Monday, March 22, 2010

Going on a Second Inter-Date

This is the first time I've gotten a comment filled with such bigotry on my blog. I'm quite upset, and I'm very sorry for my readers who saw the offensive comment before I deleted it.

Interfaith dating does not kill people. In fact, dating, is about people who like and respect each other choosing to celebrate that like and respect. Seems pretty life-affirming to me.

I am pro-love. I think that when people interact with each other in intimate, passionate ways -- especially when they approach the process with kindness and thought -- great things can happen.

Interfaith dating does not necessarily decrease the number of Jews involved in Jewish communities. Condoning the shunning of interfaith couples, on the other hand, greatly decreases those couple’s chances of finding fulfillment within Jewish life.

Why be alienating when we can be welcoming? Why decrease each other's chances of finding home and happiness when we can increase those chances? What about traditions of hospitality, welcoming the stranger, and embracing human variation?

A special thank-you to Tabitha and samanthajess for sharing your stories in the comments section of my last post. I hope to hear more of you choose to share your stories, as well.

I want to highlight the particularly apt metaphor that samanthajess shares at the end of her post: “just say no” education does not work. Interfaith dating is a commonly known phenomenon, and it happens for many reasons. Given that, how can we welcome these couples into our faith communities in a way that promotes embracing and celebrating – yes, actively, positively celebrating—their relationships and partnerships?

Friday, March 19, 2010

Interfaith Dating: Taboo or Not Taboo?

I often reflect on all the reasons I'm really lucky to have the parents that I have. These reasons include the values that my parents have communicated to me around dating. Specifically, I've thought of my parents recently as I grapple with messages I receive about interfaith dating.

My parents were very clear about what they expected of the people my brother and I chose to date: these people should be warm, loving, intelligent, and respectful... nothing in the requirements referred their being of the same religion. And although I mostly dated people of my own faith, my brother and I both did date people of other faiths, and without comment from our parents on that particular issue.

Even during periods when I identified very strongly with my faith, I felt open to dating anyone. For me, it was and is a question of with whom I could best connect and share of myself.

I also believe that others should make decisions about dating based on their own feelings and values. But I’ve noticed that not all of my peers feel the same. Some have various strong opinions about their own faith-based dating practices. Others, to my surprise and sadness, have expressed judgment of our friends’ interfaith dating practices. I want to ask how this plays out in your experience -- as young adults, do we judge each other for inter-dating? Is there pressure to date only people of our own faith? Why? How does that feel for you, and how do you think it feels for others?

Monday, March 15, 2010

Let's Call It What It Is

I'm in the middle of reading LAID by Shannon T. Boodram -- fabulous project, by the way, in which teenage and young adult contributors relate stories of their specific sexual encounters. The stories are divided into chapters based on theme, and they each start with an introduction and end with FAQs and a self survey. It's a great read -- and designed to work pretty well as a sex ed text!

I want to respond to the first chapter: Hookups That Fell Down. What do you think it would mean for hookup to fall down? I thought maybe it meant that hookups are hard to negotiate and often end in confusion, hurt, and conflict.

Actually, the so-called hookups described in each story were full of confusion and hurt from the start. The thoughts and actions described in each tale demonstrate an apparent lack of consent. I didn't really want to... I said let's slow down... I figured I might as well go along with it... followed up by lots of bad feelings and other negative results.

In my line of work, we don't just call that a hookup. That is potentially rape and sexual assault.

However, I don't want to label other people's experiences. It wouldn't help the writers of these stories to feel pressured to identify as rape survivors. But if the point of the book is to educate others, which it is, then the author has a responsibility to educate accurately.

When someone tries to hookup with you without your explicit and enthusiastic consent, that's not okay.

A post for another day: in order to keep hookups from falling down this badly, we need to teach and promote better communication skills, clearly.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Transitioning to Middle School

Puberty. Menstruation. Breasts. Sweat. Acne. Lack of coordination. Incessant hunger. Expensive sneakers. Pop music. Text messages. Swearing. Fist fighting. Exhausted teachers. School buses. Fear. Boredom. Failing grades.

I have a student who did really well in fifth grade and by half way through sixth, is now failing in both English class and math class. I have another student who falls on the floor, whines, and yells on a daily basis. I have two other students who want to go home early every time they have menstrual cramps. I have three other students who want to open the window even when it's cold outside because they don't know what to make of how much they've recently begun to sweat around their armpits.

And as I write this, I'm sitting across from a student who started out as one of my best but hasn't spoken to me all afternoon and refuses to even look at the unsolved math problems on the desk.

My job is to try to ease the transition to middle school, but I'm just one person amidst this whole scene of stress. Last year, when my job was to teach about puberty and friendships and communication, I think I helped to ease some of the confusion. However, I still was not the guidance counselor, and I still was not the English teacher. Now, I'm an afterschool team leader, technically concerned with the whole child and technically only needing to focus on a dozen children -- yet even now I know they need much more attention than I can give them.

They need more attention, more explanations, more validations, and much more tutoring. (Come tutor my students!)

Back to the point: I've been thinking a lot recently about school restructuring. What would middle school look like if we took what we know about puberty, adolescent emotional development, and peer dynamics and we structured a school with insight into these processes at its center, placing priority on meeting these social-emotional needs? What would middle school look like?

Monday, March 8, 2010

Blogging for International Women's Day

Judith Butler wrote about the imperative to recognize all bodies as human. Today, for International Women's Day and as a new installment of my body positive series, I write about the need to recognize all bodies as deserving.

What does "equal rights for all" mean to you? To me, having equal rights means deserving. To have a right to something means to deserve it without having to prove yourself or earn it or live up to some set standard.

Among other things, all people deserve pleasure. During the body positive challenge, I have discovered how important it is to find healthy ways to act on my body's desire for pleasure. But I'm not always able to perceive myself as deserving of such pleasure, and neither are many people I know.

Often we use pleasure as a reward for children. As a teacher, I know it's useful, and I'm guilty of this trap myself. Students earn candy, extra snacks, a party, or a chance to listen to music. We teach children that pleasure is a reward for hard work and success.

The media continues this lesson when it comes to gender or sexual dynamics. Men deserve pleasure if they’re rich, if they're assertive, if they're convincing. Women, well, women rarely deserve pleasure, but at the very least she must be thin and buxom if she wants a chance.

Equal rights for all means we all deserve pleasure, no matter how much money, weight, or homework we may have. The pursuit of equal rights for all means that we must empower each other to pursue pleasure. We must validate desire as important and informative. We must want and seek more, together.

To conclude, I return to my students -- to adolescents. Instead of teaching them that pleasure is a reward doled out by others, how about teaching that pleasure is something they deserve to ask for?

Learning and teaching sexuality education has helped me connect to myself as a person among all people deserving of equal rights. Furthermore, I see sexuality education as a potential site for teaching adolescents to exercise agency -- to identify how they feel and what they want, and to communicate their desires effectively. Such education includes learning to ask explicitly for consent and understanding that yes means yes and is just as valid a response as no, which means no.

In order to counter the ways in which the psychology of sexism and patriarchy prevent us from feeling deserving and accessing or equal rights, we need to turn to conversation and education amongst ourselves, with our neighbors, and especially with teenagers. Let’s empower the next generation to get theirs.