Category Archives: Uncategorized

March For Our Lives

“You can’t cast too many Blacks in one film. Nobody will watch.”

“It’s just how it is.” 

“It’s an absolute truth.”

As a child (born in 1958) growing up in a film industry family, I heard this “absolute truth” from the experts — writers, directors, producers, actors, costume designers. Although everyone I knew seemed to agree, I was puzzled. I remember asking what the difference was between an all-Caucasian cast and an all-any-other-racial-heritage cast. I didn’t understand why the industry, brimming with creativity, insisted on following the herd regarding this specific convention. Some expressed regret, so I asked why they didn’t do something to change it. Their answer was always a variation of “It’s-Just-How-It-Is.”

With its rocketing success, the film Black Panther has rewritten that “absolute truth” of my childhood. Of course, several other films have already shown this “truth” to be nowhere close to “absolute.” Black Panther is a strong and timely reminder that “absolute truths” should always be questioned. As a kid, I was also told that an all-female cast wouldn’t work, that if actors came out as gay their careers would grind to an abrupt halt, that females needed to be frighteningly skinny because everyone looks heavier on film and “nobody likes a girl with a fat ass” (a quote from an actor, at a dinner party, which drew raucous approval from men and women alike). I was told these “absolute truths” would “never change.”

Even the most decent adults can get bogged down in business analysis, lulled by the familiarity of convention, and lose track of the purity of an idea. Claudette Colvin was 15 years old in 1955, when she was arrested in Montgomery, Alabama, for refusing to give up her seat on a bus. Malala Yousafzai was in her teens when she was shot in the head, and lived to become a voice for females and education worldwide. Emma Gonzalez — a survivor of the February 14, 2018, high school shooting in Parkland, Florida — has catapulted the #NeverAgain movement to unprecedented levels. Naomi Wadler was 11 years old when she took the stage on March 24, 2018, and stunned the nation with her eloquence in support of Black lives. Samantha Fuentes, wounded at the Parkland shooting, showed us that vomiting onstage can be an act of inspirational courage.

It’s-Just-How-It-Is can’t stop the Claudettes or the Malalas or the Emmas or the Naomis or the Samanthas. Sometimes we need young voices to remind us of the power of decency — hearts and minds unburdened by cost-benefit analysis, less tied to socio-cultural infrastructures. Until February 13, 2018, school shootings were “just how it is.” After February 14, 2018, with several killed and wounded at Margery Stoneman Douglas High School, It’s-Just-How-It-Is transformed into Never-Again.

Young people are rewriting our absolutes. They’re today’s self-evident truths and tomorrow’s inalienable rights. They’re our nation’s We-The-People, leading us as we renew our vows to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. They’re our future and our now.

___

Amy Kaufman Burk is a therapist-turned-author. Her first novel, Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable, was written in reaction to seeing gay students bullied in high school. The story follows Caroline Black through tenth grade, with her circle of friends, as her new high school opens her world. Tightwire, Amy’s second novel, continues to follow Caroline, this time as a rookie psych intern treating her first patient — a stormy, brilliant, troubled young man who ran away from the circus to find himself. Amy’s blog includes posts about a variety of subjects including the resistance, gender equality, LGBTIQ+ ally support and racial equality. Amy collaborates with educators who include her books and essays in their classrooms.

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

 

Advertisements

2 Comments

Filed under Black Lives Matter, Black Panther, Claudette Colvin, Emma Gonzalez, Film Industry Values, Malala, March For Our Lives, Naomi Wadler, Parkland Shooting, Samantha Fuentes, Uncategorized

Sex, Talk, Honesty

I met Daphne de Marneffe over twenty years ago, waiting for our children to finish their day at preschool. Standing on a foggy sidewalk in San Francisco, bundled against the chill, we gravitated together. Daphne was funny, irreverent, lightning-smart and (most importantly) entirely unfazed by my tendency to curse as soon as the kids moved out of earshot. We spoke about our ongoing parenting questions, about the unresolvable balance between parenthood and career. We talked about the fun and the grit, the triumphs and the crashes. She was one of the most honest people I’d ever met.

Now, more than two decades later, Daphne has written a stunningly honest book — The Rough Patch.

