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Archive for the 'Personal Essays' Category

What To Read To Your Kid During The Trump Administration

Posted in Book Reviews, Editorials, Personal Essays, Pregnancy And Motherhood Thinkpieces on January 20th, 2017

My son is still a baby by but I try to read to him every day. He doesn’t understand the words yet but he likes looking at the pictures and hearing my voice. In some ways I’m glad I don’t have to explain Donald Trump to him yet, and my heart goes out to parents who do. When I was a kid I liked topical books like “How My Parents Learned to Eat” and “The Lorax.” My Dad gave me a copy of Jack London’s “The Scab” when I was about ten. And I plan on continuing the tradition of including political books with my own son. Here’s some kids books covering themes that may come up in the net few years:

For Very Little Ones
A is for Activist by Innosanto Nagara
An alphabet board book which covers the A-Z of activism from “Advocate Abolitionist Ally” to “Zapatista of course.” Some people may balk about introducing radical politics to young children. But I love this book. I will unapologetically share my Unitarian Universalist faith with my son, and he’ll be hearing a lot of these words at coffee hour after services, or while I’m playing “Democracy Now!” in the background of a quiet day at home. So why not read him this remarkable book of rhymes about activism?

For Your Budding Feminist
Rad American Women A-Z by Kate Schatz and Miriam Klein Stahl
About a year before I had my son, I reviewed this book on Goodreads: “This book is amazing and I want to buy a copy for every child I know.” Children will enjoy learning about historical figures they’ve heard of and those they haven’t. Although it’s written for children, it does not hold back. It begins, “A is for Angela. Angela Davis was born in 1944 in Birmingham Alabama into a neighborhood known as ‘Dynamite Hill’ because a group of racist white men called the Ku Klux Klan often bombed the homes of black families who lived there.”

The authors have also written a sequel “Rad Women Worldwide.”

For The Elementary School Age Peacemaker
The Sandwich Swap by Queen Rania of Jordan
This is a simple story of two girls who are best friends, one white and one Arab, but who secretly think each other’s food is gross. You can probably guess what happens next. It’s a sweet story with charming pictures.

If Things Get Really Bad
The Butter Battle Book by Dr. Seuss
Dr. Seuss wrote this during the Cold War, and it’s an unflinching look at the prospect of nuclear war through the eyes of a child. I read it when I was about 11 in 1994. By that time, both the Berlin Wall and the USSR were things of the past. For children who lived through times where the prospect of mutually assured destruction was very real, this book was much more relatable. It’s also a good tool to teach kids about allegory and how literature can simplify real world problems into stories we can talk about.

Why I Gave My Son My Husband’s Last Name

Posted in Editorials, Personal Essays, Pregnancy And Motherhood Thinkpieces on November 21st, 2016

Push the button?

Six years ago, when my husband and I got married, I did not change my last name. I’ve written about the subject and discussed it on my podcast, twice. I didn’t see a good reason to change my name – it was a lot of work for no perceived benefit and historically a sexist custom. I did ask my husband if he would like for both of us to hyphenate but he declined, considering the effort that would take. So neither of us changed our names.

“But what about the children?!” people have asked me. I did consider giving our child a hyphenated or double barrelled last name. And if either my husband or I had done that I would have done so in a second. I am fond of saying that in Latin America many people have two last names and no one bats an eyelash. It’s a great custom which preserves both halves of a child’s heritage and I have no aesthetic qualms about it. Unfortunately in the United States many of the people I know with hyphenated last names face a bureaucratic nightmare that neither my husband nor I were willing to face. As we rejected the paperwork and red tape of having two last names in a country where this is seen as an odd choice, I hesitated to give my child a hassle I didn’t want for myself.

There was the option of giving my son my last name as his middle name, a custom I also like. But I preferred to give my son the middle name of my great uncle who was a wonderful man – charming, kind, generous and who maintained his sense of humor and his appetite for candy and scotch sours until the last days of his 95 years.

And so it seems I was giving my son only one last name. It could have been mine. But I chose to give him my husband’s last name alone for several reasons. I think parents who choose to give their children their mother’s last name are doing the hard work of defying a patriarchal custom. And as I will explain, it is work.

