Who Decides: Unseen Forces vs. Personal Choices in a Life of Poverty


{Ed. Note: This is a guest post from Barbara Munoz. Barbara is the Policy Analyst for Community Action Partnership of Utah and works to understand the needs of all our local communities to determine policy-based solutions to alleviate poverty in our state. Barbara holds a Master of Public Policy from the University of Utah where she also received her bachelor’s degree in communication.}

When it comes to poverty, how is it that some people overcome incredible odds and pull themselves up by those proverbial “bootstraps,” while others appear trapped in poverty’s vicious quicksand? While we cannot discount personal responsibility, we also cannot look at people in poverty in a vacuum and pretend that nothing but their choices put and keep them there.

So what I want to share with you is the first time I truly grasped that my family was poor.

Are we really that poor?

It was Christmas 1988 and I was thirteen. A swirling ball of hormones and attitude, my Christmas “wish list” was filled with items like knee-length sweaters, acid-washed jeans, cassette tapes, nail polish, and neon-colored plastic jewelry.


Not me nor my wardrobe. But close enough.

I was blessed with Christmases up until that point that brought many of the items I requested of Santa. Christmas morning in ’88 I awoke to the usual pile of promising-looking packages under our increasingly spindly tree. I opened the first box, the shape of which indicated an article of clothing. Hoping for one of those sweaters I requested, I carefully parted the tissue paper to find a mustard yellow – clearly previously worn – polo shirt. This had to be a mistake. “Is this used?” I asked my mother in disbelief. She tried to mask her horror, but her face betrayed her. I knew she was just as surprised as I was. She told me to open another box, hoping it would redeem the vomit-colored polo. The second box held more heartbreak in the form of a pair of jeans, worn at the pockets. Not in a way that was done by a machine on purpose. At this point, the tears welling up in my eyes turned to sobs as I looked to my mother for an explanation.

“Are we THAT broke?” I managed to squeak out.

“Let’s go talk,” she said calmly as she led me to her bedroom.

We sat on the edge of the bed and she wrapped her arm around my shoulders. She took a deep breath and started to explain.

But before I get to that, let me back up a little.

Shortly after I was born, my dad started to experience vague and troubling symptoms such as dizziness and an occasional loss of balance. As his symptoms became progressively more severe, doctors finally determined he was suffering from a form of Multiple Sclerosis known as Primary Progressive or PPMS–a condition affecting about 10 percent of people with MS where the symptoms get progressively worse without periods of remission and relapse. In the 1970s there were not the treatment options there are today, so his prognosis wasn’t promising. I remember my mom telling me that his neurologist said, “Be glad there is television,” because eventually that would be the only thing my dad would be capable of doing.

Before getting married, my mother was a registered nurse with her bachelor’s degree from the University of Wyoming. After marrying my father and starting to raise a family as a stay-at-home mom, I imagine at the time, my mother thought she would never have to go back to work as a nurse again.

But by 1978 she was faced with a choice: place her declining 46-year-old husband in a nursing home and go back to work, or use the skills she acquired as a nurse and care for him at home. Having served in the Korean War, my father was receiving Veteran’s benefits and Social Security which provided him with health care and our family with income. The progression of my father’s symptoms eventually led to paralysis which left him with bed-ridden with a feeding tube and a catheter. Ultimately, her choice was to care for him and her children at home.

I know my mother could not have been more grateful for the safety nets in place in the form of income, health care for my father, and USDA food products. I remember our pantry stocked with gallon tubs of white and black labeled peanut butter, boxes of powdered milk, and cans of chipped beef. It wasn’t until I was nine or ten when I realized cheese came in forms other than a four pound orange block– referred to affectionately as “government cheese.” For the most part, my mom tried to keep grown-up problems to herself, but some of them were too obvious to hide.

On that Christmas morning in 1988, she was completely honest with me. She explained that for many years we had been receiving help with the holidays through a program run by the MS Society of Utah. For many years a very kind family “adopted us” and purchased Christmas presents for the family. But as all good things must come to an end, this lovely family moved out-of-state and was no longer participating in the program. That Christmas in ’88, our family matched with a group of high school students who were participating in a service project. My mom explained that the students really had no idea what our circumstances were – just our ages and genders – and were just trying to provide a nice Christmas for us on limited funds.

