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I’m one of those lesbians who is most comfortable in faded jeans, a t-shirt, no socks, and boat shoes; who wears no makeup and is almost totally grey; who has never had a mani-pedi or massage; who is often called “sir” and enjoys sporting very short hair.  I have thick, wavy, and unruly hair – like its owner, it does what it wants when it wants.

I’ve been “out” pretty much forever and I stopped going to women’s hair salons about twenty years ago.  I switched to barber shops for several reasons: I was pissed that salons charged me twice what a man paid for a haircut even though I had short hair; salons were much more expensive regardless of the service performed; salons required an appointment so I couldn’t just swing by when I was out running errands; salons took forever; and most importantly, every woman stylist with whom I’ve interacted has been very uncomfortable cutting my hair the way that I like it – short, like a guy.

I live down the shore in New Jersey but I moved in with my mom in Connecticut this summer to be her caretaker following a health crisis. My hair kept getting shaggier and I wasn’t going to pay $60+ for a haircut (everything here is so expensive!) so I found a Groupon and off I went yesterday, when mom had visitors.  I popped into the salon and was greeted by a gorgeous woman who was dressed to the nines; she looked me up and down and wasn’t at all sure what the hell I was doing there.  I asked if anyone had time to do a walk-in.  She looked at me.  I tried again and explained that I had no appointment but I did have a Groupon and I asked if someone had time to cut my hair.  Still she looked at me.  So I shut up and I looked at her.  Then finally she announced, “I do you,” like she had decided to accept the nearly impossible challenge with which I presented her.

Her name was Angelica and she didn’t speak English.  In fact, that was the case with everyone in the salon except for the owner, who was bilingual – the women who worked there as well as the clientelle were all Spanish-speaking.  Two strikes against me: compared to Angelica I looked like I just rolled out of bed and I only spoke English.  The third strike was coming soon.

My Groupon was for a wash, cut, and style so Angelica washed my hair and then marched me over to her chair.  I dug my phone out of my pocket and showed her a photo of how I usually look right after my barber finishes with me.  She put her hands on her hips and was not at all pleased.  Angelica called the owner over.  I showed her the picture.  The owner and Angelica went back and forth in Spanish and I kept hearing the word “masculino” in the mix.  I chuckled.  Finally, the owner turned to me and said, “She’s a very talented stylist and she’ll cut your hair but not as short as you’re used to –  you’ll like it, I promise.”  So, in spite of the three strikes against me, Angelica and I took a leap of faith together.

I removed my glasses, without which I can see nothing, and I put myself in Angelica’s capable hands.  She took a deep breath and began.  Angelica was meticulous – an artist at work on a masterpiece.  No buzz of a razor here; she used three different scissors, two brushes, a comb, a spritzer, and a blow-dryer.  She turned me this way and that.  She walked around and around me, snipping as she went, hands and scissors flying, with lips pursed and her face reflecting an expression of intense concentration.  Finally, over half an hour later (the barber takes eight minutes – insert inappropriate sexual joke here) we were finished.  I put on my glasses and Angelica showed me all sides of my new doo.  We were both very happy with the result:

I gave Angelica a very generous tip, a great deal of praise, many thanks, and a big smile.  Angelica returned my smile and gave me a really wonderful haircut that was short but not masculino.  It was a victory for Angelica and a lesson for me: I’ve been forced out of my comfort zone a great deal over the last couple of years and often it’s been just the push that I needed in order to move on to something better.  Taking risks and embracing change are both very difficult but have consistently resulted in a happier and healthier me – and now in a slightly less masculino me as well!  Will I return to the barber when I eventually move back home?  Yes. But Angelica and I will always have Norwalk.

I applied for health coverage offered under the U.S. Affordable Care Act (ACA) in the fall of 2015 after my position was eliminated following a merger and reorganization.  I had been on COBRA briefly but at $900/month there was no way that I could afford it.  I had no income at the time and the ACA website informed me that I did not meet the requirements for ACA coverage but I did qualify for Medicaid.  My application was automatically forwarded from the ACA website to the State of New Jersey and after a few months of waiting for coverage, with no idea when it actually went into effect, I became an official recipient of public assistance in January 2016.

I was thrilled to have free health, dental, and prescription coverage as well as receive one pair of subsidized eyeglasses annually under Medicaid.  My first appointment was with an optometrist and my second a dentist – neither required me to work through my official Medicaid primary care provider (PCP) – and I could not have been happier.  Next up was my first appointment with my PCP and I wasn’t concerned at all because my health plan said that my existing PCP was an in-network provider.  So, I made my appointment as usual and when I showed up I was informed that my PCP did not see Medicaid patients at his regular office; I was told to call the Jersey Shore Clinic and make an appointment with him there.

After two days of trying unsuccessfully to reach the Clinic, the phone just rang and rang and rang without even an answering system picking up, I decided to go there in person to make an appointment.  The blinds were closed in front of the registration desk and this is what I saw:

No wonder no one ever picked up the phone!  As I had no other option because no one who worked at the Clinic was anywhere to be found in or around the waiting area, I filled out the form (picture on the left) and deposited it in the box (picture on the right).  I wrote the name of my PCP on the form and explained that I needed to see him as a follow-up to my last appointment with him.  Several days later I received a call from the Clinic to set up an appointment and in two weeks I went earlier than my given time in case I needed to do any paperwork.

My appointment was at 1pm.  I was the last person left in the Clinic when it closed that evening.  I spent all afternoon there, saw an intake nurse, went back to the waiting room, and about 90 minutes later I met with a resident who wasn’t even being overseen by my PCP.  The resident consulted with his attending mid-appointment because what I wanted (specific blood tests following a substantial weight loss to see if “my numbers” were normalizing; an order for a mammogram; and referrals to my surgeon, cardiologist, gastroenterologist, and dermatologist) would trigger red flags from Medicaid.  I waited about 30 minutes for him to return.  Then I was told to make an appointment to come back in three months and go to the waiting room, where I would be called to retrieve my test orders and referrals.  Over an hour later, when no one else was present in the entire establishment, I was finally called in to get my documents – I was given an order for the mammogram and very basic blood work, and referrals to a gastroenterologist and dermatologist; I wasn’t able to see my surgeon or cardiologist, nor were the blood tests that I actually needed ordered even though I presented the resident with ample justification for doing them.  I was supposed to return to the Clinic this month; I’m never going back.  Instead, I just paid $2000 (thank goodness for credit cards) for a year of student health insurance through the university at which I am presently engaged in doctoral study.  Anything has to be better than so-called “managed care” under Medicaid.

