfect storm of family turmoil.

So what can be done to ease the inevitable tensions that arise among even the most well-adjusted of families?

We are who we are.  Just because it’s the holiday season doesn’t mean that our annoying family members are going to get any less annoying.  In fact, if they do any changing at all it will likely be to become even more irritating (all that booze, heavy food and stress just doesn’t improve things).  With that in mind, it can be best to keep expectations relatively low and realize that that we all have our quirks.

Quality vs. Quantity.  Sometimes we spend so much time together over the holidays, that we simply overdose on each other.  Instead of spending large amounts of time together, consider focusing on quality time together instead – focusing on fun, meaningful and memorable activities or conversations together.

Lose the Booze.  As mentioned above, alcohol often brings out the worst in our personalities.  It can lead us to say things we shouldn’t, get more irritated with others – and more quickly, and can increase the potential for family conflict when we’re spending more time than usual together.  While just thinking about the holidays and the accompanying family time can make some folks reach for the wine glass, keeping alcohol intake to a minimum may actually make the season go more smoothly.

Happy Holidays!



Party at the VMA’s: Miley, Gaga and Why We Missed the Best Part

Ahhhh…the Video Music Awards.  Who can resist the yearly display of pop culture including good music, crazy fashion, wild dances; and let’s not forget the annual controversy.

Madonna kissed Britney in 2003:

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Kanye stole Taylor’s thunder in 2009:

…and who can forget Lady Gaga’s meat dress in 2010. Delicious:

When I turned on my computer this morning, everyone was talking about the performance delivered by Miley Cyrus (aka Hannah Montana) at last night’s VMA’s.  This Disney-star-turned-sex-kitten’s (was that what her costume was?) song was the most talked about of the night. She gyrated, stripped down to a skimpy outfit and danced in a super provocative way with Robin Thicke (even causing the host to comment that she might have become pregnant from all the grinding).

Here’s the thing: people are flipping out about her performance. And for the life of me I can’t figure out why. Yea, it was sexy and risque, but so was Lady Gaga’s number.  Come to think of it, there were plenty of scantily-clad women shaking their booties to hither and yon. What’s the big deal? I really have no idea.

Sadly, I think we are all missing the most provocative, exciting performance of the night: Macklemore.  Forget all the hoopla surrounding Miley and check out Macklemore’s touching performance below:

In a few years we will look back and feel bored at Miley’s gyrations, but Macklemore’s words about acceptance, human rights and loving one another are timeless and meaningful no matter when they are heard.




5 Questions with Andrew Solomon

Several weeks ago I posted a review of the book Far From the Tree by Andrew Solomon.  I cannot say enough good things about his work – it is simply superb.  To read my review of his book about children and parents, click here.

Today I feel privileged to have Mr. Solomon here to answer some questions!  Welcome, Mr. Solomon!

Andrew Solomon is a writer and lecturer on psychology, politics, and the arts; winner of the National Book Award; and an activist in LGBT rights, mental health, and the arts.

Andrew Solomon is a writer and lecturer on psychology, politics, and the arts; winner of the National Book Award; and an activist in LGBT rights, mental health, and the arts.

Dr. S.: I read your book through the lens of a psychologist who works with families in situations similar to the families in your book. I have also recommended your book to families with children who have fallen “far from the tree.”  I can see that there are many people to whom this book would be of interest. Did you have a particular audience in mind when you were writing? Who did you envision reading this book?

A.S.: I knew, of course, that the first audience for the book would be families dealing with the differences about which I wrote, and I’ve had many letters now from families of people with autism, schizophrenia, Down syndrome, dwarfism, criminality, and transgenderism.  But my theory is that the book is for a wider audience than that.  Much as we test flame-retardant pajamas in an inferno to make sure our child’s sleeve won’t catch fire when he reaches across the stove, so we can understand the profound ways that all parenting is about accommodating difference by looking at these more extreme cases.  So my audience really is anyone who has been a parent or a child.

Dr. S.: I found all of the chapters to be riveting and gut-wrenching for one reason or another. Was there one topic that was most emotional for you to write about?

