Saturday, March 30, 2013


Could it be?  After a week of amicus briefs, excitement, good feelings, HRC shenanigans, our hopes, and our fears, we awoke to something resembling spring.  Outside time, sunlight, and ripe mango have lightened the mood around here.  The cozy house conveniently has a nice mudroom that we are now actually able to enjoy.

Don't mind the uncovered outlet, we are on it.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Gay Power, Gay Vulnerability: SCOTUS, SCOTUS, SCOTUS Edition

Gay is a place of vulnerability in our society.  Sometimes we can buy our way out of that vulnerability with money and lawyers, or powerful friends.  But paying for the proper paperwork didn't help Janet Langbehn, or Sharon Reed, or Bill Flanigan-all gay spouses kept from the bedsides of their dying partners.  Rights in that moment that you approach the desk in the emergency room aren't about what's written in law, rather they are about what people believe to be true.  That is why minorities need special protections, we need to have the justices of the Supreme Court shout it from the courthouse steps that "The Gays, they are equal!"

Sadly, the justices seem very removed from the workaday world in which most gay people function, a world of paying bills, finding healthcare, and spending hours on the phone explaining to various agencies that yes you are married, but not necessarily according to their definitions. In the SC, our actual experiences as gay people facing a multitude of discriminations and insults large and small got little attention as both sides argued the broad issues.   As the SC deliberates, we remain separate and unequal.  Vulnerable.

In both cases, the arguments made in the amicus brief filed by the Concerned Women of American, which I mocked last week, made an appearance.

In the Prop 8 case:

"CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: — I — it seems to me that your position that you are supporting is somewhat internally inconsistent. We see the argument made that there is no problem with extending marriage to same-sex couples because children raised by same-sex couples are doing just fine and there is no evidence that they are being harmed. And the other argument is Proposition 8 harms children by not allowing same-sex couples to marriage. Which is it?"

In the DOMA case:

"CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: As far as I can tell, political figures are falling over themselves to endorse your side of the case." [In reference to the "sea change" in attitudes toward gay people, and whether that change means that gays are politically powerful.]

So now with gay marriage in 9 states out of fifty and wins at the ballot box in 4 states, we are too powerful to be protected against a federal government that does not recognize our marriages, or protected in the 41 states in which we cannot marry.  As for the child of gasy issue, I think we should avoid the issue of psychological harm to children of gay people who cannot marry.  Gay kids survive and thrive even in families that face discrimination.  Rather, discrimination harms children economically in many of the same ways that unrecognized gay spouses are harmed.  Our children do have a human right to have their parentage recognized, and this right exists even if they do not suffer psychological harm due to a lack of recognition.According to the Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989), Article 8, "States Parties undertake to respect the rights of the child to preserve his or her identity, including nationality, name, and family relations as recognized by law without unlawful interference." 

So where do we go from here?  We'll have to wait until June for the decisions.  If they don't go in our favor, we do have the ballot box.  I think we can win in many states, but clearly not all.  Despite the HRCs very successful marketing coup, gaining attention for cases for which they had done little, the future is the Maryland strategy.  In the last election, Maryland activists abandoned the HRC-style strategy of running a slick ad campaign featuring respectable HRC types.  Instead, MD focused on regular people telling their stories, while also building a coalition of people across lines of race, class, religion, and region-a coalition of the willing, if you will.  While we can win at many ballot boxes, at this moment, when we seem poised for so much change, the expense and grind of campaigning just seems like a waste.  Maybe I'm just getting greedy.

One thing is for damn sure, we are out and we're not going back.  If we have to take it back to the streets, in the tradition of our forefathers and foremothers at Stonewall and in ACT UP [watch How to Survive a Plague on streaming netflix], we havenshown that we have the will to make change happen.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Gay Parents/ Single Parents: Getting Past the Gay Poster Family

Too bad blogger won't let me draw a venn diagram that would save me a few hundred words.

