Adoption: Legality and Journalistic Hype

So, there’s this article in The New Republic. Meet the New Anti-Adoption MovementThe surprising next frontier in reproductive justice. And I, being the sort who dutifully reads any instance of Someone Wrong On The Internet that crosses my field of vision, clicked.

It’s not bad. The title, fortunately, seems to be butchering the aims of the actual movement, which might be better represented as The Ethical Adoption Movement That’s Not Actually All That New. They’ve got some goals I strongly admire–preventing manipulation of distressed and pregnant parents, encouraging expectant parents to consider that adoption is a life-long process for everyone involved, promoting open adoption, and preventing agencies from lying to pregnant parents about abortion. Admirable, yeah?

Reported with a dangerously dramatic brush? Also yeah. For instance, take this:

They want, among other things, a ban on adoption agencies offering monetary support to pregnant women. They want to see laws put in place guaranteeing that “open” adoptions (where birthparents have some level of contact with their children) stay open. They want women to have more time after birth to decide whether to terminate their parental rights.

A ban on monetary support? It sounds like it would prevent bribing parents. It probably would! However, it would also prevent (as The New Republic’s wording stands) adoption agencies from providing expectant parents with maternity care, prenatal vitamins, assisting them in maintaining housing, etc. Do you know how to dramatically increase the health and functioning of a fetus–particularly one in poverty? Maternity care and vitamins. It is true that unethical agencies do some seriously sleazy behavior in pursuit of convincing expectant parents to choose adoption, and TNR’s article does cite that. (Paying for college in return for a child? No good, very bad.) But a ban is excessively absolutist.  Create ethical guidelines that protect parents; don’t prevent agencies from serving children and families.

But what about the idea of a mandatory wait before terminating parental rights?

I’m in favor!

….for a nuanced and careful definition of ‘more’.

The article fails to note that these EXIST. See: Arizona, California, Connecticut, Florida, Iowa, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, and West Virginia. That’s only the states that require forms terminating mothers’ rights to be filled out at least 48 hours after birth–many of the rest require at least 24 hours. Only two states, Alabama and Hawaii, allow the rights of the person who gave birth to be terminated before the child is born.

Map of 72+ and 48 hour wait post-birth for termination of birth parent rights, minus CA, which I forgot, and will fix ASAP. (Many of the blank states have <48 hour waiting periods)
Map via

That being said, saying “there should be a mandatory wait after birth before signing final papers” is COMPLICATED (and already exists in places, which the article entirely fails to address)

For instance, in Illinois, like many of the states listed, the wait is 72 hours, or three whole days. This sounds like a good idea in practice: the person who’s given birth is less likely to be under the influence of drugs, slightly less tired or emotionally exhausted from labor, and has met the child they just birthed.

Except, that it’s also true that 72 hours is longer than the time a parent with an uncomplicated birth would stay in the hospital. (Average stay for regular vaginal birth, 48 hours) Which means:

Option One: Birth parent has to go home with the child. Can you say huuuuuge stress on them if they want to continue with adoption and later have to give the child to the adoptive family? Also, sending an unwanted child who cries at all hours of the day, needs constant care, and will die of neglect or bad care is a risk. Babies are entirely dependent on their caregivers. This is especially there are compounding issues like postpartum depression or substance abuse. In theory, Child Protective Services should step in or catch those cases, and place the child elsewhere. In practice…

Along with this, working class birth parents (general PSA that most people over-estimate the number of parents who put children up for adoption who are teens, impoverished, or in their first pregnancy. I was one of them. Please don’t assume you’re the exception.) need to work or find alternate care for their children. That’s expensive. (Particularly, say, if a total ban on financial support from adoption agencies is enacted)

Option Two: The prospective adoptive family goes home with the child and with some legal decision-making capability over child’s care, (in IL, my understanding is that the agency in question holds Power of Attorney) but papers that terminate the rights of the legally-defined birth mother aren’t signed.

This is a massive legal and emotional risk, and some families just won’t do it. Sometimes families do it, and then the birth mother decides not to sign the papers–upon reflection, they decide to parent. (20-30% of expectant parents who select adoptive parents for their child go on to parent themselves instead.) In cases like that, the adoption agency has to call the family and request that they bring the child back, as it’s not theirs. NOT pleasant for anyone.

