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

Monday, March 23, 2015

Marriage is Hard: Marriage w/o Equality is Harder

Dear friends,

I have something like 6 post ideas languishing as drafts. I try to write them down when I think of them, to be fleshed out later. If that had happened, you would have read about my technique for Ecuadorian-style low-fat, creamy, satisfying, high nutrient blended soup. You would know why I have come to be glad that I was a humanities major, despite the number of people who say that was a foolish choice. You would hear more about my take on personal stories. I would be eloquent and poetic and convincing and positive. You would leave feeling that I'm just the right combo of . . . Martha Stewart, the Barefoot Contessa, Miss Manners, Ellen, and . . . I don't even know. Maya Angelou?

I have a framework of what I consider permitted for this blog space. It must somehow pertain to Michigan. It must fit the general idea of a lifestyle or opinion blog (so basically, anything I want, except for a place to share research proposals, lots of political links, or . . . nope, that's it). It generally needs to share something about me, my life, or relationships. And also, it needs to attempt a nuanced perspective that avoids overt attack on those who would disagree (I know some of you may feel this doesn't happen - but you should see some of the things I write and don't publish).

Today, my heart is not in telling you about Ecuadorian soup, or the humanities, or meta-narrative. I just want to share a profound truth that many of you already know:

Marriage. Is. Hard.

It's really hard. People who say it is easy have never tried. It's hard to share a life, a house, finances, food, time, pets, children, dreams, goals, blame, and everything else with another person for a lifetime. It's not easy for anyone. I'm not saying that. Please don't mistake me.

My marriage, if we were straight, would still be hard. With Rebecca in residency, I'm holding our household together, our social life together, our laundry and fridge and bathroom and kitty cats together, almost alone. That is a fact of residency, especially primary care, especially first year, especially in research/hospital-based programs. Those scenes on Grey's Anatomy where all the interns are at a bar together? Doesn't happen. Someone has to be staffing the hospital still. And honestly, the ones that don't are probably just wiped.

Marriage is harder than usual for: interracial couples, military couples, low-income couples, immigrant couples, couples from different religious backgrounds, couples from different financial backgrounds, couples with similar personalities, couples with differing personalities. So all couples, really.

And marriage is harder than usual for LGBT couples. It just is. Of course, we treasure it. Of course, I'm glad to live now and not 50 years ago, when I would have to pretend Rebecca is my roommate all the time instead of just at certain work sites. Of course, I'm grateful that I have a California marriage certificate. Of course, I know that this will likely be sorted in the relatively near future, against the will of many of those who live in the U.S.

But I would like to know how to set up my taxes NOW. Yes, I know taxes are a pain for everyone. The vast majority of people, though, know whether or not their home state will consider them married on Tax Day. I would like to have a drivers license that matches my married name YESTERDAY. Or months ago. Yes, I know getting this changed is a pain for everyone who takes their spouse's name, but the vast majority of people who do so are guaranteed that the SOS will process their paperwork if they bring in correct documentation, take their ticket, wait for their number, and speak reasonably to the person behind the counter. I would like to think that we had chosen employers based solely on whether it was a good fit, and not because some have non-discrimination policies for the LGBT community that allow us to be out, share insurance, not get fired for something that has no bearing on whether we are good at our jobs, etc. I would like to be able to move to wherever I would like without worrying that my landlord/lady could deny me housing because I'm in a same-sex relationship (yes, we're thinking about moving - and looking for possible roommies, if you know anyone).  These are things many people don't think about.

Marriage is hard. Marriage without equality is harder.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Denominational Division in the US Christian Church

It is with a heavy heart that I write this post. I've been delaying it. I'm not sure what I was waiting or hoping for. The pragmatist in me knew that this issue wouldn't be resolved quickly, or in my lifetime, or maybe ever.