In the zillions of books available about sex, communication and relationships — most of them fifty shades of annoying — I loved The Rough Patch. We’re primed to think that if a relationship entails hard work, something is wrong. Daphne, with her signature honesty, disagrees. Even the strongest couples navigate inevitable rough patches. According to Daphne, hard work and healthy relationship aren’t antonyms; they’re realities.

The Rough Patch does not offer one-size-fits-all solutions. The book does not tell you how you should feel, what you should do, whether you should remain a couple or break up. Instead, Daphne presents several paths that readers can choose, to match their personal styles. She offers diverse strategies for effective communication, addresses the wide range of sexual practices, acknowledges that rough patches can have many meanings.

The ideas in The Rough Patch are relevant to adults of all ages, both in relationships and single. First and last, we’re in relationships with ourselves. We wake up with ourselves every morning, and sleep with ourselves every night. I found Daphne’s perspective evocative and insightful for all stages of relationships, and for individuals as well.

People are complicated, and two of those intricate beings, navigating a life, create layers of complexity that defy mathematical limits. In the course of long-term relationships, individuals grow and change. Healthy relationships are dynamic, not static, and the ground always will be shifting. Daphne invites readers to explore and discover with her, with their partners, and within themselves.

Daphne writes that over time, we’ve seen our life-partners as beautifully, starkly, heartrendingly human — just as they’ve seen us. The intensity of that level of intimacy is uplifting, terrifying, exhilarating, baffling, burdensome, liberating. In our unfailing humanness, we sometimes soar to uncharted heights, and sometimes fall with a resounding thud.

So how do we get through the rough patches when our love includes deep vulnerability? How can we fight productively when we know each other so well that we can draw blood with every hit? How can we reconnect verbally and sexually as we struggle? How can we trust each other when we’re hurt and angry?

Ask Daphne. She’s got your back. Honestly.

The Rough Patch

Daphne de Marneffe

https://www.amazon.com/Rough-Patch-Marriage-Living-Together/dp/1501118919/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8

___

Amy Kaufman Burk is a therapist-turned-author. Her first novel, Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable, was written in reaction to seeing gay students bullied in high school. The story follows Caroline Black and her friends through tenth grade, as her new high school opens her world. Tightwire, Amy’s second novel, continues to follow Caroline, this time as a rookie psych intern treating her first patient — a stormy, brilliant, troubled young man who ran away from the circus to find himself. Amy’s blog includes posts about a variety of subjects including the resistance, gender equality, LGBTQ+ ally support and racial equality. Amy collaborates with educators who include her books and essays in their classrooms.

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

 

Leave a comment

Filed under book review, Couples, Intimacy, Marriage, relationships, Uncategorized

Thoughts, Prayers, Never Again

During my 25 years as a therapist, I found that couples spoke in code. Nicknames, for example, often radiated unspoken layers of intimacy. When couples referred to each other by nicknames, they were reaching out their hands, a code for reconnecting. At other times in the course of a treatment, couples used code phrases to highlight their struggles. For instance, some said “I’m listening,” or “I hear you,” or “I want to understand” — and then their eyes glazed with a subtle film of distance as they emotionally checked out. For those folks, their phrases were codes for “I’m dismissing you.”

Now I’m watching a parallel process with school shootings. Since our current president took office, a pattern has emerged. A terrible shooting takes place leaving people dead, wounded, traumatized. And what happens next? “Thoughts and prayers” — peppered through speeches, all over social media, .  “Thoughts-and-prayers” has become a code phrase with the rough translation: “Let them pitch a fit, then they’ll lose their momentum, then we can go back to ignoring the issue.”

I’m actually a strong supporter of thoughts and prayers. The capacity to think is a human gift. Prayers reflect belief systems which guide folks through this baffling world. However, the phrase “thoughts and prayers” has become the opposite of genuine thoughts and prayers. Those words have devolved into a brush off. Every time students are murdered in school, every time a bomb explodes in a public place, every time a mosque or a church or a synagogue is attacked, every time black people are treated as though their lives don’t matter, every time racism is the underlying motivation for a violent crime, every time a person on the LGBTIQ spectrum is assaulted — all are followed by hailstorms of “thoughts and prayers” — which are then followed by nothing. “Thoughts-and-prayers” has emerged as our country’s newest code phrase for “I’m dismissing you.”

