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



Monday, October 31, 2011

I Have Now Found a Photographer AND a Wife

 
"Long-time readers"  know that I posted back in July about my search for a wedding photographer. Those who know me well, including my thankfully-non-judgmental fiance, also know that at the time I had an Excel spreadsheet of over 40 photographers I was researching. I always struggle with making decisions, but this went above and beyond my usual ambivalence. Finding a balance between cost and talent was proving to be nearly impossible, and the search was made more complicated by my insistence on only hiring vendors who support marriage equality. (Yes, five photographers out of the 15 I actually contacted never even responded to my inquiry, which included a short paragraph about our gayness and desire to hire people who support marriage equality. Yes, I emailed them all a second time to make sure the email wasn't lost.)


Enter Ms. Heather Jowett. She's a UM alum. She takes stunning photos. She facilitated IGR dialogues, for crying out loud. In short, she is the perfect choice.






I knew she was the right choice for us after reading this in her initial response:

"I'll address the issue of same-sex marriage first.  I am definitely a supporter of marriage equality and when I first got into this business, I vowed not to turn someone away because of who they were marrying, even though I recognize that it could create a backlash for my business.  To be honest, I don't want the sort of people who would hold my decision to shoot a same sex wedding against me as clients.  I am a self proclaimed bleeding heart liberal and have friends of all attractionalities and gender identities, so I would definitely be comfortable shooting your wedding, and pleased as punch to do so.  If you facebook stalked my profile, you would find plenty of evidence to back that claim up."

In case you didn't catch that, she used the phrase "attractionalities and gender identities" in her first email to us. SOLD. Of course, the photos are gorgeous too--I picked out some of my favorites from her blog and have included them here (clearly I have a thing for black and white photos).

And so, hooray! Photographer has been booked. Check out her website (she just posted a lovely mission statement!) and stay tuned for our engagement photos in December :)

Monday, October 24, 2011

On Hate and Progress

The state of Michigan has many things to offer (lakes that are great, cider mills, Bell's, etc.), but progressive politics is not one of them. There are currently FOUR bills that have been taken up by the Michigan House or Senate aimed at taking away rights and protections for LGBTQ people. A quick overview:

1) A bill to ban public/state employers from offering health care benefits to domestic/same-sex partners of their employees has passed the House and will move to the Senate soon. It will likely pass, and Governor Snyder has already pledged to sign it.

2) A Rep from my hometown introduced House Bill 5039, which would void local ordinances that prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

3) Both the House and Senate have introduced their own bills to allow counseling students to deny assistance to clients if they feel that treating them would violate their religious freedom--meaning, of course, they can leave the gays out in the cold with no repurcussions, despite their obligations under the ethical codes of every counseling profession.

4) A bullying bill is on the Senate floor--which is better than nothing, but includes no protected categories (including sexual orientation and gender identity) or reporting requirements.

Needless to say, it's a scary time to be gay in Michigan. These bills are based on and justified by hate and bias--our families are not families, and our rights are liabilities. In an attempt to fight this onslaught, my friend Laura and I decided to go beyond the usual letters and phone calls and set up meetings with two legislators (or rather, their staffers) in Lansing on Friday. I was super pumped to make it rain rainbows all over that town, but once we were actually at the table, I offered nothing but word vomit. I stupidly underestimated how emotional I would be. There was no organization to my thoughts--only desperation and personal anecdotes. Luckily, Laura was much more able to lock it up and present a reasoned argument, and we both left feeling like the trip was worthwhile.

The lesson in all of this for me is one that I've heard many times and will need to hear again and again: It is difficult to set aside anger for the sake of a constructive conversation, but it is the only path to progress. My younger sister Steph seems to have taken this to heart far earlier in life than I've been able to. She recently spoke at the Day of Reflection, an event on the U of M diag with the purpose of showcasing and networking students working for social change. We can all learn from her words, which I've shared below. I have found renewed inspiration for this work through my experiences on Friday and through her example.

I’m gay. Like, really gay. But I’m not here to tell you my coming out story because quite frankly, I’m privileged in that it’s boring and uninspiring. I told my dad and he gave me a warped version of a sex talk to ensure that I understood that even though I couldn’t get pregnant, I was still too young to be having sex at 18 years old. Noted.

