Take the Taco or Beer Challenge

Are you a woman?  Do you love someone who is female?  Do you believe you have or she has the right to her own body and mind? Do you like tacos or beer?  If you answered yes to any of these questions, please support this campaign to give women more control over their own destinies: Taco or Beer Challenge.  It’s a heck of a lot more fun that dumping ice on your head. Tacos-Beer-Abortion_014258285620

This morning I donated money to Trust Women Foundation through this campaign.   Check out some videos of other like-minded here.

BTW, I don’t like all the F-bombs in the subsequent blurb, but the cause is good.  Please check it out.  Taco or Beer Challenge.

Or simply donate to this excellent cause: TRUST WOMEN.

10 good reasons not to call your ex

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Roxane Robitaille, a wise couples therapist, has the following advice for those who are going through a hard time after a breakup.     I found the following very helpful:

Some years ago, I went through a difficult break-up. When my relationship came to an end, one of the most difficult things for me was deciding whether or not to call him back. I have to come clean and admit I did call him, many times (sigh). Unfortunately, these phone calls never went the way I wished they would go. Being a professional on-again off –again couple we went back and forth for months. I knew deep down that the relationship was making me miserable, yet I wanted to “fix” it, cause no one likes to feel miserable right? These phone calls sometimes lead to more sadness; they sometimes lead us to seeing each other again for a short while. As you read the following, ask yourself why you want to be in a relationship. Is it because you want to have children? Is it because you’re afraid of being alone? Well, think about this, the on-again off-again relationship is very likely to be nothing but a waste of your precious time, time you could be spending taking care of you and feeling ready to meet someone who sees just how fabulous you are. If you do want to have children, do you want to be with a partner like this one? A partner who left you for reasons you don’t really understand, a partner who makes you the future-mom-to-be feel less than amazing, a partner who doesn’t accept and love everything about you and wants you to change, a partner whom you want to change? If things do get patched up between the two of you, are you going to be sitting right back here in 6 months? In a year? Don’t call him babe.

1. You should feel desired and confident. I’m guessing that if you’re reading an article about why not to call your ex it’s not because you’re feeling like an energized, gorgeous, popular and desired person. You feel rejected and you want that feeling to go away. So you think about calling him back and smoothing things over. But calling him will inevitably make you feel worse.

2. You might make things worse. Are you feeling angry at him right now? Are you feeling vulnerable and lonely? You might blow up at him like a crazy-lady or you might end up crying and pleading on the phone for him to take you back. In either case, not a good situation (I am speaking from personal experience here, unfortunately). Do you really want to convince him to be with you? Argue him into taking you back? Plead yourself back into this relationship? Why should you convince anyone to be with you? You’re amazing!

3. What if he doesn’t answer? He has caller-ID doesn’t he? He’ll see that you’ve called. Are you going to call back in 5 minutes? In an hour? Tomorrow? Are you going to leave a message? What if he doesn’t call you back? You’ll be sitting there wondering why he’s not calling you back. And you’ll sit there, like I did, doubting yourself because you ex is not calling you back. If you’re anything like me, you’ll be frantically looking at your phone every 10 minutes to see whether you have any missed calls or missed messages. Here’s an idea: turn the phone off. You can do it. When you turn off your phone, you are taking back control and not letting yourself become obsessed with him his call. Free yourself from the phone and decide that for now you have better things to do than sit by the phone and wait for him to call you.

4. And if he answers? He might be busy and hang up in haste. Or he might not be so hot about hearing your voice on the line. But what if the convo goes well? Well honey, even if the conversation goes well, and he’s not likely to cry out: “oh baby, I’m so glad you called, I’m sorry I dumped you, let’s get back together!” And I’m sure anything less than that would be disappointing to you. Right? You’ll be hanging up sad, disappointed or angry.

5. You might end up in bed. If he does want to see you after he’s dumped you, and he’s happy to come over and hang out with you, he might want sex. That may feel nice for you as well, because let’s face it, our exes are our most intimate partners. It’s also the easiest person to sleep with after a breakup. You might feel connected for a short while, but honey this guy dumped you (cheated on you, didn’t want to get married to you, didn’t listen to you, didn’t spend enough time with you, didn’t make you feel like your best self, deceived you…) so why are you having sex with him? Although, you are a hot mamacita, your lover should see way more in you than your hot physical looks.

6. He’s not the one calling you. If your ex wanted to get you back and was madly in love with you, he would let you know. He would cross all bridges and climb all mountains to get to you. So let him call you and let him prove to you that he deserves to be with hotty such as yourself. Be strong. Don’t give-in. Think highly of yourself. Don’t sell yourself cheaply. And don’t call him back. Let him come back to you if that is what’s in the cards for you. Think that you are worthy of a man coming back to you with flowers and sweeping you off your feet.

7. Is he that great anyways? Even though he might have left you, and even though he may very well have been a super-stand-up guy, he wasn’t perfect either right? I mean, he dumped you, so there’s obviously is something wrong with him! He couldn’t appreciate what a prize you truly are.

8. There’s someone better for you out there. You know this is true (I hope). Right now it just feels like you might be alone forever. You might get caught up in the false beliefs that all good guys are taken and that it’s hard to meet someone. Those kinds of thoughts only make you feel more desperate and make you think you’d better hang on to this one. Well, no. I’m not having it. There are plenty of really good guys (good looking ones too!) out there who would feel happy to call you every day and spend time building a relationship with you. Imagine what your perfect relationship would feel like. Now multiply that by 10 and that’s what’s out there waiting for you right now. So turn off the phone, get out there in the world and open yourself up the possibilities that are all around you. Try to going out anywhere, to the supermarket, to a coffee shop, to the pet-store, anywhere, and smile at people. Just smile. Smile at men, smile at women, smile at kids, smile at the elderly. People will smile back at you. Now how good does that feel? There are plenty of people out there you can easily engage with just by smiling. Get out of your sweat-pants and go out and smile at people. Start to feel it IS true: there is someone better for you out there.

