Thursday, August 23, 2012

Harry and Ron Reconcile Early!

This is a double-posting from my new blog at, a forum for Harry Potter nerds enthusiasts like myself. This will make a lot more sense if you have read the HP books, at least through book 4. If you have not, be warned that this contains spoilers!

I have contemplated the meeting point of the Harry Potter series and Nonviolent Communication for many years. I have been reading HP since I was 10 and studying NVC since I was 16. When I re-read the books after learning NVC, I noticed this deep pain in my heart at how difficult a time the characters had connecting through conflict. I so wanted them to hear each other and make up! One of the applications NVC has is mediation, and how I wished I could mediate them through their disputes. This is really my personal motivation for applying NVC in this way, to sort of pretend like I can do that, although it is probably a good way to study NVC as well. (For more info on NVC, look up Bay NVC and The Center for Nonviolent Communication).

So today I will start with one of the biggest and most painful fights in the whole series - when Harry, mysteriously chosen by the Goblet of Fire to be the fourth Hogwarts champion in the Triwizard Tournament, is then seemingly abandoned by Ron, who has apparently lost all trust in Harry's claims to ignorance about the matter.

What does Hermione have to say about this? Here is the exchange the she and Harry have the day after he is chosen.:

Quote, Ch. 18, Goblet of Fire:
"Oh Harry, isn't it obvious?" Hermione said despairingly. "He's jealous!"

"Jealous?" Harry said incredulously. "Jealous of what? He wants to make a prat of himself in front of the whole school, does he?"

"Look, " said Hermione patiently, "it's always you who gets all the attention, you know it is. I know it's not your fault, " she added quickly, seeing Harry open his mouth furiously. "I know you don't ask for it... But--well--you know, Ron's got all those brothers to compete against at home, and you're his best friend, and you're really famous--he's always shunted to one side whenever people see you, and he puts up with it, and he never mentions it, but I suppose this is just one time too many..."

"Great, " said Harry bitterly. "Really great. Tell him from me I'll swap any time he wants. Tell him from me he's welcome to it... People gawping at my forehead everywhere I go... "

"I'm not teiling him anything, " Hermione said shortly. "Tell him yourself. It's the only way to sort this out."

"I'm not running around after him trying to make him grow up!" Harry said, so loudly that severa lowls in a nearby tree took flight in alarm. "Maybe he'll believe I'm not enjoying myself once I've got my neck broken or--"

"That's not funny, " said Hermione quietly. "That's not funny at all. "

So we do have a pretty clear understanding of the situation, via Hermione. Now to put this into NVC terms, I will pretend that one of the two DO actually approach their best friend to attempt to make ends meet, and, let's say with NVC skills. Let's say it's Harry. What might he say? I will do this to immerse you, my blog reader, in NVC language, with only minimal notes on how its all put together.

(That scene where Harry comes into the dorm and Ron is either asleep or pretending to be. Instead of flopping down himself, he wakes Ron up.)
Harry: Ron, I really can't stand us fighting right now, will you talk to me for a moment? Come on, you're not really sleeping are you?
Ron: Why should I talk to you? You went behind my back and entered the Tournament without me!
Harry: (reflection/empathy) So you're suspicious about how my name got in there, and wishing for a friend you can trust?
Ron: (long pause) Well, I did think you would have told me how you did it! I mean, I can't even understand why you wouldn't tell me.
Harry: (reveals himself transparently) It's so hard to hear you say that Ron. I am having such a hard time right now. I really miss our friendship, especially right now with all the negative attention I'm getting. I wish you could trust me that I'm telling the truth.
Ron: (struck by this, but now having other, deeper stuff coming up to the surface) Even if you didn't put your name in, do you really mind all this 'negative' attention? You're probably going to win anyway. Then you'll get all the glory, as usual.
Harry: I think I understand what's going on, Ron. It's hard to be my friend, when I get so much attention all the time, even when we do things together, and you would like to be appreciated and respected for your own accomplishments?
Ron: Yeah, it's not easy being ignored all the time, shoved to the side as just another Weasley, or Harry Potter's sidekick.
Harry: (mourning) I'm really sorry that that's how things are for you Ron. I'm sorry that you thought I'd lied to you, or went behind your back, or tried to exclude you. I'm sad that there isn't more trust between us. You're my best mate and I want you to trust me. I appreciate Hermione, you know, but it's not the same without you.
Ron: (shifting, magically gaining NVC skills) I'm sorry Harry. I believe you. I really didn't think you put your name in, except for a bit at first. It just brought up all this stuff for me about being invisible. It's not your fault though. This must be hard for you too. Especially with me not talking to you.
Harry: (now revealing more, trusting Ron will hear him) Yeah, you know, I'm jealous of you too Ron. I know you don't believe me, but fame isn't all that great. No privacy, no room for failure because people have such high expectations of me.
Ron: (reflecting) It is hard for me to relate to not wanting to be recognized, but I think I can understand. With everyone always watching you, you probably just want a chance to relax.
Harry: Hah! Wouldn't that be nice! You're lucky to have some privacy, not to mention your family.
Ron: (empathizing) That's pretty painful, huh? That you're famous for something that happened because your parents died?
Harry: Believe me it is.
Ron: Thanks for waking me up Harry. I wasn't really sleeping, you know.
Harry: I didn't think so. Thanks for answering. It's nice to have you talking to me again.
Ron: Same here.
(And then, Ron reaches over and gently caresses Harry's face, tucking a lock of hair behind his ear as he leans forward....)