Not Really A Standard Option, But Let’s Talk About It: Placing the child in a nursery or some other form of care until papers are signed. There’s one agency in the entire U.S with an in-house nursery, and even then, many birth parents don’t want to put their ,  child in the care of strangers in a location that may be tough to access while they make their final decision. 


Waiting periods: a good plan, in theory. I support them! Parents should sign stuff when not under the emotional strain of birth. However, really long ones are emotionally overwhelming and complicated, and just blanket advocating for more time is a dangerously simplistic position.

In the comments, please follow these guidelines for increased accuracy:

1) if someone is pregnant and considering adoption, they are expectant parents (because not all expectant parents give choose to give birth)
2) If someone has given birth, presto! Birthparent.
3) Strong preference for gender-neutral terms when referring to the person who has given birth. Trans men and nonbinary folk give birth, adopt, and otherwise parent kids.

[Sunday Assembly Chicago] Talk Notes, Citations, Oddments

[General version of what I’m saying at Sunday Assembly Chicago today. Yes, the footnotes start at 2. I edited and didn’t want to go fix all superscripts at 6 am this morning.]

Good morning!

I’m Kate Donovan, and in about two sentences, I’m going to stop talking. I’m going to smile (see?) and stare pleasantly back at you, but I won’t speak for thirty seconds. I ask you to wait, without checking your phones, and urge you to notice how comfortable or uncomfortable you are.


You probably tolerated that because I’ve been asked to speak today. I was introduced, I’m standing up here in front of you, and my name’s in the program.

I spoke clearly, said what I was going to do, and I’ve been practicing doing this for the past two weeks, so I wouldn’t accidentally combust from the awkward slowly congealing in this room.

And it was palpable, wasn’t it? Some of you fidgeted, tried to guess how much longer. I spent about half that time counting down.
20 seconds.
….okay, now I can talk.

The first iteration of this talk didn’t have that introduction. I was going to walk up here, smile at you, and stare for thirty seconds. In the end, I changed it. I was too afraid that you would think little of me, or that someone, assuming I had stage-fright, would try to rescue me.

Because that is the human impulse, isn’t it? To fill the spaces? In research into conversations, a conversational lapse was three seconds. I just made you sit ten times longer–an order of magnitude longer.

We’re susceptible to what Cialdini called the click, whirr2. Conversational silence? Fill it. We do it more quickly than we can recognize that it’s bothering us. For those of you in the audience who choose your words slowly, you might recognize what I’m talking about easily–you take a break to pick the next sentence and and someone else steps in for you. If you’ve ever had or have a stutter, people will try to give you words as you work on them.

Sitting with silence? Uncomfortable.

Think back to the beginning; hold on to that discomfort for a little while longer–we’re going to play with it.

What does it feel like? For me, it’s a pressing feeling of wrongness, the sort that feels like “do something, do something, do something” It’s not that things are uncomfortable, it’s that if I don’t do something right now, I’m failing.

And unfortunately, that do something impulse is actually what leads me to pick the Wrong Thing.

I’m going to borrow an example from Allie Brosh here. She writes in her fabulous book/blog about her experience of telling people about being depressed…and describes it like a conversation about dead fish with tenuous connection to reality.

Allie: My fish are dead.
Person: Oh, but have you looked over here?
Allie: But they’re dead.
Person: Let’s keep looking!
Allie: Looking is for lost fish. My fish are dead.

This is, well, a hyperbolic example. It’s emotional incongruence. Allie says something she feels is sad/negative/not good, and Person responds with something far too offbeat. Allie wants acknowledgement that her fish are dead–Person is uncomfortable with dead fish, so opts to start a search party of possibly-lost-but-definitely-not-dead fish.

Let’s pull a different example from the same story. Allie is suicidal. She’s decided she needs to tell someone about it. And so she does. And suddenly the person is SO UPSET AND ISN’T THIS AWFUL. And Allie finds herself comforting the person, who is so uncomfortable with her suicidalness that they have to show it and Allie just needs them to stop showing it, but argh.