As I've said before, I'm very excited about the upcoming SCOTUS cases focused on gay marriage, and I hope this is the gay marriage moment.  However, the conservative argument for gay marriage is already setting my teeth on edge.  Shortly after I heard about this public service campaign targeting young moms, I read this article in the NYTimes about the American Academy of Pediatrics coming out in support of gay marriage.  I found this sentence from the article very interesting: “'Many studies compare wealthy, well-educated lesbian mothers to single heterosexual mothers instead of married couples,' Dr. Marks said." Maybe I'm reaching, but this sentence seemed to signal all sorts of unspoken ideas about who lesbian mothers are (partnered, wealthy, educated, white, older) and who single mothers are (straight, poor, minority, uneducated).  These assumptions seem neither accurate nor useful.  Lesbian mothers are partnered and they are signal, they come in all colors, are older and younger, and richer and poorer.  Shockingly, a lesbian mother can also be a single mother!

There is a certain political expediency in presenting gay families with kids as a model minority, but I think it's a poor strategy for the long haul. Gay families are as good as straight families, but that also means that we're as messed up, complicated, and imperfect as all other families.  Trying to present ourselves as some non-existent ideal family (an ideal that easily slides into racism and classism), just sets us up for the backlash when our enemies get hip to the fact that gay families can face divorce and poverty and a wealth of other issues just like our straight counterparts.

"Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good." If I was to be so cheesy as to having a parenting motto, that would be it.  As for individual moms and dads and imas and memes and babas, the goal of perfection hurts gay families as a group.  The only perfection is our love for our kids, which outlives exhaustion, frustration, and even anger.  That love doesn't differentiate between one parent, two, or more.  It doesn't care about color or money or age.  Love and imperfection, that is family.

An interesting commentary from a single mom can be found here, and here is a link to Melissa Harris-Perry's take on the the NYC public health campaign.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Moderate Couponing

My parents showed up this weekend for some secular spring fun involving candy, egg dyeing, and ham. LB and her grandparents were mutually delighted, and all three were exhausted by the conclusion of festivities.  My parents always arrive bearing gifts.  This time, among other things, they brought 10lbs of King Arthur Flour, 10lbs of Jasmine Rice, and a vat of laundry detergent.  That is the family I come from.

Growing up, like all the other kids, I wore hand-me-down clothes and bread bags on my feet over my socks and under my boots.  Our New England, whether rich or poor, tended to be thrifty.  My parents were occasionally profligate.  They always bought the biggest package of school pictures and my father sent in a check to pay for school lunch, which among my peers was similar to being dropped off at school in a chauffeured limo with tinted windows.

Financially, we've been managing my underemployment reasonably well, despite extravagances like two meals out while grandparents offered free babysitting.

With the extra time I have been granted by the gods of underemployment, I've been doing a little couponing (I say COO-poning, not CUE-poning like they say on tv).  My previous couponing stints left me feeling that I bought too much unhealthy food and bought too many items with tons of packaging.  This time around, I'm just doing the Extra Care Bucks (ECB)  program at CVS.  There are a bunch of websites that give all the details of the ECB program.  I like the Money Saving Mom site (conservative Christian) found here.  Basically, if you buy certain products at CVS, which you can find in the CVS weekly flier, you get coupons (EBCs) that you can use for any items in the store for your next transaction.

I have some rules for using ECB that conflict with those I read on more extreme couponing sites.  My rules are as follows
  • I don't buy stuff I don't need (in the perverse economy of coupons, you sometimes get better deals if you are willing to buy stuff you don't need or want)
  • I go to a well stocked CVS to avoid frustration
  • I don't double count my ECBs (If I spend $20 at CVS and get $10 in ECBs for next time, I spent $20, not $10)
My example from this week.  CVS offered $10 in ECBs if you bought $30 worth of certain Scott and Kleenex products.  I bought 8 boxes of tissues and 3 packs of toilet paper.  At full price they would have been about $45, but on sale they were $30.  I applied $12 in ECBs that I got a couple weeks ago.  So I paid $18 for my tissues and toilet paper, and got $10 to use next time.  Not bad.  Now, if we had a car it might make more sense for us to just go to Costco, but if I add the cost of a zipcar to any big box store trip, CVS comes out ahead for us.

I am my parents' daughter.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

"...those conceived by passionate, heterosexual coupling"

Life after gay marriage: babies lie with Elmos, Elmos lie with kittycats, etc.

