Two women seeking equality in a state where some couples are more equal than others.

Friday, November 21, 2014

This Beautiful Heart, Or Why I Love Rebecca

People, including me, thought I was straight for a long time. I dated only men before Rebecca. Some have asked me when I knew, or how this happened, or even why I like her. These first two questions are hard to answer, exactly. I can't say that I woke up one day and knew that I'm a lesbian. As for how this happened - how does it ever happen when people fall in love?

But telling you why I love her is not a hard thing. Telling you why we belong together isn't either. Depending on your point of view, maybe this will help you understand that members of same sex couples feel the same way about their spouses that you do about yours. Maybe it will convince you that our stories are not so different. I hope that it will convince you, most of all, that love is about more than sex and what genitalia the other person has.

Rebecca and I met the first week of freshman orientation at Michigan State. We lived on the same floor that year. I can't say that it was love at first sight, or even that we immediately became fast friends. Later in the year, we both needed friends who were accepting and drama free, and we found each other. She moved off campus sophomore year; I stayed in the same dorm. Near the end of the year, I started praying for a new roommate; my current one was moving off campus.

Just about the last day to change housing assignments, Rebecca contacted me. Her housing plans had fallen through; did I have a roommate yet?

And thus, we ended up roomies. And then best friends. I remember the day I first realized that I loved her, not in a couple's sense, but as a friend. She was sick. I was behind on my reading, which for me as a star student was a big deal, but I decided to make her soup instead of finishing my assignment.

Before I left for Ecuador, we signed a lease off campus. Our goodbye was tearful.

The next summer, I came back to East Lansing; she interned for a pharmaceutical company in Chicago. We didn't see much of each other. One evening, she called me in tears to tell me that she had had a crisis of conscience and quit. She couldn't handle how unethical she felt her project assignment was. She didn't want to work in big pharma. She wanted to be a doctor and actually help people.

Living off campus with her was a great experience. We started to share friend groups - hers from back home and mine from Bible study. Her crisis of conscience continued to influence her. She had some health issues, and the process of applying to med school was stressful. At this point, we both had boyfriends. We had deep conversations. We hosted a lot of casual social events. I started learning what it would be like to own a home where all were welcome anytime. We brainstormed about a goat farm in Detroit. She supported me when my boyfriend left. I dreamed of living close to her, platonically, and having our kids back and forth between houses.

Here was this woman who was funny, smart, and ambitious - my equal - yet somehow chill and able to ground me. Her dreams were big, but I had every faith that they were worthwhile and she would attain them. Her values - for honesty, compassion, equity, and equality- were lived visibly. Beyond that, she dreamed with me. I felt synergy. I was willing to compromise and sacrifice because I trusted that she was a partner in ministry.

I had grown disillusioned with the church as I knew it. It was never going to accept me for the woman I was. I wasn't going to fulfill the purposes I was designed for living according to a legalistic system rooted in tradition that disadvantaged women.

It was a choice that was hard and easy at the same time. I had joined my heart, life, and plans with Rebecca. There wasn't room left for anyone else. I knew everything would change. I couldn't have known how much. If we knew all of our future pain, I believe most of us would be bowled over by despair. But I was ready to face it with her.

When she came out to me and asked me to go with her to medical school, I said  yes, knowing that it would make my grad school applications much more difficult. And then, when she asked if she could kiss me for the first time, I said yes. 

The last five years have validated that decision. She is a doctor, and an osteopath at that, because of her commitment to their principles, and a member of the National Health Services Corps. She dreams of working in academic med to bring underserved students into medicine and strong students into family practice. She supports me in pursuing my goals. We have started a tiny nest egg toward a down payment for the house where all are welcome. We routinely have dinner guests. 

It's not perfect. Nothing is this side of heaven. But people who see us together, really see us, know that we aren't just a couple, we're a team. She is my helpmate and I am hers.

I will leave you with the greatest commandment: to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself.


Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Fighting the Fight or Flight Response

Given how much stress I've been under lately, between some difficult family and church situations as well as transitions going on with my role within the company for which I work, it's not shocking that I've spent a lot of time with my nervous system in fight or flight mode. One theory for why racial minorities suffer worse health across all economic profiles is that they operate in this mode almost constantly because of the number of microaggressions they experience throughout the day. As an LGBT woman, I can sympathize with that.