And, not-unreasonably, we chuckle at the let’s-make-a-map-and-find-those-fish person. Of course the fish are dead, mapmaker, we say. Except, it’s quite likely that the mapmaker was sitting with similar discomfort to us five minutes ago. They’d heard something terrible (Allie had depression/her fish were dead!) and they wanted to fix it! Right then! Because they loved Allie and depression is bad and they didn’t want Allie to be in a bad place!

Similarly, the person Allie told about being suicidal felt bad. You don’t react flippantly to someone wanting to kill themselves, do you? That’s upsetting! So they got upset.

Okay, so, you’re always going to lose right? Someone tells you something sad like being depressed, and you’re too upbeat. Someone tells you something sad, you’re too sad in response. And how the heck were you supposed to know that the right response to a suicidal person was to be noncommittal and the same person’s depression needed a sad response?

There’s a solution! And it involves science! (I didn’t want to wander off onto this track in the talk, but while this sounds gimmicky, it replicates over3 and over4 and over5 and is taught as a microskill to therapists Aren’t footnotes fun?)

Instead of reacting in the way that removes your discomfort, take a deep breath. You might have to sit with it, at the price of seeming more empathetic

Mirroring. Are they taking long pauses between words? Try that in return. Pitch? High? Low? Do what you can to match it.

[A demonstration exists here–it stretches the abilities of my creative punctuation use to convey.]

What about their hands and legs? Posture? Do they have both hands on the table? In their lap? Legs crossed? Make like a mirror and match. In fact, the nonverbal part seems to convey empathy and caring even more strongly than verbal. Lean forward a little.

(A single exception–arms crossed over the chest–you likely don’t want to mimic the universal body language for “I’m deeply uncomfortable.” I usually go for loosely cupping my opposite forearms, which sounds extraordinarily weird. In practice, if you can’t picture that, I look like I’m cradling something.)

And look, it will probably feel a little stilted and weird to do, like acting a part. Remember the discomfort at the beginning? We’re still sitting with it in the pursuit of serving others. In fact, you might consider being even more explicit about it: “I’m not sure how you feel about this. Do you want me to offer advice? or commiserate with you? because this situation sounds like it would make me pretty upset”. There’s an important distinction there–I’m not performing or showing that upsetness at the person–putting them in a position where they’ll click, whirr into comforting me–I’m telling them what my current picture of their emotions is, and then letting them correct me.

[personal anecdote I’m going to leave off this blog]

Okay! But what if you have a slightly different problem. You’re getting overwhelmed by people and charities and everyone else who wants to tell you about their problems or have a serious discussion over dinner or just have the amount of money you would have spent on a cup of coffee.

And who says no to these things? (or, at the very least, a guiltless no?) One of my favorite writers, a Chicagoan who goes by the nym Captain Awkward writes about how “No” is a full sentence. And it is. It’s just a nearly impossible sentence to utter in isolation.

You’re supposed to want to help grieving friends, right? Give to charity? Support ill relatives? The thing is, I’m totally on board with social pressure pointing in this direction. I want people to do these things! Except that I want them to do these things in ‘enough but not too much so that they burn out’ increments, and also not feel resentful and guilty.

Burnout, that feeling of emotional exhaustion–not being able to find any well of empathy or caring or energy to dredge up investment in others–isn’t, as many people conceptualize it, from having lots of contained crises. While those will certainly exhaust you, they’re the terrifying spice of life, as it were. What overwhelms people, we’ve found, is the chronicity of stress. Of having people lean on your day in and out. And once emotional exhaustion has set in, it’s near impossible to give yourself the space to recover. It’s too easy to feel guilty from stepping back…and then there you are, without many emotions left but bone-deep tired and guilt.

But that discomfort! That do something do something do something!

I’m going to ask you to sit with it again.

You’ve got a friend who’s had a traumatic breakup and wants to talk. A relative who’s collecting money for a charity that supports an illness they’ve had.

Do something do something do something! Say yes! Write a check! Spend hours listening!

Deep breath.

Yes, by all means, do something! But do something effective that gives you emotional range to spare for yourself, for the next friend with a life crisis and that other charity you care more about, or next month’s rent.

