Thursday, July 26, 2012

Go Write a Blog About It


Blogging is hard.

I know that sounds like the complaint of a whiny teenager, but I feel stupid writing here again after a six month hiatus without acknowledging this.

My book club just read “A Visit From the Goon Squad”. I devoured this one over the course of a week on Lake Michigan, and it rocked me. It restored my interest in fiction. And I knew I would love it early on, somewhere around Chapter Two, when Bennie was introduced and immediately characterized by his ruminations about shameful moments in his past. I do this. I have a mental reel of stories I turn on sometimes, titled “WHY WOULD I SAY THAT OUT LOUD?!”. The trailer would show scenes of me disclosing my sexual history to an entire classroom of future colleagues and speaking candidly about my history of depression to a shady news group that exploited my naiveté. All of these vignettes go towards a truth about me that I love but resent at times: I am not just an open book, I am a loud and reactive one as well.

So when I received some criticism about this blog, I shut down. I worried that I had done it again—put my self, and my sense of it, too far out there. I felt like the lesbian blogger equivalent of the Kardashians*, deluding myself into thinking that my personal experiences were somehow helpful to the masses. Despite all of the encouragement I’ve received from day one of this project, all it took was one flippant comment to derail my belief that this blog was a worthwhile exercise, and to create the fear that I was being perceived as self-serving and histrionic.

And then Lindsey left town for two weeks, which means I watched an excessive amount of Netflix documentaries. The topics ranged from Dr. Tiller’s murder to a small protest movement in support of a gay teen forced into inpatient reparative therapy, but the theme underlying each story was the beauty of standing up for what is right, no matter the obstacles. Each time the music swelled under the narrator’s motivational concluding message, I cried, and thought “Good for them. The world is better because of what they did.”

I don’t think the world will be better because of this blog. But, I will be better because of this blog. And if the issues I write about here inspire one person to get involved, that’s enough to outweigh the possibility that I sound like a politically-minded Kardashian.



*I totally watch the Kardashians.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Planning a Wedding with an Anxiety Disorder (or, Adventures in Irrationality)



Let's play a game. I'll give you a wedding planning scenario and some choices for how one could respond, and you choose the one that sounds closest to how you would react. Fun, right?!

You are scheduling a meeting with your caterer to discuss details like timing and linens. In order to make sure you pick a time that works for everyone, you start an email to those who will probably attend the meeting. You:
A) CC your partner
B) Send it to your dad and stepmom, who have been active in the planning process
C) Have a mild panic attack. Should you include your younger sister so she doesn't feel left out? What about the family friend who offered to help with the menu? And should you really send this to your dad and stepmom? What if they feel pressured to come and it ends up being a big hassle and they don't really want to go because who really cares about this stuff unless it's your wedding, it's NAPKINS. But if you don't send it will they think you're not taking their opinions into consideration? Maybe you should include a disclaimer that you totally understand if they don't want to come. But then it might sound like you don't want them to come, and you do want them to come, and that would hurt their feelings. Forget it, you'll deal with this later--just add it to your to-do list. Omg you have a 74-item to-do list. 


And that, ladies and gentlemen, is a snapshot of what it's like to plan a wedding with an anxiety disorder. There are lots of stereotypes about crazy brides who freak out about peonies v. dahlias (dahlias, obvs) or which fabric to use for their aisle runner, but so far my anxiety has nothing to do with the actual wedding and everything to do with FEELINGS. I spend more time thinking about people's feelings than I spend actually planning the damn thing.

I should have seen this coming. It's not like before proposing I was a particularly zen person. I once called the national office of an NGO my sister traveled to Kenya with because she didn't update her blog for 4 days. I also called my dad and stepmom's boutique hotel in rural Italy (three times, while furiously typing "I need to speak with my father" into Google Translate) because they weren't able to email me and say they got there safely. My anxiety is probably one of the first things one would think of when asked to describe me, though I'm sure it would be euphemistically packaged as "extreme concern for those she cares about" or something social work-y like that.

