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

Thursday, June 16, 2016

A Lesbian Talks Toxic vs. Real Masculinity: Not About Brock Turner or Omar Mateen

Dear Men,

I want to start with the disclaimer that this post is about toxic masculinity, not real masculinity. I have lots of male friends - gay men, straight men, older men, younger men - see how I did that? Just the way I've heard people justify criticizing the LGBT community after invoking their friend status with a gay person or two.

Many of my male friends identify as feminists - they believe that women can and should do anything, and they support behaviors and policies that make that possible. They are nurturing and honest and strong - they exemplify real masculinity. This post is not for them.

 This post is also not for you, Brock Turner,  only because I have never met you. This post is not for you, Omar Mateen, also because I have never met you.

This post is for the following men, whom I've actually met:

This post is for you, wealthy businessman seated next to me on a plane who, when you found out Rebecca and I were a married couple, propositioned me (or us? not exactly sure) to come stay with you and your wife, explaining that . . .  well, explaining things that I don't want to know about someone's marriage and bedroom situation when I just met you.

This post is for you, homeless man I gave a ride to the shelter (I'm not looking for accolades - it's just a thing I did because it was the right thing to do under the circumstances) who texted me later to tell me that you wanted to kiss me to show your appreciation, but didn't because I had said I had a girlfriend. (Note: I didn't say girlfriend, because I don't have one of those. I said wife. Multiple times.) When I told you that appreciation wasn't necessary, and corrected you that Rebecca is my wife, you asked me if she is "thick too." (For those of you unfamiliar with the term thick, here is a link to its Urban Dictionary page. While I realize that it was intended as a compliment, I'm not sure the term actually applies to me, or how you knew one way or the other, since I was wearing a long-sleeved cardigan over a full-length, structured maxi dress that day.) And then when I told you that this line of conversation was making me uncomfortable, you said you were just joking. (No, you weren't.)

This post is for you, ex-boyfriend who told me when I came out to you that I'm not a lesbian, I'm bisexual, because "no estabas fingiendo conmigo." (Roughly translated: "You weren't pretending with me.")

It's for you, different homeless man, who angrily insisted that I don't look gay after I mentioned my wife.

It's for you, male high school student who commented something vile in Arabic about a young female colleague within earshot of her while at the school.  She spoke Arabic, overheard your comment, and was justifiably unsettled and when I found out later, I insisted the student be in my class not hers because I have developed a thick skin. But I'm still rattled by it, months later.

It's for you, young man who tried to pick me up in the Bloomfield library cafe, and was shocked that I'm married, shocked that I'm 28 years old, shocked that I'm gay. You were no longer interested in seeing me again (to be fair, I was a little disingenuous in giving you my card, because the point was to teach you something). I believe your exact words were, "I shouldn't even be talking to you." Because in your head I belonged to my wife and couldn't belong to you. Probably not because I'm a lesbian and wouldn't be interested.

It's for you, student at one of the urban high schools I teach SAT prep at who grabbed my hair as I walked past in the hallway, held it to your nose, and announced that it smelled good, as though it's a compliment. As though it was your business.

I don't belong to you.

I am not for you.

I didn't put on this dress today for you.  I didn't wash my hair today for you. I didn't give you a ride because I'm interested.

I'm a lesbian.

That doesn't mean my marriage or sexual orientation is open for your validation or interpretation. Neither is my body. Even if you see us kissing. Even if I once upon a time kissed you. Even if you want to kiss me.

These behaviors and beliefs are not real masculinity.

And the belief that I do belong to you, or could someday, or that my marriage or body are open for your evaluation - it's a sickness.

It comes from a toxic version of masculinity that claims that real men own things. That men's opinions and values are more important than women's. That women only have value when they belong to a man. That men are inherently violent and lacking in self-control.

Except they're not. You're not.

I challenge you to meet men who are so confident in themselves that they can have a tea party with their daughters, fold their wife's laundry, take a step back at work and let women speak, refrain from propositioning or catcalling women on the street, understand that no means no. They exist. They are strong. Learn from them. And then be one of them.

Know better. Do better.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Terrorism and Tending Thyme: Response to Orlando

Yesterday, after learning about the Orlando terrorism of the LGBT and ally community, I shared links to posts last year about the similar terrorism of an African American church in Charleston. The two may not initially appear to be all that similar, other than that they were shootings, but both have hit me very hard.

