I’m fine. I’m just an introvert.

Introvert time 10.16

Being an introvert is tricky. Traditionally, introverts are defined by the quality of gathering energy when they are alone, rather than when they are around other people. I need a lot of alone time. Taking in my alone time is like that first sip of a cold beer after a long week – it’s relaxation and relief and restoration. I no longer have to perform for or socialize with other people. There’s a natural algorithm that my introversion follows – the amount of alone time I’ll need to feel reenergized depends on how much time I’ve spent with people, the number of people, and how much I like those people. If I catch up with a close friend over a long dinner, I like to follow up with some streaming Netflix (Freaks and Geeks anyone?). If I’ve scheduled back-to-back dinners and a large party filled with strangers, you can bet I’ll need the next two nights to silently peruse my Google reader, read books and blubber through episodes of Doctor Who.

I’m an introvert, but contrary to what many assume, I don’t dislike being social. I just don’t want to be social all the time. I also don’t want or need 100 friends. I need 2 best friends and maybe 5 really good friends. I don’t like big parties. I hate small talk. I need time to process before presenting my thoughts on something.

I was an only child so my introversion was always mis-characterized as other things i.e. quiet, independent, anti-social. At big parties, I carried a book with me or some paper for drawing. When I was exhausted from making small talk – and yes there’s small talk when you’re a kid, too – I turned inwards. My father is a textbook introvert, who, when his social timer runs out, promptly stands up at whatever social gathering he is at, and politely leaves. So my parents didn’t mind my behavior. But everyone else sure as hell did.

The – let’s call it “feedback” – I get from others can usually be categorized into the following phrases:

1. “You’re just shy.” I heard this more as a child. There was no question in teachers or family friends’ minds that I didn’t have a million friends or participate in group activities or sports because I was simply shy. The reality was, I was  a bit shy. It takes me a while to warm up to new people, and even more time to feel a real connection. But guess what? I was also introverted. I loved nap time. I loved quiet reading time. I loved study hall.

2. “You’re not introverted!”  Like many introverts, I’ve developed a temporary skin. It’s a social, more extroverted layer that I can peel on and off at Thanksgiving dinners and networking events and parties filled with strangers. I used to have much more control over it. Now it’s more like Cinderella’s carriage: At a certain point, I’m turning back into a pumpkin who needs her Kindle and some pajamas.

When people meet me for the first time with this layer on, they’re shocked to find out weeks or months later that this is not my natural state of being. This reaction comes mostly from co-workers and acquaintances.  People assume that as a person who works in fundraising, I must love interacting with people. First off, I’m a grant writer (all the introverts are nodding insightfully now), which  should, if anything, show that I do not like interacting with people. I like writing to people. Did I mention I’m also a blogger? (The internet was an amazing invention for the introverts.) There are parts of my job that require extroversion. That’s how it goes. It can be draining and it’s certainly an important part of what I do, but it definitely does not make me an extrovert.

Also, I really like to talk. Deep, long one-on-one conversations fill me with insight and satisfaction. Sometimes people confuse this with being extroverted. Note that I did not say I enjoy making chit chat with 20 people at a party.

3. “What’s wrong?” It’s always been a challenge to feel authentic in this, the extrovert’s world. If I’m too quiet or don’t say hi to people at work, I can seem rude or arrogant. If I have to cancel plans because I’m exhausted from back-to-back social events, I seem flaky. And when I’ve turned my thoughts inwards, turning over things quietly in my mind, I get a lot of cocked heads and sympathetic “Are you ok?”s. I am ok. No, I’m not sad.  Yes, I’m fine. I’m just an introvert.

But every label has its challenges. Years of people assuming that my being ok alone was the same as being ok with being lonely has creeped into my mental hardwiring. Now, when I feel sad or hurt, my instinct is to reach out and find connection. But the rest of me suppresses this instinct, telling me that introversion means I should be fine handling things on my own. Why would I rely on people when I’m not doing well? Aren’t I an introvert?

Being an insecure introvert also has its downside. If I say no to too many happy hours, will I be edged out of my co-workers’ circle? If I tell people I’m not up for a party, will they think I’m a loser? It’s difficult for me to stay authentic when I’m trying to manage my fear of being disconnected from others.

The reality is, most people take comfort in connections with other people, regardless of where we fall on the introvert-extrovert spectrum. That feeling of belonging and understanding that we feel when we connect with another individual is such a wonderful part of the human condition. But how and when we get to that feeling varies. I find my connection in intimate dinners, small social gatherings and reading books next to my bestie – plans that are bookended by recovery time. Yes, recovery time. No, I’m not unhappy or anti-social. I’m just an introvert.

