Sunday, April 28, 2013

Sexual Assault Awareness Month---Male Ally Tips

Male Ally Tips – Things You Can Do Every Day!
By Stephen Adler, Prevention Education Specialist – Rape Victim Advocates

  1. Watch how much space you take up. Often when we are sitting on the train or bus, men tend to take up more space than women. In some cases, it may be because we are physically bigger than women, but in others it is an unearned (and unnoticed) sense of entitlement. When you ride the train, compare and contrast how much space men take up versus women. Remember that your size can be intimidating.
  2. Learn to step back... From an early age, boys are encouraged to voice our opinions and to speak when we feel something needs to be said. However, that can lead us to dominate a conversation or meeting. Instead, practice not talking. Let others, particularly female-identified people, speak first. If they have said something you thought about saying, you don’t need to echo it.
  3. …and to step up! Use your voice for good – when you hear other men telling a sexist joke, or statements that support rape myths, or words that belittle survivors of domestic and sexual violence, interject! You’ll be surprised at how effective (and appreciated!) a statement such as “I really don’t think that (joke/comment/remark) is funny” really is.
  4. Attend feminist events. If male-identified people are welcomed at the space, show your support by attending talks by feminist authors, film screenings by female filmmakers, and concerts with feminist performers.
  5. Support feminist media. Go one step further – if we want to put a stop to rape culture, we need to work on dismantling it. Supporting alternatives to mainstream, corporate-owned media is imperative. Get a subscription to Bitch magazine, buy albums of feminist performers and buy tickets to movies that feature strong female leads and/or positive depictions of gender non-conforming folks. As the old saying goes, “money talks”- if companies see these movies doing well they are more likely to continue making them!
  6. Volunteer! If you have the time, volunteer for a rape crisis or domestic violence center. Men NEED to be doing this work. Most of the time violence is perpetrated, a man is the perpetrator. This is not being anti-male, it’s just being honest. Call your local rape crisis or domestic violence center and find out how you can help. You may not be able to work directly with survivors, but you can do prevention work – which involves talking to other men – and that is equally important.
  7. Make your space feminist. We don’t want to take up more space than necessary, but rather, to make the space we do take up feminist. If you work in an office, push for a sexual assault 101 training. Hang up posters in your cubicle that are supportive of gender-equality. If you’re a member of a fraternity, do a service project that benefits a local rape crisis or DV center. It’s possible to do this in any space – not just the social work field!
  8. Be an active bystander. Obviously if we see a sexual assault taking place we should intervene, as anyone would do. However, sexual violence exists on a continuum. Verbal street harassment and groping are also forms of sexual violence, though they are commonly accepted. If you see a man talking to a woman on the train, ask the woman if the man is bothering her. When you see a man taking upskirt pictures on his iPhone, tell him that is not only illegal but wrong. If a man grabs a woman, tell him, in your own words, to leave her alone. Most of these behaviors continue because the men who perpetrate the actions feel justified since they have never had another man call them out on it. Equally important, we want to think of our own safety – intervene if you feel comfortable, but we’re not superheroes, nor do we want to feel that just because we are men we need to be “strong” enough to fix everything. Taking your own safety account is imperative!
  9. Reflect the type of masculinity you want to see in the world. If we want to break the association of masculinity and violence, we need to portray the type of masculinity we want to see. This means allowing ourselves to be vulnerable, being nurturing and supportive of children, taking responsibility for our actions, and apologizing when we’ve hurt someone’s feelings. It also means supporting men who are “outside the gender box,” as well as supporting women and gender non-conforming folks. If we continue to harbor the negative qualities of masculinity, we can’t effectively change it.
  10. Be accountable. Finally, recognize the ways that you are being oppressive. Always keep yourself in check. Being an ally means being accountable to feminists and to female-identified and gender non-conforming people. Though we may have the best of intentions, it is common to make mistakes. That’s how privilege works, after all – we will always be unlearning sexism. Being an ally is a lifelong process, and you’ve started on the road to making the world a safer place for women and girls (as well as boys and men!). That should be commended. However, we do not deserve praise for doing the work we should be doing; for taking responsibility. Make sure you are self-critical, self-aware, and knowledgeable about your words and actions.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Sexual Assault Awareness Month---Men in the Movement: The Final Installment

