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Archive for the ‘GLBT Issues’ Category

So, people loved this TED talk about coming out of closets.  It’s about how we all have closets to come out of.  It was about courage.  If you haven’t seen the talk yet, you should.  People wrote on Facebook, “Unbelievable.” “Powerful.”  “I’ve never been impressed with a TED talk … until now.”

I, however, was not impressed or inspired.  I was uneasy.  When speaker Ash Beckham said, “All a closet is, is a hard conversation,” I cringed.  I had to turn the video off halfway through.  And then I felt bad about myself, because obviously this sentiment appeals to people.  Was I just bored and unimpressed because having a kid in preschool means that I come out to 4-year olds every day?  Well, yeah, but I also felt anger.  Where was my anger coming from?

Making pancakes of our own.

So, apparently people really like hearing a butch lesbian tell them they have closets too and that their closets are just as scary as gay closets.  I think I understand this part.  We all suffer; we hide things; we’re ashamed.  We long to hear that our pain is real and that people are all the same, after all.  Aren’t we all afraid?  So yeah, Ash Beckham, I feel you there.  Secrets are bad, being inauthentic is bad, and if you keep things inside instead of being brave, you’ll get stressed and sick and poison yourself with guilt and self-loathing.  You should just be you! Awesome!

But do we need to call every uncomfortable truth a “closet” and do we need to then, on top of that, insist that all closets are equal?  No.  It’s annoying, unnecessary, damaging, hurtful, and unkind to equate all closets — or even to refer to pregnancy as a closet.  Make your point about personal courage without stealing the language of gay struggle for a cheap round of applause at a conference and 15 minutes of Facebook fame.  Because there are important differences between misfortune and oppression.

Misfortune happens.  So do cataclysmic life events.  Divorce, pregnancy, love – they happen.  But oppression is systemic.  I mean that when you are gay, there are actual laws and systems and customs and social norms that say you are less than, that you cannot get married, that you can be mistreated for being who you are, that you cannot adopt children or that you must adopt your own children , as we did, to prove they are yours.  A relative of mine lives in a state in which he can get fired from his job for being gay.  He is not alone; 29 states allow companies to fire gay workers for no reason other than who they are. On top of the legal punishments for being gay, there’s social rejection.  To put it more bluntly, people find you repulsive, they hate you, they think you are a child molester.  They might wish you were dead.  They might kill you.  Or, if you are like two women who live near my wife’s home town, someone might come out to your house in the night and poison your four dogs.

Happy kitchen chaos.

Happy kitchen chaos.

Many of us would like to believe that we live in a time when being gay is safe.  I’ve been to the Walnut Café in Boulder, and it is clearly, decisively gay friendly.  Anyone who brings a kid in there is not going to hurl homophobic invective.  When describing the supposedly powerful moment when she came out to a 4-year-old girl while waiting tables, Beckham builds up the suspense of her confrontation and then says, “It was the easiest hard conversation I have ever had, because pancake girl and I, we were real with each other.”  Okay, fine.  Ash Beckham was real with a 4-year-old in a progressive lefty café in Boulder.  It’s a cute story.  But it’s ridiculous to suggest that gay people stay in closets because they are unwilling to “be real.”

Helpers.

Helpers.

Actually, gay people stay in closets because they could get sexually assaulted in the bathroom of their own high school.  Or because they are more likely to drop out of high school or be turned out of their homes by their own parents or, once they are homeless, be forced into prostitution to survive.  Or because they are more likely than straight kids their age to commit suicide.

Unfortunately, whether we want to face it or not, being gay is dangerous — even in New York City, even for adults.  Just ask the gay men who have been attacked in Manhattan recently, while going to a movie. Yet Beckham is so intent on connecting with her straight listeners that she makes it seem petty to mention the particulars of gay struggle.  Not once, not for a moment, are we supposed to mention that oppression doesn’t always wear a pink dress and smile back.

Bunny Rabbit.