And suddenly, thanks to the Coalition for the Protection of Marriage and their amicus brief, I have a new phrase for my SCOTUS drinking game.

The briefs that are anti-DOMA and Prop 8 have reminded me that marriage is fundamentally a conservative institutions, something I have been trying hard to forget.  The brief from the American Historical Association reminds readers that for our orthodox Protestant ancestors in Colonial America, marriage was a civil institution rather than a religious one.  The AHA also examines the history of couverture (a married woman has no legal status as an individual) and its eventual rejection as a legal doctrine in the US.  The fact that Protestants in early America shaped their ideas of marriage in accordance with their hatred of the Papists and the fact that we have become enlightened enough to allow married women their own legal identities really doesn't leave me feeling that high on the institution of marriage.

On the other side the arguments are far ranging, most seem to reflect a lack of experience with actual LGBT people.  For example the brief submitted by the Concerned Women of America explains why gay people and not "politically powerless," a designation that might allow gay people to be considered a protected class of people.  Apparently, now that we've won a few political victory and President Obama is out and proud as our friend, we don't need any additional protections.  CWA also tries to make the case that LGBT people are rich political elites.  Yes, there are some rich and politically powerful gay people, but the argument that we are all rich and powerful and therefore can't be considered an oppressed class or minority group seems to drift toward popular characterizations of Jews by anti-semites.  Never mind that most statistical data suggests exactly the opposite, that LGBT families are on average poorer than their straight counterparts.

The brief from the Coalition for the Protection of Marriage raises issues that I find more discussion worthy.  One interesting argument raised by the CPM is that "man and woman marriages" produce "natural families" that do not require state intervention or supervision.  The implication is that with the rise of alternative families, the "natural family," which I will call the straight family, will face heightened scrutiny and intervention from the state.  It is certainly true that straight people can establish their families much more easily than other families.  In states with common law marriage, a man and woman can simply hold themselves out as married and they are married.  They will likely need to apply for birth certificates for their children, but no one will challenge them in this process, even if they show up in an ER with no paperwork.

In contrast, gay families depend on the government to legitimize our relationships.  However, I would argue that we only require this government intervention because we are an oppressed minority group whose families are seen an illegitimate.  If we were not a stigmatized group, we could simply use the common law model and declare ourselves families and act accordingly.

I think CPM's argument is much smarter and point to a much deeper philosophical divide than the many varieties of "God hats fags."  CPM hits a libertarian/natural rights/common sense conservatism that is very powerful in American culture, but hopefully it is too subtle to get much attention.

Edited to add below, because I had to leave to go do daycare pickup.

In many of the pro-DOMA/pro-Prop 8 briefs, the children of gay people are afterthoughts, asides, and oddities.  In the minds of the authors of these briefs gay life is a huge dance party of rich white gay may in boxer briefs with a few darker, poorer, female-er gays standing on the sidelines with our kids (precise method of conception, and passion therein, unknown).  The reality is we're here, we're queer with kids, and there will only be more of us in the future.  And our kids, mostly, but not always, conceived by means other than passionate, heterosexual coupling, need some sort of uniform recognition of their parentage.  We need that recognition in all fifty states and we need it to not cost thousands of dollars.  For straight married couples, the state presumes that the possibility of shared biological parentage establishes parentage.  The state does not require mandatory paternity tests to establish parentage, and in cases where a man parents and then finds out he is not actually the biological parent of his child, the law often still views him as a parent, with all the attached rights and responsibilities.  While I'm not comfortable with the idea that marriage should be required to establish parentage, that seems like a move backward, marriage should be one means by which gay couples can establish their intention to parent together.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

This and That

LB's behavior as of late has been "challenging." I guess it's just a mix of toddler, March in New England, sick and fussy, and time change.  Sometimes B and I have responded with grace and good humor, and sometimes not.  My coping strategies have been several-fold.  Stuffing my craw with discount Easter candy, sampling the excellent beers that B selects (Lagunitas Brown Sugga' Substitute, check it out!), some IKEA retail therapy in search of mealtime and organizational solutions, and distractions of the watching, reading and listening variety.