Create an emotional buffer. Be nice to your future self, and arrange for some space. That charity Cousin James wants to tell you about? You’re really busy, but could he send you an email? You want to talk to work friend, but you’ve been having a really overwhelming week–what if they scheduled an hour to tell you all about it over coffee next week?

The goal here isn’t to give you space to ignore the email or never hear about the breakup–it’s to get space in a way that sounds like “I want to hear about you in ways that mean I can serve you best”

You can sit with that discomfort. You did it for me fifteen minutes ago, for far longer than it takes to ask for an email, mimic the posture of the person across from you, squash your impulsive emotional reaction, schedule coffee for another day.

We’re here at Sunday Assembly, nonreligious but waking up early and inconveniencing ourselves with the CTA here because we want to create an intentional community. Let’s make it one that keeps us coming back, that nourishes one another without burning out, that says, you’re hurt? Let me sit with you.

And on that note, I’ll ask you to pause with me for a hair longer.

Thank you.

[ack. I fiddled with the ending up to the last minute. Will update afterwards.]

General Notes: There were a LOT of things I couldn’t fit into 15-20 minutes, including:
-More thoroughly discussing ego depletion
-forced choices in response to distressed people you want to help
-I didn’t even consider trying to make a talk that covered all the above and this, but effective altruism. I’m also wildly underqualified to discuss, but it’s easy to find information. Google away!
-possibly some of the above stuff I’d planned to talk about, who knows–this was prepared ahead of my talk

Other Sources for This Sort of Thing:

Real Social Skills
Captain Awkward


2. Cialdin, R. B. (1984). Influence: The psychology of persuasion. New York, New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc.

4. Feese, S., Arnrich, B.,  Troster, G., Meyer B., & Jonas, K. (2011) Detecting posture mirroring in social interactions with wearable sensors. In proceeding of: 15th IEEE International Symposium on Wearable Computers (ISWC 2011), 12-15 June 2011, San Francisco, CA, USA

5. Trout, D.L., & Rosenfeld, H. M. (1980) The effect of postural lean and body congruence on the judgement of psychotherapeutic rapport. Journal of Nonverbal Behavior, 4, 176-190.

6. Maurer, R. E. & Tindall, J. H. (1983). Effect of postural congruence on client’s perception of counselor empathy. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 30, 158-163.

Linehan, M. M. (1993). Skills training manual for treating borderline personality disorder. New York, New York: The Guilford Press.
(specifically the Interpersonal Effectiveness Handouts)

Antonides, G., Verhoef, P.C., & van Aalst, M. (2002). Consumer perception and evaluation of waiting time: A field experiment. Journal of Consumer Psychology, 12, 139-202.

Maslach, C. (2003). Burnout: The cost of caring. Englewood, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall.


Ask, Guess, Throw Up Hands in Confusion?

For some reason, Askers and Guessers put me in mind of the Seussian Yooks and Zooks of The Butter Battle Book.

[Credit for this post goes to Robby Bensinger, for posting his usual though-provoking Facebook statuses. I accidentally wrote him a novel, which turned into this blog.]

Around my corner of the internet, there’s a post that’s reappearing: Ask Culture and Guess Culture. The point isn’t so new–people relate to each other in different ways, and feelings get hurt and resentment builds when there’s poor alignment between conversational participants. What makes the Ask Culture/Guess Culture piece so loved–besides the ever-popular There Are Two Kinds Of People categorization–seems to be that it suddenly made everything make sense to everyone. Huge differences in what behaviors you and your family think are appropriate? They must be [Other Culture]! Arguing over etiquette? Must be a Culture difference. So, Asking? Guessing?

In some families, you grow up with the expectation that it’s OK to ask for anything at all, but you gotta realize you might get no for an answer. This is Ask Culture.

In Guess Culture, you avoid putting a request into words unless you’re pretty sure the answer will be yes. Guess Culture depends on a tight net of shared expectations. A key skill is putting out delicate feelers. If you do this with enough subtlety, you won’t even have to make the request directly; you’ll get an offer. Even then, the offer may be genuine or pro forma; it takes yet more skill and delicacy to discern whether you should accept.

