Thoughts on Ken Ham's Creation Museum and Ark Encounter

I'll be honest. I've been pining to see the infamous Creation Museum since it first opened back in (or around) 2007. Back then, I'd recently come into my own as an atheist, embracing a freethinking and non-religious lifestyle after a young adulthood filled with oppressive and constricting ties to conservative religious thought. (Members of my family used to joke that I'd left my husband "for" Richard Dawkins.) Dawkins, along with many other prominent atheists, opined about Ken Ham's Creation Museum, located in Petersburg, Kentucky, which boasted a creationist worldview; Ham claimed to offer scientifically comprehensive ideas as to how the creation account from the Bible could be seen as a literal account of the start of the world.

This idea was not taken seriously among most, but many atheists journeyed out to Ham's museum to offer thoughts on it and share their experiences. More recently, the same thing happened when Ham launched a new theme park, 45 hours from the Creation Museum, called the Ark Encounter. While his museum was dedicated to giving legitimacy to the Genesis account of creation, the Ark Encounter was supposed to give guests first-hand experience as to how the biblical Noah's Ark might have looked, felt, and how it was managed.

Ken Ham, I'll point out here, is the founder of Answers in Genesis, which, according to its own website, "is an apologetics ministry, dedicated to helping Christians defend their faith and proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ effectively. [They] focus on providing answers to questions about the Bible -- particularly the book of Genesis -- regarding key issues such as creation, evolution, science, and the age of the earth." Answers in Genesis is definitively "young earth," meaning that they adhere to the idea that the earth is no older than about 10,000 years (which comes directly from their interpretation of lineage as described in the Bible). They do not believe in the evolution of species, and have taken a key interest in using "science" (as they see it) to prove their biblical worldview.

Needless to say, I've heard plenty about the Creation Museum and the Ark Encounter because of the atheist circles I tend to run in. I've had aspirations to visit both of them, myself, ever since hearing about their existence (mostly out of interest, but also because I'm fascinated by the junk science that young-earth creationists use to try and justify their beliefs).

Recently, I found myself in the fortuitous position of being able to visit both the Creation Museum and the Ark Encounter. I was visiting one of my closest boyfriends, prominent atheist writer and debater Richard Carrier. Though we met when he was living in California, he now lives in Columbus, Ohio, and so once school was out this year I made plans to go visit him (and he'll be visiting me here in Vegas toward the end of summer). After I arrived in Columbus, we somehow got onto the topic of the Creation Museum (atheists, you know), and I came to the realization that Richard lived within a few hours' drive of both.

And, to top it all off, he'd never been to visit either of them. I mean, if your first visit to the Answers in Genesis theme parks can be accompanied by Richard Carrier's first visits, too, then why the hell wouldn't you drop everything and go immediately?

I joke, but, really, I was pretty excited. On the second day of my visit, we decided to drive down and visit both parks. This excursion began with a stop at the corner coffee shop where I could get a to-go coffee (Richard doesn't drink it), and the both of us could get a small something to eat for breakfast while we drove. And we then enjoyed a scenic drive from Ohio into Kentucky, listening to selections from such bands as She Wants Revenge and Damn the Witch Siren.

We finally arrived at the Creation Museum (our first stop), and parked, marveling at the life-size dinosaur statues. Now, Richard and I both knew going in that Ken Ham and his young-earth creationist team believe that dinosaurs lived with humans at the dawn of creation, but it was still fascinating to see this as such a hugely prominent part of the museum. Ham points to serpents and monsters mentioned in the Bible, and says that, in reality, they were what we now refer to as dinosaurs. And then he freaking runs with that mentality all over the museum. But I don't want to get ahead of myself -- first, here's a few pictures of Richard and I arriving at the museum and taking in all of the dinosaur-esqueness of it all.

Richard and I arrived at the infamous Creation Museum ready to meet this dinosaur.

The Creation Museum has SO MANY skeletal recreations of dinosaurs and other primeval creatures, all of which he tries to prove existed in this world at the same time as humans (per biblical stories). It's pretty wild.

Richard and I both paid the $60 necessary to secure admission to both the museum and the Ark Encounter (for later in the afternoon). This was honestly more than either of us wanted to give to Answers in Genesis, but this was not an opportunity to be passed up. So we did it, and began our tour through the Creation Museum.

The entire premise of the museum is that creationists and "evolutionists" (as we're called) use the same evidence, but begin with different starting points (as they say). Creationists begin with trust in the Bible, and that, therefore, colors their interpretation of any evidence they're presented with (that's not quite how they put it, but at least they're honest about the way they use scientific data). There are a great many exhibits that show the evidence for evolutionary biology, but then offer an "alternate" viewpoint from a biblical standpoint. These "alternates" are never backed up by legitimate scientific discourse. It's all basic speculation.

For example, let's say that I was trying to prove the story of Peter Pan was true. So I told you that I was going to look at historical evidence through that particular lens. And then I presented evidence that there was this pirate ship that went missing once upon a time, so that was obviously evidence that it went to Neverland and became the infamous pirate ship captained by Mr. Hook. That's sort of how the Creation Museum felt after a while.

Richard took my picture in front of a pair of statues, these ones of school children, who were marveling to each other that they'd never heard this history in school before (unfortunately, I don't have copies of that picture). Then, we made out in the "creation hallway" (a dark hallway lined with stars that was supposed to, I guess, represent the universe before God created anything beyond stars and a universe).

We then walked through the Garden of Eden. There were animatronics for all of the animals, and also for Adam and Eve (they had surprisingly smooth skin, and Adam's hair was cut short like a modern-day Mormon missionary). We were led through an interpretation of "the fall," when Eve is tricked by the evil serpent into eating a piece of fruit (and my goddess, I could write an entire blog post on the story of "the fall" and the deeper meanings and symbolism relating to society and culture, but that's for another time). It is explained how all of humankind, forevermore, is cursed because of that damn fruit and Eve's decision, and you then get to walk through an animatronic version of the early days after Adam and Eve were kicked out of the Garden.

The entire thing was well done from a theme park perspective. I mean, it was like walking through one of Disneyland's dark rides. It's easy to see the narrative, and some of the visuals were excellently done. Except, of course, Disneyland isn't trying to pass off that Alice in Wonderland came from a page of history. Answers in Genesis is always trying to pass that off. That was the one fact that always kept me grounded throughout our museum tour. It was so surreal.

I was surprised, too, that there was actually a great deal of time dedicated to legitimizing the Noah's Ark story at the Creation Museum. But I won't go into that too much right now -- I'll save most of that for when I describe what the Ark Encounter was like.

Richard and I finished exploring the museum (which featured lots and lots of "monster" stories from the Bible and lots and lots of apologetics equating that to dinosaurs), and had lunch. We got sandwiches from Noah's Cafe (that's what they called the place) and then wandered the ill-designed gardens on the museum grounds until we decided we'd had enough and were ready to head on down to the Ark Encounter.

Now, Ken Ham is obviously no Walt Disney. You'd think that the Ark Encounter would be close, if not absolutely adjacent, to the Creation Museum. Not so. The Ark Encounter was a further 45-minute drive away from the museum. I drove us down there (the one time that day that I did some driving).

Now, there's lots of controversy over the Ark Encounter park, because Ham received state funding for the park in exchange for creating jobs and a thriving vacation economy that theme parks tend to bring to cities. However ... Ham then refused to hire anyone that wasn't a young-earth creationist Christian willing to sign an affadavit confirming as much (pretty unconstitutional, actually). Also, the returns he promised to the city through park attendance has not even come close to being met (which I'll get into in just a bit).

Anyway, we arrived at the Ark Encounter and parked. The parking lot, much like any theme park anyone has ever visited, was designed to accommodate very large crowds. One of the first things we both noticed was that it was rather empty.

We made the short walk up to ticketing so we could get wristbands and pay for parking (yep, we paid to park in that empty parking lot). Then, we waited for a bus that would drive us up to the actual theme park.

Richard and I waited in this establishment for the bus that would get us up close and personal with Noah's Ark. Lol.
In all honesty, I was expecting a theme park. That's what I've heard the place was designed to be -- a real theme park with lots to do, but the focal point being the Ark.

That's not what it was. It wasn't even close to a theme park. It was a giant Ark, smack in the middle of nowhere.

There was what appeared to be a snack shack, which was closed. Across from the Ark was some kind of restaurant and visitor's center. And the very bottom of the Ark itself was a gift shop (all theme park rides have to empty into a gift shop!). We looked around the shop for a bit. Interesting fact -- both the Creation Museum and Ark Encounter sell copious amounts of fudge. Like, enough fudge to send me into a diabetic coma eight hundred times over (and I'm an actual Type 1 diabetic, so I can make that comment without being callous).

Anyway, though, we finally decided to head into the Ark itself. We walked around the huge structure trying to get a decent photo of it (this was hard to do, as it's so damn big).
I got, like, part of it in a photo.

As we walked around, we marveled at the huge queue that had been built. As a Disneyland enthusiast, I'm pretty well-versed in how waiting areas are designed, and how long you can expect to wait for an attraction based on the waiting area. The queues for the Ark had obviously been designed for hours and hours of waiting. You wander through garden areas, and then beneath the Ark itself, where you can also watch videos of Ark construction.

We slowed ourselves down in order to watch some of the video, but, in the end, this attraction was a proverbial "walk on." There was no waiting at all. We wound our way through the switchbacks and finally up to the entrance of the Ark.

The first scene featured animatronics of Noah and his family (his wife, their three sons, and their wives) praying before the start of the mass genocide that their god was about to commit. (Emma Watson was, unfortunately, nowhere in sight).

