Jun 08

“Real Boy”: Check It Out on PBS (June 19th)

REAL BOY is an intimate story of a family in transition. As 19-year-old Bennett Wallace navigates early sobriety, late adolescence, and the evolution of his gender identity, his mother makes her own transformation from resistance to acceptance of her trans son. Along the way, both mother and son find support in their communities, reminding us that families are not only given, but chosen. Realboymovie.com

An award-winning 2016 documentary from filmmaker Shaleece Haas that hasn’t yet received wide exposure but has been seen worldwide at various festivals, Real Boy will soon be available on PBS. Check your local listings, but it seems to be slated in many markets for June 19th at 10 PM.

As tagged on the movie’s website, it’s A son’s transition. A mom’s transformation. Four years in the lives of a transgender teen male and his mom.

David Monaghan, Head Stuff, calls Real Boy “sweet and occasionally hard-hitting, offering viewers a multifaceted coming-of-age narrative that never succumbs to sensationalism.”

In the brief trailer below, Bennett states, “I am a boy with the wrong body parts.”

Much of Bennett’s support comes from his older friend Joe, whom he met at a retreat for sober youth. They also have in common that they’re both transgender and have a strong interest in music.

The following line from a Real Boy review resonates with me, as I’ve heard the same thing in my office: “Parents in support groups all over the country have often said, ‘I would have rather my child come out as gay instead of transgender,’ and Ben’s mom is no different.”

But Suzy loves her son and eventually is seen in the clip below accompanying Ben to his gender reassignment surgery. From the description of this video:

Bennett enters the hospital for his gender surgery and is both touched and surprised that his mom Suzy came to be with him for support, despite her own reservations. She then gets supportive advice from another mom whose son made the same transition, and who reassures Suzy that Bennett will find the right person for him. ‘We don’t have to understand it completely but we have to be there, love them and support them,’ she tells Suzy. ‘There’s so many other people in the world who want to bring them down; we have to make sure we’re not those people.’

A significant part of this true story is that both Ben and his mom find support along the way, which is usually sorely needed when a family is experiencing transitioning. Whereas for trans kids and teens YouTube videos on related topics are often a great starting place, parents might turn to a PFLAG chapter nearby, use pertinent reading materials, or see a trans-informed therapist, among other alternatives.

Jun 02

Not a Role Model: Trumpian Actions Vs. Origins

(via GIPHY)

Whether any of the various opinions about the personality and state of mind of our current president will ever be proven, one thing you can bet on is that he’s serving as a poor role model for kids and adults alike. Such things as bullying, hate crimes, and ethical lapses, for example, are arguably on the rise under his leadership.

Poor role model for kids? Donald Trump actually acts like a child himself, many have said. As Michael Daly, Daily Beast, has pointed out, though, this comparison is unfair—to children, that is. His article is full of such nuggets as:

  • “Many children do not know exactly what sexual assault constitutes, but even the ones who thought Trump was talking about grabbing somebody’s kitty cat would know that is not something to brag about.”
  • “Most children also know that you should not say one thing and do another, as has Trump in boasting about how much he has done for veterans while devoting years to vanquishing disabled veterans who were exercising a legal right to peddle on the street outside his elegant tower.”
  • “Most children definitely know not to mock people with disabilities, as Trump did with a reporter, or to make fun of people when they fall ill, as he did with Clinton after she nearly fainted on 9/11 this year.”

Alison Gopnik, New York Times, agrees. “The scientific developmental research of the past 30 years shows that Mr. Trump is utterly unlike a 4-year-old.”

  • “Four-year-olds care deeply about the truth…”
  • “Four-year-olds are insatiably curious…”
  • “Four-year-olds can pay attention…”
  • “Four-year-olds understand the difference between fantasy and reality…”
  • “Four-year-olds have a ‘theory of mind,’ an understanding of their own minds and those of others…”
  • “Four-year-olds, contrary to popular belief, are not egocentric or self-centered…”
  • “Four-year-olds have a strong moral sense…”
  • “Four-year-olds are sensitive to social norms and think that they and other people should obey them…”

If not a child, mentally ill? Unfair to those who have such disorders, says psychiatrist Allen J. Frances (Psychology Today). “Most people with mental illness are nice, polite, well mannered, well meaning, decent people. They suffer, but don’t cause suffering.”

A recent mental health conference emphasized that “the issue is no longer what psychiatric diagnosis Donald Trump merits or not. It is how to avert the ‘malignant normality’—as psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton called it—now threatening American democracy” (Hara Estroff Marano, Psychology Today).

