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A glimpse into Singapore’s rainbow community

Singapore may be a cultural melting pot, but – as Tamsin Wu notes after meeting key LGBTQ community leaders – “one thing that the country lags behind is its social attitude towards LGBTQ issues and rights.” Here’s Outrage Magazine’s glimpse of Singapore’s rainbow community.

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Singapore is a cultural melting pot as seen from its people, experienced from visiting its different districts and tasted from its myriad of food choices. It exudes a cosmopolitan city bursting with personality.

The first thing I noticed was how strikingly awesome the urban planning and public transportation system were in Singapore. It was definitely light years ahead from the rowdy metropolis environment, massive vehicular traffic and unkempt public transportation dealt with back home. Cleanliness and efficiency were definitely things that Singapore upheld.

One thing that the country lags behind though is its social attitude towards LGBTQ issues and rights. Although Section 377 in the Singapore Penal Code – which criminalizes sex between men – is not really enforced against the gay community, its impact trickles down to, among others, how Singapore’s media industry blatantly prohibits positive depictions of LGBTQ stories and characters, the damaging practice of conversion therapy pushed by some of the religious and conservatives, as well as discrimination in schools and workplaces.

LITERARY REPRESENTATIONS OF LGBTQ

Censorhsip is an issue faced by the Singaporean LGBTQ community. For example, the InfoComm Media Development Authority (IMDA) sets forth media guidelines or policies that make it mandatory for Singapore’s mainstream media to edit out parts of a show – fiction or otherwise – that show LGBTQ personalities in a positive light. At times, it even spreads beyond the periphery of mainstream media, as long as a complaint has been filed regarding homosexual depiction.

A few LGBTQ-related Singapore literature

Registered Singaporean social worker Yangfa Leow shared to me some instances wherein such censorship was enforced – On TV, there was a time when a portion of Ellen DeGeneres’ talk show was cut out simply because her guest, former US President Obama, complimented her. On live theater, a kissing scene played out by two actors was demanded to be omitted from subsequent running of the shows after an audience member complained that he was caught off-guard by the inclusion of homosexuality in the story. On print, “And Tango Makes Three”, a children’s book based on a true story about two male penguins that adopted and raised a baby penguin, was banned from the National Library Board simply because a parent filed a complaint about it.

The book cover on this anthology of Singaporean LGBTQ stories was inspired by the censorship incident on the children’s book “And Tango Makes Three”

Nonetheless, suppression of LGBTQ-related information and stories does not extend its fangs and claws to the Internet and publishing industry. I’ve been able to find out about Singapore’s LGBTQ-related books and organizations through social media and online research. Consequently, aside from reaching out to certain groups advocating for equality, I have scoured out the existence of quality Singaporean queer literature.

I wouldn’t fly out from the country without getting my hands on Cyril Wong’s book, “Let Me Tell You Something About That Night”. It magnificently interweaves fantasy into contemporary Singapore. Without loudly parading itself as an LGBTQ book, since the short stories therein are mainly about human experiences told through alternate worlds or realities, its collection of “strange tales” casually yet beautifully infuses LGBTQ characters here and there. Although simple in its storylines, it makes the reader feel and contemplate about the place of LGBTQ individuals and relationships in society, given the current socio-political landscape for and against the community.

While queer literature doesn’t necessarily fall under the category of activism, having LGBTQ representations in books is still a very useful tool in educating and spreading awareness, as well as empowering the community through words and stories.

COUNSELING AND SUPPORT

At Chinatown, leading to the Oogachaga center

One of the groups in Singapore that advocates for LGBTQ rights and helps the LGBTQ community rise up is Oogachaga (OC), a community-based organization that offers professional counseling and support services to LGBTQ individuals, couples and families via hotline, email and WhatsApp, or face-to-face counseling by appointment.

Stairway to a “safe space”

According to Yangfa Leow, executive director of OC, they have established a protocol in screening and training volunteers who would like to contribute their time in providing support services to the LGBTQ community. Applicants are required to go through an interview and a period of classroom and hands-on trainings.