That issue is the spirit of division, competition, and judgment between denominations and branches of Christianity. I remember even many years ago being concerned at the fact that my Catholic friends and neighbors, many of whom could clearly articulate the Gospel and were trying to live it out, were not really considered Christians according to what I've been preached. I'm not Catholic. I can't say that I agree with every point of doctrine. But I have met too many Jesus following Catholics to believe that they aren't doing God's work. The same goes for many denominations or branches I have never been, including Presbyterian, Anglican, Orthodox, and United Church of Christ. 

Why am I writing this now when this is an age old problem? Because I have been seeing news lately about Third Way (churches that agree to disagree on some tertiary points of doctrine in order to keep serving Jesus together) and gay affirming (churches that interpret the semantics and historical context of the Bible not to condemn the current practice of same sex marriage) being labeled not Christian. Some of these groups have filed amicus briefs in the marriage equality cases to support same sex marriage and been decried for not upholding Scripture. 

I commend careful interpretation and respect for the Bible. I am thankful to have grown up in a church that taught me its value and to have been involved in a parachurch organization in college that gave instruction in exegesis. That said, throughout the centuries, the church has allowed the beauty of the central narrative of the Bible - one that can richly inform us about the nature of God and humans and the relationship intended between them - to be undermined or ignored in favor of argument over details. Same sex marriage is but the most recent flavor. Eschatology (the study of end times), circumcision, alcohol use, and many other issues have been points of contention in the past that in some cases caused whole new denominations to pop up. 

I understand the interpretation of those who believe my marriage is a sin and am familiar with the proposed Scriptural support for that position. Obviously, I don't agree, but I am able to see the argument. Too often, I get the feeling that people believe that this discussion is intractable, often because neither side is willing to keep an open mind until all the evidence is presented. In some cases, the stances I hear are untenable compromises, are not clearly explained, or rely on cliches that don't advance the discussion or the Gospel. 

I hope to share a separate post soon on my church seeking experiences and ways to compassionately reach out to the LGBT community (hint: lambasting them about sexual sin immediately upon meeting them isn't it). I'm not saying there are no gay Christians. I count myself both gay and a Christ follower, and I truly see no conflict according to the teachings of Jesus. I am saying that many members of the LGBT community are understandably leery of the church. Some have remained unchurched because of past experiences. It is more productive to welcome them into the fold than to play musical chairs with those from slightly different backgrounds that we have convinced, one way or another, to change attendance.

If we believe that the central message of the Bible is one of a God who did not turn his back on humanity regardless of their behavior, and we believe that we are called to partner as a body to share that narrative, to me, the denominational divisions fade out of focus, like the background of a photo. They don't have to cease to exist, but neither do they deserve the same attention as the subject of our faith - Jesus.

I will leave you with a favorite quote from Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children (yes, I see the irony in this choice of source):

Do not let this happen! Do not permit the endless duality of masses-and-classes, capital-and-labour, them-and-us to come between us! We must be a third principle, we must be the force which drives between the horns of the dilemma; for only by being other, by being new, can we fulfil the promise of our birth!

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

You Don't Look Gay

I'm still tired from our busy season, but even if I weren't, I wouldn't apologize for the truth bombs I'm about to drop.

I've heard variations of the sentiment "you don't look/seem gay" quite a bit in the last few years. This is often paired with the notion that I must be a doe/femme/lipstick, bisexual, or even confused. 

Most recently, a presumably homeless man I'd given change to and then struck up a conversation with asserted this so vehemently (along with some other thoughts he really could have kept to himself) that I feared slightly for my safety. All I'd said was that my wife is a medical professional. Judge me for coming out or for worrying if you like, but I know personally people who have been attacked for saying less. 

Yes, I can pass. I have a fairly idealish body type - slim yet curvy, decent butt for a White woman, and I can dress it "properly," whatever that means. I wear makeup with some regularity and would wear heels pretty often  if they were practical to teach in. I acknowledge that there are benefits conferred upon me for that ability and that I don't intend to stop, although I also acknowledge that others who can't "pass" are disadvantaged.

