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

Thursday, September 18, 2014

The Last Five Years: A Minute and Eternity

Five years ago today, Rebecca asked me to go with her to medical school. It was her way of proposing - at the time, we couldn't logistically/legally get married and even if we could have, I don't know if we could have articulated our relationship that way. A little part of me will probably always feel that discrimination and marriage inequality stole our chance to have a "normal" proposal story. But in the end, the modern proposal is a relatively recent invention, I think, and reality television has probably made too much of it.

The truth is that there was much more embedded in this proposal than in a standard proposal. She came out, in that moment. My positive response not only meant a commitment to her, but that I was coming out as well. Coming out, and especially becoming a couple, meant that our lives would never go back to normal. Ever. Even if we broke up. In that moment of honesty, we joined the LGBT community. We thought we knew what to expect, but of course, we couldn't know. We couldn't know the discrimination we would experience or the fear we would have because of the lack of legal recognition. We couldn't know the depth of pain when we came out to our families and it didn't go well. On the other hand, we couldn't have known how many people would love us unconditionally, who would be almost more outraged than we were at the hate, who would support us when life was unspeakably difficult - our chosen family.

I, at this point, am writing with tears streaming down my face. Some of them are from joy - that I have found the love of my life, that I know we are the best fit, that we have survived in a culture that often roots for our relationship to fail. Some are from sorrow at all we've chosen to give up and from the memories of those very trying times.

We've become obsessed with the ABC Family drama The Fosters, the story of a lesbian couple raising a large group of children. The theme song, Where You Belong, was written especially for this show, and to me, it's exactly what family means.

It's not where you come from
It's where you belong
Nothin' I would trade
I wouldn't have it any other way
You're surrounded
By love and you're wanted
So never feel alone
You are home with me
Right where you belong

I hope that someday should we have children, we can record a lullaby version of this song for them. 

Two cats, five apartments, five years, two degrees, and membership in the club of people To Whom the Unimaginable is Now Imaginable later, a lifetime has happened already, and yet that day still feels so salient, so soft and warm in my memory.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Budgeting

Rebecca ran our finances yesterday and looked at where our money is going. The bad news: we're spending too much to meet our financial goals. The worse news: most of our overages are going to food. We love food. We'd been tired of scrimping and saving when med school ended and we relocated, so we weren't very careful when the paychecks started coming in. But we need to buy Rebecca a new laptop soon, and we would like to take a vacation in February. We would also eventually like a house and to pay off Rebecca's student loans.

The good news is that food is relatively easy to get under control, given that we have still allotted a fairly generous amount to it. We've decided not to buy more alcohol until what we have in the house is used up and to perhaps only have it for special occasions. We're also both going to try to pack more lunches instead of buying lunch out so that "food out money" can be saved for dates (or saved, period). Additionally, we'll be switching away from meat to eggs, dry beans, and other cheaper sources of protein. I'm not really that sad about this - we're good at preparing these things, and grilling season is almost over anyway. In the fall, it's nice to sit down to vegetarian chili, homemade falafel, and lentil tacos.

Another tactic is to be much better about food waste. Despite some effort, we haven't been managing to finish our leftovers. I often get tired of them, or they don't reheat well. Many days, I don't have access to a microwave to reheat things, so I can't take leftovers for lunch. Rebecca more often can but forgets.

So expect to see more cost-conscious (while still health-conscious) food ideas come up. There will still be splurges (we're having an actual dinner party on September 27th), but with an eye toward using things already in our kitchen as much as possible.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

MI Love Story

People sometimes ask how Rebecca and I met. It was actually a little more than 9 years ago at Welcome Week at Michigan State, and we were living on the same honors floor. We didn't hit it off, but we eventually ended up roommates and then best friends.

Things got complicated, and I guess even after all this time I'm not comfortable sharing some of that tension and complexity in such a public forum. But suffice it to say that the plot line of our love story would probably not make the most terrible movie. We've been asked to tell the story at more than one dinner party (if you do want to hear the details, let me know when you're coming).

