What A Year For A(nother) New Year…

(Content Note: I mention struggles with PTSD/nonepileptic seizures, controlling messages from a abusive relationship I had in high school, and medical power and control).

Just around New Year’s Eve last year, I wrote the first blog post at this URL.

Ringing in 2014 {Two romantic partners drink beer during a selfie}

Ringing in 2014 {Two romantic partners drink some mead during a selfie. Selfie. 2013 or 2014- right on the line.}

I was so excited to be settling down in a new city with an amazing person, but this year itself started in a painful way. My cousin Craig lost his battle to brain cancer during the first few days of 2014. Right after I returned from his memorial services, I got news that a cousin from the other side, Nate, lost his life in a horrible car accident. Just one of these losses would be almost impossible to bear on its own, but the two together made it very hard for me to enjoy my first few months in DC. The stress of moving and the losses of my cousins caused my seizure disorder to relapse after a year seizure free, causing me to lose my driver’s license.

We lived in a somewhat cramped apartment with some wonderful people. Kelsey worked (and still works) mostly from home, while I sat around the house applying for any job that interested me remotely. When I needed a break, I would go on a “Date With DC“, to try to rekindle the spark that brought me to DC in the first place.

Things started to look up in April. I started a job that I really wanted. Kelsey and I decided to spend forever together, and with our respective parents’ blessings (Note: we didn’t ask the other’s parents, but our own), we got engaged.

{Photo: a man in a suit and top hat, down on one knee, placing a ring on a standing woman's hand. Woman is wearing an orange-pink dress with a matching flower in her hair}

{Photo: a man in a suit and top hat, down on one knee, placing a ring on a standing woman’s hand. Woman is wearing an orange-pink dress with a matching flower in her hair}

This was so, so exciting for us both!

Though I was in good spirits, my health problems caused by PTSD were getting worse and worse.  This summer was one of the roughest times of my life. I no longer found meaning in the work I decided to do when I was 15, so getting out of bed, eating, and all of the necessary “go be a human” tasks like dressing myself and taking a shower felt like asking me to hike Mt. Everest. I started almost every morning with a seizure. I had doctors treat me abusively in ways that my (awesome) primary care doctor would say that would be funny if it weren’t my health on the line.

My “saving grace” (get it?) during this time was getting more involved with church. Teaching youth group, protesting alongside other people of faith for racial justice, and volunteering when I can with the Reeb Project (<-guys I’m on Youtube!), which is working to restore voting rights after Shelby. It’s hard to explain to people outside my faith how one can find more in common with atheists than not and still self-identify as “incredibly religious” sometimes, but being a Unitarian Universalist is great.

Even with the amazing support of my church family, my situation got to the point where I didn’t have a choice- I couldn’t keep running on empty while confronting PTSD concerns that had been on the back-burner for years. Even Kim Kardashian: Hollywood couldn’t help me remember to take care of myself, so I took some time off to focus on mental health and started a day program in Baltimore to get me back on my feet. While I was in this program, I also attended the first ever US conference on Psychogenic Nonepileptic Seizures, and met Dr. Lorna Myers and so many wonderful people who also suffer from these seizures and their caregivers. I learned that this disease is as common as Multiple Sclerosis, yet I regularly have to explain the basic mechanisms to doctors, and they usually don’t believe me until Kelsey (the Man!) gets there with a copy of Dr. Myers’ book. Our community adopted teal and purple as awareness colors, and my almost-mother-in-law knit me teal and purple socks for Christmas.

During this time, I thought a lot about the opportunities that could have been. I wished I had studied harder in math and science growing up. I blamed myself for the fact that the college calculus and A&P classes I took in high school were so daunting to balance while dealing with an abusive relationship with someone who often said I wasn’t smart enough or emotionally mature enough for my med school plans. I felt lazy for dropping chemistry and biology when my seizures were completely out of control in early college. After a few weeks months of self-hatred, I stopped blaming myself and started thinking constructively.

