Tuesday, February 19, 2013

an education

This morning Maude didn't want to go to school. She was sobbing that she wanted to stay home with us. I snuggled her in my arms for a while, then we played a shapes game, where she rearranged some shapes on a puzzle board and tried to match where they had been on the back of the board in an elaborate memory game of her own invention.

I always feel guilty when she doesn't want to go to school, in at least two ways. First, while I know I am making this little kid go off into an institutional environment so I can catch up on teaching work, which is in fact my paid employment right now, let's face it; I'm home all day today. Home working, yes--but home. And, here, as you can see, writing, which is not exactly working (though it is actual work, I know).

Second, I feel guilty because not only am I sending her away, but I'm sending her to someplace she claims makes her unhappy. Although I don't think she is ACTUALLY unhappy. I think she just prefers the unstructured time at home and, getting used to it, doesn't want to change back when Monday comes.

Now, Maude has been attending this preschool since she was two, in the days when I was working a 9-5 office job and her other Mom was too (basically, a 4-4 composition load is at least 9-5, and actually more). We wanted her to go not only for the daycare, but for the socialization and play time, since she is an only child. I feel good about this. Her day consists of work in the morning drawing shapes and lines (they follow Montessori principles here), lunch, nap time, and play in the afternoon, with stories and reading. Some mornings they dance, others they have an instructor come in and teach Tae Kwon Do. They do a bunch of fun stuff in a regimented but fairly intimate neighborhood environment (about 30 kids total).

Some days I pick her up early, anxious to see her and give her some home time, and she tells me that I am too early, that she was enjoying playing with her friends in the afternoon. So she's not really--or not often--actually unhappy there. She just forgets in the morning that she likes school, and forgets in the afternoon that she was ever unhappy about being there.

Now it is time to think about kindergarten, and there are three options. Actually, there are really only two, because we have already decided that the Chicago Public Schools are not an option. We don't have good schools anywhere near us, and even the good ones are geared towards the ridiculous testing schedules that have decimated education in this country.

So there is Waldorf, which is right down the street, and North Side Catholic, which is a little further down the street. Waldorf is expensive. North Side is, well, Catholic.

When we visited Waldorf we loved it. I especially like the aesthetic philosophy of muted lights and soft colors, and their emphasis on creativity and the arts. However, they are, as I pointed out, expensive--nearly twice what we pay now, and twice what we would pay to send her to Catholic school. Still, the neo-Pagan festivals they celebrate--in the fall they make lanterns and walk around the neighborhood, for example--their emphasis on music, movement, and the arts, and the quirky philosophy of teaching kids to knit instead of read, getting them ready to pick up reading and really take off with it--really appeals to me. Even their no-media emphasis, where they encourage families to keep tv and movies to a minimum so kids can develop creativity, is ok. We don't have time to watch much tv, though Maude loves it on the weekends, and she likes to watch a show with her breakfast on weekdays. I grew up in a house in the woods, where we got three channels, and that made me read more, play the piano, go outside, and draw self-portraits using my bedroom mirror.

The down side is the feel of a lightweight, if warm, childhood curriculum, where there is no actual kindergarten (all early childhood before grade one is kids lumped together), and kids knit instead of read and are not allowed to watch tv. The up side, as I said to Maude's other mom, is that Waldorf feels like home to me, and by home, I mean the 1970s.

What about North Side Catholic? It is our neighborhood school, for sure, with many if not most of the parents of Maude's classmates planning to send their children there. It is rated very high, it is affordable, and it has a cheerful, industrious feel. It is also Catholic, and by Catholic, I mean Catholic. There are posters about God on the walls, and there is Mass once a week that the kids have to attend. Mass.

Neither of us is Catholic, or even really Christian. We grew up in churches, but while I was mainstream Protestant, Maude's other mom was raised Mormon. Needless to say, she has little use for churchiness, and we are not church-attending people. Churches are not as a rule very nice to two-mom families, and while I know there are churches out there that are, we are both pretty secular people now. Also I am an aesthete, and I think churches have to be pretty and old-fashioned, and I don't want to meet in a carpeted room where they let the gay people congregate (MCC in Chicago, I'm talking to you).

Other than the God thing, North Side Catholic is a no-brainer, but there is, you know, the God thing. And Maude is impressionable--you just know she's going to come home full of new-found religious fervor. She already told me (based on info from a boy in her pre-school) that God is coming, and that the sky is going to open up, and that we should say a prayer before meals, and that God is in heaven, to which I replied something like, "God is everywhere, and probably more female than male, if you think of the earth itself, and anyway, who told you all this?" And I can't stop thinking about how my ex-girlfriend and I used to go to midnight mass at Christmas to humor her mother, who was widowed at the time, and how the deal breaker was the year the priest asked everyone to pray for "all our brothers and sisters struggling with same-sex sexual attraction." Right up there, on Christmas Eve, in Lambertville, NJ, where half the congregation that night was gay men (New Hope, PA was just across the bridge).

And so we are struggling right now with this (though not with same-sex sexual attraction), and filling out financial aid (which, by the way, only one of us can claim Maude as a dependent on our tax returns, because, you know, same-sex couples can't be married in the eyes of the federal government). And I just want Maude to get up in the morning and look forward to school, which maybe nobody does, but I'm hoping anyway that she will.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

a teacher

My own personal nerdfest, grading papers till 2 a.m., looking out into the darkness towards the Big Lake, nibbling Stilton, listening to John Dowland, laughing fondly when students write about sovereignty and "homo saucer." Though only an adjunct, still, this is the good life.

In the late hours, the early hours, everything comes back to you. Other late nights, walking in despair across faraway campuses, mourning the jobs you didn't get and the career you will never have, remembering the night three boys you had in freshman writing call out to you as you are trying to remember where you parked your car. They are flushed with youth and camaraderie, and they tell you you were the best teacher they ever had, and you turn away in pleasure and confusion, kind words on a dark night. They are seniors, and they push on through the darkness, laughing, and now you are smiling, too, to yourself, as you find your car and drive home through the country night, to the home you soon will lose, but then you think you should lose, in the interests of progress, but now it seems like the most golden nugget of happiness, that house in the dark town by the river, when you were young and impatient for the success you knew was coming. And their flushed words, thrown in exuberant generosity, fading down the streets left so many years now, float still on the moonlight on those roads like the purest distillation of platinum, of silver that rings like a bell in your heart's ear, the tired heart that now sits here in the dark, waiting for sleep to come,but still springs up, remembering an unforced gesture, the color of a world only half known, but missed now, so missed, as the new places unfold and strangers multiply, and kindnesses dry up, and even lovers hang back, yet there they were, once, just boys with someplace else to go, shouting an unforced greeting, a blessing, flinging gold happily from little purses that showered, showers, now on your head. The kindness of students, victims of our monkey experiments, still gazing at us with their dark benevolent eyes, as we fire up the rockets kiss them goodbye, tell them that it will be ok and that we, all of us, will be ordinary together again soon, when we see each other again. Which we will.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

A little past Mother's Day, I read my friend's blog, a meditation on the very recent loss of her mother. She is thinking about her mother and femininity, and the objects and relations that constitute femininity, and the ways in which those objects help us negotiate the world. And now she has lost her first object, her mother, who was also a relationship, as well as a negotiator of relationships. A loss like this shifts everything.

Losing a parent forever changes your relationship to the world, and not just because you miss them, but because they loved you. Or at least, for those of us lucky enough to have a parent raise us, they made you need their love and conform yourself in ways that helped you get it, and when you had to rebel, they made you risk not having their love, because at some point you needed even more to be your own creature. Without them, there is no one to push against in the same way. Their death makes you feel unknown.

I lost my mother before I was 40, and in many ways, I am glad she can't see me now. At the same time, I wish she had stayed alive to see the things she wanted to have happen and never got to see because she left the party too early: her children--"even" the gay ones--married, her grandchildren born and growing, the opportunity to travel, Skype and Facetime to overcome distance, a Democrat in the White House again. Mostly, of course, I miss her for selfish reasons, because her presence in the world meant she was watching me, as she had always watched me, and because if she was watching me I must exist, and would continue to exist, but not alone.

Without her, the world offers its claw as a handshake hastily withdrawn. Where I work, children lose their parents every day because of rage, drugs, and sorrow. I think about the unseen children in the city. I think about my friend's blog, where she is thinking about seeing her mother now with a fixed gaze, where her negotiation of being seen in the present has ended (though not of having been seen). And I think about the game my daughter and her other mother like to play, where they each gradually move their foreheads together, looking intently at each other and laughing as the vision of each blurs the closer they get. "One eye," they say at the same time, their foreheads touching.

Monday, January 02, 2012

theory's end


Hearing the news that Duke University has decided to end its Series Q makes me feel the same way I do when I read the obituary of someone really old: "Helen Frankenthaler? I didn't know she was still alive!" For the past few years, Queer Theory has mostly been living out its retirement in relative obscurity, despite Michael Warner's insistence, in his thoughtful essay in The Chronicle of Higher Ed, that Queer Theory still has questions to answer and work to do (it does). The days of queer studies conferences and special panels are mostly over, teaching queer theory in the undergraduate classroom can feel more like a historical exercise than a cutting-edge subcultural practice, and doing queer work has remained risky for LGBTQ PhD students and Assistant Professors in the face of university cutbacks. All of this is unfortunate, because queer theory, especially as it relates to transgender issues, still has lots of political, social, and legal relevance. Still, when I read about Series Q ending, my first thought was, "I didn't know it was still alive!"