The problem is that I'm not very strong or fast, so fight or flight is never going to do any good. I suppose I could translate that into an argument with someone and attempt to fight verbally, but when I'm that angry/frustrated, I can't say that I'm at my most cogent.

I also read somewhere that they way we respond to stress or anger trains our brain and body for the appropriate way to respond the next time. I can't say that I've always responded well. I've resorted to stress eating, or perseverating on things that upset me, or sometimes even ideation of self harm. None of these responses are going to help me long term, so I've been trying to retrain myself (in not such a different method that I've been trying to retrain my tastebuds to live with less sugar).

So what am I trying to do when I'm upset? Basically, the nervous system response I'm trying to cultivate is often called tend and befriend. I'm trying to make relationship and nurturing the basis of my stress response - essentially, to choose love as an automatic reaction to stressful situations.

That means calling friends to talk when I'm upset to get new perspectives or to find out what others have done in similar situations. That means snuggling my cats. That means cooking to feed people. That means checking in with students, encouraging them, and offering high expectations for them, as well as remembering that no matter how difficult things might be, I do this for them. It means relaxing into other people's care for me. It sometimes means forgiving myself or others in the name of relationships. Last year, I planted tulips so that I would have something to look forward to - and checking the shoots in the spring every day was a great opportunity to congratulate myself for making a good choice.

I'm not there yet. I haven't arrived. But I think I'm moving toward reaching out. I'm taking positive steps. I hope that you will take them with me.

Monday, November 10, 2014

I Eat Everything; I Support that You Don't

Some of you who are friends with me on Facebook may have noticed some of the hashtags I use:

#vegan #veganoption #glutenfree #vegetarian #dairyfree

These are pretty self explanatory.

And sometimes: #nofoodinmyfood

This is generally a reference to something that removes two or more food allergens - it's a little playful, but all in fun.

The last one I use pretty often is:

#thisfoodcontainsfood

This sometimes means that my food contains a lot of allergens, but it also means that it isn't processed. It's from scratch, from wholesome ingredients, and made with love. I eat everything, so this is fine for me.

But many of you have noticed that I post a lot of dishes that omit allergens anyway. Those of you who have come for dinner know that I will always ask you if you can't eat certain things. This can be a little inconvenient sometimes, but if I'm only omitting one or two things, I enjoy the challenge. It makes cooking into a little bit of a game.

That's not why I do it, though.

I do it for the look on a person's face when they thought they couldn't eat something, and they can. I make it because my loved ones feel extra loved. I make it because strangers and acquaintances are surprised and warmed by having good, thoughtful food that's nutritious and accessible. For me, food is love.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

A (Now) Open Letter to a Church

This was written months ago during a series called Stuff Christians Say at the church Rebecca and I currently attend. One week specifically addressed Stuff Christians Say about Sex, and this was my plea to the speaker.

Dear Church Community,

I'm not sure what your plan is for Sunday, but I'm intrigued. As an openly gay woman, I've had interesting experiences with this. Definitely the stereotype many Christians have is that a gay lifestyle (and there is just one) involves lots of clubs, hookups, casual relationships, etc. Many also imply that people in same sex relationships cannot really be Christians or that they are intentionally ignoring passages of the Bible that "definitively prove" that being gay or having gay sex is a sin, probably the worst one. This attitude hyper sexualizes and demeans gay people and their relationships, particularly by deciding, often without getting to know them, to judge gay marriages solely on sex, not on love, commitment, grace, encouragement, and being a helpmate as God designed us to be. This attitude pushes many people away from the church. For me, I have made a conscious decision to stay in the church, but even at churches that are relatively accepting, I find myself distracted from spiritual growth and the beauty of the Gospel by feeling that I have to either inwardly or outwardly defend my marriage.

I have never had intercourse with anyone but my wife, although we weren't married at the time, partially because of the legislation in Michigan. By continuing to support marriage inequality or remaining silent, the church is preventing people from having a sexual relationship that fulfills God's (and conservative society's) ideals.