Oops. Just kidding. No, this is not one of *those* stories. But as you can see, a certain kind of intimacy is created by this sort of conversation, although it definitely does not have to be a romantic intimacy. Anyway, did you see how this kind of listening and expression could lead to quicker resolution of conflict, while still maintaining honesty? Or did you find it to be unrealistic? I actually do too, but I have been at the computer for hours and want to go stretch in the sunshine, so I did the quickie version. In real life (no pun intended) both of them might have spent a lot more time listening and reflecting what the other person is saying.

Please share any comments or questions below. And if you have a certain conflict from HP you'd like to see translated into NVC, let me know!

Friday, August 17, 2012

Invisible Violence

When I was a kid, I was around a lot of animals. We had dogs, cats, rabbits, a turtle....And these animals were often my first source of information about all things related to sex. For example, I learned about genetics by watching two sister cats give birth to kittens that looked not like the mothers, but like their aunts.

I learned about penises when I noticed our dog, Swift, had something pink poking out from around his belly as he sat down for a rest after an invigorating walk. I thought this was really cool: some hidden body part! What was going on here? When I asked my mom, she said it was his 'thing', and that it meant he was excited, or horny. I knew what horny meant because of puppies I had encountered who liked to hump people's legs.

At this time, I had not seen many naked boys. Probably only my young cousins, escaping my aunt between diapers or a change of clothes. But I had seen enough to wonder, why do boys 'things' hang out all the time? Why don't they stay hidden inside unless they are excited? It seemed humans were the exception to the rule in nature, for I knew that cats' 'things' only came out occasionally too. Maybe it had something to do with our lack of fur? But no, it seemed the cats and dogs actually had an extra compartment that humans did not.

As I grew up, I forgot about this question for many years. The third person I ever had sex with commented on being 'uncircumcised', and it was then that I realized my previous partner had been as well. The first had not. I still didn't know exactly what that meant, as I was too shy to really examine or question the distinction.

Over the next few years, my awareness about foreskin slowly grew. I learned about female genital mutilation and its opponents, and eventually heard of the western version of this, called 'intactivism' - activism to promote keeping baby boys' genitalia intact. My mom told me that my uncle had been intact, and he had told her that he was grateful because he thought sex was better for it.

I do not know exactly when I first really considered the cutting of a baby's penis skin at birth, although it disturbs me greatly now. But I have always trusted in nature, and if the penis is supposed to grow a certain way, that seemed obviously the best way to leave it. So I decided that being intact was a positive quality in any potential partner.

Meanwhile, though, I was dealing with a unique and isolating problem - pain during intercourse. For year the doctors could not tell me why it was happening, and looking back I am pretty pissed about it. Because finally, when I met my current partner and told him the issue, and we set out to heal me together, I found information on the internet about vaginismus, an extreme form of dyspareunia, which is pain during intercourse. That my gynaecologists did not know and inform me about this confounds me.

Vaginismus is a condition in which the vagina contracts tightly and involuntarily any time that intercourse is attempted, making it virtually impossible to have pleasurable or even neutral feeling sex. It can have physical or psychological causes. I dealt with this for years, through multiple other relationships, and for over the first year of my current one. We tried EFT tapping, we tried Tantric healing rituals, we tried role plays where I stood up to the boys who'd pressured me into sexual activities as a teenager instead of letting them touch me.

What helped the most was just being encouraged to find my voice, to speak up during sex if it was uncomfortable. I had learned to be silent when a previous partner told me, after an exam at the doctor's where they told me nothing was wrong with me, that "It shouldn't hurt if nothing is wrong." I think he actually said that out of general frustration, probably more with the doctors than me, but I internalized it as shame of my condition. I developed a habit of suffering through painful sex. Now my current partner supported me in unwinding this habit, with a lot of patience and willingness to explore other avenues of sexual expression than intercourse.