A. S.: Each is gut-wrenching in its own way.  But some of the chapters ultimately describe great redemptions: how people find meaning in Deaf culture, how the lives of dwarfs may be particularly rich, how people who are transgender have an apotheosis when they transition.  There’s less to be said in favor of having a child conceived in rape, and the chapter on those children was a very tough one, although many of the mothers I interviewed had ended up very much attached to the children they had.  The chapter on crime was painful because crime also confers few advantages.  And I found schizophrenia terrifying, because it sets in so late, leaving everyone with an unending sense of loss.

Dr. S.:  At the end of your book, you wrote about the birth of your son and how your book research affected how you reacted to a medical scare immediately following delivery. Now that he is 3, in what other ways has your research affected your parenting and your reactions to his development?

A.S.: I have perfectionist tendencies, but the book made it clear to me that no one is perfect and that aspiring to a narrow vision of how your child should be is a recipe for disaster.  I think I’m a more open, more generous parent as a result of all I saw.  I have many hopes for my children, but I think I’ll be able to love them whether they share those hopes or not.  The book very much helped me to see my children as separate beings, with their own wishes and ambitions and character.

Dr. S.:  What are you working on now? Any new books in the works?

A.S.: While I was working on Far From the Tree, I was also doing a PhD in psychology at Cambridge.  My research involved doing longitudinal interviews with a group of 24 women, talking to each of them before the birth of a first child, immediately after that birth, and every six months going forward.  The process has been rich, and I hope now to do a book for a broader audience on the way women emerge into motherhood, how that identity is shaped over a period of years.

Dr. S.:  I often write about stress management. We all know that yoga and meditation are great – but I am more interested in unique, creative methods of managing stress. For example, some people like to make chocolate, others like to work on cars. What are your go-to methods of managing the stress in your busy life?

A.S.: Sleep, good nutrition, and exercise: those are the three.  Sleep is just about my favorite thing to do; eating well can be a pleasure, though I miss gratifying my taste for sugar; exercise is anathema.  But I know that’s the triumvirate that gets me through.  I take meds, too–they have helped me to be more balanced and less frantic.  And I’ve learned to tolerate the feeling of being stressed out, always knowing that it’s temporary, and that whatever I am stressed about today, I’ll be stressed out about something else tomorrow!

Thanks for your time, Mr. Solomon.  I can’t wait to see your next book on motherhood!

To learn more about Andrew Solomon, check out his site.  To order his book, Far From the Tree, click here.

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Parenting Transgender Children

There is a family here in Colorado who has been making headlines recently because of their transgender child.  I’m not going to get into the specifics of the story (you can read more about it here) but will focus on some of the great discussion and information that has been going on surrounding the story.

Most of us don’t have a lot of experience with transgender children, either as parents, professionals, teachers or friends.  This lack of experience can make an already tricky situation even more difficult simply because of our lack of exposure.  In reaction to the above-mentioned story in Colorado, my colleague Dr. Sarah Burgamy, was asked to speak about transgender children on a local TV program.  She did an awesome job answering some basic questions on parenting children who might be – or definitely are – transgender.

A couple of her points that stuck out most to me:

How do you know if your child is transgender, or just “going through a phase?”  Many kids go through phases of exploring interests or looks more typically thought of as belonging to the opposite sex.  For example, a boy enjoying dressing up in skirts, or a little girl enjoying trains.  Dr. Burgamy explained that transgender children’s behaviors and attitudes are “insistent, persistent and consistent” over time.

How should a parent respond to their transgender child?  Parenting is a tough job any time, but can be especially challenging when our children don’t fall inside the “norm,” have unique needs or interests, or are simply different from their peers.  Dr. Burgamy offered some excellent guidelines for parents with transgender children (or any children for that matter):

  •  Minimize distress
  • Increase happiness
  • Do what you can to allow them to have happy childhoods

Check out her full interview here:


Dr. Burgamy also provided some resources for families and friends of transgender youth:

The Transgender Child:  A Handbook for Families and Professionals – by, Stephanie Brill & Rachel Pepper
Gender Born, Gender Made:  Raising Healthy Gender Non-Conforming Children by Diane Ehrensaft, Ph.D.

Trans Youth Family Allies – TYFA

TransACTIVE – based in Portland, OR but has some good national/international resources.