All kinds of problems spring up around the edges. If you’re a Guess Culture person — and you obviously are — then unwelcome requests from Ask Culture people seem presumptuous and out of line, and you’re likely to feel angry, uncomfortable, and manipulated.

Brienne chimed in at Less Wrong with a definition of Tell Culture:

The two basic rules of Tell Culture: 1) Tell the other person what’s going on in your own mind whenever you suspect you’d both benefit from them knowing. (Do NOT assume others will accurately model your mind without your help, or that it will even occur to them to ask you questions to eliminate their ignorance.) 2) Interpret things people tell you as attempts to create common knowledge for shared benefit, rather than as requests or as presumptions of compliance.
Ex: “It would be awfully convenient networking for me to stick around for a bit after our meeting to talk with you and [the next person you’re meeting with]. But on a scale of one to ten, it’s only about 3 useful to me. If you’d rate the loss of utility for you as two or higher, then I have a strong preference for not sticking around.”

[Note: Both because Brienne wrote her post after I’d written much of this and because I see much more crossover in Askers and Tellers than between Guess-Tell or Guess-Ask, I’ve grouped Ask and Tell together for the rest of the piece. Dissent and debate encouraged in the comments.]

I come from a Guess Culture that tried with all its might to be an Ask Culture. Straightening out that “you can just ask us, the worst we can say is no!” said earnestly and regularly was entirely false did wonders for me. As it turns out, you can say no in ways that sound like, “you’re a horrible person for considering asking, why would you even do that?” Body language! Tone! Turns out they matter. 

I seem to default to Ask Culture in behavior. Which is to say, I will Guess: “Oh, Acquaintance, sorry, I need to pick something up at the library, so sorry, but I can’t walk to our next class with you.” (Subtext: I’m way out socialized and need time to walk without providing any sort of social face.)

My preference for Ask/Tell, however, will define who I get close to, date, and otherwise prioritize in my life.  As a result, my ingroup is distinctly Ask Culture, and I adore it. To me, it seems very caring and warm. We confirm and decline with each other in out-loud ways. When I spend time with someone, I know its because they’ve decided this is something that will make them happy, not because they didn’t have a fast excuse at hand when I asked.


Ask/Tell Culture is really hard to break into! I would bet that joining our group of friends is hard, even prohibitively so, if you either haven’t figured out that we do voice our preferences like that (ie, you feel like your non-explicit preferences are being ignored, but we just don’t know that they exist, and assume you would tell us if they did.) Also, if you hate being put on the spot, that can be awful. Also, Ask Culture can be overly certain that it’s accounting for everyone (because they’d just ask….right?) and that, over time, can cause resentment.

I’ve seen this be explosive or divisive in cases where the person did finally say something. When they opened with, in their frustration, “You guys have been doing this to me for AGES” we were upset that they had been angry with us, because we would have changed! And we don’t want to feel guilty. I mean, if they had only told us… They were angry that we hadn’t noticed.

And, because so much of what makes friendships happened is accidents and coincidences, this is particularly hard to negotiate. You show up in a class of mine, and then we run into each other on the way to an event, and then we have mutual acquaintances, or we meet again at a party
(hey, you’re in my—
—yeah! have you started that assignment?)
And in all of this, the little things of Asking/Telling, can be too blunt. (She cut our coffee meeting off early because she said she was getting overwhelmed by socializing and needed to be alone, instead of making polite white lies. He said he was feeling overwhelmed and needed to change the topic, instead of maneuvering it himself.) Explicit communication of those Cultures can jar. Maybe not even enough to register as too rude or impolite or socially awkward, but to be the tipping point in just not mentioning that party you’re hosting? Seems plausible.

Okay, says you, but why would I want someone who doesn’t have the same communication style as me? On the entirely utilitarian side, they might be useful. Surely you’ll need to befriend someone because they’re your sister’s girlfriend or boss’s wife, no? Or you’ll need to have the reputation of being approachable or nice or friendly. A Guesser will be your boss, a client, a professor you need to impress. 

Me? I have an unsustainable need to be liked by everyone I meet, and the idea of putting someone off seems too scary to write off Guessing entirely.