So before I post my final question to these awesome guys working in the anti-rape movement, I want to say how ABSOLUTELY GRATEFUL I am for their participation in this blog series as well as for their participation in trying to end sexual violence. I have so much positive hope for our future because of this blog series and because these voices exist in the world. 

Now, my final question: Is there part of the anti-sexual violence movement that you think keeps men from engaging in it?

A1. "What we say matters.  I've attended workshops and lectures where well-meaning facilitators and speakers use language that implies that sexual violence is a women's issue.  For example, by only using female pronouns when talking generally about victims, we perpetuate the misconception that men cannot be victims of rape.  Another problem is representing perpetrators of sexual violence as "evil monsters," rather than as people who make terrible decisions.  If we dehumanize the perpetrators of any atrocity, then we are telling ourselves that we, and those we love and respect, are incapable of committing such crimes.  The truth is that we are all capable of violent acts, just as we are all capable of self-control and compassion."

A2. "a.     The misandry movement. When women paint all men with the brush of irredeemable rapists there’s no room for dialogue and no reason to be engaged if all the effort doesn’t see an effect.
b.     Fear. I’ve seen it at gaming conventions where someone is displaying harassing behaviour and there’s looks of disgust and embarrassment and shame but that’s all they are is looks. I’ve felt absolutely terrified when speaking out against certain behaviour because I didn’t want to be seen as causing trouble or embarrassing someone who may just be socially inept and not on a slippery slope to sexual predation. That being said I have spoken out, and have been chastised as less than a man for doing so, but that’s the culture we live in: a feminist is someone who hates men, and a ‘beta rabbit’ (which is what I was called, some allusion to being prey for alphas) is a man who is seen to have feminist (or at least common decency) ideals."

A3. "There’s definitely a stigma to being a male feminist. I constantly have it questioned, people assume you have some other motives. It’s also less comfortable than ignoring it. Life is short and if you have won the privilege lottery and do not have any discrimination that’s making your life difficult then ignoring them all and just saying “them’s the brakes” can be a tempting option. Normalising feminism should be the key. Making it part of the curriculum at an early age, teaching boys about sexual harassment before it’s too late to change their thought process, applying zero tolerance towards rape culture and it’s supporters."

A4. "Two reasons. First I think a lot of guys think that it’s not a real problem. That they do not understand the ways and magnitudes sexual assault can hurt people- not only the victim but also the people who love them. Second, I think a lot of guys feel that this is a woman’s issue. And that they would be intruding or unwanted.  

To the first point I would say that listening to women (and men) who do tell their stories will show the degree to which these actions rend apart relationships, families and communities. Hopefully that will help convince them that this is not just a woman’s issue, and that as long as they are compassionate, earnest and willing to listen then they will be welcomed into the movement."

A5. "I think there are misconceptions about the anti-sexual violence movement, and the feminist movement in particular. The most prevalent being that feminists are women who hate men – quite the contrary, I’ve found. The current patriarchal definition of masculinity assumes we’re animals who can’t control our actions and can’t take responsibility or be committed to true equality. Feminism believes that men can be better. Feminism demands that men be better.

Many men don’t believe that sexual violence affects them. To those men, I would suggest they talk to a woman in their life that they care about and ask them how their lives would be different if the threat of men’s violence against women didn’t exist(sexual assault, sexual harassment, domestic violence, and stalking) - and really listen to what they say. Don’t talk or respond. As men we are socialized to fix the situation. Resist that urge. From there, think about the ways you can support women in your life and work to end sexual violence."