Richard and I then began our self-guided tour of Noah's Ark. Some of the first things we saw were cages of animals (both dinosaurs and modern-day animals). There were plaques giving descriptive information on animal "kinds," and how animals hadn't "micro-evolutioned" in Noah's day, giving him ample opportunity to get them all on the Ark. According to Answers in Genesis, there were not various types of cats (lions, tigers, pumas, etc.), but only a general, original cat kind that Noah saved, which then "micro-evolutioned" into other kinds of cats later on. For real.

Richard and I made out in the ship's hull. Honestly, making out at both attractions was the highlight of the trip. But I digress.

The rest of this attraction was dedicated to explaining how the Ark worked and how Noah's family survived during the flood. There was a section that discussed Noah's sons and their wives, and how each wife was from a different lineage (essentially, white, brown, and black). This was used to explain racial diversity on the planet. After the flood was over, one son and his white wife parented all white people; another son and his brown wife parented all brown people; and the last son and his black wife parented all black people. No shit. This was a real exhibit.

Racism was a very real theme at both attractions, though, believe it or not. The exhibits discussing it pointed to Darwin's theory of evolution as an excuse to treat people like shit because "survival of the fittest" (and to hell with the ways we've evolved to live in cooperative societies and as empathetic people, I guess). It then, of course, discussed Christianity as the only viable way to treat all humans as equal (despite the very clear history of the Bible being used to justify racism, sexism, and horrific genocides).

One of the most interesting areas, though, was the children's area. There was a small corner dedicated to children's ministry and Ark storytelling for children. But the signs in that area absolutely floored me.

This sign flat out admits to children that their god committed genocide.
The first sign that I decided to capture in a photo declared that all living people in the world were killed by the flood, all except the eight chosen people on the Ark.

Like ... what?! How do you even explain that to children?

"How come babies and children had to die?"

"Well, sweetheart, because all people were tainted with the sin of Adam, so, despite the fact that God made them that way, he had to kill them all."

That's pretty much the legit story behind it, though (until, of course, God was able to sacrifice himself to himself in order to make right the human problem he created in the first place). But I digress. Again.
The other sign I had to get a photo of was a basic fear-based sign made to encourage children to never doubt the faith, lest they be led astray by the evil powers of the devil.

This is, essentially, saying, "It doesn't matter if this doesn't make sense to you. If you don't believe in it, you're falling into the devil's trap, and you'll soon be led straight to hell."

I mean, keep in mind that these signs were in the children's section. What other message could they have possibly been trying to send, other than an attempt to scare kids into always believing?

After the Ark, Richard and I tried to get a few better pictures of the thing. Honestly, it's massive. And even the numerous exhibits inside, there's still a whole lot of wasted space (as well as many small snack shops that were all closed when we were there because, obviously, paying employees to man them was not justified when attendance was so low.

Ken Ham has actually, quite recently, blaming atheists for low attendance at his Ark Encounter. Richard and I, of course, were not the first atheists to attend Ham's museum and Ark Encounter, and have something to say about the both of them. Other atheists have been more vocal about their thoughts (particularly, the state funds Ham received for his sectarian projects). Here's the thing, though -- surely, Ham's believes that his god is more powerful than a handful of atheists speaking their mind about his attractions, doesn't he? Who cares what we atheists do or say? Shouldn't God provide for this cause if, indeed, it is true?



But anyway, Richard and I ended our day, drove back to his place in Columbia, and had some wine. We may have watched Call of Cthulhu (or that may have been the following day -- I don't remember). But we did spend the greater part of a day out at Ham's attractions.

The Creation Museum greets you with the mantra, "Prepare to Believe." I was prepared, my friends. I tried so hard to enter that museum with an open mind. But it is so demonstrably absurd with even just the slightest understanding of the scientific process and evolutionary theory.

Here's another photo of the Ark, from a distance. It was so damn big that I never did get a good photo of the entire thing. But balls to the wall if I didn't at least attempt it.




The "Truth" About Cats and Dogs (Exploring Gender Theory in the Context of Pet Choice in Western Societies)

I began exploring the relationship between dogs, cats, and gender theory quite some time ago, when I was still a graduate student at Utah State University. Under the guidance of Dr. Lynne McNeill, I took an animal folklore class and wrote a paper on the role of the snake (a rather phallic symbol, obviously) in religiously-motivated gender politics in Western cultures. In researching this, I read a really interesting piece that Dr. McNeill had written on the genderization of both cats and dogs, and how, historically speaking, cats have been rather feminized (which I'll get into in a bit). This began, for me, a fascination with both dogs and cats and how preference for one or the other may tell us something about a person's views on sex and gender in Western societies.

I began this particular blog post years ago, back in the summer of 2014. I never did finish it, but I'd like to do so now (as such, the entire post will be a mix of things I wrote back in 2014, and things I'm adding to it now). Before I proceed, however, allow me to disclaim any use of the words "all," "always," or any rendition of the two. I never speak or write in absolute terms, so please keep in mind as you read that I'm not ever trying to refer to all people, all dogs, or all cats. That's useful to know in a post such as this.

During the 2013-2014 school year, I had my fifth grade students write an opinion essay on whether they preferred cats or dogs as pets (or just in general). This was going to be the start of an opinion essay on that topic. Interestingly, out of 28 students, only two chose cats -- and those two students, both females, found themselves, as a result, on the receiving end of jokes and comments designed to berate them for preferring cats.

I, of course, didn't allow any sort of ridiculing to continue occurring, but the situation itself was rather fascinating. What are the underlying factors that cause us to identify as "cat people" or "dog people" here in America? And what is it about being a "cat person" that can cause such revulsion from self-proclaimed "dog people?" (Honestly, I've never in my life seen "cat people" make fun of or berate "dog people" for their preference, but I've seen the reverse happen a number of times, including the time in my classroom.)

Before I continue, I'll throw out there that I appreciate animals of all types, but do consider myself to be a "cat person" when it comes to pets. I have cats (and always have), and, although I don't dislike dogs, I much prefer interactions with cats. That's what makes me a "cat person," I suppose.

Most other "cat people" I know feel the same way. That is, they may enjoy dogs (and other types of animals) but tend to prefer cats in their lives and homes. But here's the interesting thing ... many self-proclaimed "dog people" do not feel the same way about cats. Not all, but many "dog people" (#notalldogpeople) actually have an active dislike for cats. This ranges from mild dislike that stems from misconceptions about cats, to an extreme hate-on for cats that makes one wonder if these people were killed by wild cats in a past life (yes, I jest, but only in the basis of an honest foundation rooted in personal experience). Once again, I'm not attempting to speak in absolutes -- I know that there are people that prefer both cats and dogs, people who don't like either, and people who have preferences for one but don't necessarily hate the other. The tendency I've seen for "dog people" to hate cats comes from a sampling of my experiences.

The most common complaint against cats that I've heard is that they are, supposedly, aloof and do not interact well with people. It's been said that dogs will be active members of the family, while cats will treat you only as a servant to be occasionally tolerated. Honestly, if this happened to be true, why would there be so many people who love having cats in their lives? The truth is that cats can have very distinct personalities that are quite different than what you'd experience from a dog, but they are also very loyal, loving, and intimate pets. Yes, interaction usually has to be their idea, and, yes, there are times when they're going to want to be left alone. They're not as dependent as dogs, and can get along on their own if need be. But when part of a loving home, they will curl up on you, purr, "kiss" (lick) your tears away, snuggle you in bed, and play games with you (games that usually simulate hunting a smaller animal and ripping it to shreds, but still).

Another interesting note about the "cats don't love you" argument is that people who make said argument rarely define what they mean by "love" and "affection." As Greg Stevens points out in his article (and don't judge me for the title, please, as I didn't write it), Dog Lovers are Co-Dependent and Terrible at Relationships, "dog people" seem to take attributes normally seen in dogs (such as the tendency to show overwhelming levels of excitement when a person comes home) and attach them as qualifications for "love" and "affection" in pets. Stevens writes that, in the real world, there are many ways in which people (and other species) show various levels of love and affection for others, and they are not all displayed by such crushing levels of dependence. The point is that, so what if a cat doesn't come to you when you call it, or come rushing home to meet you at the door (some cats do, I know, but that isn't the point)? Who cares? Who gets to decide that if a pet doesn't act in these specific ways (attached to human interpretations, I might add), it means they don't love you (or that, if they do these things, that they do love you)? This line if thinking is a bit narrow (if you'd like to continue reading about that particular analysis, however, go ahead and click on the above link to read Stevens' actual article).

But, you know, I digress. I could defend the loving nature of cats all day long, but that's not what this post is about. What I want to explore is why there seems such an active hate-on for cats in America (while, at the same time, it's almost a crime to criticize dogs in the same way), why dogs are often considered superior pets, and whether it has anything to do with the gender binaries we've created in our culture.

I'm going to go out on a limb here and speak purely from experience for a moment. People who actively hate cats tend to be conservative people who believe in gender roles and expectations, and who see dogs (particularly big dogs, which I'll get into in a moment) as symbols for masculinity. These people (again, in my experience), also view cats as symbols for femininity, and reject cats with the same virulent passion that they reject most other socially feminine representations (think, for example, of the ways in which some men reject floral patterns, the color pink, or long hair on men as though these things had the power to destroy society itself). In much the same way as the aforementioned examples, dogs (again, usually large ones) tend to get a pass for the proverbial "man card," while cats do not.

And much of the time, it's not just that these people don't prefer cats, or just enjoy dogs more. Many of these people downright hate cats -- hate them, with the fiery passion of a thousand suns. I've heard people brag about kicking cats or harming cats because their hatred of them was so profound. And this is what I find interesting (because, again, I have yet to meet a "cat person" who actively despises dogs, and I know our society wouldn't react to that as nonchalantly as we tend to react to cat hatred).