In retrospect I grateful to that well-intentioned group of high school students and I am especially blown away by the generosity of the family who provided some very happy memories and great toys to encourage use of my imagination for so many years. While I am sure my mother thanked them profusely, I wish I could tell them how grateful I am even now – more so now – that they heaped such kindness upon our family.

The forces working against my family were many: a debilitating long-term illness, lack of health care for my mother and my siblings, and an administration and Congress who cut Social Security benefits at the time we needed them the most. [Read more…]

I Don’t Regret My Vasectomy–One Man’s Story

doctor saying no

{Ed. Note: This is a guest post by Scott Morley, freelance Software Engineer, avid trail runner and caretaker of unwanted pugs.}

I’ve never wanted children.

I’ve never wanted children, and as far back as I can remember, this has always been the case. You could attribute this to growing up with an abusive father. Or to me knowing that I’m too selfish to make room for something that is completely and utterly dependent upon me to survive (other than my medically needy pug, Sausage). Or to something else entirely, but the bottom line is: I don’t want children.

Armed with this knowledge, I wanted to take steps to ensure that children didn’t accidentally enter the picture. The easiest and most sensical action for me was to get a vasectomy. A vasectomy is an outpatient surgery that only requires local anesthetic. Additionally, insurance companies are usually quite keen to foot the bill since a quick outpatient procedure is far cheaper than a child. Armed with that knowledge, I scheduled a consultation with my primary care physician and assumed I was only weeks away from blissful sterility. However, as soon as I entered the doctor’s office I realized that it wasn’t going to be easy. Although I knew what I wanted and was completely committed to my decision, my physician did not support my choice. 

Too young for healthcare, but not a child.

My doctor said that twenty-three was too young to know what I really wanted. He assured me that everyone changes their mind as they get older. I asked if it was common to deny this procedure and my doctor said it was standard to ask people to wait until they were older. He also insisted that another doctor was likely to give me the same answer. “Older” is a very vague term, and I wasn’t able to get a definitive answer about just when I would be “old enough.” I left feeling powerless, overwhelmed by the inability to make my own life decisions.

It wasn’t until twenty-eight that I received the “blessing” from my physician. Why twenty-eight was old enough to make such a decision wasn’t ever clear to me, but I wasn’t going to argue the point (it is worth noting that an entirely different set of clandestine rules apply if you have a uterus and want to make a similar decision). I scheduled an appointment with the specialist described to me as, “The Ikea of Vasectomies.”

The long-awaited procedure.

After five years of waiting, I was pretty much bouncing on my toes when the appointment arrived. Doctor Ikea was very knowledgable and we discussed various types of vasectomies that could be performed. The first and most easily reversible was to simply tie a knot in the vas deferens. This is also the least foolproof and reliable procedure. The second option was to cut and cauterize the vas deferens which could potentially be reversed and was very reliable. The final option, and the one that I chose, was to cut a large section of the vas deferens out and to cauterize both ends. The doctor had never successfully reversed this last type and only had one instance where it wasn’t effective. In that case the patient had a third vas deferens which wasn’t discovered during the initial procedure (poor guy!). Feeling confident with my selection, I scheduled the operation.

On the morning of the procedure, I arrived feeling relaxed and completely ready to go under the knife. It took place in a chair similar to what you would sit in at the dentist. The doctor asked if I would like to watch, and of course, I did. He quickly made a small incision for each vas deferens tube, removed a section and then cauterized the ends. It was that simple. I don’t remember how many dissolvable stitches I received but it couldn’t have been more than a handful. I didn’t feel any pain other than the initial shots and couldn’t believe how quickly it was over. I left with a numbness that quickly faded to a dull ache. The ache persisted for the next two days but it was nothing that a couple of ibuprofen couldn’t handle.

After my vasectomy.

Sex after the vasectomy was painless. I noticed a slight feeling of pressure during orgasm for the next month but nothing after that. That sensation has only briefly returned twice after periods of being single without a sexual partner. I have never regretted my vasectomy and have nothing but gratitude for the ability to control my own reproductive destiny. Although I can now understand wanting to see the person that a child would grow into (particularly when you have someone in your life that you believe would raise an amazing human being), I wouldn’t make a different choice today. It was the best $15 dollars, my insurance co-pay at the time, that I ever spent.

Share this post if you enjoyed Scott’s story!

A Guide for Going Cruelty-Free (Minus the Shame & Privilege)

natalie and thelma

Thelma loves being scratched behind her ears–just like your dog.