In terms of lifestyle, I think that many straight Christian couples would be surprised how alike our day to day lives are. Currently, our daily lives are more influenced by Rebecca's residency and our lack of money than they are by being lesbians.

I don't know if this is helpful in any way. I also sent another church leader a list of stuff Christians say about LGBT issues (love the sinner, hate the sin; it's not a worse sin than addiction, murder, adultery; and it's not our place to judge). He said he was considering whether to include one of those.

Blessings,

Erin

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Love and Risk: Choosing Love when it Hurts

I should be doing lesson prep right now, but this post has been weighing on me for a while now, and I have to share it.

I recently returned to teaching - especially high school teaching in a public school context. I had missed it desperately during my year as a Ph.D. student working in an administrative position. I didn't realize how much I loved teaching - circulating, guiding, discussing, bonding - until I wasn't doing it. At all. I realized that sitting in front of a computer, doing paperwork, and attending administrative meetings was never going to bring me joy. I am deeply grateful for the many people who do these things and do them well. They allow so many other people to do their jobs.

What I didn't remember about teaching after a break, particularly a break from in-school work (I'd been teaching retail classes and tutoring sessions for a for-profit test prep company), was the amount of risk it was. In my case, it's been a financial risk - the market in Michigan is variable, and the company I work for doesn't guarantee salaries, hours, benefits, etc.

That's not really the risk I mean, though. When I returned to classrooms full of 25 juniors, in at least one case with many from lower income backgrounds, I offered them everything I can. I offered them my classroom management skills. I offered them my test prep expertise. I offered them my content training from undergrad and grad school. In some cases, I have offered knowledge, though small, of their first languages. I even offered my knowledge of motivation theory.

I have also offered them my heart. I have tried to get to know as many students as I can, although I am only there one day per week. I have tried to understand their situations. I have tried to learn and share their dreams. With at least a few, I must be succeeding. One asked me to come to a Powderpuff game. Another wants me to see him in the marching band. One disclosed that her good friend had committed suicide. A few have been excited to tell me about presentations they've seen from college representatives.

I have found great joy in this, amongst all the challenges. Classroom work, for me, is incredibly stimulating - one of the hardest jobs I've ever had. So much can go wrong. But when it goes right, it's magic.

The risk is the pain that can come with that joy. When we choose love, it doesn't make everything okay. It doesn't mean people will love us back. It doesn't mean that we can protect them from everything bad that could happen to them. When I was in administration, there wasn't as much love for me to choose, but there also wasn't the risk of so much pain. I left teaching for a time because I wasn't in a place to handle that kind of pain. I couldn't handle calling CPS so often. I couldn't handle the child with an ashy face and braids from eight weeks ago falling out late to school and stressed because he hadn't gotten breakfast and maybe hadn't had dinner either. I couldn't handle not having custodial services, the children being served moldy grapes for lunch, and blatant safety/fire code violations.

I hope that now I am able to understand what is and isn't mine to handle. I hope that I can offer my students everything I have, but recognize when I have no more. I hope that I can continue to fight to practice self-care. But mostly, I hope that I will remember to choose to love. Fiercely. Always. And I hope my students see that. I hope the whole world sees it.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

AP Mobile, the Sixth Circuit, and Marriage Equality: Be Still My Heart

As Gru from Despicable Me once said, "I have pins and needles that I'm sitting on." Since the 6th Circuit heard Michigan's (and several other states') case for marriage equality, we've been awaiting a ruling. It should have come well before now - if I'd delayed a major term paper this long, I probably would have gotten a failing grade on this assignment. An employee in anything other than government probably would have been fired for this much of a delay. But the courts apparently do what they want, despite the impact on those around them.

For those of you who are confused about what is happening, that is understandable. Some of you may believe that a judge already struck down Michigan's ban on marriage equality. This is true - that happened in March. Since then, the state has been unconstitutionally denying same sex couples their rights via a stay on the ruling until the appeal is complete. Republicans have delayed everything as much as possible because they know that the stay/delay combination maintains the status quo.  The 6th Circuit heard the appeal during the summer but hadn't decided anything, so the stay is in place.

