Thursday, September 29, 2016

On Interviewing Angels

My first blog interview is tomorrow, with Jenny. She's getting up a little early on a Friday to let me come over and spend the morning with her and her dog, Snow. As I begin this new part of the writing journey, I'm thinking about the damage that generalizations do, and how we can't avoid them. Also about sameness and difference.

No two childhoods are the same. No two gay people are the same. No two coming out stories are the same. And yet, by gathering multiple human stories on a similar theme -- how LGBTQ people find their unique brands of happiness -- I feel like an outline or shadow will begin to sketch itself. If not guidelines or instruction manuals for young gays, then a reassurance of the plurality of gay happiness.

Jenny introduced me to Mary Oliver years ago, and this poem resonated this morning:

By Mary Oliver

You might see an angel anytime
and anywhere. Of course you have
to open your eyes to a kind of
second level, but it's not really
hard. The whole business of
what's reality and what isn't has
never been solved and probably
never will be. So I don't care to
be too definite about anything.
I have a lot of edges called Perhaps
and almost nothing you can call
Certainty. For myself, but not
for other people. That's a place
you just can't get into, not
entirely anyway, other people's

I'll just leave you with this.
I don't care how many angels can
dance on the head of a pin. It's
enough to know that for some people
they exist, and they dance.

Mary Oliver is a poet who lived for forty years with her partner (they called them companions back then), photographer Molly Malone Cook. Cook passed away in 2005, but Oliver is still going strong at 81, just a few years younger than my grandmothers.

Tomorrow, I will start interviewing the angels and trying to get into their heads.

But first, I need to figure out how to turn my phone into a recording device, and delete enough data to be able to hold these interviews. It's the Oregon Trail Generation -- I'm confident I can figure it out, but it's not second nature. I don't already know how to do it.

To the next chapter!

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Going Into Strangers' Homes

When I wrote arts and entertainment and feature stories a few years back, my favorite part was the interview. I couldn't believe that there was a "real job" that allowed you to invite yourself into stranger's homes, sit down on their sofa, meet their partner and children and proceed to ask them questions about the business, art or hobby that was most central to their lives. I was young, and I rightly recognized it as a privilege.

As I talked to more and more people about this blog, a new project emerged: interviewing ordinary gay people who have found their "gay squared," gay to the power of happy. It looks a little different for everyone.

My parents' generation believed that to be gay was to be sentenced to a lifetime of sadness. That perception is swiftly changing, and it's changing because of the proliferation of gay and queer stories and role models.

There are infinitely many ways to live, and it's up to each of us to find a way to live authentically and get as close to happiness as we can. There can't be too many examples of how to do that: the more, the better.

An initial draft of my lead interview questions follows.
  1. Can you tell me a little bit about the religious and spiritual background of your childhood? (Thank you, Krista Tippett.)
  2. When did your sexual orientation begin to emerge, and what did that look like? 
  3. Who were the key role models and influences in your life as an adolescent and young adult? 
  4. How do you define your sexual identity now, and how did you come to embrace that identity? 
  5. Has technology played a role in helping your find partners or like-minded communities? 
  6. How have the swiftly changing politics around LGBTQ issues affected your life? 
  7. What does happiness look like for you? 
I will always try to see the home of the person I am interviewing; homes can tell us so much about a person. I may offer some in Q&A format, but I prefer the flexibility and depth allowed by feature-style writing. I can't wait to get started.

For ease and momentum, I'll begin with friends and ripple outward into larger networks of diverse gay people of all ages. If you would like to be interviewed, email me at I look forward to hearing your story.

Monday, September 26, 2016

In Praise of DeBoer vs. Snyder

Here's a confession. I may not be watch enough news or be politically active enough to write the blog I'd like to write. Since my beloved Jon Stewart left the Daily Show, I barely catch the news.

Two weeks ago, there were helicopter search parties outside our apartment building, and we didn't learn the full story for a full three days (until Monday morning). It turned out, it was an actual crazed shooter who fired over 50 bullets off on a Friday evening, in public places, leaving at least two dead.

