Nov 22

Thanksgiving Movie Choices: Three Oldies

The following are three Thanksgiving movie choices (to watch at home)—oldies but reliably good.

I. Pieces of April

The low-budget Pieces of April (2003) features April Burns (Katie Holmes), a 21-year-old with a new (African-American) boyfriend. She’s not only the “black sheep” of her white suburban family but also estranged from them. The film’s tagline: She’s the one in every family.

April tries to explain her place in the family to a couple of her new neighbors:

April: I’m the first pancake.
Evette: What do you mean?
Eugene: She’s the one you’re supposed to throw out.

Knowing that her mom is receiving treatment for late-stage breast cancer, April decides to ask her family to her little apartment—that happens to be in a poor neighborhood of New York—for Thanksgiving. Her parents (Oliver Platt and Patricia Clarkson), along with her brother, sister, and maternal grandmother drive from Pennsylvania, all the while regarding the pending reunion with suspicion and skepticism.

View the trailer below:

Film critic Roger Ebert: “‘Pieces of April’ has a lot of joy and quirkiness; it’s well-intentioned in its screwy way, with flashes of human insight, and actors who can take a moment and make it glow.”

II. Home for the Holidays

In Home for the Holidays (1995) adult daughter Claudia (Holly Hunter) comes home to a dysfunctional Thanksgiving gathering. Among the other guests are her brother Tommy (Robert Downey, Jr.) who’s with an apparently new boyfriend (Dylan McDermott), her conservative sister, a nutty aunt, and an old male friend her mom Adele (Anne Bancroft) wants her to get to know again.

Claudia on the true meaning of this holiday: “Nobody means what they say on Thanksgiving, Mom. You know that. That’s what the day’s supposed to be all about, right? Torture.”

Directed by Jodie Foster, the film’s screenplay is adapted by W.D. Richter from Chris Radant‘s short story. Here’s the Home for the Holidays trailer:

Mick LaSalle, San Francisco Chronicle: “Neither caustic nor sentimental, it’s a film that maybe half the people on Earth have at one time considered writing.”

Rogerebert.com: “…What Foster and Richter have created here is a film that understands the reality expressed by Robert Frost when he wrote, ‘Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in’.”

III. What’s Cooking?

The tagline of What’s Cooking? (2000): Thanksgiving. A celebration of food, tradition and relative insanity.

What’s Cooking? may best be seen on a full stomach. In this Thanksgiving movie four different ethnically diverse households in a Los Angeles neighborhood are celebrating. Represented in the film are Vietnamese, Latino, Jewish, and African American families.

Witness below:

As in Home for the Holidays, sexual orientation figures into the mix along with other themes of diversity and intergenerational struggles. Kyra Sedgwick plays a lesbian who’s with her lover (Julianna Margulies) on the holiday.

Critic Roger Ebert: “What’s strange is the spell the movie weaves. By its end, there is actually a sort of tingle of pleasure in seeing how this Thanksgiving ends, and how its stories are resolved….Here are four families that have, in one way or another, started peace talks.”

Nov 16

Mother-Daughter Relationship Memoirs (3 Books)

Mother-daughter relationships are featured in the following three nonfiction books that offer many and varied personal accounts about real-life issues.

I. Mother Daughter Me by Katie Hafner (2013)

Hafner writes about her own mother-daughter relationship in light of what happened the year her 77-year-old mom “Helen” (not her real name) moved in with her and her teenage daughter. In a Q & A on her website Hafner states, “Mother Daughter Me asks a central question: what is our obligation to our parents as they age, particularly if those parents gave us a childhood that was far less than ideal?”

Widowed Katie had hoped that Katie and Helen’s bond would improve and that Helen would develop a closeness with her granddaughter. Per the publisher: Instead of “fairy-tale” dreams come true, there were “memories of her parents’ painful divorce, of her mother’s drinking, of dislocating moves back and forth across the country,  and of Katie’s own widowhood and bumpy recovery. Helen, for her part, was also holding difficult issues at bay.”

Kirkus Reviews reports on a crucial decision: “Desperate to bring peace to a feuding household, Hafner engaged the services of a family therapist, and their sessions revealed the extent to which both she and her mother denied the reality of their situation.”

II. Still Here Thinking of You: A Second Chance with Our Mothers by Joan Potter, Susan Hodara, Vicki Adesso, and Lori Toppel (2013)

This memoir arose from a writers’ group addressing mother-daughter relationships. Excerpts of their stories can be found on their website.

Kathleen Reardon, Huff Post Books: “This is storytelling as art. The authors excel in their ability to pull you into their recollections knowing…that you are out there vicariously living through their revelations and your own similar, heartfelt and heartrending reflections.”

