Ursula Benward episode
Elena Joy: Welcome to Out of Queeriosity, the podcast for the Pride and Joy Foundation. We're so happy you are here joining us today. This will be our last episode of season one, and we are so excited to welcome Ursula Benward to our show.
Ursula is a friend that I met in Tucson in Southern Arizona. We both belong to the L G B T chamber of commerce. That's down there. And the Tucson chapter is the best chapter of them all. and I was so excited when I got to go to a chamber meeting where Ursula is teaching about mindfulness. If you've seen my Ted talk, that I'm obsessed with mindfulness and self-awareness.
And then when I learned that Ursula is of course a part of our community, as well as a licensed therapist, as well as from a Native population, I realize this is someone that we definitely need to introduce to our audience. And learn from, so thank you so much for being here, Ursula. This is gonna be awesome.
Ursula: Thank you so much for having [00:01:00] me. I am super excited and also super intimidated because you have had so many cool people on before and I am going to be rounding out this season and hopefully ending on a good note.
Elena Joy: Absolutely. The best note, the best of notes. Tell me about what you do now and how you got there.
Ursula: So I, have been a therapist for 20 years now, almost 20 years.
I graduated in 2003 with my master's from ASU. And I immediately started working, up on the Hopi reservation for their behavioral health. From the get-go a child therapist. I did my internship in, high school and I got my training in both school and community counseling, but I always knew I wanted to work with kids in adolescence, especially.
So I started [00:02:00] working as the child therapist up on the Hopi reservation. I did that for about three years then I decided I wanted to go back to school and work at the same time. So I moved back down to Phoenix and worked for Phoenix Indian medical center, which serves, most of the urban Native population for healthcare services.
It's a hospital. They also have a behavioral health building. And so I was the child therapist there. And I was really fortunate to be able to just create my own play therapy office and be able to just do all of the things that I enjoy doing. With kids there. Then I also met my wife who was a psychiatrist at Phoenix Indian medical center.
And we ended up deciding to move in together. Then we decided to move to Tucson because she wanted to work for banner and teach medical residents in their psychiatry [00:03:00] program. What she got to do. And I ended up getting to work in a couple different places in Tucson. So I got to work for Marana health center in their primary care side as an integration specialist.
So I got to work hands on with doctors and the patients and provide behavioral health services in a healthcare setting. And then I worked for Sierra Tucson, which is a drug rehab worked in both the mood program and also the family program, which I loved because I got to work with all of the family members.
And so you know. Teaching presentations and groups and all sorts of stuff. And then I ended up working for the crisis line. And so I was literally the person that you called the crisis line and answered the phone, sat there, 10 hours straight, on the phone, just talking to people. And it was probably one of the best.
I've ever had, [00:04:00] especially for somebody with ADHD and, it was so much fun and it was just also really meaningful because most of the time you're talking to people who just need support and resources. And about 5% of the time you're talking to somebody who, you're also coordinating. Getting help for them or you're coordinating getting emergency services and things like that.
And, it was for me an opportunity to work with such an incredibly diverse population in all of the different places that I've been. And. When I decided I wanted to start my own private practice, I named it counseling because, first and foremost, I am Native and I come from the Diné tribe, which is in Northern Arizona.
And. I should introduce myself. actually.
Yá’á t’ééh, shí éí Ursula Benward yinishyé. Naakaii Dine’é éí nishłį́. Tó Dích’íi’nii éí bashishchiin. Tsé Deeshgizhnii éí dashicheii. Tsé Ńjíkiní éí dashinalí.
Hello, my name is Ursula Benward. I am from the Mexican People clan. I am born for the Bitter Water clan. My maternal grandfather’s clan is Rock Gap. My paternal grandfather’s clan is Cliff Dweller/Among the Rock.
And that basically introduces who I am. The clan that I am born into, which is my mother's clan, was her mother's clan, because we are a matrilineal society. and I'm born into the Mexican people plan, which is why I claim it was easier for me to learn Spanish than Navajo. Although that's not saying much because I don't speak very well in either language.