It happened blocks from the apartment I share with Sonia. Given that, it's easy to see why I have trouble keeping up with the status of gay marriage in the U.S. (although it's easier since the Supreme Court weighed in), or the status of gay couples jointly adopting, a much murkier topic.

I recently went deep into a 2014 court case in which an unmarried lesbian couple, both nurses and state-licensed foster parents, had three children by adoption in Michigan. One partner adopted two of the children; the other partner adopted one.

"Unable to jointly adopt the three children, plaintiffs initially filed the instant action against the state defendants requesting that the Court enjoin them from enforcing section 24 of the Michigan Adoption Code...which restricts adoptions to either single persons or married couples."

They didn't want to challenge marriage equality originally; they wanted to challenge the law that said that two people who are not married could not adopt jointly. If they prevailed in that case, it would mean that a brother and sister could jointly adopt, or a mother and daughter could jointly adopt.

But marriage equality's time had simply come, everywhere at once. "The Court concluded the hearing by inviting plaintiffs to seek leave to amend their complaint to include a challenge to the MMA," which defined marriage in Michigan as between one man and one woman.
The state defendants, in support of their argument that the MMA has legitimate purposes, offered the following reasons for excluding same-sex couples from Michigan's definition of marriage: (1) providing children with "biologically connected" role models of both genders that are necessary to foster healthy psychological development; (2) avoiding the unintended consequences that might result from redefining marriage; (3) upholding tradition and morality; and (4) promoting the transition of naturally procreative relationships into stable unions.
The court case is a pleasure to read because, immediately after this list, the plaintiffs parade out expert after expert to refute the claims. It's beautiful.

Healthy Psychological Development
David Brodzinsky was the first witness. "He testified that decades of social science research studies indicate that there is no discernible difference in parenting competence between lesbian and gay adults and their heterosexual counterparts."

What did matter, according to Brodinsky, was:
[the] quality of parent-child relationships; quality of the relationships between the parents ... [t]he characteristics of the parent, the styles that they adopt, parental warmth and nurturance [sic], emotional sensitivity. The ability to employ age appropriate rules and structure for the child. And the kinds of educational opportunities that children are afforded is important, as well as the resources that are provided for the child, not only in the family itself, but the resources that, from the outside, that impact the family and the child in particular. And of course, the mental health of ... the parents.
From Brodzinsky's expert witness report:
Every major professional organization in this country whose focus is the health and well-being of children and families has reviewed the data outcomes for children raised by lesbian and gay couples, including the methods by which the data were collected, and have concluded that these children are not disadvantaged compared to children raised in heterosexual parent households. Organizations expressing support for parenting, adoption, and/or fostering by lesbian and gay couples include (but are not limited to): American Medical Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Psychiatric Association, American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, American Psychoanalytic Association, American Psychological Association, Child Welfare League of America, National Association of Social Workers, and the Donaldson Adoption Institute.

The court's point-by-point breakdown of the defendants' main arguments is a quick read that will make you believe the legal system is working. Start reading on page 21 of the decision.

All were challenged convincingly on the basis of evidence, investigation and logic.

An expert, Gary Gates, came forward to point out that 5,300 children are being raised in the state of Michigan by same-sex couples. Each of these children has only one legal parent, leaving them in "legal limbo" if that parent dies or becomes incapacitated.

A historian (a historian!), Nancy Cott, testified that, "from the founding of the colonies through the early years of the republic, civil authorities regulated marriage to foster stable households, legitimate children and designate providers to care for dependents who otherwise would become wards of the state." Turns out, gay marriage would achieve these same ends, in our brave new world.

The court decision, written by Judge Bernard A. Friedman, reflects an understanding that preserving tradition is not an end in itself, nor is it justifiable when you are threatening the constitutional rights of U.S. citizens.

