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Ruth Carter

End Gender-Based Socialization & Segregation

We can all pee in the same bathroom.

With the recent wave of anti-LGBT laws considered and passed in the U.S., and people losing their minds about which bathroom people should use, I’ve been thinking about the concept of gender. Besides the fact that sperm and egg are needed for reproduction and biological, hormonal, and chromosomal differences between the various sexes (there are more than two you know), why is gender even an issue? Why do we have social differences, segregation, or even gender identity in any aspect of life?

Why can’t we just be people?

Is this a boy or a girl? Who cares? Let the kid be happy. Hop, Skip and a Jump. by peasap from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Is this a boy or a girl? Who cares? Let the kid be happy.
Hop, Skip and a Jump. by peasap from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Look at babies. If a baby is wearing clothes, I can’t tell what type of genitals it has – and I don’t care. All babies have the same basic needs: food, shelter, care, and love. The only difference I can think of between the sexes, is the location of their urethra because some brands of diapers have extra absorbent sections based on that. Beyond that, there’s no difference between a male and a female baby. I’m going to carry it around like a football until it cries, and then it goes back to the parent.

It’s amazing to see how kids are socialized differently based on gender at such a young age. Looking back, I wonder why schools make students line up by gender. Why segregate when we can integrate.

Speaking of segregation, prepubescent kids have the same body shape. Why do we have different sections for boys’ and girls’ clothing? Just have a children’s section and let them wear whatever they want regardless of color or style. There’s nothing wrong with a boy wearing a dress or a girl wearing a Spiderman costume. Ditto for toys. I’m so glad Hasbro adopted gender-neutral marketing for its easy-bake oven because a little boy who loved to bake was too embarrassed to play with a “girl” toy.

I’m pleased to see that some people are more progressive and accepting. My friend’s sons go to dance class and for the performance, each child got to pick their costume – pants or a dress. One boy opted for the pants, the other picked the dress – and he was so cute!

And does anyone else think it’s weird that was have different size charts for men’s and women’s shoes? There are gender-neutral shoes – like my Converse Chuck Taylors – and apparently stores have to re-label the boxes to help customers avoid confusion. It’s strange that my foot is a size 8.5 but if I had a penis, it would be a size 7. I have no issue shopping in the men’s section for any garment or accessory if that’s where the store put the product I want.

To circle back to the “bathroom issue” (as long as you wash your hands, I don’t care which bathroom you use), I think every public place should have gender neutral bathrooms with water closets for stalls. Each stall has walls that extend from ceiling to floor and regular lockable doors. Liberty Market restaurant has this arrangement and they have one of the coolest bathrooms in the U.S.

Gender-neutral bathrooms will eliminate problems related to helping a loved one in the restroom, men’s room without changing tables, and long lines for the ladies’ room while there’s no wait for the men’s. We’ll also reinforce the notion that boys and girls, men and women, are equal.

Rosie the Pirate: Beating the Odds

Rosie and I had an appointment with her puppy optometrist over the weekend – just a 6-month check-up to check her remaining eye. Rosie has been such a trooper since getting glaucoma and losing an eye last year. She’s on 3 medications – 5 eye drops a day, and she never fights or fusses about it.

Happy Rosie with her Stick - May 2016

Happy Rosie with her Stick – May 2016

We had a good appointment. The pressure in her eye was 9 (anything below 20 is good), and her current medication regimen seems to be working. The vet reminded me that glaucoma is a progressive disease, and it will be only a matter of time before the medications stop working. We can try other medications, but eventually she’ll lose the other eye.

Thankfully, Rosie is beating the odds. The vet said most dogs with glaucoma lose the second eye within a year of losing the first one. It’s been 14 months since her diagnosis, and her sight has been mostly unchanged. Of course, I’ve been super diligent about her medication – yes, she has a check sheet to track her meds each day.

When we travel, we always bring a cooler and stay in places that have a refrigerator in the room because one of her meds has to be refrigerated. We always bring her emergency glycerin in case she goes spontaneously blind. The glycerin has to be mixed with milk, so that means, even though I’m a mostly-vegan, there’s always a pint of milk in the house just in case Rosie needs it.

We’re lucky that Rosie can still see. Even when she goes blind I’ll still be dedicated to making her life awesome, but how we define “awesome” will probably change. If you want to see more of Rosie, follow her on Instagram.

Minimizing Debt

I recently listened to The Minimalists’ Podcast episode about money. It inspired me to review my thoughts and plans about money in my life and revise my current plans.