I'll add here that there actually have been studies done on the differences between "cat people" and "dog people," and the results tend to be the same. One study, done at the University of Florida, suggests that cat people tend to be more "solitary, impersonal, serious, and nonconformist," whereas dog people tend to be more "grounded, ... outgoing, sociable ... and group-oriented" (really, though, this is not surprising, given the nature of what dogs and cats, themselves, are like). Another study points to cat people being more intelligent than dog people (sorry, couldn't help but throw that one in there, especially since it caused an argument with an ex-boyfriend once upon a time), but also more neurotic. Interestingly (or not), though, studies have also shown that "dog people" tend to be more conservative, and "cat people" tend to be more liberal (and further, that liberals tend to be more welcoming of dogs than conservatives are of cats).

So why does all of this matter? Well, in my opinion, the biggest issue here is that conservatives (far more often than liberals) believe in gender roles and expectations, and with that comes a disdain for women's social, political, and economic equality with men. We see this on many levels, even in some of our politicians today. Even though many people aren't blatantly open about their loathing of gender equality, some are, and associating ideas definitely exist below the surface of our society. I've known, for example, men who quit jobs because their boss was a female and they couldn't handle that (these men, granted, were already senior citizens, so the idea of a female boss was new to them). I've known men who honestly believe the dissolution of all marriages begins with independent women. I've also known men who believe that the downfall of our society can be traced back to women no longer having to marry and make babies. These people exist, whether we acknowledge that or not, but my point is that these are often the types of people who also tend to absolutely hate cats.

The connection I'm drawing on here is that cat hatred can usually be found in people who also hold conservative views regarding gender equality. I'm going to speculate on what, in my opinion, all of this means. I think, in short, there is a link between a dislike of independent women and a dislike of independent pets.

To expand on this, let's look at some of the most common attributes that both dogs and cats present. Dogs are known for being extremely loyal. As I mentioned before, their enthusiastic excitement when their people are around is usually interpreted as unconditional, unending love. When done correctly, dogs can be trained to do be very obedient and do (or not do) almost whatever is asked of them. Dogs will acquiesce to what their humans want of them rather easily, and for an animal, that is no small thing. They have a long history of being "man's best friend," hunting partners, and overall assets to people's lives. In short, it's easy to dominate a dog and feel in control of and highly secure in one's relationship with a dog.

Cats, as most people know, are quite different. Cats are known for being aloof toward people, even their owners, and generally only showing affection when it's their idea to do so. They are wildly independent, and can survive on their own in ways that family dogs cannot. Cats cannot usually be trained to adhere to every instruction that comes from a human (though, in reality, cats have been trained to do awesome things, including using and flushing a toilet rather than a litter box). It is not easy to control a cat, and those who need constant, consistent affection and adoration from a pet in order to feel secure about that friendship might not get that from a cat.

So far, what I've identified is that "dog people" who hate cats tend to also be conservatives who don't fully believe in gender equality, and also that the qualities said people tend to like in dogs include obedience and "unconditional love," whereas the qualities they tend to hate in cats include indifference and independence.

What I find very interesting is that those qualities mentioned regarding dogs are also the qualities that men who don't believe in gender equality tend to look for in women (obedience, adoration, and unconditional love). The qualities they hate in cats are, you guessed it, also qualities they end to hate in women.

Any supposed connection between a disdain for cats and disdain for women dates pretty far back, in my opinion. European witch hunts, for example, tended to focus on targeting women (yes, there were men who were killed for witchcraft, too, but it was overwhelmingly women who were targeted and eventually executed). Witchcraft, historically and culturally speaking, has always been seen as a deviant alternative to patriarchal cultures and religions (throughout history, it was thought that witches worshiped the Christian devil; modern-day witches, however, identify a female goddess that they revere). During the times of the European witch hunts (and even here in America), along with the many humans that were killed for witchcraft, there were also many cats that were caught, tortured, and/or killed. This happened because people used to believed that witches could transfigure themselves into cats (so a cat wandering around on someone's property might be mistakenly identified as a witch in disguise). For a very long time, cats were thought to be witches' familiars, too (which is why black cats are still often associated with Halloween, superstition, and bad luck). Unlike other domesticated animals, cats were very difficult to control, and were sometimes thought of as dangerous ... just like uncontrollable women.

Socially deviant women, historically, have been outcast from society (or, as mentioned above, tortured or executed for witchcraft). This happened to women who didn't marry, women who didn't (or couldn't) bear children, and even women who were considered ugly. It happened to women who dared to take on roles traditionally reserved for men (think Joan of Arc), and women who in any way stepped out of the gender role prescribed for them. For centuries, these women have been associated with cats, who are also considered "deviant" in terms of the idea that men are supposed to rule over and control all animals. (As an interesting aside, people have looked to the Genesis story in the Bible as evidence that men were supposed to be in charge of the land, of all animals, and, of course, women).

Another interesting aside is that people who tend to identify as dog lovers in gendered ways usually prefer large dogs. I knew someone once who was so biased in his preference for big dogs over small ones, that he would insist that small dogs weren't really dogs at all, but "rats." He'd point out a small dog and say, "Oh, look, it's a rat." I'm not even kidding -- his identity as a dog person was so wrapped up in the size of the animal that he had a hard time even classifying small dogs as real canines, and needed to come up with an insulting way to identify those small dogs.

But I digress. I think there is a reason for large dog preference, too (at least as it relates to gender issues and identities). Large dogs are sometimes called "man dogs" (yes, I've heard them referred to as such). I think, in terms of gendered relationships with animals, some men prefer the requisite obedience and unconditional love of a large dog because it's evidence that he has been able to dominate such a large (sometimes frightening) animal. For these men, it may mean more to them that they can show the world that a big, tough-looking animal (who might bark at or chase others, depending on the dog and how well trained it is) still answers to them, respects them, and, of course, loves them. I think it meets a desire cultivated by ideas pertaining to masculinity in our culture.

So, in short, I think it's possible that we still see remnants of gendered ideas regarding animals in our modern societies and cultures (particularly patriarchal ones). It's no secret that cats are considered to be feminine. And conservative people who believe in maintaining traditional gender roles very often describe themselves as "dog people," often with large "man dogs," and often denounce the idea that cats can be as good a pet choice as dogs. Contrast this with the fact that socially liberal people (and, yes, single women) tend to prefer cats.

Regardless of what all of this may (or may not) mean, I think that to insist there isn't a link between pet preference and gendered ideas would be to overlook a very interesting cultural narrative.

My Love/Hate Relationship With Disneyland

For Christmas this year, I went in together with my dad and my boyfriend and bought my sister and her family a 3-day vacation to Disneyland. My sister, for her part, is hugely excited, so we've been talking about Disneyland (where she'll be in exactly one week, as of writing this piece) quite a bit. It's really got me thinking, though, about my own, personal feelings about Disneyland.

People who know me well know that I absolutely love Disneyland ... but I've also come to dislike many aspects of it (and the Disney company in general). I think that there are many people in this world who fall on one end of the Disney spectrum or the other -- they're either diehard Disney fans who can't get enough, or else they absolutely loathe the parks and probably couldn't be paid to spend time there. I've met both types of people, and honestly, I sympathize with both sides.

My conflicting views about Disneyland were created throughout the span of my lifetime. As a child, I thought there was very little that was better in this world than a trip to Disneyland. I spent many birthdays at Disneyland, and my parents knew that the most delightful surprise for me would be to find out that we were taking a trip to Disneyland. Growing up, I could have conversations about Disneyland for hours, and my dream job was to one day play a princess at Disneyland. As I matured into adulthood, my feelings didn't really change. I've still made many trips out to Disneyland with friends, significant others, my son, and even on my own. Although I understand that much of the draw for me is about nostalgia and reminiscing about wonderful times in my past, there is a draw about Disneyland that has never disappeared for me. Even to this day, as a 30-something, I feel the Disney pull now and again and still feel lots of anticipation and excitement in the days leading up to a trip.

But in recent years, I've noticed something else as well. As excited as I get for these trips, and as much as I keep going back again and again, when I'm actually at Disneyland I don't always have as much fun as I think I'm going to have. And it's this change in perception and experience that I want to analyze and talk about.

When I was very young, the Disneyland experience was quite different than the experience now, I think. As residents of Southern California, my family and I would sometimes wake up and just decide to spend the day at Disneyland. We'd have a fun, leisurely day there, making a circle around the park and riding all of the rides in turn, until we made it back to the entrance. After that, we'd have time to go back and do our favorites again. We'd bring sandwiches from Subway or Togos and go eat in the now-extinct picnic area, and not feel like we were losing any valuable time. We would watch parades and favorite shows like Fantasmic! (and I remember when that show premiered, and the first time we watched it as a family when I was about nine-or-so years old). Each visit would be marked with time spent browsing the stores at the end of the day so that each of us children could choose a souvenir (one of my old souvenirs, a plush Thumper toy, is still in my possession, passed down now to my own son after more than twenty years). I have many, many fond memories of these magical days with my family.

Things are a bit different now. These days, the experience always feels much more frenzied, with rushed hopping all over the park to collect Fast Pass tickets (I'll explain those in a moment if you aren't familiar with them) and fit in as much as you can fit in a single day (or more, depending on how many days you're staying). I find myself stressed and anxious in regards to timing everything, and by the end of the day I'm beyond exhausted -- physically and mentally.

I think there are a few reasons why this is the case for me, and they boil down to two main issues that have risen within the last 10 - 20 years. First, overcrowding is a huge problem at Disneyland (there's really no such thing as an "off-season" anymore -- whenever you go, you're likely to face huge crowds), and second, the prices have skyrocketed beyond what feels like a fair price for what you often get.