Book Review: Far From the Tree

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I think there might be something “funny” in the pages of Far From the Tree by Andrew Solomon, because I couldn’t every time I tried to stop reading it, I kept getting pulled back in.  Let me explain…

I first learned of Mr. Solomon’s book while listening to an interview on NPR.  He explained that he had spent several years interviewing families about their children who had a fallen “far from the tree,” meaning they were very different from their parents.  This may have been because of a mental illness (schizophrenia), a physical disability (deafness), or the circumstances surrounding their conception (in rape).  I thought the topic sounded interesting as I frequently work with parents whose children are markedly different.  “Hmmm,” I thought, “I’m sure I can learn a thing or two.” Boy, was that an understatement.

Fast forward a few weeks, and the book arrives for my review, and it is ONE THOUSAND PAGES!  So, even though I make a point to read all my reviews cover to cover, I thought Far From the Tree would be the exception. I thought I’d read the introductory chapter, a few in the middle (the chapters are organized by topic; for example one chapter is on prodigies, another on transgender), and call it good.  It didn’t work out that way. Every time I tried to put the book down, it called to me from my night stand.  Wouldn’t you know, I read the whole thing. No, not read, devoured.  Because here’s the thing: this book is fantastic.

Not only is Far From the Tree superbly written – it was literally a thrill to read the finely crafted words – but the content was outstanding as well.  Mr. Solomon challenges us to think differently about how we love, but also (and in my opinion, even more importantly) how we define and understand disability.  What makes someone normal or abnormal, and who gets to decide these criteria? Psychologists? Law makers? Physicians? Pop culture and media?  These are important conversations, especially as we as an American culture are trying to expand our view of what is acceptable and/or normal, while (hopefully) simultaneously extending legal, healthcare, and other benefits to people who used to be considered well outside of the norm.

Many of the chapters were gut-wrenching, but even through teary-eyes I couldn’t stop reading.  Mr. Solomon’s many interviewees were so candid and thoughtful in the way they described their families and children.  Mr. Solomon obviously went to great lengths to create strong relationships with these families and individuals; he is a gifted man.

I heartily recommend this book.  Pick through it chapter by chapter, or read it in bits and pieces over time.  The messages, the struggles, and the questions posed are important for all of us to consider – whether our children have fallen far from us or not.

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Check out this review on Mr. Solomon's site!

Check out this review on Mr. Solomon’s site!

Sexuality, Gender and Glee

It’s been a while since I have written about my fave TV show, Glee.  While my newish subscription to Netflix has opened up great new worlds of television programming (Downton Abbey, anyone?), I am still partial to Glee.  As I’ve written before, I love the music, the dancing, and the over the top dialogue.  But this year – perhaps even more than previous seasons – I am appreciative of Glee’s portrayal of gay teens.

Everyone loves Glease!
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Glee and its actors have received awards in past years for their representation of teenage homosexuality.  These awards have been well-deserved.  But the cool thing about this season is that the fanfare seems to have died down, but the writers are still doing their thing, writing about love affairs of the straight and gay variety.  It seems to me that sexual preference  has become a bit of a non-issue over at McKinley High.  In fact, one of the newest students seems to be questioning his gender, together with his sexuality.  The sort of live-and-let-live attitude embraced by the fictional folks at McKinley High may not be representative of what is happening at all real life high schools.  But if life does in fact imitate art, sexuality and gender may one day be a sideline issue for all of us.  Something we notice in people but don’t allow to define them.  Something we allow young (and old!) people to explore and express as they may, when they may.

Adolescence can be rough on mental health.  Coping with the stressors of changing bodies, hormones, friends, academics, and the future – even the luckiest kids can struggle with bouts of depression and worry.  Add to the mix questions of sexuality and gender (and perhaps bullying by peers) and the chance of psychological distress can go up significantly.  Programs like Glee which normalize a wide range of sexual expression and gender orientation give all our kids a better chance at navigating the rough road of adolescence with a steady hand.

*Know a LGBTQ teen who is in crisis and in need of help?  Check out the Trevor Project, an organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning youth.  Click here for their website, or call 866-488-7386 for their Life Line.

