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

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Independence Day in Trump's US: And Frederick Douglass is "Getting Recognized More and More"

It's a strange year to be celebrating US independence or reflecting on US history.

This is a year when the Bill of Rights is threatened by an administration that seems to lack a basic understanding of civics.

It's a year that we fear that a portion of our representatives will return from the July recess and vote on a bill that will remove access to healthcare from millions of people in the US, a decision guaranteed to cause unnecessary suffering and death.

 It's a year when the president said, during the first day of Black History Month:

"I am very proud now that we have a museum on the National Mall where people can learn about Reverend King, so many other things, Frederick Douglass is an example of somebody who’s done an amazing job and is getting recognized more and more, I notice. Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, and millions more black Americans who made America what it is today. Big impact."

Image result for creative commons frederick douglass
Frederick Douglass. Creative Commons.


Many people wrote excellent responses to the president's remark, so I won't endeavor to treat it in its entirety.

But on the Fourth of July, I want to share excerpts from the words of Frederick Douglass, as they are the only form of patriotism and history I can fully embrace this year (read "The Meaning of the Fourth of July for the Negro" in its entirety by clicking this link):

Fellow Citizens, I am not wanting in respect for the fathers of this republic. The signers of the Declaration of Independence were brave men. They were great men, too great enough to give frame to a great age. It does not often happen to a nation to raise, at one time, such a number of truly great men. The point from which I am compelled to view them is not, certainly, the most favorable; and yet I cannot contemplate their great deeds with less than admiration. They were statesmen, patriots and heroes, and for the good they did, and the principles they contended for, I will unite with you to honor their memory.... 

Fellow-citizens, pardon me, allow me to ask, why am I called upon to speak here to-day? What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence? Are the great principles of political freedom and of natural justice, embodied in that Declaration of Independence, extended to us? and am I, therefore, called upon to bring our humble offering to the national altar, and to confess the benefits and express devout gratitude for the blessings resulting from your independence to us?. . . .

But I fancy I hear some one of my audience say, "It is just in this circumstance that you and your brother abolitionists fail to make a favorable impression on the public mind. Would you argue more, and denounce less; would you persuade more, and rebuke less; your cause would be much more likely to succeed." But, I submit, where all is plain there is nothing to be argued. What point in the anti slavery creed would you have me argue? On what branch of the subject do the people of this country need light? Must I undertake to prove that the slave is a man? That point is conceded already. Nobody doubts it. The slaveholders themselves acknowledge it in the enactment of laws for their government. . . .

Would you have me argue that man is entitled to liberty? that he is the rightful owner of his own body? You have already declared it. Must I argue the wrongfulness of slavery? Is that a question for Republicans? Is it to be settled by the rules of logic and argumentation, as a matter beset with great difficulty, involving a doubtful application of the principle of justice, hard to be understood? How should I look to-day, in the presence of Americans, dividing, and subdividing a discourse, to show that men have a natural right to freedom? speaking of it relatively and positively, negatively and affirmatively. To do so, would be to make myself ridiculous, and to offer an insult to your understanding.-There is not a man beneath the canopy of heaven that does not know that slavery is wrong for him.

What, am I to argue that it is wrong to make men brutes, to rob them of their liberty, to work them without wages, to keep them ignorant of their relations to their fellow men, to beat them with sticks, to flay their flesh with the lash, to load their limbs with irons, to hunt them with dogs, to sell them at auction, to sunder their families, to knock out their teeth, to burn their flesh, to starve them into obedience and submission to their masters? Must I argue that a system thus marked with blood, and stained with pollution, is wrong? No! I will not. I have better employment for my time and strength than such arguments would imply.

What, then, remains to be argued? Is it that slavery is not divine; that God did not establish it; that our doctors of divinity are mistaken? There is blasphemy in the thought. That which is inhuman, cannot be divine! Who can reason on such a proposition? They that can, may; I cannot. The time for such argument is passed. . . .


What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer; a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are, to Him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy-a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of the United States, at this very hour.  