And as passionate as I am about rainbows, Necto, toolbelts and coming up with witty signs at marriage equality rallies, my heart belongs to Kenya. I’ve made the trek to Kenya two times and seen my fair share of mudhut shacks, bloated bellies, ethnic violence, drought-ridden farms and positive HIV tests. But the pictures hanging on my wall have no evidence of that – come into my room and you’ll see Katana, my 9 year-old host brother climbing a tree at dusk. You’ll see his sister Pendo rockin’ my lime green shades while she carries around the family’s baby goat. You’ll see Ruth and Yvonne, two students in the writing workshop I facilitated, doing the chicken dance with me. And you’ll see me hugging Anthony, my host father, during our tearful goodbye.

This is the same Anthony that told me he couldn’t vote for Kenya’s constitutional referendum because it had a clause in it allowing homosexual marriage. The same Anthony that responded to my challenging his statement with “Well, it’s just unnatural and God made man and woman for a reason, it’s gross”.  Up until this point, I’d done a great job avoiding the subject. I had begrudgingly removed my rainbow PRIDE wristbands and left my plaid shorts in the comfort of Ann Arbor’s acceptance. I regrettably refrained from disclosing my identity out of a legitimate fear for my life.

How could I even begin to reconcile the fact that I’d flown across the world, depleted my savings and sacrificed a summer to work for people that would want me dead if they found out who I loved? How did I expect to be a voice for the voiceless when I found myself silenced by the very people I hoped to help?

Ubuntu. A simple word to describe an exhaustingly complex answer. I am because we are. A person with Ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, for she has a self assurance that comes from knowing that she belongs to a greater whole and is diminished when others are diminished, when others are oppressed.

When I’m on this Diag working for the ONE Campaign, asking for signatures to pressure US administration to give smarter, more efficient and effective aid to Africa, I hear “there are enough problems here in the US, why should we waste our time helping people across the world?” I used to get frustrated by this perspective and resort to spewing off a list of talking points about our national security, global economy and human morality. But many years and frequent flier miles later I understand what this all boils down to. Why Anthony thinks homosexuality is disgusting and why Americans think Africans are helpless – a lack of connectedness. If I’ve learned one thing through my efforts it’s that we are all connected on more levels than we could ever imagine.

I spent the majority of my time in Kenya facilitating writing workshops in secondary schools. We asked the students to write about themselves – love, loss, friendship and dreams. Once they got over the shock that someone actually cared about what they had to say, let me just say shit got real. One girl wrote about the death of her mother. As I sat there trying to capture the moment on my flipcam, I lost it. My mother passed away when I was 12 and after the session, I sat with the girl and we talked about our cycles of grief. In ten years, I hadn’t had such a valuable conversation about loss as I did that day with Patra. I came to Kenya and learned more about my identity as a gay woman and as a motherless daughter than I did in three years in IGR dialogues at Michigan.

The students poured their hearts out to a point that my partner and I decided their stories could not fall on deaf ears. This was big. Skipping ahead to the ending, a publisher in Florida just finished printing hundreds of copies of Till Human Voices Wake Us, named after a T.S. Elliot poem, an anthology of all these students’ stories. The philosophy and passion we put into editing and compiling the book is the same that allowed me to sleep under the same roof as Anthony after he spewed such blatant hatred towards my community. We are all human, we all have a story and we cannot expect others to understand unless we share. Just as Americans cannot be expected to understand the potential and the hope spread all over the African continent, Africans cannot be expected to understand the LGBT community if none of us are brave enough to tell them our story.

There are literally oceans between us, but if none of us take a risk and do SOMETHING, ANYTHING, those oceans lay dormant. The water may seem calm and peaceful, and who can blame us for wanting to keep it that way. But calm and peaceful doesn’t lead to progress. We face this great divide – between the East and West, developed and developing, gay and straight. Only when we stir things up by talking about identity, challenging hate speech and making sure we don’t go to sleep at the end of the day without having learned something, those oceans start to move. Sure, there will be conflict and it will be uncomfortable. But as we open ourselves to others, those waters rise and we begin to conquer the divide between us. It may sound silly, but I learned a lot from Hanson, yes the mm bop band, when I met them two years ago. One of their lyrics says “I find hope in your hate for me.”

Seems crazy, but it is real. If we can work a little harder to find hope in hate, to see it as an opportunity for growth and progress, then we will move forward. Hate exists all around us but it doesn’t exist alone. For those that choose to challenge it, it’s coupled with hope.