Yeah, okay, but still, why would anyone do Guess Culture anyways? Shouldn’t we encourage everyone towards Ask/Tell?

Sure, social interactions and interpersonal relationships would be so much easier if everyone around me could Ask and Tell. Not even a question.

Conversely, Guess Culture doesn’t fault people who are shy, unsure of how to justify their preferences, or socially anxious *nearly* as much as Ask Culture can. If you’re Asked point-blank if you want to do something, or in a position where you aren’t comfortable (or even sure!) why you strongly prefer one option, or have years of conditioning against asserting your needs, you’ll want to be near Guessers. 

Further, I’d be willing to bet that for some people, Guessing is how they’ve gotten attentive to things like body cues, etc. For all that I’m a fan of Asking for myself, but it’s certainly used to justify pursuing someone in uncomfortable ways. “I know ey wasn’t opposed to that time I cornered em and flirted while they were trying to work because ey would have said something!”*

 So, what say you? Should we make more people Ask? How? I’m unlikely to be persuaded, I think, but what’s the best case for everyone switching to Guess? 


*A Facebook commenter pointed out that Guess Culture can be used to do similar awfulness: “Asking might get me an answer I don’t like, so I’m going to use my powers of Intuition(tm) that are telling me ey totally wants it.”

Some ‘Exercise for Mental Health!’ Headscratching

[CN: Brief mention of eating disorders, exercise for weight loss]

“Even a little bit of exercise can improve mental functioning!” 

The little display-quotes at the top of Psychology Today’s page always make me a touch antsy. The thing about writing popular psychology is that you want to to actually be popular, and “well, we tested this on college students, and in at least this one iteration of the research, it seems like mayyyybe there’s a relationship between This One Cool Trick and increased performance on IQ tests”  has far too many caveats to make for a headline. So we assure you that doing ten jumping jacks before bed will make you pass your math test, and the things we’re a little more certain about get less fanfare.

(In the spirit of fixing that, look at this, it seems pretty conclusive that narcolepsy is the result of an autoimmune response to hypocretin neurons. This doesn’t sound very exciting, but is actually worth at least three large headlines.)

But I’m stuck on a bus, and I started thinking about that claim. A little bit of exercise? I mean, I usually feel better for going for a walk, but I’ve never thought that’s a direct result of exercise. More like inevitable results of the interplay of being away from a to-do list, trading fluorescent light for natural light, and stomping around in the snow. Sure, there’s some very basic cardio happening, but I live in the Midwest, the flattest of flatlands.

…which also got me thinking about how I’ll avoid exercising when I’m having especially bad brain days. There’s significant amounts of societal pressure to exercise–to not just be slim but toned and fit and lean–and heading to the gym uniquely taps into a whole host of too-positive feelings about potentially losing weight and fitting into beauty norms.  When you add jerkbrain, then BAM sudden impulses towards obsessive exercising! So I stay away on bad days, and on the good I try to aim my happiness about exercise in the direction of appreciation for strength and endurance building, rather than skinniness.

Which led me to The Hunch*:

It seems unlikely–possible, but unlikely–that exercising briefly is dramatically changing brain chemistry. It seems to improve functioning in moderate depression. It usually improves circulation, which does nice things all over your body. But it also plays into norms about how being a good person means having a gym membership and being healthy (in the colloquial, appearance-based sense).

If we’re going to take the Psych Today quote at face value**–and I’ve been writing on a bumpy bus just so we can–then what if the improvement from just a little exercising is less a function of the actual motions of moving your body, and more to do with the rewards of doing something we’ve been conditioned to associate with being a good person? Sure, there are copious benefits resulting from the exercise -> [mysterious*** brain changes] -> better mental and physical health pathway. But getting them from brief exercise? Seems more plausible that there’s a boost in mood and functioning from doing a societally rewarded action. (“I’m doing a good thing! I am a responsible person!”)

By all means, were this to be correct (and see the part about it being a hunch) this would not be a reason to stop exercising! In fact, it might be a better reason to exercise than ever. Taking advantage of brain quirks, or placebo effects generally, to improve your life is still improving your life.


*I mean it. This is a hunch. Somewhat more than a wild guess, but only because I think “studies this stuff for fun and a diploma” counts for more than Wild Guesser status.

