I Became a Mother Again: The Birth Story of Little B

After Rider was born, I had every intention of writing down his birth story, but never followed through. When I was nearing the end with him, I found it intensely soothing to read other women’s stories about how they brought babies into the world. Every story was unique, but the truth about each was that the women telling them would never be the same. People say you forget a lot about pregnancy and delivery – that somehow your mind shuts out all the details and you fall into the same ignorant bliss in which you lived prior to the whole experience. To some degree, that might be true. Those feelings and emotions, however, can never be lost.

This story is mine. And, as my beautiful wife Jamie likes to remind me, I like to take my time with my stories. I wrote this from my heart and, mostly, I wrote it for me. I hope these words help me to preserve the collection of feelings, facts, emotions, details, and moments. I hope I never truly forget this day. For on this day, I became a mother again.

Sunday March 12, 2017

6:42 AM: Rider hadn’t slept past six in weeks so I was overjoyed when I woke up and saw the time. I realized, however, that what had awoken me was some cramping. I got up to use the restroom and tried to analyze a little further what I was feeling. Having already experienced labor, I knew the cramps weren’t contractions – they were more of a constant feeling than a “rolling” one. I was one day past my due date, so technically, she could come anytime. But I was convinced that this was going to go the same way as last time: induction at 41 weeks, birth at 41 weeks and 1 day. I’ll fully admit that I was in complete denial that labor was on its way.

By the time I returned to bed, I could already hear Rider stirring. Jamie was awake so I told her about the cramping. She said she’d get Rider up and dressed, and that I should stay in bed – I didn’t argue. I tried to close my eyes and go back to sleep, but the cramping continued, so I decided to shower. If this really was happening today, I wanted to be damn sure I had one last hot shower before going to the hospital.

7:09 AM: As I got out of the shower and walked around the side of our bed, I felt my first real contraction. I always describe them like little hills – I could feel the pain coming in low, slowly getting more intense; I could feel the peak, the highest point of the pain; and I could feel it slowly lessen, and fade away. This first one was mild – certainly nothing like the sharp contractions I remember from the end of my labor with Rider. At this point, I started to come to grips with the fact that Baby Girl was on her way.

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I had Jamie bring me my camera so I could take final shots of my belly. I had had an idea months prior to document my labor from my perspective. I have these beautiful images in my mind of the moments after Rider was born: the look on Jamie’s face as she gazed at him for the first time; the smile on our doctor’s face as she wrapped Jamie in a giant hug; even the true knot that was in Rider’s chord, a reminder of what a miracle he truly is. All of these images are there in my mind, but I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to capture similar moments for real this second time around.

Jamie and I decided to text her parents at this point. Our Sunday tradition is to meet at the diner down the street for breakfast, but we obviously weren’t going to make it that day. They grabbed coffee and headed to our place. Jamie got started on making us pancakes, and I got comfortable on the recliner in the living room. The whole time I was moving around after that first contraction, I hadn’t felt much else. But as soon as I settled down, they started to come in more often, and with a little more intensity. By 8:30 AM, I had felt two or three more, only about 8 minutes apart. They were still “mild” by my standards, but I wasn’t talking through them. I would just close my eyes and breathe in and out slowly. I never took a birth class or anything, but it’s what I felt like I needed to do.

8:53 AM: Because it was Sunday, we didn’t want to bother our doctor unless this was real. Since Jamie works in medicine, she fully understands how frustrating it is to be on-call and get ridiculous phone calls about non-emergent problems. I wouldn’t be that patient. However, we were starting to think that NOT calling, was just negligent at this point, so got my phone. I reached her answering service, explained the situation, and waited for a call back.

This is where I mention how much I ABSOLUTELY ADORE our doctor. She is one tough woman and exactly the kind of doctor I need. Jamie and I lovingly refer to her as “The Trunch” after the Miss Trunchbull from the movie Matilda because she could be her sister. Despite our reference to a not-so-loving character, however, she’s wonderfully sweet and soft-spoken. She’s all business when she needs to be, and all smiles when I need her to be. I am obsessed with this woman.