I found hope in someone’s hate for me. My being silenced by my Kenyan family allowed me to better understand the value of giving a voice to the voiceless. Empowering students in Kenya to share their stories will create a ripple effect of understanding, of dialogue and of massive change. I know that. And how could I let someone’s hate stand in the way of such a hopeful possibility? So, members of the Generation Found, I promise you that progress will come when we stand up to hate with compassion and courage. When we believe in the power of stories and when we see the impact to be made by simply sharing our own. Thank you and GO BLUE!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Dear Mom,

Fall is here, and the crisp air reminds me of you. It reminds me of all the time we spent back-to-school shopping at BP, it reminds me of you leaving work early so you could take us to Office Max for all of our school supplies before dinner, it reminds me of you yelling at us from the yard ("Get out here and help your dad and I rake all these leaves!"). You brought home pumpkins for us to carve and would only let daddy use the carving tools. You worked from home for the first week of school so you would be there when we got home to hear how everything went. You dragged us to high holiday services and told us to hang up our fancy temple clothes. You asked dad to make chili.

Today, the falling leaves take me to different memories that I wish I could forget: flashes of hushed phone calls, a fire truck, a worried neighbor, a crying aunt. Eleven years ago today you slipped away from us while Steph and I slept on the couch. Hours later, I sat in my room alone looking out the window, waiting for Kristen to arrive, watching the leaves fall off the trees. Since then, fall has always brought a bittersweet flood of emotions.

But everything seems harder this year. We went to yizkor services on Yom Kippur, like always. My usually numb reactions abandoned me and were replaced with an hour of slow tears. Your yahrzeit service this past Friday used to be an opportunity for me to respect your memory with a Kaddish and a visit to our family shuel. This time, I was overwhelmed by you. I could hear you singing every song. My heart ached during the Mi Scheberach, which I unsuccessfully sang for you countless times while you were sick. I could barely speak the words of the Kaddish through my tears. I asked Lindsey to drive by our old house and lost it. I see you in every inch of that space.

And I think that maybe this is all because of Lindsey. Lindsey, who drove two hours two weeks in a row to support me and honor your memory. Lindsey, who told me she talked to you during the silent prayers. Lindsey, who watched the video you left me and cried and said "I understand you so much better now". I know that you know Lindsey well by now, but I wish you could know her. I wish you could see all the things she does every day to keep me safe and make me happy. I wish you could hear her talk about the students she works with; her compassion reminds me so much of you. I wish you could see her yell at me when I'm mean to Steph, push me to prioritize family, and drive me two blocks to my car so I don't have to walk alone at night. I love her madly, and you would love her too.

Getting married makes me miss you more. I feel more like a "grown-up" than I ever have, and I want you here to help me with that. How will I know what it means to be a good wife? How will I know how to be a good mother? It's heartbreaking to picture myself moving through these beautiful milestones without you. I'm so lucky that you chose the partner you did--he shows me every day how to be a patient and supportive parent. But I need you too.

Please make your presence known this year. Give me signs that you're with me at the dress fittings, the vendor meetings, down the aisle and under the chuppah. Please help me stay focused on the marriage and not get caught up in the details of the wedding. Come to me in moments of stress and whisper "Mommy loves you", like you always did. I promise to listen.

I love you forever,
Diana




A glossary for the non-Jews:

Yizkor: Memorial
Yahrzeit: Anniversary of death
Kaddish: A prayer recited in honor of those who have died
Shuel: Synagogue
Mi Scheberach: A prayer for healing
Chuppah: The canopy a couple is married under

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Sucker Punch

The house voted to eliminate health benefits for domestic partners today. The Senate has already pledged to follow suit, and easily has the votes to do so.

Frustrated. Sad. Disappointed. Scared.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Please Help: Domestic Partner Benefits

I need your help today. Every time something this happens, I react in two ways:

1) I panic, feel extremely hurt and sad, and can't focus/be productive
2) I feel crazy for getting so upset, and feel like no one else cares

Please prove me wrong by reaching out to Michigan legislators today. It looks like they will be voting tomorrow on HB 4770 and 4771, which would bar public employers (like U of M, ahem) from offering health benefits to the domestic partners of its employees. Obviously, this could be a big problem for Lindsey and I down the road. U of M already has to jump through crazy legal hoops to offer benefits to "Other Qualified Adults". Who knows if they'd be able to finagle around this if it passes.

