Category Archives: NoMore

Sexual Values In The Industry

Growing up a daughter of a screenwriter, I had no words to describe my intense discomfort with the entertainment industry. Years would pass before I found language to describe the pressure on girls and women to starve themselves, the relentless rating of physical attractiveness, the hype around sex and sexuality, the assumption that anyone would do anything to be tapped into the club. As a kid, I could have explained none of this. All I knew was that I’d never fit in, and I wished my father had chosen a different profession.

Many aspects of the industry feed directly and indirectly into a culture of rape. The sanctioned, artificial, forced sexuality woven into the fabric of the entertainment industry intensifies the problem, normalizing the sexualization of all interactions. I remember attending a party, and a man approached. He was in his mid 40s and when he leaned down to kiss my lips, I ducked my head and instead offered my hand. He took my hand in both of his and smirked. I still remember his words: “Sweetheart, you’ll never make it in the industry if you don’t change that attitude.” I knew that I didn’t belong in the industry, that the idea of being his sweetheart made me queasy, that whether I allowed him to kiss my lips was entirely my choice. Still, it was a gut-shot to be told that I was pathetically uncool. I was eleven.

Something creepy and dangerous lurked in the shadows, and I grew up on guard, waiting for it to pounce. This type of incident was a part of my ongoing experience in the industry and like most children, I didn’t question the values that my environment considered “normal.” And I was extremely lucky — when I said no, people backed off.

Today, I’m sick at heart as so many reveal how badly they’ve been hurt. I support and respect those who are stepping forward, calling out sexual predators in the industry. They’re showing courage on a level that awes me, and I hope that every survivor of every gender will speak out and be given the support they deserve. I also hope every person who ever used a sexual act as a power-weapon will be held accountable for the damage they’ve inflicted. Beyond the individuals, I hope the industry as a whole owns its role in enabling a sub-culture of sexual abuse.

As a child of the industry, I heard over and over that a good director understands how and when to begin and end a production. If the beginning isn’t compelling from the opening moments, the audience disconnects. If the performance stretches even one minute too long, the audience checks out. We need a new beginning, starting now, paving the way for a future of new endings. So cue the lights, fade to black, and stop. Just stop.

___

Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable

Caroline Black, age 15, leaves her college prep academy for the local public high school. Growing up in a film industry family, Caroline is a misfit, and her new school opens her world. Written in reaction to witnessing gay boys bullied in high school.

Tightwire

A psychology intern, who grew up in a film industry family, goes through her rookie year of clinical training, working with her first patient, who ran away from the circus to find himself. Written in support of healthy sex and sexuality, in support of lesbian and gay parents, as a voice against the stigma of therapy, and as a window into the behind-closed-doors values of the film industry.

Visit Amy’s Author Page on Amazon

https://www.amazon.com/Amy-Kaufman-Burk/e/B00R0S66Y4

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Filed under Film Industry Values, Harvey Weinstein Scandal, NoMore, sexual equality, Uncategorized

Mika, Joe, Lady Gaga

I can’t keep up with The White House.

As I work on this post about President Trump’s twitter attack on Mika Brzezinski, the next barrage of banner headlines is underway: Russian interference, Islamophobia, first-children crashing international meetings, more Russian interference. Each day, as I open my laptop to write, I wonder what calamity the next 24 hours will bring.

But as I scramble to keep up, I don’t want to lose track of Mika Brzezinski, because if those tweets were her “punishment,” I feel compelled to define her “crime.” First (and bad), she expressed an opinion different from President Trump’s. Second (and worse), she was critical. Third (and apparently worst of all), she’s a she. Tossing ideas around my head, deciding how to approach this post, my thoughts turned in a direction that surprised me: The Academy Awards.

In the aftermath of every night-at-the-Oscars, people revel in unbridled criticism. The tabloids trash outfits and hairstyles. Speeches are lauded and vilified. Subjects I find important (racism and gender equality) and those I find ridiculous (unflattering ball gowns) are reported as “Breaking News.” Usually, I find myself annoyed by the Oscar-aftermath, and I quickly move on. But I’ll never forget the 88th Academy Awards, when Lady Gaga and Joe Biden raised a collective voice against sexual assault.

Sexual assault is non-partisan. It can happen to anyone regardless of age, racial heritage, gender, political affiliation. The after for survivors is often private and hidden, and if they choose to come forward, many don’t find the support they deserve. While I respect Mika  Brzezinski’s public reaction to President’s Trump’s tweets, I hope she’s doing okay in private as well, because our Commander-In-Chief’s words were assaultive.