A6. "Having not been deeply involved in it myself, outside of reading about it, and talking to people online, I've never personally felt pushed out of the movement, but I can imagine a scenario in which I might feel uncomfortable. I'm very aware of other people's emotional needs, and I think sometimes women need an opportunity to commune with each other without any men around. Male students dominating classrooms discussions comes to mind, for example, but that said, I think there's no reason men can't be involved in the movement against sexual violence against women while being willing to stand on the sidelines sometimes. You don't always have to be the focus of an issue to lend a hand. Sometimes just being an ally is enough."

Stay tuned tomorrow where I will post Male Ally Tips from the Prevention and Education Specialist at Rape Victim Advocates!!! And thanks again, guys.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Sexual Assault Awareness Month: Men in the Movement--Part 4

Today's question to the awesome guys who have weighed in on the role of men in the anti-rape movement: What would you like to say to people who don't understand your interest in this issue?

A1. "A culture of sexual violence survives and thrives through collective bystanderism, apathy, and silence.  The culture of sexual violence permitted by our society reflects an absence of social responsibility and empathy for others.  Storytelling is key.  We have to share real stories -- and fictionalized stories, if necessary -- to help people connect.  We have to create compelling entry points and learning experiences -- through news articles, blogs, Tweets, Facebook updates, museum exhibitions, fiction, film, television storylines -- that force people to confront other people's violent realities.  But we can't stop there.  We also have to give people the tools to take action and speak out."

A2. "I think a lot of people are confused about my advocacy here, because it’s definitely an outlier from most of the things I talk about. However, to me it represents a way to help people who have been hurt and betrayed, to lend my voice to those who are unable to speak at this time, and to provide a different measure by which to define my masculinity."

A3. "Do you know more than four women? Statistically one will be a victim of some type of sexual assault, all will probably be a victim of sexual harassment and certainly all will be victims of sexual discrimination. Why would you not be interested?"

A4. "That what some men do reflects on what all men do. I’m not asking for people to march in a parade, or arrange boycotts; what I am doing and asking others to do is stop being the silent conscientious objectors."

A5. "There’s nothing to not understand! Men are part of the solution to ending (men’s) violence against women – only a small part of us are the problem so we shouldn’t let the actions of the few define the many. Again, when our gender is committing the vast majority of the violence it is up to us to take responsibility."

A6. "If you don't think it's important for men to get stand up as allies in the movement to stop sexual violence against women, you're straight trippin'."

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Sexual Assault Awareness Month: Men in the Movement--Part 3

Thank you all for continuing to follow this blog series. I'm so glad there are people out there reading these posts and learning how awesome and important men in the anti-rape movement are.

Today's question: What do you believe the future for men in the anti-rape movement looks like? Is there something that more male voices might do to change the culture?

A1: "We have to keep talking about rape and sexual violence, especially with young people.  We have to empower victims and witnesses of sexual violence to speak out and tell their stories.  We have to give people the tools to take action when they find themselves as bystanders of sexual violence.  And we have to prevent people from becoming perpetrators.  I suspect that some of my students are surprised when I talk so frankly about sexual violence.  I hope that by being unwilling to remain silent, I'm giving permission for all my students to engage.  We need to help as many people as possible come to question why sexual violence is so pervasive yet remains taboo."

A2. "I think men have a huge role to play. In particular, well known men with public personas. I really loved what Henry Rollins had to say about Steubenville, and I think we need a lot more voices like that. As a fan of hip-hop, I think about its stars a lot, and what they have to say. I like conscious music, and hip-hop that talks about real issues, instead of whips, guns, and slinging drugs (not to mention objectifying women). I think pop stars, athletes, actors, and other famous men should be a lot more vocal about violence against women. I know Macklemore is pretty well known for speaking out about gay rights, and I'd like to see more stuff like that regarding sexual violence against women."