....Allow me to say, in conclusion, notwithstanding the dark picture I have this day presented, of the state of the nation, I do not despair of this country. There are forces in operation which must inevitably work the downfall of slavery. "The arm of the Lord is not shortened," and the doom of slavery is certain. I, therefore, leave off where I began, with hope. While drawing encouragement from "the Declaration of Independence," the great principles it contains, and the genius of American Institutions, my spirit is also cheered by the obvious tendencies of the age. Nations do not now stand in the same relation to each other that they did ages ago. No nation can now shut itself up from the surrounding world and trot round in the same old path of its fathers without interference.  (bolded emphasis added)


I offer this with no further commentary, other than to ask that today you reflect upon it.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Confessions: A Lesbian's Open Letter to the Men I Dated

For readers who don't know me personally: I dated exclusively men before Rebecca and I became a couple. It never occurred to me to do otherwise.

This is an open letter to the men who dated me, for time ranging from a few weeks to several months.

Dear Ex-Boyfriends,

I'm sorry that I didn't love you better. I wish I had.

But I didn't know how to. You see, I didn't know who I was, and I definitely didn't love who I was, and that meant that I didn't have enough to offer you. 

I shouldn't have been dating at all. I should have held myself to a standard of defining what I needed before pulling you into the hot mess that was me before I was out. Before I knew. Before I saw the pattern I had of falling madly, unsustainably for men I couldn't make happy because I was unhappy. I thought you would make me happy, but that's not how love works.

I was socialized to believe that gay people were broken. I didn't think I was broken, so I assumed that I was straight. 

I was socialized to believe that women are called to marriage and childbearing as their highest form of service.

I was socialized to believe that I was unattractive and hard to love, too smart, too religious, too flat, too loud to be loved.

And then you found me lovely, for a time at least. You made me feel, for a time at least, that it was possible for someone to love me. You told me that women in many shapes and sizes are beautiful. You talked to me late into the night and found my interdisciplinarity engaging.

That was important. What you did and said mattered. What you didn't say mattered.

What I didn't say mattered too.

It didn't work. We didn't last. Things ended amicably for the most part. 

I can't pretend to know how you felt when I came out. You might have been surprised, or maybe you felt that things made more sense. 

Know that I never meant to hurt you, if it hurt. Know that I will raise my sons and daughters, Lord willing, to believe differently.

I hope you are happy. I hope you have found your helpmate as I found mine. I hope that you learned something useful from the time we spent together, as I learned from you.

The most fervent love I can give,

Erin 


Monday, May 1, 2017

One Year of #OwnerOccupieDetroit: Anniversary in the D

I know it's been a while since I posted - things got away from me.

The good news is that #fixerupperdetroit has come a long way from where we were at a year ago yesterday, when we officially moved in to a construction site with no kitchen and a life of plaster dust.



Being a Detroit resident is a dream come true. I see the Spirit of Detroit on my utility bills, my neighbors are amazing, and our house is set up to hold a couple dozen people for a birthday party.

Better yet, our house is sending the vibe we want it to. People go through our cupboards and fridge to find things they need. They let themselves in our front door. Yesterday, when we had a gargantuan group of people over for Rebecca's birthday, I heard that people were washing dirty dishes themselves because we ran out of dishes (I'm pretty sure we started with a dozen clean bowls and more than a dozen dinner plates) and they didn't want to bother me while I was hostessing. We finished an entire slow cooker full of Thai vegetable soup. A giant tray of crab rangoons. 20+ fresh rolls. We had to open up an extra table just for desserts people brought. Two people ended up chilling in my upstairs office to chat someplace quieter. People hung out with new friends. Basically, they treated my home like their home. Like they're family. Which they are.

Our Sunday night Table for 12+ potluck has been a wonderful experience. I joke that it incentivizes me to clean my house, but I find myself looking forward to hosting such a casual event and bringing people from many walks of life together. I hope other people will consider joining me in hosting an event like this regularly - it doesn't have to be every week. Once a month would also work.

Yes, there will be potluck on Sunday, May 7th from 6 pm to 9 pm (ish). And you're invited. The Palmer Park Art Fair is this weekend and just a short drive or bike ride away, so I encourage you to visit it and support local artists before you come to #fixerupperdetroit for dinner.

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.