See, the reason I think I get so stressed out is because you have to pay top dollar to go to Disneyland. The price of a single day at only one of the parks (no park hopping allowed) is up to $100 a person (which means that a family of four is looking at $400 right off the bat just to get in the gates). I get why they have been raising prices so much, and I'll get into that in just a moment, but my point here is that when you pay so much money and then find out that you're going to spend all day fighting huge crowds of other people and waiting in tremendously long lines for damn near everything, you start to feel a little ripped off.

Disneyland knows overcrowding is a problem, too. The park was not built to handle the current number of daily guests that it now accommodates, and you can truly feel that when you go. Of course, there are times that are more crowded than others -- holiday weekends, for instance, or the last few weeks of December (I went once a few days after Christmas, and will never subject myself to such a nightmare again) -- but you have to expect that there are going to be crowds no matter when you go. The days of choosing to visit on a Tuesday in early February so that you can "walk on" everything (the term that we theme park geeks use to refer to not having to wait longer than 5 minutes or so for an attraction) are long gone. You can't even avoid crowds on rainy days anymore. Disney fanatics don't give a shit -- they'll wrap themselves in plastic raincoats and flood the parks anyway, because rain doesn't deter Disney fans anymore.

Part of the reason I think this is happening is because Disneyland has not been able to figure out whether they want to be a community theme park that caters to locals or a large resort that caters to out-of-towners and others traveling long distances. When I was growing up, Disneyland was small. There was one park, and it was very easy to see and do everything in a single day. If you wanted a resort-style vacation, you went to Walt Disney World in Florida (which my family did twice when I was growing up). Locals loved that they could make day trips to Disneyland, and this fondness among them is still there to this day. Lots of locals still buy season passes and head on over to Disneyland for a single day or afternoon, or even treat the park like a community "hang out" location where they and their friends can just chill for a few hours.

This is in stark contrast to the types of guests who come from afar to experience the continuing expansion that is Disneyland. Over the years, Disneyland, much like its sister parks Florida, has grown tremendously, taking on the name of "resort" (rather than simply "park"), with two theme parks, three overpriced hotels (seriously ... it can be upwards of $300 - $800 a night to stay in one of them), and an extensive shopping and dining district called Downtown Disney. Guests can now book dining reservations for expensive character meals or in viewing points for shows like Fantasmic! months in advance. If you don't have such reservations, you're usually out of luck, too (gone are the days of just showing up to the Blue Bayou, which looks out over the Pirates of the Caribbean ride, and getting seated, as we used to do when I was growing up).

I'm not saying that expanding into a resort isn't a good thing. I enjoy walking around Downtown Disney, and I like the overall resort "feel" of Disneyland these days. I like the second park, Disney's California Adventure, and its incorporation of thrill rides and Pixar-themed attractions. But Disney needs to figure out how to balance the ever-growing out-of-state and out-of-country demand with the local demand. Because when you combine lots of out-of-towners and lots of in-towners frequenting the same parks all the time, the result is a ridiculous level of overcrowding.

Disneyland started to address this issue back in the 90's with the introduction of the Fast Pass system, which they invented to help combat extremely long lines (it was becoming common during this time for popular rides to have lines two or more hours long). The idea of the Fast Pass is that everyone has to wait the same amount of time to ride ... but you don't necessarily have to wait in line. It's like a reservation. You use your admission ticket to retrieve a Fast Pass ticket for a certain attraction, and the Fast Pass will give you a time to come back and essentially skip the line. So while you're "waiting" for your turn to ride, you can go do something else -- ride something with a shorter line, get something to eat, see a character, or do whatever.

My family was pretty resistant to this idea at first, as the Fast Pass system slows down the standby line considerably. When you're in standby, your line is consistently stopped to allow for Fast Pass holders to come through and bypass you, so it was kind of frustrating at first. But when we learned how to utilize the passes ourselves, we realized that they do allow you to save lots of time in the parks and do many more things ... if you know how to use them correctly.

Locals (such as myself) quickly learned how to manipulate the system. We would bounce all over the park, collecting as many Fast Passes as we could, before finally using some of them. This put others, who did not necessarily know that you could obtain more than one pass at a time, at a distinct disadvantage. The Fast Pass system is based on times, you see, with only a certain amount of passes being distributed for a certain time frame. When all of the passes for all of the time frames (in hour-long return-time increments, such as 1:20 - 2:20, or 5:45 - 6:45) are gone, then they're gone for the entire day. How quickly all of the Fast Passes go depends on how popular the attraction is, and how many people are at the park that day to collect them.

This, anyway, created a situation in which locals who knew the system were essentially hoarding so many Fast Passes that others were missing out. Disney remedied this situation by changing the Fast Pass system so that you could only hold one Fast Pass at a time. But then, locals began saving up old admission tickets and bringing them in so that they could cheat the new system and still collect many Fast Passes at once. Disney found out about this, too, and fixed this situation as well, making sure that only tickets used for admission that day could be used to obtain a Fast Pass -- old tickets would generate a non-usable Fast Pass.

The final "trick" of the so-called "trade" that locals would do to save time was save up their Fast Passes throughout the day and only use them when lines were particularly long. So, for example, a person would get a Fast Pass ticket for Space Mountain that would tell them to come back between 1:00 and 2:00, but they'd actually come back at, say, 5:00 (and by this time, they may have accumulated multiple tickets). And this was allowed -- you couldn't use a Fast Pass before its scheduled time, but you could certainly use it anytime after. This eventually resulted, though, in long lines even for Fast Pass holders because too many people were coming back at the same time, so Disney put a stop to this, too. Now, if your Fast Pass says to come back to the ride between 1:00 and 2:00, you have to come back between 1:00 and 2:00, or else your pass will expire and you won't be allowed to use it (trust me, I've tried).

What this means is that now, jumping around all over Disneyland in an anxious frenzy is almost a requirement if you want to get everything in. You jump somewhere to get a Fast Pass for something, then bounce somewhere else to try to get other things in, and then jump back to the original ride when the Fast Pass time has arrived because you don't want your pass to expire. And, to top it all off, you usually want to bounce to another popular ride before heading over to the one you're about to go on so that you can grab another Fast Pass, just to make sure you're using every minute of the day wisely. If you decide to forgo the Fast Pass system altogether in order to avoid this anxiety-ridden nonsense, then you will inevitably be waiting in long-ass lines all day long, and definitely won't be able to get everything in ... and this results, of course, in the depressing realization that you've spent a shitload of money on a day at Disneyland, only to spend the majority of it waiting around in huge lines.

To put this in perspective, imagine that you spend $100 for a day at Disneyland and you're able to fit in about 10 rides (which is actually a lot when the park is crowded and you aren't using Fast Passes). This would mean, essentially, that you have spent $10 per ride (also taking into account the ambiance and shit that people pay for). When you think about it this way, you want to make sure you get in as much as possible, and the only way to do that is to utilize the Fast Pass system. But ever since Disney cracked down on the various ways people were taking advantage of the system, you also must submit to a fast-paced, jumping-all-over-the-park type of visit.

Really, it's come down to whether you prefer high levels of stress so that you can fit lots of things in (in which you face the possibility of just trying to get through each ride to make it to the next instead of enjoying everything fully) or slow down, wait in long lines all day, and get very little in.

In an attempt to get around this, some locals started pulling some pretty awful shit (because, apparently, they wanted to make sure that if they didn't get nice things, nobody got nice things). Somebody found out that Disneyland issued a disability pass to guests who were unable to stand in long lines for long periods of time (people with severe physical disabilities, or autistic children whose days could be ruined by standing around in lines). These passes enabled guests with disabilities to enter a ride through its exit, and they wouldn't have to wait. Well, locals started to realize this was a thing, and someone caught wind of the fact that it's illegal for Disney to inquire about a person's disability, or ask for proof of it. So people started getting themselves disability passes when they weren't disabled so that they wouldn't have to wait in lines.

Honestly, there is a certain breed of Disneyland local, usually season pass holders who frequent the parks throughout the year, who act quite entitled when it comes to these things. They don't think they should have to wait in lines like everyone else. A part of this, I think, stems from the fact that many of them remember times when a ride on the Matterhorn wasn't a guaranteed 45 minute wait (or more), and they're kind of resentful that they don't really get to experience that anymore. But, for whatever reason, some of them thought they were so entitled to skip lines that they pretended to be disabled. And then, those assholes actually spread this as a "tip" or "trick" or "life hack" at Disneyland all over social media. So, suddenly, huge groups of people were running around with disability passes, bypassing lines and ruining the experience for those who were actually disabled (as well as those who were not, as such behavior increases waiting times for everyone else).

So Disneyland was faced with a dilemma. How could they accommodate their guests with disabilities while, at the same time, nipping the exploitation of disability passes in the bud? They decided to refine the disability pass just a bit. Instead of allowing guests to enter a ride through the exit, the disability pass was treated like more of a Fast Pass, in that guests were given a time to return to a ride, and at that time they could go bypass the line. The new disability pass differed from Fast Passes, though, in that the time never expired and guests could use it on any ride they wanted (unlike a true Fast Pass, which could only be used on certain, popular rides). Disneyland hoped that this new pass would be less desirable to its non-disabled visitors and help alleviate the stress on the system.
It didn't work. Essentially, having "Fast Passes" that never expired and could be used on any ride in the park was still tempting enough to cause guests to abuse the system. Non-disabled guests still came in droves for these passes, and sometimes every single person in a large group of people would get one of their own so that they could accumulate dozens of passes at the same time. So Disney eliminated the disability pass altogether, and does its best to accommodate severely restricted people without the pass, on a case-by-case basis. It's a shame, really, that some people who face real challenges can no longer experience the park in ways that work for them because other guests thought it was acceptable to exploit their accommodations.