A3. "I look at my two sons and I wonder what kinds of men they will grow up to be. I want them to be kind and compassionate people who are courageous to stand up to their peers when those peers perpetuate a rape friendly culture.  I need to move beyond a simple message of “It is NEVER ok to take advantage of a woman” to a more holistic approach. From the kinds of music we listen to, to the way masculinity is portrayed in media, there are many opportunities to critically view the messages they get. It isn’t enough to say “we are not listening to that”, rather we need to use these pieces as an entry point to how these messages create a culture that is permissive of rape.

Similarly more men need to take a stand. I think the issue of invisibility in sexual assault is really interesting. Many men, I hope, would take a stand if they knew a woman who was raped. However because of the stigma that is associated with being raped, many women are reticent about the experience. I’m not saying that a woman who was raped should do anything she’s not comfortable with, to do so would only compound the experience. Rather I am saying that men should not wait until someone tells them that they were a victim of sexual assault to join the movement. Because, honestly they probably already know multiple women who are survivors, they just may not know who those women are."

A4. "I think being a feminist needs to start becoming a default position for people that are not sexist. There are too many people, especially men, sitting on the fence. The position needs to become socially unacceptable. Men need to stand up and be counted. We often have a platform and position that women do not and should be using this to our fullest. I’d love so much for some famous men to come out publicly backing these movements. I believe the affect would be huge but distressingly “coming out” as feminist is something which a lot of guys feel uncomfortable doing."

A5. "The future looks bright – more and more young men are open to hearing feminist ideas, and that obviously has to do with women laying the groundwork for this consciousness raising in men over many years. In the wake of Newtown, and especially Steubenville, we will see more discussion in the media about manhood and masculinity as social constructs, and begin to see patriarchal masculinity deconstructed. The more men openly question patriarchy, and the more men stand against men’s violence against women, the more we will see a cultural shift towards gender equality."

A6. "The future of men in the anti-rape movement has to take shape as a more vocal voice for change. Right now I believe a lot of men who support a change in rape culture are silent, or pass it off as socially awkward behaviour (harassment) or justification (“She led them on.”)
It’s not enough that we support our friends who are harassed or assaulted, and it’s not enough that we don’t act a certain way ourselves. If we ever want to see change, real change in how rape culture is perpetuated through society men must be vocal. Not just reactionary expressions of disgust (Meagan Marie’s blog about an incident has several hundred supported posts) but a proactive, visible movement of men calling the harassers out on their behaviour without justifying it “he’s a decent guy...” and creating a dialogue that shows that misandrists are wrong about some men." 

Monday, April 22, 2013

Sexual Assault Awareness Month--Men in the Movement, Part 2

So in my continuing blog series of men in the anti-rape movement, I am reconvening this week to provide you with some of the questions and answers that guys in my world have provided me with. If you want to see their responses to the first question about the necessity for men in the movement, you can see them here

Today's question was: Did you become invested in this for personal reasons or political/social reasons (or some of both)? And, did you have a turning point moment when this issue became part of your world?

A1: "When I was a kid, some close family members talked in front of me about their own experiences as victims and witnesses of domestic violence.  I learned to read between the lines when their stories hinted at rumors of sexualized psychological abuse and familial rape.  As a young adult, I learned that a number of women in my family had been sexually abused by men in my family; men who I now suspect might have themselves been victims of abuse.  It's quite possible that I channeled my subsequent abhorrence, anger, and sorrow into choosing to address sexual violence through my work.  To be clear, I had a relatively happy childhood, but these experiences have led me to believe that sexual violence -- particularly within families -- is much more prevalent than we think."