If you've been thinking about DOMA and SCOTUS, the American Bar Association has helpfully provided links to all of the amicus briefs.  I've been slowly making my way through some of them, and it's interesting to see the varied perspectives that go beyond a simple liberal/conservative divide (including the Westboro Baptist Church's brief in support of neither party).

My FIL passed along a purported North Korean propaganda video about life in the US.  Here the Huff Post explains that the video is real, but the voiceover is fake.  B and I recently watched the documentary Camp 14: Total Control Zone, about the life of one of the only people born in a North Korean prison who is known to have escaped.  It's an interesting film that combines classic documentary elements with graphic-novel style reenactments I just finished reading Escape from Camp 14, a book about the same man by journalist Blaine Harden.  The book answered some of the questions I had after watching the film.  Both the book and the film were engrossing, but I was left with questions about the degree to which this one man's experience was representative of a whole population of prisoners.  I don't doubt the accuracy of the claims about the oppression and violence faced by prisoners, but I wondered if his descriptions of family life, and the lack of familial affection, were widespread or the experience of a dysfunctional family within a totalitarian environment.

This photo series of children with their most prized possession are poignant, hopeful and depressing.

I really enjoyed the article "About a Boy," in this week's New Yorker (which you may not be able to access for a while unless you have a NY subscription).  The article discusses the increasing options for trans youth and the ethical and practical challenges that come with those options. As the article points outs, it can be physically easier for young people who transition at an earlier age, however, early transitions may force young people to establish a gender identity before they are ready to do so.  The author makes the interesting point that perhaps adults are more comfortable with early transitions because if fits with our cultural desire for a strong gender binary.  I've recently gotten back in touch with someone I went to summer camp with back in the day who is a transwoman and a trans activist.  I'm curious to here her critique of the article.  As a thoroughly ciswoman, many of the authors concerns about early transitions made perfect sense to me, but for people who aren't trans I think it is really hard to understand on an empathic and elemental level.

And, so as not to give the young people all the attention, RI NPR has been running a series on aging in RI (I think we have the most aged population in the US) including this piece on gay elders in RI.

Finally, I read Hilary Mantel's novels  Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies a few months ago and loved them.  B has started reading Wolf Hall, and talking with her about the book is just reminding me how amazing it is.  The book switches perspectives and moves through time with few markers, but somehow Mantel manages those shifts without making the book seem overly technique driven.  The novels have the backbone of a really interesting story, even if you know how it will turn out in the end, enriched by the interior life of Thomas Cromwell.  I've also recently read Mantel's memoir Giving Up the Ghost.  I must of read part of it before, because it seems awfully familiar.  In any case, I thought it was a good book, but not quite what I wanted.  I don't know if I'm just over the memoir, maybe I get my confessional fix from blogs now, or maybe all I want from Mantel is more Wolf Hall.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

8:07pm to 9:07pm

Last night I decided to switch things up (save money) on the last leg of my extreme commute.  I took the RIPTA bus from T.F. Greene to the downtown bus station, and then another bus the rest of the way home.  RIPTA uses a google map for its trip planner and the whole system is hopelessly fucked up, and inevitably shows that your trip will take several hours and require multiple transfers.  While the trip planner said I would have to walk 1.9 miles from the airport to pick up the bus, the bus stop is actually at the arrivals curb.  Easy!

B always says she loves that trip on the bus.  The bus is dim with muted sound and the dark streets unfold.  The meat markets, and gas stations, and Liberian churches, and pho shops all blend together and every intersection feels both anonymous and vaguely familiar.  A few minutes in we were stopped by the flashing lights of a dozen vehicles, fire trucks and police cars.  As we detoured into a dark neighborhood, the smell of smoke became overwhelming, the driver got off the bus, and all the lights went out.  It was a cozily apocalyptic Providence moment.  Eventually on our way, we swayed and bumped back into the city.

Downtown Providence has a central bus plaza, which functions pretty efficiently and is generally more pleasant than being the only person at some random stop waiting for a transfer.  However, even in a little city, the bus station at night gets a circle of hell vibe hosting overtired children, the lost and confused, and people trying to wedge their immense bundles into tiny bus aisles.  In front of me, there was a youngish white couple, who looked like they were living hard, anxious to get to their destination and find some form of consolation, with him gently stroking her face and murmuring nothing.