I can pass, but telling me so is not your place. I can pass, but that's not a compliment as some seem to think. I am no less gay for looking the way I do. Implying that I'm better or more normal because I happen to conform to your idea of femininity doesn't leave me empowered, piropoed, or complimented. In fact, it doesn't say anything about me.

It tells me a lot about you, though. It tells me that, deep down, you might feel that being heterosexual is more normal or better than being a lesbian. It tells me that you don't see gender or sexual orientation as continua. It tells me that you're probably over sexualizing me. 

Being gay isn't something discernible from someone's appearance. The only way to know someone's sexual orientation is to - gasp - ask that person. 

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Eff Your Beauty Standards: Wearing a Bathing Suit

I know I almost never post photos. Why? Mostly because I'm lazy, although a little because I want my writing to speak for itself.

I'm posting one here, although not the one I initially planned to. The initial picture was a full body photo of me in a bikini - looking and feeling pretty good. I was at a private pool with just Rebecca, who has of course - stop reading if you pretend gay people have no genitalia and don't have sex - seen more.

I've never let anyone, not even Rebecca, photograph me in a bikini before. There are a few photos around of me in a tankini that covers my midsection. The truth is that part of me has always felt like I didn't look good enough to wear a bikini, even though I'm a perfectly healthy weight and more or less have a normal, idealish body type (okay, I'd have to tone up before working as a model, but I look good for someone who doesn't make a living off my looks). The other part of me was trained, for many years, to believe that despite how non-skinny I was, or how small my breasts are, or how fair my skin is, or whatever other attributes don't fit current beauty standards, wearing a bikini or sharing pictures of me in one was a horrible temptation to the men around me, who would be incapable of keeping themselves from lusting after my basically naked body. In fact, the only reason to wear a bikini was for this kind of attention.

That isn't why I'm wearing this swimsuit. How could it be, when there was no one around? No, there's a completely different explanation. I was soaking up the fresh air and sunshine (don't worry; I was liberally doused head to toe in spray sunscreen, because I'm a sunscreen goddess). After months of winter and wearing heavy clothes, layers, restricting garments, it felt amazing to feel nature on my skin without pain or cold.

And I've been reading on modesty, fatphobia, disordered eating, and beauty standards. I've even talked to male friends, who have assured me that they find a range of body types attractive, aren't as judgmental as women think, and are capable of self control. Although this really isn't about them - I am not for them - these are points worth mentioning. 

So then why not the whole body picture? Because I believe that along with #effyourbeautystandards should come #humannotobject and this picture conveys how joyful I felt. This one leaves no room, at least in my eyes, for you to tell me that I look good, or sexy, or have jiggly thighs and need to squat, or that I should really try a new shave lotion. I don't, in this picture, ask for your evaluation of my body. Mine. My body in this picture is doing what I needed it to, which in this case was rest and pick up vitamin D. I don't want to cause friends to stumble if they've been socialized to react differently to pictures of women in bikinis. That's definitely not the goal of Committinginthemitten or this post. But after the reaction to my post on my philosophy of food, I think many of my sisters in Christ, or in humanity, and probably some brothers too, need to hear this - and see it.

So here it is: your body is yours, and if it does what you want it to, if it loves you and allows you to love, and you have a joyful existence, then it's how it's meant to be. And it's okay to share that.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

MI Love/Hate: Winter

I have been a very bad blogger lately. Or really, I just haven't. I apologize to any readers who might have been saddened by my lack of posts. I've been working pretty crazy hours trying to get all of my students ready for their upcoming ACT (plus a couple preparing for the GRE). The last several days have been prioritizing/survival mode.

But I have a moment now, and I want to share with you something that probably won't surprise most of the Michiganders.

I have a love/hate relationship with winter. As someone with a pretty significant case of Seasonal Affective Disorder (where shorter days and lack of sunlight cause mood changes), fall and winter are seasons I dread. However, this year I'm taking a vitamin D supplement, and it has really helped with that. Feeling better in that area has allowed me to reflect on my other feelings about winter.