In my sessions as a therapist, I found that each couple had their own unique code. When we cracked their specific code, then our work reached a new level. Going forward, I called a time out when those dismissive phrases were used. As we continued, couples learned to recognize the signs of disconnecting, and they called their own time outs. As their therapy progressed, they developed a healthy intolerance for being brushed off, and their dismissive code phrases tapered. They worked together, as a team, to set up a healthier set of emotional constructs. They felt stronger and safer, committed to repeating their mistakes never again.

Now our country needs to do the same.

#NeverAgain

___

Amy Kaufman Burk is a therapist-turned-author. Her first novel, Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable, was written in reaction to seeing gay students bullied in high school. The story follows Caroline Black and her friends through tenth grade, as her new high school opens her world. Tightwire, Amy’s second novel, continues to follow Caroline, this time as a rookie psych intern treating her first patient — a stormy, brilliant, troubled young man who ran away from the circus to find himself. Amy’s blog includes posts about a variety of subjects including the resistance, gender equality, LGBTQ+ ally support and racial equality. Amy collaborates with educators who include her books and essays in their classrooms.

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

2 Comments

Filed under Never Again, Parkland, Thoughts And Prayers, Uncategorized

Eulogy For My Father-In-Law

Arnold Burk

April 8, 1932 – December 10, 2017

When my husband and I had children, we learned something about my father-in-law that we hadn’t known: Arnold was the Baby Whisperer. Our infants would nestle in his arms, filled with pure trust, a core sense of safety. It happened again and again, with all three of our kids. For every skinned knee, every tummy ache, any kind of distress — the solution was Arnold. Sometimes he’d sing to them and as they grew older, they’d mouth the words or sing along. Their bond grew in sleep, in wakefulness, in play, in work, in silence, in song.

Last week, in Arnold’s final days, his rabbi visited. Rabbi Jen sat at Arnold’s bedside and sang in Hebrew, a song simple and soothing. Arnold lay still with his eyes closed, sometimes mouthing the words, sometimes singing from a place deep within, rooted in his own childhood. He fell asleep soon after, smiling quietly. I recognized his expression. I had seen that look of peace on all three of my children, held in his arms.

Now it’s Arnold’s turn to feel that peace. Contemplating eternal peace, eternal anything really, is a curious challenge. We humans are trying to define a concept that’s far beyond our realm. But whatever might happen in eternity, we can be sure of a few things. Arnold will bring strength and decency to his new world. He’ll bring his signature sense of humor that always felt like a surprise gift. He’ll bring his acute intelligence which will amaze even the angels. And if somebody is having an off-day in heaven, Arnold will reach out his hand, gather them in his arms, and sing.

___

Amy Kaufman Burk has published two novels. Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable, written in reaction to seeing gay students bullied in high school, follows Caroline Black through tenth grade as her new high school opens her world. Tightwire, Amy’s second novel, continues to follow Caroline, this time as a rookie psych intern treating her first patient — a stormy, brilliant, troubled young man who ran away from the circus to find himself. Amy’s blog includes posts about a variety of subjects including gender equality, LGBTQ+ ally support, racial equality, parenting and a Rolling Stones concert. Amy also collaborates with educators who include her books and essays in their classrooms.

To learn more about Amy’s novels and recent blog posts, visit her Author Page on Amazon.

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

2 Comments

Filed under eulogy, father-in-law, Grieving, Mourning, Uncategorized

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

3 Comments

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

Trump Protective Services

I’m puzzled by President Trump’s reaction to the humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico — not because of decency, empathy, leadership skills. Sadly, he’s already proven that he lacks those qualities. I’m puzzled because narcissism is obviously a huge driving force within him, a core motivator, and Hurricane Maria’s devastation is an outstanding opportunity to feed his own narcissism. Had he jumped to help Puerto Rico, his ratings would have skyrocketed among people of all political affiliations. But he chose to enjoy a weekend of golf, and to dedicate a trophy to Puerto Rico in its time of absolute desperation.

