My First (and Last) Blind Date: A Love Story

When I met my husband I didn’t mean to.

When I met my husband I had never dated a man who didn’t try to control, manipulate, or take advantage of me. I was so jaded that I had completely given up. I couldn’t fathom the thought of opening myself to another person because I had never seen it end any other way than the fiery mass destruction of my heart and soul. But that is a bitter story, on with the love story.

I was in my Junior year of college at Baylor (back before it was cool). My life consisted of studying, cocktailing, partying, sleeping, and repeat. I had been treating the men that attempted to get to know me like I had been treated by every man before – like an unnecessary plaything, an accessory there for my entertainment and disposal. The minute they showed any real feelings for me I dropped them and moved on, sometimes in the most cruel of fashions.

So when my friend, Tracy, told me that I should meet her boyfriend’s twin brother I laughed in her face. One, because, what was the point? I had never been on a blind date and had no intention of subjecting myself to such an awkward situation that would be like every other – a hollow, boring interaction with an unchaste end-game. Two, because, well, I had met her boyfriend (my now brother-in-law, Ryan). She jokingly reassured me “don’t worry, you’re getting the better looking twin”. I don’t know how many times she prodded, or exactly how she tricked me into agreeing to the blind date, but she eventually did.
2015-02-08 19.30.35
The day before he came into town I decided to drop some karma. One of my previous boyfriends favorite form of manipulation had been to control my appearance – my clothes, my accessories, my hair – and in a moment of complete freedom I decided for myself that I no longer needed my hair, but someone else might. It was the first time I donated to Locks of Love, and it was a drastic change. I went from thick, curly, waist-length locks to a cute, chin-length springy bob. I felt so light and the world full of endless possibilities! I hadn’t expected to meet the man who would turn my life upside down the next day, but looking back it seems like it was cosmically inevitable.

The fateful day arrived. I went to meet him at Tracy’s apartment, with low expectations. He had driven in from Houston with Ryan and had slept on the couch there the night before. 2015-02-08 19.40.10Ryan gave me a curt, begrudging nod – I think that may have been the extent of his communications that evening – and Tracy formally introduced me to Royce. He was attractive, quiet. But the thing I remember the most from those first few moments was meeting the puppy that Royce had fallen in love with and rescued at the local animal shelter the day before. He was a welcome distraction from that awkward moment. He was a beautiful catahoula leopard dog, just a few months old, that they were lovingly calling “LFD” (Little Fucking Dog). A few weeks later he would get a proper name – Bud. Bud dog, the dog that would, in just one short year, become our dog.

We all went out to eat at my favorite restaurant, which was next door to the Drafthouse where I worked. The familiarity helped ease my anxiety, I felt safe. He seemed different. Refreshing. We ate well and happily walked the ten feet next door, where I found comfort in being surrounded by my co-workers. We ordered a giraffe of beer, played shuffleboard and had a surprisingly good time. I don’t remember much of what we talked about that night, just that he made me feel lighter in a heavy world. However, I had zero clue as to what he thought of me because my husband suffers from what some people like to call “Resting Bitch Face”. Whether he was having the time of his life or completely miserable, I would never have known from looking at him.2015-02-08 19.41.39

I found out at the end of the night when I drove him back to Tracy’s apartment when he kissed me goodnight. It was sweet, more tender than I had expected. I wasn’t sure what it meant, but I found myself wanting to spend more time with him. I put my uncertainty aside and offered to let him come to my place and share my queen-sized bed. – JUST so that he wouldn’t have to sleep on a couch another night, I swear. He said NO. I was so confused! To this day he still accuses me of using my womanly ways to try to get him in bed – and who knows what might have happened if he had said yes, but I assert here and now that my invitation was extended for his comfort and no other reason. Sometimes I wonder, if he had said yes, if would we be together now. Who knows, but he paid for it.

Because for the next few months I called him when I felt like it, told him I would call him back “tonight” but would call him back days later. I didn’t care. Not because I wanted to toy with him, but because my hardened heart saw no potential. He lived far away, had no car and no job. As much as I enjoyed his company what could really come of this? Even if we tried, it probably wouldn’t be worth the pain.

Slowly we started talking longer and more often. He quickly got a job and bought a truck (things I like to think he did solely for me, though they were really just a happenstance of his situation). Soon after, I moved to Dallas for a summer internship, making the drive even more arduous. But still, we had a blast no matter what we were doing. No cliche’ date night was safe from us. We went to every museum, zoo and restaurant there was to visit. We climbed on the displays at the wax museum

In the scary part of the Wax Museum

In the scary part of the Wax Museum

and did inappropriate things in parking lots. We had so much fun. He was even quick to forgive when I accidentally dumped an entire Sonic chocolate banana split on his lap. I felt horribly embarrassed, but he laughed and seemed content to spent the rest of the night with chocolate all over his pants. We would find remnants of that chocolate still years later when cleaning out my car. With every visit we grew closer and then one day he said the scariest word I could have fathomed at that time: Girlfriend. In passing, he called me his girlfriend.

He could not have predicted the cataclysm that would ensue. I had vowed to protect myself, I had built strong, thick walls around my heart, and somehow he had dug his way in while I wasn’t paying attention. Hearing that word started an avalanche of fear and pain that caught me up like a cartoon character in a snowball. I couldn’t un-hear it. I couldn’t ignore that there were feelings between us, and I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t take the risk.

I called him a few days later and gave him the famous “it isn’t you, it’s me” line, except for maybe the first time in history it was the truth. We both cried. We barely spoke for three weeks.

During those three weeks I drove my friends crazy, constantly at war with myself over the decision I had been so sure of. The Aunt I had been staying with in Dallas reacted with disbelief when I told her I had dumped him. “I thought he was the one, Mandi?!” Her words echoed relentlessly in my head.

So when a friend asked me to accompany her on her drive home to Oregon I went with her, elated for the distraction. As we took turns at the wheel I started hashing my feelings out loud on the long, LONG, drive. She became my captive, my caged therapist. I’m pretty sure she regretted asking me along. As I flew home alone I realized I at least needed to talk to him, and explain myself. I owed him that.

When I got home I called him and asked to see him. I invited him to come see me here, in Austin, over my birthday weekend. He must have thought I was crazy. I was. So was he – after everything I had done to him he still made the trip.

Our reunion was timid. I was ten times more nervous than I had been at the blind date that I had been so sure would lead to nothing. We went to County Line BBQ and ordered more meat than any two people should be able to consume, and it was there – among the ribs, brisket and bread – that I laid it all out on the table. Every detail. The horrible, mean things that had been done to me, and in turn every vindictive thing I had done in the name of my heart. He didn’t bat an eye, in fact he took his turn. That night we put every regret, every painful part of our past that could come back to haunt us, out for each other to see. It was hard work, but…. we were OK. We were better. Somehow having all of that out of the way opened up something for us. It gave us the ability to forgive ourselves – each other – and start something new.

We walked down by the water after dinner and, even though it seemed a silly question, I looked him in the eyes and asked him to be my boyfriend. That night he said yes and when called me his girlfriend there was no more fear, just love.

Next month it will have been eleven years since that blind date. Last month marked our six year wedding anniversary.