Bunny Rabbit.

When we pretend that coming out to a 4-year-old or socializing at a relative’s wedding is the scariest part about being gay, we risk keeping our straight allies in the dark about how much we still need their help toppling oppression.  Straight allies, please don’t be fooled by this TED talk: we need your help.  We need a lot of your help because things are pretty bad.

As I wrote these words, I repeatedly watched Beckham’s talk.  At times, I wavered in my criticism.  She’s just trying to share a personal struggle and help other people grow from it, right?

Toward the end of the talk, Beckham’s call to personal authenticity rings true and clear.  I found myself nodding along.  Let’s be free.  Let’s throw down our lies and take the risk of being who we are so that we can stop wasting energy hiding and use it doing things that matter to us.  For me, the call to authenticity is embodied in a quote from the gospel of Thomas that I’ve kept near my writing space for years:  “If you bring forth what is inside you, what you bring forth will save you.  If you don’t bring forth what is inside you, what you don’t bring forth will destroy you.”

Finally!

Finally!

This mandate to manifest oneself is powerful.  I’m glad that Beckham is issuing that invitation to all of us to be brave, to own publicly and unapologetically who we are.  I just don’t think that we need to insist that all misfortunes are created equal.  Let’s talk about what it means to be bankrupt, pregnant, sick with cancer, Mormon, divorced,  in love, lesbian, out of love with a spouse, one-armed, allergic to cashews, a poet, a stay-at-home mom, a prostitute, an atheist, biracial, an immigrant.  We don’t need to erase the historic specifics of one group’s oppression to make everyone else feel good about proclaiming themselves.

Our pancake rules: From scratch. Buttermilk.  Maple syrup.

Our pancake rules: From scratch. Buttermilk. Maple syrup.

A lot of people I love and respect were moved enough by this talk to repost it, and they weren’t offended in the way I was.  They were gay people, straight allies, people with serious critical thinking skills and multiple degrees.  So I’d love to hear from these people.  Tell me, am I off base? Am I being nitpicky?  In what way did Ash Beckham’s talk speak to you?  Did anyone else have misgivings about her closet analogy?  If I’m just a heartless, militant lesbian mom of two, let me know.  (My armpits are a bit hairy right now, to be honest.)  If that’s what I am, at least I can be real about it with the next 4-year-old I come out to when I pick my son up from school today.

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Okay, I’m sure by now you’ve heard this, but I must shout it from the rooftops: NEW YORK LEGALIZED GAY MARRIAGE!!!!!

Yay!

 

The world does not contain enough exclamation points to express our joy and excitement.  What does it mean that we can get married legally in our own state?  After 12 years together and 8 years of marriage (in a beautiful winery ceremony that wasn’t legally valid), after getting married by a judge in San Francisco City Hall in 2004 only to have our marriage declared void by the courts six months later, after settling for domestic partnership in the state of California and the city of New York, after vows and daily life and bringing each other coffee and making a baby and then surviving the first year with said baby — after all that, we can get legally married in our state. 

Pretty jazzed.

 

It means that when we have a second child, we won’t have to go through the whole adoption fiasco.  It means that in New York state, our family will be treated as a family instead of as a collection of strangers who happen to live together.  I will

Family pride.

no longer have to check the box for “single” when I fill out official forms.  We can file our state taxes together, and Robin can declare head of household.  There will no longer be an invisible asterisk hovering in the air when I call Robin my wife.

In short, it is amazing.  So yes, we’re going to get married again.  Yes, yes, and yes!