I thought about the things that I type into Google Scholar when I can’t sleep that don’t actually put me to sleep because I want to keep learning. I started de-stressing by running diagnostics on my computer and the WiFi network to make sure we had optimal performance on my aging computer and iffy connection. I signed up for those Girls Who Code MeetUp groups. Maybe in 2015, I’ll go. I decided that Kelsey needed to know more trigonometry and precalculus, so I impulse-purchased my favorite textbook.

{Photo: Textbook. "Who Is Fourier? A Mathematical Adventure" by the Transnational College of LEX. Has some illustrations of some old white dudes, you know, as college textbooks do. But it's really good!!}

{Photo: Textbook. “Who Is Fourier? A Mathematical Adventure” by the Transnational College of LEX. Has some illustrations of some old white dudes, you know, as college textbooks do. But it’s really good!! Oh and there is a woman on there in the corner. Feminism!}

Maybe in 2015, we’ll actually use it.

While this was all going on, we were, as a nation, really trying to process Michael Brown’s murder (this was before the not-indictment), and all of these horrific stories of violence police have shown, especially towards the black community. I thought about who should be the leaders of the feminist movement, and the fact that there’s a lot of white, cis, college-educated women running feminist organizations, and I present able-bodied. I thought that I would affect more positive feminist change as a woman in tech who carries a gender studies lens with her than I would in a so-called feminist job.

I thought about good ways to get my feet wet in tech, and decided to apply for my current job. It was the right call and also came at a time where I could no longer balance my allyship to other oppressed groups and the job I had at the time. So I left that job, had a week off, and started at my new gig, part-time, leaving lots of room for getting back on my feet.

I am much happier learning exciting things and adapting at my new work place. Today marks 2 months since my first day, and I can’t decide if that’s way longer or shorter than it feels. And this workplace seems to treat workers with dignity in ways I never dreamed. All I could hear in my head for weeks was Jerry Garcia’s voice singing, “every once in a while you get shown in the light, in the strangest of places if you look at it right,” which was a nice change from the usual, “I was walking round Grosvenor Square” every time a Red Line-Grosvenor train would come. Fun fact: DC says it wrong if you were raised by Deadheads (here’s a nice 25-min, live version of “Scarlet Begonias/Fire on the Mountain” from New Year’s Eve, 1978. Figured it’s nice and festive). Though the holidays were very hectic, once I found a comfortable work place, everything else fell into place and I didn’t really notice that much.

Though I wouldn’t say that I am without medical challenges, my seizures are (finally!) in control again. I found medications that work well for me as I process through the PTSD (and newly diagnosed ADHD) that has reeked havoc on my body for years- but most of the positive change has been environmental.

And I feel like I’ve grown so, so much.

Next year, I want to grow even more. I’ll go to those “learn to code” free/affordable events you see around DC all of the time. I’ll cruise Coursera and local classes to do math for school for the first time in (yikes!) eight years. I got a beautiful sewing machine for Christmas, and after I finish the owl snuggie I promised Kelsey (his idea!), I want to make lots of comfy dresses with pockets. For feminism. Also because they’re cute. I want to keep staying involved in my faith community. While I want to live in the moment, I need to respect that things from my past will find their way out if I don’t address them.

Also I want to marry this guy in 2015. July sounds nice.

{Photo: a couple poses for a selfie with red clown noses on. One is wearing a pin that says Thunder Thighs}

{Photo: a couple poses for a selfie with red clown noses on. One is wearing a pin that says Thunder Thighs. Selfie. 2014.}

Shout out- Kelsey has been the most supportive human in the universe, and I am so, so grateful for every minute I get to spend with him. Which is a lot, because he works at home and I work part time, and we go most places together.

He even takes me along when he goes on international TV.

{Screenshot: Kelsey on the BBC, talking about why he's skeptical of Call of Duty predicting the future of war. Like a boss.}

{Screenshot: Kelsey on the BBC, talking about why he’s skeptical of Call of Duty predicting the future of war. Like a boss.}

Getting out of this year on top was also made possible by support from both of our families and our dear friends far and near. Special shout-out to Liz because she moved here and it was the best thing.

{Photo: A woman dressed as Rosie the Riveter and another dressed as Ms. Frizzle: underwater edition. Selfie, 2014}.

