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

Monday, January 23, 2017

Confessions: #straightpersonclosetchallenge

Hey readers,

I know a lot of you are straight. That's a numbers game. There are just more of you out there. I'm grateful you read. I'm even more grateful for those of you who act as allies - who vote, speak, listen, and advocate on behalf of families like mine, on behalf of children who identify as LGBT+, on behalf of those who don't fit traditional conceptions of gender.

Here's my confession: given the current political climate, a small part of me (very small, but not nonexistent) is a little regretful that I've registered my same-sex marriage with the US government. There's a pubic record available to prove that I'm gay. There's also, of course, this blog.

I wasn't always so forthcoming. I was in the closet for a long time. It was easier when I wasn't seeing anyone. It was hard when I was in love.

Even now, I don't come out at all of the work locations I go to. I've learned to avoid discussions about my marital status, not use singular or gendered pronouns about my spouse, try not to discuss if I live alone or who I've dated or what I find attractive. As a lipstick lesbian, it's pretty easy to avoid arousing suspicion, at least at first.

Every once in a while, someone tells me that it shouldn't matter if I'm gay, and that I should just keep it to myself. And I think how hard it is to keep an entire sexual orientation a secret. No, seriously. It's tricky.

So straight readers, straight allies, who read this, I'm challenging you: for a week, try to avoid mentioning anything that would give away your sexual orientation to any new people you meet.

Don't talk about dates you've been on, what characteristics you find sexy, your spouse or significant other, your wedding, your anniversary, your children (if it would give away something about your spouse), why you relocated/took a certain job (if it pertains to a significant other), or where you went on vacation (if you went with a significant other). Fill out any forms that ask about your marital status correctly, of course, but make a mental note of the number of times you do so that it would be more complicated for same-sex couples. Don't like or share any articles or pictures on social media that could give away your sexual orientation.

Take notes as you do it on what is easy, what is hard, what is surprising. And then at the end, share your thoughts on social media and tag them with #straightpersonclosetchallenge (if any of my Trans friends have a version that could be the #cispersonclosetchallenge let me know).

My hope is that the anxiety that members of the LGBT+ community experience on a regular basis becomes more palpable and understandable, that you become more invested in supporting local housing and employment legal protections for the LGBT+ community, and that you also reflect on which questions you ask yourself at the outset of a relationship that might inadvertently be "outing" people.

The good news for you is that because of straight privilege, if you fail at this challenge, you most likely won't be fired or asked to leave your place of worship or evicted or physically threatened or blacklisted because of your sexual orientation.

Nobody should be.

Friday, January 6, 2017

A List of People More Qualified to Be Secretary of Education than Betsy DeVos

Betsy DeVos has never attended nor worked in a public school (for K-12 or college). She didn't send her children to one. She has no teaching certificate or degree related to education or policy. And yet Donald Trump has nominated her for Secretary of Education.

Therefore, I'm making a list of people I know that would be more qualified to be Secretary of Education:

1. My mother-in-law, a retired public school librarian
2. My father-in-law, a certified special education teacher (although he no longer works as an educator)
3. My aunt, a certified preschool teacher (although she no longer works as an educator)
4. A different aunt, a certified teacher who worked as a substitute teacher (although she no longer works as an educator)
5. My sister-in-law, a certified secondary social studies teacher who worked as a substitute teacher (although she no longer works as an educator)
6. My best friend, a certified English teacher at a public alternative school
7. All of the educators I've partnered with while providing ACT and SAT prep
8. Everyone who graduated from MSU's elementary education bachelor's program with me
9. Several friends and former students who entered public education through alternative certification programs like Teach for America
10. The parents I know who have done an excellent job homeschooling their children via participation in homeschooling networks
11. A former student who served on a public school board while he was still in high school
12. Every person in the MSU Higher, Adult, and Lifelong Education Ph.D. cohort that I was blessed to be part of for a year
13 (Baker's dozen). My sister, a certified Spanish, math, and ESL teacher who has never taught full-time in a public school but has subbed in many and attended public school for K-12 and her bachelor's

 Of course, there are also lots of people with Ph.D.s, political experience, and policy training who would be even more qualified than the people on this list.

We can do so much better.

If you agree, here's a list of phone numbers for the senators on the committee that must examine Betsy Devos' appointment before confirming it. Let's get the phones ringing off the hook.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Which Anniversary Do We Celebrate? Today, and All the Others

Someone once asked Rebecca and me which anniversary we celebrate. Our reply? All of them.

So which one is today?

Today is the third anniversary of what we call our civil ceremony, or our second wedding. On January 2nd, 2014, we had a pop-up wedding with the same vows as we'd used at our religious ceremony on May 12, 2012, but this time in the rose garden at a park in Palm Desert, CA so that we could have the officiant sign off on a marriage certificate.
We had a photographer take a few pictures in the rose garden after the ceremony. This is one of my favorites.