On Sunday, to celebrate, we marched as a family in NYC’s gay pride parade, walking alongside Big Apple Dodgeball. (Yep, that’s gay dodgeball.  Just let the image sink in for a moment.)  Robin has played several seasons of dodgeball, mostly before becoming a mother, and she is well respected within the league for her athleticism and sportsmanship.  The dodgeballers showered love on Miles, the first official dodgeball baby, and cavorted about shooting each other with water pistols.  The crowd held signs reading, “A Promise Kept” and “Thank You Governor Cuomo.”  They wore stickers saying, “‘I Do’ Support Marriage Equality” and “God Made Me Queer.”  Onlookers oohed and ahhhhed over Miles, and he got lots of laughs with his T-shirt that read, “I was hatched by a couple of chicks.”  The mood was ebullient and the weather perfect. 

Miles held up beautifully as we trekked 40+ blocks through the city, ending in the Village, near the site of the Stonewall riots that sparked the gay rights movement.  Close to the end of the parade, the streets narrowed and the cheering intensified.  I felt both enclosed and uplifted, buoyed by the shouts of support.  Sure, some of the people were just screaming for the dodgeballers to throw them free candy and inflatable balls, but still!  It was beautiful!

Dodgeballers.

 

Wonderful and super.

 

California, you are going to have a pretty hard time winning me back now. 

Jubilation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yes, you have superior produce, access to beautiful hiking, and transcendent Mexican food.  You are home to many of my dearest friends and to much of my family.  But you have broken my heart repeatedly.  You spit on my relationship one too many times.  Despite your reputation for inclusive liberality, you have allowed hate and fear to prevail.  I’ve found a better state, a state that will treat me right.  California, unless you can get your act together, we’re through for good.  And I’m not looking back.

 

 

Having a ball.

 

Giddy optimism.

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Family and friends.

I’m finally Miles’ mom. A judge has declared it so. And while yesterday was cause for celebration, the emotional sentiment of which Melissa captured quite nicely in this post, I can’t help but notice that not a single thing has changed in our day-to-day lives.

It would have been nice if I could have picked a few items to change as a real, legal, totally offical parent. Perhaps the family court system can look into adding a few of these “perks” to their procedures in order to properly welcome us newcomers to parenthood:

–Poopy diapers shall be less smelly.

–Colds, viruses, infections, bumps and bruises shall take a hiatus of no fewer than 18 years.

–Sleep shall last until at least 8 a.m. each morning.

–Mealtimes will never be accompanied by pickiness, and children shall eat any kind of food placed in front of them.

–Blocks, legos, stuffed animals, books, balls and other items of entertainment shall always return to their proper place when no longer in use.

–Tantrums shall cease to exist.

–Hair washing shall never involve crying or resistance of any kind.

–And spontaneous hugs and kisses from your little one shall extend well into the adolescent years.

Maybe I’ll have to file an amended petition with the court to see what they can do about these requests. Until then, I’ll keep the smelly diapers, 6 a.m. wake-up time, incessant cries of “Mama!” followed by whatever he wants at that moment, and all the other things that come with being one of Miles’ moms.

*************************

*For the record, Miles, I have been your mother since before you were born, helping provide you with a loving, nourishing environment. I made your mother pancakes late at night to satisfy a craving, readily swapped plates with her at restaurants when she declared “baby doesn’t like this” while shoving one of her favorite dishes across the table in my direction, carried the heavy things, and generally did as much as I could to help her take care of you. It was nothing extraordinary or special — just the stuff any non-birthing parent should do.

 

 

Waiting for our turn before the judge.

 

 

Almost done.

 

 

Finally, we're legit!

 

 

A celebratory "cheers!" with his pal Grey.

 

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Dear Miles,

Today is adoption day.  In a few hours, the three of us will appear in court.  A judge will look at some paperwork, perhaps say a few words, and declare us a family.  But I think you know that we have been a family all along.  Momma becomes your legal, official mother today — and that is cause for celebration.  But she has always been yours.

She was with you from the beginning. 

She cradled you in the early days at home.

She held you in her hands.

She soothed you into sleep.

 

She is yours, from the inside out.  For your whole life.

Happy adoption day, Miles.  Happy family.  Happy love.

Love, Mommy

 

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About a boy.