9. You’re not taking advantage of your time alone. When relationships end, we are left with a whole lot of extra free time. Time that used to be spend on doing fun activities together, time shared having meals and interesting conversations together. But wait! You are still a fun-loving, interesting person! Take advantage of this time to get to know yourself, to heal your vulnerable heart, and to love yourself. Do some of the things you like, surround yourself with people who care about you, call a friend. Take out your agenda and try to schedule fun things for yourself for the night, for the weekend etc. If you know in advance how you are going to fill your time, you’re not going to feel so obsessed with calling him because you’re going to be busy (and happy hopefully!). I know this is going to sound unoriginal, but look at the breakup as a time to re-evaluate your life. Take it as an experience in personal growth. There is nothing more attractive than a woman who is confident and happy with herself!

10. You are meant to have and enjoy a wonderful life. All aspects of your life are meant to lift you up and make you feel good about yourself. You don’t need to wait around for another person to give you what you need. How can you make yourself feel more wanted and secure? As a friend once told me, bees are naturally attracted to a piece of sugar. Sugar doesn’t have to do anything except being its sweet self, and all the bees want to be around it. So go ahead honey, make yourself feel well, beautiful and happy, that’s really all you have to do to attract to you the perfect partner, and a wonderful happy life.

Gamble Everything for Love

The Sufi poet

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Rumi (1207-1273) ,who was known as Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Balkhī (Persian: جلال‌الدین محمد بلخى‎) and Mawlānā/Molānā  (Persian: مولانا‎) wrote:

Gamble everything for love,
if you’re a true human being.

If not, leave
this gathering.

Half-heartedness doesn’t reach
into majesty.  You set out
to find God, but then you keep
stopping for long periods
at mean-spirited roadhouses.

Peer Gynt (2006-2013) Greatest Cat in the World

Peer Gynt,

My amazing cat, Peer Gynt, died last week.  I called him my boyfriend because he was the first being who came here and stayed, and only after much upset and dissatisfaction on both sides.  He was big and orange and stripy, like a mini-tiger, and fat, and lazy, and lazier and fatter every year.   He complained loudly when he wanted attention, or when breakfast wasn’t served promptly enough.  Sometimes he even pawed at my bedroom door.  He convinced people in the neighborhood that he needed food with his piteous meowing.  They call me up and say, “I found your cat.  He seems really hungry…”  even though he was a bruiser and had plenty to eat at home and, to boot, wore a tag that said “In-outdoor cat.  Do not feed.”

He was an alley cat, the mayor of the neighborhood, everybody’s cat, really.  My neighbor, Lisa, called him “Pussy L’Orange” and loved him, I thought, much better than I did.  She let him sit on her lap and get his cat hair all over her clothing.  My dear friend Tim, who lives down the alley, held Peer for hours and hours a day, letting him sleep on his chest.  He was a protector, a guardian, a friend.  I called him the sleep guru because it he lulled everyone he curled up against into dreamland.  And now he is sleeping in my back yard.  He was not afraid of dogs.  When we brought a 5 month-old Siberian Husky, a reputed cat-killer, into his home, he calmly stared her down and made it clear that he was in charge.  He held his ground when we brought in another, goofy, Husky Puppy, who grew to be 70 pounds.  Peer kept them both in line.  Some people called him a dog-cat, or cat-dog, because he often behaved more like a dog than a cat.

Peer Gynt standing watch over Freya and Baldr

My friend Tim helped me lower him into the grave, wrapped in a lovely old cotton blanket my parents brought back from Wyoming.  It seemed fitting, as Peer was a Western Cat, a fighter, a lover.

The funeral was lovely.  Some of the kids from the neighborhood, who knew and loved him, came over.  Each of us said what we loved about him and then cast a flower into his grave.  Then I read from Christopher Smart‘s Jubilate Agno, which one of the kids actually knew about.  Smart wrote what must be the greatest poem on a cat while confined for lunacy in Bedlam Asylum between 1759 and 1763.

1     For I will consider my Cat Jeoffry.
2     For he is the servant of the Living God duly and daily serving him.

19   For having consider’d God and himself he will consider his neighbour.
20   For if he meets another cat he will kiss her in kindness.
21   For when he takes his prey he plays with it to give it a chance.
22   For one mouse in seven escapes by his dallying.
23   For when his day’s work is done his business more properly begins.
24   For he keeps the Lord’s watch in the night against the adversary.
25   For he counteracts the powers of darkness by his electrical skin and glaring eyes.
26   For he counteracts the Devil, who is death, by brisking about the life.
27   For in his morning orisons he loves the sun and the sun loves him.

Peer with his friend, Anitra

I loved my cat, Peer Gynt.

I send him to his grave with lines from Ibsen.  This is the lullaby that Solveig, who has loved him forever, sings to him at the end of the play:

Sleep thou, dearest boy of mine!

I will cradle thee, I will watch thee —

The boy has been sitting on his mother’s lap.

They two have been playing all the life-day long.

The boy has been resting at his mother’s breast

all the life-day long. God’s blessing on my joy!

The boy has been lying close in to my heart

all the life-day long. He is weary now.

Sleep thou, dearest boy of mine!

I will cradle thee, I will watch thee.

Peer on my bed

The Beauty of Being Very Quiet

Hendrick Jansz ter Brugghen (or Terbrugghen) (1588 – 1629) Old Man Writing

When I was six or seven, my parents went on vacation and left my brother and me with the German ironing lady and her husband, neither of whom spoke English.  We lived in Augsburg then, on an army base, and employed a local woman to wash, fold, and iron our clothes.  She also served as a babysitter from time to time.