Six years prior, in May 2008, Michigan citizens voted that marriage remain between "one man and one woman." The decision addressed this, too, saying that some citizens' religious convictions were not sufficient to strip other citizens of equal protection under the law. And then:
As Justice Robert H. Jackson once wrote, [t]he very purpose of a Bill of Rights was to withdraw certain subjects from the vicissitudes of political controversy, to place them beyond the reach of majorities and officials and to establish them as legal principles to be applied by the courts. One's right to life, liberty, and property, to free speech, a free press, freedom of worship and assembly, and other fundamental rights may not be submitted to vote; they depend on the outcome of no elections.
In less than a year, the decision was reversed. Gay couples and their children in Michigan did not receive equal protection under the law again until the Supreme Court decision of June 26, 2015.

The names of the plaintiffs who hadn't intended to challenge marriage equality, April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse, will forever be attached to the Supreme Court case, the greatest civil rights victory of our time.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

The Most Satisfying Thing(s) about Delaying Children

One of the most satisfying things about delaying children is the pleasure of adult friendship. Whether it's traveling with old friends to visit new cities or catching a play on a Thursday with a new friend from around the corner, I thoroughly enjoy and appreciate grown-up company and conversation.

Kids are cute (and just maybe getting increasingly cuter), but I do not envy my young friends and family members who have babies and toddlers right now. I believe them when they say they are experiencing some of the highest highs and lowest lows of their lives, but I'm also quietly noting how sleep deprivation can contribute to emotional roller coasters. 

Friday night, Sonia and I made tacos with chicken in adobo sauce and cabbage salad. Then I drank the better part of a bottle of red wine while we watched a few episodes of Homeland. Short of her reminder that I wouldn't want to be groggy for my Saturday (a good one, although I don't always like to hear it), it was a perfect evening. 

We're lucky enough to have evenings like that fairly often. When we talk about it to a couple with two children, however, their mouths hang open in envy. 

Ok, so one of the most satisfying things about delaying children is the appreciation of time spent with your partner. The other is adult friendship. 

Tonight (Saturday), Sonia's staying home while I go to an art opening and poetry event with my newest friend, a professor of creative writing at a local college. She's a thirty-something writer like me, at once confident in the ways she's spent her years so far and a little nervous that she's wasted some time. 

Can I blame this one on the patriarchy? What better way to cut women off at the knees than leading us to question, while at the height of our productivity, energy and power, whether we should be having children instead?

About a year ago, the professor invited me to sit on a panel at her college. The audience were undergraduate writing majors, and the topic was life after graduation. Two of the four panelists were MFA professors encouraging young writers to saddle themselves with another two years' of graduate school debt to "pursue their art." 

I couldn't in good conscience stand for that. I told them to travel or get any job they could, get some experience in this thing called life, start paying off loans, and see if they had the discipline to write every day. I think the professor liked my attitude, and we went out for our first beer shortly thereafter. 

Two of my twenty-something coworkers recently decided, in my general proximity, that no one makes new friends after college. While that's not true, it certainly gets harder. In recent years, I met one of my closest friends through OKCupid, two others because they lived in the apartment above me. One by being overconfident and a little bit bitchy on an otherwise-male panel. 

As a young person growing up in a rural area, I was a poet. I dreamed. I gazed up at the stars and marveled, imagining my future and its possibilities. Even then, those possibilities included culture, travel, theater, community, close friends, lovers and a commitment to remember what it felt like being a child. 

As I've written before, childhood didn't suit me. It was awkward and monotonous and quiet. I wrestled with vague demons and kept to myself. I promised myself that when I got out, I'd travel to all of the cities, read all of the books, see all of the theater and connect with all of the friends I could. 

So far, so good. 

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Sexual Orientation, Identity & Why I Choose "Queer"

From yesterday's blog
Sexuality is a dynamic and lived experience like age, career identity or political party. But if I'm truly committed to Sonia, does it make sense for my sexual identity to reference a bunch of hypothetical lovers I'll never pursue? 
This question merits a little more explanation. In particular, the difference between sexual orientation and sexual identity. 

While looking up definitions for clarity, I found out that the Kinsey Institute is still going strong, and it had a baby!

The mission of Kinsey Confidential is "to disseminate accurate, research-based information geared towards college students."