So I've been on edge every time an AP Mobile alert comes through, hoping that the 6th Circuit would finally do its job and decide. My preference would have been for them to keep up with the trends from other circuit courts, but even a negative decision would have forced the case to the Supreme Court and some form of resolution. That alert hadn't come. And hadn't come. I had started a list of other ways we could get marriage equality, but then Michigan re-elected Rick Snyder and Bill Schuette, both of whom have either pushed or not resisted the homophobic agenda of Michigan Republicans.

I was sitting in a quiet classroom proctoring when today's alert came, and I glimpsed something about a federal appeals court. All it said was that the 6th had upheld these states' right to discriminate, with no linked full-length story. A web search brought up this Think Progress story that gives a little more detail about what is likely to happen next.

But I didn't really need to read that to know that we're headed up to the Supreme Court. I am disappointed that the stay will not be lifted shortly. I continue to be concerned about what will happen come tax time and to worry about whether my family is sufficiently defended.

I am encouraged, though, that at least we are moving. I believe that justice delayed is justice denied, so forward movement here likely means that we will have equality soon. I believe that work, injustice, and discussion expand to fill the allotted time as long as the well-meaning will let them. At least the 6th Circuit has ended its discussion so that someone else can take it up.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Beautiful Brussels Sprouts

It's been quite a while since I posted anything about food. I've had a lot of other things on my mind, and the LGBT civil rights/personal narrative posts have gotten more readership. However, I know some of you find the way I cook interesting and don't want to neglect y'all.

I grew up thinking I didn't like Brussels sprouts, like much of the American public. It is true that I don't like them steamed or from frozen - they end up bland and often lose the lovely texture I enjoy.

How do I prepare them? This isn't a recipe (for a recipe similar to this one, check this out); it's more of a guide or strategy. There are no exact quantities because I don't really measure much.

Step one: Heat some flavorful form of fat in a large skillet (I use a wok-style pan, but anything will work). I'll use butter or render the fat out of a few pieces of bacon, but I've heard of using rendered duck fat, and a good regional or infused olive oil will work for my vegan friends. If you want the smoky flavor of a bacon without exploiting an animal, sprinkle smoked paprika over the onions in the next step.

Step two: When the fat is warm - not too hot, especially if you're using butter, but enough that a drop of water will sizzle - add sliced or diced onions to taste and a few cloves of minced garlic if you like. Lightly salt and pepper these. You can also add a sliced apple or other fall fruit - pears, perhaps - at this point, and fresh/frozen/dried cranberries (if you want these to remain crisp, hold off and add them with the Brussels sprouts).

Step three: While these cook, strip the Brussels sprouts off the stem (if you want to skip this, buy a bag of fresh ones shortly before you prep these, but they keep better on the stem). Cut off the ends and slice them in halves or quarters so that they're bite size.

Step four: When the onions are crisp tender, add the Brussels sprouts. Drizzle them with something acidic - lemon juice, a flavorful balsamic vinegar, or whatever else you like. If the onions have absorbed too much of the fat you used to start, add a little more here. The Brussels sprouts will absorb more and sort of caramelize in it, and this will temper some of the bitterness that most people dislike. If you haven't added your cranberries (or raisins, or chopped dates, or whatever dried fruit you like), add them now.

Step five: When the Brussels sprouts are browning on the cut sides, and the leaves look softened and a little translucent as though they've soaked up the vinegar and fat, turn the burner off.

Prepping to serve: At this point, if you are not a vegan, you can sprinkle some kind of cheese over top. I really like the bitterness and creaminess of a freshly crumbled Gorgonzola, but Bulgarian or Greek feta or freshly grated Parmesan will also work. If you are a vegan, I've never tried it, but you could use a slightly firm avocado that you've salted and tossed with something acidic here perhaps. You can throw a warmly flavored nut over top - I like pecans or slivered almonds, but toasted pine nuts or pistachios should work. If you are nut free, consider using toasted sunflower seeds.

If you used the cheese, wait a few minutes for it to melt slightly and toss gently. Serve out of the skillet, transfer to a pretty serving dish, or plate up. If you've used the cheese and nuts, that combined with the protein in the Brussels sprouts should probably give you enough protein to make this a one dish meal, but if not or if you like extra protein, serve with chicken or pork.