Series Q is ending, appropriately, with work by Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, who also founded the series in 1992. It was a time when queer nerds were cool. The 1993 Rutgers Queer Studies Conference Warner mentions in his Chronicle article was held at my PhD institution, and almost everybody who was anybody in the work of queer was there--Joan Nestle, Amber Hollibaugh, Judith Butler, Lee Edelman, Warner himself. So much star power was distracting; every time the door opened during a presentation, every head in the room snapped around. The spectacle undid some attendees. One famously puppyish Rutgers English undergrad showed up late to Warner's talk in her most theatrical stilettos, and as every head in the packed room turned to see who had come in, she slipped while trying to negotiate the aisle stairs. Horror dawned on her face as she went down, down, arms flailing, the the general mirth of the room and the grad students who told and retold the episode in the weeks and months that followed. Most of us swore we saw Warner himself stifle a laugh.

We queer grad students were swept up in it, reading Foucault and dreaming our big career dreams.

Queer Studies then was viciously cliquish as well as glamorous. Different cohorts traveled in packs to the cocktail parties and stood in the middle of rooms, carefully accessorized in leather, pretending not to notice all of us staring longingly at them. The same names appeared over and over on the conference announcements as people picked their friends to give talks and contribute to collections. We lowly ones in school or on the job market stood on the fringes, hungry for intellectual conversation, consoling ourselves with the certainty of our own soon-to-be-fame.

These were the heady days of Series Q. Not long after, the publishing market for literary studies collapsed, and soon, queer studies books began to slow as well. In the race to capitalize on the queer academic market, publishers (cough Routledge cough) churned out a lot of crappy books with "Queer" splashed across the cover. Once the brand was cheapened, demand fell.
Series Q chugged on, producing quality work that was culturally and intellectually diverse.

But queer is always in the past. Radclyffe Hall's lesbian protagonists of the 1920s dreamed they were Neanderthals and primitive warriors. Queer Theory now seems historic, inspired by the politics of the late sixties and the AIDS crisis and culture wars of twenty years ago. Warner suggests that reifying Queer Theory in this way--as historic-- affords "normative" gays interested in marriage equality and military/institutional inclusion the illusion that they have moved beyond the shameful queer sexual politics of their youth. But I think it is important to remember that because queer always manifests culturally through fashion, spectacle, and art in particular historical/cultural moments, queer is also always going to feel like a fashion or trend that escapes the control of the people who feel as if they are engendering it, resulting in a dysphoric relationship between queers being queerly sexual and the ways they get to recognize themselves via their magnification and distortion in popular culture. In my youth I was queer and hip; I wore the clothes and walked the walk and fucked people (I felt) in innovative and exciting ways, and when I got older, I felt no longer fashionable. This feeling, this dysphoria, may not be the product of gay shame so much as the recognition of how our identities, sexual practices, and--let's face it--careers have been determined by fashion trends that help us be legible to each other (not to mention youth cultures we outgrow). We are older now, and the signifying systems through which we came to know ourselves have shifted.

Like our political aims, and theory trends in general. Like the academic publishing industry.

Series Q may be one mode scholars had of understanding and acting on queerness whose time has passed, not because of lack of intellectual interest on the part of contributors and readers out there, but because of the material realities of academia these days, which have come to constitute a new reality for scholarship. Wages have been frozen, grad students aren't getting jobs, and tenure-track lines are being eliminated and replaced by instructorships with minimal contractual obligation, all of which means people can't buy expensive scholarly books. Libraries are feeling the squeeze as budget cuts curtail the books they can acquire.

All of this is to say that the welcoming environment and fiscal largesse of the academy that enabled the flourishing of Queer Studies in the 1990s and ots has disappeared, forcing queerness to go elsewhere to express itself and its art. This might not be a bad thing; certainly choosing activism over the "merely being gay" effect of the Queer Studies grad student will have a greater impact on communities, forcing queer students who want to make a world to think beyond the classroom model.

It also suggests that Queer will rise again, like King Arthur, when the world most needs it. In the wake of vicious recessions and right-wing attacks on diversity, as well as failure to mentor the sons and daughters of queer theory to tenured positions, Queer Studies falls, only to be carried off the field by Marxism after all, who takes him to the Ladies of Feminism, waiting in boats. They whisk Queer Studies to Avalon, located in Australia, which has a law school and can really use him. He will return when the world needs him most, but until then, he'll make a halfway decent salary trying to perk up a moribund curriculum.

So goodbye for now, Series Q. You never would have published me or my friends, but knowing you were out there made us just a little queerer as we waved our chalk around every day. We queers may not be fashionable right now, but we are fighting the good fight everywhere, teaching history, getting married, raising children, and having threesomes if possible. So we beat on, boats against the curriculum, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

Friday, September 03, 2010

Friendship and cigarettes

I have a friend who smokes. He lives far away from me now, but when he is here, he likes to smoke cigarettes and drink wine, and when he is here i smoke and drink with him.

When we were first friends, he lived here, and we would smoke and drink at night outside, looking at the stars. We talked about the people we knew, our plans for the future, our sense of ourselves and our careers. He is from a place far away, and he carries with him the restlessness of the person who has left home and always looks for it again. When i am with him, I feel most myself--the most myself I feel with anybody. He doesn't judge people, which is not the same as not having a critical perspective on them. He just has perspective. He loves fun with the firmness and melancholy of a person who has been beautiful, and young, and utterly careless, but is moving away from these to another place. He believes fun is still always there, though in the simplest of moments. Fun is there in the ridiculousness of aging. He is right.

I like him because he is a boy. Because he is a boy, and himself, he shrinks from over-analyzing people's motivations. He is much more interested in effects. He feels the flow of social relationships, and the feelings that ebb and wash and mix with our own individual desires and dreams as they connect with other people. He feels the effect of big personalities on the world, on history, and on out hearts. We talk about these things when we smoke cigarettes on the porch at his house far away, or at my house here.

We have all of us, in our post-cigarette worlds, lost something with our loss of smoking together. We have lost those moments of contemplation and camaraderie, when we pause in the middle of what we are doing and adjourn together outside for a cigarette and conversation. Television shows like Mad Men glamorize the chain-smoking and drinking of an earlier era, but those shows substitute distracted consumption for the soul of the thing--smoking--which is a sinking down into the present moment, the slowing of time, the enjoyment of now and the people standing right next to you, smoking with you. Fellowship. And being alive, and curious, and social, and full of joy in a good meal, or a good drink, on a cool city night.

On the street, outside the bars and restaurants, we meet people we don't know and will never meet again over cigarettes. We exchange observations and the feeling of being here now, in the world, at our age, in this place. When we adjourn to smoke, we leave our tables and companions to gather in new formations in a space outside the world we have brought with us. We leave our tables and spouses, and move in other configurations for five, ten minutes. We say what comes into our heads. We listen to stories.

We tend not to take this time to just be if there are no cigarettes. One of the things I most loved about my mother was my sense of her, late at night, sitting in her chair in the livingroom, in the semidarkness, smoking her cigarette and just thinking. I would walk down the hallway of my childhood house and past her, sitting in her wingback chair, thinking about her entire life, as much as one can in five or ten minutes. I'm not sure what her insights were, but I know she enjoyed the pause, and the contemplation. The quiet, and the time just for her, just for the moment's pleasure of thought..

i don't smoke much anymore. I don't buy cigarettes because I know they are bad for me. They make my lungs burn and my heart race, and in the morning, they make my head hurt.

Still, they are a treat beyond cakes, or aged Scotch. They are a commitment, for five minutes or so, to standing still, breathing deep, and thinking about everything.

My friend usually leaves me a couple cigarettes when he goes. Tonight I stand on the porch, alone, smoking a cigarette and looking at the stars. The stars are not bright in Chicago, but tonight as I smoke on the porch i look at them, and think of him, and his friendship, generosity, and loyalty. I think of my mother, and her moments of silence. I think of the future and the past, and wonder, still, what life will bring. I listen to the wind, and feel the first autumn chill in the air. I think of how the strong connections we make with other people buoy us up in rough water, and soften our loneliness. The smoke curls up through the night, silver and fragrant, and I watch it as I watch the stars winking faintly overhead.

Monday, June 28, 2010


So much of this blog has been about jobs, about work and the loss of work, that it seems like I should write down what it is like to work right now, in this strange file clerk job, here in the middle of my life. I do not find myself in Dante's wood, because that sounds picturesque, and this office life is quieter, like a ship rolling in windless waters, moving sideways on a slippery sea. It's Monday, and that means tossing for that last hour of precious sleep, waiting for the alarm to go off, then dragging out of bed and into the shower, throwing pajamas back on long enough to make coffee, breakfast, and lunch, packing all of these, then back to throw on clothes before dashing out to the car, hopefully before 8 a.m., and driving the 45 minutes to work.

My judge is supposed to be here by 9 or 9:30 but she never gets to the office much before 10. I'm supposed to be at work by 8:30 but I'm always late.