Day 178: Almost Full by Tom Small from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Day 178: Almost Full by Tom Small from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

The Minimalists say, and I agree, “There is no such thing as good debt.” I took on a considerable loan when I bought my condo in 2014. I regularly pay more than my mortgage payment to pay off my loan faster. After listening to this podcast, I was inspired to play around with an online early mortgage payoff calculator. It showed me that I can pay off my loan significantly faster and avoid paying a substantial amount of interest by paying a bit more than I currently am each month.

As a minimalist, my overhead expenses each month are not that high. I don’t mind foregoing some temporary luxuries if it means saving over $25,000 in the long run.

Listening to this episode also made me revisit some of my other financial goals for the year – like fully funding my retirement account. I usually wait until the end of the year to do this, but there’s no reason to delay if I can do it earlier.

To date, my savings have been part of my personal and business checking accounts; however, after revisiting my financial goals, I want to open a separate savings account as well. This will be an account to deposit money that is “spoken for,” like my quarterly estimated taxes, charitable giving, retirement, as well as building a “rainy day fund” that contains at least six months worth of expenses. This can also be the account I use to set aside funds to pay off my mortgage faster and to save up for big purchases and travel.

Separating out my savings will make it easier to see how much I can save month-to-month and how much I really need to fund my life and run my business.

If you want to know more about my experience with minimalism, I suggest you read about the “packing party” I did in 2014 and got rid of everything that no longer added value to my life.

Being Nobody

Rosie approves of this fire.

Rosie approves of this fire.

Rosie and I shipped ourselves up to Flagstaff for a long weekend. I found a cozy place on Airbnb where we could start and end our day sitting in front of the fire. I needed a few days to do a self-retreat, to rest and re-charge. This gave me the chance to takes some much needed time to think about what’s important to me and what I want to do personally and professionally during the next year.

The highlight of the trip was doing the Flagstaff Extreme Adventure Course. I love ropes courses. I love climbing trees, and when I traverse the obstacles, nothing else matters except the challenge in front of me.

After a brief orientation with one of the guides to learn how to use the carabiners and attach ourselves to zip lines, we headed out to the trees to take on the course. This course has five levels – Green, Silver, Blue, Red, and Black – each level more difficult than the last. (Apparently only 50% of participants finish the whole course – including me! It’s quite a workout.) The highest platform was 61 feet off the ground and longest zip line was over 300 feet long.

One of the obstacles at the Flagstaff Extreme Adventure Course, Courtesy of FLG X.

One of the obstacles at the Flagstaff Extreme Adventure Course, Courtesy of FLG X.

I was the only person in my group who wasn’t there with family or friends. At first it made me uncomfortable, but halfway through the course, I realized that this gave me the chance to be nobody. For three hours, my “job” was to climb trees, navigate obstacles, and sail along zip lines. For three hours I wasn’t a lawyer, a writer, or even a dog parent. For three hours I was Joe Nobody, anonymous, and free to merely be “Ruth from Phoenix.” I just got to be a person.

My friends invited me to do this ropes course with them last year and I’m glad I declined to go. Even amongst friends, I still would have felt pressured to perform. Completing the course alone, I didn’t feel the added stress that comes with the fear of being watched and judged.

In a society filled with job titles, reputations, and expectations, it was a gift to take this break from reality. I felt no pressure to perform, except the pressure I put on myself get across the next part of the course. Going to the Flagstaff Extreme Adventure Course gave me the opportunity to be a human being instead of a “human doing.” For three beautiful hours, my only job was to put one foot in front of the other.

Bigots Pay More

I’m frustrated about the slew of anti-LGBT laws that have passed and are under consideration all over the country. I was happy to see celebrities responding to the transphobic bathroom law in North Carolina – Bruce Springsteen cancelled his show and Mumford & Sons donated the profits from their North Carolina show to a local LGBT organization.

SCOTUS APRIL 2015 LGBTQ 54663 by Ted Eytan from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

SCOTUS APRIL 2015 LGBTQ 54663 by Ted Eytan from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

I don’t live in North Carolina or Mississippi, but I want to respond to these anti-LGBT laws too. I’ve been reading the labels on products in my kitchen and bathroom to make sure I’m not buying things from those states. Originally I considered adding a “bigot fee” for any speaking engagement in a state that has an anti-LGBT law in place, but then I had a better idea.

I raised my speaking fee and added the opportunity for discounts for those that qualify:

  • Equality Discount – for states, cities, and counties that don’t have anti-LGBT laws in place: $1,000 discount (Companies that opposed these laws before and after these laws passed also qualify – it’s not their fault the people in power are closed-minded jerks.)
  • Gender Neutral Bathrooms Discount – must be at hiring company and venue locations: $500 discount
  • Equal Pay Discount – if the hiring company can demonstrate they give equal pay to all genders in comparable positions: $500 discount
  • Non-Discrimination Discount – if the hiring company lists sexual orientation and gender expression in its non-discrimination policy: $500 discount

If a company wants to hire me and they qualify for all the discounts, it’s a $2,500 savings. These are issues that are important to me and I’m happy to give discounts to those who share my views enough to implement change and stand for equality.

