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

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Christmas Post: Joseph Chose Love

The sermon at our church on Sunday was about Joseph, and I watched The Nativity Story last weekend. Both have me in a state of mind to consider the narrative behind Jesus' birth and the people involved - not as saints in a story that's been retold over and over, but as real people in a narrative that at the time didn't seem to have a happy ending.

Joseph chose love. He didn't understand; of course, the logical interpretation of Mary's pregnancy was that she had cheated. He could have publicly denounced her, clearing his own name of any perceived wrongdoing, and had her stoned to death.

This action would have killed the mother of our Savior; I'm unclear whether they would have waited until after she gave birth (I'm guessing they would have based on some Old Testament law). This could have drastically changed the narrative of grace and salvation, and it would have been a decision based on distrust of the assertions of his intended.

Instead of choosing punishment, his response was to divorce her quietly - to spare her life - and continue to listen to God. When he heard God speak, he didn't dismiss the message. He acted in love and grace in accordance with God's direction, even though I would posit that he did not feel his bewilderment completely lifted.

He chose grace and obedience to God. He chose to believe that Mary had kept her vow, been chosen by God for a great work, and that he had judged her correctly when Joseph chose her (likely for the same virtue for which God chose her) to be his wife. Joseph chose to raise Jesus, the savior of the world, as his own, and in so doing, take a more powerful place in history than he ever could have imagined.

I will not claim to be carrying the Christ child. In fact, it is difficult, given the Sunday school version of the Christmas story I'd been inculcated with, to see any parallels between Mary and my life. However, I have been accused of sexual wrongdoing, and some would argue that I should be publicly disgraced. In some parts of the world, I could be imprisoned or killed. And yet, although I no longer claim to have any idea what God has planned for me, other than to live a life of love and service, I know without a doubt that Rebecca is my helpmate in it. I know that the privilege that God has conferred upon me - the admittedly unmerited favor of intelligence, education, health, home, beauty, and so on - is for something.

I hope that some with the instinct to accuse me without understanding will recognize that I am still the woman of virtue they knew before I came out. I hope that they will consider that they may not know the full story. That what appears to them to be sin, based on custom and a shallow reading, may actual be a higher calling than anything I could have imagined. I hope that they will choose love and grace over punishment and disgrace, as Joseph did. Part of me wonders if some people always looked sideways at Mary and Jesus. I know that some people will probably always look sideways at me, even if my marriage is formalized nationwide, even if I'm an upstanding citizen, even if my hypothetical children grow up to be upstanding citizens too.

But I hope my legacy will be more than sideways glances or worrying what people think of me. I hope it will be one of obedience to the commandment to love God and love others, to sacrifice myself for my friends, to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly. I hope I choose love.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Guest Post: Lesbian Engagement FAQ

Note: this is a guest post from my friend Kate Scheuber. As with my own posts, she is sharing her experience in an attempt to shed light on a complicated situation. Her comments ring true for me too in many ways. I hope my readers will show her lots of love and support.

"When you get engaged, you expect people to be excited for you.  After all, it means you finally found the person who has captured your heart so entirely that you can’t imagine your life without them.  Some people have been.  My brother and his wife immediately took us out to dinner to celebrate.  My fiance’s mother comes over all the time with wedding magazines she picks out specifically because there is a featured lesbian wedding in it.  My cousin who I almost never talk to messaged me to tell me how happy he was for us and that he knew my mom was looking down on me, smiling. My dad even went dress shopping with me.

Other reactions have not been quite as pleasant.  Some people mean well.  But even that comes with its own baggage.  My least favorite part is the questions.  I answer each one diplomatically.  It is incredibly difficult to do so.

When people ask me, “Did she get a ring, too?”, I answer, “Yes, she did.”  In my head, I am thinking, “No, we flipped a coin to see who wins the ring.  Because obviously there can only be one diamond ring in a relationship.”

When people ask, “Which one of you is wearing a suit?”, I answer, “We both are wearing dresses.”  In my head I am wanting to respond, “Not every lesbian couple is Ellen and Portia!”

When people say, “You do realize it is still illegal in Michigan for you two to get married, right?” I want to scream.  I answer “Yes, I do, but we are hoping that is changed before 2016.”  I hold my tongue and do not tell them that do not need to remind me that in the state I love, I am being denied the right to marry the person that I love.  I do not tell them that I feel they are accusing me of simply wanting a party and presents. 
We are choosing to get married in Michigan because that is where the majority of our friends and family reside.  We are choosing to get married in Michigan because we want to share it with them.  