As a novelist, I ask myself repeatedly how I can effectively address real issues through pretend fiction. After careful consideration, I decided to include sexual assault in both of my novels. But again, I can’t keep up. Even if I wrote from dawn to dusk, every day, for the next century, I couldn’t cover the broad scope. This topic is loaded and layered, individual and complex, unique and universal. Possibly most damaging — it’s often forbidden. The gag order imposed on survivors, the code of silence among potential supporters, can be as emotionally damaging as the assault itself. And that’s why I chose to write about it.

I hope my novels (fiction) and blog posts (non-fiction) pave the way to open conversations, because a productive conversation forms a team. We don’t have to speak the same dialect, or identify as the same gender, or be in the same age group, or share partisan political beliefs, or worship in the same way, or look the least bit alike to form a strong team – case in point: Lady Gaga and Joe Biden.

I don’t wear make-up. My favorite sport is reading. I’ll never run for political office. I can’t manage to dredge up even a micro-fantasy about a blow-your-mind mic drop. And I’m joining the Lady-Gaga-and-Joe-Biden team.

You can join, too.

____

Novels By Amy Kaufman Burk

Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable

A 15-year-old girl, Caroline Black, leaves her college prep academy for the local public high school, which opens her world. Written in reaction to seeing gay students bullied in high school.

Tightwire

Caroline Black, now a rookie psychology intern, goes through one year of training, working with her first patient – a young man who is stormy, seductive, brilliant and complex. Written in support of healthy sex and Marriage Equality, and as a voice against the stigma of psychotherapy.

Amy’s Author Page On Amazon

https://www.amazon.com/Amy-Kaufman-Burk/e/B00R0S66Y4

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Filed under He For She, Joe Biden, Lady Gaga, Mika Brzezinski, NoMore, Uncategorized

Self-Defense And Family

I had never kicked a man in the face, or kneed him in the groin. I had never even raised my voice in public. Until I was 32 years old.

I had given birth to my first child a month previously. He was slumbering in my arms — a swaddled bundle of peace and trust. I was in monumental need of a nap, with the desperate exhaustion of a new parent. But I loved cradling my baby, and wanted to hold him a bit longer. I’d been entirely oblivious to the world outside my newborn for four weeks, so I settled on the couch in our family room and reached for the TV remote.

As the screen came to life, I zapped to attention. The news anchor was describing a kidnapping. A mother was loading groceries into her car — broad daylight, crowded parking lot, upscale neighborhood. A man approached, showed his weapon, and took her baby. When my husband came home that evening, he found me hyper-alert, napless, clutching our firstborn. I told him I wanted to learn self-defense.

The class was hands-on, with a coach guiding us through every fight. Our “assailant” dressed head to toe in protective gear, so we could fight without injuring him. I learned to break an attacker’s hold, to shout to scare him off, to fight when needed, to knock him cold if necessary. But self-defense is about protecting from harm, not about causing mayhem. So I was also taught techniques to de-escalate a dangerous situation, to fight only as a last resort. I learned to recognize the difference between an empty threat and an impending assault. If the assailant crossed that line, I was ready. The empowerment that grew within me, the commitment to protecting my self, was about strength and safety. The experience was life-changing.

Six years passed, and I was walking home in San Francisco after a day at work. Suddenly, a man grabbed my arm. In an instant, my self-defense class was at my fingertips. I gauged his stance, his build, his level of aggression. I shrugged off my natural impulse to pull away, and instead stepped toward him. I hurled my briefcase to the ground, 100% ready to fight, and yelled in his face, “BACK OFF!” The entire street froze. The man let go, retreated several steps, shot me a terrified look, and ran away.

I felt invincible for one stellar moment. Then I felt something even better – solid, down-to-earth empowerment. I picked up my briefcase and walked home. By then, my first born was an older brother, and I held my children. Tender and strong.

Self-defense and family. That’s what it’s about.

___

Amy Kaufman Burk is a novelist, blogger and mother of three grown children. Her novels, Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable and Tightwire, include issues of sexual assault, healing and empowerment. 

Amy’s Author Page On Amazon

https://www.amazon.com/Amy-Kaufman-Burk/e/B00R0S66Y4

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Filed under feminism, girl power, NoMore

No More Week

Today is the beginning of No More Week. The No More campaign is a strong voice against domestic violence and sexual assault, as well as support for victims. Several celebrities have offered their names and faces to represent No More, and I wish I could personally thank each of them. The campaign encourages us to step in and help. One way to make a real difference is to be someone’s someone.

I remember a seminar I attended years ago, at a teaching hospital in San Francisco, when I was training to become a licensed psychologist. We all sat around a long table, and our teacher asked a question: “What’s most important to say to someone who calls in a panic?” This teacher was an experienced psychiatrist, and he knew his way around a panicked phone call. We began tossing out ideas.

“You’re bigger than your panic.” (In that moment, if this were true, the patient wouldn’t need to call.)