As someone who worked in academic health sciences for nearly 20 years, I have heard health care professionals, time and time again, sincerely wonder with their colleagues why people on public assistance go to the Emergency Department (ED) for non-emergent, primary care.  Well, I can solve The Great ED Mystery once and for all: require all health professions students to spend one year on Medicaid and they will never again ask that question.

Part I: And Now for Something Completely Different

Hello, fellow travelers of the blogosphere!

It has been far, FAR too long since I last shared with you a Detour Thru My Mind.  If I told you that I had been so busy that I just hadn’t had the time then would you believe me?  Thanks – I knew that I could count on you for support.

Truthfully, time constraints are partially the reason but I can’t blame my job, which recently disappeared, for everything.  As some of you may or may not know, after 16 years of being out of school, I started anew on a PhD in the fall of 2012.  It’s a joint program at two institutions of higher education in Urban Systems, which combines the fields of urban health, urban education, and urban environments/planning.

Why, you may be asking, would anyone in her right mind want to do a joint PhD that encompasses three distinct areas when a doctorate at a single institution in only one area is typically challenging enough?  Excellent question!  And when I come to my senses than I’ll let you know my answer!

All kidding aside, I was looking for a program in urban studies because I am interested in learning more about the migration of particular groups of people who have traditionally been located in cities: specifically, sexual and gender minorities (SGMs), otherwise known as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and genderqueer (LGBTQGQ) folks.  There are over 100 different terms for SGMs but I have reduced the alphabet soup down to its saucy essentials (can you tell that I enjoyed watching The Food Network before I could no longer afford cable?).  For those of you who are fairly new to this terminology, let me take a moment to unpack LGBTQGQ for you because I just lumped together two distinct groups of people: those identified by their sexual orientation (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and queer) and those identified by their gender (transgender and genderqueer).

I’m using the diagram below in spite of the fact that its creator, Sam Killermann, seems to have plagiarized the original 2005 concept; you can read the investigative trail for yourself at the link provided but I still find the infographic useful and I hope that you do, too.  No use throwing out the gingerbread person with the cookie sheet.  Pay particular attention to the differences among identity, attraction, sex, and expression as well as the continuums to the right that attempt to debunk notions of binary identifications within those four categories (“attempt” being the operative word here, as the continuums are still binary – but sometimes social justice educators have to take what we can get!).  I’ll give you a few minutes to explore The Genderbread Person so you can better understand my usage of LGBTQGQ.  Go ahead.  Really.  I’ll wait.


Click on the image to see a larger version – it opens in a new window or tab so you can easily return to the blog.

All done?  Excellent!  Now that I have addressed all of your questions regarding sexual orientation and gender identity/expression via one diagram let’s move on.

Sexual orientation and gender identity/expression can be very complex and confusing – ironically, they seem particularly difficult to grasp for those who identify with what Americans consider to be the “normative” sexual orientation (i.e., heterosexual or straight) and the “dominant” gender identity/expression (cisgender or non-transgender).  In fact, without fail, when I do trainings for mixed groups on these issues, straight cisgender folks rarely identify their sexual orientation or gender identity/expression during a standard exercise where I ask participants to make a list of the traits and characteristics that make up their identities.  This is not at all surprising as white people often fail to list their race, middle class folks don’t add that to their list, etc.  When I move on to the next phase of the exercise and ask participants to rank their identities from most to least important than the response for which I’m hoping, which is, “Hell, no!  All of me is important and identity is socially constructed anyway so give me a break!” is rarely expressed.  But, hey, a grrrl can dream.

I did just such an exercise with members of my class this semester on the Sociology of Urban Education, which brings me full circle.  Did you see how I did that?  I went from mentioning that I’m in a PhD program, to talking about my interest in LGBTQGQ populations and migration, to explaining some of the meaning behind those letters, to an exercise example, to the class for which I’m writing the series of blog posts that you are reading right now this very minute!

Yes, it’s true!  Instead of writing the typical research paper that usually concludes the typical graduate seminar, I am blogging.  My professor is a bit unconventional and our final assignment is as well.  I’m the only student in the class, to my knowledge, who is writing a series of blog posts that relate to the content of the course but no one is writing a traditional, boring old research paper.

So, I invite you on this pilgrimage with me, fellow travelers, as I explore some issues that arose for me in powerful ways during my Sociology of Urban Education class.  Now that I have you thinking about identity, Part II will explain my research interests, Part III will explore whether my identities matter in the context of my research, Part IV will take a closer look at the social construction of identity, and Part V will wrap it all up and tie it with a bow.  Read on, my friends, but first take some deep breaths, let them out slowly, and appreciate this piece of artwork that I hope will strengthen you for the next leg of our trip; it’s a mandala that I created digitally from music that I wrote and recorded:


TonalVision X

And if you’d like to comment on this lengthy, multi-part post then please feel free to do so.  My professor will be reading this the same way that you are – online – and I’m sure that she’d be interested in any responses that you’d like to share, as would I.  🙂

Part II: I’ll Tell You What I Want, What I Really, Really Want to Research

I am interested in LGBTQGQ migration within the United States.  Preliminary comparative analysis of Census data, including data collected via the annual American Community Survey (ACS), does not contain data on LGBTQGQ individuals – neither sexual orientation nor gender identity/expression are demographic categories on Census or ACS instruments.  But since 2000 the Census and since 2005 the ACS have collected data on “same sex unmarried partner households” and starting in 2013, following the U.S. Supreme Court’s invalidation of the Defense of Marriage Act, which subsequently allowed the federal government to recognize same-sex marriages, the Census and ACS now also allow same-sex couples to identify as “married.”  In other words, Census and ACS data from 2013 forward now contain two separate data categories where one might locate same-sex couples: under the “unmarried couple household” or under the “married couple household” designations.  Researchers then need to query the databases to further break-out the data within those categories to obtain the numbers of “same-sex households” within each of them.

Purposeful Movement

Purposeful Movement

It is fairly easy to get national and state level data on same-sex households of both types, however, it is a very difficult, tedious, and intricate process to break the data down to geographic units smaller than states.  For select cities that I have examined so far (Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, and San Francisco), which I chose because they have traditionally contained large LGBTQGQ populations, there is a trend of same-sex households leaving from 2005-2009; I have not yet looked at later years.  I also have national and state level data for specific data points that I have chosen simply to show longitudinal change: 2005, 2010, and 2013.  I have a great deal more work to do in terms of the data mining and analysis to be able to ascertain where these folks are moving to and why but my theory, based so far only on anecdotal evidence, is that same-sex couples of both types, married and unmarried, particularly those who also have or want to have children in the household, are moving from cities to suburbs for a variety of reasons, one of which is because they want access to what they perceive to be “better schools” for their kids.  My dissertation thesis is that the migration of LGBTQGQ households from cities to suburbs (and on a more limited basis, to rural areas) is fueled by the combination of increasing social acceptance of LGBTQGQ people; the passage of national, state, and local laws that support the full humanity and citizenship of LGBTQGQ people; and LGBTQGQ peoples’ internalization of the sense of freedom gained by these recent socio-political victories such that they feel they can now live relatively safely wherever they wish to settle.