The clan that I was born for, which is my father's clan, my grandfather's clan, and then my, both maternal and paternal. It's one of the ways that we introduce ourselves. To others, because it helps us to know how we fit into the world, and what relations we have.
And, there, I've had tons of relatives all over that I have found simply by introducing myself that way.
Elena Joy: Oh, that is [00:06:00] incredible. We could go off on a whole tangent here, which we're not going to, but I spent some time on the Navajo reservation when I was in high school. And I'm very grateful for that opportunity.
I got to do a home stay opportunity and live with a family and they had a child my age and it was just amazing. And I'll never forget going up on a Mesa and helping her grandmother round up some sheep. And it was like a whole day and it was. So beautiful and impactful for me to see this matriarchal society, to see those female names pass down and to see families organized and events organized by the women in the community.
And that was default that wasn't like some new thing, right. That was default. And it was so cool to see. And if we had more time, I'd also be asking you about your time on the Hopi reservation, because I don't know if our listeners are aware, but the Hopi reservation is completely surrounded by the Navajo reservation.
And it's actually on the top of these huge [00:07:00] mesas. And so talk about, Very distinct populations. Right. And a very distinct experience. And, oh, we're gonna have to talk about that another time. I can't imagine what that was like. So this is amazing. I think this story is absolutely incredible. And thank you so much for sharing in such great detail.
The degree and then the first job, and then how you moved on from there. And then you were able to find your wife through this experience as well. Which I just love that word. I think so wonderful. I love it. So right now, so many of our parents of our LGBTQ youth in general, regardless of what society they're coming from, right? Like we have listeners from all around the world and all of the parents have the same concern. How can I best show up for my kid who is grappling with their, either their gender identity or their sexual orientation, or sometimes both, right. While they're grappling with this world that we're living [00:08:00] with while they're grappling with their crazy exploding brain cells and hormones and all of that comes with growing up. Right. So I'm sure you see these cases on a day to day basis. What is like the first thing that if you had one of those parents in front of you, what's the first thing you would tell them?
Ursula: I would tell them that the fact that they are even worrying about it shows what good parents they are. Because the fact of the matter is. We only can grow through awareness and we can only learn when we know that there are things that we don't know and when we're open to that. So every single kid and every single person is unique and.
There's so many things that, we have in common and so many [00:09:00] things that we, share, when we have experiences and we're like, oh yeah, I recognize that, oh, that happened, to me too. But the fact of the matter is it's evolving so quickly that the coming out process and the coming out stories are incredibly different than even five years ago. And the things that they are dealing with are so new and constantly changing that it's impossible to stay on top of it all. And it's okay to not feel like you are in control because they're not in control. There is absolutely nobody driving this bus it is just picking up people and like tossing off people as it goes.
We don't know where we're gonna end up. And as long as the wheels haven't come off, we're counting that as a win. Who knows, where everything is going to end up, but. [00:10:00] At least we can be a community and at least we can support each other. And that is the most valuable thing that any parent can give their child, which is not only just being able to say, I'm here for you.
I'm here to support you. You have a safe place to be, but also to say, you're valid. You and your experiences, all of the feelings that you have, all of the questions that you have, all of the, uncertainty that you have, that's all valid. That's okay. And it's not just, because of gender or sexuality, being a teen, being a kid.
It, all of it is just uncertainty. Everything's constantly changing, constantly evolving and they're growing so fast. And so so many different directions and the world is changing constantly around them. [00:11:00] So they're just incredibly adaptable. And I think that's what I always encourage parents to really develop in their kids is just resiliency.
That they have the flexibility, the adaptability. To survive, whatever is thrown at them that we all do inherently. And as long as we can be in touch with that, we're gonna survive. And I think that's, from this perspective of being Native, I always think one of the things that's a very common sort of saying is, you are your ancestors' wildest dreams.
And for me, our concept of time, isn't quite as linear as it is in mainstream culture. To me, it's almost the past and the present and the future. All exist, at the same time. And I know my ancestors are watching [00:12:00] out for me. I know that what I do now is going to impact my descendants.