“Some people have observed that this process is quite rigorous, and we see that as a positive thing. There will be applicants who are not selected, or voluntarily withdraw or do not return at various stages of this process. It is only expected that not everyone who wishes to be a volunteer would be a good fit. We want to protect the integrity of the counseling services. One of the key requirements for our hotline, email and WhatsApp counseling volunteers is the need to maintain confidentiality of information and identity. It is also to protect the clients themselves, many of whom may be in vulnerable situations and turn to OC for safety and emotional support. It is also to protect the safety and identities of our volunteers, who give their spare time to support others,” Yangfa said.

Yangfa Leow courteously showed me around the center and shared about the current struggles faced by LGBTQ’s in Singapore

On the other hand, volunteers with professional qualifications in social work, counseling or psychology are selected to provide face-to-face support, intervention and follow-up on issues.

A hotline call, WhatsApp chat, an email or a counseling session is each counted as a service unit. According to Yangfa, back in 2013, OC served 974 service units. In 2016, the volume of service units reached 1,663 – a 71% increase in 4 years.

“Also, in terms of gender profile, we’re seeing an increase in proportion of service-users who identify as women, transgender or gender diverse – from 31.8% back in 2013 to 40.4% in 2016,” Yangfa added.

Other LGBTQ-friendly groups

When asked about the usual issues tackled, Yangfa said, “In no particular order, the top three presenting issues are sexuality or identity, relationships with partner, family, friends and psychological or mental health – diagnosed or undiagnosed.”

Aside from counseling services, OC also schedules support group sessions and offers training sessions to social service organizations, schools, healthcare institutions and private companies or corporations to talk about LGBTQ issues and how to handle conversations surrounding such matters.

OC’s top floor for group sessions, meetings or counseling

The main struggle that OC encounters is funding. “In August 2016, we were informed by our main, long-term funder that they would cease their support for us. They had been responsible for 80% of our funds for the past 8 years, and it came to a stop. So since then, we have embarked on an ongoing fund-raising drive,” Yangfa said.

Yangfa added that other challenges faced by OC include continuing to stay relevant and reaching out to those segments of the LGBTQ community that may need support, but are not yet being reached.

“For example, those who may not speak English, who may not be able to access our online publicity information, and those who may not be able to access our counseling services for whatever reasons – disability, language ability, stigma, social isolation.”

Brochures and booklets at OC

Yangfa also shared that, despite Christians being a non-dominant religious group in Singapore, they remain to be very vocal and influential in going against equality. There was even an event held called “White Dot” – an anti-LGBTQ offshoot of Singapore’s annual Pride event “Pink Dot” – that was originally headed by an Islamic religious teacher and eventually replicated by a Christian pastor.

Basically, the false notion that “if someone is pro-equality, then s/he cannot be pro-family or pro-society” is at times ridiculously drilled into the conscience of society.

EMBRACING LGBTQ CHRISTIANS

With that being said, however, all is not lost for LGBTQ’s who seek to attend a nonjudgmental, inclusive church environment.

Welcoming entrance to Free Community Church

In a country that still breeds animosity towards the LGBTQ’s, the Free Community Church (FCC) in Singapore is a breath of fresh air, especially for those who don’t want to let go of their Christian faith, albeit the off-putting religious bigotry preached by some.

Pastor Pauline Ong and Rev. Miak Siew speaking to the FCC congregation

FCC has a weekly cozy Sunday service that is open to everyone who want to join in a religious community feel, sans the abhorrence typically put by fundamentalists against LGBTQ’s and those of other faiths or beliefs. The atmosphere in FCC was light and accommodating. There were the usual leading of worship songs, sharing about the scripture and personal testimonies, as well as the ceremony of bread and wine. Afterwards, everyone was encouraged to spend more time together through lunch already prepared by FCC members.

EMPOWERING THE TRANSGENDER COMMUNITY

But even with the existence of organizations that offer a “safe space” to LGBTQ people, some of them still find themselves alone in battling the painful pangs of discrimination. One example is the dilemma of transgender folks who work in the sex industry to make money. In this case, they face both the stigma society imposes on transgender people and on sex workers. On top of having to deal with discrimination in school and even before entering the workforce, some get disowned by their families. With no one to turn to and no degree or work experience under their belt, they turn to the sex industry just to survive. Even though sex work is legal and regulated in Singapore, transgender sex workers still face the possibility of violence done to them either by a police personnel or the clients.

