Author Archives: Julia Benjamin

Take the ally challenge!

I am sick of writing posts in the wake of tragedies, and sickened to know that unless something drastically changes, they will continue to happen as they have for so many years. But I also know we can do better; I can do better. Specifically, allies need to do more in the times when there is no system-based tragedy making headlines. Therefore I am taking a 30-day ally challenge and I would love you to join me!

Sometimes trying to be an ally can feel overwhelming because there are so many social justice issues around the world to care about. Sometimes I end up doing nothing because I do not know where to begin, or how to begin. Sometimes I get stuck because I know there are people who dedicate their lives to social justice, whether on a global scale by people like Paul Farmer, or on a local scale, like the founders of the Wisconsin youth organization Proud Theater, and that as much as I would like to be, I am not one of them. It is too easy for daily life to get in the way when there is no crisis to respond to. I realize, of course, that the ability to not engage fully in a topic if it doesn’t fit in my schedule is the result of the many privileged identities I hold, but that does not change the fact that I often end up analyzing data or checking Facebook, rather than really engaging as an ally.

If you are like me, and want to do more to make the world better but are feeling stuck, let’s try this month-long experiment together. I would contend, as others have, that being an ally is a verb rather than an identity label. It is not something someone is, but something someone does, and therefore something we can practice daily in order to improve.

This is my plan of attack to practice becoming a better ally.

Step 1: Choose a topic.

We know that in order to make behavior changes, the goals have to be manageable. There are countless areas of disparity and oppression in the world, but in order to prevent inertia, I will pick one topic to focus on for two weeks – just one! (With the sad exception of responding to crises, like the recent shootings)

Step 2: Pick a time.

Behavior change works best if we can incorporate it into our daily routine. What time works best for you to do your allying? It might take some scheduling trial and error, but I think I’ll try lunchtime…

Step 3: Become an informed ally.

Without knowing about an issue, it is difficult to effectively work for change. Every day I will spend 10 minutes learning about the topic I have chosen. Is this enough time to spend allying? No. It is not even close to enough time to do justice to learning deeply about a topic. However, it is ten minutes more than I am currently spending and therefore a step in the right direction. Specifically, I will seek out perspectives of members of communities affected by the issue, as well as the perspectives of those whose beliefs run counter to my own. It is difficult to create change without dialogue, and difficult to create dialogue without understanding perspectives across the aisle.

Step 4: Take action.

Knowing about the ways in which our system is broken is a start, but allying also requires doing something about it. Each week I will therefore also do some sort of action outside my comfort zone. There are a lot of ways to be an ally in daily life, some of which might not be entirely within my control. For example, it is important to speak up about microaggressions when we see them. We can do things to increase our efficacy speaking up, like learning about how to recognize microaggressions and how to communicate effectively about them. But what if I spend the day doing research in my office and legitimately do not encounter any microaggressions to challenge? The action I take each week has to be something I can initiate that I would not have done otherwise, whether that means attending a solidarity event, volunteering, donating, starting a dialogue, or calling a legislator.

Step 5: Tell your friends.

Behaviors changes are more likely to be maintained when people have social support for making the change. Share what you’re doing and what you’ve learned with your friends and family. Spread the word. Create a network of people practicing allying.

Step 6: Do it again the next month!

In this way at the end of one month I will know more about two topics and have taken four small actions related to them. If I keep it up over a year, that will lead to knowing more about 24 topics with 48 small actions. If I get my friends to join me, who knows how big the ripples may go.

I may not ever be an ally rock star, but I sure can work at becoming a better one than I currently am.  If those of us who hold privileged identities make an effort to be more intentional allies when there is not a national tragedy, not only might that make us better at responding to tragedies when they do happen, but it might also help us start using our power more effectively to prevent them in the first place. We might not be able to solve all broken things all at once, but that shouldn’t stop us from practicing the actions needed to learn about what is broken and be part of the solution. I hope you join me in this allying challenge!

#WeAreOrlando

By Julia Benjamin, Chair of the APAGS Committee on Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity (CSOGD)

And James J. García, Chair of the APAGS Committee for the Advancement of Racial and Ethnic Diversity (CARED)

Early Sunday morning, the deadliest mass shooting in United States history took the lives of 50 people. The community and countless individuals will bear scars from this attack for the rest of their lives. It occurred on “Latin Night” at an LGBT+-affirming nightclub during Pride month.

We are devastated. We are furious. We are scared. We are heartsick.

Orlando ribbonWe each attended vigils yesterday in remembrance of the victims and survivors, one in Tucson and one in Madison. They were separated by hundreds of miles but at each, we heard our feelings echoed by other voices. It was easy to feel overwhelmed as they spoke of the stark realities LGBT+ individuals face daily and the complex intersecting evils that contributed to this tragedy: fear for our safety, racism, homophobia, transphobia, Islamophobia, and the now real fear of guns. Yet through it all, the other themes that rang loud and clear were those of peace, solidarity, hope, and love.