Trix loved Bud Dog and hasn't been the same since he passed

Trix loved Bud Dog and hasn’t been the same since he passed

Time has flown by, feeling simultaneously infinite and fleeting, as life has changed drastically but it feels like we found each other just yesterday. We celebrated our legal commitment with a giant soiree where we shared spirits and danced while our talented friends honored our union by playing music, belly dancing and spinning fire. Tracy, who is now my sister-in-love, likes to remind us every year on our anniversary that we should never have doubted her. Bud dog passed away at the young age of four due to cancer, but we rescued two more LFD’s, also catahoulas. And another cat. And some turtles. And some fish. Royce’s truck was totaled after spinning out in the rain and he now drives the family SUV (no minivans here!). We no longer eat at Sonic, mostly homemade meals these days. We traded our cliche’ dates for family time with our two tenacious and spunky little girls who are soon to be two and five. (But don’t worry, we still find time to do inappropriate things in parking lots)

As we go through this journey of parenthood together I realize that when we unpacked our pain and regrets that day my husband and I established a bond that gave us the fortitude to withstand our greatest challenges in life on a united front. Like the terrifying prospect of raising children who show us everyday that they are growing up to be just like us.

Not once since that day have I ever questioned my husband’s love for me. And still, even over ten years later, we continue to put it all out on the table with no fear of judgement. He has shown me the beauty of authenticity in life and the unconditional love that can spring forward from it. He gave me the space to feel and be human and he proves to me every day that love was, and still is, worth taking the leap.

Our crazy family

Our crazy family

For the Nursing Moms and the “Friend” Who Reported My National Breastfeeding Month Photos

It’s National Breastfeeding Month! It is time to celebrate breastfeeding, promote it’s benefits and instill confidence in the women who want to breastfeed their babies. Did you celebrate by making your profile picture a breastfeeding photo? I did. And STILL is, even after being reported to Facebook for “containing nudity.”

NOTremoved

This morning I changed my Facebook profile picture to a new breastfeeding photo. I actually post A LOT of #breastfeedingselfies regardless of the month, so I was surprised when within minutes of posting I recieved a notice from Facebook that my picture had been reported for nudity. The person who reported my profile picture scrolled through more pictures and reported two breastfeeding selfies of mine within a minute of each other. This hadn’t happened since last year this time. Facebook had just changed their policies right before World Breastfeeding Week, so I had faith that my photo would not be taken down by Facebook, and it wasn’t. So this time, while surprised, I knew I was well within my rights.

I responded by posting a screenshot of the report and then posted yet another breastfeeding photo (I have so many!). My husband encouraged me to post more as my timeline filled with outrage, support, videos and memes. When my vindictive stalker/friend reported the third photo within minutes I pulled out the big guns and shared a breastfeeding photo that included an exposed nipple. That was the last photo to be reported even though I continued to post more breastfeeding photos. I don’t know if they thought I was toast because of the #freethenipple photo or if the overwhelming support from my friends got to them, but they stopped.

milkysmileTGBP

The words of my friends who came to my defense were heart warming. They came from people of all backgrounds; My family, my friends, my co workers. There were hearts everywhere and the words “love” more times than I could count. A great conversation about tandem breastfeeding broke out and things were learned and normalized. Some shared their own breastfeeding photos – a few people even shared my photos on their timelines!

Here are some of my favorite comments:

“I reported your photo as BEAUTIFUL!!!!!!!” – A mother of teens

“Hmm wonder if those peeps also complain about girls in skimpy swimsuits too!” – A male with no children

“Beautiful “motherhood” photo.”
– A gay male friend

“Whoever it was should unfriend you instead if reporting you! Your pictures are beautiful and classy!”
-A nursing mother

“If a woman feeding her child offends you, then don’t look, unfollow, or unfriend the person. Handle you f* business like an adult and don’t go “tattling to the teacher” because something most people are cool with offends your uptight, puritanical sensibilities. I see people post “torture porn’ all the time on FB (and I get they usually want to bring attention to cruelty) but show a woman, feeding her child, or wearing too little clothing for your taste, and start howling to FB. Why? why do they get to be the FB picture police? Because it makes them uncomfortable? Because “won’t someone please think of the children?!!!”? A picture of a mother lovingly caring for her child is something they should not see? Really?!!!! And if you are that concerned about when your kid is seeing, MONITOR THEIR ONLINE ACTIVITIES!!!!!”
-A male with no children

“That was my first thought “come on people you have met Mandi, right?????” Why did you friend her if boobies offend you? heehee”
-A mom/colleague

“I love you and so glad you are my cousin’s wonderful wife. And you stand up for yourself .. you rock!”
-My husband’s cousin

“Crazy!!! Why are people so close minded it’s a normal beautiful thing, I wish I could have nursed (my son) longer but the stress of losing my grandfather so suddenly caused things to dry up. It was a great 6 weeks a wonderful bonding experience one like no other. Keep fighting!!!!”
-A childhood friend

“It’s a beautiful picture! Nothing offensive about it. People are crazy!!”
-A previous client

“Oh my goodness you have got to be kidding me!!!! Really??? This infuriates me to degrees I cannot express here! I wish these were not anonymous . That is wrong on so many levels! Thank you for sharing that Facebook got it right! Glad it happened to you Mandi! You don’t crumble to this kind of nonsense whereas someone else might. Love you with your badass self!”
-A mom of older children

“OH MY GOD A NAKED BOOOOOOOOBIE!!!!! How dare you? My EYES!!! They were so naive and virginal before this!!! *cough gasp cough* But, really, I effing love you.”
– A female colleague with no children

“Breastfeeding is beautiful, I can’t wait to do it again!! I don’t understand why this person doesn’t just ignore it if they find it offensive, or unfriend you completely. Bizarre that people have an issue with something so natural and healthy.”
-A childhood friend

“They obviously have zero life. It’s easier (for me) to pity them, than counter them. Keep doing you! The majority of cerebral, thinking adults are not offended by these beautiful images. What a sad life that a nipple would get you up in arms! I can think of some words/images worth being upset over: Ferguson, Gaza, ISIS, food scarcity for children in the US, the polar ice caps. Nipple? Not so much.”
– A recent second time mom

“Keep em coming girl!! This is beautiful and you’re beautiful!”
-A female with no children

“Maybe we should all stick our phones inside our shirts, take a photo, tag you in it and add a hashtag of #suckthis”
-My husband’s cousin, who nursed her four children

“There are so many things to push back against, protest against, and change. This is not one of them. This person needs a good talking to and if you figure out who it is, I volunteer for the job.” -A mom of older boys, of whom I have nursed in front of

“Why don’t we all share Mandi’s photo? If we all share enough, it’ll be all over the place in no time!!”
-My Aunt, who also shared her own breastfeeding experience in another post

“Breastfeeding is like the most historically ancient natural thing ever. Eve did not have Similac… (glad I did) Unfortunately, the things that ought to be reported get passed around and giggled at. And clicked on so much they pass the viruses with the smut….” -A college friend

“Lemme at ’em, I’ll squirt ’em in the eye!” – A nursing mother

“What a happy baby. Screw those who have inferior brains. I’m for one happy to see baby and breasts intermingled. Certainly there was no Infamil back in the day when women delivered in the rice/cotton/corn field. I would love to show my baby happily nursing on her mommy any day of the year!” – A college friend

“Me thinketh someone likes your boobies they get you all riled up and voila! More boobies!”
– A full term breastfeeding mom/colleague

“I hope this was a stranger and not someone in your “friends list”. I mean you see more “nudity ” than that on prime tv.”
– A mom who did not breastfeed

“Rock the f* on, Mandi!! Keep posting! (‘Scuse my language but this reporting of pictures REALLY pisses me off!!)”
-A nursing mom

One friend with an older child simply posted a GIF of Robert Downey Jr rolling his eyes

Then, as the “pending review” status of my reported photos started coming back with “This doesn’t violate the community standard, so it has not been removed” I gleefully shared screen shots of the reports! The true test was when the photo with the exposed nipple was deemed to meet the community standards. I felt like I had won.

