Saturday, November 19, 2016

November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month!

This month's TPG Guest Blogger is Rhonda Bullmaster. She is an  MSW Social Work Intern from the University of Kansas, and she is completing her practicum at Phoenix Family Housing. Rhonda provided this valuable information to help raise awareness of Lung Cancer Awareness Month and provide support to those who wish to quit tobacco. Give it a read and encourage others to be quitters!

November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month! What better way to raise awareness than to talk about smoking cessation? Did you know that smoking is the most preventable cause of death in the United States? 4 out of 5 lung cancer deaths are linked to tobacco use. Quitting smoking could save your life. 

Here are four simple steps to help you or someone you love quit smoking.
1.    Decide to quit, but do it for you- Write down why you feel it’s important for you to quit.
2.    Choose a day to quit- Choose a day and hold yourself accountable.
3.    Prepare for your quit day- Choose your method of quitting and be honest with yourself  because it’s not easy.
4.    Kick it for Good- Remind yourself why this is important for you.

There are many support networks and other tools you can use in order to kick the habit of smoking. Try one of these great resources:
1.    Quit for Life- a phone and web-based program that connects people to live coaches. 1-800-227-2345
2. is an online community that provides support to those that choose to quit.
3.    The American Cancer Society- has a Guide to Quitting located on their website.
4.    Medical doctors and insurance agencies- are willing to provide medical treatment for those choosing to quit. Ask your doctor.
The truth is that smoking is dangerous and addictive. People who smoke light cigarettes have the same risk for lung cancer, as those smoking full flavor. The Great American Smokeout day is the third Thursday in November every year. Why not choose this year to choose you and say no to Tobacco induced Lung cancer.