People asked before our first wedding if gay marriage was "legal." I've heard from other same-sex couples that announced their engagement that people have told them that their wedding would be "illegal."

I prefer to think of the year and a half between our first and second wedding as a time when our marriage was undocumented, to borrow a term from immigration law. As in, it existed, just as the immigrants do, but there weren't documents to prove it because the state in which we lived had banned that kind of paperwork.

So today we celebrate the start of the paper trail.

Our marriage certificate isn't "just a piece of paper," as I've heard some people say, usually with the best of intentions, to try to reassure us that our marriage counts.

Of course our marriage matters, with or without the documents. But do you know what we got three years ago, besides the vows, besides the papers? A way for me to get medical insurance through Rebecca's employer. A guarantee that I will be allowed to see her in the hospital. A way to file at least our federal taxes together (though it would be a while and a hot mess until Michigan was forced to accept our papers and joint taxes). Protection from having to testify against each other in court should we ever be accused. And about a thousand other rights and protections (yes, literally, about a thousand).

We lived in what I will call "semi-documentation" for a year and a half. United States v. Windsor meant that the federal government recognized our paper trail. Michigan didn't.

What are we doing today to celebrate? We made eggs with chorizo and nopal, a favorite from the month we spent in Cuernavaca several summers ago, and well, Rebecca is doing tasks here and there around #fixerupperdetroit - laundry, dishes, installing curtain rods, etc, because all I want for Christmas and my anniversary is for our house to be done.

I'm still recovering from pneumonia, so the "in sickness and in health" part of our vows is in play. Rebecca has me tucked up in bed under an electric blanket with a pot of tea, and chastised me just now for coming downstairs to get this laptop so that I could write this post. That would happen with or without the documents, of course.

So there's May 12 to hope that I'm healthy and we can do something fancy. There's also June 26th, the anniversary of when Obergefell v. Hodges was handed down by the Supreme Court and Michigan was forced (yes, forced - they fought tooth and nail to reject our California marriage certificate - a slap in the face to both us and California) to accept our documents. Michigan, in fact, took the maximum amount of time provided by the federal government to process our documentation.

And of course there's also September 18th, the anniversary of coming out to each other and admitting that we're in love.

We've been through a lot. Our marriage has been hard work. All marriages are, though for a  lot of couples, getting the documentation is the easy part.

So we celebrate all the anniversaries. All the days we've worked for and fought for and planned for. And we're grateful to those who have helped us along the way and celebrated with us.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Confessions: I Still Suck at Grief

I miss my brother.

I thought I'd get better at grieving over time. I thought by the fifth year that - what? I'd graduate grief? Become a superior human being? Be rid of all my flaws?

To many people, it might look like I have. A student wrote an essay about cyberbullying and used an example of a student who died of depression and I didn't burst into tears. I tell people what happened to Josh matter-of-factly when they ask how many siblings I have.

But grief is a heavy, heavy weight. I don't think it ever gets lighter. I think that we just get stronger to carry it if we survive the first experience of the anvil falling. For those who anticipate the loss, maybe they do some sort of emotional CrossFit before it happens or brace themselves and that's why it seems like they manage even though they're trying to carry an invisible, out-of-tune grand piano. For those of us blindsided, we may collapse into a puddle and then hopefully someone does something and we somehow get back up and assemble the pieces that are left and figure out what the future looks like  
without the person we always saw as part of our happily ever after and  
with a metric ton of devastation on our backs.

I lost my brother. The one who conspired to keep transgressions from my parents. The one who could remind me that not everything was perfect when we grew up, but we were in it together. The one who could make fun of my terrible taste in music and pets and stories.

The one who called out my children's book collection as too heavy on female writers to make sure my male students could see themselves as writers too.

The one who taught me that everyone can love to read when they find something that interests them.

The one who patiently explained to me how to learn to juggle and how it works, even though I'm super clumsy and never learned how.

The one who promised to come to my wedding because it was a shame for no one from the family to be there.

Who didn't, because his mental illness had taken him before I managed to get married.

Who hasn't seen the house I've owned for a year now and the yard that's a mess.

Who won't ever meet his future nieces and nephews to play soccer in that messy backyard.

In my head, in the parallel universe where he's living, he's married to a sweet woman and probably has two children and works for a bank. He would have turned 27 last week.

The grief doesn't get lighter. It doesn't even stay the same weight. If anything, the weight grows as the things pile up that I want to tell him and I can't. Lily, the mutt we adopted right after I finished high school, that Josh trained, that probably to the day she passed would have gone to look out the window when we said, "Josh is home," even years after his passing, died this year. Dorian, the cat that my brother made fun of me for getting, died this year. He never met Cesar. He will never meet Harry. He will never meet my parents' new dog, Cookie. The world keeps rolling and snowballing all the things that he will never see.