I'm gonna be an ancestor , what kind of, legacy do I wanna leave for them? What kind of ways? What kind of paths do I wanna pave for them? And. it's a lot of responsibility, but it's also paying back for all of those ancestors who survived, who made it through, I wouldn't be here.
If my ancestors didn't survive the long walk, they didn't survive colonization. They didn't survive everything that boarding schools, everything that happened. My mother's oldest sister. Was removed to a boarding school. My mom tells stories about how they had to hide from people coming around to collect kids, to take them away to schools.
So these things were generationally. Not that long ago, no [00:13:00] things just happened and we're still dealing with all of the effects of it. And when you add being queer on top of that, You're dealing with not only this weird, what the culture was and not that long ago, how it would've been, and then how that was incredibly, , just completely destroyed by colonization and all of these religious beliefs and everything that came in and systematically tried to dismantle the culture.
and then you have this next generation of, kids and young adults who are younger than I am, who are just out there trying to rebuild. Yeah. And it is so beautiful to me that what they rebuild may look much more like what our, old ways used to be, but also could be even better. And, that's growth.
[00:14:00] That's resiliency. And that's what we need to foster.
Elena Joy: Absolutely. You brought something up that I thought was really interesting. I often talk about how LGBTQ plus children are some of the only children of a marginalized population born to parents, not of the same marginalized population. Right?
And so oftentimes, if you have a Black child born to Black parents, they're gonna be raised in ways that they understand their culture, their history, they understand the tips and tricks on how to live. Succeed in our society. Right. But when you have a queer child born to straight parents who are not from that culture at all, we have a strong disconnect.
Right. And I was thinking about how you introduced yourself. And then you talked about, these are the clans that I came from, and this is what my lineage is. Right. And I was thinking, if you were speaking to a group of Native queer youth or individuals, what, is there a phrase that you would. That's used to tie that part of your identity into it.
Ursula: This is such a great question. , Not because I'm [00:15:00] not a Native speaker, I understand quite a bit. And I grew up, with Native speakers, but I never learned how to speak it, fluently and, I can go off into a whole tangent about how. Part of that was by design, because in order to succeed in the mainstream world, you need to be able to speak without an accent.
There was definitely a lot of choices and part of it was just of the environment I grew up in and. , one of the ways that a lot of people end sort of the introduction is by saying, and that's the kind of, Navajo female that I am more Navajo woman than I am Navajo person, like man, that I am, and it's actually pretty gender-based.
And so sometimes they think I'm like, if somebody was non-binary like, how would they introduce themselves? And, there are specific words for people. , there used to be specific Navajo words for people who identified, outside of, cisgender heterosexual identity and [00:16:00] they had specific roles.
There were specific stories, about them and we've lost so much of that. And it's really difficult to figure out how do we regain some of those things, especially when. We've been losing so many of our elders that grew up with that kind of culture and in part, when COVID hit and, the Navajo nation made the news so much about how much, it took from us.
Yeah. That was in part of it is we were just losing cultural knowledge and historical knowledge and traditions, just things that we. We were never able to preserve because they're people you can't preserve that and losing all of those things and trying to figure out how did we reconnect and relearn the stories and the songs and the prayers and the roles and the teachings.
You know that [00:17:00] come with all of that. Because language is so important.
Elena Joy: It's one of the first things that I suggest parents get really comfortable with. Right? If your child identifies as queer and uses that word, it can be so hard for gen Xers to be like, no, that's a good word. I can put that into my vocabulary.
Like we were not raised that way. Right. But if our child is using it. And so many of our gen Z are using that word as a very protective umbrella, that's covering all the letters regardless of where the fluidity is. Right. And so they've really reclaimed that word. And so that's one of my biggest suggestions to parents is get really comfortable using the language that your child is using, because that's gonna feel affirmative to them.
Ursula: Right. That's gonna feel like it's being integrated into their family and group dynamic, speaking their language, and. , the biggest thing when it comes to communication and that's why play, is such a universal language. And that's why play therapy works so well with different cultures and different places is inherently.