There is no logical reason why in the United States and other Western countries we give children only one last name and it’s always their fathers. The reason is our cultural taboo about paternity. We name children after their fathers as a way of signaling paternity. Not counting astronomically rare hospital mix-ups, as a fact of human biology, mothers are certain which children are theirs. And although we could easily replace last names with the paternity tests of modern medicine, they’re just not as salient as a last name.

Imagine two birth announcements:

Ms Mary Smith and Mr John Jones announce the birth of their son, Michael Jones, born October 1, at 12 noon, 8lb 20in


Ms Mary Smith and Mr John Jones announce the birth of their son, Michael Smith, born October 1, at 12 noon, 8lb 20in. A paternity test confirmed that John Jones is Michael’s father.

Doesn’t have quite the ring, eh?

The feminist argument that if a woman carries a child for ~40 weeks and then goes through childbirth and recovery she should name them after herself as a tribute to the work of pregnancy is a very good one.

But it ignores the cultural context in which we live and asks women to push the large red button labeled “PATERNITY TABOO.” People will quickly assume that a child named after their mother was named thusly because their father was absent at the time of birth, or that her current partner is not the biological father. They may even go on to assume that the child was the product of infidelity.

I was more than willing to take any ignorant or sexist comments for not changing my name when I got married. But I’m unwilling to take an action in the name of my feminist ideals which may cause people – however uninformed, or malicious – to reflect poorly on a child who cannot consent to my political action. And I do believe that under the current political climate, giving a child their mother’s last name is a political act. I would also prefer not to be put on the defensive about my fidelity to my husband for the rest of my life. I appreciate that some families are willing to take this on, but I do not want to take on the burden of signifying my resistance to patriarchy in this way. My choice is not feminist. Just angst savingly expedient.

Dear America, Stop Gaslighting Me

Posted in Editorials, Personal Essays on November 12th, 2016

Dear America,

Well here we are at the end of the second election during my 33 years and the fourth in our 240 years where one person (ooh I get to say “person” now and not “man”) has won the popular vote for the presidency but lost the electoral college. God, our system is arcane and incomprehensible.

I’m sad and I’m angry and I will probably be OK. Probably. As long as we get one thing straight. Stop gaslighting me. Stop telling me Donald Trump didn’t say the things that he said, that I didn’t hear him with my own ears, or worse that he didn’t mean them. Despite being a mixed ethnicity liberal woman in New York City I have a very simple approach to interpersonal relations: listen to what people say. “Listen, don’t just wait to talk” is one of the best pieces of advice I have ever received. And I try to live by it every day.

“When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.” -Maya Angelou

So believe me when I say I was listening to Donald Trump. And I heard him. Loud and clear.

Hell, now that he’s issuing policy papers I don’t even have to suffer his terrible oratory. I can read what he has to say and we can look at it together America. Right there in plain English.

If you have managed to convince yourself that his whole campaign was some big fucking joke, that he didn’t really mean it, that he would never actually, could never do those things – STOP. You can’t know that. Telling yourself you somehow have an alternate way of knowing how another person will act aside from their previous words and actions may comfort you, but in the end you are hurting yourself by believing in a delusion that will not come true.

“You think you know someone. But mostly you just know what you want to know.” -Joe Hill

And you are HURTING ME. Every time someone tells me “it’s going to be ok.” “Everything is going to be fine.” “The Republicans will stop him.” You are causing me pain. You are telling me that I did not see the things I saw or hear the things I heard. You are telling Mexicans that he didn’t call them rapists. You are telling Muslims that he didn’t say he would ban them from entering the United States. You are telling women he didn’t brag about grabbing by them by the pussy. You are telling girls that he didn’t walk into their dressing rooms unannounced to leer at their naked bodies.

I really don’t like 1984 analogies because I think they are trite and I thought we were more headed towards Huxley’s Brave New World, but when you say Trump didn’t say those things you are holding up four fingers and telling me there are five. When you tell me he didn’t mean the things you said you are Gul Madred showing Captain Picard four lights and torturing him until he says he there are five. When you tell me “everything is going to be ok” you are Petruchio insisting Katarina say that the sun is really the moon. Please stop doing this. You are hurting me. You are making me doubt my sanity and it’s not fun. And you are hurting other people – who don’t have the resources to escape what this administration will unleash – much worse.