The one in Charleston because as someone who grew up in the church, I view places of worship as sacred and safe space. Yes, even as a member of the LGBT community, even though some religious people are critical of my marriage. Churches are a place where people come together around a common goal and try to be more human, to celebrate creation and redemption and fellowship.

The one in Orlando because although I don't visit gay clubs or bars much, there's a comfort in knowing that they exist. They're there if ever I need a place to socialize, to hold my wife's hand in public without fear, to know that no one will say "whomever you love" or "I don't have a problem with" or "judge not lest ye be judged" or any of the other comments that make my marriage seem strange or less than. LGBT clubs are places of acceptance and celebration.

It's unsettling to know that in the span of a year, both types of spaces have been through attempts to terrorize and desecrate them.

And I thought about Motor City Pride yesterday, which I hadn't planned to attend because there's still so much to do at #fixerupperdetroit, which is most of my gay agenda right now. We bought the house and are struggling to rehab it to create another safe space, a place where everyone can come and eat and share.

The most revolutionary thing I could think of to protest the violence in Orlando was to plant my garden, standing in my yard with a shovel and a watering can and a flat of assorted herbs. With every shovel full and every sprinkling, I planned to be around until the end of summer, until next summer, until the house is rehabbed and the space is safe and the world is better. I thinned out the day lilies and irises that came with the house to give the others room to breathe. I pulled on work gloves and pulled up picker weeds that would hurt people or turn people away or choke out my beauties.

How the world would be different if everyone pulled up the picker weeds and planted thyme and sage and rosemary and basil instead.

Friday, June 3, 2016

My Secret to Sanity in #owneroccupieDetroit: Meet Rufino and His Team

For almost the last year, I've been wanting to put up a post about Labra Design+Build, the business that has stood with us through #househuntersdetroit (even after the first house fell through), the land bank postering, and now, #owneroccupiedetroit.

Rebecca has known the owner, Fino, since childhood and had been watching photos come through social media of all the beautiful work he'd been doing, so when we started looking for a home, she knew he would be a great fit.

You can visit their website to see Fino Labra's portfolio or learn more about the work they do, so I won't spend too much time elaborating there.

Instead, let me tell you about

the ways that Fino and his team have gone above and beyond 

 during the arduous #fixerupperdetroit process, to the point that I don't think we could have done this with any other team.
Most of Fino's team, minus Fino, who was on the phone. Top left: Abe. Bottom left: Eric. Top right: Marty. Bottom right: Rufino - Fino's dad!

1. Showing up to the home inspections and asking thoughtful questions.

We were very blessed to work with a great home inspector, Matt Bezanson, (who now has a blog you can visit!), and that was an education in itself. Buying an old home, especially one in Detroit, especially one that's been vacant and neglected, comes with a lot more challenges than a newer construction. Fino listened to what Matt had to say and considered it when setting up our construction proposal. We could tell that he would prioritize structural safety and quality work. That's of utmost importance in Detroit, where much of the previous work may have been patched poorly or done by non-professionals to save money.

2. Advising us on home-buying decisions 

A few days before closing, we still didn't know if the heating system worked, a major concern given that it was December in Michigan! While the seller insisted that it did, they never brought the house up to room temperature to prove it. When we brought out R&R Mechanical to inspect it, we were told that the boiler probably worked but there was no way to know without a cleaning, something we couldn't have done until we took possession, and something the seller refused to do. Fino took the time to talk through the implications with me and help me decide whether closing was a good idea.

3. Reviewing documents from the Detroit Land Bank Authority

Most of you have already read about our horror story of having been postered with a notice threatening to seize our home.  You can read my Open Letter to Detroit Land Bank Authority here. These kinds of things don't happen in the suburbs, and I'm sure Fino had never had to negotiate this kind of nightmare before. He looked over the documents and considered the timeline in the rehab agreement. In fact, I think he was more amenable to the terms than we were. I don't know how we would have survived those weeks without a contractor who cared on our side. We ultimately did get a resolution without a lawsuit being filed or signing the rehab agreement, mostly thanks to Craig Fahle, who does public relations for the land bank.