Nonetheless, June Chua, co-founder of The T Project, has seen positive developments in the attitude of Singapore towards the transgender community. “Society have evolved and being transgender is no longer seen as taboo or a big deal. I do admit educating and raising awareness of the transgender community must still be ongoing but I do see more options and opportunities opening up for the transgender person in terms of employment and acceptance in Singapore.”

June Chua winning the AWARE Champion award for Gender Equality & Justice Award

The T Project offers shelter to homeless transgender people and enables them to create a better life for themselves. Apart from that, it also coordinates with other social service organizations and does workshops for government institutions, companies and schools to educate them about the transgender community.

“The first thing of how residents come in is by themselves or, alternatively, by referral from other social workers. So the moment they come in we will have to do an admissions interview, tell the residents the do’s and don’ts of living in the shelter, the requirements we expect from them, and to actually manage the expectations of what the shelter can provide. Basically, we don’t provide financial aid, we can connect you to some government agencies who can provide you with that,” explains Eztelle Kaye, shelter manager at The T Project.

“The T Project is not just about giving our residents a roof over their heads – it’s about empowering them to be independent and finding a way to have a sustainable life. We wish to educate them and give them the power once they leave the shelter.”

Chanced upon university students interviewing Eztelle

Eztelle met June in the course of volunteering at the Women Care Center, “I was closer to her late sister then, the co-founder of T Project. I met June about 3 years ago when I was working as a volunteer at Women Care Center advocating about more on HIV prevention, STI prevention, how you can actually help and do regular testing. So that’s where I met June. She was the Volunteer Supervisor. From there I’ve connected with June… I believe she saw something in me that’s why she draaaagged~ me here… as the shelter manager,” Eztelle said jokingly.

After deciding to leave her corporate life, she took on the role as shelter manager of The T Project in order to give back to society. “Of course I do miss my days whereby every payday is actually a ‘boutique day’ when I just shop at LV, Prada and such,” Eztelle said with a laugh. “But yeah, I feel I have much more of a sense of job satisfaction and fulfilment because I get the chance to empower the residents here, that they can be more than what they can be if they set their minds to it.”

Bulletin at the T Project shelter

Asked about the issues faced and rights held by transgender people vis-à-vis sex reassignment surgery (SRS), June said, “To me, the issues and challenges that will arise are not from whether you have underwent SRS or not but how you represent yourself to the public. However, in Singapore after we underwent SRS, we are allowed to legally change our gender marker and are accorded legal rights as a woman under the Woman Chapter Act.”

She shared that they are currently developing a work plan with various programs that would roll out in the later part of the year. “As part of our work plan 2017, we are doing a volunteer recruitment drive on Pink Dot event day itself. Yes, we will start to welcome non-transgender or cis-gender volunteers,” June said smilingly.

June Chua at Pink Dot 2016

“The T project will try to link up the transgender community with employment opportunities. We are also doing a series of TTP (Transgender Talking Point) workshop to empower the transgender and to see what are their needs and wants so that we can support them, hopefully. We are also recruiting 4 The T Project ambassadors to help us in our outreach effort.”

NAVIGATING LGBTQ ACTIVISM IN UNIVERSITIES

“My bubble seems to be one that is generally privileged to some extent, with respect to some other trans people. The trans people I am in contact with have not dropped out of school,” shared Cassandra Thng from the Communications and Media Relations team of the Inter-University LGBT Network – an amazing pool of student bodies that fight together in upholding the well-being of the LGBTQ community in Singapore’s educational institutions, their efforts of which would hopefully reverberate throughout the country.

“Generally, the trans people around me have all been closeted throughout earlier school lives such as primary and secondary school. The earliest I’ve heard of people transitioning within my friends is during Junior College or Poly. Naturally, the gender non-conforming nature of a trans person – such as the increased femininity in a trans girl, or the increased masculinity in a trans guy, or the general lack of non-conformity in a non-binary person – has been something of a sticking point for certain people. For those of us who did not blend as well with our assigned gender roles as others, bullying and mockery definitely were issues that were faced.”