Teen Sex and Glee

Oh boy.  Last night’s Glee was a good one, and chock full of great potential blog topics: love triangles forming, childhood dreams dashed, and underage

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drinking.  For those who devoured watched last night’s episode though, it’s obvious that the most important topic was teen sex.  Rachel and Finn (Finchel) and Kurt and Blaine (Klaine) both “did it” for the first time in the episode – storylines that are burning up the blogosphere at this very moment (read some of the buzz here here and here).

Here’s my two cents:  In the best of all possible worlds, teenagers wouldn’t be thinking about such weighty topics as sexual relationships, pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, and sexual orientation.  Instead they would be busy singing and dancing, running and playing, reading and writing.  But, we don’t live in a fantasy world: we live here.  And where I live, teens have sex on the brain.  Almost all the time.  And guess what?  It’s been that way for a long time – generations in fact.  To deny this is dangerous and narrow-minded, and can lead to some scary consequences for teens and parents (unwanted pregnancies, life-threatning diseases, sexual abuse, and more).

So while I would have liked to see at least one of the couples decide to wait to have sex (in the interest of showing both sides of the argument), I think the folks over at Glee did a nice job portraying Finchel and Klaine’s first times.  Safe sex was discussed, the pros and cons of sexual intimacy were presented, and no hot-and-heavy scenes were shown.  Moving forward, I hope the writers include the heartbreak and regret that can – and often does – accompany a teen’s first sexual experience.  In the interest of showing teen sexuality as it really exists, I think this is essential.  Perhaps Rachel might begin to regret the event, Blaine might become jealous of Kurt’s other friends, Finn might realize that sex with Rachel isn’t all that much fun, or someone posts details of the event on Facebook.  I guess we’ll just have to wait and see what’s in store in the episodes to come.

In the meantime, here are some ideas for talking to the teens in your life about sex:

Mayo Clinic

Dr. Laura Berman

Psychology Today

Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and Psychological Health

Three days ago, President Obama certified a repeal of the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy that banned homosexuals from openly serving in the US military.  While I had heard how this repeal might benefit the US Armed Forces as a whole, I wondered how it might help the men and women in uniform in particular.  I discovered that the American Psychological Association (APA) has supporting lifting the ban for quite some time.  In fact, APA has quite a history in supporting equal rights for homosexuals.  Read more about APA’s stance on homosexuality here.

I also asked a friend and colleague of mine, Dr. Sarah Burgamy to help me understand more about the psychological impact of the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.  Dr. Burgamy is president-elect of the Colorado Psychological Association, and founder of PhoenixRise, a mental health clinic specializing in Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender/gender variant identity issues.  Here’s what she had to say:

The repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT) is critical to the psychological health and well-being of both military members and the general population.  The repeal of DADT will lift a significant burden for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual (GLB) service members.  GLB people have always served in our armed forces; DADT placed an undue burden on them to hide a large part of their basic human identity.  Sexual orientation includes not only a person’s intimate behavior; but also emotional attraction, attachment, the ability to partner with another in a loving relationship recognized by others, one’s sense of self, and the ability to be seen as a full human being.  A significant portion of our lives is spent in relationship with others.  For GLB service members, DADT required them to deny the existence of critical relationships, prohibited their ability to obtain support openly when relationship stress was encountered, and forced them to provide a dishonest portrayal of their character through omission or denial.  The repeal of DADT provides GLB soldiers with a sense of equality for their sacrifice, hard work, and dedication to the safety and prosperity of the United States.  

Non-military families and individuals benefit from the repeal of DADT because any repeal of policies or laws which discriminate against GLB people should be regarded as a step towards a more inclusive society.  GLB people are bombarded with messages which convey a sense of rejection simply for being sexual minorities.  DADT, the Defense of Marriage Act, and marriage and civil union prohibitions in the majority of U.S. states send a collective message that GLB Americans are inferior members of our nation.  The repeal of DADT comprises one step in a long process of seeking equality.  Psychologically speaking, the costs of discrimination to emotional health and well-being are great and should be dismantled and avoided.  This repeal is an important and necessary step in  the recognition of GLB people as full members of American society.