When I got the call back, I explained the contractions and she suggested we head into the hospital to get checked. We finished up some final things around the house, gave the Grandparents instructions for taking care of the crazy toddler for the next day or two, and headed to the hospital, which is only a few minutes away. As we pulled out of the driveway, I started to doubt that this was real. I started to think that I had made a big stink of nothing, and that I was going to be one of those woman that’s just experiencing false labor and that they were going to send me right home. By the time we were pulling into the parking garage, however, I was having a pretty intense contraction that, for me, fully confirmed labor was underway.

10:11 AM: We were led into a small room in the triage center where they got me in a gown and hooked up to a monitor that tracked my contractions and the baby’s heart-rate. I could still feel contractions, but the timing was erratic and unpredictable. Jamie pointed out to me on the monitor which line was me and which line was Baby Girl.

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A doctor came in to check me for dilation and stated that I was only about 2 or 3 cm (10 being the goal).

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The monitor must have been quite convincing, though, because the next thing I knew, they were putting a hospital bracelet on me, a coaching bracelet on Jamie, and calling for a room on the labor and delivery floor. It was go time.

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11:37 AM: We settled into our room just before Doc arrived with a giant smile and a plan. There was a huge storm set to cloak the entire tri-state area in [what could have been] feet of snow Monday night and all day Tuesday. She wanted us home before it hit (and we couldn’t agree more) so she would break my water to get labor moving. If all went well, we’d have this baby out soon, and be home by dinner the next day!


When Doc broke by water, however, she found that there was meconium, the dark “first poop” of an infant, meaning the baby had had a bowel movement in the womb. This can be dangerous for newborns because it could lead to meconium aspiration syndrome if the baby inhales it during or immediately after birth. She told us that she’d have to have the pediatrician close by after delivery and that they’d have to clear the baby’s airways right away to prevent aspiration.
After Doc left the room, Jamie and I started to set the stage for labor, for we had learned a few things from our first time through this rodeo. First of all, we brought a little hand-held paper fan. I was sweating out *what felt like* every drop of water when I was in labor with Rider, so we got the fan out and ready. Jamie helped herself to wash cloths and a small basin from the supply closet – I had gotten sick all over myself every other contraction last time, so we wanted to be ready. I also had Jamie add some inspiration to my labor board. A lightning bolt: to remind me of Harry Potter, a bad-ass survivor. The Origin of Love face: a reminder of the power Jamie and I hold as a couple (and how even the gods are scared of our strength and defiance). And the words “Take some sky”: a message from my father to breathe, be in this moment, you got this.


12:14 PM: Labor started progressing pretty quickly after my water was broken. I was mostly laboring on my left side at that point, gripping the side of the bed or Jamie’s hand during my contractions. As with Rider, most of my labor pain was in my back. They say it all depends on the position of the baby, but all I know is that back labor is so not fun. My contractions seemed to linger just a bit longer than the monitor would indicate. Jamie would talk me through each one: “Ok, one is coming in….great job, baby. Keep breathing. Almost at the peak. Now it’s fading…you’re doing great. Almost done…” I would listen to her words and would imagine floating on a wave. The beginning of the contraction would lead me up the wave. I could look out and see the ocean from the top and that would comfort me at the height of the contraction. Then, I could hear Jamie leading me back down. I would count on that time between waves to recover each time. But the pain in my back would stay long into that rest period, making the time between contractions feel so much smaller.


Doc walked in just as I was at the peak of a contraction. When I came back down, she commented on my breathing: “Wow, awesome job. You’re a professional!” It made me feel like a rockstar. Then, she casually asked if I had eaten breakfast. I rambled on about how Jamie had made us pancakes and how I wanted to be sure that I ate something in case it was my last meal for a while. She laughed, left the room, and I had no reason to think anything of it. But Jamie, on the other hand…Jamie knows why doctors ask these questions, because she’s the one usually asking them.

“Uh-oh,” she had said. “That’s not good.”

What? Why not?”

“She wants to know if you’ve eaten because she’s considering a c-section. I think she’s worried about the baby’s heart-rate.”

For the last two hours, I hadn’t paid much attention to the line on the monitor that tracked our little girl’s heart-rate. I was just focused on me. I glanced up and saw that her heart-rate was consistently jumping each time I had a contraction. It scared me. All at once, fear hit me that everything was wrong.

In that moment, I knew I needed to take some sky….and refocus.