Mad at Sugar

I’ve been trying to eat a healthier and more conscientious diet. Since January, I’ve been a gluten-free vegan at least 90% of the time. This significant shift in my diet hasn’t been that hard. There are lots of options for wonderful flavorful fresh foods. I hope I make my co-workers jealous with how awesome my lunch smells every day.

I like to joke and say that I have palette of 5 year-old. I like simple foods and I like foods that taste sweet. I used to be the person who put 4 spoonfuls of sugar in their coffee (now down to less than 1) and eat candy by the handful. But then I noticed that my sugar intake was affecting my mood. Around the office (where we have a sugar-laden snack counter) I frequently said that giving me sugar is as dangerous as feeding a Gremlin after midnight – usually while helping myself to more jelly beans.

Sugar Kills by Juhan Sonin from Fickr (Creative Commons License)

Sugar Kills by Juhan Sonin from Fickr (Creative Commons License)

I decided to be more thoughtful about my sugar intake. I’ve seen documentaries that discuss the impact of sugar on health – particularly Americans – like Fed Up. Annoyingly, the nutritional information on food labels doesn’t include what percentage of added sugar that food item contains. But, the American Heart Association recommends that women have no more than 25 grams (100 calories) of added sugar per day (no more than 37.5 grams for men).

Armed with this information, I started to be more diligent about reading food labels in my kitchen. Holy crap there’s a lot of sugar in seemingly nutritious food!

The vanilla almond milk I was using as a substitute for cream in coffee had 13 grams of sugar per cup! (Thankfully its unsweetened counterpart has zero added sugar and no artificial sweeteners.) At first, I was happy when Cheerios changed its recipes to be gluten free. Honey Nut Cheerios are delicious – hey, maybe that has something to do with the 9 grams of sugar it has per serving! (For comparison, Lucky Charms has 11 grams per serving.) Who knew it was so hard to eat breakfast!

I’ve since changed my breakfast from cereal to kale-and-fruit smoothies. Screw you Kellogg’s and General Mills.

Last week, I had an upper respiratory infection. I was coughing so much, my throat felt like it was on fire. I thought some whole fruit popsicles or sorbet might be a nice alternative to drinking copious amounts of ice water. I walked the freezer section of the store, reading the back of every healthy-appearing item. To my dismay, the first two ingredients in every option in the store were water and sugar.

Bah! Sugar is everywhere! Even in “healthy” options.

I don’t mind making most of my food from scratch, but geez, I’d like to enjoy some processed stuff. I don’t disagree that a lot of these foods are delicious, but it pisses me off that companies promote these toxic foods as healthy. Now, I have to be that guy who is meticulous about reading ingredients on food labels in stores.

I’m frustrated that food manufacturers can’t be trusted to be forthcoming about what they’re pushing. It’s hard to know at a glance what’s actually good for me. This is another reminder that most companies are more interested in manipulating us to benefit their bottom line, rather than create quality foods.

Major to Minor – Chase Holfelder

I love music that is strong musically and has a powerful message that’s so real it’s a bit eerie. Those are two of the reasons why I love Chase Holfelder’s Major to Minor work. He takes a song where the original is written in a major key and transposes it into a minor key. With this treatment, songs are still familiar and take on a completely new meaning and feeling.

I became aware of Chase’s music when his rendition of “Amazing Grace” was used on an episode of Deadliest Catch. I had to buy it on iTunes immediately. (And I’m not a religious person.) Chase takes some latitude with the lyrics, but it fits with the tone of this song.

Earlier this year, Chase released a Major to Minor version of “Over the Rainbow.” I love this version so much, I never want to sing the Judy Garland rendition again. I wish Chase would per out a karaoke track for this song.

“Over the Rainbow” is gay anthem and this version captures the pain and perseverance that sometimes comes with coming out. It’s scary to be reminded that there are people who would kill us or deny us our rights for not being gay, bisexual, transgender, or otherwise not conforming to the hetero-male/female norms.

I want to do a photoshoot inspired Chase’s music. I’m envisioning a plain black backdrop, jeans, white tank top, bare feet, and capturing whatever feelings come out while listening to his music – hopefully something strong and raw.

The first Major to Minor song Chase did was “The Star-Spangled Banner.” It’s gorgeous. I would support a national movement to perform this song in the minor key during times of war or conflict. It would still represent national pride, but the minor key would remind us that members of our armed forces are putting themselves in harm’s way to fight for our freedom.

