Monday, July 27, 2015

On Marriage

Yesterday marked exactly three years since I last updated this blog. I truly never thought I would touch it again, but the combination of recent feels and reminders of its existence via the 'On this Day' Facebook app has pulled me back in. I have a lot to say.

Since I last wrote here, my partner changed her name. McKinney and I had an incredible, transcendent, love-filled and memorable wedding. We took vacations. We moved. We each began challenging new jobs. We adopted our son Jax. We grew in our understanding of our place in this world. And then this past Friday, we had a legal ceremony that summed up years of ambivalence and complexity around marriage, civil rights, identity, activism, and our place in all of this.

I never questioned that I would get married. I am privileged to have three parents who have modeled all of the good that marriage can be. Marriage meant having a rock, a partner, a unit. Marriage was strength and promise and commitment and process. Marriage was work, and joy, and forever. Marriage was an agreement to wait out the tough weeks/months/years on faith that this particular bond was a lifelong journey that paid its participants in a unique and unmatched sense of connectedness, belonging and safety.

These expectations have played out in good and bad ways since I began dating. Age 20 brought my first serious relationship, a romantic mismatch based on friendship and mutual denial of gayness. Two years out from the first manifestation of my mental illness, one year out from being raped, and steeped in layers of self-loathing that are still unraveling nearly a decade later, I latched onto this companion and the finally-realized validation he brought that I was loveable, attractive, and worthy. Like so many of my friends, my college relationship was spent grasping at traces of respect and affection from someone who wouldn't, couldn't, give me the kindness I didn't know I deserved. He's not a bad person. He gave me what he wanted to, and I felt that's all I could get. Instead of leaving a relationship in which I was constantly disappointed, my solution was marriage. That would bring me the stability and security I was desperately seeking. We talked about it. We began planning out a future. And then he abruptly but wisely ended it. At the time I was devastated. In hindsight, it was a gift. As I healed and gained perspective, I was disgusted with myself for confusing desperation with commitment, and companionship with a healthy relationship. Marriage became something very unattractive then. If I had confused its place and purpose once, I would surely do it again. Even serious relationships seemed like a terrible idea. I sneered at my friends from high school who were beginning to get married and congratulated myself on wising up about the realities of the world. 

It took a couple months of dating McKinney for me to begin to understand that I hadn't, in fact, been wrong about marriage. I had been wrong about myself and wrong about him. As a healthier and more self-assured human, dating someone who perfectly balanced support and challenge and offered unconditional respect and love, the prospect of marriage returned to my consciousness not as a solution to a crappy relationship, but as an affirmation of a commitment we both had already made. Imagining a life with McKinney was natural and easy. Throughout a first year together filled with unemployment, family issues and BRCA testing, we grew into a faith that nothing could break us. The subsequent years have brought their own challenges and that faith has strengthened exponentially. I'm not sure when I knew that I would marry McKinney, but I do know that the idea felt entirely different this time around. Easy, happy, free. Inevitable.

Throughout wedding planning, I didn't hide my rage about the lack of legal recognition for our union. Beyond the obvious principles of inequality and discrimination, I was genuinely afraid to not have those protections. Yes, we have chosen to pay over $1,000 a month for a 1,000 square foot apartment in order to live in the Ann Arbor bubble and not worry about being gay bashed, fired or evicted. But those who are close to me know that one of the biggest manifestations of my anxiety disorder is my anticipation of McKinney's untimely death. Many, if not most, of the legal protections afforded to married couples involve illness and death. My fixation on this was somewhat inevitable. I felt genuinely righteous in my rejection of the idea that we needed a marriage license to be married. I also desperately wanted that marriage license.

Throughout Michigan's legal battle over same-sex marriage since early 2012, I admired McKinney's indifference to the process. Consistent with her worldview, she felt no desire whatsoever to be approved of and endorsed by the government. She of course understood the practicalities of gaining those legal protections, but never joined me on the emotional roller coaster of the legal process. So when she returned from the beach on family vacation last month to me jumping up and down about the SCOTUS decision, we were on somewhat of a different page. My excitement turned to panic quickly. Now that this was available to us, we needed to take advantage of it immediately. Peaceful and gorgeous West Michigan is extremely conservative in both politics and culture. I imagined McKinney getting into an accident during the week we were vacationing there and landing in a hospital that wouldn't let me see her, all because we had waited to get our marriage license. As intrusive thoughts tend to, this image would not leave my mind. I was fixated on driving back to Ann Arbor to get the license that day. I veiled this in other reasoning: Kristen was in town from Arizona and I wanted her to see the ceremony; I wanted to be there for the mass weddings and block party celebration; we had waited for 2.5 years and I didn't want to wait anymore. But underneath that was fear. And that fear is what has tipped my ambivalence about getting a marriage license in its favor. 

McKinney's neutral reaction to the SCOTUS decision, once I was able to come down from my panic, brought me back to a more ambivalent and nuanced space around this decision. I've been talking about the importance of marriage equality for over a decade. Now that legal marriage was an option, was it really right for us? Obtaining the license felt like an erasure of McKinney's principles, from my perspective. Even I, who had never before questioned that this is what I wanted, began to feel gross about signing on to pick up scraps of civil rights immediately after they were offered, after a fight that shouldn't have been necessary. I also felt a fair amount of dissonance about celebrating this win while watching the number of murders of trans women climb daily, and while watching the nation react to the horror of the Charleston white supremacist terrorist attack by defending the confederate flag. The marriage equality movement has been financed, publicized and won at the expense of more pressing issues like housing and employment discrimination, health disparities and violence against trans folks. Reaping the benefits and privileges of this unbalanced and unfair trajectory of LGBTQ political activism felt, and still feels, gross. There's no other word for it.

But we did it. We ultimately decided that regardless of how our new access to a marriage license is politically situated, we were unwilling to sacrifice the benefits of a legal marriage. I don't feel guilty, but I don't feel particularly celebratory either. To be honest, my announcement of our new legal status on facebook was to prevent having to continue answering questions about our plans. I'm very grateful to no longer have to worry about social security benefits and hospital visits. I'm very grateful to be coming up on my third anniversary with someone who supported my need to obtain this legal status despite her ambivalence about it. I'm grateful to no longer have to answer questions about when we're going to "get for-real married". And I'm cautiously optimistic that the white cis men at the helm of the LGBTQ political machine will fulfill their promise to put just as much energy, time and money into a more inclusive fight now that marriage equality is out of the way.

I decided to write this for several reasons. First, I'm procrastinating data analysis. Second, these thoughts have been weighing on me for weeks and I haven't felt comfortable discussing them. Third, I wonder if this blog will again become an opportunity for me to explore experiences that are more complex than is comfortable, and issues that are silenced when they should be amplified.

We'll see.

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 ( (“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 ( (Basically, How to Avoid Being or Raising a Gay)
3) Homosexuality ( (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,
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.