My responsibilities consist chiefly in preparing the call for the Judge for each court day, which I usually do a week in advance. This means I get the schedule in the box outside my door by 9:30 am, and it is my job to pull all the files for all the cases. Since these are filed by day--say, 23, or 9--I should be able to open the file drawer and find all my cases under "23." Cases can be misfiled, or scheduled for other things under other days, so there are usually some cases you have to hunt down. I do this by double-checking the court date on my back-up call--the call from the last time the case was heard, where I write down the new court date--or by looking the case number up in the clerk system. If there are other court dates for that case, or for siblings in the same folder, the system will show them, and I can look under that number in my file drawers.

The cases I pull are called the "control sheets," and they consist of name and address information, the original petitions filed when the case came into the system, motions, psychological evaluations, service plans, and the judge's notes about the hearings. A case can be heard for initial evaluation, for Adjudication, for Disposition, for services, for various kinds of status updates, and to set goals. The process of setting hearings is determined by statute, so the initial hearing, called a TC (for Temporary Custody) hearing, occurs first, followed by a rehearing, a Trial to determine whether the charges against the parents or guardians are valid, a Dispositional Hearing to determine whether the child can return home under an Order of Protection or not, and subsequent hearings, called Permanency Hearings, that evaluate the goals of that child's placement and services. These goals range from return home to adoption or independence, depending on the child's age.

Every day in court is filled with these hearings. I pull the control files, arrange them in a pile in the order they appear on the call, and look for any motions that have to do with the cases. I get these when they are filed, and I have to keep track of them to include with the call. Once I have my pile of cases, I make notes on the call about what each case is up for, and whether there are any private attorneys on the case. Keeping track of the private attorneys helps all of us know when a case is ready to be heard, which is usually when all the parties are present. If an attorney is missing, we have to postpone the case to later in the morning, or even give it a new court date.

Once I have made notes on the call, I make 11 copies of it to distribute. I give one copy to each to the State's Attorney, the Public Guardian, the Public Defender, DCFS, the Court Clerk, the Court Reporter, and the Court Sheriff. I put a copy on top of the Judge's call, give one copy to my supervisors, give one copy to the main Clerk's Office, and keep the two remaining copies for the day the call will be heard. On that day, I post one of the copies outside the courtroom and keep one for "back up," which means I write the next court date for each case next to that case after it is heard.

So much for doing the call, which I do before or after court. During the day when court is in session, it is my job to see which parties are ready to go, and call their cases in the courtroom. I then announce the name of the case at the door, and the parties, caseworkers, and families come in. The Judge hears the case, and then asks for a new court date for the next hearing. I give out dates from a big binder notebook, depending on the month or span of time she wants (within the next 30 days, 60 days, 90 days, or 6 months). These dates are determined by the type of hearing: status hearings can be any time for any reason, whereas Permanency Hearings are held every six months until the case is closed by return home, adoption, or independence.

After I write the date in the binder, I write it on the control sheet files when the Judge hands them back to me after the hearing, so they can be filed for the new date. During the hearing itself, I fill out data sheets. These are not part of the controls, but they are filed elsewhere. They are sent down on the day of the trial, and they are to keep track of the parties that attend the hearings and what goals and visitation decisions are determined that day.

When court is done, I drop my data sheets in the interoffice mail, gather my control sheets, and refile them under their new dates. If I finished my call I am done for the day, and can read, browse facebook, answer email, or do whatever until 4:20. At that point I open my door and begin listening for the voices of the other Court Coordinators, who come down to sign out a little before the official end of the day at 4:30.

And that is what work is like. It is the same every day. Sometimes the hearings are different; we may have a trial, or get a TC coming into the system. Sometimes I idly flip through a set of controls to see why the case is here. Most often, it is because a child is born with drugs in its system. Sometimes children are abandoned, or their mother dies, or their caretaker becomes disabled. These are the good cases. Other cases come in because children have been killed, or severely injured, or sexually abused.

My Judge might ask me to look up some cases, though she has only done this twice in the three months I've been there. On Fridays we have no Court Reporter, so there may be one case, or even two, but no call to speak of, which means no work to do. When I was teaching I would catch up on grading or reading during the down time. These days I make phone calls, do email, or read. Now, of course, it means I have time to blog. In a few months, it will mean I can start looking for another job to replace this one, not because it's a bad job, but because it doesn't go anywhere, which is why the turnover is so high and I got it in the first place.

I can't complain. When I try to say what it is I don't like, it all gets fuzzy. Are the people nice? Very. Is the work interesting? Not really, but it's not horrible, and the process of a courtroom can be interesting. Do you hate it? No. Do you look forward to it? Not at all, and in fact I dread it, but when I'm here it's not terrible. Still, though, there's not happiness, or the sense of accomplishing, well, anything.

The days go by. My office is set down from the street level, so I look up and watch people walking. I watch the trees wave in the hot wind. Now that I am alone in my office, I can listen to music, though this will change as soon as they hire someone to replace my former office mate, who left to be a Public Defender.

I think about time passing, and how entry-level jobs ask for so little engagement, but so much delayed gratification. They ask you to start over, to bide your time. They ask you to be grateful, to anticipate reward. They ask you not to want, but to be happy with what you have. They ask you for a minimum of one year, or two, or three. They ask you to be nobody, but a cheerful nobody. They don't want your soul, or your mind, just your body.

I make even less than I did as an Assistant Professor, but not by much. I don't write anything or read anything. There is no grading, or teaching. There are no meetings.

Now I am just like everybody else out there sitting in their offices, dreaming of something else, if they even have an office. Lots of college grads don't, nor do people with graduate degrees--PhDs, lawyers. Plenty of people in my law class have no jobs, and the classes behind me are doing much worse. Some schools are starting LLM programs for recent grads just to keep them from being unemployed, and to keep up the rankings of the schools. Others are raising GPAs ac4ross the board to make students competitive with those from top ten schools, where they don't really grade at all anymore.

In late capitalism, we are required to--must!--feel extraordinarily lucky if we have any kind of job at all.

I watch the afternoons wane, from spring to early summer, from early summer to midsummer, each day blowing away through the trees outside my windows. I want to hatch a plan but the room is warm, and I am tired. We are all supposed to give thanks for what we have, in this time of no jobs and no future. I am thankful for my health benefits and regular paycheck, but I wish all of this could not be for nothing. I wish there could be a place of realization, of flowering again, of the drawing up of powers. And so I think on this to the end of work, and to 4:30, and beyond it, to another day, hoping for a plan.

Friday, June 25, 2010

a night out

A friend was doing a small burlesque show out in Boystown last night, so some of us decided to go out and be Prideful. The show didn't start till 11, and all of us had to be up by 630 or 7, but that's the point of Pride--to prove, even at your advanced age, that you can still stay out too late in a bar and manage to get up in time for work.

My GF was horrified by the late start time, which just shows how overwhelmed she is these days by having to move out of her office, because nobody loves a bar more than GF. But I decided to go.

So my friend L shows up with a very young little twinky boy in tow--our friend M's latest crush. M has been chasing the young ones and washboarding his abs ever since his husband dumped him a couple of years ago. M is adorable, and seems to get a lot of boys, but this one is young even for him. He's seriously like just barely 21 at the most. Sweet and catty--reminds me of rural gay boys I've known, the way they have no role models so they decide being gay means being an over-the-top flamer hairdresser. He's not from much, and has moved back in with his parents in the South suburbs after doing a tour in a musical production. And yes, he does in fact prove to be a hairdresser, currently in beauty school on the North side.

So he's funny in a way that drains you, you know, because he's trying hard, and you feel as if you should participate and validate. But sweet and heartbreaking in that he says things like "Oh you guys are smart. I'm just a dumb hairdresser." And so I have to tell him that I actually considered going to beauty school after being denied tenure, which is true, but that I decided I couldn't be on my feet all day because they are so bad, which is also true. But I don't know if he believed me.

So we all get to Halsted, and of course parking is a nightmare. We find a tight spot on a side street by Roscoe's and L tries twice to get it in but can't. So I do it of course and the little boy cheers and says it was so good he came (!). I am rather proud of my parallel parking ability, as it is one of my True Talents.
But then, just as we all turn from the triumph of the parking space and begin to walk down the street towards the bar, L remembers she forgot--what? Guess. That's right--her ID. The one that is now a potato chip as a result of going through the washer and dryer in her pants pocket. That would be her driver's license, which apparently she just doesn't carry anymore because it doesn't fit in her wallet. Even though she's, I don't know, driving.

So we are prepared for the evening to end right away, and I'm thinking maybe it's not such a big tragedy to go home, since it's unwise for the old and ungainly to venture out into "Nightclubs," as the seedy bars in Boystown style themselves, but there is our friend Washboard Abs M at the door in front of the bar, talking to our friend C the burlesque dancer. M is cute and lithe and muscle-y, and C is all dolled up with glitter on her face and long thick lashes, and they are so gay and beautiful under the streetlamp, luring the farmboys, that I am awash with love. They both hustle us through the door without incident, in large part because we are so freaking old the doorboy doesn't even card us. Except he does card the sweet young rail-thin hairdresser. Bitches.