{Photo: A woman dressed as Rosie the Riveter and another dressed as Ms. Frizzle: underwater edition. Selfie, 2014}.

Anyways. Thanks, 2014. You had so many ups and downs, and really made me grow in ways that I hadn’t imagined. Let’s see what 2015 will bring, but I will just focus on today.

Kelsey and I. Today. {A romantic couple poses for a selfie}.

Kelsey and I. Today. {A romantic couple poses for a selfie. Selfie. 2014}.

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A Values Statement For Our Wedding

Kelsey and I went to Massachusetts this weekend for two of our best friends’ wedding. I was the best man.

{Photo: A woman in a black dress with a blue accent, holding a bouquet and making a sour face with a hand on her hip}

{Photo: A woman in a black dress with a blue accent, holding a bouquet and making a sour face with a hand on her hip}

{Photo: a beautiful bride in a white dress, with her groom in a tux looking at her}

{Photo: a beautiful bride in a white dress, with her groom in a tux looking at her}

We had a lovely time. There are (literally) hundreds of pictures on Facebook.

As we just got engaged the week before, it felt nice to see another wedding in action as we are planning our own. We had such a lovely time at Lindsay and Gavin’s, so we took note of the things we enjoyed the most.

The best advice anyone has given me so far came on this trip. My mother, the event planning expert she is, asked Kelsey and I to write a values statement about our wedding so we can make sure we are prioritizing the right things as we continue to plan over the next few months to year.

Some examples my mom gave are:

– familial involvement

– good food

– flowers

Kelsey and I used this as an exercise on the plane ride home today. Though I want to keep the contents of our list to our families (at least for now), we had a great time brainstorming what we care about and what we envision our shared wedding to look like. I can tell you that, for all of our jokes about our “brand merge”…

…we want it to look as little like a business deal between Kelsey and my father as possible.

More importantly than the details of our nuptials, this process reminded me why I am marrying Kelsey in the first place- our values are so in line with each other and we really care about the same things. I can tell you that to Kelsey and I, the most important part of the wedding is the bond we make as a commitment to each other forever. The wedding is a kick-off party for the best part of our lives. Sure, the wedding is a celebration of our love, but we’re more focused on building the happily ever after part.

❤ ams

April Showers (of Life Changes!)

I missed almost the entire month of April on here, but not due to lack of excitement in my life.

This month started out with a new, exciting position for me in health policy. It’s with a great organization and it’s the kind of job you go to knowing you’re making a difference. I really love it. If you know me IRL, check Facebook for more details.

Then, Kelsey and I signed a lease with another apartment building in our neighborhood. While we love our housemates and will miss having impromptu hangouts whenever, we’re really excited to be getting our own place, because…

{Photo: a man in a suit and top hat, down on one knee, placing a ring on a standing woman's hand. Woman is wearing an orange-pink dress with a matching flower in her hair}

{Photo: a man in a suit and top hat, down on one knee, placing a ring on a standing woman’s hand. Woman is wearing an orange-pink dress with a matching flower in her hair}

Kelsey and I got engaged! We are so excited to be spending the rest of our lives together.

Also we’ve been having lots of social media fun with this news:

Last I checked, my relationship status change had 400 “likes” on Facebook. Ohhhhh…the 21st century. At least we “embargoed” our engagement so we still got to hear the excited reactions from our families.

We’re back in Massachusetts for our friends’ wedding, so I finally had a minute to catch my breath with all of these big changes. I hope to be back to writing more about reproductive justice, feminism, and environmental health soon, but I may also write some updates about the process of getting married because, well, it’s exciting and there’s lots a feminist can talk about when it comes to the institution of marriage! But for today, I’m just happy to be spending my life with this guy.

{Photo: a woman and a man making silly smile faces}

{Photo: a woman and a man making silly smile faces}

❤ ams

Twitter Fight Club and Gender #TFC14

[Note: If you want to understand this post at all and are new to Twitter Fight Club, I strongly recommend you read this FAQ post by Hayes Brown and also follow him @HayesBrown]

I’ve never gotten super into basketball, and my beloved UMass Lowell Riverhawks lost in the Elite 8 in hockey this year (*wipes tears*), so all of my March Madness energy has been channeled into a quirky competition known as Twitter Fight Club. I even had the opportunity to judge a round this year, an opportunity that @PTSDInfo wrote about in the Huffington Post. You can read my scathing reviews of the great minds of National Security here.