Disneyland has begun to realize that this type of (usually local) customer, as well as other locals, presents very specific problems in terms of crowd control. Back in the 1980's, Disneyland began to sell annual passes so that those in the area could pay one lump sum and visit the park again and again. They thought that this would help keep attendance up even during the off-season. Throughout the years, there have been various deals for Southern California residents, too. A few years ago, Disneyland liked to promote "2-fer" tickets, in which Southern California residents could buy a day at both parks for the price of one. There has always been a special Southern California annual pass, too, which featured many blackout dates (dates when these pass holders were blocked from admission to the parks), but the price was very reasonable. As a result of these deals, as well as local infatuation with Disneyland, the number of Southern Californians with annual passes has grown exponentially within the last 10 years.

The result of this, as I mentioned before, is that Disneyland now has to balance hoards of locals who show up all the time for day trips, with guests who view the experience as a full-on vacation. These guests buy rooms at the hotels (or the adjacent "good neighbor" hotels within walking distance), buy multi-day tickets, and are usually determined to get as much out of their visit as they can (because they know they probably won't be back for a while). There have been more and more of these vacationing guests at Disneyland in recent years, and, quite honestly, they're the guests that Disney wants there. They're more likely, after all, to spend lots of money on food in the park and souvenirs such as Mickey Mouse ears or a $50 stuffed animal. But the problem is that more and more vacationers are reporting shitty experiences on their trips mainly due to one thing and one thing only: the huge crowds that no one wants to deal with.

So, it's become a problem. And while Disney doesn't want to piss off its local customers, who have been a steady source of reliable income pretty much since the park opened in the 1950's, it also doesn't want to deter out-of-town vacationers from choosing Disneyland as their destination.

Which brings us to the second source of contention that I mentioned earlier: The huge expense of Disneyland. Prices have been going up for years, but they've spiked sharply in recent years. Again, just to spend one day at one of the parks, a person has to shell out $100 a person. If they want park-hopping privileges (the ability to go from one park to another in a single day), it's up to $155 a person. If you want to go to the park for multiple days, you're looking at hundreds of dollars per person (although it's really a better deal because the price-per-day actually decreases the more days you buy). No matter how you look at it, though, that's a lot of money just to get through the gates of a theme park. If you want to buy snacks or meals in the park, or any kind of souvenir, you're looking at even more.

Very recently, though, Disney made a few changes, one of which includes varied admission prices depending on when you go. So the prices I listed above are only good if you choose to go on less popular days -- if you go during any of Disneyland's busy seasons, you pay even more. But the biggest change, I think, occurred within the realm of Disneyland's annual pass system. Disney decided, you see, to eliminate the special, discounted annual pass that was specifically for Southern Californians. There are only a couple of options now if you want to buy an annual pass -- the Disney Deluxe Passport (which features black out dates for every holiday season as well as every Saturday during the summer months) for $599 a person, the Disney Signature Passport (which also features black out dates, but far fewer of them) for $849 a person, or the Disney Signature Plus Passport (which has no black out dates, as well as other benefits) for $1,049 a person. And Disney also removed the option (which they used to have) of purchasing a half-priced ticket to enter the park if it's one of your black out dates.

The only extra benefit that Southern Californians now get that others don't is the ability to finance their annual passes, making monthly payments rather than a lump sum (and in all honesty, I can't even imagine dropping over $4000, for a family of four to go to Disneyland all year long). Nobody else but those in Southern California can finance their passes this way. This has become a source of contention for non-locals, too, not only because non-locals can't finance their passes, but also because the monthly payments have contributed to the severe overcrowding. I mean, $4000 sounds ridiculous all at once ... but how about $333 a month? Some people pay less than their car, house, or even electricity payment to make annual passes happen. With the cheapest annual pass listed above, a family of 4 from Southern California can pay $200 a month for a year of Disneyland. For many people, that is doable and worth it.

But, again, this is a huge contributing factor to the ridiculous crowd levels in the parks. I honestly think Disney should seriously reconsider allowing the financing option for Southern Californians. Let them drop thousands of dollars for annual passes like everyone else, if that's what they want to do.

In my opinion, though, Disneyland has realized that there were huge issues with the overcrowding of their parks and knew they had to do something about it. And although it seems like an easy solution to simply lower the capacity and turn more people away at the gates, such a thing is easier said than done. For example, what if people planned a vacation, flew all the way from wherever, and were turned away at the gate because the park had already reached its limited capacity? Also, Disney is, first and foremost, a company -- a very successful company at that -- and whatever decisions they make for their customers needs to be in line with the decisions they make concerning their profit margin. Cutting off the number of people who are able to enter the parks and undoubtedly angering people is probably not the best way to ensure they're making money.

So they decided to hike prices. This, I think, is a win-win for Disneyland because the number of guests will decrease (even if people want to go, they'll be priced out because they simply can't afford to go), but they won't be losing money because the people who do still go will be paying so much more. This does, of course, leave some people feeling disgruntled because they've been priced out, but the truth of the matter is that Disneyland is deciding, it seems, to move away from the community park that caters to locals and fully taking on the resort label that caters to vacationers. This is hard for locals such as myself, who remember going to Disneyland quite often at, like, $30 a person. But things change, and this is the path Disneyland has chosen for its future. Disneyland is a vacation now, not a day trip like it used to be. And I guess time will tell whether or not this new strategy will work for Disneyland. (Once again, I think it would work better if they eliminated the monthly payment option for local passholders.)

Because, in all honesty, I think there will eventually reach a point where the prices get too high, when Disney experiences a loss in revenue because the price has become too steep for most people, and the product simply isn't worth it to them. But until that point, Disney will continue to raise its prices because they can and they know people will continue to come. For now.

As for me, I supposed I've reached that point already. $100 for one day at one park is no longer worth it because the crowds have become so heavy that it's often not enjoyable anymore. I miss Disneyland, and I will always love Disneyland ... but I also hate it. I hate that it's become this. I hate that many times I feel like I am paying a huge sum of money for the "privilege" of standing around in the heat, with numerous other people, doing very little except waiting in lines. No matter what you want to do -- a ride, a show, see a character, get some food -- you will likely be waiting a long time because the crowds have gotten that out of control. I still find Disneyland to be magical, and I think their attractions are still top-notch -- but for what I'm actually getting when I go to the park, the price has finally become unreasonable.

Until, you know, I go again. Because (who am I kidding) we all know that I fucking will. And that, I suppose is exactly what Disney relies on.

525,600 Minutes

The song "Seasons of Love" from the musical Rent explores the ways in which we measure a year. 365 days or, as they put it, 525,600 minutes can be measured "in daylights, in sunsets, in midnights and cups of coffee; in inches, in miles, in laughter and strife." Measuring the small, day to day moments as well as the large monumental ones has become so important to me, and this song is a favorite of mine in terms of summarizing that. The song, though, also mentions that another way to measure a year is through love, and that's what I want to do in this post. There are, of course, many different forms of love in my life -- love toward and from my son, myself, my friends, and my family, for instance -- but here I want to write about romantic love (something I'm not entirely used to writing about).

One year ago, one of the last places I ever thought I'd find myself was in a monogamous relationship. Back then, I was happily polyamorous and didn't see myself entering into a partnership with any one person at any point in my life. Life is a funny thing, though, and sometimes the paths we never expect to travel are the ones we wind up exploring anyway. I entered my partnership with Matt about a year ago now, and I call it a partnership because that's how we've approached this idea of a relationship ... that is, while recognizing and respecting each other's differences and individual natures, we've decided to experience life as friends, allies, and lovers. And this approach to our relationship, I think, is why it works for me.

Having jumped, earlier in my life, from extremely strict parents to an extremely controlling marriage, I chose to spend the majority of my young adult life single (after said marriage ended in divorce). The freedom that came from living as a single person who called my own shots, made my own decisions, and answered to no one was intoxicating and exactly what I needed to grow as a person. Sure, I dated around during this time, and entered a few very brief relationships, but the majority of the time I was single -- happily single. There were times when, I think, I wanted to enter a relationship with someone I was dating, but usually didn't because of an overwhelming fear of losing the freedom I'd fought so hard to attain. So my polyamorous lifestyle -- in which there were a few people I was casually dating and a few other people whom I did refer to as boyfriends -- centered mostly around maintaining my freedom and independence at the center of it all.

It was a cool lifestyle, one that I was very happy in, and one that I know many others are very happy in. So entering monogamy with Matt wasn't a decision made out of necessity, because I wasn't even sure, at the time, that such a relationship could even be possible while maintaining personal freedom and independence.
My past being what it was, I knew exactly what I didn't want. I did not want someone believing they had any sort of say in where I went, who my friends were, how long I was out, what I did with my free time, and so on -- I didn't want to answer to anyone. I did not want to be with a jealous person who was constantly worried that I was cheating on them or that I would leave them for the next best thing the second the opportunity hit me -- I didn't want a significant other who felt the need to break my self-esteem down to such a low degree that I would thank my lucky stars every day that I was with them (because, surely, no one else would want me). I did not want to be with an angry person who acted like a ticking time bomb, leaving me in a constant state of dancing on nails to try and avoid the next blow up about who knows what. I didn't want to have to, once again, come up with lie after lie for everyone else about why this or that thing was broken. I did not want to be with someone who thought it their duty, or even their right, to judge my likes and dislikes, my choices in clothing, my parenting, my hair length or color, my friends, or any other such thing. I did not want to be with someone who wanted to take control of my health choices, including what I ate and when I ate it, how much I ate, how much I weighed, and such, as though I were a dependent rather than a partner.

And, yes, I've experienced all of the above. And I was never, ever, ever going to go back to living that way again.