So even though my "extreme concern" is not a new phenomenon, it shouldn't be surprising to me or anyone else that "extreme concern" + major life transition + event involving lots of people = raging hamster-wheel-inside-my-mind anxiety.

And it sucks, because it's not helpful to me or to anyone else. The ruminations and thought circles don't actually improve anyone's experience; we're pretty nice people in general, so it's not like a panic attack is the only thing stopping us from being assholes. I'm making a lot of assumptions about people's needs and reactions that might be (probably are) completely off-base, and also probably assuming that people care about the wedding and their involvement with it more than they actually do. But even though I'm probably not giving people enough credit the worries feel extremely real to me. I want to be the zen bride I read about on the indie wedding blogs and see in most of my engaged friends--focused on nothing but the marriage itself. I am counting down the weeks (31!) until I can promise my commitment to Lindsey in front of everyone we love, but I can't get out of my head long enough to really enjoy them.

I'm in therapy. I'm working on it. I'm trying this new thing where I remind myself that everyone is in charge of their own experience, not me. I'm trying to laugh at myself. But like any other mental health issue, it can't just be turned off or wished away. I'm hopeful that at least on the day itself (if not far sooner), I can let go of it all and just enjoy the moment. Until then, I'll be the one writing four drafts for every email.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Just Say No to Saying "Homosexual"


“Language is not merely a means of expression and communication; it is an instrument of experiencing, thinking, and feeling ... Our ideas and experiences are not independent of language; they are all integral parts of the same pattern, the warp and woof of the same texture.” –William Chomsky

I believe in the importance of language. I believe in the power of words to do both harm and good. I believe that words are not just words— they are weapons, change agents, olive branches and identifiers. They are perhaps the most important tool we possess. So yes, I fixate on language. Some (many) might even say I harp on language. Annoying as it may be for others, that’s a badge I wear proudly. And as trite as it may seem, one of the words that makes me cringe the most is “homosexual”.

I get it. There’s no one word that works for everyone, and no matter what you say, you’ll probably offend someone.  Not everyone has reclaimed the world “queer”. Using an acronym such as “LGBT” forces the user to choose an order or hierarchy of identities, and either excludes people or becomes too long to use (LGBT vs. GLBT vs. TBLGA vs. LGBTAAQQP, etc.) “Gay” may offend the radical feminists of the 70’s. “Lesbian” doesn’t jive with many young gay women. And so on, and so forth. So I understand why people might gravitate towards “homosexual” as a neutral term.  However.

If you google “homosexual” and skim past Wikipedia and dictionary definitions, you arrive at the following:

1) What Causes Homosexual Desire (biblebelievers.com) (“Most of us fail to understand why anyone would want to engage in homosexual activity. To the average person, the very idea is either puzzling or repugnant.”)
2) Homosexuality (conservapedia.com) (Basically, How to Avoid Being or Raising a Gay)
3) Homosexuality (Catholic.com) (Homosexuality is like being an alcoholic)
4) My personal favorite, a collection of old videos about The Homosexual Menace. “Boys beware!”

And it just gets better from there: Americans for Truth about Homosexuality! Multiple reparative therapy options! Research on homosexuality and finger length! (…Really? Nothing?)

Further, until 1974 “homosexuality” was a diagnosable mental disorder listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (which remains the most widely-used manual for diagnosis of mental illness). That didn’t just result in some gay kids going to therapy (not to minimize the trauma I’m sure that caused), it meant that gays could be institutionalized against their will for consensual sexual behavior. It meant that gays couldn’t run for public office or work with children. It meant they couldn’t seek help for other mental health problems without having to work on their gayness as well.

All of this should tell you something—that the word “homosexual” has been used not as a term of endearment or empowerment, but as a stigmatizing, pathologizing and even demonizing word historically used to instill fear and discomfort—and that continues today (you don’t hear Hilary Clinton using the word “homosexual”—you hear crazies like Rick Santorum and Fred Phelps using it). No one says “Homosexual Pride Parade”; they say “homosexual agenda”. The term is used against us, not for us. Not with us. When I hear that word, I hear all of those awful contexts along with it. It sounds like oppression and discrimination and pain, to be frank. It makes me want to throw up and punch something at the same time. 