A little bit. The only thing that would make me happier than this particular individual unfriending me would be if they actually understood that breastfeeding is just how some moms feed their babies. That it is not sexual, it is not gross. It IS something to be seen and celebrated, and explained to children everywhere that THAT is what breasts are for. Not cleavage, not sex (although those things are fun) but are milk bags that feed babies and happen to have secondary sexual characteristics.

BFingNBM14-02089

BREASTFEEDING IS NORMAL.

I am so glad for today. For all of the breastfeeding love that was spread, the support that was given and the lessons that were learned. Mostly I am glad that Facebook diligently adhered to their established standards.

So moms, have no fear. While there are still vindictive, ignorant twits out in the world, me and Facebook got your back. Post those breastfeeding photos for National Breastfeeding Month! Only a few weeks left!

#NBM14 #breastfeedingisnormal #FeelFreetoNIP #suckthis #breastfeedingisbeautiful #NIP

Drag Queen: Undressed


DRAG QUEEN: UNDRESSED
UnitedCourtNominationDragShow-00918
THE SHOW
It was our first drag show. It surprised me because we live in Texas and Austin HAS to be the drag-iest city in Texas, right? But alas, I was a drag show virgin. I left my kids with a sitter, was delightfully surprised that my husband thought it would be fun, and off we went, using our valuable time away from the kids to go support a friend. Pannica Tack would be announced as candidate for Empress XXI of The United Court of Austin, a prestigious honor. My husband and I walked in to see her smiling face right away – PHEW! No awkward standing around pretending this was totally normal for us! She immediately introduced us to the current reigning Empress, Anastasia Fabre Davis, who did a great job making us feel welcome. We ordered drinks and mingled with a group of Queens. We may have been the only heteros in the place, but we were welcomed with open arms.

Pannica Tack is formally announced as candidate for Empress XXI of The United Court of Austin

Pannica Tack is formally announced as candidate for Empress XXI of The United Court of Austin

The night was filled with surprises and realizations of how little I know about drag. As the show began, the crowd fell silent, and the MC introduced the first performer. The music started as a Queen made her way out onto the floor lip synching a song that deserved to be belted out in all of it’s glory. Then my stomach jumped into my throat when I saw people lining up with dollars.

Did I accidentally walk into some kind of Drag strip club? What was going on?! And how exactly were they going to take off all those layers of clothes? Having already seen how complex getting dressed in drag was, I couldn’t imagine any of those clothes coming off gracefully on the floor. I’m pretty open minded, but male strippers are NOT my thing (regardless of what kind of clothes they are taking off). I glanced at my husband to see if he was as concerned as I was.

The performer took the dollars, curtsied to the tipper, and dropped the money in a large pot. I tagged someone walking by and asked what was going on. Apparently this is how drag performers are typically paid – through tips. All of their prep, beauty and grace is rewarded from the audience.

What made this particular event more spectacular is that all of the money tipped was going to charity. AWESOME! I shuffled through my clutch and my husband’s pockets for cash. As a member of the United Court of Austin Pannica Tack helps raise funds for charitable organizations! BOOM! Philanthropy is not only a part of the show – it’s the point! I absolutely love their work. The United Court of Austin works to raise financial support and supply services for all kinds of agencies that work to fight diseases like HIV, AIDS and breast cancer. Some of these organizations are: AIDS Services of Austin (ASA), Project Transitions, Breast Cancer Resource Center, Roy Lozano’s Ballet Folklorico, SPCA, Battered Women’s Shelters, and Wright House Wellness Center (WHWC). They have raised over $600,000 for these and other charities since 1994.

The next performer was someone I knew, and I was a little shocked to see him.

Darrell (Hardeaux Tack), Pannica's partner, has been nominated as Emperor XXI

Darrell (Hardeaux Tack), Pannica’s partner, has been nominated as Emperor

It was Pannica’s partner, Hardeux Tack, whom I mostly know as Darrell. But he was wearing men’s clothes! And he was singing for himself! I had expected to see only men wearing women’s clothing. The surprises didn’t

stop there – throughout the night people of all genders presenting as all genders took to the floor. There were even women who performed as women – wearing less make-up and sequins than I was wearing! The one thing they ALL did was perform songs that were belt-worthy. Not only that, but all kinds of songs; rock, country, theater tunes and even one rendition of Let it Go, the popular song from Frozen. As the parents of two girls my husband and I smirked at each other as we recognized the tune. At one point I leaned over and told him I was having flashbacks to performing Celine Dion songs in my bedroom when I was a little girl. OK, so maybe I still do from time to time. I might be more of a Queen than I realized!

I was IN LOVE. We had SO much fun! This was the Candidate Announcements, so EVERYone who is involved with the The United Court of Austin, as well as guests from the other six Courts in Texas, were there. We met people from all over the state – even WACO! Having formerly lived in Waco you better believe I found them and asked them all kinds of questions. I’m a white straight girl and I found Waco oppressive, I can’t imagine trying to run a drag show there!

A few new friends bought us some drinks and we got invited to the after party at a gay club up the street. We danced, we drank, and my husband got hit on all night. My cleavage has never been more useless, but it turns out my man is a hottie so we were still able to get a few free drinks! Lucky for me he is straight as an arrow, but he rather enjoyed the ego stroke. What better compliment than being hit on by a member of a population best known for their great taste? Thank you, Queens, I know my husband is quite the catch.

THE START
Well, it started when I met Pannica at Bedpost Confesssions. After I started The Good Body Project I had gotten the idea that photographing a Drag Queen from start to finish would be quite fascinating, and Pannica was the PERFECT subject.

I went to Pannica’s house for our photography session not knowing exactly what to expect. I honestly didn’t know much about drag other than what I had seen in Too Wong Foo. I had some limited insight from the interactions I had had with her at Bedpost Confessions, but hadn’t asked any hard questions. I was planning to ask Pannica some of those questions and I knew I would put my foot in my mouth at least once before I left. She assured me no questions were off limits, no matter how ignorant they may seem, and promised she would not get offended because she knew I would be coming from a place of genuine curiosity.

Bret Before

Bret Before

When I got there, Bret opened the door. No sequins and feathers, no line dancers or fanfare. I think this was maybe the second time I had ever seen Pannica out of “uniform”, and it was weird. Like seeing a police officer who works in your building in their street clothes. I had to do a bit of a double take! I have always referred to Pannica as a “she” but seeing her as she was in daily life – dressed as a man – my heteronormative brain was doing flips. It was failing at trying to comprehend why Pannica was standing before me in jeans and a t-shirt. I was already dreading the pronoun catastrophe that was likely to come.

THE PRONOUNS
(Disclaimer: I am not an expert on the Transgender community. I give this advice in order to help those unfamiliar with the Trans Community. If you have feedback on this advice please let us know so that we can best serve the general public)

Since pronouns and terminology for men who dress in women’s clothes are the most sensitive, that is naturally the first question I asked. As I set up my lights and back drop Bret explained that it is usually safest to go with the gender that is being presented to you, and if you aren’t sure, ASK. Still, it is not so cut and dry. What do I do when he stands before me as he is in his daily life – a man? When he himself stumbles when he leaves me voice messages?