I subscribed to their podcast. One place this blog could lead me is to a future career in sex education curriculum or advocacy. We need to start educating about sex and sexuality a lot sooner than college, and better navigate difficult conversations with the religious right on the topic. But I digress. 

Kinsey Confidential defines sexual orientation as both sexual attraction and sexual behavior (where you land on the Kinsey scale between heterosexuality and homosexuality) "as well as sexual identity, romantic attractions and behaviors, membership in sexual communities (e.g., lesbian, bisexual, gay, kink, BDSM), sexual fantasies."

In other words, the big picture. Many things are contained within sexual orientation. As far as I can tell, sexual orientation has limitless labels. I can be a "woman-loving-woman submissive" or "a bisexual sex worker who works with men but only has romantic relationships with women" or "a gay man looking only for a couple of bears (exactly two) for a monogamous relationship."

Sexual orientation resists simple definitions. I wanted to offer mine here, but the best I can come up with is "queer cis woman in a relationship with a woman, with broad tastes in fantasyland."

When I think about listing each aspect of my sexual orientation, it's overwhelming in the same way writing a resume is overwhelming. It's difficult to remember and qualify each line item.

Sexual identity is simpler. According to Kinsey Confidential, sexual identity is "the label that people adopt to signify to others who they are as a sexual being."

Simply, I am queer. Sonia is bisexual (as she reminded me yesterday, mostly because of Ryan Gosling).

Sexual identity is the one that makes me feel like a grumpy, emo teen. A few reasons for this.

First, I resist the implied authority in the definitions. The terms themselves, especially lesbian, gay and bisexual, were defined in another time, probably by white men in power. The definitions haven't changed much.

Second, I resist the simplicity and historical weight in the words. The terms were coined when society had a different view of the fluidity of sexuality. These identities are perceived as static, and humans are not.

To call myself "lesbian" now would create a false narrative in which I was a lesbian when I had relationships with men and that I was being untrue to myself in those relationships. There is also an implied discovery that I'm lesbian, which suggests a lack of self-awareness.

This was not my experience, nor do I think it's the experience of the majority of broadly-defined queer people today. We know what sexual identities and orientations exist, and we try them on for size earlier and earlier. Then, we love who we love, with increasing impunity.

I choose "queer" for two reasons. First, in that it reappropriates a word that had a negative connotation in the past, it is pushing our language forward. Second, it is broad enough to encompass the fluidity of sexuality as it unfolds over a lifetime.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

True Sexuality, Insufficient Words

Two questions this morning.

Is sexuality an endgame or a lived experience? And who needs to know what you're practicing or what you're fantasizing?

Following last Saturday's family victory, I've been wondering about the word "bisexual." It seemed to get in the way of my parents', and perhaps other family members', willingness to accept that I'd chosen a woman for my partner. It allowed them to have a "this is just a phase" phase, when they could hope I'd eventually choose a man.

It made them less kind to the women that I've dated, and less accepting.

When I used the word "bisexual" when I came out to my parents in 2009, I thought it prudent. I'd just met the first and only woman I'd ever dated. I was 26. Chances were, we wouldn't end up together, and I was still attracted to (some) men.

Lately, I've discarded "bisexual" and been careful with "queer" because it seems that the most relevant piece of information that I want people to know is, "Sonia is my partner." So maybe, "gay"? For simplicity or even advocacy, do I need to embrace a "gay" (or "lesbian") label if I'm going to spend my life with a woman?

The short answer is, of course not. Sexuality is a dynamic and lived experience like age, career identity or political party. But if I'm truly committed to Sonia, does it make sense for my sexual identity to reference a bunch of hypothetical lovers I'll never pursue? Is it even fair?

On a recent Savage Lovecast, Dan Savage advised a poly guy to consider coming out in a way that gay people used to do in the (bad) old days. Basically, let the parents meet the partner as a friend first. They'll chat about vacation spots or dinnerware or job woes and grow to really like the partner without burdening them with the responsibility for your newly revealed sexual identity.