“Panic is just a state of mind.” (No kidding. It’s a beast of a state of mind.)

“It’s okay.” (Unhelpful. The person does not feel anything close to okay.)

Finally, our teacher smiled quietly: “The most powerful thing you can do is answer the phone and say hello.”

That stopped us in our tracks.

We’re only human, and we’ve all felt overwhelmed at times. Circumstances gang up on us, events build to a deafening roar, feelings run rampant. Of the many harsh experiences we have to face, domestic violence and sexual assault are as tough as it gets. Sexual assault and domestic violence should happen to nobody, but can happen to anybody. The experience can take many forms, and reactions can include a confusing avalanche of emotions. When someone we love is a victim, we can suffer as well.

The healing process can begin with simply knowing that someone is there for you, that someone will answer the phone and say hello. Being there, being someone’s someone, is an honor. You don’t need to be brilliant. You certainly don’t need to minimize the person’s feelings, or tell her (or him – yes, boys and men are assaulted, too) that she (he) is not feeling what, in fact, she (he) feels in screaming technicolor. Saying hello offers the first step on the path to healing. From that point, the person might choose to talk it through, figure it out, rally support, hold it quietly. Whatever he/she chooses, the path to healing can begin in that moment.

The No More campaign urges us to say “No to silence” and “No to violence”. The campaign also urges people to “get help now”. No More is about facing a terrible problem in our society, and also about hope and healing.

You can help in many ways – volunteer, donate, write, speak. You can heal. You can answer the phone and say hello, be someone’s someone.

No More will stand with you, and so will I.

Please check out the website nomore.org

____

Novels By Amy Kaufman Burk

Sexual assault and hurtful sexual experiences are so prevalent that I decided to include these issues in both of my novels. I tried to treat the issues, emotional and physical, with the respect they deserve. Having worked as a therapist for 25 years before becoming a novelist, I also hold boundless respect for the human capacity to heal.

Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable

A 15-year-old girl, Caroline Black, leaves her college prep academy for the local public high school, which opens her world. Written in reaction to witnessing gay boys bullied in high school, as a voice against bullying, stereotyping and sexual assault.

Tightwire

Caroline Black, a rookie psychology intern, goes through one year of training, working with her first patient – a young man who is stormy, seductive, complex and troubled. Written in support of healthy sex and sexuality, healing from sexual assault, same-sex parents, and a voice against the stigma of psychotherapy.

Amy’s Author Page On Amazon

https://www.amazon.com/Amy-Kaufman-Burk/e/B00R0S66Y4

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Filed under NoMore, NOMOREWEEK

Reading Guides for Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable and Tightwire

Dear Readers,

I’ve received emails from members of book clubs who are reading my novels. Some asked for a reading guide, so I created one for each novel.

When I give talks, my favorite part is opening the floor to questions. Your ideas always kick-start new ways of thinking within me – and I’m grateful. If you want to respond to the reading guides, feel free to contact me through my website. I love hearing from readers, and I try to respond to every message. http://amykaufmanburk.com

For those of you who are including my novel in your book club, in your classroom, on your  personal list of books to read – thank you so much.

Best,

Amy

READING GUIDES

Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable

1. As the book opens, Caroline has just transferred from a private school to her local public high school and she is terrified.  But from the start, she shows signs of being much more than scared and intimidated. What are the first signs that Caroline has hidden strengths? Have you ever felt strong inside in ways nobody could see?

2. This novel has lesbian and gay characters, as well as straight characters. Each character adds a vital piece to the story. Yet, unlike many books in the “Gay And Lesbian Literary Fiction” category, Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable does not offer explicit details of sex. In writing the story, this was a careful choice I made. What do you think of this decision?

3. A theme of my novel is defying stereotypes. Some of the stereotypes in the story are racial, sexual and gender based. Some are about other kinds of assumptions. For instance, what does it say about a person if he/she is a prostitute, the leader of a gang, a cheerleader, extremely academic? Have you ever felt that others stereotyped you?

4. I wrote my book in reaction to the bullying of gay boys that I witnessed in high school. Have you ever been bullied? Have you ever acted as a bully? Have you ever seen another bullied? How did you handle it? Will you handle it differently next time?

5. A subplot in the book is based on growing up in the film industry. Have you ever been in an environment that was a mismatch for your true self? How did you navigate the situation?

6. From the first chapter, Caroline begins to find friends in her new high school. She builds a friendship group that is racially, sexually and economically diverse. Is that sort of diversity important to you?

7. Several high school characters have secrets – Caroline, The Duke, Valerie. Have you ever held a secret inside, that you were afraid to speak out loud? How does it feel to have a secret?

