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

Monday, September 29, 2014

Choosing Love: The Sequel

A couple months ago, I wrote an exceedingly popular post about choosing love, even when it was hard and I didn't feel like it. My conclusion was that when we choose love, we are blessed, even if our situation doesn't change externally.

I haven't posted about this before, because I was still processing, but it's time to say something. My paternal grandmother is dying. Not like we're all dying, where of course it's coming. She's now on hospice care, and we probably have a week or two left. She has been sick for a long time, and it has gotten increasingly difficult for her to breathe. She is not anxious about dying, really. She looks forward to going to Heaven to be with Jesus and the family members that are already there. I, in some ways, welcome her peace and healing, and I believe that we will see her again someday. Please don't ask if I'm okay. This post will tell you everything you need to know about how I'm doing. (For more on my perspective on grieving, this post is for you.)

But we will miss her. I can't say that I agree with everything she's said or done, but she is a woman of deep, active conviction. She taught Sunday school and VBS for years. She volunteered at a crisis pregnancy center after she retired. Even when it got difficult to get out, she opened her home. For any of you who have been to dinner at my house and liked my entertaining style, know that I learned it from her. She's an amazing storyteller. The best whistler I know. To hear her talk about a Vernor's Boston Cooler with Sander's ice cream, you would think she was telling you about the finest French pastry.

So about choosing love. My family is a family, so by definition it's dysfunctional. I get that, but these are the moments when everyone should rally together. Yet there is a great deal of discord, some of which I fear will not be surmounted in time. I am still frustrated with what happened last December. And I said that I would not attend events that Rebecca is not invited to. But refusing to see my grandmother at this point isn't going to change what happened. That rule is for my protection and benefit as I make difficult choices about where to spend the holidays, not to punish my family. And I know that I will never regret sitting with Grandma, or bringing her ice cubes, or rubbing her back, or discussing the proper way to make a Boston Cooler. I cannot see a way that I will regret making her dinner. I also won't regret being there to provide even a small amount of relief for the family members caring for her. I'm sure I won't regret validating their decisions to grieve the way they need to or to do self-care.

My family may regret boycotting my wedding. They may not. I don't know. But I know that I will not regret choosing love or choosing to extend the small graces that I have available to me in this present moment, even though I am concerned that Rebecca may not be invited to the memorial service when I really will need her with me for support.

The pastor shared this passage from 1 John 4 yesterday, and I found it incredibly convicting:

7 Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 19 We love because he first loved us. 20 Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar.

I hope that all readers will choose love with me today.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

On Being a Unicorn

Readership on this blog is higher than I ever would have expected. Last I checked, it has been viewed more than 8,000 times, mostly in the U.S., but also far abroad in countries to which I've never been. I've asked myself why this is and had conversations with a few people recently. Posts on my personal story have consistently been more popular than cooking posts or restaurant reviews - for my theory on why, read this post on the power of personal narrative.

Everyone has a story, though. Certainly, not everyone blogs about theirs. But even of the people who do, not everyone sees any kind of viewership. I can't claim that my blog has risen to extreme popularity, but it's been interesting to have conversations with people who read it.

Readership seems to span many spectra - atheists, very religious people, academics, non-academics, the LGBT community, straight people . . . and as I said, there are views from places I've never been, including 30 from Latvia (shout out to whomever that is).

Why is my story interesting? Why does anyone care about my perspective?

I've come to conclude, through conversations with a few friends,

 

that I am a unicorn. 


Before, when I fit into a clear box - Millie from Freaks and Geeks, for instance - my story lacked plot and substance. My views were flat and undeveloped. When nothing bad or unexpected happens, we don't have a narrative (thanks, Profesor Ulchur of la Universidad San Francisco de Quito for that mind-blowing insight in your Boom de Literatura Latinoamerica course - my life will never be the same).

Now, many terrible and complicated things have happened to me. In some ways, I'm the same person as before, and in others, I have grown immeasurably. Why am I so rare/mythical?

1. I identify as LGBT, but not necessarily as a specific letter. 

(Ask me about that in person if you have questions.)

2. I regularly attend religious services at a relatively theologically conservative place of worship. 

While more progressive than the United Methodist and Baptist churches I've attended in the past, they are not really "gay affirming" as some other denominations are. People find it interesting that Rebecca and I have never been to a majority LGBT church in Ferndale, a nearby suburb. My perspective at this place of worship sounds highly valued - I have even been invited to speak with the elders, although this hasn't yet materialized. I've had conversations with other ministers about my church-seeking experiences (I mention one in my post on choosing love). Recently, a family member invited me to share my story at a retreat where issues of same-sex love will be discussed - I am unable to go, and unsure whether I would if I could, but the fact that my views were elicited is interesting.

 3. I sincerely believe that my relationship with Rebecca is Biblical, 


and I can articulately explain why, but I do not condemn those who currently sincerely believe that it is not. Some people may be critical of this, but as discussed, I was once where they are. I cannot say that I condone recruiting people to these conservative churches with the plan to "fix" them or at least convince them to be celibate, but neither do I think that excluding them from meaningful conversations will advance the kingdom of God.

4. I have had exactly one sexual partner in my life, 


breaking stereotypes many people have about the LGBT community. I feel this, and some of my other behaviors, render me "respectable," in much the way that Rosa Parks was found respectable enough to cause the Montgomery bus boycott when another woman also refused to give up her seat prior.

In Conclusion


I am definitely curious to find out why else people may think that I'm a unicorn (or other reasons people have been reading this blog). I cannot promise to address every question people have, but if there are facets of my perspective that haven't been addressed that are appropriate for this forum, let me know. I'll do my best.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Power of Personal Narrative

When I was young, I went through apologetics training at church. While I question the value of some of what I learned, the basic notion of learning how to have conversations that bring people to new understanding is a welcome one.

For me, the most currently relevant topic was that the most powerful tool we had is usually our own story. While people may argue with philosophical reasons, Bible references, and other attempts to persuade, and sometimes statistics feel cold and impersonal, personal narrative gets around that. It is difficult to argue with a person's story, assuming that they seem trustworthy and the story is honest and heartfelt. 

This blog has been a good lesson in that for me. As you know, I write posts on a variety of topics - some personal narratives, some recipes, product reviews, etc. When looking at statistics for readership, the personal narratives are almost always the most visited and often also the most shared. This doesn't mean, for those of you enjoying the recipes, that I will stop posting them. It does confirm for me, though, that the value of this blog is not really in them.

My story is a complicated one. Some parts of it are not for public consumption just yet (which is why a post on self censorship has languished as a draft for quite some time - and yes, I see the irony in that). When I meet someone who can listen to my whole story without judgment, or for whom I hope my story will expand understanding, I share it. But as with many stories, mine is better told in person. I wish I could meet with each of you to share stories over coffee and homemade cinnamon rolls. (If you will be in the area, let me know.) In the meantime, if you're interested in more specifics, feel free to email or private message me. I'd love to hear your story, questions, and perspectives.

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.