I love falling snow - if I don't have to be out in it, or even if I'm not going very far in the car. I love the fat, lazy snowflakes, and even the clustered, chunky ones that seems to coat the air with their heaviness. I even love the snow showers and dustings - lately I've found a certain amount of pleasure in my gut feelings about what type of snow we'll have and how much. I find it zen to stare off into them and appreciate how they will cover the greyness and muck in a blanket of soft purity, at least for a few hours. I like the cooler nights where I can sleep with a mountain of blankets and a cat behind my knees without overheating. Sometimes I even like the days that are cool or cold but sunny; something about the juxtaposition pleases me.

And then there are days. I hate driving in snow. Michiganders should know better how to manage slippery roads. They just don't, and Detroit drivers aren't great to begin with (although many of you will say that Boston or DC is worse, those places have reasonable mass transit that offers an alternative, and as such are disqualified). I hate the muck that comes when we haven't had new snow to cover it, and the ice that causes so many of us to slip awkwardly. I hate the days when the wind sears or the temperatures are so low that no matter how well I dress for the weather, the air burns my nose, throat, and lungs. I hate the gloominess, being stuck inside so much, and worrying that my checks will be reduced because of snow cancellations.

In the end, I am mostly thankful for winter. It reminds me that I have strength, and it gives me something to look forward to. In a month or so, my spring bulbs will (hopefully) start to poke their ways out of my patio pots, the sun will come out more often, and the air will freshen up. It will be April before I know it, a time to scheme to visit the Horticultural Gardens at MSU, the Detroit Zoo, even just the tiny park up the street from my apartment. Soon, and very soon, it will be time for asparagus and spring greens, followed by strawberries and then a whole host of other fruits and vegetables. And maybe even an announcement that my marriage does count, after all, in the state my heart belongs to.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Food Idea: Citrus Muffin Base

I'm not going to call these healthy. Or low fat. Or low sugar. For a few reasons. The first is that as Americans, almost all of us are eating more refined carbs than we should, and these still contain some of those. The second is that if I did that, some of you (that haven't eaten my food, known me as long, or tried out my strategies) might think that you'd be able to tell the difference between these and "regular" muffins. You might. Maybe. And I'm guessing most of you would prefer mine.

They're a little more work; I'm not going to lie. But I actually have written numbers of everything, and I'll try to give good directions for those of you trying to learn to cook/bake who are intimidated by my lackadaisical attitude toward measurement. They also may contain a few ingredients that aren't currently staples in your pantry. For me, that used to be the ground flaxseed. Flax is incredibly good for you - a great source of omega 3 fatty acids, for starters, and it lends nuttiness and lightness to a lot of baked goods.

I've adapted this recipe from something my mother used to make (which I loved, but thought could still be bumped up a little in terms of nutrition). The original is cranberry citrus, which may explain the full cup of sugar. I've cut that down a lot.  You could try further reducing it or experimenting with molasses or honey if you like. It was already a half whole wheat flour recipe, but I've cut out all white flour - while retaining the fluffy, nice crumb texture that I loved from the original. The ground flax helped me get away with that (you may want to try this in pancakes, biscuits, and other baked goods, too).

Whisk together:

1/3 c sugar
¾ c milk (I use unsweetened almond or coconut, but I think whatever is fine)
1/3 c ricotta or yogurt (if all you have is sweetened yogurt, cut back on the sugar a little here)
2 T grated orange or lemon rind (this should help you get away without as much sugar - you can use half of each, also)
½ c orange or lemon juice (not only does this moisten, the acidity from the juice will curdle your milk a little, which here is actually good. It'll help lighten your batter.)

Add 3/4 c oatmeal and let soak. 

(Soaking the oatmeal will soften it a little so that your muffins aren't grainy/chewy if you want a cake-like texture.)