“Hey doll! It’s Bret… Pannica… WHATEVER. Call me back!”

Well, for the purposes of this piece I will use the pronoun “she” from here on out except where I am speaking of Bret before Pannica was born.

After lots of discussion on drag queens, men, women, trans men, trans women, and the rest of the alphabet soup under the trans umbrella I had an epiphany: drag doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with the sexuality or gender identity of the performer – or the viewer. If you enjoy bawdy theater, great music and amazing stage makeup, you’d probably like drag. You don’t have to be transgender, gay – or even in touch with your cisnormativity (if you don’t know what this means, it is probably what you are) – to enjoy the lights, colors, music and fashion that is a Drag Show. Aside from randy queens getting some while they happen to be wearing a dress, this is neither the focus of nor the intent of drag shows. And don’t worry, when queens take their partners to the bathroom at the club it isn’t for risky business, it’s because taking three pairs of hose off to pee is damned near impossible when you are wearing press on nails.

But back to the moment – where was the damn glitter and sequins? Pannica’s home was modestly decorated with simple modern decor, quiteDSC05833 peaceful. I had honestly expected her home to look a little like my good Jewish friend’s parent’s house; plastered in fake gold and other gaudy atrocities. Her partner was in the kitchen cooking carne guisada and their cat dodged playfully around my equipment. We shot her before shots and talked about our favorite music. It was anticlimactic and lovely and… normal. And then…

THE DRAG ROOM
A room bounding with flowers and wigs and gowns and YES! SEQUINS! The adjoining bathroom – stocked with more makeup than I have ever seen a single person own, in every imaginable color, shade and level of “sparkle”. She put my tiny bare-bones make up bag to shame and I was immediately overwhelmed with the endless possibilities of color combinations and blends.

So. Many. BRUSHES.

So. Many. BRUSHES.

As Pannica began the process of applying her make up we talked about things that heteronormative people say, “How do you walk in those shoes?!?!”, and the things I never knew drag queens said about each other, “She’s fishy”, meaning she really looks like a woman. Seeing the process of her gluing her eyebrows down, yes, with an Elmer’s stick of glue, and paint over them to make her face completely white I understood clearly why one might call someone who likes to sleep with a drag queen in drag a “clown f**ker” (OMG, I KNOW I KNOW! Her words, not mine!).gettingready-05918

So with the basic “what to say/what not to say/what we can say but you can’t say” talk out of the way we moved onto eye make up and Pannica’s back story.

THE BACK STORY
Bret was born in a tiny town in East Texas. The only indication of his future as a drag queen was his love of theater and one moment when he was about five years old. He wore his mother’s slip and high heels, a mop for a wig and a dinglehopper (fork, for those of you who aren’t up-to-date on your Little Mermaid trivia) to brush his imaginary red locks. If only his mother

Fun With Eyebrows!

Fun With Eyebrows!

had known she would be seeing much more of this some day when he was an adult! He escaped in 2005 when he went to college and upon graduation in 2009 he moved to Austin and found “home”. In June 2011 his friends convinced him to dress up in drag for his birthday… and Pannica was born. She performed her first show over Thanksgiving of 2011 at an amateur night at a bar, ironically named “Decisions”, in Longview, Texas. A crazy night where she prepped only one piece and a single ensemble. Upon arrival, despite calling ahead to confirm how many pieces to bring, the emcee asked her for the music for her two pieces, leaving her to do one on the fly in her (luckily) adorable undies. She won anyway! From there she went on to perform many more shows and become a member of the prestigious United Court of Austin.

She tells me about her favorite shows and epic fails (think 40’s era sailorette gone tragic hot mess) as she adds the contour to her face, using different shades to create the illusion of high cheek bones, a slimmer nose and less defined jawbone. Seeing how complicated this makeup application process has me staring in awe. How does one learn such a skill?!gettingreadycandids-06095

THE MOMS
Well. that’s why there are drag mothers! Yes, that’s a thing! And Pannica is one lucky girl – she has TWO. They guide her through the complexities of drag-hood – the politics, the makeup, and any other help she asks for.

As Pannica speaks admiringly of her drag mothers she applies the contour gettingreadycandids-06167of her eye make up. She stops and looks at me in all seriousness and says “When you edit these photos keep in mind, If I can’t achieve it with make up, it shouldn’t be done in photoshop.” Yes, ma’am, no photoshop will be touching those glamorous eyes! They are bright and beautiful with layers upon layers of color and contour. I can see how important this is to her. The self control required to not itch your face as to not ruin the hard work put into all of this makeup is admirable. It makes my face itch just thinking of it!

Once the makeup is finished Pannica’s boyish features are looking quite feminine. As each layer goes on you can see the dramatic effect it creates, but it seems disjointed on this male body.gettingreadycandids-06184

THE BODY, BY ROOMS TO GO
Pannicaposter2-06304 Like, no really. Pannica is a fashion genius and can turn pretty much anything into a gorgeous ensemble, and that is not limited to her clothing. Her nonexistent hips and butt are constructed by – yep, you guessed it – cutting out couch cushions! Brilliant! She places the cushions in the appropriate places and holds them in place with not one, not two, but THREE pairs of hose! (Remember that whole “needing help to go to the bathroom” thing? Yea, this is why.) Those suckers aren’t going anywhere. She told me the key to all of this is really about proportions, and that is how you choose everything. Your heels(the higher the heel the smaller your foot looks), your hips (to match the man shoulders), your makeup and your hair (the bigger the hair the closer to God and the smaller your shoulders look). I consider how little time I spend thinking about any of this in my daily routine.

THE FINAL PRODUCT
As we took the final shots I struggled to get all of her 6’6” (with heels) self into the frame. I am a tall girl, but if you ever want to feel short, stand by a drag queen! The final product was someone totally different than the man who met me at the door. THIS was Pannica, and she was beautiful.gettingreadycandids-06297

While many things surprised me through this whole experience there is one thing that I knew would hold true: Drag Queens are just people. They just enjoy beautiful clothes and lip syncing songs to their hearts desire – and they sure know how to have a heck of a lot of fun! Meeting my new friends brought such laughter and, weirdly, an innocence back into my life. They made me feel like a giddy little girl. So, next time you meet a Queen, don’t take things too seriously and start a conversation! You’ll be surprised what you might learn, or what friends you might make.

And, as Pannica said herself “I don’t take myself too seriously. After all – I’m a grown ass man wearing a dress!”

Pannica Tack: The Final Product

Pannica Tack: The Final Product

 

What to Expect from Sex When You’re Expecting

This piece was originally performed at Bedpost Confessions while I was eight months pregnant

This piece was originally performed at Bedpost Confessions while I was eight months pregnant

Sexually satisfying your partner requires intuition and communication. Over time you learn how they respond to a certain touch, how you can position yourself *just right*, “practicing” until you know their body almost as well as your own. So what do you do when your partners body keeps changing on you: shape, form, tolerance for touch, getting broader and wider and rounder and whinier until climaxing to a point where you are not allowed to touch her for SIX weeks?! While you end up with one of the most beautiful things that human beings are capable of creating, pregnancy can mean at least 10 months of romantic challenges that require three things: a sense of humor, a strong stomach and the willingness and ability to adapt and follow orders.