States Table

Click on the image to see a larger version – it opens in a new window or tab so you can easily return to the blog.

Part III: Does My Identity Matter for the Purposes of Conducting Research?

I am a white woman who was raised in a working class family in a Connecticut town that is called home by the highest number of Fortune 500 CEOs nationwide.  I identify as both a lesbian and as genderqueer – the first is a reflection of my sexual orientation and the second of my gender identity/expression.  Both sides of my family are of Italian origin; my parents both graduated from high school but I am the only person in my immediate family with a college education.  I started working when I was 10 years old, babysitting for neighborhood children, some very close to my own age, because I matured early and their parents perceived me to be so responsible.  Starting at the age of 13, after school and playing whatever sport was appropriate for the given season, I would ride my bike to a waitressing job at a local pizza parlor.  The owner knew that I was too young to work legally, but he also knew that my family was struggling financially; I would put on makeup to make myself look older and would remove it before I biked home after my shift.  I would get fed at a slow point in the mid-day or evening service, which was extra compensation in my mind.  I used my tiny income, consisting of $3/hour plus one-quarter of the mostly nonexistent tips (“rich people are cheapskates,” my Italian boss would mutter in broken English) to buy clothes and to pay for school lunches.  I hated having lunch tickets that were a different color from the “normal” ones because my family qualified for the free lunch program.  Being working-class in a town filled with prosperity taught me early that there truly was no such thing as a free lunch.

I viewed education as my ticket out – out of my town, away from everyone who knew the “real” me, and more importantly toward the wealth, success, and freedom that I thought education would bring.  So when the owner of the supermarket that I worked in throughout high school offered to make me the manager of the bakery, and to groom me for store management as well as to pay for my local college education, I gratefully declined.  I worked, was an excellent student, played sports, was popular with students in every “clique,” was a leader in extra-curricular organizations, performed community service, played guitar and sang in my church folk group, won many scholarships to college, and most importantly I learned to transgress the boundaries of socio-economic status (SES), which were so prevalent in every aspect of my life.  I also learned, from a lesbian high school teacher, that I should wait until I was in college to come out otherwise it might jeopardize my scholarships.  I am the product of public schools and those schools were excellent; however, most of the children of the super-rich went to private day or boarding schools.  But one of my schoolmates and best friends was from a wealthy family.  Her mother, a women’s college graduate, was so thrilled when I chose a seven sisters school (an active alumna and donor, she’d offered me worry-free admission to her alma mater but I told her that I wanted to get into college on my own merits) that she gave me my first and only string of pearls because, she said, I’d “need them.”  I never wore those pearls in college but it was nice to know that I had them should the necessity have arisen.  And by “necessity,” I mean needing to sell them in order to pay another semester of tuition because college was expensive and the institution still expected me to contribute several thousand dollars per year to supplement my scholarships, loans, and work-study funding.

College was interesting.  Unlike students today at the same institution, many of whom are on some form of financial aid, I was one of a relatively small group of students in that category.  My freshman year work-study position, along with the other freshmen in my dorm who were also on financial aid, was kitchen duty.  Meals were offered in every dormitory and breakfast and lunch were either self-serve or served by student workers from behind a sneeze guard, but dinner was “family style” and waitressed.  My co-workers and I did light food prep, served, restocked, washed dishes, cleaned the dining facilities, and we were waitresses for our non-work-study classmates.  I will never forget when my family came to visit on “Parent’s Weekend,” and they were seated at a table with my friends and their families – everyone except for me, who was waiting on them.  I never discussed that particular experience with my parents or brother then or later because I suspected that either they were too overwhelmed with the entire experience of being on a campus with dorms that were consistently voted “most palatial” by U.S. News and World Reports, or they were distressed by it.  I thought it best to avoid the potentially painful subject altogether.  I graduated from college with a Phi Beta Kappa second prize for a coffeehouse performance in the student center in which I played and sang original songs that told my story; it was entitled, The Journey: One Womyn’s Search for Self.  The president of the college knew me by name; I was one of those students.  I milked college for all that I could get out of it – my grades could have been higher but I traded a perfect GPA for something far more valuable in my mind: expansive experiences that even my young dreamer-self could not have imagined possible.  I went straight, so to speak, into graduate school at an Ivy League university, and then into a second graduate program at a state university.  I left my first doctoral program with a terminal master’s instead of a PhD.  I assumed that I would return in a year or two but it wasn’t until 16 years later that I decided to start all over in my current doctoral program in Urban Systems.  Even without my PhD, I still managed to make my career in academia, which was my goal from the time that I was a child, and I’ve worked as staff, faculty, and most recently as a senior administrator at various institutions of higher education in Massachusetts, Vermont, and New Jersey.  Education was, indeed, both my ticket out and toward.

Like many others, I inhabit a wide variety of identities simultaneously, all of which contribute heavily to my sense of self and that make the issue of positionality vis-à-vis my research potentially very complex.  But those identities of which I am most conscious on a daily basis are race, class/SES, sexual orientation, and gender identity/expression.  It seems natural, then, that the theoretical framework for my research depends heavily on intersectionality.  Intersectionality is a social theory that posits that at those points at which a variety of systems of oppression converge (i.e., around issues of race, ethnicity, class, gender, sexuality, nationality, etc.) we learn more about how systemic oppression operates and therefore more about how to potentially dismantle it than by looking at one form of oppression alone.  A growing body of intersectionality research now includes gender identity and/or sexual orientation in the mix (Battle & Ashley, 2008; Carastathis, 2013; Devon, 2013; M. Gray, 2012; Hankivsky & Cormier, 2011; Harr & Kane, 2008; Hodes, 1999; Lewin, 2010; Lewis, 2013; Parker, Barbosa, & Aggleton, 2000; Pérez, Guridy, & Burgos, 2010; Robinson, 2010; Spade, 2013) and it makes the scholarly debate between queer urbanity and queer disdain for the urban all the more interesting (Ebo, 1998; M. L. Gray, 2007; Johnston & Longhurst, 2010; Mezey, 2008, 2012; Tongson, 2011; Wadsworth, 2011).  This is important to the emerging field of LGBTQGQGQ migration because, for example, if same-sex couples move from cities to suburbs when they have school-aged children in the household, then what do they do when those children are grown?  Another segment of my research looks at the recent building boom of low-income housing facilities for LGBTQGQ seniors, all of which are in cities; at the moment these include Triangle Square in West Hollywood, Spirit-on-Lake in Minneapolis, and the John C. Anderson Apartments in Philadelphia with plans for similar facilities in the works for San Francisco and New York.  More anecdotal evidence suggests that as LGBTQGQ adults age, those who left cities return there.  Builders and finance companies, as well as health and social service providers, are counting on just that as they hope to capitalize on the fact that the number of LGBTQGQ senior will double, to three million, by 2030.