I don’t claim to speak for the gays of the world, or the gays of the country, or the lady gays, or really anyone other than myself. But I do know that I’m far from alone in my disdain for this word. So please, folks—think again before uttering the word “homosexual”.  It’s just gross. 

Friday, January 20, 2012

A Long December



When it rains, it pours—and those of us in Michigan know it has been a freaky, unpredictable, omg-the-world-is-burning-around-us kind of month filled with unseasonal downpours. Life since Thanksgiving seems to have mimicked this pattern. The holidays are always a bit stressful, but that was augmented this year by all of the little bugs that come with going through a major life transition. Navigating families and family time. Watching my anxiety control my actions more than I did. Sharing space with the wedding boycotter while she pretended nothing has changed, and far worse, the anticipation of that evening. Walking back to my desk after talking to our bank and slowly realizing that I’d just been blatantly discriminated against for the first time, and having to scramble to move our money because of it. Listening to politicians spout hate-filled, irresponsible lies about my life, my relationship and our future. Watching my state sign discrimination into law, again. My car dying, and desperately searching for a new one. It’s been difficult for me to write here through all of this. Each attempt left me feeling so overwhelmed that the blog became a source of stress instead of the outlet I had come to value. 

It has been a long December. But as my spiritual leader Adam Duritz tells us, this year will be better than the last. Our stressful car search fittingly ended just as the rain stopped and the snow arrived, restoring order and direction to what has felt like a chaotic and stagnant few months. As always, I’m reminded of the incredible privilege of sharing a life with someone who walks so gracefully with me through all of this and makes me laugh when all I want to do is throw things. 

Now that we are less than 9 months out from the wedding, planning is starting to pick up—and along with that, I anticipate more anecdotes worth sharing and more experiences worth processing. Expect to hear about coming out to strangers, navigating the legal process of trying to become a family, planning a wedding with a raging anxiety disorder, and the anti-gay political climate in Michigan. But also expect some updates about dresses and invitations, because everyone needs a little fluff sometimes. At least that’s what I tell myself when I watch the Kardashians. And the Real Housewives. I’ll just stop there… 

Thank you all for your continued support :) Please come back on Monday for a discussion of why the word “homosexual” makes me want to throw up and throw elbows simultaneously. 

Thursday, November 24, 2011

With Gratitude

Despite the probability that this will be an excessively schmaltzy and cliche-filled post, I'd be a fool if I didn't take the opportunity to express how thankful I am for all of the good in my life. I sometimes worry that this blog is over-dramatic and negative. Admittedly, that might be reflective of my personality, but one of the many gifts Linds has given me is the inspiration to focus on the positive and maintain the perspective that things could always be worse. In that spirit, I want to acknowledge that I have it pretty damn good.

I am thankful for my freedom, and the ability to write this blog without risk of repercussions.
I am thankful for the lawmakers who fight for my rights in spite of the backlash.
I am thankful for the activists who have made my rights their career.
I am thankful for the soldiers who risk their lives and leave their families so that I don't have to.
I am thankful for a free press that keeps me informed. For the most part. Relatively speaking.
I am thankful for the University of Michigan and the way it's shaped me.
I am thankful for my car that allowed me to finally volunteer for the Sexual Assault Response Team.
I am thankful for my fellow social workers.
I am thankful for the novel I read in August '09 that made me go veg.
I am thankful for coffee. I'm sorry, but I am.
I am thankful for Ann Arbor for it's beauty and awesomeness, and for giving Linds and I a safe place to be Linds and I.
I am thankful for my job.
I am thankful for my mom's extended family, who didn't bat an eye when I came out to them and got engayged.
I am thankful for straight allies and male feminists. Holla, chrisfolts.com.
I am thankful for my friends, who share my passions, listen to me whine, and laugh at my jokes. And love me when I'm obnoxious.
I am thankful for my stepsiblings, who are nice to me despite being the age at which I was an asshole.
I am thankful for my stepmom Marsha, who loves my dad as much as he deserves and keeps him smiling.
I am thankful for my sister Stephanie, who taught me the value of engagement and keeps me on my toes. All the damn time.
I am thankful for my sister Kristen, who taught me that being smart is cool and inspires me to work hard for what I want even when it sucks.
I am thankful for my mom, who taught me that every person has value, that I'm no better than anyone else, and that life is too short.
I am thankful for my daddy, who held my family together and never backed away from the difficult moments.
And finally, I am thankful for Lindsey, who makes me feel so safe in a crazy world, challenges me every day, and makes me happier than I thought I could be.