And finally, a word about the people who voted for Donald Trump. Jay Smooth said we should focus on “that racist thing you said/did” rather than “you are a racist.” I can’t know what’s in the hearts of 60 million Americans. I know what the Trump supporters I know personally have said (lots of racist, sexist, homophobic, Islamophobic comments, climate change denialism…) and I know what the person they voted for said. So I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that voting for Donald Trump is a racist act. And it doesn’t matter what’s in their hearts.

If you voted for a racist sexual predator because he said he would repeal NAFTA, YOU STILL VOTED FOR A RACIST SEXUAL PREDATOR.

If you voted for an Islamophobic fascist because you wanted a tax cut, YOU STILL VOTED FOR AN ISLAMOPHOBIC FASCIST.

And just to pre-empt the comments: I voted for Hillary Clinton because I wanted to repeal the Hyde Amendement, raise the minimum wage, get paid maternity leave, slow climate change, and rebuild our infrastructure. BUT I STILL VOTED FOR SOMEONE WHO HELPED START THE IRAQ WAR, RACE BAITED ABOUT SUPER PREDATORS AND RAN A SHITTY RACIST CAMPAIGN AGAINST BARACK OBAMA IN 2008. I own my shit, and I expect Trump voters to do the same. Fair is fair.

So please America. I’m not stupid. I know what I saw. I know what I heard. Stop telling me to doubt my own memories and perceptions to ease your own conscience about what you did, or soothe your anxieties that we have elected a president who is a fascist. No one knows what will happen next. But I certainly know what happened in this campaign over the past two years, I will not deny it and you cannot take my knowledge away from me.

Happy Holidays!


Why I Bowled For Abortion Access While I Was (Trying To Get) Pregnant

Posted in Editorials, Personal Essays, Pregnancy And Motherhood Thinkpieces on September 28th, 2016

Note: This piece has been corrected. See below.

I’ve taken part in the New York Abortion Access Fund Bowl-a-thon for four years. In 2015 I bowled while I was trying to get pregnant. And this year I was in the middle of my second trimester. I even wore a shirt like this one to the event.

In 2015, no one knew I was trying to get pregnant, but this year many of my friends and family knew that I was pregnant while I made facebook and blog posts, and tweeted asking for money to pay for other women’s abortions. When I had just started to show, I organized a comedy show at my (Unitarian Universalist) church to raise money for the cause. This is probably something few others can say they’ve done!

I dreaded someone calling me out for a perceived hypocrisy or heartlessness. I see my fundraising activities as wholly compatible with my desire to be a mother and my compassion for other people. Reproductive justice means that everyone should be free to make the decision to parent or not. And my decision to become a mother does not mean that others must or should make the same choice. My freedom is bound to everyone else’s, and so raising money for abortion funds fits with that belief.

Being pregnant for this year’s NYAAF event was especially hard because their email list was somehow leaked or hacked [SEE UPDATE BELOW] to antichoice extremists who took the opportunity to harass those fundraising. I was sent disturbing bloody fetus pictures (which FYI are often photoshopped or pictures of miscarriages, not abortions) and a picture of a sonogram with a though bubble saying “I hope I can grow up and go bowling one day mommy.” Was I upset because I suddenly realized abortion was wrong? Not in the least. As I progressed into my second trimester, this kind of rhetoric did not reassure me that people were looking out for the “life” within me. Rather, when I heard people going on about late term abortions, what I heard was “If something goes wrong with your pregnancy at this point, you deserve to die.

That is exactly the mindset of Catholic hospitals which turn away women with life threatening complications from miscarriages. Antichoice extremism hurts women, and in cases like Savita Halappanavar‘s, it kills them. In fact, we know that defunding Planned Parenthood clinics in the United States has led to an increase in maternal mortality.

I did many things to give my baby the safest and healthiest pregnancy I possibly could. And raising money for abortion funds was something I did to both protect my own life, and to create a world where everyone is free to make the best decisions for themselves and their own families.