We all [00:18:00] play, you could give a child, two sticks and send them out into, a dirt yard and they're gonna find some way to play. And. We do that with everything. And at some point in our lives, every single one of us. Was able to play with something and we can connect to that and we can speak to that.
And , it's nonverbal, and it is just so, same with art, same with music, all of these things that are languages, and parts of culture, such important parts of culture. When parents are able to speak to their child and listen to them and say, what does it mean to use the correct pronouns?
Not just, it's a sign of respect. It is also validation. It is. I may not understand this. I may not even agree with this, but I can still validate you as a human being. I [00:19:00] can still. Honor who you are. And if you're telling me this is who you are, this is what you feel good with. Why wouldn't we wanna do that for our kids?
Why would we want to force them to be what we want them to be? Just because maybe that's what our parents tried to do to us. Yeah. How is that fair? Yeah. Yeah. Thank you for pointing that out. So this fall, we actually are launching a program called leaders for inclusive change, and it's a workshop where we are empowering.
Teachers and other adults that are at schools that are wanting to gather like a diversity club or GSA or something like that to support the LGBTQ students that are in their schools. And so we're doing a six-week workshop series about that and I'm realizing. Many of them, especially here in Arizona, we're gonna have an Arizona-specific one.
Hopefully if that grant comes through and many of them will be not just white, LGBTQ kids, you know what I mean? [00:20:00] Like we're gonna have kids from the Native communities, from the Latino communities and other communities for those leaders that we're hoping to empower with the knowledge and the skills that they'll need to hold that safe space for these kids.
Do you have any thoughts or suggestions on what they might wanna be aware? Especially if they're a white person, right. Like me.
Ursula: I think one of the biggest things is certainly. The fact that representation is so important and growing up, especially, and even now it's really hard to find those brown people that look like you that are being celebrated, who are, you can point to them and be like, oh, they're being valued.
They're valued by their community. They are esteemed. They're great at what they do. and they're gay or they're queer or they're non-binary or they're [00:21:00] trans and they're out there. Yeah. And that's the thing is, Natives are everywhere and I, especially in Arizona and I always like, if you don't have a Native friend, you, you're not working really hard because we're literally everywhere. this is what happens when settle on Native land. , you can get rid of everyone. So we're still here. And we're usually really funny because, humor is how you deal with trauma in our culture. Go make a Native friend.
They'll be really funny and make really good food.
Elena Joy: that's amazing. Okay. So what I got from that was for these leaders definitely find those people that look like the kids in your group and celebrate them and get access to them, right? Whether that's through the published interviews or books or whatever it is that they've done, integrate that into your group culture.
Ursula: Yeah, absolutely give them [00:22:00] people that look like them. And I think, there's Native drag performers, there's Native trans people, there are Native people who are activists who are working and doing all of these things. There are powwows even now where they are two spirit dancers.
And so they're able to. Dance, in the regalia of what the dance is, whether in a traditional sense, they might not have been allowed to, or it would've been looked down on. And being able to show them that there is progress, there is change out there. And there's so many people, doing so much work , to just keep building that visibility and that representation.
Elena Joy: I love that is a strong motto. The last t-shirt design that we did for a fundraiser, it was visibility is life. And it's amazing to wear that shirt around town because the people that don't get it they always like, what are you trying to say with that? Right. But the people that get [00:23:00] it really get it.
Ursula: It's a great way to find your people out in public. you get the little head nod or the little oh, I get it. Yeah. I hear you. I see you. Yeah. I love it. , I'm actually gonna get a t-shirt made that says my wife is so Butch. No one knows I'm gay. Because she gets misgendered all the time and, she really doesn't care at this point.
But it is, yeah. It's one of those things where it's if you don't know whether someone wants to be called sir or a ma. Maybe find a gender-neutral way to address people respectfully.
Elena Joy: You think ? Oh my gosh. Okay. Our longtime listeners know that my girlfriend is a silk screener and that I force her to do custom t-shirts for me all the time.
You might be getting a t-shirt in a mail soon Ursula just saying, cause that is amazing. That is amazing.