The guy is dating a couple, but he hasn't yet come out to his family as bi or poly. Dan's almost-always-100%-on-point advice is:
The first order of business is to come out to your parents' as bi. It's unfair to the couple that you're involved with to make them the focus of that. "Hey, here are my friends. I'm fucking them both. Ta-da!" That will put this couple that you're dating in a very uncomfortable position, particularly if your parents do the pivot that a lot of conservative parents do, and get angry at the romantic partner or partners of the kid who's just coming out. 
Dan advises the guy to come out as bi and introduce his parents to the couple as friends (in no particular order). Then, when he's ready to have the poly conversation, he can reference that nice couple they met the other night. "That can help lay the groundwork for creating the fissure, the little crack in your parents' brain that you can drive the wedge into, to open their minds."

I could have lived a parallel life in which I grew to be 34 without having once talked to my parents about sex (if we had anything like "the talk," I don't remember it). Talking about sexuality, in that it is proximal to talking about sex, is not done in our family. If you respect your parents, you simply pretend that it doesn't exist.

Dan's advice to the poly guy was comforting in that it reminded me that each of us can decide exactly how we come out to each person, what the steps are and how much we reveal.

The flip side of the coin is overwhelming. If I had to create a strategy like this one for each coming out -- to a coworker, to a cousin, to a new acquaintance -- I wouldn't have time for life or work. Perhaps parents are the only people worthy of a strategy.

For everyone else, you just have to decide upon the words, a little piece of wrought language weighed down with the expectations and interpretations of generations before you. An insufficient phrase that is as close as you can get.

Which is why I'm sticking with, "This is my partner, Sonia," until further notice. It's the thing I'm sure of.

It's as truthful as I can be.

Monday, September 12, 2016

"This is my daughter, and her partner."

In a long walk through the city on Saturday morning, I listened to Krista Tippett's interview with Mirabai Bush. She spoke about coming to meditation practice in the 1970's.

"I began to see the basic nature of the impermanence of thoughts as they rise and fall away, and I started taking them less seriously," she said. "It gave me a kind of radical self-confidence: that I belonged here on the planet and that I would be able to understand the basics of how it's all unfolding."

I vowed to keep Mirabai Bush's words top of mind as I steeled myself for unpleasant encounters and anxiety at my cousin's wedding later that day. I would recognize them rise in my mind, and watch them fall.

Armed with this reminder, I pulled on the dress Sonia had ordered me from Rent the Runway, and we set off for the suburbs. The Catholic church was pale and drab. There weren't any flowers and the microphones didn't work.

Sonia and I arrived ten minutes late, entered the sanctuary just as the bride and groom reached the altar and sat in the last occupied pew on the left. No one had told the participants how to turn the microphones on. Even my parents, in the fifth row, couldn't hear a word.

When people clapped a second time, we knew it was over. After thirteen years of Catholic school (K-12) going to mass twice a week, I couldn't tell if it had been a full mass.

After the ceremony, something extraordinary and bizarre happened.

The first pews of people began filing out behind the wedding party, followed by the second row of pews and everyone else. My family -- aunts, uncles, a few cousins and finally my parents -- began to pass by the place where Sonia and I stood.

Everyone was smiling, some tentatively. Sonia and I stepped into the aisle and said hello to them, one by one. I said, "This is my partner, Sonia," after I hugged each aunt and uncle, and most of them hugged her, too.

This partner title is an upgrade, for which I'd asked Sonia's permission on the road to the wedding. We made cowboy jokes.

At previous family gatherings, I'd introduced Sonia as my girlfriend. My mother and aunts call their friends "girlfriends" sometimes, so this led to a little confusion or willful ignorance. Partner felt more permanent. They took it in. They seemed to take her in.

We were in a receiving line preceding the actual receiving line. The line backed up, as they do. We slowed and found things to talk about. Sonia bantered with my aunt about a pillow infomercial; my uncle awkwardly mocked the way I'd said "shopping." It was ok.

At the bar at cocktail hour, my dad introduced us to someone he'd been talking to from the other side of the family. "This is my daughter, Rita," he said, "and her partner Sonia."

After seven years, it was finally working.