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The ironing lady and her husband were elderly and unaccustomed to rambunctious children.  They lived in a small apartment stuffed with large, dark, polished wooden furniture.   One day I was sitting at the dining table with the ironing lady’s husband, who was writing something with a fountain pen.  I am not sure how it happened, but my brother was probably napping and I had decided to be both very quiet and very alert.  I became utterly absorbed in the experience of listening to the sound of the pen scratching on the parchment, gazing at the old man’s mild face, and sensing my slight weight on the chair in the atmosphere of that cozy, small space.  I tasted the flavor of the air, smelled the ink and the old man and the wood and the carpet, and felt a thrilling, exquisite pleasure of curiosity about everything that I was sensing from moment to moment, second to second.

I did not want it ever to end, and sat utterly still, rapt in what I knew to be both profound and ordinary.  It was the first time in my life that I realized that simply sitting and paying attention could be enjoyable.  It was so easy to be patient, so wonderful and beautiful to experience watching and listening.  I felt as though there was a powerful, fragile tension between myself and the old man, and that my very stillness and quietness was part of his writing and thinking and breathing there, across the table from me, the table that I could barely see over, as though in that room at that moment a fantastic energy sprang alive and palpable and real and exciting.

This was a moment of what is called Abhyasa,  in the Sütras of Pantanjali.    Abhyasa might be described as a measured, calm, yet determined intention to pay attention to what is, as opposed to a wild, rushing and blasting and pushing energy, or the reckless passion with which, for example, a warrior flies into battle, or an athlete dedicates all her energy and power to winning a match or scaling a steep hill.  Abhyasa is experience without reaction, awareness without judgment, perception without response.

As I sat with the old man writing, I was stirred, but not stirred into any response other than observing his movements as something to observe.  I liked the activity of observation, and became, later, attached to the pleasure I remembered having during this moment.  This attachment, of course, became a source of suffering because it was something that I could not will into being, and had to wait for.

A Yoga Sequence to Cope with Lower Back Pain

Like many people, I have developed a weakness at the base of my spine precisely where the lowest vertebra of the lumbar spine, L5, meets the first vertebra of the sacrum, S1.

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Many people experience pain at this intersection, where the flexible lumbar vertebrae curves up and back, and the inflexible, fused sacral vertebrae curve down and forward. When this structure becomes overstressed, the disc between the vertebrae gets compressed, or squished, and bulges out, putting pressure on the sciatic nerve and causing pain.  When severely stressed, the disc herniates, or protrudes outside of the spine.   Fortunately, my disc has not yet degenerated to that point.  Nevertheless, my disc had degenerated enough to make it hard for me to bend forward, to walk, and to stand.

As luck would have it, this condition flared up during the year in which I trained to become a yoga teacher.  At first I could not figure out why I could not relax comfortably in Shavasana or move into and out of Virabhadrasana without extreme pain.  After ten years of pushing myself in yoga practice, I had to pull way back and accept the limitations of my body.  I consulted a physiatrist, who sent me to a very good physical therapist, and took a break from all forward bending for two months.

All the forward bends that I thought were so good for my spine were actually worsening my condition, because the movement encouraged the disc between L5 and S1 to bulge out further.  In addition, other muscles in my core began tighten up as they overcompensated for the  weakness at the base of my spine.  My psoas muscles, which runs from the middle point of the spine over in front of the sacrum and down to the femurs, the large thigh bone, were overly consctricted and working like a tight rubber band that bent me forward at the base of my spine.  Furthermore, deep in my back musculature, the quadratus lumborum that run from the top of the lumbar spine down to the sacrum, were also overly tight.   In consultation with my physical therapist, I developed a yoga sequence to release these muscles, strengthen my abdominals,  and regain some of the flexibility I had lost.

For the first two weeks I did nothing more than simple press-ups, a variation on Bhujangasana, or cobra, in which you press your arms into the mat until they are straight, raising the chest and hips but leaving the legs on the mat while releasing all muscles in the buttocks.  I still begin every session with ten repetitions of this simple back-opener.

For weeks three and four I tightened my abdominal muscles with uddiyana and mula bhanda locks as often as possible–especially when moving from a seated to a standing position, or while seated and standing.  Basically: all the time.

Here is the sequence I started with.  It helps me a lot.  A word of caution:  if you have severe back pain due to sciatia, a herniated or degenerated disc, please do not practice these exercises without consulting your physician or physical therapist. 

Also, as always in yoga, let pain be your guide.  If you begin to feel an intense, burning or cutting pain, immediately cease what you are doing.  Seek sthira and sukkha, discipline and sweetness, a balance between exertion and ease, in every asana.

Bhujangasana variation.  10x. Lying face down on floor, bring your hands along the body just beneath your shoulders.  Press your palms against the mat to lift your chest and hips up,  keeping your buttock muscles loose.

Benefits of bhujangasana: strengthens and stretches the spine, opens chest and shoulders, relieves pain from sciatica and herniated discs.

Shalabasana (Locust)  4x  Lying face down on the mat with arms along the body. Strongly pulling your shoulder blades together, lift your chest and thighs off the mat, lengthening the crown of the head away from the feet and the feet away from the body.  Hold here for three breaths.

Benefits of Shalabasana: Strenthens the lumbar spine; helps the psoas muscle to release, posterior hip and thigh muscles, opens the shoulders and chest.

Dhanruasana (Bow) 3x  Lie face down on the floor. Bend knees and grasp ankles, one at a time.  Pull your chest  and thighs up while squeezing shoulder blades together.  Hold for three breaths.

Benefits of Dhanurasana: stretches the psoas, flexes the lumbar quadratus, strengthens the spine, opens shoulders, chest and throat.

In between each pose, Rest in a passive neck stretch–bringing your head all the way to the floor, turned, alternately to the left and right, for three full breaths.