So we have a lovely table and a free bottle of champagne, which those piggy gay boys we're with swill down almost immediately, which is fine because it's sweet and warm and you can just tell it's a bad hangover lurking like an evil genie in that bottle. A couple of maddening friends of M are at the bar and they are also sweet and tiresome at the same time, but L and I are drinking vodka and resigning ourselves to a deadly day today (Friday)at work. M is all over this child bride of his, who is busy texting and swaying on his stool as M curves his body over him. Apparently M is now telling everyone the boy is "the love of his life." Right now this boy is just fading out, bored and drunk.

Oh M, you are such a cliche, though you know we envy the fact that you can still ride that rollercoaster. We watch, whisper, and smugly cluck, safe in our lives where nothing ever happens.

At one point the boy is closing his eyes and his head is dropping, and soon it's time to "take him to the potty room" to hold his hair back while he brings forth the bounty of the evening. Unlike my friend N, though, who can party till dawn with the help of strategic oral purging throughout the evening if necessary, this child has no concept of pacing, and has missed his window of opportunistic regurgitation. Sadly, M now has to make good on that daddy/husband thing he's got going, and this means he has to drive the boy home, way South, long before C's burlesque number, and not even half way through the show.

The crowd in the bar is small but good-natured, even when the boring comedians come on. The dancing boys on stage pop their balloons to reveal chiselled physiques, and the girls bounce and jiggle and twirl to polite appreciation (this is--need I point out--a nearly all-male crowd). Our friend C is the last act, and she nearly falls off the front of the stage at one point, but pulls it back together and sails on. She has dark eyes and a hooded look which can smolder if she doesn't rush through the routine, but I think the wobble has thrown her off a bit. She spins her pasties with vigorous if distracted athleticism. It seems as if she's only on stage for, like, 90 seconds. At this point it's 1:30 in the morning and really time to go.

Out in the night the mohawked, eyelined, high-booted, transgendered people drift down the sidewalks. A hippy throwback dances in the light spilling out of a bar. The moon swells overhead, almost sated. L and I stop for onion rings and fries at Burger King, telling ourselves at least we aren't eating White Castle (though this morning my crispy stomach is failing to distinguish a difference).

I walk in my house, and GF and her mom are sound asleep, but Maude is wailing. I go in and pick her up, and immediately she stops crying and starts conversing with me about how dark out it is, and how dark, too, "in here." I change her diaper and offer her water, but she says no, she wants milk, so we walk up the hall to the kitchen, past the lava lamp, which is still on as a kind of night light for me. She says, "It's pink!" and we agree it is very pretty. She actually chuckles as I make her a bottle, a low happy laugh. I put her to bed and brush the hair from her dark eyes, leaving her to her contentment.

And that is my night. It is 2:15. L texts to say we had parked in a permit zone, and she has a $60 ticket on her car she hadn't noticed until now. I text that I'll split it with her. Just the cost of an evening out on a night in June, Vega conspicuous overhead, under the rising moon. Happy Pride everyone! Here's to all those who glitter till dawn, heedless.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

spring forward

I haven't written for a while because I'm not sure what to do with this blog, and I'm not sure if anybody is still reading it, and if they are, they are all on facebook now and thus connecting with me in other ways. While FB is good for updates and news links, it doesn't satisfy the enjoyment of writing the way a blog does, but when I have tried to write lately, my anxiety about the future has made it hard to do much more than complain. Most of all, I've grown tired of sounding discouraged.

But things are changing. While Maude and I were visiting a friend in Austin, I got a call from someone I interviewed with a year ago. I was in the park, playing on the jungle gym with Maude. Well, we were actually playing UNDER the jungle gym, in the pebbles. Maude kept shoving them in her sandals, under her toes, and I kept pulling them out until I realized she was putting them there. My friend was laying on the bottom of a slide, letting the sun hit his hairy stomach, which he calls the Pregnant Lady Monkey Tummy. The air was warm, with a temperature in the 70s, and I was loving the brief reprieve from the Chicago weather.

Then the phone rang. A number I didn't recognize. I ignored it, then got a frantic text message from a friend in Chicago, telling me this job was calling me, and to call back the number. I hesitated. Wouldn't it be weird to just call back? Wouldn't they wonder how I KNEW to call back? I texted this to my friend. "Just call!" she wrote. "Don't say you heard it from me!"

I called back, and was offered a job on the spot, which I accepted, on the spot. It's a job clerking for a County judge, and apparently, there was a new opening, and a salary low enough to qualify me for some loan repayment help. With regular hours, pension plans, benefits. It's just what I really wanted right now, in fact.

The best part is that I knew about this job last year because word was passed along a network of burlesque dancers; mild-mannered office types by day, they become fierce twirlers and peelers by night, headlining various comedy venues and spicing up the social scene with some much-needed girl power. I hadn't taken the bar yet so I couldn't land the position; now, however, everything was different.

So yes, I got my first law job because of burlesque. But most important of all, I got my job because of a network of very cool women who are happy to hire other women.

In a moment life turned around. Suddenly, there was a job, a career, a salary, health insurance for my daughter when GF's job ends this summer--all the things I worried I'd never have again after tenure denial, law school, recession, the collapse of the legal job market, GF's denial of tenure. The sun was shining on my friend's belly, Maude was shoving pebbles under her toes, and I had a job for the first time in almost five years.

Dumbfounded, I hung up the phone and told my Austin friend what happened. "We'll celebrate!" was his immediate response, which tells you a lot about why we are such good friends. And then we just sat there for a few minutes, planning what champagne to buy, thinking about who I should call, savoring the moment.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

say goodbye to bar summer

My friend told me to call her because a guy she knew wanted my resume. I called her today as soon as I got the message. I've been looking for a job since the end of the bar exam--looking full-time, that is. Full-time as in: get up in the morning, have coffee, and summon the courage to face Craig's List.

Craig's List? you say. Don't tell me you are looking for a law job on Craig's List?

It's true, I will tell you. You can look on Symplicity, the law school jobs board, for judicial clerkships for the top 15% of law graduates. You can also find jobs there in Maryland, White Plains, downstate Illinois, California. You can look on the government jobs website for jobs requiring licensure and many years of experience. You can look on Careerbuilder or Monster.com and be told that you can sell insurance for AFLAC. You can cruise Vault and Lexis and Lawjobs for the same listings you found elsewhere.

Or you can look on Craig's List. There, you can find small firms looking for law students who will work for ten (10) dollars and hour. You can find egregious ads offering law students the chance to "intern" (work for nothing) at a small firm. You can find even more outrageous ads looking for unemployed law graduates to work for free while waiting for their bar exam results. And you can find lots of ads looking for experienced attorneys to do piecework jobs (document review). Sometimes you can even find an ad or two that looks like a real job, and so you try once more to de-gay your gay gay resume and gay cover letter, and send them off into the abyss.

Your resume says you have crested your forties and are on the downslide to fifty, and have somehow, inexplicably, thrown away a solid-looking teaching career to rack up 125K more in student-loan debt so you can start doing entry-level work in an office. Your resume says you taught gender courses and interned at gay public interest law organizations. Your cover letter cheerfully explains that you wanted to "engage more directly with issues of social justice."

After you've sent off your gay gay gay credentials, you look can stay on Craig's List and look for work to "tide you over." There is dogwalking, tutoring,and adjunct work aplenty, and you briefly consider the dogwalking gig before you remember you have bad feet, short legs, and a resume that says you graduated from college in 1984. That leaves tutoring and adjunct work.

You send off a bunch of tutoring applications and quickly get back a grammatically-suspect reply offering you a job if you agree to engage in some complicated check-cashing and money-wiring operations. Another recipient tells you that if you get your license to sell insurance, you can have a job cold calling businesses to try to get them to buy policies. That leaves adjuncting.

It is late in the summer. Classes start soon. You know what you have to do.

It's time to put on those fishnets, purse your lips into a pout, and walk the streets selling yourself as a composition lady of the morningafternoonevening. Strut it sister! You love teaching writing! You know you do! Grading paper after paper after paper for a few dollars in your g-string--you want it!!! You flaunt it! Oh baby, your eyes are getting old, but your pen still knows how to drive them wild with a few well-placed grammar suggestions.

For your special customers, you can still offer the lure of the semicolon.

And so you find yourself here again, my friend, five years after you lost your job, in the exact same place you were when your paychecks ended. You have gone to law school, taken the bar exam, published a law Note, and racked up a total of . . . what is it? !50K in student loan debt? 160K? You aren't sure. And you are begging for a last minute comp section to pay rent until a job comes through.

One guy who asked a fancy professor friend for my resume also asked her what I had done to contribute to my jobless situation. I thought about my gay gay life and my gay gay book and my gay gay resume and I thought, could it be my heroin habit? My carelessness with my eyebrows? The fact that I only possess one suit?

The good news is that I told one friend that I was applying for dogwalker jobs and she was so horrified she found me a class for the fall. Now all I need is one more class, or a tutoring job, to get through until November.