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One of the reasons I love my wife so much is that she always seems to know exactly what I need at very crucial times. Without any conversation about it, we breathed together. We refocused. Between each contraction, she would remind me to stay steady. During each, she would speak calmly, helping me to zero in my energy, to aim it toward those never-ending waves of pain that were coming more rapidly now. It was working. Baby Girl’s heart-rate was slowly coming back into the safe zone. That is where we stayed. Deep inhale through the nose, long exhale through the mouth. Eyes closed.

Take.

Some.

Sky.

1:07 PM: One of the nurses came in and had me change positions to encourage labor further. She told me to sit on the edge of the labor and delivery bed so that my feet were planted on the part of the bed that drops down. It was certainly not a comfortable position, but it worked to move things along. In that time, Doc came to sit with us and started asking us questions about our lives. Even though I was sitting there in an awkward position, breathing through contractions every few minutes, it was wonderful to just get to chat. Jamie even shared with her some pictures of our wedding, Day of the Dead themed with a fully choreographed flash mob scene!

But before, long, I was so longer able to participate in the conversation. My contractions were speeding up, and the pain was nearing its height – the level I remember from the end of labor with Rider. I had started to moan with my exhale – a deep “oh” from way back in my throat – to help stabilize me during the pain. I used each exhale to visualize the baby making her way lower and lower. It’s an exercise I’ve used most of my life as a pitcher, and now it was going to help me give birth.


1:44 PM: Throughout my labor to this point, I had kept my camera in my hand, snapping pictures whenever something caught my eye that I wanted to document. At 1:44, I took one last picture of my view of my belly, and handed my camera to Jamie. I needed all of my strength focused on Baby Girl.

The nurse rolled me onto my right side and pulled out a giant “peanut ball”. It looked just like a therapy ball, but in the shape of a peanut! She put it between my knees and said that it would help open up my hips and pelvis to keep the baby moving to where she needed to be. Well, this thing worked like a freakin charm, because just one contraction later, I was feeling the pressure.

And I mean PRESSURE. When I was in labor with Rider, I remember getting to a point at the end where I felt like I couldn’t NOT push. Basically, my body was forcing me to “bear down”, a sensation that I couldn’t stop.

I was still on my side when it started and Doc was standing at the foot of my bed. “Are you pushing?” she asked, sounding pretty shocked. I wasn’t able to answer right away. All of my energy was focused on breathing through and trying not to push (which is a feeling unlike any other and one that I don’t think I will ever be able to properly explain). I finally choked out, “I’m trying NOT to.” It felt like only seconds later, another contraction hit, and this time, I felt that familiar burn of what they call “the ring of fire”. Baby Girl was crowning. I closed my eyes to focus – I would only open them one time, just briefly, before she arrived.

Again, I was fighting not to push. I could sense the room around me preparing for delivery, but I don’t recall anyone giving me any actual instructions yet. So I stayed on my side, eyes closed, straddling a giant peanut, stutter-breathing through pain and pressure. I tried to say, “crowing!” to Jamie, but the word came out all garbled.

“What did she say?” I heard Doc ask Jamie.

“I have no idea,” Jamie responded. “Babe, what was that?”

“Pain….” I finally got out. More stutters to fight pushing. “Pain-like-crowning!” Now they got it. Baby Girl was coming.

I was flipped onto my back. Eyes still closed. They checked that my cervix was fully dilated and I was given permission to push with the contractions. They pulled out handle bars on the sides of the bed and leg-holders where I could rest my legs between pushes.

Eyes still closed.

My first push was a complete waste. I thought my body would remember how to properly push from last time, but I could feel that I wasn’t doing it right. Jamie was at my right side, reminding me that I could do this. The nurses were there instructing me to focus my energy toward the baby.

Eyes still closed.

I took some little breaths, raised my hands to my armpits, and pushed them back down past my hips and toward my knees, repeating this another couple of times. I felt like Mr. Miyagi and I might have looked really silly, but I could feel the energy in my body change. I was ready to push again.

Eyes still closed.

The second push was money. That “ring of fire” pain grew more intense, and I knew I was doing it right. It was at this point last time that I felt fear. I remember pulling back on the push, suddenly afraid of what pushing a baby out would feel like. Not this time. I was ready for that fear this time, and instead of pulling back, I pushed straight through it. Baby Girl would be here in just minutes.