UPDATE: See the following message from Heather K. Sager, Volunteer Coordinator – New York Abortion Access Fund

In the piece you mention that our email list was “somehow leaked or hacked.” I want to take this opportunity to clarify that in fact, it was not NYAAF’s email list, but rather the entire fundraising website for NNAF that was hacked. This was the work of a malicious attack on the larger web server, which ultimately meant that email addresses were accessed, rather than internally or purposefully leaked.

I know that immediately after the attack we were able to share information on the security steps NNAF took in order to ensure that this is prevented and that everyone’s security is protected going forward. This included immediately hiring a security specialist, providing Q&A sessions on cyber security for those whose accounts were affected, and ensuring that additional resources were and continue to be available. I am more than happy to discuss these with you should you have any questions on this.

On behalf of NYAAF, we would also greatly appreciate it if you could correct the language in the article, so that it does not imply that anyone at NYAAF or NNAF was complicit in the attacks. The piece is really great, but I do want to be clear that no one in either organization had a part in the server being hacked.

Perhaps her expectations are too high?

Posted in Personal Essays on January 11th, 2014

Shared with permission, here’s a meditation on buying vegetables in the 21st century written by a friend.

Sure, I shouldn’t have bought this particular head of broccoli, but it’s a bitch to go grocery shopping with a two year old trying to grab every vegetable off the shelf and that freaking water spray starts misting over everything.

But, WTF?!?! What the hell kind of super insect ate like half the leaves off my non organic broccoli and how is the inside covered in black mold?!?!?!

When I buy organic produce, I expect to find some insect damage, some rotted parts, even some actual insects themselves (we keep them and try to raise them, my son loves it). But if I am going to buy non organic vegetables, swimming in pesticides, fungicides, herbicides, food coloring, gasoline, antibiotics, cat tranquilizers, arsenic, Botox, antidepressants, Viagra, agent orange, Fukushima nuclear juice, or whatever it is they are using these days, that shit better look good.

What I Didn’t Say To The (White) Dude Who Told Me Nicki Minaj Should “Shut Up And Get Naked”

Posted in Personal Essays on January 6th, 2014

Fade in on me among a group of merry makers. “Starships” begans to play. Although it might have been “Pound the Alarm.” Bright eyed with beer and enthusiasm I say, “I’m 31 now so it’s time for my Nicki Minaj phase!”

It’s true. I’ve recently discovered that something about her music really resonates with me. I think Amanda Marcotte explains it here in her post about Beyoncé.

“Single Ladies”… is clearly for the women in the audience to sing along to… the idea is to boost yourself up and say that you deserve to have standards.

When Diana Ross sings, “I’m coming out, I want the world to know,” it is taken by the audience as a call to say fuck you to other people’s perceptions and just be yourself. It’s not just about Diana Ross. When Pink claims the party isn’t started until she gets there, she isn’t actually trying to make the people at your party feel bad because Pink is never going to show up. The listener is supposed to project herself into the song and borrow the confidence from it. The listener says to herself, “The party starts when I get there.” If Pink didn’t expect you to relate to the song, then it would just seem assholey. Now it seems fun.

Commenter Stuart Underwood pointed out the double standard:

Mick Jagger was no shrinking violet when expressing his appraisal of his own prowess, at least in the character of Jagger the rock star. In an uncharitable and overly literal interpretation, one could label the lead singer of damn near any 1960s-1980s “rock” band as a strutting egomaniac.

Was the braggadocio what these singers really thought about themselves or was it a vehicle to reach out to the audience to put them in a certain frame of mind?

Why should Beyonce be held to a different standard than Jagger or Plant or Presley?

I’ve told people that what I love about Nicki Minaj is her bravado. I think it’s powerful. Minaj’s music makes me feel more awesome about myself. She’s also one of many modern women artists who really own their sexuality. One of my feminist lightbulb moments was listening to the “Oh What A Night” remix when I was in middle school and realizing that if a woman had a song about joyfully and wrecklessly losing her virginity…the universe might explode. I’m glad it’s not 1994 anymore.