So today I'm driving down to a community college on the far south nether regions beyond the city, to turn in paperwork for composition adjuncting. It's going to be an hour commute each way MWF, and with traffic back it could take a lot longer, but I need the extra 5K I'll get from teaching 2 classes (really 1.5) down there. The paper application is horrifying, reminding me just how punitive the job market has become--have you defaulted on any loans? Can you pass a background check? Can you pass a CREDIT check? Are you drug-free? Really, I never imagined I'd have to pass a body cavity search to be allowed to teach comp, but anything goes in this Second Depression, so I'm taking a bath and preparing to leave the house. It is a very cheery campus, with nice facilities and sunny-faced, instructors, so I think I'll like it. More later on the depressing fact/uplifting versatility of having "a foot in both worlds" (or a foot in neither). Wish me luck. It feels like a Classic Rock on the car radio kind of day, and those are always good days.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

graduation day

Today the saga of law school ended, at least institutionally. The class of 2009 graduated, and I was one of them. I did not graduate with honors, which means I was not in the top half of my class, but I think I'm not at the bottom, so that's something. The faculty have a lovely tradition of filing out, then forming two lines at the top of the stairs for the graduates to walk through. It was startling to emerge from the auditorium to see so many of their faces turned towards us, and even more startling to hear my name called and see hands stretched out to me as I walked past.

As I walked up the stairs I walked right by Maude. She was fascinated watching all the blue velvet-lined gowns file past, and even more startled when I leaned down and addressed her. She just stared at me, as if I was some exotic creature. As if I had a mortarboard on my head.

Afterwards there were so many people milling around we had to leave, but as we walked towards the elevators I would see someone I knew and we would stop for a minute.

I don't have a lot of fondness for my law school experience but I don't hate it. It is an experience designed for young people in their twenties, and that is going to be alienating for someone older. I don't blame law school for the out-of-sync existence of middle age, nor can law school be blamed for my commuter relationship to it, my insistence on a life elsewhere, insulated from and outside of it.

The end of things is so rushed. I imagined somehow that I would have time to linger and say goodbye. There were some people I liked.

Two days ago I sat up until 6am writing my last paper, and tonight I spend the last night in my house writing this. This house has been a quiet place elsewhere for me for three years, and tomorrow the road will swallow it up behind me, and this door will close. I am already thinking about the bar exam, the bar course that starts Monday, and finding a job.

But for tonight, I am deep in the feeling of an ending. This was my transition from academia, and the plane has landed. We disembark. If I am lucky there will be an office at the end of the summer, and 8 to 6. But the papers, the research, the school calendar, the professors and classrooms will be gone. If I am lucky there will be interesting work. If not, there will be duty, and life lived in the corners of the week. But that is tomorrow.

This is not how I thought it would end, but the ending is not a surprise. Good night, academic life. Good night room. Goodnight, dusty college town. Goodnight to all the semesters of all the years of my life. Goodnight all-night papers and 48-hour exam crams. Goodnight person I was, and who I thought I would be. Goodnight, goodnight.

And have a pleasant tomorrow.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Daycare Blues

So parenthood is amazing and stressful, but amazing. The problem is that I have no time.

Now, I used to hear parents--mostly mothers, let's face it--say they had no time, and I was skeptical. Really? No time at all? When I had no time, it was because I was managing my time badly. I had plenty of time. What I lacked was organization.

See? That's how stupid I was.

Then we had a baby. We still didn't lack time, really--what we lacked was 1. sleep. and 2. freedom to leave the house. Baby Maude slept a lot, ate a lot, and cried a lot.

But then she grew up.

Suddenly she smiles every morning when she wakes up. She smiles every time she looks at us. Her firm little round cheeks are red, red rosy red and you could just bite them. Her eyes are dark and deep and lovely. The symmetry of her face is breathtaking. And she will take up every waking minute of my day, or her other mom's day, or our day together.

The first sounds come crackling over the baby monitor at 6, or 7, or on a rare day, 8. Before 6 she has to go back in her bed after she nurses; after 6, she comes to bed with us and nurses and we pray, pray she falls back asleep for a bit.

Eventually she wakes up and starts kicking GF, and moving her arms, and making whiny sounds letting us know she is bored. We know, by the way. We are just ignoring it.

Then GF sighs and moves baby Maude away from her body, which has been getting pummeled. Sometimes I feel a little set of nails scratching insistently against my back. I roll over and see a little set of the darkest eyes. "Hello Maude," I said, and I kiss her. She doesn't stop smiling. GF then either 1. gets up to feed the cats and turn on the coffee, leaving me to play with Maude and eventually get up and change her, or 2. asks me to please, please get up with the baby so she can sleep in just a little more, or 3. gets up with the baby and lets me sleep. We kind of work out who is more desperate at the time.

Sometimes--glorious mornings!--Maude gets in bed at six or seven and sleeps TWO MORE HOURS, and everyone gets up together singing! Those days are the best.

Mornings can be fun. There is baby in the Johnny Jump Up bouncy chair, and coffee and the paper, and then oatmeal with some kind of fruity goodness mixed in for baby, and Greek yogurt or eggs for us, and playing on the floor with blocks and stuffed animals and little plastic colored bowls that stack up or snap together into spheres. Then there is eventual crabbiness (hers) and the nursing prelude to naptime, which can be anywhere from 10 to 1130.

Naptime lasts an hour if you are lucky, and longer if you are especially blessed, but it can also be a failure where certain persons decide they are not tired and are going to make birdlike sounds over the intercom for the duration while they heap stuffed animals on top of themselves in their crib.

When are you getting work done? You may ask. Ask away. The answer is, we're not. No time! She is going to be up in an hour, and one must bathe and dress, check email, make the bed, do the dishes, straighten up.

After naptime, if we are all home and no one has meetings or classes to teach, the best bet is Fun Family Errand Day, or the Zoo, or the Aquarium, or the Art Museum. GF got us memberships to all with her tax return, and they give us places to go with a little girl hungry for things to do. Usually, though, there are meetings and classes, so Fun Family things have to wait till Friday afternoons or Saturday. I am gone at school downstate Sunday night through Tuesday evening; GF teaches Tuesdays and Thursdays and often has Wednesday meetings; I get home late Tuesday nights and teach Thursday nights.

No time! Which is why, finally, we capitulated to daycare.

I feel very guilty about daycare. I am surprised by this. I imagined that daycare would be easy because I would resent the constant caretaking that comes with a baby, and so would hand the little one over to daycare with a sigh of relief. But the thing is, I like taking care of the baby. I like spending the morning with her and taking her on an adventure in the afternoon. The other day I put her in the backpack and we walked to the health food store to get vegetables. How crunchy granola is that? The sun was out and children were spilling out of their schools and Maude was fascinated and I was getting a little workout and all kinds of ladies were talking to us because Maude is so cute in her backpack, and it was a peaceable world, a world of gentle rhythms moving around the life of a child. I wasn't getting anything else done because after going home we would have to make dinner for us and dinner for Maude, and then we would feed Maude and give her a bath and GF would nurse her and then it would be time for her bed. And then GF and I would eat and maybe watch Rachel Maddow and think about work we might get done and then feel so tired. But it would be happy.

Also, we love our Tuesday babysitter, and Maude loves our Tuesday babysitter. The only problem is that the Tuesday babysitter costs 100 dollars for only one day, while daycare for three whole days is 150. And GF has a full-time career, and I am a full-time student teaching a course, so Tuesdays alone won't cut it. Did I say there was no time?

So daycare. Out of several options, including a kind of structured school-like one that sounded very attractive but is run by a woman who can't seem to ever call back (she has no time), we found a woman who babysits in her home and has taken care of other children we know. They love her so much they go back to sleep over even after they have started preschool. I can see why they love her, because Maude is fussy and tired when we go to visit this lady, so the lady decides to comfort Maude by feeding her a tangerine. She peels the tangerine, then takes off the inner skin around each section, extracting the sticky jewel of the pulp and offering her tiny bits of summer. It is thundering, raining, pouring outside the windows of her livingroom, which she has turned into a place for children to play by pushing all the sofas against the walls. There are bins of toys and stuffed animals. Maude seems puzzled about why we are there, and vaguely irritated, as if sensing something.

But it is only my imagination. This will be fine. The lady is Eastern European, maybe Russian, given to hugging and kissing Maude already and speaking to her sometimes, at the edges of her sentences, in a dark mellifluous language. She feeds Maude the tangerine bits, and tells us that she makes food for the other two children she cares for. She nods approvingly when we tell her Maude loves garlic. "Lots of garlic!" she promises, as we put our wet shoes back on and stumble down her stairs. The rain has stopped. I run to the car, happy to drive away with my little girl still with me, safe in the back.

GF and I talk about it, about the three days a week--Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday--that will help us get a handle on the end of my semester, the spring quarter of teaching and meetings, the summer bar study for me and research and writing for her. Three days a week! More time than we can imagine.

And yet. I know that we need to do this, but my heart breaks to think of the hours with her I will miss. There will be mornings lost, flavors tasted, other people teaching her things. I will see her after a day apart from me and her eyes will be filled with a life I don't know. We will be building an economic base for her, and careers for ourselves, but we will miss the differences, the startling beauty, of each morning and afternoon she is away, in someone else's house.

When she was really little we used to put her in a swing to soothe her to sleep. The swing stayed for months in our livingroom. There were fish at the top that used to go around, and a light that changed colors, and music that played New Age baby songs that for some reason she just adored. She would sit in that swing and smile up at the fish and make happy gurgly noises when the baby songs played. Eventually she got too big for the swing, and I had to put it away. I cried a little bit the day I unscrewed the legs to the swing and put it away in the basement, because putting it away meant she wasn't a newborn anymore or even an infant. Then I felt silly. Of course she was still a baby. She was just a bigger one. A big girl.