So please, take a minute to read HB 4770 and HB 4771, and then call your state legislators and explain to them that couples like Lindsey and I shouldn't be thrown under the bus in the name of politics. Our health and our lives shouldn't be casualties of a culture war.

Find contact info for legislators here: http://www.house.mi.gov/mhrpublic/

Thank you!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Teachable HoMoments

I have happy tears from this gem at A Practical Wedding about the power we all have to teach young people about equality.

Unfortunately, four-year-olds are not the only folks who could use some education about these issues. We all have opportunities to educate: family-to-family, friend-to-friend, colleague-to-colleague. In social work and public health, we talk a lot about Action Steps. These are specific efforts identified to help reach a goal, and they help us move forward without getting overwhelmed by the big picture.

I'd like to invite you all to challenge yourself to think of a few ways you can have an impact on someone's perspective. Maybe it's forwarding an article to an ambivalent relative, donating to PFLAG, reaching out to legislators to encourage them to support equality, canvassing for the 2012 election (dear god, please do that). Consider using the word "partner" to refer to your significant other. Try calling out the douche behind you in line who calls his friend "gay". (I've found that "I'm gay and I find that extremely offensive" is quite effective for making them shake in their docksides. By the way, if you're uncomfortable calling yourself gay, ask yourself why.)

LGBTQ folks have been yelling about these things for years. We've gotten a lot done, but we can only get so far on our own. Please consider pushing through the awkward and doing something small. Those moments make a difference.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Non-Douchey Gay-Related Correspondence: A Primer

Sometimes, discussing politically-charged topics can be intimidating. These days, the world is so politically correct that it seems we're not allowed to say anything at all! Everyone has a right to free speech, and more traditional/conservative perspectives are being silenced by my gay agenda. I understand that, and I feel just terrible.

In an effort to save you from the extreme discomfort of being called out as as insensitive, close-minded, or homophobic, I'd like to provide some guidance on statements to avoid when talking to a gay like myself.

Scenario One
You are a professional photographer specializing in wedding photography. Your website is a gorgeous testament to your talent for capturing love--photo after photo of beautiful brides and grooms exchanging vows, signing licenses and beginning their life together. A potential client emails you to compliment your work and ask about your stance on marriage equality.

Avoid: "Thank you for your interest in Heteronormative Photography! We would love to provide you with memories that will last a lifetime. We made money off of, erm, i mean, photographed a same-sex wedding a few years ago, so that's no problem."
Avoid: "Thank you for your interest in Heteronormative Photography! We would love to provide you with memories that will last a lifetime. In terms of marriage equality...what can I say? I have several gay friends. I guess it's just a no-brainer! Anyway...=)...so I attached a PDF of my pricing..."
Try: "Thank you for your interest in Heteronormative Photography! We would love to provide you with memories that will last a lifetime. I am so glad that you contacted us. I am a longstanding supporter of marriage equality--love is love, and I am supportive of all committed couples having access to the same rights and protections. I recognize the importance of putting my money where my mouth is, so I'd love to photograph your wedding and use the resulting photos to make my business more inclusive and welcoming to LGBTQ couples."

Scenario Two
You are, amazingly, a presidential candidate. Your husband makes thousands of dollars a year by exploiting LGBTQ youth and selling them the lie that they can change their sexual orientation through therapy. Someone dares to ask you about this in an interview.
Avoid: "You know, these are not the things that America cares about right now. Americans want jobs and a stable economy. I'm not going to discuss those issues that are irrelevant to Americans. And by the way, I'd also like to make sure that the kids who end up dead or on the street because of my husband's malpractice and my hateful rhetoric have no access to health care or social programs."
Try: "Yeah, that's fucked up."

Scenario Three
You are a very conservative, very religious woman. One of your family members tells you that they are getting gay married.
Avoid: "From what you've said, it seems the only acceptable action on my part would be to endorse and celebrate homosexuality. That will not happen. I don't know how you can say I have the right to believe as I want, and that you don't want to be unaccepting of anyone, and then say you are unable to gloss over my decision to not attending your wedding. Also, I remember those times that you came to my church to support me even though you think the pastors are batshit crazy and offensive. I'm still not coming to your wedding though. I don't want to endorse homosexuality."
Try: "I understand that there's a difference between not accepting someone's identity and not accepting someone's hurtful statements about your identity. I understand that you have the right be who you are, and that I don't have the right to be an ass about that. Because I passed fourth grade."