This is Jamie’s favorite part of the story (up to the point that she got to see our little girl, that is), and one of the reasons why we adore our OB so much. I heard Doc speaking to me about the next push. I still had my eyes closed, breathing slowly, and was concentrating on what she was saying. But she needed more.

“Cali. CALI. Look at me,” she said sternly, but calmly. I opened my eyes for the first time since that first tinge of crowning. It took my eyes a moment to adjust, but then I locked my stare with Doc’s. She was completely calm, but I could tell that she really needed me to HEAR what she was about to say.

“After you push her head out, you are going to hear me say ‘STOP.’ I need you to stop pushing at that point so I can clear her airways. Do you hear me?” I gave her a firm nod, still looking her right in the eyes so she knew I understood. I didn’t realize it at the time, but this moment was proof that our OB is, flat-out, our hero. Because of the meconium, our little girl’s airways needed to be cleared immediately to avoid aspiration; it was crucial for her safety. Doc conveyed this with just a look and a few strong words. Again I say it – HERO.

I closed my eyes and found my focus once more. It took two more pushes before I heard Doc tell me to stop. Baby Girl’s head was out. It was almost over.

3:08 PM: Just before the next contraction came, I heard Doc tell me to give one more strong push. When I could sense the wave coming in, I gave it my all and felt, in a giant rush, our little girl come out.


My eyes SHOT open immediately to find Jamie to my right. “CAMERA!” I shouted. She snapped out of her adorable gaze at our daughter, grabbed my camera off the table, and handed it to me. I started snapping frantically, afraid I would miss something.


Doc had told us that once she got the chord cut, Baby Girl would have to go immediately to the warmer to be looked over by the pediatrician.

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I didn’t worry about framing the pictures perfectly, or getting the lighting right. I just point-and-clicked my way through the next several minutes. Doc walked our little girl to the warmer and returned to the foot of my bed to continue to tend to me. That is when she looked up at us with a giant grin and asked, “So? What’s her name?”

Jamie and I had decided to keep Baby Girl’s name a secret (even from our families) until she was born. This was the first time we were going to say it. We both looked at each other with huge smiles, and then back at Doc. “Birdie,” we said in unison. Doc’s grin got even bigger. “My nickname was Bird as a kid,” she said with a beautiful air of nostalgia. The moment was perfect.

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Jamie made her way over to the warmer once the pediatrician had checked on Birdie’s breathing, and I’m sure dozens of over things.


As the nurses and hospital staff bustled around, all at once cleaning up the room, assisting Doc, recording information, and tending to Birdie, Jamie stood beside the warmer and bonded with our daughter for the first time.


I tried to capture the magic of those moments with pictures, but the feeling in my heart will always just be mine to cherish. She is one incredible Mother, and my perfect partner, and watching her gaze into the eyes of our daughter in that delivery room, I could feel that our family was complete.


* * * * *

Looking at these photographs now gives me such joy. That sense of accomplishment that flooded me just after the birth of both of our children comes rushing back. I hope on the days that I am doubting myself, or my body, I can pull myself back to the strength of those days, and remember what a powerful being I really am.

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All The Things She Said

Today I saw 146 students take a seat in my classroom throughout the day. As each class excitedly sat down, looking nervously around the room for some clue as to what lay ahead, I found myself preparing my words carefully. I had thought long and hard about how I wanted to conduct my classes today, but now that it was actually time to go through with it, I couldn’t help but feel a little nervous. At one point, I even thought I was going to chicken out. Today was the day I came out to my students.

A few months ago, I wrote a post entitled “My Fear Landscape” – a kind of flash-forward to today. What’s interesting is that today went very similar to how I had predicted in that post. When I wrote it, it seemed like a lifetime away. It felt like I had all the time in the world to prepare for today – and now it’s already gone. As I said in that initial post, I didn’t want my coming out to feel like an announcement. Basically, I started every introduction today the same way I always do: “Welcome to the 7th Grade! I am Mrs. Chappell and I will be your Homeroom Teacher for the entire year!” But this time I didn’t move on. For all 6 of my classes I walked over to the board where I had written my name: Mrs. Chappell. I referenced the “Mrs.” in my name and continued, “I am a ‘Mrs.’ because I got married last year. But my last name ‘Chappell’ is the one I was given at birth. My marriage is a little different than most because I married a woman, not a man. I may end up changing my name someday to match my Wife’s last name, but for now I’m ‘Mrs. Chappell’.” When I said this for the first time, I felt myself get a little red in the face and my heart started to race. But as the day went on, it got easier and easier.