Ursula: I can see, I can wear that one and then she can wear her. I [00:24:00] was told there would be fried bread. T-shirt. Wait, is your wife Native as well? No, she is very white. She is Kansas white. Oh, yeah, she is also a daughter of a preacher, white and, we always joke all the time that you know, her there's a significant age gap between the two of us, cuz she's 21 years older than I.
and because being on the reservation, especially when I was growing up, there were no, cell phones, there was no internet, we had. I for a long time, we didn't even have electricity. And we had a television at one point that you had to hook up to a car battery. And so like you would tie, wrap the wire, run one terminal and then wrap it around the other with, trying to not like.
Shock yourself, and we had one channel, and it was like an amazing day when a second channel popped up, [00:25:00] and so growing up on the reservation, like a lot of the things that other people of my generation took for granted and cultural references and things like that like I didn't have, and she, and I.
We're very similar. , I always say that the things that we joke about and the things that we, can reference are how we grew up was very similar, even though she's 21 years older, simply because I was on the reservation and didn't have access to all of those things. And her stepfather.
Loves me and I adore him and he was a dairy farmer, in Kansas. And so we immediately just hit it off, be talking about farm life and, one of the greatest things I ever did was take her home and, he got to see that she could actually be a farm girl too.
Elena Joy: Oh, my word. Oh, what a great story.
[00:26:00] I love it. I love seeing that all come together in the most beautiful way. Right? Incredible. I have just two more questions for you. And one of them is. We often see, especially from Canada, we see the whole acronym as LGBTQ plus two-spirit IA, right. Or oftentimes I'm seeing now two-spirit at the beginning of the acronym, but I've never had the opportunity to ask a Native person.
What does two-spirit mean to you?
Ursula: Not a whole lot. Okay. Because it's actually not from my culture, I mean, right. The cultures are so different. Yeah. It is. I mean, 574 federally recognized tribes and that's just the recognized ones. Yeah. And so in my culture, it wasn't really.
Considered two-spirit, wasn't really considered the term. Okay. That there are different terms. I think going back for people who have sort of that male and female energy, and so I [00:27:00] think in the large part, so much of it refers to just the concept, that. Even before all of these gender binaries, were taught to everybody that there was already a recognition that people aren't necessarily just two genders, there isn't just, a male and a female.
There are some people who are a mixture of both. There are some people who, have one presentation, their spirit is a different gender and. They were allowed to dress to fit that, they were allowed to have roles to do those things. , and even for me, like growing up, I didn't come out until I was 28 and I didn't come out until I met my wife.
It was one of the most traumatic sort of periods in my life because it was the classic, very nearly losing my entire family. And when you're Native and your family is your entire [00:28:00] life. Yes, identity. It was incredibly traumatizing. And even growing up, I think when I came out, I had the assumption that, okay, my family is.
Kind of progressive, like they, we have gay relatives and they've never said anything bad about them. , and then they're sort of the older ones, who everybody knows, is a little, not straight. , but people don't talk about it, it's oh, there's those, the ones who, are weaving rugs and they aren't married, and so there was sort of. Bridge, there were, you just didn't talk about it, and there wasn't that open acknowledgment that there had been in the past and then growing up, a large part of why I'm not, don't have a lot of the traditional teachings is because when I was growing up, my parents.
We're really into church. And so we lived right by a Christian mission and [00:29:00] I grew up around the missionaries and it was one of those very conservative, don't listen to popular music cuz you know, that's secular music and you will go to hell, kinds of things. , and. Growing up neurodivergent and already knowing that you're different in that environment, you.
All of it just coalesces and, you end up with somebody like me, who's 28 years old and finally going, this woman at work asked me out and thinking, okay, it's not gonna go that bad. And it went terrible. It was very traumatizing and there was, a period where I was like, okay, I'm not willing to lose my family.
So I'm not going to, I'm not gonna be gay. I'm just gonna not say that anymore. It's our little secret. , and then. I lost a cousin to suicide and it was a [00:30:00] young cousin too. And I had to really think, it's like I could live my whole life, like this. And I would be happy because I have my family and my family makes me happy, but I could also be myself, and I could figure out what that means.