He trips heading into the kitchen and knocks his forehead against the doorway.  He topples while squatting to examine the grain of the hardwood floor.  He tumbles headlong from the couch while practicing, for the 38th time, his dismount.  All completely normal toddler mishaps.  Yet as I watch the latest knot form on his forehead, a matching knot forms in my stomach. 

“No falling until Saturday,” I’ve been telling Miles, trailing fretfully after him.  “Remember, we currently have a no-falling policy.  So try taking fewer risks this week, please.”

I’m not normally so hovery and intense.  Falling is part of walking, after all.  But tomorrow, a woman from the court — a probation officer, actually — is coming for a home visit.  This is a routine part of the process of Robin adopting Miles.

 Robin, what?!?  Adopting, huh?!  It seems weird, I know, because she is indisputably his mom, but Robin has to formally adopt Miles in order to be his parent in the eyes of the state of New York.  We’ve known this for a long time, and we’ve mostly just gritted our teeth and accepted it.  We want to have as many legal protections as a family as we can.  In addition to being domestic partners in the city of New York (the state does not offer a domestic partnership),  we have gone through all sorts of legal hoopla to have power of attorney, medical proxy, wills, and whatever else we could think of to approximate the many financial, property and inheritance rights of marriage. 

Adoption is the final step in Robin’s legal relationship with Miles.  And this home visit is the final step in the adoption.  In a way, coming this far is a victory about which I should be happy and relieved.  For most of the process, I’ve managed to stay matter-of-fact.  Okay, yeah, it bugged me that we both had to submit personal letters of reference to the court.  (Yes, both of us.  Although I am biologically Miles’ mother, I had to ask three friends of mine to write letters stating that I am responsible, lovely and good with children.)  And yeah, it was a pain that we both had to be examined by doctors to show that we are in good health.  And get fingerprinted at a police station.  And have Miles certified healthy.  And submit copies of our driver’s licenses, multiple official copies of our birth certificates, copies of our social security cards, check stubs, tax information, letters of employment, and so on ad nauseum.  It bothered me.  I complained a little.   

But this home visit is messing with my mind.  All I know is that a probation officer is coming to our house tomorrow and that she will check for certain safety measures (window guards, smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors and a fire extinguisher) and ask us for more paperwork.  And that she has the power to say that we do or do not have a suitable home.  That’s all I know. 

Will she be charming, reassuring and perfunctory?  Like, “Oh gosh, I can tell you guys are nice folks, enjoy your baby.”  Or will she be rigid and businesslike?  Like, “I see here that your smoke detector has a flashing red light rather than a steady red light.  Adoption denied.”  Or will she be suspicious and nosy?  Like, “Where did he get those bruises on his forehead? And by the way, can I see the inside of your microwave?”

All this week, my imagination has run wild with unlikely scenarios.  I’ve pictured her weighing him and looking in our cupboards to see what we feed him.  (“He’s a bit slim,” she might say, pursing her lips.)  Watching us diaper him to make sure we’re doing it right.  (“Do you always use only two wipes?  Interesting.”) Or examining him all over for bruises or marks. Quizzing us on his sleep habits.  Finding fault with our drafty windows.  Telling us our that, dear God, our Christmas tree is a hazard and why didn’t we know that?  What are we, idiots?  Why did they let us have this baby anyway??

I know I’m insane.  But it’s hard, not knowing exactly what she’ll be checking for.  It’s like trying to prepare for a test that could possibly be about all of Russian history — or might focus minutely on 18th century Russian hats.  And if you fail the test, you get to keep being Not A Real Family.  So I’m rushing around cleaning, yanking Miles down from high places, begging the landlady to please please install window guards on the two windows that don’t have them, and casting a suspicious eye at our carbon monoxide detector.  Is it adequate?  Is it correctly placed?  Should we install five more?