On my way out of Baltimore, I'd passed a skinny white junkie, and no other word came to mind when I saw her, lying on the sidewalk in fetal position, clasping something and keening nonsense and the growing crowd around her negotiated, discussed, and debated her.  I walked on.

An hour after I got on the bus, I was off in front of the pawn shop and just a few minutes walk from the cozy house.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

New School/Old School

Our house, as you can see in the pictures on this blog, is furnished almost exclusively in early century Ikea.  Sometimes it's fun to think that LB will look back at pictures from her childhood that are the stylistic equivalent of dark fake-wood paneling and avocado appliances.

One exception is the little rocking chair we call "the baby electric chair."  The chair was made by my great-grandfather in the 1920s for his children, one of whom is LB's great-grandmother.  My knowledge of hobbyist furniture building in the 1920s is confined to a single book I read in grad school. The little I gleaned from that book suggests that this rocker was part of the Colonial American revival style popularized in the 1920s.  My father and aunt remember playing with the chair as kids, putting it on its front to make a slide, resulting in several cracks in the wood that have been repaired.  Then it must have gone to my cousins, because I first saw it shortly before LB was born, when the rocker was gifted to our little family.

Rocker with Poang

Rocker with child

Side view with repairs

Back with repair
LB picked out this outfit her own self.  She picked pink pants from her pants bin, and then her beloved (hideous) pink Elmo shirt, and then she insisted on adding this pink mock-turtleneck onesie over the existing ensemble.  The ruching on the Elmo shirt gave her some unnaturally big shoulders, which combined with the onesie snapped OVER the pants gave her a 1970s space cowboy look, and she wore it well.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

The Snow, It Falls

New England Winter, now I remember you.  As you creep back into my viscera, I'm reduced to my literary understanding of the season.  Yesterday afternoon's stroller commute home was intense.  Over 24 hours of snow left little on the ground, but a couple inches of slushy snow and a driving wind taxed me and the BOB to our limits.  LB stayed cozy in her plastic bubble, which was covered with a layer of snow by the time we got home.  I misjudged the slipperiness of a steep driveway we cross everyday, which led to a treacherous moment during which LB, the BOB, and I all slid down towards traffic, but I managed to correct.  As I walked, I thought of that scene in The Long Winter, when Pa goes to get more hay so the family won't freeze to death, but the oxen (horses?) keep crashing through the crust of snow covering pockets of air.  Pa has to walk ahead stamping a firm path for the animals.  It was kind of like that, but with two inches of snow on a city street, not two feet of snow on an empty prairie.

Winter has also dulled my taste buds, and I find myself cooking dinners for the family that hold no appeal for me.  I crave spicy, sour, creamy, and sweet, so I've declined my healthy dinners in favor of days filled with frozen mac & cheese and Easter candy.  I feel like Francie in A Tree Grows  in Brooklyn, savoring her sour pickle after a long winter of bread and potatoes.

I was an April blizzard baby, but even with an April blizzard that's only one more month, right?

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Bearing the Burdens: Gun Violence and Urban Kids

If you care about youth gun violence, I strongly recommend these two episodes of This American Life about Harper High School in Chicago (Part 1 and Part 2).  In the past year, 29 Harper students or recent former students have been killed or injured by guns.  The episodes explore Harper and the surrounding neighborhood from multiple points of view.

One of the interesting finding in the episodes are an urban landscape organized by relatively disorganized, non-heirachical micro gangs.  These aren't the big money narco-trafficking outfits of the 1980s and 1990s, instead they are just kids will a lot of guns, living in neighborhoods that have experienced high levels of violence for generations.  Based on my knowledge of youth gangs before the 1960s, neighborhood gangs in present-day Chicago have reverted to an older model, one common in Chicago between the 1920s and the 1960s.  The difference today is the large number of guns.  Back in the day, guns were not unknown, but relatively uncommon.  Kids fought with fists, and sometimes with bats or knives, and while the effects were frightening, they were less deadly.