Learning to trust has not been an easy road, but the approach that Matt and I have taken has been different than any other relationship I've ever been a part of, and it's been wonderful for me. For starters, we've never looked at ourselves as "halves" seeking a "whole" -- both of us see ourselves as whole beings, full and complete in ourselves, who seek to complement each other's lives. Though we have quite a bit in common (we both love video games, roller coasters, reading, travel, and the same classic films, such as Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure), we're also very different. He's the extrovert to my introvert; he loves sports and the outdoors and dogs while I, on the other hand, love politics and staying in and cats. He likes going to baseball games and I like attending the live theater. He likes skiing and snowboarding while I enjoy studying voice and dance. He's a beer guy; I'm a wine gal.
And the thing is, a huge part of our approach has been respecting that both of us will have lives outside of the other. When he wants to go play baseball with friends, or go to laser tag, or go for a weekend snowboarding getaway, there are times he does those things without me because I have no interest in those things. And when I do shows or debates or go out for coffee with my own friends, there are times I do those things without him because he'd rather be doing other things. And, because we respect each other's individual lives and privacy, it doesn't bother either of us that the other has a full and complete life outside of us.

Along with this, we've also been building a life together. We do things together that we both enjoy, such as theme parks, and sometimes we'll go to ball games or the live theater together, so that we can experience each other's passions, even if they're not our own. And this is why the relationship works for me. I have been able to maintain an individual, free life while, at the same time, building a partnership with someone else (and so has he).

In this way, we've had some awesome experiences together. So today, on this kinda, somewhere-close-to one-year anniversary of us being together, I wanted to highlight some of those experiences to honor the year I've been with Matt.

1) Disneyland/Disney's California Adventure

As some of my previous partners can tell you, it's pretty hard to be in a relationship with me and not find yourself at Disneyland once in a while.
Despite my love/hate relationship with all things Disney, it's still one of my favorite places to go. We've been to Disneyland a few times, having ditched out on work and school to make it happen, and Matt and I went to California Adventure once on our own. We were on an impromptu trip to California and decided to make it happen (which turned out to be really cool, because Matt had never been to DCA before.) We found out on that day that you can drink beer at DCA. The capacity to enjoy adult beverages at Disneyland was foreign to me, so we go to each experience our first Disney beer together. (In case you're wondering, it was cheap piss-beer, but beer nonetheless.) We stayed all day, right until closing, eating soup in bread bowls for dinner while watching World of Color. (Unlike the beer, the soup at Disneyland is actually really good -- Matt had tortilla soup and I had clam chowder, and both were outstanding.)
Also on this trip to DCA (which seems worth mentioning), we experienced the onslaught rush of a high school grad night. We realized this was happening when, a couple of hours before the park closed, we got in line for another ride on the Tower of Terror and realized that we were surrounded by loud, excited teenagers. Being around such a group of people who are about to embark on their grad night was more annoying than anything, but the reactions from the employees was nothing short of amusing. The ride attendants were changing shifts while we were in line, and those who were leaving were wishing their grumpy colleagues, "Good luck." After we actually boarded the ride, the teenagers were being so loud and obnoxious that the woman giving her safety speech had to break character and snap at everyone to shut up, after which she quickly delivered her spiel and slammed the doors.

Quite a different experience for a Disney trip.

Fun times.

2) Filming Twisted Colossus

Matt and I are on the Six Flags Magic Mountain website (the picture in which you can see us is the one I've posted right here -- you can see me on the right train, wearing bright pink, my long hair flying wildly behind me. Matt is next to me, wearing purple).

And just why are we on the Magic Mountain website? Well, back in May of 2015, I managed to book us a gig where we were invited to Magic Mountain to be a part of the promotional filming for the brand new Twisted Colossus. This was the coaster that premiered at Magic Mountain in 2015 as a replacement for the classic coaster, Colossus. This was a huge deal for two roller coaster fans!
The morning of, we went backstage and filled out paperwork and had our photos taken, along with everyone else who would be a part of filming. It's important to note that there were two distinct groups of people -- the professional models and actors who were hired to sit in the fronts of the trains during the filming, and everyone else. The actors would be used primarily for the on-ride filming, and after they left everyone else would stay for off-ride filming and still photos of the ride.

But something really cool happened. As they were filming the actors in what we (Matt and I and two pretty awesome guys we met while standing around) called the "pretty train," the crew plucked us out of the crowd to fill in seats in the very back of the train. So, if you watch the actual Twisted Colossus promotional video, you won't see the four of us, but we were there in the back of the train. What this meant for us was that we got to ride again and again while they got the filming right.

See, the thing about Twisted Colossus is that it's got two tracks with a distinctly different ride on each track. The ride is almost 4 minutes long because, once your train finishes up on the first track, you get to go through again on the second track. But, part of the big deal about this roller coaster, is that the trains are supposed to be in sync with one another.
So, in other words, while your train is getting ready to start its second run-through, the train at the station must be dispatched at just the right moment so that, while the ride is happening, the trains are twisting over and around each other. It's a pretty cool experience ... when it works out. On this day, it wasn't working out correctly. They couldn't get the shots they wanted because the trains weren't synced properly. They tried all sorts of things while we were breaking for lunch, but, in the end, this meant that after all of the actors had gone home, we rode through Twisted Colossus an additional 8 consecutive times while they tried to get the syncing right. Finally, when they did, it was like magic and everyone cheered and we all had some great rides. It was a wonderful, unique experience altogether.

3) Adopting a Kitten

When we met, I already had a grey tabby cat (Auryn Baby Girlface) and Matt already had a large, brown dog (Bodi). But during the summer of 2015, we found ourselves with another pet that we adopted together: a small orange kitten that we decided to call Gavroche (due to his mangy, alley-cat look and orphan status that he possessed when we first adopted him).
My vocal coach, Madelene Capelle, had a stray female cat living on or around her property who had a few litters of kittens in 2015. Madelene, being the awesome person that she is, systematically caught all of the kittens and got them spayed and neutered at Heaven Can Wait. She released most of them back outside, with two exceptions: first, there was a very tiny black female that she kept and named Mimi Meow, and second, there was a very tiny orange male that she asked me to help find a home for because he seemed to be happier inside than outside.
Gavroche has a story. While Madelene was in the midst of catching these kittens, the little orange one was actually found, by her neighbor, in a shed. He'd accidentally gotten locked inside. If you know anything about Las Vegas in the summertime, you know just what that meant for this kitten, too. When they found Gavroche, nobody thought he was still alive. But Madelene wrapped him up in a cold, wet towel and took him to her vet, who essentially brought him back.
He was timid when we first brought him home, but you'll be happy to hear that now, almost a year later, he's grown into a very large, rough-and-tumble cat with more quirks and nuances than I think I've ever seen in a pet.

4) Canada

Matt and I got to go to Canada for a week in 2015, and it was such an awesome pleasure to get to do so. We were there primarily because I was singing the national anthem at a Toronto Argonauts football game, but while we were there we got to do so much else -- wine tasting, live theater, Toronto island, Canada's Wonderland, and so much else.

We stayed with my dad in his condo overlooking the city. Our first day there, we went down to Niagara on the Lake to do wine tasting (my dad has a particular preference for sweet wines and ice wines, which I don't care for, but tried nonetheless), and then we went to a football game in neighboring Hamilton. On Tuesday, Matt and I got to go to Canada's Wonderland, where we both got to experience a giga coaster (a coaster which features an initial drop of over 300 feet) for the first time. After Wonderland, we got cleaned up and Dad took us "appetizer hopping" -- a favorite past time of his, in which you visit 4-5 high-end restaurants in a single evening, just to sample appetizers and wine.
On Wednesday, after a day out, we all went and saw Newsies (which I absolutely loved). On Thursday, Matt and I wandered downtown Toronto, including a venture onto Toronto island, and then went to see Kinky Boots in the evening (which I also loved). On Friday, we went down to Niagara Falls, where we both rode a Maid of the Mist boat for the first time (despite having lived near the falls for years, I never did take one of those boats down near the falls until this day). We all ate a steak dinner overlooking the falls before driving back to Toronto. And on Saturday, we attended the football game in which I sang the national anthem for over 20,000 people (and I was happy Matt could be there for that event). On Sunday, we came home again.
It was a busy week that went by quickly, but an awesome experience.

5) The Color Run

I'm not, by nature, a runner. When I was a teenager I did gymnastics and the flying trapeze, and I used the treadmill on a daily basis, but that was over half my life ago. I'm not in the same shape I was when I was a teenager, so joining athletic events always makes me a bit apprehensive.
Matt insisted that The Color Run was fun, so I agreed to do it. And I have to admit, it was fun. We kinda walked, kinda ran through the 5K, getting blasted with color along the way, and I realized that such things aren't as scary or intimidating as I thought they were. And, best of all, it served as momentum for me to start exercising like I used to.

And, again, it was another first that we got to experience together.

Every relationship has its series of ups and downs. I, however, have never had a relationship like the one I'm currently in, which respects both the ups and downs as legitimate, necessary aspects of growth, and honors the ways in which the both of us continue to grow on our own.

I can't wait to see what the future holds.

UPDATE: As of April, 2017, Matt and I are no longer together. Our breakup was a simple matter of lifestyle differences, and we have parted amicably, both understanding that it was the best thing for both of us. I am, once again, polyamorous (monogamy, I have discovered, is not for me, though I was nothing but faithful to that lifestyle while I was with Matt). I have decided to leave this blog post up, however, as it highlights a specific time in my life for many of its proverbial "ups." Matt and I had some great times and we learned a lot from each other. I am still so excited to "see what the future holds," as I'd said before, even though the two of us have decided to explore different paths.