Setu Bandhasana (Bridge)3x  From a supine position on your back, bend your knees and bring your heels towards your hips, keeping the feet hip-width apart.  Lift your hips by pressing your upper back against the floor and lengthening the stomach and spine.  Tuck your shoulders underneath your back and grasp your fingers together. Release your buttocks muscles and hold yourself here by pushing your feet against the floor.   Hold for 3 or 4 breaths.  Exit by unclasping the fingers and slowly lowering the spine to the floor, one vertebrae at a time.

Benefits of Setu Bandhasana: strengthens middle and upper spine, stretches psoas; relieves low back tightness.  It also may alleviate symptoms of depression by increasing circulation to the thyroid gland.

Dhammapada, 1:1-2

All experience is preceded by mind,

Led by mind,

Made by mind.

Speak or act with a corrupted mind,

And suffering follows

As the wagon wheel follows the hoof of the ox.

All experience is preceded by mind,

Led my mind,

Made by mind

Speak or act with a peaceful mind,

And happiness follows

Like a never-departing shadow.

Buddha, Dhamapada  1:1-2

The first verses of the Dhammapada remind us to guide our thinking, because our thoughts inform our experience.  Everything that we go through, every event, we interpret with our minds.  But experience also has a way of shaping the way we interpret our experiences.  The families into which we were born, the people and cultures that shaped us, inform our minds, the ways we see the world.  So, for example, a child who is mistreated from the moment she is born,who is told that she is worthless and stupid and incompetent, nothing more than a thing to be used by others, is likely to grow up with a false understanding of herself.  She will not know her true nature as a being of light and beauty, deserving of all love.  She will have a corrupted mind, and suffering will follow her.

The wonderful knowledge that the Buddha offers to us here is this: no matter what has happened to us, no matter how corrupted our ways of understanding the world have been, each one of us has the freedom and the power to learn, through practice, to step aside, as it were, from the false, corrupt thoughts that have been imbued in us, and to have a “peaceful mind.” This is the only path to lasting happiness.

 

In the Viper Pit: Male Rape and Military Sexual Trauma (MST)

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This blog post explores some of the bio-psycho-social-spiritual effects of sexual assault on male survivors of Military Sexual Trauma (MST).  Although the percentage of female survivors of MST is greater than the percentage of male survivors, the number of men who have sustained this trauma far exceeds the number of female survivors, since the veteran population remains overwhelmingly male.  Men who have been sexually assaulted are as likely if not more likely to develop post-traumatic stress syndrome as veterans who have experienced combat-related trauma.   There is virtually no research on male survivors, who face some different problems than female survivors of MST  and who generally have greater difficulty discussing or seeking treatment for their trauma.  It is vital for social workers to educate themselves about men’s issues with MST and to develop novel ways to make it easier for male survivors to discuss their experiences.

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The Problem
We have heard a great deal about the plight of female military service personnel who experience sexual assault at the hands of their fellow soldiers lately, but very little about male survivors of Military Sexual Trauma (MST).  A small but growing number of articles about the bio-psycho-social-spiritual effects of MST demonstrate that this corrosive, criminal activity leads more certainly to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) than combat experience in women (Calhoun, 1994; Campbell, Dworkin, & Cabral, 2009; Donna L. Washington et al., 2010; M. M. Kelly et al., 2008; U. A. Kelly, Skelton, Patel, & Bradley, 2011; Kimerling, Gima, Smith, Street, & Frayne, 2007; Mary Ann Boyd; Sharon Valente & Callie Wight, 2007; Turchik & Wilson, 2010).  There are as yet no studies showing that MST is as likely or more likely to lead to PTSD in male survivors, but there are in fact very few studies on male survivors of this trauma.  Furthermore, while feminist social workers and theorists have rightly pointed to the devastating physical, psychological, social and spiritual affects that the hyper-masculinist military culture has had on women, we have only just begun to pay attention to how this culture has affected men.  In this paper, I examine some of the bio-psycho-social-spiritual causes and effects of sexual assaults by men against their male military personnel.

The Veterans Administration (VA) defines MST as “psychological trauma, which in the judgment of a VA mental health professional, resulted from a physical assault of a sexual nature, battery of a sexual nature, or sexual harassment which occurred while the Veteran was serving on active duty of active duty for training.”  The VA further defines sexual harassment as “repeated, unsolicited verbal or physical contact of a sexual nature which is threatening in nature” (Affairs, 2010). Male survivors of MST are only now beginning to speak about their experiences.  Although women constitute by far the greater percentage of survivors of MST in the military, the number of men who have experienced this trauma is much larger than the number of women, since the military remains overwhelmingly male (Affairs, 2010).  Indeed, the number of living veterans who experienced MST over the course of last seventy years is probably far greater than we could possibly estimate.   Cultural attitudes towards gender and sexuality changed dramatically during that period, but mainstream culture has remained cramped by rigid gender norms.  Although the entrance of women and very recent toleration for homosexuality in the armed forces has dramatically altered military culture, it remains hierarchical and masculinist (Burgess, Slattery, & Herlihy, 2013).  Masculinism is the arbitrary elevation of all things masculine over all things feminine.  Within military and civilian life, men’s experiences of MST are bound to differ from women’s.

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What are the bio-psycho-social-spiritual effects of this trauma in general? Consider some of these stories: Less than two weeks after Greg Jeloudov joined the army at the age of 35,  fellow-soldiers gang-raped him in the shower at Fort Benning, Georgia.   They didn’t like his Russian-Irish accent.   They didn’t like his previous history as an actor.  They called him a “commie faggot” and said, “We don’t like actors here.…We especially don’t like Russian and Irish actors.” (Duell, 2011).  They beat and sodomized him in 2009, and now Mr. Jeloudov takes 13 different medicines as he struggles with PTSD, depression, nightmares, and thoughts of suicide.   “Being a male victim is horrible,” Theodore James Skovranek told a reporter.  In 2003 soldiers grabbed and held him down while another shoved his genitals in his face.  He shrugged it off at the time, but said, “I walked around for a long time thinking: I don’t feel like a man. But I don’t feel like a woman either.  So there’s just this void.”