With the intention of fighting LGBTQ discrimination, at least at the level of colleges or universities, 5 student organizations – namely Gender Collective, Kaleidoscope, Out To Care, tFreedom and The G Spot – from different educational institutions came together and founded the Inter-University LGBT Network.

“The Network was born after the leaders from the five founding groups met at a social event organized by Out To Care from Singapore Management University. We found that each group faced similar challenges as the others, and decided to set up the Network so that we can share resources and facilitate collaboration,” shared Daryl Yang, executive director and co-founder of the Network.

Photo courtesy of The G Spot from Yale-NUS College

 

 

Cassandra has observed that the younger generation nowadays cares less about gender identities and sexual orientations that fall outside the “cis-heteronormative patriarchal standards”, and that at times, “it is teachers… who are perpetrators of harsh words and disqualifying beliefs themselves that create less protected and safe-feeling environments for at-risk students”.

She added that, “School environments are also very much shaped by education policy, and one of these policies would include sexuality education. To this day, Focus On The Family (FOTF), a Singaporean splinter from the American-based FOTF anti-LGBT Christian lobby, conducts sexuality education in certain schools. Sexuality education in Singapore in general, and with FOTF in particular, tends to gloss over different sexualities and gender identities in favor of teaching about safe sex, and in FOTF’s case, gender roles and abstinence. While safe sex is an important topic, gender identity and sexualities are also important topics that should be addressed. Many students who are part of those minorities have felt that they were excluded from the conversation and that it would be better to not speak about what they experience to anyone else.”

Photo courtesy of The G Spot from Yale-NUS College

Aside from student social events, the Network provides support by initiating studies and projects that aim to study LGBTQ-related issues faced by the student community, in order to raise awareness and recommend necessary revisions to existing university policies and frameworks, as well as to create an environment wherein LGBTQ students feel safe and empowered.

According to Xin Yee Teo, the Network’s Social Media Manager, Singapore universities have anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies that cover gender and sexual orientation. “However, procedure for seeking recourse via these policies remains unclear, and we are currently conducting a research project on this.”

Xin Yee further shared about the current projects of the Network, “For instance, the Harassment & Non-Discrimination Policy Research Project aims to find out how harassment is experienced by LGBTQ+ undergraduates in Singapore’s universities. It also seeks to find out if universities are equipped with the necessary resources like counsellors and student support groups to serve individuals who have been targeted for their gender or sexual orientation. Another ongoing project is the S377A Commemorative Project, which aims to analyze how the rhetoric surrounding S377A has evolved over the past 10 years since the repeal campaign in 2007, as well as its impact on LGBT discourse in Singapore. The end result of this project would be a moving exhibition across universities in the month of October, so as to coincide with the 10 year anniversary of the parliamentary debate. We also have various support projects – such as Youth Resource Development Project and Campus Support Project – which aims to provide help and support to LGBTQ+ youth in Singapore, as well as outreach projects which aims to provide inclusive platforms for networking and community-building.”

Photo courtesy of The G Spot from Yale-NUS College

One challenge faced by some LGBTQ student orgs is being officially recognized by the university, including the difficulty in setting up a group and organizing events, due to the stigma that may still be lingering “usually from more religiously conservative corners of the university”, as Daryl puts it.

“Nonetheless, people are generally respectful and it is rare to find cases of serious verbal, physical or emotional bullying based on someone’s sexual or gender identity. We have noticed encouraging shifts in attitudes towards LGBT issues in our universities since our Network was established. For instance, there are now talks at other universities or colleges to set up similar support groups, initiated by both students and faculty. There is also greater visibility of LGBT identities in the arts scene at our universities as well, most recently with groups from both NUS and Yale-NUS staging theatre performances featuring gay and transgender narratives.”

CARRYING ON THE FIGHT

Despite all the bad news concerning discrimination, it is good to know that the LGBTQ movement is still roaring proudly in Asia’s Lion City.

Heartening indeed to see that the progressive Singaporean youth is currently being active in the advocacy alongside LGBTQ-related organizations in order to raise and strengthen equality. It is hoped that the fight would continue on and fortify until Singapore reaches a place in time wherein its strength of diversity and multiculturalism includes that of human sexuality and gender expression.