I did keep Gavroche, though. ;)

Me. At Midnight. Running Through the Rio in My Batman Pajamas With My Cats.

On a school night, even.

This is actually quite a story. And I'm going to tell it despite the fact that there is a certain level of judgment that usually accompanies the situation I'm about to reveal. Those of you who know me well understand that the number of fucks I usually reserve for judgment associated with misunderstandings about said situation is, like, zero.

Interested yet? All right, buckle up.

This all started over the MLK holiday weekend. We had lots going on -- I was attending multiple auditions, Brendan was having multiple sleepovers, and we were just generally busy. The fact, though, that Brendan was having sleepovers (time spent at others' homes, and others spending time at ours) is important to note. This entire experience all boils down to that one fact.

You're about to see where this is going.

Because, you see, toward the end of the weekend, as we were getting ready to head back to school and work, Brendan began complaining of sores on his arms. To me, these sores looked like spider bites -- an obvious red welt surrounded by a halo of pink skin. When he first pointed these out to me, he had one on his elbow and one on his leg, and I assumed that he'd been bitten by something (again, likely a spider) but that it would eventually go away and he'd be fine.

I'm sure you've already guessed that they didn't just go away. Each day he complained of new bites, and they were appearing all over his body. By Wednesday, he was so uncomfortable with painful, dreadfully itchy bites that Matt suggested I take him to the doctor. I agreed, too -- this didn't seem like spider bites anymore, and I began to wonder if he was exhibiting an allergic reaction to something (either a new food or a new laundry detergent or something). I gave him Benadryl just so he could sleep at night. I was pretty mystified (although, honestly, I really shouldn't have been).

The next day, Thursday, I spent the majority of my prep hour and lunch time trying to contact Teachers Health Trust so that I could set up an appointment for Brendan. One of my fellow teachers, Ken Witty, asked what was wrong, and I told him. I gave him a detailed description of what I was experiencing with Brendan, and he responded with raised eyebrows.

"You know what that sounds like?" he asked.

I knew where he was going with this, and it made me stop, pretty much frozen with anxiety. See, a couple of years ago Ken dealt with a bed bug infestation that he'd picked up at Hickey Elementary School, where we both used to work. And he told me that what I was describing in Brendan was nearly identical to what he and his wife had experienced. I insisted that I didn't think we had bed bugs, but when he pulled up pictures on his phone of what those bites look like, I couldn't deny that they were very similar to what I'd seen on Brendan.

"I would recommend that you go home and search his room," Ken told me. He instructed me in how to do this -- stripping the bed of sheets, lifting the mattress, looking for telltale signs of these awful, vampiric insects.

I rushed home, filled with anxiety, telling myself over and over again that it probably wasn't bed bugs and that I needed to calm down. But I was also very well aware of what a nightmare bed bug infestations can be, and knowing that the notion of one in my home made perfect sense was nothing less than terrifying. Bed bugs are an extremely successful species and, much like cockroaches and head lice, can be extremely difficult to control. They hide well, they survive most pesticides well, and, most importantly, they breed well. A small infestation can turn into an out-of-control problem very quickly. And a bed bug can survive for up to 18 months without eating -- for real. So you can't even go away for a week or two and starve them out. I've heard of people spending thousands of dollars to deal with bed bug problems, people buying all new furniture to eradicate them completely, and people moving because they couldn't win the battle with the bed bugs. This was not something that I wanted to deal with. At all.

I arrived home just minutes after Matt and told him that I needed to inspect Brendan's room.

"Just to confirm that it's not bed bugs," I told him.

The two of us went together upstairs and I tore all of Brendan's sheets off of his bed. His mattress was clean -- pure white, with no signs that I could see of bed bugs. I inspected closely in the crevices, but found nothing. I lifted the mattress and investigated the underside, as well as the box springs. I looked at all four corners, as closely as my eyes would allow.

Nothing. Everything looked clean.

I was about ready to give up the search, pretty convinced that bed bugs were not the problem, after all. But then, I saw it.

A tiny, rust-colored bug, with a wide, flat body. Just a single bug, standing on the edge of the box springs.

"Oh, shit," I said. "I see one."

"Where?" Matt asked.

I pointed. "Quick, get me something to catch it with. We'll need it for identification."

Matt ran downstairs and brought me a small tupperware container, which I used to trap the bug. With it contained, I had a closer look, and I was 100% positive now that we were dealing with bed bugs. The question now was what to do about it.

I told Matt to go immediately to our property manager, which he did. She understood what an awful problem bed bugs could be, and was absolutely as interested in getting them eradicated as we were. So she immediately called pest control and gave us specific directions as to how to prepare for their visit.

We spent the next many hours, well into the night, essentially moving "out" of our house. Pillows, sheets, and clothing were washed in hot water and dried on high heat. Stuffed animals were bagged and set outside (to be put in the drier later). We emptied drawers and closets and moved furniture away from the walls. Everything had to be washed and dried before being moved out, lest we accidentally move live bed bugs out of the house and then, inevitably, back in.

At this point, I did something I probably shouldn't have done. I emptied a can of bug spray all over Brendan's bed area, hoping to at least contain the problem until pest control arrived. I closed the door so that the cats couldn't get in, and hoped that it would kill some of the bugs and at least contain the others. I realized later that such a move could cause the bugs to spread to places they hadn't previously been, in an attempt to escape the poison, but my hope at that point was that there was enough to kill them before they could leave the room.

As midnight approached, Matt told me that pest control was going to try and come by the next day (Friday). If everything wasn't ready, including our two cats not being on the premises, they wouldn't be able to treat the problem, and they'd have to come back the following week. We didn't want that to happen.

The problem was that we both had work the following day, and it was going to be nearly impossible to leave work, go get the cats, and get them somewhere else once we knew when they were going to be arriving. So I suggested that we get a hotel that very night and stay away until after we were given the clear from pest control. Matt agreed, and jumped on Hotwire to find us a place.

"You know," I told him, "we could probably take the edge off of this whole situation if we turned this into an adventure and stayed somewhere on the Strip. Want to?"

He did -- he agreed that this could add an element of fun to an otherwise nightmarish situation. So we investigated various hotels that were not too overpriced, and also accepted pets. We found what we were looking for in The Rio, and I booked us a room for Thursday and Friday night. I assumed that the cats could stay in the room (with a "do not disturb" sign on the door) while we were all out at work and school, and then we could all return home once we were given the clear. The Rio, I noticed, was also only a few minutes from Brendan's school, which added to the benefits of staying there.

We loaded the car with freshly laundered clothes, some bathroom essentials, and the cats. My sister happened to be in possession of my cat carrier because she recently adopted a kitten, so the cats got to free roam the car. Gavroche drove with Matt, and Auryn drove with me and Brendan (we had to take separate vehicles so that we could each get to work the next day). We had to stop at Wal Mart because, in the fiasco that had been our night, I forgot to pack any cat food or cat litter, or even a litter box. So we picked those things up, along with a small container that the cats could ride in from the car to our hotel room.

We arrived at the Rio, and Brendan waited in the car with Auryn (and watched Gavroche through the window) while Matt and I checked in. Then, we made multiple trips to the car to get the things we needed.

And that's how I wound up rushing through the casino at The Rio, on my way to a hotel room, in Batman pajamas and day-old makeup, with a container full of cats, giving no fucks about what that must have looked like. I had spent all of my fucks earlier in the day, and I really had no more left to give to this particular situation.

Our room was nice. I set up cat food and water, and put the new littler box in the bathroom. Now after midnight, we all pretty much collapsed with exhaustion. We all went to sleep, knowing that, for the first time in days, Brendan wasn't about to be eaten alive while he slept.

I drove Brendan to school the following day and went to work, quite exhausted. Matt picked Brendan up after school, and we all met at the hotel room. The following day we were allowed to move back into our house, and spent the majority of the day completing laundering, putting casings over the mattresses, and inspecting everything for bugs before bringing it back in the house. But we're pretty much done now. Pest control left a note stating that the only signs of bed bugs appeared in Brendan's room -- they hadn't spread yet -- and the infestation was small enough that they didn't see any of the actual bugs, only the signs. They did a thorough treatment, and they're coming back in two weeks to examine the situation again, do a follow up treatment, and make sure that everything remains under control.

Last night we slept in our own beds. And Brendan woke up with no new bites. And so I'm hopeful.

But really, though ... down the road, we'll always be able to say, "Remember that time we took a stay-cation at The Rio because of bed bugs, in our pajamas, and with a container full of cats?" Hopefully, we'll be able to laugh.

I Had an Abortion ... And the Only Grief I Experienced Was Being Told I Had to Wait

Yes, I had an abortion. I had it exactly one week ago (as of writing this piece), at roughly 5 weeks along. I never questioned my desire to obtain an abortion, and have since felt absolutely no regret, remorse, or shame regarding it. Rather, I am relieved, happy, and healthy. And I want to talk about that.

There is plenty of rhetoric, you see, about abortion being a source of pain and grief, or an otherwise dirty, shameful secret for women who choose to terminate pregnancies. And for some women, these things are true. The point of this piece, though, is to illuminate the reality that many other women don't experience negative emotions after an abortion, and the "argument from regret," therefore, does not speak for all women. I am writing this to give voice and legitimacy to women -- such as myself -- who experience great relief after an abortion without any accompanying negative emotions.

This is a rather different type of piece for me, as it's based mostly on a personal experience. I write, discuss, and debate abortion quite often, usually through the lens of bodily autonomy (the trump card regarding abortion rights), but that isn't what this piece of writing is about. If you're unfamiliar with the bodily rights argument (or have read otherwise weak objections to it), or wish to read my refutations to arguments regarding "just don't have sex," "personal responsibility," "fetal rights," or a "special responsibility" regarding deprivation of bodily rights to pregnant women alone, then please read my most recent piece on these very issues here. Otherwise, please understand that this piece is to specifically address my personal experience.