Happy Thanksgiving! I love you all.






Monday, November 14, 2011

I Feel It All

Last week, in the span of two hours, my television made me cry four separate times. First, I cried because of a Google Chrome commercial. Then I cried twice during a DVR-ed episode of "Anderson" (Anderson Cooper's new daytime show) about teen bullying. Next, I cried after seeing a particularly harsh viewer comment CNN decided to share with me about my relationship harming future generations. Finally, I cried when I saw footage of Occupy Dallas--specifically, a sign that read "My husband died because I lost my job and my insurance. Enjoy your bonus." The moral of this story is: I cry a lot. I am an equal-opportunity crier. A situation need not affect me at all to have me in tears.

But then, there are the situations that do affect me. The ones that don't fade away with the next commercial, or the next offensive GOP debate answer. There are times when the politician, or the facebook status, or the news alert hits close to home. Those moments trigger the tears that lead to the exasperated eye rolls, the uneasy shoulder pats and, inevitably, the question I've never understood: "Why do you let it bother you so much?" I've yet to answer this particularly well, but I'm going to take a stab at it here.

When I speak to someone about the pain caused by some injustice, this is the response I often receive (or, it's cousin "Try not to let it bother you so much"). Sometimes the event won't affect me directly, but sometimes it's undeniably personal. In these more personal situations, I can understand where these responses come from; I'm no stranger to the impulse to comfort and to fix. People don't want to see me upset, and when there's a clear "villain" in the situation it can be easy from the outside to see a simple path to relief: That person is ignorant, so you shouldn't let it bother you.  But this logic confuses me, and I feel like I'm always missing a link in the chain. What is it about ignorance that calls for a numb reaction? I suppose it's less hurtful than if it were malicious, but hurtful nonetheless. The end point is the same regardless of the intent: that crappy law was still passed, my dad's last remaining immediate family member still won't be at our wedding, and that bullied child is still dead. The ignorance itself is sad. We couldn't reach that person. Our efforts weren't enough. And, while too easy to forget, there are real consequences to that ignorance.

Perhaps that's what underlies my emotional reactions to the events that don't affect me directly: in my mind, they do. While I would not have thought to describe it in such eloquent terms, the African philosophy of Ubuntu that I've learned through my sister Steph does hit close to home. "I am because we are". I am able and good when you are able and good, but just as important, I am diminished when you are diminished. I am part of the system that contributes to that person's difficult road. We all are. That doesn't mean we are to blame, but it does mean that I feel connected to their struggle. And furthermore, I often think "That could have been me". My life experiences have taught me that bad things don't just happen to other people, they can (and do) happen to me and my family. Seeing or even imagining the pain from someone else's tragedy brings me back to my own. That perspective is part of me. No matter what hat I put on, even the Clinical Social Worker hat, I don't think that perspective should be changed. My reactions are not pathological--they are a product of my experiences. They may not be comfortable for either of us, but they are real.  

If this sounds self-righteous or like I'm trying to martyr myself, I think you are missing the point. We all have unique ways of reacting to the awful happenings around us. We may write about it online, make it our career, make a phone call to a lawmaker, talk about it with our friends or partners, update our facebook status, or even turn away for a while when it's too overwhelming. We each have the right to our own experience, and this is mine. It is genuine, it is authentic, and sometimes it will annoy you. So, I suppose the simple answer to "Why do you let it bother you so much?" is: "I don't know any other way".