A good example of the tension between the urban and the anti-urban is evident in the field of LGBTQGQ health.  Urban areas are often where studies of the health of LGBTQGQ populations are conducted (Browne & New York (N.Y.). Office of the Public Advocate., 2008; Chappin, Tross, Sanchez, Dermatis, & Galanter, 2010; Feldman, 2010; Green, 2008; Grov et al., 2007; Haile, Padilla, & Parker, 2011; Loue, 2008; Rosario, Meyer-Bahlburg, Hunter, & Gwadz, 1999; Sanchez, Hailpern, Lowe, & Calderon, 2007; Tapper, Sauber, & Community Council of Greater New York. Research and Program Planning Information Dept., 1986; Tomassilli, Golub, Bimbi, & Parsons, 2009; Van Leeuwen et al., 2006) although a few rural and urban/rural comparative health studies do exist (Eliason & Hughes, 2004; MacDonnell & Andrews, 2006; Waldo, Hesson-McInnis, & D’Augelli, 1998).  This has implications for suburban health and human services practitioners, who may be very unused to serving LGBTQGQ populations and will need to be fully prepared for the changing demographics of their new clientele (Addis, Davies, Greene, Macbride-Stewart, & Shepherd, 2009; Davy & Siriwardena, 2012).  This is just one case of how research on LGBTQGQ migration can help to inform another discipline and may consequently lead to better health care and better health outcomes for sexual and gender minorities. Other fields may also benefit from the information gleaned from the study of LGBTQGQ migration, including education, law, political science, public policy, as well as environmental/regional/ urban planning, to name just a few.

My research on LGBTQGQ migration is mixed-methods.  I am gathering quantitative data from the Census and American Community Survey, as well as from a survey that I’m designing from some existing instruments and to which I am adding some of my own questions.  I will also conduct individual interviews and/or focus groups in order to add rich qualitative data to the project.  The resulting dissertation will, I hope, reflect elements of all three tracks (health, education, and environment/planning) that are a part of the Urban Systems doctoral program.  It seems appropriate for an intersectional scholar, such as myself, to conduct intersectional research, the result of which will be an intersectional dissertation.  But is it at all problematic that, for example, someone who is a lesbian and genderqueer is doing research with LGBTQGQ populations?  Will my findings be biased because, as a member of the groups that I am studying, I will be unable to maintain a scholarly sense of objectivity and detachment from the subject and subjects of my research?



I have a very distinct memory from middle school, when my class was learning about anthropology and our (white, Western, formally educated, male, etc.) teacher explained how important it was for (white, Western, formally educated, male, etc.) anthropologists to “remain objective” when they were in the field observing the (non-white, non-Western, informally-educated, mixed-gender, etc.) people who they were studying.  I was fascinated by the notions of objectivity and bias.  I thought about it for several days and then I went to my teacher after school one day and talked with him about why I thought that it was silly to think that objectivity was valuable when it didn’t really exist – after all, wasn’t the anthropologist being changed by his field experiences and weren’t those who he was observing being changed by the presence of the anthropologist?  So wasn’t any “pure” experience of observing people in their “natural state” rendered impossible?  Then why exactly did my teacher think that objectivity was so important?  (I expressed this the way that a seventh grader would, rather than how I am writing about it now but you get the picture).  I was suspicious of claims of objectivity from a young age so I don’t put much stock in it at this stage of the game.

Rather than worrying about my ability to maintain objectivity and avoid bias while working with groups of which I am a part, I think that being an “insider” is a boon: it makes it easier for me to access the populations in which I’m interested; the people involved in my studies may relate to and trust me because some aspects of our identities are held in common; and I would never exploit my research participants not only because to do so would be highly unethical but also because I share responsibility with them for the well-being of our communities.

So, does who I am matter for the purposes of my research?  Absolutely.  But not in the detrimental ways that some “pure” researchers might imagine.

Part IV: Identity as Socially Constructed

I suspect that some of you who have your thinking caps on might have a question for me right about now: if identity is socially constructed, as I stated in Part I, then why have I built this mega-blog post and my entire future research agenda around identity?  Isn’t that akin to the little pigs who built their houses out of straw or sticks instead of bricks?  Excellent question, dear readers – you always keep me on my toes!

When I say that identity is socially constructed I mean that identities have no essential meaning outside of the meaning that society ascribes to them.  If a group of diverse human babies were raised on an island in the middle of nowhere by some folks who had no biases or prejudices, none were taught to the children, and they had no knowledge of human history, economics, politics, or culture then would those children ascribe any meaning to the word “race” that might privilege one race over another?  Similarly, would ethnicity, class, sexual orientation, gender identity/expression, etc., have any meaning that would lead to some humans being considered normative while others were labeled deviant, worthy or unworthy, valuable or without value, superior or inferior?  Not likely.

John Rawls, a now-deceased liberal philosopher, created a theory for how to establish a just society that followed a similar line of thought: humans who were charged with crafting a just society would do so behind a veil of ignorance so they would have no knowledge of their identities or affiliations (Rawls, 1971).  Since Rawls assumed that humans were greedy and self-centered by nature (even behind the veil) then if they had no notion of what their class, race, etc. were then they would create a society where everyone is equal because no self-interested person would create a society where they might be treated inequitably once they emerged from behind the veil (Rawls, 1971).