As graduate students in psychology we are called on to use our knowledge and skills to fight oppression and provide support in times of trial. When the world feels complicated and broken, how can we take steps on our own campuses and in our own lives to hold onto hope and move toward healing systems and souls? Here are some practical things you can do, whether you identify as LGBT+ or as an ally:

  1. Show up
  • Attend the candlelight vigils that are being coordinated nationwide.
  • Get informed – learn about what’s going on, read here and here.
  • Stop by your campus or local city LGBT+ center to meet folks and offer solidarity; click here for the Campus Pride website.
  • Reach out to friends and loved ones, to provide and receive the social support that we know helps confer resilience in times of distress.
  • Show up for yourself – be sure to keep taking care of your own basic needs like sleep, a balanced diet, and exercise.
  1. Speak up
  • Write to your elected officials, U.S senators and representatives.
  • Share your feelings and thoughts and engage in dialogue through blogs, psychology-related listservs, and/or social media.
  • In the upcoming presidential elections, vote with your ballot.
  1. Step up

As more details of this event emerge in the coming days, let us remember that there are layers of complexity to this massacre. Also, let us remember the intersecting identities of those who were affected, as this shooting disproportionately affected people of color and our Latina/o LGBT+ family. Let us stand together with our allies in our mourning, fear, anger, and devastation, but also in our solidarity and hope for a more peaceful, accepting, and just society for all.

Florida

Living at the Intersection: Reflections on the Graduate Student Experience

Guest columnist: Maya Pignatore, Nova Southeastern University

What social identities do you currently identify as most central to you? I identify as bisexual woman, psychologist, wife, daughter, atheist, Italian-American, Geropsychologist, LGBT advocate, nerd…

If you could go back in time, what advice related to your intersecting identities would you give to your former self upon applying for and entering graduate school? Looking back, I don’t think that I connected enough with my own diversity factors when I began graduate school, and this is something I regret. I primarily thought about myself as a white woman from a middle class background. I was in an opposite-sex relationship, was not very out about my bisexual identity, and felt I was more an advocate to the LGBT community rather than an integrated member of that community. Because of this, I primarily approached my “helping” role from an outsiders’ perspective, rather than as a connected member of the groups I worked with.

Over the course of graduate school, I became more connected with my own diversity factors. I feel that being capable of and comfortable with self-defining and disclosing different aspects of identity has helped in more clearly defining my role as a clinician and my relationship to the clients I serve. I wish I had pushed myself to be more open and honest about my multiple identities earlier in my career and had invested more time in exploring the meaning of these different identities.

How have you found support and spaces to talk about your intersecting identities as they relate to graduate school and your quality of life? It has been important to me throughout my training to find safe spaces for myself to express to my different identities. Part of this has been a need to escape the pressure I felt from situations where everything from my knowledge base to my wardrobe was being evaluated for professionalism. I like to have spaces where I can fully indulge in one aspect of myself, without the constraints of another, and particularly without feeling scrutinized. The neutral stance of my therapist identity doesn’t always jive well with my political/feminist activist identity, and neither meshes too well with the more playful side that wants to play video games and get lost in fantasy.

I try to find a balance between settings where I can integrate some aspects of myself, while also maintaining others that are totally separate. I joined the psychology department’s Gay Straight Student Alliance to find a space to be “out” and also indulge my activist side. I seek out professional peers who are willing to spend time discussing tea and movie preferences, without any talk of evidence-based practice. But I also keep other things totally separate from professional life, such as my artwork, which I share anonymously on the Internet. Wearing all my hats at once would probably result in some cervical vertebrae issues, so I take care to give each the spotlight from time to time.

This column is part of a monthly series highlighting the experiences of students and professionals with diverse intersecting identities and is sponsored by the APAGS Committee on Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity and the Committee for the Advancement of Racial and Ethnic Diversity. Are you interested in sharing about your own navigation of intersecting identities in graduate school? We would be happy to hear from you! To learn more, please contact the chair of APAGS CSOGD (Julia Benjamin) or CARED (James Garcia).

 

 

 

Adding your preferred pronouns to your email signature is one of many ways to advocate for and with transgender and gender-nonconforming individuals. (Image source: DaveBleasdale on Flickr. Some rights reserved.)

Signing on for Acceptance: Can Adding Your Gender Pronouns to Your Email Signature Make a Difference?

Adding your preferred pronouns to your email signature is one of many ways to advocate for and with transgender and gender-nonconforming individuals. (Image source: DaveBleasdale on Flickr. Some rights reserved.)

Adding your preferred pronouns to your email signature is one of many ways to advocate for and with transgender and gender-nonconforming individuals. (Image source: Dave Bleasdale on Flickr. Some rights reserved.)

For many of us, especially those of us who hold more privileged identities, a trip to the doctor might not be enjoyable but we can at least assume we will receive relatively respectful service. However, for individuals who identify as transgender and gender nonconforming (TGNC), seeking healthcare can be challenging and at times even dangerous.

According to a study conducted by Lambda Legal:

  • Over one quarter (27%) of TGNC individuals have reported being refused healthcare due to their gender identity.
  • 70% of TGNC people report having experienced explicit discrimination from healthcare professionals, including providers refusing to touch them or using excessive precautions, or blaming the individual for their health status.
  • More than one in five people who identify as TGNC reported experiencing harsh or abusive language from healthcare providers.
  • Nearly 8% of TGNC individuals stated they have experienced physically rough or abusive treatment.
  • TGNC people of color and people who are low-income reporting higher rates of these forms of mistreatment.