A2: "Both. When I was in university a friend was drugged while out at a bar, she had woken up the next morning naked in one of her friend’s bed with no memory of how she got there. While the friend did admit to having sex, he said she forced herself on him (which was a little questionable how a 120 lbs. woman could force herself on a 220 lbs. man but I digress) but he hadn’t drugged her. This was true because the friend had been at a different bar entirely and had met up later with her. She and I went to the police and the first question they asked was what she was wearing; this wasn’t for evidence collection but a judgment. It was my first time in a situation like this, and my first exposure to how demeaning and prevalent rape culture is. The person who drugged her was never caught, the friend vehemently denies he did anything wrong by taking advantage of a vulnerable woman and life went on. Except for her. Her interactions with men changed because of that, she guarded drinks (even water) closely, sat with her back to the wall facing the door and studied every person walking into her field of vision. It was a definitive case of PTSD. What resonated with me was that she even changed to me, I was her closest male friend and even she had a bit of guard up around me now. We used to walk arm in arm with coffees chatting, we stopped walking arm in arm. We used to be able to break the touch barrier easily, now there was a sphere of invadable space. I took it in stride because she was my friend, and that’s what friends do but I never forgot that change and what had caused it.  From a societal standpoint I became more vocal about rape culture and the anti-sexual violence movement when a good friend became involved in the first ever (in the world) SlutWalk ( and the circumstances that precipitated that annual event. Since my interests have deep roots in gaming, I’ve noticed very prevalent sexism within the gaming community, particularly dealing with conventions and women who cosplay. There’s been a string of incidents at conventions where female cosplayers have been subjected to harassment and assault. To me, most of these issues, including the anti-rape movement orbit around the rape culture where the burden of proof is on the victim to prove they weren’t “asking for it” by how they acted, what they were drinking, or how they dressed/what costume they were wearing."

A3. "I became involved in the movement for both personal and political reasons – after all, the personal is political, isn’t it? I don’t have one particular “light bulb” moment that turned me on to doing pro-feminist work. I’ve always felt like I fit outside the “box of masculinity” that so many gender theorists talk about. I was “in the box” in a lot of ways, but was also sensitive, empathic, and was uncomfortable around men who made sexist remarks. One experience that pushed me towards anti-sexist activism was during my freshman year of college when my then girlfriend (now fiancĂ©e) was talking to me about her experiences with street harassment, and I never realized until then the effects it had on women. Though I never verbally harassed women on the street, I watched as others did. When I asked her how I could help she suggested I take a women’s studies class – I did and ended up majoring in Gender & Women’s Studies - and from there I got involved in the feminist movement on my campus."

A4. "Oddly my real passion for feminism and other issues around racism, homophobia, transphobia etc came from when I became vegetarian. Being a straight, white guy it can be difficult to really understand what discrimination is like (I know, “boo-hoo poor straight white guys” J).  After I became a vegetarian I began to experience this, albeit on a minute scale. Suddenly the entire world wasn’t made for me. I’d go into restaurants and have few or no options. I’d hear jokes that I’d find myself the punchline of. Taking vegetarianism a step further into animal rights issues I’d then find myself feeling outraged about an issue that others were wilfully being blind too. All of this helped me to understand discrimination in a way I fear I may never truly have had I not stopped eating animals. I now could relate to why it’d be annoying to go to the cinema and have no films with female leads, or why seeing 20 billboards with half naked women would start to grate or why people ignoring rape culture and endorsing victim blaming would cause such personal outrage."

A5. "I was raised in a household that strongly valued feminist ideas, and more broadly advocated for addressing issues of social injustice. However I don’t think I became a real active advocate until I started talking with Christa.  She provided an intellectual and political framework which helped me contextualize the issues that I had been thinking about.  Once I became more comfortable being ‘out’ I realized that a lot of my friends had been going through issues stemming from past or current incidences of sexual assault. This kind of created a feedback loop where the more I was a vocal ally the more people I realized were hurting. 

When I started my job as a professor this took on a new perspective. I’m protective of my students, they’re wonderful people and I honestly wish them the best. However after reading statistics about rates of sexual assault on campus I decided that being a strong and vocal advocate at the faculty level could potentially provide a good role model for my students and a safe space for those who are hurting."