More Gender-Neutral Bathrooms

One of the best ways a company can respond to HB2, North Carolina’s new anti-LGBT law that requires people to use the bathroom that corresponds to sex indicated on their certificates, is to make all their bathrooms gender-neutral.

Gender Neutral Restroom UC Irvine 49490 by Ted Eytan from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Gender Neutral Restroom UC Irvine 49490 by Ted Eytan from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Yes, just like in Ally McBeal.

For reasons of decency, no one should be permitted use a urinal in a gender neutral restroom that isn’t in a separate lockable stall. For people who are too uncomfortable to use gender neutral bathrooms that have multiple stalls, a company could put in some single-user restrooms, like some places have a “family restroom,” probably meant for a parent with a small child.

There are lots of reasons to have gender neutral bathrooms besides the obvious ones of preventing transphobia and acknowledging that gender is a spectrum, not a binary identity. Some people need help in the bathroom – like small children and the elderly. Or if you have an injury or a complicated outfit, you may need help getting to or using the bathroom. If you and your companion are of different genders, that could be awkward without a gender-neutral bathroom.

Gender-neutral bathroom sign by Bryan Alexander from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Gender-neutral bathroom sign by Bryan Alexander from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Gender-neutral bathrooms could help companies eliminate problems that accompany single-gender bathrooms. When I was in college, I was an RA in the dorms. Our dorms were coed by wing or coed by neighbor. There were a lot fewer issues on floors that were coed by neighbor because the women didn’t want to look foolish in front of the men and vice versa. The same would likely be true in a gender neutral bathroom – less vandalism and fewer annoying behaviors.

Conversely, until the law in North Carolina changes, if I had reason to be in that State, I would be tempted to walk into a government building wearing a dress and heels and walk into the men’s bathroom. If stopped, I’d say my birth certificate says I was born a boy and then offer to use the women’s bathroom if that would make the person feel more comfortable. (I’m not transgender; it would just be to make a point. I mean to offense to anyone who identifies as trans or cis. I’d want to have a male buddy with me for this stunt for safety reasons.)

Stand Against North Carolina

-> North Carolina -> by Justin Warner from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

-> North Carolina -> by Justin Warner from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

The State of North Carolina can go fornicate with itself. I can’t believe the bigots in power over there not only passed HB2, but their governor signed it! (At least when the bigots in office in Arizona voted in favor of SB 1062, our moron governor was smart enough not to sign it.)

In case you’ve been living under a rock, this new law prevents municipalities from passing LGBT nondiscrimination ordinances and it requires people to use the bathroom that corresponds to the sex indicated on their birth certificate.

This law makes me so angry. It’s hard to believe people still have these backwards beliefs. I don’t know what y’all in North Carolina do in bathrooms, but I use them to use the toilet, wash my hands, and check my hair. In the 36 years I’ve been using public bathrooms, I’ve never had an issue with another user.

Being that I’m across the country, I felt somewhat powerless – but then I thought about what little things I could do:

I can choose not to attend events in North Carolina until this law is repealed. If there’s an event I feel compelled to attend, I can require a North-Carolina-Bigot fee in addition to my usual speaking fee.

I’m not licensed to practice law in North Carolina, but I can do federal work from anywhere. I can choose not to accept clients from North Carolina, or limit my engagement to clients who have anti-discrimination policies and practices that include gender identity and sexual orientation.

I can have similar rules for products from North Carolina. (Don’t think I’m joking about this. I boycotted all the sponsors of the Sochi Olympic Games who didn’t openly oppose Russia’s anti-LGBT laws for the duration of the games.)

As a lawyer, I started thinking about contracts. I would support clients adding a provision to their contracts that requires clients to have anti-discrimination policies that include gender identity and sexual orientation and that the company must publicly oppose all applicable state and federal laws that would permit such discrimination. (Now my head is spinning with other ideas – like equal pay for men and women within the company.)

Until this law is repealed, I hope someone makes a video similar to this, asking people if they brought their birth certificate to government buildings to verify that they’re using the appropriate bathroom – much like this guy asked white people if they were immigrants in the SB 1070 days in Arizona.

My hat goes off to the many companies that have already spoken out against this new law including Marriott, Apple, Google, PayPal, and the National Basketball Association. I hope more people and companies will do what they can to influence this situation. Every little bit helps.

Another Reason I Love my Job

While I was getting my master’s degree in counseling, I asked my professor, “Is it ever appropriate to do counseling barefoot?” (I was a gymnast for 17 years. I think better when I’m in bare feet.)

“Only if you work at outdoor school,” he replied.

I guess I’m lucky that I changed careers to become a lawyer.

Typical Day at the Office

Typical Day at the Office