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In 1974, three Whitman Air Force Base servicemen jumped, beat, and sodomized Michael Matthews, who had just graduated from high school. Afraid to report the incident, Matthews became depressed and suicidal.  His first two marriages foundered while he suffered in silence.  “I lived with this beast in my head for nearly 30 years, before telling my wife and going for counseling” (Evans, 2012).

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Higher-ranking enlisted soldiers in Norfolk raped Thomas F. Drapac on three separate occasions in 1963. He, too, kept the assaults to the himself for decades, worried about his sexuality and drowned his recurring nightmares in alcohol and sex (Dao, 2013).

Sexual trauma, like combat trauma, injures the brain and the body in both men and women.  During the moment of attack, the sympathetic nervous system engages and stimulates a flood of cortisol throughout the system, elevating blood pressure, heart rate, inducing sweating and a hyper-aroused sensory state.  This is the “fight-or-flight” response that humans and other animals experience when we sense danger.   Because the victim of sexual trauma is temporarily rendered helpless to fight or flee, he is overwhelmed; his ordinary adaptations to life break down (Herman, 1992, 1997). The most fundamental psychological element of trauma is a feeling of “intense fear, helplessness, loss of control, and threat of annihilation” (Herman, 1992, 1997).  The neural system is injured: people who have been traumatized often feel as though their nervous systems have become unplugged from reality. (Herman, 1992, 1997).

It is difficult to separate the biological from the psychological effects of trauma, since the brain is corporeal, an organ within the biological organism.  Like all traumatized persons, MST survivors frequently re-live the initial moment of trauma in a sensory fashion, because the memory of the event is so terrible that it has not yet been incorporated, as it were, into the set of stories that a person recalls and retells about him- or herself in the past.

This happens because traumatic memories do not encode the same way that ordinary memories do.  They tend to be experienced as “fixed images” or vivid sensations felt in the body but incapable of being expressed in words.  These non-integrated, traumatic memories frequently intrude upon the traumatic survivor (Herman, 1992, 1997).  Involuntarily pulled back into the moment through nightmares or flashbacks, the traumatized person experiences the flood of cortisol again and again, enduring an overload of stress that impairs the immune system and weakens the heart.

Because of the association of sodomy with homosexuality, and the military’s long-standing, profoundly heterosexist bias, many male survivors of MST have been afraid to speak about their experiences.  Living with unprocessed traumatic memories and untreated PTSD over decades, as many survivors have done, can lead to dementia (Chao et al., 2010).  Dementia can be understood as a biological degeneration of the brain and psychological and spiritual disintegration, a kind of wasting away of the mind and soul that has profound social consequences.   Trauma effects people in similar ways.

Traumatized people typically experience what Herman calls “constriction,” the trance that the person transfixed by helplessness and terror experiences at the moment of the assault, as well as the disorientation and psychic numbing, even to the point of paralysis, that the survivor experiences in the aftermath of trauma.  Constriction interferes with purposeful action and initiative as well as with anticipation and planning for the future.

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Men who experience this common side-affect of trauma, but who are unable to speak about it or unwilling to seek treatment, may regard themselves as weak failures, men who are not “men” insofar as they are unable to meet cultural expectations that they pursue productive and lucrative action in the world.  Indeed, many if not most men who experienced MST report that their masculinity was impaired or damaged.

Masculinity is a social construction, a sense of self formed in opposition to what is construed as femininity (Bourdieu, 2001). The U.S. military sustains an aggressively hierarchical, patriarchal, and homophobic culture.   By homophobic I mean not “fear of men,” as the name implies, but rather, and ironically, “fear of femininity,” especially in men.  As Pierre Bourdieu observes, masculinity is continually demonstrated in dynamic display:

Like honor–or shame, its reverse side, which we know, in contrast to guilt, is felt before others–manliness must be validated by other men, in its reality as actual or potential violence, and certified by recognition of membership of the group of ‘real men’.  A number of rites of institution, especially in education or military milieu, include veritable tests of manliness oriented toward the reinforcement of male solidarity.  Practices such as some gang rapes…are designed to challenge those under test to prove before others their virility in its violent reality, in other words stripped of all the devirilizing tenderness and gentleness of love, and they dramatically demonstrate the heteronomy of all affirmations of virility, their dependence on the judgment of the male group.

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The soldiers who raped Greg Jeloudev confirmed their brotherhood and shored up masculinity by brutalizing a man who did not fit in, a man whose alternative manifestation of manliness challenged and threatened their own, precarious sense of themselves as men.  They could not tolerate his very difference.  The drill process by which soldiers are allegedly “broken down” often employs a similar dynamic.  The sergeant seeks to humiliate and shame the recruit by demeaning and “feminizing” him, insisting that he is not a “man” until he can himself turn off his emotions, eradicate his softness, and become a killing machine.

The actor in the following clip from Full Metal Jacket (Kubrik, 1987is notorious because was a former marine and gunnery sergeant originally hired only as an advisor.  Unsatisfied with the performance of the actor designated to play the part, he stepped in to demonstrate how the military turns what he here calls a “maggot” and a “lady” into a “weapon, a minister of death”:

Manliness in the military is constructed as the conquest of womanliness, of tenderness, of weakness, of that which is to be despised, demeaned, and dominated.The particularly pernicious effect that this obscene social dynamic has upon the male soldiers who have been raped by their fellows (a method of social cruelty that humans alone among all the animals perpetrate) is that they must become their worst enemies in order to survive.  They must adopt the mentality and sadistic behavior demanded in order to demonstrate that they are, indeed, men, or forever be spat upon as reviled, womanly outcasts who deserve nothing more than to be dominated again and again.