Social constructionism complements positionality, which I mentioned in Part I.  Since identity has no essential meaning beyond what society ascribes to it then it is fluid rather than fixed.  Positionality uses fluid identity characteristics as “markers of relational positions rather than essential qualities” such that “people are defined not in terms of fixed identities, but by their location within shifting networks of relationships, which can be analyzed and changed” (kgb, 2012).  Knowing one’s place(s) right now within the vast systems and structures of power is key to transforming power relations.  In other words, allies of LGBTQGQ populations can help to shift the social-economic-political-cultural power dynamics that work against SGMs by shifting their own power-positions in relation to SGMs.  The same is true of white people in relation to people of color; middle and upper class people in relation to working and lower class people; members of the “developed” world in relation to members of the “developing” world; and so it goes.  And it also works in reverse – this is not a framework that disempowers or denies full agency to any group or person – so SGMs can shift their power-positions related to straight and cisgender people and help to transform the existing power relations that subjugate rather than liberate them.



Part V: The Party’s Over

Well, fellow travelers, this part of my PhD journey, in which I wrote a series of blog posts to conclude my Sociology of Urban Education course, has come to an end.  I hope that you enjoyed the trip rather than kept wondering, “are we there yet?”  This series of posts represents an expression of my passion as it relates to the course content and to my research interests for my dissertation and beyond.  I thank you for hanging in here with me and I hope that you’ll share your feedback in the Comments section below.

Summer is almost upon me at the Jersey Shore so for my final image, I leave you with the Wildwood Boardwalk, my gratitude, and a sincere wish for a colorful and fun season for you all!




Addis, S., Davies, M., Greene, G., Macbride-Stewart, S., & Shepherd, M. (2009). The health, social care and housing needs of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender older people: a review of the literature. Health Soc Care Community, 17(6), 647-658. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2524.2009.00866.x

Battle, J., & Ashley, C. (2008). Intersectionality, Heteronormativity, and Black Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Families. Black Women, Gender + Families, 2(1), 1-24. doi: 10.5406/blacwomegendfami.2.1.0001

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She made terrific split pea with ham soup and judged a restaurant by the quality of its French onion.  She also made awesome spanakopita.

She dyed her hair red, went to sleep with it wet and turned our bed into what looked like a crime scene.

She left gum in her pocket, ran her pants through the wash, and we scraped melted Bubblicious off the inside of the dryer for hours.

She thought that the towel animals that were left on the bed each day of our Alaskan cruise should be in a museum.

She loved to text tasteless jokes and funny/silly/gross photos to everyone in her address book.

She had a mouth like a trucker when circumstances warranted it but she almost always beat me at Words with Friends.

She wanted us to be the next Indigo Girls.

She was a fan of mocktails.

She taught me Shore culture and lingo so no one would mistake me for a benny.

She didn’t carry a purse and very rarely wore makeup but she rocked a dress just as well as a pair of cargo shorts.

She saved the life of one of her patients in the hospital hallway as I looked on in awe and she thought nothing of it.

She enjoyed respiratory therapy but wanted to go back to school to be a substance abuse counselor.

She loved her family and friends and always showed them rather than just told them.

She fell, sometimes quite hard, but she always got back up.

Swing Low

I’m very fortunate to have shared the last eight years, the first four as partners and the next four as friends, with Ginger Stevenson.  Ginger was one of the most courageous people who I’ve ever known.  None of us are perfect and that applied to Ginger, too.  But she had the uncanny ability to look at a seriously flawed individual and see the goodness within – even when there was very little of it to find.

Ginger knew how to have a great time – sometimes a bit too great.  I met her at a point in my life when fun was in very short supply.  When I walked Ginger to her car following our first date, which had been on her mom’s birthday, she didn’t leave immediately.  She told me later that she’d called her friend to tell her that she’d finally met someone special but she’d messed up the goodnight kiss.  Although she talked about that kiss for ages afterward (“I can’t believe you went out with me again …”), the truth was that I’d been so taken with her that I didn’t even remember it being the disaster that she described.

When I needed surgery unexpectedly, Ginger accompanied me and my parents, who don’t live in New Jersey, to the hospital.  She showed my folks how to get around town and took great care of them for days for me.  Her eyes smiling down on me were the last things that I saw before I was wheeled away.  I was scared but when she said that I would be fine, she loved me and she would be there when I awoke then I believed her – and I was frightened no more.

When she helped me to get dressed so I could go home after my hospital stay, I was too freaked out to look at the enormous scar that surgery left behind.  Ginger checked it out for me, smiled and assured me that it was a work of art.  She lied but I loved her for it.

When I faced a challenging circumstance, a friend suggested that I imagine that an historical or fictional hero was by my side.  I told her that I didn’t need to imagine – my hero was Ginger and I knew that she loved me fiercely and would protect me without fail.

Ginger Stevenson was 42 years old when she passed away this week.  She made an enormous difference in my life and in the lives of everyone who she touched.  Ginger was an extraordinary woman and I’m honored to have called her my friend.  I’m so grateful that we spent some time together, and laughed our asses off, just a week before she died.  I’d felt a sense of urgency about seeing her and I now understand why.

The world was a better place with Ginger in it.  She had an enormous heart, a contagious laugh, a persistent will and a gentle spirit.  Although I know that she’s at peace now, I can’t help but grieve – I miss Ginger already.  I will always be thankful for all that she taught me – about life, love, trust, friendship and hope.  But the greatest of these is love.

It’s Easter Sunday.  If you’re part of a Christian tradition then today you’re celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Although I am not a Christian, I can appreciate the importance of this day to those who celebrate it.  After all, what’s more miraculous than rising from the dead?

I’ve been having a bit of a tough time lately.  I’m trying to figure out how to restore some much-needed balance to my life.  I took an internet self-assessment two weeks ago to measure the extent to which my job has become my life; I answered every question in the affirmative, which, on this particular quiz was not the healthy response.  However, I also remember a time when I actually had a very full life and a very fulfilling job and managed to juggle both quite well.  I’m not sure why I’ve become increasingly more focused on work over the last several years to the detriment of everything else.  But I have realized, and not a moment too soon, that I need to shift my priorities so my job returns to being something that I do rather than all that I am.

I moved to the Jersey Shore seven years ago, after the dissolution of my long-term partnership – the intimate variety, not the business type.  One of the women who I dated shortly after relocating, and who ended up becoming an important and enduring friend, gave me a tiny bamboo plant at the beginning of our relationship.  She didn’t know that I had been so depressed that I had left all of my plants outside to die once I moved because I couldn’t stand the thought of anything relying on me for its existence.  I felt a completely irrational sense of guilt over being a plant-killer so when I received the bamboo I decided, totally subconsciously, that this was my chance at a fresh start.  If I could keep this plant alive then maybe, just maybe, I could start my life over following the unexpected end of a relationship that I thought would last forever.