I hope you find these suggestions helpful for navigating encounters with the gays. Stay tuned for the inevitable Part Two to this guide.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

We Hold These Truths to Be Self-Evident

Please read this important post at my favorite blog, A Practical Wedding.

I'm lucky enough to work for a health system that does include sexual orientation in its non-discrimination statement, but Linds does not have that protection. Neither does my sister. Neither do thousands of other gays in this state who are not protected from employment discrimination, housing discrimination, and hate-based violence.

Privilege check.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Finding a Photographer is Harder Than Finding a Wife

Linds and I have about 14 months until the wedding. Tons of time, yes. But we are quickly learning that in the crazy wedding world, things book 18 months in advance. So now that we have a venue and a caterer, the next big hire to tackle is the photographer.

This sounds like it should be simple, right? Wrong. Apparently I am the worst combination of picky and budget-conscious, because all of the photographers I like are crazy expensive.

Here's what we're looking for in a photographer, in order of importance:

1) Supportive of marriage equality. Verbally and emotionally.
2) A photojournalistic, candid-focused style
3) Reliable and accountable (with references)
4) Nice!
5) Experience with same-sex weddings

Unfortunately, every photographer I've encountered who hits all of these points is charging upwards up $2,500 for their services (as they should! they're super talented). And we may end up having to just bite the bullet and pay that much. But I'm still hoping to find a gem who is all of these things for less money.

And so I throw it out to you, social network. Any ideas?

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Ties that Bind

Last week, I was (kind of) enjoying a tempeh reuben at Arbor Brewing Co. when I recieved an email on my Blackberry that was probably the most effective buzzkill (literally) of my life. Most emails that I receive about our wedding result either in giddy elation (YAY!!!! WE CAN HAVE FONDUE AT THE COCKTAIL HOUR!!!) or frustration/rage (Really? If we don't hire a videographer we're going to regret it for the rest of our lives and not remember our wedding? Really.). But this particular email resulted only in tears, leaving me in a dark place over a week later. It contained the announcement that a close relative will not be attending the wedding, as it goes against her beliefs. It also contained the not-at-all-contradictory closing line: "I hope you'll accept me as I've accepted you."

This email was in response to my email announcing that Lindsey and I are getting married. This email was the latest installment in a year-long struggle after finally coming out to her, years after everyone else. This email flew in the face of the direction I thought we were heading in--progress. We had been talking about getting together for dinner, the three of us, so that she could meet Lindsey and we could begin rebuilding our relationship. I thought that 15 months would be enough for her to come around. I thought she would see Lindsey and I together and be forced to start reconsidering her beliefs. I thought she would attend the wedding, be uncomfortable, and put on a smile. I thought we had time.

But without even meeting Lindsey, without seeing me face-to-face in over a year, without any dialogue or discussion, she made her decision. We haven't even sent out Save the Dates yet, and she's already decided not to attend. It's clear that there's no hope there, and that she's already closed her mind and her heart to the possibility of participating in such a beautiful and important event.

And the shittiest part? I'm not even angry. Those who know me know how shocking that is. I don't have even one ember of rage in me to fan, to make the sadness less palpable. All I feel is hurt and anxiety. How could I possibly continue a relationship with her after this? How could I ever see her again and make small talk and pretend that everything's okay? Am I going to have to essentially cut ties with an entire side of my family? She's the only one I see more than once a year as is, and I can't imagine attending family functions with all of that tension on the table, even if everyone else is supportive (which is yet to be determined). How will this affect my immediate family? What would my mom think?

Unfortunately, Lindsey is bearing the brunt of this grieving period. The poor woman can't go a night without talking me down from a crying spell or an anxiety attack. She tells me I'm not crazy, she insists that it's okay to feel awful even though I have it so good, she lets me watch dumb TV because it makes me feel better, and she makes me laugh. God, does she make me laugh. So even though things feel so shaky right now, I'm grateful. I have a partner who makes the worst days bearable, and who loves me enough to sign up for a lifetime of my unique brand of crazy. That's a tie that's not going anywhere.

(So suck it, haters.)