I’m trying to figure out why he’d exchange an obvious chance for massive approval for a golf trophy. I strongly believe that he is entirely driven by his own internal currents (as opposed to the integrity of his country). Still, he blew off a spectacular opportunity for self-promotion, and I’m confused. Does he not understand that Puerto Rico is a part of the United States? Does the number of brown-skinned citizens make them unworthy in his eyes? Is his style of thinking so rigid that a radically changed schedule (trading a luxurious weekend for a rough trip to a ravaged island) requires more mental flexibility than he can manage?

Whatever drives him toward such a massive misfire, Puerto Rico is hanging on by its fingernails. I watched the footage of our president’s visit. I wanted him to step forward and do the right thing, to help these victims of a catastrophic natural disaster. Instead, I saw him toss paper towels into a crowd like party favors. I watched him compliment himself repeatedly. I heard his offhand comment about how Puerto Rico was eating more than its share of the country’s budget, as though they were somehow responsible for Maria’s costly path of destruction.

Before I became an author, I was a psychotherapist for over 25 years. One of the responsibilities I always hoped I’d never have to confront was filing a report with Child Protective Services, recommending that a child be taken away from the parents. Although I certainly worked with several difficult situations, I never had to take this particular action and I’m selfishly grateful, because I would have found it devastating. The criteria are simultaneously simple and complex: abuse and/or neglect. When I was in training, in my twenties, I thought carefully about what that meant, because recommending to separate parents from children is serious business. The abuse piece was a no-brainer. However, I learned that severe neglect can be as damaging to the psyche as abuse. The message from the parents to the child is crushing. You’re not worthy of care. You’re not worthy of notice. You’re nothing.

Our president’s lack of intervention in Puerto Rico is neglect in the extreme. If a parent left a child hungry, thirsty, without medical care, without shelter, without supplies — I’d report them to Child Protective Services as unfit. I’d be devastated not only for the child, but also for the adult who was so damaged that he/she/they inflicted such pain on those who most needed support and protection. If “Trump Protective Services” existed, I’d file this post today, saying he’s unfit to care for his people. As expected, I’d feel devastated.

But not as devastated as Puerto Rico.

*All of my profits from book sales in October, 2017, will go to my homeland in Puerto Rico.

___

Amy Kaufman Burk has published two novels. Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable, written in reaction to seeing gay students bullied in high school, follows Caroline Black through tenth grade as her new high school opens her world. Tightwire, Amy’s second novel, continues to follow Caroline, this time as a rookie psych intern treating her first patient — a stormy, brilliant, troubled young man who ran away from the circus to find himself. Amy’s blog includes posts about a variety of subjects including the resistance, gender equality, LGBTQ+ ally support and racial equality. Amy collaborates with educators who include her books and essays in their classrooms.

To learn more about Amy’s novels and recent blog posts, visit her Author Page on Amazon.

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

Leave a comment

Filed under Puerto Rico, Uncategorized

Take A Knee

Like many storms, it began with a shift in pressure. A professional football player, Colin Kaepernick, quietly knelt during the National Anthem. His simple action grew into a storm surge, gained momentum. However, this storm isn’t driven by winds of destruction, but rather by forces of integrity, a powerful cry against racial oppression. Last weekend, the path of this much-needed storm reached into the homes of millions as the National Football League took a stand. More accurately, they took a knee.

Since the presidential election, I’ve never felt so shaken by the leadership in my homeland. But I’ve also never felt so uplifted. In the face of such a divisive president, I’m deeply moved as people unify to march, speak, write, stand, kneel. Members of The House and The Senate — not all, but a significant number — keep their heads clear and focused, working for the greater good. Journalists uncover the facts, report with accuracy, allow the public to stay informed — all in the face of unprecedented hostility from our country’s administration. This situation is a marathon unfolding at the speed of a sprint, and people are stressed and exhaustion. Still, they march and vote and report and kneel.

In the past month, I’ve been awed by the quiet, determined, selfless acts of heroism in areas devastated by hurricanes. First responders, both official and unofficial, stepped forward. People who own small boats and rafts headed into dangerous waters, navigating around fallen trees, cars, debris, changing currents, through the shallow and the deep — bringing people and animals to safety. Others met the boats, and guided survivors to shelter. Even more have donated, and two people I’m privileged to know collected donations, loaded trucks with supplies and drove 500 miles into the pulsating aftermath of Harvey.