Why would this be such a good story? For starters, Rebecca and I seem to have little in common. She was an engineering major while I was in education and the humanities. She was from rural west Michigan while I was from the rolling suburbs of Detroit. My childhood was highly structured while hers was not. I was religious and she was a scientist. And of course, there's the fact that we both thought we were straight.

Not only was I very religious and thought I was straight, I was the kind of religious person who believed that:

Being gay is a choice
If being gay is not a choice, it can be fixed.
Most gay people are gay because they were sexually abused as children.
Being gay is a sin.
Gay people were nothing like me.

You probably know the type.

I also for a long time thought I wanted a white picket fence, two children, a dog, and to be a stay-at-home mom. She thought she wanted to be a pharmaceutical engineer making six figures.

As we fell in love, both of us began to see new perspectives, dream new dreams, and expand our worlds. She decided she wanted to be a doctor. I decided to go to graduate school. I realized that some of the things I wanted defied traditional gender stereotypes.

The night we came out to each other, the night we admitted that we were in love, a transformation that was already budding in me blossomed. I realized that I had many misconceptions about the gay community and that I had lacked compassion in my thoughts and actions. I realized that I was giving up privilege I hadn't realized I had. I started to commit to fight for civil rights I had believed were unnecessary before. I have been through a great deal of pain in the last five years between coming out and losing my brother. I have begun to realize how much I don't know about people. I have started to understand that if I'm making a choice, I should choose love. Not the judgy kind of love I used to think people needed. I'm trying, every day, to choose gracious love. The kind of love that is given unconditionally. I'm not there yet, but it's where I'm called, and I don't think I would be where I am today on that path if I had never fallen for my wife.

People sometimes ask me how I can make excuses for people who haven't completely embraced LGBT equality or gay affirmation. They're surprised that I still speak to my family. They think it is a cop out to call some of my friends and family members more progressive than others when they still did not attend my weddings.

I attempt to extend grace (although I don't always manage) because I have been there, and because honestly, I probably still would be there if not for Rebecca. I don't know if they'll ever travel farther, and I'm not sure if any will arrive to where I stand. But as I've said before, I'm trying to choose love and hoping that they will too.

Friday, September 12, 2014

MI Hate: Current Discrimination

I haven't posted a MI Hate entry in a while. There are a number of reasons for that. One is that I want to seem like a non-angry model minority who is okay with going the legal route on everything, following procedure, and trusting that the Michigan and U.S. governments will do the right thing. I can map out a few different methods by which marriage equality will become reality in Michigan by the end of 2016.

In the meantime, though, what are the direct implications for Rebecca and me?

1. Taxes

Currently, we can file federal taxes jointly, but must file state taxes separately. This will require a double calculation of our taxes, because Michigan bases tax rates off of federal ones. Also, consider the difficulty of filing separately when you are sharing bank accounts, rent payments, and all other financial responsibilities. Requiring us to file separately is not only a huge inconvenience for us, it creates opportunities for us to strategically distribute assets and payments.

2. Health Insurance

Rebecca works for an employer that recognizes our marriage, as much as they can. However, there are some tax benefits she should be able to take advantage of that we will not be eligible for because the state won't recognize our marriage. Furthermore, we had to make decisions about where Rebecca would do residency based partially on where I could have insurance coverage and where she would be unlikely to be fired for being gay, given that this type of discrimination is still legal in Michigan.

3. Car Rental

Just yesterday, I had to rent a car because I was in a collision earlier this week. When I explained why my driver's license doesn't match my credit card, they recommended that I not allow my spouse to drive the rental, even though spouses normally would be allowed to. They said it was just the safer choice since no one really knows what would happen.