So here I am, round, but still sensual. Sensitive but not lacking desire. Growing a person while maintaining my Self. Can you imagine having an orgasm… that another being experiences? I read somewhere once that when a pregnant woman has an orgasm the baby gets a massage as the uterus contracts with ripples of pleasure. I imagine it’s like one of those Hydromassage beds that they have at the mall. They are like tanning beds that you lay in while it sprays pulsing water on you through a plastic barrier. They are quite powerful, much like the gestational orgasm.

I would like to take this moment to remind everyone that there is a natural barrier between your love canal and your baby, so there is no penis-to-fetus-face contact as a *ridiculous* amount of people assume. Yes, your dick is *huge*, but trust me, if you’re imagining punching your baby in the face with the head of your penis – don’t flatter yourself. There is this magical thing called the “cervix” that keeps baby in until the time is right and protects it from penetrating objects. My magical vagina might not prevent unwanted pregnancy but it sure will “legitimately” protect my growing baby. Studies actually show that consistent sex and orgasms have benefits for both mom and baby, including stronger pelvic walls and an increased chance of carrying to full term.

Interestingly enough If you look at mommy forums about sex during pregnancy you will find posts on posts of frustrated pregos whose husbands won’t touch them, but at the same time plenty of women complaining of the loss of their sex drive altogether because of the hormones. Everyone relates to sex differently during pregnancy.

Sexual preferences during pregnancy can differ not only from woman to woman, but from pregnancy to pregnancy – even month to month. EVERYTHING changes. How deep, how fast, how hard, which positions. My husband and I joked that it was like he was having sex with a different woman every night. One night my sore bulging breasts are off limits, the next I would want him to tease them. Sometimes I wanted every inch of his skin to touch me, and other times I couldn’t stand the feel of his sympathy pooch on the stretched out skin of my swollen belly. He listened intently, satisfied to follow orders while I learned how to better explain, or show, exactly what I wanted. My body and my desires changed so much that I felt like I was becoming a completely different woman, and come to think of it, I was. I was becoming a mother, something I had to balance with the sensual goddess of lust that lie in the same body as this innocent new life.

As a woman’s body moves through this beautiful – and sometimes just plain weird – process of growing a baby, each trimester presents its own issues. Early on, in the first trimester, the nausea and exhaustion that comes with growing a baby that doubles in size every week can make it nearly impossible to muster the desire to give so much as a “good old fashioned”, and it comes as no surprise that sex can be difficult to stomach during this time – literally. I have heard horror stories of women trying – and failing – to simply give their man a blow job without stimulating their already sensitive gag reflex. I am glad to say I did not experience this myself.

Slowly, nausea and exhaustion abide and the amazing “honeymoon” trimester begins. The wonderful time where you finally don’t feel like shit but you aren’t quite so huge that you need a forklift to ride your partner. For me the magic trimester came with some of the most intense, and easily achieved, orgasms. The amount of blood flowing through your body can increase up to 40% during pregnancy, and a good amount of that blood is hanging out doing work in your pelvic region. It makes for a good time in the bedroom. Even when you are asleep.

The dreams induced by the raging hormones are heightened by that lovely increase in pelvic blood flow. A delightful cocktail that results in, for lack of a better term, wet dreams. I have never in my life, aside from during my pregnancies, woken up mid-orgasm. The orgasms were always amazing, and the dreams were always… interesting. Fuck hallucinogens, pregnancy hormones win! From lesbian lovers – sometimes with a surprise penis! – to erotic orgies, even one involving a sea turtle, the dreams were NEVER boring and always woke me up in the best mood. Regardless of why I had such weird pregnancy dreams – or how fucked up I might just be – I wish I could have them all the time, minus the weight gain.830299_498086853588169_1167734650_o

Then, as swiftly as it comes, the honeymoon period abides and in tromps the third trimester. The prepubescent Bigfoot monster emerges with its acne riddled face, hair growing in places where hair should never be, its large belly swallowed into the HUGEness of its breasts, swollen thighs and legs that have not seen a razor in weeks drag waterlogged ankles through painful strides. The third trimester shows no regard for your lofty goals of not gaining more than the “25-35 pounds” suggested during pregnancy and any delusions you had of being that cute “olive on a toothpick” glowing pregnant woman come crashing down. This is when a little sympathy weight on your partner can go a long way… Even the most confident of women can struggle with their body image at this time.

Somehow my hoss of a man still managed to get aroused, even after I lumbered into the room in my sweats and mumu-esque pregnancy top, flopping myself onto the bed as I told him that I would start getting the 50 pillows I needed for support ready if he would help me get my pants off. He happily obliged every time and – if I was lucky – he would go down on me. Pressing his forehead against the lower part of my bulging belly as I tightly close my eyes and imagined beautiful, non-pregnant sex with vigorous penetration. As we started to make love he ignored the uncontrollable gas that came from that which is a pregnant woman’s highly efficient digestive system, enjoying the occasional breeze on his balls. And if I ever asked for a bathroom break he would keep the party going while I was gone. If he has ever thought any of this was gross he never showed it, and has continued to call me beautiful, make love to me and watched me do my yoga poses in the most inappropriate fashion.

As you get closer to giving birth you start to realize that you are prepping for some time without any vaginal access – and don’t even THINK about going near the blood filled, swollen, rear end after that heavy impact from baby and birth, trust me. And, men, I’m sorry but oral just isn’t very high on the priority list when you are in the tornado of exhaustion that is caring for a newborn. You’re on your own for a little while! Don’t worry, you’ll survive.

It took me a few weeks after the marathon of birth to even remember that I used to enjoy this thing called sex. I had this horrible image of my vagina as a black hole, sucking in everything near it, to an unknown place where it would never be seen again! I completely forgot about the sensual goddess. I mean, duh, my miracle organ of a vagina had been stretched to over 200% of it’s previous size! But as time progresses your body returns to normal, pretty much, and you can do almost everything you always did. Although, young children DO have this ability to suck the life out of you, so I’m not sure if I’m just not as adventurous as I used to be, or if I have just been fucking exhausted for three years. Check back with me… in 18 years.

The first time I reached orgasm after birth I was thrilled and terrified all at the same time – relieved that everything still worked. I came back down from the throbbing intensity of my weak pelvic muscles and noticed that my chest was wet. As I sat up I realized that milk was STREAMING from my breasts. I grabbed a shirt from the floor to dam the flood, but nothing I did could get it to stop! WHY DOES NO ONE TALK ABOUT THIS?!

857987_498086790254842_663043014_o

Pregnancy has been one of the most challenging obstacles my husband and I have overcome together, and we are better people for it. I trust him with my whole being to be able to laugh with me through the hard times, love me through the gross stuff and have patience while we figure out the rest. How bad could it have been if we willingly did it all over again?

Boobies or Breasts? Why not both?! A look at breasts and sexuality

This piece was written and performed at Bedpost Confessions, a live, monthly storytelling show in Austin: Smart. Sexy. Stories.