Until the war is over

Originally posted at Feministing Community page

Perhaps we should be done talking about Akin’s “legitimate rape” remarks and the GOP’s hollow attempts to distance themselves from his stance while simultaneously laying groundwork for an abortion plank that has no mention of exceptions around rape or incest. But we can’t be done. We can’t be done because Akin isn’t done. We can’t be done because Akin isn’t a lone gunman in this War on Women. He’s part of an army of people who believe, be it because of politics or religion – or maybe because they just didn’t have great sex-education – that women can’t (and shouldn’t) make their own decisions about their own bodies.

The words “the personal is political” has never resonated more with me than it has in this last year. The outpour of anti-choice legislation, the attacks on every aspect of reproductive justice, is a terrifying reminder than my rights can be bought and sold for an election without my permission. And I know the motive behind this attempt to stifle autonomy for women must be political because nothing adds up. If Romney means what he says, for example, and makes exceptions for abortions in cases of rape because he still cares about women, how does he think that’s going to go? If one of the 32,000 women who are estimated to be pregnant from rape each year tries to get an abortion in a country that restricts them almost entirely, where will they go if the clinics are mostly closed? If there is no funding? What will they do if they are too afraid and fearful for their lives to say that they were raped? What if they are ‘too young’, or ‘too poor’, or ‘not American enough’ to be supported by the systems that claim to support them? There’s no science or research or logic to it – just repeated attempts to take control of how we live our lives.

And there is so much shame around how we choose to live, especially those that are trying to thrive in the margins. We are shamed for using birth control and we are deemed careless for our unexpected pregnancies. We are criticized for parenting at too young an age, and we are made to feel embarrassed for seeking access to reproductive health services. We are scolded by those who will never have to make the decisions we will have to make about bearing or raising a child and we are patronized when we speak out about our rights. It’s the kind of shame we may spend our whole lives trying to resist, keeping it from tangling itself in our hearts and our minds.

But we can count on each other – we can share our stories and tell each other it’s ok to be mad or sad or hopeful or ashamed. We can keep speaking out and keep changing our homes and our communities and we can keep fighting until there are just our bodies, alive and safe and well.

Loving so much it hurts: Why I’m not sure if I can be a mom

cross posted at the Strong Families blog.

I remember the first time I talked to my partner about children.

It was early on in our relationship and felt safe to ask about, since it was still clear we weren’t necessarily talking about children we’d have with each other. “How do you feel about having children?” I had asked. I sank back into the couch, preparing myself for the long response that would inevitably follow. After all, I thought, this is parenthood we’re talking about.

“I’m not ready to have children now. But I will one day. I’ll be really excited to be a father when it happens and I think I’m going to be a good parent.”

You know that feeling when someone kicks a soccer ball into your stomach accidentally? That sums up what happened when he said that to me. You think you’re going to be a good parent? Who knows that for sure? How did you respond to this question with so much confidence and integrity? Right as I was struggling to inhale, my partner batted the dreaded question back to me.

I don’t know how people can be so calm answering a question about being a parent. The question of motherhood — of raising a child, of being a mother to another human life — is so loaded for me that I spend an equal amount of time trying not to think about it and obsessing about it.

I have a running list of things that immediately come to mind when I envision myself as a mother:

1. What if they don’t like me?
2. What if they grow up to be conservative and vote for a future Bush? What if they rebel against all my politics and want to donate to anti-choice organizations?
3. What if they reject their South Asian roots?
4. What if they’re extroverted?
5. What if I don’t like them?
6. What if we’re not as close as my mom and I are?
7. How will I raise a child who has male privilege or passing-for-white privilege?
8. What if the child likes my partner more than me?
9. How could I handle raising more than one child? (Note: I am an only child.)
10. What if I don’t like being a parent and spend my whole life secretly regretting it?
11. What if I’m too clingy and fuck them up for the rest of their lives?
12. What if something tragic happens to them?

I realize that this list is a testament to how NOT ready I am to be a mother. There are just so many factors to consider! And I’m a cautious, anxious sort of person. The fear alone of caring for another human life in such a seemingly unique and powerful way is enough to send me down the path of hyperventilation.

I thought I would find solace with friends around this issue. Not so. Most of my friends are head-over-heels for babies and children and chastise me about ever questioning becoming a mother one day. They can’t wait to meet new children, play with them, and hold their sticky hands. The rest of my friends seem to have resigned to parenthood — they see it as an inevitable next step after finding and marrying a partner. My response to meeting children is about as awkward as meeting anyone else. Baby talk makes me a bit nauseous and the only children I’ve ever really liked are quiet, intelligent, and feel just as skeptical about themselves as I do.