As I said, I saw 146 students take a seat in my classroom today and out of those, 5 were in the wrong room. I made my little announcement to 141 students altogether. 4 of them never looked up from their desk. 2 made some sort of snickering noise. 14 smiled at me. 3 of them clapped  (I’m not kidding – they literally clapped). 11 of them turned to look at a friend. 1 raised her hand. And 106 didn’t react at all. I guess you could say it went well!

The student that raised her hand was in first period. I got a little nervous when I saw it – this could go very wrong. “My Fear Landscape” popped into my head again. I called on her and she said, “Could I ask a question that I hope won’t offend you?” I laughed a little and said, “Let’s hear it.” She asked, “What does that tattoo on your arm mean?”

Isn’t it funny the things we fear?

Today was just day one and I do anticipate some bumps in the road ahead. But with all I have learned about myself and the world around me, I wouldn’t trade today for anything.

I’m Tired of Living in a PC World

I’m tired of living in Politically Correct World.

There I said it.

I know I’ll get some backlash from people in my community for this post, but I have sat on this piece for too long.

Tensions have been high in recent LGBT news following the Great T-Word Scandal of 2014 and despite my strong opinions on the matter, I stayed away from Social Media battles relating to the issue. Because as much as I hate personal freedoms and individual rights being slammed, I hate even more the division it all causes in our very own community.

However, last week I stumbled across an article, the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back, and realized then that this post was long overdue.

The article title caught my attention right away: “‘Cards Against Humanity’ Co-Creator Publicly Apologizes for Transphobic Card”. I own the game and know well that it is intentionally rude and politically incorrect, with a tagline on the game that reads “A party game for horrible people”. The game is similar to the clean, politically correct game of Apples to Apples, where players play red cards (e.g. Lobster) in their hand to best fit a green card category (e.g. Expensive). In Cards Against Humanity, a black card is drawn and revealed that has a fill-in-blank sentence on it. Players choose a white card from their hand, cards that only have words or phrases on them, to complete the sentence. Of course the goal is to be the player to make the funniest combination – like in MadLibs. The game is not exactly everyone’s cup of tea – the kind of game some never admit to enjoy. To further prove this point, I drew one black card and one white card at random: “This is the way the world ends. This is the way the world ends. Not with a bang, but with: Throwing a virgin into a volcano.” Let the laughter ensue.

So, when I saw the title of the article, my first thought was, “What could possibly be so terrible in a game like that to coax an apology from one of its creators?” I mean, isn’t that the point of the game? To gather with close friends and safely laugh at horribly disgusting terms and pairings that are not well-accepted in public? Isn’t that like going to Dick’s Last Resort and complaining that the waiter was rude?

And if the article title wasn’t enough to spark my curiosity, there was this accompanying picture:

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fusion.net

The card read “Passable transvestites.” No way could this be the card that made such a fuss. NO WAY could people be so incredibly self-involved to expect that even in a “game for horrible people” all must bend so as not to hurt feelings and stir up politically correct social anxiety. And yet, that was exactly the case.

In the article, I found out that Tumbler user “horriblewarning” (strange irony there) is the owner of the original picture. He says he and his friends were playing the game and collectively felt that this card was wrong and transphobic so they had a little fun with it. They burned it, took a few photos and posted it to Tumbler with the caption “DEATH TO TRANSPHOBIA”.

Now, to be clear, I have no real issue with horriblewarning (Jonah, 19) and his friends not liking the card. To me, everyone has a right to an opinion, and if that was there’s, fine. I even have just a mild annoyance at the dramatic post online, but this is the Age of Social Media after all.

My problem is with the insane angry-mob-like reaction the post received. All of a sudden, the post was spreading like wildfire as users screamed for justice and apologies for the “transphobic card”. Are these people serious? Do you honestly expect to sweep the world and remove any politically incorrect humor in existence? Should I call up Joan Rivers and let her know that her comedy will no longer be allowed on this planet? Should we gather up every “A priest and rabbi walk into a bar” joke and ensure that they never again see the light of day?