Photo by Laura McAndrew, of the wall outside Abbey Road Studios.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

1,138

On Thursday the Senate Judiciary Committee will meet to consider the Respect for Marriage Act, a bill introduced by Sen. Dianne Feinstein that would repeal the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA--enacted in 1996 to ban gay marriage on the federal level). While this is obviously an exciting step in the fight for equality, we shouldn't get too excited. DOMA is being challenged in court already, but House Republicans have pledged to continue to defend it despite (because of?) Obama's refusal to do so. In fact, they hired a fancy attorney who they're paying $575/hour, up to a max of $500,000. Classy, yes? I thought so too. The next time someone tells you their tax dollars shouldn't be used to pay for your partner's health benefits, I encourage you to cite this fact.

But I digress.

In honor of this new bill, I'd like to dedicate a blog post to the harm done by DOMA.

First of all, it arguably (read: does) violates the Full Faith and Credit clause of the U.S. Constitution, since it allows states to not recognize gay marriages performed in other states. Further, regardless of one's beliefs about state vs. federal rights to define marriage, the fact remains that DOMA precludes states from offering its residents full equal protection under the law. Gays who get married in a state that recognizes marriage equality are still unable to access the federal benefits and protections of marriage.

That brings me to the gigantic list of federal benefits gays will never have access to, regardless of how cool their state is, until DOMA is repealed. I've listed below the United States General Accounting Office's 2004 update (the most recent) on the statutory provisions involving marital status added to the United States Code in between 1996 and 2003. To clarify, this list only includes benefits that were ADDED to the existing list after DOMA was enacted. To date, there are a total of 1,138 federal benefits Linds and I cannot access. If that makes you angry, get involved with one of the many organizations working to push the Respect for Marriage Act.

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.