III. What My Mother and I Don’t Talk About: Fifteen Writers Break the Silence, an anthology compiled by Michele Filgate (2019)

Danielle KurtzlebenNPR: “…(T)here are four main topics that these writers aren’t talking about with their mothers: terrible things their moms endured, terrible things the writers endured, what their moms were like before they were moms and the ways their moms failed to be good moms.”

More from NPR about these stories:

…(O)ur mothers still mess up — sometimes in life-altering ways. It’s about how, despite our love or desperate need for them, we mess things up too. And it’s also about the gut punch that happens when some children are forced to legitimately wonder just how good their mothers’ intentions ever were.

But then, it’s about how much more livable those relationships might be if someone just said those three magical words.

Those words are not ‘I love you’ but, rather, ‘Are you OK?’ Or, even more difficult: ‘Hey — I’m hurting.’

An important conclusion by Kirkus Reviews“…(S)ome readers may want to have their therapist on speed-dial.”

Nov 11

Sexual Abuse of Boys and Men: Recovery

1in6, an organization whose mission is “to help men who have had unwanted or abusive sexual experiences live healthier, happier lives,” lists on their site eight facts that counter common myths about the sexual abuse of boys and men:

  • Boys and men can be sexually used or abused, and it has nothing to do with how masculine they are.
  • If a boy liked the attention he was getting, or got sexually aroused during abuse, or even sometimes wanted the attention or sexual contact, this does not mean he wanted or liked being manipulated or abused, or that any part of what happened, in any way, was his responsibility or fault.
  • Sexual abuse harms boys and girls in ways that are similar and different, but equally harmful.
  • Boys can be sexually abused by both straight men and gay men. It’s about taking advantage of a child’s vulnerability, not the sexual orientation of the abusive person.
  • Whether he is gay, straight or bisexual, a boy’s sexual orientation is neither the cause or the result of sexual abuse.
  • Girls and women can sexually abuse boys.
  • Most boys who are sexually abused will not go on to sexually abuse others.
  • Not understanding these facts is understandable, but harmful, and needs to be overcome.

The following pertinent quotes are from therapists/writers who are experts on the effects of the sexual abuse of boys and men.

Jim Hopper, PhD:

Many men fear their masculinity has been robbed or destroyed, that they’ll be exposed as a ‘fake’ – even if no one has a clue about what happened or thinks twice about their masculinity.

...(L)earning to experience and express vulnerable emotions (at times and places of your own choosing), means becoming more masculine in many positive ways. 

         Richard Gartner, PhD, Psychology Today (author of Beyond Betrayal: Taking Charge of Your Life           After Boyhood Sexual Abuse):

Boys who grow up without coming to terms with their childhood abuse often struggle as men with addictions, anxiety, depression, and thoughts of suicide as well as the inability to develop or maintain relationships.

Confusing affection with abuse, desire with tenderness, sexually abused boys often become men who have difficulty distinguishing among sex, love, nurturance, affection, and abuse. They may experience friendly interpersonal approaches as seductive and manipulative. On the other hand, they may not notice when exploitative demands are made on them – they’ve learned to see these as normal and acceptable.

        Mike Lew, M.Ed., Victims No Longer: Men Recovering from Incest and Other Sexual Child Abuse:

Another question I am frequently asked is, “What do you mean by recovery?” It has taken me a while to answer that one. I had been depending on other people’s definitions of recovery until I developed one that worked for me (just as you must come to one that makes sense for you.) Mine is simple. For me, it is about freedom.
Recovery is the freedom to make choices in your life that aren’t determined by the abuse.
The specific choices will be different for each of you; the freedom to choose is your birthright.  

Lists of various resources are available to male survivors at 1in6 as well as on the websites of Jim Hopper and Next Step Counseling (co-directed by therapists Mike Lew and Thom Harrigan), and Dr. Kelli Palfy (author of Men Too: Unspoken Truths About Male Sexual Abuse), among others.

Nov 02

Therapeutic Letter to Your Parents: Why and How

A therapeutic letter is something I’ve not only suggested to adult clients many times but have also used personally. In fact, I wrote one for the very same reason many others have—coming out to Mom. Jane Lynch, for example, wrote about this type of letter in her 2011 memoir Happy Accidents. (My own experience was fictionalized in my novel Minding Therapy.)

