TV Review: 'Becoming Us'

ABC Family network introduced a new reality television series this past June called 'Becoming Us.’ You can view it at http://www.abc.family.go.com or on demand if you have that feature with your service provider. The series focuses on Ben, a 16- year old high school student from Evanston, Illinois who has a passion for photography, exploring downtown Chicago, and hanging around with his girlfriend, Danielle, and a myriad of quirky friends. He is portrayed as an average Midwestern teenager with divorced parents, “until she came along,” as Ben states in the show’s opening dialog. She is “Carly”, Ben’s father, who is a transitioning mtf.

Ben’s support group on Carly’s emergence into her authentic self includes his girlfriend, Danielle, whose father is transitioning as well. One of Ben’s friends has a brother, Lathan, who is revealed to be a transgender man. The show profiles his life as an ftm and his own gender dysphoria issues and others stemming from childhood. Ben’s step sister, Sutton, is also part of the cast.  She lives in New York with her fiancée and is planning their wedding in several of the episodes. She is torn between a loyalty to her mother, Suzy, and Carly, who helped raise her since she was a child.  Assorted other friends and extended family appear on and off in the series in support of Ben, each other, and often throwing shade on Carly.

As a result of coping with his father’s transitioning, coupled with being a typical teenage boy, Ben is going through a difficult time and often shuts down. His grades are suffering, he is constantly running late, he’s unprepared for his tutoring sessions, spends too much time texting back and forth with his friends shirking his responsibilities, and avoids returning his father’s voice messages. He is growing more inconsiderate of one of his trusted allies—his girlfriend Danielle—and she is becoming more and more frustrated with his behavior. 

Suzy still harbors a lot of resentment and animosity towards Carly, formally “Charlie”, due to the reported lies and secrets she endured while they were married. Charlie also disclosed abusing alcohol heavily during their marriage which contributed to their discord. Carly is portrayed as self-centered and narcissistic often on the show which could be residual personality traits of Charlie but doesn’t seem to have an awareness of this. Danielle’s father and mother seem to have a loving and supportive relationship and appear to be divorced, but still residing together. Danielle is a champion for her father and the moments they share on screen are loving and sweet. They seem to relate to each other as peers rather than father and daughter. The viewers get a glimpse of what it’s like for Daniele’s father to shop for clothes as a transgender woman (with the assistance of Ben, Danielle, and Carly) as well as the disappointing aftermath of an internet date.

The show professes to be a reality series, but often the taped scenes feel set up and loosely scripted. The cast appear awkward at times in front of the camera, as natural, free-flowing conversations aren’t there, and they have the responsibility to guide the episode’s story.

Ben, as a cisgender male cannot relate to Carly’s desire to have gender confirmation surgery or ‘losing his junk’, as he states in one episode.

I do like the fact that the series reflects what Ben is going through and how he tries to process Carly’s emergence into her authentic self and what that means for her continuing role as his father. Also Ben, as a cisgender male, cannot relate to Carly’s desire to have gender confirmation surgery or “losing his junk”, as he states in one episode.  Ben’s mother seems angry and indignant all the time-- her sister appears that way too in spite of both being raised by sweet bohemian parents. There is little mention of Sutton’s father, and when it is, it’s derogatory, so that may be contributing to Suzy’s outlook on life as well. I get that she felt betrayed throughout her marriage to Charlie and was understandably hurt, but it seems to leave her stuck in perpetual anger. As a therapist, I hope she is able to process these issues on her own or in therapy so she can be a happier person in her life as well as in co-parenting Ben with Carly.  Lathan, Brook’s brother is a fascinating person with his dark, brooding nature and hope of finding love and happiness while navigating life as a transgender man. In the course of the series, Lathan meets someone that presents as gender fluid, seems to really get him, and their relationship blooms—a very positive development for an often discontented person. ‘Becoming Us’ concluded its first season, and there is no word whether it will be renewed. I hope it does, as it reflects so many issues transgender people experience becoming their authentic selves and how it affects their families and friends. Look for future reviews on television series and movies that portray transgender issues 

 

Posted on September 14, 2015 and filed under Transgender Issues.

What Exactly is EMDR and How Can It Help Me?

A chance discovery

In 1987, Francine Shapiro PhD, was walking outdoors and found herself worried by disturbing intrusive thoughts. Unconsciously, she shifted her eyes back and forth rapidly and in an upward diagonal, and when the disturbing thoughts returned again they began to have less impact. Fascinated, she tried to figure out what she had done to reduce her anxiety, and realized it was her rapid eye movements. As she brought back her disturbing thoughts, she deliberately moved her eyes back and forth in the same pattern and speed, and repeated this several times. After many sets of these eye movements, her distress level decreased considerably when she brought her disturbing thoughts brought back to her awareness.

When a traumatic event occurs in childhood the child’s brain isn’t developed enough nor has the context in life to process it. The child may grow up believing it was their fault or they are a bad person, and as an adult may be unconsciously sabotaging their own happiness, careers, or relationships.

In the following days, she practiced what she experienced on friends, colleagues, and psychology workshop participants she was attending. A few months later, she headed a clinical study to determine the best way to implement what she discovered.  In her clinical studies, Dr. Shapiro found that by applying bilateral stimulation to create rapid eye movement similar to those that occur during sleep (REM), subjects were reducing their emotional and physical responses to memories of past traumatic events. After a few clinical trials, and perfecting a protocol that is effective for most individuals, Dr. Shapiro created EMDR—Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, and it has been widely used by mental health and psychology professionals in the treatment of childhood trauma, PTSD, anxiety and a host of other mental health issues.