Thursday, November 3, 2016

Exploration of Gender Identity

“Unless we base our sense of identity upon the truth of who we are, it is impossible to attain true happiness.”
-Brenda Shoshanna
Today I want to start a discussion on human sexuality.  Historically sexuality has been stripped down to miniscule fragments that fail to capture its full essence.  When people ask others about their sexuality, usually they are referring to sex and who they prefer to be having it with.  Yet sexuality is so much more complex than just sex.  Sex educator, Dr. Dennis Dailey, states there are five circles of sexuality: sensuality, intimacy, sexual identity, sexual health and reproduction, and finally sexualization.  All of these circles come together to form our sexuality.  According to Dr. Dailey, the sexual identity circle of our sexuality encompasses our sexual orientation, biases, gender roles, and gender identities.  By following his model, to understand sexuality, one must understand their identities.
Identity; it is an integral part of our lives, but what really is identity? The dictionary will tell you it is “the fact of being who or what a person or thing is.  The interpretation of identity varies between person to person and this interpretation we make for ourselves is such an essential part of our being that it is hard to imagine life without it.  So how is identity related to sexuality?  There are many answers to this question, yet for the purposes of this blog, I am going to focus on how our gender identity impacts our sexuality.  I also want to mention that this blog will discuss gender and gender-related identities consistently.  This does not mean this blog is exclusively for gender-nonconforming people.  Sexuality affects everyone, regardless of their gender identity.            
In order to get a more holistic view of the impact gender identity has on sexuality, one needs to reflect on both their experiences of the two.  This blog series will feature many interviews that will examine the experiences, thoughts, and feelings of people of varying gender identities and sexual identities.  To start the series off, I will share my own identities first: I am a queer, transgender man.  These labels come so easily to me now and I can share them as easily as I share my shoe size or height, however, this was not always the case and it has been a long journey to get to this point.
I was a pre-teen when I first started realizing that my gender experience differed from the gender my parents assigned to me at birth.  It was around that age that I started reading young adult fiction novels and comics with gay protagonists.  I had several cisgender girl friends who would read them with me and we would talk about how “cute” the couples were in our stories.  To my friends, reading the stories was a fun hobby, but my experience always felt different.  I found myself identifying with the queer leads from the stories.  I would imagine myself in their shoes, saving the day with my boyfriend.  My heterosexual friends thought a lot about these boys too and started to date our male classmates as we grew older.  I wanted nothing to do with dating boys.  I liked them, but my mind would always go back to the boys in my stories.  I knew my life would never be like theirs.  If I dated a classmate, I would be seen as a heterosexual female to the world.  I found this label to be wrong for me in every way.  I withdrew from others when it came to relationships until I started college. 
I found myself drawn to LGBTQIA spaces provided at my college.  It was about this time I became fully aware that my gender identity was trans male, although I was far from ready to be out to the world.   I met several attractive women in these queer groups and I eventually started dating and engaging in sexual relationships with girls.  I was never really attracted to women but I longed for companionship.  I found that with girls, I could take on more masculine roles in a relationship than I could with heterosexual, cisgender guys.  Essentially, I could feel manlier in a “lesbian” relationship.  So I took on the label of being a lesbian and continued through college.   As time went on, I found that the label was ill-fitting and my short-lived happiness was dwindling fast.  I felt as if I was living a lie.  Everyone thought I was a gay woman; how would they react if I told them I was a gay man?  I continued on like this throughout my undergraduate education until I started graduate school.
If you’re wondering why I did not want to come out, the truth is sort of complex.  First of all, I come from a poor, rural family.  I feared that I would never be able to afford a gender transition until I was done with school.  I had limited knowledge about transitioning and a lack of gender-variant friends to talk about it with.  Additionally, I had spent a few years publically crafting an identity as a lesbian; I thought my family and friends would be confused and would not understand.  Third, I thought I would be fine living contently in the closet.  I wanted to push through life, focusing on my education.  Transition could come later.
Unfortunately, living life in the closet was a miserable, lonely existence for me. “Unless we base our sense of identity upon the truth of who we are, it is impossible to attain true happiness.”  A month into graduate school I was moved into a big city, taking on a tough school curriculum and work-load I was not used to.   I felt miserable and was unsure of what to do about it.  Fortunately, my connections as a social work student helped me find the aid I needed.  I went to see a therapist to discuss all of the hardships I was experiencing.  She had me fill out some forms to give her a better idea of how to treat me.  One of the forms asked, “How well does your gender identity match up with your biological sex?”  I told her zero and that is when the journey of my gender transition began.  I told her the truth.  “I’m a gay man,” I said.  “That is wonderful,” she answered.  We had a long talk about coming out of the closet and what transitioning would be like.  After leaving her office I immediately started researching.  Eventually I met with an endocrinologist to start hormone therapy and much later I had a double mastectomy to remove my breasts.
I had never been happier after coming out as transgender, but part of my identity was still being hidden from the world.  After coming out, many of my friends and family assumed I would be dating women and would take on the identity of a heterosexual man.  I was hesitant to come out as gay because I had recently started a relationship with a lesbian woman.  For the sake of confidentiality, I will call her Valerie.  I was afraid of coming out to her.  I did not want her to be angry with me for starting a relationship, knowing I was transgender.  A few weeks after I started transitioning, I came clean.  She was nothing but supportive and she wanted to continue dating.  Although she is an amazing woman and we had chemistry, our relationship began to go flat the further I progressed into my transition.  People saw us in public and assumed we were heterosexual, a label that did not feel comfortable to either of us.  Eventually we broke up but to this day we are close friends and she has been an amazing support.  My relationship with Valerie showed me that I have to be honest with the world and myself about who I am.  I am a transgender, queer man.
Although coming fully out to the world was a complex process, the journey made me learn a lot about myself, my gender, and my sexuality.  Being a transgender person can give you a unique perspective on sexuality.  Testosterone and top surgery have changed my body to resemble that of men who were assigned “male” at birth.  However, I still have a uterus, labia, and vagina.  This complicated the idea of romance I gained from my childhood novels.  I was also anxious to enter the gay dating world, a community with a large focus on penises and masculinity.  However, after spending time in transgender spaces, I grew to love and accept my body and broadened my idea of what love, sex, and romance looks like.  I adopted the word “queer” rather than “gay” because I found it better fitting with my identities.  I also met some wonderful people with unique experiences pertaining to their identities and expression, some whom are willing to share for the sake of this blog.
So now that I have laid out my entire journey for the pursuit of knowledge, I’m hoping that mine and others’ experiences will be an enlightening start to this dialogue we have created on identity.  Over the next few months I will have the privilege of sharing a fragment of people’s identities for this dialogue.  Over time, I hope you, the readers, are able to reflect on your own gender and sexual identity in order to have a better understanding of the enigma that is your sexuality.
-Killian, TPG Intern and MSW Student