These negative interactions with the healthcare system serve as a barrier that prevents TGNC people from receiving sufficient medical treatment, leading to higher rates of preventable illnesses. (For a more personal look at the importance of inclusivity and acceptance in the healthcare setting, check out this video by NYC Health and Hospitals.)

It is clear that there is an urgent need to improve inclusivity for transgender and gender nonconforming people, not only in society at large, but also specifically in the healthcare contexts where we may be working. However, sometimes it can feel daunting to take on something as big as the healthcare system, not to mention society’s attitudes toward gender identity in general.

So what can we do about that as students?

This year healthcare professionals, including psychology students, have worked together to lead several initiatives to address these disparities. For example, Washington, DC recently passed the LGBTQ Cultural Competency Continuing Education Amendment Act that will require cultural competency training for all healthcare providers practicing in Washington DC on topics of sexual orientation and gender identity. It is believed to be the first bill of its kind in the nation to pass, but similar bills have been proposed in other states. Does your state have a bill like this in the works? Connect with your local government and LGBT advocacy organizations to find out!

In another effort that we all can directly participate in, Medical students at the University of Vermont and the Northeast Medical Student Queer Alliance are leading the charge on a simple but powerful way to promote greater awareness and inclusion for TGNC individuals. In honor of LGBTQ Health Awareness Week (Mar. 28-Apr. 1, 2016), they created the hashtag “#pushforpronouns” and are encouraging everyone to add their preferred pronouns into their email signature. (See what kind of traction #pushforpronouns is getting on Twitter.)

My email signature now reads:

“University of Wisconsin – Madison

Counseling Psychology Doctoral Program

APAGS Subcommittee Chair:

Committee on Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity

jzbenjam@gmail.com

Pronouns: She/her”

By including our preferred pronouns in email signatures, we normalize asking about the pronouns of others and volunteering our own pronouns. This can help create a more inclusive atmosphere for individuals who do identify as TGNC by indicating we are accepting of all gender identities and aware of the importance of using preferred pronouns. The direct presentation of pronouns may help challenge assumptions about the gender binary by encouraging email recipients in our communities and workplaces to think and talk about gender pronouns. In this way a small action, like adding our preferred pronouns to our email signature, may be one step along the pathway to creating a more inclusive and accepting society and healthcare system for all people.

Join us in the #pushforpronouns!

Charity Lane

Living at the Intersection: Reflections on the Graduate Student Experience

Charity LaneGuest columnist: Charity R. Lane, Regent University, Class of 2016

My identity as a Christian woman not only holds deep meaning for my life but also directs its course, which has been the reason for this adventure called “graduate school.” The challenge I’ve faced consistently is the decision of priority – what is most important to me? As I navigate my journey it’s extremely easy to get caught up in the current of what those around me do. After all, “going with the flow” does not take too much effort or even conscious decision. However, I realized quickly that the demands of grad school could sweep me up in a way that would rush me by the people and needs of the world around me.

Yet, at the same time, those people and needs can be so overwhelming that I lose the ability to faithfully keep in the “stream” of this journey. It’s at the point of this tension that I’m reminded of the question so persistently knocking in my subconscious – “who are you trying to please?” Not just knowing my identity, but resting in it, allows my life to naturally be aligned with who I know myself to be. From this central anchor for my life, I’m able to face the challenges of priority without shame or guilt and without losing focus – even when those priorities look different from those around me. For example, in the midst of my graduate journey, I made the decision to take an extra year in completing my program in order to focus on areas of my life that held particular meaning for myself as a Christian and a woman. I’ve begun to realize that my life as a Christian woman who is also a psychologist will be different from others. Identifying as a Christian pulls me from the current and sets me down in the present while identifying as a woman keeps me focused on the relationships in my life that are of utmost importance. It is from this secure resting place of knowing my identity that I find the most joy and fulfillment.

A significant learning moment for me came when I was just beginning to think about pursuing my doctorate. My dad, a primary point of support as I’ve navigated intersecting identities, encouraged me to never allow my studies to take away from the genuine desire I have to connect with the hearts of those around me. It was quickly apparent to me that I could grow such an academic perspective on the world that I would lose the purity of relationship with a human on a heart level. Henry David Thoreau stated, “It is an interesting question how far men would retain their relative rank if they were divested of their clothes,” which humorously reminds me that “under the degree” I’m still an embodied soul that desires connection. That is why a secure foundation in my identity as a Christian and a woman will allow me to be consistent wherever I am – inside or outside of academia.

This column is part of a monthly series highlighting the experiences of students and professionals with diverse intersecting identities and is sponsored by the APAGS Committee on Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity and the Committee for the Advancement of Racial and Ethnic Diversity. Are you interested in sharing about your own navigation of intersecting identities in graduate school? We would be happy to hear from you! To learn more, please contact the chair of APAGS-CSOGD (Julia Benjamin) or CARED (James Garcia).