As with women who suffer MST, male survivors who are deployed or in the field often become captive to the culture, forced to endure the indignity of working alongside their abusers without recourse to any justice or understanding.   To report the attack, even to acknowledge its occurrence to one’s self, is to risk being subjected to further, unbearable humiliation and disgrace.   Before the Pentagon reversed its total ban on homosexuality in the service, anyone who reported having been assaulted was generally assumed to be unfit for duty.  “If you made a complaint, then you are gay and you’re out that that’s it,” Drapac explains.   Even though this would theoretically not take place in today’s military, for a man to admit that he has been “unmanned” in a culture that insists that manliness is superior to all other states of being requires immense courage, because the trauma cancels out his trust in others as well as himself (Herman, 1992).

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Moreover, because it radically destabilizes his understanding of himself as a male being in relation to other men and women, it unmoors his sexual identity and leaves him feeling lost, sexless, neither male nor female.  “Men don’t acknowledge being victims of sexual assault,” reports Dr. Carol O’Brien, who heads the PTSD program at Bay Pines Veterans Affairs Health Care System in Florida.  “Men tend to feel a great deal of shame, embarrassment and fear that others will respond negatively” (Dao, 2013). If, as happens in a small number of cases, the rapist is a woman, the male survivor of MST feels even further demeaned and unmoored.

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Male survivors may surely also experience spiritual isolation and confusion, through the inevitable question, “why me?” and the despair and self-loathing that fundamentally misconstrues his true nature.  He descends into a spiritual malaise, a separation from a sense of purpose and meaning in the world.   In fact the military culture that overtly promotes or covertly tolerates hyper-masculine concepts of honor is spiritually corrupt. When men and women embrace an ideal based on the arbitrary elevation of masculinity over femininity they exist not in harmony with one another, but rather in a permanent state of war against themselves.

The Population Concerned

The VA has been using an assessment tool to screen for MST since 2000  (Rowe, Gradus, Pineles, Batten, & Davison, 2009).  A 2012 study of a subset of veterans of 213,803 veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan diagnosed with PTSD from April 1, 2002, to October 1, 2008, found that 31 % of the women and 1% of the mean screened positively for MST (Maguen et al., 2012).    Because the overwhelming number of veterans is male, the number of men is roughly equivalent to the number of women who have experienced MST.  Within this population, 12% of the men and 7% of the women have substance abuse problems, while 56% of the men and 70% of the women suffer from depression.  Male survivors of MST with PTSD displayed less frequency of comorbid depression, anxiety, and eating disorders than the female counterparts.  Both women and men with a history of MST were more likely to have three or more comorbid mental health diagnoses than those with PTSD who had not experienced MST (Maguen et al., 2012).  The most recent Department of Defense Annual Report on Sexual Assaults estimates that roughly 26,000 service members experienced sexual assault or unwanted sexual contact in 2012, an increase of 6% from the previous year.

According to the Department of Defense, sexual assault refers to “a range of crimes, including rape, sexual assault, nonconsensual sodomy, aggravated sexual contact, abusive sexual contact, and attempts to commit these offenses” (Defense, 2013). Incidents of sexual assault took place equally, in proportion to the number of troops in each division, throughout the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines.  The vast majority of the persons investigated for sexual assault were male, under the age of 35, and enlisted.  Of the reports made, only 12% of the victims were male, but the Department of Defense estimates that 53% of all the assaults actually committed were committed by men against men.   The Department of Military Affairs does not break down their statistics by race or ethnic identity.  Nor does is estimate the total number of living veterans who may have experienced MST.

Social Work Interventions

Social workers have not adequately addressed the problem of men’s experiences of MST. There is little published research on male survivors of MST, and so far no scientific or theoretical discussions designed to guide social workers engaged in practice with the male veterans who have endured this terrible trauma. The 2012 “Handbook of Military Social Work” only discusses MST in a chapter on women in the Military, utterly ignoring the phenomenon.  A different guide for social work with veterans published the same year includes a chapter on MST but only briefly touches upon male survivors.  What is especially needed is a body of literature from social workers, psychologists, and other behavioral health professionals who have worked directly with male veterans suffering from combat- and military sexual trauma.

One very helpful, recent resource is the forthcoming documentary film that social worker Geri Lynn Weinstein-Matthews and her husband, Michael Matthews, have produced.

“Justice Denied” examines sexual assault and rape against men in the U.S. armed forces.  Michael’s experience of rape as a 19 year-old airman is mentioned above (Evans, 2012).  An NASW blog, “Social Workers Speak” has included a few references to male soldiers suffering from MST, but the NASW needs to bring much more attention to this topic (NASW, 2013).

Conclusions and Recommendations

Military sexual trauma is a serious affliction affecting thousands of male veterans and military service personnel, whose problems social workers have only recently begin to understand. Like many people, I originally understood the problem solely as a women’s issue, since the increasing numbers of women soldiers and increasingly expanded roles for women in the service has brought this topic to the foreground of public discussion.  Recently changed policies and slowly changing attitudes towards homosexual soldiers has made it easier for men to speak out.  Sexually traumatized men are not homosexual by virtue of having been attacked, of course, and, in fact, most of the men who rape or sexually assault other men in the military are heterosexual.  As I explain above, sexual assault is a means of domination, of demonstrating masculinity.  It has very little to do with sexual desire.  Yet until recently men who reported that they had been assaulted were, tragically and unjustly, regarded as homosexual and therefore dismissed dishonorably from service.

Former victim testifies before a Senate committee investigating military sexual trauma. AP photo by Carolyn Kaster via KiroTV.com
Former victim testifies before a Senate committee investigating military sexual trauma. AP photo by Carolyn Kaster via KiroTV.com

Male-on-male sexual assault illuminates the fragility and complexity of masculine sexuality in general and illuminates the highly constructed nature of gender identity.  Mild assault as well as violent rape can damage a man’s psychological and spiritual understanding of himself as a “man,” especially in a culture with particularly rigid and narrow notions of masculinity and femininity.  The fault lies not in the man, but rather in the culture at large.