A6. "First, I should point out that I'm not exactly active in any movement against sexual violence (or gay rights, or labor) in any concrete sense. I don't speak, I don't volunteer, and I don't stand in picket lines ... but, I would. I just don't have a lot of free time as a dad with a 50 hour a week soul-sucking corporate day job and aspirations to become a novelist. That said, I do what I can. I sign petitions, I call my congressman from time to time, but mostly, I just try to raise our collective awareness by being an active voice where and whenever I can. So, why did I become invested? I'm not really sure. Becoming a dad was part of it, I'm sure, but my oldest daughter is 17, and I'm not sure I've been thinking about this stuff actively for quite that long. In general, throughout my whole life, I've just always cared a lot about human rights, and equality for everyone, and I see sexual violence against women as one of the most pervasive violations of that belief. Plus, I'm kind of a big strong hairy scary guy, and I think a movement like this needs as many of those as it can get."

Monday, April 15, 2013

Sexual Assault Awareness Month: Men in the Movement--Part I

So April is sexual assault awareness month and I wanted to do a blog series about men in my life who are involved in the anti-rape movement. I've been very blessed to have a tremendous amount of support from guys who are deeply invested in seeing an end to sexual assault and who in their own ways are making strides in being involved in what has been traditionally considered a "women's movement". 

And I thought maybe you all might like to hear their honest POVs about how important it is for everyone to be in this movement. Therefore every day this week I will be doing a blog with a question that I've asked some of my guy friends and supporters. I would like to thank all of them in advance for not only their support of me, but their willingness to be honest and use their voices in this issue.

Today's question: Do you think men belong in the anti-sexual violence movement and why? Is there a part of this movement you don't feel men should be involved with?

A1: "Definitely. I think men belong as much as women, if not more. After all, the vast majority of sexual violence is committed by men, so who better to stop it but us? Beside, as is often pointed out in the movement, why is it always "how not to get raped," when it should be more about "don't rape"? I honestly believe cases like Steubenville would not have occurred if more responsible and good men were in the lives of boys who might not have otherwise committed such crimes. Clearly, there are some sick people out there who will attack others no matter what, but we need to focus on those individuals who manage to find ways to justify their abuses for whatever reason. She was drunk. She wanted it. She was passed out, but she was flirting beforehand. It takes role models who respect women to teach boys that it's not "no means no" that matters, but "anything less than yes means no".

A2: "I definitely believe that men have a place in the anti-sexual violence movement. In order to address sexual violence there needs to be a concerted effort on the part of men to have an open dialogue. So often society teaches women how to be good victims, “how not to be raped”, and generally puts the onus of assault prevention on the victim; a certain amount of this is good for women to be aware of their surroundings and make good choices but in general there needs to be a move towards teaching men not to rape. Until men are involved in a dialogue with other men/boys about ways to change the rape culture of blaming the victim there will always be a “half of the equation” (so to speak) that is not on-board with the anti-sexual violence movement."

A3: "I think men belong in the anti-sexual violence movement because overwhelmingly, men are more often than not the perpetrators. In fact, 98% of the time, whether the victim is male or female, (heterosexual) men are the perpetrators. So often sexual violence is tagged as a “women’s issue,” and that’s not fair – if statistically we are perpetrating the violence, we need to take responsibility for our gender’s actions! It’s not fair to place the onus on women to “not get raped” – that’s unfair, it implies that some nameless, faceless person is committing the violence. But it isn’t – it is men! Men who are often our peers, our friends, and our colleagues. For that reason, I think ending sexual assault is a men’s issue.

I think men’s role in the movement is as allies. A large part of this is recognizing your male privilege, and acknowledging that a lot of times your voice isn’t necessary or wanted. It’s not about taking up more space. Instead, use the space you do take up to make it safer for women, girls, and trans* people."