8. Sexual assault should happen to nobody, but it can happen to anybody. This is a subplot in Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable. Have you ever been assaulted? Have you known someone who has been assaulted? Do you have the support you need to heal? (If not, please contact a rape crisis center near you, or talk to a therapist.)

9. When I speak to gay/straight alliances, I often hear stories of adolescents coming out to their families, and getting unsupportive, hurtful responses. I decided to include in my novel one family’s journey to support and acceptance. Have you ever felt unsupported by your family when you most needed support?

I wrote the following blog posts to help families stay supportive and bonded.

“They Came Out And Gay Fills The Room” https://amykaufmanburk.wordpress.com/2014/03/28/they-came-out-and-gay-fills-the-room/

“When Your Daughter Or Son Comes Out” https://amykaufmanburk.wordpress.com/2014/02/14/when-your-daughter-or-son-comes-out/

“If My Child Came Out As Trans”     https://amykaufmanburk.wordpress.com/2015/01/29/if-my-child-came-out-as-trans/

10. Homophobia can show itself in many forms. It can be subtle, damaging, hurtful, deadly. Through different characters, I decided to demonstrate different kinds of homophobia, and model different paths to support and acceptance. Have you ever seen someone move from homophobia to support and acceptance? Have you taken that journey to becoming an ally?

11. Readers often tell me they have picked a favorite character in Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable. Do you have a favorite character from the book? What draws you to that character?

12. Do you have an idea to add to this study guide? I’d love to hear from you! http://hollywoodhighbook.com/?page_id=70

Tightwire

1. Tightwire tracks Caroline Black through her first year as a psychology intern, working with her first patient, Collier. As the book opens, Collier feels hopeless. As the book progresses, he discovers his capacity to heal. Have you ever felt hopeless? Have you found a way to heal? (If you need help, please reach out to the resources in your community.)

2. People have all sorts of ideas about therapy and therapists, and their ideas sometimes include a stigma. I hope this novel shows how helpful a “talking therapy” can be, and helps to diminish the stigma. Did the story make the idea of therapy less “strange,” possibly more comfortable?

3. Sexuality can feel confusing, even terrifying. At one point in the story, Collier (the patient) questions his sexuality. Have you ever questioned your sexuality or your sexual identity? How did you resolve your questions? Are your questions still ongoing? (If you need support, please contact an LGBTQIA center near your home. The Trevor Project is also an excellent organization to offer support. http://www.thetrevorproject.org)

4. Two important characters in Tightwire are Jeanne and Tracy, a lesbian couple with two children, who become role-model-parents for Collier. Have you met a same-sex couple with children? Are you comfortable with that family constellation? Why or why not? (If you’re open to growing more comfortable, maybe Jeanne and Tracy can help!)

5. One theme of this book is that if you’re motivated, it’s never too late to change. Do you have parts of yourself that you’d like to change?

6. Sexual assault can happen in many forms. People can feel a wide range of emotions including violated, betrayed, contaminated, frightened…also guilty, confused, depressed, doubting the validity of their own experience. Sexual assault is a part of this novel, and the survivor’s healing is a central theme. Have you ever had a sexual experience which left you feeling assaulted? Were you able to trust the validity of your experience, even if the assault fell outside the legal definition of “rape”? Have you ever felt safe enough to tell another person? (If you need help healing, please reach out to a rape crisis center or a therapist.)

7. In one session with Collier, Caroline (the therapist) has no idea how to handle the situation, and she makes several mistakes. She is certain that she has torpedoed both the treatment and her career. She expects her supervisor to kick her out of her psych internship, and her patient to quit. But to her surprise, her supervisor is supportive and helpful, and her patient comes back to continue working. What does Caroline do that earns the respect of her supervisor, and allows Collier to return to his treatment? Have you ever made a big mistake, and then been given a second chance?

8. Tightwire is structured with chapters that alternate between Caroline’s sessions with Collier, and Caroline’s life as she grows up. Did you find the structure engaging? Why or why not?

9. Do you have an idea to add to this study guide? I’d love to hear from you! http://amykaufmanburk.com

____

Novels By Amy Kaufman Burk

Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable

Caroline Black, 15 years old, leaves her college prep academy for the local public high school, which opens her world. Written in reaction to the bullying of gay students I witnessed in high school.

Tightwire

Caroline Black, now a rookie psychology intern, goes through one year of training, working with her first patient – a young man who is stormy, seductive, complex and troubled. Written in support of healthy sex and sexuality, in support of same-sex parents, and as a voice against the stigma of psychotherapy.

Amy’s Author Page On Amazon

https://www.amazon.com/Amy-Kaufman-Burk/e/B00R0S66Y4

 

 

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Filed under Ally Support, bullying, LGBT, Marriage Equality, NoMore, psychological, Stereotypes, therapy, writing