And let’s focus on the card, once more, shall we? “Passable Transvestites”. If the LGBT community (or whomever) is really all that pissed about this card, how about a vocabulary lesson: Transvestite means any person who is dressing like a member of the opposite sex or gender, typically for emotional or sexual satisfaction. The terms Transgender or Transsexual are not interchangeable with Transvestite.

And this is my point – because of all of the uproar about transphobic slurs and the use of the word “Tranny” and the “She-Male” game on RuPaul’s Drag Race, we are too sensitive. We can’t even see a play on words as funny anymore (“Ooh, Girl. You’ve got She-Mail”). Is it really true that after all of these years fighting for LGBT rights, we want to pick a fight over words? This weekend marks the 45th Anniversary of the Stonewall Riots in New York City. Every year, we celebrate the progress we’ve made and look to further that progress. In the last few months, that progress has felt slow to me, as more and more members of my community turn on each other, on allies, on artists, and on the future. How is it that we have decided that policing others’ individual rights is more important than fighting for our own?

The truth is, there will always be things that offend us – some more than others. If we are able to deal with those offenses on a small, one-on-one basis, there will be no need for massive public slayings of people who seem to have mis-stepped. Being the community that needs a red carpet laid out across a politically correct universe seems a little silly coming from a group of people that started as outcasts and rebels, don’t you think?

The Secret Life of Bianca Del Rio

First of all, if you haven’t heard of Bianca Del Rio, Google her – immediately. And it’s completely okay if you find yourself sucked into the YouTube vortex for hours because you can’t get enough. Guilty.

Bianca Del Rio, born Roy Haylock, was raised in New Orleans but is now a staple in the New York City drag scene, quickly gaining fans and followers around the world. She has referred to herself as an “Insult Queen – like Don Rickles. Only in a dress. And prettier and not as old.” Bianca is currently a contestant on the Sixth Season of Ru Paul’s Drag Race on LogoTV. Fans of the show have been getting small glimpses of Bianca’s “Rolodex of Hate” as she fires line after line at her fellow contestants, former competitors, Drag Race judges and even Ru herself. If you have ever seen her live onstage, you know that nobody in that audience is safe, and any cowardly soul that dares call out from their “safe place” behind the lights will be quickly read for filth right then and there. She is loud and brash and  doesn’t apologize one bit for it.

“If you don’t wear a wig, they call you a nasty, hateful Queen. But if you wear a wig, they call it hysterical. So it’s kind of like the packaging to get away with murder.” *

reganwrite.wordpress.com

reganwrite.wordpress.com

However, what many might not realize (even though it is absolutely evident on the show) is that Bianca Del Rio isn’t always the Brazen Bitch she plays on stage.  As the episodes of Drag Race peel back the layers of Bianca, we see more and more of her soft side. As much as she may deny it, Bianca is clearly full of heart. I have seen Bianca live a few times since I am right outside New York City, but last night I was fortunate enough to see an even more intimate side of the “Queen of Mean”.

Huffingtonpost.com

Huffingtonpost.com

Feathers, a gay club  in River Edge, New Jersey, held a “White Party” last night hosted by Bianca. We live just down the street from the club and Jamie and I spent many nights in our late early twenties [Hedwig reference 😉] boozing and dancing on the 2nd Floor stage like we didn’t have a future. When we saw that Bianca would be hosting there, we couldn’t pass it up – but when we purchased the VIP ticket that included a photo op Meet and Greet, we didn’t really know what to expect. Let me tell you, she worked her little padded ass off all night, ensuring that she spent real time with the fans that came out to see her. She went from photos, to meet and greet, to performance, to more meet and greet. She even took the time outside the club to sign more autographs and chat with fans. She took shots with us at the bar and listened to peoples’ personal stories. Throughout the night I heard her voice several times how grateful she was to have such opportunities.

It was most incredible to hear about the way she perceives her explosion of fame. Outside after the show, she was talking about what she does and the feedback she’s gotten in cities across the country. She had said, “People scream, ‘I LOVE YOU BIANCA!’ and I’m thinking, ‘A few months ago, you didn’t even know who I was.’ It’s not like I’m curing Cancer. I’m a man in a wig. But if it helps people I’m all for it!” It got me thinking about how she is indeed helping. She is a strong, confident gay man, comfortable in what she does, qualities that I’m certain were not gained overnight. Thousands of teens across the nation, and even across the world, can see her and draw inspiration from her.