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Health & Wellness

Trans women can safely maintain estrogen treatments during gender affirming surgery

The practice of withholding estrogen prior to gender affirming surgery was not necessary. Most transgender women can now safely remain on their estrogen therapy throughout surgery.

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Photo by @kylewilliamurban from Unsplash.com

There was no difference in blood clots when estrogen hormone therapy was maintained during gender affirming surgery.

This is according to a study (titled, “No Venous Thromboembolism Increase Among Transgender Female Patients Remaining on Estrogen for Gender Affirming Surgery”) helmed by John Henry Pang with Aki Kozato from Mount Sinai, and was published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.

Historically, the lack of published data contributed to heterogeneity in the practice of whether doctors and surgeons advised transgender women to withhold their estrogen therapy before surgery. The sudden loss of estrogen in the blood was sometimes very uncomfortable with symptoms that amounted to a sudden, severe menopause.

So the researchers tapped 919 transgender patients who underwent gender affirming surgery at Mount Sinai’s Center for Transgender Medicine and Surgery between November 2015 and August 2019. Notably, including 407 cases of transgender women who underwent primary vaginoplasty surgery.

This study found that the practice of withholding estrogen prior to gender affirming surgery was not necessary. Most transgender women can now safely remain on their estrogen therapy throughout surgery.

The bottom line: This study found that most transgender women can  safely maintain their estrogen hormone treatments during gender affirming surgery.

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Health & Wellness

Facebook posts help facilitate belief that HPV vaccine is dangerous to health

Nearly 40% of Facebook posts about the HPV vaccine amplified a perceived risk, and the data suggests these posts had momentum over time.

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Photo by @nordwood from Unsplash.com

The human papillomavirus infection, or HPV, is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). HPV is associated with health problems including genital warts and cancers, but a vaccine has been available since 2006 to help stop the virus. The CDC reports more than 12 years of data supports the HPV vaccine is safe and effective, yet HPV vaccination rates still remain low.

Social media has a history of being a popular place for sexual health discussions, and the HPV vaccine is one of the most discussed vaccines on the internet. Monique Luisi, an assistant professor in the University of Missouri School of Journalism, has studied more than 6,500 public HPV vaccine-related posts on Facebook from 2006 to 2016. In a previous study, Luisi used these Facebook posts to identify a negative trend on Facebook related to how people perceive the HPV vaccine.

Now, she suggests this negative trend on Facebook may also cause people to develop a false perception of the health risk of the vaccine. After looking at the percentage of posts that made the vaccine seem more dangerous, less dangerous or neither, Luisi found nearly 40% of Facebook posts about the HPV vaccine amplified a perceived risk, and the data suggests these posts had momentum over time.

“We should not assume that only the disease is perceived as a risk, but when research supports it, that medical treatments and interventions might unfortunately also be perceived as risks,” she said. “It’s more likely that people are going to see things on social media, particularly on Facebook, that are not only negative about the HPV vaccine, but will also suggest the HPV vaccine could be harmful. It amplifies the fear that people may have about the vaccine, and we see that posts that amplify fear are more likely to trend than those that don’t.”

Luisi suggests the spread of this negative information may lead people to have a false perception of the vaccine, so people should consult their doctor or health care provider before making an informed decision.

“Facebook remains a very popular social media platform for adult audiences, which necessitates action to address HPV vaccine risk messages,” she said. “People are going to see what they are going to see on social media, so it’s important to not only take what you see on social media, but also talk to a doctor or health care provider. Just because it’s trending doesn’t mean it’s true.”

Luisi notes research must continue to address the perception of vaccine safety where the vaccine is perceived as a greater health threat than the virus or disease it prevents, and her study could also inform officials for the ongoing COVID-19 vaccine roll out and distribution.

“As the COVID-19 vaccine is being rolled out, people are likely going to see a lot of negative information, and that negative information will be what trends on social media,” she said. “But, if the public can anticipate this negative information, it will be interesting to see if that will that make them less sensitive to the perceived risk of the vaccine.”

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Health & Wellness

Depression and stress could dampen efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines

Even though rigorous testing has shown that the COVID-19 vaccines approved for distribution are highly effective at producing a robust immune response, not everyone will immediately gain their full benefit. Environmental factors, as well as an individual’s genetics and physical and mental health, can weaken the body’s immune system, slowing the response to a vaccine.