Fast-forward about six and a half years.  I had become unhealthy, sedentary and a total workaholic.  And my bamboo plant, which had grown from a two-inch sprout to the thriving four-feet-plus centerpiece of my livingroom, started dying.  The decline has been slow and, for me, painful.  I tried everything that I could think of to remedy the situation but to no avail.  I consulted friends, the internet and a local botanist and no matter what the intervention still the bamboo continued to die.  And still I continued to become more and more focused on work.

About three weeks ago, at a meeting with my colleagues, I let the cat out of the bag: work had completely consumed my life and I was at the end of my rope.  Speaking the truth can be risky but it can also be rewarding — if you don’t mind people walking on eggshells around you for a while.  As it turned out, I was not the only person in the room who felt that way, which I never would have known if I hadn’t spoken up.  I have returned to a practice of honest, daily self-reflection and I am making other changes to try to shift myself back into balance.  My art, which was nearly as dead as my bamboo, has just started to excite me again and I spent several days of this long holiday weekend preparing brand new images for a solo show next month.

This morning, I decided that the time had come to dispose of the bamboo; I no longer wished to be surrounded by dead things.  I wanted to salvage the vase so I shimmied the large root base out of the narrow vase opening and into the sink.  I started washing the bamboo, I’m not sure why, with cold water — the roots were slimy with black rot everywhere and all of the shoots off of the main were a droopy yellow  or a shrivelled brown.  I snapped each shoot off and as I thinned out the plant I exposed a brand new sprout off of the bottom of the main that was actually green.  I eliminated most of the roots and all shoots except for the main and the one new growth.  I returned my diminutive bamboo to the original little pot in which it was given to me all those years ago and it now sits in my livingroom again — no longer a centerpiece but still an example of the will-to-life in action.  Apparently, this is a time of resurrection after all.


I was fortunate to be one of 350 people at the inaugural White House LGBT Conference on Thursday.  This was the first in a series of conferences focused on topics related to LGBTQQI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning and intersex) Americans — this one was on health.  It was a veritable who’s who of LGBT people serving in the Obama Administration — mostly the White House and agencies within the Department of Health and Human Services.  Not everyone was queer (I’m not using that as a pejorative term) but a surprising number of folks were totally out and proud.  Being surrounded by such LGBT-positive energy made me proud to be a lesbian American.  Yes, this is a move to court LGBT voters during an election year; and, yes, the role of Secretary Sebelius was mostly to remind us of all of the wonderful forward momentum that has been achieved under Obama.  But you know what?  I don’t care!  On the day that the NJ Assembly passed Marriage Equality (the Senate did so earlier in the week) and the Governor promptly vetoed the bill, I was only too happy to hear politicos waxing poetic about LGBT Health in ways that reflected that they actually knew something about it.

Health is about so much more than heredity, environment and lifestyle.  Given my genes, the fact that I live in New Jersey and that I consider cheese to be its own food group, I expect that my days are numbered.  Looking beyond those traditional factors that influence health there are others that are just as important.  In health circles the theory is called “Social Determinants of Health” — it posits that the interplay of social, political and economic factors, compounded by the traditional factors, means that certain groups of people have worse health outcomes than the general population.  It is used widely in discussions of racism and health but when I educate people about LGBT issues, I use it to explain how systemic heterosexism and homophobia negatively impact the health of LGBT people and therefore result in poorer health outcomes compared with our heterosexual and nontransgender counterparts.

There are a host of diseases for which LGBT people are at higher risk than heterosexual and cisgender people.  However, even when our risk is exactly the same our health outcomes are worse.  Why?  Because there are other factors that are really making us sick: compared with the general population, sexual and gender minorities are more likely to be unemployed (no wonder since we can be legally fired in half of the states in this country simply for being LGB and the number increases for T); are less likely to have health insurance (most people get it through their employer or their spouse’s employer – and we’re rarely covered by a partner’s insurance); and face discrimination at the hands of health care providers who are uncomfortable treating us (to avoid the extra stress and humiliation we don’t seek care until diseases reach critical stages if we go at all).  I am a highly educated middle-class white lesbian who has spent the last 16 years working in a health sciences setting and I haven’t had a mammogram since my baseline, which was almost 9 years ago.  If I avoid health care providers like the plague then just imagine the gravity of this situation for LGBTQQI people at large.

I am fortunate to work at a school that is committed to addressing health inequities.  The Dean encouraged me to start a LGBT Health Working Group, which now has 30 members composed of faculty, staff, students and administrators from 3 health professions schools at my university.  This group has a three-fold charge: integrating LGBT Health throughout the curriculum so we graduate culturally competent providers; pursuing funding and conducting research related to LGBT Health; and addressing the needs of SGM patients through our clinical services and community programs.

America is not a perfect place by any stretch of the imagination for LGBTQQI folks in 2012.  But there are people all over the country who, in whatever ways they can, are working to address LGBT health disparities and social determinants of health — from the White House to your local public school, we are making every day better than the one that came before.  I am hopeful that one day people will look back at this era and wonder how SGM people could ever have been treated differently from anyone else, much less denied the basic human dignity of full marriage equality.  I may need to cut down on the cheese and get a mammogram to live long enough to see that day but I firmly believe that it will come.

The Art of Appreciation

I’ve been reflecting a great deal lately on how appreciation transforms into abundance. I’m not usually the sort of person who stops to appreciate all that I have before generating a list a mile long of everything else that I want — and I want it all! But I find that when I plow ahead filled with want then what I get isn’t necessarily satisfying and sometimes can actually set me back instead of move me forward. So I’m making a conscious effort to be mindful, aware, open to all that’s coming my way but truly grateful for exactly those things that have not yet manifested fully in my life. Clarity of desire rather than unfocused want is what produces a result that’s right on target.

I’ve been single for quite a while. I don’t believe that there’s one perfect person out there for me. In fact, I’ve learned that there are many perfect people — they are perfect for the me who I happen to be in a specific period of my life. When I was in college I met a woman with whom I fell in love. We made a commitment to one another and lived that love until after sixteen years it became painfully clear that we had both grown in ways that made it impossible for us to continue on as we were. It was an ending that nearly ended me but ultimately it was what was the best for us both; I am grateful to her for doing what I could not. After about six months, although I was not ready for another relationship, I went in search of one anyway. I dated a dozen women in half as many weeks in an attempt to try to discover what I wanted. I fell hard for Lucky Number 13, who was perfect for me in that moment – over several years together she restored my self-confidence, helped my broken heart to mend and showed me that I was worth loving. Again, that relationship ended; and, again, the end was what was best for us both but this time neither of us suffered and we were able to transition successfully from lovers to friends.