When I started the Unity Link club at my school that creates a safe place for my students to gain support and talk, I never guessed that it would develop into a secondary club for teens “struggling” with sexual orientation and gender identity. Now, we have a club that meets every Monday for teens from around the district to gather and talk LGBTQ-related issues – we call it “Oz”. Until a few weeks ago, many of my students had never heard of Ru Paul’s Drag Race nor of Bianca Del Rio. But in one meeting I quoted the famous Jackie Curtis when she had said, “I am not a boy. I am not a girl. I am not gay. I am not straight. I am not a drag queen, not a transexual. I am me, Jackie.” The discussion led to drag queens and eventually I started talking about Drag Race. Well, the next week there was an explosion of energy over the show. Many of the kids had gone home and binge-watched the series, becoming fully educated on their favorites. I found it not at all shocking when a handful of the boys in the group gravitated toward Bianca. She is exactly the kind of example of success they need in a world that is still telling them “no”.

“Everybody is an original. It takes a minute to find ‘your thing’. It’s just finding what your passion is. And not thinking, ‘I need to do that because someone else is doing it.’ But also realize that people are going to compare, people are going to have an opinion. Everybody thinks that they know more than you. But it really is a little journey for yourself.”*

Thank you, Bianca, for being all we need – Bitch, Comedian, Friend, Inspiration, and Role Model. You may not be curing Cancer, but the world could certainly use the dose of laughter and originality you insist on administering, so keep bringing it relentlessly!

dragofficial.com

dragofficial.com

*From an interview with fellow performer Marti Gould Cummings posted on April 23, 2014.

Q is for Questioning

-In the leather-bound diary of a thirteen-year old girl-

Thursday April 3, 2014

5:12  PM

Dear Diary,

Omigod. Omigod. Omigod. I couldn’t even WAIT to get home to write about what just happened! Today after school there was this meeting for this new club at school, Unity Link. They posted all week that the meeting was to discuss LGBT and that is sooooo what I need right now. But I was, like, super nervous to just show up and spill my beanz. I mean, I tell YOU everything, Diary, but I can’t just talk about that kind of stuff out loud, ya know?

Anyway, I went and there were, like, 20 other people there and everything seemed cool. I was thinking, how are we going to talk with these teachers here? But then this other girl named Jahira was telling about how she likes this girl but her parents say it’s a phase and I was thinking, this sounds like me. But then the CRAZIEST thing happened.

One of the teachers started talking about how it’s sometimes hard to be open about yourself when so many people around you don’t get it. And I was starting to think, how would she know. But then she totally said she was gay! She was just like, I want to tell you guys that I don’t want to hide who I am and stuff, but, like, it’s hard at school and stuff. And then she was like, I’m married to a girl. OMG. I was going crazy.

So many people were telling their stories and this one boy Ray was even saying how his sister is gay – that would be cool because then you’d always have someone to talk to about it. And this girl Ash that I have in my science class was talking about transgender and I learned what “cis” means.

OMG it was the coolest meeting ever. We all said how we want to do it again so the teachers said they’d hold another meeting on MONDAY! Finally something that makes Mondays good! I can’t wait!

Mom is calling me to dinner –  taco night! PEACE.

Leap of Faith

Wow, it has been one crazy whirlwind these last few months! I took the task of Unity Link head on and I have been dedicating every extra minute at work to the cause. I am very pleased with how everything is coming together, but it is definitely exhausting!

Since the club (and concept in our school) is brand new, I wanted to build interest fast. What better way than with food? For the first meeting, I asked the teachers that volunteered as Advisors to donate snacks like chips, cookies, pretzels, water and soda. I worked with some of my Honors students to create colorful posters to hang around the school during the month of February. I also put a flyer in the mailbox of all of our Homeroom Teachers explaining the new club and asking them to read it aloud to their 1st Period Class. Finally, an announcement went into the daily announcements around the middle of February stating that the first Unity Link meeting would be March 4th (with a little play on words to “March forth in Unity”) after school in the Cafeteria – and that refreshments would be served.