Why EMDR is effective

People seek out therapy for a host of issues in their lives and look for therapy methods that are tried and true. Traditional “talk therapy” can be very effective for many, but for some it may not provide the relief they are seeking. When a traumatic event occurs in childhood the child’s brain isn’t developed enough nor has the context in life to process it. The child may grow up believing it was their fault or they are a bad person, and as an adult may be unconsciously sabotaging their own happiness, careers, or relationships. The memory of that childhood trauma is not residing in the proper storage space in your brain, instead it is front and center where it continues to cause emotional pain and physical distress. Perhaps you are experiencing flashbacks that continue to haunt you. Maybe a familiar smell or sound triggers panic attacks on a regular basis. Possibly you gravitate toward abusive relationships because you don’t feel you deserve better. Perhaps you just feel unhappy, unlovable, or stuck in your life and simply cannot get ahead. Traumatic memories of childhood trauma may be the culprit of all this suffering and dysfunction, and EMDR can be a very effective treatment.

What to expect in your EMDR session

The first thing I will do is inquire why you are seeking therapy and get your extensive life history: how you grew up, relationship with your family, significant events that occurred in your childhood as well as memories of traumatic events. I will ask about your life is going presently, your past and current relationships, and patterns of behavior you are aware of that cause you to be stuck.  There is often an obvious correlation to issues you are presenting with in treatment and a childhood trauma, and if it isn’t obvious, there is an effective protocol to discover it. Once a traumatic event is identified, there is a step by step procedure we will follow. You will be totally conscious throughout, and if you wish to stop any time you will be able to. After you first EMDR session, we will process what you experienced and any insights you may have gained about the event, yourself and others. Even in one session, you can be completely desensitized and reprocess a traumatic memory, but some may take several sessions to provide the level of relief you are seeking. If you have any further questions about EMDR or about my practice, please contact me at 561-213-6327.

Posted on September 14, 2015 and filed under Trauma.

What is Tantric Sex?

Origins and philosophy of tantra

As we all know, sex has been around for a very long time whether you believe in Adam and Eve or evolution. Tantra grew from ancient Eastern philosophers who believed sexual energy could be a conduit for enlightenment when combined with universal energy and the human body. Tantra is translated from Sanskrit and means “tools for expansion”. Its teachings and practice is over 1500 years old, and along with yoga, originated from India. With a tantric sex practice, you can become more aware of your sexual energy and use it to be more in tune with yourself, a partner, as well as the world around you. Similar in many ways to yoga, tantric sex focuses on creating a special space for practice, engaging in deep, restorative breathing, mindfulness of our body responses, connectedness to our own energy and those around us, and not rushing through the practice.

It’s not just about the orgasm…

The practice of tantric sex is not focused on achieving orgasm, but rather enhancing one’s entire sexual experience.

The practice of tantric sex is not focused on achieving orgasm, but rather enhancing one’s entire sexual experience. With all the commitments and responsibilities we have in our daily lives-- demanding careers, recreational activities and hobbies, or raising children-- we often look for a “quickie” to fit into our busy schedules. In his song, “Suffragette City”, David Bowie’s lyric, “wham, bam, thank you ma’am” sums this up succinctly. Although satisfying on some levels, a quick sexual release does not allow us to truly connect with ourselves or our partners nor enjoy the experience of getting there. The Western notion of sex differs from tantric sex as it’s commonly believed to begin with arousal, moves on to penetration, and ends in orgasm-- no matter what your sexual orientation. Many people believe that if this course of action isn’t followed through or if orgasm isn’t reached there is something wrong and a diversion from this path is just foreplay and doesn’t really count. The Eastern philosophy of tantric sex, takes the focus (or pressure) off of the orgasm. Instead, it focuses on the journey: the increases, decreases, and plateaus of arousal and how to move between them, being present and mindful of what you are feeling, awareness of your own energy and how it mingles with your partner or universal energies, and simply honoring yourself or each other. I regard tantric sex as akin to surfing. The goal of a skilled surfer is to ride a wave for as long as possible controlling his or her body to stay balanced on the board. Surfing creates a mind-body connection with the energy of the ocean, the surfer’s awareness of his or her own energy, and using learned skills to guide the surf board.  Don’t get me wrong, orgasm does exist in tantric sex, but you can learn to control your own release by being tuned into your body’s sensations, breathing, and staying focused. When you choose to orgasm, alone or together with a partner, the experience can be amazing!

Preparing yourself and creating a sacred space for tantric sex

Tantric sex can be practiced alone or with a partner or beloved. If you are on your own, tantric practice is an act of self-love, can be very emotionally healing, and can help you be more aware of your energy and how to use it for more satisfying future sexual experiences with a partner. To begin with, bathe or shower, shave or trim body hair, cut your nails, and moisturize your body. It’s important to honor yourself, partner or beloved with a groomed and clean body. Next, create a sacred space, whether it’s your bedroom or your living room with pillows and blankets on the floor. Make this comfortable and inviting. Dim the lights or light candles, but not so dark that you cannot see your own body, partner, or beloved. Be mindful of any running appliances, electronics or cell phones that can distract your focus, and that pets or children are safely secured or in someone else’s care. If you like, put on some relaxing music, burn incense, or have sensual treats like fruit, chocolate or wine available to enhance your experience in your sacred space. Now you are ready to explore tantric pleasures…

The resources I used for this blog entry were “What is Tantric Sex: basics about Tantra by Cory Silverberg at http://sexuality.about.con/od/spiritualsex/a/tantra101.htm and from the book, Sexy Spirited and Strong: becoming a Positive Energy Woman, by Meloney Hudson and her website, www.sexyspiritedandstrong.com.

Log onto www.weisspsychotherapygroup.com for future blogs on tantric sex exercises and techniques.

 

 

Posted on September 14, 2015 and filed under Sex Therapy.