One drink later, he revealed that he'd given my brother one of the three family time shares and was feeling guilty about it, especially considering I'd paid my own way to college. He fumbled, clearly unplanned, and asked me what he could do to make it up to me.

I swallowed the feeling of being wronged. I don't have a right to my parents' money or possessions, and I cannot control their generosity.

Sonia and I sat at a table with a few other young couples from the city; my parents were on the other side of the room with my aunts and uncles. A few hours into the dancing, I swayed to a slow dance with my dad.

When I announced that we were leaving shortly thereafter, mom pulled dad across the dance floor to say goodbye to Sonia. He kissed her on the cheek as they said goodbye.

I hadn't once consciously used the morning reminder: I am not my thoughts. The reminder itself was sufficient to propel me into the day with confidence and resolve.

And something that hadn't occurred to me as possible actually happened: we had a good time.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Ani DiFranco on Family, Happiness and God

Ani DiFranco's music played in my 1987 Honda hatchback on repeat until I knew every word, and then I keep singing along for another few months. This was late high school, early college. Music that I came to love in those early years (it was exactly Fleetwood Mac, Ani DiFranco & Leonard Cohen) became a part of me. 

She was my first example of a cool lesbian, but she wasn't one. 

somedays the line I walk 
turns out to be straight 
other days the line tends to 
I've got no criteria for sex or race 
I just want to hear your voice 
I just want to see your face  
their eyes are all asking 
are you in, or are you out 
and I think, oh man,what is this about? 
tonight you can't put me 
up on any shelf 
'cause I came here alone 
I'm gonna leave by myself from "In or Out," released on Imperfectly, 1992 
That was her testimony on her third album, and she claimed the labels "bisexual," and "queer," over the years. She wrote songs about love and sex with men and women.

I didn't subscribe to music magazines. The Internet was still infantile. I listened to Ani's albums in the late 1990s and early 2000s. She affirmed my own advocacy (I had friends who were gay), but I wasn't seriously thinking about dating women at the time. I was straight. I just loved her music. She was a poet, like me.

Not So Soft. Puddle Dive. Not a Pretty Girl. Little Plastic Castle. These albums gave me the anthems that smoothed my rough ride into becoming an adult woman. When it was safe enough and armed with Ani's strength, I practiced Hollaback from sheer rage.

So why did I feel self-righteous, in the early 2000s, when I learned that she'd married a man? It was never outside the realm of her possibility. She hadn't deceived us.

Now, she lives with a husband and two children, Petah and Dante, in New Orleans. If you're going to quiet your indignation, get a picket fence and still practice advocacy (she canceled a show in NC this year to protest their anti-LGBT law), that's the town to do it in. A town worthy of her.

Love or happiness have quieted her rage. "I have that typical songwriter’s disease," she said in an interview with Adam McKibbin in 2009, "where when I have a problem, I reach for my guitar, and when I’m happy, I’m busy being happy." 

After her daughter was born in 2007, she wrote her best love song. 

So I'm beginning to see some problems 
With the ongoing work of my mind 
And I've got myself a new mantra 
It says don't forget to have a good time 
Don't let the sellers of stuff power enough to rob you of your grace 
Love is all over the place 
There's nothing wrong with your facefrom "Present/Infant", released on Red Letter Year, 2008
And where is God in all this happiness? Nowhere. In 1999, she wrote and sang, "Up up up up up up / Points the spire of the steeple / But God’s work isn’t done by God / It’s done by people."

Amen. Good deeds and aspersions alike, on this plane, are practiced by humans alone. 

My spirituality tends to be more in the vein of, if there is a God it exists within us, and the responsibility for justice is on our shoulders. What if we just looked to each other in this way? What if the steeples didn’t all point up? What if they all pointed at us, and we had to care for each other in the way that we expect God to care for us? I’m much more interested in that.” —Ani DiFranco, interview by Matthew Rothschild, The Progressive, May 2000
We do not hold humans to this expectation because humans are incredibly disappointing most of the time. Love is rare; balanced and respectful relationships are rare; altruism might not exist. We can't lift humans up with reverence and worship them, the way we can a myth. 