Thursday, July 7, 2011

How My Mom Paid for Cobblestone

This story begins a few weeks ago, on the night my family celebrated Linds' birthday, when my dad brought my mail that had been sent to his house. I rolled my eyes and sighed, because this usually means I paid a parking ticket late and the City of Ann Arbor is writing to gouge me a little bit more. But this time was different--the envelope was from Israel Bonds Direct. What?

At home later that night I used google to decode all of the financial jargon, and realized several things:

1) My mom had purchased an Israel Bond for me, in both of our names, in 1996
2) It was reaching maturity on July 1st
3) Someone was going to mail me a check for $900

Clearly, this was exciting news. I'll spare you the details of the awkward, depressing, lengthy process of removing her name from the account (tip: avoid carrying your mom's death certificate around for a week. it's weird.) and just skip to...

a few days ago, at my weekly sit-down with Linds to go over our budget. We were discussing how to re-allocate money in order to pay off the balance on one of my credit cards, which holds only the rental fee for our reception venue (Cobblestone Farm). We decided to just use the bond redemption check, since it's almost the exact amount as the cost of renting the space.
Then last night, when I glanced at my mom's picture hanging in our "living room", I was hit over the head with a sense of faith in the universe, and her memory, and her spirit. I didn't know this bond existed until three weeks ago, which was almost exactly a month after we booked Cobblestone. The bond just happens to be for nearly the exact amount as the rental fee. The bond that my mom bought, in both of our names.

Sorry, but even this humanist only-marginally-spiritual lady can't write that off. I am overwhelmed with a feeling of connectedness with her. We've been thinking about ways to include her and honor her in the wedding, and I'm sure those will be beautiful and meaningful. But this surprise? Amazing.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Visibility and The Dress

When Linds and I started to talk about getting married, I had a really hard time visualizing myself in a white dress. In fact, by the time we got engaged, I was adamantly opposed to wearing one. I never wear white. I've never been particularly comfortable in white. I'm most definitely not a "virgin" (maybe someday I'll write a post about my disdain for that word), and I am very turned off by the historical context of the White Wedding Dress. Furthermore, I effing love purple and wear it most days. Eggplant, my favorite shade of purple, would also look amazing against our fall theme with lots of orange and yellow accents. I haven't really started dress shopping yet, but whenever someone asks "What are you going to wear?", I've been answering "PURPLE! No wedding dress for me. Gross."

Well. Something very surprising happened last night while Linds and I were at a U of M School of Social Work reunion. The party had moved to Babs, a swanky (relatively speaking) bar downtown. We were sitting right next to the entrance, which is down a long flight of stairs from the street. Around midnight (I know, I was out until midnight. Crazy.), a woman in our group announced that some people who were trying to join us were stuck outside and had been told that no one else would be admitted until a bridal party with a reservation arrived. This definitely piqued my interest, and I spent the next ten minutes glancing at the door every few seconds in anticipation of seeing the group and what they were wearing.  They finally began streaming in and I saw that the bridesmaids were dressed in EGGPLANT. I was thrilled, and unabashedly stared them down in an attempt to make out the details. After a two minute lull in the procession, a fellow bar patron opened the door to leave for the night and shrieked "Ohmygod, THERE'S A BRIDE!!!!". Everyone in our section of the bar turned to look, and when the bride walked through the doors (looking quite uncomfortable, I might add) the entire bar started clapping and cheering for her. I watched her move through the room as women (yes, 100% true in this case) at table after table turned to see her and pointed her out to their friends. And then I was tearing up. And frantically trying to stop. "Am I drunk? What the hell is going on?". I began to social work myself (clinical training = blessing and curse). "Diana, what feeling words are associated with your tears? Where are you feeling the sadness in your body? Can you pull out a cognition for me?" And eventually, there it was: "I want that too."

Then, panic. "Holy shit, Diana. You are a disgrace to all gay women and all liberals and all feminists. How could you want to wear a white dress? How could you be so shallow? You need to be ON. You need to send a MESSAGE...with EGGPLANT." You need, you should, you need. Etc, etc, etc.

Then I looked up and saw Linds, and I landed back in reality. I forgave myself, and smiled, and texted Laura: "I just had a breakthrough at Babs...I want to wear white."