My pleasantly buzzed head bobbing was interrupted when a dude said to me, “No. She’s so annoying. She’s terrible, she should just shut up and get naked.”

This was more than a cheesy record scratch moment. It wasn’t a personal insult as in “The bands you like suck.”

No matter the topic, an argument I often find myself making is that words have meanings and context matters. “Shut up and get naked” in another context might be playful and fun. But when dripping with contempt it’s repugnant. Add in the racial and gender dynamic of this specific situation, and it’s even uglier. He said Nicki Minaj needs to stop talking and show more of her body. Her words, no matter how much acclaim they have garnered, mean nothing compared to the feelings he gets by looking at her. “A (black) woman’s confidence and pride threatens me. Quickly! Reduce her to a sex object!”

I ain’t gotta get a plaque, I ain’t gotta get awards
I just walk up out the door all the girls will applaud.
All the girls will come in as long as they understand
That I’m fighting for the girls that never thought they could win.
Cause before they could begin you told them it was the end
But I am here to reverse the curse that they live in.
-Nicki Minaj, “I’m The Best”

So Threatening. Such Girl Power. So Man Tears. Wow.

There were many things I could have said and many ways I could have said them.

Earnestness. “When you say things like that, it makes me think less of you as a human being.”

Sarcastic. “Who knew you were a man of such refined taste and erudition?” or “I know you’re a straight guy and all but you don’t have to flaunt it.” or “Wow, I didn’t know you’re a misogynist. How did I miss that?”

You got that hot shit, boy ya blessed
Let me feel up on your chest
Flex it, you the man
You the man 100 grand
This same poll, game goal
Yes I play it very well
Come baby lay down, let me stay down
Lemme show you how I run take you to my playground
Come and get this va va voom, voom
-Nicki Minaj, “Va Va Voom”

What kind of man finds this threatening? Oh, wait.

Later a few things came to mind that misogynists call “feminist shaming tactics” but most other people would probably call being a smart ass. There’s the classic “Do you kiss your mother with that mouth?” Or just a condescending “Oh, I’m sorry. Are you feeling insecure in your masculinity today?”

What I did say, as cheerfully as possible, was, “You know she’s the best selling female rapper of all time, right?”

He didn’t have much of a response. I think he said “So what?” or “I don’t care.” Sure he doesn’t. Fade out on me swallowing everything else I wanted to say with another sip of my drink.

I’ve written before about embracing my inner smartass. But sometimes it’s difficult to know the right tactic to take. Tone, word choice and delivery interact to make you either a loveable troublemaker or a mean spirited jerk. You may win over the crowd with your wit, but if you come on too strong people will roll their eyes and think you’re a killjoy. Even in this situation, my response didn’t explain why I objected to what was said, though I doubt that would have helped. Knowing when to blurt out the first thing that pops into your head, when to give a more measured response, and when it’s best to respond with only a raised eyebrow takes practice. In the meantime, jam to Super Bass.

Religion’s Optical Illustion

Posted in Editorials, Personal Essays on July 18th, 2013

Vernal Falls, Yosemite California Image credit: Author

A friend forwarded to me this heartbreaking article about a young man who died of a drug overdose after “ex-gay” “reparative therapy” failed to make him straight.

This sentence jumped out at me:

“And since sexuality cannot be separated from the self, we had taught Ryan to hate himself. “

And it made me angry. Their ignorance and stubbornness and refusal to question their faith until it was too late resulted in the death of their son, although I’m sure that they know that.

I started thinking about what I have touched on before, that putting distance between myself and the church, only makes me angrier about the injustices and evils carried on in its name. And I think I finally understand why. I thought that distance in time, and in emotion and in physical space would calm me, and soothe my conscience. But the farther away that I get, the more damage I see to innocent people.

I imagine myself in a rowboat, pushing off from a small oceanfront cabin, built into the bottom of a hill. And as I row, I see that the hill is in fact a mountain. And no matter how far I row, I can’t see all of it at once. My distance is only serving to emphasize how big it really is. And I can only conceive of the mountain as it is today. I cannot truly imagine the span of it’s history across centuries. I row harder and harder, yet still it grows and grows. If I had a camera, I would not be able to zoom out far enough to capture it with any panoramic lens.