In Lynch’s case, her therapist suggested writing her parents the fairly standard write-it/don’t-necessarily-send-it/maybe-you-should-show-it-to-me-first kind of letter. Why not send it? There can be some satisfaction just from the process of venting thoughts and feelings and/or preparing what you might actually say in person instead. Why show your therapeutic letter to a trusted someone? In case you get carried away, a more objective eye helps ensure that the prospective target won’t be so turned off they’ll decide not to read your missive.

Coming out, of course, isn’t the only reason you might write a therapeutic letter. Maybe you’ve experienced childhood wounds you’d like to address. Or maybe the problems are more present-centered.

But, Isn’t letter writing a copout? some will ask. Not at all. Letter-writing affords the sender a chance to say what she needs to say without being sidetracked by heated dialogue, and it affords the receiver a chance to think things through before responding. And thus, both parties can work together more effectively on their relationship.

When John F. Evans, EdD, Psychology Today, addressed “transactional writing” he considered all kinds of reasons someone might try to reach another via writing. His five types of letters can all apply to reasons you may be considering writing a letter to your parents.

  1. The compassionate letter–in which you reach out to try to help someone in pain
  2. The empathetic letter–an effort to understand another’s actions or intent
  3. The gratitude letter
  4. Granting forgiveness letter
  5. Asking forgiveness letter

More specifically, Matt Smith at Modern Era Counseling suggests a process for dealing with toxic parents through writing a series, step by step, of three different therapy letters.

  1. The never-to-be-mailed letter to your toxic parent–to help the writer express things without self-censorship
  2. The realistic response letter from your toxic parent–what you might expect in return
  3. Desired response letter from your toxic parent–“the response you’ve always hoped for from your parent but never truly received”

The ultimate effect of the above process is to allow oneself to feel the type of validation never before received—and possibly not ever achievable in actual interactions.

Oct 26

Transgender and Gender Identity Books Worth a Look

I. Trans Bodies, Trans Selves, 2nd edition (2022), compiled by Laura Erickson-Schroth

“…(A) revolutionary resource–a comprehensive, reader-friendly guide for transgender people, with each chapter written by transgender and gender expansive authors.”

II. “You’re in the Wrong Bathroom!”: And 20 Other Myths and Misconceptions About Transgender and Gender-Nonconforming People (2017) by psychiatrist Laura Erickson-Schroth and therapist Laura A. Jacobs

Aims to educate people about some frequently held but misguided beliefs on this topic.

III. Gender Failure (2014)by Rae Spoon and Ivan E. Coyote

Kate Bornstein, author of A Queer and Pleasant Danger: “Ivan and Rae have written a magical, down-to-earth, painfully honest step beyond any predetermined transgender narrative that I know of. At times hilarious, at times heartbreaking, their storytelling is top-notch. This book is unputdownable.”

IV. the GENDER book (2014) by Hunter Rook, Jay Mays, and Robin Mack

Page by page, The Gender Book includes easy-to-read and colorful graphics such as the one below:

transumbrella

V. Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out (2014) by Susan Kuklin

Six young adults and their families are featured.

VI. Some Assembly Required: The Not-So-Secret Life of a Transgender Teen (2014) by Arin Andrews    

Arin Andrews had gender reassignment when he was a high school junior.

VII. I Promised Not to Tell: Raising a Transgender Child (2016) by Cheryl B. Evans

From the publisher: “What is unique about this deeply personal parenting memoir is that it follows one transgender child from birth through age eighteen.”

VIII. My Daughter He: Transitioning With Our Transgender Children (2014) by Candace Waldron    

Waldron’s trans son started to deal openly with his identity in his teens.

IX. Becoming Nicole: The Transformation of An American Family (2015) by Amy Ellis Nutt  

Wyatt is one of the identical twins adopted by Wayne and Kelly Maines. “By the time the twins were toddlers, confusion over Wyatt’s insistence that he was female began to tear the family apart. In the years that followed, the Maineses came to question their long-held views on gender and identity, to accept and embrace Wyatt’s transition to Nicole, and to undergo an emotionally wrenching transformation of their own that would change all their lives forever.”

X. Raising Ryland: Our Story of Parenting a Transgender Child with No Strings Attached (2016) by Hillary Whittington 

This book expands on the viral YouTube video of Ryland, age 5, and his parents.

XI. Raising the Transgender Child (2016) by Michele Angelo and Ali Bowman

Whittington (see above)”T praises Raising the Transgender Child as “an essential ‘how to’ guide for any parent or guardian of a gender fluid or transgender child.”

XII. The Reflective Workbook for Partners of Transgender People: Your Transition as Your Partner Transitions (2019) by D.M. Maynard  

A relatively new workbook for a sometimes forgotten group in need.

Other resources for trans partners, by the way, can be found at TransGenderPartners.com.