4. Finding a Home

This isn't strictly a marriage equality issue, but when we relocate, we currently consider whether the municipality to which we're moving has LGBT non-discrimination policies. In our last apartment, the lease and the leasing office told us that we'd be living in East Lansing, a city with robust non-discrimination policies. The property was actually zoned to Meridian Township, however, a municipality that didn't have any protections at the time and had much less robust protections once they passed them. We also generally try to lease with large rental organizations, because in our experience, most don't care much about our marriage as long as we pay the rent on time. Still, I got the feeling at our current office that the income verification process would have been different if they had recognized our marriage, and the name on the lease is my maiden name because we didn't have valid picture ID in our married names.

There are other issues, of course. Some are cultural/social issues rather than legal ones, and having a child is an issue I'm not going to touch on here. But I've found that many people do not realize that the DeBoer V. Snyder ruling was stayed and incorrectly believe that we have full rights. Many more don't know that even with marriage equality, there are many other types of discrimination we'll continue to experience.

I will leave you with this: justice delayed is justice denied. To most of the judges working on this and to many politicians, this is an ideological argument, not one that affects their daily lives. For us, it's real.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Balcony Garden: Making Good Choices

Rebecca and I don't have very much outdoor space right now. In fact, our balcony gives us less room than we had on our patio in East Lansing, so we had to be very strategic about what to grow. At some point, we'll hopefully get some window boxes to hang off the railing, but we haven't yet.

So what do I have growing right now? I settled on fresh herbs, partially because the markup is so high and the grocery store and also because herbs, no matter how hard I try, don't last long in my fridge. It also helps that I don't usually need very much of a given herb for a recipe (unless I'm making pesto).

Which herbs made the cut? In my case:

Purple and sweet green basil - add kick and roundness to Mediterranean and Asian dishes
Chives - If you're looking for a hint of onion flavor but you can't be bothered to cook down onions, or you want to add a hint of brightness
Parsley - I haven't used this one as much as I should, partially because it had a rough start, but it's also great for Mediterranean dishes, garnishes, or even as a substitute for cilantro
Oregano - I could use a couple more of this one, as mine got root bound and hasn't been growing much, but it's great for Mexican or Mediterranean foods
Rosemary - great for French or American cooking. This is a perennial, so I'll try to keep it indoors when the weather gets cool.

Why not cilantro? In my experience, cilantro is difficult to grow, and it goes to seed very quickly. I didn't want to deal with such a diva.

There are lots of other herbs I would love to incorporate once we expand our space a little more. These are just suggestions - think about which herbs you use (fresh or dried) that might be better if you could pick them the same day.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

MI Love: Focaccia

So if you want people to be impressed that you make your own bread at home, but you don't want a lot of trouble, this recipe is for you. I use it as pizza crust or bake it simply as an accompaniment to other meals.

2 ¼ cups flour (I use whole wheat usually, but this recipe is flexible - sometimes I'll put in 1/4 cup flax and 1/2 cup oatmeal instead of part of the flour - basically, you need this much starch, and it probably needs to contain at least half something with gluten)
½ tsp salt
1/6 ounce yeast (one packet)
Dash honey or sugar (to feed the yeast)
2 tbsp olive oil
1 cup or so warmish water
1/4  cup pitted olives, chopped (or sun-dried tomatoes, or roasted garlic, or whatever you want)

Mix the yeast and sugar into the warm water, adding the honey or sugar. Allow to sit until foamy. In the meantime, mix flour, salt, and olive oil in a large bowl. Add the water mixture. Knead on a floured counter for 5 minutes - add extra flour if it's sticky or extra water if it's dry. Dough should feel elastic, firm, and not sticky. Place in oiled bowl somewhere a little bit warm, such as your oven which has been set to warm and then turned off or on top of your refrigerator, cover with a towel, and wait until doubled (anywhere from 30 min to an hour). Punch down dough and knead in olives or whatever you're using here. Shape into however many circles you want and place on a cookie sheet or baking stone. Push your fingers into the dough to dimple it. Top however you want. Let it rise for about a half hour after punching down - usually it'll take about this long to top it. Bakes for a minimum of 20 minutes, depending on toppings.