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Photo by Nick Bolton from Unsplash.com

Decades of research show that depression, stress, loneliness, and poor health behaviors can weaken the body’s immune system and lower the effectiveness of certain vaccines.

A new report accepted for publication in Perspectives on Psychological Science suggests that the same may be true for the new COVID-19 vaccines that are in development and the early stages of global distribution. Fortunately, it may be possible to reduce these negative effects with simple steps like exercise and sleep.

Vaccines are among the safest and most effective advances in medical history, protecting society from a wide range of otherwise devastating diseases, including smallpox and polio. The key to their success, however, is ensuring that a critical percentage of the population is effectively vaccinated to achieve so-called herd immunity.

Even though rigorous testing has shown that the COVID-19 vaccines approved for distribution are highly effective at producing a robust immune response, not everyone will immediately gain their full benefit. Environmental factors, as well as an individual’s genetics and physical and mental health, can weaken the body’s immune system, slowing the response to a vaccine.

This is particularly troubling as the novel coronavirus continues to rage across the world, trigging a concurrent mental health crisis as people deal with isolation, economic stressors, and uncertainty about the future. These challenges are the same factors that have been previously shown to weaken vaccine efficacy, particularly among the elderly.

“In addition to the physical toll of COVID-19, the pandemic has an equally troubling mental health component, causing anxiety and depression, among many other related problems. Emotional stressors like these can affect a person’s immune system, impairing their ability to ward off infections,” said Annelise Madison, a researcher at The Ohio State University and lead author on the paper. “Our new study sheds light on vaccine efficacy and how health behaviors and emotional stressors can alter the body’s ability to develop an immune response. The trouble is that the pandemic in and of itself could be amplifying these risk factors.”

Vaccines work by challenging the immune system. Within hours of a vaccination, there is an innate, general immune response on the cellular level as the body begins to recognize a potential biological threat. This frontline response by the immune system is eventually aided by the production of antibodies, which target specific pathogens. It is the continued production of antibodies that helps to determine how effective a vaccine is at conferring long-term protection.

The good news, according to the researchers, is that the COVID-19 vaccines already in circulation are approximately 95% effective. Even so, these psychological and behavioral factors can lengthen the amount of time it takes to develop immunity and can shorten the duration of immunity.

“The thing that excites me is that some of these factors are modifiable,” said Janice Kiecolt-Glaser, director of the Institute for Behavioral Medicine Research at The Ohio State University and senior author on the paper. “It’s possible to do some simple things to maximize the vaccine’s initial effectiveness.”

Based on prior research, one strategy the researchers suggest is to engage in vigorous exercise and get a good night’s sleep in the 24 hours before vaccination so that your immune system is operating at peak performance. This may help ensure that the best and strongest immune response happens as quickly as possible.

“Prior research suggests that psychological and behavioral interventions can improve vaccine responsiveness. Even shorter-term interventions can be effective,” said Madison. “Therefore, now is the time to identify those at risk for a poor immune response and intervene on these risk factors.”

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Lifestyle & Culture

How you should pack for a cross country move

Packing can take a long time, which is why this is a task you won’t want to put off. You shouldn’t try to pack everything you own up in just a few nights. Instead, you’ll want to tackle this job a little at a time. Start by packing non-essential items. Save the items that you regularly use until the last minute.

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Are you getting ready for a big move? If you’re packing up your things ahead of moving day, many tasks need to be taken care of. Thankfully, this advice will help you as you pack for a cross-country move. 

Start Packing As Soon As Possible 

Packing can take a long time, which is why this is a task you won’t want to put off. You shouldn’t try to pack everything you own up in just a few nights. Instead, you’ll want to tackle this job a little at a time. Start by packing non-essential items. Save the items that you regularly use until the last minute. 

If you give yourself more than enough time to pack, you won’t feel rushed. You’ll be able to take your time and make sure that everything is properly organized when you’re packing. Remember, this is a big task. Set a packing schedule so that you’ll have more than enough time to take care of everything. 