Yeah, but Trump’s evolving, working on being more presidential, i.e, a better role model. Hooey. As Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq., High Conflict Institute, author of Trump Bubbles, puts it, he “will not and cannot change, for the following reasons”:

  1. High-Conflict Personality: Trump appears to have all the traits of a high-conflict personality, which include: a preoccupation with blaming others; all-or-nothing thinking; intense or unmanaged emotions; and extreme behavior or threats of extreme behavior…
  2. Possible personality disorder: While I cannot diagnose someone with a mental health problem who I have never met and thoroughly assessed, he seems to have some possible traits of this as well…If he has a full personality disorder, then he will keep repeating his present narrow range of behavior, even when it hurts him and others.
  3. Social science: Research on business leadership shows that dramatic, charismatic CEO’s get more attention at the start, but they don’t last as long and the organization doesn’t do as well…
  4. Business history: Trump has a history of failed businesses, bankruptcies and lawsuits – by him and against him. Yet he has not changed his tune or seemed to have learned any lessons from this…
  5. Political history: …There is a surprisingly close fit with the pattern that Adolf Hitler used to rise in the 1920’s and 1930’s…

He’s also been likened to Richard M. Nixon, of course. And we all know what kind of a role model we had there.

May 31

Commencement Speeches from the Mental Health Field

…(C)ommencement speeches typically draw on timeless themes of optimism, goodness, and altruism. The two most frequent messages…analyzed [by researchers] were “Help Others” and “Do the Right Thing.” Next on the list in descending order of frequency were “Expand Your Horizons,” “Be True to Yourself,” “Never Give Up,” “Appreciate Diversity,” “Cherish Special Others,” and “Seek Balance.” Pamela B. Paretsky, PhD, Psychology Today

Although most of the quotes below do fall into the categories cited above, they’ve also come directly from the mental health field.

Psychiatrist Neel Burton (Psychology Today) wrote about his “dream graduation speech.” Just a sampling of his 21 points:

  • Keep on asking ‘silly’ questions. People may look at you funny, but at least you thought of the questions.
  • Be very sensitive to your feelings and intuitions. They are your unconscious made conscious. And they are almost always right.
  • Don’t be envious. Whenever you come across someone who is better or more successful than you are, you can react either with envy or with emulation. Envy is the pain that you feel because others have good things; emulation is the pain that you feel because you yourself do not have them. This is a subtle but critical difference. Unlike envy, which is useless at best and self-defeating at worst, emulation is a good thing because it makes us take steps towards securing good things.
  • If you don’t appear to want something, you are far more likely to get it. More importantly, when you do want something, be sure that it is worthy of you. And remember: we are rich not only by what we have, but also and mostly by what we do not.
  • When you do find success or, better still, happiness, don’t expect anyone to be pleased for you. In fact, many people will actively resent you—even, sometimes, friends and family. Some people are small. Just accept it as collateral and move on.

Psychologist Scott Barry Kauffman, who teaches at the University of Pennsylvania, spoke at last year’s graduation and said the following, among other things:

…Do not be scared of having your mind changed. Do not be scared of being wrong. Be aware of the fact that no one person has the truth. The truth requires multiple perspectives, and you can learn something from virtually anyone– even if you vehemently disagree with them. You will find that this way of having love for others– and even with yourself– will bring you many riches, and a much more fulfilling life…

…Trust yourself to abandon a goal or even distance yourself from people if they are no longer appropriate for your growth, and you are no longer appropriate for their growth. Constantly consult your deep values when making choices about which goals to adopt. You, and you alone, have the power to revise your goals as you learn more about yourself and your unique place in this world. Look: You will rarely regret moving in a direction that feels right to you, but you do risk living a life with a lot of regret if you constantly make choices that pull you way from who you really are. As the great humanistic psychotherapist Carl Rogers, who I have a great affinity for, once noted, ‘trust the totality of your experience. It’s often much wiser than your intellect’.

Finally, psychologist Adam Grant went against conventional wisdom in this year’s commencement speech at Utah State University (Business Insider). A few excerpted quotes:

Sometimes quitting is a virtue.

Grit doesn’t mean “keep doing the thing that’s failing.” It means “define your dreams broadly enough that you can find new ways to pursue them when your first and second plans fail.”

Sometimes resilience comes from gritting your teeth and packing your bags. Other times it comes from having the courage to admit your flaws.

May 26

“3 Generations” Deal with Teen’s Transgender Issues

Emily Yoshida, Vulture, sets up the plot of Gaby Dellal‘s 3 Generations, a film (formerly called About Ray) that’s sat on the shelf for quite some time pending some needed fixes:

Ray (Elle Fanning) is a transgender high-school boy who desperately wants to begin hormone therapy, a development that leads to much hand-wringing from his mom, Maggie (Naomi Watts), and grandmother Dolly (Susan Sarandon). The three live together in a charming, ramshackle East Village apartment along with Dolly’s girlfriend, Frances (Linda Emond). Ray’s father, Craig (Tate Donovan), is out of the picture, but because Ray is a minor, he requires a signature from both parents in order to proceed with the reassignment process. Cue a messy family reunion, and at least one dramatic revelation.

Many critics wish it had been fixed even more. Its Tomatometer score (Rotten Tomatoes) is currently at 30%.