Because that is what is happening on May 21, 2016.  I will be getting married to the love of my life.  Regardless of what some judge somewhere says.  I may not have the paper to prove it, but I will be married.""

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Food Idea: Swiss Chard Curtido

Almost a year ago, I fell in love with curtido. It's sort of a pickled cabbage/cole slaw/salad dish, originally from El Salvador, used to top things like pupusas (a corn dough stuffed with cheese, meat, or other things and then fried kind of like a pancake). This seems to be El Salvador's answer to kimchi, sauerkraut, cole slaw, etc.

This summer, after receiving cabbage in my CSA share from Faith Farm in Detroit, I decided to try my own hand at it. I found this recipe for pupusas and curtido and pulled out my food processor. I followed it pretty carefully the first time, with great results. I took it to a picnic/potluck with a sign that said something like: Curtido (gluten free, vegan). People teased me for having labeled it, but it went over well.

I've toyed with it a little. Instead of the sugar, I run an apple through the food processor and toss it with everything else. If I don't have apple cider vinegar, I've used white balsamic with delicious results. It's pretty flexible as long as you keep the sweet/salty/sour/spicy balance going.

This week, our plan was to make fish tacos. I often make some kind of slaw for this using whatever I can find. This week, we already had Swiss chard (which, along with kale, is high in nutrients and affordable/available this time of year) in the fridge from a lentil soup last week, so I decided to see if I could lightly pickle it. Normally, I think of chard as for cooking, because it can be tough and a little bitter, so I got this going maybe an hour before I had to serve it so that the acid could break it down a little.

I grabbed a couple handfuls of chard (this turned out not to be nearly enough, since we ran out at dinner and I would have eaten this with a spoon for lunch tomorrow) and chopped them up pretty finely, then threw them in a bowl. In a separate bowl, I mixed one part oil to two parts pickled jalape~o juice (but you can use regular pickle juice, olive juice, white balsalmic, or lime juice) and two parts apple cider vinegar. I threw in a pinch of oregano and a fair amount of freshly ground black pepper. At this point, taste it and see what you think. You can adjust it if you need. When you like it, toss it with the chard. I also microplane grated two cloves of garlic and an apple (great this time of year because they're still a good price and available) and finely chopped two green onion stems. Toss everything and let it sit. I served it tonight over grilled salmon, and the brightness of the dressing and earthiness of the chard balanced the fattiness of the fish (and the smokiness from grilling) perfectly.

I think this basic strategy would also work with kale, although I'd probably let that sit a little longer first.

Enjoy!

Monday, December 1, 2014

Acknowledging Privilege: We Don't Pull the Ladder Up

Lately, there's been a lot in the news about White privilege, which has sparked discussions about other types of privilege and intersectionality (the idea that most of us have areas of privilege and non-privilege in our lives that come together to shape our opportunities and perceptions).

Regular readers of my blog are aware of the ways that my lack of straight privilege have produced challenges. I hope that you also realize from reading that I have many areas of privilege and am thankful for those advantages.

For instance, I went to a school system where our buildings were always clean and safe. I didn't fear physical violence or illness as a result of attending school. Some of my students cannot say that. In addition, I had certified teachers and was able to get classes I needed not only to graduate, but to get into a major research university with a great scholarship. I'm not saying I didn't work hard. I did. I was incredibly studious, read all the time, and joined many extracurricular activities. I worked part-time to save money.

But I didn't work part-time to pay for necessities. I didn't have to babysit younger siblings. I had parents to take me to the library, grandparents to buy magazine subscriptions, enough money to have instruments, uniforms, calculators, etc. I could have gone to a fancier, more prestigious district, perhaps. I have friends who did, and some have had better opportunities. Overall, though, I would argue that I was reasonably privileged economically and academically.

Someone once told me, "We don't pull the ladder up." I've thought about that often. He meant that when we reach our goals, have some advantages, get closer to the top, we continue to extend that opportunity to those behind us. I would expand that to mean that we try to work the ladder into a staircase when possible. Or a ramp. Or whatever the people behind us need to get equal opportunities.

Rebecca will say basically the same thing about med school. She had many of the same privileges I did, but compared to her med school peers, she was relatively underprivileged. Many more of them came from upper middle or upper class backgrounds, few were rural, few were LGBT. She's immensely grateful to the people who helped her get shadowing experiences, given that she has no family members that are medical professionals to book her to stand in for surgeries or consultations or the like. She's incredibly grateful to faculty members from her undergrad who not only gave her academic opportunities, but mentored and encouraged her to be a strong woman who prioritized loving people while using her gifts.