Meanwhile, under the panic is a growing fury.  All this because we can’t get married.  I understand that the rigmarole surrounding adoptions is meant to ensure that children are going to good, safe homes.  Through most of this madness, I have kept my mind on that.  But this week, I’m grappling with the reality of a mysterious authority figure coming into our home and judging us.  It’s making me very, very angry. 

Why are we going through this and spending tons of money on, frankly, a pretty crappy lawyer?  Why has Miles spent the first year-plus of his life with only one legal parent despite the fact that he lives with two parents?  Why was Robin unable to sign any of the consent forms when Miles had minor surgery a few months ago?  Why?  Because we can’t get married.  And why can’t we get married?  Because people are bigoted, afraid, judgmental, traditional, grossed out and narrow-minded. 

But you can get married! , I can hear some people thinking.  You can get married in Connecticut!  Or Canada!  Isn’t that lovely?  Yes, it’s very sweet and cute that we can get married in five states; Washington, D.C.; and ten countries.  Each time another state or country legalizes gay marriage, I cheer.  Maybe if we hadn’t already had TWO weddings (long story), we would have enjoyed the sweetness and cuteness of another.  And if getting legally married somewhere would make Robin’s parenthood clearly legally defined in all places, we’d do that for sure.

But in fact, getting married in Canada or Spain or Iowa would not help us avoid the need to adopt because it would not necessarily make Robin Miles’ legal parent in New York.  (State agencies would recognize our marriage, but private companies would not have to.  So, for example, Robin’s health insurer through work might not have to recognize Miles as her child.) And of course, perhaps even more important, it would not result in legal recognition of our family unit from the federal government. 

The legal issues are like a bizarre word problem in math class.**  If two American lesbians who are residents of New York City get married in Sweden and one of them has a  baby and then they move to California, what are their rights?  Are they married or unmarried, and whose baby is it anyway? Absurdly, if we got legally married, we would be in the odd position of being married (and Robin a parent) in some places but not in others.  Robin’s motherhood might be recognized in New Hampshire but debated in Arizona.  On a cross-country drive, we could be married and unmarried half a dozen times!  

Is it absurd that Robin has to apply to be a parent to her own child?  Yes.  Is it invasive that someone is going to scrutinize our home and our lives?  Of course.  Yet we want Miles to have the security of having a legal tie to both of us.  So tomorrow I will grit my teeth, answer the door and smile.  I will hand over my tax information for 2009 and a photocopy of my driver’s license ever so cheerfully.  Until then I reserve the right to be annoyed, anxious and slightly bitter. 

I think we need a party when this is over.

A family of three.

 

** Keep in mind that I am not a lawyer.  Don’t rely on what I say here!

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Someone hand me an apron!  And a Valium!  Things are getting awfully traditional around here.

Yesterday I wrote about how Robin is the fun mom.  Which got me to thinking about a few things.

Practically every pregnancy and newborn parenting magazine has an article about how men and women handle babies differently.  These articles, intended for women because we all assume men won’t read magazines about parenting, advise the mom to just accept that the dad does things differently.  He may handle the baby more roughly and you more gently, these articles say, but babies need both kinds of caretaking.  I think about those articles a lot as Robin is tossing Miles into the air or letting him climb all over her body on the couch or wrestling with him on the floor.

But wait!, you gasp.  Robin is a woman!  Are you implying that she’s “the man” in your relationship? 

No, I’m not.  People always want to see gay relationships as fake versions of straight relationships, requiring a man and a woman taking different roles.  I’m sure many of my gay brothers and lesbian sisters will agree that this stereotype is annoying.  Yet it persists.  Most of the time, people ascribe the “man” role to Robin because she’s taller, is good with tools, is more assertive, and likes sports.  I’m shorter, known for being nurturing and empathetic, and am violently allergic to athletics.  Yet we are both clearly women.  We just happen to be in love with each other.  Perhaps it is time for us to expand our definition of what a woman can be, and also our definition of what love can be.  But that’s a whole other post. 