I realize that I may lose friends over my choice to be vocal about my abortion, and that people may be turned off that I am not expressing the socially requisite shame and guilt over a "selfish" (as some will see it, I am sure) decision, but that is precisely the reason why I feel the need to be vocal. We need to lift the veil of social stigma surrounding this very common and very safe medical procedure, and I intend to play a part in doing just that.

I'll preface my story by saying that I terminated what would have been my third pregnancy. My first pregnancy was successful and resulted in a live birth (my son is a happy, healthy GATE student whom I love very much). My second pregnancy resulted in a miscarriage at roughly 8 weeks. So when I found out I was pregnant again over Memorial Day weekend, I had plenty of experience to draw upon when considering what enduring another pregnancy was likely to be like. Neither of my first two pregnancies were easy (I'm a Type 1 diabetic which adds complications, I gained lots of weight, retained lots of water, and experienced high blood pressure and extreme fatigue and nausea, among other things). This isn't the point, though -- regardless of my reasoning, which included physical, mental, and personal reasons regarding my body and my life, I decided right away to not try and complete this third pregnancy.

I not only didn't want more children (a decision I made years ago), but I didn't want to be pregnant, either.

After a day of pondering my situation on my own, I told my partner about the pregnancy and that I wouldn't be completing it (I cared about his input, but had already been vocal about the fact that if I were to ever become pregnant again, I would likely have an abortion, so this wasn't shocking for him). He was 100% supportive of me and my decision (as I knew, luckily, he would be), so I got to experience the privilege of being close to loved ones who, instead of judging me, supported me.

And that is important to note -- this decision was all my own. I made my decision before involving anyone else. Shame-and-guilt-free abortions are also coercion-free abortions, which is a huge aspect of pro-choice mentality. Reproductive choice means that empowerment comes from a person's ability to make their own decisions. Such an empowering decision can mean keeping a pregnancy or it can mean terminating a pregnancy, but this decision, about whether to donate one's body for nearly a year (which is what makes it the woman's decision and not a joint one), must rest with the woman alone. Therefore, part of what made my own decision empowering and positive was that it was mine. I specifically wanted my decision to be free of others' input, which is why, with the exception of a very few family members and friends, I remained silent about my decision until now.

I scheduled the abortion for the following weekend. I was going to need to be out of commission, so to speak, for an entire day, and as school was still in session (I'm a teacher), a Saturday appointment made the most sense. In the interim time, I thought about the varying options the nurse on the phone had given me: Would I want to abort using oral medication, or would I want a surgical termination? Would I use sedation or try to endure what was supposedly a mild procedure without it? I hadn't made any actual decisions regarding these choices when I entered the clinic that Saturday.

This day, though, is when I experienced the only pain and grief that I associate with this process, and it had nothing to do with any of those choices. When obtaining a legal abortion, the first step is to usually receive an ultrasound so that doctors can date the pregnancy. (Interesting aside -- for all of the debate surrounding "mandatory ultrasounds," people should know that, regardless of state laws regarding ultrasounds, most medical professionals will not perform an abortion without one. This is due to the fact that, not only do they need to date a pregnancy, but they also need to physically see the pregnancy so that they know what to look for in follow up ultrasounds to ensure that the abortion was complete. They also need to make sure that any pregnancy is not ectopic, hence another reason for needing to see it in the uterus. But the "ultrasound debate" should be about what a doctor is forced to show or say -- not the ultrasound itself, which is pretty much mandatory everywhere.)

Anyway, the nurse doing my ultrasound could not find the pregnancy, either topically or vaginally. She did blood work to confirm the pregnancy (and I'd already done two urine tests), so she told me that either the pregnancy was ectopic or it was simply too early to see the embryo that had embedded in my uterus. Only time would tell which it was. And either way, I would not be receiving an abortion on that day. I'd have to play the waiting game. She told me to make another appointment for a week out so we could try again.

I, however, was not in the mindset to make any future appointment. All I knew was that I was pregnant, I didn't want to be, and yet I would be forced to remain pregnant for another week until the embryo grew some more (or I started showing signs of an ectopic pregnancy). I felt completely out of control of my body and, by extension, my life. There is much discussion among pro-choice people about mandatory waiting periods (some states have enforced 24-hour, 48-hour, or, in extreme cases, 72-hour waiting periods before a woman can access an abortion so that she can "think about it"), and how much distress and undue burden this can put on some women. I was basically being put on a week-long waiting period (due to medical reasons, granted, rather than a desire to make me "think about" my decision), which, although rooted in legitimate medical science, caused me deep emotional distress. I left the clinic in tears, intent to take matters into my own hands.

My partner did his best to be supportive and keep me logical, but I was anything but logical throughout the rest of the weekend. I remember feeling numb and in a deep state of panic. I called every other abortion provider in my area, only to find out that, indeed, everyone requires positive evidence of a pregnancy through an ultrasound. I contacted some pro-choice Facebook friends to see if they knew ways around this, or else knew of providers who would perform abortions without the ultrasound. I even considered doing my own abortion through illegal means. I contacted my father (who lives in Canada) and asked him if there was any way he could obtain abortion pills and mail them to me (and he was very gentle and loving as he explained to me how much, of course, that would implicate him as well, and how dangerous that could be for me). I read online about herbs that were supposed to induce miscarriages. I thought about driving down to Mexico to get abortion pills over-the-counter. I even came close to ordering abortion pills online.

This, however, is when my partner really demanded that I start looking at things logically. I could, he explained, try something illegal and dangerous (and he wasn't going to challenge me or try to control my choices), which could mean potentially becoming ill, dying, or winding up jailed ... or I could just wait a week and still end my pregnancy safely and legally. As out-of-control and desperate as I was feeling, I'm usually pretty good at making myself see things from a logical perspective eventually, and I chose the latter. Thankfully.

I actually rescheduled the abortion for nearly two weeks later, as I had plans with a long-time friend from Utah, whom I hadn't seen in over a year, the following weekend. So I trudged my way through the final week of school, and through my getaway with my friend, feeling very ... pregnant. The extent of my fatigue made everyday activities, including carrying a conversation, acts of conscious will. I could barely keep food and drink down. I didn't feel like myself, and I know I certainly didn't act like myself around others.

But, finally, that following Thursday I returned to the clinic for my abortion (12 days after my initial attempt), feeling mildly concerned that there still might be an issue finding the pregnancy through an ultrasound. There were no such issues, though. The pregnancy was observable with a topical ultrasound, and the kind staff immediately set me up with an IV in my hand to await my procedure. And the overwhelming feeling that dominated my emotional state was relief that I was not being sent away again.

I'll add here that I decided that morning to have a surgical abortion rather than a medical one. This is because, after hearing my options, I learned that medical abortions don't always work (though they do the majority of the time), and they require follow-up appointments to be sure that everything was expelled. They can also, due to the fact that they induce a miscarriage, result in a long and painful abortion (though this isn't the case for every woman). The surgical procedure, I was told, could be confirmed as complete that very day, and I'd likely be on my feet and back to normal life by the following day. It sounded like the best option for me. I also chose to be sedated because, as the nurse told me, why be potentially uncomfortable during a procedure when you can make yourself more comfortable? (No, in case you haven't guessed this about me, I don't think that women should punish themselves, or be punished, with a painful abortion because of the nature of the process. The very idea is asinine.) I was told the procedure would feel like very, very intense menstrual cramps for about 5-10 minutes, which I thought I could handle well, but opted for sedation due to simple comfort.

The doctor gave me the sedation medication through the IV in my hand (once I was ready for the abortion), and I felt it immediately. I remember thinking about how strong it was, and then ... I was waking up. I actually fell asleep (which the nurse told me was a possible side effect of the sedation), and therefore remember nothing about the actual abortion procedure. I woke up, and everything was finished. The nurses helped me up and took me to a recovery room. The sedation did leave me feeling horribly nauseous (I threw up into a bag a few times, and twice again once I arrived home, even though I hadn't had anything to eat or drink that morning), but other than that the procedure and its aftermath were incredibly smooth and complication-free.

My partner drove me home, and I rested for most of the afternoon. Once I woke up again, though, I felt a hundred times better than I had in weeks. Even though the pregnancy hormone that likely causes fatigue and nausea probably remained in my body for a some time after the abortion, I felt physically like a new person. I had more energy, could hold conversations, had a desire to do things with friends and family, and actually wanted to eat. I continued to feel better as the day progressed, and as more days passed. My partner commented daily about how noticeable the change in me was. Physically, I was happy, healthy, and relieved.

My health, my body, and my life were no longer being interrupted by a parasitic relationship that I had no desire to maintain. My feelings about that were only positive -- again, I was happy and relieved. Not once did I cry over my abortion, nor did I feel a need to. Not once did I regret my decision. Not once did I think about what "might have been." The only grief I felt during the entire process, again, was being told I had to wait. Perhaps (as some will say) these are selfish feelings, but, lest we forget that this is my body and my life in question here (and, no, the embryo had no "right" to reside in and use my body if I didn't want it to), I don't think that "selfish" feelings and actions are always unjustified. After all, this is my life to live, my choices to make, and the aftermaths of those choices are mine to own in whatever ways I happen to own them.

No, this process was not fun (most medical procedures aren't), and I am therefore certainly not chomping at the bit to have another abortion. I have always been, and still am, an advocate of safe sex and preventative birth control. But the need for abortion will always exist, and it's important to remember that many women, every day, choose it without regret or remorse.

I am one of those women, and proud to be a voice of legitimacy for our shared experiences.