Kelsey (@AthertonKD) is competing in the finals today against our dear friend Daveed (@DaveedGR), which sparked a conversation at home for us about gender representation in NatSec Twitter. We thought it would be interesting to take a look at gender in Twitter Fight Club since its 2011 inaugural season. Since Kelsey had his big fight today, and I’m usually the one who does gender (get it?), I volunteered to do the dirtydata work.

Before I dive in, I also want to say a note about language. I chose to use the terms “woman” and “man” because I don’t really care so much about biological sex, but the gender perceived by third parties. I wasn’t going to be asking anyone point blank about their gender for two reasons: a) because that’s rude to do to strangers and b) if I can’t perceive their gender, other competitors probably can’t perceive their gender, and therefore, it’s probably not affecting the overall gender climate of the competition.

To be honest, I think gender looks a lot more like this, but I wasn’t going to be able to ask all 64 competitors from every year to draw themselves as a gingerbread person, so here we are.

My methods were this: I found lists of every competitor of every TFC match, and did research (through Twitter or asking one of my trusted sources who may know them offline) if they knew their gender off hand. If my immediate searches were gender-less, I did not include them in the results one way or the other. I assigned perceived women with a 1, and perceived men with a 0, because that’s a fun excel trick to make averages super easy. It wasn’t a political statement, I swear.

I repeated these steps for each match, and then made a graph showing the percentages of competitors by gender for each year.

Here’s #TFC14.

Gender Breakdown 14

Started with a gender disparity, got a little worse, then there was a 50/50 split, and then back to the patriarchy an all-male championship.

Then this was last year, the year when a woman (@TexasInAfrica) won it all:

13

In 2012, things were a little worse…

12 jpeg

But the first year had the worst gender diversity of all.

11 jpeg

 

The bottom line is this: I think things are getting better for the women of NatSec Twitter, but there is still some room for improvement.

I opted not to put my individual spreadsheets up because I didn’t want to have mis-gendered someone that I couldn’t have confirmed with someone or something, or have someone wonder why theirs was left off if I was unable to Gender ID them. If you have any questions about it, I’m happy to talk over email, especially if it’s about your own status in our data. If you want me to republish stats with new info- also happy to do that.

Some shortcomings for this afternoon project? I can’t stress enough, this was a pretty cisgender-focused lens. If folks don’t identify as one gender binary over another, that was not represented because we went by genders represented on social media as perceived by third parties, not necessarily self-ID’d gender. Competitors also did not ID themselves when I sent out a blanket ask to everyone… well…correction: only one person (publicly) ID’d themselves, but it was not in any gender scale my training in gender studies has taught me:

Some DMs allowed clarification to what gender this individual wanted to be represented as for statistical purposes.

There’s a lot more that can be done with gender and TFC data (I keep coming up with ideas!), but this was the place to start. I want to give a special thanks to @AthertonKD for being a collaborator for this project, all while fighting a #1 seed for the title and taking care of me while I’m sick, and also to @caidid and @AnniesPerson for help and pointers along the way.

❤ @Alymaybe
PS- I always try to add visual accessibility brackets to my photos, but I wasn’t sure how to best do that with a graph. If you need accommodations, please email me at Alymay.Sellars@gmail.com and I’ll try my best to do what I can! Also if you have tips for the future, I’d love to hear them!

 

Beyond Birth Control: This is About Workers’ Rights

(note: I tried my best in this piece to use gender-neutral language when talking about pregnant people, respecting that some transmen become pregnant.)

{Photo: Thigh tattoo- bouquet of red/orange roses and wheat, wrapped in a newspaper, with a banner that says "Lowell Offering"}

{Photo: Thigh tattoo- bouquet of red/orange roses and wheat, wrapped in a newspaper, with a banner that says “Lowell Offering”}

I went to college in Lowell, Massachusetts- the birthplace of the American industrial revolution, about 45 minutes drive from where I grew up. As a child, I loved going to the Lowell National Historical Park, and even went to “Boott Camp” a few summers, where I first became interested in Gender Studies. It is, in many ways, the roots of my feminist and workers’ rights beliefs, and it’s no wonder why UMass Lowell has a great research Center for Women and Work.