A4: "In my opinion men have a vital role to play as allies in this movement. As a guy there can be a temptation to just sit back and enjoy your privilege. While there are of course male victims of sexual assault the frequency and perhaps most importantly the culture around it is not comparable to that which affects female victims. Most guys learn how to behave from the action they see accepted by their peers. An older brother, uncle or father will very often be the one to shape a young boy’s perception of how you should talk about/talk to/ shout across the street at women. If the only role models they have are outwardly sexist or passively enabling sexism then there is little reason that this person will grow up be any different.

Also men are disproportionately in positions of influence so they have a responsibility to use their positions to enable change.

The main area I think men should not be involved in would perhaps be in counselling and in support groups around sexual violence. Also for the integrity of the movement the main decision makers should be women."

A5: "Men have a role to play in the anti-sexual violence movement for many reasons. Primarily to provide strong counter examples of a masculinity that does not exist through reducing women’s agency. The belief that one’s masculinity is defined through one’s ability to exert power is unfortunately broadly accepted explicitly or implicitly in our culture. I think by men being active in the movement we provide an opportunity to delineate an alternative set of metrics to define what it means to be a man. Metrics that include supporting those who need help, advocating for equality of the other (broadly defined) and standing up to violence."

A6: "I find it frustrating -- but not surprising -- when I see sexual violence framed as a women's issue.  Men are often the perpetrators, often the bystanders, and often the victims of sexual violence.  Throughout history and around the world today, governments and militia plan and implement the rape of women, men, and children in order to degrade and persecute whole communities and social groups.  In some parts of the world, police gangs systematically subject lesbians to so-called "corrective rape" and hunt down and sexually torture gay men and transgender people.  Just as we expect everyone, regardless of gender, to engage with the anti-genocide movement and to stand up against discrimination and inequality, we should expect all men to care deeply about and take action against all forms of sexual violence."

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Be Fearless

Somehow in the midst of all my writing and editing and promotion and real life, I sort of forgot that I wrote a difficult book. I mean I know I wrote an edgy book with swearing and sex and things that some people don't like to have in their YA, but I also wrote a DIFFICULT book that people are going to have thoughts on. And the great thing about people having thoughts is that ideally, those thoughts lead to good conversations and good dialogue and critical thinking around the issue of rape.

And some of those conversations have started already, because, well, advanced reader copies exist. And some of those conversations have been hard and have made me have to think very hard about my convictions and what I believe. Which is AWESOME. I hope people keeping asking me questions and sending me letters. I won't always have the answers. In truth, I say, "I don't know" more often than just about anything in my life. But even with hard questions, the juice is worth the squeeze.

Here's what I've learned in my life:

1. Humans are complicated and messy and make good choices and bad choices and generally want to be better, but sometimes just aren't. For whatever reason.
2. Good-hearted people are out there. Counselors, teachers, friends. They want to help. They can't solve every problem. They won't have all the answers, but as Keith Nelson said in Some Kind of Wonderful (yes, I'm old and I'm referencing a John Hughes movie), "The minute we stop thinking someone is out there for us, it's over, isn't it?" I'm grateful for those people in my past and present. I would be lost without them. I hope everyone realizes that they are not alone.
3. Everyone is doing the best they can. Really.

Today in church, we talked about Gideon, and the angel finding him in the cave and saying, "Hail fierce warrior" and Gideon looking around and being like, "Who me? You can't mean me because I'm a dude hiding in a cave. I'm weak and I'm part of a weak clan, and we're so far from warriors, you don't even know." And of course, we then got into a discussion about Martin Luther King Jr. feeling like he didn't have the courage to keep going when his life was being threatened. Then the conversation evolved into how to be our best selves, how to be fearless when it is sometimes really HARD. And it was a perfect message because it reminded me why I wrote a difficult book that people were going to have thoughts about. I'll never be a fierce warrior. I wrote a little book. I'm not a world leader or an agent of cultural change. I'm just a writer who had something to say that hopefully will mean something to someone. I have no agenda beyond wanting people to talk to each other about the issue. Because it's in those conversations that we end up feeling so much less alone.

So go be fearless. Make mistakes. Lean on those who love you. And do the best you can. Always.