“Feminism goes hand in hand with veganism–the liberation of all beings. Feminism isn’t just about women–it is about everyone being equals” -Jessica Davies, owner of Passion Flour Patisserie

Most folks with a feminist ideology look back at their early days of activism and see glaring holes in their theory and practice, but fortunately for us, feminism isn’t concrete, and it usually evolves for the better. I think my feminist ideology is on the move, and I’ve reached out to my dear friend, feminist, and brilliant animal rights activist, Natalie Blanton to share with you some of her perspectives on living life as an ecofeminist. Check it out!


Animal rights is a feminist issue.

And I need you to know this. This is my truth. And, as we all know, there are many different feminist camps–but this is one I am particularly passionate about. I’m from Heber, UT  (damn near Vernal) where hyper-masculinity, wrestling, hunting, and rodeo are the only “sports” people get excited about. I spent much of my youth on horse-back, in rodeo culture, and yes, eating the occasional deer jerky. I discovered feminism as I was leaving the Mormon church in my early teenage years, this faith-based conservative cocktail was also inextricably tied in with my rural upbringing, and the normalized exploitation of animals [and women] that I was raised within.

It was from this unexpected space that I began to realize the vital connections between humans and animals, and the complex systems and institutions that continually try to wedge and sever those ties. We live in a world where everything that we buy, cook, ingest, clean our homes with, put on our faces, in our hair, and on our children, is filled with animal by-products. This might not shock or disturb you at this point, but I ask you to look deeper at what is on your plate, or in your makeup — and where it came from — because it is a feminist issue.

What is veganism?

Veganism is the deliberate aversion and opposition to a system built upon animal exploitation. Vegan feminists or Feminists for Animal Rights take the personal is political ideology beyond an “abstract respect for animals” and embody that respect in their daily lives and choices. I am not here to preach about veganism, and how you must “convert” or else — but I do write to educate and enlighten — because I believe in the words of Paul McCartney that, “If slaughterhouses had glass walls, everyone would be a vegetarian.” Ignorance isn’t ever bliss, and especially not in this case. Not only do animal lives depend on it, but our health, and the sustainability of this planet we call home depends on us making a change.

On Animal “Production”

I strive to foster this human/animal connection, and remind humans that animals are not ours to use, eat, exploit, or experiment on. We are all earthlings. And that matters. I believe animal rights is a feminist issue because living, sentient bodies are not on this earth for the capitalist patriarchy to perpetually profit from. We all know slaughterhouses are horrific. But, in this industrialized nation of ours, dairy, eggs, and pork industries are very much tied to the productive capabilities of a female cow, chicken, or pig, and the systemic control over that body, her life chances, and the offspring she is forced to bear, repeatedly, but will never be able to raise naturally.

[Read more…]

How To Respond When Called Out On Your Privilege


[Ed. note: This is another guest post from Carli Trujillo.]

It’s something we all have, no matter our gender, race, or education level. We were all raised in our own environments, and those environments teach us perceived truths about the way the world works. Even if we spend years and countless tears attempting to unlearn stereotypes, bad attitudes, and incorrect information, we simply can’t escape the fact that we all have blind spots. We all fuck up sometimes and say something that we shouldn’t.

What matters the most is how you handle the consequences of your blind spots. If someone takes the time and emotional energy to call you out on something you said or did, whether it be a close friend or a stranger, why get defensive about it? Are they really attacking you, or are they simply pointing out the inappropriateness of what you said? Are they trying to hurt your feel-goods, or are they trying to heighten your awareness and, in turn, make the world a little less shitty? Aren’t they really doing you, and everyone around you, a huge favor?

Whether or not they do it in a public or private matter, whether they do it politely or crudely, etc. is up to them. Not you. All you can and should do is apologize for your mistake, maybe do a little research on what is hurtful about your comment, have a conversation about it with the person who called you out, and move on.

No one is perfect. All we can ever really do is try.

When Did We Learn That It’s A Man’s World?


Man’s World

By Carli Darlene Trujillo

When did we learn

to hide our desires,

keeping them inside ourselves

like coke in a cough drop?

When did we learn

the word no

is a debate sparkler,

even when commanded?

When did we learn

lipstick on our teeth

is a mark of failure?

I’m tall, so you can wear heels?

I’m big, so you can feel small?

Shove it.