I do not know if it is possible to get so far away that it will appear to shrink.

Snarky Trumps Creepy

Posted in Personal Essays on July 16th, 2013

So, Chris Brecheen’s post has inspired me to relate a story that happened almost ten years ago.

Some of the women in the comments of that post related stories about how they responded to creepy men or stuck up for women who were being harassed in public. So here’s mine.

It was spring of 2004, I was in my final semester of college and I was out having a beer with two friends – a man and a woman – we’ll call them Bob and Jane. We were in one of the “nice” bars in our college town which meant that the tables and chairs were in good repair, the wood finished walls were polished, the selection of beers was excellent and IDs were actually checked. As we went up to the bar for a drink, two clearly inebriated older men approached us. They were in their mid to late 40’s and wearing suits, with their ties and shirt buttons undone.

“Hey!” One said to Jane. “You’re awfully pretty, did you know that?”

I had no idea that sometimes movie cliches appeared in real life.

Jane looked down at her shoes. They continued, asking what she was studying, if she had a boyfriend. She gave quiet, one word answers. I was fuming at how upset they were making my friend. I started thinking about everything I wanted to say to them, but I wasn’t sure how to do it without embarrassing Jane further.

“Ugh, these guys.” Bob said. “Let’s just go to our table.”

We took our drinks and sat down, trying to ignore the obnoxious men.

About ten minutes later, they sat down at the table next to us.

“Hey you!” one of them said directly to me. “I’m sorry we ignored you before for your friend.” I could write a dissertation on the absurd misogyny of that statement, but I’ll let it go for now. “You’re not so bad yourself.” I rolled my eyes.

“Yeah,” said the other one. “I mean, what are two girls like you doing with a guy like him?” he pointed to Bob.

Something snapped in my head. I was done caring about appearing to be a nice girl.

I looked right at him and said, matter-of-factly “He’s really good in bed.”

There was a beat and then the two drunk dudes looked at each other with eyebrows raised and eyes widened. These assholes thought I was being serious. They muttered an incoherent apology and I think they even nodded respectfully towards Bob, who was trying not to laugh. They left us alone for the rest of the night.

I couldn’t believe that it worked, but it did, and that was when I learned to trust my inner smartass. Joy Nash said that “the secret to turning staircase wit into regular old every day wit is practice.” So, if you feel it’s safe to do so, let go of your need to be the nice girl. Let the devil on your shoulder out when you need her.

Just as in Chris Brecheen’s story it seems that creepy dudes have no sense of humor or irony. My ridiculous and silly comeback rang true in their worldview, even though I was only trying to be obnoxious. These men are extremely insecure which is also why you may risk violence in provoking them. Use your judgment when engaging them, but know that there’s not much to these guys but swagger and inadequacy.

The Unspoken No Is Still Pretty Loud

Posted in Personal Essays on February 10th, 2013

Amanda Marcotte hit it out of the park with her rebuke to disingenuous men on the internet, “If Consent Was Really That Hard, Whiny Dudes Would Fail At Every Aspect of Life.” She explained how everyone uses both verbal and non-verbal communications in all social interactions and there’s no reason why sex and dating relationships should be any different. The post ends with an anecdote about a teenage boy explicitly asking for consent from her. And this is an excellent point. If teenage boys can understand this concept, grown men have no excuse.

I have been thinking about something that happened to me when I was a teenager regarding consent ever since the entire “elevatorgate” debacle. I was sixteen years old and meeting a bunch of friends to hang out on a Friday night. Among us was a group of college freshman I hadn’t met before who were classmates of an older friend of mine. One of them was sitting next to me and he complimented my perfume and told me I smelled really good. I was surprised and flattered but not particularly interested. I said “Thank you” to be polite and then he put his arm around me. My body stiffened. I wasn’t sure what to do. And then almost immediately Mr. College took his arm away and said “Oh sorry, if that wasn’t cool.” It was awkward, but not really the end of he world.

Looking back, that an 18 year old young man can read non-verbal communication just confirms what we already know. Men can ask for a yes or understand a no. When they say otherwise, it’s not because they can’t, it’s because they just don’t want to.