And maybe. Then I won't think that if I disappeared or died, it wouldn't be such a bad thing, and. Being able to fully come out and just live with that and survive all of the trauma. , that we went through those first couple years, to get to the point where we, were able to get married and have a wedding.
And my family was there and, it was one of those amazing things. And. I think, just how brave all of the kids that I work with nowadays are to come [00:31:00] out so much sooner and be willing to risk all of those things and be willing to be who they are, that's amazing. And that's what I want to continue supporting and to be visible and to be able to say, Yeah, like I'm here.
I'm okay. I made it through that incredibly difficult part. I survived it and I want you to know that you can survive this. I want you to know that it's okay to be you and to love who you love, and be there for that person, because if they don't have that anywhere else, then at least they have that here.
Elena Joy: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. Thank you so much for sharing that. And I think to wrap up our time together, if you could think back to Ursula who had just graduated from ASU, getting ready to go up to the Hopi community. And we know now that you weren't out at that point, but [00:32:00] if you could talk to that Ursula, what would you tell her?
I would tell her. To be. Honest with herself. Yeah. You know that, and with everybody else, but with herself first, and to be able to tell her that it's okay to say these things out loud, and it's gonna be incredibly scary, to risk losing your family over some of this. But I think it would've taken to that point to, to get where I was, because I was.
21. Yeah, 21 at the time. And first new job, independent moving back in, with my mom and dad, where I lived for three years. And at that point, they knew I was an ally because I at least, during the whole marriage debates [00:33:00] and things like that, I was very clear where I stood on all of those things and I think had anybody.
Really given it any consideration like that, I hadn't had a boyfriend. Up to that point. Although they, I think they just thought that was normal. And that I basically was just super independent. And that was just how you were expected to be that there wasn't any expectation of relationships or dating because family came first and I would've told her, you, you can actually live your life for you too, and, you're gonna make it through because.
It's always really difficult. I think for people to understand that unconditional love, sometimes isn't unconditional and discovering sort of where, the boundaries of that conditional love is and discovering that in your own [00:34:00] family, it can be incredibly painful. But at the end, if even if. That love was conditional on being not yourself that you can find and make your own family and that they're out there.
And that you can be with people who do love you unconditionally, and you can love yourself unconditionally. Absolutely. In any condition. Yeah. Yes. Absolutely. Thank you so much, Ursula. This was wonderful. I know we're gonna have people in our audience who would like to learn more about you and about the services that you offer.
Do you have a website that they can go to? I do it is, Hózhó Counseling So it's H O Z H O counseling.com and it basically has different resources, both related to counseling about play therapy.[00:35:00], L G B T resources. , and I'm hoping to be able to add a blog section soon, because my wife likes to write oh, I like to write.
And, it's just being able to share some of those experiences and keep putting things out there, and some of the things that I'm. Super happy when I was putting the website together was looking for resources and finding them and being able to say there are L G B T resources out there for Native people.
There are groups and organizations, and there's going to be a pride festival on the Navajo nation. At the capital, we don't have marriage equality, but we are gonna have a pride festival.
Elena Joy: Oh, my word, I would, that gives me chills. That's amazing. Oh, that's incredible.
Ursula: Yeah. And fingers crossed. You know, there is some legislation I think, for the tribe, that where they're pushing to try to get rid of the [00:36:00] ban on, marriages, only being between male and female. , and that's, one of the things that I think is so important to realize is there are L G B T two spirit, everything plus, on the reservation.
Yeah. And. In my experience, you weren't allowed to be yourself unless you were off the reservation. And to know that now you can still live at home and be, cuz I still call it home. You haven't been there. And I haven't lived there in so many years. It is still home. Yes. And it always will be home. Yeah.
And. To know that eventually, we're gonna keep making progress and I'm gonna be able to go home and see all of the other, people be with themselves and be with who they want to be.
Elena Joy: Wow, like history is being made right now with [00:37:00] us witnessing it. I think that's incredible.
Thank you so much, Ursula. Thank you for joining us. Really appreciate it. Thank you.