We have a friend now who is just amazing. She's a beautiful soul. I wish you could all meet her. She's applying to med school now, and comes from a relatively less advantaged background. We're working with her to get her applications in, to get her through the MCAT, to write her essays. We're not the most privileged, but we know people, and we know things now. I wouldn't do this if I didn't think she's qualified. But I don't want to pull the ladder up. I want to level the playing field.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

An Open Letter to Josh

For those of you not up on this situation, check out His Absence, My Absence, A Letter to a Grieving Mother, Self-Advocacy and Mental Illness, and An Open Letter to a Grieving Student.

Dear Josh,

Your birthday is Tuesday. You would have been 25. I'm pretty sure you would have been excited for your car insurance rates to go down, given how financially savvy you were.

I'm not sure exactly how to commemorate this birthday. I'm sure I never will be. I'll be going to work - working in Madison Heights brings up some things that weren't so much an issue in Lansing, and that combined with some other things has made this time of year difficult. I guess I thought now that we're three years out, I'm an old pro at grieving and being brotherless and navigating the holidays without you and generally being a member of the Club To Whom the Imaginable is Now Imaginable.

I'm sure you would want me to go to work, even though my employer would understand if I didn't. I love the kids I work with and want to be there as much as I can. I don't want to have to tell them why I'm not there (not because I'm ashamed, but because people's reactions are interesting, and when I sound too matter of fact, they're shocked, but it's not appropriate for me to not sound too matter of fact), and as I outlined in my open letter to a student who asked if I'm married, I don't want to appear to be keeping too many things from them. You would make fun of me for how nerdy I am, but you would have loved them too. I'm sure you would have found a way to work in unicycling.

I'm not going to wear makeup Tuesday, for two reasons. The first is practical - if my emotions do get the best of my face, it's easier to hide. The second is that you always believed that women were most beautiful without makeup on. And you would say so. Pretty much every time I asked if you thought my makeup looked good. I guess we can call it the Little Brother's Campaign for Real Beauty.

I'm also going to wear something soft. I have a sweater picked out, but if I can figure out how to style a fleece-lined zipper hoodie to look work appropriate-ish (for a day when United Way partners may be coming for a surprise check in), I'll go for it. You loved soft things, something maybe not many people knew about you. Soft stuffed animals, soft blankets, and later, when you felt it wasn't manly to share, soft hoodies. I'll need some kind of stimulation I can use to keep myself mindful, to distract myself, to tell myself I'm channeling my pain into something manageable. Rubbing the edge of a sleeve might do the trick.

And I'll be dosed with lavender oil on my chest for calm. Probably also Lush USA Karma for energy and joy. There'll be green tea with chamomile for the same reason.

I also looked at the initial inspiration to choose love, a snippet of a facebook message from you more than three years ago after I came out to you and asked if you'd come to my commitment ceremony:

"While I don't exactly approve of your decision, it's not as big of a deal to me as it is to [other family members]. It is my intention to attend the ceremony. You are still my sister and it would be a shame if nobody from our family was in attendance."

By your definition, buddy, it was a shame. You were missed. You still are. I wish you could have been 100% supportive, but it didn't matter. You chose love. You chose to love me the best you could. I'm trying to pay that forward, although I fail a lot of days. Sara Bareilles sings that "how you love is who you are." You weren't perfect, but you loved people the way they were, and they knew it. You were easy to love because of that. I'm not. I never have been. You teased, and sometimes complained, but I knew you loved me anyway.

I'm just rambling now. I never was succinct. I tell my students that "concise" was always the hardest thing for me on the ACT. You teased me for how much I talked. I'm trying to listen better. I should have listened better to you. You became wise beyond your years in college. 

Anyway, happy quarter century, bugaboo. You're deeply missed.

Much love,

Erin

Thursday, November 27, 2014

What Are Your Plans for Thanksgiving?

This is a common question. It's generally a good way to start a conversation around the holidays. I've used it for sure.

But I can't help but think that it's more of a land mine than many people realize, for diverse groups, but perhaps more than usual for the LGBT community.

Some may find themselves without a place to go because their family refuses to see them. Even if others take them in, having your family refuse to include you and/or your significant other is difficult.