I’d like to see many more seminars for clinicians as well as survivors on the spiritual damage that MST inflicts on men as well as on our culture, seminars that would focus on the spiritual poverty of masculinism and patriarchy in general.  But therapists also need much more training and guidance in working with men who have survived this biologically and psychologically damaging trauma.

Social workers need to build new understandings of how to address and approach men who traditionally do not seek therapeutic healing, and we also need to advocate for a broader discussion of the issue in general.   I’d like to see government funding for scientific studies as well as for training social workers to engage this particularly vulnerable and forgotten population.

This will not be easy.  Men, especially military men who have served their country as soldiers, don’t want to be treated as victims.  Therefore we need to find novel and sensitive ways to discuss their experiences in ways that uphold their sense of themselves as strong, independent, and honorable human beings, respected members of the community, and beloved fathers, brothers, cousins, uncles, and grandfathers.

References

Affairs, U.S. Department of Veterans. (2010). Military Sexual Trauma.

Bourdieu, Pierre. (2001). Masculine Domination. Stanford: Stanford UP.

Burgess, Ann W., Slattery, Donna M., & Herlihy, Patricia A. (2013). Military Sexual Trauma: A Silent Syndrome. Journal of Psychosocial Nursing & Mental Health Services, 51(2), 20-26. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.3928/02793695-20130109-03

Calhoun, Rachel Kimerling and Karen S. (1994). Somatic Symptoms, Social Support, and Treatment Seeking Among Sexual Assault Victims. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 62(2), 333-340.

Campbell, R., Dworkin, E., & Cabral, G. (2009). An ecological model of the impact of sexual assault on women’s mental health. Trauma Violence Abuse, 10(3), 225-246. doi: 10.1177/1524838009334456

Chao, Linda L., Yaffe, Kristine, Neylan, Thomas C., Rothlind, Johannes C., Meyerhoff, Dieter J., & Weiner, Michael W. (2010). Hippocampal atrophy in young veterans with PTSD and cognitive impairment: A potential link between PTSD and dementia. Alzheimer’s & Dementia, 6(4, Supplement), S286. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jalz.2010.05.943

Dao, James. (2013). In debate over military sexual assault, men are overlooked victims, New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/24/us/in-debate-over-military-sexual-assault-men-are-overlooked-victims.html?pagewanted=all

Defense, Department of. (2013). Department of Defense Fiscal Year 2012 Annual Report on Sexual Assault in the Military

Donna L. Washington, MD, MPH, Elizabeth M. Yano, PhD, MSPH, James McGuire, PhD, MSW , Vivian Hines, MSW, ACSW , Martin Lee, PhD, & Lillian Gelberg, MD, MSPH. (2010). Risk factors for Homelessness among Women Veterans. Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Underserved, 21.

Duell, Mark. (2011, 4 April 2011). ‘I was in the middle of the viper’s pit’: Soldier describes gang rape as male-on-male sexual assault in the military increases, Mailonline. Retrieved from http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1373270/Male-male-sexual-assault-soldiers-increases-Greg-Jeloudov-reports-gang-rape.html

Evans, Heidi. (2012). Majority of sexual assaults and rapes commited in military in 2011 were against men, New York Daily News. Retrieved from http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/majority-sexual-assaults-rapes-committed-military-2011-men-article-1.1150235

Herman, Judith. (1992, 1997). Trama and Recovery: The aftermath of violence–from domestic abuse to political terror. New York: Basic Books.

Kelly, M. M., Vogt, D. S., Scheiderer, E. M., Ouimette, P., Daley, J., & Wolfe, J. (2008). Effects of military trauma exposure on women veterans’ use and perceptions of Veterans Health Administration care. J Gen Intern Med, 23(6), 741-747. doi: 10.1007/s11606-008-0589-x

Kelly, U. A., Skelton, K., Patel, M., & Bradley, B. (2011). More than military sexual trauma: interpersonal violence, PTSD, and mental health in women veterans. Res Nurs Health, 34(6), 457-467. doi: 10.1002/nur.20453

Kimerling, R., Gima, K., Smith, M. W., Street, A., & Frayne, S. (2007). The Veterans Health Administration and military sexual trauma. Am J Public Health, 97(12), 2160-2166. doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2006.092999

Kubrik, Stanely (Writer). (1987). Full Metal Jacket.

Maguen, S., Cohen, B., Ren, L., Bosch, J., Kimerling, R., & Seal, K. (2012). Gender differences in military sexual trauma and mental health diagnoses among Iraq and Afghanistan veterans with posttraumatic stress disorder. Womens Health Issues, 22(1), e61-66. doi: 10.1016/j.whi.2011.07.010

Mary Ann Boyd, Wanda Bradshaw, and Marceline Robinson. Mental Health Issues of Women Deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. Arch Psychiatr Nurs, 27(1). doi: 10.1016/j.apnu.2012.10.005

NASW. (2013).  Retrieved from http://www.socialworkersspeak.org/hollywood-connection/justice-denied-will-look-at-sexual-assault-and-rape-against-men-in-the-military.html – sthash.pgssBZj5.dpuf

Rowe, Erin L., Gradus, Jaimie L., Pineles, Suzanne L., Batten, Sonja V., & Davison, Eve H. (2009). Military Sexual Trauma in Treatment-Seeking Women Veterans. Military Psychology, 21(3), 387.

Sharon Valente, PhD FAAN, & Callie Wight, RN C MA. (2007). Military Sexual Trauma: Violence and Sexual Abuse. MILITARY MEDICINE, 172.