Showing off some cleavage before the show

Showing off some cleavage before the show


I love breasts. Breasts, boobs, tits, bazongas, whatever you want to call them. Big breasts, ittie bitty breasts, perky breasts, torpedo breasts, I love them all. Breasts with little nipples, dinner plate nipples, clothes hanger nipples, and one of my personal favorites – inverted nipples! I like to think inverted niples have special powers. As an innie I have to say my nipples are a direct channel to my sexuality AND I never have to worry about my headlights being on! The wild variations of breast shapes and sizes are intriguing to me; I can find beauty in all of them. I love MY breasts, I love YOUR breasts! If your breasts are there for me to see I’m a-lookin’.  I am no stranger to the struggle to maintain eye contact with the owner of a voluptuous pair.

Sometimes I stand in the mirror and admire my own. I can’t help but notice the imperfections; one is bigger than the other, there are a few silvery stretch marks and, ugh, a hair! What the HELL is THAT about?! What evolutionary purpose does nipple hair serve?!  My variations of normal are noticeable, but I also see the general softness and porcelain curves. I see beauty, femininity and realness in their flaws. In my reflection I can envision my breasts inviting some poor soul’s tearful head to rest; giving comfort that only a bosom can provide. These things – these lumps of glorified fatty tissue – that my clothes accentuate, that my bras lift, that the public eye begs to see. I cannot change them, so I have worked hard to love them. I shouldn’t have had to work so hard.

DSC02402_breastsb&w
I have always enjoyed the eroticism of my breasts. No better way to derail all of my thought processes than to cop a feel and end with a gentle pinch of the nip. At least that was until my fun-time bags became BREASTS. BREASTS. When I became a mom my breasts were no longer mine – or my husband’s – but were now subject to the dictatorship of a tiny human being who begged for them more than any man I have ever met.  

I have to say though, I do think breastfeeding has given me some insight into the male erection – stay with me, here. Stimulation causes a fluid to build up which makes the breasts become hard until there is an uncontrollable climax. If that climax is interrupted, the discomfort of engorgement sets in – the female version of blue-balls; blue breasts, I guess? So then I sulk off alone to take care of it myself, begrudgingly attaching my pump. *err – err – err- err* And sure, it works well enough, but it’s just not quite as satisfying as the real thing. I feel for you guys and your poor blue balls.

Image

So while this insight was quite valuable, these breasts were not just for fun anymore. They were for my infant, and now even my three (soon to be 4!)-year-old who admires them greatly. She often caresses them when she thinks I’m not paying attention, just out of awe and curiosity. She knows they have power. And now my breasts are all business. I’ve had doctors, lactation consultants, other moms – and as I became more comfortable – pretty much everyone in my general vicinity seeing and sometimes even touching my breasts. But… it sure ain’t sexy. It’s work! It is true love’s sacrifice.

My breasts are still fun for everyone, just in a different way. Whether it is my nursling feeding while simultaneously clutching and pinching the opposite nipple (seriously, Why?! WHY?), or my four year old telling the story of the time mommy went on the boat and her boobies went A-BOOM BOOM BOOM (no really, she has said this while bouncing my breasts weekly since our boat trip in August) or my husband trying to sneak in some time with them for himself, it is clear that things are no longer the same.

Image

For one, my view of the eroticism of my breasts is totally different. I am now known to give dirty looks and swat at my husband if he so much as looks longingly at my breasts when I am preparing to nurse. It must be torture for him to have them so close, yet so far away. I know some people are into age-play and milk fetishes, – and honestly after some thought I kind of understand the draw – but breastfeeding is NOT sexy. Think of the sexiest thing ever combined with the least sexy, but sweetest, thing ever – like receiving the best oral sex you’ve ever had… while your grandma endearingly strokes your hair. Ack! THAT is how I feel when my husband attempts to caress my breast while my baby is nursing. *shudder* Oil and water, my friends. Or foremilk and hindmilk…

Did you know that breastmilk cannot be duplicated by science? It has antibacterial properties that can heal pink eye, ear infections, eczema, and sinus infections. That’s right, I put that shit straight in my neti pot! Breastfeeding reduces the mother’s chances of breast cancer and helps her lose weight. Breastmilk takes on the flavor of food, giving breastfed toddlers a better palate for fruits, vegetables and other healthy choices later in life. Not only that, it reduces their risk of obesity, diabetes and cancer. Best of all it calms fussy babies and it’s FREE.  Breastmilk is fucking MAGIC. It’s not “ew”.  I’ve tasted my own breast milk, and it is sweet, totally palatable. I’m pretty certain my husband has tasted it during foreplay, too. But who cares? Worst case scenario: it gives him superpowers. I bet you that after a night of heavy drinking, a shot of breast milk would alleviate a hangover. Hell, give me some rum and Kahlua and I will make my own White Russians. Party. All. NIGHT.

Like, no really. Breastmilk White Russians. Someone should market this!

Like, no really. Breastmilk White Russians. Someone should market this!

So this is what kills me. My non-lactating breasts are quite popular. Delightful toys for the joy of men and women alike! Titties, titties, titties! But whip out a BREAST for its intended purpose? Ludicrous! How dare you feed your baby in the presence of others, you might offend someone! Breasts and nipples, in my opinion, need not be covered solely because they have secondary sexual characteristics. The city of Austin agrees with me; I can walk through downtown with my shirt off and it is perfectly legal. Texas also has a lesser known law regarding my breasts (I wonder how many laws there are governing men’s bodies? Hmmmmm.) – and that law says that I can breastfeed anywhere that I am authorized to be.

Some people might say “Sure, but with a cover, because like, modesty, right?!”  It is totally unrealistic to think that every baby will tolerate a blanket draped over their head. Do YOU want to eat with your napkin over your face?! I will cover my baby while she eats when all those bottle feeding perverts stop waving around their nipple dildos and cover that shit up.

Breastfeeding my daughter at a post-natal yoga class.

Breastfeeding my daughter at a post-natal yoga class.

If I can freely use a fake nipple to feed or soothe my baby it should be perfectly acceptable for me to use a real one. Just as most people would be terribly offended by, say, a stranger’s penis wagging in their face, they would only be slightly more comfortable if someone were to wag a lifelike dildo in their face. So if you are not offended at all when I feed my baby with a fake nipple, you should probably only be a little uncomfortable with my actual nipple. And hey, we are slightly uncomfortable on the daily: like when someone crop dusts us with a rank fart, or they lean over to show their plumber’s crack – or even better – their whale tail we get uncomfortable, but we don’t tell them to leave or “do that somewhere else.” We say nothing; we giggle at our discomfort and move on.

So people say “WTF, Mandi, you just said there are deviants out there lusting after your breastmilk, don’t you want to cover those bodacious milky tatas up?!” I say “no”. Just like I don’t hide my feet for the sake of foot fetishists or refuse to pee in a public restroom to avoid people who like water play.

Nope. I will nurse with reckless abandon just as I have openly shared my cleavage all these years. I’ve come to terms with my breasts and I am reclaiming my fun-time-bags. While breastfeeding has changed my relationship with my breasts I am slowly starting to give them their sexual freedom back; letting them loose to sway as I walk around the house, pushing them up occasionally to show off a little cleavage, allowing a fondle or two and sometimes even asking for one. The best thing about my forever-changed breasts is that they are now so soft. Soft and comforting, like a mother’s breasts should be. While perky has it’s benefits I gotta give my breasts some mad respect. They were a sole source of nutrition, giving life to my children – all on their own – for six months, and they have continued to give them the nutrition and immunities that they need to be healthy and strong well into toddler-hood.