However, now that we’re two women raising a baby, our work situations replicate some of the dynamics from the “traditional” hetero family.  For example, Robin works at the Big Important Law Firm.  I stay home with Miles.  This is already far, far more traditional a set-up than either of us would have imagined ourselves choosing.  Why do we do it that way?  Well, Robin makes more money than I did as a teacher, so if one of us were going to stay home, it would be me.  And once I had Miles, I found that I really wanted to be with him.  Partly I couldn’t imagine the stress of being a middle school teacher in a high-needs Brooklyn school while also raising an infant, working around Robin’s long hours, and adjusting to motherhood.  Also, Miles was stinkin’ cute.  I wanted to revel in him. 

So Robin goes away all day and makes money to pay the bills, she commutes, and she bears the entire financial burden of our household.  I spend my days with Miles, and I do a lot (ok, most) of the cooking and cleaning, too.  Just like, ahem, a 1950s man and wife.  Do we love it?  No.  Is it working?  Kind of.  Would I rather we could both work part time and share the child care equally but without losing any income or benefits?  Absolutely.  But so far The Big Important Law Firm is unimpressed with my suggestion that Robin and I job-share her position.

In case anyone was wondering, it’s not that Robin or I planned for me to embrace the full role of housewife.  It’s just kind of pragmatic. Robin works really long hours and has a 45 minute commute, and if I don’t clean throughout the week, we’ll have no fun time together on the weekends.  And if I don’t at least prep the dinner ingredients before Robin gets home at 7, or even 8 or 9, we’ll be eating dinner in the middle of the night.   Also, I like cooking.   

Yet I’ve been amused and surprised by how powerfully and absolutely these roles, shaped by economic necessity, have taken over our lives.  Suddenly, I am a housewife, with all that that entails.  It’s been a category-changing experience for me.  I relate to paper towel commercials now.  When a visiting friend recently complimented the cleanliness of our home, I was quietly proud.  (It take some serious effort to keep the chaos at bay!) I spend a lot of time thinking about how to stretch our grocery budget a little further.  I start looking at the clock at 6 p.m. and calculating, “If she leaves on time today, and she has good train luck, only 45 more minutes until she’s here.”  And she hardly ever leaves on time.

Then there’s the emotional parts of being a “traditional” one-breadwinner household.  For Robin, the frustration of getting sucked into a 5:45 meeting and missing Miles’ bedtime.  Missing out on time with Miles, period.  Working and working for a family she doesn’t get to see as much as she would like.  For me, there’s isolation, drudgery, and a feeling of creeping invisibility.  I suddenly sympathize — no, empathize — with women in earlier decades.  I understand why mothers of yore nagged, whined, and even became martyrs.  It’s not pretty, but it’s understandable.  Housework, though it enriches daily life, is not valued.  And it is endless and ever-present.  The cliche “a woman’s work is never done,” is not just a sarcastic joke but an absolute truth.  And I get now why the dads of yore were tired and grumpy and absent and went around yelling about how money doesn’t grow on trees.  No one has it easy in the 1950s family.

This Robin-is-the-fun-parent thing is a new aspect of the ’50s family as it emerges in our household, another way Robin is like a dad.  I’m  here all day, and Miles clearly depends on me.  He can’t or won’t go to bed for the night without my presence.  I’m his home base, his secret headquarters, and his chuck wagon all rolled into one.  But Robin has acheived that magical combination of trust and novelty.  She goes away, and then she comes back!  She’s familiar, yet still so exciting!  I envy it a little bit sometimes, though I know she envies me my unlimited time with him.  Trade-offs all around.

Sometimes it feels like I am, or we are, the butt of a bad joke.  Like how many lesbian feminist moms does it take to get dinner on the table before 8 p.m.?  (The answer is clearly something more than two, since we usually eat around 9 these days.)  Laughing at the absurdity is part of the beauty.  And then, after laughter, a sink full of dishes.  It’s your pretty typical nuclear family around here.  Har har har.

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