Then I think of my own mother. She narrates her decision to have a child with that knowing half-smile that says, “You feel this way now, but you’re going to laugh in 10 or 15 years when you look back on this.” She had decided in her early twenties to never raise a child. But then, when she was 30 and five years into her marriage, she gave birth to me. She and I have never teased out the skepticism or resentment she may have had about giving birth to a child. Perhaps she felt an obligation to fulfill the traditional roles of wife and mother, like her mother before her. I suspect she wonders what life would have been like without me in it, but I think overall, she is pretty happy. Not to toot my own horn too much or anything, but my mother raised a relatively competent and intelligent child who believes in serving her community for the rest of her life. She also happened to raise someone who loves her mother so much, it kind of hurts sometimes.

I think it’s this idea of “loving so much it hurts” that makes me want to scream and run away from the land of mamas. Caring for someone with all your heart that way requires a tremendous amount of trust in oneself, and even more vulnerability. Opening up our heart to love, and letting in everything that comes with it — happiness, sadness, fear, intimacy, risk, compassion — sounds…terrifying. I struggle with this already as a daughter, as a person in a committed romantic relationship. I feel this way as a best friend. How can I take this on as a mother? The insecure and scared person inside me who has experienced and remains afraid of loss says, What if I can’t handle it?

This Mama’s Day, I’ll spend the day with my own mom, curled up close to her, taking in the smell of her hair and the softness of her hands. I’ll wonder if I can ever be like her and take on the work that she did. I’ll thank her and all the people and institutions that have allowed me to consider motherhood, have allowed me to see it as a future option, and not an obligation or unexpected label. And until I know, I’ll keep wondering, keep being scared, keep asking questions.

The Pill is turning 50: Has it lived up to its reputation?

We can all agree that the pill has changed the course of reproductive justice, but Laura Eldridge encourages us to take a more critical look at the pill and its possible limitations.

Oral contraceptives have allowed women to take more control over their sexual health and to planned their lives with more assurance. The pill has been shown to do more than just prevent unintended pregnancies: studies have claimed that the pill does everything from treating severe menstrual pain and acne to decreasing urinary incontinence, preventing bacterial vaginosis and pelvic inflammatory diseases. Sometimes the pill is painted as a wonder drug – it’s over 99% effective in preventing pregnancy when taken correctly and it can reduce many symptoms of premenstrual syndrom.

Eldridge’s article challenges our opinion of the pill slightly, by reminding us of its history and its consequences. Hormone based drugs still show risks among women, including mood swings and a crushed libido to strokes and heart attacks caused by blood clots. The actual creation of the pill was a result of years of testing on poor women, and part of the need for the pill did not come from preventing pregnancy overall, but for population control among poor communities of color. Eldrigde writes, “The pill was able to be born because of deep social and economic injustices, not solely as a response to them. The pill trials were conducted on poor women in Puerto Rico, in part because they had fewer legal protections against some of the dangers of new drug trials.”

Issues of racism and sexism emerged from the creation and use of the first pill, as female doctors were often scoffed at for their concerns about possible side effects, and as the mission of the pill became so much about keeping disadvantaged populations from procreating. Barbara Seaman wrote “The Doctors’ Case Against the Pill” which documented the side effects women faced as a result of taking the pill, shedding light on the little information that was provided to these women from drug companies.

Things are different today: the hormone dose in pills has reduced significantly, and there are yards of warning label attached to each form of oral contraceptive. Perhaps most moving of all, Eldridge reminds us that these changes are “due to the tireless efforts of the women’s health movement.”

Part of looking back and seeing how far we’ve come is, indeed, also about seeing how far there is to go. This month especially, we need to consider how much work still needs to be done to provide adequate and accurate sexual health resources for all communities, how more innovative birth control methods must continue to be created for women AND MEN, and that the stigma around the right not to have a child must still be eradicated.

It’s Back up Your Birth Control Day!

Advocates around the country are encouraging people to back up their birth control today, March 24th, 2010. Though many of us are well aware of the advantages of emergency contraception, Back Up Your Birth Control Day is a day to spread the word and encourage women to never take their sexual health for granted – that means being prepared!

While we may use other forms of contraception, there is always a chance that you may have unprotected sex. So make sure you are aware of and have a back up of your birth control.

Currently there are two types of emergency contraception on the market – Plan B Onestep is one pill that you can take up to 72 hours after having unprotected sex. A generic version of the drug is also available, called Next Choice. Both are available to adults without a prescription – Plan B One Step is available to individuals 17 and older without a prescription.