But still. I made a video of her in the swing once, the only time I taped her there, and I ran across it today when I was looking for something else. I watched it for fun, but before long I dissolved. She is still the same baby now as she was then, but now she is also more herself, older, with more of her own mind. Now she sits up, reaches for things, laughs, and grunts in response to the life around her. I like the person I see glimpses of when I am with her now--sensual, curious, shy, assertive. In the video, though, she is preserved as a tiny being, just beginning to find pleasure in the world. Smiling up at her fish, still too small to sit up by herself, she moves her arms and her head to the music, rocking in her little swing, safe and nearby, as she is safe in my house, totally herself but always and forever mine.

Monday, February 09, 2009

I finally did the damn 25 things, ok?

I haven't been bloggin' for forever, in part because so many fellow bloggers are on Facebook, and Facebook is more integrated with my law school life, which is not given over to blocks of time to write prose. I have also resisted doing the "25 things" craze because I feel like we all did that already as bloggers.

But then I thought maybe it would give me the chance to write, by which I mean self reflect, and it seemed so much like writing, if shallower, that I couldn't resist. So I thought I would bring it over here and maybe, just maybe, it might help me climb back on the blogger horse a bit.

Hello everyone! Spring feels like it's just around the corner, though I know it isn't. Cheers to optimism anyway.


If you are reading this, consider yourself tagged!

1. I can teach dogs new tricks. I taught my last dog to jump over a broom because it was fun to watch her do it for food. I taught Joyce and Kate's dog to shake hands, also for food. For the dog.

2. I can jog at least 45 minutes on the treadmill if "Gossip Girl" or "Life on Mars" is on my iphone.

3. I learned to ski when I was five. I have never snowboarded though.

4. I can cross one eye at a time. Kids love this but their parents don't.

5. I am extremely sentimental.

6. I miss my mother every day, even though she died seven years ago and could be a homophobic holy terror.

7. I love writing, and hate that there is no time to do it right now.

8. I am afraid of falling, and so I don't like roller coasters that much and find it inconceivable that anyone would pay to parachute out of a plane. I could maybe hang glide or parasail, though.

9. I am happy that feminism refuses to die.

10. I am a whore for gadgets. I want I want I want.

11. I am not the least bit thrifty.

12. Costco grocery sizes excite me.

13. I would rather bite my nails than trim them any day.

14. I wear a size 11 men's shoe even though I'm only 5'6.

15. I like to cook for a family of at least eight, no matter how few people are actually eating. It's a weird fantasy that's probably tied somehow to exuberance around being the oldest in a family of six, which I was growing up. This inevitably leads to a lot of leftover mashed potatoes in the refrigerator at the holidays.

16. I don't shave my legs, not for political reasons but because I am too lazy to keep them smooth and I hate stubble.

17. My body has trapped enough estrogen in fat to keep me looking young forever. When I recently mentioned my desire to lose some weight, my girlfriend pointed out how young I look and told me "Don't puncture that balloon." I refuse to interpret this phrase.

18. Having a baby has made me rediscover singing songs, dancing in public places, and physical comedy.

19. I have never worked a 9 to 5 office job in my life, and I dread it. I dread unemployment more, though.

20. I wish I hadn't given up playing instruments, and I hope Maude decides to be musical.

21. I used to feel bad about spending most of my retirement money for living expenses while going to law school, but now I think it was brilliant.

22. My eyes are green and blue and brown, and they can look golden, or any of these other colors, with the right shirt. I love this.

23. I like to talk people into things. I want to make them try new foods and join Facebook and get iphones and drink more cocktails. A correlative of this is that I can be talked into doing just about anything. Except parachuting.

24. I am a true night owl. I can be exhausted mentally and physically, but I can always get a second wind at midnight and stay up till 3. There's something seductive about the concentrated quiet of the deep evening that makes it difficult to abandon.

25. I am happy that at a certain point, your friends are just your friends for good, and there is no use in agonizing over whether they like you or you like them or they are too difficult or you are. You just have to love them and stop agonizing about it all.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Maude in the morning

Morning is her time. I watch this over and over when I am away from her at school.

Friday, November 07, 2008

the other hand


A reader who voted for Amendment 2 in Florida, the one banning same-sex marriage from the state constitution, left a comment on my last blog post. As I struggled to respond, I realized it might be better to post what I was thinking on the main blog rather than get steamed in a footnote. I am also reposting the comment, since some people read on a blog reader that doesn't have access to comments, and might not know what the heck I I am talking about.

The jist of the comment they left was that they voted as they saw fit, and it was just an opinion. They also said nice things about the blog and added that they thought some day very few people would agree with their position:

I voted for Amendment 2, to maintain marriage as between one man and one woman, but it is not because I fear LGBT nor hate you nor fear you nor am I ignorant of the issues. It was a difficult decision because I DO understand the issues, but still, I felt that it was the right way to vote.
I'm not writing to anger you or upset you in any way, but rather merely to say, that a vote for traditional marriage is not necessarily one made out of hate, fear, or ignorance. It is simply based on a differential in values.
Thanks for writing your blog and sharing your sentiments. For whatever it is worth, I'm sure that one day, probably soon, those that share my views will be in the minority and those that oppose them will win the majority."

The first thing I have to say is that I just don't know how to be dispassionate about Florida right now. Florida is one of the most hateful states is a sea of red Southern states hostile to LGBT rights. Florida is the only state in the entire country to explicitly ban "homosexuals" from adopting children. They aren't even sneaky about it, like Arkansas or Utah--states that get away with discriminating against gay adoption by banning unmarried people from adopting children, then banning gay people from getting married, thus effectively banning gay people from adopting children. Florida is right up front about its bigotry--even though it means many children who otherwise would have legal parents will instead languish in the foster care system. Florida already bans gay marriage with a Defense of Marriage Act--a mini-DOMA modeled on the federal one Bill Clinton signed into law in 1996--and now, with Amendment 2, is enshrining this ban into the state constitution.

Just An Opinion, I'm glad you left a comment. I'm sorry you voted for Amendment 2, though I appreciate your honesty. I wish your vote had been only "a vote for traditional marriage," as you say it was. I wish it had been only an opinion. But it wasn't. It wasn't a straw poll, either. It was a LAW, and voting for it was a vote to make sure some people never get to be married to their partners.

Traditional marriage was unaffected by these votes. Traditional marriage continues to exist whether Amendment 2 or 8 passes or not, and whether you vote or not. People voting for these bans like to say that gays are trying to impose their values on others, but it is pretty clear that when you vote to exclude someone from a exercising a right, or you vote to take it away from them once they have it, you are imposing your values on them. Not the other way around. Traditional marriage was never on the table. Nobody was trying to get it abolished.

What they were voting on--what YOU voted on--was to close the door to same-sex couples being able to marry. Your marriage, the marriages of people voting for the Amendments, didn't change. Instead, our marriages became impossible.

Do you know why a lot of gay people want to get married? One of the best examples comes from your state of Florida. Maybe you read about the lesbian couple who were getting ready to go on a cruise with their kids when one of them suffered a stroke and was rushed to the hospital. You know what happened to the partner and the kids? The hospital whisked the stroke victim away, and then wouldn't let her family back in to see her. Ever. Not her kids, not her partner of 18 years. Nobody.

Do you know why? A hospital administrator told this poor woman, half out of her mind with fear and worry, that she couldn't see her dying partner because Florida was a Defense of Marriage State. That's what she said. She used the ban on gay marriage to keep an entire family from being with one of its members as she lay dying.

That wasn't an opinion. That was a cruel violation. That administrator behaved that way because she thought that's what the Defense of Marriage Act authorized her to do. She felt supported by the law, even though she misread it. She correctly intuited the bigotry and hate in DOMA statutes towards LGBT families, and she expressed that hate freely, feeling justified as she did it.

Do you know what happened then? A blood relative finally got to the hospital two hours before the woman died, and let the partner and kids in to hold her hand and say goodbye. Two hours. Those people sat in a waiting room all night long and a woman lay dying alone in a hospital room because of a "difference of opinion."

That's what many of us are afraid of. What if get broadsided by a car in Ohio on my way home to my family at Christmas, and end up in the hospital? Will my partner be able to see me and make decisions about my care? Ohio is a DOMA state, with an additional constitutional amendment worded so broadly, it bans anything that may be seen as resembling a marriage from legal recognition. Will I sit alone, in pain, while my partner is locked out? Should any of us have to worry about this kind of thing when we travel across a country where we are supposedly free to move at will?

Most people don't understand that hospital visitation is a benefit of marriage. They just assume that hospitals would be fair and kind and have good hearts and anyway, anyone with any decency would let a dying person's partner and children in to see them in their last hours.

In this case, they were wrong. And the saddest thing is, they were wrong because someone like you, Just an Opinion, thought that voting for a state DOMA or Amendment 2 was just a kind of public opinion poll. If I told you that voting the way you did would mean people were left dying and alone, full of tubes, hooked up to machines, while their families were banging on the door in vain to see them, would you still vote the same way?

I know that's an emotional appeal, but I just don't think there was enough representation in this election of the way these Amendments would actually affect people. I feel as if all these people who voted yes on these ballot initiatives think that gay people just want to run around aping marriage. I don't think they get what NOT having access to many of the most important legal benefits of marriage--and there are over a thousand of them--does to people's lives.