Ani turns to the atom.
The glory of the atom 
Begs a reverent word 
The primary design 
Of the whole universe 
Yes, let us sing its praises 
Let us bow our heads in prayer 
At the magnificent consciousness 
Incarnate there 
The smallest unit of matter 
Uniting bird and rock and tree 
And you and me  
Oh holy is the atom 
The truly intelligent design 
To which all of evolution 
Is graciously aligned from "Atom," released on Red Letter Year, 2008
YES. The glory of nature and the universe, what we do understand that boggles the mind, contains plenty of reverence and meaning for me. 

And raising our expectations for humans, that we meet one another eye-to-eye and take greater responsibility for one another's care and just treatment, could contain plenty of holiness. 

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Dreams of Pregnancy

They say dreams of pregnancy are not usually about pregnancy itself, but about being pregnant with possibility. Women dream about being pregnant when they are on the verge of something, not when they're actually contemplating getting pregnant. In my case, perhaps there's a little bit of both.

The dream itself isn't worth going into, except to say that it took place in my parents' bedroom. A woman doctor put her finger inside me to confirm that even though I was spotting, I was still holding the baby.

I'm not too high on dream interpretation, but I believe in symbols and stories. Dreams create an opportunity to unpack something that's scratching at the subconscious. My parents' home, where I lived from the age of four until I left for college at seventeen, is never far from my dreamscapes.

My gay identity and relationship with my parents are complicated by the fact that I couldn't wait for childhood to be over. I don't remember acting like a kid, being carefree or comforted by the presence of adults. I was not abused. But I was never comfortable, either.

Flannery O'Connor said, "Anybody who has survived his childhood has enough information about life to last him the rest of his days."

I was a wide-eyed, thoughtful and anxious child. Although sometimes moody, I was a pleaser who gave the impression of being wise beyond my years. My brother and I received unsolicited compliments from our fellow churchgoers about our impeccable behavior. I learned well how to keep my inner life protected.

To this day, Jenny will note discord between how I claim I'm feeling and what I'm outwardly projecting. I've learned to say things like, "I was self-conscious about that," or "that made me anxious," because I literally don't know how to act in a way that will show those emotions to a friend or partner.

Maybe feeling one way and acting another is simple adulthood, and I learned it sooner than most. If that's the case, I'm ready for whatever is next. My father's side of the family is Dutch, German and Scandinavian. Whatever is next, I will not learn it from them. They do not talk about upsetting or complicated matters, at least not with one another. This wedding on Saturday is beginning to weigh.

Although I'm out to most family members, I still have a hard time, in each new social setting, entering and navigating their rituals and conversations. Sonia will be with me. I hope I am pregnant with the possibility of being strong and confident and -- dear God can I hope -- a little funny.

On Tuesday night, I went out with Jenny and two friends, a lesbian couple pregnant with their second child. The couple was open and forthcoming about their process in the manner of a truly tight and confident family. We discussed sperm banks, using a known donor and adoption as ways we'd all considered making our families.

Of course, the pregnancy dream could have simply been a wisp of a memory from that night. Sonia and I have talked about adoption, but the possibility of me carrying a child isn't off the table.

After dinner, I walked with the couple and told them a little bit about this blog. "I don't know what it is I'm trying to work out," I found myself saying, "But I'm working something out, and enjoying the process."

I rambled a bunch, too. I need to work on my elevator speech.

Whatever happens Saturday, I'd like to think that I'm pregnant with that unknown: what is here, where it is leading me.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Why I Began Watching Transparent (Finally)

I've read a few back issues of Harper's Magazine while watching the still lake waters last week. In the April 2016 issue, a review of Transparent by Emily Witt spoke directly to the world I want to see: a post-religious world in which individuals must come to terms with identity and sexuality (their own and other people's) based on personal, owned values.

That world doesn't look as idyllic as we might hope.

Witt writes, "If Maura is an exemplar of self-actualization -- the person who, after suffering for so long, finally expresses her true self -- her children represent the dark side of a world in which existential decisions are no longer scripted by religious doctrine and social custom but must be discerned through personal exploration."