Whisk into wet ingredients:

2 T veg oil
1 T vanilla
1 t almond extract
2 eggs

Sift (yes, sift. Since we're using denser dry ingredients, we need to aerate them more to get the same texture.) and whisk dry ingredients in separate bowl:

0.25 c ground flaxseed
1.5 c whole wheat flour
1 T baking powder
1 t baking soda
½ t salt

Fold in gently to dry ingredients, if desired:

1.5 c cranberries (or blueberries, or appropriate amount of mini chocolate chips - I like the minis because they distribute more evenly, disrupting the structural integrity of the cake less and giving more chocolate flavor with a smaller amount)

Make a well in the center of the dry mixture and add in the wet ingredients. Stir, using a spoon or spatula (no more whisking!) these just until everything is incorporated - by adding the flax and oatmeal, we've reduced the total amount of gluten in this recipe (although it isn't, of course, gluten free), and we don't want it to start breaking down because we've overworked the batter. Don't worry if there are a few lumps.

Bake in greased muffin cups, mini bundt pans, or regular pan. I like Nordic Ware pans because they distribute the heat super evenly, and my oven doesn't, but use whatever you have.  I'm not a fan of paper muffin cups for a number of reasons - I have to purchase them and keep them around, for one. They're not very environmentally friendly, either. But mostly, I hate it when my muffins stick to them, which seems to happen a lot with fruit muffins.

I scoop into my muffin pans with an ice cream scoop that has a lever release on it - it's quicker and keeps them all pretty much the same size, which means that they'll bake more evenly.

If your oven shows more love to one side or the other, rotate the pans halfway through.

For regular muffins, bake 16 minutes at 400 degrees F. You'll need to bake longer the bigger the cup/pan, generally, although my Nordic Ware mini bundt pan is essentially a double muffin size and still cooks in 18 minutes (I'm going to see if I can get away with a touch less next time). When done, they should be golden on top and toothpick inserted middle should come out clean.

After a couple minutes, gently loosen the edges with a thin knife and transfer to a wire rack if you have it (I don't, so I just leave them on a plate). If you leave them in a hot pan, they'll continue to cook in there and could end up more done than you want.

I'm not sure how long these will keep on the counter; especially if you add cranberries or blueberries, I would either eat them within a couple days or keep them in a cool place.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

MI Hate: Receiving E-mails from a Homophobic Governor

You all know that I try to be rational and see multiple points of view. I try to share my story rather than quote statistics. I try to engage in discussion. However, I'm tired and frustrated, and I've been listening to "Brave" by Sara Bareilles on loop ("I wonder what would happen if you say what you want to say, and let the words fall out; honestly, I want to see you be brave!"). In other words, I use the "MI hate" label pretty sparingly these days, but it's time.
Nonetheless, this is a message that I just sent to Governor Snyder as well as several Michigan legislators, the Secretary of State (Ruth Johnson), and the Attorney General (Bill Schuette). I encourage you to send your legislators and other leaders this message or a similar one.
Hello Governor Snyder,