When I read about child soldiers or civil wars in other countries, I think about our city kids here in the US.  Even children who are not physically injured or killed, have often lost a loved one or been witness to a murder.  This article by Alex Kotlowitz about the violence experienced by witnesses to gun crimes.  From my own experience, I have seen that human beings are very good at adjusting to a high level of violence in order to function in violent environments.  Unfortunately that functionality comes with a deep personal and social cost.

If you work with young people who live in dangerous neighborhoods, as B and I have, you often hear "You know what happened?  My cousin died," "My uncle got shot," "I saw a body."  For students at the elite college where I teach, any of those experiences would bring visits to the counseling center, chats with the dean, the option of a reduced course load, perhaps a bereavement support group.  For kids who experience the highest levels of violence in this country, their are few of those supports.  Fortunate kids might encounter a sympathetic social worker, pastor, or youth group, but the sort of therapeutic milieu that I that, I think, is needed by a person who has experienced high levels of personal or social violence, simply doesn't exist.  Schools might be part of the solution, but in reality they seem uniquely unsuited to support grieving, frightened, and confused students.  School structures have little flexibility to deal with the normal patterns of acting out and reactivity that come with experiencing and witnessing violence.  With nowhere to turn, young people work it out for themselves, and their solutions are often destructive to themselves or others.

As a society, our reaction to violent communities is much the same as the urban principal who tells a young child who recently saw a relative murdered to "get it together." We have to turn away because we don't know how to fix it, we have to believe that the problem is a disease that only infects certain communities, we don't know how to have painful conversations with young people about why they are chosen to suffer.

This is the place where I should humbly say that I know I don't have all the answers.  Actually, I think the answers are pretty simple and they certainly weren't invented by me: jobs, education, investment in community, utilization of the vast human resources in poor communities, philosophy, radical self-awareness through humanistic education, political involvement, leadership training, conflict resolution (starting with very young children), therapy as needed.  Give me all that and see if it works.  Sadly, I think we live in a society where we have the answers, but we lack the will, and that is a problem for which I don't have an answer.

I know a lot of people who are fighting this fight to get kids safe neighborhood and good schools much harder than I am.  Most of them are burned out, some of them are paying for their good deed with  diabetes and hypertension.  There's never enough money or enough time to do what needs to be done. It is so frustrating to see good people who are trying to make the world better met with "towns make gun, and cities make problems" mentality.

In the midst of so much frustration, I did get a laugh from this purported expose of an NPR piece on Chicago and gun violence (the transcript is helpfully included at the end of the post).  The author is shocked and appalled that NPR identified Father Pfleger of St. Sabina's only as a social activist, and didn't identify academic Cathy Cohen as a lesbian and member of "a homosexual activist group."  Father Pfleger is one of the most prominent lefties on the South Side, and it is hardly a secret that you could put the word "radical" in front of social activist to describe him.  In the case of Cohen, maybe the author of the article will have his way and all people interviewed on NPR will have their sexuality noted.  We know what to call the homosexuals, deviants, and queers, but what do you call everyone else.  Do straight conservatives embrace the term straight, which is language that comes directly from gay communities?  Perhaps they would prefer "sexually typical"?  Gallows humor, my friends, at least I have that.

I've edited this post a couple times already to add info, and will probably do so again.  As I was reflecting on my frustration, and how little I personally do to address something I see as a huge social problem, and how feeling helpless and angry can keep us from doing anything, I though of this film.  The Interrupters here on PBS.  They are walking the walk.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Beware the Ides of March

I'm starting to remember how much the end of the long New England winter sucks.  It's too chilly and dreary and muddy and gray to really enjoy being outside.  The cozy house is feeling a bit close and dull for all its occupants.  Snow is expected for my weekly commute to Baltimore. Blerg.

We are trying to keep our spirits up.  I made an omelet for brunch.  I put on a random Crosby, Stills, and Nash album that I always put on when we are stuck in the house. We've also been engaged in Operation Less Milk/Fewer Bottles, as well as Operation Fewer DVDs.  Both were relatively successful after an unpromising start that involved extensive toddler screaming.  After a productive hour of searching for LB's swimsuit, we may be ready for Operation Family Swim next week.

For the moment, life is messy.