A Message to a Grieving Mother

As some of you know, I lost a student recently. I can't say that I knew her well - she was a tutoring student, and we'd only met for a few hours, but she was bubbly and intelligent and it's a tragedy. Getting the news from her mother brought up feelings from my brother's death and a desire to do or say something meaningful. In the end, I just told her mother than I would handle things as much as possible with our office and sent a handwritten sympathy card. I wish I could do more.

No one ever truly knows what to say in this situation. People didn't know when my brother died, and I can't say that I know now. Things that I would say that are meant to comfort may strike others as judgment.  So many of our responses are cliches. I encourage those wondering what to say to listen to this podcast about Stuff Christians Say When People Die.

But as someone from a family who has been through this, perhaps I have some perspective. This is what I can offer. I hope it helps.

1. Welcome to the club of people To Whom the Unimaginable is Now Imaginable

Perhaps you were already a member - I don't know your life story. Some people have been through terrible tragedy before this. If you weren't, though, your child dying, in any way, makes you an automatic member. No parent plans to bury their child; no one plans for their 22-year-old or 17-year-old sibling to pass away. I don't think anyone can imagine mental illness impacting their family (biological or chosen) so deeply. This club is one no one wishes to join, and I would not wish membership on anyone. I will say, though, that when I became a member, my whole perspective changed. I gained compassion I had never known I had. Some relationships strengthened; others faded. Priorities changed. I wish I could say that I found unexpected strength - outsiders to this club may think I have. The truth is, I fell apart. I cried all the time. I had trouble eating. I slept too much. I worried about failing classes. I was just surviving for a time. I am not saying that everything happens for a reason. Or a good reason. This is terrible, and I've never found anything good enough that came out of this that I would trade it for a single hug in this present moment from my beautiful, wonderful brother. I'm saying that this experience will change you. Somehow.

2. It's okay to feel whatever you're feeling

People may ask how you are. True friends will be okay with it if you admit that you don't know how you're going to make it through the next hour, let alone the rest of your life, without this precious loved one who had so many dreams and for whom you wished so much. But some want you to make them feel better by saying that you're fine or repeating some cliche. Know that whatever people think you should feel or you've read in a book or you've heard in a support group, you feel what you feel. That's okay.

3. Stay the amount of "busy" that works for you

Some people will tell you to take a leave of absence from work. Some will say to throw yourself into your work. Only you know how you feel and what you can do. Do what you can, but this is not the time to feel obligated to prove anything to anyone or to allow others' judgment to determine your choices. Grieve how you need to grieve. People told me to stop playing Vanilla Twilight (Owl City) and In Like a Lion (Relient K) on loop because it was making me sadder. They told me to go do things. The truth was that nothing could make me sadder than I felt. Listening to that music helped externalize my feelings and reflect on my brother's life. I got my homework done. I did my graduate assistantship work. But if I had taken a leave of absence or delayed graduation, that was no one else's decision.

4. You may not always wake up and have your first thought be the realization that your loved one is gone, but it will always hurt

My brother has been gone more than two and a half years. I talk about him. A lot. I tell people what happened. I think about things he liked and stuff I want to tell him. I wonder if he would be married by now if he had lived or if he would still be unicycling (of course he would have). My day to day functioning is better than it was, though. I can enjoy some activities, even ones I used to do with him, without feeling a sense of guilt. When something like this happens - losing a student, I mean - it all floods back and I remember the deep pain my family went through, and I know that it will be different for you, but the magnitude of the pain will be the same. I'm not going to say it gets better. It's always hard. But it changes. It gets different. When that happens, and you bring it up without having a meltdown, some people will be surprised or uncomfortable, especially if they are not members of the club To Whom the Unimaginable is Now Imaginable. If talking about it makes you feel better, if you think that people knowing might improve something in some way, tell them anyway. If you hurt and you can't, don't tell them. These don't stop being your choices because a set amount of time has passed.

Maybe this resonates. Maybe you hate me. It's fine either way. You're entitled to your reaction. I won't be offended if you tell me. I won't be upset if you say nothing.