So I'm glad you wrote in, Just an Opinion, but I wish your opinion was more of a conviction. Because what might happen to people because of your vote is tragic.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

one hand giveth

Like most LGBTQ people in the US right now, I'm a lot sadder than I thought I'd be, given Obama's victory on Tuesday. GF and I voted a week early, which had its good and bad results. The good results were that I got voting over with, but unfortunately, that meant I was "free" to leave the city and my girls to come down to school. My Trial Advocacy class requires 12 hours of courtwatching, 8 of which have to be jury trials, and I had so far completed zip. I teach on Monday nights, so if I leave town right after class, I can get downstate sometime before midnight. There was a jury trial at 9am Tuesday morning. Ugh.

After spending Election Day sitting on hard benches (4 and a half jury trial hours, check!) that made my tailbone ache and dug into the small of my back, I ran back to my room here to see what was happening. I watched the first red state--I think it was West Virginia--go to McCain. Vermont went to Obama. I held my breath. Obama picked up a couple more states, slowly. And then suddenly the big states started going blue, widening the gap.

This was no 2000. This was no nailbiter, with assurances of victory followed by bitter, bitter disappointment. As the Obama victories started to roll in, the television anchors started getting excited. The commentary began to cut away to Grant Park, to people walking over bridges to get to the rally there. I was sitting at my desk trying to get a draft of a paper done, but I couldn't concentrate. I kept watching the news and checking the electoral totals. Back home, GF was watching with friends, who were texting me and chatting on Facebook.

You know the rest of the story. Obama began to pull away, McCain conceded, and Jesse Jackson wept. Spellman students danced. Villagers in Kenya danced. Chicago danced.

But wasn't going so well for gay marriage.

At one point late in the evening, Chris Matthews on MSNBC pointed in exultation to an overhead shot of crowds "celebrating" in the Castro. Rachel Maddow cut in. "If that's the Castro," she said, "those crowds probably aren't celebrating."

It was true. The votes coming in from California on Proposition 8 were not pretty. Matthews assured everyone that even bad news was potentially good in this instance, because the numbers showed a much more even split between the supporters and opponents of gay marriage. Maddow made a heated retort about rights actually being taken away from people, but the conversation soon shifted back to the topics MSNBC thought were more relevant to a general audience. I went to bed that night euphoric at the Obama victory, but with a pit in my stomach about Proposition 8.

After two days, the returns are in, but millions of absentee votes remain uncounted. Still, it is almost assured that opponents of gay marriage have managed to stop progress in its tracks in California. This morning, my Family Law professor spent the first fifteen minutes of class talking about how strange it is for a state to actually take a way a right it has granted, and how no state has ever had to decide the question of whether its constitution will allow people to STAY married in the event it grants, then rescinds, the right to marry, since the usual question asked of courts is whether the constitution will allow people to GET married in the first place.

Right now, I miss my family. This week feels as if it has been a month long. My little girl is just learning to sit upright in her activity saucer, and I want to watch her try to turn its brightly-colored little plastic wheels that make bells ring. She tries so hard to make it work. She can barely hold herself up, but she concentrates. There are buttons elsewhere on it with pictures of animals on them, and if you can manage to push them while maintaining your balance, they make sounds. Right now she can barely sit for very long, and her legs are so short we have to fold towels up for her to stand on, but some day soon she will make the cow moo, and the dog bark, and the lights flash bright blue under the face of the duck.

The law says that I have to pay money to a lawyer if I want to be her legal parent, because GF and I cannot get married. If we could get married, the same presumption of parenthood that fathers enjoy (even if they are infertile, and their wives use a sperm donor to conceive) would extend to me. But we cannot get married. Instead, LGBT people like me must pay thousands of dollars to adopt our own children.

In California, the courts have extended parenthood in this manner even to same-sex couples who have not performed second-parent adoptions. Here, that's riskier. So we pay, and feel grateful we don't live in hateful states like Florida, Arkansas, or Utah, which specifically prohibit homosexuals (Florida) or unmarried couples (Utah, and now Arkansas) from adopting either the children of their relationship or children from elsewhere.

I'm very, very happy about an Obama victory, but it's hard to feel excited right now. I can't wait till tomorrow, when I can drive home. I miss my family. Despite the wonderful, amazing, historic events of this past week, the world seems colder.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

the elusive butterfly


This whole Proposition 8 thing has me thinking about same-sex marriage pretty much all the time. Videos of protesters screaming at each other on street corners in Oakland circulate on gay internet blogs. People I went to high school or college with, and who now live in California, have become my Facebook friends, and their status updates grow more passionate every day. Some have reported seeing their formerly-conservative neighborhoods littered with Obama and No on 8 signs. Others are volunteering their weekends to try to defeat the measure.

In a stroke of great (unplanned) timing, this Monday in my LGBT politics and social change class we are reading about gay marriage. I enjoy teaching this class even though I am only doing it because I am desperate for cash. It takes up too many hours of my week, but the students are extremely committed to discussing the reading. This week we are going to talk about George Chauncey's "Why Marriage?" and look at the First Interim Report of the New Jersey Civil Union Commission. After that we will watch the documentary "Freeheld," about the fight of a dying lesbian police officer in New Jersey to give her partner her pension benefits.

As you probably know, Chauncey's book argues, among other things, that the LGBT community got really interested in marriage as a result of the AIDS crisis, when it became apparent how precarious the legal status of gay relationships and gay families are with respect to hospital visitation, funeral planning, inheritance rights, pensions, lease agreements, and child custody and visitation. The NJ First Interim Report concludes that establishing civil unions as a alternative to marriage fails to grant the same rights to same sex couples that their heterosexual neighbors get when they marry. "Freeheld," which won an Oscar for best documentary, shows a conservative community coming to terms with the injustice of denying a same-sex couple the survivor benefits that give financial security to heterosexual families when one partner dies.

As I watch Yes on 8 supporters railing against gay marriage because it means children will learn about gays in grade school, it is hard not to make the parallel to Anita Bryant's "Save the Children" campaign. Why does the right's fear of changing gender roles and anger towards the demise of patriarchal marriages have to take the form of campaigns to save children? From what? One white Massachusetts woman in a Yes on 8 film maintained that childhood should be a time of innocence, and that kids should wait to learn about gays until they are older. She and her husband are outraged that grade-schoolers went on a field trip to surprise one of their teachers at her lesbian wedding. They feel that being exposed to such things damages the carefree world every child is entitled to have in grade school. They feel that children exposed to such things--love, I guess--are somehow unprotected.

Watching them, I think about nineteenth-century ideologies of children as asexual angels, and I wonder if these parents also think their children should be protected from other kinds of difference. Surely going to school with children of color will only mar the innocence of white children, who deserve to grow up in an environment free from the knowledge of this country's legacy of racial violence. Ditto for children of immigrants, especially undocumented ones, whose parents will be hauled away by INS some fall afternoon. White children who are citizens should be protected from sadness like that. How about class difference? Middle-class children should definitely be protected from knowledge of poverty, since it will only make them feel sad and helpless to know how many of their peers go to school hungry each day.

These parents don't assume that their children are already going to school with the children of lesbian or gay parents, or with children who may identify as lesbian, gay, or transgender. These parents assume they can keep difference out--at least for now. It is the same logic that assumes there are no gay people next door, or in the schools already, or in your own family. It assumes that learning about difference is bad, and filthy, and traumatic. These parents never talk about why male-female relationships allow children to keep their "innocence," while female-female relationships appear somehow to be overtly sexual, even to toddlers.

Meanwhile, this Sunday's New York Times Styles section is filled with gay marriages, and the "Vows" story that serves as its centerpiece is, rarest of rarities, a gay couple with twin daughters. I think about these children, so wanted that their fathers spent upwards of 100K trying to get them. These little girls surely should be saved from such love, such difference, and their parents should never be allowed to marry and give them anything--not property, health care, financial security, respectability, love. Other children definitely need to be protected from these two little girls, who will grow up confident, secure, and "spoiled"--but not spoiled at all--from being showered with love by two doting, powerful, successful gay men.

My daughter-not powerful, certainly, but very beautiful nonetheless-- is asleep in the next room. One of her favorite toys is a big multicolored butterfly (ok, it's really a firefly, I guess) that lights up and plays songs when you pinch it, or bite it, as the case may be. My partner, who I cannot marry because it is not legal here, calls this toy the Elusive Butterfly, after the 60s song about the butterfly of love, which I taught her because when I was a very little girl I thought that song was so beautiful I would practically faint with joy when it came on the radio. I think there was something about the combination of butterfly and love that was almost too great for my soul to bear. I'm sure I learned that love in my family, especially from my mother, who was fascinated by each one of her children, and who took pains to cultivate in each of us strong sense of social justice and lifelong horror (she came from the South) of racism, snobbery, and all forms of prejudice.

My hope for my daughter is that the love she experiences with us will teach her to love other children in spite of and because of their differences, and that the deep and formative happiness of her childhood is not based on some fake innocence, but on something better than that--some kind of love of beauty and joy in the world that feels so big in her heart, it makes her want to faint with happiness. I don't want to protect her from love, or from emotion. I hope I can fill her with feeling, and compassion, and empathy, and a keen ability to perceive her fellow human beings, the generation she will spend her life traveling with. I hope her only innocence is optimism about her own ability to defeat evil, hate, bigotry, and despair.