I am not suggesting that every family is like this. I have many friends in the LGBT community whose families are very accepting. But this is not really a binary. Some families are only accepting if the LGBT person pretends to be straight for the day, or doesn't bring the partner, or will tell certain members of the family that the partner is a friend or roommate. This seems inclusive to some people, but it can also be taxing, and without a doubt it pushes heteronormativity. 

For people in a complicated holiday situation, it can be difficult  to answer questions about their plans. They may want to be honest, but they also don't want to be "downers" or go into detail. The holidays are a time of stress for most people already.

What can you do if you realize that you've put someone on the spot? Hard to say, but if you know the person really has no place to go, and you mean it, invite them over. Don't bash their family too much unless they do. Even if they do. Don't defend their family either. Although their family may be making hurtful choices, they're still family, and feelings can be complicated. If you need to say something, I recommend, "That must be hard for you." And then resolve to include any of your family members that might be ostracized. Create a chosen family. If you are a member of a religious institution, push for inclusive policies that encourage members to invite their gay family members to Thanksgiving with their partners.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

An Open Letter to the Student Who Asked, "Are you married?"

Dear student,

The first day, I wasn't sure what to think of you. You were sassy and resistant to my instruction because you reject the premise of standardized testing. I think you had also given up on yourself a little. I too rejected the idea that standardized testing is a good measure of you, and as I got to know you, you've proven me right.

I showed you how to improve, and you did. I think you've bought in. I think you know that I believe in you and care about you and fiercely want to see you fulfill your dreams. I don't know if you like me now. I hope so, but you're not obligated to.

So when you asked me if I'm married, I'm sorry that I brushed it off. We did have a lot to get done, and I did suspect that you were trying to get me off track, but maybe you really did want to know. You've seen me wearing my wedding ring. It's generally a fair question.

And normally it's a binary. Yes or no. Moving on. In a heteronormative society, that's how it works. So why wouldn't I share?

Because the answer to your question is yes, federally and in something like 35 states, but no in the one in which I live. Because the Elliott Larsen Freeman Act hasn't been updated. Because it wouldn't be a quick moving on from that. Because that kind of revelation could have lost me control of my classroom on a day when chaos was barely contained.

But also because I'm afraid.

Having come out before, I know that the answer to that question can hurt me. I am incredibly blessed to work for a company with a nondiscrimination policy based in a city that requires it. I think United Way also has a policy like this. I am also so fortunate to know that the office would fight for me if anything happened. They would tell people who complained that I'm doing a great job. That it doesn't matter. That they don't want to replace me halfway through.

So maybe I am safe. But one student or parent complaint could make my life hard. It could start a flurry of phone calls, derail me, increase my paperwork load. I'm not in a place where I can handle that. You did not think of this. Many straight people don't, especially if they are allies.

So I brushed you off. I offered you the most truth I could. I tried not to embarrass you. A colleague defended me, as did some other students. You claimed that I was withholding, which I was, and I'm sorry. I have tried to offer you all I have, but me being removed from the classroom would not serve you.

I look forward to seeing you, all of you, every week. Tuesday is my favorite day. I have much to offer you, but you offer me much in return. You offer me joy, success, challenge, meaning. I will do what I can to defend those things.

So I cannot tell you in class that I'm married, even if I want to. Your generation may see this differently. But I'm guessing you didn't see this coming either way.

I've been passing for straight. I'm sure, after yesterday, because you asked if I'm dating the male colleague who works in your classroom with me. My reaction was emphatically no - perhaps too much so (sorry, male colleague, there's nothing inherently wrong with you), but leaving that door open could also create a lot of issues for me. So you think I'm straight. My fishtail braids, eye makeup, jewelry, etc have convinced you that I follow norms for a straight woman.

And I was relieved. I was relieved that even as it was awkward that you suggested I'm dating someone that really makes no sense, he is male, and you think I'm straight, and my sexual orientation isn't going to blow up in my face.

And then I was sad, because being relieved means that I've internalized some heteronormativity. It means that I know that my life would be easier if I were straight. It means that I'm not as proud of and comfortable with my sexual orientation as I thought. It also means that I am gaming gender norms.

As I said, I'm sorry I didn't tell you. It's not personal at all. Someday, I hope no one has to think about these things, and the answer to the question, "Are you married?" can be less complicated. If you had asked me during a prep hour or lunch, things might have been different. Or maybe you will find this blog, although current traffic patterns tell me that it is unlikely that you will Google me to find it.

Best wishes for a beautiful Thanksgiving, sweetie,

Erin