v  Child and Family Services/Aid : Definitions
v  Exclusion of certain individuals and entities from participation in Medicare and state health care programs
v  Recovery of SSI overpayments from other benefits
v  Benefits and beneficiary protections (Medicare)
v  Payments to Medicare + Choice organizations
v  Contracts with Medicare + Choice organizations
v  Public Health Service: Definitions
v  Public Health Service: Determinations; appeals
v  Programs for Older Americans : General Provisions-Nutrition
v  Programs for Older Americans : Definitions
v  Public Safety Officers’ Death Benefits
v  Grants to Combat Violent Crimes against Women
v  Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program
-          Compensation and benefits to be provided
-          Separate treatment of certain uranium employees
-          Treatment, Coordination, and Forfeiture of Compensation and Benefits
-          Exclusivity of remedy against the United States and against contractors and subcontractors
v  Grants for state domestic violence coalitions (Definitions)
v  National and Community Service State Grant Program : Administrative Provisions/Evaluation
v  National Affordable Housing : Definitions
v  Eligibility under first-time home-buyer programs
v  Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement/Violence against Women
-           Civil rights
-           Training provided by grants
v  Intercountry Adoptions
v  Veterans' Benefits
v  Hospital, Nursing Home, Domiciliary, and Medical Care: Extended care services
v  Medical care for survivors and dependents of certain veterans
v  Benefits for Children of Vietnam Veterans
v  Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance
-          Person insured; amount
-          Deductions; payment; investment; expenses
v  Burial Benefits : Headstones, markers, and burial receptacles
v  Transfer of entitlement to basic educational assistance:  members of the Armed Forces with critical military skills
v  Priority of service for veterans in Department of Labor job training programs
v  Waiver of recovery of claims by the United States
v  Prohibition on providing certain benefits with respect to persons who are fugitive felons
v  Veterans Outreach Services Program : definitions
v  Normal Taxes and Surtaxes
v  Determination of Tax Liability
v  Credits Against Tax
v  Nonrefundable Personal Credits
v  Child tax credit
v  Hope and lifetime learning credits
v  Tax imposed on individuals
v  Computation of Taxable Income
v  Items Specifically Excluded from Gross Income
v  Certain death benefits
v  Additional Itemized Deductions for Individuals
v  Medicare + Choice MSA
v  Interest on education loans
v  Pension, Profit-Sharing, Stock Bonus Plans, Etc.
v  Roth IRAs
v  Qualified tuition programs
v  Coverdell education savings accounts
v  Special Rules for Electing Large Partnerships
-           Other modifications
-           Electing large partnership defined
v  Treatment of property acquired by decedent dying after December 31, 2009
v  First-time home-buyer credit for District of Columbia
v  Taxable Estate
v  Family-owned business interests
v  Termination
v  Gift Tax
v  Transfers
v  Special rules for allocation of GST exemption
v  Returns and Records
v  Relief from joint and several liability on joint return
v  Returns of brokers
v  Agreements for payment of tax liability in installments
v  Tax Treatment of Partnership Items
v  Limitations on credit or refund
v  Government Organization and Employees
-          General Provisions
-          Merit system principles
o   Merit system principles
o    Prohibited personnel practices
v  Examination, Certification and Appointment
-           Civil service; generally
v  Relocation expenses of an employee who is performing an extended assignment
v  Overseas Differentials And Allowances
v  Long-term Care Insurance
-           Definitions
-           Availability of insurance
-           Contracting authority
v  Treatment of charitable trusts for members of the armed services and other governmental organizations
v  Quadrennial quality of life review
v  Health care coverage through federal employees’ health benefits program:  demonstration project
v  Annuities based on Retired or Retainer Pay
v  Survivor Benefit Plan
v  Election to discontinue participation:  one-year opportunity after second anniversary of commencement of payment of retired  pay                                                                                  
v  Military Child Care
v  Child care services and youth program services for dependents:  financial assistance for providers
v  Basic allowance for housing
v  Travel and transportation allowances:  dislocation allowance
v  Travel and transportation allowances:  transportation for survivors of deceased member to attend the member’s burial ceremonies
v  Family separation allowance
v  Workforce Investment Definitions
v  National emergency grants
v  Surface owner protection
v  Public Safety Officers' Death Benefits
v  Educational Assistance to Dependents of Civilian Federal Law Enforcement Officers Killed or Disabled in the Line of Duty
v  Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program
-           Compensation and benefits to be provided
-           Separate treatment of certain uranium employees
-           Exclusivity of remedy against the United States and against contractors and subcontractors
v  Admission Qualifications For Aliens; Travel Control of Citizens And Aliens
v  Requirements for sponsor’s affidavit of support
v  General classes of deportable aliens
v  Removal proceedings
v  Cancellation of removal; adjustment of status
v  Voluntary departure
v  Penalties for disclosure of information
v  Mail-order bride business
v  Restricting Welfare and Public Benefits for Aliens
v  Foreign student monitoring program
v  Bipartisan Trade Promotion 
v  United States—Chile Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act
v  Indian Health Care Mental health services
v  Indian Land Consolidation
-          Descent and distribution
-           Trust and restricted land transactions
v  Native American Housing Assistance and Self-Determination
v  Housing Assistance for Native Hawaiians
v  Supportive housing for the elderly
v  Mortgage Insurance
-           Definitions
-           Rental housing insurance
-           Cooperative housing insurance
v  Bank Holding Companies
v  National Consumer Cooperative Bank : Eligibility of cooperatives
v  Aid to Small Business
v  Loans for plant acquisition, construction, conversion, and expansion
v  Consumer Credit Protection : Scope of prohibition
v  Agricultural Credit
-          Delta Regional Authority
-           Northern Great Plains Regional Authority
v  National Board on rural America
v  Crimes and family violence
v  General rules for civil forfeiture proceedings
v  Interstate stalking
v  Higher Education Resources and Student Assistance
v  Grants to combat violent crimes against women on campuses
v  Judiciary and Judicial Procedure : Certain acts, records, and proceedings and the effect thereof
v  Rural Domestic Violence and Child Abuse Enforcement
v  Education and Training for Judges and Court Personnel in State Courts
v  Transition to Teaching : Participation agreement and financial assistance
v  Native Hawaiian Education : Findings
Civil liability of the United States