Which we, as the generation before her, can address right now. Stop the hate. In any way that you can today, stop Proposition 8.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

transcontinental marriage

In honor of National Write to Marry Day, a blogger action supporting the defeat of California's hateful Proposition 8. See all the links at Mombian.


I have started saying it almost every day, and I know it has become annoying. "I wish we could get married here!" Sigh. It is almost always followed by a sigh.

We have no money to get married. We can barely afford a marriage license and a City Hall appointment. But I dream about a big hall with vaulted ceilings, an open bar, a dance band, and all the people I love who support us every day just because we shack up together.

OK, it's pretty clear that I am dreaming about the party, not the wedding. I can't imagine what I'll wear. I can't imagine what music we'd play, or whether we would do a hokey walk down the aisle.

My partner is a no-nonsense girl, or at least, BELIEVES she is a no-nonsense girl. This means she eschews sentiment. "Why have a wedding?" she asks, exasperated. She says this often when I say, "I wish we could get married here!" (Sigh). She thinks weddings are expensive and stuffy and no fun, especially for the people getting married. She's happy to go to City Hall and then celebrate at a bar. But she was a Mormon, and married once. Her wedding was a restricted ceremony in the temple, her wedding night a huge disappointment. Her reception was the day after the wedding, and filled with the knowledge of impending misery. Her divorced parents spent the day not speaking to each other. There was no alcohol.

Why get married, indeed.

But I CAN imagine a party. I can imagine garlands of flowers, and people in nice clothes. I can imagine our daughter carrying the rings, or strewing rose petals, or just toddling shyly down the aisle (I guess I imagine she will already be walking).

I imagine the friends who brought us food when we were in the hospital with her showing up and dancing with us. I imagine twinkly lights and our families, who have never met, meeting each other at last.

I imagine wonderful little stuffed things to eat. I imagine martinis and champagne.

There are lots of critiques of marriage out there, and critiques of monogamy, respectability, domestication, and the couple form. They are all valid. Marriage shouldn't be the thing you have to do to get health care, or hospital visitation, or de facto parenthood, or survivor benefits, or pensions, or your lover's estate tax-free. But the fact is, if you have marriage, you can get those things, and making marriage more available begins expanding all sorts of other rights to LGBTQ people. Begins. And that's what is important.

My favorite wedding I ever attended was for graduate school friends who had a combination Christian and Jewish ceremony. As they stood under the chuppa, the Rabbi spoke about its four corners, like a roof over their heads, a roof supported by all of us supporting them in their togetherness, with four walls open to all those who loved them, and who they loved in turn. I loved the image of love as a house, not just to contain two people, but open to the winds, a space for two people be something greater than two alone.

I remember that wedding, and I wonder if I will ever have one like it, and I think maybe I won't live to see marriage for us out here, especially if hateful amendments like California's proposition 8 are allowed to enshrine discrimination into state constitutions. Still, the states continue to fall, one by one, to the neutral application of the principle of equal treatment. The Advocate this week called the cluster of northeast states with same-sex marriages and civil unions a "corridor of love" stretching from New Hampshire to New Jersey. I thought that was lovely. I prefer to think of the northeast corridor and California like two ends of the transcontinental railroad, creeping across the landscape, making the flow of love and commerce easier, uniting a divided country. There would be some sort of suitable gay ceremony, hopefully with lots of jokes about what "driving the spike" might really mean. I hope that railroad makes it here someday. I like to imagine that the driving of the euphemistic golden spike uniting both sides will happen right here, in a gay neighborhood of our very own city, and that when it happens we will feel as if our spaces are opening out into the world, beyond our houses and our selves, connecting all of us.

Friday, October 17, 2008

My Classic Dames Identity

I'm so happy. I love Myrna Loy.

Your result for The Classic Dames Test...

Myrna Loy

You are class itself, the calm, confident "perfect woman." Men turn and look at you admiringly as you walk down the street, and even your rivals have a grudging respect for you. You always know the right thing to say, do and, of course, wear. You can take charge of a situation when things get out of hand, and you're a great help to your partner even if they don't immediately see or know it. You are one classy dame. Your screen partners include William Powell and Cary Grant, you little simmerpot, you.

Find out what kind of classic leading man you'd make by taking the
Classic Leading Man Test.

Take The Classic Dames Test at HelloQuizzy

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

first cut


Autumn is here. At dusk, Sagittarius hoists his jeweled bow just above the horizon. School is in full swing, the nights are lengthening, and it is time for Maude to get her first round of shots.

I know that vaccinations are important. I feel anger towards people who decide to forgo them, fearing autism or some other side effect, putting everyone at risk once more for diseases that were supposed to be gone for good. Still, I understand not wanting to subject a baby to needles, and chemicals. It seems barbaric to pierce soft baby skin, and draw bright red baby blood, when a child can't even understand what is happening.

The morning of her shots Maude doesn't want to wake up at all. I run a bath for her, then take it myself, and finally, when she persists in sleeping, we gently rouse and undress her, and slip her into the warm water while she is still groggy. She doesn't cry, or even wake up grumpy, but she only opens her eyes, and submits patiently to our ministrations. As I towel her dry I think about the nurses cleaning her when she was born, and remember standing impatiently, eager to hold her. Her eyes are larger now, and something flickers down inside of them when they look at me, and when I talk to her and tease her, she breaks into sweet, toothless smiles.

Our doctor's office is 20 minutes north, in a tree-lined neighborhood that feels far away from our tired streets. We usually listen to Classic Vinyl or 80s music on satellite radio, with Margo, Darling calling out the songs as "Baby's first Doors," or "Baby's first Billy Idol." The sun streams through the sunroof, and Maude quiets down the faster we drive. When we get to the office we place bets with the nurse on Maude's weight, and she gets it closer than we do. Twelve pounds--how can it be so little, when she is so heavy in the carseat? A little barbell weighs more. My arm weighs more.

Maude is measured, too. Already she is in a competitive world. Her weight is in the 67th percentile; her length somewhere in the 80s. This is good--not too fat, not too thin, and tallish. Her head is the real thrill, though: in the 97th percentile, it is (we hope) a harbinger of SAT scores to come.

The pediatrician comes in and talks to Maude as she lays naked on the table, and Maude looks earnestly at her at makes a variety of conversational sounds. This goes on for a while, and we are a little amazed that 1) she is being so good, and 2) that she and the doctor have so much to say to each other. I feel a little jealous. I'm not sure she talks that much to either of us.

Then the doctor leaves, turning her back on the plump innocent stretched out like Iphigenia on the altar, if Iphigenia wore a diaper. The nurse comes back, and asks me if I want to hold her when they give her the shots. Margo, Darling is already fighting back tears, so I say yes, but I feel terrible about the trusting little body sitting on my lap, the little hands clenched in mine. She faces forward, and the thought comes that I am a human chair, a human electric chair, a lethal injection gurney. Silly--it's just a vaccination, I remind myself. But then the first long needle goes deep into her baby thigh, and she screams a scream so deep that at first there is no sound, like a whisper, but an awful whisper. Then it comes, a terrible cry. I see blood on her thigh when the needle comes out--bright red, fresh, oxygenated blood. There are alcohol wipes, another needle in the thigh, more soul-deep screaming, and it is over. The most chilling part for me is that the hands never vary their grip. Babies can't clench their hands in pain. My hands, though, are squeezing like mad.

Then there are sparkly band-aids, and comforting sounds. I think about the genital cuttings of different peoples, and I am glad this is only an inoculation, not a sexual marking. There will be other castration rituals to live through, other times of handing over a child to civilizing powers. She will need another round of shots in a couple months, and then another. Then she'll be done, and hopefully won't remember visits to the doctor's office as traumatic. I don't think she remembers pain yet, or cultivates aversion. Babies are slow learners in that way--proof (I'm convinced) that repression is a good thing.

Today the tears dry quickly, and the pain seems long forgotten before we even get home. We undress her, guiltily averting our eyes from the band-aids on her legs, and slip her into the softest pajamas we can find, spotted ones with a tail and a kangaroo pouch with a little baby animal in the front pocket. I tell the friend who gave these pajamas to Maude about the vaccinations, and the negotiation of betrayal one feels turning over a child to medical processes, however minor, and she exclaims, "Good thing you didn't have to have a bris!" So we aren't the only ones making the castration connection, I think. The pajamas comfort us, their softness and little baby pocket a sentimental reminder of our own goodness as caretakers. We are good parents. We only hurt her a little now so she won't be hurt a lot later.

Or at least that's what we tell ourselves. We are extra gentle, shaken with the sudden violent reminder of our violent world, the first reminder. When she is sleeping in her crib in the darkness, I sing her a sleeping song, but in my mind I see the vermilion blood spray across her pale fat thigh, and I marvel at its redness, and I think I will never forget the satisfaction of it, of knowing she had done a difficult thing, and we had done a difficult thing for her, and the horror of it. In the darkness I can taste the tiniest taste of an old, ancient and animal horror we memorialize in these everyday health measures, in the restrained sadism of even our safest and most human of rituals.