Look Into Hiring A Full-Service Moving Company 

If you feel overwhelmed by all of the packing you need to do, you should keep in mind that you don’t necessarily have to do all of it yourself. You also have the option of hiring a full-service cross country moving company that will be able to pack everything up for you. 

Hiring professional cross country moving companies to pack up your things is an especially great option if you’re working with a tight schedule or feel that you don’t have enough time to prepare for your move fully. You can trust your movers to take care of the packing. You’ll be able to focus on other tasks. 

Get Rid Of Items Before You Start Packing 

You likely have many things that you won’t need to bring with you when you move. That’s why it’s a good idea to go through your belongings and see what you can donate, give away, or sell ahead of your move. 

This is the perfect time to get rid of clothes that no longer fit or clear out toys that your kids don’t play with anymore. You’ll have limited space for your things when you move cross-country, and because of that, you’ll want to get rid of plenty of items before you pack. 

Label Every Box That You Pack 

You should be able to identify exactly what’s in each box that you pack. Once you’ve packed a box, you’ll want to make sure that the box is clearly labeled so that you know exactly what’s being stored there. 

Although it’s standard to use cardboard boxes when packing for moves, you may want to consider investing in clear plastic storage containers. When you use these kinds of boxes, you’ll be able to see everything that you’ve picked up at a glance. You can also reuse these boxes for storage once you’re settled in. 

Pack Heavy Items In Smaller Boxes 

When you’re packing up items like books, you should keep in mind that these boxes can become very heavy fairly quickly. That’s why it’s a good idea to stick to using smaller boxes when you’re picking up heavy things. 

If you stick to boxes on the smaller side, you won’t have to worry about the boxes becoming too heavy. You should use your largest boxes to pack up fairly lightweight items. The heaviest items you own should go in the smallest boxes that you have. 

Take A Suitcase 

You shouldn’t put all of your things into cardboard boxes. It’s a good idea for you to pack up some essential items in a suitcase. That way, you’ll be able to access these items before all of your things are unpacking. 

It’s especially important to take this step if you’re going to be stopping at a hotel as you travel to your new home. Your suitcase should include toiletries, a few changes of clothing, and other essential items, like first aid supplies.

Photograph Your Things 

Even if you’re cautious when you’re packing, some of your things may wind up missing. That’s why you’ll want to take plenty of pictures throughout the packing process. Before you seal up a box, take a picture of that box so that you’ll be able to see exactly what’s in there. 

Snapping these photographs will provide you with evidence if something is lost or damaged, and it will also help you find any things you are looking for. It only takes a few seconds, and it could save you a lot of trouble. 

Use The Right Packing Strategies 

If you just toss items into a box without any strategy, a lot of your things will likely wind up getting lost during your move. Beyond that, you might wind up with items that are damaged or even destroyed during the moving process. 

Always pack similar items together. When packing fragile items, you should take steps to protect those items from damage. You’ll also want to mark the box as fragile so that movers know they need to treat your box with care.  

Packing for a cross-country move can be a big project, but with a little bit of extra planning, you’ll be able to get through these challenges in one piece. Follow this advice so that you’ll be able to stay organized as you pack up for your upcoming move.

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Lifestyle & Culture

Are you ready to start thinking about a baby?

Before you commit to this decision it’s important to think about whether the two of you are ready. That’s not always an easy question to answer however there are signs that you can begin to move forward with this new chapter.

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You might be interested in starting a family with your partner. However, before you commit to this decision it’s important to think about whether the two of you are ready. That’s not always an easy question to answer however there are signs that you can begin to move forward with this new chapter. 

IMAGE SOURCE: PEXELS.COM

You’re Both Stable 

First, you need to make sure that you are both stable in your lives. Think about your career and your profession. You should ideally both be earning a solid income where it’s unlikely that either one of you will experience redundancy in the future. While there are no guarantees, there are always signs that your career is stable. You might also want to think about setting up a side hustle to make sure that you have an extra cushion of cash to fall back on whenever you need to. 

Of course, it’s not just your career that needs to be stable. You need to think about your health – both mental and physical – and your lifestyle. Don’t forget, these are things that will be taken into consideration if you are planning to adopt. So, they should be considered when you are thinking about conceiving naturally too. 