This time of year, the distance between my universe and the parallel universe where he lives now gets thinner. His birthday, the day he died, the holidays - sometimes the gap seems so small that I think that if I reached out hard enough, I could pass him the butter pecan truffles from Fabiano's that I continue purchasing because he loved them, even though they're not my favorite.

And you can't see me now, but I'm crying, the kind of crying that wracks the soul so hard that there's no sound left to come out, and I wish I could tell those of you with fresher losses that it gets easier, but it doesn't. Your arms will grow longer, your back will grow stronger, and you will find new ways to love and new people to love, and the grief will not finish you, but the grief will never finish, either.

For me, the world is divided into the time before December 15th, 2011, when my back was upright, and the time after I was issued my anvil with no instruction manual. I'm grateful for all of those who have helped me carry it and sent me pages of the instruction manual they wrote from trial and error and gone along with the pages I have written for myself that don't make sense to anyone else. And I will try to share the load for those who have received their anvil this year and send you pages out of that nonsensical instruction manual.

The grief will not finish, but it will not finish us.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Confessions: November 2016 Has Me at a Loss for Words

National Blog Post Month really didn't go well this year. In fact, it went better last year, despite our mold infestation and trying to close on a house owned by an incompetent, negligent, business un-savvy real estate speculator.

I haven't posted in about two weeks. I could try to blame hosting Thanksgiving and Sunday open dinner, but that's not the reason.

I could try to blame doing home repairs.

I could try to blame a stressful work schedule, or having to box up our antique booth, or any number of other things.

Most of you are compassionate. Most of you would give me a pass.

But I don't feel like I deserve a pass.

The truth is that I haven't been writing because I feel guilty and powerless after the results of the election.

I feel guilty that I didn't post about my concerns about a Trump administration. No, I don't have thousands of readers. No, this blog isn't a huge platform. But I do have readers. People here and there consider my perspectives.

And I didn't write because I thought that people already knew how dangerous a Trump presidency could be. I thought that my years of reading about Latin American dictatorships, of trying to understand what conditions cause revolution and political instability wouldn't matter, that people would write it off even if I explained it well, and I questioned if I could explain it well enough for people to see the parallels between Pinochet or Trujillo or the Perones or Bucaram and Trump. I didn't think he could win. I didn't want to rock the boat. I didn't want to sift through the comments on social media and moderate and defend. I didn't want to find out that more than zero of my associates support a bigoted, inept businessman for the head of state of a world power.

And if I continue in the vein of confessions, I haven't been writing because I've used up the energy it would take to write in calling representatives. I hate using the phone, but it's the best way to make elected officials listen. So it takes a lot for me to get up the gumption to do it. I haven't as much as I should. I see people who call every day, or more than once a day, and I'm in awe that they can. I'm in awe at how many voicemails they leave, that they  have a script, that they re-dial if the line is busy. It gives me hope to see their activism. But I also feel guilty that I don't match that level of advocacy.

I also feel guilty because I have so much privilege now that I might not be significantly impacted by many of the policies I anticipate being harmful. (Unless my wife or I are assaulted in a hate crime, which, you know, is now much more likely. So there's that.) We have so much privilege that we recently ordered a brand new couch for the family room at #fixerupperdetroit (our first brand new couch EVER - hooray for adulting). We don't really budget for grocery store purchases much anymore. We joke about "throwing money at problems," but we actually do, and it's great. It's so much easier than the "creative accounting" and "shrewd budgeting" and coupon clipping and waiting for sales and doing without and such that we used to do, and Rebecca's growing salary makes it okay. We're already married, and even if Obergefell v. Hodges and Windsor v. US are overturned, my marriage certificate will likely continue to be valid and recognized. We already bought a house at a reasonable interest rate, and Rebecca's salary will cover the mortgage even if we're underwater. We have the money to pay attorneys. We're White. We're Christian.

I feel guilty because we have a lot of privilege and because I've shirked what I perceive to be my responsibilities as an informed citizen.

But I also confess that despite my privilege, I feel powerless.

You see, I voted in the primaries. Carefully. Using research. Like, down to voting for former public defenders as judges instead of former prosecutors as judges because public defenders who become judges are more likely to support sentences that rehabilitate and restore.

I voted in the presidential election. Carefully. Using research. Like, down to comparing credentials for sixty-three Detroit Community School District school board representatives.

I voted, and I'm still terrified.