Friendly Flower

It’s been a few years and I find myself ready to consider the possibility that there is another perfect person out there for the me who I am today. This time, though, I am taking a more active role in creating her. I’m doing this through a deep appreciation of the people in my life who care about me and who have qualities that I desire in my next partner. I definitely have “a type” and at the moment I am fortunate to be surrounded by people who embody components of that type. I spend time each day focused on those people and the things about them that I love and appreciate. This morning, instead of sleeping late, I was up long before the sunrise because I could feel that my next perfect person is out there – I may know her already or I may be poised to meet her soon but my vision is clear, my heart is full and my expectations are high. It’s only a matter of time.

Perspective Matters

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about perspective.  Why is it that some people seem to be very good at seeing the forest and others the trees but few can skillfully do both?  I’ll give you an example of what I mean and you’ll understand why I think this is important.

I’ve had wacky blood test results for over a year.  I have a team of four crack physicians, an internist and three specialists, and none of them have been able to figure out what’s wrong with me.  I was relieved when the hematologist/oncologist declared that I did not have leukemia but was less enthusiastic when he followed that with, “there’s definitely something infectious or inflammatory happening but I have no idea what.”  I wanted to reply, “well, isn’t it your JOB to have SOME IDEA what, Mr. Top Doc?”  Instead, I sighed and hoped that when I returned in six months my test results would be closer to normal.

I should preface this with one more piece of information: the week before this office visit I landed in the ER in tremendous pain and barely able to take a breath.  Two docs (I caught one on the last leg of his shift and the other on his first) ruled out a pulmonary embolism, told me it must be muscular, patted me on the head and sent me on my way.  I told Top Doc this as soon as he saw me and then after reviewing my test results he confessed to the absence of all ideas.


I work in a nursing school.  A friend and colleague who was an Emergency Department nurse stopped by my office soon after my ER and Top Doc encounters, asked me to describe the pain, had me point out where (on her back – so she wouldn’t hurt me by pushing on mine) I was experiencing pain and told me that it sounded like my gallbladder.  I told her about my test results and she said that they were consistent with gallstones.  I’m white, a woman and in my forties – a prime candidate.  She advised me to get an ultrasound.  Not wanting to return to any docs immediately, and just being a generally stubborn person, I waited six months until my next appointment with Top Doc and grimaced through intermittent periods of stabbing pain and prolonged dull ache.  I also did some basic research on the gallbladder and gallstones; my friend’s five-minute diagnosis made absolute sense.

When I returned to Top Doc six months later my test results were as screwy as ever.  He was still without ideas.  I reminded him of my ER experience, listed all of the irregularities that the last year of tests had revealed, and asked if maybe it just might possibly perchance be my gallbladder.  I actually saw the giant light bulb over his head switch on – POP! – like when a stadium is being prepared for a night game.  When he recovered his powers of speech, Top Doc stammered something about gallstones being one of the most overlooked blah blah blah … and he wrote me the ultrasound order.

Gallstones.  I have my consult with a surgeon in two days.  After almost eight months of nonsense I’m really looking forward to getting rid of my gallbladder.  If they didn’t suck it out in pieces, I would have my gallbladder bronzed and present it to Top Doc as a reminder that perspective matters and the ability to see both the forest and trees should be required of anyone who holds people’s lives in his hands.  A physician who is out of ideas should be out of practice.  Thank goodness for nurses!  8)

Shake It Up!

I was visiting a friend in the hospital recently. She asked me to bring her a bottled fruit smoothie and as she drank it and we talked, I noticed the directions: “Shake well – settling occurs naturally.” As someone who can’t escape the detours through her own mind, those instructions struck me as wonderful advice.

How many of you have settled for less than your heart’s desire – ever – in any area of your life? I’d wager a good sum of money that every human being has settled at some point. Settling can feel good, secure, comfortable and reassuring, right? But when we settle what do we lose? I’ll demonstrate with an example from my own life since I can think of so many times when I’ve settled!

Intimate relationships. I’ve had long ones, short ones, real and surreal ones, hot and steamy as well as cool and breezy ones. And, although several involved potential or actual life-time commitments, ultimately none have stood the test of time. There was a period of my life when I would have, and did, sacrifice essential parts of myself in order to maintain my settled existence. The last thing that I wanted was to shake or be shaken! But, eventually, I learned that a good shake-up is just what I’ve needed to get out of my rut, wake up to the yearnings of my highest self and get moving again. In my forties now, I find that I’m open to viewing every relationship as an opportunity to learn, grow and expand my horizons – often in some very surprising ways! – rather than as a chance to settle down.

So, I encourage each of you to think about what you really want and what you may have, consciously or unconsciously, given up to retain a settled existence. What can you do, right now in this moment, to shake things up a bit, remove the blinders from your eyes and see your heart’s desires clearly again? If you can feel your way into a state of uncompromising fluidity then I can pretty much guarantee that the only things you’ll lose are your regrets. 8)


I was driving to work on Tuesday morning and my iPod was set on “shuffle” for my long commute.  The AUX jack in my car is very tempermental but that day it worked like a charm so I could hear the music through my car’s sound system.  A tune popped up that I hadn’t heard in forever and made me so happy that I started singing at the top of my lungs.  In fact, I was more than happy — I was absolutely ecstatic and I didn’t care who knew it.  As the song started nearing the end, I actually said out loud, “Gee, I really wish that I could hear that again” but I couldn’t mess with my iPod while I was driving.  Don’t you know that song repeated not once but for the rest of my commute?!  The moment of silence before the opening riff was filled with expectation time and again: would it play Scissor Sisters or would my iPod resume its shuffling?  And every time the song restarted I laughed my ass off and started singing.  I now know every word of this song perfectly — and if I don’t hear it again for quite a while that would be fine!  8)

When I got to work, I signed into SurveyMonkey to explore options for distributing course evaluation summary reports to our faculty.  I found a way to generate summary reports as PDF files automatically but it wouldn’t include the narrative comments that students made — only the quantitative results.  I asked my evaluator to contact the company to request that they integrate quantitative and qualitative results into the PDFs because I really, REALLY wanted this functionality.  She looked at me like I was nuts.  In fact, as I spoke with her about this, I could feel the tremendous relief that would result from this time-saving feature — it was as if I already had what I wanted and it felt great.  The next morning, as soon as I walked in the door, the evaluator said (I’m paraphrasing), “You’re not going to believe this but I signed into SurveyMonkey to contact them about what you want and they added it yesterday!  You should have wished for something really big!”