Image

Besides, I can make soft and comforting sexy. I can walk around with confidence topless with tight jeans (my husband’s personal favorite) and feel like the sexiest woman on earth; soft silver-ridden breasts and all. Because they are what I’ve got and they are amazing. All breasts are amazing, and powerful, and worthy of respect. We cannot compare our breasts to each other because they are as diverse, if not more so, as the population of the country we live in. What we see on TV is not all there is.

So, if I ever do find myself comparing myself to those awful fashion magazines in the checkout line and feel dragged down by the fallacy of my “abnormal” breasts, I just remember my three year old saying “I want boobies like yours, momma, so I can feed baby sister!”… A BOOM BOOM BOOM BOOM!

 

Formula: The Mommy War Within

My baby took formula for the first time today – and I am flooded with grief and relief, and grief for feeling relief.

It’s not really a big deal, but it is. My lactivism and breastfeeding advocacy is widely known among my friends and followers so my daughter’s “Exclusively Breastfed” (EBF) status is kind of a source of pride for me. I now realize that a lot of this pride stems from my first breastfeeding experience – I told people that my first daughter was EBF, only to later learn on a mommy thread that I had been dead wrong. A mom wrote in response to a post about a mom who mostly breastfed and casually used formula:

“If your baby has ever received one drop of formula, they are NOT EBF”

I was crushed by that reality, and the accusing tone of the author. I felt like she was pointing a finger at me, calling me out as a fraud. My first baby breastfed for almost two years, only being supplemented in her first month, and then again later when I went back to work. In the beginning our formula use had been based on fear, fear of jaundice and Bili lights. Then, when she turned six months old and I went back to work, her occasional formula bottle let my mother feed her easily out and about. It gave me reprieve from the stress of being the sole source of nutrition for my little baby, making pumping much less stressful – and therefore more successful.

Pumping at work is an unpaid "break" where I sit in a tiny, stark white room and hook myself up to a machine and scroll through my Facebook feed at least twice a day while my colleagues and clients form bonds and collaborate.

Pumping at work is an unpaid “break” where I sit in a tiny, stark white room and hook myself up to a machine and scroll through my Facebook feed at least twice a day while my colleagues and clients form bonds and collaborate.

Pumping at work is boring, time consuming and stressful. It was nice to have something to fall back on. But I had never considered that my baby wasn’t “Exclusively Breastfed”.

So when my second was born I was excited when I seemed to have milk-a-plenty. I shed my “first-time-mom” fears and nursed in public with reckless abandon, shared my breast milk with a friend’s newly adopted newborn, gave well intended advice to new mothers and used breast milk to cure every ailment that made it’s way into my home. I was proud that this time, THIS TIME, I had an EBF baby. No one could take that away from me!

Then, again, when my second and final baby was six months old I went back to work and baby girl went with grandma. After four months of stressing about pumping; finding a place, making the time, keeping up with my work while taking extra unpaid breaks throughout my day, explaining to too many judging faces (“you said your baby is HOW OLD?”) that I was nursing and needed accommodations, cleaning my pump adequately and storing the milk appropriately – my padded stash started to dwindle. The final straw was when we all got the flu. We were now sending milk to grandma’s house on a day-to-day basis. I couldn’t help but feel that my body was failing me.

Me breastfeeding my first born at 8 weeks. This photo was my profile picture on Facebook for World Breastfeeding Week. It was reported as "Nudity/Pornography" within hours.

Me breastfeeding my first born at 8 weeks. This photo was my profile picture on Facebook for World Breastfeeding Week. It was reported as “Nudity/Pornography” within hours.

I was stressing so hard about being able to pump and produce enough that my mom tried a formula bottle. Baby girl took one taste and spit it right back out. The same response happened three times in a row. I beamed with pride – what a smart baby I have! She knows what’s up! But at the same time I felt my fears and inadequacies creeping up on me. We moms, we do this to ourselves so much. I should have pumped more diligently and taken Fenugreek daily. Why didn’t I make oatmeal this morning?? I could have pumped again at work if I hadn’t had lunch with my colleague. What if I can’t keep up? What if I spill some? I brought myself to tears thinking about it every time I pumped less than four ounces. Ironically I later learned that the WHO definition of EBF suggests that after solids a baby is no longer EBF, so she wasn’t technically EBF after six months anyway! All of that worry about some status for NOTHING.

Nursing my youngest at four months old.

Nursing my youngest at four months old.

Then I stepped back and asked myself “What is this angst?! There are women who try and try but can’t breastfeed at all, what are you complaining about?! Your first child took formula and you NEVER second guessed yourself! What’s so different now?”

What is different now is that I am entrenched in the mommy community. I belong to groups upon groups of support networks for moms, and I love them. In no other groups have I seen a mother ask for help so timidly and be barraged by helpful advice and words of support so quickly – no judgement, just information and experience sharing. But on the opposite end of this you find social media threads where the magical anonymity of the internet begs for callous judgements full of “you should”s. This is why my rule is “don’t read the comments”. Every time I break this rule I lose a little faith in humanity. While mommies have this innate gift for creating community to uplift each other, there is a dark side where we tear each other down with no mercy. This is aptly named “The Mommy Wars”.

 

Discussion and open dialogue over important issues are invaluable to successful and savvy Mommy-hood, and the one thing most moms have in common is that we really just want to do the best that we can do for our babies. I love hanging with other moms. I get really excited when they share some of the core values I apply to my parenting, but I have yet to meet a mom that does EVERYthing like me. Some vaccinate, some don’t. Some use cloth diapers, some use disposables. Some use formula, some breastfeed. But the ones I am closest to? The ones who accept our differences and continue to share information and celebrate what we do have in common. We take our differences, turn them into discussions, and don’t take any of it personally. These are the moms that I rely on to hash out the hardest decision I have to make as a mom.

I look at each of my mommy friends and I see women who would do anything for her baby, and does everything that her current situation permits. If she breastfeeds like me I tend to get excited because we share something unique in common. If she decides to consider formula I will do my best to give her the support (Successful breastfeeding really takes a village!) she needs to continue to breastfeed. If it so happens that her situation doesn’t permit her to continue breastfeeding I will not to judge her. It is better to be a sane and present mother than a breastfeeding mother. I will try to assume the best of her – that she is doing the best she has with what she’s got, and trust that she made the right decision for HER situation.

So I think about my situation – my baby is ten months old. She will get some formula, but it will allow me to relax a little and continue to breastfeed her because I will also continue to pump at work. I had zero reason to feel bad about that, but I did. Why? Because ONE mom shared her snotty standards of Exclusive Breastfeeding on some mommy site – and it wasn’t even directed at ME!! Our words are so powerful, and we sling them all over the interwebs, pulling down mommas we don’t even know. It has to stop.

We all just do our best

We all just do our best

I see this “look” on another moms face sometimes – the one when I tell her I did something differently than she did. It’s a combination of fear and curiosity, a look of expectant judgement. It always makes me wonder what I did wrong to make her think that I would judge her, but I know it isn’t me. I know it’s her experiences with people who think like me. I know it might be because some militant crunchy mom on her hospital tour accused her of trying to kill her baby with her choice to get an epidural. I know it was probably another woman, who probably didn’t even know her, who shamed her for not “trying hard enough” to breastfeed. I’m sure I get this look on my face, too, when I tell a bottle feeding mom that I am still breastfeeding at 18 months or when I need to nurse my baby in a public space. It is a shame that women treat each other this way so often that we expect it, and it IS almost always coming from other women.