Lawrence is just down the Merrimack River from Lowell. Lawrence is famous for its 1912 Bread and Roses Strike, named after the poem by James Oppenheim, which partly inspired the tattoo above (along with The Lowell Offering, which was published by mill workers and is theorized to have possibly inspired Charles Dickens’ classic A Christmas Carol). A few years after the strike, my great-grandmother worked in those mills. And just this week, I read in an adorable Margaret Sanger biography that Sanger had helped as a nurse during Bread and Roses. She even got her political start testifying before congress about these conditions. So, it’s not just me, thinking about birth control on those streets. Birth control renegades have been at the core of workers’ rights for over 100 years.

Oral arguments were heard in Sibelius v. Hobby Lobby yesterday, which concerns employers and the Affordable Care Act’s $0 copay birth control mandate. I spent yesterday morning protesting (in the snow!) with many other activists in front of the Supreme Court building.

Here’s a picture of me at the rally, with Pillamina, a Planned Parenthood mascot of Romney-campaign-following fame:

IMG_3939

{photo: a woman dressed a pack of birth control pills with a Planned Parenthood logo hat poses for a photo with author of this blog, in the snow, bundled for the cold.}

Of course, any rally with “birth control” in the title can usually get me out of bed early on a snow day. But here’s the thing. The Hobby Lobby may be about birth control at face value, but it isn’t just about birth control. Hobby Lobby is a corporation that employs 21,000 people seeking to impose its religious beliefs about contraception on others, by dictating how employees spend their money, or their premiums on plans that do not cover contraception.This may also violate these 21,000 employees’ religious beliefs, as 47 nationally-recognized religions stated access to contraception is a moral good, including mine, which passed this resolution in the 80s.

 

If the court rules in Hobby Lobby’s favor, the results could go far beyond people paying copays on their contraception. Many religions are morally opposed to vaccines- and workplaces especially need those herd immunities. Blood transfusions also may not be covered because of an employer’s beliefs. Furthermore, other employment laws may come into question. Many experts fear anti-gay discrimination could be ruled constitutional.

It’s hard to say exactly how far the workers-oppression-rabbit-hole would go, but I think it is certainly an interesting coincidence that the oral arguments were heard on the 103rd anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, which inspired much the workers’ rights legislation over the last 100 years, and we still have work to do there, too. While one is an issue of day-to-day safety and the other an issue of how a worker lives their life outside of the workplace, the core issue for both is respecting each worker’s inherent worth and dignity as a person. That sure sounds like a moral value to me. Oh wait, that’s the 1st Principle of my religion.

I hope that the Supreme Court takes this anniversary seriously and stands on the side of workers.

Big Red Buttons and Little Red Dots: Why It’s Time To Stop Menstrual Shame

{Accessibility caption: graphic explaining the phases of the menstrual cycle based on ovarian histology, body temperature, hormones, and endometrial histology. It’s a shameless tactic by author to make it look science-y, but folks who want more explanation on the graphic can find info on the Wikipedia page}

{Another aside: I use the term woman and some she/her/hers pronouns in this piece for a few examples, but I want to publicly acknowledge that not everyone with a uterus identifies as a woman}

When I was 11 years old, I joined the ranks of reproductive aged female-bodied folks and started bleeding once a month (or in my case because my natural cycle is an ovary-chiever, every 3 weeks for six or seven days, clockwork. Birth control was a nice change for me). I remember wanting to tell everyone about what was going on because I was physically uncomfortable and it was constantly on my mind. The pads felt so big for my barely pubescent body and I was worried that everyone could see them. It generated a lot of stress for me, but I soon learned how to deal with periods like a champion. Or like the vast majority of other female-bodied folks in America.