So what does all this have to do with circumcision? Well as it turns out, my preference for the natural form of male genitalia was not an arbitrary value judgement, but sound science! There are many, many reasons why foreskin makes sex better for men and women (among other valuable purposes it serves) - and just as foreskin can make sex better, the lack of it can make it worse. Dyspareunia occurs in only 3% of women with intact partners, but 12% of women with circumcised partners. This means that if your partner is circumcised, you are FOUR times as likely to experience pain during an act that is supposed to be about pure pleasure. (Frisch M, Lindholm M, Grønbæk M. (2011). "Male circumcision and sexual function in men and women: a survey-based, cross-sectional study in Denmark". Int J Epidemiol.)

I know there were multiple factors that created vagisnismus in me - but I wonder how much the fact that my first ever sexual partner was circumcised contributed. I remember sex being uncomfortable with him, not just the first time but much of the time after that. Other circumcised partners I recall were often too rough or had a lack of communication about sex. My current - intact - partner has supported me in really healing - now I experience sex more as I had always thought it was meant to be, and mourn for the time I spent feeling so left out of one of life's beautiful offerings.

Many women, uneducated about foreskin anatomy and steeped in a culture of body-hate, are uncomfortable with the natural penis. To these women, I say, you do not know what you are missing! This website contains detailed information about the benefits foreskin has for you:
Although it may be presented in clinical terms, in the bedroom it is a whole other story!

To parents to be, I say, please do your research before irrevocably amputating your child's body parts. The benefits of circumcision are extremely overblown compared to the damage it does - it is really a matter of the hospitals making money off of an outdated tradition at this point. Check out

To men who have been circumcised, I say two things: one, if you are young enough, you can sue the doctor who circumcised you! Your parents consent form is probably not enough to protect them. Cases have already been won. A good place to start is Attorneys for the Rights of the Child - Secondly, you can non-surgically restore your foreskin, making sex more pleasurable for you and your partner. See the National Organization of Restoring Men for more information:

To close, let's do a little math. According to an article by Michael Castlemen on Psychology Today, 20% of American women experience painful sex. (NOTE: This section was previously calculated wrong, and it is now fixed. Surprisingly, the numbers are very similar to what I came up with when I did the math incorrectly!) According to the study mentioned above, for every 1 women who experiences painful sex with an intact partner, there are 4 women who experience it with a circumcised partner. That means that roughly 4% of American women who are hurting during sex are with intact men, and 16% are with circumcised. If the second group of women were with intact partners, only a fourth of them (see above) would have pain - 4%. Add that to the original 4, and you get 8%. In other words, if we stop circumcising in America, the rate of painful sex for women would be more than cut in half. 

In terms of real human beings, that's a drop from over 62 million women hurting during intercourse to about 25 million. I sincerely hope we can untangle this thread in the tapestry of violence done to our bodies - not just for 'boys and the men they become', as one flyer says, but for millions of women like me.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Circle of Life

A few days ago I returned from a family camp where I was a teacher to the teenagers. We were in the redwoods, with many beautiful ferns, a small creek running through the camp, and lots and lots of banana slugs.

Banana slugs are interesting creatures. Yellow with brown spots (hence their name), if you touch them, you are liable to get covered in a sticky substance that won't come off for hours or days. Although they often inch around the forest at low speed, they can and do cruise along the pine needle-covered dirt much faster than you would expect.

The third or fourth day of the camp, I was watching a banana slug move along the log benches where the teens gathered every day. He or she meandered around my shoe which was obstructing the path, even climbing vertically for a while. I decided to practice 'animal tarot', asking myself, What can I learn from this creature? What message of wisdom does this creature bring?

After watching this slug for about 20 minutes or so, he had completed a large oval path, winding up at the place he had started when I first began watching him. Ah, I thought, I get it! Nature goes in circles. And it's OK to go in circles, totally functional - the banana slugs are thriving after all. We don't always have all the information available to know directly where the sweet spot is (where the yummy mushrooms grow to nibble on). We can't always make a 'beeline'. Not that bees fly in straight lines either. Sometimes we travel circular paths in life, and we still get all our needs met.

This is applicable to me in many ways. I hadn't connected with the community that puts on this camp for two years, and felt very 'out of the loop', he he. The banana slug reassured me that that was alright. Another way in which I am going in circles right now is that I am moving back into a house I moved out of about a year ago. I feel confident that not only is it a good thing I'm moving back in there, it was good that I left. It wasn't a waste of energy. I was doing the loop of life, gaining familiarity with the terrain.

What about you? Where in your life are you going in circles, but it may be actually benefiting you? Perhaps you ought to take a second look if you think you are stuck in some area. There is a difference between being stuck and simply revisiting something. The banana slug knows!