Now let's be clear, before I go any further. Do I want an entire bar of strangers cheering for me? Absolutely not. But do I want people to look at me and know I'm a bride? Yes. Yes I do.

As a gay woman on the femme side of the spectrum, I struggle constantly with visibility. It really bothers me that people assume that I'm straight when they look at me. That may be difficult to understand, but it's difficult to explain--particularly in a blog post. Visibility is important to me, and I realized last night that our wedding will be no exception. I'm embarrassed to admit it, but I do want to be recognized as a bride.  I'm not even sure why, other than the obvious and shallow. But what I am trying to repeat to myself is that I deserve whatever experience I want on that day. I don't need to saddle myself with the pressure of The Big Gay Counterculture Non-White Wedding (and by the way, I've seen pictures of close to a hundred gay lady weddings--and the vast majority involve a white dress).

So. I'll be wearing a white dress, with lots of eggplant accessories. Please don't judge me.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

At a (Potential) Vendor Meeting

Vendor: So what's your fiancee's name?
Diana: Lindsey.
Vendor: What's his last name?
Diana: Her last name is _______.
Vendor: Oh! I'm sorry, I shouldn't have assumed.


YES. That is exactly it.

Not "Oh...." (awkward silence while she stares at the form trying to figure out what to do)

Not "Oh! OMG that's so awesome!!! I have a gay cousin. I bet you know him."

Just a simple apology, and then we moved on. THANK YOU Katherine's Catering.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

We Choose for Ourselves

Linds and I are so lucky to have a large community of supportive people who are thrilled for us. We will always be grateful for that. We also remain mindful that even in the more hurtful moments, we are far luckier than many others who can't even come out safely--let alone have a big gay wedding.

We know this. And still. Some of the questions people have asked about our wedding really surprised me. A sample:

"So you're not technically getting married, right?"
"Isn't that actually called a Commitment Ceremony?"
"Why are you having a ceremony if it isn't legal? Why not just have a party?"

What it comes down to, I think, is that many people--even people who are very supportive--seem to have what I've been calling a "lack of imagination" about the different forms a marriage can take.

This is the form ours is taking:

We are getting married here, in Michigan, where there will be no legal recognition of our relationship--as a marriage or a civil union. We are not going out-of-state to acquire a marriage license, because Michigan's constitution has been amended to block any and all recognition of same-sex marriage licenses issued in other states. We are having a marriage ceremony and reception, which we are calling a wedding. It will look very much like other weddings you've been to, except better. (Just kidding. Mostly.) It will be a little bit Jewish, entirely secular, and yes--very much gay.

And here's why we're doing it this way:

"Commitment Ceremony" feels dry and flat to me. It sounds like accepting a job, or signing a contract--but with cake. It feels like we're being thrown a bone. It feels like being picked last.

Linds and I are getting married. Those words, on their own, carry weight. They carry meaning and history. They tie us to our parents, who committed their lives to each other and created families out of that love. They speak to the hugeness (that's right) of the step we are taking together, to intertwine our lives and move through the world together, for always. A marriage ceremony gives us the opportunity to speak to that commitment, out loud, in front of our community. We think that ritual is important, and that marking our marriage with a ceremony is an important part of the accountability our vows will demand. And perhaps most importantly, we think that the power of that ceremony lies in our hearts and in the hearts of everyone there to support us--not in a piece of paper. That certainly doesn't mean that marriage is the only way, or the right way, to signify a committed relationship. But it's what's right for us.

There are two sides (many, actually) to everything, and this is no exception. I've read about couples who are intentionally staying away from language that includes "wedding" and "marriage" because they don't want people to lose sight of the fact that they have been denied the right to legally marry. I completely understand that, and to be honest, I'm a bit surprised that I'm not jumping on that wagon myself. I'm kind of the poster child for the-personal-is-political.

What I've realized while answering these questions is that our choices are political as well. We are smacking our relationship down on the table, right next to the Obama's and the Clinton's and the [insert fleeting celebrity marriage]. We're saying "We're married too." We're making that choice for ourselves, when it's right for us--not when ignorant fools decide to stop comparing it to bestiality, not when the wedding industry decides to give us some visibility, and certainly not when the government decides to recognize it. We will take our lack of tax benefits and lack of  protection just like we have taken everything else--together. And when things finally change, which they will, we'll stand in line to get that piece of paper--and it will be a very necessary and long overdue component of our marriage.