You Both Want One 

As crazy as it sounds many couples do end up having a baby because one individual wants one rather than both. The other will often just go along with the idea because they don’t want the relationship to end. That’s why it’s important to have an open and honest relationship with your partner. It’s possible that there are things that are stopping them from seriously considering children. They might even be questioning whether it’s possible for them. If they’ve tried before with someone else, then this fear is always going to be present. However, there are options like advancedfertility.com to explore if that is indeed the case. 

You don’t Argue All The Time 

Finally, many people believe that couples shouldn’t argue and that’s not true. You need to have the occasional argument otherwise issues are going to simply lie dormant underneath the surface. This will lead to a massive blowout and the last thing that you want is to bring a child into an environment with a lot of friction. 

If you do find that you are arguing quite a lot in your relationship, then you should think about something like couple’s counseling. This can help you get back on the right track with your partner and ensure that things don’t continue to get worse. It can help you deal with some of the deeper issues that might be plaguing your relationship and causing you problems right now.  You can learn more about couples counseling on bark.com

We hope this helps you understand some of the signs that you could be ready to start thinking about having a baby with your partner. Remember, while this can be a big step forward, there are plenty of avenues and resources you can explore to help here and ensure that you do approach this the right way.

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Lifestyle & Culture

Can you earn extra money while getting SSDI benefits?

If you’re permanently disabled, you’ll likely need to apply for SSDI or Social Security disability insurance benefits. As with seeking any type of government aid, this involves going through a qualification process.

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If you’re permanently disabled, you’ll likely need to apply for SSDI or Social Security disability insurance benefits. As with seeking any type of government aid, this involves going through a qualification process. 

Once you’re approved, you don’t want to do anything to disqualify you from receiving benefits, and this includes earning too much income in addition to your monthly benefits. An overview of this issue is described below to help you stay within the Social Security Department’s guidelines.

You Cannot Earn Substantial Gainful Activity

The SSDI benefits you’ll receive are intended to provide you with the income you would otherwise earn through performing work. For this reason, the Social Security Administration has established a limit on how much you can earn in addition to the benefits you receive each month. The precise number is evaluated year by year and, as of 2020, that limit was $1,260 a month. The only exception is that people who are classified as legally blind can earn up to $2,110 a month.

There is a trial period during which you can earn more than the substantial gainful activity allowance (or SGA) and still receive your benefits. The first nine months are considered a trial period to ensure you can maintain that level of income. 

In a month in which you earn less than the SGA limit, you will receive your full benefits for that 30-day period. This will continue for 36 more months after you complete the trial period. The extended eligibility period of 36 months is implemented to keep you entered in the system in the event that you have to return to full benefits status. This eliminates the need to have to renew your initial application.

How Are Benefits Calculated Against Income?

As a matter of protecting your financial interests, you should consult a social security disability lawyer before beginning any type of work. Generally, the first $85 you earn won’t be counted towards your earned income. After reaching that limit, half of every dollar you earn will be deducted from your total eligible benefits. 

For example, if you earned $1,000 in a 30-day period, the $85 allowance would be reduced, bringing your measured income down to $915. That amount would be divided by two to arrive at $457.50. For that month only, the benefits you receive would be reduced by $457.50 to adjust for your earned income.

What Are You Required To Report?

In order to remain compliant with the conditions for receiving benefits from the Social Security Administration, there are certain employment status changes that you must report. You will have to report the dates upon which you begin or stop a job, including any periods during which you’re suspended or laid off. 

You will also have to report any changes in your position, including the number of hours you work, the duties you perform, or the wages you’re paid. Any changes in these conditions can affect your benefits, so it’s important to keep the SSA updated. Finally, you should report any expenses you have suffered in relation to your disability. 

For example, if you have had to buy a custom wheelchair to allow you to perform your work-related duties, that expense should be documented and reported. You should check with your local SSA office for exact reporting timelines. Generally, reports should be filed between the 6th and 10th day of the following month, depending on the method of reporting.

If you are trying to navigate the complexities involved with filing for SSDI benefits, consulting an attorney can help. A lawyer who’s experienced in handling Social Security law can ensure you get all of the benefits to which you’re entitled. This may mean a significant difference that can help you enjoy a better quality of life.

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