Every day, I’m motivated in a way I’ve never known. So every day, I’ll buckle down and write. When I need a break to clear my head, I’ll take a step back. When I’ve gathered myself, I’ll move forward into the storm. And when I need to stand tall, I’ll take a knee.

___

Amy Kaufman Burk has published two novels. Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable, written in reaction to seeing gay students bullied in high school, follows Caroline Black through tenth grade as her new high school opens her world. Tightwire, Amy’s second novel, continues to follow Caroline, this time as a rookie psych intern treating her first patient — a stormy, brilliant, troubled young man who ran away from the circus to find himself. Amy’s blog includes posts about a variety of subjects including the resistance, gender equality, LGBTQ+ ally support and racial equality. Amy collaborates with educators who include her books and essays in their classrooms.

To learn more about Amy’s novels and recent blog posts, visit her Author Page on Amazon.

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

Leave a comment

Filed under Colin Kaepernick, Take A Knee, Uncategorized

Nine-Eleven

September 11, 2001.

The alarm blasted and I was on my feet, pulling on sweats, tying my hair in a quick ponytail. My three children — one in preschool and two in elementary school — scampered downstairs for bagels and scrambled eggs. They took tremendous pride in choosing their own outfits and complimented each other on the bright array of neon-red, sunburst-yellow and Ninja-Turtle-green seated at the kitchen table. My husband was upstairs, choosing a tie, listening to National Public Radio when the program was interrupted with breaking news. He took a moment to collect himself, then walked downstairs with an odd deliberateness, his tie hanging loose. We spoke quietly. Knowing our kids would hear about it at school, we told them. Their reaction was matter-of-fact, unworried, entirely age-appropriate.

All day, my phone rang. I was a therapist at the time, not yet an author, and parents from my children’s schools needed guidance. “What should I tell my kids?” “How much should I tell my kids?” “How can I help them feel safe when I’m terrified?” I talked to them about tailoring their answers to fit the needs of the child, about language that would make sense for different ages, about managing their own understandable fear.

In California, many of us were shielded from the immediate trauma experienced by the targeted areas. My family had relatives and friends in Manhattan, but we quickly heard that they were safe. Others weren’t so lucky. A nameless, faceless fear permeated our pretty little Bay Area town. Our new frontier catapulted us into a vulnerability that we had been privileged to deny until that day.

In the evening, I tucked my youngest child in bed and sang to her as always. But instead of my usual repertoire of The Beatles and my college fight song, I found myself singing America The Beautiful and The National Anthem.  My daughter curled up and closed her eyes, warm and safe.  I watched her sleep peacefully, and thought of the people in my homeland who struggled in the aftermath of a terrorist attack. Something stirred and I sat quite still, waiting to clarify a shift deep within. Slowly, the shift took on an emotional structure and I clasped my hands around it. I was a born again American.

Now, with the current administration at the White House, I feel more committed than ever to preserving the integrity of my country.  I feel the same fierce loyalty I experienced on that day in 2001. But this time, I believe that our own leaders are our biggest threats.

Today, the anniversary of the 2001 terrorist attack on my homeland, I’m renewing my vows to the United States of America. I pledge allegiance to the flag of the people, by the people, for the people. I stand, at the twilight’s last gleaming, with those who are targeted by our own government. I raise my voice for spacious skies and amber waves — for all races, all genders, all religions. I write for the day when we are truly indivisible, from sea to shining sea.

___

Amy’s Novels

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 seeing gay students bullied, and in gratitude to the enriching diversity of Hollywood High School.

Tightwire

Caroline Black, now a rookie psychology intern, goes through her first year of training, working with a young man who is stormy, seductive, brilliant and complex. Written with respect for the human capacity to heal, 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

Leave a comment

Filed under Never Forget, September 11, Uncategorized

Let’s Unite For Texas

I will be donating 100% of my profits from August and September book sales to the Houston Food Bank and the Food Bank of Corpus Christi.

We live in a time of division, of literal and metaphorical walls. Whatever your belief system, whatever your political affiliation, whatever your personal values, wherever you cast your vote in the election — I’m reaching out to each and all of you, to my friends and colleagues, and to yours as well. Texas needs us.

Partisan politics have become a divisive force, but natural disasters are nonpartisan. Fear, loss and hunger are nonpartisan as well.