A thought that I had to myself three days post-menarche has stuck with me for over half of my life now. While I knew about periods from a biological standpoint, and I knew the value that young girls place on menstruation from reading lots of Judy Blume books, nobody talked about it, really. Sure, my mom and older sister answered my questions, but if every reproductive aged female-bodied person in my life were going through this once a month, I figured I would have heard about it more. There was so much shame over something that was, to me, just utterly inconvenient. I wondered if it would be that way if men menstruated, too. We all could sync up and complain together. Misery loves company, and maybe people wouldn’t be so silent.

Sure, there’s plenty of historical context of menstrual shame, but there’s one modern myth keep us silent about when we have our period- the trope of women being moody and unstable while menstruating. Sure, hormones can affect the brain and the annoyance of needing to take care of remembering to deal with tampons (or Softcups, for all you menstruating, non-IUD-having folks) can get obnoxious. But it’s certainly not so consuming that we can’t do our normal, daily functions. We inflate this inconvenience into something it’s not- and gender could not be closer to the core of this issue.

How many times have we all heard the joke that a woman can’t be president because she’d want to nuke random countries with that comically giant red button on her desk every month? When women are upset, “oh she’s just having her period” like that dismisses their concerns as unimportant. When we repeatedly tell women that they can’t express opinions for the 1/4 of their daily life that they are menstruating, we discount their opinions all of the time. It’s our discounting of her emotions as just a side effect of hormones that allow us to dismiss her thoughts. It’s not menstruation that keeps women from being president, it’s our refusal to acknowledge that women can have rational thoughts while simultaneously experiencing a normal bodily function. Men sometimes have erections at inconvenient times, after all.

But periods are such an easy scapegoat at letting us keep women out of power!

<3ams

PS- For the sake of reducing menstrual shame, I feel like I need to disclose that I started my period in the middle of writing this. My body has a great sense of humor.

In Defense of J.K. Rowling

I came across an interesting headline today from novelist Lynn Shepherd: “If JK Rowling Cares About Writing, She Should Stop Doing It”

I read the article and could not disagree more.

For starters, would she write this to Stephen King? Or Terry Pratchett? Or any other man who might have written more or for longer? Just imagine if someone told William Shakespeare to clear the air for a while.

I digress.

Shepherd writes that she’s upset that adults were reading the Harry Potter books instead of more intellectually stimulating material while in fact, she’s never read them.

I personally don’t believe that the worth of a piece is at all correlated with the easiness of the material. It’s the art of how they are told and the lessons within them that count.

For example, I would be surprised if a literary critic denied that The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry is worth reading (seriously, go read it), yet its language and story is clearly geared towards children and is much more simple than the Harry Potter series. I sometimes re-read this book as an adult to remind myself of important lessons about love, greed, and listening to children. I am so openly in love with this book I even got The Little Prince board game for Christmas from my partner.

It’s also strange that she implies somehow that we are reading only J.K. Rowling at the expense of other authors. Sure, bands geared towards teens like One Direction dominate the musical sphere. But we wouldn’t accuse them of suffocating more “sophisticated” musicians. It’s all art. We are capable of consuming the work of more than one artist, writer, or musician. The more art we are exposed to, the more beautiful our lives become.

I didn’t read as much as I had hoped after college, but I recently read The Fault in Our Starsby John Green, which is a young adult novel. I laughed, cried, and hung onto every word. But something happened with that book. I finished it in a day and immediately started reading more books- many more geared towards adults, but a few good young adult novels, too. Far from the library I call home, I started going to one in DC. I felt like a child rediscovering reading for pleasure again, and kept reading more and more. I would be shocked if Harry Potter didn’t rekindle love affairs of reading for thousands of adults, who probably bought more books from other authors after they finished or between releases. 

Samantha Dolan reminded us of this quote on the piece’s Facebook thread from a great author:

 “A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.”
― C.S. Lewis

I couldn’t agree more.

The Harry Potter series was completed while I was still in high school, but I find myself as an adult going back to stories from those pages. Sure, other books have had a more profound impact on my life, but I’m glad that I read them. If one of my adult friends told me they hadn’t read them yet, I would strongly encourage them to do so.

Keep writing if you’d like, J.K. Rowling. The world needs your voice and hopefully your work will remind others to seek out the work of other writers as well.