For example; a mother here in Austin was told to leave a store by a female employee after asking to use a vacant dressing room to breastfeed her young son. She *could* technically have legally nursed anywhere in the mall, but this employee chose to humiliate her. When the media blew up the comments made me question my faith in humanity. Uneducated childless people said things like “Go in the bathroom!” or “Gross, you might have spilled some breast milk in that stall!” but it wasn’t these that offended me most. It was the other moms. The moms who said “that’s what a pump is for” (no, just no. See above photo.) and “I support breastfeeding, but only if you are modest and use a cover” (if you have to say I support something, BUT… you probably don’t really support it). And even the moms who said “You should have just whipped it out! You don’t have to ask, be a strong woman!” (it is important to support a breastfeeding mom REGARDLESS of their personal comfort level when nursing).

And in that same vein; a breastfeeding support page, The Leaky Boob, found out that a picture that they had shared – intended to inspire women – was taken and perverted into something else.

It was a photo of one of the admins after she gave birth. Her birth had rendered her temporarily quadriplegic and the photo showed a nurse holding her newborn to her breast, giving her the support (emphasis – SUPPORT) to begin a breastfeeding relationship despite the circumstances. Beautiful! But another parenting site took the photo and added a tag line that suggested that women who weren’t breastfeeding weren’t trying hard enough. They turned something uplifting and encouraging into judgement and belittlement.

That’s right. It comes from both sides. So no matter what a mother does, she is ridiculed. If we breastfeed we are shunned and embarrassed when we feed our babies. If we formula feed we are made to feel inadequate. Guess we might as well do what we want anyway, right?

Take a time out and look at this sleepy-time drool face. She is sweet and precious and healthy, and that is all that we can hope for.

Take a time out and look at this sleepy-time drool face. She is sweet and precious and healthy, and that is all that we can hope for.

We can never judge the life of others, because each person knows only their own pain and renunciation. It’s one thing to feel that you are on the right path, but it’s another to think that yours is the only path. ~ Paulo Coelho

Think next time you join in a discussion with another mom, think: is what I am going to say informative, or judgmental? Is it helpful or hurtful? What can I say to uplift this momma? I know it will be a challenge and none of us are perfect, but I’m going to do my best to control my knee-jerk judgements. I’m going to try to gently inform where it is welcome and otherwise be the change I want to see in the world. I hope you’ll join me in trying to change the dialogue in the Mommy Wars to an information based discussion. None of us learn from being hurt and belittled for our choices. When we know better, we do better. Let’s do better. It might have a bigger impact than you expect.

 

 

 

 

The Body is a Good Thing: An Oath

Photography by http://www.steve-rogers-photography.com/

Things just got real: Julie Gillis speaks as I interpret her powerful message

The other day I was hanging out with my three(almost four!!!)year-old playing dolls and such when she shifted her legs a certain way and got a distant look in her eye. As she shifted slightly back with curiosity I said “Hey, whatcha doin?”

“It feels good”

Dammitdammitdammitdammitdammit… what do I say?! Don’t screw her up! I rack my brain for the latest and greatest articles on age appropriate sex education. Don’t shame her! Um, but I don’t want her to start walking around telling strangers about her “feel good” spot, either. DAMMIT. Things just got real.

“Yea, it does feel good sometimes, but that is just for YOU, not for anyone else.”

Crap…. technically one day she will share that feeling with someone, so that’s kind of a lie. I want to be honest, but she is only three – why is this so complicated?!

This inspires her to tell me all of the words she knows, proudly spouting off the genitalia of everyone she sees regularly and of course tops it all off with the story of how baby sister came out of mommy’s vagina. I am proud that she knows these words, and I know that it empowers her to know about her body, but it is weird to hear someone say “vagina” and “penis” without the inherent hush in their voice, much less with such vigor. I think about how long she will be able to say these words with such naivety. She is so innocent.

We are once again pulled back to our dolls as she reanimates the ribbon snake that refuses to leave our poor princesses alone – I am relieved. That might be bad. Or normal. It’s just another body part! But… it’s also not. I am glad that I have more time to consider my responses to her future ponderings.

I don’t think I scarred her for life during – what I was pretty sure was – our first “sex talk”. My response wasn’t perfect, but it will do for now. I just try to remember to do my best to be as honest, and as age appropriate, as I can be.

A few months ago my friend, Julie Gillis, performed a paramount piece about sex education in the state of Texas at Bedpost Confessions. We live in a state that allows schools to teach from a curriculum that compares their sexuality to a chewed up piece of gum. She spoke about having this conversation with her son and goes on to say:

The less access to education and resources kids have the more problems we’ll have. The less resources young folks have around how to love, learn, consent, respect? The harder things will be for them as adults.

Say it!

Say it!

This resonates with me, and I want to be a resource to my daughters, but at the same time sometimes it can be hard to know what to say in the moment. So when the talented Ebony Stewart joined Julie on stage and challenged the crowd I knew I had to share what she spoke. An oath for every adult who is around, near or has children to pledge (hint: that probably means you).

I hope you will take her oath with me:

Ebony Stewart

Ebony Stewart

“My name is Ebony Stewart aka The Gully Princess aka “I’ll eat cho cupcake.”
And as a Sex-Ed teacher in this he’er great state of Texas I believe it takes a village to raise our adolescents.

I’m here to DEPUTIZE YOU!

On this day November 21st and every day forward before my friends, strangers, bartenders, BedPost Confessions, a sex-ed teacher, and all the gods we serve…

I will, if asked and in the most consensual and ethical manner with good boundaries and only if I feel safe in doing so, teach adolescents how to affirm and respect themselves as sexual persons (including their bodies, sexual orientation, feelings and to respect the sexuality of others).

I will increase comfort and skills for discussing and negotiating sexuality issues with peers, romantic partners, and people of other generations.

I will stay current in all the latest music, relationships and sex scandals (such as KimYe because Brangelina is not relevant anymore).

THINGS HAVE CHANGED since “back in my day.”

I will not use the phrase “back in my day” anymore!

I will explore, develop, and articulate values, attitudes, and feelings about my sexuality, their sexuality and the sexuality of others.

I will reject double standards, stereotypes, biases, exploitation, dishonesty and harassment.

I will acquire knowledge and skills for developing and maintaining romantic or sexual relationships that are consensual, mutually pleasurable, safe, and based on respect, mutual expectations, and caring.

I will be honest in talking to adolescents about sex.

I will actually use the word sex.

I will also use the words vulva, clitoris, penis, arousal, erection, and ejaculation.
Instead of whoowhoo, peepee, whoHA, Jimmy, nut, bang, blowpop, or pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey when talking to adolescents about sex.

We DECRY the act of shaming.

Sex is not bad.
If sex was a bad thing none of us would be here.

If I don’t know, I will say I DON’T KNOW!
I will find a way to get the best and most accurate answer by contacting Ebony or any of the BedPost Confessions team and we will Google the answer TO-GETHER!

I, Ebony will always be available to help parents and adults learn how to talk about all this!!!

In closing,

The body is a good thing.
I am a good thing.
Therefore,
I am worthy of good things.

And so too, then are the teens of this great state.
So say you AYE??”

AYE!

AYE!

What it boils down to is: all we can do is our best to be honest and open with our youth. Will you take the oath with me? Say AYE!

The photography for this blog post was done by : http://www.steve-rogers-photography.com/