**Also, I’m disinclined to think that it was entirely made up. There’s likely at least one study suggesting this conclusion.

***Not so mysterious, but if I’m going to be hunch-ing, I’d rather not shoot myself in the foot by also demonstrating a poor grasp of neuroscience.

Real Women

I was very taken with this piece from Disrupting Dinner Parties:

Every boy I’ve ever dated had visible intercostals, because they were all athletes of a particular type. You can find it in the wild. They were all real men. Men with 4% body fat are real men. Men with a 35% body fat real men. Men with no chest hair are real men. Men whose back hair comes out of the collar of their shirt and merges with the hair on their head are real men. Men who have body hair, but choose to remove it, are also real men. (As usual, women who are small enough to have trouble finding adult clothes that fit are real women. And women who are big enough to have problems finding any clothes that fit area also real women.)

All people are in fact real people.

And this puts me in mind of my least favorite ‘body positivity’ phrase.

Real women have curves.

I mean, yes. Real women have curves mostly because it’s very hard to create fully angular people, and while they do stack better, and would probably be easier to pack into public transportation, body fat just doesn’t do that well, and people don’t do so well without body fat.

But that isn’t what this is saying. Real women have curves is just another way to preference one particularly body type (because really, what do you see in those ‘inspiring’ ads? Hourglass figure, curves only in certain places, curves that come in certain ways, and definitely don’t contain cellulite or stretch marks) over another especially restrictive one, whilst feeling like you’ve contributed to making everyone feel more included. Because now, you can try to cram yourself into Tiny Box A or Tiny Box B!

Oh, you’re not stick skinny? Real women have curves!

Just not the sort formed by fat rolls, or located in stomachs!

Real women have curves, but they’re well lit and highly made up curves!

Real women have curves, but they are young curves and definitely 70% boob curvature.


Body positivity should involve actual positivity! Not a slapdash paint job on the old body policing. Body positivity shouldn’t involve mocking old standards of beauty in favor of restrictive new ones. It shouldn’t mean pretending society doesn’t have harmful messages about acceptable sizes and shapes and attach moral responsibility to failure to conform, because hey, we said that curves were cute!

Real women have passions and hopes and hearts and brains. Real women have mass and occupy physical space. Real women identify as women are not imaginary. Real women are probably damn tired of trying to be the right kind of curvy or skinny and would like to keep living without exerting their existence as simultaneously women! and their body type! and also real! over and over again, thank you.

Some Thoughts for The Therapist I’ll Be (Part 1)

I’m looking at grad school [gasps, slams laptop closed], and thinking about careers and plans and futures. (Adulting! It’s scary shit.) Which means lots of reflecting on what I’ve learned and heard about the good and awful things therapists can do. So, some notes, some things I want the future Therapist Kate to remember:

1. I will talk process.

Get an email from a potential client? Those are scary to send. Like, preventatively terrifying. And years from now, I will remember how hard it was to press ‘send’ this year. And then I will respond, right away. Even if it’s that I can’t help, that I’m not taking new clients, I will respond. Because it’s even scarier to have pressed send and never hear back.

2. I will continue to update and talk process in every step of the way.

Going to need a week to figure out my schedule? I’ll make sure to check in and update.

3. I will ask everyone pronouns and then use preferred ones in all notes and files.

Because really. This is just a habit worth developing.

4. I will have multiple avenues of contact.

Making my first therapy appointment involved no less than two websites for health services, three google searches, and one very very scary phone call. (Apologies to everyone who thought Moaning Myrtle briefly occupied the third floor bathroom that day. I didn’t have anywhere else to call from.) Then, to do intake? Another phone call. This time, a long one, conducted from my room. I had a roommate. Not to mention, this just about sums up my feelings about phones.

Email is easy! Email means clients can revise and edit and make sure they’re clearly stating what I need. They can write down lists and then give accurate pictures of their symptoms. I will have multiple ways to be contacted, because the barrier to entry shouldn’t be calling me. (Happy ending: my new counseling center takes–nay, encourages–scheduling via email.)