I am again responding to a message from you. While I am aware that I could unsubscribe myself, I wish for your office to be inconvenienced in a small way, since your blatant regard for civil rights has greatly inconvenienced me, my family, and the community to which I belong. Therefore, I am requesting that you direct whoever manages your subscription list to remove me from it and issue me an apology for rubbing in my face that you and your family have many privileges afforded to you that I cannot expect.
For instance, a member of my community's long term same sex partner was recently hospitalized. Although this community member works for the Henry Ford Health System, has insurance through them, and has set up care for her family there, where the administration and staff are LGBT friendly and do not discriminate or deny basic human rights, nonetheless, her partner recently had a health emergency and ended up at St. John Providence, a Catholic hospital. Under Michigan law, Catholic hospitals can and do discriminate against LGBT families. In this case, the partner was in the ICU and unable to make her own care decisions, but her spouse was denied ability to make decisions for her on the basis of their status as a same sex couple. Instead, the mother of the patient was contacted, despite not being aware of a great deal of her daughter's medical history, and refused to let the spouse make decisions. I had been assured by Michigan Republicans, over and over, that the need to pass statewide legislation against this type of discrimination is nonexistent because it doesn't happen. However, it clearly has. This is unacceptable. Religious institutions serving people not of their community - as is the case with hospitals - should not be permitted to enforce their religious rules on non members of that religion; if they do so, they should be stripped of accreditation and state funding, not protected by "right to discriminate" laws put forth by members of your political party. Waffling on providing these basic rights is unacceptable. Refusing to provide leadership to Michigan's government to pass protections that should already exist in a progressive, supportive, business-friendly, family-friendly state is unacceptable. Allowing the Christian equivalent of sharia law is unacceptable. Putting families already under a great deal of stress due to medical emergencies under additional stress by preventing them from making care decisions is unacceptable. You may argue that this family could have attempted to take additional steps to protect themselves by going out of state to marry or hiring a lawyer to fill out paperwork, but the truth is that you would never tell a straight couple to do this, and as such are recognizing that straight families have privileges that same sex ones do not.
Furthermore, with Michigan's same sex marriage case continuing to pend Supreme Court review, my partner and I will be unable to accurately file our taxes this year in a timely fashion or possibly at all, because constitutionally, some judges have affirmed our status as a married family and others have not. This could necessitate calculating our taxes jointly for federal (since we're married according to California and 30 something other states) and separately for our home state where we have chosen to remain on the misguided notion that by now, this would be resolved. Once the case is resolved and the ruling states that our marriage should be recognized, as the vast majority of precedent, and all Supreme Court precedent indicates, we will then have to file again for a revision. It is my understanding that we will in no way be compensated for this major inconvenience, despite the fact that I will face the opportunity cost of spending quality time with my medical resident wife who works 80 hour weeks or of performing work for which I would be compensated at an hourly rate, or the loss of interest on our tax return that will result. I once again urge you to direct Bill Schuette to drop this appeal, stop wasting state funds, and join the civilized world.
You could also direct Ruth Johnson to train her employees to stop discriminating against same sex couples who wish to change their identification based on a marriage name change from out of state, as they are doing to my wife and me. I have been assured by her office that everyone is aware that this discrimination is happening, but I inform those who ask for state-issued identification confirmation with my financial transactions (my financial institutions, employer, and the federal government use my married name) of this discrimination, and they are unaware. To date, no one has told me that this policy is reasonable. This is not only discrimination against me, it is a snub against the legal system in California that issued me a legal marriage certificate expected to be recognized in other states, just as ALL straight marriage certificates across the country are, regardless of whether laws against marrying cousins, required waiting periods, blood tests, etc are reciprocated. I was even told that your Secretary of State was willing to issue me an invalid enhanced driver's license that could cause me to get stuck in another country because it didn't match my federal information. Your Secretary of State has also issued the incorrect information that once I changed my name with Social Security, I could change it back on the basis of Michigan's discriminatory policy. While I do not wish to do so, given the lifetime limit on the number of Social Security cards that may be issued to an individual and the likelihood of having to change it back once your discriminatory policies are corrected, I verified this possibility. Social Security indicated that without an additional legal document, such as a divorce certificate (which, by the way, I cannot obtain given your policies), the Social Security office doesn't allow this. This policy has caused my partner and I to waste countless hours looking for alternatives (we cannot file with the county to legally change our names through the courts because we've relocated too many times in the last few years, and that costs extra time and money anyway, reinforcing our status as second class citizens) and worrying what could happen. Ask your wife how frustrating it has been for her and her friends to change their names after marriage. Multiply that by 1,000. That's my situation.

When I saw that you had been re-elected, it was as though I was seeing that we had re-elected one of the Southern governors who refused to integrate school districts or proceed with any other civil rights issues. History is likely to judge you for that, much as we now judge all of them. You could choose to make the morally and ethically, not to mention financially, correct choice to right these wrongs, and you have not.