4. Setting up the home for us to occupy it and keeping us posted along the way.

Our construction team has a lot more to consider now that we're living in the home: will their work disrupt our normal activities? Will our cats escape while the team is going in and out? Will the fumes from their products jeopardize our health? In all cases, Fino has made an effort to make it possible for us to live as normally as possible while not having a kitchen or laundry. By the time we moved in, we had a working bathroom, refrigerator, and laundry sink. When I asked him to set up the microwave, also, he did so promptly and in a space that was convenient for us (and inconvenient for his team).

5. Befriending our cats

Unlike us, the cats don't understand that the house is going to be really beautiful when it's done - and they don't really care. What they have noticed is that there are people they don't know here. All the time. Dorian has decided to supervise them all to make sure they do good work for us.
Dorian surveys his kingdom from a high vantage point.
Cesar has been hiding in our bed under the covers for entire days. Fino has helped me figure out which rooms are safest for the cats while certain tasks are being completed and on more than one occasion has helped me secure them in that space when I couldn't do it alone and Rebecca was working. (Dorian has repaid him by getting incredibly underfoot.) Most members of the team have let the cats be out around the house as much as possible and will even chat with Dorian or pet him if he asks. I've never worked with a construction team before, but I'm pretty sure none of this is in the job description.

6. Visiting Architectural Salvage Warehouse of Detroit

 When we needed another radiator for the kitchen and I discovered a salvage warehouse rumored to have them for a reasonable price, Fino met me there to see if we could find one and keep the heating budget lower to free up funds for something else. After some Googling about the different between water and steam radiators and sifting through the collection of doors, we emerged triumphant with not only a $90 radiator (that probably would have cost hundreds elsewhere), but a pocket door. We had hoped to find a 1920s lavatory sink to no avail, though the new one Fino found and ordered is perfection.

In summary:

Many of you know that I'm a perfectionist workaholic, and that I'm not good at staying calm. While Rebecca has tried to keep me from being too anxious or overburdening Fino, I recognize that this project has been fraught with challenges, including my temperament. Labra Design+Build has drastically exceeded our expectations not only in their quality of work, but in their encouraging, respectful nature and resourceful responses to issues problems. If you are considering a home renovation or new home construction, I hope that you will consider working with them. Detroit and the surrounding area need more small businesses that do such quality work, and we'd love to see the Labra family grow.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Reflections on Suffering: #carrythatweight

A while back, not sure how long, I read about a performance art piece entitled Mattress Performance or #carrythatweight. I won't go into great detail explaining it, but I encourage you to visit the link above to learn more. For purposes of this post, here is what you need to know:

The artist, Emma Sulkowicz, suffered a horrible trauma. Her case wasn't handled well, and she was left to pick up the pieces of her life and make meaning. As a senior at Columbia University, she decided to make her thesis an outward representation of her journey through her pain. Thus, Mattress Performance (Carry that Weight) began.

Essentially, Emma carried a mattress like the one at the site of the original trauma, as a physical representation of her inward burden. She committed to carrying it under specific parameters until there was justice for her. While she had to carry it,

She didn't have to carry it by herself. 

If someone came along and offered assistance or support, she accepted it. The mattress weighed the same amount, but her burden was shared.

So it is in life. 

Our pain, our trauma, our suffering exists, and it has its corresponding weight. I wish there were a magic way to make it disappear, but I don't think there is this side of heaven.

There is little magic in sharing the burden. But there is comfort. There is fellowship.

There is hope

within the darkest winter of the soul.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Confessions on A 4-Year Anniversary: I never meant my wedding to be a revolution

Today, Rebecca and I celebrate four years since our spiritual wedding ceremony.

I can't say that I meant to my wedding to be a revolution. I can't say that at the time it was intended to push back against cultural norms, or to be a feminist revelation, or to be an example of every gay wedding.

And yet, I think it was those things. At least for some people. Two of my friends who identify as members of the LGBT community commented that it was the first gay wedding they had been to. In fact, one of them who is now in a serious relationship sometimes calls me for relationship advice. Another fills me in on his escapades, while lamenting the fact that he has not yet found his helpmate.

Others commented that they had attended in part to see what a lesbian wedding was like. I'm pretty sure our lesbian wedding was not a great model of other weddings, as we dispensed with many, many of the trappings that others have upheld - centerpieces, favors, white dresses, traditional bridal party, alcohol, fine china. We had bundt cakes instead of tiered cake, in part to stay on budget (in part as a nod to My Big Fat Greek Wedding).
How I loved this tiny raspberry chocolate bundt from Nanna's Sweet Treats in Mason, MI! 