Christy Lemire, Rogerebert.com:  “A movie can mean well but not necessarily work well. Being tasteful can get in the way of being truthful. Such is the frustrating case of ‘3 Generations,’ which takes on the topic of gender dysphoria with a talented cast but not much to say.”

Alonso Duralde, The Wrap: “It’s a film that positively reeks of good intentions, but it’s so timid and tentative — the words ‘trans’ and ‘transgender’ are never uttered aloud — that it feels as hopelessly retro as casting a cisgender actress in the lead. Fanning does fine work, but the current habit of not hiring trans performers to play trans characters is going to feel very dated very soon.”

Jesse HassengerAVClub: “Many scenes and sequences end abruptly, indicating that there may well have been a longer cut of the movie, which may well have played better than this one.”

Watch the trailer below:

Depiction of Transgender Issues

Alonso Duralde, The Wrap:

…Yes, many parents have a difficult time understanding their children’s transitions, but the characters presented here are all artsy New Yorkers, so the idea that they’ve had no interaction with trans people never rings true. As for Ray, he has not one trans friend — not even online, where he would presumably be posting his auto-documentary shorts on YouTube and finding others going through similar life stages. And given that he’s known he was a boy since the age of four, he seems ill-equipped to discuss the subject with his well-meaning relatives.

Joe McGovern, ew.com: “Nine out of 10 scenes in the film involve the characters hurling insults at each other while seeming miserable in their fantastic Manhattan brownstone. Some of the screaming fights yield challenging points of conflict: Sarandon’s character, for example, thinks it’s antifeminist that ‘my granddaughter wants to be a grandson’.” Christy Lemire, rogerebert.com: “Theoretically, you might expect that because Dolly is a lesbian, she’d be more understanding of Ray’s desire to assert his true self; the fact that she isn’t is one of the film’s more intriguing—yet unexplored—elements.”

Emily Yoshida, Vulture: “…(I)t feels more like a checklist lifted from a pamphlet about things to expect when your son or daughter comes out — well-meaning, emotionally unimaginative, and always at arm’s length.”

Selected Reviews (Not 100% Bad)

Rex Reed, New York Observer: “3 Generations is contrived, but the heartfelt performances keep the threadbare material on track-witty, warm and wise.”

Peter Travers, Rolling Stone: “3 Generations doesn’t cut deep into the torn-from-the-headlines issue of trans rights. In fact, it doesn’t cut at all.”

Gary Goldstein, Los Angeles Times: “Still, when this well-acted picture calms down and focuses on real emotions, it proves a poignant, absorbing look at a modern family.”

May 24

Hijacked by “Hijackals”: Politically, Personally

If you believe your country is currently led by a president who lied and bullied his way into the position just to turn around and push hurtful policies he’d claimed he wouldn’t—hurtful, in all likelihood, the most to his supporters—your country has been hijacked. If you’re in a personal relationship with someone who presented a healthy but false self while courting but then showed his/her truer abusive self once you made a commitment, you have been hijacked.

Hijacked just happens to be the latest term that suddenly came to me while contemplating our national situation and which then led to some interesting research. Here, for example, are the top three current Google search results for “country hijacked by Trump”:

As you can see from these various points of view, potentially no one in the U.S. is immune to feeling victimized by 45.

Of relevance on a smaller, more personal scale is a newly learned term for the similarly offending partner in your intimate relationship: a “hijackal.” As coined (see her website) by Dr. Rhoberta Shaler, “The Relationship Help Doctor,” hijackals are “people who hijack relationships, for their own purposes, while relentlessly scavenging them for power, status, and control.”

On the same web page, by the way, you can order Shaler’s free e-book called “How to Spot a Hijackal: AKA a Chronically Difficult Person.”

As Shaler states, hijackals are indeed relentless. It’s up to you to do the changing because they won’t. Moreover, it’s prudent to consider whether you suffer from being too “kind, patient, considerate, compassionate, and nice. Perfect Hijackal Bait!”

In a related blog post, Shaler lists three reasons hijackers/hijackals never stop doing what they do:

  1. Hijackals need to be in charge.
  2. Hijackals need to keep you in uncertainty.
  3. Hijackals always find fault with you.

And the following are seven traits of the hijackal (YourTango):

  1. They dominate conversations and always want to be the focus of attention.
  2. They use your innermost fears, thoughts and feelings against you.
  3. They pretend to care how you feel, then turn the blame on you.
  4. They put their own interests, needs, wants, and wishes before yours.
  5. They take everything to the extreme to win.
  6. They change their mind, feelings, and focus quickly … and conveniently.
  7. They HAVE to win … in every situation.

Sound like anyone you know? Think bigly if you will. Think closer to your own relationship if it fits.

Shaler has written many books that could be of help. The two most pertinent to this topic are Escaping the Hijackal Trap: The Truth About Hijackals and Why They are Crazy-Making and The Hijackal Trap – Loving Someone Who SHOVES You Away Yet DEMANDS That You Stay – Passive-Aggressive Edition.