The Hindsight of an ex-Catholic

Posted in Editorials, Personal Essays on November 29th, 2012

When you’re a kid, you never question the whole faith thing – God’s in heaven and He’s…She’s always got her eye on you. I’d give anything to feel that way again.

As child and as a teenager my faith was very strong. After reading about Leah Libresco’s Confirmation, I find myself reflecting on my own and how much I looked forward so it. I would finally be initiated into the Church, and I saw it as an important step towards adulthood. They told me it would mean an indelible mark on my soul. The oil the Bishop would anoint my forehead with would be clear, but it would leave a mark – invisible and indelible, I thought. I was so excited to make a commitment to Christ, to live by the Beatitudes, to engage in the Works of Mercy. It was so beautiful.

I remember my confirmation day in November of 1996. I was one month shy of my fourteenth birthday. I wore a white skirt suit. I remembered the etiquette as I had been taught in my preparation classes, I would hand the priest a card with my confirmation name on it (Margaret, more after my late grandmother than the Saint), he would hand it to the Bishop, the bishop would anoint my forehead with oil and say, “be sealed with the gift of the holy spirit.” Then we would shake hands and both of us would say “Peace Be With You.” My godfather was my sponsor, and as we approached the altar, him walking behind me with a hand on my shoulder, I noticed that none of my classmates were shaking hands with the Bishop. Well, I’m going to! I thought, This only happens once, might as well do it the right way. And so after the Bishop had anointed my head, I reached out to shake hands and said “Peace Be With You.” He smiled and did the same, and then I realized why he hadn’t been doing this for everyone. His hand was dripping with oil. And now mine was too.

I thought it was kind of funny, that my eagerness and joy almost ruined my new suit, and I was all smiles as I headed back to the pew to sit with the rest of my family. The tissues in my mother’s purse and my Dad’s good handkerchief were enough to save me from any lasting grease stains. I felt relieved and blessed.

The happiness of my Confirmation Day stayed with me for years. It was what kept me from leaving the Church for a long time. The indelible mark on my soul. But eventually, I thought, well I guess I’m just taking this mark with me – into Unitarian Universalism and wherever I would go from there.

It’s been eight years since my last confession, or since I have received communion. I signed the book on my Unitarian Universalist congregation in January of 2009. But my faith in the Catholic idea of God has receded into a set of morals grounded in Catholic social teachings, the UU Seven Principles and a vague spiritual longing. I struggle with the term “agnostic,” because I long for spiritual connection, and I still find comfort in prayer, even if I don’t believe that it works the way I was taught it does as a child.

I’ve come to realize that the more time passes, the deeper my anger and outrage at the Catholic Church’s moral failings. I am incredulous as to why people I know and love stay in the Church and speechless to those who decide to join.

Lennon Cihak has courage beyond his years for refusing to back down on his support for gay rights, even in the face of not being allowed confirmation. This is exactly what is supposed to happen – no organization should have to accept members who do not believe in its principles. I’m glad that attention is being drawn to the teachings everyday Catholics are expected to live by. But it’s difficult to watch the rejection of a teenage boy by his own community for standing up for love and equal rights. It’s that disconnect – seeing someone punished for speaking for justice that makes me angry.

Savita Halappanavar’s senseless death is something I’ve been thinking a lot about. She was 31, married, and hoping to have her first child. But she died when doctors refused to remove the fetus she was miscarrying. It’s hard to find words to write about this. I think about my own future, and about my friends who want children, and how this could happen again at any Catholic hospital in the United States. No one should ever forget her, or stop being haunted by what happened, because this should never happen again.

The more distance I put between myself and the church, the more I clearly I can see it. At first, I thought, what happened to the church I loved so much? But in reality, I could not actually see it for what it is. I didn’t know about the depths the church went to cover up child raping priests. I didn’t understand that women die in septic wards all the time in South America because they are denied contraception and abortion because of the Catholic Church’s influence. I had an inkling that masturbation probably wouldn’t send me to Hell, but I gave no thought to how the church’s warped teachings on sexuality would effect a gay or trans* teenager. My excuse is that I was thirteen years old. What’s yours?