Condoms break, and people forget to take the pill sometimes, and things happen. Having access to a contraceptive backup is imperative for all women, particularly young women who are more likely to have unprotected sex.

Although a judge ordered the FDA to reconsider the current restrictions on emergency contraception a year ago, little has been done to make EC accessible and easy to obtain. Even if you don’t need a prescription, you have to go to a pharmacist and provide a legal ID. Although research has shown that there are no medical grounds for limiting access to emergency contraception, the FDA has not enforced any changes to the way the drug is sold. We need to be able to buy EC the way we would condoms, and increase the education avaialble in our communities about the option to use emergency contraception. It’s better than the shame and anxiety that currently exists around the drug for so many people!

There are many ways to take action on this day – for more information, check out the campaign’s website here.

Toxins Affecting Reproductive Health

We should all be concerned about the state of the environment these days – more pollutants in the air, in food and water, chemical and power dumps infiltrating more and more communities. Sometimes we forget that these outside factors create huge risks for many people’s bodies, especially pregnant women. Now, a new article published at Center for American Progress reports on how poor women and women of color are more at risk for reproductive issues because of their exposure to chemical pollutants and toxins.

Low-income communities of color are faced with higher rates of fertility problems, miscarriages, preterm births and birth defects. Think about it – if you’re poor and living near a chemical dump because it’s the only place you can afford to live, it makes sense that over time, something in the air food and water may affect your health.

Author Whitney Maddox cites an excellent example of how Asian American women who live in low-income areas have the highest rates of endometriosis – a condition where the tissue that usually grows in the uterus starts growing in other parts of the body. This condition can lead to cervical cancer, infertility and other reproductive risks.

African American women have the highest rates of premature births are more likely than any other race to have children with low birth weights.

Maddox reports: “Both houses of Congress introduced legislation on April 15 that would better regulate industrial chemicals by overhauling the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976…and reforming the way the federal government protects the public from toxic chemicals.”

The Safe Chemicals Act would lower human exposure to industrial chemicals, dangerous products and cosmetics. Given that 90% of the 10,500 chemicals used in personal cosmetics and other products are federally unregulated, this is a good thing!  Additionally, farmworkers would no longer be exposed to pesticides, a dangerous chemical that can drift into the air and can injure field workers.

There has long been increasing research and reports that document how people of color are more affected by so many more health issues, both generally and with regards to reproductive health. It’s time to level the playing field by making sure that all populations have access to safe living and don’t have to subject themselves to detrimental health issues just to work at a farm or a factory or a nail salon.

Vajazzling and Sexual Health

I’ve caved on this fine Monday afternoon to write about something that has emerged in various media outlets recently: vajazzling. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term, it’s actually exactly what it sounds like. Bedazzling meets your vagina.

Crystals are specially glued onto your Brazilian waxed vagina in patterns ranging from the “traditional” triangle to about every shape in the Lucky Charms cereal box. The purpose? Well, I’m at a loss there. Maybe you think it’s sexy, or maybe your partner finds it dazzling. Though it seems to be reserved for those who can afford it and mildly famous celebrities, if it’s making news, it raises the question of just why so many of us are insistent on changing that particular part of the body.

Why is there such a stigma around the vagina? We don’t want it to be hairy, we don’t want it to smell like a vagina, and we’re so obsessed with amending what it looks like but we can’t manage to talk about what goes in it. We don’t want to talk about actual sex or sexual health, just sexual appeal. So this post comes down to three things – if you’re on the road to vajazzling, you better have passed these three checkpoints first:

1. You’re getting tested for STDs and you’re making sure your partners get tested as well: Your vagina won’t look dazzling with an STD. As with most things, you need to take care of the inside and outside. Encourage your partners to get tested and make sure you enforce…

2. Safe Sex. Don’t waste your crystals on someone who refuses to use protection – there are multiple ways to be accountable for your sexual health. Preventing unintended pregnancies may happen through male and female condoms, oral contraceptives, nuva rings, etc. Take care of yourself and be rigid about your sexual health.

3. Enjoy yourself. By this I mean – if you’re getting pressured and feeling uncomfortable about changing your body, perhaps it’s time to rethink your situation. Everyday we get hundreds of messages telling us to be pure in a certain way, or pretty in a certain way, or sexy in a certain way. What we need to be focusing on is how to feel good about ourselves and be good to our bodies. Consider your needs and comfort level first and foremost. If you feel amazing after a good wax, go for it! But if you’re doing it because other people tell you it’s the right thing to do, take a minute to consider how YOU feel.

Vajazzled or not, our vaginas are important and need to be taken care of! Keep them clean and embrace positive sexual health!