Let’s unite for Texas.

My Novels:

Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable

Tightwire

My novels are available as ebooks, only $2.99. They can be put directly on a Kindle, or on any device using Amazon’s Free Reading Apps.

Click on the link for my Author Page on Amazon.

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

Thank you.

Leave a comment

Filed under Hurricane Harvey, Texas Floods, Uncategorized

Pardoning Racism, Banning Trans, Charlottesville

When I was in tenth grade, I heard a rumor that a group of football players had beaten another student to death because he was gay.

Fights were common in my high school. Gangs fought rival gangs. Boys fought over girls. Girls fought over boys. Gay students were targeted constantly.

This particular rumor was about a boy I knew by sight, but not by name. We shared no classes, had no friends in common. I noticed him in the sea of 3000 students, because he had the most astonishing blond hair I’d ever seen. As he stood in the quad, his yellow mane tumbled down his back in a stop-in-your-tracks river of gold. He was six feet tall, string-bean thin, dressed in white laced up pants, platform shoes, gauzy shirts.

One day he was gone.

My high school had a transient population, a significant number living on the streets, so this boy’s disappearance was unremarkable. Still, I felt haunted by the rumor itself, and equally by the casual way the rumor circulated. I began to ask about him, but nobody knew anything. Most chilling of all — nobody knew his name.

Decades later, I told a journalist friend that I was writing a novel about that rumor. She suggested that I visit the archives, do some research, find out if the murder actually took place. I hesitated and to my surprise, I heard myself telling her that I wasn’t writing about the real person. As the words came out of my mouth, I realized I had carried this boy deep within me since I was 15 years old, and he had taken on mythical proportions. I was writing about a fantasy figure – a homeless, undocumented, street kid — a parentless boy, who died of homophobia.  During that conversation, my novel’s silent hero was born.

As I wrote the book, I considered what to call him. I knew he’d be a curious combination of an extremely minor character, and simultaneously the most powerful presence in the novel. Should I give him a catchy nickname like Dash? A stately name like Hamilton? A likable name like Timmy? A powerful name like Rex? As I rejected one name after another, I realized that his character was grounded in his namelessness. So I kept him nameless, and built the entire plot around his namelessness.

The novel was published in 2013, years before Donald Trump was on my radar screen as a serious political figure. But now, as I watch the post election culture unfold, the divisive values that my novel fights against — a mentality of hatred and rage, of  Us vs. Them — those values have become our day-to-day reality. Living in hiding from the ICE raids. Dreamers. Families torn apart. Refugees blocked. Latinos, Muslims, women, Jews, Blacks, LGBTQ+.  My country’s Commander-In-Chief actively legitimizes a process of divisiveness, which is also a process of dehumanization.

And it gets worse. Now our president has pardoned Joe Arpaio, a racist who used his position as sheriff to target the Latino population, to spit on immigrants. Almost in the same breath, our president has banned transgender troops, relegating the trans population to a lesser than full-human status. He gave a tepid (at best) response to the white supremacist fiasco in Charlottesville, betraying everyone who rejects the idea of a master race.  It’s been quite a week.

And it gets even worse, because each of these acts goes beyond the act itself. Our president is endorsing and perpetuating ideas which diametrically oppose the foundation of our country. In the newly Divided States Of America, all people are not created equal.

It’s another form of taking away their names.

I wish the election results had been different. I wish our administration didn’t define empathy and decency as a self-interested power surge. I wish so many people in my homeland weren’t hurt by their statements, their policies, their actions.  I wish the people in charge understood that gaining power by stepping on others never works for long. Eventually, they’ll fall and as they fall, they’ll drag several innocent people with them. They’ll all land hard, and some will survive while others won’t. Donald Trump’s name will be remembered, but most of the names of the innocent casualties will be forgotten, caught in a crossfire of dehumanization.

I wish for a day when nobody has to live without a name.

___

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, and in gratitude to the enriching diversity of my high school.

Tightwire

Caroline Black, now a rookie psychology intern, goes through her first year of training, working with a young man who is stormy, seductive, brilliant and complex. Written with respect for the human capacity to heal, 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

Leave a comment

Filed under Charlottesville, Joe Arpaio, LGBT, racism, Trans Troops, Uncategorized