Well, I wished for two things that day and got them both.  Why?  The primary reason is because I felt rather than thought.  Pure positive emotion is a powerful manifesting tool and when you frame your desires such that they contain 100% of what you want and nothing of their opposite then nothing stands in the way of you getting what you want.  For example, I wanted only to hear that song again so that I could keep the fun going — I didn’t think to myself, “oh, but that’s highly unlikely given the fact that my iPod is on shuffle and I could play it for over a week nonstop and never hear the same song twice.”  If my desire had also contained its opposite then my iPod would have shuffled as usual and I wouldn’t have heard that song again.  Another reason that I got what I wanted and I got it immediately is because my desires were pretty low-stakes — if the song had not repeated then my world would not have come crumbling down around me.  But this was an important lesson for me: no matter how high or low the stakes may be, the process is exactly the same: if I get out of my own way and just revel in the pure positive emotion that comes from getting what I want, whether or not I have it yet, then what I want will come and it will do so quickly.

I invite you to play with this in your daily lives — start small until you feel like you can wish big without any qualifiers — and post your results as a comment below.  Make your life, as you really want it to be, the gift that you give yourself this holiday season.

Have you ever suspected that you’ve been laboring under a false assumption?  One of the most common of these assumptions, in my opinion, is that people must struggle in order to succeed and that the struggle itself makes us better people in the process.

There is an analogy to this paradigm in the world of wine: dry-farming.  Dry-farming is just what it sounds like: no irrigation is used so the vines must fight to survive.  According to Gregory Dal Piaz of “snooth,” ( “the struggle for survival puts stress on the vines, and stress, if you ask some folks (yours truly included) equals flavor, complexity, and balance in a wine.”  This begs the question: does stress produce the same beneficial results in people?

How many of you have ever emerged from a series of harrowing, nail-biting, nerve-wracking, gut-wrenching experiences and thought immediately afterwards, “Gee, that was terrific!  I feel completely invigorated, energized, balanced and in control of my life!  I can’t wait for the next totally horrific thing to happen!  WooHoo — bring it ON!”

Instead, when you’ve been through the wringer, don’t you usually just feel, well, like you’ve been through the wringer?  Doesn’t stress leave you feeling tired, frustrated, depressed, overwhelmed or perhaps even ill?  If you emerge from the struggle victorious you’re probably too exhausted to celebrate your success anyway.  So why does humanity persist in romanticizing struggle, stress and the battle for survival? 

Doesn’t it feel wonderful when something good happens and you didn’t even need to “do” anything to bring it to fruition?  It’s a pleasant surprise, right — like when you pull your winter coat out of storage and discover a twenty-dollar bill in the pocket.  Unless you left the money there on purpose during the last cold snap then you feel pretty good about your find, don’t you?

If I labor under the assumption that I must struggle in order to succeed then guess what: the Universe will provide me with lots and lots of opportunities to do just that — struggle, fight, scrimp, stress-out, come close to losing everything and then crawl from the wreckage … victorious?  I don’t know about you but I want to live fully, joyously and abundantly — not just barely surviving but thriving.  Unlike grape vines, human beings need irrigation so I’ll see you at the watering hole!

It’s ridiculously late or ridiculously early, depending on one’s perspective, but I’m on vacation this week so I don’t have to get up at the crack of dawn, which isn’t that far off.  I watched the kid’s movie Kung Fu Panda tonight and loved it so much that it inspired me to write about it.  (This will be one of very few instances where my blog will feature art work that is not mine.)

If you haven’t seen the movie, it’s your typical story of an unlikely hero who saves the day.  In this particular case an untrained, overweight, noodle-making panda defeats an evil Kung Fu Master simply by being himself.  This is a powerful message to reinforce with children, who for a variety of reasons may feel depressed, disempowered and disengaged.  But I’m willing to bet, and those of you who are parents can correct me if I’m wrong, that it’s even more challenging for adults to believe that they are good enough simply because they are themselves.

We receive a constant barrage of messages from the media, colleagues, family members and friends telling us that we’re not good enough no matter what we do.  If we’re pencil-thin we’re not thin enough; if we labor eighty hours each week and get paid for half of that time we’re not working hard enough; if we’re unpartnered we’re not committed enough; if we enjoy solitude we’re not social enough; and I’m sure you can think of a million reasons why you’re not good enough so I’ll stop there.

What if each adult who is alive during this slice of time that we call the present believed with absolute certainty that they were worthy.  Period.  No clarifications or disclaimers.  We are all good enough just because we are ourselves.  How would that change, for example, the so-called economic crisis?  If everyone felt certain that they were worthy of financial abundance could there be a recession?  Wouldn’t the emotional security that accompanied such certainty render an economic crisis an impossibility?  If we all knew we were good enough then there would also be no conflicts, interpersonal or international; war would be a thing of the past.  What else might change if we operated under the assumption that every person is good enough exactly as they are — and what is keeping us from embracing that reality?  There’s no time like today to choose self-worth.  According to a character from the movie, now is a gift, which is why it’s called the present.

I was driving home from PA yesterday, where I spent the day with a dear friend who was recently diagnosed with ovarian cancer after surviving two bouts of the endometrial variety. Her partner, a sweetheart, has a congenital heart defect that has caused repeated heart failure and strokes. The two women have said their goodbyes on more than one occasion. I suspect that they might have lots of reasons to shake their fists at whatever form of the Divine appeals to them but instead they value life and one another in ways that are inspiring. But I digress …

… driving home from PA, I passed a giant billboard on 276 that shouted, “When You Die You WILL Meet God!” Not fearing death, I was driving far too fast to notice who sponsored the message that intruded on my peaceful musings. At first I was annoyed that people who apparently have both disposable income and a skewed sense of religious zeal chose to exercise their First Amendment right using such intrusive methods. But the more that I thought about their message the more I started to pity their very limited understanding of the human relationship with the Divine.

I find it rather sad that anyone would believe that one must die before meeting God. In my opinion, that’s a little late in the game. Most religions have some conception of a Divine/human link: humanity is created in the image of the Divine; humans contain a Divine spark; humans can access the Divine through prayer, meditation or other methods; humanity is one with the Divine; humans came from Divinity and will return to it; and some go so far as to posit that humans are Gods, whether or not they know it. Even people who label themselves atheists often experience a profound sense of awe while hiking through the Grand Canyon or walking on a glacier. In none of these scenarios must one wait until death to experience the Divine.

So, the next time that you’re tooling down the highway, I’d like you to think about the many ways that you interact with the Divine, however you conceive of it, on a daily basis. If you wait until death to meet God then you’ve missed out on life.