And now the research I'm doing is whether there's a such thing as personal political upheaval insurance. I'm trying to figure out if there's a financial advising firm that specializes in predicting the effects of political instability. I'm trying to figure out if we should try to pay of Rebecca's student loans faster or the mortgage faster if we need to mobilize or need cash on hand to pay bail for friends who are political activists. I'm trying to maximize the number of people who can stay in our house (or hide in our house) if the proposed Muslim registry happens and then turns into something more dangerous. I'm asking my wife to increase her disability insurance coverage so that we don't lose the house if she is incapacitated in a hate crime. I'm asking my family lawyer if we need to update any documents in case we end up hospitalized at a religious hospital that doesn't recognize our marriage and there's some form of "religious freedom" act passed that permits them to disregard my marriage certificate (yes, a bill like this already exists, and yes, Trump has said he would sign it).

Will all of these things happen? No, probably not. Do I know which ones will and won't? Of course not. No one really does. The outcome of this election was a surprise even to those who are far more educated on the subject than I am.

I've survived this far from a blend of privilege and preparing for the worst possible outcome I can imagine. I was lulled into  a sense of security when the economy was on an upswing and we'd mostly finished the major renovation and it looks like 80 hour weeks aren't going to kill my wife. I thought there wouldn't likely be another housing crash like the one in 2008. I thought it would get easier to be an out lesbian in a conservative state.

And I must confess: I'm at a loss. I don't know how to prepare for this many possible bad outcomes. Even with this amount of privilege.

So I haven't been writing. Maybe December will be better.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

An SAT Teacher Talks Immigration

Yesterday at a local low-income public high school where I teach SAT prep, we were discussing college class structure when a student asked me, "What's the point in preparing for college applications if Trump kicks my family out of the country?"

I asked him if he had been born here or gone through the citizenship process. He said that they became citizens a long time ago.

I told him that if he is a citizen, no one can make him leave.

That's currently true.

When I posted a condensed version of this story on facebook, one person commented that if he's a naturalized citizen, he has "nothing to fear!!!!" (emphasis added, exclamation marks original).

It isn't his job as a child to know the intricacies of immigration law, nor is it unreasonable that my student took the president-elect of an industrialized country at his word.

I'm not sure what religion this student's family follows, but he may well be Muslim. I told him that he can't be deported, but given other recent events, here are possible concerns:

It remains to be seen whether religious minorities will be forced to register or undergo extra surveillance. 

So there is much to fear for his family (just as there is for mine even though it isn't possible for my marriage to be invalidated), even though he cannot be deported. 

I have felt often lately that there isn't much I can do, but in his case, that isn't true. I can teach him to get a strong SAT score and give him the resources to get into a good university with scholarships. I can help to provide him a pathway to the education and financial stability to support his family no matter where he ends up.

I cannot pretend that going forward, life will be business as usual or that this presidency will be normal. It isn't in my job description to advise students whether they will be deported between taking the SAT and finishing a bachelor's degree*. It isn't normal. Citizens should be able to set a five year plan without considering political volatility. 

 This isn't the last I have to say about the uncertainties this election and presidency create for the youth. In fact, this is a tiny excerpt from one day full of statements that I made that are currently true that may not be true down the line that I'd like to examine. 

I will end with a quote from Autocracy: Rules for Survival

"Believe the autocrat. He means what he says. Whenever you find yourself thinking, or hear others claiming, that he is exaggerating, that is our innate tendency to reach for a rationalization. This will happen often: humans seem to have evolved to practice denial when confronted publicly with the unacceptable." ~Masha Gessen

*My comment to the student and comments in this post in general should not be construed as legal advice. I am not qualified to provide that. This blog provides observations and commentary only.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

#fixerupperdetroit: Moderately Sad News

I have some moderately sad news. First world problems news. But news that nevertheless makes my heart feel a little empty.

Some of you who have been to #fixerupperdetroit know that one of the remaining larger projects is to rehab the staircase between the ground floor and second floor.

Right now it looks like this:

I hope it's understandable why we want to get this fixed. There are still carpet staples left in some of the steps (although we were hugely blessed to have friends who came and did the grueling work of removing most of them). A lot of the steps are a bit cracked, and the stairs groan loudly under the weight of each person who climbs them. 

We had made a giant step forward. My father-in-law bought a set of antique spindles and a gorgeous post that were exactly the right architectural fit for our house. They would have looked as though they had always been in our house. It would have been an amazing statement piece that visitors saw shortly after entering, and that guided us safely up to bed each night.

He went to pick them up from the warehouse.

They had been stolen.

Who steals architectural pieces? I'm not sure. I've heard that this isn't the only time it's happened. My father-in-law bought the pieces for much less than their usual value (I'm not sure how my in-laws manage to find so many good deals, but it has definitely benefited us over the last few years). Still, that doesn't explain how they disappeared before he got there.

I don't know if we'll find another set this perfect. We almost assuredly won't for the price of this set (my father-in-law did get a refund from the warehouse, at least). 

It's not the end of the world. Compared to the news from the last week, it seems minor. But it was something we were really looking forward to.

If you see a salvaged staircase rail, let me know.