Deviled eggs . . . so good. We had a lot left over after this, and the venue let us take them home. I'm not sure that was good for our cholesterol levels . . .

This was a beautiful fruit salad. We tried to have lots of options because so many of our guests had dietary restrictions. A buffet line of simple foods meant everyone could have a full, happy tummy.
We called it a commitment ceremony for months ahead of time. The minister (who was not the minister at our own church because our church might have fired him for performing the ceremony)  insisted upon calling it a wedding. That meant something.

Maybe it meant everything.

After four years, I am feeling as though we have become the old married couple, although part of me feels that it was just yesterday, perhaps because my marriage has been recognized in the state of Michigan for less than a year still.

Maybe because I know so few gay couples who have been married longer than we have.

Or maybe it feels like it was yesterday because my marriage is still not considered sufficient to many of the foster/adoption agencies across the state, and the state thinks that's fine, even if it means that vulnerable children don't find forever homes.

I didn't mean for my wedding to be a revolution, but the world made it one. The political reality made it one. The refusal of a marriage certificate made it one. The refusal of the rights associated with that marriage certificate, like spousal insurance, increased student loan cap, and tax advantages made it one. I didn't mean for it to be a revolution, but in some ways it had to be one, if I wanted the marriage to mean something.

And it doesn't just mean something.

After four years, it still means everything.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Confessions: Today I Hate this House

I'm grateful for #fixerupperdetroit. She's a beauty, or will be, when she's done. Our neighborhood is amazing, and I know that when our home is done, everything will seem better. We're making progress - we passed our insulation inspection, which means that a lot of new steps start, since we can close up the walls. The team working on our house has been positive, encouraging, and diligent.

But currently, #owneroccupieDetroit is a struggle.

I'm a hot breakfast person; I make huevos rancheros for myself every morning to get my day off to the right start. I can't do that until our kitchen is ready. It's not that I can't eat something else. I can, I do, and I'm grateful for the full belly. I didn't even realize how soothing I found the ritual of heating oil, frying a tortilla, cracking eggs, measuring salsa verde to be - a form of art, of creation, nourishment of my soul in addition to my body. I miss the process.

I'm not a great housekeeper. Many of you know. Many of you tease me. But even I find the plaster and paint dust overwhelming. My cats are constantly coated in dust. My clothes have dust clinging to them, my linens are filmed in particulates. It's hard to feel settled.

Of course, Rebecca has been working 6pm-7am shifts for the last week, and I'm always grumpy when we're ships passing in the night. A week more of that and she'll mostly be on day shift for the rest of the month. Between the progress we'll have made by then and the fact that we're actually seeing each other, I trust and believe that it won't stay like this. 

But today, I hate this house.

Monday, May 2, 2016

#owneroccupieDetroit: The Joy of Sweat Equity

When I woke up today, everything hurt. In fact, that's been true for several days now.

I've been sanding plaster, scraping trim, priming, painting, etc for days, and my body definitely isn't used to this kind of work. My scalp isn't used to plaster dust. My arms aren't used to being above my head for long periods, my legs aren't used to ascending and descending step ladders constantly, my knees aren't used to squatting and kneeling to cut in base boards. A lot of the tasks are tedious.

And yet there's a deep joy in all of it. With every brush stroke, I make meaning out of the months of struggle we had to purchase this house. I think back on the years of pain, when I couldn't have imagined living in a home like this. I pray over the rooms, that they will be places of peace and joy not only for us, but for the guests who come to us.

I can't feel that I own this house. Perhaps because I don't feel worthy, perhaps I'm still in shock, but I think it's more than that.

I'm not sure I believe that people can own houses, or at least, I don't believe that it's possible for me to own this one. It has too much history behind it. It's giant, not only physically, but socially. The deed, the mortgage - they're big deals, but it feels like I'm borrowing a part of history, or stewarding it for a period, so that it remains for the future to find love and joy in it too.

And that makes it easier to work through our lack of a kitchen, the dust everywhere, the missing electrical and plumbing. We are blessed to have been approved for enough funds to redo or restore a lot of things the house really needs after so many years of neglect. We know what's in the walls, and we will know that the parts that have been repaired have been done right this time. It meant leaving some projects for later, but at this point, we're so used to delaying gratification that the anticipation itself is gratifying.

After all, leaving things until later means that there's a later. Here. In this amazing house.