5. I will remember that I can’t help everyone. 

This is the stray cat principle. As nice as it would be to rescue every feline with big eyes and soft fur, you have a house, apartment, or commune of finite and inchangeable size. You know this. So which cats do you adopt? The ones who get along with your life. The ones who you think won’t tear all the drapes up every night and leave you stressed and angry and neglectful of other cats.

In the same way, I will remember that it’s both unethical and downright harmful to take on clients who have issues you’ve no experience in. It’s not acceptable to take on so many clients that I let them slip through the cracks. That I owe it to my clients to take care of myself, to make recommendations and decline and refer when I think I’m not the best practitioner.

Ideas? Put them in the comments!

The Un-Hiatus and Whelm-y-ness

Internet! I have been gone for far too long. I’m in my last few days in Ohio and have been caught up in polishing off my internship at the Secular Student Alliance (Yes, working there is even better than you’re imagining.), packing up and moving, and facing the fact that after nine months off and working at two different Grown Up Jobs, I will actually have to go back to writing essays and turning in homework.

All of this has meant I’ve been away from my beloved G&H. So here I am! Back! Mostly! Still exclamatory! I have intentions of blogging regularly after this weekend. So, with many apologies for the accidental disappearance, I give you one graphical illustration of ‘whelmed’ and a promise to produce actual content.

overwhelmed: (adj) the condition of being more than one standard deviation past whelmed.

overwhelmed: (adj) the condition of being more than one standard deviation past whelmed.



Falling in Love With People

I think one of my favorite things about people is how they light up when you find exactly the right thing that they love to talk about.

Sometimes it’s people–the friends who accomplished something, the family that’s visiting in a few weeks. The new baby and the recently graduated cousin. Or the people who create–the car half-finished in the garage, the quilt that just needs a few more stitches. The garden that’s just coming up in the spring–if only those damn squirrels would leave it be.

There’s the people with topics, who leap in to tell you about the Perseid shower coming up when you mention how pretty the sky is, the ones who hear you ponder a question and offer book recommendations in response. Oh, and the people with ideas! The questions, the new rabbit holes of unconsidered variables, the research you haven’t heard of.

And people are these collections of things that have captured their passion. Astronomy and hypnosis and philosophy and smithing and treehouse architecture and all just waiting for you to ask the right questions. Their eyes will get a little bit wider, their gestures, more energetic. They give you their real smiles–the ones that aren’t just for agreeing and nodding along and making small talk.

And then some of you out there make fun of them for lighting up at the mention of dollhouses or sports or fashion or that one television show. And they back off. They curl their toes in their shoes and change the subject. And maybe the next time, they won’t say “yes! I love talking about the finer points of fencing!”

And you, out there, sneering at their love for beekeeping or birdwatching?

You are ruining it for the rest of us. 


Burning Out

Burning out is horrid.

Burning out is not wanting to read the comments…or the piece.

It’s sitting in front of your computer for hours, trying to write, and finally concluding that maybe it would be nicer to just put your pajamas back on and sleep.

It’s when taking a walk around the block to clear your mind turns into running every errand you can think of. Having this brilliant idea that gnaws at you….and then sitting at your computer listening to music, because you want nothing less than to cudgel together a coherent post and then watch people react to it.

And burning out is not knowing if it’s the movement or the people or just your own exhausted brain.

This is the part I struggle with most–do I want to step away from the movement because I’ve overworked myself. Or do I need to pick a different cause?

On bad days, it’s the latter.

On the good, I remind myself that I’ve met nearly all my close friends here. That nobody offers me homeopathy in response to illness. That I’ve never been told mental illness just happens for a reason. That the movement means a place to write, speak, think with people I admire, and who challenge me to do it all better. I get to do FtBConscience and talk about mental health. I get to watch people light up while they talk about their passions, and there’s almost nothing better.

So this, you lovely people, is an encouragement to keep doing that. Keep lighting up when you talk about biology and physics and communication and neuroscience and bugs and rocks. Smile when your favorite topic comes up. Write long and impassioned blog posts and give talks and refer us to new books. We’ll have delightfully eclectic reading lists and weird snippets of facts–did you know there are caterpillars that wear old heads as hats?–and I think we’ll all be a little less on the fizzling end of burning out.