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.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011


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