These CAMFT board meetings: they happen three or four times a year, in hotel conference rooms up and down the state, always on a Saturday. The board of the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists consists of a dozen members, men and women who don’t talk like therapists, but rather business people or lawyers. They don’t even seem to think like therapists, but for three minutes at a time at the outset of these all day gatherings, they promise to listen to therapists.
Being listened to is not something I expect, necessarily. Recently, it’s been hard going, getting others to take things in. There are clients as well as certain others who don’t return calls. Publishers and agents who won’t respond to e-mails. Even Pete Townshend, who asked to meet me after my Tommy paper got published, didn’t have much to say and walked off before I could start a conversation. Why? I wonder. Why am I so drawn to unavailable men? Anyway, at eight-thirty on a Saturday morning, my friend Ben and I showed up at a San Francisco hotel ready to be listened to, about AB1775, that stupid child porn law I’ve been blogging about, and—from Ben, mostly—the problem of insurance companies not paying claims. That’s actually far more serious, I later thought after hearing him speak.
At eight thirty we were ready to take part in one of these ‘members forum’ segments of a board meeting. They are supposed to last thirty minutes and proceed on a first come first serve basis. Wading through a vestibule, entering the room allocated for the proceeding, Ben and I found ourselves alone, gazing at an array of chairs circling a large table. Moments later, board members sauntered in, chatting, carrying cups of coffee, schmoozing. They looked at us and acted surprised, as they’d not been told there would be ‘observers’ this time around. A woman I recognized named Cathy Atkins, who also recognized me, took a quick look my way but then glanced off, choosing to admonish Ben: “in future, perhaps you could write us an e-mail, let us know you’re coming.” Weird, I thought. Last time I came to this thing there were about a dozen ‘observers’, all ready to speak—no RSVP seemed necessary. I once saw a video of one of these meetings in which the room was filled with over fifty members, also lining up to speak. And by speak I really mean protest. Something’s changed, I realized. The spirit of dissent in this organization has, shall we say, diminished?
After a call-to-order and reading of agendas, a woman in charge announced it was time for our members’ forum to begin. Slightly disorganized, she asked who had the timer for the three minute segments. Then, looking down at the forum sign-in sheet, which contained only two names (Ben and I), she looked over and beckoned me to speak, pronouncing my name correctly, which rarely happens on a first reading. I’d have been impressed but for the sight of the woman next to her, whispering her knowledge of who I was, which was both gratifying and not. The three women at the head of the table were the new president of the board, plus two lawyers. The femicratic air was balanced by four or five men, most of whom sat at the other end of the table, looking detached, if thinly adversarial.
I began speaking through the anticipated personal blocks: the dry parch in my throat, which can drain the life from my hard syllables; the halting pass at stretched vowel sounds—a more common nemesis of mine. Then there were the externals to contend with: the expressions of a dozen people, most of whom gave effortful looks of interest; some bothered to twist their necks around to face me. There were one or two earnest faces, and even a faint nod from a former president—warmly supportive, if relieved to no longer be in charge. So, here’s what I said.
CAMFT MTG. ON 9/24
1.) A year ago I was at this meeting in Santa Clara protesting 3 things: the passage of bill AB1775, which now mandates therapists to report ‘downloading’, ‘streaming’, or ‘viewing’ material depicting sexual conduct of minors;
2nd: CAMFT or CAMFT attorneys’ role in not only endorsing the bill, but writing it.
3rd: CAMFT’s misrepresentation of several aspects of AB1775 to the CAMFT membership
2.) Yet it was clear to me after listening to a later ¾ hour discussion by this board that several members were like many therapists I’ve spoken to: they had not fully understood the implications of this bill at the time of its writing. They regretted their support.
3.) Others appeared to support the bill, but with dubious arguments: that offenders should be reported to authorities, and by implication persecuted, not treated because “sex offender treatment is not effective”. This is an unfair and reductionist view. Another member, unwittingly paraphrasing the US attorney general, suggested that viewers of underage porn enable its production and are AWARE of the exploitation entailed in child porn. Interesting–not to mention one of our society’s staggering hypocrisies. So if we were aware of the child poverty, the exploitative labor conditions around the world ‘enabled’ by our innumerable consumer choices, would we be culpable…reportable? This insipid bill was written for facile people who concern themselves with exploitation, but only as it pertains to sex.
4.) But finally, for the future: member Mark Perlmutter argued that CAMFT should take a second look, as in scrutinize AB1775 in 2017, with a task force that CAMFT members might be invited to join. Well, 2017 is three months away. My requests to be a part of a task force have been ignored or deflected. I cannot get straight answers from CFS officials as to whether abuse reports have increased because of the new law. Well, they’ve gotten none from me, I’m proud to say. And the director of the SJPD internet crimes against children task force does not return my calls. Perhaps he doesn’t talk to therapists. Perhaps, like some lawyers and legislators, he’s got better things to do.
Graeme Daniels, MFT