Maura (Jeffrey Tambour) is the main character, a father of three named Mort when we first meet her. Each of her three children have their own sexual awakenings on the horizon.

Sarah (Amy Landecker), a mother of two, leaves her husband within the first few episodes, to reignite a flame with her college girlfriend. We learn that Josh (Jay Duplass) is still in a relationship with his babysitter from childhood, although the family doesn't seem to know it. Ali (Gaby Hoffman) has an interest in sexual escapades, mostly with men so far, that I suspect serve as a distraction to some deeper desire or knowledge.

While the world without religious doctrine and social custom is still an imaginary future world for me (and most Americans born outside of our major cities), I believe it exists. Seeing Maura's secular children playing out their existential woes in the face of their parent's transition, however, isn't pretty.

Where religious doctrine may condemn and social custom may shame, the secular response seems to be a dive deep into personal neuroses.

Without religion to lean on, I'd hoped their wrestling would be more nuanced, vulnerable and insightful. There's still time for that.

I'll be tuning in for the characters -- they're likable even when they're careless or clueless.

I'll also be tuning in to watch the characters' relationship to religion. The characters are Jewish and there's an emerging rabbi character (Kathryn Hahn), who is present immediately following Josh's discovery of Maura's true identity.

If there's any religion that can overcome the desire to oppress, perhaps it's Judaism. Witt writes, "Now that we are all free to be you and me, [the director] Soloway suggests, perhaps it is worth consulting religion, which may have more than oppression to offer."

I'll try to keep that in mind on Saturday, when Sonia and I will sit through my cousin's Catholic wedding with full mass. It will be the first time I've brought Sonia to a formal event, although she went to a picnic with most of these folks last summer.

The event snuck up on me. We just got back from vacation; there hasn't been time to send off the "We've moved in!" postcards as I'd hoped, so we're going in armed only with one another and the power of repetition.

When I told one of my aunts that my girlfriend, Sonia, and I had moved in a few months back she asked, "Oh, into a two bedroom?" Her voice was hopeful, as though she could still call Sonia my roommate, if only I answered "yes."

"Nope," I replied. "Just a one bedroom. She's my girlfriend."

Such is the power of religious doctrine and social custom. Anything that doesn't fit, does not compute.

My cousin has promised, unsolicited, that we will not be the only gay couple at the wedding. As my brother would say, "If the kids are okay, then the old ones have done enough." Let's hope so.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Word Have Meaning. Period.

I sat uncomfortably with yesterday's post, Word Have Meaning, Unless They Don't.

Stephen Dunn is one of my favorite priest-poets. I found his work in my early twenties, and met him at the Dodge Poetry Festival a decade ago. I'd read everything he'd published. I know how people feel when they meet rockstars.

The ground was soaked with rain from the previous night. Large white tents with audiences ranging from 50 to a few hundred were erected in grassy fields, and I trekked through the mud and hay to reach the tent where he was reading.

He'd won the Pulitzer a few years before. He must have been in one of the bigger tents, but I remember his reading as small, off-beaten-path, sparsely attended. He was all the more magical because he was mine.

During his reading, I did this thing I used to do when I was a young poet, staring in such a way that I was sure I could see someone's aura radiating outward. I started doing this at Beatnik poetry readings as a teen in the late 90s. It was probably a trick of vision and light.

A few years later, in the tent listening to Stephen Dunn, his aura was white, the highest order of auras. I drank in every word. I loved him.

Afterward, I approached him to sign my copy of his book. I was going to tell him how his words had saved me, made me feel less alone. How I revered his nuanced thought and planned to use him as a model for the kind of poet I wanted to become.

I chickened out. When I reached the man, I thrust my book to him, stammering, "Uh -- could you please sign my book?"

I still believe in the poets of nuance, even if Dunn wonders, as he gets older, if the priests had something to offer all along. I came to poetry as a religion because it offered me what religion never had -- gray areas, rich questions, a land of no absolutes.

That 19-year-old wannabe Beatnik once wrote, "The only life that interests me is with the outcasts, in the gray areas, along the fringes."