Turchik, Jessica A., & Wilson, Susan M. (2010). Sexual assault in the U.S. military: A review of the literature and recommendations for the future. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 15(4), 267-277. doi: 10.1016/j.avb.2010.01.005

Turse, Nick. (2013). Tomgram: Nick Turse, A Rape in Wartime.  Retrieved from From: http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175662/

Forced Reproduction and the Attack on Women’s Subjectivity

My uncle Lars (not his real name) was troubled for much of his life.   He had three daughters by two mothers.  Well after all of them had children of their own, he took up with a much younger woman, “Elena”,  and got her pregnant with a fetus that turned out to be male.  He would have a son and was determined to name him after himself.  Now, I do not know whether or not Elena used drugs, but he claimed that she did and managed to have her locked up in a State prison for the duration of her pregnancy.  Whether a blood test was administered or not I cannot say.  But I do believe that my uncle and the State violated her rights.
Why was he wrong?  Because taking a woman’s autonomy away from her on the grounds that she is endangering her fetus treats her as though she herself is nothing more than a vessel, an incubator, a thing, an object to be used and abused.  Such action pretends to protect the “unborn child,” the fetus, but actually serves the interests of those who take control of the expectant mother.   In this case, my uncle’s interests overwhelmed Elena’s, and the State sanctioned this takeover.  The fact that Elena was Mexican and poor, in addition to being female, made it harder for her to resist their assault.
In a well-known essay entitled, “Are Mother’s Persons?” (in Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture, and the Body, Berkeley, UC Press, 1993) Susan Bordo examines legal precedents and gendered attitudes toward the idea of a person as an embodied subject.  She argues that men are allotted constitutional rights to bodily integrity that women are denied in our country.
For example, in the case of McFall v. Shimp (1979), the court protected the bodily integrity of a man who refused to donate his bone marrow to his cousin, who would certainly die of aplastic anemia without it).  In fact, his cousin did die.  In a similar case, a Seattle woman who pressed the court to force the father of her leukemic child donate his bone marrow was denied.  The law sanctions these refusals on the grounds that a person is an embodied subject.  Thus, as Bordo explains, the law of the land insists that,
the body can never be regarded merely as a site of quantifiable processes that can be assessed objectively, but must be treated as invested with personal meaning, history, and value that are ultimately determinable only by the subject who lives ‘within’ it.  According to the doctrine of informed consent, even when it is ‘for the good’ of the patient, no one else–neither relative nor expert–may determine for the embodied subject what medical risks are worth taking, what procedures are minimally or excessively invasive, what pain is minor.

That is the theory of the embodied subject and informed consent.  In practice, this doctrine has not been applied equally.  Women, especially non-white, poor, or non-English-speaking women (women like Maribel), have been treated differently.  As Bordo puts it, “the pregnant poor woman (especially is she is of non-European descent) comes as close as a human being can get to being regarded, medially and legally, as “mere body.”

Again and again the court has forced women to give birth against their will, or have forced women to have Caesareans  in spite of their clearly stated, religious objections to the procedure.  Women, particularly women of color,  have been sterilized without their knowledge or consent.  Consider these cases:
1985:  Pamela Rae Stewart was charged with criminal neglect for failing to follow medical advice during her pregnancy.
1989: Jennifer Johnson, 23 years old, is sentenced to 15 years probation upon her conviction of delivering illegal drugs via the umbilical cord to her two babies.
1990  A Wyoming woman was charged by the police with the crime of drinking while pregnancy and prosecuted for felony child abuse.
1992: A 28 year-old homeless, pregnant, Native American woman, Martina Greywind, mother of six and addicted to paint fumes, is jailed for recklessly endangering her fetus by inhaling vapors.  She is also sentenced (ironically) to 9 months on a State prison farm.  She eventually won her release from jail and had an abortion.
A Massachusetts woman who miscarried after an automobile accident in which she was intoxicated was prosecuted for vehicular homicide of her fetus. (Bordo)
2008: A SC court overturns a conviction of Regina McKnight, who had already  served 8 years in prison on the grounds that she had “murdered” her stillborn infant by using cocaine during her pregnancy. Source: Alternet
Does the State go after fathers for their drug habits, smoking, alcoholism, reckless driving, physcial and psychological abuse of pregnant women?   No.
A recent study at the University of Bristol concludes that there is no evidence that a woman who drink moderately during their pregnancy endanger their fetuses.
Anti-abortion campaigns routinely ignore the personhood of the mother, arguing increasingly that the fetus, even at the zygote state, has more subjectivity than the woman in whose body it is lodged.  In other words, “as the personhood of the pregnant woman has been drained from her and her function as fetal incubator activated, the subjectivity of the fetus has been elevated” (Bordo).
In other words, it is not only women’s reproductive rights that are being challenged, but women’s status as subjects, embodied persons with inherent rights to say what can and cannot be done to them, that are being threatened by the anti-abortion crusaders.  These opponents of women’s autonomy have launched an assault against the personal integrity of women, whom they would reduce to fetal containers of beings whose rights exceed their own.
What makes pregnant women different than the kind of individuals that Locke, Hobbes, Descartes and others envisioned, is that women have the capacity to contain within the “other” within them.  When we are pregnant we are not singular, and certainly we have a responsibility as ethical human beings to nurture the beings we intend to bring into the world.  But we do not lose our bodily integrity and rights to self-determination the moment we become pregnant. 
 It is wrong to compel women to incubate a zygote or fetus that she does not wish to mother.  It is also wrong to force her, with force, imprisonment, or other coercive measures, to behave in a way that others do not consider acceptable during her pregnancy because that denies her right to self-determination.
To finish the story, a few years after the birth of Lars Jr., my uncle committed suicide.  No one knows where Elena took her son, who is my first cousin and the brother of my uncle’s three daughters. I don’t know why Lars killed himself, or whether Elena left him before he did so.  There is a tragic justice to her disappearance.  Why would she want to be associated with the family of a man who turned her into the police and had her jailed until she delivered “his” baby?  I hope she returns to us.  I would love to know her and welcome  my unknown cousin to the fold.