Snack donations poured into my classroom from teachers for the next few weeks and finally March 4th rolled around. We were pretty much flying blind the day of the meeting, unsure of how many kids would show up. A few of us gathered in the Cafeteria and pulled down a few tables – enough for about 30. Since we announced that the meeting wouldn’t begin until 3:30 (30 minutes after school ended) we sat and waited for a bit. Through the cafeteria door windows we saw students starting to gather….and gather….and gather. By the time 3:30 rolled around, we actually had to Black-Friday-Style manage the doors, to be sure no one ended up trampled!

One-hundred-and-twenty-two.

That’s right – 122 students! I could not believe it. Sure, many of these kids were just there because they heard the word “food”, but it was a genuine testament to the fact that these kids need something like this. After letting them socialize for a bit, while enjoying free snacks, I took the mic and explained what the club was about. I answered a few questions and ended by asking anyone that was interested in attended future meetings to sign up by grade. Out of the 122 there, 106 signed up. It was incredible.

Since then, we’ve had a handful of meetings and have even started planning a video project, using Hunter Hayes’ “Invisible” as our inspiration. We’ve been keeping the meetings separated by grade since 100 students in one meeting would be too counter-productive. We have a “Topic Box” where students can anonymously suggest future discussion topics and each week, we’ve picked a new topic. It’s been a slow start, but successful nonetheless!

This week we’re trying something new. Instead of having the meetings divided by grade, all with the same topic, we decided to conduct 3 meetings after school in different rooms with different Advisors and 3 different topics. That way, the kids get to choose which is most relevant to their lives.

So here is where my Leap of Faith comes in because the topics for this week are:

1. Trust

2. High School and the Future

3. LGBT – Oh here it goes.

I am both incredibly excited and slightly scared to lead this LBGT discussion on Thursday. But, this could be the beginning of something amazing at my school and I am so happy to be a part of it. If this discussion helps a few of these kids, who’ve already expressed their insecurities with being gay, realize that they aren’t alone, then that is all I have been hoping for!

Wish me luck. 🙂

From greatleadersserve.org

From greatleadersserve.org

Tolerance, Acceptance and UNITY

I took the first steps this week to create an on-campus club similar to the nationally recognized “Gay-Straight Alliance”!

I started by emailing my school Principal, with the basic idea. He responded back to set up a meeting for the following afternoon. To the meeting, I brought a few of the ideas that I had for a mission statement and how to advertise the new club to the students.

My biggest fear with the creation of a club like this is that it will turn into a source of embarrassment. I would never want the members of the club to feel like they had to defend their involvement against harassment at school. I would never want the club’s purpose to become counter-productive. My principal had the same concerns. We had a very productive “brain-storming” session about how to best move forward with the idea and came up with something that I am so proud of!

We decided that it would not be best to create an official “Gay-Straight Alliance” at the Middle School level. We realized that it would be difficult to create the safe environment that we are hoping for, without a prior track-record of trustworthy members and/or advisors. We chose instead to move forward with a “social club”, promoting it as an environment encouraging acceptance and tolerance. I named the club “Unity Link” and drafted a Mission Statement to present to our Guidance Counselors and to our Board of Education.

Mission: Unity Link is an extra-curricular club and social organization that connects students to each other and to the New Jersey Middle School Faculty through peer support, leadership development and discussion. The purpose of Unity Link is to provide a safe environment for students to form alliances and inter-personal relationships that can help strengthen individual confidence. Unity Link will also create a platform to combat teasing, discrimination, harassment, and bullying school-wide. A secondary benefit of the organization is to provide a direct “link” from this alliance to the NJMS Faculty Advisor(s) of the club.

 Why Unity Link is needed: A 2013 survey of Bullying in the United States indicated that one in four kids are bullied on a regular basis. The same survey showed that about 77% of all students reported some kind of verbal bullying. Out of that 77%, 14% have a severe reaction to the abuse, leading to poor self-esteem, depression, anxiety, and thoughts of suicide.* Student polls have indicated that when an organization like Unity Link is present on campus, students feel safer and more supported. **

The response to the Mission Statement was incredible. The Guidance Counselors on-campus seem very excited about this and so am I. We are still awaiting Board approval, but I am very happy that this first step went so smoothly. Hopefully, in just a few weeks, I will be having my first meeting!

*BullyingStatistics.org, **GSANetwork.org